Believing in Business

by BTM

Wed, 01 November 2023

Nawaf AlKoheji

Tenmou is Bahrain´s first Business Angels Company, which provides both mentorship and capital to high-potential, innovative Bahrain-based entrepreneurs from the seed stage. Kristian Harrison sat down with Tenmou’s CEO, Nawaf AlKoheji, about the company’s successes, his innovative Collective Hub idea, and future plans to help take Bahrain’s budding businesses to the next level.

Please can you summarise your career to date? 
I studied at Regent’s University London, completing a Bachelor’s of International Relations and then I did my Master’s and MBA in Texas. I then went to Delhi for an internship at the biggest electronics manufacturer in India. Whilst there, I was inspired by the culture of tiffin boxes and realised there was a gap in the market for this in Bahrain.

I created a company called Food Limited in 2010, which charged a monthly membership to deliver food and it still runs to this day as a catering business for private schools whilst also inspiring many other companies to continue our original idea.

After a successful stint as a project director at Tamkeen with 150 staff under me, I was approached in 2018 by the previous CEO of Tenmou to take over despite my limited experience with investment companies. I learnt on the job, ran with it, and now I absolutely love what I do and investing in start-ups which will shape the future of Bahrain.

How does Tenmou’s funding process work and what criteria do you use to evaluate start-up applicants? 

The investment criteria is simple. You have to be Bahraini-based; not necessarily a Bahraini founder, but you must be related to Bahrain in some way. This can be through having a branch in Bahrain, operating here or having residency as an expat.

Each year we look at hundreds of applications which we receive through our website or from networking events and meetings. We then funnel the top 20 or so and do due process on them. The management decides that they’re fit to go to the investment committee, a team of five with me being one of them. We look at all the pitches and decide on the spot if they will be funded or not. We usually take equity between two to 10 percent and we invest up to USD50,000. 

Can you give us an example of a successful start-up that Tenmou has funded?
EAT App is one of our champions. Back in 2014 we operated a little differently and offered BD30,000 and we took equity of 33 percent. Nine years later, the company valuation is USD60m today. 

How involved is Tenmou in the daily operations of the start-ups that it funds? 
We don’t interfere with the day-to-day business of the start-ups because we’re looking at the bigger picture. We have invested in more than 30 start-ups and currently in our portfolio we have eight, so micro-managing all of them would not be feasible. What we do is usually be on their boards and have a quarterly report on that. We really help them with business development, opening doors in Bahrain, bringing in other investors and the like, so it’s more of a consultancy role.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs who are looking for funding for their start-up? 
The main thing that I want to see in a start-up is twofold. Firstly, I want to see that the founder is capable of creating a business that exceeds our expectations and can grow it outside of Bahrain. Secondly, we want to see the implications on the wider market and if a product or idea is marketable outside of the immediate sphere and can be adaptable.

What challenges have you faced at Tenmou and how have you overcome them? 
Funding is the main challenge in Bahrain. Most of them require at least USD500,000 to really develop as a project, and obviously we only provide a portion of that. There are a lot of gaps and not a lot of funders in the market, and we also have our management costs as well so we have to balance everything. 

What exactly is the Collective Hub and what are your plans for the future of it? 
The Collective Hub is like my baby! I founded it in 2018 and it is the biggest community-based co-working space in Bahrain, which harbours investors, creatives and start-ups. So far, we have established three branches and my aspiration is to have a thousand locations around the world. I know it is ambitious but I truly believe in it and we are already working on our first expansion into Saudi Arabia and aim to operate 40 locations there by 2027. 

What is nice about the Collective Hub is that it’s a really cool place to hang out and learn. Under one roof you have the investors there, you have the creatives, you have the start-ups; plus there are a lot of programmes and events, many of which are attended by ministers. 

Where else will you get an opportunity to meet ministers willing to give so much of their free time? 
Ultimately, we want to build a community that supports the entrepreneurship journey from the young, energetic creative minds to the experienced businessmen and women.

Which of your many career successes are you most proud of?
Definitely the Collective Hub! I initially faced resistance towards it because the initial cost of building it was high. However, from day one it has been profitable as the eagerness to rent out the spaces far exceeded our expectations.