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KBW Ventures invests in US-based Memphis Meats

Wamda

UAE-based KBW Ventures,  the venture capital (VC) firm founded by Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed, son of Saudi Arabia billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal,  has invested in a $161 million Series B for US-based cell-based meat, poultry and seafood company Memphis Meats. The round was led by SoftBank Group, Norwest and Temasek, and was joined by other new and existing investors including Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Threshold Ventures, Cargill, Tyson Foods, Finistere, Future Ventures, Kimbal Musk, Fifty Years, CPT Capital and Vulcan Capital.

Memphis Meats plans to use the funding to build a pilot production facility, continue to grow its team and launch its products into the market. The company has not yet announced a date for product launch, and is working with regulatory agencies to ensure a timely and safe market entry.

“We are excited to welcome these investors into our Big Tent,” said Uma Valeti, co-founder and

chief executive officer (CEO) of Memphis Meats. “Memphis Meats is revolutionising how meat is brought to every table around the world. We are providing compelling and delicious choices by producing real meat from animal cells, its natural building blocks. Cell-based meat is poised to dramatically expand humanity’s capacity to feed a growing global population while preserving our culinary traditions and protecting our planet.”

The funding round is considered to be the largest ever investment in the cell-based meat industry, enabling Memphis Meats to bring its products to consumers. To date, the company has raised more than $180 million in total funding.

“The reality is that conventional production methods for meat can't keep up with global demand, which is expected to double by 2050. Cell-based meat addresses this issue while offering enormous potential to improve the environment and have a positive impact on food safety and animal welfare,” said Priti Youssef Choksi, partner at Norwest Venture Partners.  “Memphis Meats is on a mission to serve up real meat without the compromise. We are thrilled to partner with this visionary team.”

The VC recently invested in Singapore-based TurtleTree Labs, a biotechnology company that uses technology to create real milk from animal cells.

January 23rd 2020, 6:04 am

Bahrain: The challenge of staying competitive

Wamda

As any startup will attest, agility and quick response to market demand is key to survival. The same can be applied to other stakeholders in the startup ecosystem. As the Middle East and North Africa’s capital cities scramble to establish entrepreneurship hubs, the competition has intensified, particularly for the smaller nations whose budgets do not match the deep pockets of some of their neighbour’s.

In the midst of decrees and announcements, Bahrain has managed to establish a business environment that the Milken Institute believes will position the country as a “major hub for finance, technology and innovation”.

Since 2015, foreign direct investment (GDI) has increased from 0.2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) to 4 per cent in 2018. The number of firms in the private sector has increased by 50 per cent alongside a 30 per cent rise in the number of jobs in the private sector according to data from the Labour Market Regulatory Authority. According to Milken’s report, micro, small and medium-sized enterprises account for 30 per cent of GDP.

Fuelling this growth has been Bahrain's geographic position and its proximity to Saudi Arabia. providing easy access to the region's largest market. But now that the Kingdom has embraced entrepreneurship and has pushed through several agendas and government initiatives to encourage foreign investment, Bahrain risks losing its competitive edge. 

We spoke with Pakiza Abdulrahman, manager of startups at the Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB), a government agency tasked with attracting investment and supporting private sector growth.

EDB’s Startup Bahrain initiative has been instrumental in encouraging entrepreneurship, but how much involvement should the government have?

Governments should play an enabling role and not lead the innovation agenda. We want to enable the ecosystem to sit together and collaborate and bring to the table the most important matters that we as regulators should fix and improve.

Bahrain is strategically positioning itself as a gateway to the global market, particularly for Egyptian and Mena-based startups. We have very close proximity to the largest market in the Middle East [Saudi Arabia]. Our mandate is to diversify the economy, attract FDI and create jobs that are in line with the knowledge economy and Bahrain’s 2030 Vision.

Saudi is a huge market to navigate, it is easier to come in as a GCC-based operation. What we try to do in Bahrain, is to focus on incentives and benefits that are provided to startups setting up in the country. We don’t have a freezone area, the whole country is open to 100 per cent foreign ownership.

As our strategic position with the East and West, we’re positioning ourselves for different niches.

What are these niches?

Fintech, IOT [internet of things], e-commerce, logistics. Game development and publishing has been something really big for Bahrain recently. The calibre [of talent] in the country is high, they’re bilingual, tech savvy, they know the culture of Saudi and the Middle Eastern market and we have high mobile penetration.

Where are the startups that set up in Bahrain from?

The majority of startups are coming from the UK, South East Asia, India, Singapore and the Middle East, from Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt. Companies from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are also coming. It is 30-40 per cent cheaper to set up here than in the UAE. It is a 50:50 ratio split of Bahraini and resident founders of startups and foreign companies.

Amazon chose Bahrain to launch its Amazon Web Services (AWS), what impact has that had?

The Amazon impact has been huge, it gives testament to the strong ICT infrastructure in Bahrain, the connectiveness with other data centres globally, it gives testament of the eagerness of the government to move to the cloud. We have a cloud-first policy, all government entities have to be on the cloud, that created huge hype in the country and pushed the private sector banks that were reluctant to go on the cloud. It has also opened up a huge opportunity for local talent to be upskilled.

Saudi Arabia is embracing entrepreneurship, how can Bahrain maintain its advantage as a gateway to the country?

We’re a small market, we need to be very creative and strategic in the way we tackle this challenge. We have been doing so by opening up to global markets, empowering education among different sections in the ecosystem, whether it's youngsters or early retirees from government programmes with ideas and skills they need to be directed. This is what we do at Startup Bahrain – we keep the momentum and rooting back to the single platform that gives you all of this – it is community driven we back it up and it grows as the community grows. We do a lot of roundtables to listen to the startups and try to shape up the market and shape up the regulation as they need.

Markets in KSA and UAE are huge and saturated as well, sometimes for South Korean companies and Asian and Arab-based companies, they find it hard to navigate. At EDB, we handhold startups and accelerators throughout the whole process of registration, ensuring they come out of it with meaningful relationships and introduce them to key decision makers.

 

 

 

January 22nd 2020, 7:55 pm

Abu Dhabi Investment Office invests $16.3 million in several startups

Wamda

Source: Zawya

The Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) today announced AED 60 million of investment in the latest batch of startups and fund managers applying to its Ventures Fund. The recipients, Securrency, TruKKer, Sarwa, YACOB and Okadoc, are innovation-focused companies that are either based in Abu Dhabi or expanding into the emirate. ADIO also signed its first investment in a venture capital firm, UAE based Global Ventures.

ADIO’s Ventures Fund opened in May 2019, as an initiative of the Abu Dhabi Government’s Ghadan 21 accelerator programme. The fund is supporting the growth of Abu Dhabi’s startup and venture capital ecosystem by increasing access to capital and stimulating the number of high skilled jobs in the UAE capital’s growing technology sector.

Continue reading this story 

 

January 22nd 2020, 4:08 pm

Sarwa raises $8.4 million in Series A

Wamda

Source: The National

Sarwa, a Dubai-based low-cost robo-advisory platform, will open a second office in Abu Dhabi as part of a wider GCC expansion, after securing $8.4 million (Dh31m) in Series A funding from investors.

The funding round was led by Kuwait Projects Company, also known as Kipco, which has consolidated assets of more than $30 billion, with other leading investors including the Dubai International Financial Centre, Abu Dhabi Investment Office, Vision Ventures from Saudi Arabia and Hambro Perks from the UK.

Sarwa said the latest funding, which will fund its market expansion to Abu Dhabi and the wider GCC along with the growth of its tech and advisory teams and regulatory upgrades, is a “meaningful milestone” for the FinTech sector, as it is the first time a regional investment group has collaborated with a regional FinTech.

“The coming together of a large institution that understands how to build leading asset managers, with the first licensed FinTech out here sets a great example for the region,” said Mark Chahwan, chief executive and co-founder of Sarwa.

Continue reading this story 

January 22nd 2020, 6:30 am

Fodel raises seven-figure investment

Wamda

Source: MenaBytes

Dubai-based last-mile delivery startup Fodel (which stands for Forward Delivery) has raised an investment from Dubai Cultiv8, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Mohammed Bin Rashid Fund for SMEs, the investment firm announced in a statement without disclosing the size of the investment.

Soumia Benturquia, the founder and CEO of Fodel, has confirmed to MENAbytes that it is a seven-figure USD deal. Dubai Cultiv8 last year had invested in three startups with the average ticket size at $2 million so it would be safe to assume that they’ve invested a similar amount in Fodel as well.

We could not confirm but the investment is apparently part of Fodel’s Series A as the startup had raised its $2.6 million Pre-Series A in March 2019.

Soumia founded Fodel in 2018 to provide online shoppers the option to collect their parcels any time they want from one of its partner merchant stores. The startup currently has 1,000 pick-up and drop off (PUDO) locations in its network which includes gas stations, groceries, pharmacies, and stores from other categories that open until midnight or in some cases 24/7.

Ecommerce platforms using Fodel enable their customers to choose from different pick-up points at the time of order, track the delivery and collect their parcel whenever they like to after it arrives at the pick-up point. The customers also have an option to pay by cash on these pick-up points for their orders.

Continue reading this story

January 20th 2020, 3:52 am

Lorryz raises $1.4 million in seed funding

Wamda

Source: MenaBytes

Dubai-based online freight marketplace Lorryz has raised $1.4 million in a seed round, it told MENAbytes today. The investment came from Emirates Investment and Development Center and i-Cell Telecom Group.

Founded last year by Adnan Ahmad, Lorryz connects cargo owners with truckers (both individuals and companies), allowing them to book trucks to move their cargo in the United Arab Emirates & Pakistan.

Adnan Ahmad, the founder and CEO of Lorryz comes from a liner shipping and logistics background with over fifteen years of experience in the industry. Prior to starting Lorryz, he was serving as a Senior Vice President of Global Feeders, a Dubai-based shipping company with operations across the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Adnan had started his career as a master mariner and left the sea after ten years of service.

For truck drivers and transportation companies, the startup says, it helps with lead generation and eliminating waste at backhaul by matching demand with supply, providing more business and improving carbon footprint.

In the United Arab Emirates, Lorryz is offering its services to businesses only, helping them ship their cargo within the country and overseas in Saudi. In Pakistan, Lorryz is currently running a pilot of B2C services allowing individuals to book trucks for moving heavy items.

Lorryz’ app (that’s available for both Android and iOS), the startup claims, offers real-time tracking (for cargo owners to track their shipment), instant pricing. The startup also offers operational dashboard reports for both cargo owners and truckers.

Continue reading this story

January 20th 2020, 3:22 am

KBW Ventures invests in Singapore-based TurtleTree Labs

Wamda

KBW Ventures, the venture capital (VC) firm founded by Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed, son of Saudi Arabia billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, has invested in the pre-seed funding round for Singapore-based TurtleTree Labs, a biotechnology company that uses technology to create real milk from animal cells.The round was also joined by K2 Global and Lever VC. The amount of the funding was not disclosed.

“The seed funding will be used to further build out the company’s scientific team and to create additional prototypes. TurtleTree Labs plans to publicly debut the world’s first cultivated milk products in the spring,” said Max Rye, chief strategist at TurtleTree Labs.   

The startup is the world's first milk company using cell cultivation to create the full nutritional content of milk using just mammary cells, with no animal needed. The end product is the same as human breast milk and cow milk and will be sold as a food product.

“KBW Ventures’ interest in TurtleTree stems from both the team vision and the company’s strategic approach to the future of food using stem cell technology. Having spent time with the founding team in Singapore, we have a lot of confidence in TurtleTree’s progress as a biotech company and in the direction they are taking from a business perspective,” said Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) at KBW Ventures.

The VC recently invested in US-based pet food company Bond Pet Foods which uses biotechnology to make animal-free and protein-rich pet food through a fermentation process.

January 20th 2020, 2:52 am

The trials of operating an e-commerce business in Lebanon

Wamda

Philippe Abdeni is the chief operating officer at Bellamysworld, an e-commerce platform founded in 2003 in Lebanon for high-end luxury goods including jewellery, furniture and art 

The e-commerce sector in Lebanon has been growing rapidly, with more and more businesses setting up shop online. With simplified solutions now available, the process of creating an online store may seem like a simple feat. However, running an e-commerce business, especially out of Lebanon, can be one of the trickiest tasks. There are daily lessons to be learned, and many factors to be provisioned for, in order for the business to take off. 

The world has gone digital, and more and more customers are going online to gather information and make purchases. Today, more than ever, both small and large retailers are eyeing the potential of the e-commerce sphere. The necessity to be online is clear and can no longer be deemed a luxury.

When we set up the Bellamysworld.com website back in 2010, we were one of the first companies in Lebanon to have an e-commerce store. We opted to do it from scratch, build our own website and features, as there weren’t any streamlined solutions that existed at the time. Our industry, namely antiques, luxury goods, art and high-end accessories, added a layer of challenges, tied to positioning the company. As is the case for most e-commerce businesses, in order to scale, one must look abroad and try to capture an international audience. The local marketplace, especially for high-end products, offers limited growth opportunities.

The Challenges

For any business owner, setting up a company in Lebanon and focusing on online channels to drive sales, is a challenge in its own right. The recent and ongoing crisis that shook Lebanon has exemplified the challenges for us as a business; a sentiment shared by most industries.

A key obstacle one faces, when selling to an international audience is to facilitate payments through the site. Digital payment solutions are integral for purchases to be completed in a seamless and secure manner. In the current situation in Lebanon, payments received from local and international clients get channeled into local bank accounts, which limit your ability to make payments and purchase new products to sell online. Therefore, this is a factor that must be provisioned for. Understanding the markets’ needs allows you to manage your stocks efficiently.

Running an international e-commerce website that deals with antiques and art, also required us to create strong affiliations and partnerships with international experts and bodies, to reaffirm our credibility as a company.

Overcoming the Challenges

To overcome these challenges, we sought to change our mindset and seek opportunities instead.

Firstly, with regards to payments, any e-commerce business run out of Lebanon, should have international payment gateways listed on the site. PayPal is an ideal option, but requires an international entity with a bank account. There are local solutions that are slowly growing in size, yet having an international payment gateway creates a layer of trust, especially when selling to a global audience.  

Seeing that the local client base in the realm of arts and antiques, was quite limited, we had to tackle this issue in two ways. First, we ensured that part of our offering included expert services and content through consultations, our website and social media channels. Such offerings created a bond with art and antiques enthusiasts from all over the world. Secondly, we started targeting key markets abroad, interested in arts and antiques. With the tools we have at hand now, from Google Analytics to Facebook Pixels, e-commerce business owners can identify which markets are most interested in what is being sold, and target them accordingly. 

However, from experience, we were also quite surprised to see some unexpected clients visit our site, and make a purchase, from countries ranging from Thailand to the Fiji Islands. We hear this often from entrepreneurs in Lebanon – that some of their biggest markets, are ones they never thought of.

Having a strong website, a great user experience, extending excellent customer service, and a unique product offering, widens up prospects to clients that you can sell to. A reliable shipping company, as a partner, has proven to be greatly important. With trusted shipping companies, any shipping and return policies can be clearly shared, and the faster the client receives the package, the better. This has been a strong advantage for Bellamysworld.com

When we first set up the online store, the understanding of search engine optimisation (SEO) and digital marketing were in their primal years. Focusing on the website’s SEO, and using digital marketing tools, such as remarketing, Google Ads and ads on social media, has greatly boosted visibility. It is important to continue to track engagement levels and adapt the strategy of the brand accordingly. All technological components need to seamlessly come together to create an optimal client journey.

However, after years of e-commerce experience, we realised what matters most to clients are exceptional services and the personal touch. When running an e-commerce business, the interaction with the client is at a minimum, so creative ways to communicate your brand can come in handy. So, when your next shipment is dispatched, add a note to it, and see how far it goes. 

January 19th 2020, 8:00 pm

Shorooq Partners leads seed round for QuickBus

Wamda

UAE-based Shorooq Partners has led the seed funding round for Kenya-based online marketplace ticketing system QuickBus. Shrooq Partners was also joined by a number of other investors including EchoVC and the Oman Technology Fund (OTF). The size of the investment has not been disclosed.  

QuickBus allows users to see reviews for different buses in Africa and book their seats online through its mobile application. 

“When you book a bus, you should know more than the price and the destination, you should also know more about the experience you’re going to have. That’s how it is in other parts of the world and Africa shouldn’t be any different,” said Humphrey Wrey, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of QuickBus. 

The startup currently operates in Kenya, Uganda, and Angola. It has also secured partnerships in a further seven major markets across the continent and is aiming to cover most of the sub-Saharan Africa region within three years. 

 “Having grown up and operated businesses in the region I have experienced first-hand that the opportunity in the long-distance mobility space in Africa is massive and having seen this segment disrupted in other emerging markets we were actively studying the East African market to see who was leading the way. This is when we met QuickBus and its strong management team, which made us firm believers in their ability to execute and dominate this space,” said Kunal Savjani Partner at Shorooq Partners.

January 16th 2020, 4:38 am

Dubai Council launches Dubai Future District and $272 million fund

Wamda

Source: Mubasher

Dubai is set to launch a new stock market and a AED 1 billion ($272,265,200) fund to support new-economy companies, which have the potential to boost the emirate's future growth, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, crown prince of Dubai and chairman of Dubai Executive Council, said in a tweet on Tuesday.

In addition, the Executive Council of Dubai has launched the Dubai Future District as the Middle East’s largest future economy-focused district, Al Maktoum added.

The new district will feature future economy research centre as well as business incubators and accelerators, he highlighted.

Moreover, a team has been created to develop a new logistical and legislative framework in order to achieve the emirate’s target of non-oil foreign trade of AED 2 trillion by 2025.

January 16th 2020, 2:52 am

Wamda X second cohort launches with 13 promising startups

Wamda

Wamda, the region's leading ecosystem enabler, has announced the list of fellows and startups joining the second cohort of its grant-based fellowship programme, Wamda X.

The Wamda X programme is designed to support budding entrepreneurs and pre-seed stage startups by offering them access to the Wamda platform of mentors, industry experts, and company founders, in addition to a financial grant of $30,000. The first cohort of the programme ran in February 2019 and graduated two startups, SafarPass and Caravan, that went on to raise subsequent funding.

The current programme received 650 applications of which 43 per cent of applicants had a market-ready product.

"The diversity and maturity of applicants says a lot about the changing landscape of the startup ecosystem across the Middle East and North Africa region," said Sarah Abu Risheh, who is leading the programme at Wamda. "We are happy to see substantial representation from the UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Turkey.”

Prospective fellows going through to the in-person interview process are selected based on their industry experience and their approach to identifying and solving market inefficiencies. The interviews are conducted by Wamda team leaders alongside a select group of mentors who are active in the region’s startup community.

"The fellows selected for the cohort have proven track records and sophisticated expertise in their respective fields. They are developing solutions to address challenges within industries such as financial services, sports tech, Software as a Service (SaaS), and food tech among others, which is a reflection of the rising trends we are observing in the market today," said Abu Risheh.

The fellows joining the second cohort of Wamda X are the following:

Bid 365 – Theresa Wernery
Bid 365 is a B2B e-procurement reverse auction portal with integrated invoice financing.
 
Connect – She-Earl Francis
Connect is a recruitment platform focusing on blue-collar employees. It provides employers the ability to post jobs requiring specific skillsets and allows job seekers the ability to search for jobs relevant to their expertise.
 
FunDokBassel Kabbabe, Mohamed Nassar
FunDok is an interactive digital cloud based platform working with short term rental operators to give their guests access to a wide array of added value services to enrich their stay and local experience.
 
HoloArran Summerhill, Michael Hunter
Holo is the first web-based digital mortgage advice and application platform in the UAE. The Holo platform selects an optimum mortgage product for a customer based on their personal requirements. The application can be done quickly and simply, 24/7 from any connected device.
 
iRecruiterKamal Al-Samarrai
iRecruiter is a global recruitment marketplace connecting employers to vetted experienced remote recruiters to save time and money on recruitment.
 
LooplayNazih Saade, Edmond Yazbeck
Looplay is a video streaming technology service for sports venues and facilities targeting amateur and youth sports players. Using the Looplay mobile app players, coaches and parents can watch their games and training, clip their highlights and share them on social media from any device, anywhere, anytime.
 
Lunchz – Marisha Rawling
Lunchz is a platform providing nutritious meals to primary school children during their school day.
 
Maia Network – Hamzeh Kolaghassi
Maia Network aims to become a leader in providing innovative financing solutions; including capital raising and secondary-market trading.
 
Njano – Houssem Aoudi, Ons Hamza
Njano is a cloud-based flexible office management solution that helps managers focus on developing their space through facilitating their tasks and centralising their information while helping users learn more about their space and easily communicate.
 
Simply New CarsAdam Whitnall
Simply New Cars provides new car buyers with everything they need to discover, compare, and unlock the best deals for every new car in the UAE.
 
SubsbaseMohamed Farag
Subsbase is a subscribers lifecycle management and billing platform for subscription-based businesses.
 
WhatscooknCarlos Tibi
Whatscookn provides home-cooked meals to the masses through a network of chefs.
 
YanzoTarek Osman
Yanzo is a conversational commerce platform, a one-stop-shop for all products and services on Whatsapp. Yanzo will get it done by offering options and execute them only through texting.

Additionally, the programme will also welcome Cameron Kerr, a seasoned professional who previously managed a profit and loss (P&L) of over $15 million revenue per annum and 100+ team members. Kerr will be exploring different opportunities across the digital space as he embarks on his entrepreneurial journey through the programme.

 

January 15th 2020, 8:45 pm

Security: Is it time for startups to grow up?

Wamda

Alexander Moiseev is the chief business officer at security firm, Kaspersky

Leading entrepreneurship magazines are filled with stories about how people started their businesses and quickly achieved success — turning their business from a hobby or a quick and dirty idea into an actual small company. From being a chef to founding a food startup or from working in an office as a software developer to developing their own service, or from a young mother to an owner of an online store, people can dramatically transform their careers.

Transformation from individual entrepreneurship, which is often a hobby, to a real business, occurs so quickly that sometimes newly successful business leaders do not even have time to realise the gravity of their new status. I noticed this when talking with guys from our Innovation hub — Kaspersky’s dedicated department where we scout internal and external innovative startups. They see themselves as entrepreneurs, but not yet the users of full-fledged business services (for example, messaging, videoconferencing, collaboration cloud services and storage).

The line between the two states is indeed very thin. However, if new business leaders become aware of their new status, they can make their lives much easier, solving business problems faster and more effectively.

IKEA for Business

Here is a very clear example of how this can be done. Let’s use the story of Wendy and Peter. Peter works as a cook, and in his free time, he experiments with healthy desserts and sells them through his Instagram account. Wendy works as a consultant in a large firm and dreams of exchanging the office routine for something more exciting. Once Peter and Wendy know they can rely on each other’s support, why not step into the wonderful unknown world of running their own small business? After thinking it over, they decide that their resources and skills are great for opening a small café with trendy healthy desserts and drinks in a busy city neighborhood. A new business captures their imagination and they feel like pioneers who have to go to accomplish their goal.

The business plan was written, the documents were ready, the menu was drawn up, and the right space had been found. It was time to buy furniture, accessories and utensils to turn their new space into a lovely café, so they visit IKEA. They entered as new business owners, striving to fill their store with new products. After having thought through the design and choosing the right products on the retailer’s website, they go around the store for a long time with their trolley, picking up cups, spoons, chairs, plants. They wasted precious hours doing this, and for entrepreneurs who occasionally combine several jobs in one at the start of business, this lost time is extremely valuable.

The fact is that IKEA has a special service — IKEA Business, which works with companies and simplifies their purchasing tasks. Through this service, as a business owner, you can choose a finished interior or individual products, order delivery and installation, and even do it all on credit. A ritual passage through the IKEA exhibition halls is not necessary; everything can be done online, saving time and effort, which means money for new business. But neither Peter nor Wendy paid attention to this service, and chose a less effective, longer journey.

Cybersecurity for Maturing Businesses

The characters in this story are fictional, and any chance that this has happened to real people is just a coincidence, but it illustrates the trend that we found among small businesses, including our customers who use consumer tools instead of special offerings for business.

We interviewed nearly 700 companies with less than 50 employees around the world, and 25 per cent of them admitted that they use products for home use to protect their business from cyber threats. This confirms what we see through our sales analytics as well — consumer IT security products are purchased by businesses, and the share of these sales is remarkable, it is not about several occasional cases per year. Basically, these are companies that consist of several people, some of which have just recently left individual entrepreneurship, and some have had their business for some time already, with three to 10 employees.

Perhaps this option seems easier, cheaper and faster for them. It is likely that they do not have full-time IT specialists, they do not need to set up special policies, analyse threat events or manage hundreds of devices. They just need to ‘set and forget’ their IT security for reasonable money. And it seems that a home-based product for family protection provides all they need.

What is Wrong with Consumer Protection?

Security tailored for consumers is a great thing and it is possible to use it for business protection. It is possible to protect several devices with one licence including PCs and mobile devices. However, it still lacks some features and can’t meet all business demands, even for small companies.

What if a company has 20 employees or is growing very fast and the number of employees is constantly rising? Then it suddenly needs several licences of a consumer product but a person who manages protection won’t be able to manage all the devices together. The business will not have the visibility it needs across all devices and the status of their protection. In addition, consumer products cannot be used for server protection, so file servers where a company normally stores all business data will not be safe.

Changing Mindsets

The use of inappropriate services and products, is not necessarily fatal for businesses. The key takeaway is that companies should realise they are actually businesses.

This means they need to consider everything from a point of view that benefits the company and ensures efficiencies. Companies must find optimal solutions to solving problems — whether it’s buying furniture for a restaurant or managing the logistics of order deliveries from a store in Tokyo to Copenhagen. These small steps into a big business will not harm progress, but, most likely, will help to save money and time. Moreover, a properly organised cyber-defence will help secure all these effective business processes and the results of entrepreneurial work.

January 15th 2020, 8:01 pm

Leap raises six figure seed funding

Wamda

Source: MenaBytes

Riyadh-based coffee pre-ordering startup Leap has raised six-figure (USD) seed funding, it told MENAbytes today without disclosing the exact size of the deal. The investment came from a Saudi angel investor.

Founded last year by a team of four Riyadh-based management consultants, Leap allows users to skip the wait time by pre-ordering their coffee from different cafes in Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam, and Khobar. The users can pickup their orders from Leap’s pickup stand when they get to the restaurant. They have the option to pay while making their order on the app or cash when they are picking up their order.

Leap’s app that’s available for both iOS and Android launched last year with a single cafe, Leap now has close to 50 cafes on its network including some international chains like Caribou Coffee.

The startup did not share the details about the number of transactions it’s processing but said it has almost 12,000 users.

Continue reading this story 

January 15th 2020, 3:12 pm

Group 42 acquires Bayanat

Wamda

Source: Emirates News Agency

Group 42, an Abu Dhabi-based artificial intelligence and cloud computing company, announced today that it has acquired Bayanat for Mapping and Surveying Services LLC, an end-to-end and customised geospatial data products and services provider.

Bayanat has been a leader in the geospatial domain since its launch in 2010, delivering various geospatial solutions and services, providing its clients with topographic, hydrographic and aeronautical products and charts, as well as spatial data surveying, analysis, management, modelling, visualisation and cartography services.

By purchasing the company, Group 42 aims to complement its suite of satellite-based solutions, leveraging its unparalleled expertise in data analytics and artificial intelligence techniques to offer disruptive products to its portfolio of clients.

Peng Xiao, CEO of Group 42, said, "As we welcome Bayanat into our ecosystem of companies, we believe their expertise in the geospatial domain will significantly contribute toward expanding and improving our product and service offering. This acquisition reflects G42’s continuous effort to deliver cutting-edge, AI-enabled solutions to the region, as it gives us access to technology, expertise and high-quality geographical data that will be used to nourish our algorithms further."

Continue reading this story

January 14th 2020, 9:21 am

Mubawab raises $7 million

Wamda

Morocco-based real estate platform Mubawab has raised $7 million funding from Emerging Markets Property Group (EMPG), a UAE-based real estate group.

Mubawab aims to use the investment to accelerate its growth and expand its team and operations in the real estate sector.

“I am proud of the group’s confidence in the project in Morocco in particular and in the Maghreb region in general. Mubawab is the first real estate website in Morocco thanks to a winning strategy that aims to support and satisfy all the involved parties in the Moroccoan real estate sector,” said Kevin Gormand, chief executive officer (CEO) and founder of Mubawab.

Founded in 2012, Mubawab provides several advertisements from individuals or professional groups through its online platform. Mubawab claims to have two million visits to its site per month and more than 150,000 active advertisements.

“The work that we have been doing for years, through the implementation of strategic and ambitious projects, has added a lot to the entire real estate sector. In the future, we will continue the innovation cycle that aims to develop the sector,” said Gormand. 

 

January 14th 2020, 8:10 am

Abu Dhabi invests in fintech blockchain start-up

Wamda

Source: Zawya

The Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) has invested in Securrency, a US-based developer of blockchain-based financial and regulatory technology through its ventures fund.

Tariq Bin Hendi, Director General at the Abu Dhabi Investment Office, said, “We are committed to supporting innovation-led businesses to establish and grow in the emirate of Abu Dhabi.

Securrency plans to use its Series A funding to advance its software and platform development, integrate with key strategic partners and other customers and build out its operational structure.

Continue reading this story 

January 14th 2020, 1:28 am

Saudi government to support up to 50 per cent of salaries in private sector

Wamda

Source: News1

The Human Resources Development Fund launched “Hadaf”, a campaign (# goal_ supports you), directed to private sector enterprises; to support the employment of Saudi and Saudi women within the recruitment support program to raise skills, in which the monthly wage support for the employee reaches 50%.

The Fund stated that private sector establishments can join the employment support program to raise skills and register in it by visiting the national work portal “TAQAT” www.taqat.sa, activating the “employment support programs” account from our list of programs, and then submitting job advertisement data after choosing the type of work “Employment support program to raise skills”, and raise it on the portal page so that researchers and job seekers can apply for the job, and in the fourth step after the completion of the employment phase, the facility will join the support program.

He pointed out the launch of new improvements to the support controls in the employment support program to raise the skills, as the improvements include amending the maximum wage of the subsidized employee from 10 thousand riyals to 15 thousand riyals, and abolishing the employee’s 90-day job cutout so that the job seeker is allowed to apply for jobs Advertised in the program, provided that the position is not in a facility that belongs to the same owner that he worked for.

The Human Resources Development Fund confirmed that the improvements during the past period came as a result of holding a number of workshops with several sectors in the labor market, and a number of chambers of commerce in various regions of the Kingdom, as well as listening to the notes of the fund’s comments and suggestions of business owners and beneficiaries of the program, as the fund seeks to benefit The sons and daughters of the country support the program, raise their participation rate in the labor market, and motivate private sector enterprises to qualify for localization and investment in human capital.

Continue reading this story 

January 13th 2020, 5:14 am

Could EDGE boost R&D in the UAE?

Wamda

Abu Dhabi is restructuring the UAE’s blossoming defence industry, placing many state-run companies within a single organisation and striking up alliances with various countries across the historical East-West military divide in moves that should nurture homegrown tech innovation.

For the past century or more, political instability has convulsed the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), and its governments today are embroiled in an arms race. The region’s military spending equated to 5.5 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018, the highest globally by that metric, according to the World Bank.

Historically, that has meant huge profits for the world’s major arms manufacturers such as the United States, Russia and Britain, but the UAE is increasingly taking defence spending in-house.

“The UAE wants to diversify its economy and build a local industry that decreases its dependence on oil,” says Jean-Loup Samaan, Associate Professor in Strategic Studies at the UAE National Defense College.

“There’s also the idea of building a knowledge-based economy – to localise the defence industry you have to get the in-country know-how to train future generations of Emirati engineers specialised in this field, for example.

“Ultimately, it’s also about strategic autonomy – the UAE probably looks at how other mid-ranking powers like Singapore have created a local defence industry that’s not completely autonomous, but which can play a role in some significant niches.”

In November, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, inaugurated EDGE, an Abu Dhabi-owned company that consolidates around 25 already-established businesses within a single conglomerate. These include Abu Dhabi Ship Building (ADSB), and Advanced Military Maintenance Repair and Overhaul Center (AMMROC), a joint venture with Lockheed Martin Corporation and Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin subsidiary.

EDGE aims to attract “elite industry experts and talent from around the globe, to help on a wide spectrum of modern product development,” according to a press statement announcing the company’s launch. EDGE, whose workforce numbers 12,000, has five core specialities - Platforms and Systems, Missiles and Weapons, Cyber Defence, Electronic Warfare and Intelligence, and Mission Support.

The fledgling conglomerate represents the latest in a series of industry reshuffles. In 2014, Abu Dhabi-owned Mubadala and Tawazun Holding launched Emirates Defence Industries Company (EDIC), which consolidated around a dozen government-owned companies within a single entity and is now part of EDGE.

“EDGE isn’t yet about new tech projects, but about the governance of multiple entities in the UAE that were focused on the military industry,” says Samaan.

“EDGE is an effort to streamline, to rationalise, to create one key actor that would be a world class player. Within EDGE’s sub-entities, none have yet to create any major platforms or weapons systems on their own – their projects were initially designed through cooperation frameworks with mostly Western companies.”

Abu Dhabi Ship Building (ADSB), for example, partnered with Constructions Mécaniques de Normandie to build six corvettes – the first was built in France, with the remaining vessels manufactured in the UAE.

“Maybe in the long term, EDGE will allow for indigenous products that will be based on true, localised innovation, but so far it’s more about governance,” says Samaan.

Some major UAE defence firms remain independent of EDGE. These include Calidus, which manufactures light-attack aircraft, and Aquila Aerospace, which modifies aircraft for spying, according to a report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

Abu Dhabi has also invested in foreign defence contractors. EDIC bought French ammunition maker Manurhin in 2018, while Mubadala raised its stake drone maker Piaggio Aerospace to 100 per cent in 2015, although the Italian company went into receivership after Mubadala last year withdrew its support and the UAE scrapped an order for eight drones.

“Another important element in the development of the UAE’s defence industry has been an increase in exports in order to try to achieve economies of scale,” Lucie Béraud-Sudreau, a

Research Fellow for Defence Economics and Procurement at IISS, wrote in a report.

This notes the UAE’s biggest arms export markets are Egypt, Jordan and Libya.

As well as acquiring foreign expertise, the UAE is seeking to nurture homegrown innovation. In February, Tawazun Economic Council launched a Dh2.5 billion ($681 million) Defence and Security Development Fund, which will focus on strategic technology investments and intellectual property, strengthening innovation and industrial capabilities, and developing SMEs and local companies. The fund will provide both investment and financing for third parties.

This “is significant, because it shows the UAE is really serious about deepening its role as a credible player in the military industrial field”, says Samaan.

The UAE strategy also tallies with a 2019 report by PwC highlighting how artificial intelligence, novel power systems, virtual reality, and robotics are becoming increasingly important to military innovation.

“Many of these latest breakthroughs and the most adaptable advances in these technologies are driven by and available not from aerospace and defence (A&D) companies, but from the innovation clusters that are expanding their influence in virtually every large global seat of power,’ PwC wrote.

“Over the foreseeable future, defence companies will continue to face increased competition from non-traditional commercial entrants, particularly in instances involving dual-use technologies. (A) pattern of newcomers slicing off pieces of business normally monopolised by defence contractors is not likely to abate anytime soon.”

Should the UAE succeed in creating military-first tech innovations, these could also have secondary commercial uses, much like how the US defence department entities created the internet, GPS, and the computer mouse.

“One of the UAE’s priorities is artificial intelligence, so things the country does in AI for military purposes could eventually have civilian uses as well,” says Samaan. “But the scale of the US military ecosystem can’t be replicated in the UAE.”

More pertinently, the model of government-led inventions becoming commercialised for civilian use is outdated, says Samaan, noting that the US public sector largely abandoned research and development (R&D) in the 1990s – today, the private sector is the main source of innovation in the US defence industry.

“Startups and small companies might initially lead innovation in new technologies like AI,” says Samaan. “But we could also reach a moment when the big corporations reorganise and restructure the market, merging and buying others so that the smaller independent companies become sub-entities within a larger organisation.”

The UAE, long allied to the West, has nonetheless sought military partnerships straddling the historical Cold War divide. In 2017, Russia said it planned to develop a fighter aircraft in conjunction with the UAE, the same year that Danny Sebright, president of the US-UAE Business Council and a former Pentagon official, told Defense News of the United States’ plans to conduct joint research and development (R&D) with the UAE.

Sebright, who declined to comment to Wamda, cited US ties with Israel as a model that could be emulated with the UAE, although crucially it would be the Emiratis footing the bill, unlike the perks Israel enjoys in terms of multibillion-dollar military aid.

Meanwhile, in November Abu Dhabi’s Tawazun Economic Council announced a partnership with French procurement agency Direction Générale de l'Armement (DGA) to foster defence R&D, Jane’s reported.

In September, Roman Golovchenko, the chairman of Belarus’s State Military Industrial Committee, told the state news agency that the country’s military relationship with the UAE was “moving from simple sales to joint research and development”. The two countries are collaborating on various technologies including radio-electronic warfare, radiolocation, and special software, Golovchenko said.

Samaan said it was difficult to draw conclusions from the UAE’s tie-ups with various other governments for military R&D such as Belarus, France and the US.

“Some are just announcements so far – signing an MoU with a foreign company or the MoD of an ally is not binding it’s much more significant if you can find substantial work being done together as a consequence,” adds Samaan.

Industry Largess

The UAE may be betting big on creating a truly innovative homegrown military sector, yet for all the vast sums of money governments spend on what’s euphemistically called “defence”, surprisingly little goes on R&D.

According to research by PwC, military R&D spending among the world’s top defence industry corporations in 2018 was the equivalent of just 3.9 per cent - or $22.0 billion - of their combined sales revenues. That compares with 11.4 per cent in the healthcare sector and 14.0 per cent in the software and internet industry.

Global military spending in 2018 was $1.8 trillion, so where does all that money go if such a small percentage is devoted to R&D?

Well, a curious – and hotly disputed – aspect of the defence industry is that in reality, product development has very little to do with creating superior weapons and military capabilities but is instead focused on maximising profits. For instance, the US Airforce was found to have paid $10,000 per toilet seat cover for its C-5 aircraft, one of many examples of extravagant over-spending.

Harpers’ journalist Andrew Cockburn has detailed profiteering in the US defence industry, which he argues has left the country with a military not suited to modern warfare amid widespread corruption among military personnel and corporate executives.

“Advanced” equipment and technology are more complex yet often materially inferior to their predecessors despite the US military budget increasing by an average of around 5 per cent annually since the 1950s.

Yet the nascent nature of the UAE’s defence industry should enable the country to install governance structures that prevent it replicating such mistakes, creating a sector that nurtures local talent and innovation.

January 12th 2020, 8:36 pm

STEP Conference 2020

Wamda

STEP Conference, the leading technology festival for emerging markets, has launched its 9th edition under the theme of “the World in Dubai” to be held on February 11th and 12th in partnership with Dubai Internet City (DIC) and the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (Dubai Tourism). STEP 2020 is expecting to attract over 8000 international attendees, 300 showcasing startups, and influential tech leaders and speakers discussing the latest topics and trends across key industries.
 
This year, programming will represent a world scope on technology in the emerging markets, featuring the latest innovations and highlighting the opportunities in the ecosystem. The event will take place at Dubai Internet City with a format of 4 main conference verticals: STEP Start, STEP Digital, STEP X, & STEP Money.  
 
STEP has also confirmed programs with key stakeholders who will host activities within STEP Conference 2020, including Startupnight hosted by DubaiSME, bringing 60 startups from Europe across different sectors on a Dubai roadshow leading to a competition; and the Volkswagen Mobility Challenge, which is returning for the second edition presenting innovations and ideas aimed at changing the world of mobility.
 
STEP will also be back with a program of satellite events for curated networking, the annual startup pitch competition, Mentor’s Corner and Investor Meetings for 1-on-1 sessions with experts. 
 
Find out more details about this year's conference and agenda. Use code: CD-8612 to register and get the Wamda discount. 

 

January 12th 2020, 7:43 am

Saudi Aramco plans $500 million fund

Wamda

Source: The National

Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, a subsidiary of the kingdom’s state-owed oil producer, is planning to set up a new $500 million (Dh1.84bn) fund this year to boost investments in the technology sector.

The venture capital arm of Saudi Aramco, the world's biggest oil producing company, is headquartered in Dhahran in the eastern province of the country and plans to establish its presence in Beijing, adding to the list of its representative offices in Houston, London, Aberdeen and Oslo, its chief executive Majid Mufti said on Saturday.

“There is a new fund that is coming up now, similar to what we used to do, investing in core technology and sustainability. The size of the fund would be about $400 to $500 million,” Mr Mufti said on the sidelines of the Atlantic Council Global Energy Forum in Abu Dhabi.

Aramco's investment arm, he said, has already made 45 investments in Europe and the US, mostly in start-up firms and technology-focused funds from its earlier $500m investment vehicle, which was launched in 2012.

The company will continue to look for investments and it will pursue "the same strategy .... on the sustainability side”, he noted.

Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures is keen on investing in China, the world's second-biggest economy, as it pivots its focus towards Asian markets. The office being launched in Beijing this month will help execute its investment strategy, he added.

“We just want to make sure that we are [a] global [investors],” he said.

The company’s investments in the last seven years include Target Intervention, a Norwegian well technology company; Novomer, a sustainable chemicals company; and InflowControl, an oil and gas-focused company among others.

Continue reading this story

January 12th 2020, 1:24 am

The Hub: The Center of Excellence for Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Environmentalism

Wamda

GEMS World Academy Dubai (GWA), one of the leading IB+ schools, has been selected as the Center of Excellence for Entrepreneurship within the GEMS Education Group. 

The launch of The Hub - the Center of Excellence for Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Environmentalism - is the first of its kind in-school entrepreneurship center and incubator to support students develop the entrepreneurial mindset. Developing the entrepreneurial mindset from grades K-12 is critical for the future of learning and GWA acknowledges the impact this can have on how learners develop the right skills to prepare students for the future. 

The opening of The Hub will take place on Tuesday, February 4th, 2020 at The Hub, GEMS World Academy at 10:00 AM. 

January 9th 2020, 6:12 am

StudioRepublik’s Big Weekend

Wamda

A 2-day Festival to celebrate the opening of StudioRepublik is happening on January 10-11, 2020 from 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM. 

StudioRepublik is an immersive, state-of-the-art environment to help individuals develop powers of expression with music, drama and dance, as well as enhance body’s capabilities with Nutrition, rehab and prehab, personal training, and strength and conditioning. StudioRepublik is the newest member of the Republik family. 

Find out more here

January 9th 2020, 6:12 am

The science of mentorship

Wamda

By Ziad Matar, president of TiE Dubai and founding partner of Meditari & Ivan Fernandes, director of mentorship at TiE Dubai

The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), was founded in 1992 in Silicon Valley by a group of successful entrepreneurs, corporate executives, and senior professionals with roots in the Indus region. There are currently 15,000 members, including over 2,500 charter members in 63 chapters across 14 countries.

Mentorship is a developmental relationship between a less experienced person (mentee) and a more experienced partner (mentor) – someone who has “been there, done that”. It stems from the mentor’s creative abilities and inherent passion to make a difference to the mentee.

Mentoring is a science that can be traced back to the early practice of apprenticeship; a science that has since evolved in many ways to shape modern professions such as coaching, consulting and counselling. Well-designed mentorship programmes start with training (for both mentors and mentees) and establish clear programme goals; follow set schedules and conclude with an evaluation process.

The entrepreneurial journey goes through three stages: starting with the Motivation Phase where the startup is in its idea stage, and the aspiring entrepreneur is contemplating the possibilities while searching for motivation. The entrepreneur moves into the Startup Phase once they have committed to pursuing the idea and begin working on making it a reality. As the entrepreneur proves the viability of the idea, they shift into the Scale-up Phase, where they continue to grow the business and go through its related rewards and challenges.

Mentors should inspire their mentee to follow their dreams. While mentors can do that at any stage of the entrepreneurial journey, it is usually at the Startup Phase when mentorship is most needed, most effective and highly rewarding.

Practices vary widely and less rigorous approaches exist, such as one-off speed-networking sessions at events that bring together mentors and mentees. In such formats, the mentors and mentees get to spend less than an hour together, making it a transient relationship that rarely evolves beyond this one-off exercise. In every such networking event, both mentors and mentees end-up meeting a fresh set of counterparts, and in some cases, based on individual initiative or mutual interest, some lasting relationships do get fostered but in most cases little is accomplished beyond a fleeting moment of inspiration and some ad hoc advice.

Mentoring requires time and effort on behalf of the mentor, which typically conflict with other commitments such as family, work and social engagements. As such, it is key that mentors are able to set a level of priority to their mentorship efforts and keep that balanced with other priorities. Personally we limit our mentoring relationships to a maximum of three entrepreneurs simultaneously, and aim to spend a couple of hours per week on such activities, typically in late evening sessions during the week or breakfasts during the weekend.

Mentors have different skill sets, and it is important to leverage specific strengths in the mentorship relationship. Depending on the background, mentoring within the TiE ecosystem allows us to tap into a larger network of expertise not just regionally but globally, and we are able to bring in different experts to support the entrepreneurs in addressing specific aspects of their startups, focusing on supporting mentees to help manage their business in a systematic fashion, something they sometimes initially dislike but tend to see the benefits with time. We can build on the inherent startup flexibility to help the entrepreneur focus their efforts on a specific value proposition where they leverage their core competences, which they, in turn, scale vertically in the initial phases, and sometimes, expand horizontally to adjacent sectors and geographies once the business has established a solid foundation.

Effective mentorship requires a structured framework in order to foster the mentoring relationship and deliver value for both parties. In order to serve this ecosystem, TiE have a mentorship programme, based on best in class TiE global practices.

 

Tips For Entrepreneurs

  1. Don’t try to be everything for everybody, focus on your core competence and area of expertise.
  1. Try to address an untapped niche in a proven market (or model). Once you have mastered your niche, try to grow it to become a market on its own or horizontally into adjacent segments.
  1. The onus is on you, the mentee, to extract the most value of the mentorship relationship and to keeping the mentor vested in supporting you.

 

The 7 Best Practices of Effective Mentoring Programmes

  1. One-to-One Mentoring is considered the best form of mentoring.
  1. The duration of a good mentoring relationship typically lasts for 12 to 18 months.
  1. Structured screening and selection process for qualifying mentors & assigning mentees.
  1. Mentors and mentees are matched on skill sets and needs rather than industry.
  1. Most good mentoring programmes offer a mandatory training programme for the mentors.
  1. Mentors are committed and spend 2 to 3 hours per month for mentoring an individual.
  1. Most mentoring programmes have a well-defined Code of Conduct.

 

January 8th 2020, 8:46 pm

SpiderSilk raises $500,000

Wamda

Source: MENAbytes

Dubai-based cybersecurity startup SpiderSilk has raised $500,000 seed in a round led by Global Ventures, and joined by FutureTech and some angels including Careem co-founder Magnus Olsson, the startup told MENAbytes today.

Founded last year by Rami El Malak who has previously founded and led different businesses and Mossab Hussein who was a Product Manager at Careem and Dubai-based TaskSpotting, SpiderSilk helps companies improve their cybersecurity by first simulating real-life cyber attacks and then advising on how to protect against them.

Its methodologies and enhanced hackers, SpiderSilk says, allows it to achieve simulations with great impact and has helped them uncover threats that would have impacted over 120 million people in total.

SpiderSilk finds security exploits and vulnerabilities in applications residing within both public and internal infrastructure and has collaborated with Samsung Global, Huawei, EA Games, Navblue, and WeWork.

The firm has discovered vulnerabilities and breaches in companies like WeWork and MoviePass. SpiderSilk last year also discovered an exposed fax server of a healthtech company that is behind a leading electronic medical records software makers for hospitals, doctor’s offices, and pharmacies. The server was leaking data in the form of thousands of doctor’s notes, medical records, and prescriptions on a daily basis.

Rami El Malak, the co-founder and CEO of SpiderSilk, speaking to MENAbytes, said, that they are using their current service offering as R&D to validate their technology and methodology, “We’re planning to use the investment to expand our team to build the product which we plan to offer as a ‘security as a service’ later this year.”

Speaking about the investment, Rami further added, “We went with Global Ventures, because while we are Dubai based and are proud to be protecting our community here, the opportunity that we have is global. We are therefore not anchored to a single market or region. Global Ventures will help us expand our footprint into international markets.”

Continue reading story

January 8th 2020, 3:47 am

Mena startups raise $704 million in 2019

Wamda

Source: Gulf News

Investments in startups in the Middle East and North Africa rose 13 per cent to $704 million last year as more investors clambered on board seeking such opportunities. In total, there were 564 investments in regional startups during the year.

The value excludes the mega deals of Careem and Souq, according to the latest report by Magnitt, a data platform for startups and investors. Amazon had acquired Souq.com earlier, but rebranded it to Amazon.ae last year. Meanwhile, Dubai start-p Careem was acquired by Uber in early 2019 for $3.1 billion.

The UAE took in the most funding (60 per cent), while Egypt accounted for the maximum number of deals in the region (25 per cent). Startups in the UAE benefited from government support, corporate venture interest, and growing investor appetite for startups.

At the time of the Careem acquisition, experts said that the deal will put the region’s startup sector in the international investor spotlight and serve as a catalyst to attract more funds.

Magnitt’s 2019 Mena Venture Investment Report said that for the region as a whole, there’s been a spike in interest from international investors, with 25 per cent of entities investing in regional startups in 2019 being from outside the region.

The financial technology (fintech) sector remained the most active one based on number of deals, having overtaken e-commerce in 2018 as the category attracting the most deals. In terms of the value of funding, however, the delivery and transport industry accounted for the largest funding as bus transportation startups such as Swvl and trucking start-ups such as TruKKer raised sizable funds.

Continue reading story

January 7th 2020, 2:29 am

noon cosies up to China

Wamda

There are a few areas in Dubai and Abu Dhabi where self-driving vehicles branded with the noon logo, slowly drive along a pre-determined path.

They were introduced by the UAE-based e-commerce platform late last year, a result of a partnership drawn up in July 2019 with Chinese tech company Neolix.

Essentially, they are vending machines on wheels, an attempt to close the last mile gap and get closer to the customer. Noon’s vehicles are stocked with low-cost goods including drinks, perfume and USB cables which users select through a keypad and pay for via credit card.

It is the first time that such technology has been used in the Middle East and demonstrates the strengthening of ties between noon and China.

In December 2019, noon’s chief executive officer (CEO) Faraz Khalid visited China to speak to investors and suppliers about the e-commerce market opportunities in the Middle East.

Currently, the share of e-commerce in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region only accounts for 2 per cent of total retail sales, far below the global average of 10 per cent.

According to Khalid, growth in the future development of the e-commerce market in the Middle East will come from the offline market’s shift to online, which will be spurred on by the supply of new goods, particularly from the Chinese supply chain.

Speaking at the seller event organised by UAE-based logistics company iMile, Khalid staid: “The biggest problem of noon as a Middle East e-commerce platform is the inventory problem, that is, the supply side is inadequate. This is unimaginable in China. Middle Eastern consumers have a strong purchasing power, but they cannot buy the goods they want.”

This has led to a commodity gap, particularly in the low-price segment for the Middle East shopper. Adding more Chinese suppliers, particularly for lower-priced goods is what noon hopes will encourage more consumers to shop online. The company launched its low-cost e-commerce site, KUL, in September last year to target this segment of the Mena market, particularly in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

KUL targets consumers with a monthly income of between Dh3000 to Dh15,000 ($800-$3000), a market that Khalid believes will be worth $2.2 billion by 2022.

As more consumers go online, Mena’s e-commerce industry is expected to be worth $28.5 billion by 2022 with the UAE accounting for almost half of that according to Swisslog Middle East.

Whether noon will expand its self-driving vehicles to other parts of the country or farther beyond remains to be seen. So far, the one in Downtown Dubai has remained pretty stagnant, attracting mostly tourists who are more likely to take pictures than make a purchase.


This article was written in partnership with e-Panda

January 6th 2020, 7:50 pm

VentureSouq exits Frontier Car Group

Wamda

UAE-based investment platform VentureSouq has sold its stake in German-based Frontier Car Group, an online and offline used-car marketplace, to the OLX Group, part of Naspers’ classifieds business.

OLX Group recently injected $400 million into Frontier Car Group, which operates across 10 emerging markets including in South America and Africa and offered all investors an opportunity to sell their equity stakes in the startup.

VentureSouq, who invested into the company less than two years ago, opted to sell its stake and OLX has now become the largest investor in the Frontier Car Group.

“The first time we met the company, the potential was obvious,” said Tammer Qaddumi, partner at VentureSouq. “The team had proven they could execute, and we believed we could be a helpful shareholder for them. Over the span of our investment, they were able to execute multiple transformative moves and ultimately deliver a great outcome for their investors. We are thrilled to have been able to participate with them.”  

According to Crunchbase, the investment platform participated in Frontier Car Group’s Series B round in March 2019, when it raised $41 million.

January 5th 2020, 6:33 am

Trends to expect in 2020

Wamda

With each passing year, the Middle East and North Africa’s (Mena) entrepreneurship ecosystem develops and cements itself as a core pillar of the region’s economy and one of the main sources of job creation.  Government plans across the region have elevated entrepreneurship and small to medium-sized enterprises (SME) as key drivers of economic growth, with governments allocating bigger budgets and establishing support organisations to aid the development of the sector. Last year saw the opening of Abu Dhabi’s Hub71, an incubator with an investment fund of $250 million, loosening of visa requirements for entrepreneurs in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain where Amazon also launched its Amazon Web Services. This year, we’re likely to see the support for entrepreneurship continue, particularly from the private sector.

Investments

Some of the biggest investments came from the sovereign wealth funds (SWF) of the region. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) and Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala led in funding startups based outside of the region. Over the coming few years, these SWF will look closer to home and begin supporting startups in the Middle East ecosystem. PIF announced a new vehicle worth $1 billion to invest in the region’s startups and SMEs, while several new funds and venture capital (VC) firms have emerged in Saudi Arabia. Mubadala, through its partnership with Hub71 has already made a start in investing locally.

But it is not just government-led investment that will spur this growth. Family offices will continue to find ways to be part of the startup scene. Driven by the younger generation of leaders at these entities, diversifying their portfolio away from traditional industries like real estate, has become more preferable as a strategy. Family offices will look seriously to startups for innovation for their portfolio, investing more strategically in funds and directly in startups to benefit their core business. Saudi Arabia’s family offices are likely to take the lead, particularly as angel investors in startups launched by entrepreneurs within their own network. In line with this, the traditional retail and commercial conglomerates will become more aggressive in their bid to digitise and innovate and will look to invest in tech companies or launch their own initiatives. 

Valuations and Exits

As the funding available continues to grow, valuations of seed and Series A companies will continue to rise, perhaps unjustifiably. More early stage companies are receiving cheques worth over $1 million without launching their product or attaining a client base, but for startups beyond Series A, the path to profitability will be a serious question. Top line growth alone will no longer remain the story to sell, and cash burn will be probed. This is the ripple effect of the WeWork debacle, the charisma of founders will no longer be enough for the majority of VCs, instead, closer consideration of the balance sheet will drive investment decisions. Following Fetchr's near collapse, last mile logistics companies in particular, will be humbled in valuations and questioned on business model validation before claiming to disrupt incumbents.

While we are unlikely to have an exit the size of Uber’s acquisition of Careem for $3.1 billion, there will be a significant number exits as funds of the 2015 vintage mature and start preparing their companies to sell which could lead to some high-profile disappointments. Specifically in the e-commerce space, we will see mergers and acquisitions take place as competition between Amazon and Noon continue.

Areas of Growth

Alongside this, Chinese e-commerce players and investors will attempt to make more of an impression and establish a stronger presence in the region, alongside players in media and financial technology (fintech), bringing with them their own expertise and innovation. MSA Capital was the first Chinese VC to open up an office in the Middle East and will likely play a strong role in introducing its own portfolio of startups to the region’s markets and encourage investors from the Far East to take a closer look at Mena.

For startups looking beyond the Middle East, it will be the food tech space that will champion local innovation. UAE-based cloud kitchens company Kitopi has already expanded to London and New York, while new and exciting startups continue to emerge in virtual restaurant, home delivery and food services sectors.

In terms of pipeline, Saudi Arabia and Egypt will offer the most exciting startups and will continue to dominate headlines in the number of investments made. Egypt in particular will churn out more fintech startups focused on financial inclusion and will continue to solve for problems in its own ecosystem, particularly in transport.

This year will also be the year that electronic scooters will finally get the approval and ease of access in key cities across the region. What began as a frenzy for the market in Dubai in late 2018 and early 2019 was swiftly halted as the Roads and Transport Authority deemed them illegal. Now that Abu Dhabi has approved e-scooters, other cities with similar infrastructure will likely to follow suit.

Challenges

But amid this bourgeoning growth, there remains plenty of challenges. The financial sector is in need of serious dialogue between the regulators, central banks, banks and fintech startups. Over the past year, efforts have been made in Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi and the UAE to establish fintech hubs, sandbox and regulatory labs, but fintech startups continue to struggle with no one set of regulations that apply across jurisdictions.

The political instability and ongoing protests in Lebanon have led to the unfortunate, premature demise of the Lebanese tech startups experiment. With daily disruptions to logistics, shuttering of banks and access to capital, Lebanese founders will look to relocate their startups elsewhere in the region, or will struggle to survive. It is a similar fate that has plagued Iraq’s embryonic startup sector, most of whom have relocated to the safer parts of the north in Kurdistan.

 

January 4th 2020, 8:09 pm

Uber completes acquisition of Careem

Wamda

Uber has confirmed the official close of its acquisition of UAE-based Careem for $3.1 billion, but is still awaiting regulatory approval in Pakistan, Qatar and Morocco before the transaction will close in these three territories.  

Across the 12 other countries in which Careem operates, the local ride-hailing company has become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Uber. Regulators in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE among others have approved Uber's acquisition of Careem’s mobility, delivery and payments businesses.  

Careem co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) Mudassir Sheikha will continue to lead the Careem business, which will report to a board made up of three representatives from Uber and two representatives from Careem.

Careem and Uber will operate their respective regional services and independent brands. 

“I’m looking forward to seeing even more innovation from Careem, as they continue to operate independently under their current leadership," said Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO at Uber. "Working in parallel, our two platforms will be able to build upon the unique strengths of each, to the benefit of drivers, riders, and the cities we serve across the greater Middle East.” 

Careem's Sheikha said: "Today marks the beginning of a new chapter for Careem. The journey that we started almost a decade ago to simplify the lives of people in the greater Middle East is far from over. Joining forces with Uber accelerates that journey as we become the region's everyday super app. We are excited to take Careem to new heights alongside Uber, who appreciates the significant regional opportunity, is supportive of our values and culture, and believes in the purpose that drives us." 

In joint statement, both companies said they believe this completed acquisition will provide an opportunity to expand the variety and reliability of services offered through their applications. Similarly, for drivers and captains, the companies believe an increase in trip growth and improved services could provide better economic opportunities as well as more predictable earnings through greater utilisation of drivers’ time on the road. 

January 3rd 2020, 1:48 am

Top 5 VC deals in the fourth quarter of 2019

Wamda

The fourth quarter 2019 top five venture capital (VC) deals that were disclosed amounted to $78.7 million, with UAE-based Trukker accounting for $23 million of that.

Of the top five deals, Egypt’s Adzily was the only startup not based in the UAE. The quarter marked a positive end to 2019, raising more than $50 million more than the top five deals of the third quarter.  

 

1) Trukker

UAE-based on-demand truck aggregator Trukker has raised $23 million in one of the largest Series A funding rounds in the Middle East from Saudi Technology Ventures (STV), International Finance Corporation (IFC), Endeavor Catalyst Fund and Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP) as well as participation from existing investors including Riyad TAQNIA Fund, Oman Technology Fund, Iliad Partners, and Shorooq Ventures. 

The Company will use the funding to grow the team, enhance customer experience and strengthen its operating infrastructure across the road freight network in the region. Trukker is operational in Saudi Arabia, UAE, and the rest of the GCC and is in the process of expanding to Egypt, Jordan and the wider Middle East region.

2) Ekar

Carshare startup, ekar closed a $17.5 million Series B round led by Polymath Ventures with participation from Al Yemni Group and Audacia Capital.

The UAE-based company will now launch operations in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia with 600 ekars and will launch in other cities throughout Saudi including Dammam, Jeddah, Mecca, Medina, and King Abdullah Economic City.

3) Bayzat

UAE-based human resources and insurance startup Bayzat raised $16 million in a Series B round from Mubadala’s newly launched fund for Mena, US-based Point72 Ventures, and some other regional and global investors.

The round takes total capital raised so far by Bayzat to $31 million. Founded in 2013 by Talal Bayaa, Bayzat provides HR and insurance solutions to SMEs and startups. Its cloud-based HR platform (Bayzat Benefits) helps companies automate their HR administration, payroll processing, and health insurance. It was one of the first companies to set up operations in Abu Dhabi’s Hub71.

4) Adzily

Egypt-based indoor advertising platform Adzily raised $12.2 million from Al-Tharawat Private Investment Holding Company. It is the first external investment round raised by Adzily and one of the largest-ever raised by an Egyptian startup.

Founded in 2018, Adzily is a network of digital ad screens spread across cafes, restaurants, and gyms.

5) Fetchr

Courier app Fetchr, once one of the Middle East’s largest startups, raised as much as $10 million in emergency funding to help avoid collapse. The UAE-based company, which offers delivery and logistics services to e-commerce firms, is also in the process of securing as much as $25 million in additional funding to turn the company around, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Existing Fetchr investors, who had put up more than $50 million since the company was founded in 2012, will see the value of their shares diluted to almost zero.

The Top Five Deals of 2019

It was the first and second quarters of 2019 that provided the top startup investments in 2019, below are the top five of the year.

1) EMPG

UAE-based Emerging Markets Property Group (EMPG), the parent company of Bayut.com, raised $100 million in a Series D round.

The round was led by a US-based family investment fund KCK Group and eight other investors including Exor Seeds which counts Ferrari and The Economist in its portfolio of companies.

2) Yellow Door Energy

Yellow Door Energy, a UAE-based solar developer, raised $65 million in Series A financing, from a group of investors including International Finance Corporation (IFC), Mitsui & Co, Equinor Energy Ventures, Arab Petroleum Investments Corporation (APICORP), and UAE-based Adenium Energy Capital, the founding investor of Yellow Door Energy in 2015.

3) Swvl

The biggest investment in the second quarter of 2019 went to Swvl, an Egyptian application for booking buses, raising $42 million from VC firms including Sweden’s Vostok, Dubai-based BECO Capital, China’s MSA and Endeavor Catalyst, based in New York.  

4) AWOK.com

 The UAE-based e-commerce platform AWOK.com raised $30 million in a round jointly led by StonePine ACE Partners out of its StonePine ACE Fund and Al Faisaliah Ventures. 

5) Mawdoo3

Jordan-based Mawdoo3, an online Arabic content publisher, secured $10 million in May 2019. The startup had secured an initial closing of $13.5 Million in July 2018, closing its series B with a total of $23.5 million. The investment came from UK-based Kingsway Capital, US & Egypt-based Endure Capital, Endeavor Catalyst, Choueiri group’s investment arm Equitrust, and Jordan-based AdamTech Ventures. 

 

December 31st 2019, 10:08 pm

Our top stories from 2019

Wamda

The biggest story to emerge this year was Uber’s acquisition of Careem in March. The deal, worth $3.1 billion, was the largest startup exit for the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), marking a pivotal moment for entrepreneurship in the region.

Over this past year at Wamda, we have strived to create content that analyses the trends, opportunities and challenges for the startup ecosystem. With each passing year, Mena’s startup ecosystem develops and cements itself as one of the key pillars of the economy.

Below is a small sample of the most-read articles of the year, highlighting interest not only in the Careem exit, but wider developments in entrepreneurship across the region. 

December 30th 2019, 7:58 pm

Wadi Makkah invests in Pavegen

Wamda

Wadi Makkah Ventures Company has invested in UK-based Pavegen’s Series A round.

Pavegen is a clean-tech company, that installs kinetic walkways to convert foosteps into off-grid electricity and personlised data. The electricity is used to power lighting or to store in batteries for later use. The company has implemented more than 200 projects in 36 countries including in the Abu Dhabi Airport with plans to work with Saudi Arabia’s NEOM project.

According to a statement from Khaled Abdel-Ghani Suleimani, chairman of the board of directors of Wadi Makkah Ventures Company, there is a possibility of implementing Pavegen’s technology in the city of Makkah to contribute to the process of providing clean energy and collecting the data needed to use it to facilitate crowd management.

“[We aim] to invest in local and international startups that provide services and technologies to improve and develop the quality of services in the Hajj and Umrah sector,” said Suleimani.

Pavegen’s founder and chief executive officer Laurence Kemball-Cook said: “We are incredibly excited to work with Wadi Makkah Ventures Company, alongside Pavegen’s major contracts recently closed in the local market, the support of Wadi Makkah will provide us  will be invaluable as we scale up operations in this region.”

Wamda recently recorded a podcast with Kemball-Cook about Pavegen. You can listen to it here

 

December 29th 2019, 6:45 am

HyperPay raises eight-figure investment

Wamda

Source: MenaBytes

Riyadh-headquartered payment processing platform HyperPay has closed an eight-figure USD investment, it announced today in a statement to MENAbytes without disclosing the exact size of the deal. The round was led by Saudi-based Mad’a Investment Company (which is PE firm that has previously invested in some regional tech startups) and joined by Saudi Venture Capital Company, iNet, and Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP).

Even though HyperPay did not disclose the exact size of investment, given the investors involved, it would be safe to assume that it is between $10 to $15 million.

The round, per statement, also included exit for investors who had participated in some previous rounds of HyperPay. It is not clear how much of these funds are being injected into the startup.

Founded in 2014 in Jordan by Muhannad Ebwini, HyperPay is one of the leading payment gateways of the Middle East & North Africa, providing payment services to thousands of merchants in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, and Lebanon, helping them sell different goods and services online.

The startup that currently has offices in Amman, Riyadh, and Dubai, with majority of its team based out of Amman, plans to use a part of the latest investment to accelerate its expansion across Egypt and the GCC. It will also be using the investment to grow its infrastructure in Saud and suite of products.

HyperPay that labels itself as the fastest-growing Saudi-based payment service provider, offers different integration methods to merchants including its ready-to-use plugins for ecommerce platforms like Magento and Woocomerce.

Continue reading this story

December 28th 2019, 5:11 pm

VoIP in the Middle East: Development and emerging trends

Wamda

Several countries across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region have had and continue to have an unfavourable stance towards services like Skype, Whatsapp voice calls and Apple’s Facetime. The issue was recently brought to the fore by The New York Times, which suggests that UAE-based ToTok is not so much a VoIP app, but a spying tool. In this article, Sam O'Brien,  senior website optimisation and user experience manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa at RingCentral, a global unified communications as a service (UCaaS)  system provider explains the history and trends of VoIP in the region. 

Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) has been around since 1973. The first internet phone software was launched in 1995. Industry experts predict a market valuation of over $93.2 billion by 2024.

In enterprise, VoIP has been adopted across the board from Burger King to the White House. Further developments in complementary technologies such as 5G, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Unified Communication (UC), and machine learning are set to trigger new growth in the VoIP sector in North Africa and parts of the Middle East.

VoIP is still a developing technology, yet it underpins many of the most widely used messaging and social media services. These include platforms like Snapchat, which has 12 million daily users across the Gulf, and 9 million in Saudi Arabia alone. Or WhatsApp, which is used by 81 per cent of internet users in Morocco according to Hootsuite.

Yet, VoIP is used more widely than just as a messaging app. It has been gaining ground on the analogue system (also known as POTS - plain old telephone service) for some time.

The History of VoIP in Mena

There are lots of differences between the Mena region and Europe, the US, or other parts of the world. Culture, language, and regulation are just three of many things that make the way of doing business in Mena distinct from elsewhere. Such differences also impact how tech and related markets grow and develop.

VoIP’s development in Mena has been a tricky and contentious one. Where VoIP software took hold quickly elsewhere from the late 1990s due to its many benefits, including connecting remote workers and making connectivity more reliable, its use and growth in Mena have been deliberately restricted.

As long ago as 1999, Lebanon first announced a ban on Skype and other VoIP software. The country did not start enforcing the ban until 2010, however, and even then, the blanket ban did not last long. After the ban was scrapped, Lebanese authorities explored another avenue to restrict VoIP usage.

Earlier in 2019, the Lebanese cabinet agreed to impose fees on all VoIP applications. Such charges aimed to take away one of the significant advantages of VoIP over POTS - free calling. Just a couple of months after announcing the fees, the Lebanese government was forced to abandon them.

Sporadic protests from citizens and resistance from renowned brands like Skype and Whatsapp caused Lebanon’s climbdown. The turbulent history of VoIP in Lebanon is representative of the development of the market in Mena as a whole.

Where VoIP has grown apace elsewhere, national governments and authorities in the Mena region have pushed back against the tech. The desire for VoIP from ordinary Mena residents, however, is significant. The following graph shows how quickly Moroccans started using a free tool for circumventing a VoIP ban, instituted in early 2016:

Given the widespread desire for VoIP services, global companies continue to seek expansion into the region. All in the face of opposition from the authorities in the area. Skype, for instance, opened offices in Bahrain in the summer of 2010. At the time, the head of the new office - Rouzbeh Pasha - explained the thinking behind the move:

“Skype is focused on continuing to build a growing and profitable business… With the recent launch of the Arabic language version of Skype’s website at skype.com, we are making Skype accessible to even more people.”

The divergent views and goals of governments, global firms, and ordinary people have helped shape a complex VoIP market in Mena. 

Present Status of VoIP in Mena

Bans and restrictions on VoIP services remain commonplace across Mena. Platforms such as WhatsApp, Facetime, and Skype get routinely blocked in many countries across the region. In other nations - like the UAE, Qatar, Oman, and Kuwait - strict licensing requirements make it impossible for VoIP providers to offer free calling services

There are several reasons cited for such strict regulation of the VoIP market. One of the most commonly given explanations is that of national security. The encryption offered by popular messaging and social media services poses a real problem for authorities.

Previously open conversations between multiple static (dedicated) internet protocol (IP) addresses that can be monitored, if required, can now be carried out in complete privacy thanks to the encryption. The difficulty in tracking such private exchanges is what leads Mena authorities to call VoIP services a risk to national security.           

Alongside national security, there is one other major factor that explains the more limited nature of the VoIP market in Mena. That is the fact that state-owned telecoms monopolies are far more common in the region. 

Take Saudi Arabia, for instance, the Saudi Telecom Company (STC) is 70 per cent owned by the state, via the country’s sovereign wealth fund the Public Investment Fund (PIF). STC has long accounted for a vast proportion of the nation’s telecoms industry:

(https://slideplayer.com/slide/11665997/)

Bans and restrictions on VoIP services are of obvious advantage to such state-owned monopolies. With no free international calling via VoIP available, individuals and businesses rely on traditional telecoms. Traditional long-distance calls are expensive for users and lucrative for providers. 

But the VoIP market in Mena, looks set to change shape in the coming years.

Emerging Trends

The present VoIP landscape across Mena is heavily regulated and restricted. The first signs that that is going to change, however, are already in evidence. Saudi Arabia lifted its blanket ban on internet calls in 2017. As recently as June 2019, there was speculation that the UAE may follow suit. 

Digital deregulation across Mena makes sense for all concerned. It will help incentivise the growth of tech firms in the area. That will have a beneficial knock-on effect on the economies of nations across the region.

What is more, the ability of telecoms companies in Mena nations to maintain their current monopolies may take a blow in the coming years, anyway. US firm SpaceX, and their StarLink satellite project looks set to shake up internet provision the world over.

The project was recently given all the approval required to support broadband and communications services worldwide. As and when the project gets up and running globally - some estimates suggest that could be as early as 2025 - services like VoIP could be far more readily accessible across Mena, regardless of the attitude of regional governments. 

That means the Mena region could also benefit from the leap forward in VoIP that is already starting to occur thanks to AI and machine learning. 

AI & Machine Learning Meet VoIP

AI and machine learning are racing forward. They are evolving at breakneck speed. Compatible tech such as VoIP will benefit in a big way from these advancements.

AI and machine learning can already perform speech recognition and analyse call data. As advances in this field occur, the potential for more intelligent VoIP systems become almost limitless.

Within an integrated VoIP network, AI could effectively manage customer service issues. Language barriers would quickly become obsolete, as companies like Facebook are proving. With the right machine learning techniques, you can even sort customers into categories based on the stress levels detected in their voice.

Automated Voice Response or AVR is the process enabled by smart AI. AVR saves time for call centre agents and makes responses more efficient. Each call is analysed automatically, and its subject determined. That means it can be immediately routed to the correct individual to answer the query or solve the problem.

The smartest AVR setups, too, can discern even more about each caller. If they are an existing customer, an AI-powered VoIP system can provide the agent with all their details before they even start to speak to them. Agents can also be forewarned if particular callers are very agitated or upset.  

Chatbot systems are another way of speeding up the efficiency of workforces through automation. These systems can take voice instructions and perform relevant tasks. They can manage schedules and arrange events, meetings, and repetitive tasks.

AI pattern recognition can also enable businesses to analyse how their customers behave. It automatically learns from previous interactions to improve performance. It can also help gather info to prepare for new client engagements. 

With the Mena region is seemingly opening up to VoIP as a whole, these developments in the tech will be available to businesses in the area. The future of VoIP and telecommunications in general across Mena could well be bright.

The Future of Communication

The development of VoIP technology has been somewhat stunted in the Mena region. For a variety of reasons, the VoIP market in the area is smaller and more restricted than elsewhere. The tide is starting to turn, however, and VoIP could be on the verge of really taking off in the region.

Relaxation in regulations and developments in complementary tech look set to see VoIP take off in Mena as it has elsewhere. Businesses and individuals in the region could soon have a whole host of intelligent communications solutions at their fingertips. 

The twinning of AI and VoIP, in particular, has the potential to revolutionise the way Mena businesses interact with customers. Through machine learning and VoIP systems, firms could achieve a whole new level of efficiency and customer service. A growing VoIP market could usher in a bright future for business in Mena. 

December 25th 2019, 7:54 pm

Muscat Bank announces new $100 million fintech investment programme

Wamda

Source: Fintech News

BBank Muscat announced that the Central Bank of Oman has approved the bank’s request to launch a $ 100 million (RO 38.5 million) strategic Fintech investment programme. Fintech refers to innovative application of technologies and new technology-enabled business models in the financial services industry. The investment programme is part of the bank’s strategic growth initiative.

The strategic Fintech investment programme will add further momentum to the transfer of technology knowhow and will help create Fintech partnerships and growth opportunities. The programme is also expected to contribute to the wider financial services industry and the economy of the country.

Continue reading this story 

 

December 24th 2019, 3:23 am

Can footsteps power our world? [podcast]

Wamda

Sustainability has dominated economic and political agendas across the world this past year. Governments have recognised the need for clean and renewable energy including in the Middle East where the UAE has launched a National Climate Change Plan 2050.

For Laurence Kemball-Cook, founder of UK-based Pavegen, which produces tiles that harness kinetic energy to power streetlamps, it is footsteps that can provide clean energy to power a city. In this short podcast, Kemball-Cook outlines his journey to create a Pavegen's first prototype and launch his startup and the urgent need to become more sustainable.

 

December 22nd 2019, 9:53 pm

Sadeem raises $2.6 million from Wa'ed Ventures

Wamda

Source: Sadeem

Sadeem, a wireless environmental sensing systems spinout company from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and the world’s first multi-patented sensor solution for flood, traffic, weather and air quality monitoring, has secured USD $2.6 million of co-investment from the KAUST Innovation Fund and Saudi Aramco’s Wa’ed Ventures fund .

This joint funding round will support Sadeem in pioneering crucial sensor technology that helps to solve the growing global problems of natural disasters, and specifically those with a developmental benefit to Saudi Arabia.

KAUST I&ED Vice president, Kevin Cullen, said of the partnership that, “We are thrilled to be co-investing with Wa’ed Ventures in Sadeem, one of the Kingdom’s leading deep tech startups. What started as idea between KAUST students is now a fast-growing company with a strong IP position, R&D and a talented local team. Wa’ed is a great investment partner for Sadeem and will support them as they continue expanding globally.”

Wassim Basrawi, Managing Director of Wa’ed Ventures, echoed these sentiments and shared that, “Sadeem is a great example of a diverse Saudi-based startup that is transforming collaborative research efforts into commercial solutions, and addressing environmental challenges through sensible smart-city applications.” Mr Basrawi also highlighted that, “Along with our Chief Investment Officer, Salman T. Jaffrey, we are looking forward to seeing Sadeem gain further business opportunities and support the Kingdom’s road and environmental response infrastructure.”

In the last five years, both KAUST and Wa’ed Ventures have been contributing to the emerging venture ecosystem in Saudi Arabia by actively investing in technology startups and early stage companies. The Innovation Fund is the venture capital arm of KAUST and invests in deep tech startup projects and companies working to find solutions to some of the world’s most pressing scientific and technological challenges. Wa’ed Ventures is the entrepreneurial venture capital arm of Saudi Aramco that invests in innovative and impactful, early stage startups with high growth potential to promote economic development in Saudi Arabia.

The investment from the KAUST Innovation Fund and Wa’ed Ventures will be used by Sadeem for product updates to the existing Equa and Aura sensors, development of new technologies (for monitoring ice, hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes), business development and new customer acquisition.

Continue reading this story

December 22nd 2019, 4:09 am

JumpAdvisor raises seed investment

Wamda

UAE-based JumpAdvisor recently raised a seed investment round from an angel investor, valuing the company at $400,000.

JumpAdvisor is an online booking platform targeting adventure tourists in the UAE. The company also has a software as a service (SaaS) solution for service providers to help them manage their team, bookings, reminders and logistics.

The investment will be used primarily for marketing.

“As an avid extreme sports enthusiast, I believe the services provided can be on a whole other level, with a trusted booking platform, drone photography for clients, automated bookings and reminders for service providers, we can achieve a lot more in terms of high quality experiences,” said Naman Kamra, co-founder at JumpAdvisor.

December 22nd 2019, 3:09 am

Mubadala leads investment in Glovo

Wamda

Source: CNBC

Spanish food delivery app Glovo has raised 150 million euros ($167 million) in a fresh round of funding to ramp up hiring and expand internationally.

The financing effort was led by Mubadala, the sovereign wealth fund of Abu Dhabi, and was also backed by existing investors including Germany’s Delivery Hero, Swiss investment company Drake Enterprises and European venture capital firm Lakestar, which was an early investor in Spotify.

It lifts four-year-old Glovo’s valuation across the $1 billion mark, bringing it into the ranks of Europe’s growing club of unicorn companies. The firm is now Spain’s second start-up to achieve unicorn status, according to CB Insights, the first being ride-hailing service Cabify. It speaks to the level of interest from foreign investors in Europe’s tech industry, which according to Atomico, had lured in over $34 billion in venture capital as of November this year.

The extra cash will be used to help Glovo grow its workforce, said co-founder and CEO Oscar Pierre, with plans to hire 300 new engineers and developers by mid-2020. The Barcelona-based firm also wants to use the additional capital to expand into new territories after entering Poland through the acquisition of local operator Pizza Portal. Glovo said that 40 engineers and 50 tech and product experts would be posted at its new Warsaw office.

Glovo’s platform is mostly known for its takeout and delivery service, but the firm also offers a range of other products that are delivered by its 50,000 couriers “on-demand” — typically in under 30 minutes.

Continue reading this story

December 22nd 2019, 3:09 am

Moroccan investment fund acquires stake in SOWIT

Wamda

The SEAF Morocco Growth Fund has completed its fourth investment with its acquisition of a stake in SOWIT, a France-based company that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to implement precision agriculture in Africa. The company did not disclose the investment amount.

SOWIT’s technology allows farmers to preserve irrigation water and fertiliser needs and it collects this data with satellite and drone imagery to analyse it with historical climate data to produce predictions and recommendations for agricultural management.

The investment will be used to support the company’s development of its products and services and fuel its expansion in Africa. SOWIT already has a presence in France, Morocco and Senegal.

“We help African farmers to better understand their corps to improve their decision-making and sustainably optimise their yields. This investment will allow us to accelerate our deployment and contribute to raising the productivity and sustainability levels of a continent that contains more than 50 per cent of the world’s uncultivated arable land,” said Hamza Chaham, co-founder of SOWIT.

SEAF is a global fund management company based in the US that invests in small to medium-sized enterprises in emerging and frontier markets. It has 40 funds in more than 30 countries, with a committed capital of $1.2 billion. Earlier last month, Caisse Marocaine des Retraites (CMR) joined the SEAF Morocco Growth Fund as an institutional investor. The Moroccan public pension group joins credit institution La Caisse Centrale de Granatie, BMCE Bank and USAID as shareholders in the fund.

December 19th 2019, 5:06 am

R2S raises six-figure investment in Pre-Series A

Wamda

Source: Egypt innovate 

The leading tech investor A15 pumped a six-figure investment into pioneering Egyptian e-commerce logistics and delivery tech company R2S, facilitating scalability and growth for e-commerce businesses in Egypt. This investment took place in the form of a “Pre-Series A” Round for R2S.

R2S enables e-commerce platforms with a full-fledged delivery and logistics offering and services including last-mile delivery, parcel pick up and drop off points, payment collection solutions, returns and exchange management, inventory management and fulfillment as well as international shipping for Egyptian sellers and startups.

The fast growth of R2S is a testament to the solid experience and extensive industry expertise of its management and the commitment of its dedicated staff. The asset-light business model adopted by R2S has allowed it to expand its geographical reach to nation-wide coverage with over 11 hubs and more still to come. R2S volume and revenue have also seen remarkable year over year growth, with the latest figures showing 125% and 150% growth in volume and revenue respectively.

The innovative e-commerce and logistics company has also developed the R2S Plus platform which connects a shared economy network of existing retail stores with e-commerce sellers, giving customers greater control over their delivery experience by allowing them to choose the nearest location, most convenient time and payment method to receive their package.

Continue reading this story

December 19th 2019, 3:06 am

PIF launches $1 billion fund of funds

Wamda

Source: Arab News

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) has launched a new investment vehicle aimed at boosting small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the Kingdom.

It will invest in venture capital and private equity funds geared towards small businesses.

The SR4 billion ($1.07 billion) “Jada” initiative is the latest move by the government to support SMEs, seen as a key part of plans to diversify the economy away from oil.

“Jada is the first instrument of its kind in the Kingdom,” the PIF said in a statement. “It is a catalyst for small and medium enterprises, seeking to secure rewarding incomes, to ensure financial sustainability and support the Kingdom’s priorities in terms of supporting small and medium enterprises.”

It said that the aim of the initiative was to help create jobs and diversify the economy.

Business leaders across the Kingdom have welcomed the move.

“Jada” is a long-anticipated step to support this sector, which is the backbone of the economy,” said Helmi Nato, a member of the business youth committee at Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 blueprint for economic and social reform aims to increase the contribution of the SME sector to overall GDP to 35 per cent from 20 per cent.

Continue reading this story

December 19th 2019, 2:36 am

Corporate Entrepreneurship: Four ways to balance performance and disruption

Wamda

Joe Abi Akl is the acting chief corporate development officer at UAE-based Majid Al Futtaim, developers of shopping malls and communities across the Middle East
 
Corporate entrepreneurship is a buzzword many companies pay lip service to but few have actually got ‘nailed down’.
 
“He would say that,” you may think, coming from a company that was built by an entrepreneur. And you’d be right - to a point.
Our founder invested in concepts that were completely new to Dubai and the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region. In many ways, it made little financial sense given that nobody knew what the take-up of hypermarkets, shopping malls or snow parks would be.
 
And that is what entrepreneurship is about – being in it for the long-haul, taking risks and having an indestructible self-belief. But as a business expands and matures, the focus shifts increasingly towards managing day-to-day operations, and innovating becomes harder. There is a risk that the culture of entrepreneurship turns into a culture of performance.
 
Striking the right balance between the business running like clockwork and retaining a startup mentality is critical. It is all too easy to default to the former. This means you actively need to instigate disruption from within, among your team, but also outside.
 
Here are four core areas to consider when shaping your corporate entrepreneurship ‘scorecard’.
 
1) What do you want to be?
 
Corporate leaders often express their desire to be disruptors – because that is what they think people want to hear, and how they would like to be perceived. Innovation needs not be disruptive by default. Disruption is the tough end of the innovation spectrum.
 
But if you are not a disruptor, where do you want to sit on that spectrum? Are you a forwarder of other people’s innovations, or maybe more of a fast follower? There is no shame in choosing whether to follow rather than disrupt. But your choice will determine your approach – so it is imperative that you make a decision.
 
2) To jump or not to jump on the bandwagon
 
Building on existing innovation can be a valid route to success. But it is vital to have deep knowledge of your market before jumping on the bandwagon. Take the following example: many companies are focused on developing their digital propositions to capture the imagination of today’s digital natives.
 
But if we look at those audiences, as much as they ‘live’ online, their need for real-world experiences is still strong. In the Middle East in particular, audiences greatly value experiences that can be shared with family and friends. While digital channels can simplify booking a restaurant or cinema visit, they cannot provide that shared experience. What this means is that if companies get too engrossed with one trend, they may well jeopardise other opportunities.
 
It is easy to go down this slippery slope if innovation is too tightly wound up with the day-to-day business – which leads me to my next point.
 
3) Do not mix innovation and ‘business as usual’ 
 
Creating change at scale - not just incremental innovation – means changing how you operate. This may seem obvious, but it can easily become a real challenge in an established company.
 
The skillset for managing an existing business is quite different from the one you need for incubating a new line of business. Process focus and risk-averseness are good characteristics for the former, but a roadblock for the latter.
 
A business you’re incubating is often vastly different from your core business. Mix the two, and inevitably, targets and responsibilities for the current business will push innovation to the bottom of the list. Our experience at Majid Al Futtaim shows that creating completely separate structures and targets for the incubated business reaps the best results.
 
4) Creating the right ecosystem for incubation
 
In setting up a new business, it is important not to create an innovation silo. In the past, innovation used to be about intellectual property that you could ringfence and sell. As such, innovation was highly protectionist: ideas and people were hidden from the rest of the company - and the world - until a new product was ready.
 
Nowadays, hardly anyone believes that innovation happens in an ivory tower. Increasingly, it is the result of partnering with other members of the supply chain, external experts, startups, the public sector and government. It may even involve competitors – just think of the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi Alliance for electric and autonomous vehicles.    
 
Companies need to nurture ‘entrepreneurship ecosystems’ that bring together the right skills, experiences and connections from within and outside the company. This approach has distinct benefits for the core company – new ideas, capabilities and technologies that do not have to be developed in-house. But it also helps the other members of the ecosystem. It is mutually beneficial.
 
Encouraging ‘ecosystem entrepreneurship’
 
You will note that my list does not include a call to action for government or policymakers. While a supportive regulatory environment helps, developing an entrepreneurship ecosystem is all about what corporates can do for themselves to create the right culture and structures – both in-house and by networking.  
 
This also extends into the wider community, where corporates need to work much more on developing the innovators of the future – through their own internal development programmes, graduate or university schemes, or even by working with schools. This open approach to entrepreneurship unlocks greater benefits not only for the corporate but for its wider network. After all, the whole ecosystem is greater than the sum of its parts.

December 18th 2019, 9:28 pm

Adasat.com raises $350,000 in funding

Wamda

Source: Laffaz

Adasat.com is a new e-commerce platform based in Dubai that has recently raised $350,000 with the help of local investors. Founded by the Dubai-based entrepreneurs Payam Honari and Ziad Tariq, the company offers sunglasses, eyeglasses and contact lenses online. With the latest investment, the company hopes to augment the landscape of online shopping industry.

Adasat.com stands out amongst the rest with their new and innovative “Home Try On” shopping concept – without losing the touch of having a great customer service team to help customers with any difficulties they might face. The feature makes it convenient for customers to choose a couple of frames to try at home – just to make sure it fits and suits them.

The platform also offers a style profile which is a short survey comprised of questions based on the customers’ face and style preferences. These questions help narrow down customers’ options to the most suitable ones.

Among the thousands of products that the company offers, they have a massive selection of exclusive new arrivals on premium sunglass brands such as Emporio Armani, Hugo Boss, and Oakley. The platform not only exhibits a wide variety of sunglasses and eyeglasses but also multiple brands for contact lenses to choose from – with and without prescription.

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December 16th 2019, 6:14 pm

The untapped opportunity of esports in Mena

Wamda

Think of a current successful athlete from the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region. Chances are you’ll come up with a footballer, like Mohamed Salah or Riyad Mahrez.

But beyond mainstream sports, there is one discipline that is slowly creating some of the Arab world’s most promising athletes – athletes that the majority of the Mena population has never even heard of.

They are a new genre of sportspeople – esports “athletes” – from a discipline that is one of the fastest growing in the world. And industry executives agree that it is high time the Middle East paid attention to the massive opportunities it offers.

Esports, short for electronic sports, is an organised sporting competition for multi-player video games. They are streamed to live audiences online and sometimes in stadiums to millions of fans, who tune in to watch these athletes play.

As an industry, it is wildly popular in the US, China and South Korea, and now the Middle East, known for having the world’s most active 300 million-strong gaming community, is looking to grow its own esports market.

The Rise of Esports

The amount of investment in esports and government backing has increased over the past year. UAE-based W Ventures recently announced that it will be investing $50 million, through its independent brand engagement partner RedPeg Middle East, to develop an online and offline gaming platform in the region to support the local esports ecosystem.

“We see an opportunity to offer gamers in the region a completely unique and authentic experience, by providing them with the tools and infrastructure to be discovered and flourish in this growing global phenomenon,” says Habib Wehbi, chairman of W Ventures.

Meanwhile Bahrain’s government has promised to accelerate the growth of esports in the Gulf state by partnering with the BLAST Pro Series CS: Go final under a special public-private-partnership (PPP) framework to enable greater collaboration between the state and private entertainment franchises. The two-day esports tournament held earlier this month brought some of the world’s best players to Manama to play the first-person shooter video game in the largest esports event in the region.

“Publishers are starting to take notice of the region by localising games and having physical presence,” says Luciano Rahal, a gaming industry professional. “This is truly a first step into developing the market. For esports, teams like Nasr Esports and Yalla Esports have started to make an impact internationally, which has led to more interest to our region. We also have top publishers facilitating servers for our community to play on equal ground with the rest of the world.”

In figures shared by Vincent Wang, general manager of global publishing at China-based Tencent Games, the worldwide video games industry will make $148.8 billion in revenue in 2019, up 7.2 per cent year-on-year. In the Middle East and Africa (MEA), games revenue will reach $4.8 billion this year (an increase of 10.8 per cent year-on-year) and is estimated to reach $6 billion by 2021. Mobile gaming is the most popular, driven by the high smartphone penetration rate, counting for 47 per cent of total revenue (approximately $2.24 billion).

Earlier this year Tencent Games opened its regional headquarters in Dubai to better tap into the Middle East market.

“The UAE’s high mobile and internet penetration is an extremely encouraging indicator for tech firms across the world, and is especially relevant to the global games industry,” says Wang.  “We look forward to creating a platform that invests in and improves the regional games market, while encouraging local games enthusiasts and developers to push the boundaries of creativity and innovation.”

The gaming ecosystem consists of subcategories such as developers, publishers, and distributers. Esports is almost an ecosystem of its own within the ecosystem, comprising events (leagues, competitions), content (influencers, user-generated content), and media (official broadcasts and live streams), among others.

"It is important to differentiate between gaming and esports,” says Rahal. “Gamers in our region play video games as an escape from reality. Esports, on the other hand, is an international phenomenon that is taking the world by storm with prize money that reaches up to $30 million.”

Rising Stars

In terms of prize money, the top earning countries are the United States with $132,506,253 in prize money followed by China ($106,145,898) and South Korea ($88,141,766). Some esports events in these territories attract more viewers than traditional sports tournaments.

Twelve Mena countries are included in the top 100 earning countries in terms of prize money; the highest-ranking being Jordan, at number 23, with total earnings of $6,219,602. The others in the top 100 are Lebanon (number 27), Saudi Arabia (46), the United Arab Emirates (66), Morocco (79), Iraq (82), Bahrain (83), Tunisia (84), Kuwait (85), Algeria (86), Egypt (87) and Palestine (98).

Notable esports athletes from the region include top earner, Amer ‘Miracle’ Al-Barkawi, 22, who has made $4,692,418 in prize money from 51 tournaments. Lebanon’s Maroun ‘GH’ Merhej, 24, has won an estimated $4,086,426 from 38 tournaments.

Narrowing it down to the GCC, the UAE’s top two in terms of prize money are Adel ‘Big Bird’ Anouche ($44,024), and Amjad ‘Angry Bird’ Alshalabi ($23,325), while in Saudi Arabia, they are Mosaad ‘MSdossary’ Al-Dossary ($527,865) and Cuyler ‘Huke’ Garland ($277,977).

International business players are taking notice. This past October, Roc Nation Sports, founded by Shawn ‘Jay-Z’ Carter, made its first esports signing, taking on Al-Dossary to represent him internationally.

The region will soon see an all-women esports team for the Girlgamer World Finals tournament in Dubai next year, an initiative put together by government entity 10X Media, Dubai Ladies Club, Grow uP eSports and Galaxy Racer. The five-member team is set to compete at regional and international events in League of Legends tournaments throughout the year.

“Brands are more than ready to invest in the region,” Edouard Griveaud, vice-president of gaming esports at Webedia told the audience at recent Dubai industry event, ON.DXB. “Compared to a year ago, you don’t need to [explain esports as much] as we used to. But we need to take baby steps; we can't overpromise and scare them off.

“Today, the region is not ready for these 10,000-20,000-capacity events that we see in Asia, Europe or the US. You won't get the attendance.”

Enabling Growth

Event companies have been quick to take note of the popularity of gaming, incorporating an element of esports into their offerings.

For example, this year’s Middle East Games Con in Abu Dhabi hosted the region’s first-ever Brawlhalla tournament, while Dubai’s Middle East Film and Comic Con (MEFCC) hosts an esports arena every year. Several government-led bodies have also emerged throughout the region to establish new events and help grow the sector. The Saudi Arabian Federation for Electronics and Intellectual Sports (SAFEIS) and the Arab Esports Federation are leading the construction of several esports venues and academies to create an environment to encourage and nurture talent.

“The Middle East is the fastest growing gaming market in the world, yet unlike saturated Western markets, the region is still completely untapped,” says James Magee, co-founder and chief executive officer at UAE-based Global Event Management (GEM) which manages Insomnia in the GCC. “We have a huge opportunity in both the UAE and Saudi Arabia to give consumers something they really want.”

Magee believes it is a “duty” to play a pivotal role in nurturing local talent.

“We’re running student-specific tournaments with Go Gamers. School and university students can compete in our online championships with the aim of giving them guidance and support to go into a profession in the gaming industry. One of the tournaments will be creating a scholarship programme specifically for this reason,” he said. “[This] shows gamers in the region that we are serious about esports, and it gives them a great platform with a strong network and community to support and nurture their development.”

Changing Perceptions

Despite the rate of growth, esports still only attracts a niche audience.

“What we’re lacking is support and recognition. Things are changing, but very slowly here in the Middle East. There are hardly any teens or adults who are interested in going pro because it doesn't seem realistic for them, nor is it stable enough to be worth the time and effort,” says Anouche. “Maybe in the future, things will change, but as of now, it's just brushed off as ‘gaming’ and not something serious.”

Educating the wider public is essential, says Klaus Kajetski, founder and chief executive officer of Yalla Esports, a UAE-based startup managing an esports team that recently secured a six-figure seed funding round.

“[The biggest misconception about esports] is that it is a waste of time, or that gaming is harmful. There’s a big lack of education for parents [who need to know about] positives of gaming for their kids. Mena players are mostly semi-pro who work or study on the side.”

Therefore, investment starts with the players – before the events.

“It’s important to make sure that the money we get from these brands is properly distributed within the ecosystem,” says Griveaud. “The players are the key component of this ecosystem, but they are the last in the food chain when it comes to getting money. It [creates] this ‘chicken and egg’ discussion: For a player to be interesting for a brand to invest in, they need to have exposure and be able to create content about themselves.

“But creating content costs money. So what do they start with? Do they start with creating content in the hope that they will catch sponsors? Or do they participate in more tournaments to get more exposure? And this is where our world is essential, to make sure this redistribution of money happens properly.”

Anouche echoes Griveaud’s sentiments.

“Professional gamers can make an income from multiple sources – a salary from a sponsor or team; creating content for YouTube, or streaming daily on Twitch. None of those are easy and require a lot of commitment, which brings us back to [my original point] – people here have to believe it's worth their time and effort.”

For now, it seems that the region’s governments do think it is worth the time and effort as more partnerships, more events and more facilities open but it remains to be seen whether it will enable the talent and content creation that it requires. 

December 15th 2019, 10:49 pm

Sabbar raises $1.5 million seed

Wamda

Source: MENAbytes

Saudi-based recruitment technology platform Sabbar has raised $1.5 million in a seed round led by Dubai’s VentureSouq, the startup announced in a statement to MENAbytes today. The round was also joined by 500 Startups (Sabbar was also part of Misk500’s inaugural cohort), Derayah VC, and some ‘super angels’ from Saudi Arabia.

Founded last year by Mohamed T. Ibrahim, Abdul Rahman Al-Mudaiheem, Afnan Sherbeeni, and Sara Alshimemri, Sabbar, unlike the conventional recruitment platforms, is going after a niche but a big market. It connects gig workers with temporary work opportunities in businesses operating across retail, entertainment, and hospitality sectors. The Riyadh-headquartered startup enables these businesses to book casual staff during peak hours or high seasons, on an hourly basis, from its list of pre-qualified candidates.

Sabbar makes money by charging the businesses commission based on the hours they book. The commission varies by role, urgency fulfillment and the day of the week.

The startup claims to be connecting hundreds of workers to businesses on a monthly basis and has received over 110,000 applications since its launch in mid-2019. The job seekers can create their profiles and apply for opportunities on Sabbar using its mobile application.

“Sabbar leverages a proprietary engine, which builds user & role profiles and leverages geospatial analytics to match workers with job opportunities near them,” the startup said in a statement.

The jobs available on its platform include cashier, sales assistant, waiter, barista, receptionist, kitchen staff, event supervisor, security guard, and driver.

The statement by Sabbar notes that employee turnover in retail and service industries is estimated at 70 percent which is extremely unhealthy for any business. And the country has a big unutilised workforce of students. Sabbar aims to bridge the gap between this unutilised workforce and businesses by connecting them with each other using technology.

Mohamed T. Ibhraim, the co-founder and CEO, commenting on the occasion, said, “Global trends reveal a shift towards employing more hourly workers and the gig economy is estimated to be valued at nearly $2.7 trillion by 2025. In some developed markets, more than 40% of workers in the retail industry are on an hourly basis, and we are already observing similar trends in the Mena region.”

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December 15th 2019, 7:43 am

DentaCarts raises $450,000 seed round

Wamda

Egypt-based dental marketplace DentaCarts has raised $450,000 in seed funding from AUC Angels, Asia Africa Investment & Consulting, and 500 Startups.

 
The startup, founded in 2017 by Ahmed Yahia and Saad Saleh connects dentists with vendors, allowing them to purchase a variety of dentistry products. There are currently more than 10,000 items on both is application and website.  
 
According to chief executive officer, Yahia, the DentaCarts has served more than 1500 users in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Kenya, registering more than 10,000 orders. The company has close to 100 authorised dealers outside of Egypt. 
 
DentaCarts is a graduate of Misk500's first cohort. 
 

December 15th 2019, 7:43 am

Wamda co-leads $3M Series A round in online floral marketplace Floranow

Wamda

Wamda, the Middle East region's leading startup ecosystem enabler, has co-led a $3 million Series A round with Global Ventures in business-to-business (B2B) online floral marketplace, Floranow. The round includes previous investors Dash Ventures, Jabbar Internet Group, as well as new investors Sirocco Holdings, Adamtech Ventures, Zuaiter Holding Capital, HB Investments and angel investors. 
 
This is Wamda's second investment in the company, having participated in its first funding round in 2017.
 
Founded in 2016 by Charif Mzayek, UAE-based Floranow connects horticulturists and suppliers from across the globe directly to flower retailers through its online B2B marketplace.
This latest round of funding will be used to support Floranow's growth in Kuwait and further its expansion into the GCC, starting with Saudi Arabia. The company will also focus on optimising its proprietary marketplace technology.
 
Through its platform, Floranow disintermediates the marketplace for horticultural produce and minimises the variability in demand for florists, effectively bypassing multiple layers of a costly, and at times, inefficient supply chain. 
 
"Charif is an industry veteran with deep knowledge of the sector and through Floranow, he and his team have built a robust digital B2B supply chain and logistics infrastructure that is poised to reshape the floral retail industry," said Fadi Ghandour, executive chairman at Wamda.
 
Speaking about the company’s growth potential, founder Charif Mzayek said: “We are very excited to close this round that will support our efforts to build a global marketplace linking growers to buyers across the floral industry. We continue to expand our network of partners from China to Colombia and Holland to Kenya, digitising and optimising supply chains and creating value for all stakeholders involved.”
 
According to data from United Nations Comtrade, the International Trade Statistics Database, imports of cut flowers were worth $124 million across the GCC in 2017, a 40 per cent increase from $75 million in 2010.
 
Since its inception, Floranow has more than 12,000 articles on its marketplace and has successfully added hundreds of growers from around the world, including Colombia, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
 
The company had previously raised its first round of financing from Jabbar Internet Group, Dash Ventures, and Wamda back in December 2017.

December 15th 2019, 12:22 am

VentureSouq invests in $45 million Series B of US-based Vouch

Wamda

Source: MenaBytes

VentureSouq, a Dubai-based investment platform focused on investing in early-stage startups around the world, has invested in Vouch, a US-based startup that offers business insurance to startups only, it announced in a statement to MENAbytes yesterday.

The investment was part of Vouch’s $45 million Series B (announced last month) led by Y Combinator’s Continuity Fund. It takes the total money raised so far by the San Francisco-headquartered startup to $70 million. The previous investors of Vouch include Index Ventures, 500 Startups, Ribbit Capital, and Y Combinator.

Vouch has not disclosed the valuation it raised this money at but TechCrunch citing Pitchbook data has pointed out that that it’s $210 million.

Founded by a startup veteran Sam Hodges who previously co-founded business lending platform Funding Circle and Travis Hedge, a former Senior Associate at SVB Capital, Vouch, offers “fast, tailored, digitally-delivered insurance designed to support and scale with startups in high-pressure, rapid-growth environments."

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December 14th 2019, 7:55 am

Innovation Development Oman invests in Carzaty

Wamda

Innovation Development Oman (IDO) has announced its investment in Carzaty, an online retailer of new and used cars based in the sultanate. The amount was not disclosed.

Carzaty was founded in 2017 and recently expanded to the UAE.

“We have achieved great success in Oman by combining a sophisticated online sales platform with the best-in-class customer service,” said Hassan Jaffar, managing director at Carzaty. “We are proud to have sold hundreds of cars since our launch…Now, together with the support of IDO Investments and our other shareholders, we can further build our capabilities in the UAE and reach other important regional markets, including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.”

Mazin Al-Naamani, head of the Portfolio Impact at IDO Investments stated, “The Omani economy has a real and ambitious goal to amplify SME and startups business’ contribution to GDP and job creation. Major global economies rely on this segment to enhance their overall performance, and our investment in the Carzaty will serve as testimony to this thesis. With this investment, we expect Carzaty to expand further on a regional scale, and in turn, enter the global market and compete at the international level. We will support them to the best of our ability in developing their business, which will subsequently create an added value to Oman’s economy, both in terms of job creation for Omanis, as well as provision of world-class customer service to the national and regional market.”

December 12th 2019, 7:41 am

Mayday raises investment from angel investors

Wamda

Source: MENAbytes

Egypt-based roadside assistance platform Mayday has raised six-figure investment, the startup told MENAbytes without disclosing the exact size of investment. The round was led by Vflock Angel Network and joined by Alex Angels and Falak Startups. Mayday was part of Falak’s second cohort and the accelerator and early-stage investor has now participated in the latest round with follow-on funding.

Founded last year by Mohamed Aboelfotouh, Islam Ahmed, Amr Essam, Mayday offers different types of roadside assistance services including towing, tire repairs, battery jumpstart, oil change, and fuel, to individuals and businesses, through its mobile application (and hotline: 19618), across Egypt. The startup was second place winner of RiseUp’s pitch competition last year.

Mayday offers these services through its network of over 1,200 service providers ranging from two trucks for the heavy-duty jobs to ‘motorcycles built for speed’ with average service delivery time at twenty-eight minutes.

The startup that launched its full operations in January this year claims to have completed over 5,500 successful rescue requests across 24 major cities and highways in Egypt.

Mayday also has partnerships with different businesses including Careem, Shell Helix, and EG Bank, offering its roadside assistance services to customers and/or employees of these companies. The startup told MENAbytes that it has recently also signed an agreement with one of the world’s leading insurance companies operating in the Egyptian market (without disclosing its name) to provide roadside assistance services to its customers starting next month.

Mohamed Aboelfotouh, the founding partner of Mayday, speaking to MENAbytes, said that closing this round is a key milestone in Mayday’s journey, “We’ve been bootstrapping for better part of the year and now finally have the opportunity to invest in a solid marketing plan to drive awareness, further improve our technology and work on enhancing our service offerings with a focus on B2B.”

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December 12th 2019, 7:41 am

The UAE is the perfect launchpad for edtech solutions

Wamda

Katia Al-Kaisi is the founder and chief executive officer of Education House Finland which focuses on introducing Finnish education solutions to schools, universities and corporates in the Gulf region.

Digital learning and communication environments are an essential part of today’s education. We all know children that are digitally savvy by the age of two and in many parts of the world, learning in a digital environment starts at nursery. Use of digital technology in education can have a substantial impact. For example, analytics enable early intervention and personalised learning. Gamification increases motivation and engagement and makes students work more without realising. Technology will not get angry at you or embarrass you no matter how many times you try (or fail). And access to quality content globally has never been easier.

Digital solutions are also increasingly being used for communication between parents and teachers, helping ever busier families to stay on track with what is happening in their children’s’ lives.

All this has created an education technology (edtech) industry which is fast transforming how learning is done. Edtech has also become an interesting investment opportunity. Last year investments in edtech were recorded to be around $16.3 billion globally, China being the leader of the flock.

But as it goes with technology and development, great ideas are most often tried, tested and co-created. For this process, The United Arab Emirates is the perfect place, and its’ schools would benefit if opening their doors to co-creating something truly unique with global edtech companies.

Diverse Curriculums

The UAE should be the location of choice for many global edtech providers to conduct experimental research and new product development of educational platforms, solutions and environments. There is a variety of reasons for this.

First, when it comes to education, the UAE is uniquely diverse. For example, the UAE’s private K12 education scene has 17 different curriculums. This includes the world’s most popular ones such as UK, USA, International Baccalaureate and Indian curriculums – all in one geographically compact area.

Calculating in school fees, the UAE is the biggest international school market in the world. The school fees are estimated to grow from $4.4 billion two years ago to around $7 billion in 2023.

All this makes the UAE an influential global market for international schools. Also, the diversity of curriculums implemented provides a one-of-a kind testing ground for edtech companies hoping to attract global clientele.

Appetite for New Technology

But numbers aside, when developing edtech solutions, the culture of learning has an essential role. The UAE is known for having its sight in the future, and this also shows in the education sector. Many of the schools in the area are very well prepared for using digital technology; digital infrastructure functions as it should and there exists a real interest and appetite for the latest quality educational solutions. The digital mindset is present within the government as well as the residents.

Reasons for this are clear. Technology is the major competitive factor in the future, and it is essential for schools to adopt edtech solutions. While due to low birth-rates the number of students is falling in many developed countries, the opposite is true within the UAE and the whole Gulf region will have around 15 million students by 2020. In this development the private school sector has been a major force, but the UAE continues to invest heavily in the public sector as well.

The fantastic thing about edtech is that it has a global demand, and as life-long learning and learning outside of the class room are gaining more appreciation and becoming a full-on necessity, people of all ages and with variety of backgrounds are potential edtech users – and the mini-sized version of the world of education can be found in the UAE making it the perfect playground for global edtech companies.

 

December 11th 2019, 9:58 pm

Abu Dhabi's Group 42 invests in Chinese 3D printing firm

Wamda

Source: 3D Printing Industry

Chinese 3D printer provider and service bureau HeyGears Technology has reported the raising of $60 million in series B1 financing. The money has been invested by Abu Dhabi based AI and cloud computing company Group 42, which is led by CEO Peng Xiao.

Former Senior Executive VP, CTO and CIO of business analytics and mobility company MicroStrategy, Xiao says Group 42 is “optimistic about HeyGears’ strong innovation and development capabilities, product implementation capabilities, and good market performance,” adding that “HeyGears advances 3D printing technology and services to the application stage and is one of the few leading one-stop digital application providers.”

Founded in 2015, HeyGears seeks to provide a full-service ecosystem for the 3D printing of commercial end-use products. To date the company has launched two hardware lines, a suite of software platforms, a range of resins for dental, medical and “performance” 3D printing, and post-processing solutions.

“The ecosystem,” as phrased by the company, “allows HeyGears to provide B-end customers with whole-chain intelligent manufacturing solutions and offer C-end customers high-quality end products empowered by 3D printing technology.”

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December 11th 2019, 7:06 am

Telr secures funding from existing investors

Wamda

UAE-based Telr, an online payment gateway startup, has closed an undisclosed institutional round of funding led by its three largest investors, which includes iMENA.

The investment will be used to fuel the company’s growth plans in the GCC and wider Middle East region.

Telr processes payments of large-scale organisations such as government entities, retail chains and ride-hailing apps as well as the small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) segment. Telr also offers digital invoicing,  anti-fraud security and real-time monitoring services, QR Codes, social commerce solutions, hosted pages and entry-level fee packages for brand new startups.

“Small businesses are the backbone of any economy and are huge employers,” said Khalil Alami, Telr’s newly appointed chief executive officer (CEO). “Merchants can grow their company in an affordable and creative way without having to worry about how to capture payments from their customers or about accessing financial services.”

December 11th 2019, 7:06 am

iFix raises investment from A15

Wamda

Source: Ventureburn

Cairo-based on-demand mobile phone repair startup iFix has raised an undisclosed investment from A15, an Egyptian firm that invests in digital products and technology brands.

Egyptian news publication Hapi Journal reported in an article yesterday that iFix will use the investment (which tech publication MenaBytes said in an article was a six-figure dollar sum) to launch an e-commerce platform for used mobile phones.

The startup was founded in 2015 by Omar Galal and Mohamed Fayez.

Hapi Journal said iFix has completed over 50 000 mobile phone repairs since it was launched.

It’s not clear when the deal was concluded, Ventureburn sought comment on this and other details of iFix’s operations from the startup but had not received a response at the time of publication.

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December 11th 2019, 7:06 am

Tarjama.com Acquires Captivate Arabia

Wamda

Source: Slator

In a transaction concluded in November 2019, Tarjama.com has acquired Captivate Arabia, an audio-visual translation and subtitling agency that has localized over 50,000 hours in the fields of entertainment and E-learning.

Originally founded in 2009, Captivate Arabia has operated from Jordan, offering a variety of services including subtitling & captioning; media content localization; translation; transcription; voiceover & dubbing and compliance editing.

Tarjama’s interest in acquiring Captivate Arabia is largely motivated by the subtitling agency’s positioning as a leading B2B media localization service provider that supports some of the biggest regional and global entertainment and VOD players.

The exact terms of the deal were undisclosed, however, Captivate Arabia’s CEO and media localization industry veteran, Sameh Hammouri will lead on Tarjama’s expanded subtitling capabilities.

With subtitling, translation and transcription already part of Tarjama’s offered services, this acquisition would seamlessly guarantee more enhanced services for the company’s current and prospective clients. Captivate Arabia has extensive expertise in the field of subtitling, captioning, and transcription, with a deep understanding of the region’s intricate nuances.

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December 11th 2019, 1:33 am

BeyondCapital launches its Angel Investor Network

Wamda

Source: Startup MGZN

On Thursday the 5th of December, BeyondCapital launched its Angel Investor Network, an initiative that consists of individual angel investors interested in financing early-stage companies. With fundraising being one of the biggest challenges facing entrepreneurs in Jordan, the BeyondCapital Angel Investor Network will facilitate the introduction of entrepreneurs to potential investors.

BeyondCapital holds a strong track record for dispatching and managing programmatic investments and specializes in bridging the gap between the entrepreneurial ecosystem and the investor community. To accelerate the growth of the Jordanian start-up ecosystem and expand investment pools, BeyondCapital’s Angel Investor Network will facilitate syndicated deals in which members of the network can invest collectively in early-stage ventures. 

The launch event commenced with a welcome note from BeyondCapital’s Managing Director, Tamer Al-Salah who also commented on the vision and model of the network: ‘‘Among the most important considerations for a strong network infrastructure is a system for consistent, quality pipeline. Jordan needs cooperation between its Angel investors and support organizations to set up the right structures for sustainable Angel networks. This would include a dedicated group administration, matching capital, and in-house support’’. 

With support from partner organizations ISSF and GIZ, BeyondCapital will provide members with various services which remove existing barriers to this asset class. The core services which BeyondCapital will provide to the network include deal sourcing, deal screening, due diligence support, operations management, optional trainings, access to matching capital, legal support related to due diligences and SPV setup, and term sheet negotiation support.

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December 11th 2019, 1:33 am

Dokkan Afkar closes $5 million Series B

Wamda

Saudi Arabia-based Dokkan Afkar, an e-commerce site dedicated to selling homegrown and innovative gadgets, gizmos and gifts has closed a SAR19 million ($5 million) Series B funding round led by the Business Incubators and Accelerators Company (BIAC), and joined by existing investor Riyad TAQNIA Fund, the Saudi Venture Capital Company (SVC) and a number of local investors, including Mishal Ali Reda, who has now invested in the startup in three of its funding rounds.  

Dokkan Afkar plans to use the raised capital to continue its work on the growth and expansion of the business throughout the Middle East region, focusing on increasing the portal’s products and product inventory with the vision of attracting a larger and more diverse customer base. Dokkan Afkar will also acquire additional creative talent and suppliers.

“We have learned a lot over the past six years – and have been progressing and moving from one success station to another,” said Ammar Waganah, co-founder and chief executive officer at Dokkan Afkar. “We now look forward to moving towards our next phase of the business, expanding into the rest of the Arab region, followed by entering into a number of international markets.

Established in 2013, Dokkan Afkar – which translates into “Shop of Ideas” – is an online retail service that sells a wide range of uniquely creative and innovative products, with a strong focus on promoting local homegrown creative talent and suppliers. Back in 2017, the company closed its Series A at $2 million.          

“The company now has a fantastic opportunity to expand, and deliver brands homegrown in Saudi Arabia to a wider audience in the rest of the Arab world, as well as globally. We hope that the website will become the platform to promote the export of Saudi products, contributing to the digital economy as per Vision 2030,” said Mishaal AliReza who is a member of the Board of Directors of Dokkan Afkar.

December 10th 2019, 6:02 am

The Pyramids and the future of innovation in Egypt

Wamda

The Pyramids of Giza, the only wonder of the ancient world to remain standing, is intrinsic to the Egyptian psyche. It is not only a source of pride and revenue thanks to the millions of tourists who flock to the site every year, but a symbol of Egypt’s historical ingenuity and innovative capability.

Now, the country’s startup ecosystem is looking to reposition this wonder to serve as a backdrop for future innovation, and it began with Pitch by the Pyramids, a multi-stage pitching event that saw 15 startups from across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) hoping to secure investment.

The winner of the people’s vote was UAE-based Yanzo, an on-demand personal assistant app that won $60,000 while the judge’s choice was Egypt-based human resources and payroll platform Paynas, which won $50,000 from 500 Startups.

The event concluded the seventh RiseUp Summit, whose founder Abdelhameed Sharara announced a three-year partnership with Gemini Enterprises Africa, part of the Orascom Group, to co-develop innovation hubs at the Pyramids Plateau and other Orascom-owned holdings, while the former gains exclusivity for any entrepreneurial events in the area.

“Our aim is to position the Pyramids as a hub to merge history and the future, to connect the culture with innovation and entpreneurship,” said Adly Thoma, chief executive officer at Gemini Enterprises Africa. “Together the ecosystem will reach this objective to position the Pyramids and RiseUp to the next level.”

Egypt’s Ecosystem

Since the first RiseUp Summit in 2013, the event has expanded steadily, outgrowing its inaugural home at the Greek Campus in Downtown Cairo. This year, the event attracted more than 8000 attendees, from 56 countries including 290 startups and 400 investors making it the largest entrepreneurship event in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region. It was held for the first time in the sprawling campus of the American University of Cairo (AUC) which afforded the organisers the space they needed to host such a large event, but in doing so, it removed the summit away from the heart and bustle of Cairo.

Hosting RiseUp at the Pyramids will likely re-instill the cultural feel of the event, which has proven to be a good gauge of the state of the startup ecosystem in Egypt.

Last year, as mobility dominated the panel sessions, there was a visual battle of logos on buses and scooters that spilled out onto the street, a physical display of the ability of startups to bring real change.

And that is perhaps where Cairo’s ecosystem outshines most – solving for its own market inefficiencies. In nascent ecosystems, startups typically tend to imitate businesses that have seen success elsewhere, with a fair bit of localisation. As ecosystems mature, so too do the startups that emerge, demonstrating an understanding of the local market and providing a level of innovation that disrupts traditional sectors; it appears that Egypt is at this stage of its development.

“It’s really important to build on problems that exist in the country, startups can only thrive if they’re solving for an issue that exists,” said Vera Futorjanski, director of innovation at 500 Startups.   

With a population of 100 million, crumbling infrastructure and lack of public services, startups have emerged in the country to provide solutions for these problems. It is why companies like Uber and Careem chose Cairo as the launchpad for their bus services and why local startups like Swvl, Buseet and Halan continue to expand and grow.

Beyond mobility, Egypt is producing a strong pipeline for health technology (healthtech) as well as education technology (edtech) and financial technology (fintech). In a country where more than 80 per cent remain unbanked, Egypt is fast becoming a financial inclusion hub. There was also strong presence from software-as-a-service (SaaS) and hardware technology, reflecting the country’s robust engineering capabilities.

“A lot of governments in Mena want to create ecosystems, it’s finally reached the stage where governments have realised that we need to create entrepreneurial ecosystems be it in edtech or health,” said Futorjanski. “But you need to create a pipeline for talent, no government in the world has enough talent.”

Software Engineers

But in some respects, talent does not seem to be lacking in Egypt. With an unemployment rate of 11.8 per cent and a youth unemployment rate of almost 33 per cent in Egypt according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), it is arguably here that entrepreneurship is the most culturally accepted across Mena as a viable career path. For young engineers and developers, working abroad or for big corporates like Vodafone still remains the most attractive option, but increasingly, startups are able to attract the local talent.

And it is talent that is sought after around the world. Andela, the software outsourcing company founded in Nigeria made a plea to Egyptian software engineers to join its team, only for a member of the audience to speak out against the company, accusing it of poaching Egyptian engineers who could instead be working for Egyptian companies and benefitting the local ecosystem. Andela Egypt country director, Rama El Safty’s only response was “this is our business model”.

Meanwhile Jordan-based Arabic content platform Madoo3 announced it will be expanding its Cairo team from eight people currently, to 100 at the start of 2019 to develop its artificial intelligence (AI) voice assistant, Salma.

“We see the talent is here, Microsoft Luis [the language understanding unit of Microsoft which uses machine-learning to build natural language into apps, bot and internet of things devices] is in Cairo, the whole team, not just for Arabic, but for all languages. If you go to Google or Facebook in Silicon Valley you will see a lot of Arab talent,” said Hussein Al-Natsheh, chief AI officer at Mawdoo3. 

Mawdoo3 also announced the acquisition of SuperMama, an Arabic online publication tailored to women.

Money and Women

Beyond talent, another lifeline for startups is capital. This is perhaps Egypt’s weakest point in the ecosystem. The country’s strong pipeline of startups frequently look beyond its borders for investment. Swvl, an application for booking buses raised the country’s largest ever Series B round of $42 million from VCs in Sweden, UAE, China and the US. The company is now relocating its headquarters from Cairo to Dubai to sustain its growth.

Egypt has the highest rate of startup failure among the 49 countries studied in the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2018 report, with a rate of 10.2 per cent, driven primarily by a lack of profitability and difficulties in accessing capital.

Increasing investment has become a point of focus for the government and financial institutions with new funds being made available. The Central Bank of Egypt recently announced a $58 million fintech fund, while USAID announced the launch of TIYE Angels, a women’s angel investment network, in partnership with the Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre, United Nations Development Programme and Malaikah Angels.

Enabling female entrepreneurship was one major focus at RiseUp with several panel discussions.

“We’re making men fear us because we’re coming and we’re coming big,” said Neveen El Tahri, chairperson and managing director at 138 Pyramids, an accelerator based in Egypt. “I believe women are much more entrepreneurial than men.”

Be it men or women who pursue entrepreneurship in Egypt, both require greater access to capital and a friendlier regulatory environment to do business.

“We wanted to make sure entrepreneurs have a free hand and have the right ecosystem to grow and flourish and contribute to the economy in a sustainable and resilient manner,” said Sahar Nasr, Egypt’s minister of investment and international cooperation. “We have to make sure the legal, legislative and institutional environment is in place to allow startups to contribute to our economy.”

Too often in Mena there is a risk of viewing the ecosystem in a bubble, become overly positive and celebrate the small successes too much. In a place like Egypt however, it is almost impossible to be so congratulatory. One is reminded of the daily struggles of life at almost every corner. Getting around is a hassle, Cairo is one of the most polluted cities in the world and the country suffers from a poverty rate of 30 per cent. While the economy has picked up over the past few years, gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is less than $3000 and corruption is still common. It is not the easiest of places to live or start a business and if companies can scale here, amid such challenges, it gives them the resilience and know-how to scale in similar markets around the world.

December 8th 2019, 9:57 pm

Wamda invests in UAE-based fintech startup FlexxPay

Wamda

Wamda has invested in UAE-based financial technology (fintech) startup FlexxPay (flexxpay.com). The social impact company provides employee benefit solutions for businesses of all sizes in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region. Wamda's investment is part of FlexxPay's latest round of funding, which includes previous individual and corporate investors.

FlexxPay's proprietary cloud-based solution provides employees access to a series of services and benefits, including the ability to access their earned salary and earned commissions whenever needed. By offering an alternative to the traditional payment cycle, FlexxPay aims to reduce the financial stress on employees and increase their motivation, and in turn, enhance productivity, sales and employee retention rates for businesses.

“FlexxPay is targeting a very clear pain point with an innovative and unique solution that will help unlock individuals’ income on an as-earned basis. We are confident in the team’s ability to drive the company forward and are excited to partner with them on that journey,“ said Fadi Ghandour, executive chairman at Wamda.

Commenting on the business and Wamda’s investment, Michael Truschler, co-founder and CEO of FlexxPay said: “FlexxPay solves a real world problem for employers and their employees. Giving employees access to what they have already earned helps them to cover unexpected expenses and motivates them at the same time. Having Wamda as an investor further validates our business model and inspires our team as a whole.”

Financial matters rank top of the list for employees when it comes to primary sources of stress, with 59 per cent stating finances were their primary cause of concern, according to "PwC's 8th annual Employee Financial Wellness Survey" of 2019.

This has created a space for fintech startups to address employee benefits and create a system supporting traditional human resources (HR) and finance teams in addressing pay period timing and bridging the gap between pay and spend times for employees. The model has widely been proven in the US and Europe with players such as Earnin (US), PayActiv (US) as well as Wagestream (UK) and Hastee (UK).

FlexxPay currently operates in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, with plans to expand to the rest of Mena in the near future.

The team will use the funds to enhance its technology platform and will focus on onboarding corporate clients.

FlexxPay previously raised an undisclosed funding round in July 2019 and recently signed a partnership agreement with Riyad Bank, one of Saudi Arabia’s largest financial institutions.

December 8th 2019, 2:38 am

Global Ventures and BECO Capital invest in Tribal Credit

Wamda

Source: Digital Boom

US-based Tribal Credit closed a $5.5 million Seed round led by BECO Capital and Global Ventures to bank startups in emerging markets and help them break free from local financial barriers.

The fintech’s backers include Endure Capital, 500 Startups, Valve VC, AR Ventures, Off The Grid Ventures, Rising Tide Fund, RiseUp, and Tribe Capital.

Tribal Credit is a business credit card specially designed to meet the needs of emerging market startups. Using a proprietary AI-driven approval process and blockchain technology, the Silicon Valley based fintech provides startups with instant access to credit and complete control over their spending.

“Tribal Credit will bring startups closer to the payment channels and capital they need to grow and scale, giving them access to banking services previously only available to large corporates,” said Amr Shady, CEO and Endeavor entrepreneur who previously founded TA Telecom.

Around 200 million SMEs in emerging economies lack access to formal savings and credit, which often restrict or slow startup growth. Strict banking regulations often limit or make difficult the opening of business bank accounts, obtaining credit cards, and making cross-border payments.

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December 5th 2019, 2:42 pm

Bekia raises six-figure investment

Wamda

Source: Startup Scene

Cairo-based tech-powered waste management services startup Bekia has raised six-dollar-figure investment from Oman Technology Fund after partaking in their Wadi OTF Accelerator programme. The Egyptian startup serves as a marketplace where people can exchange household waste and get rid of unused items. The startup aims to use the funds gained to increase operational efforts and expand throughout Egypt, beginning with the coastal city of Alexandria.

Established in 2017 by Alaa Afifi, Bekia launched its services in 2017 to help the Egyptians to get rid of their waste, As Egypt is one of the biggest waste producers in the world. According to statistics, Egypt generates more than +100 million tons of waste yearly. 

Bekia is a marketplace where people can exchange household waste such as plastic, electronics or unused items in return for daily essential consumer goods such as groceries, school supplies, transport tickets or mobile data, or in other terms, exchange, save or donate their waste. The startup has successfully managed to make more than 10,000+ orders and compiled more than 20,000 tons of solid waste.

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December 5th 2019, 10:50 am

Wasla Browser raises $1 million in seed funding

Wamda

Source: Venture Burn

Wasla, a Cairo-based startup that has developed an incentivised mobile browser that rewards users with free mobile internet has raised $1-million in seed funding.

Egypt’s Waya Media reported yesterday in a post on Facebook that the investors involved in the round include Egypt Ventures, Glint Ventures and Ebtikar for Financial Investments.

Wasla’s browser rewards users with points based on their engagements. Users can then redeem their points for free airtime directly from the browser’s wallet.

Tech publication Menabytes reported in an articleyesterday that Wasla — which also enables brands to serve its users with targeted ads — also provides services that include affiliate marketing and field research.

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December 5th 2019, 10:37 am

KBW Ventures invests in US-based pet food startup

Wamda

KBW Ventures, the venture capital (VC) firm founded by Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed, son of Saudi Arabian billionaire Prince Talal bin Alwaleed, has invested in US-based Bond Pet Foods in a $1.2 million seed funding round.

Bond uses biotechnology to make animal-free and protein-rich pet food through a fermentation process. Animal muscle protein genes are taken from a farm animal and added to a microbe which is then fermented and fed with simple sugars, vitamins and minerals to produce a protei that is nutritionally identical to their meat counterparts without the environmental, animal welfare and safety downsides.

The seed round was led by Lever VC with participation from Agronomics, Plug and Play Ventures and Andante Asset Management.

"KBW Ventures joined Bond's seed round because we see that their proprietary approach to production has far reaching implications. The technology and science behind Bond products is in line with our values; we want to back ventures that are commercially-promising and that seek sustainable solutions," said Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed, founder and chief executive officer at KBW Ventures.

This is not the first “meat-alternative” investment from the Prince, who is an early investor in Beyond Meat, the vegan alternative to beef burgers based in the US.

December 5th 2019, 6:30 am

In conversation with Rita Huangzhen of iMile

Wamda

When Rita Huangzhen left China in 2008 to work for Huawei in Dubai, she had no idea that the emirate would become the place she would get married, have children and start her own business.

Now, more than a decade later, she is the founder and chief operating officer (CEO) of iMile, a last-mile logistics startup that specialises in delivering goods from Chinese e-commerce sites to customers in the Middle East region.

Tell us about your journey so far

Huawei assigned me to this region, it changed my life. I didn’t know anything outside of China when I graduated. I have a technical background in biomedical engineering. I learned how to develop and do business outside of China in a professional way, in a cross-cultural team. Huawei made a lot of mistakes abroad in the beginning like how to pay tax on time, how to work in multi-cultural environment and I experienced that journey.

Then in 2014 Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma came to Dubai when cloud computing was a hot topic. He built a joint venture with Meraas to put Dubai on the cloud and they hired me as the chief technology officer (CTO). I was the one to build the first public cloud computing centre in Dubai with du, Etisalat and the TRA [Telecoms Regulatory Authority]. It took me two years and when I finished that, I saw there was a lot of change in the e-commerce market and I thought maybe it’s time to do something.

How did you start iMile?

I was used to changing my industry, I started in biomedical engineering, then telecoms then the cloud so I thought let me learn about logistics. We started in the Meadows in my villa with three people and the first driver. When we got the first orders, the driver came back at midnight and said “it’s not going to work, no one will take a made-in-China product. No one will pay”.

We were so frustrated, I decided to deliver myself. I did operations, finance, the customer care, spoke to customers on Whatsapp and delivered. I told myself I needed to do everything to understand the industry and the technology. I told customers I’m the CEO of this company, we are a new company. I wanted to see what happened. Sometimes, I brought my daughter with me who would give them the product and they would giver her a dh10 tip. I gained a lot of confidence and I could see how we could do better.

What did you do better?

Initially, I thought operations would make things faster, but after I experienced the whole journey, I found that tech is something that can definitely make real change. So, I got the best talent in China, but they failed because of customer behaviour and driver behaviour here is totally different to China. I make my decisions very fast, so I decided to hire local talent and work with them. After the first year we started being profitable.

We started in the UAE and are now operating in Saudi Arabia and looking at Kuwait and Egypt. We will move our call centre to Egypt next month.

How does the Chinese market compare to here?

Compared to China, the e-commerce market here is still very small. In China, the penetration of e-commerce is at its maximum now and the volume is still increasing by 30 per cent because the frequency of buying has changed. You can even buy ice cream online in China. Efficiency here is low, in China, one delivery associate can deliver 100 to 200 orders a day. Everything is prepaid and you don’t need the customer to be home to deliver. Density is low here, you have to check the shipment, collect the money, efficiency is very low here.

But the local market is changing, for big players like Amazon and Noon, they are getting more prepaid orders. When Alibaba started, nobody had tried e-commerce, the service level was not stable and no one trusted it. It was the initial phase of all e-commerce, now in China, slowly slowly it became 100 per cent prepaid.

What about the issue of cash on delivery (COD)?

In this region, last mile is related to COD which is something that is very difficult. Most companies will use customer COD for cashflow, so we collect the money on behalf of the e-commerce companies and we remit it back to the seller in less than seven days. Others take longer.

What are the other challenges in last mile?

When we look at the market, last mile always follows the same trend as e-commerce. We have seen this happen in India and China. E-commerce cannot grow without supporting logistics players. Last mile is business to consumer, so the cost is very high. There is very solid cost on people, operations, warehousing, vehicles and technology. Many people cannot make this balance. The volume is not enough that is why the cost is not going down. Efficiency is not high enough, so the cost is always high. We have been observing all of this which is why we have been investing in technology to bring down the cost and improve efficiency and have better customer experience.

Our market is very small so it is very difficult to generate income, anybody on the street can buy a bike and go do deliveries, but we ulitise a lot of tech so you can crowdsource, there will be drivers like Uber or Careem and you are able to see how many drivers there are in your area, when the system generates an order, the drivers who are free can pitch to get that order.

What will your industry look like in the next few years?

Although the market is struggling, in the end there will be a few players to survive. We have two to three years until we reach two or three players. They will survive because some of them may be strong in certain parts. They may have certain connection with e-commerce companies or volume. Whoever has the volume will be able to survive. We do next-day delivery with local players, I don’t think the one-hour delivery is the service that the market requires, the majority is still low-cost and better customer experience for next-day delivery. So the key is to bring the volume up and reduce the cost.

 

December 4th 2019, 8:53 pm

Nejree raises $4 million

Wamda

Source: Arabian Business

Saudi-based Nejree, the online sneaker retailer, announced on Wednesday it has raised $4 million in Pre-Series A funding led by AlKhaila Investment Co and Teejan Technologies Co.

The new capital will further fuel the start-up’s expansion into new markets and invest in technologies to enhance online customer experience, it said in a statement.

The funding will also assist to increase inventory, product line, the capacity of warehouses, vehicle fleet, and build a solid operational system, it added.

Nejree said it further intends to start a new round of funding to raise at least $13 million.

The company said it has sold more than 100,000 sneakers this year and achieved a 90 percent delivery rate within 24 hours through its own fleet in Riyadh.

Nejree is the first online specialised sneaker destination in the region and offers a wide range of products including Adidas, Nike, Puma, Asics, Reebok, Fila, Fendi, D&G, Gucci, and Balenciaga.

“Nejree is extremely proud to have obtained the support of exceptional investors in this round of financing. Support from such strong investors indicates the tremendous level of confidence in our brand, mission and growth strategy,” said Ibrahim Al Mogren, founder and CEO of Nejree.

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December 4th 2019, 4:37 pm

Fetchr raises $10 million in emergency funding

Wamda

Source: Bloomberg

Courier app Fetchr, once one of the Middle East’s largest startups, raised as much as $10 million in emergency funding to help avoid collapse.

The Dubai-based company, which offers delivery and logistics services to e-commerce firms, is also in the process of securing as much as $25 million in additional funding to turn the company around, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Existing Fetchr investors, who had put up more than $50 million since the company was founded in 2012, will see the value of their shares diluted to almost zero, according to a letter to investors seen by Bloomberg and the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private.

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December 4th 2019, 4:37 pm

Trella acquires Trukto

Wamda

Source: MenaBytes

Cairo-based Y Combinator-backed digital trucking marketplace Trella has acquired local rival Trukto, the startup told MENAbytes today, without disclosing financial details of the transaction. The acquisition will help it increase its market share and solidify its position as a market leader, said the startup.

Trella, founded late last year by former Uber employees Omar Hagrass and Ali El Attrash, former Vezeeta employee Pierre Saad and Muhammad El Garem, connects shippers with carriers through its online marketplace. Trukto, founded by Ahmed Khedr and Ali Khedr in 2017, also operated in the same space.

The acquisition after completion of operational and network integration will result in Trella having more than 10,000 truckers in its network, making it the largest trucking marketplace in Egypt.

The startup aims to leverage the acquisition to accelerate its growth strategy in the Middle East and North Africa.

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December 4th 2019, 2:18 pm

Mubadala Leads a $32 million funding in London-based Cazoo

Wamda

Source: EU-startups

Cazoo, a new platform transforming the purchase of used cars, today launches with a triple announcement. In addition to launching, Cazoo announces having raised an additional €29 million of funding, consequently breaking the record for pre-launch funding at over €90 million. Funding was led by venture capital firms General Catalyst and Mubadala Capital, and will be used to both grow the team and further invest in marketing and operations.

Cazoo, founded in 2018, aims to transform the way people buy used cars in the UK by providing better selection, transparency, convenience and peace of mind. They aim to make car buying no different than buying any other product online today, where consumers can simply and seamlessly purchase a used car entirely online and have it delivered to their door in as little as 72 hours. With no forecourts or sales people, Cazoo passes the savings on to its customers, effectively ‘Amazon-ing’ the used car market.

Cazoo is the latest venture from Alex Chesterman, who previously founded LoveFilm and Zoopla, and is set to transform how 8 million used cars are bought each year by putting the entire process online and offering home delivery, much like buying any other product today.

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December 4th 2019, 2:54 am

Riyadh Valley Company leads $6 million series B in South Korea based SecuLetter

Wamda

Source: Techstartups

Riyadh Valley Company (RVC) led a $6 million series B investment round in SecuLetter, a cybersecurity startup that provides advanced persistence threat (APT) response solution to email attack, for its email security technology and non-executable file attack diagnosis technology. The round, which values the company at $36 million. The round was also led by the Korea Development Bank (KDB Bank), with participation from existing investor the Korea Investment Partners.

Founded in 2015, the South Korea-based SecuLetter helps organizations to detect unknown attacks with hybrid approaches, static and dynamic analysis even though cyber criminals recently hide malicious links and attachments to bypass existing email security systems. SecuLetter has been improving its analyzing technology to respond to evolving email threats and blocking zero-day attacks.

“Since the cyber-attacks against Saudi Arabian national organizations have become notorious worldwide, we have been interested in finding leading overseas cyber security companies at the national level. After more than a year’s careful evaluation, we decided to invest in SecuLetter because we believe the company is sound and possesses outstanding technical excellence and marketability,” Dr. Khalid Al-Saleh, RVC’s CEO said.

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December 4th 2019, 2:07 am

Inggez raises six-figure investment

Wamda

Source: MenaBytes 

Palestinian fitness startup Inggez has raised an investment from Ibtikar Fund, the Ramallah-based VC announced last week. The size of investment was not disclosed but we have confirmed that it is a six-figure USD deal.

Founded last year by Ali Tazami and Subhi Mara’beh, Inggez allows users to access gyms and fitness studios (classes), through its mobile app without committing to a long-term membership of a gym. The users instead have to purchase Inggez credits that they can use to access all the gyms and fitness studios on their network.

Inggez said in a statement that it’s targeting the people who do not work out on a regular basis, “Through Inggez, people can explore different fitness options, learn more about different gyms’ offerings and classes, and easily book a slot, paying only when they work out,” the startup said in a statement.

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December 2nd 2019, 4:44 pm

Jinni raises six-figure in funding

Wamda

Source: MenaBytes 

Cairo-based cleaning services startup Jinni has raised six-figure (USD) investment from AUC Angels, the newly launched angel group told MENAbytes today, without disclosing exact size of the deal. It is the first disclosed investment of AUC Angels, the first university-based angel network of the region.

Founded in late 2016 by a husband-and-wife-duo; Mostafa Ghannam and Alaa Shams, Jinni offers different types of cleaning services to both residential users and corporate clients. The startup that initially received orders through Facebook, phone and email, has recently launched its mobile apps for both sides of the marketplace; customers and cleaners, allowing customers to book cleaners through these apps.

Jinni claims to have served over 3,000 residential customers completing over 12,000 orders for them and tens of corporate clients including Uber, Modelez International, and Egyptian Steel since its launch, in Cairo, Giza and the North Coast. Jinni grew its GMV from EGP 1.3 million (~USD $81,000) in 2017 to EGP 3 million (~USD 186,000) in 2018 and has been able to grow it three times YoY to EGP 9.5 million (~USD 590,000) in 2019 (for the period until Oct 2019 – with two months still to go in the year).

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December 2nd 2019, 4:27 pm

Raseedi raises $400,000 in seed funding

Wamda

Source: Menabytes

Raseedi, a Cairo-based startup that helps dual SIM users (in Egypt) optimize their telecom spend through its mobile app, has raised $400,000 in a seed fund round led by 500 Startups with participation of Falak Startups and EFG-EV Fintech, the startup announced in a statement yesterday.

Founded last year by Ahmed Atalla and Samuel Samy, Raseedi has developed a phone dialer app for dual SIM users on Android that uses a smart algorithm to cross-match user consumption with most suitable packages on both lines and automate calls from the cheapest SIM for each call. In simple words, with Raseedi installed, any dual SIM user will be able to make the cheapest possible calls (from the options that are available), without having to think and choose the options.

The startup, in a statement, said that its app is addressing the pain-point that affects a large part of population Egyptians who are dual SIM users. The cost of a cross-operator minute is up to five more expensive than a minute used on the same network which is why such a large number of Egyptians have resorted to simultaneously use two SIM cards to optimize their spend, Raseedi’s statement explained.

“But with over 500 different packages being offered in the market by telecom operators, it is extremely difficult to subscribe to the most suitable packages for both lines/SIMs,” it added.

That’s where Raseedi helps with its dialer app that has been downloaded over 200,000 times since its launch ten months ago.

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December 2nd 2019, 3:57 pm

Overcoming barriers of women-led entrepreneurship in Palestine

Wamda

Ghassan Amayra is the co-founder of Palestine-based MENACatalyst and Leila Farraj is the digital content strategist at MENACatalyst

From the United States to the United Kingdom, the UAE to Latin America, the power of entrepreneurship lies in its ability to drive growth and effect change in economies around the world. When we stop to think about entrepreneurship, the first thing that tends to come to mind are companies that have risen to become billion-dollar giants, like Amazon in the US, or Careem in the UAE, a regional on-demand ride-hailing service which was recently acquired by Uber for $3.1 billion. Yet, entrepreneurship is more than just billion-dollar names. Rather, entrepreneurship lies in one’s ability, regardless of gender, to innovate and create change whether in the market economy, or to better society. 

But for developing countries suffering from an economic downturn, the need to adopt approaches, like entrepreneurship, that breaks dependency on foreign aid, while combating extreme poverty among the most marginalised, such as women, is crucial.

Women Entrepreneurship: A Global Perspective

For women around the world, the bleak employment landscape and lack of economic opportunities has remained what may seem to be an insurmountable obstacle to their financial independence. According to the World Bank, women entrepreneurship is essential to not only promote a healthy market economy but to combat extreme poverty on a global scale. However, gender disparities have proven time and again a major roadblock for women entrepreneurs looking to access resources, capital and support to launch and maintain their own ventures.  

In the US alone, women-driven enterprise has grown 114 per cent in the past two decades, creating almost nine million jobs and generating approximately $1.7 trillion to the economy. Women-led entrepreneurship now accounts for 40 per cent of all entrepreneurial activity in the US. 

However, the highest rate of early stage entrepreneurial activity is surprisingly found in Palestine at 23 per cent, followed by women led startups in  Latin America and the Caribbean which is at 16.7 per cent. Compare that to North America which is at 12.8 per cent and Europe with the lowest rates at 6.1 per cent which translates into six women for every 10 male entrepreneurs. Moreover, in developing countries, women entrepreneurship is on the rise, with women founding or leading up to 10 million small to medium-sized enterprises (SME) throughout the developing world. 

In the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region, women make up 21 per cent of the labour force which accounts for only 18 per cent of the region’s annual gross domestic product (GDP). Despite this, one in every three startups in the region is founded or led by a woman, which by global standards is impressive. Based on these numbers, it is safe to say that women founded startups in the Mena region are performing on par with womenbased startups in the US and surpassing those of Europe at an average of 35 per cent.  

Palestinian Landscape: a Statistical OverviewTo provide an overview of what thousands of Palestinians are living through, the unemployment rate in the West Bank and Gaza is at an all-time high at a staggering 31 per cent, according to the latest reports released by the PCBS. This translates into 52 per cent in Gaza and 19 per cent in the West Bank. Although women comprise nearly half of Palestine’s 4.9 million population, 2.4 million females (49 per cent) to 2.5 million males (51 pre cent), the disparities in opportunities are overwhelming. 

Added to that, female participation in the labour force remains disproportionately low at 21 per cent, while male participation rate is at 72 per cent. To this effect, female unemployment is at an all-time high at 51 per cent compared to 25 per cent among males. Although women are active in the labour force, they make up more than half of all unemployment rates. Palestine Needs More Women-Driven Enterprise

Palestinian women are turning to entrepreneurship as a way to create their own economic opportunities and entrepreneurship is key.  

According to the World Bank women-founded and led enterprise are 25 per cent more likely to employ women than male led businesses at 22 per cent. As such, more women in leading economic roles results in opportunities for unemployed women. In what is a noteworthy achievement, women-led enterprise  across the Mena region including Palestine, expand their workforces at higher rates. 

As a case in point, civil engineer Majd Mashharawi knew the power shortage in Gaza could no longer be overlooked and decided to turn to entrepreneurship to make a change. To this effect, Mashharawi decided that the perfect response was to harness the energy of the sun with SunBox–an off-grid solar kit that provides families with up to three hours’ of electricity per day/battery. As a result, SunBox has emerged not only as a startup employing a number of Gazans but as a humanitarian response improving the lives of countless Palestinians in the process. 

Obstacles Faced by Women Entrepreneurs

Although women have the ideas and passion needed to drive their entrepreneurial projects, the general lack of technical and real work experience is a major drawback to their success. But beyond that, attempting to establish viable ventures without public and private sector support, and financial backing is an obstacle in and of itself. 

Women entrepreneurs around the world face a range of similar problems when establishing their startups, including:

In any context, a healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem requires access to capital, mentorships, business support services, and gateways to global markets, resources that are sorely lacking in the Palestinian startup ecosystem, especially for women. 

Enhancing the Economic Power of Women

Simply put, entrepreneurship can put a dent on unprecedented rates of female unemployment in Palestine. Through entrepreneurship, women can attain financial freedom as the leaders of their own income-generating ventures and improve their socio-economic status, ultimately lifting themselves and their families out of poverty. 

Overall, when women have the resources they need to establish ventures of their own, and policies in play that promote entrepreneurial projects, that are not only viable but also find innovative solutions to gaps in local markets, it empowers them and benefits the economy. 

The best way stakeholders within both the private and public sectors can contribute is by removing barriers to entrepreneurship while providing essential business development services, such as access to credit, mentors, financial training, legal support, and market access. Ultimately, via entrepreneurship, women can generate additional new employment opportunities, see a boost in their purchasing power, and accelerate economic growth. 

Overcoming Barriers

To address these concerns organisations like Palestine-based MENACatalyst are working to address gaps in the local entrepreneurial ecosystem by spearheading the country’s virtual economy. By focusing on the power of innovation and entrepreneurship we aim to help local entrepreneurs overcome boundaries and tap into the collective resources of the Palestinian diaspora around the world. 

For women entrepreneurs based out of Palestine, the opportunity to connect and collaborate with committed investors and mentors is a life-changing opportunity. MENACatalyst has developed a series of programmes for local entrepreneurs especially high-potential women-led startups, to come into contact with committed diaspora angel investors, industry partners, business professionals and successful business women. 

Through these programmes, entrepreneurs gain access to mentorship and investment opportunities, secure business service agreements, take part in business and technical trainings, and gain the know-how and connections needed to unlock the potential of global markets. 

Ultimately, thousands of Palestinians struggle to cope with severe economic downturn and extreme poverty on a daily basis. Without access to essential resources to revitalise a stagnating market economy due to what may seem as an endless series of imposed restrictions, Palestinians must turn inwards and tap into their resilience and industry to overcome boundaries and grasp new global opportunities.

December 1st 2019, 10:02 pm

Invygo raises $1 million in seed funding

Wamda

Source: MenaBytes

Dubai-based car subscription startup Invygo has raised $1 million in a seed round, the startup announced in a statement to MENAbytes. The round was led by Class 5 Global, a San Francisco-based VC firm co-founded by Careem’s former M&A boss Zach Finkelstein, with participation of Choueiri Group’s venture arm Equitrust, Gulf Islamic Investments, New York-based Karios K50, and William Zeqiri, the founder and CEO of Shedul. The  startup that was part of Misk500’s inaugural cohort had raised its first funding round of $275,000 in November last year.

Founded last year by Eslam Hussein and Pulkit Ganjoo, Invygo that dubs itself as an alternative to owning or leasing a car allows users in the United Arab Emirates to get a car of their choice for a monthly subscription fee, through its mobile app. The cars offered by Invygo are dealership verified and come with full insurance, with Invygo handling routine maintenance including oil changes to routine inspections.

The users can request a car simply by choosing one, uploading their license, and signing the documents, all from the app, and the car is delivered at their doorstep within hours without any additional fee.

“With no debt, long-term commitment or hidden fees involved, customers pay monthly to drive the car and can even request servicing or return their car with the tap of a button whenever they need,” the startup said in a statement.

Invygo’s users also have the option of upgrading or switching their cars whenever they want.

According to its website, Invygo is offering a 2018 Kia Sportage for AED 2,200 per month. We don’t know the detailed specifications but a similar car can be purchased for less than AED 1,500 a month by paying 20 percent (which is the standard in UAE) as down payment.

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November 29th 2019, 11:54 am

Adzily raises $12.2 million

Wamda

Source: MenaBytes

Cairo-based indoor advertising platform Adzily that claims to be the first of its kind in the Middle East & North Africa has raised $12.2 million from Al-Tharawat Private Investment Holding Company (Private Wealth Investments), a Saudi investment company, the startup told MENAbytes today. It is the first external investment round raised by Adzily and one of the largest-ever raised by an Egyptian startup.

Founded last year by Ahmed Ashoor, Mostafa Hendawy, Mostafa Kamshish, and Mohamed Ossman, Adzily is a network of digital ad screens spread across cafes, restaurants, and gyms, that runs ads.

Think of it as a form of (or somewhat similar to) the traditional Out-of-home (OOH) advertising on steroids; a hybrid of traditional and digital advertising allowing brands to reach audience using these display screens that are spread across malls, cafes, restaurants, gyms and other indoor places that have a high footfall.

OOH advertising that is also known as outdoor advertising, as an industry, has been struggling all around the world including the Middle East & North Africa largely because of brands spending a big part of their advertising money on Facebook and Google ads. According to information available on Statista (that they have apparently sourced from different online sources), the outdoor advertisement expenditure has decreased by over 65 percent from its peak of $1.53 billion in 2014 to $529 million last year.

The internet ad spend on the other hand has been increasing in the region and is expected to reach $1.31 billion by 2021.

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November 27th 2019, 12:39 pm

Gaining more value from data through incentive, investment and regulation

Wamda

Jad Hajj, partner with Strategy& Middle East; Alice Klat, director of the Ideation Center, and Jana Batal, senior fellow at the Ideation Center, the think tank for Strategy& Middle East

Throughout the world, data are being used increasingly to glean insights and extract value. Despite clear signs of progress, however, the data economy is still relatively undeveloped in the GCC region. Companies and governments both have a major role to play in accelerating progress.

Organisations can create value from data in two ways. The first is through business optimisation, using data to improve internal operations and productivity, the quality of products and services, and customer service. The second avenue for value creation is data sales. This is focused outside the organisation, through building new revenue streams by making data available to customers and partners.

The potential for the data economy from these two avenues is significant. The topic is now high on economic agenda around the world. For example, the European Union (EU) is pushing for favourable policies and legislation, together with increased investment in technology, to support the data economy.

In May 2019, the EU passed a regulation to allow the free flow of non-personal data and remove any related obstacles. For example, the regulation helps companies to switch between cloud service providers more easily, to store and process data anywhere in the region, and transfer non-personal data across EU borders. Together with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), this new regulation is set to reduce ambiguity for businesses as they seek to produce value from data. Partly as a result of this greater clarity, the value of the EU data economy is expected to reach €739 billion ($825 billion) by 2020, comprising 4 per cent of the bloc’s total gross domestic product (GDP).

The volume and quality of data in GCC are growing rapidly, and this trend is expected to continue. However, capturing value from this data remains a work in progress. Strategy& estimates that the value of the GCC data economy totaled $4.7 billion in 2018, constituting just 0.3 per cent of GDP, a much lower proportion than in the EU.

Only a few organisations in the region have been exploiting their data reserves to extract value. In the UAE, Dubai Airports has migrated its operations from legacy software to automated solutions and to predictive, data-based analysis. Some of the solutions they are using include sentiment analysis, queue reporting and analysis, and flight scheduling algorithms. Similarly, regional telecom operators are using data to optimise processes. For example, they are prioritising investments by analysing traffic forecasts, and modeling various social circles to predict churn.

A lack of organisational know-how and the absence of local data analytics solution providers are both discouraging companies from using data more actively. According to the Crunchbase database, fewer than 15 such providers are operating in the UAE, and they are practically non-existent in the remainder of the region. This void is now gradually being filled by the likes of the US-based Alteryx, a data science and analytics company, a general development that is expected to have a positive impact on the regional data economy.

Government-backed sector development programmes, such as Smart Dubai and the National Digitisation Unit in Saudi Arabia, also have a key role to play in accelerating the move towards a data-centric economy. Moreover, these programmes need to invest heavily in various initiatives, for example by encouraging the local uptake of emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence and blockchain. To this end, Smart Dubai has launched the “Data First” challenge, which seeks to encourage government entities to embrace and share data.

More can be done by sector developers, and GCC governments should take inspiration from leading nations such as the UK and Singapore. In 2018, the UK launched the Institute of Coding for digital skills training and retraining to tackle the digital skills gap. In Singapore, the Infocomm Media Development Authority is encouraging the widespread deployment of 5G, which will support the increased use of industrial applications that rely on very large volumes of real-time data.

The data policy landscape (and that for related fields such as artificial intelligence) is still in its infancy throughout the world. Europe’s GDPR, and the California Consumer Privacy Act (expected in 2020), are early examples of regulation, as is Bahrain’s Personal Data Protection Law which entered force on 1 August 2019. While there are differences between them, they both provide rules on how personal data should be handled by organisations.

Similarly, regional regulators need to put in place the appropriate legislation to ensure that data use is properly safeguarded and to provide more clarity for individuals, companies and solution providers on data storage, use and exchange.

Given the rapidly changing nature of this market, they could also establish regulatory testing environments, known as sandboxes. Using a sandbox, governments can test innovative regulations and models in a market environment. This approach also helps regulatory bodies stay up to date with changes in technology. Singapore’s regulatory body has used such a sandbox to test possible updates to the country’s Personal Data Protection Act. 

Regional governments need to propel the sector towards rapid growth by attracting international solution providers, encouraging adoption of emerging technologies, and testing new regulations for increased data use and sharing. Companies must in turn move quickly to take advantage of an increasingly helpful environment, and make full use of their data’s potential to gain competitive advantage.

November 26th 2019, 9:54 pm

QiDZ raises $1 million in seed round

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Source: Gulf News

QiDZ, a one-stop destination for kids-related fun, education and entertainment in the UAE, announced earlier today that the company has raised $1 million (Dh3.67 million) in seed funding.

The round was led by several regional and international institutional investors, which included the Oman Technology Fund, 500 Startups, Vision Ventures, Seedstars, Mindshift Capital, Delta Partners Ventures and support from the OQAL Angel Investor Network, UAE Business Angels and Misk Innovation.

The company will use the funds to further enhance its product offering, grow its team and expand its footprint into other GCC markets.

Khalid AlHadlaq, an investor and an Advisory Board Member said, “QiDZ has established real value for kids entertainment in the UAE. I am excited to see the growth and what the team has achieved, and to be part of the journey. The time has never been better to expand into other markets and, in particular, into Saudi Arabia.”

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November 26th 2019, 1:05 pm

Coded Minds acquires US-based EdgeMakers

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Source: Gulf Business

Dubai-based education company, Coded Minds, acquired EdgeMakers STEM Learning Lab, a global education company, it announced on Monday.

Headquartered in the US and Canada, EdgeMakers offers STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics), and leadership education to children and teachers across the Americas, a statement said.

The acquired company also offers professional development and design thinking programmes.

The STEM 2.0 curriculum will now be available in all locations where Coded Minds currently operates, the statement said.

Omar Farooqui, founder and president of Coded Minds, said that the complete acquisition of EdgeMakers is the first made by a Gulf-based private education company of a peer based in the US and Canada.

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November 26th 2019, 12:49 pm

Crowd Analyzer closes $3.5 million Series A with participation from Wamda

Wamda

Dubai-based data intelligence provider and Arabic-focused social media monitoring platform, Crowd Analyzer, announced today that it has raised over $3.5 million in Series A funding from venture capital firms based in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The funding from investors, led by TechInvest, include Wamda Capital, Arzan VC, Faith Capital and Daring Capital, will enable Crowd Analyzer to enhance and augment the technology behind the platform and support further expansion of its operations in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region. 

Crowd Analyzer is focused on analysing publicly available data from social media platforms and news websites to provide up-to-date insights to clients who want to stay ahead of trends and digital conversations. Since inception in 2014, it has raised a total of $5.09 million in funding.

The Series A funding secured by Crowd Analyzer will accelerate the platform’s AI and machine learning capabilities in its efforts to further establish itself as a market leader for social media monitoring in the Mena region. Meanwhile, commercially, the funds will expand its presence in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as some of the smaller GCC markets. In addition, the funds will also be used to recruit Saudi local talent.

“As the first Arabic-focused social media monitoring platform, Crowd Analyzer continues to offer indispensable intelligence to companies and brands in the region, helping them to know, understand and access their consumer base quicker and easier than ever before,” said Ahmed Saad, co-founder and chief executive officer at Crowd Analyzer. “By the end of the Series A funding cycle, we now have three of the five investors involved working directly with us. Through this latest round of fundraising, they have recognized our growth and potential.”

Crowd Analyzer specialises in Arabic-focused social media monitoring, analysing content and conversations for sentiment, relevance and Arabic dialect using artificial intelligence, proprietary machine learning and natural language processing.

 

November 26th 2019, 7:41 am

RiseUp Summit 2019

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RiseUp Summit 2019 is an annual entrepreneurship and innovation event and will take place at The American University in Cairo on December 5-7, 2019. The three-day summit started in 2013 to bring Mena's entrepreneurship ecosystem together. 

The 7th edition of RiseUp Summit will feature talks by speakers from industry leaders and prominent startups in business, tech and more sectors, with a focus on the journey to growth in Mena for 2029, hosting 17+ pitching competitions, 180 startup stations and over 200 workshops, talks and panel discussions. 

The Summit will feature seven main tracks and 4 startups exhibitions with, Startups Station for early-stage startups, HIPOs Station for post-seed startups, F&B Station and Creative Marketplace.

Summit Tracks:

Smart Capital: A varied range of the trials and tribulations of funding, investment, and raising capital; placing the emphasis on how capital can help on the journey to growth with a focus on what investors are looking for, types of investment at different stages of a startup lifecycle and why the investor himself is just as important as the money.

Creative Culture: The track examines the most prominent innovations in specific creative industries and cutting-edge aspects of the creative process in its stages of ideation to production. 

Creative Economies: How creatives have grounded themselves at the forefront of business, how they monetize and sustain, and provide support for other industries and businesses.

Tech 4 Humans: Reflecting on the social implications and everyday impact tech has on human life and how businesses are growing by creating Human-centric tech.

Fintech: Over $100 Billion has been entrusted to fintech companies in 2018; this track looks at how fintech startups are growing, and what the future holds. 

Growth Hacks: A focus on founders’ strategy and tactics used on their journey to growth.

Emerging Tech: Technology has become the main driver in a startup's ability to scale and grow. The Age of Hyperconnectivity is here and with 5G around the corner, this track revisits how the latest in tech can contribute to the journey to growth.

Register to attend

 

November 26th 2019, 3:41 am

Vetwork raises six-figure in seed funding

Wamda

Source: MenaBytes

Vetwork, a Cairo-based pet care marketplace has raised seed investment from Cairo Angel, Misk 500 Startups (it was part of their first cohort), and some Saudi-based angel investors, Cairo Angels announced in a statement to MENAbytes today. Cairo Angels did not share the size of investment but we have confirmed that its a six-figure USD deal.

Founded by three veterinary doctors; Fady Azzouny, Abdelrheem Hussein and Zeinab ElGeziry, Vetwork, as its name suggests, offers different on-demand pet care and grooming services to pet owners at their homes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The startup that had started with Cairo in 2017 has since expanded to Alexandria, the North Coast (Egypt), and Riyadh.

The services that can be requested with Vetwork mobile app (for iOS and Android), according to its website, include, healthcare, vaccination, insecticiding, and deworming, and are provided by a curated network of providers.

Fady Azzouny, the co-founder and CEO of Vetwork, speaking to MENAbytes said that they’re aiming to use the money to add more services in order to become a one-stop platform for anything that a pet owner might need and expand to new cities in Egypt and Saudi.

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November 25th 2019, 9:43 am

Faith Capital invests in Justmop

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Kuwait-based venture capital (VC) fund Faith Capital has announced a round of investment in Justmop, the UAE-based on-demand cleaning services platform.

 

Earlier this year Faith Capital invested $8 million in Kuwait-based laundry app JustClean and the fund is hoping this latest investment will create synergies between the two startups.

 

“We’re pleased to confirm our investment in Justmop, because we believe in this space and its capacity to grow,” said Faith Capital and JustClean’s chief executive officer Mohammed Jaffar. “We believe equally in the company’s synergies with JustClean and together we share a commitment to bring advancement in an industry that has historically been run without technology.”

 

Justmop is currently operational across 11 cities in the GCC and allows users to schedule weekly, bi-weekly or one-off cleaning appointments.

 

“We believe this partnership will enable us to achieve our vision of creating the go-to platform for anything related to home services. With this investment, we can enter an era where we sharply focus on the disruption of the conventional home cleaning space.”

November 25th 2019, 8:43 am

Ibtikar Fund invests in Inggez

Wamda

Ibtikar Fund has announced its investment in Palestine-based Inggez, a mobile app offering on-demand access to gyms and fitness classes, allowing people to get active without committing to one single membership.

Inggez’s target market is the vast majority of people who do not work out on a regular basis. Through Inggez, people can explore different fitness options, learn more about different gyms’ offerings and classes, and easily book a slot, paying only when they work out..

“Inggez targets the Middle East and North Africa fitness market, that, with just 2 per cent of adults going to the gym, was valued at over $3 billion in 2017,” said Ambar Amleh, partner at Ibtikar Fund. “This data shows a huge opportunity for Inggez in helping the remaining 98 per cent of adults go to the gym, while also addressing the growing health problem of obesity in the region.”

Inggez plans to use the funding to expand its presence in the region.

“We are excited to duplicate our early success in Palestine to enter the Egyptian market and help provide people there with a flexible and affordable way to stay fit,” said Ali Tazami, founder and chief executive officer at Inggez.

 

November 25th 2019, 8:43 am

Arabnet Riyadh

Wamda

ArabNet is an events, insights and innovation program, focused on tech business and innovation in the MENA region. The event organizes major conferences for the tech sector in Dubai, Riyadh, Kuwait and Beirut; with a track record of bringing globally-renowned speakers to discuss the latest topics in the field, as well as successfully connecting entrepreneurs and startups with funding and incubation through the Ideathon and Startup Battle competitions, as well as publish news, analysis, research and reports,  on various sectors. 

In its 8th edition, Arabnet Riyadh is bringing two conferences under one roof. For the second consecutive year, Arabnet will feature two events under one roof: Arabnet Riyadh for 2,000+ corporate executives and senior government leaders, and Inspire Saudi for 4,000+ entrepreneurs, youth and students, including initiatives and dedicated activities to inspire and educate. 
 
Inspire Saudi: 
According to Arabnet Business Intelligence, more than $950M were invested in MENA tech startups in 2018. Inspire Saudi will gather key regional investors, government leaders and successful startups to highlight the changing tech landscape and emerging trends and opportunities. It will also feature investors from around the world highlighting the latest trends in the global technology sector.
 
Arabnet Riyadh: Four tracks: Finverse, The Ad/Edge, Masterclass, and the CIO Forum.

Finverse will explore trends in fintech, the rise of challenger banks and cutting-edge technologies that are transforming the customer journey, as well as the next wave of innovation in digital payments. The Ad/Edge, tackles how brands, agencies, and publishers are adapting their strategies to keep up with cutting-edge technologies, consumer behaviors, and the structural changes that are reshaping the industry as a result. Drawing on 20 years of experience, Arabnet Masterclass will take a journey through the investment process, from deal sourcing to post-investment value growth and exit. The CIO Forum will include a half-day session for CIOs, CTOs, and senior IT decision-makers.

Register to attend

November 25th 2019, 1:07 am

Just how different are the European and Mena ecosystems?

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“Shove your startup idea where the sun doesn’t shine” read the sign that greeted visitors to Slush, Europe’s largest startup event. By that, they must have meant Helsinki in November, when daylight lasts less than seven hours.    

Finland’s rather sleepy capital played host to more than 25,000 people from around the world, including 4000 startups and 2000 investors last week for Slush, a student-led event that started back in 2008 as a matchmaking platform for Europe’s startup community.

The event is unlike any that takes place in the Middle East and at times, it felt more like a nightclub than a conference, where global investors, European Union (EU) leaders and entrepreneurs came face to face to discuss topics like regulation, the gender gap in equity and investing in deep tech.

The conversations were more sophisticated than we in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region are accustomed to at such events, but somewhat surprisingly, Europe suffers similar challenges including the following:

Lack of Funding

Venure capital (VC) investment in Europe has been growing, but it still lags behind the US and Asia. So far this year, European startups have raised $34.3 billion, up 40 per cent from 2018. The largest investment deal came from UK-based companies Deliveroo which raised $575 million in May, and health-tech startup Babylon which raised $550 million. In comparison, tech startups in the US raised $117 billion while Asian startups raised $63 billion this year. Meanwhile Mena startups have yet to surpass the $1 billion mark for VC investments.

“There’s still a lack of access to finance specifically in the growth phrase,” said Helen Kopman, deputy head of digital innovation and blockchain at the European Commission. “We do have a problem with very, very good startups, when they come to a certain growth stage, they go to the US or Asia, it is easier to get access to capital or skills there.”

To increase access to capital, the EU is launching a €100 billion fund to be deployed over seven years, of which €10 billion will be allocated to deep tech startups.

Fragmented Market

While the European Union (EU) is an effective single trade market, the different languages, cultures and local regulatory environments have created a fragmented market that can present difficulties for startups looking to scale. There are differences in infrastructure, gross domestic income (GDP) per capita and capacity according to Kopman. Many startups instead focus solely on their own countries and immediate neighbours and fail to scale beyond them, while others carry ambitions of heading straight to Silicon Valley or China.

While the EU is far less fragmented than the Middle East, we would do well to follow the EU closely. Our part of the world, despite sharing a common language, is incredibly fragmented even in the GCC, where there is no common single market. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have taken steps to enable easier flow of goods between them, but such initiatives are lacking and for startups looking to expand across the region, they need to essentially found a new business in each new jurisdiction.

The vast geographies of both regions, has resulted in entrepreneurship hubs that have emerged across several cities that operate independently to one another.

“When you’re in the early stage, centralisation is helpful, all the investors are in one place, they talk to each other, all the money goes where the centre is,” said Rolf Schromgens, managing director and chief executive officer at Germany-based travel comparison site Trivago. “But centralisation in later stages might become a problem because resources get scarce. If you’re decentralised, it is way easier to tap into different talent pools. Nowadays we’re going more and more into a situation where a decentralised set up is more powerful. You have many centres in Europe, you have reached the critical mass where ecosystems have evolved, people exchange ideas.”

The key takeaway from the discussions was that decentralisation is fine, fragmentation is not.

“You can portray Europe in two ways – it is fragmented, or you can say it is diverse in culture,” said Jean-Eric Paquet, director general of research and innovation at the European Commission.

Having several hubs that each excel within certain sectors or niches and establish open dialogue and collaboration with others in the region can help and develop the wider Middle East entrepreneurship ecosystem, rather than compete over the same talent and businesses. Kopman said the EU has plans to link ecosystems from three to four different countries and encourage them to work together on cross-border projects.

Access to Talent

While there is freedom of movement across the EU which has a population exceeding 500 million, startups in Europe complain of a lack of access to talent. Founders still wish to recruit from beyond their own borders in particular engineers from places like India, Egypt and China.

Having a diverse workforce was highlighted by several speakers as an essential aspect for startups looking to scale. About 80 per cent of Trivago’s workforce sits outside of Germany and CEO Schromgens told audiences that “cultural diversity is a major asset for companies”.

"We have a company based in Germany able to tap into all talent in the European Union, it’s way easier to internationalise. The success story of Trivago is due to the fact we have EU people who are able to work across the European Union without difficulty…[but] we need better immigration laws for people outside of the EU,” he said. 

The UAE, with 200 different nationalities, can offer this level of diversity within its own borders, but like most other countries, it also suffers from a lack of talent. Loosening immigration and visa requirements for startups to allow them to employ developers and technicians from other parts of the world can benefit the ecosystem greatly.

Copycats and Innovation

Too often the Middle East is accused of a lack of innovation, with the majority of startups replicating ideas or business models seen elsewhere. Europe also bemoans copycats, where startups are accused of copying US or Chinese businesses and then attemp to localise them for their own markets. There were several scooter companies, software-as-a-service (SaaS) for marketing startups and mental health apps, all with business models that exist elsewhere in the world.

Yet the key buzzwords at Slush were innovation and sustainability. “Unicorn” was scarcely mentioned, as emphasis was placed on enabling innovations that can improve the lives of people and the planet rather than investors and profit. And innovations were visible, particularly in the deep tech and health tech space. Where Europe excels is in research and development (R&D) with a substantial presence from startups that had begun life in university labs including GlucoModicum which showcased a non-invasive blood glucose monitoring smartwatch and spexel.ai, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to enable smartphone cameras to capture the detailed spectrum of light to determine how big an agricultural crop is expected to be or the ripeness of fruit. But such startups were few and the “copycats” dominated.

“We still have a way to go, we need more success cases. Being an entrepreneur in Germany is not something people are striving for. The worst thing you can do in Germany is to fail and not be perfect. Perfection in engineering is important, but it comes with a downside which is we struggle with taking risks and we have to learn with taking risks and that failure is good, it is part of innovation,” said Schromgens.

Overall, it seems that the European and Mena ecosystems face similar issues, but the former is farther along the path of finding a solution. With greater collaboration between Mena’s startup stakeholders, free trade and more investment, we too have the ability to improve our startup ecosystem(s).

November 23rd 2019, 9:17 pm

Nawah Scientific wins second place and $150,000 at Jack Ma’s Africa Netpreneur Prize

Wamda

Source: MenaBytes

Nawah Scientific, a Cairo-based science startup has won second place at the first edition of Jack Ma’s Africa Netpreneur Prize, taking home $150,000 grant. Nawah Scientific was one of the ten finalists from Africa that got to pitch their startups in front of Alibaba’s founder and former executive chariman Jack Ma who was also part of the jury.

Africa Netpreneur Prize is Jack Ma’s flagship entrepreneur program in Africa led by the Jack Ma Foundation that was set up last year to award $10 million worth of grants to 100 entrepreneurs over next ten years.

Jack Ma attended the pitch and award ceremony in Ghana along with some other dignitaries including Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo and former UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.

Founded in 2015, by Dr. Omar Sakr, who holds a PhD in pharmaceutical sciences from the University of Geneva, Nawah Scientific has established a facility of advanced equipment specialized in natural and medical sciences where they conduct different scientific research tests on behalf of scientists and universities who normally don’t have access to such resources.

Continue reading this story

November 21st 2019, 8:58 am

Volkswagen Mobility Challenge 2.0

Wamda

The Volkswagen Mobility Challenge is returning to the region this year and is looking for young entrepreneurs based in the UAE or KSA that have an idea or early-stage innovation aimed at changing the world of mobility.  Startup ideas should fit in one or more of the following themes: car sharing, mobility services, parking management, In-car delivery, car connectivity, multi-platforms transportation, last-mile management, and ride-hailing.

Who can apply?

Finalists who submitted the most relevant, innovative and creative ideas will get treated to a round of workshops in January 2020 aimed at providing the tools needed to prepare startups for their pitch including value proposition, target market, competitive advantage, overall business model, innovation/scalability, and relevance to the “mobility” theme.

10 startups will have a few weeks after the workshops to hone their presentations for the Pitch Day happening on February 9, 2020, where the 5 finalists will be selected. Once selected, finalists will have a few days to make their last-minute tweaks before the public pitch competition in front of the official jury at STEP Conference in Dubai, taking place on February 12, 2020.

Winners will enjoy the following awards:

*All finalists will receive LinkedIn Premium accounts & free mentoring/ prototyping sessions. 

Important dates: 

Find out more, and submit your application before the deadline on November 30

November 21st 2019, 6:09 am

Al Salam Bank and China's MSA Capital launch $50 million regional venture fund

Wamda

Source: The National

Al Salam Bank-Bahrain has partnered with China's MSA Capital to launch a new, $50 million (Dh183.6m) venture capital fund which will introduce new Chinese technologies and business models to the Middle East.

The Al Salam-MSA Bahrain Fund I, better known as MEC Ventures, will use MSA's expertise gained through its Chinese portfolio in industries such as healthcare big data, electric vehicles, food delivery and ride-hailing, and introduce some of the practices developed at these companies into local entities run by experienced entrepreneurs, the lender said.

“Al Salam Bank-Bahrain is uniquely positioned to provide regional access to capital and investment opportunities in the ever-growing Mena market complementing MSA’s deep industry expertise," said the bank's group chief executive, Rafik Nayed.

"MEC Ventures will be an active participant in the regional venture capital landscape which only stands to grow by leveraging on cutting edge China-based technologies and expertise.”

Al Salam Bank is an Islamic lender with assets of about 1.9 billion Bahraini dinars (Dh18.6bn) as of September 30. The bank, which has retail, corporate and private banking arms, increased profit to shareholders by 19 per cent in the three months to September to 4.9m dinars, as total operating income rose 25 per cent to 12.7 million dinars.

Continue reading this story

November 20th 2019, 11:46 am

Pivots and Failures with Repeat's Omer Aslan Gurel [podcast]

Wamda

Omer Aslan Gurel could have easily followed the path that was laid out for him – go to university and eventually join his family business. But he rebelled. Inspired by Richard Branson’s autobiography, Gurel decided to become an entrepreneur and launched his first venture in Dubai during his gap year.

The success of his startup inspired him to continue and now, Gurel is on his seventh venture, Repeat, a smart loyalty platform for restaurants.

In this podcast, Gurel discusses the lessons he has learned along the way, the timeline every startup should follow and why the Middle East has the potential to become the foodtech hub of the world.  

November 19th 2019, 10:16 pm

Hikma Ventures invests in Winterlight Labs

Wamda

Source: Prn newswire

Hikma Pharmaceuticals announced that its venture capital arm, Hikma Ventures has led a C$ 5.6 million ($4,219,880. million) oversubscribed round of financing for Winterlight Labs Inc. with participation from First Star Ventures, Pacific Health Ventures, existing investor Grey Sky Venture Partners and other investors.

Toronto-based Winterlight Labs Inc. is developing a proprietary Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology that melds computational linguistics, cognitive neuroscience, and machine learning to help healthcare professionals assess and analyse patients' cognitive health – including memory, thinking and reasoning – from vocal markers captured in short snippets of speech on a tablet computer. Using a one-minute sample of a patient's natural speech, Winterlight's novel approach can quickly and accurately detect various cognitive and mental disorders, such as dementia and aphasia amongst others, and then monitor the efficacy of treatments.

Lana Ghanem, Managing Director of Hikma Ventures, said, "We are very excited to enter into the field of vocal diagnostics by leading the investment in Winterlight Labs. We recognise the global potential of voice analysis for the diagnosis, monitoring and ongoing treatment of various diseases and look forward to working with the team and our co-investors to help advance the technology and expand disease areas and geographies covered, especially in the Middle East and North Africa."

Continue reading this story

November 19th 2019, 5:45 pm

Repzo raises $750,000 in Pre-Series A funding

Wamda

Source: Startup MGZN

Repzo, a pioneering Jordanian mobile CRM SaaS platform, has just completed its Pre-Series A funding round of 750,000 USD.

This round led by Jabbar Internet Group, included Arzan VC, Adam Tech Ventures, Shorooq Partners and a group of angel investors, is a step forward in further expanding Repzo’s offering, which already serves clients in seven different countries, to reach other MENA markets and to open new offices in KSA, UAE, and Egypt.

“It took a great effort from the team to achieve this milestone and we are working to grow Repzo into the “Salesforce” of the Middle East” says Hassan Atmeh, CEO of Repzo.

The company was founded in 2017 by Hassan Atmeh, Moutaz Atmeh and Ayman Atmeh as a sales force automation solution with advanced CRM capabilities. The idea of the start-up came up as Hassan was trying to solve problems of their own family business which specialized in manufacturing and distributing cosmetic products.

Since then, Repzo has become an indispensable solution for major companies in FMCG & Pharmaceuticals sectors to track and monitor their field employees. By using the Repzo’s iOS and Android app, employees can enter their Geo-Tagged activities, enabling managers to monitor & measure their performance from any smartphone, tablet or laptop.

Additional important features range from taking notes and photos to filling predefined forms and sending purchase orders.

“Repzo has shown excellent growth since inception and is clearly poised to become the leading provider of Mobile CRMs in the region. We are looking forward to working with our new investment partners to help the team at Repzo fulfill its vision” says Hussam Khoury, President of Jabbar Internet Group, the earliest investor in Repzo.

Continue reading this story

November 19th 2019, 4:24 pm

A15 doubles its investment in Intouch

Wamda

Source: Daily News Egypt

Leading tech investor, A15, has capitalised its investment in the Ireland-based retail personalisation platform Intouch by doubling down its initial investment in the Artificial Intelligence (AI) -driven company.

This comes after A15 invested in Intouch and providing them with in-kind services.

Intouch allows brick-and-mortar stores to collect in-store data about its customers using artificial intelligence to optimise customer interactions and operations. The tool helps retailers with physical stores personalise the shopping experience and better connect their customers to appropriate products.

“The investment from A15 will strengthen our deep ties with the region and our commitment to serve the region with state-of-the-art technology to push the retail experiences for shoppers to the next level,” CEO of Intouch Sameh Abdalla says.

“The Middle East is vitally important to us with several pilots for the largest players in the region going live within the last year,” he added.

In the Middle East specifically, the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of the grocery market registered 11%, while globally the percentage stands at -2%, based on McKinsey statistics.

According to professional services company Accenture, 75% of consumers prefer to buy products from retailers that personalise their offering.

Continue reading this story

November 18th 2019, 12:48 pm

Botme raises six-figure in seed funding

Wamda

Source: MenaBytes

Botme, a Cairo-based chatbot building platform has raised six-figure seed investment, the startup told MENAbytes today. The investment came from regional angel investors.

Founded in 2017 by Saaid Elhakeem, Soliman Abaza, and Hosni Ahmed, Botme enables businesses and individual users to build chatbots for Facebook Messenger and web through its user-friendly platform without having to write any code.

The platform also allows users to sell (natively) through the chatbots they’ve created. The chatbots created with Botme could also be used for customer service and lead generation.

Botme uses a freemium subscription model, offering its platform for free to users with 500 or less active bot users and charging a 2 percent transaction fee on orders received through bots created with Botme. The paid plans start from $15 a month.

Continue reading this story

November 18th 2019, 12:37 pm

Statys closes pre-seed round

Wamda

UAE-based financial technology (fintech) startup Statys, has closed its pre-seed funding round led by Dtec Ventures, the venture capital arm of Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority, and Propeller Inc.

The company, which provides credit assessments using artificial intelligence (AI), will use the funding to grow its engineering and data science team. Statys aims to combine traditional credit scoring models with machine learning to enable lenders to extend credit to more consumers and small to medium sized enterprises (SME) and reduce default rate from borrowers.

“Our goal is to help usher in a new era of lending that’s seamless for the borrower. We believe we are on the cusp of a new era of financial products, including lending, that are designed to fit around the customer’s needs, not the other way round,” said Pierre Proner, co-founder and chief executive officer at Statys.

The startup recently won Amazon Web Services Middle East and North Africa startup challenge and the AI Everything Supernova Competition.

“Digital technology, big data and analytics is changing the financial services industry in unprecedented ways. The fintech sector in the region is progressing very fast. We have seen the launch of fintech startup programmes, the creation of regulatory sandbox environments for fintech firms and an increasing number of deals,” said William Chappell, chief financial office and executive vice president of Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority.

November 18th 2019, 11:07 am

Solfeh raises $400,000 in seed funding

Wamda

Source: MenaBytes

Amman-based micro-lending platform Solfeh has raised seed funding, the startup announced in a statement to MENAbytes. The round was led by Edgo VC which is VC arm of Engineering and Development Group (Edgo), an Amman-headquartered regional group that has businesses operating in oil, gas, water, power and infrastructure sectors across the region.

Solfeh did not disclose the size of investment but Edgo in a separate announcement earlier this month said that it’s a $400,000 round. The round was also joined by an angel investor.

Founded in 2015 by Ali Tabbalat, Solfeh started operating in January last year. The startup offers financial assistance through microloans between JOD 200 to 1,000 (USD 280 to 1,400) within 24 hours to salaried employees in partnership with their employers. The loans, according to Solfeh’s website have a repayment period of 6 to 25 months with the (repayment) installments deducted from salaries of employees.

Continue reading this story 

 

November 17th 2019, 11:36 am

ekar expands to Riyadh after closing $17.5m Series B

Wamda

Carshare startup, ekar has closed a $17.5 million Series B round led by Polymath Ventures with participation from Al Yemni Group and Audacia Capital.

The UAE-based company will now launch operations in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia with 600 ekars and will launch in other cities throughout Saudi including Dammam, Jeddah, Mecca, Medina, and King Abdullah Economic City.

“We are excited to announce the launch of ekar Riyadh and are eager to improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of Saudi residents and tourists alike with ekar’s seamless carshare service,” said Vilhelm Hedberg, co-founder and chief executive officer at ekar Middle East. “Today, ekar UAE services 50,000 bookings per month, a number which we expect to quadruple over the next twelve months as we launch services across cities in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.  We have 1,000 ekars in our fleet and over 75,000 members and envision surpassing 10,000 ekars and over a million members by 2021.” 

Users can hire cars on a “pay-per-minute” basis from ekar’s fleet via its mobile app and website. The round was closed earlier this year in June, but the company has only just announced its Series B funding.

“We believe smart systems and shared transport platforms like ekar are the future for sustainable mobility especially in cities with densely populated environments such as Riyadh.  We invest with conviction where teams are driving innovation to solve tomorrow’s problems today, and we look forward to helping ekar succeed,” said Ali Hashemi, managing director at UAE-based Polymath Ventures.

November 17th 2019, 5:49 am

Addenda closes seed round

Wamda

UAE-based Addenda, an insurance blockchain consortium, has announced that it has closed its fundraising seed round for an undisclosed amount led by 500 Startups, with the participation of Beyond Capital, Jada Investments and several other angel investors. The additional investments will help Addenda expand its sales and marketing efforts as well as its operations to other GCC countries and accelerate product development.  

The company was founded by brothers Walid Daniel Dib and Karim Davis Dib in March 2018 and graduated as part of the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Fintech Hive's second cohort. 

“In mid-October, we launched the first ever blockchain reconciliation platform between insurance companies. In a matter of a few weeks, we’re excited to say that eight insurance companies have filed more than Dh700,000 worth of motor insurance claims against each other using the Addenda platform,” said Walid Daniel Dib, chief executive officer at Addenda.

Commenting on the announcement, Sharif El-Badawi, managing partner at 500 Startups said: ”Addenda’s blockchain subrogation solution is the first of its kind in the Middle East. We are very proud of Walid and Karim and their team who have worked very hard to determine a blockchain solution and introduce a viable product for adoption in the insurance industry. Addenda is a powerful solution for the insurance industry, and we are excited to collaborate with and support them as they work to build a great company in an exciting category”.

November 17th 2019, 2:14 am

A case for Dubai as a fintech hub

Wamda

Salmaan Jaffery is the chief business development officer at the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Authority

This is an exciting time for the financial services sector. We are witnessing unprecedented change in the global financial landscape, where emerging markets are proving to be some of the most dynamic and rewarding destinations for investment and growth.

Financial technology (fintech) is driving this transformation, impacting how financial services are accessed by customers and provided by institutions. 
Globally, fintech continues to grow and disrupt the financial services industry, with the market set to reach $305.7 billion by 2023 according to the Global Fintech Market Report (2018-2023).
 
However, it is in the untapped markets of the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia (MEASA) region that the sector’s real potential and impact will be most acutely felt. 
 
The MEASA region contains diversified market segments, ranging from high net-worth individuals to a sizable young, emerging middle class that is unbanked, yet “mobile phone native”, and eager to adopt mobile apps. Already, the UAE is home to one third of fintech startups in the Middle East and North Africa, the largest community in the region, followed by Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. In fact, the number of fintech companies in the region is expected to reach 1,845 in 2022, an impressive 230 per cent increase from 559 in 2015. 
 
The UAE’s success stems from its commitment to becoming a global leader in fintech, by supporting startups and promoting the adoption of technology. As an example, Dubai’s Blockchain Strategy outlines its ambition to move 100 per cent of government transactions to the blockchain by 2020. What’s more, by 2021 over 50 per cent of the UAE's federal transactions will be powered by blockchain technology, thus fuelling a smart economy and creating opportunities for entrepreneurship.
 
The opportunities are also ripe in the private sector, with the UAE and Dubai sitting in the midst of a growing population of some three billion people, 70 per cent of whom have limited or no access to financial services. Dubai’s strategic position between the East and West means it can provide an accessible bridge to these fast-growing markets that are not saturated or dominated by large incumbents. The advantages all fall under the UAE’s overarching ecosystem, which aims to provide international venture capitalists, angel investors, and family funds with the certainty and access the need to capture MEASA fintech opportunities.
 
To foster this growth and fast-track innovation, the Dubai government is providing these regional and global startups with a rich and vibrant accelerator and incubator ecosystem, such as the Dubai Smart City Accelerator, Dubai Future Accelerators and, of course, DIFC’s own FinTech Hive. These accelerators provide a platform that brings together various stakeholders, including financial institutions, government entities, technology partners and entrepreneurs to address key challenges facing fintech startups today, such as visibility, customer education and trust. 
 
The DIFC, for example, has made significant investments into building an ecosystem that includes a supportive infrastructure, forward-thinking regulation, subsidised licensing and funding opportunities. Today, the Centre is home to a dynamic community of more than 200 fintech-related companies, all benefiting from a growing network of strategic partnerships across the globe. The DIFC has also committed a $100 million to investing directly into growth-stage fintech startups that demonstrate the potential to transform financial services in the region through a dedicated fintech fund. 
 
While fintech is a key focus for Dubai and the DIFC, it is important to recognise that these initiatives are cogs in a much larger machine. The broader strategic vision of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai, remains the framework for all innovative developments. The city’s transformation into a technology-first environment aims to empower, deliver and promote an efficient, seamless, safe and impactful city experience for residents and visitors. Providing greater access to financial services, developing a paperless society and a enhancing its world-class business environment will ultimately drive economic growth for the UAE.  
 
Guided by these strategic pillars, I’m confident that the UAE, and Dubai in particular, will continue to reinforce its position as one of the world’s top ten fintech hubs and remain the jurisdiction of choice for startups looking to scale their business across the region.

November 16th 2019, 10:27 pm

Which is more valuable – profit or the story?

Wamda

Omar Al Sharif is the director of partner programmes at Wamda and Kavya Aggarwal is the investment associate at Wamda Capital

After the Wall Street Journal reported that Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, PIF had invested $400 million in CloudKitchens, a startup founded by Uber’s former chief executive officer (CEO) Travis Kalanick, it once again sparked debate over valuations. CloudKitchens, which operates commissary kitchens to delivery-only restaurants and food brands is now valued at $5 billion based on this one investment. The company, founded in 2016 is essentially a real-estate player for kitchens, parading as a technology company, much like WeWork, which leases out office space and was at one point valued at $45 billion. 

Both Travis Kalanick and WeWork’s founder Adam Neumann exuded a cult of personality that allowed them to sell the idea and the story in a fashion that hugely impacted the valuations of their respective companies. But as Kalanick was forced to resign from his post at Uber over several scandals and WeWork’s disastrous attempt at an initial public offering (IPO) led to Neumann’s ouster, Silicon Valley has been forced to re-evaluate its approach to valuations.

Few industries allow a story, or a founder to yield so much influence over the value of a company; and with the rise of venture capital (VC) money, particularly in Silicon Valley, enormous cheques have been signed based on a belief in the founder rather than the idea or any form of market validation.

Eventually however, the market is always right, which is why Uber’s IPO and WeWork’s failed attempt at going public are important lessons for investors looking to support entrepreneurship.

Before its IPO, Uber was thought to be worth $100 billion (while making losses of almost $2 billion yearly), but as it went public in May this year, its share price verged on the lower end of the range, raising little over $8 billion for the company and valuing it at about $75 billion. Today, its share price has almost halved since the IPO and its market capitalisation stands at $45.5 billion. 

WeWork, on the other hand, was forced to postpone its IPO, Neumann has stepped down and the company’s main shareholder, Japan’s SoftBank, is now trying to save face by rescuing the company from bankruptcy after their valuation was slashed from $45 billion to $10 billion.

While both of these companies have managed to disrupt entire industries and innovate, neither are making any profit. In the race to amass customers, build up a presence and become market leaders, cashflow has become redundant when there are investors with such deep pockets willing to prop them up. So, will this mark the end of startup IPOs with ridiculously high valuations? Or will we see more VC investors looking closely at the profitability of these startups before making their investment decisions? 

Typically, startups are encouraged to either fail fast or grow fast, even if it is at the expense of revenues and profits because essentially, VCs invest in growth capital and it is the potential of growth that ensures excellent returns on investments. Not all investors look at profitability as one of the critical criteria to invest in the early stages since profitability at scale is what makes companies attractive acquisition targets. As a result, most companies fail to build lean and sustainable business models at the beginning and inevitably fall into the trap of raising ongoing capital to achieve growth and command higher market values. 

The recent IPOs have shown that there is a disparity in the definition of successful companies for private and public investors. This has validated that alongside growth and innovation, it is important for companies to have a long-term perspective to financial success in order to become self-sustaining and value-driven businesses.

To achieve this, startups have to create robust and lean proven business models that will continue to attract investors and customers at all stages.  In Uber's case, and the question that most public investors are asking is, how much more market share should the company have for the business to be profitable? The company is currently trying to diversify its revenue stream by introducing several other models like Uber Eats but is it due to a weak base business model, that is proving over time that it's not profitable? Or is it just the case of securing more growth for a more significant valuation? One might argue that Uber’s subsidisation of its services fare is necessary to maintain market share, and bleed competition out of the market, but for how long is this sustainable? 

Globally and in the Middle East too, startups are burning vast amounts of cash on an ongoing basis with no visibility on profitability in the near future. This strategy is due to the extensive amounts of cash available and the novelty of services they offer in these relatively nascent sectors.

In the Mena region, there is an ongoing increase in governmental and private interest in this asset class, thus the constant pumping of cash into startups and growth is also leading to fewer failures. Fewer failures mean longer cycles and fewer serial entrepreneurs that emerge from these bust companies to start new ventures.

It's a given that VCs will and should invest in companies without proven business models. They should charge for the risk they are taking and for their expertise in determining which models have better chances at succeeding. But now is the time for VCs to actively factor for profitability rather than only a 'get big fast' strategy, pushed by founders that have the charisma to sell their story. 

Yes, we may see lower valuations, and maybe more time for startups to reach their goals, but it might also be a win for everyone, rather than a substantial fall for a few.

November 13th 2019, 10:36 pm
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