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


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.

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November 20th 2019, 11:46 am

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


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


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."

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November 19th 2019, 5:45 pm

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


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.

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November 19th 2019, 4:24 pm

A15 doubles its investment in Intouch


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.

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November 18th 2019, 12:48 pm

Botme raises six-figure in seed funding


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.

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November 18th 2019, 12:37 pm

Statys closes pre-seed round


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


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.

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November 17th 2019, 11:36 am

ekar expands to Riyadh after closing $17.5m Series B


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


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


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?


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

Careem acquires Cyacle


Source: Zawya

 The recent acquisition of Cyacle, an Abu Dhabi-based bike-sharing company, by MENA’s leading ride-hailing app Careem, reflects the growing influence of Emirati-owned startups and small and medium enterprises, SMEs, in the local business scene. The acquisition was reportedly part of Careem’s strategy to offer complete mobility solutions to more MENA cities over the next 12 months.

Cyacle, which was launched in 2014 under the support of the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development, KFED, is a startup company that offers a fully-automated docked bike-sharing service in the emirate. The company operates stations located around Yas Island, corniche beach, AI Raha Beach, and Reem Island. The startup’s convenient short-term bike rental service can be accessed 24/7 via a mobile app, a touch screen kiosk, and a docking system that releases the bike using a ride code or a member key.

Mouza Al Nasri, Acting Chief Executive Officer of KFED, said, "Cyacle is an excellent example of how creative and innovative ideas can be turned into successful business ventures. Cyacle introduced to the market a first-of-its-kind business model in the region as its unique, competitive edge. Now, it enjoys widespread success after boldly taking the lead in offering public bike-sharing scheme in Abu Dhabi. We consider Careem’s recent acquisition of the KFED-supported company as our success, too, as we continue to back UAE startups and SMEs as part of our socio-economic contribution to Abu Dhabi and the entire country."

"Through the success stories of Cyacle and many other flourishing KFED-supported startups and SMEs, we hope to inject new energy into the growing culture of entrepreneurship across the UAE. We will remain committed to our mission to help all Emirati entrepreneurs in turning their creative business ideas into a reality in the hope of promoting innovation in our citizens, especially among young Emiratis; facilitating sustainable growth of their enterprise projects with socio-economic impact; and building an environment conductive to the development of SMEs and startups," Al Nasri added.

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November 12th 2019, 3:24 pm

Nala Raises $1 million in funding


Source: finsmes

Nala, a Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-based digital health service, raised $1m in its first financing.

The round was led by AlAraby Investment.

The company intends to use the funds to continue to grow its user base and further strengthen its position as the region’s top digital health service.

Led by Othman Abahussein, founder and CEO, Nala has just launched an artificial intelligence platform that enables instant medical diagnosis in Arabic. This new platform will be an addition to Nala’s current digital health service, which provides users with instant access to personalized healthcare through a mobile app. Over 50,000 people have used the app, which is available on Apple’s AppStore and Google’s PlayStore. All doctors are licensed by the Saudi Commission for Health Specialties.


November 12th 2019, 8:17 am

The Women’s Economic Empowerment Global Summit


The Women’s Economic Empowerment Global Summit (WEEGS) is a significant collaboration between NAMA and UN Women, addressing women participation in the economy and the advancement of women in professional paths, and promoting equal opportunities for women entrepreneurs locally and globally. It also aims to contribute to advancing the women’s economic agenda of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Summit will be held every two years and will focus on women’s achievements in various economic sectors, give women access to the market and emerging economic sectors, as well as provide a platform to share best practices and commitment to action creating an enabling economy for women.

The summit will advance discussions with international decision-makers on best practices for women advancement and empowerment economically and professionally, as well as present strategies, opportunities, and case studies to empower women in sectors where they are underrepresented (including – but not limited to – procurement, finance, city planning and STEM) and encourage organizations’ commitment for action.

The WEEGS 2017 brought together high-profile officials and international thought leaders on women’s rights and empowerment, gender equity advocates, governmental, non-governmental and private sector representatives, and academics, who can influence global policies and inform grassroot actions.

In its second edition, WEEGS expects to attract 1,000 people for whom women’s economic empowerment is a top priority, to learn, exchange experiences, and network.

Register to attend

November 12th 2019, 4:54 am

TruKKer raises $23 million in Series A


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.

“The latest funding round will be instrumental as we target significant strengthening of our operations, infrastructure, expansion of our team and further enhancements to our technology and research and development,” said Gaurav Biswas, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of TruKKer. “We’re tremendously excited to work with STV and all of the co-investors who are supporting our vision and enabling us to continue to grow in the region. We are evolving rapidly to become the region’s trucking freight exchange that facilitates transparency and efficiencies based commercial advantages for our users.” 

Founded in 2016, TruKKer claims to have more than 15,000 member trucks servicing more than 200 clients.

TruKKer enables instant booking, real time demand and supply matching, digital price discovery, cargo tracking, and digitisation of document processing of land freight. It focuses primarily on road freight and services long-haul cross-country, port movements and last mile deliveries of large and bulky cargo.

“TruKKer is bringing efficiency to a logistics market that is ripe for disruption. Adoption for a digital freight platform has grown significantly. There is substantial demand from customers for better freight management, driven by data and information all situated in one platform. TruKKer has all the attributes to become a leader in the Middle East land transportation sector and will use this funding to go after the regions’ logistics sector, which is set to reach $66 billion by 2020,” said Ahmad AlNaimi, investment principal of STV.

November 12th 2019, 1:57 am

Yodawy raises $1 million in Series A


Egypt-based online pharmacy Yodawy, has raised $1 million in its Series A round led by Egypt’s Algebra Ventures and CVentures, with participation from ASI Ventures, an angel investor firm. 

Founded in 2018, Yodawy enables users to browse and order medications and personal care products through its mobile application. The startup is operational across 30 cities in Egypt with a network of more than 2500 pharmacies. Patients can also get access through the mobile application to their medical insurance co-payment plan and receive electronic prescriptions from their doctors.

“There is an incredible opportunity in the pharmacy benefits and claims processing space. It’s an established business model in different parts of the world, with no real solution in the region. Consumers and insurance companies alike are absolutely desperate for a better value proposition.” says Karim Khashaba, co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Yodawy.  “The region has come a long way over the past couple of years, but we still believe very little is being done to address deeper infrastructure gaps. This is where Yodawy is looking to create real impact.”

Yodawy claims to have completed almost half a million orders in less than 12 months.

“Yodawy has a very promising team that is led by an experienced and resilient entrepreneur with strong product passion and an ability to attract good talent,” said Karim Hussein, managing partner of Algebra Ventures. 

“With their vision, strategy and the outstanding progress Yodawy has been able to deliver outstanding results in their first year of operations, Algebra is truly excited about this opportunity and confident in Yodawy’s ability to lead the digital transformation of the Healthcare sector in Egypt and the Mena region.”

November 12th 2019, 1:57 am

Are people paying online in the UAE?


UAE e-commerce seems to be booming as the country’s tech-savvy, young population embraces online shopping, but consumer wariness about paying over the internet will constrain growth until retailers find a convincing alternative for cash-on-delivery (COD).

Ostensibly, the signs are encouraging. A Visa survey published in June found that 63 per cent of UAE internet users shop online, with each shopper on average spending $1,648 annually. Average transactions values were $144, nearly six times the emerging market mean of $26.

Yet this high purchase price also indicates that UAE consumers are not so much shopping online for goods they could buy in a store but for intangible services such as government services and education, airline tickets, transport and telecom subscriptions. General retail services and goods only accounted for 6 per cent UAE e-commerce sales value in the 12 months to the end of February 2019, according to Visa.

Such intangible services do not require the physical delivery of a product; convincing shoppers to pay online for goods they will later receive at their home or workplace is proving a tougher sell and that spells trouble for e-commerce retailers, with less than 5 per cent of total UAE retail sales conducted online.

That was a key conclusion of a joint survey by Google and consultants Bain & Co, which also found that 44 per cent of UAE consumers prefer cash-on-delivery when buying online. That compares with less than 5 per cent in the UK.

COD means that a sale is not completed until the customer pays the delivery person, usually a day or several days after an order has been placed. That leaves the online retailer vulnerable to the customer suffering buyer’s remorse, while other chance factors can also jeopardise the sale such as whether someone is at home when the delivery arrives and whether they have cash on them at that exact moment.

Yet COD is likely to remain the most popular payment method, in part due to banks’ intransigence towards customer complaints about unfulfilled or unsatisfactory online purchases. Unlike in Europe or the US, the burden of proof is on the customer, not the retailer, with reimbursements and payment disputes in the Gulf often taking more than six months to resolve.

“The biggest challenge in e-commerce in Mena is payments,” says Ahmed El Alfi, Chairman of Egypt-based Sawari Ventures. “You can’t pay seamlessly for products. Delivery and logistics are being sorted out but really, once the payment is sorted out that will really change e-commerce.”

Visa believes offering consumers the option to pay by credit or debit card at the time of delivery via a mobile point-of-sale (POS) device could help convert them to digital payments.

“Every year, we see consumer confidence and trust in online shopping significantly increase from where it was last year and in the coming years it is only going to expand further thanks to the rising adoption of digital wallets, arrival of better security technologies and modernisation of e-commerce platforms,” says Shahebaz Khan, Visa’s general manager for the UAE.

Another solution could be direct carrier billing (DCB), which enables consumers to charge the cost of their online purchases – usually digital content such music, movies and games – to their mobile phone account.

“It’s a very simple, secure and convenient payment experience,” says Brad Whittfield, chief financial officer at Mondia Group, whose Mondia Pay platform is integrated into the networks of about 50 telecom operators worldwide including UAE duopoly du and Etisalat. “Consumers are not required to provide their credit card details or even personal information to the merchant – all they need is an active SIM.”

That enables consumers without bank accounts or debit cards, which make up a sizeable portion of the Middle East’s population, to shop online.

“We are seeing the potential of DCB extending well beyond digital content to becoming a real alternative to your credit card for ecommerce,” said Whittfield.

“Consumer experience and behaviour will always be the deciding factor at the end of the day, which is why we see online conversion rates with DCB up to 10 times that of credit card.”

Mondia Pay offers mobile wallet, SMS billing and mobile billing, with the latter by far the most popular with end-users.

“Mobile wallets have the potential to help address the cash-on-delivery challenge in Mena,” the Bain-Google report states. “As smartphones capture the majority of e-commerce transactions, mobile wallets offer a more secure and convenient way to pay when compared with credit cards.”

Of course, to sell online goods requires a virtual store and checkout. Dubai-based Network International last year launched Go-Online for UAE-registered businesses to create a web-based online store that includes a payment gateway which accepts debit and credit card payments. Companies can choose from around 60 templates. Go-Online costs Dh2,999 for a 12-month subscription.

“The technical integration (of an online payment gateway) for a merchant is very simple,” says Whittfield. “But ultimately these merchants still need a bank account and have to go through a bank’s KYC [know your customer] process, which can take time in this region for a startup.”

The issue of financial inclusion and COD has become an impetus for several startups looking to provide a solution. Wamda recently invested in Tabby, a 'buy-now-pay-later' platform which provides customers the ability to pay in installments and forego providing their credit or debit card details at the point of checkout and so works as an alternative to COD. 

A joint study by Visa and Dubai’s Department of Economic Development (DED) found that 73 per cent of UAE online shoppers prefer paying by card.

“If consumers see the logos of certain payment providers and trust certificates on the website, they feel more secure,” says Khan.

Visa research indicates that 63 per cent of consumers are swayed by such logos, while 61 per cent cited strong customer service as a factor in deciding whether to buy and 49 per cent cited displaying customer reviews. Among UAE consumers, 42 per cent prefer one-time passwords (OTPs) for authenticating digital transactions.

Visa notes that the relatively late adoption of online shopping coupled with the high penetration of smartphones and social networks has led Gulf consumers to opt straight for m-commerce.

Such behaviour could prove a boon for online retailers that are Instagram-savvy.

The Facebook-owned network recently launched shopping tags in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and the UAE that it hopes will create “more opportunities and simpler ways for people using Instagram to discover and explore brands and products”, says Priya Patel, product marketing lead at Facebook Middle East.

On Instagram posts featuring tagged products, there will a shopping bag icon which when tapped, displays further products details, enables users to click through to a product page and also shows a link to buy the item on the merchant’s website.

“Instagram shopping enables businesses to build a flagship store,” says Patel.

“Because it's mobile first, it takes everything that consumers love about shopping on their phones - speed, convenience, accessibility - and combines it with the fun and immersive experience of a bricks-and-mortar store.”

To be eligible for Shopping of Instagram, retailers must also have an Instagram business account linked to a Facebook Catalogue, a connected Facebook page and primarily sell physical goods.

Checkout, which enables retailer to purchase directly through Instagram is only available in the US, so the conundrum of how to facilitate payments remains.

November 11th 2019, 9:54 pm

Wamda invests in cash on delivery alternative Tabby


Wamda has invested in UAE-based financial technology (fintech) startup Tabby, a platform leveraging proprietary technology to improve current inefficiencies in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena)  payment landscape. The platform offers consumers the option to ‘buy now and pay later’ or to pay in multiple installments for goods bought online. Wamda’s investment is part of Tabby’s $2 million seed round led by Global Founders Capital, with backers including Arbor Ventures among other investors

Founded by Hosam Arab, previously co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of online retail site Namshi, Tabby ( aims to provide consumers across the UAE and Saudi Arabia with the flexibility to pay for their online and offline purchases either in a single payment at a later date or in multiple installments. Tabby allows customers to complete their purchase without the need to enter their credit or debit card details and thus aims to become a serious alternative to cash-on-delivery (COD) or cash payments altogether.

The Mena region is the fastest-growing region for e-commerce globally, with the UAE boasting impressive online transaction figures averaging at $144 per purchase, as outlined by Visa in a study published earlier in 2019. Yet COD remains the preferred option for the majority of online shoppers. According to a recent study by Google and Bain & Company, 62 per cent of the region’s online shoppers still prefer COD over other options when buying online. For merchants, on the other hand, COD comes with a hefty price tag and often translates into a higher risk of packages being returned.

“We're excited to be launching a Buy Now Pay Later business that provides great value to consumers, retailers and financial institutions while addressing the government's goals of growing non-cash transactions in their economies,” said Hosam Arab, chief executive officer (CEO) of Tabby.

Tabby is currently integrating its technology solution with a number of large retail merchants in the region and will be available on the checkout page of e-commerce sites along with other traditional payment options.

For retailers, Tabby presents an opportunity to grow revenues and transaction sizes due to the convenient payment options they would provide their customers and unprecedented access to the region’s unbanked or underbanked. 

“Tabby customers will be able to better manage their spending by making purchases at their convenience and paying for them when they have the funds available while retailers will benefit from being able to sell more to their customers, and gain access to a larger customer base,” said Arab.

“Wamda is excited to be partnering with one of the region’s most successful entrepreneurs. This is a continuation of our thesis to back great founders building products addressing clear and demonstrable market pain points,” said Fadi Ghandour, executive chairman of Wamda. 

This is the first round of funding for the startup, which will use the capital to further develop its proprietary technology, grow its merchant network and hire talent across multiple geographies.

“We are partnering with some of the largest retailers in the UAE at launch, and will be adding new retail partners regularly,” said Arab.



November 11th 2019, 1:19 am

Saudi Arabia's PIF invests $400 million in ex-Uber chief's startup


Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), has invested $400 million into Uber founder Travis Kalanick’s new company, CloudKitchens, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

The investment values the ghost kitchen company at about $5 billion and is one of the biggest investments Saudi has made in a single startup. Kalanick founded CloudKitchens soon after he was ousted from Uber, pumping $300 million of his own money into the startup, using proceeds from the sale of his Uber shares according to WSJ.

Kalanick is banking on the growth of the food delivery space. Described as ghost, cloud, or dark kitchens, these commissary kitchens are rented out to restaurants or virtual food brands to produce food for delivery only. The company now has locations in China, India, the UK and US, while also operating its own delivery only restaurants.

Globally, Reef Technology which has raised investment from SoftBank Group (a fund comprising $45 billion from PIF ) and Kitchen United, backed by Google Ventures have also attracted large ticket sizes.

Several cloud kitchens in the UAE have emerged including Kitopi, Food To Go, OneKitchen, iKcon and Kitchen Nation. According to Statista, revenues for online food delivery have exceeded $2.8 billion so far this year across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), with as many as 32 per cent of operators attributing more than a quarter of their revenue to delivery.





November 10th 2019, 7:19 am

Wamda marks a decade of entrepreneurship at Area 2071 in Dubai


Wamda and Area 2071 hosted a panel discussion on Wednesday, November 6, to discuss the growth of the startup ecosystem over the past decade, and investigate the challenges that remain to be addressed. 

The event opened with remarks by Khalfan Juma Belhoul , chief executive officer (CEO) of Dubai Future Foundation. Moderated by Wamda executive chairman Fadi Ghandour, the session featured Magnus Olsson, co-founder and managing director at Careem, Rabea Ataya, co-founder and CEO at, and Ronaldo Mouchawar, co-founder of, vice-president of Amazon Middle East and North Africa.

Khalfan Belhoul: Dubai provides supportive infrastructure for entrepreneurship

Khalfan Juma Belhoul, CEO of Dubai Future Foundation, said that Dubai supports entrepreneurs and brilliant minds from around the world and provides them with the infrastructure to develop their businesses, and turn their innovative ideas into reality, and as such contribute to building innovative solutions to current challenges.

Belhoul pointed to the importance of providing global platforms for startups to scale their business and enhance their potential by having access to more support and financing opportunities. "Area 2071 represents on a global scale a successful model of an entrepreneurial and supportive community of innovators, founders, government entities, corporates and investors brought together to facilitate and accelerate collaboration,” said Belhoul.

Entrepreneurship as a vital engine of economic growth

“Since we started in 2000, we have seen an incredible amount of change in the region’s entrepreneurship ecosystem,” said Rabea Ataya, founder and CEO of “On the plus side, the role of entrepreneurship in addressing regional economic and unemployment woes is better recognised. The number of mentorship programmes is growing, as is venture capital and government interest,” said Ataya.

Entrepreneurship has since been recognised as a vital engine of economic growth and job creation, prompting most governments across the region to improve business conditions to enable founders to launch and grow healthy companies. Across the region, founders have witnessed a proliferation of startup communities, accelerators, incubators, and industry- or stage-specific programmes catering to startups of all stages.

A change in Mena’s investment landscape

“The entrepreneurial ecosystem has come a long way from when we first launched Souq in 2005. The e-commerce sector was in its early stages with many suppliers hesitant to have their products online and others unclear on how the internet worked. Our aspiration when we started the company was to create a local marketplace for the Arab world by leveraging technology. Today and after our acquisition, customers can choose from tens of millions of products available on from local and international sellers,” said Ronaldo Mouchawar, co-founder of Souq and VP of Amazon MENA.

There has seemingly been a shift in mindsets, noted the speakers, with an increasing number of individuals looking to launch their ventures as a means to become agents of their futures and those of their communities.

“In 2000, when we were out looking to raise capital, there were no venture capital funds to begin with – only friends and family, and no other ways to raise money. Today, there are hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of venture funds across the region. Even from a human capital perspective, bright minds see startups as opportunities to learn and grow, whereas 20 years ago, most smart people were interested in joining big multinationals. It was a pretty crazy time to start an internet business,” said Ataya. “There’s also been a shift in mindset with investors backing up startups with seed funding and the government launching initiatives to encourage budding entrepreneurs,” said Mouchawar.

“The journeys of, and Careem have boosted the ecosystem by creating role models, encouraging a more entrepreneurial mindset across the region, and proving that it is possible to launch, grow and exponentially scale a business across our region,” said Wamda executive chairman Fadi Ghandour.

“We have seen the ecosystem mature and evolve, with governments and corporates launching initiatives to encourage founders and ease business challenges. We are also observing unprecedented startup activity in new sectors, such as food tech, blockchain, Software as a Service (SaaS), e-commerce enablers, as well as fintech. Our responsibility as ecosystem enablers is to continuously support, nurture, and invest in startups as well as help founders navigate the complexity of the Mena region,” said Ghandour.

Encouraging entrepreneurs

Magnus Olsson, co-founder and managing director of Careem, highlighted the importance of Dubai and the UAE's support for entrepreneurs and startups as well as its innovative environment, which encourages work on modern solutions contributing to the development of new economic sectors. He pointed to the wide opportunities available to startups across the region which boasts local and international talent capable of supporting future sectors such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and blockchain among others.


November 10th 2019, 1:43 am

Arab Startup Competition


MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Startup Competition (ASC) is a yearly competition initiated by the MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab since 2006. This annual competition is designed to empower entrepreneurs and foster an eco-system of innovation and entrepreneurship in the Arab Region. ASC pits entrepreneurs in three different tracks: Ideas, Startups and Social Entrepreneurship Track. The winning teams are awarded 120,000 USD in equity-free fund and benefit from a range of other activities including top tier trainings, mentorship, coaching, media exposure and great networking opportunities.

Selected semifinalist teams will participate in a 2-day boot camp designed by MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab. Almost 1 month from the boot camp training, all semifinalist teams will compete during the final event where they will pitch to judges from different professional backgrounds. Teams will also be provided with 2 mentorship activities where they get the chance to network with professionals and investors.

During the final event, all semifinalists will pitch to the Round 2 judges. Each Track has a different panel of judges, and the judges will select 30 finalists. The 30 finalist teams will pitch to the Round 3 judges, who will then choose 9 winners: 3 from each track. 

Deadline for submissions is December 10

November 7th 2019, 7:08 am

Tripdizer raises $300,000 in seed funding


Source: MenaBytes

Cairo-based travel startup Tripdizer has raised $300,000 in seed funding led by 500 Startups (500 Falcons), it announced today, saying that the round was also joined by Innoventures and angel investor Jamal El Dabal. The startup was part of 500 Startups’ Series A program Mena Dojo earlier this year. It is not immediately clear if the entire investment that they’ve received is fresh capital or also includes the $150,000 they had received from 500 Startups while participating in Mena Dojo.

Founded in 2017 by Ziad El Adawy, Yara Yehia, Sameh Saleh (who also co-founded Harmonica, the dating startup that was acquired by Match Group earlier this year), Hatem Ayoub and Mohamed Mostafa, Tripdizer enables travelers (mainly millennials) in Egypt to plan and book international (holiday) trips by learning about their preferences including purpose, budget, and the kind of activities they’re interested in.

Once the user submits this information, they’re provided with flight and accommodation options to choose from instantly on Tripdizer’s website. We could not confirm but it appears that the transaction happens offline. Tripdizer apparently after receiving these details gets in touch with the customer to confirm and book their trip after receiving the payment offline.

Ziad Eladawy, the founder and CEO of Tripdizer, commenting on the occasion, said, “The Middle East is the fastest-growing outbound travel market in the world and we are seeing a high rate of internet and technology adoption. It is expected that over the next 2 years that 50% of the travel bookings will be made online and we want to be at the forefront of such a wave in the region. There has never been a better time for a solution like Tripdizer, not only because it fills a gap in the travel ecosystem but also because the demand is growing for online travel booking services.”

Continue reading this story


November 7th 2019, 4:04 am

A.R.M. Holding launches a Dh10 million 10-year fund


 Dubai-based A.R.M. Holding announced that it has established a Dh10 million ($2,722,719 million) 10-year fund, dedicating Dh1 million annually to support student startups from around the world that are focused on creating a positive social impact through the Art Dubai Group’s Global Grad Show. 

“This initiative and A.R.M. Holding’s involvement are indicative of the type of economic and social enablement that drives our business and investment strategy. Through the fund, priority will be given to students who want to bring their inventions to life in the Emirate,” said Mohammad AlShehhi, chief executive officer (CEO) of A.R.M Holding. 

Since 1976, the firm has made investments in a variety of sectors including real estate, education and telecommunications.

 “Since 2015, Global Grad Show has given over 700 graduates around the world the opportunity to showcase their projects to an international audience and be seen by tens of thousands of people at the exhibition. This new generous commitment of A.R.M. Holding is a significant development for the programme as it will now enable participants to develop their projects for the market. We are indebted to A.R.M. Holding for supporting this new route, which cements the exhibition as a platform for early-stage innovation for a better tomorrow,” said Benedict Floyd, CEO of Art Dubai Group. 


November 7th 2019, 2:10 am

Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival


The Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival, happing on November 25-26, 2019, at The Expo Center Sharjah, and is organized by Sheraa and under the patronage of Her Excellency Sheikha Bodour al Qasimi. Held every November, the festival is one of the fastest-growing entrepreneurship festivals in the Middle East, helping put Sharjah on the map as a vibrant hub for entrepreneurs. Inaugurated in 2017, the festival seeks to inspire the next generation of founders, instilling the courage and confidence to dream big and take charge of the future. 

SEF 2019 will guide the attendees on their inner quest, and elevate their entrepreneurial experience. With an aim to provide a curated view of both Sharjah’s and the wider region’s key entrepreneurship-related developments over the past year, the event’s motivational keynotes, knowledge-sharing panels, and interactive discussions and workshops will feature both regional and international leaders, experts, and decision-makers from government, academia, technology, business, and other key sectors. 

This is part of cultivating the entrepreneurial culture that is so vital to all entrepreneurship ecosystems, encouraging risk-taking, creativity, and critical thinking. Across the two-day event, attendees are introduced to changemakers from around the globe, who share their stories and showcase the incredible potential entrepreneurship has to positively impact the world. They learn about the nature of the ecosystem and how to navigate it. And, of course, they are encouraged to join the growing entrepreneurship community and think about how they too can make a difference.

Register to attend.

November 6th 2019, 1:01 am

The challenge of regulating technology without stifling innovation


This week, some 700 delegates descended on Dubai as part of the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Futures Council to discuss and generate ideas to solve global challenges. Separated into 38 councils, topics up for discussion included cybersecurity, artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing and education.

One theme that permeated throughout these discussions was technology and how to regulate it without stifling innovation. A major issue facing all delegates is navigating technological trends with little to no relevant precedent in place.

For the first time, new technologies like internet of things (IOT), artificial intelligence and machine learning are all combining together with little certainty as to how it will impact not just the user, but society as a whole and the wider economy. Relying on laws and regulations that were developed for analogue or outdated technologies is insufficient.

“I’m in favour of red lines with respect to specific issues, should we allow completely autonomous weapons systems? It would be wonderful to have a global ban,” said Urs Gasser, executive director of the Berkman Klein Centre for Internet and Society. “I’m not sure for all the other questions, that are not red line questions, that the current mechanism in international global law-making are the best instruments in the toolbox to deal with these contextual and technical problems over time.”

The real challenge is identifying the models of governance that incorporate different stakeholders, the best of the technology community, academics and governments together.

“Where are the fora where such conversations can happen? A global all-encompassing solution is not possible right now,” said Gasser.

Some governments in the Middle East have launched regulations labs (RegLab) to work with different stakeholders and startups to develop regulations for new sectors and technologies.

“Government is there to put law and order and create legislation. Timing is of the essence. Venture capital investment and entrepreneurs come with speed. Government also comes with speed, but with protectionism in mind. You might stiffen technology and innovation if you regulate too early, but if you regulate too late, it might cause harm to civil society,” said Abdulla Bin Touq, secretary general of the UAE Cabinet who made his comments at the Emtech Conference which took place in Dubai.

The development of technology has spread worldwide, with founders in countries that have different values and political beliefs and agendas, aligning all parties to embrace one set of regulations or best practices is difficult.

“Innovation is coming from anywhere, which is both good and bad,” said Sandra Lopez, vice-president at Intel, leading efforts for the digitisation and personalisation of sports. “Now it’s become more accessible and given the fact that technology can be created anywhere, it could exasperate the issues or solve more problems.”

For WEF, enabling discussions to develop standards and ethics that can be applied globally is crucial, but according to Gasser, technology has become “deeply political” which can hinder trust and agreements.

“I don’t think there is much opportunity right now, in the current political environment, to either influence the approach about how the US is thinking about technology to influence China. Europe is on its own track, there are other countries and continents that are undecided yet. There are large parts of South America that are making up their minds on which technology to embrace,” said Gasser.

For Danil Kerimi, deputy head of the Centre for the 4th Industrial Revolution in China, it is politics that has become technological and excluding countries from discussions could stifle innovation.

“We incorporate stakeholders from across the world,” said Kerimi. “WEF is the world economic forum for a reason, excluding anyone won’t benefit anyone. There are different kinds of worlds, the same word has different understanding and reactions, and having those conversations will ultimately lead to better results.”

Embracing Circular Economy

Alongside the council discussions, the UAE government announced plans to invest $1 million in a WEF initiative to encourage entrepreneurs, government, business and civil society to collaborate to find ideas to cut economic wastage and develop a circular economy.

SCALE 360, part of WEF’s Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy, aims to create new markets for circular goods, services and revenue by surfacing, supporting and connecting entrepreneurs and innovations through nationally-led challenges and partnerships.

“SCALE 360 will fast track our global efforts to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. In addition to ensuring the conservation of our natural resources, a circular economy will step up our reliance on clean energy, enhance the consistent implementation of sustainable development standards and generate greater opportunities for the youth in the region,” said Thani Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, minister of climate change and environment of the UAE.

The UAE will host the first of these national partnerships.

“This partnership aims to trigger a worldwide movement for radical change by identifying new technologies and business solutions that break our dependency on natural resource extraction while marrying targets for protecting the environment with ones for boosting economies,” said Dominic Waughray, head of the Centre for Global Public Goods at WEF.


November 5th 2019, 7:37 am

Modus Capital launches a $75 million regional fund



Modus Capital, a New York-based venture capital firm, has announced the launch of its first regional fund, Modus Mena Venture  Fund I (MMVFI), a $75 million fund targeting early and growth stage companies for a range of industries across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena). 

The fund aims to invest in technology companies that have strong positive social impact as a by-product, including those with a focus on women and financial inclusion, health, education, and battling unemployment. The fund also includes an allocation for US-based companies that are portable to the Mena region. 

Modus Capital is making investments through an incubation programme starting from $50,000 to $250,000, and up to $1 million for Seed and Series A rounds with particular interest in financial technology, health technology, direct to consumer e-commerce, enterprise  and consumer software as a service (SaaS) products in addition to products leveraging blockchain protocols.

Modus Capital launched its Egypt office last November and has plans to expand to other countries in the region, with plans for establishment in the GCC in quarter one of 2020.

“We actively assist entrepreneurs in building transformational businesses by not only investing in them, but also partnering with them to create the most effective strategies to take their company to the next level. We allow investors to participate in high-value, high-growth opportunities while operationally supporting entrepreneurs and guide them with our seasoned experts, propelling them to realize their goals,” said  Kareem Elsirafy, founder and managing partner of Modus Capital.

“We believe that institutional investors like Modus Capital have a responsibility to provide more than just funding to their portfolio companies and now is the right time to offer an all-inclusive solution, harnessing the global expertise for a dynamic Mena market.”

The fund has built its portfolio with 8 companies in its first year (2019) and made its first investment in the fourth quarter of 2018.


November 5th 2019, 5:59 am

Mental health and entrepreneurship - how much do entrepreneurs struggle?


Reem Shaheen is the founder of BE Psychology Centre in Dubai and is a US-trained counseling psychologist

Recent research from University of San Francisco researcher Michael A. Freeman shows that 49 per cent of entrepreneurs will suffer from at least one mental health condition in their lifetime compared to 25 per cent of the general adult population who will struggle with mental health concerns. Entrepreneurs are twice as likely to develop depression and three times more likely to engage in substance abuse than the general population. While entrepreneurs are often admired for their creativity and initiative, the struggles they encounter in those roles are often ignored. Entrepreneurs tend to be high achievers, driven and motivated. Although these are all fine qualities to have, there can be some disadvantages to it. Often, these individuals are perfectionists and tend to ignore their personal needs for the benefit of their business. These traits increase their susceptibility to mental health illness.

In addition to personality characteristics, there are also other factors that contribute to an entrepreneur’s proneness to mental illness – stress levels have been identified as a key factor. Entrepreneurs can easily be trapped in “never not working mentality” where they only focus on their business and ignore opportunities for self-care. They miss out on occasions where they can have fun or establish connections with others. This style of life often leads to increased stress levels. Further, entrepreneurs can often lack a sense of certainty and control over their situations. They cannot predict the influx of money and do not have the stability of a steady income. These feelings of uncertainty also increase proneness to anxiety disorders, depression, substance use/abuse, and eating disorders.

Further, many men and women entrepreneurs report feeling isolated, estranged and misunderstood by those around them. Social interactions tend to be focused on networking rather than socialising. Additionally, entrepreneurs express the need to “manage their image” and ensure that they do not show vulnerability. They experience feeling ashamed if they do not have it together. Those feelings increase their isolation which is a precursor to mental health illness.

Entrepreneurs can sometimes contribute to their declining mental health, they are often critical and harsh with themselves. They tend to set high expectations for themselves and can be ashamed of struggling and reluctant to reach out for help. They fuse their identity, self-esteem and self-worth becomes directly correlated with their company. This merger of identities often contributes to the social isolation experienced by entrepreneurs.

There is also a misrepresentation of entrepreneurship in the media. It is often portrayed as glamorous with success being easily attainable whereas the reality of the difficulties faced remain unaddressed. This kind of misrepresentation can also set up the wrong expectations for the entrepreneurs themselves. Additionally, it can lead them to think that their struggles are individual and become less likely to seek help.

It is, therefore, crucial to take measures to help entrepreneurs maintain healthy levels of wellbeing both physically and psychologically. The first step would be the de-stigmatisation of mental health concerns for the general population but for entrepreneurs as well. Entrepreneurs will be much less likely to reach out for help if they feel they will be judged or that their business will suffer. Hence normalising their struggles will help them recognise that it is not an individual issue. Second, establishing support communities for entrepreneurs where they feel safe to express their feelings without being judged. Third, entrepreneurs should recognise the risk factors and dedicate some of their time to taking care of themselves. Self-care includes exercise, eating healthy, seeking support and connecting to loved ones can help tremendously in decreasing the probability of developing mental health concerns.

November 3rd 2019, 9:58 pm

Keno raises funding from JustClean


Dubai based Keno, a car-care on-demand application, raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Kuwait-based technology company JustClean. 

Launched in 2017, Keno offers environmentally-friendly on-demand car services such as car wash, refuelling, detailing, oil change, tire change, battery recharge/change, and other features, all through a mobile application.

“This investment represents JustClean’s continued commitment to digitising traditionally offline cleaning markets,” said Mohammed Jaffar chief executive officer (CEO) of JustClean. “We truly believe in the potential this industry presents. With internet penetration rates rising, it is only a matter of time before this sector digitises.”

"Justclean’s vision of the cleaning space is strong and ambitious and that’s how we like it,” said Kenan Mobayed, founder of Keno.

Keno now operates in Abudhabi and plans to be live all over the UAE before the end of the year. The company also plans to expand to Kuwait and Saudia Arabia. 

November 3rd 2019, 5:30 am

تطبيق «ريكيو» يُغلق جولته الاستثمارية بتقييم 1.6 مليون دولار


المصدر: القبس

أعلنت شركة ريكيو (Requeue)، المالكة لتطبيق ريكيو، وهي المنصة المتخصصة في مجال تنظيم الطوابير في المطاعم والمقاهي، عن إغلاق أولى جولاتها الاستثمارية منذ تأسيسها عام 2017، التي أسفرت عن دخول مستثمر من الكويت، وذلك بتقييم يصل إلى 1.6 مليون دولار أميركي.

«ريكيو»، هي شركة كويتية تقدِّم الحلول الإلكترونية، وتخصّصت في تنظيم طوابير المطاعم والمقاهي المزدحمة لتحسين تجربة زبائن المطاعم عن طريق تمكين المستخدم من دخول قوائم انتظار المطعم من أي مكان مع التمتع بالكثير من المزايا، وأيضاً تحسين عمليات المطاعم وزيادة المبيعات وتحليل البيانات.

يهدف هذا الاستثمار إلى دعم التوسّع في عمليات الشركة للوصول إلى شرائح أكبر من المستخدمين وأسواق جديدة في قطاع المطاعم، بعد أن حقّقت الشركة أرقاماً، وصلت إلى أكثر من ٤٥ مطعماً، وتنفيذ أكثر من ٥٠٠ ألف طلب عن طريق التطبيق في الكويت، وبعض الدول الخليجية.

قم بمتابعة قراءة هذه القصة

October 31st 2019, 9:36 am

In conversation with Hans-Holger Albrecht of Deezer


When France-based music streaming service Deezer, launched in the Middle East in 2018, followed swiftly by Sweden’s Spotify, it appeared that the region’s music industry was ready to move beyond the plague of piracy.

While the $11 billion revenues from music-streaming have surpassed both physical and digital music sales worldwide, the sector has only managed sales of $213 million so far this year in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), with a 10 per cent penetration in terms of users.  

Deezer managed to secure $266.7 million from Saudi’s Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal’s Kingdom Holding last year and gained exclusive access to the catalogue of the Middle East’s largest record label, Rotana Music. The company claims to have registered four million app downloads since its launch in the region and engagement rates on par with global levels. It is now partnering with telecoms operators in the region to enable direct-billing to overcome the lack of credit card penetration in the Middle East and is considering an initial public offering (IPO) over the next year or so, depending on market conditions.

We interviewed Hans-Holger Albrecht, the global chief executive officer (CEO) of Deezer.

How does the Middle East region differ compared to others?

We have over four million [people] downloading the app, people spend up to 38-40 minutes per day with us and in principle, they behave the same. But the Mena region situation for us is different. Rotana is very strong here and has a great history and promotes local artists. They saw the opportunity with Kingdom Holding with Deezer and they gave us exclusive rights. This is the only region in the world where that makes sense. It’s 10 years, a very long partnership.

We focus a lot on local music, we have 56 million tracks in our local catalogue, we engage very strongly with local artists and work hard to find new ones. The beauty of the success of music streaming is that users can get all the music on one platform.

Are you developing your own content?

This is planned to come, we’ve done it in other markets with podcasts and audiobooks. In Brazil we launched this a year ago and now 10 per cent of usage is podcasts, in Germany, audiobooks is 14 per cent of usage. People like them. We have Deezer Originals where we produce our own podcasts, our own shows and we want to do the same here. We don’t find new artists, the consumer finds them. We know when people come to the platform they look for the very famous singers first and the second is very niche artists. When they find both, they stay and start to engage and hence it is important to have both types.

How important is artificial intelligence (AI) to your business?

The fundamental problem with music streaming is every human-being has their own taste and you have to serve that taste. We work a lot with AI. We collect 45 million data points every day. More than 50 per cent of the time, listeners say “Deezer entertain me”, and choose the flow button or mixes. They want to be entertained but want a personal experience and you can only do that with data and very good algorithms. You need to invest so much in data and data analytics, it is the base of the business, however, we still see that human creation is very powerful so we have 40 editors who curate content.

How do you tackle piracy?

The experience of the whole industry we operate, is built on the ruins of piracy. If you look at Netflix or Lime, or Pirate Bay. You can see that Sweden had the highest piracy rate and now it has the highest penetration of paid streaming music at over 40 per cent. You won’t completely get rid of piracy, you can make it difficult for the listener to find [pirated conten]. What we can see is people need to feel the value, it’s a safe and secure system we operate in. You can listen to Deezer for free and eventually we convince them that if you want to have more features like downloads, you pay.

The reason why we built the business by partnering up with telecoms companies is they can do the billing for you. They can bundle it into the phone plan. That works very well and is a good supplement to credit cards.

YouTube is the most popular platform for music in this part of the world, how do you compete?

The competition with YouTube is different. YouTube just rolls out videos, we try to create an experience. They have it for free and they pay almost nothing to the artists. Which is a very weird and tough and unfair model. In the US, they’ve debated it can’t go on like this. If you look at the Taylor Swift situation, it was ridiculous, she was blaming us platforms, but she throws everything for free on YouTube. There is more and more of sense we can’t go on like this.

Are you considering any acquisitions?

Consolidation is around, there will be a lot of movement in the industry. It’s a scale business and if you don’t do it on a global basis, it’s tough.


October 30th 2019, 10:12 pm

Riyad Bank launches new fintech fund


Source: Asharq Al-Awsat

Riyad Bank has announced on Tuesday the launch of its Digital Partnership Program and its association with a venture capital fund of SR 100 million ($ 26.6 million). The program aims to forge strategic partnerships with entrepreneurs and technology companies, provide solutions and support in the field of financial technology, and create new industries and innovative business models.

The conference themed “Fintech 100” was held on the sidelines of the Future Investment Initiative 2019 in Riyadh.

Riyad Bank CEO Tariq Al Sadhan said that the proliferation of technology has fueled the emergence of fintechs, which have impacted business models and increased tech-savvy customers.He added that the bank is partnering with digital startups and entrepreneurs to enhance digital services and expedite the process of launching new products.

Sadhan also noted that the fund aims at empowering innovation and supporting entrepreneurs through Research and Development (R&D), in addition to the funds.He concluded that the Fintech Fund will be looking into defining a proper mechanism for the Sandbox experimental environment and further support entrepreneurship.

Continue reading this story

October 30th 2019, 8:36 am

W Ventures to invest $50 million in e-sports ecosystem


UAE-based W Ventures has 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 Middle East and North Africa (Mena). The platform aims to improve gaming in the region and support the local e-sports 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,” said Habib Wehbi, chairman of W Ventures.

According to statistics from W Ventures, the e-sports industry is growing at a rapid pace and is projected to reach $196 billion in revenue by 2022 while the gaming industry in Mena is expected to be worth $4.4 billion by 2022. 

“For the past eight years we’ve worked with publishers, endemic and non-endemic brands, influencers, developers, streamers and gaming communities across the United States and globally. By leveraging our extensive knowledge with our experiential marketing expertise, we’ll aim to create unforgettable experiences and expand career prospects for gamers in the Mena region,” said Brad Nierenberg, chief executive officer (CEO) of RedPeg.

October 30th 2019, 7:19 am



Arab Bank is launching the first Fintech Bootcamp for Palestinian entrepreneurs with ideas within the Fintech industry. The bootcamp will provide entrepreneurs access to mentors, and key decision-makers within the Arab Bank to fine-tune ideas to become enterprise-ready.

The Bootcamp will feature interactive workshops by experienced entrepreneurs delivering their know-how and insights. On the final day, participants will get the chance to present their solution on stage in front of key decision-makers in the Arab Bank. The top winning ideas will receive cash rewards.

Bootcamp Benefits:

- Product Validation: The opportunity to validate your product with domain experts in the financial service industry

- Mentorship: Extensive support and mentorship from entrepreneurs and industry experts

- Cash Rewards: 1st place - $7,000, 2nd place - $5,000, 3rd place - $3,000

- Accommodation: Accommodation and travel costs to and from Amman fully covered

Applications Deadline is November 15th 2019, apply Now

October 29th 2019, 10:19 am

Repeat raises $2.5 million in Series A funding


Dubai-based Repeat, a smart loyalty platform for restaurants, has raised $2.5 million in a Series A funding round from several investors to scale its platform for merchants.

Repeat is a smart loyalty that aims to help restaurants increase their revenues while giving targeted and tailored rewards to their most loyal customers based on frequency of visiting and spending. 

“Since going live in Q1 this year, we have already onboarded more than 400 outlets on our platform and increased our clients’ revenue by an average of 25 per cent for all transactions going through the app,” said Omer Gurel, co-founder of Repeat.

Repeat plans to reach over 2,000 food and beverage (F&B) UAE outlets listed on its platform by the end of 2020.

Repeat allows merchants to gain access to customer data, have real-time control of their public profile and customise or adjust their individualised incentives programme any time they want. 

“Our vision is to become the personalised pricing service for everyone everywhere, a loyalty platform with universal applications that will branch out to other hospitality sectors as well as beauty salons, spas and other lifestyle related services” said Gurel.

October 29th 2019, 4:14 am

Wamda continues to invest in Twiga Foods as it raises its landmark series B round


 Kenya-based startup Twiga Foods has raised $23.75 million in a Series B equity round led by Goldman Sachs, with participation from existing investors, including Wamda Capital, the International Finance Corporation, TLcom Capital, and Creadev. This is Goldman Sachs' first major investment in a Kenyan technology company

.This Series B round of financing will enable the business to expand its operations and geographic footprint as well as continue to develop its proprietary technology platform. 

“Africa’s domestic food production and distribution ecosystems [makes for] a $300 billion informal and fragmented market that is estimated to grow to $1 trillion by 2030. With the support of our investors, we are developing technology-driven commercial solutions and cooperating with existing industry players to solve the challenge of food security in Africa,” said co-founder and chief executive Peter Njonjo.

Founded in 2014, Twiga Foods drives the creation of efficiency in East Africa’s agricultural supply chain by deploying a technology-driven logistics platform that directly connects farmers and retailers and disintermediating the marketplace for agricultural produce.

Wamda Capital's continued investment in Twiga Foods is part of the firm’s strategy to back businesses that are redefining traditional industries. The firm first invested in Twiga in 2017 and then again in 2018 alongside other investors such as the International Finance Corporation (IFC), TLCom Capital, DOB Equity. Given Wamda Capital’s unique experience of investing and operating logistics as well as marketplace businesses, the firm has been deeply engaged with Twiga Foods in driving the growth of the business.

“It has been a true privilege working with Peter and the team at Twiga and we are excited to continue the journey going forward. One of the most remarkable aspects of Twiga’s offering is the validation that we can help build highly successful businesses that drive real impact in the communities in which they operate,” said Fadi Ghandour,executive chairman of Wamda.

Twiga currently works with over 17,000 producers and delivers three times a week, on average, to 8,000 retailers. Earlier this year, the company welcomed co-founder Peter Njonjo in his new appointment as CEO. Njonjo stepped down as president of Coca-Cola's West and Central Africa business to take on his new role at Twiga.

October 28th 2019, 8:16 am

What impact will the Lebanon protests have on its startups?


The Arab social contract was designed to placate the people – provide public sector jobs and free social services, and the population will abide by the government and live in a satiated society.  

But as populations have ballooned, governments across the region have struggled to provide the steady jobs and, in some states, basic services like electricity and water. This has left governments with a large population of dissatisfied youth, who now have little motivation and little reason to abide by the demands of the state.

Over the past few weeks we have seen protests erupt and continue in Lebanon, Iraq and Algeria. The difference between them is stark. While Iraq and Algeria exude a feeling of helplessness, Lebanon maintains a sense of hopefulness, a country on the verge of real change.  

At the time of the “Arab Spring” Lebanon’s young population stayed pretty silent, there were some protests in 2011, inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, but they fizzled out by the end of that year, overshadowed by the war that broke out in Syria.

The risk of another civil war was too unpalatable and instead, the Lebanese continued on a path that has become all too familiar: study, graduate and move abroad.

But as evidence of government corruption has surfaced while basic services like electricity and collection of rubbish are not being met, the country’s young population have taken to the streets, demanding change.

“Everyone is embracing what is happening, even the business community. It’s something we understand is a sacrifice…everyone agrees it’s healthy for the future, for the hope of having a better government,” says Riham Hijazi, co-founder of RUSH & REEZ, a modest fashion e-commerce site based in Beirut.

A devastated economy

With a debt burden of close to $75 billion, Lebanon has one of highest debt to gross domestic product (GDP) ratio in the world at 140 per cent, behind Japan and Greece. Risk of further taxation to relieve the state of this deficit, encouraged more than a million people to protest. Interest payments currently consume close to half of the government’s revenues with little left to invest in public infrastructure and with the influx of 1.5 million Syrian refugees, the country’s economy has suffered.

The country launched 3G mobile telecoms infrastructure when other states in the Middle East were gearing up to launch 4G services. Even now, the cost of mobile broadband data in Lebanon exceeds that of its neighbours. One gigabyte of data on average costs $9.21 in Lebanon, compared to $4.14 in Syria and $2.06 in Palestine. The government touted the idea of a “Whatsapp tax”, charging $0.20 daily for voice calls made through the app and other voice over internet protocol (VOIP) services, which became the rallying call for the nation’s youth who have been protesting every evening for the past two weeks.

“For us, it’s the beginning of something and we hope it moves us in the right direction. If the political situation continues as is, we will face a lot of financial difficulties and the country will be crippled. We need lots of reforms, the time is right to fix stuff in a very fast way,” says Elie Nasr co-founder at FOO, a financial technology (fintech) company based in Beirut.  

So what does this mean for the startup ecosystem?

Lebanon’s startup ecosystem was one of the most promising when entrepreneurship began to take hold in the region. Its highly-educated population who had experience of surviving through war had the tenacity and creativity to establish strong businesses around the world particularly in Africa, Australia and the US. Today, successful startups like Anghami, Sarwa and Kitopi are spearheaded by Lebanese entrepreneurs.

Lebanon’s Circular 331, a financing decree by the country’s central bank that enabled the commercial banks to dedicate up to 4 per cent of their capital to enale a knowledge economy, was instrumental in establishing a startup ecosystem in the country, providing close to $700 million in funding to date. But its funds have waned over the past couple of years. 

Last year, there were 36 venture capital deals closed in Lebanon, worth $74 million, accounting for just 10 per cent of total investment deals in the region according to data from Magnitt. While the value of deals has increased by 57 per cent from 2017, the number of deals has fallen by 32 per cent. With a population of just six million, Lebanon’s market is too small for startups to scale, so many have not only expanded their presence to the wider region, they are also attempting to tap into investments in the GCC too. 

“If you look at the Lebanese startup scene, startups don’t focus on Lebanon itself. Most of the business is happening in the GCC, so I don’t think investments will be hit,” says Fadi Bizri, partner at B&Y Venture Partners. "Many of the funds in Lebanon are under the 331 initiative, so it’s a question of looking at whatever reforms will happen, or whether now it will affect the funds’ access to further capital from banks, which are the main entities in the 331 fund. In the medium term, the availability of capital for startups remains to be seen, there are no implications of 331 not continuing.”

Bizri believes that investor appetite will likely decrease and startups who have the means, might relocate their headquarters to the GCC if the business environment does not improve. But most are biding their time, trying to work around the current situation.

“We’re all working during the day and at night we’re participating in the revolution. We’re not going into the office, it’s hard to reach the office because of demonstrations and roadblocks so we’re all working from home. We’re all managing to deliver stuff remotely,” says Nasr.

For Hijazi, her customers are still waiting for their products.

“Our only downside is not being able to deliver the products to customers, just because the roads have been closed for local and international orders. There are many logistics and last mile [companies] that are trying to deliver, sometimes they can, sometimes they can’t,” says Hijazi. "Another thing that has been hindered is our actual production. We were producing an upcoming collection and it had to be stopped. We could not ask the workers to come and work or ask the factories to open and finish our work. It might change in the coming week.”

It remains to be seen how much longer this sense of hope will last. The world witnessed a similar act during the Egyptian revolutions, which took a devastating toll on its economy and took some seven years before its startup ecosystem bounced back. But as ever, we will have to wait and see what happens.

“We need to see what kinds of reforms are enacted to re-establish confidence and create excitement, hopefully those reforms will happen,” says Bizri.


October 28th 2019, 1:59 am

Meddy raises $2.5 million in Series A funding


Doha-based Meddy, a doctor booking platform has raised a $2.5 million in Series A round to scale up its operations in the UAE.

The funding round was led by US-based Modus Capital, along with participation from 212 Capital, QSTP, Kasamar Holdings, Dharmendra Ghai (Health Tech Angel), Innoway and others.

The platform helps patients find doctors and book appointments with them based on an array of filters and patient reviews.

Founded in 2016, Meddy claims to be the largest doctor booking platform in Qatar. It now operates in Dubai and Sharjah and plans to expand to Abu Dhabi and other emirates soon.

“In the last six months, we have more than doubled our bookings and provider network in the UAE. We are excited to have more fuel to keep working on our mission to help patients make informed health decisions,” said Haris Aghadi, chief executive officer (CEO) of Meddy.

Meddy also provides a suite of products to clinics and their marketing teams to manage bookings, patient reviews, and analytics. It aims to help clinics improve their online presence and attract new patients.

“We see Meddy as the up and coming leader in providing booking services to clinics in the GCC. Haris and the team have proven they clearly understand the needs of their customers, and the positive feedback and value-added they provide have created a very strong foundation for rapid regional growth,” said Kareem Elsirafy, a partner at Modus Capital who will be joining Meddy’s board.

Meddy claims to have facilitated more than a hundred thousand bookings to date, generating over $50 million in billings to hospitals and clinics in Qatar and UAE. 

October 27th 2019, 4:40 am

Regulatory environment biggest hurdle facing fintech startups


The Middle East’s financial technology (fintech) sector has become one of the fastest growing over the past five years, attracting $237 million in investment. Since 2015, there have been 181 deals across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) of which 46 took place in 2018 and 51 so far in 2019 according to a new report from Magnitt.

With growing smartphone and mobile internet penetration and a friendlier, more supportive startup environment in the region, the fintech sector has received a boost.

“Digitalisation of financial services is happening at an unprecedented pace. From payments, banking, financial advisory, capital market and insurance, deployment of financial technology have reimagined the financial services sector resulting in innovation, efficiency and greater financial inclusion,” said Richard Teng, chief executive officer at Abu Dhabi’s Financial Services Regulatory Authority (FSRA).

Yet despite such growth, startups are facing a few major hurdles, primarily in regulations and financing.

“In a lot of places, there are no regulations. If you waited for the regulations to be there, you’d probably never start,” said Jonathan Rawling, chief financial officer at yallacompare, a financial services comparison website based in Dubai.

Several cities are attempting to become the fintech hub of the region by launching sandboxes and regulations friendly to startups. The Abu Dhabi General Market (ADGM) announced the launch of its own digital sandbox, a cloud-based environment of fintech startups and banks to co-create and test products with guidance from the regulatory body at the Fintech Abu Dhabi summit this week. It replaces the RegLab programme currently in place and joins eight other sandboxes in the region including Bahrain’s Fintech Bay and Dubai International Financial Centre’s (DIFC) Fintech Hive which are all attempting to attract startups to their own space to test and launch new products and services.  

But there is a catch, they all require entrepreneurs to relocate or have a presence in their country in order to be eligible for funding.

“There is money available, but it is attached to a lot of conditions. If you are a new company with two people, it is easy to move around. For companies like ours, you’re at a scale where you can’t just move head offices. It’s harder for us to tap into this kind of fundraising,” said Ambareen Musa chief executive officer at Souqalmal, a Dubai-based price comparison website.

The regulatory framework across the Middle East differs from one country to another, which for startups is like founding a new company in each jurisdiction. This fragmentation prevents scaling and growth.

“We don’t have market size here. If you fix the core of the problem, it goes all the way to the top and opens corridors between GCC countries, then automatically you have one region,” said Musa. “If that happens, suddenly the symptoms – the lack of funding and talent, will disappear. You can tap into the region with one market.”

For Souqalmal, it took a year in Bahrain to secure the right licence and two and a half years in Saudi Arabia.

“You’re touching the financial services industry which is the core of every economy,” said Musa.  “It is normal for regulators to want to take time, but it means it takes longer for us to get into a country. We [startups] need to be part of that education system and grow as much as the regulators. The question of when [to enter a new market], is when the countries are ready to say yes, welcome.”

Both Musa and Rawling feel confident that the regulations will eventually improve.

“It’s a matter of being a bit more pragmatic and relaxing these conditions,” said Rawling.

Wamda Capital has invested in yallacompare

October 23rd 2019, 9:55 pm

Why every investor should be looking at Saudi Arabia


An exponential entrepreneurial shift is underway in Saudi Arabia, and it is attracting substantial venture capital interest, says Luca Barbi, chief operating officer at Saudi Telecom Ventures (STV)

Rarely are investors offered transformative opportunities to unlock incalculable value while improving lives for generations to come. A newly accessible Saudi Arabia offers just such a new dawn for the venture capital sector, as its hefty economy is liberalised and a new wave of entrepreneurs seeks to create value for wide swathes of society. Against this economic background, overall venture capital (VC) investments within the country are at a tipping point and have the potential to expand tenfold to $500 million annually by 2025 from $50 million last year. The realisation of such a growth trajectory will result in a cumulative injection of $2 billion between 2019 and 2025, a new STV report on Saudi Arabia’s VC industry shows.

Favourable Market

The swell in VC activity will come on the back of a number of favourable conditions. As the Arab world’s largest economy, Saudi Arabia has a gross domestic product (GDP) of $780 billion, and a per capita income of $55,000 (PPP). With high disposable incomes and smartphone penetration rates of close to 70 per cent, Saudi consumers are seeking out and adopting smart digital solutions to improve their lives. As active contributors to the digital economy, the average basket size for online purchases within the Kingdom stands at around $150 according to Bain & Company, akin to mature markets such as the US and UK, and higher than $100 in China.

These internet users have now intuited the commercial benefits of the digital economy, and are using technology to create economic value as business sectors across the economy seem to have opened up overnight. From edtech and medtech to tourism, agriculture, financial services and the automotive market, a greater number of industries are ripe for disruption, innovation and digitisation.

As the country opensup, digital and legal foundations have been put in place to enable an exponential entrepreneurial shift. A number of infrastructural platforms are bringing enterprise capabilities to mass audiences. Thanks to simplified retail solutions such as the digital storefront site Salla, which already has 8,000 shops, anyone can now launch an e-commerce business within a matter of days. In tandem, regulatory changes such as the new permanent residency programme and expat ownership licence are aimed at foreign founders, and offer them 100 per cent corporate ownership in some sectors, while new bankruptcy and commercial pledge laws fill important gaps in the legal infrastructure.

Success Stories

Opportunities to scale up and expand internationally are also evident. Ventures such as Noon Academy, for example, have shown how homegrown enterprises can expand from Saudi Arabia into the rest of the region, while the cloud communications Unifonic is already being used by companies such as Aramex and Uber.

Finally, a number of success stories have demonstrated the inherent value within the region’s startup ecosystem. Exits such as Souq (acquired by Amazon for $580 million), Careem (acquired by Uber for $3.1 billion), Carriage (acquired by Delivery Hero for $100 million), and Talabat (acquired by Rocket Internet for $170 million) have validated venture capital as a viable investment vehicle in the region.

Already, more VC capital has made its way into the Kingdom as an increasing number of investors seek to harness the exceptional economic prospects ahead. In the first half of this year alone, VC funding reached an estimated $40 million, close to 2018’s entire ticket size, according to startup data platform Magnitt. That’s a year-on-year growth of 82 per cent, but it is just a tenth of the level of investments in markets such as Brazil, France and the UAE, and far behind countries where VC plays a transformative role, such as Singapore and China. Nor is that investment anywhere close to the possible $250 million that Saudi Arabia could have attracted if it was to secure 35 per cent of Mena-invested capital last year, in line with its regional GDP share.

Although there are challenges to its growth, Saudi Arabia is changing at an unprecedented pace. As the aggregate impact of these changes is compounded, VCs have an unparalleled opportunity to see their investments evolve with it.

October 22nd 2019, 10:57 pm

STEP Next - Nov 19


STEP Next, by STEP - organizers of the annual STEP Conference, is MENA’s tech talent summit designed to match the best talent with the top tech companies and startups. More than 30 participating companies will be connected to 300+ job seekers and working professionals looking to grow their professional lives and careers on November 19th, 2019 at Dubai Knowledge Park. Participation can either be as a company or as a talent looking for an opportunity at leading tech companies.

This is an opportunity for:

● Fresh grads/job seekers: matching of job profiles and experiences to over 30 companies from the UAE that will be participating at the event.

● For companies/recruiters: Headhunting, an opportunity to connect live with exceptional talent considering their next move.

● For working professionals: access to a career mentorship program and new skills workshops.

STEP Next will host learning sessions to equip working professionals and prepare fresh grads with talks and panels about the future of work and talent acquisition and workshops to leverage digital technology skills.

The Program: 

Skills development and education: Finding the right technical skills for the digital age to join your teams, uplifting education systems, and hiring based on expertise and not degrees.

Wellness and company culture: Work-life balance has become an important topic in today’s workplace, with increased work load and fast paced jobs, it has become difficult to implement. We will be talking about the methods that companies are acquiring to ensure wellness and work-life balance for their employees.

Talent acquisition and job design: Acquisition, retention and development of talent by startups and corporations.

Future of work: Tapping into cultures, diversity, flexibility, and moving from 9 to 5 to anywhere anytime.

Register to participate here.



October 22nd 2019, 6:32 am

A Decade of Entrepreneurship - Register your interest to attend


It has been a decade since Yahoo! acquired Maktoob for $164 million, marking one of the most significant startup exits in the Middle East and igniting a tech entrepreneurship spark across the region. A decade on, what has changed in the ecosystem and will we be able to produce more than just one unicorn?

Wamda, in partnership with Area 2071, will be hosting this panel to discuss the development of the tech entrepreneurship ecosystem since then, the ongoing struggles, and where the next exits are likely to originate.

Joining the panel:

Hosted and moderated by Fadi Ghandour, Executive Chairman, Wamda.

- Rabea Ataya,

- Ronaldo Mouchawar,, VP of Amazon MENA

- Magnus Olsson, Careem

This is an apply-to-attend event as seating is limited. You can register your interest by filling this form, and we will get back to you with a confirmation email.

We accept applications on a first come first serve basis. 

October 22nd 2019, 6:32 am

Bayzat raises $16 million in Series B funding


Source: MenaBytes

Dubai-based HR and insurance startup Bayzat has 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, Mubadala said in a statement today that announced the launch of its two funds for startups in the Middle East & North Africa.

The round, according to the statement by Mubadala, takes total capital raised so far by Bayzat to $31 million. This makes it one of the best-funded startups in the region. The startup has previously raised investment from Beco Capital, Silicon Badia, and Hamed Kanoo Co.

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-based Hub71 a few weeks ago.

The web and mobile-based platform that allows HR teams to manage their employee records allows them to add new records by dragging and dropping their documents into it. It also allows them to review, track, and approve leave requests. Bayzat’s payroll software that’s part of its HR platform allows employers to process their payroll, receive and approve or reject reimbursement and salary advance requests, and generate payslips at the end of every month.

Continue reading this story

October 21st 2019, 8:32 am

Oman's startup opportunity


The sultanate of Oman is gearing up to turbocharge its entrepreneurship ecosystem. While the Gulf state has not been traditionally known for its wealth of startup programmes, Oman’s newly laid Vision 2040 is helping to accelerate the country’s plans to become a global tech and small to medium-sized (SME) hub.

Released during the Oman 2040 Future Vision National Conference in January this year, the draft plan envisages the development of a competitive, globally connected private economy.In its ambitious long-term vision, Oman places specific emphasis on SMEs and the non-hydrocarbons sector. By 2040, Oman plans to transform its oil versus non-oil gross domestic product (GDP) split from 40/60 per cent to 15/85 per cent, according to official figures.

This trend is forecast to continue to 2040, when hydrocarbons are expected to account for just seven per cent of Oman’s GDP.

Critical Ecosystem

Forty per cent of Oman’s 4.6 million-strong population is under 25-years-old and nearly half of the nation’s youths are unemployed, according to the World Bank.

According to Wes Schwalje, chief operating officer (COO) at Dubai-based Tahseen Consulting, a “robust, self-sustaining entrepreneurship ecosystem” is critical to youth job generation in Oman.

“A fully-fledged ecosystem will create more high skill, high wage jobs in knowledge-based industries for youth,” he says.

“The amount of unemployed youth is very high and the government is trying to push the unemployed people to go to market and start their own businesses,” says Salim Al Mamari, an entrepreneur based in Muscat who started a drive-through coffee shop and is in the process of setting up a healthcare centre. “The [labour] market cannot absorb all the graduates, that is the main driver for startups.”

Schwalje adds that a functioning ecosystem is vital for nurturing globally competitive, fast-growing companies in priority economic areas that drive economic diversification and mobilising private investment in startups.

SMEs currently account for around 15 per cent of Omani GDP – a figure the Public Authority for the Development of SMEs (Riyada) has forecast will double in the next decade as opportunities are created. Nevertheless, this figure is markedly below the global average of around 50 per cent.

Room to Grow

Oman’s entrepreneurship ecosystem has thus far trailed behind its neighbours, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but the sultanate is showing signs of building the necessary institutional foundations and addressing SME funding gaps.

“Increased competition in the Mena region to improve startup and entrepreneurship ecosystems is pushing Oman towards a ‘fast follower’ approach,” suggests Schwalje.

He predicts that Oman will rapidly learn from its neighbours to become one of several tech startup hubs in the region.

“No country wants to be caught out stuttering at the starting gate of developing foundational digital economy policies and enhancing their business environment when some of their neighbours are advancing bold policies to become global leaders in artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, blockchain, advanced materials, and even space exploration,” says Schwalje.

In its boldest move towards plugging the finance gap, Oman utilised $200 million from its sovereign wealth fund to create the Oman Technology Fund (OTF) in 2016.

OTF invests in startups in Oman and Mena in the pre-seed, seed stages and in VC funds and hopes to attract global startups to open up shop locally through partnerships with global leaders, like London-based Hambro Perks and 500 Startups.

The sultanate is also reportedly in talks to invest into Japan’s billion-dollar Softbank Vision Fund. This suggests Oman has ambitions to become global startup capital hub, as well as a regional powerhouse.

“Oman’s global ambition can also be seen in its recent attempts to develop closer ties with emerging global tech leaders like China and India and growing ties with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank,” says Schwalje.

Startup Support

In recent years, Oman has ramped up its effort to support its startup community with a range of government initiatives.

SME body Riyada offers one-stop solutions for setting up businesses, as well as financial support, revamped training programmes, discounted land and premises.

Younger entrepreneurs can seek specialist funding, support and business plan advice through Sharakah, the Fund for Development of Youth Projects.

Oman’s National Business Centre (NBC), an initiative launched at the Knowledge Oasis Muscat in 2012, offers local entrepreneurs a physical area to develop their business ideas and advance them into growing ventures.

Local businessman Juma AlAraimi, who is commercial finance manager at Oman LNG and a startup judge and mentor for MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab, says: “Oman has a lot of initiatives at play but they are right at the inception stage.”

AlAraimi says the country needs to build a community of vibrant SME events and platforms – both nationally and regionally.

“We want to be a platform for ideas. And ideas should not have boundaries – that’s why the government is looking at relaxing visa permits and attracting talent into the country. We want to provide assistance for talent to come in. But for this to happen, our SME ecosystem and laws will have to be attractive,” he says.

In a show of intent, Oman has recently introduced a new foreign investment law and a company law.  A new bankruptcy protection law is also in the works.

“If we want Oman to reclaim its legacy as an open market and a global player, we also need to develop our ecosystem,” says AlAraimi.

The Oman LNG executive bemoans the lack of venture capital (VC) firms in Oman and also says the country would benefit from a “mindset shift” towards entrepreneurship.

“In Oman, it’s always been about working for the government or a private company – other options weren’t considered. So we need to promote a culture of entrepreneurship and offer the right SME set-up skills,” he says.

AlAraimi also suggests entrepreneurship and digital skills should be introduced early on within the country’s education system.

“Coding is not part of the curriculum - that will have to change,” he says.

Digital Drive

In some respects, Oman has already made a head start on its digital policy with its 2030 Digital Oman Strategy or “eOman”.

As Tahseen Consulting’s Schwalje points out, Oman was a first mover within the GCC in terms of “seeing the importance of developing a strong technical and vocational education system and integrating technology skills into the national curricula”.

Schwalje notes that Omani youths have consistently performed well in Microsoft’s global ‘Imagine Cup’ competition over the past several years.

“This suggests that Oman is doing well at cultivating a young generation of tech-savvy critical thinkers that can realise opportunity gaps in markets and fill them,” he says

From a demographic perspective, Oman, along with its GCC neighbours, is home to millions of young, digitally connected consumers with some of the highest mobile penetration rates in the world –– this bodes well for the development of the digital economy in the GCC and across Mena.

Hurdles Ahead

According to Saurabh Verma, head of ICT & digital transformation at global management consultants Frost & Sullivan, Oman’s demographics, sizeable population and unique opportunities hold great promise.

“There are significant opportunities for startups to offer products and services to a large population pool within Oman, and also extend them to other regional countries. However, so far, the tech startup in Oman has been relatively slow,” Verma says.

The Frost and Sullivan executive says the past three years have seen some activity within Oman’s startup fintech, education, e-commerce, media and food sectors, but there’s still a long journey ahead. So far this year, only one startup in Oman has managed to raise VC fundin, while the OTF has invested in more Pakistan-based startups than Omani ones. 

“Oman is a greenfield, you can enter the startup ecosystem by any kind of activity,” says Al Mamari. “The challenge we are facing is ease of taking the business from a process perspective, there is a lot of paperwork and no alignment from different entities. There are a lot of legacy systems that have to be fixed to make the experience smooth for startups.”

While support from the government has increased according to Al Mamari and access to funding has improved slightly, the country still requires regulatory shakeups to simplify the process for startups to attain the right licences without the red tape. 

“Oman has the potential to emerge as a tech startup hub, but the country needs to put a lot more focus on developing its startup ecosystem,” says Verma. “The market opportunity is there, but there is still a need for more incubators and accelerators, an active VC circle, and more government incentive policies.”


October 21st 2019, 3:47 am

Mubadala announces $250 million fund for Mena startups


Source: CNBC

Abu Dhabi is doubling down on its push into the technology sector with a $250 million investment to support start-ups from the Middle East and North Africa region.

Mubadala, Abu Dhabi’s state investment arm, announced Monday its new MENA tech funds will invest in companies and venture funds that help boost local tech incubator Hub71.

Hub71 was launched earlier this year as part of a broader effort by the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to diversify its economy. Microsoft and SoftBank are also partners in the Abu Dhabi-based scheme. Hub71 offers incentives like office space and health care coverage to encourage start-ups to set up shop in the region.

States like Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the UAE, as well as other countries in the Middle East, are increasingly pumping funds into local tech ecosystems, in part to help reduce their reliance on oil-dependent industries.

“There’s a huge amount of untapped potential in the UAE and the wider region and we are on the right path to foster more home-grown innovations, attract exceptional talent and accelerate the evolution of a flourishing tech industry in the Emirate,” said Ibrahim Ajami, Head of Ventures at Mubadala Capital, in a press release Monday.

Continue reading this story

October 21st 2019, 3:47 am

Iraq Finance Expo: The future of financial technologies in Iraq


Officially cohosted with Central Bank of Iraq, the 3rd Annual Iraq Finance Expo (IFEX) is dedicated to unlocking the latest financial technologies and innovations in the Iraqi financial market. Now in its 3rd year, IFEX is now hosted at the Baghdad International Fairground.  The full range of Iraqi Financial service institutions are represented at the exhibition including Iraqi and International Banks, payment service providers, finTech start-Ups, digital technologies, investment companies, capital markets, etc. 

The 2-day IFEX programme shines a spotlight on Iraq's rapidly developing banking and financial services industry. With traditional banking methods now out-of-date, new technologies are leading the charge in global growth trends. Iraq is poised to take advantage of these innovations.

The third edition of IFEX will give insights on the Iraqi financial services community providing a platform for financial experts, banks, digital agencies, finTech start-ups, tech companies, and software providers to explore new opportunities and provide solutions to big financial challenges. 


October 20th 2019, 4:47 am

Al Waha invests in Beijing-based MSA Capital


Bahrain’s Al Waha Fund of Funds has announced an undisclosed amount of investment in Beijing-based MSA Capital in its first investment in a Chinese fund.

MSA Capital plans to use Bahrain as its “hub for regional expansion” and to work closely with regulators, entrepreneurs and strategic corporate partners to connect growing companies in the region with capital and best practices in China. 

Launched in 2018, Al Waha aims to drive greater venture capital (VC)  investment across the Middle East through providing market access for international organisations looking to invest in the region, as well as for portfolio companies looking to expand. 

“Al Waha has developed into a strategic as well as a financial partner to funds, as demonstrated by our investment in MSA Capital. Both China and Bahrain offer a substantial pool of tech talent, startup capital and digitally minded consumers, so the scope for further building this relationship is substantial,” said Areije Al Shakar, fund director at Al Waha Fund of Funds. “The Kingdom has acted as a bridge between East and West for thousands of years, but in today’s increasingly digital world the synergies and opportunities are greater than ever before”.

The $250 million Chinese fund claims to have made 10 investments in the Gulf region over the past year, and facilitated exchanges for Chinese and Bahraini entrepreneurs. The firm now plans to build collaborations to include more students and large corporates, as well as investors from both countries for future exchanges.

“We believe the Gulf is at an inflection point due to an influx of seasoned talent, capital, and technology adoption. Chinese pioneered mobile-focused business models, both for enterprise and consumers, are best positioned to provide a roadmap for entrepreneurs in the region,” said Ben Harburg, managing partner of MSA Capital.

We see Bahrain as a hyper-efficient, user-friendly gateway to the Gulf, where we can collaborate with regulators, entrepreneurs, and strategic corporate partners to pilot new business models and serve as a hub for regional expansion.”

October 16th 2019, 2:50 am

Ziwo closes Series A led by Wamda Capital


Ziwo, a software as a service (SaaS) contact centre has closed its Series A round led by Wamda Capital, with additional participation from DTEC Ventures. The company will use the funds to expand in the Gulf, India, Africa and a few markets in Europe.

Based in the UAE and launched in 2016, Ziwo provides a cloud-based solution for companies to talk to their clients and to leverage customer information through readymade plugins.

“The cost of bad customer experience for companies is staggering, $82 billion per year in the US only. We want to help companies to simply talk to their clients, not only through the telephone but via any channel and to thelp them understand in real-time how they can serve them much better,” said Renaud de Gonfreville, chief executive officer (CEO) at Ziwo. “When Deliveroo wanted to expand its operations in Kuwait, it could do it in just one day…[our] clients can deploy their own contact centre platform and be live in just a few minutes.”

Customer information is often scattered across many systems, but Ziwo provides its clients with one platform to host this data through a unique application program interface (API) architecture.

“Saudi Arabia and the UAE are experiencing growth in the number of new data centres and regional [small to medium-sized enterprises] SMEs are increasingly embracing SaaS. We’re excited to join the ZIWO team on their journey and are condiment their technology will rapidly become the Middle East and North Africa’s premier cross-channel contact centre provider,” said Sarah Abu Risheh, investment principal at Wamda Capital who will join Ziwo’s board of directors.


October 16th 2019, 2:01 am

Will travelling at speeds of 1000km/h change society? [podcast]


The hyperloop is a new form of transport that, in theory, can travel at speeds of about 1000 kilometres per hour. Spearheading the design and implementation of the technology is the Virgin Hyperloop One. The company was in Dubai recently, showcasing its travel pod at Gitex. We spoke with the company's executive director of strategy and growth, Tim Wilkinson who highlighted the company's achievements so far, its challenges and how this form of transportation will change the way we live and work. 


October 15th 2019, 10:30 pm

Investcorp leads $11.2 million investment in Bewakoof


Source: Yourstory

Global alternative asset manager Investcorp has led a $11.2 million investment in Mumbai-based IndigoEdge was the advisor to for the deal.

Founded in 2011 by IIT alumni Prabhkiran Singh and Siddharth Munot, is a direct to consumer online apparel company focussed on providing creative and distinctive fashion at affordable prices for trendy and contemporary Indians. 

 Prabhkiran Singh, Co-Founder and Director of, said,   “We are very pleased to have Investcorp on-board with us as we gear up for the next exciting stage of our journey. At, the customer is at the centre of everything we do, and we remain committed to providing quality and creative fashion to the youth at an unmatched value. Having grown significantly in the last couple of years, we will continue investing in improving the customer experience through technological innovation and focusing on talent acquisition." creates distinctive fashion for the Indian youth, with in-house capabilities in design, manufacturing, technology, data science, and marketing. The startup claims to be delivering sales of more than 650,000 products per month with a customer base of over four million, often making repeat purchases.

Continue reading this story

October 14th 2019, 9:03 am

Just 7% of Middle East companies are tapping into $575 billion market


By Xavier Anglada, managing director and Accenture Digital lead in the Middle East

In today’s business landscape, innovation is power, and this time-tested ideology remains a cornerstone for successful companies. Now more than ever, there is an emphasis on using innovation to help organisations tap into their business potential.

According to Accenture’s Middle East Innovation Maturity Index, conducted across 275+ companies in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, only 7 per cent of firms are tapping into the $575 billion worth of opportunities resulting from innovative digital technologies.

In addition to identifying methods to “wise-pivot” to become more data-driven and hyper-relevant to customers, these innovation champions are employing state-of-the-art digital-based models, improving their core operations, and leading by example – gearing up for a fundamental shift in how businesses are run. 

Simply put, the innovation champions are harnessing the potential of abundant data to fuel a revolving cycle of sustainable growth. In doing so, they are taking key steps to maintain their competitive edge and continued success through:

  1. Building a solid data foundation. 64 per cent of innovation champions have a thorough knowledge of what data they have, where it resides, where it flows, who uses it, and how. They integrate data across their organisations in a structured way through building a solid data platform, putting the right architecture in place and taking an active role in establishing the foundational capabilities related to master data management of critical data domains. This provides them with fast access to trustworthy data that can be used to derive insights and support real-time decision-making.
  2. Operationalising data governance. Innovation champions operationalise their data governance by focusing on metadata management and data veracity. For example, 71 per cent have adopted guidelines, standards, and other governance measures to ensure data compliance and the effective interoperability of their systems. Through controlling and managing data at scale, they leverage it as an enterprise-wide strategic asset.
  3. Converting data into insights and action. Innovation champions generate analytical insights to create insight-powered enterprises, integrating data-driven decisions across business functions. They develop advanced analytics strategies and explore the potential of artificial intelligence (AI). More than two-thirds have established well-defined objectives for their analytics strategy, as well as a robust operating model for their analytics teams.
  4. Realising value from data. Innovation champions ensure that their data and analytics strategy generates business benefits and delivers sustainable returns. To realise value from their data, they employ data-driven business models, effectively manage data performance, and implement data value trackers. Accenture’s research shows that 65 per cent of innovation champions are 42 per cent more likely than other companies to prioritise data over instinct when making decisions.

What’s even more surprising is the fact that an alarming 71 per cent of the surveyed C-suite executives confirmed their lack of confidence in the ability of their existing company protocols to withstand the fast-approaching disruption. Moreover, 79 per cent of respondents said that their company doesn’t plan to increase its current investment in innovation over the next five years.

Middle Eastern companies need to act fast but smart. To successfully unlock $575 billion in trapped business value across the region, firms must “wise-pivot” to overcome certain hurdles, specifically:

  1. Poor data quality. Statistically, regardless of industry, data scientists typically spend about 80 per cent of their time “scrubbing” data – preparing and organising it for use. Companies in the Middle East need to adopt a similar approach and sort their data, bolstering trust among managers to use the reported numbers and make necessary adjustments. 
  2. Slow-moving and siloed data. Companies often find themselves unable to control and manage data at scale. They need to apply protocols to operationalise and leverage data strategically and securely.
  3. Absence of a data culture and strategy. Data alone cannot unlock trapped value. To create a culture that allows them to monetise data, firms must develop a strategy to grow or acquire the necessary data analytics skills, and help employees harness them.

Factoring in all these findings, one thing is certain – numbers don not lie. Paying special attention to current major disruptions and implementing key practices will undoubtedly bring significant economic benefits. Ultimately, the enterprises that employ innovation as a source of disruption are the ones that can successfully transform their entire strategy to make it more future-focused.

With that in mind, a word of caution for Middle Eastern companies: If they do not find a way to release their trapped value, somebody else will. Those failing to embrace the transformative power of innovation risk falling by the wayside.

October 13th 2019, 9:11 pm

BulkWhiz raises multi-million Series A


Source: MenaBytes

Dubai-based bluk grocery e-commerce platform BulkWhiz has closed its Series A, the startup announced today in a statement to MENAbytes. BulkWhiz did not disclose the exact size of investment but has confirmed to MENAbytes that it is a multi-million (USD) round.

The round was led by Dubai-based BECO Capital (who have just closed their second fund with $100 million) and joined by China’s MSA Capital (who’ve been very active in the region lately), 500 Startups (500 Flacons), and Kuwait-based Faith Capital.

Founded in late 2016 (launched in 2017) by Amira Rashad who previously worked for Facebook and Yahoo (from their offices in Dubai) and Yusuf Saber who was the Data Science Lead at Careem, BulkWhiz enables consumers and small businesses buy groceries and household products in bulk through its mobile apps or web-based platform.

The prices on the platform drop as the users increase quantity of a product in their cart. BulkWhiz has built its own proprietary AI technology to make it easier for users to buy groceries online by learning from consumer behavior and personalizing experience to their needs. Its app comes with a buy again page to help users go through a list of items they’ve purchased in previous orders and add them to cart in a few taps.

Amira Rashad, the co-founder and CEO of BulkWhiz, in an interview last year had said that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the ideal solution to everyone’s grocery shopping problem, “By factoring in everything from shopping behaviours to weather patterns, BulkWhiz’s proprietary, home-grown, AI technology helps shoppers optimize household consumption and save money, time and effort. BulkWhiz helps you simplify grocery shopping by creating a one time, personalised shopping list of the grocery items you buy constantly. It gives you a simple and user-friendly interface to manage your household buying needs with clever features like the ability to snooze or modify orders with one click. The list is powered by technology to help you never run out of key essentials like toilet paper or diapers.”

Continue reading this story

October 13th 2019, 2:43 am

UnitX raises $2 million


Saudi-based UnitX, an artificial intelligence (AI) and supercomputing startup spin-out company from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), has secured $2 million of co-investment from the KAUST Innovation Fund and Saudi Aramco’s Wa’ed Ventures fund.

UnitX plans to use the funding  to democratise supercomputing and help enterprises of all sizes leverage technologies such as high-performance data analytics to make data-driven decisions, reduce IT spending, innovate and become globally competitive.

Launched in 2019, UnitX partners with institutions that have spare supercomputing capacity and by making it available in an easy-to-use cloud model to its clients in traditionally underserved industry verticals, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and beyond.

“UnitX is bridging a new frontier in advancing big compute power and making it more accessible to sectors that have previously been unable to access the benefits of supercomputing. At KAUST, we are actively investing in startups and technology that are shaping industry 4.0 and UnitX is deep tech startup at the forefront of this revolution,” said Tamer Osman, head of the KAUST Innovation Fund.

“UnitX is excited to have Aramco’s Wa’ed Ventures and the KAUST Innovation Fund onboard as investors. With their support we will be able to generate value both locally in Saudi Arabia, expand globally and innovate further,” said Kiran Narayanan, co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) at UnitX.  “We are breaking the barriers of skill and access to supercomputers – which are traditionally expensive beyond the reach of most companies – and partnering with institutions that have unused supercomputing power. We then make this spare capacity available to the companies on our platform in a manner that is easy to use.”

October 10th 2019, 7:17 am

Start-up City at The Big 5


The construction industry’s needs are rapidly evolving. The market is hungry for new ideas and solutions to address these changes, to get cost-effective solutions and to increase overall efficiencies.

The Big 5 introduced Start-up City to bridge the gap between supply and demand of the newest technologies and products in the market, offering a platform for innovation and future disruptors to flourish. Start-up City is the innovation platform of The Big 5 designed to boost brands to the industry's key players.

Exhibiting start-ups will also be entitled to participate in the Pitch competition:

Do you have what it takes?

More details here.

October 10th 2019, 4:45 am

Gitex: A show dominated by Saudi Arabia and the women of the UAE


Some 100,000 people attend Gitex every year in what is the region’s biggest technology exhibition. Bringing together government, enterprise and startups from all around the world, it is an indication of the state of the tech sector in the region and where it is heading.

While most of the pavilions showcased 5G and its many use cases, it was Saudi Arabia that made its presence felt. Exhibitors from the Kingdom dominated the space and conversations across the event. The government sector displayed a robust appearance, showcasing the technologies they have put into place to digitise their processes and highlighted many of the young tech companies that have emerged over the past few years, taking up one side of the entire concourse at the Dubai World Trade Centre.

The Gitex Future Stars section, a part dedicated to startups also saw heavy Saudi presence. Pavilions like Badir, InspireU and Taqnia showcased some of the kingdom’s top startups including Quantum, Glucojet and Dormag. Benefitting from the Vision 2030 economic plan, entrepreneurs in Saudi Arabia have been given the investment, regulatory environment and support of the government to innovate and launch their own startups. For many of the founders, their challenges were not in finding investment; it was in finding mentors and acquiring the right talent.

“The easiest thing to do in Saudi now is to start and register a company, but the main challenge is finding smart money,” says Abdulaziz Alhamdan, co-founder of Saudi-based Carwah, a car rental app.

International Collaboration

There were more startups at Gitex Future Stars this year, especially from South Korea, Japan and Italy. Many of the governments in the region have been trying to attract startups from around the world to set up in the Middle East in a bid to build innovation ecosystems and create job opportunities for local citizens to inspire knowledge transfer.

While some of the most innovative startups were evident in this section of the exhibition from robotic arms to virtual reality games, the overwhelming number of those based in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) were startups in the e-commerce sector.

In the region, most of the innovation was seen at the telecoms and government pavilions. With their unmatched budgets, it is these entities that can afford to be most innovative, in most cases bringing in and buying foreign technology to showcase the future. Etisalat, who spends a few million dollars on its stand every year, had identified and presented several startups from around the world to demonstrate its vision of how humans will shop, move and communicate. The telco presented a robot bread machine from the US, a robot shop assistant from Sweden and a flying motorbike, attracting a deluge of people with smartphones in hand, filming and photographing the future of shopping and mobility.

Yet, the ones who made the strongest impression were the UAE’s young women at Gitex Future Stars. Among the most innovative ideas were the graduate projects on show, all of which were hoping to attract investment and attention from corporate or government entities. From Zayed Stream, an economically and environmentally friendly oil recovery solution to Alpha, a hardware company providing enhancement solutions to autonomous vehicles, the projects developed by electronics engineers from universities across the country were innovative and presented solutions for local problems. The issue however, is the lack of direction and support given to them post graduation. Culturally, there is still the desire to secure a government job after graduation than to navigate the world of startups with little to no work experience.

While many had access to workshops and entrepreneurship courses, they had no funding and little understanding of how to run a business.

“A lot of girls nowadays know their own rights and what they want to do. There are more opportunities than 10-15 years ago, and girls want to do something for the older generations. There are a lot of challenges, not everyone is cooperative, we need more support,” says Hamda Almenhali, nutritionist at Nawa, a startup that derives nutrients from date seeds. 

With the dozens of accelerators and incubators set up in the region, they would do well to look at such research projects and identify opportunities at that stage, than continue to focus on what are considered easy wins.

October 9th 2019, 9:56 pm

C3 Social Impact Accelerator


The C3 Social Impact Accelerator program addresses key milestones in the journey of a social entrepreneur and focuses primarily on helping entrepreneurs maximize their social and environmental impact on the community.

Up to 20 finalists from the UAE, KSA, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Egypt, Algeria and Turkey will be selected to participate in a week-long program in March 2020 in Dubai with impact investors and experts from the social enterprise world. All participants have to contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (such as health, education, etc.).

The program’s participants will benefit from a two-month program of training and one-on-one support, aimed at getting them investor-ready. Once in Dubai, they will benefit from customized lectures and interactive workshops on topics such as Theory of Change, Business Modeling, Social Impact Measurement, and Governance as well as tailored expert sessions where participants will receive one-on-one support from business and social impact experts. The program will also feature a board simulation and a pitch competition. The winner(s) of the program will receive equity-free cash prizes.

Applications for the new edition of the program are now open: APPLY NOW!

October 9th 2019, 9:59 am

RiseUp acquires StarterHub


Egypt-based RiseUp, the organiser of the biggest entrepreneurship summit in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), has acquired Egypt-based StarterHub, the online community for startups and aspiring entrepreneurs, to become RiseUp Connect platform. 

This acquisition occurred a month after StarterHub's launch, marking one of the fastest exit in the Mena region. The move is part of the growth plan for RiseUp Connect, which aims to make the Mena entrepreneurship ecosystem more accessible by providing members more exposure to the entrepreneurship community, access to business resources and events along with benefits that include mentorship sessions, event access and possible discounts and offers.

“We are excited about joining forces with StarterHub. The reason behind our collaboration lies in the common values and vision shared by both entities, which is supporting entrepreneurs in Mena with relevant resources, events, mentorship programmes and more. We’re proud to have RiseUp Connect platform that will provide a chance for everyone to get closer to the entrepreneurship community, accurately identify their needs and effectively close any gaps in the ecosystem,” Said AbdelHamid Shararaa, chief executive officer (CEO) and founder of RiseUp. 

“Entrepreneurs are always looking for that engaging community both virtually and physically. With this acquisition we will be able to complement the great virtual with much more content, training and meetups giving the audiences much more needed resources to thrive their business. They will now become part of the RiseUp community giving them access to all the resources that we have.”

The newly formed platform will be led by StarterHub founder Amr Hussein who will also lead on other RiseUp community activities as a Startup Community Manager.

“Partnering up with RiseUp will open many paths for StarterHub to become the largest consortium of fast growth founders communities originating from the Mena region, and will broaden our horizons through establishing more connections in the entrepreneurship ecosystem. As StarterHub founder I’m so excited to join the RiseUp journey to help and empower local entrepreneurs through offering a wide range of relevant resources and giving them more exposure, perks, and business events,” said Hussein, founder of StarterHub.

Earlier this year, RiseUp acquired MenaBytes, a Saudi-based startup and technology publication for an undisclosed sum. The acquisitions are part of RiseUp’s vision to be “a one-stop shop for the entire spectrum of resources, entrepreneurs, and startups in the region that need to grow” according to Sharara.

October 9th 2019, 9:48 am

Hive raises $400,000 in seed funding


Source: MenaBytes

Hive, a Cairo-based ride-hailing platform for kids has raised $400,000 in seed funding, the startup told MENAbytes today. The investment came from Abdelmoneim Al-Adawy, an early Hive customer who has been using the service for his children since its launch.

Founded last year by Abdelrahman Osama, a UX consultant with 20 years of experience, and Mohamed Aboali, who has built different tech products in his career of over 20 years, Hive connects comes with over 20 years of experience of building different technology products, Hive offers subscription-based safe ride-hailing solutions for kids.

Abdelrahman Osama, the co-founder and CEO of Hive, in a conversation with MENAbytes earlier this year, had explained the process of how their app works.

“Parents download the app, register themselves, and add the school and their home address, and some details about the child(ren). Hive receives the requests and creates a group of four children living nearby going to the same school. Hive’s staff then assigns a captain for this group and arranges a meeting between the captain and parents where all the documents including copies of license, national ID, drug tests, and criminal records are present to the parents. Once accepted, parents pay a small upfront fee and the subscription is activated with the rest of money paid by parents in six monthly installments. The captain takes children to school and brings them back home on a daily basis. The parents can track all the rides on the app.”

The startup uses a distance-based pricing model with different slabs so parents are supposed to pay the fee based on how far they live from the school. And as Abdelrahman had explained parents are required to pay only a portion of fee in advance and the rest in installments instead of paying the lump sum amount in advance which is how most of the transporters and schools charge in Egypt.

The children using Hive (on average) spend a lot less time in their commute than those who use a school bus as the cars on Hive’s network transports only four children at a time (in some rare cases when requested by parents, they transport five children but compensate it with discounts)

Continue reading this story

October 9th 2019, 2:54 am

Wamda X applications to close 20 October


Wamda X, the grant-based fellowship programme for budding entrepreneurs and early-stage startups, is now accepting applications for its second cohort. The four-month programme aims to identify and support the Middle East and North Africa's (Mena) most promising entrepreneurs and founding teams in their early stages. The second cohort will start in January and will be based at the Wamda X space in Dubai.

Applicants should be early-stage teams (preferably two or more team members) building capital-efficient, disruptive Mena-based businesses that are easily scalable across markets. 

Recent research suggests that globally, investors’ focus has started to shift to later-stage investments,” says Wamda Capital Investment Principal Sarah Abu Risheh, who is leading the programme. “In the Mena region, investors’ appetite has increased since the and Careem exits, which have each marked turning points in the tech ecosystem. The influx of global tech giants such as Amazon and Uber setting up in Mena over the past five years has also accelerated the region’s overall tech infrastructure.”

“Individuals are increasingly looking to leave their jobs and launch their own venture, but there is a growing mismatch between these aspiring founders and the number of investors willing to support them,” Abu Risheh says.

By providing investment, working space and access to the region's most notable mentors among other benefits, Wamda X aims to reduce the friction faced by entrepreneurs when founding a startup. “The funding gap faced by early-stage or idea stage investments is growing larger,” Abu Risheh says. “We have built the Wamda X programme to bridge that gap and support pre-seed entrepreneurs.”

The programme is divided into three phases: X START, X SOLVE and X SCALE, each designed to help founders reach specific milestones and to provide them with the right platform and tools.  

Mentorship is a central element of the programme and fellows will develop a network of seasoned founders and industry-specific advisors. Fellows will also gain an immense amount of experience through multiple workshops and sessions curated for them at Wamda X, as well as the connections they will make with the wider Wamda network. 

Successful applicants or "fellows" will receive a $30,000 financial grant with the option of follow-on investment of up to $100,000 from Wamda Capital. In addition, fellows will receive more than $10,000 worth of in-kind benefits in the form of subsidised access to software and support services.

Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis throughout the month of October and fellows will be selected based on their ability to identify and solve market inefficiencies. The competitive programme is set to begin in January 2020.

The inaugural cohort, launched in the first quarter of 2019, successfully graduated two startups, SafarPass and Caravan from more than 600 applicants.

Deadline for applications is October 20th - apply here 


October 9th 2019, 12:55 am

ExpandCart raises $150,000 in funding


Source: Disrupt Africa

Egyptian e-commerce startup ExpandCart has secured US$150,000 in funding after being selected into the Hong Kong-based Betatron accelerator.

ExpandCart is a comprehensive, cloud-based e-commerce platform, similar to Shopify but designed specifically for the Arabic language and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

The startup is one of eight from around the world to be accepted into the fifth cohort of the three-month Betatron accelerator, which invests US$150,000 in each company. The programme, which ends in December, is designed to accelerate business growth and help each startup move towards its next funding round. 

All participating startups have been allocated a lead mentor from Betatron’s network of ventyure capitalists and selected industry experts, and will also receive hands-on mentorship and support in areas such as sales, marketing, tech development, UI/UX, legal, and accounting.

Continue reading this story 

October 8th 2019, 10:30 am

Omani Society for Education Technology acquires


Omani Society for Education Technology (OSET) has officially acquired Dubai-based online Arabic courses marketplace for an undisclosed amount. aims to help bridge the gap between formal education and the market skill demand. It claims to currently serve about 200,000 Arabic speaking learners and more than 150 educators in areas ranging from Microsoft Excel and Photoshop, to Android application development and programing.

"We believe OSET will help have the impact we have been delivering to Arab learners across the region and increase its footprint in terms of content, quality of learning, and user base especially in the public sector where the society has a significant impact through policy making and adoption,” said Ahmad Al-Shagra, co-founder of

"With reach and advanced technology, we at OSET found an excellent opportunity to catapult the way we serve the Omani society and Arab world by acquiring we believe we're combining the strength of two leaders of industry in content and platform to deliver unprecedented value to Arab learners everywhere,” said  Faisal Al-Balushi, chairman of OSET.

October 8th 2019, 6:09 am

Cofe raises seven figure Series A funding


Source: finsmes

Cofe App, a Kuwait-based coffee-centric marketplace app, raised a seven figure Series A funding.

The exact amount of the investment was not disclosed. It is known that the company was valued at USD$25m.

Backers included a consortium of regional and international strategic investors.

The funds secured during this round will support Cofe App’s worldwide expansion plans.

Led by Ali Al Ebrahim, Founder and CEO, Cofe App Since provides a mobile application that brings coffee shops including international franchises as well as artisanal shops onto one intelligent platform. 

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October 8th 2019, 3:38 am

Sprint raises six-figure in seed funding


Source: MenaBytes

Cairo-based logistics startup Sprint has raised six-figure (USD) seed funding from an angel investor, the startup told MENAbytes today without disclosing the amount or name of investor. Sprint said that the investment came at a pre-money valuation of $1.25 million.

Founded last year by Mohamed Deif, Sprint offers last-mile delivery solutions to ecommerce merchants with a focus on micro-merchants with the monthly volume as low as 30 orders a month.

Mohamed Deif, in a conversation with MENAbytes, said that they’re using a hybrid model with 40 percent of couriers being their own salaried employees who are using vehicles owned by Sprint, 40 percent being freelancers (for these freelancers, Sprint is facilitating a financing program with the help of banking partners allowing them to buy bikes and pay for them in installments of three years), and the rest of 20 percent being the courier companies that could serve the areas (including international markets) where Sprint doesn’t have any presence.

Sprint’s entire delivery process is technology-enabled with a delivery management system that offers location tracking and automated notifications for customers, and a dashboard for keeping an eye on all their orders.

The system can also be integrated with major ecommerce platforms including Shopify and WooCommerce.

Sprint said that it is currently providing its services to businesses in Cairo plans to use the latest investment to expand to Alexandria, Mansoura, Port Said, and Suez. The startup currently offers next-day delivery service for all the orders that are supposed to be delivered in Cairo and also collects cash on behalf of its merchants from their customers.

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October 8th 2019, 3:06 am

Almentor raises $4.5 million in series A funding


Source: Startup MGZN

Dubai-based e-learning platform has announced that it closed a $4.5 million Series A investment round from Sawari Ventures with participation from Egypt Ventures, Endure Capital and angel investor Mohamed El AminSawari Ventures. This brings the total funding raised by the company to USD $8 million to date. was launched in 2016 with a mission to address the lack of online personal development content for Arabic-speakers. The platform offers a catalogue of exclusive training videos and expert talks, introducing unique knowledge development solutions for the region in areas including health, technology, humanities, entrepreneurship and business management.

“We are very pleased to have led this latest round. From the beginning, we have supported Almentor’s mission to expand the personal development options available to young Arabic-speaking professionals in the MENA region. Filling this gap in the area of knowledge development and laying the foundation for a rich online learning ecosystem is crucial to the development of the next generation of empowered leaders. We are impressed with what the team has achieved in the last two years and are excited to be part of its future journey,” said Wael Amin, Partner at Sawari Ventures.

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October 8th 2019, 2:52 am

The 5G race to innovation in the GCC


Gitex, the biggest technology exhibition of the Middle East enjoys its 39th edition this year. A week’s worth of networking, talks and announcements that takes place in Dubai, it is a hectic and rather overwhelming event that tires out an entire industry in the region.

Every year, particular themes and topics tend to dominate and this year, it was 5G that took centre stage. The latest in mobile telecoms infrastructure capability is this superspeed mobile internet offering, which offers a data capacity of 10 gigabits per second, 100 times faster than the current 4G capabilities. According to the US-based Consumer Technology Association, with 5G, you can download a two-hour movie in just 3.6 seconds, compared to 6 minutes on 4G and 26 hours on 3G.  

Such speeds mean better connectivity and lower latency, or as some in the industry like to call it: “real-time” level of connectivity.

“Connectivity and data transferring will be much faster. Right now, we have a lag,” says Ishita Sood, co-founder and chief operating officer at UAE-based WakeCap, which produces smart helmets for construction workers to relay their location, working hours and safety back to site managers. “It is like if you’re on a phone call and there is a lag, it creates lot of overlap and data is not transported properly. What we try to do is improve safety and productivity and even if there is a lag of a few minutes, a person’s life can be at risk.”

The fanfare that surrounded the launch of 4G a few years ago in the region was similar. At the time, the telecoms operators lauded the unprecedented mobile internet speeds, which they claimed had the potential to change entire economies. And they were right. Mobile internet penetration soared in the Middle East and the cost of data fell from an average of $9.50 for half a gigabyte in 2016 to $5.27 for double the amount of data in 2018. Soon after its launch, 4G had the ability to democratise access to the internet, giving a voice to the millions in the region who now are among the most active on social media. By bringing more people online, it created a market and environment for consumer technologies like ride-hailing apps and e-commerce sites to grow and succeed.

For 5G, the scale of change is likely to be even more acute. The technology has been deemed a necessity to enable the innovations of the future like autonomous vehicles, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI).  

“5G today has opened up a world of opportunities for operators spurring innovation across many industries to provide a platform enabling emergent technologies to become an integral part of our economy and lifestyle,” says Saleh Abdullah Al Abdooli, chief executive officer at Etisalat Group.

For Etisalat, its 5G plans began in 2014 and in May this year in the UAE, it became the first telecoms operator in the Middle East to launch a commercial 5G network. The operator has connected Expo 2020 Dubai to its 5G network with plans to showcase the technology and its capabilities to the rest of the world.  

National Agendas

Several governments, particularly in the GCC, have introduced ambitious economic plans designed to diversify their economies away from oil. Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 and the UAE’s Vision 2021 both seek to utilise technology to develop knowledge-based economies that improve public services.

Data is at the heart of the knowledge economy and to enable the transfer and processing of larger amounts at higher speeds can create new use-cases and applications. Having robust internet infrastructure is necessary for seamless virtual reality and augmented reality applications and real-time cloud computing to enable use-cases like remote surgery via robotics, using instruments delivered by drones.

A report from UK-based Analysys Mason estimates that 5G could generate cumulative new revenue opportunity of $273 billion over 10 years for the GCC. There is a sense, particularly from the state-owned telecoms operators in these countries that the adoption of 5G will advance these plans and provide opportunities for innovation. Even if the technology is produced elsewhere, with adoption, it can spur on local innovation. At least that seems to be the intention.

“5G is gaining strong momentum in its commercial adoption,” says Hani Sobih ElKukhun, vice president of strategy at Huawei Middle East. “We have seen industries starting to embrace 5G, with it exploding into prominence by improving efficiency in many industries. By adding AI capabilities to the next generation of ICT products, AI also becomes more readily available for different fields of scientific research and business innovation. The combination will deliver more intelligence across every touchpoint of the digital economy.”

According to Sweden-based Ericsson's Mobility Report, there will be 30 million 5G mobile subscriptions in the Middle East and Africa by 2024 while mobile data traffic here is expected to have the highest growth rate in the world.

A Political Choice

Globally, it is Huawei that has pioneered the technology behind 5G, the company has ploughed $2 billion into 5G research and development and has already signed partnerships with Saudi Telecom Company (STC), VIVA Bahrain and Etisalat. But at Gitex, the European and US players including Ericsson, Cisco and Nokia were keen to demonstrate their own capabilities, taking advantage of the US’ current animosity toward the Chinese player.

The adoption of 5G infrastructure has become a politicised affair. With allegations of intellectual property theft and espionage, Huawei has been branded a commercial arm of the Chinese government, claims the company strongly denies.

“It is likely to be politicised, but it has always been political, it was the same with 2G, 3G and 4G,” says Michael Sutcliff, group chief executive at US-based Accenture Digital. “Rolling out the network for 5G capacity, historically, there have always been at least three or four major and players and Ericsson certainly intends to be a major player in the space.”

But while the GCC has the means to build such infrastructure, the rest of the Middle East is not quite on par. Some countries like Iraq are still on 3G, Egypt, the region’s most populous country, launched 4G only two years ago.

“In less advanced MEA markets, it might take some time to develop the business case for 5G,” writes Matthew Reed, practice leader at Ovum Middle East and Africa. “The regulatory preparation – such as the allocation of spectrum – could take time too.”

Nor is it seen as such a necessity by everyone, especially with the current lack of 5G-ready devices. 

“For a business like ours, already the speed of service in the market is good enough,” says Claudio Esposito-Aiardo, founder and chief executive officer at UAE-based Carasti, a subscriptions-based car rental app. “Where it will add value is maybe we will be able to incorporate more video content on our app, because it will load faster.”

Ultimately, for 5G to succeed and bear fruit, it requires a more collaborative approach.

“Operators alone are not enough to deliver the 5G end-user experience, the whole ecosystem needs to work together, between operators and other parties, to build the new business models,” says Ahmed Auda, managing director of VMware Middle East. “They have to work together, at the same pace, to leverage the technology.”

October 6th 2019, 9:03 pm

VentureSouq invests in US gaming company Rune


Source: TechCrunch

Rune, a company out of Y Combinator’s Winter 2019 class, wants to use artificial intelligence (AI) to help you find the right people to play with, connecting you via voice chat. And they’ve just closed a $2 million seed round to get it done.

The round was led by the gaming-focused firm Makers Fund,  and backed by byFounders, E14 Fund, VentureSouq and Gmail creator Paul Buchheit.

The first game they’re supporting is Brawl Stars, the popular free-to-play mobile game built by Clash of Clans creator Supercell. It’s a pretty perfect game for something like this — it’s a game where strategic teams have a solid advantage, but where building such a team from scratch can be tough. Brawl Stars will automatically match you with teammates if you’re playing alone, but in-game communication is limited and random players tend to only hang around for a game or two.

When you first sign up, Rune asks you a handful of questions to start tuning their matchmaking algorithm. Which language(s) do you speak? How much Brawl Stars have you played (how many “trophies” have you earned)? What sort of gameplay are you looking for right now — are you just messing around, or are you looking for nothing but wins? Push a button, and the matchmaking system starts its search.

The more you play, the better the algorithm is tuned. If you seem to have longer play sessions with certain players, for example, it can prioritise matchmaking you with players their algorithms see as similar. (For the curious: While they will tune the matchmaking algorithms based on metadata, like who you’re chatting with and for how long, Rune co-founder Sanjay Guruprasad tells me that they don’t store or analyse the actual voice communication in any way.)

The company says that players have collectively spent around 50,000 hours chatting through the app since launching in March of 2019.

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October 3rd 2019, 5:13 am

In conversation with Mark Roden of Ding


Too often in the GCC, the needs of low-income labourers from emerging economies are overlooked by startups, who instead tend to target the wealthier citizens of a country. But for the world’s largest mobile top-up company, Ding, it is these expat workers who have made the company profitable, sending small amounts of credit every so often.  

Founded in 2006 by Mark Roden, Ding now works with more than 500 mobile operators across the world and has facilitated more than 300 million top-ups globally. The company is celebrating its 10-year anniversary in the Middle East and has so far facilitated more than 140 million transactions for the region’s international workers. According to its latest research, 73 per cent of expat workers in the Gulf have transferred money or airtime in the past six months and 53 per cent of expat workers in the GCC pay at least three quarters of their loved ones’ phone bill.

The UAE is currently the third largest remittance sender in the world with $33 billion sent in 2018, its expat workers still prioritise the needs of their family ack home with 90 per cent ensuring they budget to send top-ups and remittances on a monthly basis.

Roden is a seasoned entrepreneur in his home country of Ireland. His first venture was Esat Telecom founded in 1991, which he later sold to British Telecom for about $1 billion and then in 2001 he founded easycash, an ATM operations company that he later sold to Royal Bank of Scotland.

To celebrate the sale of easycash, Roden decided to take a trip to Dubai with his family in 2005. It was there at his hotel, where he spoke to one of the waiters who was upset that he could not get in touch with his wife back in India. The waiter had bought her a mobile top-up card, but the pin did not work and so she could not phone him. Back then, mobile top-up cards from expats’ home countries would be sold, illegally, with a significant markup. Roden decided to digitise the process and sell mobile phone credit to workers who could then choose the beneficiary. The whole process of buying credit and sending it, took seconds.

How did the idea for Ding come about?

The waiter showed me the store in Al Quoz, it was very dark and he said something to the teller who had thousands of these recharge cards from foreign mobile operators. They were being sold illegally at the time. The value of the retail card was expressed in rupees, the rupee amount had been marked out with a pen and a 50 per cent mark up in Dirhams was added.

I thought that if this waiter has a need to stay in touch with his wife and it’s a need all expats have, what about making it legal and digital? And that’s what we did.

Every expat worker around the world can now go to Ding and top-up the mobile phone of a friend or family member in another country.

What was the next step?

To meet all the mobile operators. We went and visited all the mobile operators in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It was very difficult to get the mobile operators on board. They felt it wasn’t worth their while. We created an industry where they sold minutes to providers outside their country. The very first operator who signed with us was BSNL in India and after that it started slowly, we added more operators from around Asia and then we added operators in the West. Ultimately, the goal was to add every single mobile operator in emerging countries. We now have 500 operators that reach four billion people.

Why don’t expats just send money back home through remittance services?

A lot of the research we’ve done with the expat communities show they are wary of sending big lump sums back home and they want to determine where the money goes. Typically, people send Dh10 per transaction, whereas exchange houses start with a slab fee which could be Dh20. Sending money can also take days, but top-ups take seconds. The principal need that’s not solved [through remittance providers] is for people to be able to speak to each other and be connected to each other when they want. This is the need we’re solving, we’re enabling people to stay connected all the time, it’s a very real and human need.

How do beneficiaries spend their top-up?

Now it is 50 per cent spent on data and 50 per cent on airtime. By the end of this year, 60 per cent will be spent on data.

Will mobile credit be used to pay for other services and enable financial inclusion?

One of the drivers for our business is that essentially, you’re talking about exclusion, whether it is digital or financial. A lot of the time, that is reinforced by language and comprehension of language. A lot of foreign workers might not have all the languages to navigate through the system, but mobile phone recharge is a universal language. The Indian waiter’s wife who received the 14-digit pin knew what to do with it.

It’s interesting that these super apps and apps like Careem have not been built by the telecoms operators. Operators were the ones who really controlled the device and introduction of any new device for so many years. One would have thought it would be natural they would be the most experienced to launch them. But innovation has come from the outside operators. Careem is a good example, it addressed transportation and is now saying “what’s next?”. We’re now the largest company in airtime, so what’s next? It’s important to provide services that are important for people.

Why did you set up in Ireland?

I live in Ireland, that’s where home was, I went back home to research the idea and felt that it was not just a GCC opportunity, but a global opportunity. Ireland is very, very aggressive in terms of encouraging startups. What we have found in Dubai is there is really good availability of talent. What surprised us was the diversity and standard of education, we’ve got some fantastic grads who support our business globally. In some ways I wish I had come out here and started. If you pick a region, concentrate on it and become an expert, you will become the de-factor dominant player. It’s great to come back here, it’s been 10 years since we started business in the Gulf, we now employ 20 people and we’ll be adding another 20 in the coming years.


October 2nd 2019, 9:54 pm

arabot raises $1 million seed funding


Jordan-based artificial intelligence (AI) company arabot has raised a $1 million seed round led by Riyad TAQNIA Fund (RTF), with participation from existing investors. The funds will be used for continued regional expansion and further investment in its proprietary AI chatbot technology platform and Arabic natural language processing (NLP). 

Founded in 2016 by Abdallah Faza and Kais Hassan, arabot allows businesses to simultaneously handle thousands of conversations in real-time, automate processes and reduce operational costs.

"We are positioning ourselves to be the regional leader of intelligent bots," said Abdallah Faza, co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) at arabot. "We are improving efficiency through reducing operational costs, resolving inconsistent customer experience and managing an efficient and responsive customer's channels across different platforms like online business chat, messaging applications, mobile and web.”

The company was recently named one of the top 100 Arab startups shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution in the Middle East by the World Economic Forum (WEF). 

“With businesses and consumers increasingly looking to streamline customer queries, increase customer satisfaction and reduce costs, arabot is showing itself to be a pioneer, delivering much-needed disruption in the industry by using personalised customer experience, adapting to multiple Arabic dialects,” said Qusai Alsaif, senior manager at RTF.  

October 2nd 2019, 1:52 pm

Dubai launches e-commerce strategy


Source: Gulf News

 Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council, launched the emirate’s e-commerce strategy that aims to strengthen Dubai’s status as a global logistic platform and accelerate online commerce growth.

The strategy primarily aims to increase the contribution of e-commerce to Dh12 billion in the local economy by 2023, and increase regional and global share of e-commerce companies operating in Dubai to Dh24 billion by 2020. Such goals will be achieved by reducing the total cost of e-commerce operations by 20 per cent — including the costs of returned goods, storage, customs duties and VAT on transportation.

The key goal is to drive growth and support economic diversification policies, by motivating e-commerce companies to establish e-logistics distribution centres in Dubai and encouraging cloud computing service providers and leading companies to set up data centres in Dubai.

Creating a stimulating environment conducive to talent and providing a leading model for accelerating the growth of e-commerce are also among the goals set to be met.

The plan seeks to develop an integrated system to draw foreign direct investment into the e-commerce sector, to ensure the sector’s contribution to increasing FDI flows to Dubai, which has recorded strong growth in the first half of 2019, with attracting FDI projects worth Dh46.6 billion, a growth of 135 per cent compared to the same period last year.

The online commerce strategy was launched during the council’s meeting held in the presence of Shaikh Maktoum Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and First Deputy Chairman of the Executive Council.

Shaikh Hamdan said: “Dubai is among the fastest growing e-commerce markets in the Middle East and North Africa, bearing the fruits of adopting the best policies, strategic plans and smart government initiatives aiming at digital transformation. This is in line with the directives of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.”

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October 2nd 2019, 4:45 am

FilKhedma raises funding from Algebra Ventures and Glint


Source: Disrupt Africa

Egypt-based home services marketplace, FilKhedma, has closed its second investment round led by Algebra Ventures and Glint Consulting, which will be used to grow its presence in the market.

Launched in 2014 and currently serving Cairo, FilKhedma is an online marketplace for home maintenance and improvement services such as plumbing, carpentry, electricity, air conditioning, painting and appliances.

The startup already serves thousands of customers with nine on-demand services and with a repeat order rate greater than 75 per cent. It is looking to expand its offering and its geographic reach with the undisclosed funding round from Egypt-based Algebra Ventures and Glint, which comes after raising a first round from KiAngel last year.

It will also help attract more talent to its operations, development and marketing teams, and significantly grow its user base.

“We are happy to welcome Algebra Ventures and Glint as partners in our vision to solve Egypt’s daily pain with home services. Our growing team is now working hard to revamp our technology and offer a seamless customer experience in what has always been a messy process in Egypt,” said FilKhedma founder Omar Ramadan.

Algebra Ventures claims to be the largest VC firm in Egypt, having raised a total of $40 million in December of last year to invest in tech startups. The fund has already backed food discovery platform elmenus and online grocery startup GoodsMart, with managing partner Tarek Assaad saying the company was excited to support Filkhedma in this new growth phase.

“We believe technology will add significant efficiency to the home services market and Filkhedma is the best positioned player to lead the creation of that value. We were impressed by the vision of the company and the execution capabilities of the management team. We look forward to continuing to support the company in the future,” he said.

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October 2nd 2019, 4:27 am

BECO Capital closes second fund


Dubai-based venture capital (VC) firm BECO Capital has closed its second fund at $100 million. The VC will continue investing in early stage technology startups from seed to Series A stage across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region.

To date, BECO has made 22 investments across its two funds in startups that include Careem and Property Finder. The first fund has had four exits to date according to a press statement from the company.

“There have been substantial leaps in the technology and innovation landscape in Mena. Company like SWVL, Wahed and Kitopi, which we have backed, are now exporting business model innovation from Mena o the rest of the world,” said Dany Farha, co-founder and managing partner at BECO Capital.

Investors in the second fund include the International Financial Corporation (IFC), Bahrain’s Al Waha Venture Capital Fund of Funds and Saudi Arabia-based Watar Partners.

October 2nd 2019, 3:57 am

Dubai rolls out virtual business licences for global investors


Source: The National

Dubai rolled out on Monday virtual commercial licences that allow investors from across the globe to establish commercial operations without the need to set up a base in the emirate as it looks to boost foreign direct investment.

“This licence is the first of its kind and you can get this without [the requirement of] residing in Dubai,” Sami Al Qamzi, director general of Dubai Economic Department told the delegates at the launch of Dubai Investment Week. “The initiative corresponds with the third article of Dubai’s 50-year charter, which promises policies and initiatives that will ensure progress, growth and Dubai’s sustainability and prosperity.”

Under the new arrangement, investors can obtain a virtual commercial license from anywhere in the world, including opening bank accounts and securing e-residencies. The virtual commercial city aims to attract at least 100,000 companies from across the globe.

The fifth edition of Dubai investment Week, a series of conference and meetings, under the theme of Investing in the City of the Future, highlights opportunities for international investors to invest in innovation as the emirates pushes its economy into the new phase of sustainable growth driven by emerging technologies.

“Dubai is keeping pace with investors’ expectations, innovations and emerging technologies,” Mr Al Qamzi said, adding that a multitude of international indicators in recent years have ranked Dubai at the forefront of the drive for innovation and economic diversification.

In May, the UAE overall was ranked among the top five competitive economies out of 63 countries ranked by IMD business school in its World Competitiveness Rankings. The country now ranks first globally for business efficiency, as its economy made advances in productivity, digital transformation and entrepreneurship.

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October 1st 2019, 12:37 pm

PrintX raises $150,000


Source: Ventureburn

PrintX, a Cairo-based online print shop, has raised $150 000 from Saudi angel investor Mohamed Elbazz.

Tech publication MenaBytes reported in an article yesterday that the startup will use the funding to launch an on-demand online printing platform and to expand its services across Egypt as well as to Saudi Arabia next year.

The startup was founded in 2017 by Abdelrhman Gaber, Mostafa Ali and Ahmed Shahin.

PrintX was founded in 2017 by Abdelrhman Gaber, Mostafa Ali and Ahmed Shahin

It is not clear when the deal was concluded or which other cities in Egypt the starup is looking to expand to. Ventureburn sought comment from PrintX but had not received a response at the time of publication.

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October 1st 2019, 10:15 am

Top five VC deals in the third quarter of 2019


Venture Capital (VC) investments in the third quarter of 2019 have not made as much fanfare compared to the second quarter of this year. The top five disclosed investments amounted to $27 million in Q3 compared to a total of $99.1 million last quarter. For the first time this year, however, the top five deals this quarter were the most diverse in terms of country, with a Saudi Arabia-based startup taking home the biggest VC deal. As ever, e-commerce and transport startups dominated the top deals. 

Here are the biggest five VC disclosed investments in the third quarter of 2019 in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena):

1) Nana Direct

Nana Direct, a Saudi Arabia-based online grocery platform, raised $6.6 million in its series A round in August, making it the biggest investment this quarter. The investment was co-led by Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP) and Impact46. Other investors included Watar Partners, Saudi Venture Capital (SVC) Company, and Wamda Capital.

Nana said that it will use the new capital to accelerate its growth plans, onboard new stores, continue to build its team and further develop vendor relations.

2) MaxAB

MaxAB, an Egypt-based business to business (B2B) e-commerce marketplace, secured seed funding of $6.2 million in September, in one of the largest ever seed rounds raised by an Egyptian startup and the second biggest deal this quarter. The investment was co-led by Beco Capital, 4DX Ventures, and Endure Capital, with participation from 500 Startups, Outlierz Ventures and other local investors. 

The startup said that it plans to use this investment to reach 50 per cent of Egypt’s population within the next two years before expanding across different geographies in North Africa.

3) Washmen

 Washmen, a UAE-based dry cleaning and laundry service raised $6.2 million in a Series B round earlier in July. The round was led by Russia-based AddVenture and was also joined by Germany-based Henkel, Cedar Mundi Ventures and B&Y Partners and UAE’s Clara Ventures. 

Washmen said that it will use the investment to solidify its operations in UAE and expand its technology development office in Beirut.

4) TemTem

TemTem, an Algeria-based ride-hailing startup, raised $4 million in a Series A round in September. The round was led by Tell Venture Automotive and other undisclosed investors in the largest Series A investment raised by an Algerian startup.

The startup said that it will use the funding to launch new services and boost its growth.

5) Ecomz

Ecomz, a Lebanon-based e-commerce management platform raised $4 million in a Series A round in July. The round was led by Cedar Mundi Ventures and joined by iSME Lebanon and BLC Bank.

The company said that it plans to use the funding to enhance its platform with artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities and to expand its reach.

October 1st 2019, 1:12 am

International Finance Corporation invests $1 million in Flat6Labs Tunis


Source: MENAbytes

International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group has announced that it is investing $1 million into Tunisia-based Anava Seed Fund, an accelerator and early-stage fund managed by Flat6Labs Tunis. MENAbytes had reported late last year that IFC is considering to invest $1 million in Flat6Labs, citing the information available in documents of IFC’s information portal.

“The move aims to support tech entrepreneurship and women entrepreneurs in particular, as well as to boost Tunisia’s nascent venture capital ecosystem,” said the statement.

Half of the money is being provided by the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi), a partnership among governments, multilateral development banks, and other public and private sector stakeholders, hosted by the World Bank Group. We-Fi, as the statement notes, supports women entrepreneurs in developing countries by building their capacity, scaling up access to financial products and services, and providing links with global markets.

What this means essentially is that we’ll see Flat6Labs Tunis investing in a lot more female-founded startups than it used to as it is now part of their mandate. Dabchy, a Flat6Labs Tunis-backed female-led startup that was part of accelerator’s first cohort, recently raised $300,000 in seed funding from 500 Startups (Mena) and two Saudi VCs, which to the best of our knowledge is the highest amount of funding raised by a Flat6Labs Tunis startup.

Flat6Labs Tunis that is a partnership between Flat6Labs, BIAT, TAEF (Tunisian American Enterprise Fund), Meninx Holding and Le15, per statement, is increasing its seed fund size to $10 million to support up to 100 technology companies and to help address the lack of early-stage capital in Tunisia.

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September 30th 2019, 9:19 am

Melltoo raises pre-Series A from China’s Gobi Partners


Dubai-based online marketplace Melltoo has announced an undisclosed pre-series A funding round co-led by China-based venture capital (VC) firm Gobi Partners. The company will use the funds to expand to Saudi Arabia. 

Founded in 2014, Melltoo is an online marketplace for used items. The company allows third-party sellers to list their items for sale and enables e-commerce and corporates to liquidate their old retail stock and used company electronics. The company connects buyers and sellers while also handling logistics and order fulfillment.

 “At Melltoo, our aim is to help people and companies sell their stuff in the most efficient and easiest way possible,” said Morrad Irsane, co-founder at Melltoo.

“Since launching our liquidation service, we’ve grown transactions 300 per cent and are on track to quadruple our [gross merchandise value] GMV by the end of the year. We’ve increased the number of sellers 6x in the past six months and have on-boarded over 30 e-commerce and corporate clients who liquidate through the platform,” said Sharene Lee, co-founder at Melltoo.

The investment marks Gobi Partners’ first foray into the Middle East market. The VC recently opened an office in Bahrain to spearhead investments in the region. 

 “We have seen similar startups in China and [South East Asia] that have achieved success with this strategy,” said Thomas G. Tsao, chairman and founding partner at Gobi Partners. 

September 30th 2019, 2:43 am

Looking back at a decade of entrepreneurship in Mena


This year marks a decade since Yahoo acquired Maktoob, in a deal worth $164 million. It was the first time that a technology company based in the Middle East had attracted such significant interest from a giant of its day.

At the time, the deal paled in comparison to the acquisitions and mergers typical in the region, between telecoms operators, industry and real estate. But for the entrepreneurship ecosystem, it was a seminal moment, validating the region as a place for technology and startups.

Back when this happened, there were no venture capital (VC) funds, mobile and internet penetration was low, Apple’s iPhone was still out of reach for most people and unicorns were mythical creatures with the power of flight.

Ten years later, the region boasts its own unicorn: Careem, which was acquired by Uber earlier this year for $3.1 billion, global investors are investing in Middle East startups and entrepreneurship is increasingly becoming a viable career path.

Maktoob was founded in Jordan by Samih Toukan and Hussam Khoury as an Arabic webmail service. It grew to become the main destination for Arabic speakers on the internet and amassed 16 million users. Beyond the main portal, Maktoob offered online payments through CashU, an e-commerce platform that resembled US-based ebay called Souq and gaming company Tahadi MMO Games.

Yahoo was only interested in the main portal and so Toukan and Khoury established Jabbar Internet Group to absorb Maktoob’s other assets. In hindsight, Yahoo failed to see the consumer trends that unfolded in the region and the inevitable rise of online payments and shopping.  

Souq became the biggest asset in Jabbar’s network. Emaar Malls made an offer of $800 million in 2017, but it was Amazon that would come to acquire the e-commerce site for $680 million of which $580 million was paid in cash. Emaar’s chairman Alabbar decided to pump $1 billion into launching his own e-commerce platform, noon, as a result.

In between these two acquisitions, the technological landscape in the region had changed drastically. Internet penetration was on the rise, mobile penetration was close to or exceeded 100 per cent in every country of the Middle East and North Africa (Mena). Smartphones were also popular and Nokia’s dominance in the mobile phone market had been dismantled across the region, replaced by the app-friendly iPhones and Android-based Samsung and Huawei phones. With the introduction of 4G technology, the cost of mobile broadband fell from an average of $9.50 for half a gigabyte in 2016 to $5.27 for double the amount of data.

Empowering The Youth

Amid the protests and revolutions that disrupted the region’s economies in the so-called Arab Spring, the high youth unemployment highlighted the importance of the private sector for job creation. Entrepreneurship was presented as the silver bullet to stymie the rise of unemployment and a way to empower the youth, who make up two thirds of the region’s population.

Government policies and regulations across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) slowly became friendlier to entrepreneurs and investors. Efforts to cut down startup costs continue as regional competition to become a hub for entrepreneurship has ignited. Startups have been recognised as a way to create not only employment, but a means to solve for problems that societies and economies face in the Middle East.

The general shift in attitude and government policies created fertile ground for companies like Dubizzle, Talabat and Babil to emerge, most replicating models and ideas that had proved successful in other parts of the world. Germany’s Rocket Internet arrived in 2011 and began founding startups aggressively, replicating successful business models to launch companies like Namshi, which was recently acquired by Emaar Malls, and Carmudi. Serious investors began to emerge and institutionalise and the region became home to VCs and angel investors with an eye to reap lofty returns. Today, there are several funds dedicated to entrepreneurship and a few governments have established fund of funds, to co-match VCs and help develop a local ecosystem that can generate economic growth.

One of the most prolific of these early angel investors was Aramex founder and Wamda chairman Fadi Ghandour. He was one of the initial investors in Maktoob and then in Jabbar Internet Group before establishing Wamda Capital.

“The world was changing and I had felt the internet change the world, I already felt it affecting Aramex, so when Samih and Hussam came for investment, for me, it was a no-brainer,” he says.

Still On The Backfoot

But even after all these years, there has only been a handful of exits valued at more than $100 million across the Middle East. Oil still accounts for the majority of gross domestic product (GDP) in the GCC, youth unemployment is the highest in the world at 26.5 per cent according to the World Bank and costs to start a business in the current hub of the region, Dubai, is among the highest in the world. For almost every country, regulations still need improvement beyond registering a business. Innovation is also lacking, the highest-ranking Mena country in the Global Innovation Index is the UAE at 36th place, behind smaller economies like Cyrpus and Malta.

Yet, there is hope.

“There are more mature companies and more mature VCs, so there are better deals happening. Exits like Careem and Fawry, those kinds of big companies that are having a real impact is one key metric of a potentially successful ecosystem,” says Abdelhameed Sharara, founder of RiseUp. “I think we are still very early compared to the US and China, but it’s a very promising space compared to the past.”

The region also has a more active female population in the startup sector, with 23 per cent of startups in Gaza and the West Bank led by women, while 19 per cent are led by women in Beirut, both ahead of New York which stands at 12 per cent. Even at RiseUp, women accounted for almost 40 per cent of the attendees last year.

"The region has really become a place where entrepreneurs can thrive and provides supportive environments for startups," says Amina Grimen, co-founder of e-commerce beauty site, Powder. "In the beauty space, looking at the accomplishments of big female players like Huda Kattan and Dr Lamees Hamdan is truly inspiring."


September 29th 2019, 9:23 pm

Glamera raises $250,000 seed


Source: MENAbytes

Cairo-based beauty services booking platform Glamera has raised $250,000 in a seed round, the startup announced today in a statement to MENAbytes. The startup did not disclose the name of investor but told MENAbytes that it came from a Saudi angel investor.

Founded earlier this year by Mohamed Hassan, Omar Fathy and Zafer Alshehri, Glamera through its mobile app (for iOS and Android) allows users to book appointments for different beauty and health services at beauty salons and clinics, spas, gyms, and dental clinics.

The users have the options to go through the list of services provided by Glamera’s different partners, see their prices, book appointments, pay (using different payment options) and then rate their experience afterward right from the app (think Uber for beauty services). There’s also an app for partners that they use to manage the bookings.

Mohamed Hassan, the co-founder and CEO of Glamera, in a conversation with MENAbytes said that they currently have over 200 partners in Cairo selling their services on Glamera’s platform and have facilitated thousands of bookings since launching earlier this year, with over 20,000 app downloads.

Glamera has plans to (further) expand its services in Cairo and three other governorates in Egypt including Alexandria later this year with the aim to take the number of partners they have to 1,000. The startup also plans to expand its services to Saudi next year.

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September 29th 2019, 4:15 am

Mubadala invests in Embark


Source: Forbes

Embark Trucks, a self-driving tech firm created by two twenty-something Canadian computer scientists, just landed $70 million in new funding, its biggest investment round to date, and is opening the first cargo transfer hubs for its growing fleet of robotic semis. 

The San Francisco-based startup is among a wave of companies including Alphabet’s Waymo, TuSimple, Starsky Robotics, Kodiak and Ike that see commercial opportunities to apply the same type of technology developed for autonomous robotaxis to long-haul trucks ferrying goods cross country. Three years after college friends (and Forbes 30 Under 30 alums) Alex Rodrigues, 23, and Brandon Moak, 24, founded Embark, the company has raised a total of $117 million, including the latest round. It operates 13 18-wheelers and has 70 employees.

“Alex and Brandon are among the highest potential founders we have partnered with,” says Pat Grady, a partner at Sequoia Capital, a past Embark investor that participated in its Series C funding. “We are thrilled to double down on our commitment to Embark, as they extend their lead in autonomous trucking.” Tiger Global Management led the round, joined by venture firms DCVC, YCombinator, SV Angel, Maven Ventures, OMERS Ventures and Mubadala Ventures.

Compared to navigating through dense urban areas, designing software, sensors and hardware for trucks to drive themselves on highways is generally easier, owing to the absence of traffic lights, complex turns, complicated intersections, pedestrians, bicycles, e-scooters and other challenges. There’s also a more pressing need for such technology owing to a shortage of human drivers that the American Trucking Association estimates at more than 60,000 currently.

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September 26th 2019, 7:05 am

How do you create a good company culture?


Dawn Metcalfe is a workplace culture advisor and managing director at PDSi MEA. She is also the author of Managing the Matrix and The HardTalk Handbook 

You don’t have to go far or talk to many people before you hear horror stories about the cultures they work in, especially in the startup community. Some of these are so bad they make it into the news: organisations where there is back-biting, lies, misogyny, racism and those where incompetence and politicking are allowed. How does this happen? Surely nobody sets out to create a culture where this is acceptable? Well, who knows? It certainly seems like some of the places we hear about know exactly what they’re doing and are only uncomfortable when found out. I wouldn’t want to work there but clearly some people do. We get the culture we allow. By allowing certain behaviours we’re creating a culture: the key is to do it with intent.

There are three steps and five levers involved in creating a culture. It’s not difficult but it is hard i.e. it involves answering difficult questions and doing things that make most people uncomfortable.

Step 1) Know what you want from the beginning and keep checking

First, know what you want. Even if you're one person or two you have a culture. Culture is the way we do things. It's how we behave when nobody is looking. As soon as you have three people in the company, things change and as the company grows, the chances of the culture developing in ways you don’t expect grow exponentially. Know what you want and what you don’t want and check in regularly that things are still as expected.

Step 2) Be clear about your expectations

Second, know the behaviours you want and what you won't accept and have a sliding scale of rewards and punishments agreed with a commitment to use these visibly. What behaviours will help you achieve your objectives? What behaviours will make that harder? Be really specific: it’s not enough to say you want transparency.

Instead say:

“Every meeting from senior leadership team to team leader level will end with an agreement on who is going to say what to whom about the meeting”

Instead of saying you want creativity, say:

“No meeting will take place unless an agenda with information has been sent 48 hours in advance and all participants will have…”

And then trust your people to manage the obvious exception, for example, there has been a disaster and they have a meeting without an agenda. If you can’t trust at least the team leaders and above to do that, then you have bigger problems and need to go to the third step.

3) Use the levers

Aristotle said “give me a lever long enough and I will move the world”. To move your culture, use every lever at your disposal to underline the message “that’s how we do/don’t do things around here” and help others to do the same. Think about all the decisions you make - every one of those has an impact on your culture. That’s what makes it hard, it’s not that there is nothing you can do, it is that everything you do, sends a message.

To make it easier, we think about particular points in time or things that all organisations do that have a strong influence on culture i.e. of levers. We have chosen these because experience has shown they score high in terms of impact, sustainability and longevity of message and low in terms of cost. The five levers are:

Who you end up with is a function of how you hire. Your employer brand is affected by it. And your onboarding tells new colleagues how big a gap there between what it is they were sold and the reality. How much time are you spending on it?

Wherever you are in the hierarchy, some processes will apply to you. In most organisations many of the processes in place were created to deal with one bad apple or one paranoid person. If everyone in your organisation cannot explain the rationale behind your process then why is it there?

Most senior leaders would be appalled to hear how the vision they lovingly crafted with their senior team is viewed by their people. At best, the vision statement is seen as evidence of delusion and, at worst, of collusion in deception. Make sure your vision is reflected in reality and everybody can think of at least three examples of it in action.

Who gets promoted, who gets pushed out, who gets to go on the cool training that gives you access to the senior people - all of this creates your culture. It tells people what you value. And what you think is dispensable.

This is in many ways the most difficult lever because it involves people doing things they are not comfortable with and can get wrong very easily. Unfortunately, the most difficult lever is the most important in many ways because without it, behaviors reverts to the norm.

Training is not enough. You cannot change a culture simply by putting people through training (though that may be part of it). Instead, it has to permeate everything, every decision. That's a big change. So think in terms of levers.

It can be hard and sometimes uncomfortable - that’s because managing culture means managing behaviour - our own and other people’s - that why you get paid more! Middle management is crucial in creating and/or managing culture but, without genuine support from the top, they cannot do it. That said, everyone has a responsibility to the culture they work in and can make a difference.

You cannot create a “happiness culture” by giving people lessons in mindfulness or even free yoga. Instead, happiness is a result of people working in a culture where every sign points the same direction and they are happy with “the way things are done around here”.

September 25th 2019, 8:56 pm

MaxAB closes $6.2 million seed round


MaxAB, an Egypt-based business to business (B2B) e-commerce marketplace has secured seed funding of $6.2 million, in one of the largest ever seed rounds raised by an Egyptian startup. The investment was co-led by Beco Capital, 4DX Ventures, and Endure Capital, with participation from 500 Startups, Outlierz Ventures and other local investors. The company plans to use this investment to reach 50 per cent of Egypt’s population within the next two years before expanding across different geographies in North Africa. 

Founded by Belal El-Megharbel and Mohamed Ben Halim, MaxAB connects informal food and grocery retailers with suppliers and brands through an application that has more than 600 products, including groceries, beverages, dairy, confectionery and non-food products.It aims to automate and simplify Egypt’s $45 billion FMCG food retail market.

“We are using data and analytics to understand purchasing and retail behaviours, as well as make the end-to-end process of brands seamless and convenient,” said El-Megharbel, chief executive officer (CEO) at MaxAB.  “This will enable [fast moving consumer goods] FMCGs to make informed decisions about their purchasing, which will ultimately have a positive effect on their bottom line and catalyse one of the biggest markets in Egypt.”

Currently in Egypt, small retailers make up 90 per cent of the grocery market

“By leveraging technology, MaxAB is redefining the grocery supply chain in Egypt to fit the requirements of the micro retailers,” said Yousef Hammad, managing partner at Beco Capital.

“The metrics they have recorded in such a short period are impressive, and we expect to continue to see double-digit growth as they scale.”


September 25th 2019, 10:02 am

Saudi-based Daal invests in PromoRepublic


Source: MenaBytes

Daal, a Khobar-based VC firm has invested an undisclosed amount of money in $2.2 million seed round of social media management platform PromoRepublic, the firm told MENAbytes last week. The round was led by a Finnish government fund and joined by Poland’s Alfabeat and some angel investors. The startup that’s headquartered in Palo Alto, California, also has offices in Finland and Ukraine.

Founded in 2015 by Maksym Pecherskyy, Valeriy Grabko, Mikhail Baranovskiy, and Anton Pivniuk, PromoRepublic helps corporates, agencies, small businesses, and freelancers create and schedule social media posts for different networks. The platform also has a library of post ideas with ready-to-go-content for the users.

PromoRepublic, in addition to its smart posting product, also has a social media monitoring tool that allows users to learn what people are saying about them on social media and engage with the audience through comments without leaving PromoRepublic.

According to its website, PromoRepublic’s third product is the content service which comes with a set of 20 editable and reusable designs and the copy.

Continue reading this story 

September 25th 2019, 8:01 am

TemTem raises $4 million in series A


Source: MenaBytes

Algiers-based ride-hailing startup TemTem has raised $4 million in a Series A round, the startup announced in a statement to MENAbytes today. The investment came from Tell Venture Automotive (that’s apparently associated with Tell Group, a Luxembourg-headquartered financial services company) and some other undisclosed investors. TemTem claims that it is the largest Series A investment raised by an Algeria startup.

The announcement of Series A comes a little over a year after TemTem announced its $1.7 million seed round, and takes total investment raised so far by TemTem to $5.7 million which makes it the best-funded Algerian startup.

Founded last year by Kamel Haddar, a serial entrepreneur who has previously founded some other digital ventures (and continues to lead them), TemTem offers ride-hailing services (of regular taxis, different types of cars, and bikes) to both individuals and businesses in Algiers, Oran, and Constantine.

TemTem works directly with over 150 companies to offer different types of ride-hailing services to their employees with the businesses getting invoiced for it at the end of every month. The startup has recently also launched delivery services for businesses.

Kamel in a conversation with MENAbytes revealed that they have plans to expand the services to ten more cities in Algeria without sharing further details.

The startup that currently employs a team of 40, according to the statement, has served over 200,000 customers to date and has over 4,000 drivers in its network.

“Today, TemTem has all cards in hand to become the market leader in the Algerian mobility sector. This new fundraising round confirms TemTem’s competitive position, the relevance of its strategy, and investor confidence in its strong growth potential. With this new capital, TemTem, will lunch two new innovative services centered around improving the daily lives of Algerians,” the startup said in a statement to MENAbytes without disclosing details of what those two new services will be.

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September 25th 2019, 7:43 am

Startups inject digital savvy into events scene


Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority announced a new strategic plan to revamp the local entertainment sector. There are more than 5,000 events on the calendar for 2019, with total investments projected to exceed $64 billion over the next decade.

The plan is part of a broader push to diversify the kingdom’s economy away from oil by 2030. Events and entertainment tourism are expected to play a key role in this ambitious economic reform.

However, this sector boom is nothing new to the region. The UAE has long established itself as a leading destination for business events and entertainment tourism, while more and more of the Middle East and North Africa’s (Mena) major economies are implementing economic plans that incorporate the thriving events industry in one way or another.

Startups in the region are capitalising on the evolution of this space by developing a digital ecosystem which allows event organisers to deliver an experience living up to the expectations of their attendees.

Whether it is making ticket purchases easier, streamlining event check-in, or addressing a whole host of other challenges regional event organisers have historically faced, these startups are leveraging technology to raise the standards of event management.

“It’s not enough to have great performers when the rest of the experience that comes with attending events is below par,” says Farrukh Bandey, user experience research manager at UXBERT Labs, the digital experience design company behind event planning and discovery app HalaYalla.


Launched in early 2014 by Bandey and Nadeem Bakhsh, the Saudi-based venture came to dominate the country’s entertainment scene after becoming the official ticketing app for the Jeddah Season series of events.

HalaYalla provides a full suite of event management features together with live event analytics and reporting for organisers. It also worked with local authorities to let international event attendees apply for a tourist visa while buying their tickets through the platform.

While gaining the trust of the government was a huge milestone for the company, it was also a serious challenge. The team’s abilities were first put to the test when they handled the registration for Saudi’s first-ever Baloot Championship, a classic trick card game popular in GCC countries. Held in October 2018, the event saw more than 85,000 players register to compete.


Considered by many one of the earliest disruptors in Mena’s event space, Eventtus was founded in 2012 by Egyptian duo Mai Medhat and Nihal Fares. The company was backed by multimillion-dollar investment rounds from prominent local and international venture capitals.

The market need Eventtus excelled at addressing was providing event organisers with a customised branded event app. The execution was a great hit for forums such as the Startup Grind’s Global Conference, an annual gathering for a community that supports two million entrepreneurs in more than 125 countries. The organisers witnessed a record-breaking 97 per cent engagement rate with the event’s mobile app when they first implemented it for the 2018 conference.

Empowering the Future for Mena’s Event Industry

The region’s event and entertainment industry has prospered for more than a decade. Companies such as TicketsMarche in Egypt, Platinumlist in the UAE, and Ticketing Box Office in Saudi Arabia have been performing strongly, selling event tickets online for many years now.

With a booming event space and a handful of Mena countries embracing entertainment tourism, it might be a good time for this business domain to rise to the next level with a new generation of startups.

Up-and-coming event organisers will be able to provide professional and seamless digital experiences without the need to invest heavily in IT infrastructure. “You [no longer] have to be a massive organisation with unlimited resources to be able to launch and manage a successful event,” Bandey notes when describing the value in using an event management platform.

Eventtus recently developed a new artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm that can suggest speakers and key attendees to organisers and allow participants to identify relevant people to connect with during an event. The introduction of such technologies will not only enable the region to host bigger and better events, but also guarantees that future projects will be smarter.


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September 23rd 2019, 9:01 pm

Dabchy raises $300,000 in seed fund


Source: MenaBytes

Dabchy, a Tunis-based peer-to-peer (P2P) fashion marketplace has raised $300,000 in a seed round led by 500 Startups and joined by Flat6Labs, Khobar-based Vision Ventures and Daal, and a group of angel investors, the startup announced in a statement to MENAbytes today.

Founded by Amani Mansouri, Ghazi Ketata and Oussama Mahjoub, Dabchy that had initially started as a Facebook Group now has a community of over 400,000 users in Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria, who use its web and mobile-based platform to buy and sell new (unused lying in one’s wardrobe), self-made, pre-owned (used) clothes and accessories for women and kids. Dabchy’s Android app has been downloaded over 100,000 times.

In Tunisia where most of the Dabchy’s business comes from, it takes care of the entire buying and selling process including shipping and payments.

The startup claims to have doubled the catalog of items listed on its platform to 420,000 which (it says) makes it one of the largest online stores in Tunisia. The users, according to a statement by Dabchy, are adding more than 2,000 new items every day.

Amani Mansouri, the co-founder and CEO of Dabchy, in a conversation with MENAbytes, said that they plan to use a part of these funds to expand to Egypt by the end of this year. The startup also plans to use the investment to accelerate its product development and expand its team.

In a statement, Amani added, “At Dabchy, we operate as a trusted third between buyers and sellers and have facilitated more than 100,000 transactions to-date. Our ambition is to become the number one fashion marketplace in the region and to empower a new generation of women to become microentrepreneurs by creating their own businesses online.”

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September 23rd 2019, 9:54 am

Career180 raises $100,000 in seed funding


Egypt-based Career 180, a career advising platform, has raised $100,000 in a seed funding round from EdVentures. The startup will allocate the investment to further develop its online platform and expand its different career advising workshops across governorates in Egypt.

Established in 2016, Career 180 is a career knowledge network that aims to qualify youth for the job market. The startup provides online and offline activities that aim to engage and cater to different career paths. The startup’s online presence offers live mentoring and career advising sessions alongside career advisors and coaches while its offline offering includes events such as Egypt Career Summit, career marathons, and different corporate and startup summer internship programmes. 

“We constantly aim at empowering youth, and that’s why we are keen to keep collaborating with Career 180 and investing in the startup to help them expand their valuable services. This will enable youth to develop their skills and capabilities to meet the market needs,” said Dalia Ibrahim, founder of EdVentures and the chief executive officer (CEO) of Nahdet Misr Publishing House.

“We have been working with EdVentures over the past period, and we are quite excited about the investment round that will support the expansions we are about to execute, as we will be able to help more students and graduates with their career future,” said Shrouk Alaa and Mohamed Akmal, founders of Career 180. 

September 22nd 2019, 9:49 am

The hidden costs of starting up in the UAE


High set-up costs imperil fledging UAE-based startups and deter many would-be entrepreneurs from launching businesses in the country.

While there are many benefits to running a business from the UAE such as zero income tax, world-class broadband and a multilingual workforce, these attractions count for little if a prospective company cannot afford to get started.

“The biggest difficulty is money. It’s extremely expensive. To start a company in the UAE is the same whether you’re IBM, Amazon or a startup. Compare that to the US where you can get a trademark online for $200 and you can start a business from your mum's garage,” says Joy Ajlouny, co-founder of Dubai-based delivery app Fetchr, which has raised $52 million in funding according to Crunchbase.

The World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings place the UAE 25th globally for starting a business. To set up an onshore business in Dubai costs a minimum Dh34,340 ($9350), the rankings note, and requires payment of myriad fees. These include Dh15,000 for a general trading licence, plus fees of Dh10,000 to Dubai Municipality, Dh3,000 to the Ministry of Economy and Dh1,200 to Dubai Chamber of Commerce.

There are other expenses such as renting office space – a prerequisite for all free-zone trading licences, which are overall cheaper than offshore licences – and visa fees to hire staff.

“Some young companies need as much as $25,000,” states a 2019 Google-commissioned report co-written by Wamda and OC&C Strategy Consultants. “Business setup and first-year operating costs for tech startups are some of the highest globally, although the low tax nature of the ecosystem means that ongoing costs are lower than in other places.”

PointCheckout is an online payment gateway that enables consumers to use their loyalty points and air miles to buy goods online with participating merchants across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region. Founded last year by Bashar Saleh and Tarek Ghobar, the company recently raised $600,000 and has more than 1,000 registered merchants.

“Even though I’m very familiar with the process of setting up a company, it’s still very frustrating,” says Ghobar. “The difficulty comes from the complexity of the requirements, coupled with the application process and the fees you have to pay. The rules and steps are clear, but the process is still overwhelming.”

PointCheckout is a member of in5, a startup incubator in Dubai, through which it could pay reduced fees. It paid Dh14,000 for a trade licence and 12-month hot desk rental, Dh11,000 in visa fees and deposits for the two co-founders, and Dh5,000 in medical insurance, which is another prerequisite to launch. In all, it cost Dh30,000 before PointCheckout began operations, lower than average launch cost of Dh46,255 highlighted in the Google report.

Another inconvenience is that the minimum office space a company must rent depends on the number of employees, regardless of whether those employees will be based in the office. Rent must also be paid one year in advance.

“We were fortunate in that we already secured funding before we formed the company,” says Sudipt Shah, co-founder of Dubai’s Digital of Things, the Middle East’s first user experience lab. “But say you’re starting an e-commerce business from scratch and don’t necessarily need or have outside investors, these startup costs are significant.

If I’m a new graduate in the UAE and I want to set up a business, the costs would be prohibitive. Although a lot is being done and many initiatives are being discussed, the rules as they are today are deterring young entrepreneurs – it’s a missed opportunity.”

Cost is not the only major deterrent for would-be entrepreneurs, with time another significant inhibitor.

“There’s a process you have to follow, and each step is dependent on another. So, you may get your provisional trade licence, but it’s not finalised until you rent your office space,” says Shah.

For Digital of Things, it took six months from wanting to launch the business to starting operations, so Shah continued working full-time until his company was ready.

“Getting a bank account was very, very difficult for us, which was another reason why there was a six months lag,” says Shah. “Small businesses make up a large chunk of the UAE’s [gross domestic product] GDP, so it would be good to see banks offer tailor-made products for startups and SMEs. Getting a bank account was a showstopper for us.”

Robo-advisory firm WealthFace is registered at Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), pending incorporation, and it too faced huge difficulties in opening a bank account.

“Until the rules changed a few weeks ago, ADGM was treating us as if a global financial house was opening a new office – the regulator seemed very sceptical about robo-advisors, so put in some very tough pre-conditions,” said Yacoub Nuseibeh, co-founder of WealthFace, which will launch services before the end of 2019. “While I understand the amount of due diligence that is needed when approving a company (in the UAE), it still takes several months, and you only get in-principal approval.”

The Google report recommends the UAE develop a general-purpose tech innovation licence for startups that are still experimenting to finalise their business model – changing a licence incurs additional costs. It also suggests that fledgling startups be exempted from having to rent office space.

Tech startups require top-quality connectivity, which is abundant in the UAE, but expensive. Mobile broadband costs $22.30 for 500 MB in the UAE, which is about triple the price of the same package in the likes of Britain and China, and four times the price of Ireland and South Korea. Fixed broadband costs are among the highest globally at $55.40. That compares with $16.80 in Turkey, $12.60 in Britain and $33.20 in Singapore.

The UAE’s ban on unlicensed Voice over IP (VoIP) applications such as Skype also creates costs that startups elsewhere do not have to contend with. Meanwhile, a generic .ae domain name costs $44.99, while the same .com domain costs just $0.99.

“The situation in terms of the high cost of starting a business has improved slightly but not dramatically over the past few years, (although) they do want to improve, and they know something needs to be done,” says Fetchr’s Ajlouny. “There's a disconnect between the people who can make the change and the struggling entrepreneurs who understand what needs to be changed, but I have huge faith that we will get there. I just hope it comes sooner.”

The UAE’s reliance on fee income, rather than taxes, is problematic for startups.

“In the West, startups don’t pay taxes until they begin making a profit, but in the Gulf, you have to pay huge fees upfront whether your business ever makes any money or not,” says Ajlouny. “The cost of doing businesses is painful. The setup fees are crippling, America has 300 million people, so once you set up a business you have a market of that vast size to address. In Dubai you’re paying huge fees just to get access to a market of a couple million, and then you have to pay similar fees or higher to set in other Middle East countries that also have small populations.”

It costs about Dh6,000 in fees to hire an employee, an expense that makes companies more wary of firing underperforming staff due to the added cost of recruiting a replacement.

“You think 50 times before you let somebody go, and for startups, the ethos is to fail fast, but you can’t do that in the UAE,” adds Ajlouny.

Digital of Things’ Shah highlights the difficulties that UAE startups face in managing their cashflow, especially with business-to-business invoices often taking up to 60 days to be paid. In Europe, payment is usually within 14-30 days.

“Cash flow is critical,” he says. “If banks could provide with innovative solutions, like invoice financing or bridge loans that would really help. Right now, you just rely on your clients paying you on time.”

September 21st 2019, 9:58 pm

Egypt approves regulations of ride-hailing applications


Source: Enterprise 

The Madbouly Cabinet approved in its weekly meeting yesterday the executive regulations of the Ride-Hailing Apps Act, it said in a statement. The regs cover a variety of regulatory procedures, including registration, licensing, taxes and social insurance — stipulating that all licensed ride-hailing companies must show their drivers are meeting their social insurance payments in accordance with the law. The decree also focuses on quality, supervision and inspection in addition to tariff regulations and data protection. The Official Gazette published the full text of the regulations.

The decree also stressed that companies need to comply with hiring white cabs as stipulated by the law, which was approved by the House of Representatives last year. Uber and Careem have both been incorporating white cab drivers into their fleets.

Continue reading this story

September 19th 2019, 10:48 am

Halan to expand to Ethiopia


Source: Reuters

Halan, an Egyptian technology start-up that uses two- and three-wheeled vehicles to transport passengers and goods, will begin operating in Ethiopia before the end of 2019, its chief executive told Reuters.

The company, which targets underserved communities, is also expanding to more cities in the Egyptian governorates of Sharqeya, Daqahleya, Damietta, Qena and Gharbeya this year, said CEO and founder Mounir Nakhla.

Halan’s app allows customers to request motorbike or tuk-tuk rides, or order food or goods for delivery via motorbikes or cargo tricycles. Founded in November 2017, it already operates in around 20 to 25 cities in Egypt and Sudan.

“Halan completes a few million rides per month, almost half a million of which are in food deliveries,” Nakhla said, adding ride-hailing trips had increased 55% and food deliveries more than quadrupled in the year to date.

Nakhla, who has a background in microfinance, hopes Halan will become “pan-African” and said he saw tremendous opportunity for growth on the continent.

Continue reading this story

September 19th 2019, 10:18 am

Pure Harvest raises largest seed round in Mena


Source: The National

Pure Harvest Smart Farms, a tech-enabled agribusiness that is growing fruits and vegetables in the desert outside Abu Dhabi, raised $1.75 million (Dh6.43m) in the first phase of a $20m expansion round.

The start-up, founded in October 2016, had previously raised $5.8m in what was the “Mena region’s largest-ever seed financing”, led by Shorooq Partners and the Mohammed bin Rashid Innovation Fund. The new financing was provided entirely by the company’s existing investors, founders and senior management.

On September 22, Pure Harvest will meet global debt and equity investors to formally begin institutional fund-raising. The funds will be used to invest in the research and development of new technologies, and expand production facilities in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

“I am extremely proud of what we have accomplished in such a short time frame,” said Mahmoud Adi, co-founder and director at Pure Harvest. “Our next phase of growth is to penetrate neighbouring and regional markets including Saudi Arabia and the broader GCC."

Expansion in the kingdom is planned for 2020 and the company has already secured a local partner and land access, a Pure Harvest spokesperson said.

Continue reading this story


September 19th 2019, 3:10 am

Beyond the headlines: Will the Saudi attacks mark the end of drones?


The drone attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil fields on 14 September managed to cut the country’s oil production by 50 per cent, marking the first known coordinated swarm drone attack on national infrastructure. There is still no definitive visibility on who was behind the attack and whether it was missiles or the drones or both, that caused the damage. Regardless, the strike will force regulators in the region to start taking them seriously.

Rabih Abu Rashed, managing director at Falcon Eye Drones explains the possible repercussions.

Drones, like GPS and the internet before it, were originally military-use only. But as is usually the case with technology, it became smaller and cheaper and commercially available. Now, it is in the hand of many consumers, with a new type coming out on a regular basis. The market is divided between hobby drones, “prosumers” and professional.

Drones initially were just unmanned small planes, piloted from the ground rather than onboard then they became smart enough to be able to pilot themselves and follow a predetermined route or mission. Soon we will have artificial intelligence (AI)-powered drones, where the system will itself decide in real time the best route and action to take. 

There is no doubt the attack in Saudi Arabia will cause a ripple effect in the drone sector. But it won’t necessarily be a negative one. It will drive regulators to put more rules in to have better control over the market, which is a good move. 

Such control would limit unlicensed, unauthorised individuals and companies from importing and using these drones.  Leaving commercial companies with professional know-how to operate, resulting in a boost to the sector. To elaborate on this, a lot of companies and individuals are operating drones today without being experts in their fields which leads to poor results and deliverables, making the end-client believe that the drone industry isn't mature enough yet. When operated by professional companies, the high level of deliverables and the safe and reliable operations will lead to more repeat business, resulting in an overall push for our sector. 

Initially most of the use-cases or demand for drones came from the media and production sector. Aerial photography/videography was the fastest industry to adopt drones to get aerial shots without the need to hire a helicopter. But as big business realised the benefit of drones, we saw a huge shift in market share towards the GIS (Geographical Information Systems) and inspections industries.

GIS applications such as aerial mapping/surveying, 3D digitisation and digital twin creation, gained a huge increase in popularity in the past two years, many big projects rely on drone data now for the speed and efficiency it provides. As a quick example a 10 KM² area usually need weeks to map with traditional methods but only a couple of days with a drone team, providing major savings. At Falcon Eye Drones GIS applications accounts for about 50 per cent of our business.

The other effect of the attack would be a boost to the anti-drone systems as many high-asset companies will rush to acquire this emerging technology. These devices can be installed around the perimeter of crucial infrastructures such as oil and gas, airports and military zones etc and they work in multiple ways; they can act as detectors of incoming threats giving the security forces time to react, some of these devices have a detection range of up to 50 kilometres which can provide a lot of time for a counter attack. Or they can have a defence mechanism built in such as remotely disabling the drone before it reaches its target by means of interrupting the radio frequency and the GPS signal it is receiving. 

It is also very important to note that the attacks were not carried by hobbyist drones you can buy in shopping centres, not even by the commercial ones used for mapping and inspections by drone companies. 

Judging by the scale of the damage and the extreme distance the drones had to travel to reach its target, it is my opinion that these were very large drones used only for warfare and only a handful of governments have access to this tech. 

In a way, this should bring some comfort to the public that it isn't easy to cause so much damage with just any drone. 

Irrelevant of what was used to cause this horrible act of violence, terrorism and evil will always find a way to do malicious acts against humanity. The same way they hack computers to plant viruses, use social media to corrupt minds or use trucks to ram into crowds, they will use drones to do damage and cause harm. 

We should not rush to blame or ban a technology that is boosting our economy and is helping to save lives every day. 

The technology has evolved to have a positive influence and effect in a lot of applications such as search and rescue, blood and medicine deliveries to remote areas with no access to good roads.

Drones also replace humans performing dangerous jobs such as inspection of high towers or going underground or into hazardous environments, massively reducing the risk to health and safety. 

All in all the benefits of drones offsets any damage terrorism can hope to achieve and we need to stand together in the face of evil and work together to fight it. 



September 18th 2019, 8:54 pm

UPayments raises seed funding


Kuwait based online payment solutions provider UPayments announced that it has raised seed funding for an undisclosed sum from investors Hamad Ali AlBahar and Saud Al Aujan.

"The investment is first seeding round and will help us accelerate our operations and explore new opportunities,“ said Nasser AlHumaidi, UPayments co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO).

The company added that the new investors will provide additional boost through their experience and guidance.

“UPayments will use these funds to continue developing innovative payment products that would help every business establish an online presence,” said Ali AlHabshi, UPayments co-founder and chief operating officer (COO).

September 18th 2019, 4:09 am

Mobile drives online travel bookings


Mobile is becoming one of the main ways that users in the Middle East are searching and booking their travel options according to a report from Cleartrip and Flyin.

The online travel agency has seen a 76 per cent rise in the number bookings conducted on mobile phones in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region. The top growth in the first half of 2019 came from Kuwait and Oman with 287 per cent and 181 per cent respectively when compared to the same period last year.

More than half the transactions conducted in Saudi Arabia are made on mobile phones thanks to country’s high smartphone penetration rate which stands at 88 per cent according to the country’s Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC).  

“Mobile search makes sharing and comparing easier,” said Amit Taneja, chief business officer or international markets at Cleartrip. “This region has one of the highest mobile penetration rates in the world and it’s being reflected in the travel sector. In the last five to six years, searches on mobile and booking and sharing continues to grow.”

The overall travel market in the Middle East is expected to reach $100 billion in gross bookings value by 2022. Last year, just 33 per cent of bookings were made online, the lowest online penetration in the world. By 2022 however, 44 per cent of bookings will be made online according to report from travel technology provider Amadeus.

Much of this growth is likely to come from Saudi Arabia, as the country’s regulations open up to e-commerce. In 2018 the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) enabled the country’s MADA cards to be used in online transactions. For Cleartrip, this increased the number of debit card transactions in the country, which now account for 52 per cent of bookings.

“When we look at the Saudi market, they’re adopting e-commerce very, very fast,” said Amit Taneja, chief business officer at India-based Cleartrip. “The share of the Saudi travel is 20-21 per cent from pretty much nothing a couple of years back and the opening up of debit cards is a big part of that growth.”

Overall, travelers in the region are taking shorter, more frequent breaks with the majority opting for one to six day breaks. Coupon deals and vouchers account for 32 per cent of the bookings in the UAE, followed by Bahrain with 27 per cent. Saudi Arabia, however lags behind with just 15 per cent.

Going forward, technological advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) in search and better personalisation will impact the sector.

“Travel was one of the first sectors that adopted new technologies and a lot of times these technologies have been introduced by new startups,” said Tanjea. “I don’t see that process stopping, AI is a big part and there is a lot more scope to make search more personalised – that is where there is scope for disruption.”


September 17th 2019, 6:08 am

Saudi Arabia and UAE reconsider Softbank investment


Source: Business Insider 

SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son may have trouble raising a second Vision Fund after all.

With Japanese conglomerate's original $100 billion fund struggling with two of its highest profile investments, two of its biggest investors — Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund and Abu Dhabi's Mubadala Investment — are re-evaluating how much money they'll put into a planned follow-on fund, Bloomberg reported Monday. Both are considering significantly reducing their investment from the amounts they committed to the first fund, according to Bloomberg.

The Saudi investment vehicle committed $45 billion to the original Vision Fund, making it the fund's biggest backer. It now plans to invest only its profits from the first Vision Fund into the second one, Bloomberg reported.

Mubadala was the second largest outside backer of the Vision Fund, committing $15 billion to it. The Abu Dhabi company is considering limiting its investment in the new fund to less than $10 billion, according to Bloomberg.

A Mubadala representative told Bloomberg the company is still discussing its potential stake in the new fund and denied that it had yet made a decision on the when or how much to commit. A representative for the Public Investment Fund declined comment to Bloomberg.

SoftBank representatives did not immediately respond to an email from Business Insider seeking comment.

The investors' apparent trepidation over the new Vision Fund comes amid some high-profile setbacks for the original. SoftBank's giant fund has reportedly lost some $600 million on its investment in Uber, thanks to that company's disappointing public offering and the subsequent decline in Uber's stock price.

Meanwhile, WeWork, in which SoftBank has invested $10.65 billion, is struggling to attract investors for its own public offering. Last week, the company was reportedly considering going public with a market capitalisation of as little as $10 billion— less that a quarter of the $47 billion valuation SoftBank conferred on it with a January investment.

Continue reading this story

September 17th 2019, 3:49 am

Shorooq Partners invests in Teacherly


Shorooq Partners has invested in UK-based, education technology (edtech) platform Teacherly in seed funding for an undisclosed sum. 

 Teacherly is a collaborative lesson planning and peer-to-peer coaching platform tailored to the needs of teachers by allowing them to plan lessons, communicate and collaborate digitally. 

“Education is still one of the more conventional spaces that is underserved by the latest technology, and we are delighted to enter the space through a truly disruptive venture,” said Shane Shin, founding partner at Shorooq Partners.

We are excited to join the journey of Teacherly at such an early stage and are committed to building it together – supporting it to grow its strong presence in the Middle East and further penetrate the European market. We believe that Teacherly solves a unique problem that few businesses have identified, let alone solve effectively, and is poised for exponential growth.”

Teacherly was founded in 2016 in the UK by Atif Mahmood, and is now expanding into the Middle East with UAE at its forefront, a market that accounts for 30 per cent of the startup’s customerbase.Teacherly claims to serve more than 70,000 monthly active users. 

“Despite the recent growth in edtech, the teaching population in the Middle East is still heavily overlooked and underserved by the latest technology. We are confident that with Shorooq’s expertise and support we can create value and solve important problems for the education space here” said Mahmood. 

September 16th 2019, 4:06 am

Techne Summit 2019


Techne Summit is an international multi-industry focused investment & entrepreneurship event that aims to impact multiple sectors and stakeholders of the startup communities in the Mediterranean region through showcasing different technologies and their application in each industry. The event kick-started in Alexandria, Egypt in 2015 and in 2018 has attracted more than 6000 attendees, 130 speakers, 230 startups, and 80 investors, all from more than 25 countries.

TS2019 will feature the launch of the first dedicated Mediterranean Business Angel Investment Network (Med Angels) which will bring together a large number of Business Angel Networks, Groups and Funds as well as individual Angel Investors from across the region. The first Med Angels round table discussion took place on May 4 2019 during Techne Summit Dubrovnik 2019 with all interested entities.

More information and tickets here.


September 16th 2019, 2:37 am

The opportunity for startups in energy sector


The need for stable energy in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) is clear, and the growing demand is perceived as both a necessity and a market opportunity. According to a report by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, the region will increase its current energy consumption by 70 per cent by 2035. In parallel, entrepreneurship has been playing a considerable role in turning environmental constraints into opportunities for renewable and clean energy, with startups providing a testing ground for new ideas in the field.

At the World Energy Congress (WEC) last week, startups took centre-stage as winners of the latest Startup Energy Transition (SET) convened to discuss how they are working to tackle some of the world’s most pressing energy challenges through entrepreneurship and innovation, and the hurdles they face along the way.

Held in the GCC for the first time, WEC drew a crowd of giant players in the energy sectors, as well as investors, policy makers, thought leaders and noticeably, startups. Looking into the future of energy, the event explored the themes of sustainability, renewables, nuclear and electric vehicles.

One panel discussion showcased the role of entrepreneurs in pushing the boundaries in the energy sector, tackling pressing business challenges typically faced by energy corporations across the globe with a new lens.

Lack of awareness of the huge energy market potential and the need to apply startups’ knowledge in more advanced markets first, are some of the challenges Divine Nabaweesi, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Uganda-based Divine Bamboo faced while building her venture, which promotes the sustainable cultivation of fast-growing bamboo for the sale and production of clean charcoal and briquettes.

“Getting international recognition helped us to feel validated and to attract the right partners, also, exposure through marketing and social media channels helped us connect with the right people and created potential,” Nabaweesi said.

For Thomas Chrometzka, Head of Strategy at German-based Enapter, which designs and manufactures highly efficient hydrogen generators, the biggest challenges are scaling up businesses and secure mass production in a very short time in response to growing potential as it arises.

“There is a very strong market for startups [in the energy sector], and new initiatives are speeding up. Small startups are tackling bigger issues facing the industry,” said Andreas Kuhlmann, Chief Executive of German Energy Agency (dena). He emphasised that “organisations need to be careful they are not wasting the time of the startups through a long process, they need to recognise these are proofed companies and there should be some sense and rapid actions behind those long discussions”.

From an entrepreneurial perspective, the energy sector delivers many opportunities for new value creation. Moreover, entrepreneurship is increasingly being hailed as a way to resolve environmental problems through innovative energy solutions.

In the UAE, government policies and keenness of private organisations have created an encouraging environment for innovation and entrepreneurship. GCC governments have launched big budget funds and small-to-medium-sized enterprise (SME) support organisations to foster the entrepreneurship ecosystem, as well as educate their human capital on new innovative and disruptive technologies.

The growing demand for energy efficiency in GCC countries has been seen as both a response to the rising energy demand, and an economic strength that falls in line with strategic objectives of future government plans, such as UAE Vision 2021 and Saudi Vision 2030.

Despite the recognition and the support, the energy entrepreneurship ecosystem in the region remains in its infancy. The few startups that enter this field face a number of challenges, such as the scale of the energy companies, which requires dealing with multiple layers of decision making.

However, digitisation is helping smaller players overcome the challenges of entering the market; the forward-thinking digital approach adopted by some of the energy companies has helped to improve accessibility to such corporations, as both sides are beginning to recognise the benefits of embedding a particular technology into their operations.

The state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) has taken bigger steps towards embedding innovation and entrepreneurship in its operations. Speaking at the last edition of of the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference (ADIPEC), ADNOC Sultan Al Jaber, group CEO at ADNOC said firms must leverage the latest technologies.

The company signed a memorandum of understanding with the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development earlier this year to promote entrepreneurship among its own employees who are looking to enhance their skills and knowledge in the SME sector. Prior to that, it has backed both, a startup that builds intelligent chatbots to help companies improve conversion rates of site visitors into customers, and AIMLedge, which works to enable customers to easily develop and deploy customised deep learning solutions to work on proof of concepts. Both startups were winners of entrepreneurship platform startAD’s artificial intelligence (AI) version of its sprint accelerator programme Venture Launchpad last year.

According to Marwan Bin Haider, executive vice president of innovation and the future at Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), 75 per cent of the energy sources in Dubai will be green by 2050, and it will become the least CO2 producing city in the world by then.

“After the launch of Dubai 10X, which called government bodies to disrupt industries, policies and legislations, we went back and announced the digital DEWA, which is all about solar energy storage, AI and digital services. We realised we need to work with startups. We came across challenges internally and externally to be able to do so, however, we had to make exceptions to make such partnerships a reality.

“We have to open up for startups, and make sure pilots are done in a way that does not affect the flow of business. On the other hand, startups need to focus on how to convert challenges to opportunities, as excitement alone will not boost business figures.”

Haider argued that the fourth industrial revolution is the maker, not the destination, emphasising the importance of having a purpose.

“Some entrepreneurs bring AI just for the sake of showcasing the technology, but did they create a new product? Did they sustain resources for the next generation? This is what matters.”

But while creativity and disruptive ideas are important, “we need to step out this bubble and discuss relevant challenges and bigger issues”, according to Hornback. Creating greater synergy between those who innovate and disrupt, and investors who can take a risk, tailoring technologies to turn Mena’s unique energy challenges into opportunities and demonstrating ways young companies can have an impact in the field is the way forward.

September 15th 2019, 10:03 pm

Uber to raise $750 million in debt financing to fund its purchase of Careem


Source: MenaBytes

Uber today has announced that it will raise $750 million in debt financing primarily to fund its pending acquisition of Dubai-based Careem.

“[Uber] proposes to offer $750 million principal amount of Senior Notes due 2027, subject to market conditions and other factors,” said Uber in a statement today.

The American ride-hailing giant that listed on the New York Stock Exchange in a flop IPO four months ago and continues to struggle had announced in March earlier this year that it is acquiring its Middle Eastern rival Careem for $3.1 billion in a cash and stock deal. Uber at the time had said that the deal consists of $1.7 billion in convertible notes and $1.4 billion cash.

Uber apparently needs the money to fund the cash portion of the deal that is expected to close in January 2020.

According to Uber’s SEC filings, the majority of Careem convertibles will be issued to Careem stockholders upon closing of the deal, and will mature 90 days after their respective dates of issuance. The Careem convertible notes are convertible into shares of Uber’s common stock at a price of $55 per share (Uber is currently trading at $34.3).

Continue reading this story

September 15th 2019, 4:09 am

Swvl expands further into Pakistan


Source: MENAbytes

Swvl, the app-based bus hailing startup that is now headquartered in Dubai, is expanding further into Pakistan, it announced in a statement today, saying that it is launching its services in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, and Rawalpindi.

The announcement comes less than two months after Swvl expanded to Pakistan with its launch in Lahore. Pakistan is the second international market for the Swvl that expanded to Kenya earlier this year.

Founded in Cairo in 2017, Swvl that dubs itself as a private premium alternative to public transportation enables riders to book seats on its network of “high-quality” buses (owned and operated by third-parties) through its mobile apps. The startup operates bus lines on fixed routes with customers boarding the buses from specific pick-up spots to be dropped at pre-defined (virtual) stations. The users also have the options to track the buses in real-time. The service is cheaper than the conventional ride-hailing options including Uber and Careem.

Swvl’s decision to expand its services to Islamabad and Rawalpindi before Karachi (Pakistan’s largest city that is home to over 15 million people) is an interesting one. The public transport infrastructure in Islamabad and Rawalpindi even though does not cover a lot of areas, is somewhat decent but in Karachi, it’s almost non-existent. So a service like Swvl is more needed in Karachi than it is in Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

But they perhaps wanted to get the first-mover advantage for Islamabad and Rawalpindi as its main Pakistani rival Airlift that recently raised $2.2 million in the largest seed round for a Pakistani startup doesn’t operate there yet (but has its services available in Karachi).

Swvl has raised over $80 million of VC money with its last round of $42 million valuing it at $157 million (making it one of the most valuable VC-backed startup in Mena)  is currently preparing for its Karachi launch and is actively recruiting people to join its operations team. They haven’t shared the details or launch date yet.

Continue reading this story

September 15th 2019, 3:22 am

Wamda X opens applications for its second cohort



Wamda X, the grant-based fellowship programme for budding entrepreneurs and early-stage startups, is now accepting applications for its second cohort. The four-month programme, taking place in Dubai, aims to identify the Middle East and North Africa’s most promising entrepreneurs and founding teams, whether they are at idea stage or early stages of operation.

By providing investment, working space and access to the region’s most notable mentors among other benefits, Wamda X aims to reduce the friction faced by entrepreneurs when founding a startup.

Successful applicants or “Fellows” will receive a $16,000 to $30,000 “no-strings-attached" financial grant with the option of follow-on investment of up to $200,000 from Wamda Capital. In addition, Fellows will receive more than $10,000 worth of in-kind benefits in the form of subsidised access to software and support services.

Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis and Fellows will be selected based on their ability to identify and solve market inefficiencies.

The inaugural cohort, launched in the first quarter of 2019, successfully graduated two startups, SafarPass and Caravan from more than 600 applicants.

The start date for the second cohort will be announced soon - apply here.

September 15th 2019, 1:08 am
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