Investor Insights: Mubadala on how startups can get investment-ready

Mubadala is an investment company with $232bn worth of assets under management and also a backer of Abu Dhabi’s Hub71 ecosystem for growing tech companies.

Ibrahim Ajami, head of ventures – Mubadala Capital, spoke to Verdict, and shared his insights on what he looks for in startups, and how to secure funding at every stage, for every sector.

Which is more important to investors, a good idea and business model or good leadership?

It’s often said that you invest in people, not companies, and certainly for us, it’s vital to partner with people that we want to be in business with, so I’d have to say both a strong business model and a trusted leadership team are equally critical factors for a business to attract investors. When we make an investment, we’re forming a long-term partnership with the company’s management team. Especially in the early stages of business growth, the insight, expertise, and passion of the founding team are often the magic ingredients for success, while at a larger scale, trusted corporate oversight and skilled management are vital for long-term sustainability.

At the same time, value creation is our priority, and so we analyse all our investment opportunities for a clear, realistic growth plan based on a distinctive value proposition. It’s the combination of both elements that creates a winning formula.

What do you look for when assessing an investment?

At Mubadala, partnership is at the centre of our investment approach, so we are always looking for mutually beneficial opportunities where our involvement can generate real value. Both financial and societal returns are intrinsic to the long-term value we create. Beyond capital, this also means that we consider how an investment partnership will contribute to the UAE’s development and progress as part of our decision making.

We look for investment opportunities where bringing our expertise to bear can really be the critical factor in accelerating a company’s growth trajectory while forming a sustainable long-term partnership.

Our aim is to make Abu Dhabi a world-class innovative ecosystem with initiatives like our MENA fund which is already supporting some exciting startups based within Hub71, or through partnerships that attract global businesses to Abu Dhabi.


Left to right: WeWork cofounder Miguel McKelvey and Ibrahim Ajami, head of ventures, Mubadala Capital, Mubadala Investment Company

What single thing could entrepreneurs do to make their business more attractive to potential investors?

It may sound obvious, but the one thing that entrepreneurs must possess when hoping to attract investors is a solid business plan. Venture capital firms are looking for businesses which they can help grow, and then at some stage exit. It is therefore no good just relying on what the business has achieved to date. There has to be projections about the possibilities for the startup over the next three to five years. The more detailed and accurate these models are, as well as the suitability and sustainability of the business proposition itself, the more likely the entrepreneur will be to attract investment.

How hard is it to assess innovative new technologies?

Innovation is all about trying to do something that no one else has achieved before and partnering with companies that are trying to push the boundaries of our collective progress, which is incredibly exciting. Mubadala has always been a leader in the technology and innovation space, and we are always looking for interesting opportunities to enter pioneering new areas, with investments in ambitious companies like Waymo, Recursion and Reef.

Getting accurate valuations in the current climate, let alone what’s coming down the tracks in 2021, is of course a challenge for evaluating business performance and investment opportunities, but we are still seeing opportunities.

What are the key metrics that management teams fail to measure most often?

While every industry has specific metrics that management teams must be aware of, there are some general parameters that all entrepreneurs should consider when looking to grow their business. The metrics management teams use most often to assess, manage, and communicate their performance are typically focused on financial measures, particularly revenue and profitability.


One issue that is common for startups management teams is that they are so focused on developing a quality product or service that they forget to keep track of basic aspects of running a nascent business, such as cash flow and cash burn rate. In the early days of a company, maintaining control of your cash is a fundamental principle.

What lessons are there to be learnt from the corporate world for tech startups?

Smaller businesses should look to big corporates in a similar sector for tips and ideas, as well as ascertain where gaps may lie to which they can exploit. One of the first areas that can be replicated is embedding strong corporate governance. You should treat corporate governance not as a burden, but as an investment in an asset that will help you to upscale your business over time.

What are the advantages for investors within Abu Dhabi?

With the region’s best regulated financial centres – Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), an award-winning international financial center, has rapidly become one of the world’s most desirable destinations for foreign investors.

ADGM is regulated by the Financial Service Regulatory Authority (FSRA) and is the first financial institution in the Middle East and North Africa to directly apply common law in its entirety, ensuring the highest level of investor protection. Furthermore, Abu Dhabi enjoys political stability, one of the largest reserves of oil in the world, and a diversified economy that has attracted some of the world’s largest multinationals.

The future is here: Register now for Barcelona’s New Economy Week

Barcelona New Economy Week (BNEW) starts this Tuesday with the goal of turning the Catalan city into the "global capital of the new economy".

BNEW runs from 6 to 9 October, with registration remaining open throughout the event, offering insight from 350 speakers on how businesses can bounce back from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. It will feature top speakers from the business sectors of real estate, logistics, digital industry, e-commerce and economic zones.

The hybrid, business-to-business event – which is taking place in physical and virtual forms – is organised by Consorci de la Zona Franca (CZFB) and will showcase the way in which Barcelona is preparing for the post-Covid world and the "new economy". It is the city’s first big business event of the year and aims to help revitalise and restart the local economy.

“BNEW will be the first great event for the economy’s global recovery that will allow the redesigning of the productive fabric,” says Pere Navarro, state special delegate at CZFB. “It is an honour to have the participation of renowned professionals and attendees from all around the world.

“As we are not in a position to do a proper ‘in person’ fair, we decided to adapt by creating a disruptive and useful event in this way to relaunch the economy.”

The conference will encompass five interconnected events incorporating real estate, logistics, digital industry, e-commerce and economic zones. More than 8,000 professionals from 91 countries from all over the globe will take part virtually. A further 1,000 delegates are expected to attend the five events in person. Over 200 speakers will take part physically, while the rest will give their talks via a digital platform especially created for the unique event. An advanced digital networking platform – using artificial intelligence – will cross-reference the data of all those registered to offer a large number of contacts and directly connect supply with demand.

The conference will also be simultaneously broadcast in high-quality streaming on six channels, one for each of the five interconnected events and an additional stream showcasing Barcelona’s culture and gastronomy.

BNEW will take place in three venues in the city: Estació de França, Casa Seat and Movistar Centre. All are open, digital spaces committed to the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda. Estació de França will host the BNEW Logistics, BNEW E-commerce and BNEW Real Estate events, while Casa Seat will be home to the BNEW Economic Zones event, and the Movistar Centre will host the BNEW Digital Industry.


Some 36 companies are sponsoring BNEW, and 52 start-up companies will take part and present their highly innovative products and services. A further 128 firms will participate in BVillage, a kind of virtual stand where they can show their products and schedule meetings with potential clients.

Highlight sessions will include: "the era of humankind toward the fifth industrial revolution," by Marc Vidal, a digital transformation expert; "rational optimism," by Luca Lazzarini, a commercial communications specialist; and "future smart cities’ challenges and opportunities," by Alicia Asín, a leading voice on artificial intelligence. Sandra Pina will also talk about how sustainability is transforming us, Jorge Alonso on the humane future of cities and Pilar Jericó on how to face changes in the post-Covid era.

BNEW is described as a new way of developing your know-how, expanding your networks and promoting innovation and talent.

“Networking is always one of the main attractions of the events, so to carry it out in this innovative way at BNEW – with the high international profile it boasts – is a great opportunity for companies,” says Blanca Sorigué, managing director of CZFB.

Readers can register for BNEW for free via this link using the discount code BNEWFREE.