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A Saudi startup invents VR glasses that could change books for ever

ومضة

By 2020, the global virtual reality (VR) market is projected to reach $150 billion. It is expected to reach its first billion this year with $700 million.

In the MENA region, the International Data Corporation (IDC) expects the VR market to reach $181.58 million this year, and $6 billion by 2020.

Saudi Arabia is in on the technology. Visual Experience, a startup that was launched in 2014 by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), creates VR experiences in the culture and education sector. They also launched VR glasses called Be There. While similar to Google’s Cardboard, these glasses can be folded and packed inside a book.

 

From experiences to glasses to B2B services   

Visual Experience officially launched in March 2015 as the team realized the potential of VR after Facebook bought Oculus VR for $2 billion.  

Mohammed Al-Zaydi, cofounder and COO of Visual Experience, and his brother Abdulwahib, CEO, both had a background in tech and ideas on how to implement VR.

“That is why in 2013, we went to KAUST to participate in their entrepreneurship program,” said cofounder Al-Zaydi.

Visual Experience team (from right to left): Peter Rautek, Abdulwahib Al-Zaydi, and Mohammed Al-Zaydi. (Image via Visual Exchanges)

The company was incubated at KAUST where it received seed funding of $150,000 from the innovation fund. Peter Rautek, a researcher at the university, later joined as a CTO to help come up them with viable products.

In 2014, the team launched ther first product Makkah Window, a VR app showing 360 degree images, videos and interactive maps of cities.

Cardboard glasses. (Image via Google)

“App users then started asking us for VR glasses, so we decided to develop our business model and start producing glasses made from cardboard following Google’s standards. However, we made them packable and easy to carry,” Mohammed Al-Zaydi says.

They’ve worked on the prototype for eight months and expect to hit the market in November, selling each pair for $26.

“[The cardboard glasses] don’t need to be assembled since they are already built... You can also personalize the designs on the cover which is helpful for companies that want to use these glasses to promote their brand or their events.”

Visual Experience does not only depend on their VR glasses, but they also provide B2B services. So far, Visual Experience developed seven VR apps, and 55 min of 360 degree videos.

“We designed our first VR app for the Mishkat interactive exhibition, organized by the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy in October. We also developed a VR booklet for the exhibition and then developed every detail of the app,” Al-Zaydi says.

Currently, the company is making money from several app development projects for institutions like King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy, Sooq Okaz, Makkah Region Development Authority and the Museum of Science and Technology in Islam.

Be There glasses are easily foldable inside this booklet where slogans or anything the user wants can be written.   

No success ever comes easy

Forbes Middle East magazine ranked the Visual Experience founders among the top 10 most creative entrepreneurs in Saudi Arabia.

KAUST has heavily aided the team with incubation and seed funding, but it hasn’t been able to solve all obstacles they face in the ecosystem.

Many startups work in the VR field for medical, educational or entertainment purposes. Still, it seems that the only thing they have in common is their need for investments to grow.

“[One of the biggest challenges was] finding funding for viable products and sluggish legal procedures,” Al-Zaydi says. “You can easily get a loan, but funding is hard because of the lack of trust in Arab’s technology projects.”

Al-Zaydi brothers shooting the Tawaf in a 360-degree camera.

For the company also finds it hard to balance between business development and sales, and managing the revenues from projects and allocating part of it for product development.

The Saudi entrepreneur doesn’t doubt the growth of the VR market in the coming years, and hope his company will go global soon. They are now in talks with Google for a Be There license. “If we get it, we will be one of the 14 companies around the world with licenses from Google for VR glasses; which will strengthen the company’s credibility.”

In this context, and in order to encourage innovative entrepreneurs in new sectors and give them a chance to present their ideas, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy in Qatar is organizing Challenge 22, an innovation challenge. Those who are interested can register here.

November 8th 2016, 3:37 am

Carpooling for the working women of Saudi, a solution? [Wamda TV]

ومضة

Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia.

While there is no official law banning women from the act, it is deeply held religious beliefs that prohibit it. As a result, various solutions arise; from women being driven around by a male family member to hiring a trusted driver.

But at GITEX in Dubai last week, another solution took the spotlight. The ‘best Arab startup’ prize went to Sawwagy, a family driver management system from Saudi Arabia.

In September Wamda met a similar startup, Kaspercab. Founded in 2015 by KAUST PhD student Tariq Alturkestani, the service launched in beta in August 2016. The service aims to solve the issue of working women getting to the office through carpooling.

Currently only operating in Saudi’s port city of Jeddah, Alturkestani has been trialling the app and is working on ironing out various wrinkles. They have about 100 clients thus far with 160 rides daily. During this testing period, Alturkestani told Wamda that one of the problems they faced was getting customers used to Saudi drivers, something they are previously not accustomed to as most drivers in the kingdom are foreign workers.

They recently won a subsidiary grant from a government agency and are hoping to reach 400 women by the end of November.

Alturkestani tells us more about the progress of his carpooling app in this video. He is looking to work with the Jeddah municipality and soon branch out to cities across Saudi.

November 8th 2016, 1:37 am

10 ways to beef up your business

ومضة

All you need is a few colorful bean bags and a casual open space to bring a startup community together to talk about what they do - and don’t - want.  

Over 80 people came to the second Wamda Mix N’ Mentor ‘Nuwait edition’ in Kuwait which was held on November 3, to try to uncover the real business problems local entrepreneurs are facing.

Kamel Al-Asmar from Wamda kicked off the event with a briefing note. (Images via Reine Farhat)

Some of the assembled startups may have even mutated into something new: “You just found your founding team,” mentor Hashim Bahbahani from coding academy Coded told three groups trying to solve the same issues.

The mentorship sessions at Mix n’ Mentor are where some of the most fruitful conversations take place, so here are the top ten tips that came out of Kuwait:

1. Don’t overvalue your startup

Arzan VC’s partner Hassan Zainal believes asking for too much money can hurt a startup.

"Don’t get more money than what you need, because you’ll be overvalued and the investors will avoid investing in you."

2. Hire well to avoid firing

OMijbel Qattan from Impulse tells startups to hire slowly so they avoid firing impulsively, and putting their business reputation at stake.

Abdur-Rahman El Sayed from Waveline Media recommends starting with a small essential team that can evolve.

“Hire a tech team in-house. Outsourcing should be for a short term. Don’t sacrifice the quality of the initial team.”

3. Don’t micromanage

Ghaliah Tech’s Khalid Al Sultan advised entrepreneurs to disconnect from work in order to be able to watch what is happening in the business from a fresh perspective.

“Don't micromanage, ask yourself what's the worst that could happen.”

4. Fake the egg to solve the chicken-and-egg problem

In the online marketplace business the real issue was sometimes unknown, said Muteb Alobeiwi from payment gateway Payfort. It was up to the entrepreneurs to listen to their potential clients’ challenges in the first meeting, then come back with a solution.

"You have to solve the chicken and the egg problem and most of the times you have to fake the egg."

5. Find your matching skills set

As a cofounder, "you wear many hats, but you can't have that compromise efficiency,” said Bahbahani.

“Clear matching of tasks with skills sets is needed early on among a business's core team.”

6. Monetize data

Data is the future and every startup is sleeping on a gold mine that needs to be exploited.

“Your best asset to your startup as it evolves is the data you've collected,” said Jasim Al Mutawa from TAT Group, who advised entrepreneurs to figure out a way to monetize from their data.

7. Don’t fall in love

Getting so attached to the ideas prevents entrepreneurs from looking at the business side and being critical to what works and what not. “Sometimes entrepreneurs fall in love with their ideas and have an analysis paralysis,” said Ijaz Ahmad from Impulse.

Afternoon workshop on user growth.

8. Know your terms

The business terms that is. Neda Aldihany from Brilliant Lab asked attendees to familiarize themselves with few key terms like business development.

9. Don’t quit your job yet

People who have enough savings to quit their jobs and focus on their business, as physical storage solution Boxit did, can do this. Haider Al-Mosawi from Sirdab Lab said that as for the others, “your startup needs your job until you prove you can make revenue”.

10. Read the Lean Startup book

Both Mutawa and Alobeiwi advised entrepreneurs to learn about the ‘Lean Startup’ approach. This approach saves development costs by helping entrepreneurs first come up with a minimal viable product (MVP) to identify the exact need then iterate. The goal of this approach is to save unnecessary costs on what could be an unwanted product.  

November 7th 2016, 7:37 am

PepsiCo Social Impact Competition announces its finalists

ومضة

PepsiCo and Wamda are pleased to announce the finalists of the PepsiCo Social Impact Competition. The contest aims to reward and celebrate startups that created and implemented innovative solutions to pressing social and environmental challenges in the MENA region.

Ten ventures have been selected from more than 100 submissions to advance into final stage of the competition. This selection was decided by a jury of experts ranging from social entrepreneurship specialists to venture capitalists, PepsiCo executives, and Wamda team members. It was based on four assessment criteria: business potential, social impact, scalability, and the quality of the team and the deliverables.

After an intense review process, the ten startups that have reached PepsiCo Social Impact Competition’s finals are:

The selected startups will participate in the last round of judging taking place at the Amwaj 2016 Forum on November 28-29, 2016 in Amman. They will pitch their businesses to a panel of distinguished judges and will compete to win prizes of up to $20,000. Winners will be announced and celebrated during a gala dinner on November 29, 2016.=

PepsiCo and Wamda congratulate all PepsiCo Social Impact Competition’s finalists and wish them good luck for its final round!

November 7th 2016, 6:37 am

Nawart's cleantech startups a silver lining for Egypt's transition

ومضة

Egypt may have effectively killed off any interest in industrial scale solar, but a group of people passionate about the cause believe startups can revive the badly scarred sector.

On Thursday, Nawart, a cross disciplinary incubation project for small scale renewable startups founded in February, presented 15 projects it believes can play a part in reducing energy shortages and helping the country reach its clean energy targets, if given mentorship and support.

Those projects are from across the renewable spectrum, from biogas to solar street lighting, and selected to help them build the idea into a business with a functioning prototype.

So far there are three market ready prototypes out of the 15, including water pumping startup Sun City Energy and hybrid energy provider Taqa Gededa.

“These sort of ideas will make the difference, if we want to live in the best environment possible,” said PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Egypt head Tarek Mansour.

Nawart is supported by PwC , the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and GIZ.

Mansour said the economy was going through “an interesting” phase, and supporting early stage ideas would lead to some becoming profitable.

The event on Novermber 4 was a big deal with Nawart, as it presented the 15 projects incubated within the program. (Images via Nawart)

State of cleantech entrepreneurship in Egypt

The entrepreneurial scene in Egypt witnessed a surge following the 2011 uprising with more than three million people working as entrepreneurs of some kind, according to a 2013 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM).

The government has recognised this. In a meeting on Tuesday, the Supreme Investment Council exempted emerging agricultural and industrial enterprises from taxes for five years. This will benefit cleantech startups as they won’t have to pay the incoming 13 percent value-added tax, among other duties.

Renewable energy startups in particular are gaining momentum as entrepreneurs - those who remain unphased by the government’s mishandling of the feed-in-tariff program - seek to tap into the country’s need for more energy.

“The government cannot do everything. We have to cooperate,” said Ministry of Trade and Industry representative Hanan El-Hadary. “We strive to reach a point where [the Nawart startups’] products can be 100 percent manufactured locally and also start competing internationally.”

El-Hadary  said the ministry could provide funding, technical support and marketing, and offered to provide machinery for startups with a small price or even for free to help with the technical support Nawart’s projects need.

Moreover, the ministry vowed to do matchmaking between startups and factories, and is undertaking some technical studies that could be used for opportunity mapping by startups.

The startups ranged from solar lighting to solar bicycles, like He Bike.

Connected cleantech

Taqa Gadeda (‘new energy’ in English) has created a hybrid of renewable energies comprising solar, wind and diesel to serve agribusiness in remote areas. The system, which is still in R&D, is targeting the North Coast area for its thriving tourism market and promising agriculture industry.

Founder Heba Sharaf told Wamda the project pushed the boundaries in renewable energy. “Everyone is focused on solar only. Our main challenge is to combine other forms of renewables for electricity.”

They are still in need of technical and funding assistance though, especially as not all of the materials are manufactured locally.

Sharaf, who came from an academic background as a renewable energy professor, joined Nawart to boost her practical knowledge.

“Nawart was a great opportunity to know how things work on the ground. Besides technicalities, it has sharpened my knowledge on capacity building and project management.”

A mother of two, Sharaf had to juggle her full time job as a professor, the intensive training schedule, and her family commitments - she said the mentors at Nawart were very understanding when she brought her six-month old son to trainings.

Fixing farmer's water problems

Sun City Energy on the other hand provides a mobile solar panel used for water field irrigation, instead of diesel motors.

“The concept of solar water irrigation was present but was not compatible for small farmers,” founder Ahmed Abbas told Wamda.

He said in Egypt there were five million farmers owning less than one acre each. In a country with a 3 percent total agricultural area this market was considered huge.  

The team developed a pilot at a competitive price, and made it compatible or farmers who wanted to buy or just rent for irrigation days. The system is mobile, to avoid theft risks.

“Every 1,000 units we sell, we save 24,000 annually CO2 emissions and create from six to ten green jobs, in addition to lifting the burden of diesel subsidy on government,” he said.

This product aims to save farmers the hassle of going to the gas station and bringing diesel, especially amid latest price hikes for diesel, gas and solar.

The pilot was ready for the market after almost two years in R&D, but Abbas said the team was looking for financial resources for farmers.

Through Nawart, Sun City obtained seed funding and a full incubation package from the Misr Al-Kheir foundation.

“We managed through Nawart’s foundation building phase to incubate two projects, including Sun City,” Mahi Al-Jazzar Gesr project manager at Misr El-Kheir said. “This is the kind of cooperation we are looking for.”

Feature image: Hadeer Muhamed and her biogas startup Smart and Green. 

November 7th 2016, 4:37 am

What I know about privacy and AI: Rand Hindi

ومضة

The future holds so many innovations to make our lives easier, but we are often told that it will come at a price.

We’ll need to choose between time-saving and control, comfort and privacy. Everybody wants our data and we better get used to giving it away.

At the Hello Tomorrow Summit on October 13-14 in Paris, the high-tech innovations that will change our civilization, from DNA stocking to automated vehicles, were on display. On the second biggest stage, a panel tried to answer a question on whether or not those future innovations will make the world a better or a scarier world.

French-Lebanese entrepreneur Rand Hindi was on that panel. His company, Snips, builds software development kits (SDKs) that enables anyone to create their own artificial intelligence (AI) assistants, but with a very strong focus on privacy.

He believes protecting data depends on product makers’ goodwill.

AI requires data, and data protection. The key part to making AI assistants work is to give them a deep understanding of people's life. If you ask an assistant to find a good Japanese restaurant near your hotel, it needs to know where your hotel is, so it need access to your emails, but also to your chat messages, location, calendar, and social networks. If we were to centralize so much data on our servers, we would become the prime target for every hacker and government on the planet. So for us, privacy is not just something that's ethical, it's something that is necessary to make people feel safe about the data we're collecting.

People shouldn't care about privacy. The first question non-tech people have is usually around whether or not those AI assistants will be useful and smart enough to beat Siri. When I explain how you can do that, then obviously privacy becomes a concern. I don't think people should care about privacy, not because it's not important but because it should the default. It should be assumed that you have privacy. Some of the big companies today are trying to make you believe that you have to make a trade-off between AI and privacy. That is false.

Privacy is possible with the right business model. The reason why the big companies are not protecting data is because their business models require them to access data. The implicit value of privacy and the trust that it builds with your users is such that you could probably find other ways to monetize which are a lot better.

Privacy pays. Our model doesn't access data. We're a technology provider, we monetize by providing our technology to companies who want to build their own assistant. You can also continue to monetize the service around the data. If you want to do app recommendation, for instance, you could run the algorithm on the smartphone of the user so you don't need the data on the server of the company to monetize. You can do memberships as well. The consumer demand for privacy is just starting to emerge, we've seen that with messaging apps and password managers. People are willing to pay for privacy.

Implementing privacy is easy. It shouldn't be your job as a product maker to figure out the AI and the privacy. It's our job as a technology company. I think there are two things you can do. The first one is you can push as much as the computation as possible on the device of the user directly because if it stays on his device. That way, if somebody wants to hack into the data of a hundred million people, they will need to hack into a hundred million phones. The second thing is cryptography. You can compute on encrypted data directly. When you combine the two, you have no reason to access users' data.

Feature image via  Phil Marden.

November 7th 2016, 1:37 am

Telcos to the startup rescue?

ومضة

Telcos could be the saviour of emerging market startups, according to a report from mobile industry association GSMA.

They have the money and the inclination to invest in startups, as shown by South African telco MTN that most recently invested in Iran-based startup Snapp. MTN has also proved a willing partner for Rocket Internet’s emerging market endeavours.

Outside MENA, Safaricom announced the third investment by its venture arm Spark in October, and Japan’s Softbank led a $750 million investment in Southeast Asia ride hailing app, Grab.

“In 2015 alone, telecom operators invested $3.2 billion in tech companies in emerging markets,” the report said.

The inexorable rise of corporate venture capital, particularly from telcos has changed the investment market around the world. The report notes that corporate venture investments have more than tripled in the last five years, accounting for 32 percent of venture investments, as logged by industry database CB Insights.

GSMA attributes the start of investments by mobile operators in emerging markets to Singtel in Singapore and STC in Saudi Arabia, which launched funds in 2011 and 2012 respectively.

More recently in Africa, operators Vodacom, Orange, and Safaricom introduced investment vehicles in 2015/2016, and MTN and Millicom continue to expand their investments.

A selection of corporate venture capital funds. (Image via GSMA)

Telcos need to get involved

Telcos are often among the largest private technology companies in any country. As such, the GSMA report asserted that the benefits for a startup with mobile operator backing included smoothing the path through regulatory or legal frameworks and bridge gaps, such as identity verification for fintech services.

“In emerging markets, mobile operators are without a doubt the players with the longest reach: even in less-developed markets, mobile phones reach close to 60 percent of the population,” it said. “Beyond this, extensive distribution channels, large marketing budgets, and access to user data, allow mobile operators to drive their subscribers’ usage towards the start-up’s products.”

Nuno Goncalves Pedro, a partner at Delta Partners who co-authored the report, said telcos in emerging markets needed to be more active supporters of their local startup ecosystems.

“To play more actively in the investment arena, not only creates commercial benefits for those involved, but also, from a socio-economic perspective, it can have a number of positive outcomes,” he said.

“The new digital era has raised the bar and it is vital that mobile operators in emerging markets take heed of the opportunities represented by start-ups to avoid being left behind.”

Feature image via Pexels.

November 6th 2016, 8:37 am

China calls for Dubai 100 healthtech backer

ومضة

With its fast growing healthcare market and rapidly ageing population, China is proving to be a match for Dubai-based Dubai 100.

The pre-accelerator runs a 100-day program for early-stage healthtech startups and the last stop on a list of activities this year was a program in Shanghai, following the graduation of its first six startups this summer.

The Shanghai leg worked with eight startups from all over China, and finished last week with an intensive bootcamp and a pitch competition.

Beijing-based Mo Doo, which has invented a non-invasive fetal heart monitoring device, won the $10,000 top prize and a seat on the next Dubai 100 cohort, kicking off in January 2017 in Dubai. Two other commended teams were offered places in the Dubai program too.

“All of the participating founders were an incredibly high caliber with bright futures ahead,” said Roland Daher, head of Dubai 100.

The Dubai 100 participating teams. (Image via Dubai 100)

China meets the Middle East

China is an appealing market for healthcare businesses.

One example is their aging population: it’s estimated the number of people over 80 years old with rise to120 million, by 2050. Investment in China’s healthcare sector is correspondingly large; spending is projected to grow from $357 billion in 2011 to $1 trillion by 2020.

Additionally, China’s interest in venture capital is growing. Government-backed venture funds raised about 1.5 trillion yuan (US$231 billion) and the number of overseas mergers and acquisitions are increasing.

As a result, Daher said being close to China was a strategic move to ensure Dubai 100’s network was global.

“You’re close to a massive market, an impressive talent pool and a big investment hub.” he said. "That would allow Dubai to be the bridge between China and the rest of the world, in digital health.”

Going global

Creating local programs with global reach is becoming more common, and Dubai 100 is following in the footsteps of projects such as Startup Chile, and Startup Health in the US.

The Argentinian OTTA Project (One Touch Talk Assistive), founded by brothers Hector and Carlos Costa, was one global startup that participated in Dubai 100’s initial cohort.

They have a platform that curates nearly 3,000 images to allow people with disorders like autism, or cerebral palsy, to communicate, and want to gain exposure outside their home country where healthcare budgets for congenital disorders is low.

Dubai as a health hub

Dubai is working on its image as a medical tourism destination. An EY report this year predicted that healthcare spending in the GCC would grow massively, and by 2020 be worth $69 billion.

Furthermore, startups are being developed to cash in on that market. Ninety percent of the startups that participated in the Wamda Research Lab healthtech report published in May were created in the last five years.

But the desire to bring global startups to Dubai indicates there still isn’t the level of innovation available in the city to really change the healthcare status quo.

“It’s like building any ecosystem, eventually it only gets built from within […] you need to catalyse it somehow," said Daher.

Interest in digital health investment is growing regionally. The recently launched fund Hikma Ventures is making sizeable investments already, albeit into US companies.

Dubai 100 are currently recruiting for the January 2017 cohort. Interested startups can apply here.

Feature image: the closing competition of Dubai 100 in China. (Image via Dubai 100)

November 6th 2016, 6:37 am

'Push' is big business for these Egyptians

ومضة

2015 was the year of the push notification.

App makers discovered that a prompt on a smartphone could remind their users they existed and encourage engagement. However, that enthusiasm was followed by survey after survey registering how annoying users found push notifications.

2016, then, was the year of figuring out how to do it properly.

Amr Sobhy, the cofounder of Egyptian startup Pushbots, thinks they may have cracked that nut.

They have 20,000 corporate customers using the notifications service which at the time of writing, were reaching nearly 50 million end users.

Furthermore, Sobhy says the startup is profitable with both user numbers, message volume and - importantly - revenue jumping in the last six months.

When Pushbots started in 2013 it was offering a tweet-to-notify service before developing a more well rounded offer for mobile. Today, most of their customers come from outside MENA (India is their biggest market by a considerable margin), which Sobhy says was reflective of the market for apps - there are simply more being developed in countries such as the US or Indonesia, which are also big markets for the company.

Pushbots founders Amr Sobhy and Abdullah Diaa. (Image via Nick St. Oegger)

Mobile is the acknowledged device killer. In October mobile and tablet internet use exceeded that of desktops for the first time ever. But as companies have moved to mobile-first strategies, app discovery - that is making sure people actually know about your app - has become more of a problem.

After that, those apps need to somehow become one of the five that people spend 85 percent of their time using.

“Getting the attention of users is becoming increasingly difficult. The attention of users is the actual commodity in this industry. The need for more advanced tools for personalizing and tailoring messages is extremely high to avoid spamming users with irrelevant, dull and non-engaging content,” Sobhy said.

The field is a crowded one as well. In 2014 Sobhy said their rivals were companies like Urban Airship, Parse, Element Wave, and Push IO.

Today it’s even tougher, as businesses like Pushwoosh, Kumulus and a raft of others tap into app makers’ increasingly determined attempts to win their users back.

Feature image via Mobify.

November 6th 2016, 3:37 am

Challenge 22 Roadshow - UAE

ومضة

Challenge 22 is an innovation competition administered by the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy in Qatar. This competition aims to incentivise regional innovation toward the solution of specific challenges associated with Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™, and promoting a culture of innovation in a manner that results in a lasting and sustainable legacy for Qatar, the Arab region, and beyond. It is divided into four challenges: sustainability, health & safety, tourism experience, and Internet of Things.

In its efforts to reach out and engage with the community, Challenge 22 will be having a ‘Roadshow’ across the Arab world to promote the competition and encourage innovators to submit their ideas. The introductory session is mainly introducing the four challenges and explaining the life cycle of the ideas during the competition along with eligibility and selection criteria.

The roadshow will stop by UAE on November 8 and 9. The November 8 stop will be at Astrolabs, Dubai, at 6:30 PM, and the November 9 stop will be at Zayed University, Dubai, at 11:00 AM.

For more information on the roadshow, contact the Challenge 22 team at info@challenge22.qa

 
 

November 5th 2016, 6:05 am

What's Steve Wozniaks's favorite drink? BDL Accelerate reveals

ومضة

The ‘Woz’ had arrived.

The flashing lights and booming duff-duff of a heavy bassline more befitted a DJ at one of Beirut’s infamous clubs than an awkward engineer-at-heart.

Steve Wozniak was the headliner at Lebanon’s BDL Accelerate tech conference overshadowing, at least in celebrity, other big names like Microsoft’s Steven Bathiche and iPod creator Tony Fadell.

He’s well known on the speaker trail but this was his first taste of Lebanon, and his speech on the second day of the conference was standing room only; BDL attracted 11,000 people from around the region on the first day and Wozniak’s speech was expected to bring in even more.

If Wozniak’s presence achieved one thing at BDL, it’s that it attracted Lebanese from Beirut and even the countryside, various ages and industries to a conference that would otherwise have been tech attended by the usual techies, bankers, and handful of entrepreneurs like last year.

Wozniak was not puppy eyed about his former company Apple or his late cofounder Steve Jobs. Here are the top five ideas, reminiscences, and anecdotes from his hour long speech and Q&A.

1. Lessons for entrepreneurs

“A lot of what you do in life boils down less to knowledge and skills and more to motivation,” he reiterated through his speech.

Wozniak, the son of a California-based engineer, said his success was largely due to his love for invention and engineering since his youth.

“I told my father I wanted to be a 5th grade teacher and an electric engineer. These were my two goals. Later on, without books to teach you how computers were made … I knew I wanted to be an engineer that made lives easier, to give us more time,” he said.

And it was self-education in his free time that gave him the skills that built Apple’s first computer.

“I looked at college as a holding spot while I developed my own talents,” he said. “When I worked at Hewlett Packard (HP), I was doing side projects left and right. Because I did it for fun. HP was a holding place, designing calculators that paid for my apartment. I was too much a geek so at night, I would work on my own products that turned into magical things.”

2. Steve Jobs and Apple

Wozniak said meeting Steve Jobs in college was an opportunity to turn his own creations into money making products. Jobs had the strong will and motivation to sell computers, but Wozniak noted he had negative sides too.

“I wish Apple [now] was more open. At first, we were totally open,” Wozniak said.

But it was Job’s baby, the iPod, that he said jumpstarted Apple’s rise as a company. The App Store that one he said was most influential his life.

“We opened the world up for people who developed apps.”

3. Data for sale

Wozniak said he tried to avoid social networks. And although he appreciated Google’s work on artificial intelligence, he didn’t trust the mega company as it made money off collecting personal data. On Facebook, he refused to give a concrete opinion.

“I have 5000 facebook friends and I don’t know them. If they said [something] nice I accepted them as friends. I kinda like Facebook. I like some aspects of Google. I just wish I wasn't being inspected.”

Wozniak added that he had great admiration for Tesla.

4. “I’m not an investor”

Just because a number of Wozniak’s colleagues went on to make star-studded tech investments, doesn’t mean it comes naturally to every engineer in successful Silicon Valley companies.

“I grew up anti-big money and never wanted it. I turned down big investment for Apple. I was gonna be an engineer for life with HP. But eventually changed my mind when I could be an engineer for life at Apple and never manage,” he said.

The combination of giving away his Apple proceeds and “a few” divorces meant that several years ago he found himself in debt. It was the international speaking circuit that had helped him rebuild.

5. Starstruck

Wozniak said he regularly watched only two shows: Dancing with the Stars and The Big Bang Theory.

He’s been on both, but it was Dancing with the Stars that was the most stressful - it took him a year to accept the offer after they first called and was happy when he was voted off the show.

And his favourite drink? Certainly not apple juice - it's unsweetened iced tea.

Feature image via Rami Deeb.

November 4th 2016, 9:47 am

Challenge 22 Roadshow - Oman

ومضة

Challenge 22 is an innovation competition administered by the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy in Qatar. This competition aims to incentivise regional innovation toward the solution of specific challenges associated with Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™, and promoting a culture of innovation in a manner that results in a lasting and sustainable legacy for Qatar, the Arab region, and beyond. It is divided into four challenges: sustainability, health & safety, tourism experience, and Internet of Things.

In its efforts to reach out and engage with the community, Challenge 22 will be having a ‘Roadshow’ across the Arab world to promote the competition and encourage innovators to submit their ideas. The introductory session is mainly introducing the four challenges and explaining the life cycle of the ideas during the competition along with eligibility and selection criteria.

On November 6, the roadshow will stop by Oman during Tawasul and Knowledge. Note that the November 6 event will be taking place at Gulf College, Seeb, whereas the November 7 event is at National Business Center - KOM 4 , Seeb, Oman.

For more information on the roadshow, contact the Challenge 22 team at info@challenge22.qa

 

November 4th 2016, 4:47 am

Get your house in order: what to expect from due diligence [Opinion]

ومضة

Before an investor will give your startup money, they will dig into your books to find out whether there is anything they need to know first.

This is called due diligence.

Legal due diligence in an acquisition is when investors make a detailed examination of a startup to assess the non-market business risks, such as pending lawsuits or staffing costs, and verify information presented by the founders during the negotiations.

This allows the investors to have a deeper understanding of any risks, and then work to address them with the founders.

Keep it friendly

Of utmost importance is the parties’ attitude towards due diligence, to manage the process in a timely and friendly manner.

Overly suspicious investors and defensive or argumentative founders can drag the process needlessly, costing time and money. Investors need to remember that SMEs are inherently imperfect, and entrepreneurs that investors are keen on the business.

From our experience, the right attitude with which due diligence should be approached is transparency and collaborative risk mitigation.

We have seen due diligence exercises take as little as two weeks with well-prepared entrepreneurs who compiled their virtual data rooms at the start of fundraising. We have also seen the process last four months, forcing the startup to find bridging finance and poisoning the relationship between the founders and the investors.

Opening the books

Due diligence starts with the lawyers circulating a list of documents they need to see.

Disclosure is usually through uploading the documents onto a virtual data room, and the founders must either provide them all or explain why they do not exist.

It is important for the founders to review the list carefully with their lawyers. The wrong response can be considered misrepresentation and, aside from its relationship impact, may allow the investors to either cancel the deal and seek compensation for their costs, or lower their valuation.

How it’s done

To give an example of how due diligence is carried out, we will use two common items on due diligence lists: employment contracts for every employee in the startup, and litigation.

With respect to employment contracts, the startup will have to disclose them all. If certain contracts do not meet investors’ satisfaction or are missing they will ask, as a precondition to closing the deal, that the startup enters into employment agreements with the employees in a form satisfactory to the investors.

With respect to litigation, the startup will have to disclose information regarding any litigation to which it is a party. The investment deal will include a guarantee by the startup and the founders that it’s not a party to any undisclosed lawsuits.

A checklist of the documents you need to provide

The due diligence list is generally tweaked for every transaction, but for Middle East tech startups, it is commonly composed of the following categories:

  1. Corporate: The constitutive documents (memorandums and articles of association, bylaws, certificates of incorporation or registration, etc.) of the startup.
     

  2. Regulatory: All the applicable regulatory permits, licenses, and registrations of the startup, and an examination of the applicable regulations to the target and the transaction.
     

  3. Management: Maps out the management structure of the startup, and includes the appointment documents and authorities of each director and officer.
     

  4. Material contracts: All major supply, maintenance, sale, and purchase contracts as well as any other contracts that are important to the startup’s business.
     

  5. Financial: The financial statements, forecasts, business plans, loan or financing agreements, revenue analysis, and bank statements.
     

  6. Immovable assets: The deeds, contracts, and property information for all real and immovable property, including lease agreements.
     

  7. Intellectual property and information technology: Includes all patent, trademark, and copyright information, descriptions of the code, website programing, and programs owned by or licensed to the target, and all website registration information.
     

  8. Employment: A list of the startup’s employees, as well as their employment contracts, employment entitlements, benefit plans, employee complaints, and employee regulatory filings.
     

  9. Customer information: Information about the target’s largest customers, customer lists, and customer analysis.
     

  10. Insurance: This includes the target’s maintained insurance policies, including employee health insurance, vehicle insurance, and asset insurance.
     

  11. Litigation and investigations: Includes information on any dispute, litigation, or arbitration to which the target is a party, and any regulatory investigations of the target, its management, shareholders, or employees.
     

  12. Consents to transaction:The lists of and the relevant documents setting out the consents required to approve and execute the investment transaction, including committee or board approvals, lender consents, and shareholder approvals.

Due diligence is very important especially for professional investors such as VCs and family offices. While it may be viewed as an unwelcome probe by some founders, good preparation and a good attitude will be key in helping it progress quickly.

Feature image via Kentech.

November 3rd 2016, 7:45 am

Dubai food tech startup Lunch:on raises $500K seed

ومضة

Lunch:on has closed a seed round of $500,000 led by Wamda Capital, with Arzan VC, Dubai Angel Investors and other participating investors. This signals positive growth for the MENA food tech scene, despite a global decline in funding the industry.

Lunch:on was founded in September 2015 by former banker Mohammed Al Zaben and former Procter & Gamble consumer marketeer Dana Baki. The Dubai-based startup partners with popular gourmet restaurants to deliver lunches to office workers. Each morning at a set time, a curated menu is sent to customers via text or email.

“We are excited to be supporting Lunch:on as it begins to scale its offering throughout Dubai and eventually the wider region. This investment keeps with our commitment to support exceptional entrepreneurs building disruptive businesses. Lunch:on are reformulating the work place lunch experience,” says Khaled Talhouni, managing partner at Wamda Capital.

Each weekday, a different restaurant offers three menu options: meat, vegetarian and a healthy option. Users reply via text or email to order and their food is delivered no later than 1 pm. 

The new startup’s unique selling proposition (USP) lies in the simplicity of its ‘message to order’ platform, according to Al Zaben.

“Office workers are looking for a more convenient way to get lunch and what better way than to reach them through their existing email and messaging apps,” said Al Zaben.

“The beauty of Lunch:on is that it addresses multiple audience segments, not just individual lunchers seeking curated lunch recommendations and reliable food delivery,” said Baki. “But also large corporates wanting to ensure their workers can enjoy lunch time efficiently.” 

For restaurants, Lunch:on enables revenue growth by providing restaurant partners with regular bulk orders of a limited menu by 11 am, a time when restaurant and kitchen staff are generally under-utilized, hence increasing their operational efficiency.

With Lunch:on, every day a different restaurant offers three menu options: meat, vegetarian and a healthy option. (Image via Lunch:on Facebook)

Lunch:on also utilizes conversational commerce tools such as chatbots.

“With our proprietary technology, we deploy chatbots over these messaging channels, enabling a seamless and simplified way to execute the daily lunch ordering process,” said Al Zaben. Chatbots rose to prominence earlier this year at the Facebook Developer Conference (F8), attracting attention as one solution to enhancing customer experience.

In addition to the chatbots, Lunch:on uses prediction technology and scheduling algorithms. The team developed their own technology that takes into account user preferences and ordering patterns to ensure the optimal pairing of companies and restaurants on any given day.

Office lunch ordering startups have been multiplying globally, especially in the US. Some of the most well-known and highly funded players in this market are 500 Startups-backed, San Francisco-based Chewse, and Zesty. Zesty is a healthy meal delivery service app that raised $17 million in Series A funding last year to drive expansion outside of San Francisco.

Globally however, food tech investment slowed down in the first half of 2016, according to the investing platform AgFunder. In 2015, investment in food tech soared to $4.6 billion, nearly doubling the amount poured into the sector in 2014. But as of Q2 2016, food tech companies worldwide raised a total of just $1.8 billion with total annual funding estimates expected to be nearly 30 percent lower than 2015.

Al Zaben and Baki would not disclose order numbers to date, but the cofounders said the initial traction for the startup has proven very promising, despite increased competition in the region.

MENA’s food delivery landscape is already populated by the likes of Round Menu, Food on Click, Deliveroo and most recently Uber Eats.

“We’ve already on-boarded a number of major multinationals and regional corporates like GE, Leo Burnett, OSN, Dell, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, PwC, Lenovo, Coca-Cola and many more,” said Baki

“The seed capital will be directed towards accelerating the company’s growth, both in terms of manpower and expanding our presence across the UAE,” said Al Zaben. The startup will be hiring new talent and with a heavy emphasis on technology and business development personnel.

Feature image via Lunch:on Facebook page

November 3rd 2016, 4:45 am

Startup Watch: Company rebellions, new MENA crowdfunding platforms, and why your hacker is not your

ومضة

The world of entrepreneurship news is a complex one, with people ever ready to give their two cents on what they think is hottest industry, where you should invest your time and money, and which startup is about to f-f-f-f-fail.

To help you navigate through the mayhem, here’s our wrap of what we’re reading on digital security, company rebels, gifs and celebrity investors.

Feed the fire inside your rebels. Conformity is not only dangerous, it’s counter productive and kills creativity. It also means you’ll lose talented staff and possibly go bankrupt. While we don’t encourage rewarding poor behavior, this piece is advising you to encourage constructive nonconformity, or behaviors that deviate from organizational norms and expectations of others, and ultimately benefit the company. A good place to start is to tell your employees what job needs to be done rather than how to get that job done.

Everyone needs crowdfunding these days, even NGOs. On Monday, a new site launched to support social impact projects in Palestine. Build Palestine wants to ease the obstacles Palestinian initiatives face in secure funding. Zoomaal also launched their new crowdfunding platform in late October, titled GivingLoop, serving nonprofits and social enterprises in the Arab world and internationally. It’s a maverick among crowdfunding platforms as it requires a monthly payment plan from backers in order to maintain engagement with the projects they fund, as well as solve the challenge of financial sustainability among NGOs.

Wamda of the Week: your password is 123456 and that’s (sorta) okay. Just don’t be one of those who is still running decades old software on your device. Hit ‘Update All’. Do it now. We found out from hacker and entrepreneur Matt Suiche that it’s not our poor passwords that are to blame for someone hacking our Skype and sending out viruses to our colleagues, it’s actually the company’s fault! The business needs to make sure employees are using updated products because as threats increase, your weakest link is your software.

There’s gotta be a better way to exit. When entrepreneurs are restricted to selling themselves to rivals, going public or selling to investors to cash out, they often sell their heart along with their company. Hypothetical alternatives include adopting an OpenIPO model, which may help companies hold on to their core values and “reduce the pressure of being measured by and living up to short term financial performance expectations”. Sounds like a lofty goal to us, but worth thinking about.

Ashton Kutcher may have hosted Punked, but when investing he’s not messing around. The star of films ranging from Steve Jobs to Dude, Where’s My Car was ranked at #1 for celebrity investors by CB Insights. Kutcher, described as a “prolific early-stage angel investor”, has invested in over 100 startups during the past 10 years including Airbnb and Skype. Next up on the list was rapper Nas, who is not so famous anymore so we’ll skip over him and have you go through the chart yourself. Any chance Amr Diab or Nancy Ajram are looking into investing in MENA startups? Shi million w nus?

Top two celebrity investors. (Chart via CB Insights)

UAE employees: on your marks, get set, read? Our law of the week comes from the UAE president, who has said employees must be given time off during working hours to read. Aimed at pushing the country further towards a knowledge economy, the law also exempts books and magazines from taxes and fees and mandates coffee shops to have reading material available to its customers. So CEOs: get out your bean bags and dust off those book shelves, they’re more than decoratives now.

October 2016, when the numbers caught up to the obvious. Last month, internet usage on mobile and tablets exceeded that on desktop computers. The new figures released Monday are from Irish Web analytics firm StatCounter. So if you are one of the rare companies that isn’t thinking mobile-first, yesterday was the right time to start.

 

Forget sentences, GIFs are the new words. GIPHY, the Google of gifs, raised a fresh $72 million round of equity funding last week. The company, whether you pronounce its name it with a hard g or soft g (which is just wrong in our opinion) is valued at a whopping $600 million. Last week it also released some crazy numbers like these: gifs via GIPHY are seen by more than 100 million daily users and more than two million hours of gifs are watched daily. And the best part of its massive success is that the company has no real revenue stream. So all we really wanted to say here is:

Feature image via Wikimedia commons

November 3rd 2016, 2:45 am

Beirut Jam Sessions: magic, music, and Minister of Culture

ومضة

Anthony Semaan is an unspoken hero for Lebanon’s music scene.

His startup, Beirut Jam Sessions, has done more for local musicians than any of the country’s annual large scale music festivals.

Founded in 2012 by Semaan, Jessica Naime and Talia Souki, Beirut Jam Sessions has brought dozens of international artists, including Joss Stone and The Wanton Bishops, to Lebanon to perform and play alongside local artists. They represent 10 local bands, including Postcards, Karim Khneisser, and Ibrahim Maalouf, and have organized more than 100 shows abroad for Lebanese artists.

Postcards performing in Beirut. (Images via Beirut Jam Sessions)

But being a concert organizer and manager of local bands is secondary to the their Youtube channel, where in video after video the startup offers filmed improvised ‘jam sessions’ between international and local artists in unconventional locations across Lebanon.

It was where the real magic happened, said Semaan.

One of their latest videos is of European artist Roscius who they filmed playing in a run-down garage in Beirut’s Armenian suburb Bourj Hammoud. Another, below, was at a boxing ring just outside Beirut and brought together European duo Heymoonshaker, Syrian-Filipino rapper Chyno and Beirut’s FZ from the Fareeq El Atrash band.

The Youtube channel has garnered over 1.5 million views from the region and abroad.

“With all the generic crap passing for music these days, it’s always a joy to discover artists that do it for the love of music. And it’s an even greater one to discover fellow Lebanese enriching our culture in their diversity and musical boldness,” Joey Ayoub said in his blog post about the group.

Music entrepreneur

While Beirut Jam Sessions in unique in Lebanon, its backstory is a standard one for most entrepreneurs: cushy job, missing drive.

“I wanted to create something that when I woke up in the morning I was are proud of,” Semaan said. Until 2012, he worked at a telecommunication job in Madrid but had been writing down ideas for his own music venture for many years. “[In order to succeed] I had to cut the hand that feeds me and remove myself from any income I was receiving.”

Their first concert was with in June 2012 when they brought Australian singer-songwriter Emilie Gassin to Beirut for a performance. Around 450 people showed up. Since then, they’ve grown to work with renowned global artists including Joss Stone, who recorded a session performing Khneisser’s song ‘Walahi’.

Safety, security and bureaucracy

But bringing international artists to Lebanon comes with a few caveats.

First, convincing them to come.

“Everytime I bring an artists, I have to justify [Lebanon’s] security and sanitary situation,” Semaan said. “I had three artists cancel due to a bomb in Lebanon. Three others cancelled due to the garbage crisis. They said yes to coming, checked the news, and cancelled.”

Second, getting an artist visa at General Security.

For Semaan, who does not have the financial backing or fame for a wasta with General Security, his international artists need to obtain an artist visa to legally perform across Lebanon.

The legal logistics require him to stand in line at a General Security post for over six hours the day prior to an artist arriving, then they must take the artist to General Security before they leave.

Uk band IS Trpical performs in Beirut.

They sometimes stand in line with the artist for over five hours to complete the legal process, side by side with some sketchy characters seeking the same type of visa. In Lebanon, an artist visa is usually used for women who either knowingly, or more often, unknowingly, are entering the country for prostitution.

In addition to wait time, they also have to pay $350 for each artist visa, an amount that sometimes exceeds the artist’s plane ticket costs.

“It's a bit embarrassing sometimes and a bit shameful,” Semaan said. He sometimes arrives at the General Security office at 6am to secure a good place in line.

“The bigger festivals are all exempt from this because the financial power, and then do all their concerts in UNESCO world heritage sites so they are even more exempt from this. They pay a visa fee but they don't need to go through the hell we go through.”

Canadian musician Son of Dave performing in Beirut.

Minister of Culture

Eager to compensate for his country’s nonsensical bureaucracy, lack of security and stench of garbage that engulfes the poorly planned and over-build city infrastructure, Semaan also gives his artists tourist tours of Lebanon.

In addition to taking them out to Beirut’s relentless nightlife, Beirut Jam Sessions takes their artists to visit tourist attractions like Byblos, Jeita grotto, and other landmarks in the tiny Mediterranean country.

“I know every corner of these places more than the ministry of tourism now. I’m also promoting the country through our videos, and what the artists say about the country when they leave,” he said.

And finally, there’s the challenge of finding sponsors. Beirut Jam Sessions has only one consistent sponsor: Red Bull.

Many potential sponsors in Lebanon and the region are hesistant to support a local concert that may not yield thousands of audience members, or a Youtube channel whose videos don’t get a millions of views.

Pitch perfect passion

At the moment, the music venture makes its money from concerts and as a booking agent for local artists. While their business model may not be the best, it’s hard to deny their drive is on pitch perfect.

“This is my dream job, I created it for myself and I’m not gonna let it go without it being as successful as it can be, and as helpful as it can be to local artists,” Semaan said. 

November 2nd 2016, 7:55 am

Arab world’s streaming app Anghami raises Series B

ومضة

Lebanon-born music streaming app Anghami has raised a Series B round at an undisclosed value, the company said in a statement.

The round was led by private equity firm Samena Capital, and included UAE telco Du, which also signed a deal to bundle Anghami’s streaming service with its products.   

This is the startup’s third fundraising round, with the prior two led by Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP) in 2012 and in 2014. Existing investors include MBC Group and Mobily Ventures, the investment arm of Saudi telco Mobily.

“This has been a very exciting year for Anghami; the team has done an outstanding job in growing the company and positioning it as the uncontested music streaming market leader in the MENA region,” said MEVP managing partner Walid Mansour in the statement.

Anghami will use the money for regional expansion and user acquisition, as well as adding to its 20 million song library.

“We have an ambitious vision for Anghami beyond the streaming application; as a platform with cutting-edge technology, Anghami is empowered to build a strong ecosystem in the region connecting fans, artists, telcos and brands around music,” cofounder Eddy Maroun said in the statement.

Prior to securing its first investment, Anghami had struggled to raise any money as investors had refused to put money into the startup until it proved it had licensing deals for music.

The company was founded in 2012 by Maroun and Elie Habib, both Lebanese entrepreneurs, and now has 30 million subscribers. Deals with MBC and bundling agreements with 15 telcos in MENA gave it often exclusive access to not only music but television shows as well.

Samena Capital senior vice president Wassim Moukahhal said the company had the “right ingredients” of a talented management team, a sophisticated, high-tech product and a proven business model.

November 2nd 2016, 4:55 am

Behind Gradberry’s rebirth: it's all about timing

ومضة

“I don’t look like any other founder in the [Silicon] Valley. I wasn’t born and raised here,” Gradberry founder Iba Masood tells Wamda.

Five years after starting her graduate recruitment portal, Masood still feels like the odd one out. She’s proud of it though. Gradberry has recently been rebranded as the AI-powered tech project management chatbot, TARA.  

Today, TARA counts over 50,000 developers in its network. But it is the technology, not scale, that is driving it forward.

The Tara front end is a simple chatbot
that answers client queries within a maximum
of 48 hours. (Image via Thenextweb)

On the user end, TARA is a simple chatbot that assists enterprises across all stages of their tech development projects. On the backend, the TARA engine runs automated scans of a candidate’s code and assesses it based on factors such as language, complexity and runtime errors. It then matches clients with candidates.

“The human interaction takes place on the account management or sales management level,” says Masood.


Erase and rewind

TARA was initially launched out of Dubai in November 2011 under the name Gradberry, by Masood and Syed Ahmed - cofounder and now Tara’s chief technology officer. Bootstrapping and operating out of a bedroom with only $200 for web development, they wanted to tap the fresh graduate employment market.

By 2012, they had managed to clock up 8,000 registered students and a roster of over 150 employers including Google and Philips.

Gradberry has since seen several business model iterations and reboots - in 2013, version 2.0 of Gradberry offered online courses to students, and launched Smart Grad, a sourcing system they claimed to facilitate the talent search process for employers. By 2014 Masood had refocused and was looking to bridge very specific skills gaps between students and employers on its portal.  

Students hoping to land a job could sign up for courses, and some promising talents could also be sponsored by their future employers to complete these courses. Counting 38,000 users and 1,500 employers in 2014 – including the giant IBM – Gradberry’s new model worked well.

“A thousand graduates were successfully employed. But there were barriers for growth. The innovation ecosystem was very nascent at the time,” says Masood.

Internsme, another graduate recruitment platform in the same guise of Gradberry, has also had to diversify in recent years.

“Originally, we started with internships. Now we’re talking about graduate jobs, people who want to employ people with up to two years of experience,” says Jugal Paryani, the company’s growth marketing manager.

While their aim remains to get young people into jobs, Paryani says Internsme has “expanded to the domain of youth rather than just the employment market”.

Greener pastures

In time though Internsme might well hit the same roadblocks Gradberry experienced.

Masood admits to what she calls 'Middle East-specific barriers' hindering their growth in the region. “It was impossible to find investors. It was all bootstrapped and, in the Middle East, it comes down a lot of the times to who you know rather than what you know,” she says.

In the end their move to Silicon Valley two and half years ago was strategic, particularly with their ambitions set on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

In Silicon Valley, both Masood and Ahmed are on the Alien of Extraordinary Ability visa, typically granted to innovators.

“Within the Middle East, in order for innovation to really thrive, we need to come up with a similar system. Dubai leads from that standpoint because there are already so many cultures and nationalities in [the UAE],” Masood says.

Iba Masood and Syed Ahmad started their venture with zero budget and self-taught their way through it. (Image via Linkedin)

Initially the pair made a move to Boston, where startup incubator Masschallenge supported their growth, and then to other markets where they participated in and won several pitch competitions.

In 2015, the backing of Y Combinator thrust the startup onto the international stage.

Another pivot and within the span of a year Gradberry transformed into TARA (Talent Acquisition and Recruiting Automation), an AI-powered platform that not only matched on-demand tech talent with big enterprise projects, but that also managed these projects through to delivery.

Its wider impact, as Masood would have it, would be to level the playing field and push for meritocracy in the tech world.

I, Robot

From helping fresh grads find full-time jobs to AI-powered software automating the recruitment of contract-based workers, Gradberry’s transformation reflects a wider global debate: are automation and AI growing at the expense of human capital?

Predictive studies seem to indicate so. Gartner forecast that by 2020 autonomous software agents outside of human control will participate in 5 percent of all economic transactions.

The moral dilemma is not lost on Masood, but she sees inevitable opportunity, not threat, in machine learning and AI.

“Think about it this way; every interaction that we have at work today takes place through a messaging interface of some sort. You can use machine learning technically to analyze all the conversation you’ve ever had and then, basically create a system that can give you recommendations – ie on how you should write your email.”

Ultimately, every project completed through TARA will generated data that makes it smarter.

“We do see the potential for software that improves existing processes [for] clients,” adds Masood. Her clients now include Cisco, Forbes, and telco Orange.

Autoimmunity

Masood says the switch from sourcing and matching people with full-time employment to finding contract-based work follows a worldwide shift toward a market of free-floating talents.

But that’s in Silicon Valley. In MENA, Internsme’s Paryani says that he is yet to see any freelance trend materialize.

In a survey it recently conducted across 1,500 university students, Internsme revealed that UAE youth still value growth opportunities within recognizable organizations, and are concerned about their employability.

“When we have large corporations on our headlines we always get feedback quickly. People want to grow and learn within a respected organization,” Paryani says.

What is changing, however, is that certain industries like oil and gas are shifting from hiring expensive, older talents to nurturing younger ones. “There was a time when you could hire an engineer for AED 60,000 (US$16,000) a month and get away with it. That’s not happening anymore,” he says.  

Next steps

The IT industry, TARA’s bread and butter (for now), has been riddled with human inefficiencies for a while.

A 2012 McKinsey study run over 5,400 IT projects highlighted massive losses incurred not by broken software but by human inefficiencies – $66 billion to be exact, with projects running 45 percent over budget on average. More interestingly, projects with budget overruns typically led to “black swans” of irreversible damage.

It makes sense, then, that Masood’s next goal for TARA is to build predictive analytics through its system to remove the risk of human error or inefficiency. TARA’s predictive coding engine is powered by data from existing projects. Clients can expect a quote within 48 hours for a large-scale project, and 24 hours for smaller-to-mid-sized ones.

Masood claims that projects are being quoted in about half the time and at 40 percent of the cost. The complexity would be in applying this transparency and automation to more qualitative fields, such as copywriting. “Once we believe we have enough data, we would start to apply the same system to other verticals,” says Masood.

Currently counting nine employees, Masood is aggressively staffing up the engineering and sales teams.

Of course, competition such as UntaptCodilityTriplebyte and Vettery could give TARA a run for its money. But Masood expects no less than cut-throat competition in the Valley.

In the region Masood says a chunk of Tara’s customer base sits in Dubai, despite 80 percent of business coming from the US.

“A lot of the young entrepreneurs [in the region] will have the opportunity that I didn’t have when I started,” she says.

If TARA’s Silicon Valley success has any lesson for regional entrepreneurs it is that timing is of the essence: knowing when to enter a market, leave it, switch business models, drop them altogether, or jump on the next big thing.

November 2nd 2016, 2:55 am

Challenge 22 for Entrepreneurs & Innovators

ومضة

The Challenge 22 innovation competition is aimed towards engaging Arab youth, who can come up with creative solutions and innovations to problems that can leave a direct impact on Arab society, ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™.

Individuals and groups (of up to four people) who propose the most innovative ideas will win prizes of USD 15,000 and receive mentoring from leading scientists and researchers in the region.

Those with the very best ideas – the ones with the greatest potential to contribute to an amazing tournament in 2022 – will receive up to USD 100,000 in additional funding to develop their ideas to proof of concept stage.

The challenges for the competition revolve around contemporary issues like sustainability, health & safety, tourism experience, and Internet of Things.

Sustainability: Create innovations that have a measurable outcome in the areas of sustainable energy, water, design, or grass generation. 

Health & Safety: Accidents in the workplace are unavoidable. In this challenge, participants will have to come up with ways to raise awareness towards the health & safety of employees, in means to enhance, monitor, and control their wellbeing.

Tourism Experience: Participants will have to come up with ways to ensure that the influx of tourists and visitors during 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™ will have an exceptional experience introducing them to the culture, the people, and the historical sites, all while contributing to the long-term diversification of the Qatari and regional economies.

Internet of Things: The challenge is to identify ways in which the internet of things can provide innovative services, creating a more accessible, safer and better tournament experience for all.

 

Applications will be open from September 27 till December 12, 2016. 

Once the application passes the first round, the applicants can choose to have a mentor assigned for one month, in order to create a more refined proposal. From this, up to 18 finalists will be flown to Doha to present their projects in front of a panel of judges.

For more information on the application process, evaluation criteria, and phase two of the contest, please visit this website.

 

November 1st 2016, 10:30 am

Entreprenergy Summit 2016

ومضة

Entreprenergy Summit is the yearly networking event which connects entrepreneurs and ‘wantrepreneurs’ from around the Arab region to share knowledge and trends in the startup scene.

The event, which is set to happen on November 18 at Palais Des Congres in Dbayeh, Lebanon, will feature a number of panels and discussions led by experienced speakers, revolving around fintech, women in tech, and the hurdles facing the digital revolution in the region.

Attendees will have the opportunity to join a support network, that will help validate ideas and seek equity funding, and get advice from experts on development and other aspects of entrepreneurship.

Register for the summit here.

 

November 1st 2016, 8:30 am

Arabnet Riyadh 2016

ومضة

ArabNet Riyadh is Saudi Arabia’s leading forum focused on digital business in the Kingdom and Gulf countries. This year’s event focuses on highlighting the opportunities arising after the Vision 2030 plan and the rapidly-evolving digital economy in Saudi Arabia.

The event will be taking place on December 12-14, where it will be divided into two parts: Design+Code Day (December 12), and Forum Days (December 13-14).

The forum will host three main tracks - Entrepreneurship, Business, and Media - with speakers from across the world and MENA region talking about building the next digital frontier in one of MENA’s fastest-growing markets.

Entrepreneurship: this track will focus on entrepreneurship enablers in the region - venture capitalist, LPs, private equity, corporate venture capital - as well as scaling and existing startups.

Smart economy: this track will explore how the public and private sectors are utilizing technology to transform efficiency at work and engage with customers as well as citizens. The track will tackle machine learning; Internet of Things; smart government, Big Data, fintech and on-demand services.

Media: this track examines how media outlets are adapting to the new platforms transforming consumer habits on web and mobile: the key stats that define the region, how distribution of media is changing, and the data driving advertising technology.

ArabNet Riyadh also serves as a platform for budding entrepreneurs wishing to present their ideas, startups, and games through ArabNet’s competitions: Ideathon, StartUp Demo, and Battle of the Games.

The Ideathon competition aims to promote innovation and entrepreneurship at its earliest stage, turning bright ideas into functional products. It runs as a series of rapid back-to-back presentations where selected entrepreneurs get 2 minutes to pitch. The Startup Demo aims to support early stage startups from across the region and help them grow their businesses. Last but not least, the Battle of the Games showcases the flourishing game development community in the MENA region by giving game creators the chance to connect with potential partners, developers, media, and investors to help them grow.

For more information and registration, visit here.

 
 
 

November 1st 2016, 8:30 am

Winners and losers in Egypt’s currency crisis

ومضة

As Egypt has slid deeper into a currency crisis some entrepreneurs are winning and some are not.

The crisis, initially fueled by a shortage of foreign exchange reserves and exacerbated by expectations of an official devaluation, is exhibited by the fall of the Egyptian pound on the black market this week to 18 to the US dollar - worse than Sudan’s official exchange rate.

Within the startup ecosystem certain sectors are blooming.

Food and local textile startups are doing well. At least five homemade food delivery companies are fighting for market share in Cairo and others such as Baladini are providing local women with jobs selling home-cooked meals a couple of times a week.

Al Bustani founder Housam Abul-Fotouh attributes the food tech sector success to escapism, as Egyptians seek a lighter moment among the hardship.

He said urban farming, the sector he supplies with soilless farming equipment, was doing well as people start to look into growing their own food, as was landscaping. The latter was “huge” now as people were desperately buying real estate to try to protect their savings, and developers were seeking out landscaping services.

Ride-sharing is hot, with Ousta taking on Uber and Careem and new Go Go Car launching this summer in Egypt for inter-city travel.

Shezlong founder Ahmed Abu El Haz, who founded the online psychotherapy marketplace in 2014, has noticed a distinct uptick in the number of people using his service in the last few months. He attributes that directly to the stress caused by Egypt’s economic problems.

Crushing prices, missing products

Core inflation is at a seven-year high of almost 14 percent and prices are rising across the board, according to state statistics department CAPMAS.

Electricity rose by 25 to 40 percent in August, causing bills for some Egyptians to rise from 200 to 400 Egyptian pounds (US$22 to $45) earlier this year to over 1,500 Egyptian pounds in October (US$170).

A 13 percent value-added tax will be phased in over the coming months.

A rise in customs duties has made imported goods more expensive and import restrictions on luxury goods has made some basic items such as some brands of shampoos and, on some days, chocolate impossible to find.

As Egypt burns under terrible economic mismanagement, are the bright points too small to make any real difference? (Image via Community Times) 

Egypt pressure cooker

Despite the always-optimistic atmosphere in downtown Cairo startup hub, the Greek Campus, entrepreneurs are feeling the pressure.

A15 investment and venture development director Tamer Azer said ecommerce and gaming startups in particular were paid locally in Egyptian pounds and were struggling to pay their suppliers back in US dollars.

“Most startups also require loads of SaaS (software as a service) tools as well as hosting services. Things like Asana, Basecamp, Twilio and hosting services from organizations like Amazon - all these things need to be paid in US dollars and by credit cards which are seeing increasingly reduced limits on [foreign exchange] transactions,” he said.

“Startups that rely on online advertising are struggling to find the US dollars they need to pay companies like Facebook and Google. While some view this as dramatic, I think it’s a good thing because too many regional startups rely on online advertising for growth while ignoring growth hacking techniques.”

Rise Up Summit cofounder Abdelhameed Sharara said equipment such as mobile phones were becoming more expensive, as were salaries as staff members tried to cope with higher everyday prices.

“We can't transact all the tools we need to market online [and] we can't find USD to buy anything from abroad,” he said.

Abul-Fotouh said his main problem was the rising cost of his only imported input, peat moss, which had gone from 200 Egyptian pounds (US$22) to 300 Egyptian pounds (US$33).

“This year was pretty tough because we had to raise our prices a lot. We had to eat away a little from the profits. We’re not making the same profit margins that we use to make and that’s why we’re diversifying [into landscaping],” he said.

November 1st 2016, 8:30 am

Challenge 22 Roadshow - Morocco

ومضة

Challenge 22 is an innovation competition administered by the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy in Qatar. This competition aims to incentivise regional innovation toward the solution of specific challenges associated with Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™, and promoting a culture of innovation in a manner that results in a lasting and sustainable legacy for Qatar, the Arab region, and beyond. It is divided into four challenges: sustainability, health & safety, tourism experience, and Internet of Things.

In its efforts to reach out and engage with the community, Challenge 22 will be having a ‘Roadshow’ across the Arab world to promote the competition and encourage innovators to submit their ideas. The introductory session is mainly introducing the four challenges and explaining the life cycle of the ideas during the competition along with eligibility and selection criteria.

On November 5, the roadshow will stop by Morocco for StartUp Maroc in Rabat.

For more information on the roadshow, contact the Challenge 22 team at info@challenge22.qa

 

November 1st 2016, 7:30 am

Mums are big business as Mini Exchange raises $3M

ومضة

UAE startup Mini Exchange has closed a $3 million round with its original and new investors, according to Arabian Business.

The startup is an online marketplace for mothers and children, and comes after competitor Mumzworld closed a ‘multi-million dollar’ Series B round in February.

The startup, founded by British expat in Dubai Sarah Jones in 2014, will build an app in English and Arabic as well as expand into Kuwait and Qatar.

Mini Exchange raised $1 million from seed investors last year. She told Wamda at the time that she used convertible notes for that round as the process was quick - taking just four months to close the round.

She said the investors for that round were angels from Europe and the Middle East, and one small VC from Europe.

The company has been contacted for comment.

Feature image via Pexels.

November 1st 2016, 5:30 am

Raising ‘Islamic’ funds getting easier

ومضة

Since starting his Quranic memorization platform in 2014, Bilal Memon has closed three rounds of investment. Each time he’s managed to remain compliant with Sharia law regarding Islamic finance.

The US-based founder of Quran Academy raised $14,000 from an Indiegogo campaign in 2015, $40,000 from Startup Chile and over $100,000 from private investors, including “a lot of angels”.

As Memon puts it, there are two steps to getting funding. First, he ensures the funding source is halal, or permissible under Islam - if the company sells pork or alcohol, then that’s a no.

Second, there’s the interest issue. According to Sharia finance law, a Muslim is not allowed to benefit from either lending money or receiving money from someone - this means an investor cannot earn any interest. It means no equity can be taken.

Growing market

“It’s not hard Islamically to raise money for a startup from a technical standpoint,” says Chris Blauvelt. “There's no appetite for it.”

Speaking to Wamda after the recent Global Islamic Economic Summit (GIES) in Dubai, Blauvelt, cofounder of crowdfunding platform Launchgood, said there was a lack of understanding around Islamic finance, but it was changing. Launchgood is focused on the global Muslim community.

The Islamic world is huge and there is money to be invested.

Muslim consumer spending on food and lifestyle products, and services is projected to reach $2.6 trillion by 2020, and the assets of Islamic banks currently exceed $1.3 trillion. However, there is actually a shortfall when it comes to Islamic funding, particularly for startups.

Traditionally the big investments have been in oil and gas, and real estate. Investing in startups is a new thing.

The money

For Memon there are three things that might then hold a US investor back from taking a bet on the ‘Islamic world’. There’s the Sharia compliance issue; the fact there has been no ‘unicorn’ company from the Arab world; and a lack of understanding of the culture.

While the numbers of Blauvelt’s Launchgood might be small in comparison to Kickstarter or Indiegogo, they raised more than $3 million in the first two years for 370 projects across 30 countries, signalling that there is interest in Islamic startups.

Furthermore, a $250 million Islamic finance fund was launched at Dubai’s M Powered Summit this month. With partners from the US and Malaysia (it will be managed by a Silicon Valley equity fund) the fund is a sign of the growing interest. 500 Startups is also on the bandwagon with investments in Islamic focused startups.

Memon says there are two industries to keep an eye on: halal food and modest fashion. Blauvelt concurs.

“The successes are likely to come from things like fashion startups, rather than say halal travel,” he said. There’s also the Islamic finance sector itself. “Maybe 10 years from now you’ll see the unicorn.”

November 1st 2016, 5:30 am

Despite lack of funding, social entrepreneurship endures [Wamda TV]

ومضة

“Young people today are not aware of society’s real problems.”

This is what motivated Mona Itani, a lecturer at the American University of Beirut AUB, to launch her startup, Riyada, an educational platform about social entrepreneurship.

Itani’s interest in this field goes back a long time. When she was a doctoral student at the University of Leicester, she researched women entrepreneurs in Lebanon and studied the difficulties they faced in getting funding.

Now that she’s an author and consultant in social entrepreneurship, education and ethics, she aims to raise young people's awareness about social issues and encourage them to create solutions to those problems.

Social entrepreneurship is not without its difficulties, especially when it comes to funding.

Investors tend to associate social entrepreneurship with non-profits. But that was not inaccurate anymore and was a perspective that must be changed, she said. “If the idea is successful, it can make profits.”

In this video, Itani illustrates the other challenges her project faces, aside from funding, including integrating the company’s program into school curricula and the financial burden of keeping students in classrooms after school.

November 1st 2016, 3:30 am

What I know about cyber security and humans

ومضة

The user is not the weakest link, says hacker and entrepreneur ‘msuiche’.

If you’re not down with the hackers and don’t know his handle then you should remember him as Matt Suiche.

Before moving to Dubai with his new cyber security company Comae Technologies, he was on the west coast of America with his previous startup Cloudvolumes, which was acquired by Dell subsidiary Vmware in 2014.

Specializing in memory forensics (that’s the analysing of your computer or phone’s memory), Comae Technologies has just signed a partnership with Dubai’s police force to develop forensic memory solutions while based at the Dubai Future Accelerators.

Are humans the constant crutch when it comes to the security of our smart devices and company networks?

Threats in the landscape are spreading. More connected devices means more threats. The security measures put in place in modern operating systems are efficient, but they’re too complex for the average person and even for some IT administrators who often have zero software expertise. A lot of those security measures are missing in the devices that fall under the header, Internet of Things. The latest DDOS attack (distributed denial of service, a.k.a internet outage) was done using IoT devices because their security is weak, and the attackers managed to take control of hundreds of thousands of devices due to default passwords.

The weakest link is often your software. A lot of the time an employee might be the risk but an attacker will look for the weakest link, and if he or she can see your software is five years old, then the likelihood is that you’ll be behind on security updates. And that is your weakest link.

Lose the talent, lose the security. In San Francisco’s Bay Area, the way a company promotes its engineers is in a way that enables those engineers to keep on making the products needed. In this part of the world and in Europe, you’ll find engineers being promoted but just to often become bad managers. This decreases the probability of good products being made. When you apply this to the cyber security industry it means you’re going to be falling behind when it comes to creating products that keep your company and users safe. The lack of talent is increased. Security products are not being developed.

Passwords are not the answer. People keep talking about improving passwords because realistically, from a technical point of view, that’s the only thing they can understand. Focusing on the issue of passwords is redundant. Very few vendors are putting in the proper security mitigations on their products. Whether you’re in UAE or NYC, it makes no difference, you’re going to be vulnerable. But artificial intelligence (AI) can be used: you can train devices to take better decisions for you. As humans we have a short memory, and can't remember everything. A computer can.

Lack of transparency is a problem. People need to be honest. In the US it is the law to report a breach, especially if you’re a public company. In some European countries it’s also a law. What does this mean? It means that your budget for cyber security won’t be increased because you won’t be fully aware of the problems. JP Morgan just doubled theirs to $500 million. Here in the Middle East no company is publishing their budgets. If you look at smart cities. Are they keeping security in mind while building their smart city? You need integration between multiple services and data is being exchanged, some might say ‘oh but we’re not a bank’, it doesn’t matter.  It’s very time consuming from a business point of view. But it’s getting better.

Passwords are not the answer to cyber security - Matt Suiche. (Image via Comae Technologies)

Lose the talent, lose the security. In San Francisco’s Bay Area, the way a company promotes its engineers is in a way that enables those engineers to keep on making the products needed. In this part of the world and in Europe, you’ll find engineers being promoted but just to often become bad managers. This decreases the probability of good products being made. When you apply this to the cyber security industry it means you’re going to be falling behind when it comes to creating products that keep your company and users safe. The lack of talent is increased. Security products are not being developed.

Passwords are not the answer. People keep talking about improving passwords because realistically, from a technical point of view, that’s the only thing they can understand. Focusing on the issue of passwords is redundant. Very few vendors are putting in the proper security mitigations on their products. Whether you’re in UAE or NYC, it makes no difference, you’re going to be vulnerable. But artificial intelligence (AI) can be used: you can train devices to take better decisions for you. As humans we have a short memory, and can't remember everything. A computer can.

Lack of transparency is a problem. People need to be honest. In the US it is the law to report a breach, especially if you’re a public company. In some European countries it’s also a law. What does this mean? It means that your budget for cyber security won’t be increased because you won’t be fully aware of the problems. JP Morgan just doubled theirs to $500 million. Here in the Middle East no company is publishing their budgets. If you look at smart cities. Are they keeping security in mind while building their smart city? You need integration between multiple services and data is being exchanged, some might say ‘oh but we’re not a bank’, it doesn’t matter.  It’s very time consuming from a business point of view. But it’s getting better.

The end-user is not the problem. If my mum is going to use an iPad I’m not going to tell her you need to do XYZ. She’s a user, she’ll never do it, and it’s complicated. People have jobs for that. The way I see it is it’s not the responsibility of the end user. The providers of the solutions and vendors should be responsible. As a company you need to make sure employees are using the proper products, softwares, devices, but as an end user there is bare minimum you can do, it’s like two percent of the issue.

BYOD is not wise. This idea of getting your employees to bring their own laptops to work, their own devices, like USBs, you’re increasing your chance of attacks. You don’t know if they’re running the most recent version of an operating system, applying latest security patches or using standard security products. You simply can’t keep everything secure this way. Snowden at the NSA is the perfect example. He walked in and out with a external USB device.

Social media is a hacking tool. People leak personal information on social media. You know those security questions to be answered if you "forgot" your password? ‘What's your mother’s maiden name?’ or ‘What's your birth date?’. Before you were the only person supposed to know the answer, but lots of people leak them in their social media, or when they receive a new credit card they brag about it on Twitter.

Weaknesses will be the same. The weaknesses you see attracting attackers will remain the same, you’ll just see patterns. A lot of solutions would be too technical for the main public to notice, or acknowledge, but we’ll see more usage of AI in preventing and coping with security issues.

October 31st 2016, 8:30 am

Reclaiming Egypt’s rooftops: Al Bustani reaps urban farm profits

ومضة

In 2014, Housam Abul-Fotouh was in the Sinai desert building 72,000 square metres of greenhouses.

He and cofounder Mohamed Ibrahim had started their urban farming startup a few months earlier, and one of their first contracts was with the Ministry of Agriculture to build 200 greenhouses as part of the government’s ambitious Million Feddan desert reclamation project.

Those greenhouses are gathering dust in the desert as the government is yet to find an investor who wants to use them.

However, it was a raging success for the startup Al Bustani which used it as a launch pad into the business of soilless farming.

The greenhouses in Sinai used 'nutrient film technique' or NFT to create a soilless growing system. (Images via Al Bustani) 

Food of the future

The company has jumped on a slow trend in Egypt towards growing your own food. They provide the equipment for soilless urban farming, be it aquaponics, hydroponics or a medium-based setup that uses peat moss and treated volcanic rocks.

“People are fed up with the quality of their food,” Abul-Fotouh told Wamda, giving arugula as an example: you buy it on Monday and by Tuesday morning it’s wilted.

“This is the future, more people are looking forward to this especially with the whole problem of water in normal conventional farming, and pesticides,” he said. “Lots of people don’t know the source of the water even in conventional farming.”

The startup manufactures all equipment locally, but imports the peat moss from Germany.

Growing farmers

Al Bustani’s entry into the urban and commercial farming sector has been via government and NGO contracts, with 24 projects to date. Yet since Egypt’s currency crisis forced them to raise prices they’ve diversified into landscaping services as well.

And for the past year they’ve been running a pilot project in an area south of Cairo called El Ayyat.

One of Al Bustani's clients in El Ayyat.

Funded by local NGO Egyptian Agency for Marketing and Development, the deal was to provide 70 families with 700 raised rooftop farms and for Al Bustani to eventually purchase and market the resulting produce to supermarkets.

About 80 percent of the families are still keen and adding their own touches.

“If you give the people the space to think outside the box, they will come up with new things,” Abul-Fotouh said. “It also gives them the motivation to set up their own system, with crops that we didn’t think would grow, like watermelons.”

Ultimately, Al Bustani wants to develop a sustainable supply of vegetables from the farmers in El Ayyat and by the end of 2017 be selling them to supermarkets that have already shown interest in locally-made soilless food, such as Gourmet and Seoudi.

Getting social

Al Bustani is a functioning business with five employees but its core is social.

Abul-Fotouh is leery of taking on investment - they’ve been profitable from the very early days and have been able to grow well using their own revenue anyway - because he wants the company to be an open source of information to others who want to test an urban farming business.

“We’re trying to create a platform for future use and for people to learn from us. I know a lot of people have tried and failed [in this sector] because it’s not easy,” he said. “We want people to learn from us.”

Feature image: A commercial farm in Wadi Natroun, via Al Bustani.

October 31st 2016, 3:30 am

Natakallam gives Syrian refugees both a voice and an income

ومضة

Several times this summer, Andrew Haas sat at his laptop at 9 am in his Seattle apartment dialing the same number on Skype.

On the other side of the world, his teacher, Feras Chbara, a Syrian refugee living in Bonn, Germany would be waiting for his call. For around an hour, the two would chat in Arabic, a language Haas has been studying for the past six years.

The transatlantic conversation is thanks to a web startup titled Natakallam, or ‘we speak’ in Arabic. Launched in 2015, Natakallam is a platform that matches Arabic language learners with displaced Syrians, who are also fluent Arabic speakers, for language practice over Skype.

Reopening the Damascus language trade

“As a Lebanese-American, I wanted to sharpen my own Arabic. But when I decided to take language classes, I noticed unaffordable prices for students. In New York, that could [mean] $60 per hour,” said Aline Sara, founder and CEO of Natakallam.

She'd just returned from a trip to Jordan where her business product was awarded $20,000 at the MIT EF Pan Arab Innovate for Refugees Competition.

“Before the war, Damascus used to be a hub for Arabic learners, as Syrians, unlike Lebanese, do not mix English and French into their Arabic,” Sara said. In 2015, Sara and her business partner, Reza Rahnema, pitched their language learning idea to a World Bank competition and launched the pilot website.

“When we launched a small pilot, many users signed up when we weren’t ready yet. [It was] something we were not expecting,” she said.

Natakallam language conversation between Asalah and a languge student on Skype. (Images via Natakallam)

Welcome work for refugees

To date, around 35 Syrian conversation partners and over 880 individuals in more than 50 countries, from Brazil to Armenia, have engaged in Natakallam sessions.

The one-on-one conversations allows for more awareness on refugee conditions and helps individuals understand how to better welcome refugees in their respective countries through sustainable solutions.

“These sessions have been an opportunity for me to develop friendships globally, but also to keep myself busy and giving a purpose to my life while waiting for my work permit in Germany. It also gives me time to learn the local language and not fall into a black market system,” said Chbara, who used to work as a high school English teacher in Damascus.

The startup is housed through New York’s Columbia University Startup Lab, and is supported by Arcenciel, a Beirut-based NGO. The NGO helps with the recruitment of refugees through an online application form on Natakallam’s website. They then interview qualified candidates, train them on teaching methods and on how to use the platform.

At their NYC headquarters, Natakallam’s staff handles payment to refugees through a combination of online money transfers and coordination with Arcenciel. They also match users based on Arabic level, interest and schedules, and ensure quality control through a feedback system.

Making a social good profitable

The startup’s business model is between a for profit business and an NGO.

The cost for a one hour conversation on Skype is $15. Of that amount, $10 is given directly to Syrian tutors and the rest toward operational costs, such as  maintaining the website.

By tutoring more than one student, some refugee teachers manage to make salaries of up to $1500 a month, over 50 percent more than the average in Lebanon, Turkey, or Egypt’s minimum wage.

Over four million people have fled Syria since 2011, with millions more internally displaced, according to the UN refugee agency. Hundreds of thousands have been killed as a result of the war.

“We thought of language because it’s a valuable skill regardless of what refugees have studied. Most of our teachers were lawyers, engineers, architects or writers before the [Syrian] war,” Sara said.

In countries like Lebanon, where Syrians are limited to work in fields such as garbage collection or construction, or in EU countries, where Syrians struggle for months before getting their work permit, these sessions are empowering.

“On a psycho-social level, this gives refugees the chance to help individuals around the world, as opposed to constantly being the ones helped or victimized,” Sara said.

Training Arabic conversation partners.

Learning to converse

“It is modern penpall-ing at a reasonable cost and in service of finding ways around the geopolitical conditions that divide us,” said Patricia Kubala, a 39-year-old Natakallam user based in Cairo. She practices her Arabic with Ghoson, a former Syrian activist and philosophy teacher from Aleppo who fled the war to Paris in early 2015.

For language learners it’s an opportunity to practice conversational Arabic, as the majority of  language courses focus only on classical Arabic.

For this reason some universities are now working with Natakallam to give students a chance to complement Modern Standard Arabic classes with more colloquial practice. So far, Swarthmore College, George Washington University and Tufts University have created small funds to help cover costs of the Skype sessions for their students.

Syrian refugees are only the tip of the iceberg. There are many displaced Arabic native speakers who are struggling to find work permits and a stable income, and whose dialects appeal to colloquial learners.

Natakallam hopes to include Palestinian and Iraqi refugees in the near future, and is also looking into launching its services in Farsi with Iranian political refugees.

October 30th 2016, 7:49 am

No hoax! Journas sets Arabic news record straight

ومضة

Discredited news pieces and hoax science articles circulate throughout the web, and Arabic versions are not immune.

So in came Journas, which is Reddit-like platform where users can either post material from anywhere or generate their own original content on which others can comment, reshare, review or rate.

Created by long time friends and ex-DHL employees Tamim Heikal and Ahmed Dwaik, Journas began as an archiving tool for Arabic newspapers, magazines and research papers to make it easier for speakers to locate online news in their language.

But the high cost of maintaining large servers, data entry and archiving in order to take people digital in a newspaper-reliant country like Egypt, meant they had to change the business model early on. They shifted to a Reddit-like platform that allows their 200,000 registered users to curate and share material  in what is called a ‘Jourlist’, an interest-based thread where users can read, comment on, share and rate articles.

Singleclic cofounder Tamer Badr joined as CTO and the trio launched the beta version of Journas in September 2015.

Ahmed Dwaik, Tamim Haikal and Tamer Badr. (Image via Tamer Badr)

No paying for popularity

Revenue was coming from outside advertising on the site and paid content but they didn’t spend a penny on their own marketing. Despite this, the site quickly gained speed, reaching almost one million monthly visits within the first six months.

Some of their Jourlists became very popular, such as Darwish Post (an independant news curating list), 365 days of Pasta (a list of innovative ways to cook and eat pasta every day) and pop science’s Scitopia.

“We are completely self funded till now but when we started we didn’t care, we wanted to create a platform that allowed writers, curators and reading enthusiasts to find a safe space to gather around content and not political or religious affiliations,” Haikal, the CEO, told Wamda.

“We had no idea we would get as much registered users, visitors and traffic without spending a dime on marketing and SEO and this made us believe more in the potential powers of a social media based hub revolving around content.”

A bit of everything

Dwaik, the COO, said the users pushed them to add a blogging section because they felt Journas had the potential of becoming a one stop shop for both the creation of original work and curation of digital material.

“They were thirsty for a hub that allows them to create their own content and share others’ content in a safe space that truly permits them to showcase their talent and knowledge around like-minded people,” he said.

Badr said it was difficult to find enriching Arabic content about topics such as pop science, technology and digital trends, that were also relevant to the Middle Eastern demographic.

Why not Facebook?

Arabic speakers make up about 4.5 percent of world’s population but Arabic digital content is only about 1 percent of the entire world’s online content.

But internet penetration is 49.6 percent in Egypt and 60.5 percent in Saudi Arabia, and social media and entertainment sites are among the most popular.

So, since Facebook allows the creation of Facebook Notes as well as sharing all sorts of digital content, what is the business proposition for Journas?

“No one has a complete friends’ list on Facebook that share his/her exact interests, people add each other on Facebook because they are related or they work together or any other reason, the focal point is the relationship not the actual interest,” Dwaik explained. “In Journas, the focal point where everything revolves is a particular interest or topic which allows strangers to meet and discuss things around the content shared and nothing else.”

Heikal said people didn’t visit Journas “to be loved for your looks or social posse”, but to talk about the material people had shared.

The more the merrier

Mohamed Gamal, founder of Arabic online publishing platform Kotobna, said creating more platforms for Arabic content was essential because of the low supply of quality Arabic content and the popularity of hoaxes and scams, which made Journas a step in the right direction.

“There is a demand for Arabic content and Journas is catering to this with user generated supply instead of users wasting their time and energy using social media sharing that kind of niche product to other users who probably aren’t interested,” Gamal said.

Gamal also predicts digital Arabic content to increase drastically in the upcoming years if hubs like Journas balance both quality and quantity but with focus on increasing interactivity features to increase engagement and appreciation for truly enlightening content.

October 30th 2016, 4:49 am

Why isn't carpooling working in Algeria?

ومضة

Traffic, pollution, honking - the lack of public transportation is a strain on Algerian cities, one that could be solved if more people carpooled and shared their vehicles.

For several years now entrepreneurs have tried to fix the situation by launching new services, often copied from western successes, but with a few exceptions - the first name that comes to mind is Careem - they haven’t made much of an impact yet on overcrowded roads.

In Algeria, a young startup scene, the number of startups offering carpooling or taxi apps is disproportionately high.

But so far in Algeria, and in MENA, carpooling hasn’t gathered any traction. Why not?

A need for innovation

Because of the lack of public transportation across Algeria, the car is often the smartest option to move around its cities.

“I’ve employees who need 20 minutes in a car [to come to the office]; in public transportation, they’d need two hours. The choice is easy,” said Fouad Chennouf, cofounder of shuttle service Linkibus.

Driving a car comes at a cost though. There’s a financial cost from petrol prices and the highway tolls that will soon be implemented in Algeria. There’s also a problem of comfort as drivers lose a lot of time in traffic or parking, they suffer from the pollution that traffic creates.

Carpooling allowed people to share rides and therefore to reduce car use, pollution and stress, said Khier Saidani who founded the Algerian carpooling service Cheetah Car in January.

Linkibus founder Fouad Chennouf (seated on the orange counch) and Autopub founder Lamine Ghemati (seated on the purple stool) at the Viva Technology Paris conference. (Image via Souratic Digital Communication)

Carpooling is not the solution

But while Algerians like the concept in theory, it’s not picking up.

Three carpooling rides were posted in September on Coorsa, a website created in 2013. On the Nroho site, there were seven rides.

Saidani admitted that “carpooling is struggling to taking off”. On Cheetah Car, he said most drivers didn’t get a single booking and that the number of trips posted still hadn’t ticked over a thousand since its launch this year.

A culture problem

“Most Algerian web-users think it’s a good thing to put an end to the ordeal that’s road traffic,” Saidani told Wamda. “Others talk about […] the fear of being aggressed and stolen by strangers.”

On Cheetah Car, like most carpooling services around the world, users can look at their profiles and ratings, and call each other, but it’s not enough to create trust in MENA.

“In Algeria, there are a lot of agressions, kidnappings and thefts. Obviously, [Algerians] are very scared to take people as passengers and vice versa,” Saidani said.

Carpooling also has a bad reputation: Linkibus’ Chennouf said it was also used to “pick up girls”, before saying the intimacy created between three to four people seated in the small car made Algerians uncomfortable.

Carpooling is tricky in the rest of MENA too

In Arab countries, the traffic issue is an urban one. Inter-city transportation is often quite easy throughout the region thanks to the shared taxi system and, in most countries, bus or train infrastructure.

“Carpooling was made to do trips between cities; in Algeria we don’t need that,” said Chennouf.

Inner-city carpooling was such a tough market no one had yet cracked it, said Ali Halabi, founder of Turkish inner-city carpooling service Volt.

"Scheduling does not work [in the] inner-city," he told Wamda, because people didn't know at what time exactly they would leave work. "You don't want to commit for 4 euro [if you won’t end up taking the car], it's not worth it."

Three months ago, almost two years after launching the first version of Volt, Halabi dropped the option to schedule live carpooling. 

"Most of the users right now [say they can’t find a ride]. We lose most of our passengers," Halabi said, which is why his priority is increasing the number of rides availability.  

The app records 400 rides per day, yet only a handful of passengers find a ride.

“I don't think we're doing better than the other [carpooling websites]. What we're doing better is driver retention, with that I can claim that we're onto something."

In Dubai, the Carpool Arabia team is well aware of those difficulties but chose a different approach: focusing on the daily commute of home to office. They built an algorithm that compares users’ trips to match them based on timing and whether the detour is acceptable for the driver. In the first six months they received more than 7,000 booking requests.

(Image via Carpool Arabia)

Let’s stop copycatting

Could these new still-be-proven carpooling models work in Algeria?  

“We [Algerians] tried to bring concepts from Europe, as soon as it gets here [it fails]. We have a culture that’s very different,” Chennouf told Wamda.

Lamine Ghemati, the founder of Autopub which allows drivers to make money from displaying ads on their cars, says you first have to understand the problem before thinking of technology.

“Instead of starting from the problems, most entrepreneurs look for solutions [abroad] and try to adapt them at all costs.

Looking at it in that way, adding functionalities to make people feel safer such as women-only carpooling wouldn’t change the fact that carpooling may not be right for MENA’s needs.

Rethinking the solution

What’s working in Algeria are company shuttles that pick up employees at their home.

SMEs don’t have enough employees to put shuttles in place, so some people use other companies’ shuttles to get to work. Linkibus decided to capitalize on this.

On Linkibus, Algerians register their commute and when they have 20 people with similar needs, Linkibus contacts the employers and connects them with a bus to create a shuttle line. The first one will open soon.

He’s not the only one to think the answer will come from companies. Cheetah Car’s Saidani believes “companies are getting into it [...]. It contributes to an improvement of social climate among  employees, of [business place] accessibility, a valorisation of the company’s image, a reduction of costs, of trips’ impact, of parking slots, and mostly of their environmental footprint.”

But working with middle to large size companies comes with its lot of challenges too. Complex negotiations, slow processes, bureaucracy, payment issues - this might not be the easier road.

Feature image via T-Algerie.

October 30th 2016, 2:49 am

Arabian Business Forum 2016

ومضة

From shared economies, e-commerce and sameday deliveries, to digital currencies and cloud services, technology is transforming the way people live across the globe. The Arab world needs its own digital revolution and the Arabian Business Forum will bring together top industry influencers and leading entrepreneurs to discuss and debate the blueprint for a digital future.

The forum will link investors with brilliant business ideas, entrepreneurs with digital executives and delegates with speakers. Panelists will include Wamda Capital executive chairman Fadi Ghandour and Alabbar Enterprises chairman Mohamed Alabbar, who will be addressing the challenges and opportunities ahead of the digital revolution as well as providing insights from the lessons they have learned as leaders in the industry.

The event is set to happen on November 28 at the Armani Hotel, Dubai. Attendance is by invitation only, and is strictly managed to ensure all attendees are those shaping the future of the digital economy.

You can apply here for a guest pass.

 

October 28th 2016, 9:49 am

CRO: The art of converting visitors into loyal customers

ومضة

Most of the entrepreneurs I work with have great ideas and immense enthusiasm, but they are frustrated by one challenge.

How do I get more customers?

The first thing that comes to mind is advertising. But while paid marketing platforms may flow traffic to your website, there is no guarantee that you’ll be able to convert them into loyal customers.

Regardless of the strategies that you use to get traffic to your online business, whether it’s influencer marketing strategies or paid advertising, you must concentrate on optimizing your website for higher conversion.

What’s CRO, and why does it matter?

Conversion rate optimization (CRO) is a set of data-driven experiments that enable you to identify the weak spots of your online business and optimize your website to attract more customers.

The main goal is to encourage first time users to return to your business.

Where do customers comes from?

Traditionally companies acquired customers through their sales funnel, but with digital marketing the conversion funnel - the journey your user takes via online advertising or search to the website before converting into a ‘sale’ - has became more and more important.

In many organizations, a sales funnel starts with attracting new customer segments (in digital marketing this stage is referred to as  ‘capturing leads’).

Then the sales team pitches the service or product to the customer and encourages them to try it, and once the customer is convinced they close the deal.

Finding the right way to sell

That process may work for a well-established enterprise with a client base, but as an entrepreneur you have to find your own model.

When designing your sales process, you must take into account your customer lifetime value, your sales cycle, your pricing model, etcetera.

Once, I was coaching a team of sales professionals in Microsoft and the team had to focus on using the ‘Microsoft Solution Selling Process’ which was tailored to the business. But the fact that Microsoft closed plenty of deals through its complex sales process does not mean that duplicating it will work for other businesses.

Essential phases of a conversion funnel

The best way to run a successful online business is to optimize your sales funnel and align it with your conversion funnel.

The main focus of the sales funnel is to close a deal. But because a conversion funnel is about the steps your customers take to get there, it can be used for all kinds of goals such as increasing revenue, creating brand affinity, or even better engagement with your customers.

Here is what your conversion funnel should look like:

Attract: This is the entry level of your conversion funnel. The type of people that you’re dealing with at this stage have the following characteristics:

Acquire: This is where you bribe your visitors to exchange their contact information with your free offer, also known as a lead magnet. Here are the main characteristics of your lead magnet:

Your conversion rate optimization goal may be to increase your opt-in rate, double your revenue or increase brand awareness and you will have to use different tools and techniques to do it.

For instance, if your conversion rate optimization goal is to increase your revenue, then using a free lead magnet alone won’t be helpful. Since your lead magnet is a free offer, you’d need to focus on revenue generating products by promoting your core offer or service instead.

Getting more customers

To get more customers you must focus on engineering their experience: walk your new visitors through an educational journey, and send experienced customers to your sales page and encourage them to try your offer.

Engage: Once you have acquired leads, or customers, it’s essential to engage with them on a regular basis. Simply send them an email and ask:

The secret is to keep having natural, non-promotional conversation with your customers. I have found it vital to create separate email marketing campaigns for different customer segments, and focus on addressing each segment separately.

Maintain: According to a recent study by Ipsos, it costs 500 percent more to acquire new customers than retaining an existing client.

That statistic shows that your sales cycle does not end when your clients make the payment. Instead, building relationships and helping them get the best out of your product or service will not only keep your current customers happy, it will lead to referral sales and lower customer acquisition costs.

The biggest mistakes that I have seen many entrepreneurs make is that they concentrate on flowing traffic to their website, without paying attention to the outcome and conversion rate.

Conversion rate optimization is an experiment. An entrepreneur’s job is to focus on growing your business using conventional or unconventional strategies. The secret to success is to focus on making data-driven decisions that lead to higher growth rates.

Feature image via NRJ.

October 27th 2016, 7:20 am

Redesigning Amman's urban culture

ومضة

When graffiti artist Mike Derderian paints Amman’s walls, he feels the city beneath his fingertips. He is determined to merge his individual work with developing Amman’s visual identity for a greater social good.

As an organizer of graffiti project Baladk and the founder of Fada 317, a street art studio, his projects focus on beauty as an added value to a city.  

Derderian is not alone in his effort to introduce art and design as a means for Amman’s social and urban development.

“Design is about solving problems,” said Ahmad Sabbagh who works at Syntax, a brand, design and innovation firm. Sabbagh designed Amman’s unofficial transport map initiated by Ma’an Nasil campaign.

According to Sabbagh, streets host most people’s interactions so if it does not communicate or react to the people through signage, architecture and public space, how are residents expected to feel a sense of belonging?

“When you see a pedestrian crossing that is unconventionally designed, you interact with the space more actively,” said urban designer Dana Halasa.

Halasa worked on reinterpreting pedestrian crossings and enhancing the walkability to and from three different nodes of Amman Design Week, which took place last month. Her project aimed to raise awareness on pedestrian safety.

Sustainable impact

But what matters most is the effort put in creating something beautiful and functional out of nothing, said Mohammad al-Asad, the founding director of the Center for the Study of the Built Environment (CSBE) in Amman. The architect believes that urban art and design increases the inhabitants’ sense of belonging and responsibility to the place. An example of this is the outburst of urban art initiatives during the Arab Spring when graffiti and urban installations became a broadcasting channel and a means to reclaim the city.

“People became more responsible towards their city after they felt that they can influence the decision making process,” said al-Assad.

Although al-Assad appreciates all social initiatives that are becoming more prominent in Amman, he is worried about their long term effect and sustainability. If there is no collaboration between content creators, activists, or entrepreneurs, and institutions, it is often hard to move forward.

According to al-Assad organizing and regulating urban initiatives to ensure sustainability is crucial for a positive change.

Urban design and culture

Ali Almasri believes that urban design also reflects and creates cultures. Almasri is the cofounder of Wajha, an independent social initiative that uses design to rebrand shopfronts for free.

The concept is based on representing the people’s mood, language, history, and context through signage. Relevant signs allow passersby to interact with a collective visual identity, which then leads to the development of their own identity and relation to the space, said Almasri.

Some of the signs sprayed by Wajha in downtown Amman as part of rebranding an old barbershop (Image via Wajha)

Utilizing forgotten buildings in the city is another way to make people further understand and think about their spaces.

“It is not about adding to the city as much as absorbing what already is there; to work with the residue, or with the negative spaces, the holes, the spaces in-between,” explained Dina Haddadin.

She's the curator of the Crafts District at Amman Design Week which took place in the Raghadan Bus terminal, an abandoned newly constructed structure that has been empty for the last 10 years.

Feature image is graffiti by Mike Derderian and Algerian artist Adel Bentounsi, seen in image. (Image via by Zakarian Studios)

October 27th 2016, 4:20 am

Startup Watch: Flying cars, thieving chatbots, and Silicon Valley - the musical

ومضة

The world of entrepreneurship news is a complex one, with people ever ready to give their two cents on how you should be running your business/VC fund/incubator. Here’s our wrap of what we’re reading on f-f-f-failure, superheros, musicals, and a little something to lighten the end of the working week.

Who else loses from failure? When startups fail don’t deny your first thought is, well that’s sad for the founder but hey, now he/she can tick the ‘failure’ box and go on to bigger and better things. But what about the unpaid employees and the disappointed customers? We know this is something that plays on local entrepreneurs’ minds, because when a startup falls although the founder might be screwed (in more ways that one in business-unfriendly MENA countries), so is everyone else.

Payments payoff in MENA? Momkin. In spite of its illustration of how not to use graphs (yearly rises then skipping seven to your next data point is a no-no in chartland), this reasonably interesting report highlights the potential in global remittances and payments services. Bear in mind the report was commissioned by two payments companies, and if anyone could accurately forecast future trends like this, they wouldn’t be handing it out for free on the internet. But nevertheless, this is not a bad read on the state of this corner of the fintech world.

Volume, value and total revenue from payments. (Image via Fintech Outlook for 2017, Trends, Opportunities and Challenges)

Technology and banks are uncomfortable bedfellows. It’s easy to bag banks for not jumping on the tech bandwagon, but they’ve got a huge number of legacy considerations to think about beforehand. Two of those considerations are customer trust, and even whether they have the internal capacity to stay up with tech trends. Then again, it’s hard to be sympathetic when certain banks in MENA can’t even put even basic services online.

When your chatbot starts stealing from you… Along with all the other fantastic and terrifying things artificial intelligence is bringing, it will also facilitate cybercrime. Imagine listening to your mother sobbing down the phone asking for help with a lost bank card and the trusted Facebook chatbot saying please pop those credit card details in just once more - we’re really sorry about the hold up! It could be criminals who’ve switched from using lowly paid call centres (apparently these are a thing) to machines which can mimic voices to handle their mundane cybercrime tasks. Creepy.

Wamda of the Week: The Schrodinger’s Cat of design. Industrial designers like Sahar Madanat have to think both inside and outside the box, taking familiar objects and adjusting a detail ever so slightly to make something both outrageously beautiful but also outrageously useful.

When this image came out earlier this year many (mostly Western) chopsticks users were pleased, puzzled and red-faced as they felt they'd been using the utensils the wrong way. But this ingenious little idea was in fact a one-off - an industrial designer's idea that has not yet (as far as we know) made it into commercial circulation. (Image via BBS)

Kids these days need some social lessons. Social media, that is. Written by the founder of Hootsuite, this piece struck at our heart. We’ll admit we’ve mocked people who use the label ‘social media guru’, but getting social right these days is really hard. You come into work to find that the kids have allegedly abandoned one platform for another, more intimate one. Or the platform which looked ridiculous but was incredibly popular for five minutes was, in fact, ridiculous (Yo). It all starts to make a university course in social media sound… a little less crazy. Why do you think we have Facebook reps at almost every Mix ‘n Mentor, to explain, over and over again, how to use their service?

The Silicon Valley stage show - can you recognise yourself? You know your industry has a problem when whole musicals are dedicated to mocking you. South of Market is an in-joke filled stage show dedicated to picking apart the worst of Silicon Valley behaviour. This sort of thing would never be possible here in MENA though, would it guys?

Woah. This literally and actually blew our minds. Flying Uber taxis. By 2020. Finally, the flying car is here.

You won't be able to drive it yourself and the technology for not running into things that autonomous cars use isn't available for air-based vehicles (yet), but at least someone is finally thinking about making a flying car. It's only taken 30 years. (Image via Vahana)

 

October 27th 2016, 2:20 am

Apply for incubation at Intelak

ومضة

Do you have an idea that can disrupt the travel industry? Submit it to Intelak, MENA's aviation and travel technology incubator, by October 31, for a chance to join Intelak’s incubation program and receive AED 50,000 in cash, as well as mentorship and guidance from industry experts.

The Emirates Group, GE, and Etisalat are reaching out to universities, incubators, entrepreneurial centres, and coworking spaces to seek out talented teams that are passionate about this challenge. Online submissions are open until October 31, and the ideas will be judged based on creativity, innovation, feasibility, and scalability.

Individuals with up to 5 team members will have to reinvent a moment in the flying journey by coming up with an innovative idea to make things simpler, more efficient, and more exciting. 

The top 20 teams will be enrolled in an intensive two week bootcamp that will train them through workshops on design thinking, financial modeling, marketing, and building an investor pitch. The culmination of these two weeks will be a pitch day, after which four teams will be chosen as winners.

Winners will receive a cash prize of up to AED 50,000, to be distributed at key milestones, and will be enrolled in the Intelak Incubator. The incubator, located in the heart of Dubai's innovation ecosystem - DTEC - will be a three-month program. It will consist of structured modules, mentorship, and office hours to support the continued development of each team's winning idea. It is important to note that the teams will retain copyright of their ideas.  

Upon conclusion of the program, the winning teams will be given the opportunity to pitch their ideas to angel investors and venture capitalists for potential further collaboration or even investment. They may also have co-creation or employment opportunities with the Emirates Group, GE, or Etisalat.

Apply here.

 

October 26th 2016, 8:20 am

Children invent to impress at Amman exhibition

ومضة

Nearly two dozen Jordanian children were creating some very adult ideas over the weekend.

The six inventions at the Little Innovator’s Lab exhibition in Amman on Sunday could have come from any of the university incubators in the region: there was a solution to cleaning skyscraper windows and a smart irrigation system.

Another invention centered about social good: a smart tent for refugees that operates on renewable energy and is equipped with water bumpers to keep rainwater from getting inside the tent.

Participating team presenting their invention on smart irrigation. (Images via Tala Elissa)

The inventions were developed by children who participated in an academic program organized by Abdel Hameed Shoman Foundation and in partnership with the Palestine-based Young Scientists Club.

The program aimed to provide 10- to 13-year-old children with weekly workshops on reinforcing critical and innovative thinking, as well as enhance their abilities for in depth research and analysis.

"In order to get more inventions, we need to develop the researchers’ minds since their childhood… The use of technology, science, electricity and electronics encouraged children to love learning,” said Valentina Qussisiya, CEO of Abdel Hameed Shoman Foundation.

Model of the smart refugee tent.

“Our way of thinking changed, our scope of thinking is now much wider. I didn’t know anything about electricity before I joined, but now I know a lot,” said participant Hala Hdeib.

The inventions highlighted the children’s technical skills, but the program hopes to position these skills within a wider context of critical thinking.

“We teach [children] that searching for an answer is much more important than the answer itself,” said Young Scientists’ Club founder Waleed Deeb.

In order to prepare the youth for future professions that do not yet exist, teaching the children how to learn is critical, he said. “What stands unmoved by time is the skill of learning.”

Participants Amro and Bashar al-Muqbil who came all the way from Irbid in northern Jordan to attend the weekly workshops.

Organizers are will launch the second edition of the program with another group of children in Amman and in al-Karak, the latter in partnership with Al-Karak Innovation Club.

In addition to this program, the Abdel Hameed Shoman Foundation supports innovation through several activities across Jordan, such as partnering with the Ministry of Education to quality Jordanian teams to participate in the annual Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

Other startups and initiatives that work on incorporating technology into children’s learning in Jordan include Eureka Academy, Hello World Kids, Coding Circle, and International Robotics Academy.

October 26th 2016, 7:20 am

10 November events for MENA entrepreneurs

ومضة

As the MENA region’s entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem blossoms and grows, so do the events, conferences, and competitions. And as any mentor will advise, attending events is key to helping you boost your business and your network. With that, here is our list of events we’re heading to or will be watching.

Banque du Liban (BDL) Accelerate 2016
When: November 3 - 5
Where: Beirut, Lebanon

Banque du Liban (BDL) Accelerate 2016 is Lebanon’s third annual international conference, and one the biggest in the region. This year, BDL Accelerate is hosting tech legend and Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak, making the event arguably the highlight of the year. But in addition to ‘The Woz’, the massive event will bring together over “20,000 attendees, 100 speakers from 50 countries, and 100 startups from 40 countries.”

Mix N’ Mentor, Nuwait Edition
When: November 3
Where: Kuwait City, Kuwait

Brought to you by Kuwaiti National Fund (KNF) for Small and Medium Enterprise Development, Mix N’ Mentor is back in Kuwait. The event will to bring together entrepreneurs with industry experts, investors and mentors to discuss specific challenges related to SMEs. Today is your last day to register here.

Morocco Startup Altitude
When: November 5 - 10
Where: Casablanca, Morocco

Startup Altitude is a global entrepreneurship organisation. Next month it will host Morocco’s startups, brands and business leaders to network with the aim of building a stronger North African ecosystem. Read our coverage on the Maghreb Game Conference this month for another example of the exciting events happening in Casablanca as it blossoms into a new  startup hub.

Web Summit
When: November 7-10
Where: Lisbon, Portugal

Dubbed “Europe’s largest and most important technology marketplace”, Web Summit will address how disruption can transform businesses. Although a European event, the summit is also bringing together America’s finest expert leaders ranging for Facebook executives, Tinder’s CEO Sean Rad, and even Hollywood cutie Joseph Gordon-Levitt, founder of HitRECord.

Endeavor DealMakers
When: November 7-8
Where: Amman, Jordan

In its fourth annual event, Dealmakers brings together the biggest investors in the region with entrepreneurs to discuss ways to maximize investment in Arab startups and help them scale. Some conversations will feature rethinking how to fundraise and stories of failed investment deals.

MENA ICT Forum
When: November 9-10
Where: Amman, Jordan

Organized by Intaj, this year’s forum will focus on how industries are influenced by cutting-edge technologies whether in education, healthcare, clean energy, transportation and logistics, commerce, financial services, media, or humanitarian work. At MENA ICT, stakeholders will discuss ways your company can stay ahead of the curve on trends like IoT and cloud computing, and ensure you’re aware of what the future may hold for your business.

Social Media Week
When: November 15 - 16
Where: Dubai, UAE

This networking event is one of the biggest conferences in the world and this year is the first time it is hosted in the Middle East. The event includes teaching businesses how social media can be incorporated into their organisation and how consumers can take advantage of social media for empowerment. SMW will also highlight new technologies for participants to test and and even a platform for people to act out social media scenarios through plays on a stage.

The Entrepreneur Day
When: November 16-17
Where: Dubai, UAE

This annual startup event will feature speakers and panelists from the region’s ecosystem. Hosted by the Dubai Technology Entrepreneur Centre (Dtec), it will also include a startup pitch competition, offering cash prizes and incubation.

Innovation Live
When: November 21
Where: Dubai, UAE

This summit will take place during UAE’s Innovation Week and will host regional industry leaders to discuss government-to-business and business-to-business ideas to help shape the Gulf country’s future. The event will have keynote speakers, and include TED-style talks, panel sessions, and debates.

PepsiCo Social Impact Competition
When: November 28
Where: Amman, Jordan

PepsiCo MENA recently launched the PepsiCo Social Impact Competition in partnership with Wamda for MENA-based social startups. The competition aims to promote, reward, and celebrate social startup enterprises from the Arab world that deliver profitability in a sustainable way. Selected startups are now being screened by a jury of regional experts and those chosen will pitch their idea at the end of November to a panel of judges and an audience of business professionals. Prizes are as much as $20,000.

More details on all listed events can be found here. Are we missing any? Leave us a comment below.

Feature image via pexels.com

October 26th 2016, 4:20 am

Education + tech = a whole new world

ومضة

Education and technology are often a contested pairing because of the latter’s potential to either serve as an aid or, undesirably, a distraction to the learner.

In a talk at last week’s GITEX  Tech Week, called ‘Enhanced Reality Technologies - Changing Education and Learning with AR & VR’, Tom Adams, chairman and cofounder of “spontaneous learning” platform Pedago, said some subjects are better taught on paper while others could benefit from VR  technology.

Bye bye books? (Image via Pexels)

“Imagine you’re teaching soft skills, imagine the application of VR, imagine seeing someone’s facial movements…that’s a powerful application of the technology. I think there’s huge opportunity with an acceleration of learning through interactive technologies... of enriching experiences that give you more practical learning,” Adams said.

Nell Watson, associate professor of AI and robotics at the Silicon Valley think tank,
Singularity University, spoke specifically on the role of AI in enabling the teacher. Watson said technology would not replace the teacher’s role, but instead would augment it.

“Machine learning algorithm can help us understand a piece of work statistically over time,” Watson explained. “What if instead of grading,  you know in the moment how that student was doing rather than waiting for them do some test?.... We can personalize the experience of the learner in ever more powerful ways.”

ELSA at work. (Image via ELSA Corp)

Almost to prove Watson’s point, attendees saw presentations from Vu Van, founder and CEO  of ELSA Corp and Brandon Relph of Gocreative on the value of technology in the classroom.

ELSA (English Language Speech Assistant) is an Android and iOS app, that functions as a personal coach to help English learners around the world speak English more correctly and confidently.

Relph is the 16-year-old CEO of Gocreative, a company creating content around Minecraft. Often called a “sandbox game”, Minecraft is a computer game where one can create virtual landscapes using building blocks. Highlighting how Minecraft can adapt any subject into its world, Relph demonstrated the popular game’s ability to tohelp teach and visualize history, geography and science lessons.

Good for the basics

While so much of the technology presented throughout the day talked about enhancing the classroom experience, Tariq Fancy, founder of Rumie Initiative, took the audience back to the basics of delivering education access to all.

A Canadian nonprofit founded in 2013, the organization’s mission is to bring educational material for free to children around the world. A former investment banker, Fancy’s presentation highlighted Rumie’s journey bringing its services to 22 countries across North and South America, Africa and Asia. Their latest campaign, Learn Syria, saw the team bring educational content to Syrian refugee camps.  

The Rumie Initiative. (Image via Rumie Initiative)

Fancy said key to building Rumie was the fact almost everything one had to learn before 18 is now available online. The challenge is organizing it. Taking inspiration from Wikipedia, Rumie opened their platform to teachers and experts from around the world to not just create content, but curate it from existing sources. Additionally, Rumie also chose to not focus on the hardware, but instead develop the software.

“It truly doesn't matter what hardware you’re using,” Fancy said. “The research shows that what matters is the content you’re consuming...why build the older technology when the newer and better one has become just as affordable?”

“You can’t build for the world that’s today, you have to build for where it’s going,” he said.

October 26th 2016, 2:20 am

Dubai’s El Grocer strengthens foothold with acquisition

ومضة

El Grocer, a Dubai-based online grocery delivery app, has acquired one of its competitors, Quickshop.ae for an undisclosed amount.

Quickshop, also a real time order platform for grocery stores, was founded in 2015 by serial entrepreneurs Richard Chapman and Alan Colgan. They have over 5,000 registered users and more than 50 partner grocery stores across Dubai.

Ordering from home expanding. 

El Grocer founder Mickael Costache said that their acquisition of Quickshop would enable them to strengthen their position in the region.

“We have a very aggressive plan to expand in neighboring cities and countries in the region,” said Costache,  “starting early to mid 2017.”

Since they spoke to Wamda in August they have doubled their user base since August and are currently reaching more than 22,000 users.

Currently El Grocer promises customers that they will provide free delivery within one hour, plus product prices as they appear in store. They will be adding more than 80 stores to their roster throughout Dubai and expanding their product range to over 200,000.

October 25th 2016, 7:20 am

Egypt startup trades clicks for cash

ومضة

To try to defuse an education crisis, ‘clickfunding’ startup Bassita is joining forces with the Misr El Kheir Foundation to campaign for more community schools in the remote reaches of Upper Egypt.

Bassita is an Egyptian startup that was created and launched by Alban De Menonville and Salem Massalha in 2014.

Alban De Menonville.
(Images via Bassita)

The startup uses ‘clickfunding’, a social media model that uses user engagement such as views, likes, shares and comments to raise money for, in this case, good causes. Clicks translate into ‘points’ and once a certain threshold has been reached the cause is fully funded by pre-arranged sponsors.

Bassita places videos on social media platforms Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube; each view gives one point, each favourite or like gives two points, each share or retweet gives three points, and each comment gives five points.


Egypt 'perfect' for clickfunding

Salem Massalha.

“You’re one click away from changing the world,” De Menonville said, adding that clickfunding was more attainable in a country like Egypt with a huge population. Further, Egypt’s internet penetration reached 33 percent in 2016, enabling more people to engage with campaigns online.

The startup initially struggled financially, starting with capital of 25,000 Egyptian pounds in 2014 (then worth about US$3,500). However with their first project funded by Baraka Optics, a campaign to give artisans glasses, they made enough money to sustain the business.

“Bassita is an innovation that really evolved in Egypt, with no funding from any foreign country,” Massalha said. “The idea was inspired by the Egyptian revolution after seeing how influential social media was in changing the status quo and shifting the paradigm.”

Turning clicks into points into money

The Misr El Kheir ‘Education for All’ campaign started in October and aims to provide community schools for 1,100 children in Upper Egypt.

This is the first time Misr El Kheir has used clickfunding; it set a 2.2 million point target which it exceeded in under six days.

Massalha said every 200,000 points earned funding to send 100 children to school.

The end goal is to raise 2.15 million Egyptian pounds (US$242,000) to cover schooling fees of 1,900 Egyptian pounds (US$213) per child, per year.

“A number of renowned firms are interested in supporting and funding the program, including HSBC, Credit Agricole and Orange and... Misr El Kheir,” Massalha told Wamda.

Market with a cause, not a billboard

In his opinion, sponsoring a ‘cause’ was a better way for corporations to spend their marketing budget than on an unsightly billboard next to one of Cairo’s cross city highways.

For example, a Unicef clickfunding campaign to provide 1,000 homes access to clean water was supported by SC Johnson, property developer Wadi Degla and Careem.

Unicef Egypt representative Bruno Maes told Wamda the ‘Water for Life’ campaign was meant to raise awareness and  provide wealthier Egyptians an opportunity to help the poor.

It garnered 1.5 million clicks and earned $170,000 from sponsors.

Moving up in Egypt, moving into Europe

De Menonville said five future campaigns worth 2.5 million Egyptian pounds (US$281,000 )had been secured with Swiss NGO Droso.

Three of the campaigns are set to be a collaboration with Safarni, the Intercultural Children’s Workshop that takes children on virtual journeys, in an endeavor to introduce them to different languages and cultures.

“Instead of injecting all the money into one NGO, the organization is planning on pumping the funds through Bassita,” De Menonville said. “Bassita makes use of the funds through social media campaigns for NGOs and civil society organizations such as Safarni.”

Massalha said they would expand to Paris next in 2017 with a system that would inevitably work differently than the Cairo model.

“While education and health services are rather attainable in these countries, environmental issues could be pressing and in need of awareness and momentous collaboration between sponsors and the public. This is where we come in as a serviceable and practical tool,” De Menonville said.

Feature image via Bassita's Unicef 'Water for Life' campaign.

October 25th 2016, 7:20 am

SAP Startup Focus Roadshow MENA

ومضة

Everyone knows by now that startups and entrepreneurs are disrupting the Middle East’s digital economy.

Studies show that more than $750 million were invested in 450+ tech startups from the MENA between 2013-2015. Furthermore, it is expected that the region will host at least one “unicorn” (USD 1 billion-valued startup) by 2020, in addition to USD 10 billion in publicly-listed Internet companies by 2025, following a recent report by Kauffmann Fellows.

Having said this, many efforts and initiatives continue to foster the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the region which aims to empower startups and guide them towards success.

After bringing together the regions’ startup community with two events in Dubai so far, the SAP Training and Development Institute continues to drive innovation by expanding the program into Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and Egypt with an events roadshow in November 2016. In cooperation with local partners, the institute together with Startup Focus aims to further support technology entrepreneurs, who are the main driving force of the Middle East’s digital evolution.

Technology startups across MENA, whose product ideas are based on Big Data and predictive or real-time analytics solutions, can register for the events by following the link for each country respectively.

Please see all dates and links to the registration below:

-SAP Startup Focus Forum & Technical Bootcamp Qatar, Doha – November 3

-SAP Startup Focus Forum & Technical Bootcamp Jordan, Amman – November 6

-SAP Startup Focus Forum & Technical Bootcamp Egypt, Cairo – November 8

-SAP Startup Focus Forum Saudi Arabia, Riyadh – November 9

-SAP Startup Focus Technical Bootcamp Saudi Arabia, Riyadh – November 10

October 25th 2016, 6:20 am

Moving from oil to knowledge: the angel network with a helping hand

ومضة

You’ll have heard about Careem’s acquisition of Enwani, the Saudi home delivery service and how it started.

But you what you might not have heard is the story of how Enwani was helped to reach the point of exit.

Aiming to solve the postal address problem in Saudi Arabia, Enwani joined the incubation program Badir in 2011. A year later, it participated in the first activities of the Sirb angel investors network.

“We introduced them to their first investor when they were in their early stage,” Sirb president Khalid Suleimani told Wamda.

Khalid Suleimani, president of Sirb’s angel
investors network. (Image via Kahlid Suleimani)

Sirb is an angel investor network launched in 2012 as an initiative of King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology (KACST). The city was assigned to develop the National Plan for Science, Technology and Innovation, and one of the outcomes was Sirb.

The network aims to “develop startups and turn them into investment opportunities in order to support the knowledge economy and youth initiative; in addition to providing investments opportunities for investors in the field,” Suleimani said.

While the oil sector in Saudi Arabia accounts for around 80 percent of budget revenues, 45 percent of GDP, and 90 percent of export earnings, the country is aiming to restructure its economy with such initiatives compliant with Saudi’s Vision2030: increasing non-oil revenues, limiting spending and diversifying the sources of national wealth.  

In this vein, Sirb is making part of its mission to actively get people into employment with startups. The age group 25 and 54 is around 46 percent of the population, while the Saudi unemployment rate for those above 15-years-old is 11.6 percent in 2016.

This network plays an important role in bridging angel investors with entrepreneurs by providing an electronic platform, empowering investors and entrepreneurs by giving them access to their database, and organizing training sessions and regular meetings to pitch their ideas to investors. It also has  partnerships with incubators and accelerators and entrepreneurial centers in universities.

Suleimani explains that they invest and encourage startups in the tech fields by creating a channel where every young person with an idea or a tech startup can get support.

One the most important aspects of this channel are the events they organize: startups pitch their ideas to Sirb’s registered angel investors. This is how Careem met Enwani.

Other successful partnerships and acquisitions that have come out of such events include Mango Jazan for selling mangoes. They met an investor who has pledged to buy all of their produce and distribute them, no matter the quantity.

Sirb will also help startups that received seed funding to get investment later on in different stages and rounds, says Suleimani, through partnerships with VC funds such as Wa'ed and Itqan.   

The latest event, held on October 6, hosted seven companies looking for investments totalling about 10 million Saudi riyals (US$2.66 million). Suleimani said the number of initial sales for these companies was around 11 million riyals (US$2.93 million), and that they accounted for 40 jobs.  After they received an investment, that number was supposed to rise to over 100 jobs.  

A Sirb meeting for investments. (Image via Sirb)

Considered as one of Sirb’s biggest, this meeting also hosted startups from Turkey and Dubai for the first time.

Why angel investment is important

Suleimani said getting angel investment could put a startup in a better position when it came to seeking VC funding.

Sirb wants to educate the market and they do this with their workshops for both startups and investors.

More than 20 to 30 entrepreneurs benefit from Sirb’s services every year. They train investment-ready startups how to be eligible for investment, while they direct others to Badir incubator to enhance the business model.

Going forward, Sirb is planning to organizing two or three pitching events per year.

October 25th 2016, 4:20 am

Apply for incubation at TIEC

ومضة

If you have a business plan for your startup and are looking for incubation, be sure to apply to the 13th round of TIEC's incubation program.

Every three months, a number of preliminary accepted teams will be invited to pitch for a chance to be incubated at one of TIEC's incubation centers for one year. Taking part in the incubation program offers you up to 120K EGP of in-kind services ranging from consultancy, software, hardware, and marketing services. Besides having a workspace for your team, you will also have access to on-site hardware and software tools that allow you to build your product as you are being guided through the process.

Startups with bigger commercialization potential have higher chances of being selected, so before applying, make sure to meet the following criteria:

The first round of incubation starts on January 1, 2017, so make sure to apply before the deadline which is on November 5, 2016.

For more information on the evaluation criteria and application process, click here.

Apply now.

October 24th 2016, 7:11 am

What I know about industrial design: Sahar Madanat

ومضة

How do single-handed people eat? Is it possible to reduce the 6 million deaths per year as a result of strokes? What drives people to use paper plates so abundantly? Sahar Madanat has the answers.

Jordanian indsutrial designer Sahar Madanat.
(Image via Sahar Madanat)

As an industrial designer, Madanat hunts for problems to solve through design. Her three-year-old, Amman-based studio has so far designed a single handed plate set, a heart aid machine, a salt and pepper shaker, and much more. She also experimented with bringing the local craft of sand art into table lamps and furniture.  

The designer is currently working on partnering with manufacturers who can mass produce her designs. In each of her products, Madanat and her team present a new solution that is functional and gives an added value to the consumer.

Balance between functionality and form is crucial. Functionality and aesthetics need to be equal. If you design a product for one-handed users who need a functional solution for their disability, and you give them something that only looks great, they might try it, but then they would stop using it. But we also should present aesthetically beautiful products, even for users who are heavily focused on usability. This balance should be achieved and you don’t have to choose this or that.  

Consumers are informed and intelligent. Today, consumers have instant access to online reviews, allowing them to easily compare products. If you are not matching the price point, the look, not up to current trends, or not providing a functional product, consumers will go elsewhere. Competition is really high.

Make room for science. The scientific approach is built into the design process so that you don’t make assumptions. Instead, you research. When we were doing a simple product like the sand art table lamps, we had one of our engineers analyze the sand’s compression rate. No matter what product we are working on, we try to understand the material, we get into the scientific details.

Single-handed plate allows user to cut the food through a divided compartment. (Image via Amman Design Week)

Quality is deteriorating. Nowadays, quality is a big issue because more companies are producing more products that don’t last. In some cases, products are actually designed not to last so that the consumer can buy more. In the 1960s and 1970s companies produced products to last. This is something that is missing today.

Innovation can be simple. I feel the word ‘innovative’ is often used in misleading ways. Usually you’d think of something innovative as groundbreaking or a new technology, but i feel that an innovative product can be something simple. I believe our plate is innovative. It is made out of one material but the idea behind it is innovative. Innovation can come in so many different ways.

We need more startups focused on industrial design. Introducing more key players would improve manufacturing standards and create demand for prototyping - there would be more 3D printers, artisans and wood workers. It would create demand for the core knowledge base that we are lacking since there aren’t enough people who can produce our prototypes.

Research is lacking. There isn't a lot of research on what Middle Eastern consumers are using and what problems they have. As a product designer if you want scientific data on why some products are more successful than others, you wouldn’t find any. We have to generate that research outselves.

Feature image via Sahar Madanat

October 24th 2016, 7:11 am

The Story of a Startup #2

ومضة

Started by Morad Edwar and Sarah Abdel Aziz, Alex Geeks Meetup returns with its second session of "The Story of a Startup". The purpose of these sessions is to bring together a number of Alexandrian entrepreneurs to share their experiences and success stories in the ecosystem. Through these meetups, Alexandria’s startups and entrepreneurs have the opportunity to connect and network in hope to benefit from each other’s insights and knowledge.

This week’s guest is AbdelMalek Mohamed,  an entrepreneur, business owner and software engineer, who co­-founded his first start­up SavvyEra at the young age of 21, as well as SavvyEra’s sister company Savvy Arabia in Alexandria.

The event will be taking place on Friday October 28 at XDA - X Digital Academy.

For more information on the speaker, visit the event’s Facebook page.

October 24th 2016, 7:11 am

Tekuma: turning your boring walls into beautiful art galleries

ومضة

While art has proven to reduce stress, increase creativity and encourage expression of opinion, too often homes and offices are surrounded by blank white walls.

Original art, for much of today’s world, is perceived as unattainable.

But in 2015, Boston-based Tekuma promised to unleash the potential of physical spaces. Founded by three MIT architecture and real estate development graduates, the startup turns spaces into interactive galleries, and property owners into art curators.

From left: Naomi Hebert, COO, Marwan Aboudib, CEO,
and Kun Qian, chairman and CTO. 
(Images via Tekuma)

Art to people by the people

Tekuma aggregates artwork on an online platform from a wide variety of global artists. It offers real estate property owners the chance to turn their spaces into more interesting ones through artwork. The startup curates relevant art for the space, displays the art of the walls of the home, apartment or office, and through a QR code and link placed next to the art, it also tells more about the artist and the price of the piece. It offers residents a chance to learn more about the artwork, potentially interact with the artist, or purchase the art by using their mobile phones.

For the artists, it provides exposure and a chance not only to sell their work but also their story.

“Today if you buy art, you just hang it on the wall and that’s it. The process is over,” cofounder Marwan Aboudib told Wamda.

“What if you can now become the curator of the gallery, where you are representing that artist? You feel like you created a sales channel and exposure for that artist. So if a friend sees a work of art that he likes, he can either buy it, see other works by that artist, or chat with the artist,” he said. 

Artist and university student Martin Elliott uploaded around 15 pieces of art before spending his summer travelling across South America. Although away from his home base of Boston, Massachusetts, he was receiving mobile alerts and notifications on where his art was being displayed and who was buying his paintings. By the end of the summer, he had sold five small prints and made $144.

“It’s a nice reward for putting art in people’s places, especially places that may be filled with art, but may not be filled with stories,” Elliot said. “There may be some art that was bought to fill blank spaces on the wall. But if you substitute that with some real stories, [it takes] art to a domestic and democratized space. Selling is a huge added bonus, I was down to do it for free."

A piece in a Compass apartment with a corresponding link to the artist bio and the story behind the art. Residents can buy the art through the link.

Most recently Tekuma partnered with Compass Furnished Apartments which offers short-term housing to companies and individuals. The property will house 51 micro galleries and 51 artists, located in a prime building in downtown Boston. Another recent deal will bring 40 artworks to another apartment building in Boston and that will house 10 artists.

In total the startup has paid out $15,000 to artists. They host 560 artists and have distributed close to 700 pieces of artwork.

Tekuma charges property owners a setup fee based on the number of artworks it provides. They also charge an annual fee for rotation of new art, if owners are interested. A percentage from every piece of art sold off the wall also goes to Tekuma.

Study rooms and Airbnb

Tekuma was born in 2015 out a desire for more recognition for student work. When no one showed up to Aboudib's MIT architecture degree final presentation on redefining city landscapes, he got to thinking about how he and his fellow graduates could monetize all the models, drawings, and art they were obliged to produce throughout their degrees.

Hopeful that people would be interested in the student material, Aboudib and his friends held exhibitions across the MIT campus of student work. The reception was positive until they were shut down after the third exhibition by the school administration for operating without permission.

Inteahouse office coworking space in Cambridge, MA turned into gallery by Tekuma.

The exhibition artwork, along with the QR codes of the art, were placed in buildings' study rooms. With that, they unintentionally turned 20 boring, white-walled study rooms into unique spaces. Of the 20 pieces distributed across the rooms, seven were sold.

Aboudib and his team then turned to the most accessible treasure chest of real estate spaces: Airbnb. They messaged 10 hosts about their idea of turning their spaces into galleries. Obliged to answer within 24 hours, eight said yes.

Nearly one year later, those eight hosts continue to have Tekuma art on their walls. Around 100 Airbnb spaces have also been transformed into Tekuma galleries, Aboudib said.

Aboudib later leased two apartments, one populated by Tekuma pieces and the other left as is. Their A/B testing lasted two months before it was clear that the apartment with the gallery had significantly higher ratings. They continued to lease the two apartments for 18 months and in total made over $200,000 in revenue.

One of Tekuma's Airbnb spaces used to bootstrap. The space is located in Cambridge, MA.

Expanding the strokes

Competition is low for Tekuma. Tekuma is entering a space of modern interior design that supports local artists’ work, while also offering an unlikely sales point for the art. It’s hard to find a company that stands at such an intersection of storytelling, technology, art and real estate.

“Our competitors are who we believe will be our partners and allies,” said Aboudib, referring to interior designers and galleries.   

The team has officially begun preparations for their fundraising round and are hoping to close by November.

They also recently signed partnerships with digital photography and art curator giants, 1X and Curioos, allowing them access to thousands of artworks from across the world. Remaining true to Tekuma’s origins, they have also partnered with a new company called Super Architects that represent thesis work of students.

October 24th 2016, 4:11 am

Flat6labs signs $1M deal with IFC

ومضة

Flat6labs has signed a $1 million deal with the World Bank investment arm International Finance Corporation (IFC).

The Egyptian incubator, which has arms across MENA, will use the money to close a 50 million Egyptian pound fund (US$5.6 million), intended to launch around 100 startups over five years, according to Techcrunch.

The deal is one of the first investments in the IFC’s $30 million Startup Catalyst program. It’s an initiative designed to back accelerators in emerging markets, and is part of a broader IFC Venture Capital program to increase the corporation’s investments in emerging market tech entrepreneurs to $1 billion. It also invested $3 million in Argentinian accelerator NXTP Labs.

The Startup Catalyst program will make 15 to 20 investments in accelerators and seed funds in emerging markets including Nigeria, Ukraine and Mexico during the next 18 months.

IFC Venture Capital is looking at healthcare, education technology, ‘internet’ startups and clean tech verticals, and has already invested in online marketplaces Souq.com and Kaymu from the region.

Feature image via Flat6labs Tunis.

October 24th 2016, 4:11 am

The lucky 13: Egypt's incubators

ومضة

Cairo was - surprisingly - named one of the top 10 cities in the world to found a tech-startup last year, and that is likely partly due to the incubators and accelerators that have popped up all over the country.

From clean tech, to pure tech, to social, they’re designed to help aspiring entrepreneurs navigate the tricky waters of putting a brilliant idea into motion.

Here is a list of startup incubators (usually for newer startups) and accelerators (generally for more mature businesses) currently running in Egypt.

TIEC - Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center

Founded: 2010
Location: Smart Village, Cairo
Incubation period: 1 year
Famous graduates: Crowd Analyzer, Ta2heal, Bey2ollak

With many initiatives like Egypt Innovate and Hay, an innovation initiative focused on startups serving their immediate neighborhoods, running throughout Upper Egypt and the Delta as well as in its headquarters in Cairo, TIEC is a government entity providing incubation for budding entrepreneurs. Funding amounts go up to 120,000 Egyptian pounds (US$13,500) and it doesn’t take equity, and TIEC offers services such as office space, mentoring and investor showcases.

In May, TIEC launched a new competition in partnership with phone company Etisalat called StartIT that focuses on six ‘challenges’: gamification, smart electricity meters, fitness and healthcare, smart cities and smart silos. The competition concludes with a 10 month incubation from December for the two winners.

Injaz Egypt

Founded: 2011
Location: Maadi, Cairo
Incubation period: 3-6 months
Famous graduates: Axology, Recyclobekia, Simpion

With a focus on teaching college and high school students how to be entrepreneurs, Injaz runs two competitions, Dare to Dream for school students and Startup Egypt for early stage startups. They provide incubation services for 3-6 months for the winners, who are drawn from across Egypt but hosted in Cairo. Incubation winners receive office space, exposure to marketing and business mentoring, plus undisclosed funding amounts depending on the business model.

Injaz Egypt is part of the regional Injaz NGO that started in Jordan and focuses on youth education, development, and employment.

Gesr

Founded: 2013
Location: Mokattam, Cairo
Incubation period: 6 months - 1 year
Famous graduates: Jozour

An initiative launched by the Misr El-Kheir Foundation, Gesr focuses on startups working on water, energy, food, health and education issues. The initiative runs a six month acceleration program, with funding of up to 200,000 Egyptian pounds available, and a one year incubation program with funding of up to 500,000 Egyptian pounds available.

Gesr takes a minor equity stake, and offers office space, mentorship, and investor showcasing. They also run two interesting laboratories for young innovators.

Flat6Labs

Founded: 2011
Location: Giza, Cairo
Acceleration period: 3 months
Famous graduates: Instabug, Nafham, Taskty

With chapters across the Middle East, Flat6labs Cairo was the first. It accepts 10 startups twice a year for its three month acceleration program, and provides funding of $10,000-15,000 in exchange for up to 10-20 percent equity as well as the usual perks of coworking office space and mentoring.

The next Cairo round will start in Spring 2017. Fla6labs was the startup builder envisioned and initially backed by venture investor Sawari Ventures.

1864

Founded: 2016
Location: Giza, Cairo
Acceleration period: 14 weeks
Famous graduates: None yet

Run by Flat6labs in partnership with Barclays Bank Egypt, 1864 is Egypt’s first dedicated fintech accelerator. It offers funding of up to 150,000 Egyptian pounds (US$16,800) in exchange for a minority stake of 10-15 percent.

1864 has started its first incubation round which will end in December 2016.

Ebni

Founded: 2016
Location: Heliopolis, Cairo, Assiut
Incubation period: 3-6 months
Famous graduates: Qabess

Ebni, run by Eitesal, is Egypt’s first dedicated incubation program for Internet of Things (IoT) startups. Located at their coworking space in Heliopolis, it offers 50,000 Egyptian pounds (US$5,600) seed funding in return for 5 percent equity, coworking space, a state of the art IoT lab, mentorship and legal walkthroughs.

Eitesal, the ICT industry’s lobby group, is aiming to use the incubator to invest in information technology, telecommunications, electronics, and software makers in general.

Hmaa

Founded: 2015
Location: Assiut
Incubation period: Minimum of 3 months
Famous graduates: None yet

Launched by the University of Assiut in partnership with the European Commission, Hmaa offers incubation and acceleration programs for young entrepreneurs with a focus on industrial technology and bio-medical solutions.

It doesn’t offer any funding and is only for Assiut locals.

Innoventures

Founded: 2011
Location: Heliopolis, Cairo
Incubation period: 5 months
Famous graduates: Gaia, Scenario Design Services, Cubii Systems

Innoventures runs an incubation program called Reactor. It’s open to 25 startups and the top three are eligible for 10,000 euros (US$11,000) of cash prizes and investment opportunities from Innoventures and VC4Africa.

The company also holds out the possibility of equity funding at the end of the once-a-year cycle.

Nahdet El Mahrousa

Founded: 2003
Location: Downtown, Cairo
Incubation period: 9 months
Famous graduates: Alam Mwazy, Bio Tech, Dynergy

With a special focus on early stage social enterprises and socially conscious startups, social causes NGO Nahdet El Mahrousa offers a nine month project development program called Masr Ta3mal.

It’s funded by Egypt’s Social Fund for Development, the European Union, and the World Bank and includes peer to peer collaboration programs, mentorship, funding when money is available, and demo days.

Juicelabs

Founded: 2013
Location: Dokki, Cairo
Acceleration period: 6 months
Famous graduates: Moviepigs, Wall Street Chamber

This is strictly a tech startup accelerator that focuses on taking one or two early stage (or idea stage) startups per cycle, held once a year, to guarantee complete focus.

Juicelabs offers an office space, mentorship by some of the brightest entrepreneurial minds in Egypt, $20,000 in funding as well as investor and partner exposure to participating startups.

AUC Venture Labs

Founded: 2013
Location: New Cairo
Incubation period: 3 months
Famous graduates: Karmsolar, Ion7, CairoSitters

The first university-based accelerator and incubator in Egypt, operating two cycles a year in spring and autumn, this program offers 20,000 Egyptian pounds (US$2,200) in seed capital to winning startups from all walks of life and is currently in its seventh cycle.

It also offers a coworking space, access to American University in Cairo campus facilities, mentorship, investor exposure and networking events. It recently partnered with CIB bank to launch a fintech accelerator with a 12 week program.

Sustaincubator

Founded: 2014
Location: Cairo
Incubation period: 3-12 months
Famous graduates: Ecotaqa

This incubator looks for startups with a sustainable impact. It’s open for startups working on food, renewable energy and water related issues. It provides office space, mentorship and an all-inclusive residency in one of its locations throughout Cairo and Upper Egypt cities such as Sohag and Assuit.

Founded by Environ and Delta Aromatic, this incubator has two options: incubation in exchange for 10-20 percent equity stake or direct funding for a 12-20 percent stake.

Bedaya

Founded: 2009
Location: Nasr City, Cairo
Incubation period: Minimum of three months
Famous graduates: Recyclobekia, Egy Glove

Another government incubator launched by the General Authority for Investment & Free Zones, Bedaya offers incubation space, 150,000 Egyptian pounds (US$17,000) in funding, technical and business development services, access to labs and manufacturing spaces, networking events among other features.

They have what is called the ‘Bedaya Fund’, which offers growth stage startups funding of between 2 million Egyptian pounds (US$225,000) and 50​​​​​ million Egyptian pounds (US$5.6 million). The fund is managed by Al Ahly For Development and Investment ​(ADI) and is focused on businesses in food and agriculture, manufacturing, services, and IT.

According to their website, 60 percent of fund portfolio will be dedicated to governorates other than greater Cairo and will be invested directly for a period that ranges from three to five years with different exit scenarios.

Feature image via Gesr.

October 24th 2016, 2:11 am

Qatar doctor directory Meddy adds Arabic site

ومضة

Qatari healthcare directory Meddy has launched its first Arabic version with the expectation that using the region’s native language will yield commercial success.

After Meddy launched in August 2014 it caught people’s attention in startup competitions with its service to help foreigners find and review doctors in Qatar.

“But when doctors and users insisted on having Meddy target the Arabic population and Qatari citizens, we launched an Arabic version in early September,” said cofounder and CTO Abdulla AlKhenji.

In the Middle East half of the 375 million residents only speak Arabic.

“Our visitors went from 30,000 to 55,000 within a month.”

Last year the Meddy team told Wamda that of the 600 medical practices in Qatar fewer than 60 had an online presence. “People always have to ask about doctors while many doctors don’t even have an email address,” AlKhenji said in an interview this month.

So he created the platform with his cofounder, CEO Haris Aghadi, to increase the online presence of doctors.

This reflects a growing interest in digital healthcare. This market is projected to be worth $69 billion by 2018 in the GCC alone, which has a high smartphone use at 75 percent, and rising health challenges.

CTO Abdulla AlKhenji. (Images via Meddy)

Making an Arabic medical site is not easy

The Arabic language is not perfect when it comes to programming, let alone translating difficult medical terms.

Technically building a medical platform in Arabic is difficult, from orienting the text and user interface from right to left, to finding a professional programmer who speaks Arabic.

But luckily AlKhenji, the main developer, spent a lot of time building their Arabic search engine optimization and translated the English terminology with the help of their medical advisor Dr. Abdulwahid Zainal.


For the reviews, the team decided to not translate the old ones and despite fears that Arabs wouldn’t leave comments, they did and doctors engaged with them.

“There were no famous Arabic platforms from Qatar, now we are,” he said.

Meddy is not the first of its kind in the region. In Dubai,
Doctoruna allows users to search for a doctor or a hospital and book an appointment. You can also find Webteb and Altibbi that provide medical information, and Etobb to ask doctors questions online.

But these platforms do not affect Meddy directly since it’s the only one in Qatar.

CEO Haris Aghadi (left) and AlKhenji after winning first prize at Seedstars GCC in 2016.

A slow but effective start

The cofounders launched the startup after graduating from university. They received some funding while being incubated in Qatar Science & Technology Park, and then joined the Digital Incubation Center (DIC) for two years.

Today, Meddy has more than 2,000 doctors and 250 clinics in its directory. The service is free for patients, and doctors pay a monthly subscription fee to display their information plus a little more if they want to boost their place in the search ranking.

AlKhenji said Meddy was planning to become a clinic management platform by adding an appointment system.

The marketing is done through social media and direct communication with doctors, as well as “working hard on SEO”.

More than 60 percent of users access the service through an iPhone so the team will launch an iOS app by the end of October with additional services such as location-based searches, AlKhenji told Wamda.

Meddy won first place at Seedstars GCC in 2016 as well as first place in ArabNet Kuwait’s Startup Demo and Ideathon.

October 23rd 2016, 6:43 am

Maghreb Game Conference proves strength in collaboration

ومضة

Whether you’re a professional, student or passionate gamer in Maghreb, your presence was critical at the first edition of the Maghreb Game Conference in the Casablanca Technopark last weekend.

The conference was organized by the Moroccan Game Developers (MGD), the main actor in Morocco’s gaming ecosystem, and was in collaboration with Algerian Game Developers and Tunisian Game Developers. Organizers of the event hoped it would be a sharing, creation and collaboration platform that contributes to the development of a strong and dynamic gaming ecosystem in Morocco.

Benefitting from international expertise

The 400 participants in the conference had access to a range of keynotes, panels and workshops, where 20 international experts discussed technical and overall business related themes.

The international expertise was what attracted Khalil, a computer science student and mobile game developer, to this conference.

“I met a lot of people, and received feedback from many professionals,” he said. “Having access to such a network is very important to achieve progress and to find the best practices.”

Other young professionals shared his opinion. Like Khalil, many attendees were aiming to build a local and international network, receive feedback and meet with potential partners and contributors.

At the exhibition, startups and studio booths transformed the alleys of Technopark into a real time video game hall.

The Tunisian startup Placeholder drew the crowd’s attention with an amusing game titled Color Trump, inspired by the American presidential candidate, Donald Trump.

“One of [the company’s] objectives is to better understand the Moroccan market and present our games to the MENA region,” said Mohamed Koubaa, cofounder of Placeholder. “We also suggested partnerships with some of the exhibitors in order to share our user base and increase the downloads of our apps.”

Kate Edwards, from the International Game Developers Association, taking a selfie with the crowd (Image via Kate Edwards).

Gaming, a growing industry in Maghreb

The history of video gaming in North Africa goes back to the creation of Ubisoft in Casablanca in 1998.

After Ubisoft closed its Casablanca studio this June, the ecosystem turned a new chapter. “Independent studios now have the opportunity to write their own destiny,” said Yassine Arif, president of MGD and founder of TheWallGames.

According to the specialists, this sector’s potential in undeniable.

Sho Sato, chief analyst at Japanese agency Media Create that specializes in video game marketing, highlighted the growth potential of this market characterized by “fast mobile penetration, a youth base and an open mentality to international culture.”

Michel Ancel, the French video games designer that created the famous series Rayman and worked with Ubisoft’s teams in Casablanca said that Moroccan developers work on an international level whether they are programmers or artists.

Brie Code, the lead developer behind the international success Assassin’s Creed, agreed. “I met extremely talented people with interesting styles I rarely run into. Having visited Tunisia, I think we have here two complementary scenes that can create something big,” she said.

Education and entrepreneurial spirit

According to Arif, a very competent minority exists. However, building an ecosystem requires much more.

One of the challenges lies in education. “Gaming must be considered a real job, with specialized schools,” said Michel Ancel.

Business challenges are also available everywhere. Developers have difficulties in creating products and business models adapted to the region where gamers play a lot, but do not pay.

“The limited number of online payment methods and the lack of funding organizations willing to fund a risky sector slows down the development of startups in the region,” said Riad Mohamed Aboulethar, general manager of MGD. However, he believes that the main obstacle is the lack of entrepreneurial spirit.

“The spirit of collaboration and professionalism must be encouraged, and the giving up culture, and fear of failure must be fought. The rest will follow,” he said.

Collaborative entrepreneurship

Everyone knows that collaboration is key to overcoming these challenges.

The three organizing game developer associations in the Maghreb knew how to capitalize on their experiences and benefit from this new regional sharing and co-creation platform.

“We want to benefit from the domino effect! If one of us makes it, the other will. It’s the law of attraction,” Arif said.

There must be collaboration with corporations as well, he added.

The support he received from Technopark and its director Omar Balafrej was crucial, Arif explains. 

A collaborative entrepreneurship model is indispensable to accelerate the development of innovative industries in the region.

October 23rd 2016, 3:43 am

Can new tech trends advance digital advertising?

ومضة

'Why did Mandolin create a two-bar pack?’ Mandolin Egypt itself did not know the answer but used the question in social media  advertising before launching its comeback product: the two-bar pack.

Mandolin chocolate, a subsidiary of the international FMCG company Mondelez, has been away from the Egyptian shelves for many years after being gradually replaced with a more competitive product, Twix. The campaign was low-budget so Mandolin used digital platforms as the basis for its relaunch campaign.

Sara Metwally, head of media agency Starcom Egypt and one of the masterminds behind the Mandolin relaunch, said the campaign drew more than 4.5 million views on Facebook and Youtube and the product sold out before it ended.

Launched in late June during Ramadan, the campaign sent a question to its fan base asking why they thought Mandolin created a two-bar pack, and each answer received was filmed and aired on social media in a sarcastic way.

“We had a budget squeeze and did not really have a sexy selling proposition [for] why we are launching the two-bar pack,” Metwally said during the third Digital Media Forum (DMF) held in Cairo on Wednesday.

Using digital tools and trends to take a small product, especially one like Mandolin that was out of production for years, and expand it into a bigger brand is an industry trend today.

Rapid changes in the ways consumers behave towards products, content and services has made it inevitable that businesses will start capitalizing on digital and technological tools. However, the metrics of success  are still experimental.

Choose your metrics wisely

Dozens of digital media organisations, experts and researchers from Egypt, MENA and the UK, were brought together on the third DMF to discuss digital trends in 2016 and how they were  affecting business.

Panelists who represented international organisations agreed that narrowing down your target audience and early experimentation are keys to any kind of digital advertising strategy.

“If you have millions of pounds to spend on a campaign, no room for errors, you have to drive efficiency, making sure this is delivering on your business,” Metwally said.

She said metrics such as viewership, engagement, and insights were valuable assets for campaign success. “In digital, you don’t need to wonder if your campaign is seen or is making a difference, you have all that data in real time.”

Further, no online interactions take place in technology silos.

"When a group of people are watching TV probably they're also connected to their phones and having a conversation about what they are watching. Similarly if a consumer is commuting, listening to the radio and also connected to their phones at the same time,” Metwally said.

Measuring bang for your buck

Return on investment (ROI) strategies should not be measured in-silos either.

Sara Farouk, digital media director at Tarek Nour Communications, told Wamda that in practice the best approach to boosting online monetization was getting to know your audience and optimising interactions across different mediums.

She said quantitative metrics such as the number of views and total reach were still valid but would increase the better you know who you are targeting. Technology helped a lot in that.

Out with the old

Technological disruption has shaken up business models that depend on conventional advertising strategies and conventional media outlets such as television, rapidly and in unprecedented ways.

Technology is now pivoting around wearables. In 2015 Google shipped more than five million virtual reality cardboard goggles and logged more than 350,000 hours spent on Youtube watching virtual reality videos.

By 2020, customers will manage 85 percent of their relationships with an enterprise without interacting with a human, thanks to algorithms.  In March, KLM Royal Dutch airlines started giving passengers the option to receive their boarding passes through Facebook messenger and follow up with their flight updates there.

Making those trends useful for your business is challenge. "This depends on your objective," James Whatley, planning partner and innovation at the UK based Ogilvy and Mather told Wamda. “For example, if you’ve got a problem where lots of customers have the same issue you can create a chatbot to help deal with that issue."

Early experimentation was one way to implement this, Whatley said.

“Video is already old, everyone knows about it, but live videos, for example, are interesting and simple to build.”

On the other hand, head of digital science at Choueiri Group Youmna Borghol believes economic hardships can affect everything, whether you are doing digital or conventional advertising.

“The shift should not be in the medium only, 50-60 percent of the digital spends for brands are shifting to audience targeting,” she said. “What we try to focus on today is the value of the product not just the tool.”

Feature image via Menan Khater.

October 23rd 2016, 1:43 am

Hikma Ventures makes second US investment

ومضة

Hikma Ventures made their second investment announcement in just over a month with their contribution to a $21.5 million series C round of financing for Propeller Health.

Other investors include major US conglomerates 3M and Glaxo Smith Kline.

The statement from Hikma Ventures, released Thursday, said that their investment would go to supporting the expansion of the company.

Lana Ghanem, managing director of Hikma Ventures, said in the statement that their investment was a demonstration of their focus on “identifying and investing in innovative, high potential digital health providers.”

Using sensors to help asthma sufferers better control their use of inhalers. (Image via Propeller Health)

“Despite an abundance of effective treatments, the majority of people with chronic respiratory disease could be doing much better than they are,” said David Van Sickle, CEO of Propeller Health. We’re excited to work with Hikma Ventures on our efforts to develop information-powered medicines that help people and their physicians achieve control of these conditions.”

Founded in 2010, Wisconsin-based Propeller Health is a producer of smart solutions that help those with respiratory disorders.

Using sensors, mobile apps, and data analytics, the product modernizes traditional therapies for respiratory illnesses. It integrates information from multiple sources, including a patient’s inhaler, and uses machine intelligence to recommend an optimal path therapy for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma and other respiratory diseases.

Research has predicted that the global digital dose inhaler market is anticipated to reach a value of $3.56 billion by 2024.

This is the second US investment the venture arm of the Jordanian pharmaceutical company has made in the last two months. Hikma Ventures announced their inclusion in a $47.6 million Series B round in early September for US-based smoking deterrent product from Chrono Therapeutics.

October 20th 2016, 10:26 am

In business, avoid falling in love

ومضة

Entrepreneurs fall in love with their businesses, but this can make breaking up as much of a wrench as the end of a relationship.

An entrepreneur should keep in mind that the day will come when they need to detach and exit the business, preferably with maximized returns.

For this to happen, entrepreneurs should learn to plan from the start how they can exit the business or at least become less involved in the day to day of running it.

By recognizing that they cannot be the only one performing every role needed to achieve sustainable growth and success, they create a structure for a future successful exit without risking the collapse of the business.

I am similar to many other entrepreneurs who are in love with the business they created: I thought I could play all the roles that would make my business grow and succeed, but I couldn’t.

The ups and downs of running a business taught me that there are three roles that should be taken over by different team members. Those are the visionary, the executer and the optimizer. The founder cannot, and should not, do them all.

Ceding control

An entrepreneur should decide on which of the three key roles he or she should assume: the visionary who will grow the business, the executer who will ensure successful delivery of products and services, or the controller who will optimize operations.

The three roles are fully integrated and interrelated and must be performed in a cohesive and coordinated matter. Yet taking on more than one role will put the business at risk.

Being a visionary, I have the habit of being less strict on employees’ requests for pay rises, additional perks, or taking time off.  An optimizer will be less tolerant, as this will cause the business to be less efficient as well as cause problems with other resources.

Similarly, being a visionary, I want my customers to be always happy and pleased with what we are offering. This could result in gold plating the product or service or committing to results that the delivery team cannot achieve.

The Visionary

If the entrepreneur wants to be the visionary, which from my experience is optimal since it’s the founder’s dream that has created the business, then he or she should master the generation of new ideas and concepts that will keep the business always alive and ahead of the competition.

The visionary must also set the growth strategy as well as build the team that will be needed to achieve it and market leadership, as well as securing partnerships to accelerate growth. In other words, the visionary should be the one who has the ultimate responsibility to lead the business forward.

The Executor

The second role needed to run a healthy and successful business is the executer. This is the role that ensures delivery is on time, within budget and meets quality standards. The executer’s ultimate responsibility is to achieve customer satisfaction but without ‘gold-plating’ the services and products deliverables.

The Optimizer

The optimizer is the third important role needed to run a business. This is the role that will ensure business operations are run efficiently and achieve the targeted return on investment and profitability.The optimizer’s responsibility is to run the business in the  a manner that will ensure the business continues to operate profitably.

Having those three roles run by the right, and competent, team members will not only increase the likelihood of having a successful business but will also ensure it continues to be sustainable if the people performing those roles get replaced.

In a way, it will help the entrepreneur not to blindly fall in love with the idea and the passion associated with it, but be comfortable to let go when the right time comes.

Feature image via Dulcet Collective

October 20th 2016, 7:09 am

Wamda went to GITEX and met some startups

ومضة

Dubai’s annual tech trade fair, GITEX Technology Week, is huge. We’re talking 15-minute walks from end-to-end huge.

Thousands of attendees moving at a snail’s pace through government and corporate pavilions carrying robots, flashy cars plus goody bags filled with USBs, pens, note books, phone chargers and, in some cases, footballs and flashing swords.

There were over 400 startups in attendance this year, most were from the Middle East, but there were also visitors from Eastern Europe, Asia and the US, all looking for a piece of the MENA pie.

To help you navigate through the giant GITEX (which means Gulf Information Technology Exhibition by the way) fair, here are a few that caught Wamda’s eye.

Makeblock - robotics - China

These guys have been going for about four years and this is their first time in the UAE. They’re already selling their robotic educational toys to about 100 countries but they are now looking to make a name for themselves in the Middle East.

ZSS - cyber security - Qatar

These guys say they’re the world’s first geographical password solution. Much like other password generating solutions out there this one uses your ‘favorite locations’ to help generate passwords.

A Wecycler. (Image via Wecycler)

Wecyclers - recycling - Nigeria

A crowdsourced recycling company they work with recycling firms in Nigeria that are under utilised because they don’t have a network to collect the recyclable materials. COO Wale Adebiyi wants to work in emerging markets and is in Dubai to take part was at the GITEX startup pitching. He’s also looking for investment.

Smooglee - events - UAE/Ukraine

This two-year-old  Dubai-based startup is run by Ukrainians who are now looking to take Smooglee back to their home country as part of their expansion plans. Their platform can help you plan events from booking the venue to food to entertainment.

Attendme - video meetings - US/India

Founded in the US by Brett Kokinadis, this startup has built a calling system that can be attached within email signatures or added as a plugin on your website - without downloading any software. Sounds pretty useful. Their first time in the Middle East they are looking to multiple markets to expand to.

Icare - healthcare - Dubai

An anonymous blood donation network app. They’ve just launched their beta version and recently signed a deal with the Dubai Health Authority.

Bonsai Lab's Fab Pod. (Image via Bonsai Lab)

Bonsai Lab - 3D printing - Japan

It wouldn’t be a startup fair without some 3D printing. These guys from Japan have been going for three years and were part of a government supported accelerator in Japan. They want to bring their Fab Pod, a printer, to the Middle East for the STEM market.

Smart Labour - education/empowerment - UAE

Launched in May this year this is a platform that provides help with communication (languages), money management, and connecting with family, to migrant workers based in UAE. According to the startup they make up 88 percent of the working population and just under half have low levels of education. This startup wants to see them get their most out of their life in UAE.

Excpy - media and marketing - Bahrain/UAE

Pronounced ‘x-p’ this startup, which launched its beta platform this week is going to allow users to better understand their environment when it comes to the consumer world around them.

They’re currently indexing the ‘products’ (stores, outlets, ATMs) at about 1,000 a week.

It should also be mentioned that the startup that won ‘best global startup’ at GITEX (a $100,000 prize) was UAE’s own Acacus, a fleet management system; Teachmenow, based in UAE, won ‘best youth startup’ (a $20,000 prize) and Acoustic Arts from France won ‘best woman startup’ (a prize of $20,000).

Feature image via GITEX Technology Week.

October 20th 2016, 4:09 am

Startup Watch: Quit the social, call your angel, and cut down on the hype

ومضة

The world of entrepreneurship news is a complex one, with people ever ready to give their two cents on how you should be running your business/VC fund/incubator.

Here’s our wrap of what we’re reading on money, loads of money, how we are addicted to social media (yes, newsflash) and batteries. We love batteries.

Your Facebook is the salt to my sugary Twitter. Binge checking apps is not your fault. Tech companies spend billions on breaking down your self-control and feeding an addiction. But one man in the Valley is pushing back with a “Hippocratic oath” for software, to encourage ethical app making. This is a long read, but it did make us aware of just how much time was spent on Facebook and Slack in the making of this article.

Batteries are an even bigger hype-generator than startups. Fisker Karma - an alleged Telsa/Nissan competitor, is being hyped (again) for not only a comeback but also bringing in a super amazing battery that will blow your mind. Unfortunately, we’ve not been able to find any evidence of this battery being used outside a lab. Scientists are also side-eyeing outrageous claims like these guys are making about the same kind of graphene storage system. Experimental batteries have a tendency to blow up in their makers’ faces once out of the lab (see here, here and this most excellent book). So the lesson is, when someone says they have the next best thing, back away, slowly.

Wamda of the week: War in the north, fintech in the south. When it comes to entrepreneurialism, Iraq always provides little snapshots of a people who, despite years of crushing circumstance, are still keen to give things a go (there’s Nawres Arif in Basra and a food startup revival in Baghdad). This time it’s fintech, a sector that’s proved time and again that ideas from countries in the most need make the biggest impact.

(Mobile wallets - those where you can pay using your phone credit and don't need a bank account - are on the rise in Iraq. (Image via Akhbarak)

Have you called your angel lately? They want to hear from you, they’d love a call, maybe just an email? A one-second Snapchat? To make the most from your angel investors you’ve got to actually talk to them. You presumably brought them in because you thought they’d be useful for more than just the money. The angel in this story has some advice for entrepreneurs: to extract that value from your angels, let them know how you’re doing.

Raising a cool $1B doesn’t mean you’re all that. Being well capitalized - that is taking on a pile of VC money - does not mean your startup will make it in the long term. MENA is yet to see any big IPOs by its most charmed startups, but this study of 71 of the best performing companies in the US raises an interesting point: raising less venture capital while private correlated with public success. We’re not saying venture capital is not essential at the right time, but we are saying that aiming to be a unicorn is not the right goal.

The correlation suggests (remember - correlation does not mean confirmation) that the less venture money you raise the better you do post-IPO. But then again, since MENA's largest raising has been sub-$1 billion from Careem, these are numbers to think about for the future, not the present. (Image via Founders Collective)

A $100B Saudi marriage. The Softbank-Saudi deal to launch one of the world’s biggest tech funds last week caused a few ripples. Whether it was just a publicity stunt for an indebted Japanese investor and an ambitious prince was one. But the background to the deal - the “marriage of minds” as one insider put it - is an interesting insight into what it takes to woo Saudi’s high-flying deputy crown prince.

The White House launched a startup. Really, despite Obama’s speech this week saying you can’t run government like a business, he kind of tried. According to those on the US Digital Service team it was an exercise in adaptability: they had to realise that some policies and rules were there for a reason, and the departments they worked with had to realise that, sometimes, their rules were ridiculous. This interview is a rare meeting of the minds, as business and government begin to understand just how they can, and can’t, work together.

Selling requires just three things, does your team have them? The best salesperson for this Medium writer was a Pakistani woman from the ‘70s (ie, his mum). But not all of us can hire our mums to sell our products (or do our dishes, which explains the threatening ‘your mother does not work here!’ notes in office kitchens around the world). So, instead, you as CEO have to find that person who has resilience, goal-orientation, and intellectual curiosity. And then find a way to make sure they aren’t poached.

Feature image via Cakechooser.

October 20th 2016, 2:09 am

Turning pro: Tunisian game makers eye the big time

ومضة

From the local playrooms to a Tunisian start-up dedicated to the making of video games, the gaming community in Tunisia is growing step by steps. Some of its key actors are hopeful to make the industry become an economic boom for the country.

A year ago, while walking through the popular neighbourhood of Douar Hicher in Tunis, a half opened door invited attention.

Behind a curtain, teenagers were playing video games in a common ‘playroom’. Cyber cafés, which Tunisians used to visit before the revolution to use the Internet, had been replaced by playrooms for gamers.

A community of at least 600,000 players has grown up around them which has formed the basis for a startup gaming industry in Tunisia.

Tunisia has five companies which are dedicated to gaming development in Tunisia. Some of them, like Digital Mania, are worth more than $1 million and are expanding and hiring years after launch.

The Digital Mania 'maker space'. They are testing VR games and equipment in order to stay up with international trends.

"You have a lot of amateurs of video games in Tunisia but only a hundred who can be efficient at creating or developing video games," said Ahmed Cheikhrouhou, the chairman of gamer maker Polysmart, during an interview in his office in Tunis.

The story of the gaming community, both players and developers in Tunis, is a story of amateurs going big.

For instance Polysmart, the first company to create a 100 percent Tunisian video game, was born because of pizza slices and Haroun Bouchrit.

"I opened years ago a pizza place in the northern suburb [of Tunis] and I was a passionate gamer. Then, with the profit of the pizza place, I financed my first startup Stolen Pad which aimed to create the first Tunisian video game," Bouchrit said.

"We have former hairdressers, former gym teachers, a lot of our employees are passionate about of video games and learnt everything from scratch.”

Bouchrit is a full time chief operating officer, managing a team of 17 employees and his game Veterans Online, which was made by Polysmart studio Nuked Cockroach and cost more than 1 million Tunisian dinars (US$447,000) to make.

Polysmart founders Haroun Bouchrit and Ahmed Cheikhrouhou. (Images via Lilia Blaise)

Not the national game

But despite its strong gaming community Tunisia has never developed an industry on a national scale. Between 2004 and 2008, the Tunisian cup of video games would only draw up to 15,000 players.

"There is still the old mentality, investors and politicians are blaming us for keeping their children at home and encouraging violence, they don't see beyond the clichés of video games," said Houssem Ben Amor, who is an active member of the Tunisian Association of Gamers and is a 3D designer at Nuked Cockroach.

Despite politicians’ reluctance the Tunisian Association of Gamers, founded in 2012, submitted a strategy to the government on how gaming could boost youth employment. In the ‘Gam'in’ plan they proposed a market structure and asked to have gaming recognized as a sport so Tunisia could compete to an international level.

The result was a promise from the Ministry of Telecommunication and Numeric Economy to finance the professionalization of gaming.

"We received the money but with the reshuffle of the government this summer, it is still on stand-by," Cheikhrouhou said.

Meanwhile, he is sending his players to international tournaments like the international e-sport championship in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Seeking international gaming glory

Two years ago, Cheikhrouhou realized how much potential Tunisians had when he met high schooler Amine Ben Messaoud. He was 16 years old and the only Tunisian representing the country in a tournament in Azerbaijan.

"We paid his fees to participate, he won $5,000 dollars and everyone was like, ‘really, this guy from Tunisia just won?’" Cheikhrouhou said.

Now Ben Messaoud is preparing for his final school exams and spending his free time in the Polysmart studio.

"Before, my mother used to not like me playing video games, now she pays my ticket to go a competition because she saw that I can make money out of it," he said.

A Polysmart game designer creates a 3D character.

Tunisian success story and CEO of German game maker Bigpoint, Khaled Helioui, said Tunisia could develop a thriving gaming industry by developing a culture of video game playing, as South Korea did.

“Since the country’s big issue is more the access to an international money, it could be interesting to develop the e-sport on a national scale and then to have teams of Tunisians gamers competing all over the world,” he said.

Influencers like Ghazi Ben Ahmed, executive director of the Mediterranean Development Initiative think tank, suggest gaming is a way up for ambitious young people.

"We don't have the social ladder here like in the US, the only way young people can dream is through the video games," he said. "We have the potential in Tunisia to create more than 4,000 jobs in the gaming development by 2020. We need state-of-the-art trainings and a more conducive business environment [allowing online payment and freelancer status].”

Keeping up with the Sonys

Tunisia’s strong community of amateurs players is topped off by studios’ interest in game innovation and the possibilities of new equipment.

Digital Mania, the studio founded by Walid Sultan Midani in 2012, wants to make games that meet international standards and to develop more games in Tunisia.

In the sunny and relaxed offices of Digitalmania Lac suburb of Tunis, figurines of Marios and minions are displayed everywhere (in the Polysmart office it was Game of Thrones characters which had a special place on the shelves).

Digital Mania's horde of cult cartoon figures.

Communication manager Sami Zalila shows off a display of virtual reality equipment in the basement. "These are the new tools and the new project we are working on, we want to be able to keep up with the international scene.”

After not planning the PR well for their first game DefenDoor in 2012 (they didn’t allocate enough money to marketing), Digitalmania learned from its mistakes and to offer unusual gimmicks to attract players, such as free - real - cows and mobile payments via a Tunisian phone operator.

Since then, they’ve created more than 50 casual and serious games about issues like corruption, and funny games like the recent ‘Bagra’ (cow). It was downloaded more than 10,000 times by Tunisians and is a strategy game where the player has to steal cows from his neighbor.

"We created Bagra the game with a simple idea, [and] at the end of the game you could win a real cow," Zalila said.

"Now we are going to launch it on the international scene, we might have to send real cows to California," Sami said, but added that winners could also gift it to a poor family in Tunisia, or receive steaks instead of an actual cow.

For all of these successes the Tunisian game industry has its problems too.

"There is no proper training, only a sort of a school for 3D but it is not up to the level of international schools," Cheikhrouhou said.

The only one which is recognized in Tunisia as a school for 3D gaming design is Netinfo.

Meanwhile, gamers are staying up to date with gaming trends, such as Bassem Sayadi, a Tunisian Youtuber who is one of the first Tunisian gamers to use Youtube gaming. Another one is a woman, Awatef Mosbeh, who is using the potential of serious games to create Tunisian educational games with the studio Morbiket. Others like the people from NewGen Studio are developing mobile games and getting visibility through international awards.

But for industry leaders like Khaled Helioui, Tunisian gamers could revitalise the country and lead its digitalization.

October 19th 2016, 7:09 am

KAUST launches new accelerator to support entrepreneurship

ومضة

King Abdullah University of Science & Technology, or KAUST, launched Taqadam last week, a new university startup accelerator encouraging student projects. The launch was in partnership with the Saudi British Bank (SABB).

The fresh initiative aims to provide both financial and global mentoring services for startups launched by student entrepreneurs, recent graduates and faculty members at Saudi universities. The program will initially gather team from seven universities in the western region in Saudi Arabia, before scaling to cover the entire Kingdom.

“We are excited for this partnership with SABB. We are expecting it to lead to some promising startups,” said Tristan Walker in a statement last week. Walker is the deputy vice president and interim director of technology transfer office at KAUST. Last year, the university took on the task of building the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Saudi Arabia.

Accepted teams must have a commercially viable idea - a knowledge base, new technology, product or service - that can be turned into a company or a startup.

This accelerator, organized by the KAUST entrepreneurship center, is a six month program that will host 20 to 30 teams. The teams with the most potential will receive seed funding from SABB and the KAUST Innovation Fund of amounts ranging from $20,000 to $40,000.

“Entrepreneurship at the university is more than a class or a program. It is a mentality running through the veins of the entire institution,” said Gordon McConnell, head of the entrepreneurship center in KAUST. “And this new startup program with SABB is nothing but a reflection of the ongoing support KAUST is giving the growing ecosystem in Saudi Arabia, especially in Saudi universities.”

Taqadam’s statement said it aims to produce the next big idea in areas such as fintech, smart city solutions, sensors, internet technologies, new materials, food/agriculture, consumer products and sustainable technologies in solar, oil, gas and water.

“This program will provide great support for the effort Saudi universities are making in order to market their students’ and instructors’ ideas and inventions,” said David Dew, managing director of SABB. “It will also focus on startups, especially those working in on fintech technologies in light of the fast evolution of this sector around the world and the great potential it has amongst users and companies.”

Taqadam has begun accepting applications for its first cycle of startups. Click here to register before the November 9, 2016 deadline.

Feature image from KAUST’s Facebook page

October 19th 2016, 4:09 am

Did the world’s thinnest phone just launch at GITEX Dubai?

ومضة

Carbon Works, a UAE-based startup, launched what they say is the world’s thinnest smartphone at Dubai’s GITEX Summit 2016 on Monday.

Launched in media partnership with Etisalat, the phone is 4.6 mm thick, almost half of that of the iPhone 6s, and weighs 107 grams.

“We had hundreds of people so excited to finally see the product, some had already been pre-ordering our phone months ago,” Firas Khalifeh, CTO of Carbon Works, told Wamda.

Crown Prince of Dubai Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum also studied the phone during his tour of GITEX and spoke with Khalifeh about the phone specs and features.

According to Khalifeh, the new phone has a “good number” of preorders but did not disclose the amount. The phone is currently selling for $799.

What you need to know about the phone

Carbon Works made a splash when they announced their intention to launch the carbon fiber phone.

First, although lighter and more durable than most materials, it is yet to be adopted for mobile phones.

In 2013, there were murmurs of Samsung developing more carbon fiber products for its phones, but today, products on the market are limited to carbon fiber cases only.

Secondly, there is a serious risk of battery overheat and explosion with ultra-thin phones, Khalifeh said. No one wants a repeat of Samsung’s latest scandal.

Feedback

Launching a phone claiming to be the thinnest in the world inevitably attracted its fair share of skeptics.

“Many industrial engineers would ask repeatedly on the design and manufacturing of several aspects, especially the board. But we had to protect our IP,” said Jorge Martins, cofounder and CEO of Carbon Works.

Khalifeh disputed their claims.

“We had engineers and executives from Sony, Apple and UAE-based telecommunications companies just perplexed, and some went as far to say that we didn’t manufacture it, some Chinese company did and we’re taking the credit,” he said.

Khalifeh said they have been offered investment opportunities from several companies, including from a former Apple executive.

To find out more about the technology and design behind the carbon phone, read more here. The phone is still on display in GITEX until Thursday, the last day of the exhibition.

October 19th 2016, 2:09 am

Building Youth Owned Businesses (BYOB)

ومضة

Building Youth Owned Businesses (BYOB) bootcamp is attempting to inspire children to think like entrepreneurs. The bootcamp enables participating children to become thought leaders by testing their ideas in the real world, as well as building their interpersonal skills to become influencing leaders capable of public speaking and inspiring others.

The event will take place on two days, Saturday November 5 and Saturday Novemebr 12, and will be taking place at Impact Hub Dubai.  

The first Saturday (November 5) comprises of three main sections: testing the children’s ideas through SWOT analysis (making sure they have an MVP), children get paired with local operating and scaling startusp which would assist in their ideation process by sharing insights, and finally hands on training on leadership skills.

The second Saturday’s (November 12) program will be revealed at a later date.

To learn more click here. For registration, you must email sallyann@growingleadersfoundation.com.

 

October 18th 2016, 9:30 am

Bridging the Armenian-Turkish divide at Startup Istanbul

ومضة

From keynote speeches to chatter at the booths, Startup Istanbul was an expo not only for Turkey’s startup prowess, but for its stability.

And it seemed to work.

The event drew more than 4,000 people from 63 countries - including one that hasn’t had diplomatic relations with Turkey for more than 20 years.

That would be Armenia, a landlocked country of just three million people - not even a quarter of Istanbul’s population.

But 10 Armenian companies participated for the first time in the event’s startup challenge. They’re part of a relatively small number of Armenian citizens who’ve gone to Turkey for business since the borders shut in 1993. But there’s a slow-growing thaw, led by so-called normalization programs.

At Startup Istanbul, held over October 6-10, such efforts were represented by a consortium of Turkish and Armenian NGOs who have supported an exchange of entrepreneurs since 2014.

Seda Muradyan, director of Armenia’s Public Journalism Club, says their exchange is the first to focus on technology. Online, she says, “cooperation can happen, even if physically your borders are sealed”.

Skycryptor cofounder Aram Jivanyan at Startup Istanbul. (Images via Alexandra Locke.)

Both sides immediately found things to like about the other’s startup ecosystem during their visits. Cansu Sarac from Turkey’s TEPAV foundation told Wamda: “It was so impressive to see young [Armenians] from 15-18 [years old] for example, after school, they just go develop their own ideas.... In Turkey, startups need to finish university to actually start building their ideas.”

Startup Istanbul hosted the bulk of its events at Istanbul Technical University (ITU), in the skyscraper-filled Maslak neighborhood. For the final day it moved to the nearby Volkswagen Arena. With music booming, no water bottles allowed, and well-dressed entrepreneurs and tech students darting through the venue, it could have been a concert - albeit one attended directly after work.

Among the crowds were the two Armenian startups who made it to the challenge’s top 50. For both Aram Jivanyan and Flora Babajanyan, it was the biggest expo they’ve pitched, and their first time in Turkey.

Jivanyan, 28, made it to the final 15 with his pitch for Skycryptor, a cross-cloud encryption service. He pitched on the final day to around 3,000 people. Jivanyan says the number of venture funds and startups were a clear sign of the Turkish ecosystem’s development.

“Turkey’s internal market is huge enough you can promote startups to grow here, just concentrate on local market. In Armenia, the market is small, you should go global,” he said.

Earlyone’s Flora Babajanyan pitches at Startup Istanbul.

Flora Babajanyan’s pitch for Earlyone, a mobile queue management system, didn’t make the final cut. That gave her more time to experience the peculiarity of networking as an Armenian in Turkey.

“When [they asked], ‘Where are you from?’ and I’m saying proudly that I’m from Armenia… they actually at first don’t know what to say,” she said. After that brief moment of surprise there was often a friendly chat about politics along with the business.

In line for her mentorship session, Babajanyan found herself talking about not just Earlyone’s partner network commitment from Microsoft, but also events from a century ago.

She says she even heard acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide  - a description strongly disputed by many Turks, along with their government. Before she left Armenia she got mixed reactions about coming to Turkey. But after several days in Istanbul, Babajanyan says, “I really see that these people are not enemies.”

But a positive impression of Turkey doesn’t necessarily translate into investment. Jivanyan, who made it to the finals, says he is open to it.

Babajanyan is more wary, despite the interest she said she received at the event. Not all Armenian entrepreneurs support normalization, and she says some are influential in Armenia’s IT market. Better to come back later and look at Turkey as part of wider international investment.

For the Armenian organizers, the important thing is to encourage young entrepreneurs not to shun international opportunities, just because they take place in Turkey.

“We want them to think like business people…. Even if they do have their own opinion about the past, it doesn’t stop them to be part of this international event,” Muradyan said.

The winning startups take the stage.

The winning three startups were Jordan’s Cashbasha, Turkey’s cyber security-focused Inovera Labs, and Greece’s contact-sharing app Pobuca.

For the Armenians, the journey was a victory.

“The fact that an Armenian startup was a finalist will inspire many young people in Armenia, and with such a success story we want to encourage more interactions [with Turkey]," Muradyan told Wamda after the event.

Feautre image, competing startups via Startup Istanbul.

October 18th 2016, 7:30 am

3D medical printing finds its footing in Dubai’s future

ومضة

Launched in October 2015, Medativ is a Dubai-based 3D anatomical model printing company. The company name is a play on its products of “medical additive manufacturing”, says founder Mohamed Elawad.

“[When a] surgeon has a complex procedure, he would rely on medical imaging to understand the patient’s disease, think about a surgical approach,” explains Elawad. “But every patient is different. Medical images are 2D slices, black and white and on the screen. So you’re viewing them on a 2D plane…there’s no depth perception”.

Two halves of the same congential heart
disease (Images via Medativ)

3D printed medical modeling changes that.

“When you give [surgeons] a patient specific model, the model is tactile [and gives] binocular inference. Like when you see a pair of shoes online, it’s much more different than when you check it out in store,” Elawad added.

Today, 3D printing has found its place in industries across the board - from construction to art to education, and to medicine. A civil engineer by trade, Elawad is quick to emphasize Medativ only offers anatomical modeling and not 3D organ implants. In other words, Medativ builds models based on medical imaging to improve patient outcomes and reduce costs.

3D anatomical modeling is especially useful during preoperative planning says Elawad because surgeons would know exactly what they’re doing and spend less time exploring. This leads to less pain and reduced blood loss for the patient. Most importantly, getting the operation right the first time means less complications in the future.

A model of a basilar tip aneurysm.

“Most surgeons are for it, but one of the obstacles is people don’t know about this technology,” Elawad tells Wamda. There is, therefore, a need to share benefits of the technology. Along with preoperative planning, Medativ helps build anatomical model libraries and teaching tools to educate future physicians.

To build the model, the Medativ team asks the physicians to fill out a form outlining the specific requirements and ultimate purpose of model. While they collaborate with surgeons from all medical fields, Elawad says  cases of congenital heart disease have been very popular. Most recently, the team helped replace a dog’s kneecap in the United States, where Medativ also has a research team that includes radiologists working on evidence based solutions with 3D anatomical printing.

Medativ is also a part of the newly launched Dubai Future Accelerators (DFA). The 12-week accelerator program pairs government entities with early stage technology startups from around the world in order to “test solutions to seven key challenges of the future”.

Paul Smith, DFA’s head of program, called DFA “an experiment” at the launch press conference on October 5, 2016.

Medativ's founder ounder Mohamed Elawad.

“The point of [the businesses] being here is to explore how their technology and the accesses of the government involved can create [solutions that are] more than the sum of its parts,” Smith said. “this program is not about trying to build a future in 12 weeks. The future that exists in 2030 and beyond is 1000 steps away, but we are trying to determine what those first few steps are.”

Medativ is tied to the Dubai Health Authority 
challenge of improving healthcare “using genomics, analytics, telepresence and personalized medicine”. With the city’s 3D printing strategy goals as well as its medical tourism hub ambitions, Medativ is at the intersection of an incredibly advantageous time for healthcare technology in Dubai.

“Startups have a difficult time penetrating infrastructure,” Elawad says. “Getting funding is one thing, getting business is even more difficult and so is proving your concept. [DFA] lets you prove your concept in real life in one of the best infrastructures in the world, which is quite unique.”

Medativ is a self-funded venture whose clients include tertiary hospitals in Saudi Arabia, physicians across the world as well as DHA.

October 18th 2016, 4:30 am

MIT EF Arab Startup Competition 2017

ومضة

This year marks the 10th edition of the MIT EF Arab Startup Competition, which includes three different tracks: ideas (teams are not required to have a prototype, just an idea for a product or service is enough), startups (the startup should not have generated more than $500K in annual revenues and must have been operational for less than 5 years), and social entrepreneurship (your core product or service must address a social problem targeting marginalised or disadvantaged individuals), with prize money for the winner. Each of the three tracks will award the first three ranked winners with cash prizes in addition to many other benefits including: top tier training, mentorship, coaching, media exposure, and great networking opportunities.

Applications have opened on October 13, 2016 and will close on January 4, 2017. Informative roadshows promoting the competition will be held in Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar and the UAE, and seventy nine semi-finalist teams will be announced on February 10, 2017.

The semi-finalists will be invited to attend pre-bootcamp activities scheduled to take place in February and March, 2017 in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The competition will culminate in a four-day event from April 24-27, 2017, with the announcement of the competition winners scheduled to take place during the final award ceremony on April 27, 2017.

Apply now before January 4, 2017.

October 18th 2016, 3:30 am

Turkish wedding marketplace Dugun sets its sights on KSA with Zafaf.net

ومضة

Turkish wedding marketplace Dugun sets its sights on KSA with Zafaf.net

It was the bras that ruffled some feathers.

CEO Emek Kirbiyik was plotting the expansion of his multimillion-dollar wedding startup Dugun into Saudi Arabia. The online marketplace connects brides-to-be and their fiancés with vendors for everything from venues and catering, to henna bride nights and lingerie - with photos to match.

The Zafaf wedding connection.

“We got emails from Saudi people [saying], ‘Delete this right away,’ otherwise it’s going to be trouble,” says Kirbiyik. It was a crash course for the Turkish company in entering the Saudi market.

Dugun (pronounced “doon”) set its sights on Saudi Arabia after growing into Turkey’s dominant online wedding marketplace. In 2015, Dugun opened an Arabic-language site called Zafaf. It’s since expanded into 11 countries and plans to launch its first sales team in Saudi Arabia in early 2017.

Saudi Arabia’s high internet penetration made it an attractive target for Dugun, especially after research for Zafaf showed the Saudi wedding industry was not well-covered online. Unlike most Turkish couples, Saudi customers generally separate weddings by gender, which pushes costs higher still.

How it works

Customers on Zafaf can track their budget, build a website for guests, and search through the thousands of vendors who’ve joined the online marketplace. Every log-in shows a countdown to the wedding date, along with reminders for things like buying a dress or even starting a diet. As customers filter the options, their choices generate automated suggestions based on their preferences.

On the vendor side, Zafaf uses a freemium model: any vendor can create a profile, but it costs extra to advertise to larger audiences or get information about competitors.

The Turkey-Saudi connection

Although Zafaf was able to quickly delete the lingerie photos, other obstacles took longer to navigate. Since men working in Saudi cannot speak to female customers or vendors, Zafaf had to hire female sales representatives. Dugun’s Turkish sales force doesn’t rely on office space, but in some parts of Saudi Arabia, the mixed-gender sales team couldn’t simply meet up in a cafe. That meant finding offices in Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam, along with providing drivers for female employees to visit clients.

Emek Kirbiyik in his Istanbul offices. (Image via Alexandra Locke)

A crucial resource for building Zafaf has been employing Syrians who live in Turkey. Without them, Kirbiyik says, “We wouldn’t have enough Arabic speaking people to go there. That’s the benefit, even though [the situation is] really bad for Syrian people.” Kirbiyik says he’s been consistently impressed by the 15 Syrians he’s hired over the last five years.

Kirbiyik doesn’t think coming from a Muslim-majority country like Turkey gives Dugun a significant edge in entering the Arabic-speaking market. “Saudi is a very rich country, resources are excellent, and internet use is very high, but it’s a different world. So we need to adjust ourselves to fit in that culture.”

Building Zafaf has cost between $2-3 million so far. But the investment looks promising. Zafaf is already averaging 30,000 unique visitors a month from Saudi Arabia - and that’s without a sales team on the ground.

Origin story

Kirbiyik got his first taste of the online wedding industry firsthand in the US, where he managed a catering company’s website in Philadelphia. He launched Dugun in 2007, but it took until 2013 for the online marketplace to really take off. That year, investor Hasan Aslanoba put $2.1 million into the company, and an additional $1 million the following year.  

The Turkish wedding empire is headquartered in a former publishing house in Istanbul’s Beyoglu district, tucked in the alleys behind the historic Galata tower. Inside the office are 60 employees, all serving Dugun’s share of the 600,000 people who get married in Turkey each year. “There are about 60,000 people a day coming to our wedding website,” he says, “and imagine, this is a niche business.”

Dugun was Turkey’s first online wedding marketplace, and it’s stayed a step ahead of its domestic competition by watching international sites like
The Knot. Kirbiyik says, “We follow them really closely, we see those gaps and we close them here before anybody else.”

One feature he says they will never offer, however, is a wedding registry. Turks generally give gold as wedding gifts, and Kirbiyik says asking for specific items is a no-no.

Economic woes

As Turkey continues to struggle with a slowing economy, it’s brightened the spotlight on sectors that don’t depend on foreign investment or trade. Economic woes or not, weddings are big business in Turkey, and Istanbul will stay a constant competitor with Las Vegas to host the most weddings in the world. Russian sanctions may come and go, but a reception on the Bosphorus will never go out of style.

Feature image via Zafaf.

October 18th 2016, 1:30 am

How MENA countries rank in terms of cleantech startups [VIDEO]

ومضة

By 2030, Saudi Arabia will have more renewable energy capacity than any other country in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

This finding comes from a recent report published by the Wamda Research Lab, in partnership with General Electric, that assesses the scaling challenges cleantech startups in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) face as they grow their companies.

The report found that limited cleantech awareness, small pool of investment sources, talent acquisition challenges, and minimal R&D resources are critical barriers entrepreneurs must overcome if they want to scale their companies in the region.

In parallel, the report also found that cleantech startups are on the rise, and more cleantech companies were launched in MENA during the last two years than in the six years prior.

A country-breakdown of startup activity shows that several countries are driving growth in the regional market, and are becoming startup hubs for cleantech.

Egypt takes the regional lead and is home to 33 percent of MENA’s cleantech startups. Jordan falls slightly behind at 17 percent, followed by Saudi Arabia at 8 percent - a country identified in the report as having the most cleantech potential.

The report suggests that cleantech startup activity in a particular country depends on a combination of R&D resources, investment sources, talent availability, and the number and size of cleantech projects.

October 18th 2016, 1:30 am

The wrong way to introduce people over email

ومضة

This is an edited crosspost from Harvard Business Review. 

When I was young and just starting out in my career, one of the networking principles I followed was the common advice of “introduce two people every week.”

So every week, I dutifully fired up my computer and typed out an email introduction to two people I’d thought of that week who would benefit from knowing each other.

A few weeks later, after introducing a friend of mine to a fairly well-known author whom I’d collaborated with, I got an email back from the author. His message was short but it cut to the bone: “Not cool. Please reach out first for permission to share my contact information.” Without checking with him first, I’d given this new person permission to contact him whenever and forever.

When it comes to building your network, introductions play an important role. Your direct contacts are a finite number, but the number of people connected to you through others is almost infinite. Moreover, introducing different people in your network to each other helps transform your network from a list of contacts to a thriving community of people interacting and collaborating with each other.

But if you’re making introductions the most common way - the way I used to - you might need to stop.

For many people, the standard introduction happens over email (a medium full of its own flaws).

One person will ask you for an introduction to a contact of yours, and you naturally oblige by composing an email addressed to both parties, including contact information and hopefully the context for making the introduction. The email arrives in the inbox of both people and, most likely, the person requesting you make the introduction quickly follows up with a more direct ask of your contact.

But surprise introductions like this are fraught with dangers. If you’re doing them, you’re running the risk of a couple things going wrong:

Instead of taking the risk of surprise introductions, it’s better to practice “permission introductions” (also known as double opt-in introductions).

Simply put, seek permission from both parties through private, individual messages first. (To those who already practice double opt-in introductions, this might sounds obvious, but everyone seems to practice their own specific brand of email etiquette — which is to say, there is no commonly accepted email behavior. Let’s change that, starting with networking.)

When a request for an introduction comes in, explain to the requestors that you’ll reach out to your contact, but also use that conversation as a chance to get additional information, such as the following:

These are questions that smart requestors will usually state up front anyway, but it’s a good opportunity to make sure you have everything you need when you reach out to your contact.

When you do reach out to contact for permission, make sure you add your own context to that information, such as:

You’ll also want to ask them about their communication preferences and take that opportunity to provide the out.

If you’ve got a match and both parties are enthusiastic, then you’ve made both of their jobs easier and the introduction more valuable. You’ve also expanded everyone’s network. And that’s pretty cool.

Feature image via Isalesman.

October 17th 2016, 7:30 am

Fertile ground for mobile wallets: Iraq

ومضة

Hussein Kanber agha says his company has built a user friendly mobile wallet that will allow Iraqis to make payments using their mobile phones.

In a country that is massively lacking in fintech options for the largely unbanked population, options like his Taif Ewallet, built for the least tech savvy of people, could open up a world of possibility to those looking to join the digital economy.

They are not the only fintech service in Iraq. In addition to Taif Ewallet, Zaincash announced their arrival last month and telco Asiacel also begun operating their Asia Hawala mobile wallet service.

Mobile wallets work by allowing users to pay and receive money with their mobile phone credit. Depending on which service they sign up to, they are able to pay for items or services through an SMS system. There is no need for a smartphone or bank account.

The Taif Ewallet app.

Fertile ground

Iraq isn’t ideal territory for financial institutions with fintech ideas, or even startups. Less than 10 percent of the population is banked, they have the lowest number of ATMs in MENA, some banks can only serve customers at actual branches, and their smartphone penetration is the lowest in the region at 17 percent.

Kanber agha says there is no reason for Iraq to be left in the dust of its neighbors though, as the world moves towards a more digital life.

“A bottleneck is created by cash-on-delivery and it is preventing lots of things from being paid for. There is a need to accommodate the growing use of ecommerce in the country,” he said.

“Financial services in Iraq they to come one way or another, globally the individuals' private economy is going online, if you want to do many things today, pay a bill, buy a ticket, rent a hotel, you need to have a digital means of payment.”

That is where mobile wallets come in and there is optimism in the air.

“We’re in the same position as when mobile operators came on the scene,” said Kanber agha.

“We know people use cash and that financial services are weak but there is a need for a solution.”

The Asiacel option.

Iraq Wallet said in a statement that ecommerce in the region was expected to grow to $200 billion by 2020. As part of their efforts to tackle the bottleneck, the Zaincash partnership has a ‘pay with Zaincash’ button that can be integrated onto ecommerce sites, allowing users to pay for online transactions with their phone credit.

The scene

Taif Ewallet, which does not require a specific phone line, is available to download on Google Play and Apple Store but it is yet to get it’s final license approval from Iraq’s central bank.

This could take as long as six months says Kanber agha, partner at payment solutions provider Ideal Payments. They partnered with Taif Money Transfer (Iraq’s largest remittance company) and Belgian mobile money service provider Monniz to create Taif Ewallet.

Zaincash can be used on analogue mobiles, but their app for smartphones, while available for download, can’t be used for another few weeks. This is a partnership of Iraq-based mobile commerce firm Iraq Wallet and the telco Zain Group. Their products are currently only available for those with a Zain mobile number.

Asia Hawala are also a mobile payment system licensed by the Iraq central bank. Iraq Wallet managing director Yazen Al-Timimi told Wamda that the two telcos would shortly be integrated so Asiacel users could use the Zaincash wallet, and Zain users would be able to use Asia Hawala.

Claire Pénicaud Scharwatt of GSMA’s mobile money team wrote in July 2015 that while MENA accounted for less than 10 percent of active mobile money accounts globally, there was momentum to accelerate the development of mobile money services in the region.

Want some dollars? ‘Cash-out’ locations for Zaincash users in Iraq.

Success elsewhere

It’s easy to see examples outside the region where mobile wallets have worked with the unbanked and with non-smartphone users. M-Pesa is the Kenya-born mobile payment service that, since launching in 2007, has spread to Tanzania, Afghanistan, South Africa, India, Romania and Albania, as well as several other African countries. No smartphone necessary.

It’s worth noting that within 16 months, M-Pesa (the ‘m’ stands for mobile, while ‘pesa’ is the Swahili word for money) had 3.6 million customers, and the system was adding 10,000 new registrations every day.

Closer to home mobile wallets are not that common.

For mobiles, not just smartphones, and for those without bank accounts, these include Egypt’s TPay and DCB Egypt, and Lebanon has Snapay. Earlier this year Jordan’s telco Umniah launched Mahfazati with the country’s central bank.

Aside from creating more consumers to be gobbled up by the world of commerce there is also the chance of mobile payments being the vanguard for building transparency for millions of people who are otherwise falling victim to draconian corruption.

In 2009 M-Paisa was launched in Afghanistan and suddenly policemen were receiving what they thought were increased salaries. In fact they were finally getting their actual full salaries.

So, fighting corruption and entering into the 21st century, the mobile wallet has many benefits for the end user. “The global economy is going online,” says Kanber agha. “The Iraqi population, just like any other, will eventually need to get integrated into this and they need the means to do it.”

Feature image - mobile phones in Iraq via Getty Images Europe

October 17th 2016, 2:30 am

Innovation 4 Impact gets a divine win

ومضة

Divine Connect, a US-based company building translation devices, won $20,000 at the Global Islamic Economy Summit’s Innovation 4 Impact competition on October 12.

The Divine Connect device. (Images via Divine Connect)

Launched last year, Divine Connect is a translation receiver for pilgrims visiting Masjid al Haram in Mecca and Masjid al Nawabi in Madina during the time of Hajj and Umrah. The device translates the Jumu’ah Khutbah from Arabic into six languages in real time.

Divine Connect was one of five finalists with businesses having an economic and social impact on the Islamic digital economy.


Big opportunity

According to the The State of the Global Islamic Economy Report, global Muslim spend across sectors of the Islamic economy surpassed $1.9 trillion in 2015, while the Islamic finance sector has around $2 trillion in assets. Per the Digital Islamic Economy Report Muslim consumer value to the global digital economy was estimated at $107 billion in 2014 and projected to grow at 17 percent compound annual growth rate to $277 billion in 2020.

Mustafa Adil, head of Islamic finance at Thomson Reuters, said the the term ‘Islamic digital economy’ was a “very very broad statement”, however, the internal criteria for selecting finalists was rigid.

“The criteria is that [it could be a] business started by a Muslim, owned by or invested by Muslims or it’s a business that predominantly seeks to address the need of Muslim consumers,” Adil told Wamda.

“We were exposed to so many other speakers in the summit which we would not have [been exposed to] anywhere else because this was specifically contributing to the Islamic digital economy,” said Divine Connect’s president Mohammad Pazhoor after his win. “I had a lot of value addition in this conference and was able to network.”

The selection process for the competition takes a year and includes a coaching and mentorship program. Adil told Wamda that this year, there was an 80 percent increase in applications with the competition receiving more than 250 applications from 40 countries. The final winner was chosen by a combination of  votes of the audience and the judging panel.

The four other finalists were health technology company Alem Health; iGrow, a marketplace for growing organic food in the region; Intuition Intelligence, a data analytics company; and Kwn Education, an Arabic language online education platform.

“When you look at the digital Islamic economy, the ecosystem to support entrepreneurs in the space is very limited,” Adil said. “[It is looked] at as the natural slimming down of the market size… there are perceptions that Muslims are less sophisticated when it comes to internet penetration [and] social media penetration, which are not true.

“What we’re trying to do [with Innovation 4 Impact] is share successful initiatives, share successful stories, and build a bridge between the entrepreneurship community and the investment community in a way they’ve not really looked at in this part of the world…we are trying play a facilitative role,” Adil said.

Well known media personality and CEO of ARAM TV, Ahmad Al Shugairi was among the judges at the competition. He said the key to the success of the Islamic economy is  “not preaching but [offering] actual solutions to worldwide problems”.

The winning team with their cheque. 

“The seed of the idea should come come from people who are passionate about creativity but are proud of their culture [and] heritage,” Al Shugairi explained. “When we start creating products from our region, it will come with our values, naturally. The more we get things from here, the more we can expand our principles and values worldwide.”

The judging panel also featured Dr. Adnan Chilwan, group chief executive officer at Dubai Islamic Bank, Nida Raza, director advisory services at The Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector, and Badr Buhannad, vice president of corporate strategy and ICT at DSOA.

Thomson Reuters and Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority were the primary sponsors of the event with support from Dubai Technology Entrepreneurship Cente as well as the American Muslim Consumer Consortium (AMCC).

October 16th 2016, 8:30 am

Toy platform wins Seedstars Beirut, heads to Switzerland to compete for $500K

ومضة

Toy design and building platform Makerbrane inched closer to a potential investment of $500,00 after winning Seedstars Beirut third annual competition in Lebanon’s capital last week.

Makerbrane will now head to Switzerland in April to compete against regional winners for $500,000 equity investment.

The second place winner was Riego, a solar powered irrigation controller that optimizes water consumption by monitoring soil, weather and tree parameters. In third place was a platform that provides instant chat support for MENA and global moms with child counsellors, titled Momadvice. All three winners will benefit from mentoring services by Aramex as well as other valuable educational services.  

Seedstars associate Tiffany Obser with winners Ayssar Arida and Sabine de Maussion. (Images via Seedstars)

Makerbrane

“Makerbrane is a platform that allows designers to virtually design toy modules that include all building blocks available on the market, from Legos to Littlebits and Meccano, as well as 3D printed parts,” said cofounder Ayssar Arida, as he pitched his startup.

Arida and cofounder Sabine de Maussion are also the founders of Urbacraft, a building blocks startup that allows children to build construction models. They were accepted to the New York-based accelerator XRC Labs in 2015 to work on their venture which they said helped spearhead the launch of Makerbrane.

Since graduating from the program, the team has conducted a series of workshops in partnership with Littlebits in New York, as well as local workshops in Beirut.

“We are trying to reach 400 registered designs before we launch next week,” Arida added. “We are requesting $1 million dollars for our platform, with $450,000 already committed.”

No beginners

Arida and de Maussion had some tough competition as several of the competing companies already secured a strong presence in the region.

Momadvice, a graduate of Beirut’s Altcity bootcamp, already has 500 downloads with most users from the region’s biggest markets of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

“We found that Arabic content highly increases our traffic, and we’re recruiting psychologists, nutritionists and pediatrics,” said cofounder Rita Deek. Momadvice currently has 10 psychologists onboard and they plan to expand to the US and Europe soon.

Second place winner Riego already has accredited partnerships with well-established entities including Arcenciel, a Lebanese NGO that promotes sustainable development in agriculture, and dairy manufacturing giant Taanayel. Riego founder Antoine Skayem said they soon plan to target GCC countries where water scarcity is critical challenge. Riego also asked for $1 million in funding.

Seedstars Beirut 2016 judges.

Strategic partnerships are king

Other strong competitors were Card Switch and Recyclo. Card Switch is an application that helps banks and credit card holders combat theft and fraud by allowing users to switch their cards on and off the banking system.

“When you switch your card off, it’s completely unhackable and immune to theft,” said cofounder Roger Abboud, a former banker himself.

Recyclo is startup that aims to digitize the recycling trade industry by offering standardized prices on their platform, helping scrap collectors and factory owners efficiently and transparently buy and sell given materials.

“We already have a partnership with the World Economic Forum for their project circular economy, and with five big local traders, who in turn work with 20 collectors,” said founder Hadi Fathallah. Recyclo is also working towards regional partnerships.

Remaining competitors

Modeo: A DIY office and furniture design startup that allows users to digitally build and assemble furniture parts to make reusable and transformable pieces. They have partnerships with local factories.

Modeo cofounder Emile Arayes pitches to the judges.

Dox: A hardware device with an artificial intelligence system used to charge batteries efficiently and in a safe manner, in order to avoid overheating, phone battery fire or inefficiency. They currently target drones and are working on a proof of concept in Germany’s Mighty Labs accelerator. They are seeking $400,000 as a first round.

Sqwirl: A delivery app that connects users with scooter-driving delivery people. They have 50 users and have already conducted 1000 transactions. They are targeting local ecommerce websites.

The Influencer: a platform that links brands and content-creating influencers to more efficiently conduct advertising campaigns. Transactions for given campaign occur through the platform.  

Lightsense: A home automation platforms that connects to all IoT objects through a lightbulb with sensors. They have a working prototype and are asking for $400,000 to launch and scale. They plan to sell their sensor-connected light bulb for $350.

Hoodi: A social network platform that connects residents of a given neighborhoods or cities. Based in Dubai, they are active in 17 neighborhoods with 2500 users. They also allow users to post items for sale in their neighborhood.

ApliTV: A one stop shop that provides telecom operators the tools to deliver video content on all platforms. They already have strategic partnership with Zein, MTN Syria and other content distributors.

This year’s Seedstars Beirut judges included Pierre-Alain Masson, cofounder of Seedstars, Jad Salame, managing partner at Phoenician Funds, Aristide Bacha, Lebanon chapter ambassador for Singularity University, Fady Obeid, assistant COO at Bank Audi, Elise Moussa, founder and CEO at Snapay. The event was hosted at Beirut’s UK Lebanon Tech Hub.

Feature image via Makerbrane.

October 16th 2016, 7:30 am

Gaza game maker Baskalet eyes Saudi success

ومضة

Facing tough economic conditions and unsatisfying day jobs in Gaza, Baskalet founders Mohammed Madhoun and Osayd Madi took the leap to do what they love: make games.

Baskalet launched in 2015, and stumbled many times before becoming one of the most notable mobile game design studios in Gaza. It secured angel investment from public investment fund the Arab Palestinian Investment Company (APIC) in 2016 and its three consumer games have collectively been downloaded over 650,000 times.

As the startup prepares to launch its latest title, 'Partition Hero', in mid-October the founders are aiming to hit one million downloads with it by the end of the year.

From employees to entrepreneurs

Madhoun studied design in college and has worked for local and regional animation and technology companies. He joined Mobaderoon, a startup support and incubation program, in 2012 with his startup Frame, which designed interactive applications for education and gaming.

Mohammed Madhoun. (Images via Baskalet)

In 2015 he was joined by Osayd who was working in a cellphone business, and together they joined the startup program at Gaza Sky Geeks, a local business accelerator that helps promising startups grow and get investment.

With their collective technical and business skills, the duo kicked off a new startup to make games that appealed to a MENA audience.

“The idea started off with our drive to offer the Arab gamers some titles that are authentic and worthy, and on the side create a source of income for us,” Madhoun said.

But by the time they launched their first game, the founders were having different thoughts.

Moving ahead one game at a time

Madhoun said it took time for them to learn the necessary skills needed to run a business, despite meeting a variety of investors and international coaches. “We found that there was no golden advice, so it was self-learning via internet for us. And it paid off.”

Baskalet’s first product was a customized healthcare game for a regional customer. It provided a financial lifeline for the founders, who could then start looking at more consumer-oriented games for the Google Play and Apple app stores.

The game studio’s first game for the public was released in late 2015. 'Sayyaritna' (Our car) was a 3D test-drive game in which the player avoided obstacles and collected coins. It was developed using Unity-3D, a cross platform game engine, and downloaded over 5,000 times on Android and iOS.

Their next title was called 'Alspider' (The spider) and aimed at the Egyptian market. It was downloaded 10,000 times - well below the founders’ expectations. They killed the game after the fourth iteration.

“Killing projects is difficult but important, as many entrepreneurs lack the skills to do it. You start production only to find you can do better than this,” said Osayd.

Next, the team tried something simpler: quickly designing a Ramadan-themed game to help players pass time and find out information during the Muslim holy month, aiming to get around 50,000 total downloads.

Since its launch, ‘Ramadan Challenges’ has performed so well on iOS devices that it was downloaded 100,000 times on the first day, reaching 650,000 downloads at the time of publication.

Designs for an upcoming game. 

Success is dependant on people

Baskalet’s office at Gaza Sky Geeks is a small room with six developers and designers working with their eyes glued to their computers.

Team members like Mustafa Balata, a professional developer who has left his paid day job to join the growing startup, are committed to the startup’s development.

Madhoun said game development wasn’t a subject that people could study in Gaza, so their team was committed to self-learning and development.

The team has consulted advisors in Saudi Arabia and other target markets to better understand the local context and audiences and how to appeal to them.

The team was one of the main reasons for APIC’s investment in the startup.

Partition Hero.

To the future, and to one million downloads?

Baskalet’s incubation with Gaza Sky Geeks has finished, although the startup hub is letting them stay until they find a new place, so they are hoping their upcoming title will bring their business forward and drive more investments.

‘Partition Hero’ will be social, interactive, and targeted at the Saudi market.

It’s a game in which players help restaurant visitors eat peacefully without getting interrupted by peeking eyes of people sitting on other tables - a concept that is thought to suit the culture and appeal to the market there.

October 16th 2016, 2:30 am

Seedspace Fintech Week Cairo

ومضة

Seedstars World returns to Cairo for Seedspace Fintech Week Cairo, which will be taking place on October 26 during Seedspace Global Fintech Week. The event, taking place at Flat6Labs, will feature a keynote speech, panel discussion with speakers including Simeon Ononobi, CEO and founder of SimplePay, Omar Arabyat, regional product manager at Orange Jordan, and Michael Weber, co-founder of Seedstars. Startups from the 1864 Fintech Accelerator will also get the opportunity to pitch their ideas and businesses.

As seats are limited, it is recommended you register early and await a confirmation email on October 21.

October 14th 2016, 10:00 am

Game of Drones

ومضة

Sager1, in collaboration with ZAIN Jordan will be conducting the first "Build your own Mini Quad-copter", a 3-day hands-on workshop bringing tech heads and enthusiasts to build and learn the basics of aerodynamics and robotics.

The first Game of Drones will take place at the ZINC Innovation Campus on October 21, where UAVs will race in a competitive and challenging course.

Register here.

October 14th 2016, 9:00 am

Saudi Arabia, Japan investor create $100B fund

ومضة

Saudi Arabia and Japan’s Softbank have signed a deal to create a $100 billion technology investment fund, making it one of the largest private equity investors in the world.

Softbank will invest at least $25 billion and the Saudi sovereign wealth fund Public Investment Fund (PIF) up to $45 billion. Softbank said it was in talks with a handful of large investors to make up the difference.

The tentatively named Softbank Vision Fund will be managed by Softbank and invest in global technology companies, and PIF will be lead investor.

A statement from Softbank did not specify what stage of business it would invest in, but it did make size comparisons with recent funds under management in the private equity sector, suggesting it would target deals of that size.

The Financial Times noted that the fund would be about the same size as the total sum of all venture capital funds raised in the US over the last two and a half years.

“With the establishment of the Softbank Vision Fund, we will be able to step up investments in technology companies globally. Over the next decade, the Softbank Vision Fund will be the biggest investor in the technology sector,” said Softbank Group Corp chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son in a statement released today.

Softbank, a $68 billion technology and telecommunications company, is one of the biggest investors in Asia and lists giants such as Alibaba and Kuaidi Dache, which merged with Didi Dache to beat Uber in China, among its successes.

It’s looking to diversify after Son took back plans to retire and started rethinking its global strategy. For example, in September Softbank spent 24 billion British pounds (US$29 billion) buying UK semiconductor company Arm Holdings as a bet on the Internet of Things industry.

The deal is part of Saudi Arabia’s much talked about pivot from being an oil economy. It’s a project led by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman who, as its chairman, wants to turn the PIF into a $2 trillion fund.

The first step was a $3.5 billion investment in Uber this year.

The PIF was roundly criticized by investors and entrepreneurs in the Middle East for investing in a technology company from outside the region, when many viable businesses are clamouring for funding here.

Any investments outside MENA by the new fund are likely to receive the same treatment.

But Arzan VC senior investment manager Laith Zraikat wrote that the deal said more about Uber’s strategy, and would have flow-on effects in MENA.

Feature image via Wamda Capital.

October 14th 2016, 8:00 am

Littlebits announces collaboration with Disney for new children's series

ومضة

Littlebits founder Ayah Bdeir announced a new partnership with Disney on Thursday for a children’s online video series encouraging invention and creativity.

The announcement was made at Disney’s third annual demo day. It followed a three month Disney Accelerator program, which gave companies like Littlebits mentorship from Disney executives and access to work with all divisions of The Walt Disney Company.

Screenshot of presentation at Disney demo day on October 13, 2016.

"Technology and innovation are at the heart of every experience at The Walt Disney Company, and Disney Accelerator puts us on the ground floor with some of the most promising startups in the world through a program aimed at accelerating the future of media and entertainment," said Kevin Mayer, senior executive vice president and chief strategy officer of The Walt Disney Company in Thursday's statement

During the announcement, Bdeir advocated for finding the intersection between the arts and STEM, dubbed STEAM, in children’s education. STEAM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, arts, and math.

“Our future depends on getting kids engaged in STEAM,” she said. “We have to prepare them for a future that we cannot even anticipate [and encourage children to be] lifelong learners and creative inventors so they can grow up to invent the world they want to live in.”

The series will be launched in a few weeks.

Bdeir also announced another project in collaboration with the Star Wars team, giving kids the opportunity to tell their own stories. Interrupted by R2-D2 on the stage, Bdeir did not disclose more details on the project.

Littlebits is an the open source hardware startup of technology kits that lets children become inventors with a platform of easy-to-use electronic building blocks.

The company raised over $44 million in 2015 in what was said to be one the biggest Series B funding rounds of the maker movement. The round led by DFJ Growth (investors in Tesla, SpaceX and Box) included Morgan Stanley Alternative Investment Partners, Wamda Capital and Grishin Robotics.

Founded in 2011, the company has raised a total of $60 million in investments.

Feature image is a screenshot of Bdeir's presentation at Disney Demo Day.

October 14th 2016, 5:00 am

Hack&Pitch Amman

ومضة

Whether you are a bootstrap founder, engineer, software hacker, student, or mentor/ investor interested in mobile app development, be sure to attend Hack&Pitch Amman, which will be taking place on October 28-29 at ZINC (Zain Innovation Campus).

The purpose of the event is to give participants the opportunity to develop and launch their own projects using the ScreenDy platform, as well as networking with like-minded industry leaders and investors. The hackathon aims to encourage participants to innovate and prepare them for the future, as they will be trained on how to pitch their mobile applications to potential investors.

Participants will be introduced to the importance of entrepreneurship in the region, highlighting its potential in creating new technologies to solve challenges faced by the community.  

Winners of the hackathon will be awarded $27,000 worth of in-kind services, as well as $3,000 in cash for the first three winners, whom the organizers will mentor and guide through the process of finalizing their mobile apps before hitting online stores.

Make sure to register here for more information and details about the hackathon’s program.

October 13th 2016, 10:00 am

You need more than a website to save the world [Opinion]

ومضة

Aspiring social entrepreneurs need to understand that the tech component of solving a social problem is only a very small part of it.

They need to realise they might be addressing deeply entrenched social practices.

The idea of creating a platform to match volunteers with opportunities keeps popping up at hackathons and social entrepreneurship competitions I attend, and this is a good example of one area where social entrepreneurs need to see past the tech to solve a problem.

Build it, and they might come

The idea of creating matching platforms for volunteers and opportunities has been around for a long time, but building the site is easy in comparison to dealing with the norms of cultural and social practices around volunteering.

Building these platforms is a no-brainer because the gap between potential volunteers and NGOs is clear.

Recently I’ve seen teams from two different programs working on this very concept, at the MIT Media Lab Dubai and at a Jusoor event in Beirut.

But what techies don't know about building a volunteer matching solution is that the technical part is by far the least challenging.

When Nakhweh, my startup that created a volunteer and development network, was launched six years ago I had exactly the same understanding for the problem as the participants pitching at those events. I thought it was all about writing the code. I was also lucky to be a first mover in this area in the Arab world, which made me realize the other challenges early on.

Throughout the past six years, a lot of similar platforms, such as Kherna in Egypt, were launched on a local and regional level in different Arab countries. Most were shut down.

With volunteering, the online matching component is the last step in addressing a very complex problem.

The real issues in volunteering

During the first year of Nakhweh's life, I realized that the real problems of volunteer matching in the region were:

(Image via Nakhweh)

I believe the problems above were the main reason why other platforms shut down.

In my case, I decided to look at the challenge from a different point of view by keeping the matching component while trying to take advantage of
the power of the network and the good name Nakhweh had built to address some of the above mentioned points.

Nakhweh started focusing on spreading awareness about volunteerism and proactive citizenship through social media, in addition to working closely with youth and civil society organizations to improve the quality of volunteering experiences.

We also took advantage of the network to provide social entrepreneurs and activists with more opportunities (funding, media, recognition... etc.). In addition to extracting insights from the community by surveying different stakeholders.

Volunteering is just an example of how a web-based solution might not be the only answer for social challenges, and the Nakhweh experience of doing awareness and more offline work might apply on many other areas, such as education, healthcare, poverty.

Bootstrapping programs and platforms should add a very clear research component to be more effective and impactful, ideas can be replicated and enhanced, yet if they don't really address the real problem they will fail trying to workaround it.

Feature image: a beach clean run by volunteers in Ain Dab, Morocco. Source: Ptitaptit Files

October 13th 2016, 7:00 am

Home-cooked food gets a taste of delivery services in Jordan

ومضة

When Marwan Oklah Al Zou'bi and Adam Barghouti were studying indoors during Canada’s harsh winters, ordering homemade food through Whatsapp was both a luxury and a saving grace. But receiving only the name of the meal and the prices was insufficient and not very enticing to their taste buds. What was lacking were pictures, portions and ingredients.

Upon returning to Jordan, they took their Canada-born idea and launched Daymeh two months ago.

Bilforon cook Siham Betoghan (Image via Mohammad al-Battikhi)

Daymeh is a home cooked meal delivery service application that connects home cooks to customers. Each cook has a personal profile on the app to publish information about his/her meals. Customers scroll through the different profiles to fill their baskets with their orders, which are delivered to their doors using geolocation technology.

Daymeh is not alone in offering this service. Bilforon, which also launched this summer, is based on a similar concept. Both platforms offer daily homemade dishes, pre-ordered meals and provide a service for individuals as well as corporations.

The business is relevant, according to Bilforon’s founder Mohammad Albattikhi, because the demand for and supply of home-cooked food is increasing.

People are becoming more aware of what they eat, said Albattikhi. Not only is there an increased desire for home-cooked meals made easy, but among the Syrian refugee community in Jordan, cooking is an opportunity to generate income.
Since hygiene and quality of food are a concern to many customers, especially in the Arab world, both companies perform general checks as a form of regulation. They are also assisting unlicensed cooks to get legal permits.

Online ordering as an alternative to phone calls and social media

Food delivery aggregators, food apps, and delivery of homemade meals is not new, but it is the combination of the three that make applications like Bilforon and Daymeh significant.

Bilforon cook Sawsan Nasser, who has been selling homemade food since 2011, considers the app an extra marketing channel to Facebook and word of mouth.

The problem with Facebook, she said, is that you need to spend on marketing in order to reach a wide audience, and you are more prone to attracting customers that are not part of your target audience.

“It is my first time being a part of an application, and I am surprised how well it’s going…we received more customers, and since the managing team takes care of the customer and the delivery, our load is reduced,” said Nasser.

Similarly, Daymeh customer Fida Taher who is also the founder of the recipe guide app Atbaqi believes that these apps had succeeded in automating the ‘ordering’ process unlike other platforms. If you were using Facebook or Instagram to buy your food, you still needed to make a phone call and give your address, she said.

“We feel that there could be a lot of synergy between Atbaqi and such applications, because the thousands of users who are publishing their recipes are interested in selling their food and generating income; many of them also have existing businesses,” she added.

On Daymeh, each cook has a personal profile to publish information
about their meals. (Image via Daymeh Facebook page)

The ease, efficiency, and accuracy of online ordering makes other traditional forms much less appealing.
“Imagine that five people are ordering through the phone at the same time; five people would need to be hired, or the customers would have to wait,” said Basem Aggad, managing partner of the homemade food kitchen and delivery service Kitchenette.
Although Kitchenette still receives orders through the phone, 70 percent of the users use the website or Ifood, and mostly through phones and tablets rather than desktops.

Aggad believes that in 2012 there was a surge of homemade food delivery businesses in Jordan, however it didn’t pick up because the delivery process required more preparation than junk food.

Automation is the key

According to Bilforon technical advisor Yousef Wadi full automation of the delivery and ordering processes is crucial.

The company, which hosts 35 cooks and has received more than 600 orders and made 5000 meals, does not rely on GPS and is still manually calling cooks and delivery companies to pass on the orders.

However, ​​​​​​it is now looking into more convenient practices such as distributing small printers to the cooks so that they can directly receive written orders.

“We want to make sure that we don’t hire excessively because the margin of profit in this kind of business is very tricky. If you overspend you never become profitable, you need to be very smart about it,” said Wadi,  who mentioned that scaling into the GCC was one of the company’s objectives.

On the other hand, Daymeh which has reached over a 100 orders, is looking into partnering with an automated delivery startup that will be launched very soon in Jordan, rather than continuing to depend on freelance drivers.

It is worth mentioning that Daymeh’s cooks get directly notified about the orders through the app, without the intervention of the managing team, and they can reject the orders if they wish.

In addition to Daymeh, al-Zoubi and Barghouti are planning to launch a similar version of the app in Canada under the name of 'Yummah' in December. They are also working on releasing the Arabic edition of the app as well as the Android version.

The two applications are a living example of the food industry’s flexibility and adaptive nature towards technology and innovation.

A 2014 study shows that 81 percent of the participants who use smartphones believe that in the past ten years technology has genuinely improved how well they eat.

The same study finds that “ traditional relationships between industry and consumer are falling victim to significant disruption. This disruption is digital. And it is affecting all facets of consumer life—especially in the digital food marketplace.”

Other startups in the field include Yumamia in Egypt, Casserole in Dubai, Homemade and Wjbty in Saudi Arabia, and Yo3an in Kuwait.

Feature image via Pexels.com

October 13th 2016, 4:00 am

Startup Watch: How to get more dates on Tinder, why Egyptian investors must unite, and VR Facebook e

ومضة

Here’s a roundup of what we’ve been reading this week on how to get more dates on Tinder, VR spreading its Ocu-pus legs across every possible industry, Samsung’s self destruction, and yet another tall building in Dubai. Leave us comments below on what you read this week and feel like sharing with us!

Samsung: when your phone lights on fire, your profit forecast turns to ash. The South Korean company’s stock have unsurprisingly come crashing down. And now in a statement by the company, they have asked “all carrier and retail partners globally to stop sales and exchanges of the Galaxy Note 7 while the investigation is taking place”. It’s not just their phones that are burning, probably worst of all is the damage to their brand.

Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos.
(Image via Wikimedia)

Theranos won’t stop bleeding. In the latest episode of the blood-testing company’s seemingly unending drama, the startup’s investors are now suing for securities fraud. Hedge fund Partner Fund Management said founder Elizabeth Holmes lied and omitted key information to secure funding. The company fired back saying the the hedge fund has not based its lawsuit on fact. Classic ‘You’re a liar’, ‘No, you’re a liar!’. And just like children in a schoolyard, what is likely is that they’re both lying.

Wamda of the week: Tamer Azer wants Egyptian investors to be a team.  Azer, who is the investment and venture development director at A15, is advocating for closer collaboration between Egyptian investors. In his Wamda oped this week, Azer argues that collaboration can lead to a long-term gain through data sharing, but will create a unified front to lobby for better regulation, legislation and outreach. It’s a piece we recommend for investors and entrepreneurs as we all try move our regional ecosystem from ‘blossoming’ to ‘matured’.

Dubai seeks to break its own record of world’s tallest building. Dubai is like the Usain Bolt of the 200m race. But unlike Bolt, who said he is no longer interested in breaking records, Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum will not waver. The new tower, titled The Tower at Dubai Creek Harbour, is due to be completed by 2020 and according to Sheikh Mohammad’s Twitter feed, “sets another challenge in the history of human architecture: a race the UAE deserves to lead”.

 

 

If you want to get more dates on Tinder, don’t smile. According Tinder CEO Sean Rad, the key to getting swiped right is to keep it simple, serious and wear bright colors. Job titles of the most swiped men are pilot, founder/entrepreneur, and firefighter (typical). For women, physical therapists, interior designers, and also founder/entrepreneur. Take note, love seekers.

Would you spend $30,000 to travel the world while working remotely for a year? Highland Capital Partners, and cofounders of Airbnb and Wework sure hope so. They just invested $12 million in Remote Year, a startup that takes around 75 “digital nomads” to travel the world, from one wireless secured work station to another, for a year. The startup, which received over 20,000 applications, has already completed their first year. Reviews from participants were mixed, many reportedly dropped out or got fired. While the idea is terribly tempting, it sounds like more like the plot of a twisted reality show to us.

VR is eVeRywhere. It feels like every company and their mother company want to get their hands animated with virtual reality. This week alone, Mark Zuckerberg demo’d Facebook’s new social experience complete with VR emojis and friend hangouts, Sony launched Playstation VR headset, movie theater company IMEX announced it’s opening its first VR center in the UK, etc etc. Watch the video and find out how now you’ll never need to get off your sofa to hang out with your friends again.

Feature image via Pexels.com, edited by Wamda

October 13th 2016, 2:00 am

GJU Green Hackathon

ومضة

The Green Hackathon is the third step of the “Innovation & Entrepreneurship Program” at the German Jordanian Ubiversity in Amman. GJU students of all disciplines are invited to develop innovative ideas and build prototypes that tackle 3 green challenges in 2.5 days. The event will be taking place at The Tank (by Umniah) from October 20 till 22, 2016.

The first step of the program was the Green Ideathon event, where GJU students worked together to come up with creative solutions to green challenges faced by industries and society, such as those related to logistics, sustainable energy, green buildings, community and technology.

This year, students will be tackling 6 main challenges:

Following the hackathon, the students will have the opportunity to continue developing their ideas as graduation projects, find internship opportunities, or start their own businesses.

The deadline for registration is October 15, so make sure to register here.

 

October 12th 2016, 9:00 am

Holidayme.com secures $7M funding, a boost for regional travel industry

ومضة

UAE online travel agency Holidayme.com has raised $7 million in Series A funding from Silicon Valley-based Accel Partners, Saudi Arabia-based F&C Overseas Investment, and from Al Sanie Group, according to a statement released on Wednesday.

“We have made significant progress and are currently at a very important stage in terms of growth and expansion,” said Geet Bhalla, cofounder and CEO of Holidayme. “The funding will be used to further scale up our technology, accelerate customer growth, make key strategic hires and expand regionally."

Geet Bhalla, cofounder and CEO of Holidayme.
(Image via Linkedin)

Heightened investment in travel tech is breathing life into a largely undisrupted market.

For MENA travel startups, the investment is a good omen. The funding from Accel, whose investments include Dropbox and Spotify, shows international acknowledgement of a growing MENA travel market.

Holidayme marks Accel's first entry into the Middle East, the statement noted.

According to an International Air Transport Association (IATA) report, Middle East carriers in 2015 had the strongest annual traffic growth at 10.5 percent. 

The share of international traffic carried by Middle East airliners reached over 14 percent, higher than their North American counterparts at 13.4 percent, the report noted.

“The region has one of the highest per capita spend in holidays, and is need of a new age platform to meet their requirements. We are very excited to join HolidayMe in this journey towards fulfilling this gap and becoming the platform of choice for online holidays,” said Faisal Al Nassar from F&C Investment.

Founded by Bhalla and Digvijay Pratap in 2014, HolidayMe enables travel seekers to design and book holiday packages, hotels, flights and tourist activities for global destinations.

In an interview with Wamda in July, Bhalla said his company acts as the airline’s marketing arm by generating more passenger traffic without falling into rate parity, while airlines offer him benefits and a value product that he moves on to his customers. The platform includes more than 400 holiday packages to over 200 destinations, and over 8,000 activities globally.

Holidayme previously secured a funding of $4 million from Al Sanie Group in 2014.

Feature image via Pexels.com

October 12th 2016, 7:00 am

Tripoli-based startup brings online retail to local merchants

ومضة

Lebanon’s northern coastal city of Tripoli, once the center of trade in the region, is now too often associated with political instability. The city has plagued with explosions, protests, and civil strife. According to a 2015 UN study, more than 50 percent of families in Tripoli are impoverished, with a quarter of those families living under extreme poverty.  

In June 2016, two local optimists saw the opportunity in the difficulty. Hassane Tabbal and Rabih Barakeh launched Tripoli-based retail platform Hurry Up hoping that getting local merchants to advertise their products online would improve their economic standing.

“Our app allows clients to upload various pictures and posts, and monitors the number of visitors on their posts, as well as to their competitors’ posts,” explained Hassane Tabbal, cofounder of Navybits, the startup that built Hurry Up.

“It was an important step, as I know that Tripoli is not what comes to mind when you talk about an online commercial platform,” he said.

One of the key features of Hurry Up is that it integrates Facebook’s Messenger-enabled chatbot platform to help deliver automated customer support and interactive guiding instructions in Arabic.

Screenshot of Hurry Up's Facebook chatbot. (Images via Hassane Tabbal)

Gaining momentum

Since launching, Hurry Up has had more than 2,000 downloads, all of whom are residents of Tripoli, said Tabbal.

Tabbal and cofounder Rabih Barakeh have partnered with 50 shops and restaurants. The merchants, most with very little tech know-how, now upload pictures and broadcast their offers on the app.

“Getting a media illiterate crowd to join the app is certainly challenging,” he said. “A big number of the shop owners are traditional thinkers who don’t see any use in investing in social media.”

Hassane Tabbal of Navybits. (Image via Navybits)

Getting them on board also meant patiently educating them on how to use the app and market themselves on Facebook. Tabbal also advises his clients on media strategies.

“This is how we are creating job opportunities in Tripoli. We expect to reach 5,000 users by the end of the year,” he added.

He and Barakeh have so far invested $27,000 on developing the app and hiring their team. They are hoping to get an investment soon. Currently, Hurry Up generates revenues from the client's’ subscription, charging $60 per month for every client. Most of his current clients, however, are using the app for free. Clients are allowed an unlimited number of posts and every post is accessible on Facebook.

Serving the under-served

When Tabbal quit his job at Saudi telecommunications giant Mobily and decided to become entrepreneur, he knew he wanted to give back to his community in Tripoli.

Tabbal and Barakeh initially launched a ‘good news’ platform where users would post morale-boosting content. With no sustainable revenue model and no original material, the platform quickly failed. It shut down after three months and Hurry Up was developed with the same core values, but a different service and business model. They have been residents of Tripoli-based incubator BIAT since September 2015.

“Our plan is mostly to focus on overlooked poorer communities, but we don’t mind going mainstream in the future,” said Tabbal. “Right now we are expanding to other areas in North Lebanon, like Zahle and Kesrouan. Then we will move to the [southern Lebanon] and other areas.”

As for their competitors, advertising companies trying to do what they are doing will pose a risk, but their minimum fee is an advantage for them, Tabbal noted.

“We are looking for $100,000 [in funding] to complete our expansion in Lebanon and Saudi, but honestly, a lesser amount would be welcome as we’re looking now for funds just to sustain the project,” said Tabbal.

Feature image via Wikimedia.

October 12th 2016, 4:00 am

Syrian inventor on his journey of making a solar-powered washing machine [Q&A]

ومضة

Twenty-two-year old Syrian inventor Yaman Abou Jeib has the entrepreneurship community buzzing over him, and for good reason too.

Aside from being the first Syrian inventor to win Qatar’s Stars of Science show last year with Glean, a solar-powered washing machine, he was also named among MIT Technology Review’s ‘35 Innovators Under 35’. Abou Jeib is also likely to be the first Syrian to have his entire house powered by solar.

Wamda sat down with Abou Jeib for a discussion on his next steps, and the challenges and milestones of his journey.

Wamda: You’re only 22. How have you managed to achieve so much so soon?

Abou Jeib: I started my journey quite early, always knowing I wanted to be an engineer just like my father.

When I was nine years old, my classmates and I enrolled in a science workshop at the Robou’ al Sham center in Damascus. I would tinker with all sorts of toolkits and building blocks there. There were no Arduinos back then but I do remember there was a toolkit called Meccano that was popular. And of course, I would tinker with the best inventions ever: books. I read everything I could find.  

Abou Jeib presenting Glean at Stars of Science. (Image via Stars of Science)

Wamda: What about work experience?

Abou Jeib: When I was 15, I walked into a privately-owned hardware workshop and asked the owner for a summer internship. He mentored me in electronics and building voltage regulators, inverters, circuits and other things.

The latter was a highly educational experience for me because a few years later, I became a partner at my father’s solar firm Aboujeib for Renewable Energy and Electronics (AFREE). The company was founded in 2008 and manufactures photovoltaic panels, wind power devices and solar-powered engines. We would import the devices and assemble them ourselves. The frequent power cuts in Syria due to the war left a huge market for us, as solar generators work with no electricity. AFREE is still operating.

Wamda: Your entire house has also been running on solar power since 2008.

Abou Jeib: Yes, my father and I believe that as scientists, we have to walk the walk. If we were selling solar projects, then we had to have experience living and operating on solar energy. The pumps, lights, filters, fridge and TV all run on solar. In fact, I wouldn’t have come up with the Glean concept if we didn’t take this step.

Wamda: Tell us about your journey with Stars of Science and developing the idea of Glean.

Abou Jeib: I always watched the show as a teenager. At 18, I decided that I wanted to be part of this program. I really inspired by Egyptian innovator Haytham Dessouky, who won Season 3 with Vivify, a device that transforms any surface into a touch screen.

But first, I had to come up with a solution to a problem. I knew from experience that washing machines were among the most difficult devices for solar engineers to convert. They consume too much water and too much energy. So what I did was disassemble our washing machine and replace its electric heater, which consumed the most energy, with a thermal system. This thermal system heats the water and saves energy. As for the high water consumption, I recycled the discarded water of the machine so it could be used again.

Wamda: How much time did it take to develop Glean?

Abou Jeib: I worked on Glean on and off between 2011 and 2015. I was a university student back then and I let the ideas brew in my head for a while. I also used my dad’s mentorship.

Wamda: What was the most challenging part of your journey?

Abou Jeib: This post-show phase is the most difficult part of my journey. When you train as a scientist, they don’t teach you business courses or scalability and these things can be challenging. I’m hoping to find the right partner who has experience in selling machines for giants like General Electric (GE) and others.

I’m now one of the 10 teams participating in the 2016 Jusoor Bootcamp, and the purpose of this participation was to come up with a sustainable business model and to hopefully find a partner investor.

Wamda: What advice would you want to give to young entrepreneurs like yourself?

Abou Jeib: Patience, patience, patience. You have to work a long time, find the right mentors and friends until the right moment arrives. I think everything I did in the past decade has been leading me into this phase.

October 12th 2016, 2:00 am

AUB Robotics Club presents Engineering Design Challenge 2.0: Drive Smarter

ومضة

The AUB Robotics Club's Engineering Design Challenge (EDC) is a regional university-level engineering competition, launched for the first time in the American University of Beirut by the AUB Robotics Club in 2015. This year, EDC 2.0 is back with an exciting new theme: Drive Smarter.

EDC 2.0 welcomes students from all majors and universities to participate. Form teams of 2-5 players to compete for a chance to win a grand prize of $1,500 for first place, and $1,000 and $500 for second and third place respectively. No specific platform is required in order to reduce implementation costs for participating teams. The challenge will take place on February 12, 2017 at the Charles Hostler Student Center, in the American University of Beirut.  

Due to the growing demand and focus on self-driving autonomous cars in the industry, challenging undergraduate students to create a prototype of a smart car would give them the basic tools needed for a bright future in the industry.

The challenge this year is to design and build small self-driving cars, that can compete in two games; Driving Test and Shawarma Express. To win the games, cars are expected to use sensors and control concepts to be able to operate reliably without human interaction.

AUB Robotics Club is offering workshops on the basic tools needed to help in developing your autonomous car, which will be announced soon.

For more information on rules and regulations visit the website, and for registration, fill this form here.

 

October 11th 2016, 12:00 pm

smartcon Dubai 2016

ومضة

This year’s smartcon Dubai 2016 will bring global thought leaders and practitioners to share best practices on Big Data, analytics, IoT, smart cities, industrial internet and other emerging technologies.

The event, which will be held on November 16 and 17 at the Armani Dubai Hotel, will bring world class content, expert opinions and presentations on business applications of Big Data and disruptive technologies, and will inspire and equip you with ideas to define smarter strategies for your business. Opinion leaders, practitioners and trend analysts will share insights and foresights to portray innovative business models that integrate Big Data technologies. Global business models and trends will be demonstrated and discussed in MENA market and specific industry contexts.

The agenda will explore various topics and themes on data-enabled business applications, IoT, smart cities, and industrial internet, and will feature two hands-on workshops:

Fore more information and registration, click here.

 

October 11th 2016, 12:00 pm

The Entrepreneur Day 2016

ومضة

The Entrepreneur Day is the annual startup conference hosted by Dubai Technology Entrepreneur Centre (Dtec),a tech startup event featuring top speakers and panelists from the entrepreneurial ecosystem along with DSO’s annual startup pitch competition, offering cash prizes and incubation. The Entrepreneur Day attracts 500+ founders, investors, executives and media to an engaging and interactive event. The event features a showcase area where startups can exhibit their work, and a newly added second day of focused workshop sessions. The event will be taking place on November 16 and 17, 2016.

Here are some highlights from last year's event.

This year’s event will feature a startup pitch competition where entrepreneurs will have the chance to win a grand prize of $10,000 and free trade license/ flexi desk setup in Dtec. Eligible categories vary from IoT, fintech, to Islamic economy.

For more information and to apply for the startup pitch competition, visit: www.f6s.com/ted16

Deadline for application is October 20, 2016. Register here

October 11th 2016, 12:00 pm

Social Media Week Dubai 2016

ومضة

Social Media Week is the biggest global conference that brings together thought leaders and practitioners to explore how social media and technology are changing business, society and culture around the world. SMW hosts conferences on six continents, including Europe, North America, South America, Africa, Australia and Asia. For the first time, Social Media Week is coming to Dubai on November 15 and 16, making it the first city in the Middle East to host the event, which will allow attendees to connect with like-minded professionals, sharing thoughts, strategies, and failures.

The event is divided accordingly:

There will also be an area specifically designed for participants to pitch their business ideas to a panel of investors for 15 minutes.

For more information and to register, visit the website.

October 11th 2016, 11:00 am

Apply for FasterCapital's 5th round of funding

ومضة

FasterCapital (a virtual incubator based in Dubai) has launched its fifth round of funding for 2016 which begins on September 18, 2016 and ends on October 17, 2016. The last round of funding attracted more than 2,000 entrepreneurs from more than 57 countries. More than 30 startups were accepted into the acceleration program.

Each startup goes through three levels of assessment: business, financial and technical. The study will be communicated back to the entrepreneurs so that they can receive feedback in the process of developing their startup, avoiding potential obstacles and improving ideas.

All accelerated startups will receive services such as mentorship, marketing study, feasibility study, technical consultation, new sales channels and financing.

FasterCapital offers two programs: “Acceleration Program” and “Incubation Program”. In the “Acceleration Program”, FasterCapital will provide mentorship, access to capital and extra consulting services (legal, technological and marketing) to entrepreneurs. Whereas in the “Incubation Program” FasterCapital will become a co-founder (technical cofounder) and co-funder (as one of the first investors) and will provide technical development per equity (up to $500k for each startup). The “Incubation Program” might also appeal to tech entrepreneurs who seek some help in covering some of the early investment in the startup.

Startups can apply to join the virtual incubator here.

October 11th 2016, 11:00 am

EFICA Gala Dinner 2016

ومضة

The annual Ethical Finance Innovation Challenge and Awards (EFICA) return in 2016 for the 4th time to inspire and assist initiatives that promote ethical and Islamic finance.

Thomson Reuters and Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank aspire to change people's lives for the better by highlighting the most innovative financial initiatives and giving them the support they need to grow and prosper. During the past 3 years, EFICA has become a leading finance award selecting winners from more than 400 applications received from around the world and providing the opportunity for 19 finalists to present their initiatives at an EFICA gala dinner and get wider visibility. The dinner will take place on October 26 at the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai

Two awards will be distributed at the gala dinner: the "Ethical Finance Initiative Award" which promotes emerging and existing talent providing ethical financial solutions or initiatives that can be implemented within the financial sector, with a prize of $100,000 awarded. Also, the "Lifetime Achievement Award" celebrating an outstanding individual or institution that has shaped the world of financial services using a positive approach and ethical principles, with an award of $25,000.

If you’d like to attend the gala dinner, make sure to register here before October 24.

October 11th 2016, 11:00 am

How to Build a Winning Team for your Startup

ومضة

Young Arab Leaders are hosting another session of their Entrepreneur Workshop Series on the theme of "How to Build a Winning Team for your Startup", with special guest speaker Jean-Michel Gautier, CEO of InternsME, on October 19, 2016, from 7:00-9:00 PM at the Hamdan Innovation Incubator, Dubai.

This entrepreneur-focused series will present unique topics to the startup community with regional mentors & speakers aimed at educating & providing entrepreneurs with tools to launch or scale their businesses.

Key Points of Discussion:

For more information and to register for the event, please visit here.

October 11th 2016, 9:00 am

Has Falafel Games raised the largest round for a gaming startup in MENA?

ومضة

Falafel Games, one of the first gaming studios to emerge in the Middle East, just closed a round of $2.6 million.

The funding round was led by Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP) and iSME Holdings, a World Bank initiative who had not previously invested in the company. In the past they have received funding from MEVP, MBC Ventures, and Twofour54.

At $2.6 million, this investment is a boon for the local gaming industry. Funding amounts of this size are not a common occurrence for the gaming industry in MENA. While Tamatem Games in Jordan is said to be working on raising a $2 million round, Falafel’s round is likely to be the largest to date. Investments in recent years have been in the range of hundreds of thousands.

A still from 'Knights of Glory'. 

This lack of funding interest is surprising. Gaming is wildly popular in the Middle East. A 2014 study from Strategy& and Twofour54 said that the regional $1 billion market would rise to $4.4 billion by 2022. Globally the market for digital games grew 8 percent from 2014 to $61 billion, according to a new report from gaming intelligence firm SuperData Research.

“Generally speaking VCs in the region have tended to shy away from investing in gaming platforms,” said Walid Faza, partner and investment principal at Wamda Capital.

“They didn’t have the right strategies for localisation and a proper distribution network, but Tamatem changed that.”

According to an oped Faza wrote for Wamda in September, Tamatem had worked a lot with their audience to better develop their products from surveying the vehicles their audience would like to drive in their mobile games, to the music they want to listen to. “This intimate interaction between regional game developers and their audience is revolutionary,” he wrote.

MEVP told Wamda over email today that the reason they continued to invest in this seemingly unpopular market was simply because the company was making a profit. “They have cracked their unit economics,” said MEVP managing partner Walid Hanna.

Falafel games said in a statement received on Sunday that the injection would be used to support their upcoming launches and market expansion.

While raising this second round, Falafel Games will be moving their headquarters from China back to Beirut.

“Having been initially in China, we used to expatriate Arab talents to China,” said CEO Vincent Ghossoub in the statement. “We have now reached the tipping point where it makes more sense to have a fully fledged Middle East presence and initiate a knowledge transfer. Beirut is a good choice given the availability of talent and capital, and founders being from Lebanon and Syria.”

They also have offices in Abu Dhabi from where they will also be expanding their GCC presence.

Founded in 2010 by Vince Ghossoub and Radwan Kasmiya, Falafel Games focuses on MMO (massively multiplayer online) games. They are best to know for having produced the entirely Arabic content MMO game فرسان المجد (Knights of Glory) and the first game in the MENA to offer cross-platform access between the web and the iPhone حرب الحروب (Hot Blood).

Their latest game اكشن انمي (Action Anime) has been their best-selling game thus far.

October 11th 2016, 8:00 am

A step in the eco tourism direction

ومضة

This year Dubai and Abu Dhabi topped the list of most sustainable cities in MENA.

On the global ranking list, however, they’re at 52 and 58 respectively. Both cities now have five years to steer the UAE towards the goal of becoming the world’s most sustainable country by 2021.

To help the course, Dubai-based Eco Resort Group (ERG), partnered with London based architect and design director Baharash Bagherian. With the architect in tow they are going to launch the Oasis Eco Resort, which they say will be the “world’s greenest resort”, in Liwa, in 2020.

ERG specialized in land acquisitions and developing eco resort real estate with a mission of building low impact and eco friendly tourism in the UAE and MENA region, said Belash Bagherian, cofounder of ERG and also Baharash’s brother. 

“The project has many environmental benefits including recycling waste water on site for irrigation, onsite waste management, the enforcement of a zero emission zone and 157,000 square feet of solar panels,” Baharash told Wamda.

A rendering of the resort. (Images via Baharash Bagherian)

The resort will be built around a spring - what Baharash calls “the heart of the resort”. The lodge has been designed to promote eco activities like riding and dune cycling, with a restaurant and bar that prepares its meals with organic ingredients grown onsite.

The resort is tapping into one of the most lucrative industries of the UAE - the tourism industry.

According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), the UAE generated around 95.5 billion Emirati dirhams (US$26 billion) in ‘visitor exports’ in 2015. That’s basically what international tourists spend within a country for leisure and business travel.

Uncontrolled conventional tourism causes harm to natural areas, by putting excess pressure on the area,” Baharash said. “This can then lead to impacts such as increased pollution, soil erosion, loss of natural habitats and endangered species. It puts pressure on water resources, and it can force local populations to compete for the use of critical resources.

“Transforming UAE’s rapidly growing tourism sector into a green economy, by investing in ecotourism, is no longer a choice… it has become a necessity.”

An eco resort project is not without challenges, though. The builders need to acutely monitor the resort’s energy supply to ensure installed equipment is environmentally and economically sound. Additionally, the limited number of eco resorts worldwide make for fewer reference points, which leads to another set of criteria issues altogether.

“[We have to also ensure] that the resort becomes a conservation hub to protect the many species and various types of wildlife in Liwa,” Baharash said. “ [That] it will become a zero emission zone which will cover the entire resort area, meaning only vehicles that emit no waste products and that do not pollute the environment are allowed access inside the resort vicinity.”

Oasis Eco Resort isn’t the only sustainable project going on in UAE either.

At the start of this year The Sustainable City in Dubai had its first residents move in. Prolific Baharash worked on this also.

“Transforming UAE’s rapidly growing tourism sector into a green economy, by investing in ecotourism, is no longer a choice… it has become a necessity.”

Then in June the Dubai Electrical and Water Authority announced the third phase of its solar powered park that wants to be largest single-site solar project in the world. The park has a planned capacity of 5,000MW by 2030, which is enough to power 800,000 homes with a total investment of 50 billion dirhams (US$13.6 billion).

The Expo 2020 site is building a Sustainability Pavilion that will outlast the event and become a landmark in the city.

Also this year, Dubai Tourism signed agreements with Etihad ESCO, Dubai Carbon, Emirates Environmental Group (EEG) and Emirates Wildlife Society-WWF to “significantly reduce the carbon footprint”. Dubai airports too have taken serious steps towards reducing their carbon footprint. And lastly, to not leave the rest of the world behind, the UAE has committed, over the last six years, more than 3.1 billion dirhams (US$840 million) to renewable energy in more than 30 countries.

Baharash says the idea that one has to go big if going eco is not necessary when creating communities. Rather, he says that thinking on smaller scale opens up more economic opportunities for private companies to invest in the sector.  

“Successful ecotourism projects... require a bottom-up entrepreneurship and empowerment of local people,” he said. “Ultimately, it takes a holistic approach to create ecotourism destinations.”

October 11th 2016, 4:00 am

Can audiobooks inspire more Arabs to read?

ومضة

Rawan Barakat, the founder of Raneen. (Image via Wamda)

Studies have shown that Arab citizens hardly care about reading - dedicating only six minutes a year to reading books.

However, there are people in the Arab World who not only care about reading, but are creating audible Arabic content to develop reading or provide a different way to do so: listening.

On those passionate about reading is Rawan Barakat, the founder of Raneen, a startup that uses audio and visual arts to develop children’s minds.

In this interview with Wamda, Barakat explains that reading is not common in the Arab world and that audio books can be a solution to the problem. She also tells the story of Raneen, and the reason behind her venture.

The startup’s core focus is to develop a comprehensive Arabic education system centered on developing children’s listening skills and desire to learn, hence read, more.

Barakat points out that her motivation to pursue her work was the children’s reactions and their engagement with the content provided. She also believes that in order for social entrepreneurship to be sustainable, there should be a profitable business model.

In this video, the Jordanian entrepreneur shares the biggest challenges a social entrepreneur faces in the Arab world and divides them into four categories: swimming against the current, laws and regulations, focus, and funding.

Watch this video to get to know more about this ambitious entrepreneur and how she managed to succeed despite of the numerous challenges in her industry.

Press CC button for English captions

October 11th 2016, 3:00 am

Iran startup Snapp raises $22M Series A

ومضة

Iranian ride sharing startup Snapp has secured a 20 million euro (US$22 million) Series A investment.

The deal, reported in Tech Crunch, was with South African telecommunications company MTN, which owns 49 percent of Irancell as well as a stake in Iran Internet Holdings.

Snapp launched in October 2014, then known as Taxi Yaab, and is owned by Iran Internet Group. While it only operates in Tehran, it employs up to 10,000 drivers.

Snapp works in the same way as other popular ride sharing apps, but includes a pre-paid model which cuts out haggling.

Snapp CEO Shahram Shahkar told Wamda the investment had come on the startup’s two year anniversary.

“This funding will enable us to grow further in the country and to make this amazing service accessible to all Iranians. We as the first and leading e-hailing app that is developed completely in-house by Iranian talent, are proud of all we have achieved so far and look forward to consolidating our position as market leader with the continued strong support of MTN,” Shahkar said

A Rocket Internet venture?

The deal has all the hallmarks of being related to startup builder Rocket Internet, although both the German company and Shahkar categorically denied to Wamda any association with Snapp or its parent Iran Internet Group.

We have zero relationship or partnerships in Iran and [are] not invested there,” Rocket told Wamda.

However, international media outlets have been reporting on connections between the German company and Iran since 2014.  

The Financial Times and The Guardian noted a Rocket joint venture with MTN called ‘Romak’ that launched Bamilo, an ecommerce website within Iran Internet Group’s stable of startups. Reuters reported on Rocket’s entry into Iran last year.

Other Rocket Internet entities in the region are Middle East Internet Group (MEIG) and Africa Internet Group (AIG).

A source working in the Iranian startup ecosystem, who wished to remain anonymous due to some professional concerns, said there were valid reasons for Rocket to deny working in the country.

“They are afraid of the sanctions being in a grey zone that such scandal can bring down their market share value at a higher pace,” he said. “Local entrepreneurs mostly believe that this is yet just another Rocket type of venture where it ignores the local entrepreneurial scene and what local talents are already doing, they build a venture, offer insane salaries to people in startup world to turn them to employees and change the market.”

The source said the Snapp investment was encouraging, as it showed there was a real market in Iran for venture investors.

“We have seen a lot of improvement in the past couple of years. Mostly because of the local players stepping up to improve the scene by support from authorities believing that Iran as a talent market should move from creating wealth from natural resources, to creating it from the talents.

“Also the strategic foreign investment has been helpful to accelerate this phenomenon. I see a real distinction between an investment that turns to venture building by foreigners on one side (Uber is no different than Snapp from Rocket) and the investment that supports the local entrepreneurs strategically to grow and scale to the region.”

Feature image: Tehran and the Alborj mountains. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

October 10th 2016, 7:20 am

Bahrain’s Eat raises $2M

ومضة

In what they are labelling a “post-seed round”, restaurant reservation app Eat has raised $2 million having worked tirelessly since 2014 to conquer not only their home market of Bahrain, but also the UAE.

Led by the Bahrain-based investment fund Pinnacle, this brings the startup's total funding thus far to $2.9 million.

They will also be working on other GCC markets in addition to expanding their real-time reservation service in the UAE, according to the company.

In a statement given to Wamda on Sunday, cofounder Nezar Kadhem said a significant portion of the investment would go towards marketing and customer acquisition, as with all previous rounds.

“We have gone through a significant planning stage and are now in a position to carry out our next period of growth,” said Kadhem.

Eat’s Bahrain currently has 80 restaurants on their roster, while in Dubai it has 200 restaurants. They also have agreements with hotel chains including The Marriott, the Four Seasons, the Taj Group of Hotels, The Ritz-Carlton, and Starwood. They have clients in countries including France, China, Columbia, and the US.

Previous investments in the app have been $100,000 in 2014 led by Bahrain’s angel network Tenmou; $300,000 in 2015, again through Tenmou; and later in 2015 $500,000 from private investors in the GCC and France.

The company’s second product, table management software, provides restaurants with a comprehensive, iPad-based reservations and table management solution.

The region’s real-time restaurant booking and in-house table management solutions is a growing market. Earlier this year Wamda spoke with Eat about their slight change of direction in order to combat the growing competition in the market.

The likes of UAE’s Round Menu, UK’s Quandoo present competition with Jordan’s Reserve Out are their direct competition.

“Our plan is to remain focused on one market segment and build a suite of products catered to that market,” Kadhem told Wamda over email today. “This has worked out for us since the beginning, and we continue to have clients shift from Reserve Out to eat, we haven't lost a single customer to them.”

Their table management service competes with Zomato Book.

“This funding will help us hire a stronger sales force to help us reach more restaurants, and deploy a sizable marketing budget to acquire users. That is how we plan to compete against those guys,” Kadhem said.

October 10th 2016, 7:20 am

Banque du Liban Accelerate 2016

ومضة

Against all odds, Lebanon is developing a highly innovative entrepreneurial ecosystem. With a growing number of incubators, accelerators and venture capital firms paired with the support from the Central Bank of Lebanon, the capital is quickly progressing into a powerful startup hub in the Arab world.

These initiatives alongside the emerging entrepreneurial spirit in Beirut are leading the way for a booming era for digital disruption. BDL Accelerate is at the heart of this emerging tech boom, bringing together international and regional entrepreneurs, startups, investors, and advisors under one roof for a three-day unparalleled experiential journey.

BDL Accelerate 2016 is Lebanon's 3rd annual international conference, one of the biggest and most influential on the Mediterranean and MENA.

Building on last year's success, BDL Accelerate 2016 will span 3 days from November 3 till 5 at the Forum De Beyrouth, anticipating over 10,000 attendees from all around the world, bringing professionals, entrepreneurs, and students under one roof. The conference will feature 10 tracks running in parallel, including the newly brought Innovation, Executive, Academy, and Awards tracks.

Seasoned entrepreneurs and influencers from the startup community like Alexander Asseily and Mike Butcher will be among the panel of speakers to share insights, techniques, and methods indispensable for the aspiring MENA entrepreneur.

BDL Accelerate 2016’s theme is “Innovation: Intrapreneurship VS Entrepreneurship”, showcasing innovations by enterprises (intrapreneurship) and startups (entrepreneurship) alike, highlighting their different methods to innovation.

For more information on the event visit here. Apply here.

 

October 10th 2016, 4:20 am

Is there a way to create high quality startups in Kuwait?

ومضة

This is an edited crosspost with Nuwait.

We see plenty of buzz around the topic of startups in Kuwait.

The 2 billion Kuwaiti dinar fund (US$6.6 billion) has attracted worldwide media attention and rightly so - not many countries have committed this kind of money to entrepreneurship.

Having said that, the innovation ecosystem in Kuwait is a work in progress and needs careful nurturing from all stakeholders.

Where startups come from

In other countries startups could be spin-offs from larger companies where an employee, after working for several years, understands a domain inside out and spots an opportunity to set up a smaller, nimbler entity.

Examples are Okta, Zuora and Hearsay Social which came out of Salesforce; FlipKart, Hointer and Pro.com came from Amazon; Twitter, Foursquare and Factual were birthed by Google employees; and Nest, SITU and Android are Apple babies.

Top universities typically work at the very cutting edge of science, deepening our knowledge of the world and coming up with discoveries, for example in life sciences or renewable energy.

For instance just two universities, Stanford and MIT, have each added $2 trillion to the US economy though over a much longer period with startup companies based on university inventions, and transferring technology to existing companies. Such is the potential of high quality universities.

Universities (and sometimes large companies such as Qualcomm, PayPal, Microsoft) can also create fertile ground for startups by facilitating the learning and application of new technology platforms, for example the Internet of Things (IoT), quadcopters and bio-mimetic robotics.

By virtue of being the first in the world to get access to and tinker with these platforms, students and researchers are well positioned to develop real-world applications for them and start tech companies. We see several students dropping out of undergraduate or postgraduate studies to pursue these startup ideas.

The above scenarios largely do not apply in Kuwait, and a majority of countries in the world.

China is one of the few countries that has transitioned from an early stage ecosystem to a more advanced stage in the last decade, but China is uniquely positioned because of its authoritarian regime, which allows it to make large investments in incubators and seed funds quickly without taking these through democratic processes of consensus building and collective decisions.

China also has a large cash surplus from its manufacturing revenues.

How do the other countries ride the startup wave?

Other than a few notable exceptions, we see numerous copy-paste ideas of Uber, market aggregators, online ticketing and such.

There is nothing wrong in going after such ideas (entrepreneurship is all about creating value and profiting, both over the short term and long term), as long as the founders realize that it could be a short-lived opportunity and understand the limitations of scale and that the window of opportunity could close soon.

The reason why some of these opportunities are short-lived is that the market, which seems attractive, might mature and become better organized quickly, reducing the revenue potential. The more farsighted players in the ecosystem - namely the government, incubators and universities - have to plan for the long-term.

What tools do we need to build startups?

Tools are important for innovation and entrepreneurship.

Current programming languages, design software, microprocessor and microcontroller coding, 3D printing, PCB design and fabrication, and simulation software, must be widely disseminated with a sense of discovery and ‘tinkering’.

Good avenues for this are high schools, universities, makerspaces, competitions and conferences.

The human element is also very important. Many startup ideas are sparked when founders find themselves affected by a particular challenge. If the same problem/challenge affects enough people, and if the founders have the tools and the imagination to devise a solution, you have the basics for a startup.

How to seed startups

Coworking space Mefazec is trying its best to facilitate quality startups in Kuwait.

One way of defining a quality startup is a company that sustains for a significant period of time (over a decade), creates hundreds of jobs (which it can do if it is scalable), creates wealth for all stakeholders and contributes to the GDP growth of a country.

One powerful way to seed startups is to collide two different worlds.

Take programmers, engineers and designers on a fishing trawler to see first-hand the workflow of that operation, or take them to a hospital’s diagnostics center to see how hundreds of patients are handled or even to a farm at harvest time.

These experiences seed thought processes (sometimes called domain immersion) that lead to innovative products. For example, Practo, was born out of the frustration of booking doctors appointments.

The other equally important steps, like business planning, team building, finance, marketing, handling government regulations/rules, can be handled easily by supporting organizations such as incubators.

The main thing is to come upon an idea with ‘legs’ and follow through quickly.

Feature image via Nuwait.

October 10th 2016, 4:20 am

Reboot Beirut hackathon features seasoned student entrepreneurs

ومضة

Over the past decade, there have been countless news stories pointing to a rise of student entrepreneurship globally. Lebanon is no exception.

As dozens of students gathered for the Reboot Beirut hackathon at Lebanon’s American University of Beirut last month, many were already ahead of the game with startups of their own. Both Ghassan Oueidat, a mechanical engineering student, and Hadi Ayash, a computer and communications engineering student have developed products of their own. Oueidat is part of a team of engineers building a robot to climb facades and clean windows on high rise buildings. Their robot began as a course project and turned into a startup, titled Gravity. The second iteration of their robot is now being developed by the team and incubated at AUB’s Center for Research and Innovation.

Ayash started programming when he was 12 and one of his greatest achievements has been developing a game to educate children on mines. The game was adopted by the Lebanese Army and now used in several schools across southern Lebanon.  

But being a student entrepreneur comes at a cost to these students. Watch to hear Ayash and Oueidat discuss the challenges of balancing their businesses with their coursework.

October 10th 2016, 2:20 am

'VC association wanted, please call Egypt for more details' [Opinion]

ومضة

There is no doubt the Egyptian startup ecosystem is young. If the startups are young, the investors are as well.

As investors, we need to work more closely together to up our game and be the right partners not just for Egypt’s entrepreneurs, but for entrepreneurs all over the region.

This is my call to action for Egyptian investors to come together and put in place the seeds of a strong venture capital association that can help us take this industry forward.

Investor collaboration? Hisssss

Being a good investor is about being in the know, and being in the know can sometimes mean making sure others are not.

So when you talk about investor collaboration, especially in a young market, you’ll usually hear a lot of hissing. Investors can be catty, just in case you were wondering.

Collaboration is hard. It’s a long game that requires us to look beyond our immediate individual needs towards the long-term collective gain.

You will be a better investor individually if we as a group become better investors collectively.

There are four main pillars on which we as investors must collaborate in order to propel ourselves, Egypt and even the regional ecosystem forward:

Data: We need to share data with one another on our transactions and start building a database that we can all draw on when making investment decisions.

This data includes exit multiples, valuations and equity stakes. It will help us make better decisions and, later, better returns, and over time to create collective metrics for the industry which we can track. If we can show improved performance over time, it’ll be easier to attract investor money.

The National Venture Capital Association in the US does this quite well. They have an entire section dedicated to data and research including fundraising, exits, corporate venture capital and other industry-related statistics.

Legislation: The legislative environment in Egypt does not really recognize the type of transactions we make.

It’s time we took our needs to the government and lobbied as a group to change the legislative environment, and ultimately create an entrepreneurship ecosystem that is based here and not in the British Virgin Islands or Delaware.

In Delaware, business friendly legislation and preferential tax systems have made the state the off-shore home to roughly 285,000 companies including Apple, Coca Cola and Google. With Stripe rolling out its Atlas program that benefits from the state’s business friendly legislation, startups are now flocking to register in Delaware. It’s a testament to how simple legislation can help grow an economy. We need better legislation, period.

Regulation: Shouldn’t there be rules around what makes an investor an investor? Shouldn’t there be certain regulations one must adhere to? What about ensuring certain best practices and a code of conduct?

There is no better regulation than self-regulation, programs like ISO which are business to business programs have effectively become a standard because customers now not only require them, they also expect them.

If we take the initiative to self-regulate, it will be easier to work with legislators and the government in the future. We would have a track record and evidence of successful self-regulation and even if they want to take it off our hands, we will have had a chance to shape it and create a strong position from which to start the conversation.  

The British Venture Capital Association (BVCA) is an example of an institution that works to self-regulate, or at the very least, shares best practices with its members. The BVCA’s Responsible Investment Advisory Group provides advice to its members to help them incorporate responsible investment considerations into their decisions. The BVCA even provides training to the industry and foundation courses for those interested in working in Venture Capital.

Outreach: We have an obligation as investors to educate international investors on Egypt’s and the region’s ecosystem and the opportunities they present.  

Working together to neutrally educate international investors can make it easier for us as investors to raise capital not just for ourselves, but also for our startups when they’re looking to raise capital for follow-on rounds.

It can also help us find exit opportunities for our investments and help us free up some more resources to make those riskier investments international investors don’t want to make until a little later in the game.

The US based Emerging Market Private Equity Association for example does this type of work and helps support members interested in investing in emerging markets with data, research, networking and advocacy. The Egyptian Private Equity Association could be an excellent partner for any outreach initiatives.

Collaboration by Association

That’s all great! How do we do it? That’s easy, we need our very own Egyptian Venture Capital Association (ideally something regional, but let’s start somewhere).

We need to make sure the ‘EVCA’, is sustainable, effective and neutral if it has any chance of survival. Each one of those objectives is linked and one is not possible without the other.

The most important ingredient of creating an entity that would bring us all together is neutrality.

It’s something that is absolutely necessary for the free sharing of data amongst investors, and probably the single most important reason for having a venture capital association.

The EVCA will need to hire the right people for the job who are dedicated to the mission, and are able to focus all their attention on it not do it in their spare time. For this, we need funding.

Funding is the key to the overall sustainability of the EVCA. It’s not just for the sake of hiring the right people, but to allow the EVCA to perform its duties independent of its members and of donations that may sway priorities.

For this I suggest a fixed annual membership fee which can become a necessary stamp for doing business as an investor in Egypt. It can be designed and promoted to entrepreneurs as a quality guarantee that assures them that members of the EVCA adhere to a certain code of conduct.

Eventually making membership a legal requirement for local investors who wish to invest in Egypt will help the EVCA create a unified front. Much like some lawyer Bar Associations members or investors could risk losing their membership if they don’t follow the rules of say data sharing or the code of conduct and then, possibly, their ability to invest in Egyptian startups.

Making membership a prerequisite to a fund’s ability to invest is a necessary feature for collaboration on lobbying for legislation and something that will allow the EVCA to speak on behalf of its members who will then by default represent the entire industry. An industry-elected board for the EVCA should also be introduced to maintain the association’s legitimacy when it says it acts in the industry’s best interests.

This, my fellow investor, is my call to action to you. If you wish to be a part of this and want to help achieve this, do get in touch. After all, we need to collaborate in order to start collaborating.

Feature image via Wamda

October 9th 2016, 7:20 am

Arabnet Kuwait draws crowds, demands action

ومضة

Entrepreneurship is a top priority for Kuwait’s power brokers who are spending a lot of money on developing an ecosystem, yet only a handful of local entrepreneurs showed up to the city’s first Arabnet conference.

The event, held over October 4-5, drew around 500 people, with a high number of exhibitors coming from Cairo and Lebanon. The exhibition featured around ten startups, less than half of them were from Kuwait.

Attention everyone. (Images via Reine Farhat)

Kuwait is focusing on entrepreneurship as a way to diversify its economy, a need that has been emphasized by the drop in oil prices since 2014, which caused a $15 billion drop in government revenue in the 2015 fiscal year. Kuwait relies on oil for 93.6 percent of its income.

The country launched a 2 billion Kuwaiti dinar fund (US$6.6 billion) to support small and medium enterprises, developed the Nuwait platform to raise awareness and has been very conscious of supporting entrepreneurs.

Things are looking up. BECO Capital CEO Dany Farha said during a panel on attracting foreign investment the past ten years were proof that the business environment in Kuwait and the GCC was relying less on traditional sectors and more on tech.

“The top companies were mainly banks and oil,” said Farha. “Now, the pipeline of IPOs for 2015 and 2014 is really healthy in tech.”

Money was on people’s minds

With the basic startup infrastructure in place, Kuwait companies are now beginning to attract investors.

But this has uncovered a problem area the government hadn’t been able to fix yet, of regulation, said BECO Capital CEO Dany Farha in a panel on attracting foreign investment.

“We made our first investment in Kuwait, it was painful. It took us 6 months to do it,” Farha said. “We can get it done but policies are important.”

Farha asked the government to create a bankruptcy law and apply the ‘prudent man’ rule to protect investors from shady, risky or poor investments.

The UAE recently passed a bankruptcy law they hoped would encourage foreign investments and ease of business.

“These are two elements that helped the US become a better place for businesses,” said Farha.

Arzan VC partner Hasan Zainal on the other hand saw a different need, for large corporations to start getting involved.

“There is a lot exits [in the US] because Google, Apple and Facebook acquire a lot of startups,” he told Wamda. “Why don’t Zain and others acquire startups and work with them instead of competing with them?”

Hasan Zainal from Arzan VC talking about big company acquisitions.

In a rich country, what do entrepreneurs really need?

In a country that has 10 percent of the world’s oil reserves and with GDP of $73,246 dollars per capita, fundraising may not always matter in the early stages of a business.

Yet once startups grow and become profitable and start seeking bigger investments, Wamda has noted that many founders get stuck in the first seed round and can’t find follow-on funding.“Founders need to do their due diligence before approaching us,” said Zainal.

And if you managed to get too much money, Middle East Venture Partners managing partner Ihsan Jawad thinks “you might spend it in the wrong places”.

Arabnet tackled Kuwait’s digital entrepreneurship, discussing the period that came after the launch of the National Fund for SME Development, which spurred the launch of other smaller support groups like coworking spaces, incubators and accelerators.

October 9th 2016, 3:20 am

Nestrom and how to feed the next two billion

ومضة

Over half a century ago, the introduction of pesticides and modified irrigation systems helped save one billion people from famine, producing food for an increasing world population.

However, what was then an unprecedented innovation, is now insufficient to feed the increasing levels of global hunger.

It is estimated by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) that by 2050, an extra two billion people will need to be fed. That would require raising the overall food production by around 70 percent between 2005-07 and 2050. Production in the developing countries would need to almost double, according to the report.

Yousef Wadi is among the many global entrepreneurs who have taken on the challenge of innovating agriculture. Wadi is the founder of Nestrom, an agri-tech IoT management system that automates the monitoring of farms in order to maximize the yield, efficiency and profitability of production.

“The only way we are going to [exponentially raise food production] is through hydroponics and aeroponics which unfortunately cannot do everything because many crops don't respond... so we need to make our farms more efficient,” said Wadi. Urgency and relevance were the most important factors in identifying which markets to tap into, he added.

Yousef Wadi. (Image via Twitter)

Nestrom: How it works

Since his resignation from Arabia Weather in July, Wadi has been developing Nestrom to facilitate smart farm management through precision farming.

The idea is based on the importance of collecting and analyzing data around the variables affecting crop yields in order to improve production.

“I chose something that the market obviously requires, needs and is understood by the client,” he said.

The system works through positioning a number of sensors across a farm that pick up information from the soil and air, such as salinity, moisturization and pH. This data is then collected and dumped at the nearest internet point, where it is shared on the cloud and sent to the farmer through their phone or laptop.

For example, Nestrom would allow farmers to identify which pipes are blocked and quickly fix them. The technology would also be used to discover which areas need better irrigation. Trends derived from this data hope to eventually reduce human error and increase productivity with minimal time and resources.  

Arrival of competition

After Wadi and his cofounders Zaid Farekh and Kanaan Manasrah had spent four months developing their product, they were taken aback by Verizon’s release of a similar product.  

“We couldn’t have predicted it because there was no PR, no one was talking about it,” said Wadi. But the news did not demotivate the founders. Instead, it helped them to validate their own work.

“We now know we were not wrong to build [Nestrom]...,” said Wadi, confirming that his business is catering to a massive market.

The company follows a B2B model, targeting farm management companies. “There are many agricultural companies that eventually will require this technology. If they don’t have it in-house, they will soon acquire it,” he said.

Nestrom is an agri-tech IoT management system that automates the monitoring of farms in order to maximize the yield, efficiency and profitability of production. (Image via Pexels)

Benefits of technology in farming

Although Wadi is looking to bigger MENA markets such as the GCC and Turkey to tap into, he recently signed an agreement with Jordanian date farm Medjool Village to test his product.

“Incorporating technology into the farming sector is important because it gives us accurate details and results about irrigation and soil… which in turn, minimizes errors in improving the produce,” said Medjool Village farm manager Yazan Nabulsi.

Before introducing Nestrom into his project, Nabulsi usually monitored the quality of the soil and other important factors by employing a third party company that made manual measurements, and returned with the results two days later. With Nestrom, the data is updated automatically and is provided in realtime.

Big farms require customized care to different sections of the land as each section possesses different qualities such as soil salinity. The data processed by IoT on Nestrom will allow Nabulsi and others to differentiate between the needs of each sector.

Omar Gammoh, owner of Gammoh Dates Farm, believes that introducing automation is important in reducing human error. He sites the death of several trees at his farm due to the inconsistencies of the farmers, which would not be a problem with automation.

Technology’s role in agriculture is not limited to management and monitoring but can be extended to the act of farming. Examples of this include Jordanian Abdel Rahman Alzorgan’s invention of an integrated automatic irrigation system that protects crops against frost. Other examples include farming machine Farmbot and Japan’s first robot run farm.

“Farms are becoming more like factories: tightly controlled operations for turning out reliable products, immune as far as possible from the [fluctuations] of nature,” a 2016 Economist report noted.

While replacing humans with machines is a controversial topic, the farmer’s intuition and old machinery are no longer sufficient in the face of this century’s increasing demand for food.

October 9th 2016, 2:20 am
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