Enhance Ventures, founded in 2016, has 70 employees. The studio, headquartered in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, operates across nine countries throughout the Middle East. About 20 percent to 30 percent of Enhance’s overall operations are venture studio work.
As part of our exploration of the world of venture studios, we spoke with Alper Celen, Founding Partner at Enhance Ventures, to better understand the studio’s model; successful collaborations from the recent past; the funding model it uses; and more.
Who They Work With
Enhance partners with some large corporations, but it also helps to build out studios for financial institutions, government entities and ministers in MENAPT — the Middle East, North Africa, Pakistan, and Turkey. When partnering with corporations, Celen said Enhance focuses on large retail conglomerates and fintech solutions.
“In the early days, we were much more of a marketplace studio, and we pivoted in the last year and a half to do more fintech going forward,” he said. “Everything that we were building, we were building fintech into it anyway. It made sense for us to fill this gap in the future of money.”
Enhance has worked with entities like Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) and ADQ, a sovereign wealth fund in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
Outcomes for Partners
Celen said most of the time, the Enhance team helps to spin out ventures — but on some occasions, the team helps to build studios for its partners. Enhance also has the ability to teach government organizations and entities about how to better partner with studios.
Enhance built Right Farm, a food supply chain company, with ADQ, and built a first-of-its-kind studio that hosts mini studios with DIFC called Studio Launchpad, among other ventures.
Celen said Enhance has a 51-step playbook, called the 51. That playbook is largely used for the studio team and the founders to work from. Because it is so complex, that doesn’t get shared with corporate partners — a simplified version of Enhance’s venture building work does.
“We don’t want [partners] to be scared that it’s not possible to pull off,” he said.
Enhance uses four main steps in their building process: ideation, validation, creation and growth. Each of those steps have complexities outlined for founders and their teams in the 51. Celen said a steering committee — leftover from Enhance’s days consulting — decides whether each step passes before entering the next.
Enhance works very closely with its corporate partners, but ultimately, the studio has veto rights over everything.
“If you want us to become you, we will fail,” Celen said. “We’re in this game with our corporate partners for them to become us. Not the other way around.”
When a corporation or entity works with Enhance Ventures’ studio, the corporate partner or entity pays for the majority of the project plus fees to the studio, Celen said. During the ideation, validation, and creation stages, the corporate puts up all of the money. Enhance has an equity stake of 10% or less.
“We expect that in return for taking much less equity in the ventures that we build, we expect that the venture is funded by the public partner,” Celen said.
Once the venture is in its growth phase, Enhance decides whether or not to invest. If, once the venture is built, Enhance decides to co-invest, that investment does not come from a fund, he said.
“I can only invest from the balance sheet into corporate ventures. I cannot invest from our studio funds,” he said. “Our agreement says we can only invest [studio funds] into our own ventures.”
During the exploration and creation stages, Celen said the Enhance studio team does the majority of the work on the venture alongside one or two co-founders and, on some occasions, an industry specialist or two.
Once the venture segues into the growth phase, a team begins being built out.
“As the business has legs and we go into growth mode… we start getting more people on board in technology, marketing, administration, [and more] for the venture, so that by the end of that one year period, the business is mostly standalone,” Celen said.
Most ventures are not completely standalone by this time, he said, because they are still able to use Enhance’s facilities, accounting and finance teams, and HR staff, among other logistical facets to the business.
What’s the Key Question Corporate Leaders Should Ask Before Partnering with a Venture Studio?
Celen said leaders at corporations and entities need to ask themselves, “Am I really ready to work with entrepreneurs?”
He said corporate partners need to be prepared to help support a startup by leveraging strategic assets to help the joint venture grow.
“Everybody thinks entrepreneurship is the sexiest, coolest thing, and everybody wants to be part of it and wants to bring it into the organization and wants to invest in it,” he said. “But then, when it really comes down to getting things done, and really materially helping and supporting founders to succeed when they need it most, people just disappear under the carpet.”