Plug and play journey of a 28 year old

Omeed Mehrinfar. — Supplied photo
Omeed Mehrinfar. — Supplied photo

Dubai - The talent levels that can be found in the UAE are at internationally competitive standards, says Omeed Mehrinfar.


Sandhya D'Mello

Published: Fri 22 Oct 2021, 11:42 PM

Last updated: Sat 23 Oct 2021, 1:00 AM

The managing director and co-head of Europe, Middle East and Africa at Plug and Play is only 28 years old and he is already heading three regions, are we putting face to disruption in reality?

Omeed Mehrinfar completed his studies at Boston University in 2014 and was originally looking to pursue a career in investment banking in New York. However, after some discussions with mentors, he decided to keep an open channel and apply to opportunities in the San Francisco Bay Area, to break into the tech world.

One phone call

“Silicon Valley was such a distant territory to me, something I’d only hear about through movies or romanticised articles I’d read in magazines and news outlets. It was scary and intimidating to initially enter a world that seemed so foreign to me, that was dominated by titans of industry and innovation. Then I got a phone call...”

Saeed Amidi, CEO and founder, Plug and Play — one of the most recognised venture capitalists and angel investors in the world — has big global names in his portfolio companies like DropBox and PayPal as well as Plug and Play, already a notable Silicon Valley name. A titan of industry, with over 40 years of entrepreneurial and leadership experience called Mehrinfar at the age of 21, and asked him to fly to Boston to meet him in Palo Alto the following week.

“To call it a humbling experience is an understatement,” said Mehrinfar. “After spending the week with Amidi and his key team members in Silicon Valley, I flew back to Boston to pack up my things, and within a month his team reached out to me to start my career at Plug and Play. I landed back in the Bay Area on August 19, 2014, and started a new journey.”

Plug and Play operates to service governments, corporations and startups; whether it may be through industry-specific or bespoke accelerator/incubation programmes, or through customised advisory services tailored to support the needs and KPIs of the stakeholders - while also operating a leading global venture capital arm. Plug and Play scaled from about 50 team members based in Silicon Valley HQ seven years ago, to over 600 colleagues across 42 offices globally today.

Journey begins

Between August 2014 to December 2016, Mehrinfar acted as a founding member and lead financial services practice in California, whereby he engaged with banks, payment processors, credit-card issuers, mortgage lenders, insurance providers and private equity firms in partnering with Plug and Play to support their innovation needs.

By December 2016, Plug and Play had grown to have close to 50 major clients from around the world, with leading names such as Santander, Deutsche Bank, Citi Bank, BNP Paribas, MUFG and US Bank, to name a few. Around 2016, Plug and Play still maintained 95 per cent of its global business and investments out of Silicon Valley. “Given the broad suite of corporations from across the world we worked with, a recurring theme we noticed amongst our partners was a desire to localise our services to them, and to broaden the scope of work to something more granular to their needs, and we began to develop our strategy and executed on it,” said Mehrinfar.

“On the EMEA front, some of these clients included Daimler (Mercedes-Benz), Galeries Lafayette and BNP Paribas, and given the latter was my client, I was tasked to relocate to Paris on their behalf, and to also be one of our international expansion leads for the company.”

At the age of 24, Mehrinfar was effectively tasked to co-head innovation lab for International Financial Services practice.

“I worked with an array of business units and functions, across a diverse range of geographies. Wealth management, asset management, international retail banking, risk, compliance, you name it. Our scope entailed scouting and co-developing processes to streamline their startup engagement processes. That partnership is still operational to date, five years later, and has one of the highest conversion rates of pilots-to-commercial agreements with startups for any banking accelerator globally,” he said.

Road to triumph

Within a year of establishing and setting up our Paris practice with BNP Paribas, the expansion opportunities began to compound for Plug and Play. Abu Dhabi Global Market entrusted them to expand and launch their naugural Middle-East office, and Deutsche Bank, DZ Bank, and Aareal Bank (amongst others) tasked them with launching a Frankfurt office to service their needs domestically.

“While I was based in Abu Dhabi from March 2018, I also had to maintain my oversight over the BNP Paribas platform in Paris, while also overseeing the launch of the Frankfurt office that was happening simultaneously to Abu Dhabi. Three different countries, an array of wonderful clients, and working with incredible colleagues from around the world; it was one of the most stressful but empowering periods of time for me, in my journey at Plug and Play,” said Mehrinfar.

In December 2019, Mehrinfar was entrusted with his current role. Today, in EMEA alone, Plug and Play has close to 190 colleagues servicing 200 institutional and government clients across 22 offices, in four years, now reflecting 35 per cent of global business. Internationally servicing 525 corporate or government clients, and accelerating over 2,000 startups per year.

UAE’s vibrant startup ecosystem

Mehrinfar says the proactive approach taken by UAE’s leadership, government bodies, and regulators will become a global case study for other emerging ecosystems to follow. The tools, incentive structures, forward-thinking regulations, streamlined registration processes and internationally friendly incorporation laws have been a focal point in enabling entrepreneurs locally and globally to access UAE’s market with a solid grounding.

Diversity, inclusion, acceptance and compassion are key principles underlying the UAE’s bylaws and fundamental culture, and through this, a broad range of entrepreneurs, investors and tech experts can find Abu Dhabi and the larger UAE, as a home where they can expand on their ambitions, whether personal or professional. This has been a key contributor to the nation’s growth over the past 50 years.

“Funding and market access are key components that are inspiring more startups to expand into the UAE, and entrepreneurs to launch their ventures locally. The access to “smart” capital has been compounding in the UAE over the years, with top-tier local VCs and international players such as ourselves increasing our investment exposure in the region.

“The talent levels that can be found in the UAE are at internationally competitive standards. As a result, it is only natural to see the funding access compound in its growth as well; especially as more and more investors see the returns that local entrepreneurs can yield for their portfolios,” said Mehrinfar.

Middle East in H1 2022

Currently, in the UAE, and through Plug and Play’s strategic partnership with the Abu Dhabi Investment Office, innovation services around three key industries; Industry 4.0, fintech and healthtech. “At Plug and Play we work with +500 of the world’s leading brand names, corporations and government bodies across +18 industries, we wish to bring that vast global knowledge of innovation services and IP to the region, whilst applying them to the other industries we operate in: from energy, sustainability, automotive, agriculture and more,” said Mehrinfar.

Plug and Play’s latest brand ‘Plug and Play Middle East’ will support in further advancing innovation efforts in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and many more key Middle Eastern-based countries, parallelly they have recently launched first Riyadh and Cairo offices. On the investment side — by 2025 — Plug and Play will be investing in over 30-40 companies across the UAE and larger GCC region per year. While continuing to provide strategic support and business opportunities for portfolio and alumni in the region and globally, leveraging the 42 Plug and Play offices around the world.


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