Driving the Next Wave of Innovation in the Middle East
Three leaders spearheading BCG Digital Ventures’ bold moves in the region reflect on how we’re building businesses for tomorrow — and igniting cultural change today
The Middle East is experiencing a tidal wave of investment in digital transformation, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and growing global pressure for advancement from governments and corporates alike. Over the next three years, 52 percent of Middle East CEOs plan double-digit investments in digital transformation, and the United Arab Emirates announced plans to implement more than 50 new economic initiatives to boost the country’s competitiveness in industrial technology and technology-heavy sectors. BCG foresaw this potential in 2007 with the opening of a Dubai office, followed in quick succession by outposts in Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, and Doha as its presence grew to today’s unified complement of more than 700 employees from over 78 nations.
Now, on the heels of BCG’s recent historic investment in the territory, BCGDV’s expansion in the Middle East confirms the region’s status as a hotbed of business building and corporate venturing. As the world’s leading business builder, BCGDV recognizes the remarkable opportunity to redefine the Middle East market and create extraordinary impact for our corporate partners — and for people, communities, and industries — while leveraging our partnership with BCG’s global network and established presence in the region to accelerate growth.
To learn more about BCG and BCGDV’s powerful combination of global experience and local understanding — which enables the strategic deployment of diverse, international talent across sustainability, advanced mobility, portfolio diversification, energy transition, digitalization, and more — we spoke with three of the guiding forces behind the BCGDV Center in the Middle East, all of whom are leveraging years of experience building businesses with Middle East corporate partners.
- Giuseppe Bonaccorsi is a BCG Managing Director and Partner who focuses on digital transformation as a key member of the firm’s energy practice.
- Chantal Chalouhi is a Venture Architect Director in the BCGDV Dubai office, managing multifunctional teams to assess, build, and launch disruptive strategies and digital ventures.
- Shyam Seshadri is a Venture Architect Director at BCGDV with a background in product management and digital strategy who focuses on digital innovation and venture building.
BCGDV: What opportunities does the Middle East offer compared to other regions, and how are you shaping and developing new business models in response?
Giuseppe Bonaccorsi: This market has a fast-growing economy, a young population, and quite a digitalized lifestyle across all population levels. Some Middle East nations are even leapfrogging more developed countries in terms of speed of adoption and innovation in both government services and the private sector. So there are plenty of opportunities here.
Chantal Chalouhi: The Middle East is a vibrant place, full of a young population that is very ambition-driven. It has among the highest Internet penetration in the world. So it’s solid ground on which to support BCGDV’s value proposition. We’re working with governments on a national scale to drive that impact and also with private companies that want to further evolve in the space of innovation and take part in venture building. And there are no constraints economically or in terms of ambition, so the growth opportunities are extensive.
Shyam Seshadri: A key difference between the Middle East and other regions is that major economic shifts are happening in a number of countries, including pivoting away from oil and oil-based economies. It creates the opportunity to diversify and set up new businesses, and of course digital is at the heart of it all. So we can come in and help well-established companies look to digital for new ideas and help them expand their portfolio of businesses by going into the new areas that digital unlocks.
“In the Middle East, as in other markets, the pandemic taught us the art of the possible with digital. It forced us to figure out new ways of working with employees and consumers and also companies and governments.”
BCGDV: How has the pandemic ignited opportunities around corporate venturing and business building in the Middle East?
Shyam Seshadri: In the Middle East, as in other markets, the pandemic taught us the art of the possible with digital. It forced us to figure out new ways of working with employees and consumers and also companies and governments. The Middle East was already primed for some of these things, but the pandemic accelerated a shift that probably would have taken a few more years. It gave traditional companies new ways to access customers and connect and engage with them.
Giuseppe Bonaccorsi: Because of the expected growth post-pandemic, there is a strong appetite to really innovate, specifically on the sustainability side. We see this from many corporate partners — in any project we’re doing, they always ask for a sustainability angle. This, I think, is where the big opportunities lie. There is an enormous amount of investment flowing from both within and outside of the region, specifically on sustainability and digital, and this is why now we’re seeing new venture capitalists funding private tech in the region, where in the past the funds mainly came from big, locally based family businesses.
“BCGDV and BCG in general comprehend national priorities and local imperatives. And we also bring international expertise. This combination of inner perspectives with a global element positions us to be the best in digital and venture building in the region.”
BCGDV: How is BCGDV uniquely well-suited to thrive in the region?
Chantal Chalouhi: BCGDV and BCG in general comprehend national priorities and local imperatives. And we also bring international expertise. This combination of inner perspectives with a global element positions us to be the best in digital and venture building in the region. Plus we have extensive expertise across industries and functions.
Shyam Seshadri: BCGDV helps companies think beyond the obvious. We enable corporate partners to unlock opportunities in exciting new spaces that they may not have considered exploring before. I think businesses in the region, both in the public sector and the private, are starting to realize the contribution that can be made by new digital businesses within the portfolio of companies, and BCGDV can come in to take companies on this journey and enable them to continue in the future.
BCGDV: How do BCGDV’s business-building capabilities positively contribute to the region’s social and cultural development?
Giuseppe Bonaccorsi: We see a young generation coming up that is quite passionate about digital, technology, and AI, and they’ve got a very entrepreneurial mindset. Compared to 10 or 20 years ago, when most people wanted a safe job with the government or a family business, now we’re seeing a shift, and more young talented people are really passionate about building tech start-ups, for example. In our client work, we can enable them to grow and scale up long-term through BCGDV’s methodology and ways of working.
Chantal Chalouhi: BCGDV doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all approach — we offer individualized solutions based on the needs of our corporate partners and their customers. Everything we do is really driven by customer centricity, so any venture that is being built comes from market needs, the users, the people, the community. We work hand in hand with our corporate partners to build and launch these ventures, enabling people to develop and later fully lead these ventures. That has a great impact because, at the end of the day, BCGDV is nurturing a community of entrepreneurs in this market.
“For years, the focus has been on setting targets and strategies for the energy transition. Now it’s time to implement concrete initiatives and projects. BCGDV is helping corporate partners emerge from theory into development.”
BCGDV: Through BCG Green Ventures and other offerings, BCG and BCGDV have called for public-sector action on sustainability to be bolder and more widespread. How is this mandate reflected in your work in the Middle East?
Chantal Chalouhi: We are working on that agenda across the board in the Middle East with governments and corporations. We are very focused on driving green ventures, whether in the mobility space through electric vehicles and advanced charging points, or in the energy space, transitioning to renewables and hydrogen. So I would say we are really at the forefront, and you can already see the impact.
Giuseppe Bonaccorsi: There is more and more demand from corporate partners for sustainable solutions. Of course, there is also direction coming from governments because they have announced their net-zero targets by 2040, 2050, and so on. This has cascaded down not only to public entities but also to folks in the private sector in the Middle East, creating an environment in which investors expect local companies to be serious about their environmental commitments. For years, the focus has been on setting targets and strategies for the energy transition. Now it’s time to implement concrete initiatives and projects. BCGDV is helping corporate partners emerge from theory into development.
Shyam Seshadri: This is a discussion we’re having now with multiple potential clients and corporate partners. It’s not just about diversification or new revenue streams. It’s also about taking very affirmative action on climate. As companies venture into the unknown and figure out sustainability, we can bring into the region the expertise and capabilities to help them convert their commitments into tangible business models and commercial opportunities.
BCGDV: What are some of the unique attributes that make working at DV Middle East such an exciting experience?
Shyam Seshadri: One can be quite bold here in the Middle East when it comes to setting digital ambitions. For a lot of our corporate partners, it’s not just about digital venturing; they are embarking on a broader digital transformation, which includes developing new digital business models in the form of digital ventures. So we’re able to have holistic conversations with them on digital — digitizing the core, as well as exploring adjacent spaces. And that’s quite cool, because it gives us a chance to bring the full set of BCG’s digital offerings to the table, including BCGDV.
Giuseppe Bonaccorsi: There is a thriving lifestyle in the region because of travel and the multicultural environment and the continuous growth of the cities. We can connect with our BCGDV Centers worldwide, not only to create mobility opportunities but also to export talent in the sense that a number of our Middle East projects are run from London because our corporate partners are there. It’s a unique opportunity for people to work in a highly challenging and diversified environment.
Chantal Chalouhi: The Middle East is a dream for anyone who wants to innovate and build new ventures. In every vision in the region, growth is at the center, and I just think that’s very exciting. How can we grow even more? And how can we achieve even more?
For more information on how BCG is delivering impact in the Middle East, check out this article.
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