Two Minutes with a VC is a series of quick interviews with VCs from the Middle East & North Africa.
Karim Hussein is a Managing Partner with Algebra Ventures, Egypt’s largest VC fund that has made investments in fifteen regional startups since closing $50 million in late 2016. Karim had joined Algebra Ventures in 2017 after previously leading products and technology development at WebMD, the leading online US healthcare information provider, and . He had also been an active angel investor and made investments in different startups in Egypt and United States, including Shezlong, Simplex CNC Solutions, Integreight and Eonite Perception.
In 2013, Karim had co-founded D-Kimia Diagnostic Solutions, a biotech company that develops nano-particle based diagnostic solutions for detecting a broad range of diseases in an affordable and simple manner.
How’d you get into venture capital?
Initially, I started on the other side as an entrepreneur. I enjoy building new businesses, and I felt that I could do more of that through investing. I wanted to better leverage my own experiences in building, scaling, and mentoring startups. I started off as an angel investor, and I invested in the earlier rounds of Simplex, Elkrem, and ShezLong. I saw a gap in Series A investments in the Egyptian market, and so I joined up with Ziad [Mokhtar] and Tarek [Assaad] at Algebra Ventures.
What’s a day in your life as a VC like?
I split my time between evaluating new businesses to add to our portfolio, and supporting our existing portfolio businesses. I focus on helping our companies with product development and strategy to ensure that their customers are delighted at the service offering, and that their businesses are equipped to scale both technically and organisationally
What is it that you love about being a VC?
I love meeting driven and exceptional talent and helping bring innovative products and services to market. I particularly enjoy supporting Egyptian entrepreneurs who are tackling challenges in the local market that can have global impact.
What is it that you look for in startups/founders when making an investment?
We look for founders who know what they don’t know, have the tenacity to break down barriers, and have a unique vision or perspective on the markets they serve. We also look for entrepreneurs that are persuasive and can attract and retain great talent in their business. We particularly like businesses that have established competitive moats and can scale rapidly with minimal marginal cost. I am a techie at heart and I’m always hunting for innovative technology breakthroughs & IP that can have global impact.
What’s the biggest turn off for you in a startup pitch?
“I have no competitors”. No business exists without competition, otherwise, they’re not addressing a real market need.
A piece of advice for first-time founders?
Focus on your team early on. Do your research. Talk to your customers. Don’t be a [redacted].
If you could go back in time and invest in one MENA-based startup that’s not in your portfolio, who would that be?
What’s your favorite tech product or tool?
3D printing technology because it enables fast innovation cycles in physical objects – previously, we’d only seen these quick cycles in software. And DNA sequencing because it translates our complex biological information into software.
Feature image via RiseUp.