James Caan, the UK-based entrepreneur, is hoping to attract interest from Gulf investors in a Sharia-compliant fund that buys up property assets in the UK.
The former star of the BBC’s ‘Dragon’s Den’ TV series is touring the Gulf in a bid to drum up investment interest in a £45m ($69m) student housing product, offered through the independent firm 90 North, in which Caan holds a stake.
“When you think today that half the world’s population today is Muslim, as a businessman I see this as one of the biggest growth market opportunities that is under-exploited,” Caan told Arabian Business at a Dubai event on Thursday.
“Potentially over the next five or ten years I can see this as being a very attractive position. I think there is an incredible increase in demand for Sharia-compliant opportunities and products.”
Independent advisory firm 90 North was co-founded by Philip Churchill, formerly of Kuwait-backed Gatehouse Bank. The company has placed nearly £1.1bn ($1.7bn) on behalf of Gulf investors in Islamic-compliant real estate assets to date.
Sharia law forbids gambling, investments in alcohol and receipt of interest, so fund managers have to select investments deemed halal, or permissible.
“Most of the product that we have sourced is UK-based,” Caan said. “The UK is a natural place that I think Middle East investors find very comfortable, because of the governance, the laws and the transparency.”
Islamic finance assets around the world are expected to climb 33 percent from their 2010 levels to $1.1 trillion by the end of 2012, boosted by the aftermath of the Arab Spring uprisings and dissatisfaction with conventional finance in the wake of the global debt crisis, according to consultancy Ernst & Young.
90 North hopes to tap into the Gulf’s wealthy residents by offering property assets with secure long-term returns, Caan said.
“We have identified an investment opportunity in the student housing market. Well respected universities are still getting more applications than they can cater for so the demand side is very high but most universities are not able to meet the demand in terms of accommodation,” he said.
“You have predictability of income.”
In ‘Dragons’ Den’, Caan was one of panel of entrepreneurs courted by start-up firms in a bid to secure their investment in return for an equity share.
Caan, who invested $1.5m in 14 companies while on the show, said Dubai remained the leading destination for investment among the six Gulf states.
“If I was being pitched in Dragon’s Den by Abu Dhabi, by Qatar, by Dubai – which one would I back? [Dubai] has the least and has made the most out of it,” he said.
“Look at the region, Dubai probably has the least natural resources so it doesn’t have an option. Its drive and determination is much greater than somewhere like Qatar.”