One of the ways in which we aim to differentiate ourselves from other VCs is in the value of our community. Once we complete an investment, we truly are welcoming those founders into the 500 Family. The MENA region is a big place, with our investments spanning across 16 countries, and founders are often isolated both from each other and key stakeholders of the ecosystem. Last year, we decided to hold an annual portfolio retreat for the MENA region to bring our community together.
Our second annual MENA Portfolio Retreat was held in Bahrain this year, from the 21st-25th of February. We chose Bahrain as it’s a quickly emerging ecosystem, welcoming founders from anywhere in the world to use Bahrain as their launch pad into the GCC and wider MENA region. Our strategic partner for the retreat, the Bahrain Economic Development Board, has led the charge in positioning Bahrain as a strong contributor to the region’s growing startup presence, offering 100% foreign ownership of companies in almost all sectors, reducing capital requirements for new businesses and recently introducing a new bankruptcy law as part of a package of measures all designed to help its startup ecosystem thrive. Bahrain also has a critical mass of accelerator programs, as well as the first regional fund-of-funds program for VC funds.
Bahrain was a beautiful setting for the program, which welcomed 250 participants, comprised of our portfolio company founders, invited investors and ecosystem guests from all around the world, including the MENA region, South East Asia, US, Korea, China, and Japan. As an exclusive, invitation-only program, the Portfolio Retreat is a safe space for our founders to engage in open discussions and help each other through any issues they may be facing.
We also had the opportunity to host the first Growth with GS (GWG) program in the MENA region in partnership with GS Shop, our Korean partners with a key interest in expanding in the MENA region. The theme for GWG was linking the MENA region to opportunities in East Asia, including Korea and other key markets that GS Shop operates in.
The retreat is a casual affair with open and frank panel discussions from VCs and ecosystem players and workshops from our 500 team, focused on key areas such as legal, growth marketing, fundraising, and culture. The retreat also includes time for portfolio companies to connect with one another, creating bonds of friendship and support throughout the 500 Startups MENA Family. We also invited select investors to attend and spend some quality time with the founders to get to know them better, outside of a formal meeting, conference call or startup event atmosphere.
We were also pleased to have our partner, Almosafer.com, at the event supporting the startup ecosystem by engaging with startups for potential partnerships, investments or acquisition.
We believe that through events and programs such as the MENA Portfolio Retreat, we can add real value to the regional ecosystem and build long-lasting ties in our 500 Family and community in the MENA Region. The scale and scope of the program this year affirmed the positive impact we are having in the region, and we look forward to doing more to support our MENA founders!