Marcel Dridje – A Journey of Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Discovery


In a recent interview with Marcel Dridje, a seasoned entrepreneur and business angel, we had the opportunity to explore his remarkable journey in the world of technology and startups. Marcel’s story is about passion, adaptability, and a strong commitment to fostering innovation in emerging markets. Through his insights, we delve into his experiences, the MENA startup landscape, and his vision for promoting gender equality in the business world.

Marcel began his journey as an engineer at Portsmouth Polytechnic in the UK before joining IBM. However, his career took an unexpected turn when he accidentally fell into sales and discovered his passion for connecting startups with venture capitalists on the West Coast of the USA. Marcel recognised the potential of European, Middle Eastern, and African markets and decided to bridge the gap between these startups and the investors. His first successful venture was with Quantum, where he brought the first SCSI 40 MB Disk drive to fit the APPLE SE 40 computer for the European market. Later, the advent of the internet opened up new opportunities, and Marcel played a crucial role in the rise of Ascend Communications, leading to a multi-billion-dollar acquisition. Marcel’s entrepreneurial spirit drove him to launch his startup with two other great Cisco executives, CyberFlowAnalytics, where he worked on pioneering AI technology to enhance cybersecurity. After a successful exit, he launched another startup in the WiFi space called AIRESPACE in EMEA and got another M&A exit by Cisco Systems, whereas he left after 8 years as an Intrapreneur back in 2013. Marcel also became a member of Sofia Business Angel (SBA) and later President over two nominations. Currently, he holds the esteemed position of President Emeritus on the SBA Board, continuing to contribute to the growth and development of the angel investment community. 

Nowadays, residing in Doha, Marcel strongly advocates entrepreneurship and innovation in the MENA region. He actively mentors startups and participates in various programs to nurture the emerging startup ecosystem in the region. His optimism is fueled by the region’s unique characteristics, such as the vibrant coexistence of locals and expatriates and abundant capital in certain countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The serial investor expresses his love for mentoring and coaching entrepreneurs, especially through virtual communication tools, enabling him to mentor anywhere in the world. He aims to encourage startups in the GCC region to think beyond their local markets and explore global opportunities. He highlights the importance of cross-border collaborations and investments between Europa and GCC regions and discusses his plans to create a GCC Business Angel Network and organise expeditions to Europe for startup cohorts. He also mentions his involvement with Business Angel Network in Doha, which invests globally, showcasing the potential for deal flow exchange between Europe and the MENA region. Overall, Marcel is passionate about fostering innovation and entrepreneurship in the region and leveraging his network and expertise to facilitate collaborations and investments across borders. The interviewee envisions a brighter future for entrepreneurship in the MENA region, driven by its unique opportunities, cross-border collaborations, and diverse and dynamic startup ecosystem. With the right support and commitment from investors and stakeholders, the region can become a global powerhouse for innovation.

As a former Sophia Business Angels (SBA) president, Marcel shares insights on creating a sustainable angel investment club. He emphasises the importance of establishing a unique club identity rather than copying other successful models and advises keeping the club’s core team small to avoid politics and ego conflicts.

“You have to create your own DNA. You should not be copying FIBAN or any other BAN. If you start thinking that way, it will be sustainable.”

He also highlights the significance of subject matter expertise among club members, which helps identify suitable lead investors for specific deals. Trust is crucial in building a strong club, especially within the larger BAN  Network, where people prefer to work with those they know and trust.

“Trust is absolutely viral across the BAN network. As you can imagine, it’s people dealing with business, with people they know. So the trust element is essential.”

To ensure sustainability, the interviewee recommends having a BAN manager responsible for centralising communication and marketing efforts. The club should organise at least four events annually to engage members and foster a sense of community. Maintaining a waiting list with observer status allows potential members to get acquainted with the club before becoming full members, increasing long-term involvement. Lastly, Marcel shares SBA’s success story, emphasising their focus on international business, pitching in English, and helping startups go global. By staying true to its unique DNA, SBA has become a best practice example within the angel investment community in France and beyond.

As evident by his career thus far, Marcel firmly believes in fostering gender equality in entrepreneurship and investment. The interviewee expresses his strong passion for promoting gender equality in both the investment and entrepreneurship communities.

“I am passionate about promoting women’s participation in the investment and entrepreneurship community. Women’s empowerment is crucial for gender equality, and I have been involved in several initiatives to support women entrepreneurs.”

He highlights his involvement in supporting women-led initiatives and shares his experiences as a father of three daughters, making him more sensitive to women’s issues. He praises the efforts of organisations like Tiye Angels – Egypt’s first Women’s Angel Investor Network and DAMYA, which focus on investing exclusively in women. He believes that the Middle East and Africa face more challenges in gender equality compared to Europe. Marcel also shares his optimism about the increasing presence of women in the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Qatar and the wider region. He emphasises the importance of STEM programs in empowering women and sees women’s education as a critical factor in promoting gender equality. He is inspired by the impactful contributions of women leaders like Sheikha Moza and advocates for more gender diversity in both investment firms and startups. He encourages young girls to pursue education and entrepreneurship, as these fields offer positive change and empowerment opportunities.

In conclusion, Marcel Dridje’s journey is a testament to the power of innovation, adaptability, and the transformative role of entrepreneurship. His vision for promoting gender equality and sustainability in business angel networks is a beacon of hope for the MENA  and global startup communities. As we look ahead, Marcel’s passion and commitment continue to shape a better world through technology, entrepreneurship, and angel investing.

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