5 Questions with Ramzy Ismail, Venture Principal of the Techstars Equitech Accelerator

Jul 06, 2021

Ramzy Ismail is joining the Techstars Equitech Accelerator team in Baltimore from Berlin but is no stranger to the area, with family and university roots in Virginia (NoVA/VCU Rams). Ramzy used his background in corporate finance to launch Venuable, a unique venue marketplace monetizing underutilized spaces in emerging cities like Richmond. It was born out of the Techstars Startup Weekend Richmond 2012 and accelerated through top-ranked Lighthouse Labs’ accelerator.

His career in early-stage investments started in Abu Dhabi in 2015, where he led the launch of a $10M media-focused fund and accelerator, and continued with Techstars where he joined Eamonn Carey and the Connection program with AB InBev in New York in 2016. Since then Ramzy launched Techstars Dubai in 2018 and expanded Techstars’ Portfolio Service efforts across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, out of Berlin. 

01. What are you looking for in startups for the Techstars Equitech Accelerator?

I’m interested in founders who place empathy, impact, and diversity, core to their vision of the future. We would like to work with founders who are great listeners, have clarity of thought and action, and carry a strong desire for feedback and to improve the way things are done. 

In regard to the investment stage, we will lean toward founders with products in-market or approaching customer-readiness, to best leverage the UpSurge partners and community.

Lastly, we will be investing in local and global founders. This is not a Baltimore- or Maryland-only accelerator, though we will be heavily sourcing from the local communities, campuses, and corporations. Baltimore has all the ingredients to become a launch pad for international founders tapping into North American markets.

02. What are some of the biggest learnings from your career and entrepreneurial journey that you bring to being a Techstars Venture Principal?

One of my biggest learnings from working with Techstars in the US, Europe, Africa and the Middle East is the importance of continuously calibrating how I assess and support founders where they are. One part of that is being in-tune with my own privilege and biases coming from a Western coastal city, being a male, or the ability to travel countries easily; amongst many other examples.

Another is, as Naval put it best, “invest in things that compound”  including relationships, mentors, knowledge, and ability. This has been something I’ve done instinctively but continue to be more intentional about as I mature.

03. Describe a situation with a startup founder or team where you felt like you made a difference.

I feel like I made a difference in all the founders I invested in by giving them a better, fighting chance to succeed through the benefit of the platforms I’m lucky to be a part of, including Techstars, UpSurge, and others. This is especially true (and I feel especially proud) of the impact I’ve had on founders who are running from ‘behind the starting line’.

I get extra joy when founders I’ve supported in the past return for feedback and give back (or #Givefirst) by offering their unique expertise to other founders I support. This stems from the strong relationships I prioritize building with founders to create this global weave of relationships, intros, and connections through the camaraderie of the entrepreneurial journey that is beautiful.

04. What does our partner UpSurge Baltimore bring to the accelerator?

UpSurge brings a set of deeply experienced, invested (in all sense of the term), and successful partner organizations that are able to support founders from their time in the accelerator and through their journeys. These organizations will prove to be critical partners and advisors to the startups that participate. The UpSurge operating team, board, and extended mentor community are all hands on-deck and it’s exciting to see it in action as they continue mobilizing the Baltimore, Maryland community for incoming founders.

05. If you could have coffee with any entrepreneur who would it be and why?

I would have an espresso coffee with entrepreneur (and my paternal grandfather) Abdou Ismail Abdelnabi. He started earning for his family by serving a fruit cart to Italian colonizers as a kid before WWI. 

He grew that cart to become the proprietor of textile factories, banks, real estate, and automotive manufacturing facilities until Gaddafi’s regime nationalized his assets in the 1970s while banning commerce and ownership across the country. I never got a chance to meet him, as he passed away naturally in his fifties, but he’s lived on through his stories of leadership and humility.

He, along with my maternal and professorial grandfather, Misbah Oreibi, and their respective rocks, my grandmothers Mariam and Fatima, are big inspirations for me. 

To learn more about the Techstars Equitech Accelerator and what we're looking for in startups and founding teams, watch a replay of an AMA with Ramzy and Managing Director, Monica Wheat.