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Halcyon, AWS launch tech incubator for female founders in Middle East

Wamda

Source: Washington Business Journal 

D.C.’s Halcyon, known for its flagship social entrepreneurship incubator in Georgetown, is taking its programming abroad for the first time with help from Amazon Web Services.

The local nonprofit is teaming up with the Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) subsidiary, its longtime partner, to launch an incubator for early-stage ventures founded by female social entrepreneurs in Bahrain, one of the seven Arab states that border the Persian Gulf.

The 2021 Bahrain Women’s Intensive will mentor and train the program’s participants, and introduce them to the U.S. market and potential investors, Halcyon said. AWS will bring its technology to the table, providing cloud computing credits, technical help and other support, as it has for previous Halcyon initiatives. They’re also working with Startup Bahrain to support recruitment in that ecosystem, though none of the partners will take equity in the ventures.

AWS is fully funding the program, which has not received any funding from the Bahrain government, AWS and Halcyon both confirmed. Startup Bahrain is backed by its government, as well as incubators, universities and corporations.

The partners homed in on Bahrain, which has become an entrepreneurship hub, as they considered areas around the world with strong social entrepreneurship pipelines, Halcyon co-founder and CEO Kate Goodall said in an interview Tuesday. The program developed from AWS and Halcyon's involvement and interest in the Middle East, plus their “mutual interest in looking for global solutions, particularly global tech solutions, and in diversifying tech and entrepreneurship,” Goodall said.

It also builds upon AWS’s longstanding presence in the Middle East, specifically in Bahrain, where it last year launched its cloud technology for the entire Persian Gulf region, according to Teresa Carlson, vice president of AWS’s worldwide public sector business. “They were the first country that said, ‘We really get this, and we need to take a leadership role in cloud computing and innovation,’” she said.

The partners expect to select 10 ventures for this cohort in December, Goodall said, and to start monthly virtual programming in January 2021. Halcyon is also tentatively shooting to host the fellows in a weeklong residency in July, depending on where the coronavirus pandemic stands. Applications for the program are open through Nov. 23 to women founders with impact-driven tech startups in Bahrain. The partners will consider strength of business model, the potential for impact at scale and innovation in their decisions.

But there’s more to it, Goodall said. They’re looking for people who “deeply understand the problem they’re trying to solve, first and foremost,” as well as “innately curious” entrepreneurs who will be able to “grow and galvanize the support that they need while remaining coachable,” she said. They’re also looking for ideas and businesses “that support the growth of the Gulf,” Carlson said.

“I think one of the outcomes that we also like is … they get the attention here in the U.S. of venture capital money, but also take that back and make all of the venture capitalists and private equity groups aware of what they’re doing in the Gulf,” Carlson said, “so they also have an opportunity to get funding on an idea that might be more unique or an area of growth and development in the Gulf, particularly.”

The latest program follows the debut and continuation of Halcyon’s two-week intensive programs, which in recent years have hosted entrepreneurs from Korea and Saudi Arabia, as well as from the District’s opportunity zones.

“We do have an intention to continue to put feelers out around the world. There’s some really amazing places that are hot spots of innovation and have the right ingredients for a program like this,” Goodall said, adding that “it may well be done in partnership with AWS.”

But as to whether we’ll see Halcyon stand up an international outpost anytime soon? “It’s definitely something that we’ve talked about, but it would have to be hands-down the right opportunity,” Goodall said. “We’re very interested in quality, and I wouldn’t want to expand for expansion’s sake.”

It all comes a couple of months after Halcyon’s angel network made its first investments and as the Georgetown nonprofit advances new efforts to support social impact ventures, including raising a $6 million fund to invest in its own startups for the first time and working with CareFirst BlueCross BlueShieldto incubate more health care startups.

Since 2014, Halcyon’s incubator counts 111 alumni ventures — 59% of them woman-founded — that have raised a collective $150 million and created more than 1,700 jobs. In 2017, the nonprofit spun out of the D.C.-based S&R Foundation, the private foundation of Sucampo Pharmaceutical co-founders Sachiko Kuno and Ryuji Ueno.

 

October 21st 2020, 5:36 am

Aumet acquires Uniorders

Wamda

Jordan-born healthcare marketplace Aumet, has acquired its compatriot healthcare startup Uniroders.

Launched in 2015 by Yehya Aqel, Mohammed Issa and Jamal Abu Samra, Aumet is a business to business (B2B) marketplace that aggregates bulk orders from medical vendors and then offers them at discounted prices. It also automates the process of matching distributors with medical manufacturers.

"The win-win strategy is one of Aumet's firm beliefs. With Uniorders, there were two ways in which we could have viewed them - compete or complete. We believe this acquisition will help us to accomplish our mission of bridging the gaps in the healthcare industry faster and more efficiently and bring more success stories to the region,” said Yahya Aqel, co-founder and CEO of Aumet.

Uniorders operates as a B2B ordering management platform, on which pharmacies can purchase medicine directly from warehouses and drug houses.

The acquisition came on the back of the Covdi-19 enabled growth Uniorders has witnessed; the company managed to process 50,000 monthly transactions during the pandemic and currently has 2,800 pharmacies listed on its platform.

The acquisition will enable Aumet to offer its services to pharmacies in Jordan, expand its distributor base, add more products and service other healthcare providers such as dental, laboratory, hospitals, clinics and physiotherapy centres. The company also plans to expand to the UAE.

"Joining Aumet will allow for further successes and for healthcare providers and distributors to access more resources, not only in Jordan but globally. Uniorders are overjoyed to view that our efforts have paid off,” said Shaher Jaber, founder and CEO of Uniorders.

 

October 20th 2020, 9:56 am

FinHub 973 launches to boost fintech sector in Mena

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The Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB) launched today FinHub 973, the first of its kind virtual fintech platform in the region, in collaboration the Economic Development Board, Bank ABC, ila Bank, Benefit, National Bank of Bahrain and Bahrain Islamic Bank.

The platform is powered by FinX22, an open, cloud-based financial services platform developed by Fintech Galaxy, the digital crowdsourcing fintech company.

FinHub 973 provides a virtual environment that includes an open application programming interface (API) for banking services and paves the way for fintech companies to collaborate with new partners. It is set to create a collaborative environment for fintech in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) and create a gateway to financial services markets in the region

The platform will encourage innovation opportunities in the sector, link regulators and financial institutions in the region with emerging fintech companies and boost Bahrain as a regional financial centre for innovation.

We spoke with Mirna Sleiman, founder and CEO of Fintech Galaxy, about the launch of the new platform.

Why do you think it is important to launch a digital fintech lab in the region?

This is the first regional innovation lab that brings the regulators to the core of innovation, which is usually not the case.

The traditional model of innovation is markets operating in their own in silos. Regulators are operating separately from banks, who also operate separately from fintechs. On a regional level, the countries themselves are operating in different streams. There has been a lot of MoU signings that indicate very strong bilateral relationships, however, this has not developed beyond MoUs, which do not move the needle on economic growth nor financial inclusion.

What was lacking was a common platform, and what we are building here will hopefully enable better collaboration between different jurisdictions.

We are creating a universal platform, FinHub 973, for regulators, financial institutions and innovators from the different markets across the region to connect and scale, given that scalability is a challenge due to regulations, security, connectivity and other factors.

So when you are testing the same prototype, app or solutions in Bahrain on a universal API sandbox, and Egypt or KSA has a similar connectivity, you will be able to do passporting of licensing, experience and knowledge between jurisdictions through the new platform.

Since FinX22 is powering FinHub 973, we might create another platform in Egypt, Saudi, Jordan or Tunisia also powered by FinX22, meaning that we have a unified API sandbox and a unified process for regulatory sandboxing.

In addition, we will have the same marketplace, where fintechs are listed and get the same AI-powered scoring, and the same qualification process before entering commercial agreements with banks or fundraising with investors. All of that will be unified and localised through the same platform and underlying technology, hopefully solving the problem of scalability that we face in Mena.

Why is FinHub 973 anchored in Bahrain?

Bahrain is very special as it has one single regulator for its onshore and offshore companies, in addition to insurance and exchanges, which is the Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB). Working with Bahrain as a regulator is like a testbed for a regional innovation initiative, you start in Bahrain and you expand regionally.

In Bahrain, the market has a small size, the stakeholders are known and there is an amazing sync between the regulators, the innovation ecosystem partners, the financial institutions and the economic development board. The whole internal ecosystem is so nicely connected that it makes it much easier for you to start in Bahrain and launch something that connects to the whole world.

The country already has open banking standards, for banks and fintechs to collaborate and for the latter to grow and really deliver on the promise of financial inclusion, economic growth, digital banking and customer experience, all of which need regulatory support. Having this partnership with CBB enables the true collaboration between banks and fintechs, as well as the commercialisation of partnerships.

How has Covid-19 affected your launch plans?

We have been planning this for some time and Covid-19 became our business case. It was very important to deliver this platform at this time, because of social distancing and people not able to travel and do face-to-face meetings.

With Covid-19, it was crucial that we deliver the platform quickly, as the pandemic served as a catalyst for digital transformation for not only financial services, but for the whole economy. We wanted to turn the challenges presented by Covid-19 into the biggest opportunity the region can ever find since the financial crisis in 2008.

Such a platform allows institutions to run hackathons and challenges virtually, it allows you to connect to a sandbox and do prototyping, you can consume and publish API, and also use localised data sets without having to sit with banks.

Banks and fintechs can turn from prototyping to production on the platform without having to do all the hardcore API connectivity. Most importantly is that regulatory sandboxing can also happen on this virtual platform.

How do you think FinHub 973 will impact the ecosystem in Mena?

The number of fintechs in our region is still very little. We are at 450 fintechs regionally compared to 20,000 globally. We hope to see the number of fintechs at least double by the end of 2022.

We have partners like ABC bank, BISB and Benefit, and we have other partners outside Bahrain, like Saudi French Bank, EG Bank, Al Ahli Bank in Jordan, all of which when they connect and publish their APIs, they are providing an opportunity for fintechs to commercialise and grow. 

The platform will also have an impact on job creation. Startups are the main source of new jobs going forward, banks, companies and governments are not hiring. Some amazing talent is jumping from large institutions to fintechs.

Furthermore, we hope to have a positive impact on the level of investment into the market. We do not blame investors for having cold feet, there is a lot of ambiguity in the market so they do not know what they are putting their money into, and they also do not understand the sector very well.

Through the platform, they will have a pipeline coming their way with an amazing flow of fintechs that are actually testing, getting qualified, loved by the regulators, accepted by the institutional partners. So instead of spending six months going through documents and pitches, they will just plug and play. This is a platform that will produce a pipe of fintech startups that are hungry for funding, and you know there is a business potential for them.

Lastly, we hope to help progress financial inclusion. We are at 70 per cent of unbanked bankable adults in the region, which is a shame to have such a high level. This still presents an opportunity, and I think fintech startups can play a major role in this area.

October 20th 2020, 5:10 am

More investment, better regulations needed in Iraq

Wamda

Iraq’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is gradually shaping up and evolving into a welcome landscape for innovation. 

While the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdown have adversely impacted the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Iraq, startups in the country have managed to go out of their way to remain operational and help meet the needs of the people during these dire times. Some have also managed to rack up funds from both local and international investors, reflecting the growing investor confidence in the country’s developing startup scene. These startups included Miswag, Lezzo and Alsaree3, among others.

In the recent Arab Youth Survey, one in five stated they were planning to start their own business within the next five years, while 90 per cent of the respondents said they frequently make purchases online. The growing interest in entrepreneurship and tech has been also reflected in the emergence of several incubators and accelerators that look to support startups with a potential to solve the pressing issues faced by the country. Among these organisations is Iraq-based incubator Five One Labs, which has recently unveiled an investment initiative, One Five Invest, which aims to ease access to capital and increase the number of deals in the country. 

It intends to educate Iraqi investors on angel investing and private equity funding while enabling entrepreneurs to maximise their chances to get funded by helping them refine their business model, make it market-ready and ultimately meet the expectations of investors. 

In celebration of the launch of the new initiative, Five One Labs hosted a panel discussion under the title of investments in Iraq: now and five years forward. The panelists included partner and chief operating officer at global investment firm MSA Capital, Walid Faza, newly-appointed venture manager at Hiwa Rauf Group, Rawaz Rauf and founder and CEO of Alsaree3 Group, Bassam Al-Ateia. The discussion has tackled the future of investment in Iraq, and the opportunities and challenges faced by the startups in this specific ecosystem.

What does the investment landscape need to evolve? 

During the discussion, Faza highlighted that the startup ecosystem in Iraq lacks strong venture capital (VC) presence. 

“We, at MSA Capital, are specifically looking at building partnerships with strategics that are already available in the country. Iraqi entrepreneurs are well educated, so we want leverage on that natural resource of education and awareness that the Iraqi entrepreneurs have, and help them get to where they need to go much faster by having a VC coming in to build partnerships and putting money behind their businesses,” he said.

Having role models and examples of startups that have succeeded in raising funding and exiting will help propel the ecosystem forward and attract more investors according to Faza. 

“If we look at the Jordanian ecosystem back in 1999, it was a company that had been working for 10 years called Maktoob that got bought out by Yahoo. Then the ecosystem there, all of a sudden flourished. Same thing happened with Uber’s acquisition of Careem in the UAE,” he said. “In VC lingo, it is a waterfall effect. At the end of the day, we put funds together, we promise people a return in money. And in order for that to happen, exits need to take place.”

Opportunities Vs. Challenges

Succeeding as a startup in Iraq requires operational excellence and grit and having a correct market fit, explains Raud. “I remember a girl that came up to me saying that she wanted to make home-made beautiful products and sell them online. These ideas may not be found impressive somewhere else, but they are badly needed in a nascent ecosystem like Iraq.”

“I would encourage investors, entrepreneurs to not just look at what is out there, but what is actually useful for the people,”said Rauf.

According to the panelists, financial technology (fintech) is one sector that provides various opportunities for growth for startups and is likely to attract investment over the medium to long term.

“We have lately seen a major push by the Iraqi government and the Central Bank, to push salaries into banks, and no longer handle cash to salaried recipients. This allows for the emergence of new  business models cracking the banking and financial sector,” said Rauf. 

Aligning with Raud, Faza thinks that the opportunities might also arise in the traditional oil and gas sector for startups looking to scale on a global level. Iraq has the world’s fifth largest proven oil reserves, and the 11th largest natural gas proven reserves.  

Meanwhile, outdated regulations and bureaucracy can act as key deterrents to the growth of the startup ecosystem in Iraq, said Al-Ateia.

“We need to work on changing the corporate laws in Iraq. We need new laws that make it easy for a startup to register and start their work as well as attract investors and not scare them off. I think that is the first crucial step towards a real change,” he said, stressing the need to quickly introduce laws that facilitate the work of the VCs and incubators inside the country.

 

October 20th 2020, 5:10 am

How to communicate when crisis hits

Wamda

Sean Patwell is the founder and CEO of CW8 Communications

Covid-19 exposed a truth communications practitioners have long known: no business is immune from a crisis. Thankfully, global pandemics are rare, but high profile lawsuits, financial scandals and employee relations issues are common. As Gilette and Pepsi learned to their cost last year, even a well-intentioned advertising campaign can provoke an intense backlash. For startups and scaleups, a crisis can derail growth and deter potential investors if managed incorrectly.

In a world where cancel culture is now a dominant force of social pressure, CEOs are only one poorly thought through tweet away from decimating a reputation they have spent a lifetime building.

So, how can startups manage a crisis when it hits?

Give your PR team a seat at the table from the start

Despite the fact that the PR or communications teams are the ones who will field calls from journalists for comments, senior leadership often forget about them until the last minute. This can result in mixed messages and confusion. When major decisions are set to be announced to the public, involving your staff who have media relations experience at an early stage is wise.

PR teams can predict the questions the media will ask and prepare statements and responses, ready senior leaders for interviews and press conferences, and run interference in the face of aggressive media questioning.

Deliver news with compassion, credibility and control

This is particularly true for bad news like redundancies. The tech world has managed this well during Covid and senior managers at startups can learn from how they communicate bad news. Mudassir Sheikha, CEO of Careem, wrote a lengthy note to explain how Covid-19 is impacting the company’s strategy, its current focus, why the company needs to make redundancies and how it will happen. He recognised that many of the people they need to let go are talented and contributed greatly, as well as steps to help them transition to the next stage of their careers.

Retain your authenticity, integrity and purpose

In times of crisis, it can be easy to lose sight of what is important. Don’t. People buy into startups because of the stories they tell. One reason tech companies have received accolades even as they lay off thousands of staff members is that they stayed true to their vision and mission. For the ever-expanding millennial and Gen Z workforce, living your values is not just a matter of sloganeering. It matters. Companies that describe their workforce as a family cannot get away with providing statutory minimums when it comes to redundancy.

That is why companies including Careem, AirBnb and Uber have gone above and beyond with their redundancy packages, offering significant financial compensation, maintaining health insurance for redundant employees until the end of the year, and offering retraining and transition support. How you communicate is crucial, but as always, actions speak louder than words. When you are building your reputation on the world stage, it is crucial that your values and your decisions align.

Although redundancy is just one of a myriad of crises that can hit a company, it perfectly illustrates the principle that while a crisis may be inevitable, chaos is not. In many cases, the impact of a crisis is less about its nature and more about the company’s response. If your CEO and other senior leaders have not been trained on crisis communications, the time is now.

October 20th 2020, 12:48 am

ArabyAds acquires AdFalcon

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Dubai-headquartered online advertising startups (adtech) ArabyAds, has acquired Dubai-based advertising and data platform AdFalcon.

Founded in 2013 by Mahmoud Fathy and Mohammed Khartabil, ArabyAds is an advertising intelligence firm that provides marketing solutions for companies in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region. The company also has offices in Cairo and Amman and plans to expand to Saudi Arabia.

“Our vision to become the region's first AdTech platform can only be realised by such strategic strides. We see this opportunity as the first of many to aid us in our endeavour,” said Mahmoud Fathy, chief executive officer at ArabyAds. “More than anything we are excited to have the brilliant team behind AdFalcon's technology join our family. We are thrilled to see what we will achieve together.”

As per the acquisition deal, ArabyAds will be able to utilise AdFalcon's tech-based solutions in its operations, including demand manager (DSP), bridge technology and ad network. These solutions enable clients to reach their target audience via programmatic buying, as well as support various ad formats, in addition to flexible targeting options and multiple pricing models.

In April 2019, Arabyads raised a $6.5 million Series A investment round from Equitrust, the investment arm of Choueiri Group.

Established in 2010, AdFalcon offers comprehensive mobile advertising solutions, providing its clients with audience targeting.

 

October 19th 2020, 9:57 am

Yalla Fintech Hackathon and Challenge 2020

Wamda

Fintech Galaxy and Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH have launched the virtual hackathon for financial inclusion and regulatory collaboration in the Arab region, the Yalla Fintech 2020 Hackathon.Yalla Fintech encourages and enables innovators, regulators, and other ecosystem partners from the Arab region to remotely collaborate and crowdsource solutions for key issues in financial inclusion that have become priority issues during the Pandemic:

1. Digital Lending

2. Digital Financial Awareness

3. Know-Your-Customer for Simplified Customer On-boarding

Winning proposals in each theme will be awarded prize money of EUR 5,000.00 to kick start the scaling of the solution.

Deadline for applications is November 19th, 2020

Applications will be shortlist by Novemner 26th, 2020

Hackathon will begin on December 7th until December 15th, 2020

If you would like to apply for the Hackathon, click here to register.

October 19th 2020, 5:56 am

UAE's Amanat invests in US-based BEGiN

Wamda

Source: Gulf Business

Dubai’s education and healthcare investment firm Amanat Holdings has made a Dhs18.4m ($5m) investment in BEGiN, a US-based education technology company.

The edtech company behind the early learning programme HOMER, BEGiN is focused on early childhood education via a platform aimed at children between two and eight years of age.

As part of the investment, Amanat becomes BEGiN’s principal strategic partner in the MENA region, leveraging its industry expertise and network to help drive growth in the region.

Amanat joins investors such as LEGO Ventures, Sesame Workshop, Gymboree Play & Music, 3One4 Capital, Trustbridge Partners and Interlock Partners.

“BEGiN is partnering with the largest, most recognised brands in international children’s education, entertainment, and technology to reimagine the early learning journey starting with parents and children at home,” said Neal Shenoy, CEO and co-founder of BEGiN.

The acquisition is Amanat’s first ever venture capital investment, and is in line with Amanat’s goals to invest in education and healthcare technology players. It also bolsters Amanat’s commitment to the ongoing digitisation of the education and healthcare sectors in the region.

Dr. Mohamad Hamade, CEO of Amanat, commented: “Our investment in BEGiN represents a major milestone for Amanat given the influential impact of disruptive technologies on the sectors we invest in.

“We believe this is an ideal time to invest in education and healthcare technology, to evolve our current portfolio as well as position Amanat as a strategic regional partner amongst global players in this space. We are looking at opportunities that are changing the provision of conventional academia and healthcare and we believe there is potential for further acquisitions of this nature down the line.”

Earlier this month, BEGiN launched the early learning programme, HOMER Learn & Grow, expanding the reading programme to include additional subjects including math, creativity, socio-emotional learning and critical thinking skills delivered across digital, physical and in-person learning experiences.

In 2018, Amanat Holdings acquired a 35 per cent stake in Abu Dhabi University Holding Company.

Amanat’s education platform includes Taaleem, a provider of K12 and early education in the UAE; Abu Dhabi University Holding Company, a higher education provider; and Middlesex University Dubai, the first overseas campus of the Middlesex University in London.

Amanat also owns the real estate assets of the North London Collegiate School in Dubai, UAE.

Meanwhile, Amanat’s healthcare platform includes International Medical Center (IMC), a 300-bed multi-disciplinary hospital based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; Sukoon, a provider of acute extended care, critical care and home care medical services in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; and the Royal Hospital for Women and Children (RHWC), a hospital for women and children located in Bahrain.

October 19th 2020, 5:45 am

STEP Saudi 2020

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Step Saudi 2020, Saudi's Most Happening Conference, taking place online this November 24-25, 2020. 

2,000+ startup founders, investors, digital entusiasts, creatives and more will be attending Step Saudi 2020 with over 100 startups showcasing across Fintech, Digital Media, AI, Transport, E-commerce and Foodtech.

Buy your ticket now using this discount code: WamdaStep

If you are a startup looking to virtually connect with top VCs, participate in the Statrup Basecamp, Pitch Competition, attend investor meetings, and more. Please click here

 

 

October 19th 2020, 3:55 am

JGroup invests $15 million in Dubai-based FoxPush

Wamda

Source: Khaleej times

JGroup, a Lebanon-based holding company with a vast portfolio of subsidiaries across the Middle East, Europe, Asia, and the US, has entered into a strategic partnership with Dubai-based FoxPush, the region's first company to provide a full-stack solution for publishers and digital advertisers.  Through this partnership, JGroup will invest $15 million in the Middle East's first programmatic performance technology by FoxPush and unlock its global aspirations.

Designed as a cost-efficient solution for advertisers and publishers, FoxPush will be the only supplier within the region to provide leads through the programmatic performance technology platform. The technology delivers qualified leads to brands with an aim to increase the performance of their website and the efficiency of their targeted digital campaigns. The technology leverages advanced user behavioral data and is supported by the region's first dedicated AI-driven call center and powerful video player and platform, which together contribute towards ensuring the credibility of the digital advertising performance.

Currently, FoxPush owns a data management platform and is a rich source of curated data for the Arabic audience and its publisher side solutions are used by over 50,000 websites worldwide.

This Dubai-based homegrown company has taken a giant leap within the advertising sector with its new, one-of-a-kind Programmatic Lead Generation technology that is bound to change the status quo of the whole industry. JGroup is proud to be associated with such an innovative endeavor and will raise the necessary capital and go the extra mile to ensure this particular technology penetrates the global market and ultimately is the first company based in Dubai to be a global IPO."

Imad Jomaa, founder and president of JGroup said: "FoxPush is one of the top players in digital advertising within the Middle East and North Africa region and home to more than 50,000 publishers. This Dubai-based homegrown company has taken a giant leap within the advertising sector with its new, one-of-a-kind Programmatic Lead Generation technology that is bound to change the status quo of the whole industry. JGroup is proud to be associated with such an innovative endeavor and will raise the necessary capital and go the extra mile to ensure this particular technology penetrates the global market and ultimately is the first company based in Dubai to be a global IPO."

Mohammed AlMalki, founder and CEO at FoxPush, said: "FoxPush is a fast-growing homegrown company established in Dubai since 2017. Our technology is the region's first innovative solution that makes sure every brand has valuable interactions with their target audience to improve their campaign, increases the performance of their website, and most importantly, helps meet their business goal. In line with this mission, we are pleased to have JGroup on our side. With their support, we aim to enhance this technology further and strengthen our presence globally.

"FoxPush will be the latest investment venture and an addition to the varied businesses across multiple sectors helmed by Lebanon-based JGroup, which is founded and led by serial entrepreneur, Imad Jomaa.

October 18th 2020, 4:17 am

Just #askWamda: Our new online mentorship service

Wamda

Today we are launching #askWamda our virtual service for startups in need of mentorship or advice from the team.

Over the past decade, Wamda has played a key role in encouraging and enabling entrepreneurship in the Middle East, through our thought leadership, direct investments, and the Wamda X fellowship programme. Now, we want to provide a more personal and direct service to founders in the region.

#askWamda aims to provide mentorship, advice and further insights into the topics we cover. We will pair you with the relevant member of the team to help answer your queries in a one to one Zoom call.

All you need to do is fill in this form and we will get back to you with a time to chat.

So if you want to find out more about a particular trend, or if you’re having trouble with valuing your business or need advice on how best to pitch, just #askWamda.

 

October 18th 2020, 3:43 am

How do you seize a market opportunity?

Wamda

Disaster for many evokes a sense of fear and danger and a desire to seek out safety and stability. But there are those who manage to seek out the opportunities in disasters. These people usually tend to be pioneers, innovators and risk-takers. This pandemic has caused a crisis unlike any other in modern history. Millions have suffered as a result, but there are those who have thrived and seized the market opportunities that the pandemic has brought about.

For this podcast we spoke with two companies, Sedar Global, a 128-year old company and Viromasks, a company that did not exist at the beginning of this year to get a better sense of how they seized the opportunity to produce masks and what will happen to them once a vaccine is made available.

Wamda · Episode 34 - How do you seize a market opportunity?

 

October 18th 2020, 1:58 am

Should you hire a freelance workforce?

Wamda

Marwan Abdelaziz is the chief executive officer of Ureed.com

Dell.

Amazon.

Xerox.

SAP.

What do these companies have in common? They have all shifted their models to be fully or 50 per cent remote, which means a global talent pool, increased productivity, enhanced performance and to top it all, reduced costs.

In the past, an office was considered the cornerstone of any business. Nowadays however, and thanks to the pervasiveness of various technologies, the idea of having an office is becoming more redundant and less essential. More businesses are shifting their operations virtually to leverage the benefits of having a remote workforce.

As the new remote norm emerges due to the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic situation, now more than ever, businesses are deviating from the traditional thinking that productivity is contingent upon set hours within an office environment.        Instead, the new normal points to a direction for companies to adopt a 100 per cent remote model, or at the very least, outsource many of their business needs to freelancers.

...but first, why hire freelancers when you can have a more traditional full-time workforce?

Most well-established businesses struggle to embrace the change as it is more difficult to remodel their structure or change how they work. However, the reason why startups thrive in today’s competitive world is because they are flexible enough to work with freelancers.

In fact, freelancers can offer flexibility to your startup as they can work around any of your desired schedules. Since freelancers come from all around the world, you will find that most of them can easily adjust to your time zone. They can be your on-call assistance and are typically ready and available online. Additionally, as a startup still experimenting with talent and struggling with onboarding, hiring freelancers is usually a more fitted solution as they are already familiar with your industry and require minimal supervision. This is unlike a full-time employee who still requires your attention for at least three months until they’re familiar with your system, and let’s face it, as a business owner managing a startup, you are probably spread thinly and already being pulled in too many directions.  As your time is being consumed up by accounting, operations, planning, budgeting and other management needs, it’s time to look at hiring a freelancer to allow you to get more things done and focus on your core business tasks.

When starting your own business, it is essential to keep your overheads to a minimum by ensuring that employee costs will not swallow up your whole budget. This is considered the main attraction of freelancers to business owners as their potential is proven when it comes to saving costs. Having a closer look at the cost comparison between hiring a full-time employee and a freelancer, employers are not entitled to paying additional costs to full-time workers including recruitment and training, taxes, fringe benefits such as medical insurance, paid vacation, equipment and office space. 

Where to find the right talent

Having established the benefits of hiring freelancers for your startup, it is crucial to know where to find the right talent. Hiring freelancers can be a complicated process if you are not sure of the capacities of your potential candidates, their working hours, their previous experience and scope of work. That is why making use of freelance marketplaces such as Ureed.com can make it easy for your business to recruit your team of freelancers with ease, regardless of their backgrounds, industry or scope.

The platform gives you two options to recruit. On one hand, you can post a project then wait a few minutes until freelancers start sending pitches your way. A pitch includes a description of their previous and relevant work experience, the amount and the number of days to deliver this project. On the other hand, you can search for talent yourself – using skills, location or experience level as filters, chat with the freelancers of your choice and add them to your favourites list. That way, whenever you have a new request coming up, you just post a project and immediately hire them. Most marketplaces also offer several payment methods including bank transfers, credit card and Paypal to ensure hassle-free payments. For startups, deploying a fully remote recruitment process is guaranteed to help overcome the hardships of recruitment such as time and resources wasted and accelerate internal communication.

Communication expectations

Communication expectations can leave an adverse impact on employer-freelancer relations. That is why communicating expectations and preferences is essential if you want to maintain a successful relationship with your remote team.

 

As a startup, you may not be fully used to remote onboarding or you may be doing it for the first time, this is why you need to build a comprehensive brief with all the necessary details your freelancer needs to know, all the files they need to have and all the project requirements.

 

Once hired, communication with your freelancer is also a key to success. It is important to keep all communication on the platform. That way, both your rights and the freelancers’ are secured just in case any issue arises.

 

Overall, it is critical to have a complete process during which employers and freelancers can set expectations and exchange information before working together. Finally, provide the freelancer with solicit feedback that could be useful for future projects.

 

To sum it up,

It seems inevitable that we will be witnessing a movement towards remote working and hiring gig workers in the foreseeable future. Many business practices such as hiring full time workers will need to be cast aside to make room for new ways of operations. Therefore, it is essential for startups to adapt to such new change by leveraging on the services of freelancers especially post-Covid-19.

 

October 14th 2020, 9:08 pm

MARJ3 secures seed funding

Wamda

Cairo-based education technology (edtech) platform MARJ3 has raised a seed investment round led by Expert DOJO, US-based investment firm, and joined by a number of angel investors. The amount of the funding was not disclosed.

MARJ3 was founded in 2016 when CEO and co-founder Sami Al-Ahmad was working on an initiative encouraging Syrians to complete their education. The platform works to help students across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region to find and connect with educational opportunities and access internationally-accredited courses. It currently attracts 2.4 million monthly visits from students eager to explore the opportunities listed on MARJ3 which reached more than 10,000.

“Covid-19 caused a forced transformation to learning, accelerating it to advanced learning. Universities that did not have the infrastructure to transform faced challenges,” Al-Ahmed told Wamda.

“Overall, universities saw changes to their competitive advantages, if a university was known for its great campus, it became not as important as offering flexible learning. This changed the user behaviour and made traditional methods of learning inefficient,” he added. “Over the last few years, we have been working to create a virtual market tailored to the regional culture.”

This new investment is aimed to support MARJ3’s blended business model and boost the growth of universities onboarding to the platform from all over the world. Additionally, it will help accelerate MARJ3’s team expansion plan in line with the increasing demand.

The investment comes soon after the platform released a major update, MARJ3 2.0 Beta, which created three departments, the first is MARJ3 Education, a major directory of universities around the world for users to screen through; the second is MARJ3 courses, a database for online courses that enables students to enrol in global courses; and the third is MARJ3 scholarships, which features both educational scholarships and funded opportunities for trainings, programmes, grants and accelerators targeted at youth.

MARJ3 saw a 15x revenue growth during Covid-19, reflecting universities eagerness to shift online quickly in response to the lockdown measures.

“The need for online adoption is significantly increasing. Our assumption is that we will see exponential growth over the upcoming months in universities onboarding and number of users. Universities have seen an effective way for recruiting students it is unlikely they will revert to traditional methods after Covid-19 is over,” said Al-Ahmad added.

MARJ3 targeted international investors for this round as the platform eyes further global expansion over the next few months.“Expert DOJO are so pleased to have invested in what we believe is going to be the ground zero for educational information globally. This team is poised for explosive growth over the 12 months and we are looking forward to supporting them with funds and connections ongoing,” said Brian Mac Mahon, CEO of Experts DOJO.

October 14th 2020, 9:48 am

Emirates Angels Investors Association launched

Wamda

Source: Trade Arabia 
 

To boost the UAE economy’s competitiveness, a group of young investors has launched the ‘Emirates Angels Investors Association’ to help accelerate the growth of start-ups and facilitate investors’ investment and entrepreneurship in the country. 

 

Registered with the Ministry of Community Development and supported by the Ministry of Economy, the Abu Dhabi-based non-profit organisation will primarily focus on launching training programmes, as well as activities that would attract and stimulate investment initiatives. 

 

The Emirates Angels Investors Association has brought together some of the country’s leading young local investors to connect innovators and thought leaders with investors and bridge existing gaps. The Board members were elected in the presence of the Ministry of Community Development, where Masaood Rahma Al Masaood was chosen as Chairman, Sameh Al Qubaisi as Vice Chairman, and Ali Sajwani, Mohammed Al Nowais, Yousif Al Mulla, Mohammed Al Owais, and Tarek Al Nuaimi as Board members. The association seeks to create a common platform for both to share their experiences and best practises, as well as to develop an integrated network that can attract new investors and support start-ups, develop business, and encourage investments in UAE.    

 

Masaood Rahma Al Masaood, Chairman, Emirates Angels Investors Association, said: “The Association envisions to transform innovative and creative ideas into feasible investments in vital sectors and empower innovators and thought leaders by providing them with an interactive platform, training and investment opportunities that contribute to boosting entrepreneurship and start-ups. 

 

“We are keen to build a wide network of investment advisors that are committed to work together in enhancing the UAE business environment to become one that encourages creativity and innovation and invest in science and technology, as well as research and development. We are confident that, in partnership with government and private sectors, we will extend the needed support to start-ups, SMEs, and entrepreneurs."    

 

The Emirates Angels Investors Association is poised to take the lead in promoting the culture of angel investing in the UAE as well as promoting the concepts of entrepreneurship and freelance work. It is set to initiate several awareness programmes that will encourage startups to present their projects and attract the interest of capital investors coming from a network of business leaders and stakeholders.

 

Furthermore, the Association will lead some initiatives to help develop an integrated system which could guide companies investing in new enterprises, as well as build a database for angel investors that contribute to national projects. It will also coordinate with concerned ministries and departments and contribute ways to help grow the national economy. 

 

The Association will also submit reports and updates that will be regularly shared with the UAE’s economic and business organisations to highlight the needs and interests of the various industries, as well as angel investors’ expertise and opinions.

October 14th 2020, 6:16 am

#askwamda

Wamda

#askWamda is Wamda's virtual service for startups in need of mentorship or advice from the Wamda team.

Please fill in this form, and send us your questions, we will set up a Zoom call with you to answer your queries, support with any of the obstacles you may be facing as a founder in Mena. Once we receive your form, we will revert back with a confirmation email with the details.

*Please note, this is not for investment pitches. Please send your pitch decks to info@wamdacapital.com

October 14th 2020, 3:46 am

Google launches accelerator for startups in Mena

Wamda

Google is launching a new accelerator programme for startups in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena). The three month programme will begin in November with a cohort of 15 startups from across the region. 

The Google for Startups Accelerator Programme is a global initiative that provides mentoring and support from a combination of Google’s own and external mentors alongside workshops, assistance with technology, product, design and leadership training. The company is also offering $1.1 million worth of Google.org financial grants to organisations like Mercy Corps, Arab Tourism Organisation and Youth Business International, to mentor businesses and entrepreneurs across the region.

“We did this [accelerator] in Latin America and it was transformational,” said Lino Cattaruzzi, managing director for Google Mena. “This is the first time we are launching this here, it is the most comprehensive programme we have. We have a huge angle on the tech side and we see this as an enabler programme. We look for an amplifying effect...we are trying to focus on the impact these companies will have in the space they operate.”

The accelerator is part of a wider initiative, “Grow Stronger with Google”, which was announced today to help boost the Middle East’s economic recovery through digital transformation by offering digital tools, training and financial grants to support local businesses and job seekers.

The company is attempting to ease access to capital by offering $3 million in loans to support thousands of underserved small businesses ($2 million of this will go to Egypt) in partnership with Kiva, an online lending platform. 

The Grow Stronger with Google initiative also includes the launch of Market Finder, a product that helps local retailers identify new markets and acquire global customers. It is aiming to get 50,000 local businesses online, particularly those in retail and tourism, by listing them on Google my Business and training them in digital marketing. Data from Google shows that searches related to online shopping rose by 36 per cent in the UAE, 28 per cent in Saudi Arabia and 43 per cent in Egypt. 

“Online shopping has grown by 65 per cent over the last few months. Reaching new audiences by exporting abroad should be easier, it should not be just for medium and big businesses,” said Cattaruzzi.

Google is also pledging to help one million people and businesses in Mena learn digital skills and grow their businesses by the end of 2021. 

"Online tools have been a life-line for many during the pandemic. Making the most of the online opportunity can help people, businesses and communities in the UAE and in the wider region bounce back stronger,” said Cattaruzzi. “Through our programme, we will help people learn new skills and find jobs, and help businesses grow online, especially those in the retail and tourism sectors that have been most affected. We remain fundamentally optimistic about the future of this region, and confident that working together with local partners, we can boost recovery and build on the rapid acceleration of tech adoption we’ve seen during the crisis."

According to Kearney Middle East, consumers in Saudi Arabia have been spending 95 per cent more time online because of the pandemic, while those in the UAE have been spending 79 per cent more time. 

October 14th 2020, 12:11 am

Restaurant chain to cloud kitchens: Man'oushe Street's evolution to kaykroo

Wamda

Cloud Kitchen and virtual brands operator kaykroo has launched today with 15 locations in the UAE following a $4 million pre-Series A funding round.

Spearheaded by Jihad El-Eit, kaykroo is an evolution of El-Eit’s Man’oushe Street chain of restaurants, which have all been converted to delivery-only kitchens, housing several virtual restaurant brands including Bak Bak Chicken, Wrapped and Hummus Brothers. The funding round was led primarily by family offices in the region and will be used to fuel kaykroo’s expansion into Saudi Arabia.

The restaurant and hospitality sector has suffered dramatically over the past few months, initially with lockdown, now with the slowdown in tourism. Empty tables are a common sight and data from Eat App suggests that dine-in numbers are 55 per cent below pre-Covid levels in the UAE.

Delivery became a lifeline for restaurants during lockdown, spurring a growth in delivery apps and cloud kitchens, which offered restaurants the ability to expand their delivery reach and provided a cheaper alternative to hefty brick and mortar rent. The region’s appetite for food delivery remains unsatiated, with the sector set to be worth $4 billion by the end of this year according to Statista. kaykroo alone has fulfilled one million orders since the start of 2020 and the company is not alone in its transition to the virtual brand space.

Dubai-based Food to Go, which initially launched as a cloud kitchen has moved into developing its own virtual restaurants, while Sweetheart Kitchen, which recently announced a $17.7 million Series C funding round has been aggressive in its expansion plans. Even Majid Al Futtaim, developer of the Mall of Emirates is looking into establishing its own cloud kitchens.

El-Eit’s foray into the food sector began with Man’oushe Street, a brick and mortar restaurant launched in 2010 that grew to 30 locations at its height and expanded to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman and Jordan. As online food delivery began to take off in the Middle East, Man’oushe Street’s focus also began to shift to delivery which grew to account for 80 per cent of its business. Even before the pandemic, El-Eit was moving towards the delivery only model.

“I started seeing the direction globally going to cloud kitchens and last year I decided to really master the delivery operation,” he says.

And so El-Eit decided to maximise the output of Man’oushe Street’s kitchens and use them to cook foods for virtual restaurant brands that he created. The same chef could produce items from several menus, in the same location, all sold on food ordering platforms like Deliveroo and Talabat. He launched several brands, experimenting with menus that specialise in a single cuisine and analysed customer feedback to determine their preferences. Today, the company has 10 virtual brands and a workforce of 400, including 100 delivery drivers. 

On average, it takes just one month from idea to launch for a virtual restaurant, whereas a brick and mortar restaurant can take at least four to five months to open.

“The requirement is to build a brand that builds appetite. You don’t want to create a master brand and then create sub brands and compromise on quality. Our essence is quality, value proposition and level of service. We always make sure when we talk about the brand, we talk about the full experience,” he says.

So much of this brand building for virtual restaurants happens online, particularly on social media and they require vast marketing budgets to gain visibility on the food ordering platforms. As such, they behave more like data-driven e-commerce companies than restaurants and cloud kitchens today all highlight the importance of technology in their operations. Many of them use technology for quality control and monitoring supplies, but mostly it is in data collation and analysis where it plays the biggest role.  

“You’re seeing a lot of people coming to the delivery cloud kitchen space, but our model is different. We have our own tech which helps us be ahead of the game. Algorithms gives us a head’s up in terms of customer preference and community preference. We track the behaviour of the consumer and the market trends and customise trends to adjust to the consumer’s needs. This is the beauty of virtual brands, we understand the market is changing and we can adapt, technology helps you to accelerate the process.”

In fact, data is so crucial to the virtual brands, that “without it, you would become blind”, says El-Eit.

“With AI and machine learning, it allows us to really understand every single step of the process from the pre-ordering to the ordering. Knowing what you want, at what time, understanding your moods, behaviour, your order history, we can predict what you want, your diet. It gives us visibility,” says El-Eit. “Every single tech between your hands today is all about psychology and understanding your behaviour whether it is Instagram or Facebook, but as much as we are a tech company, we are a food company and we want to make sure we are marrying these two.”

But kaykroo is not giving up on the brick and mortar presence entirely. The company is looking to launch a “digital food hall”, a physical location where customers can dine in and order any dish from their roster of virtual brands, something it defines as a brick and click model.

“It is part of our strategy of building experiences. It helps to create awareness and is a bridge between the consumer and brand for longevity. The offline element is very important, look at all the trends happening worldwide with the big tech companies like Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, they’re building a very big portfolio of brands and to make sure you get the experience, they’re creating a physical location for you to get closer to the product and brand,” says El-Eit.

The digital food hall, the first of which will be launched in Dubai Silicon Oasis in December this year, will have minimum staff and instead customers will be able to order using a digital interface.

“You can survive and interact with a brand virtually, but it is important to give life in front of you in an economic way,” he says. “Dine in customers spend more, but the delivery customer is more valuable if you succeed in retaining them, you will make more money in the long term.”

 

October 13th 2020, 4:05 am

Hub71, Bpifrance set to unlock funding opportunities for startups

Wamda

Source: WAM

Hub71, Abu Dhabi’s global tech ecosystem powered by Mubadala Investment Company, has forged a strategic partnership with French national investment bank, Bpifrance, to strengthen joint efforts that boost innovation and provide mutually beneficial opportunities for tech startups, companies and entrepreneurs in Abu Dhabi and France.

The agreement will foster close collaboration between Hub71 and Bpifrance that will bridge the gap between the dynamic tech ecosystems of Abu Dhabi and Paris, said HUB71 in a statement on Monday.

The global tech ecosystem and French investment bank have agreed to explore launching programmes that immerse select startups in the Abu Dhabi and French tech ecosystems, offering the successful startup applicants with access to mentorship, meetings with potential partners and opportunities to pitch investors.

Each programme aims to develop new and innovative technology products and services designed for the UAE and French markets. Hub71 and Bpifrance have also agreed to explore co-investment opportunities in startups.

Commenting on the announcement, Hanan Harhara Al Yafei, CEO at Hub71, said, "Bpifrance shares our long-term commitment of promoting entrepreneurship, ensuring French startups can arrive in Abu Dhabi’s Hub71 and use our dynamic ecosystem as a springboard to a prosperous Middle East and North Africa region."

In turn, Khaled Al Shamlan, Head of Sovereign Investment Partnerships – Mubadala Capital, Mubadala Investment Company, said, "We fully support Hub71’s new agreement with Bpifrance as it builds on our strategic relationship with the investment bank to raise funding opportunities for lucrative French tech businesses that can deliver significant returns on investment.

"As a global investor, we are proud to have a long and successful record of supporting French businesses, and our goal remains to provide investment opportunities for the latest crop of innovate French companies in the MENA markets."

For his part, Nicolas Dufourcq, CEO at Bpifrance, commented, "France is a hotbed for tech innovation with a deep talent pool, world-class universities and research institutions, and with 10,000 startups in various sectors, the French startup scene is thriving.

"Pooling our resources together with Hub71 creates an attractive value proposition that will help Abu Dhabi-based startups and entrepreneurs thrive in France."

The MoU builds on a 10-year Bilateral Roadmap between the UAE and France which in addition to Mubadala Investment Company’s, strategic partner of Hub71 and one of the world’s leading sovereign wealth funds, is, anchor investor in the LAC I Fund, a multibillion fund managed by Bpifrance which aims to raise €10 billion.

Bpifrance aims to contribute to economic development and promote growth for companies of all sizes, through innovation, financing products for corporate development and consulting. The bank also supports non-French companies by matching them with potential investors and partners, helping them build strategic tech partnerships and helping global startups enter France.

October 12th 2020, 7:00 am

Retailo raises $2.3 million pre-seed

Wamda

Saudi Arabia-based e-commerce platform Retailo, has raised $2.3 million in a pre-seed round, led by Shorooq Partners, with participation from 500 Startups and 92-Ventures. The startup is also backed by strategic angels from the region’s top startups and leading management consulting firms.

Co-founded in September by Talha Ansari, Mohammad Nowkhaiz and Wahaj Ahmed, Retailo provides a one-stop-shop for SMEs and small retailers, enabling them to discover products and order them immediately. The B2B startup looks to empower the 10 million SMEs in the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan (MENAP) region with real-time data and technology in order to make their retail supply chain more agile and flexible. 

“We strongly believe in creating an impact in the lives of people by giving them opportunities to improve their earning potential. The MENAP region has a significant opportunity to increase its economic prosperity by unlocking the productivity delta that exists between the region and global benchmarks,” said the founders. "MENAP is home to 700 million individuals and 10 millions SMEs, and its unorganised retail sector presents the perfect opportunity to increase the efficiency of the supply chain by utilising technology and real-time data.”

The startup is operational in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The size of the retail market in these two markets is valued at $100 billion according to Retailo.

“Seed stage investing is all about backing the right people. We have looked at this space deeply and are proud to invest in the dream team behind Retailo who we believe can successfully build a strong, regional and international business,” said Shane Shine, founding partner at Shorooq.

“While they operate one of the fastest-scaling business models in the world, their success means millions of SMEs and rural populations are more productive and have more stability and food security. Technology can impact the next billion, and we’re already seeing it here with what Retailo had been doing,” said Khailee Ng, managing partner at 500 Startups.

 

October 12th 2020, 5:30 am

New VC fund to invest $60 million in 120 Mena startups

Wamda

The former managing partners of 500 Startups Mena (500 Falcons) Sharif El-Badawi and Hasan Haider have launched a new venture capital fund, Plus Venture Capital (+VC), with a target fund size of $60 million.

With its headquarters in Bahrain and offices in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt, +VC is planning to invest in 120 early-stage startups across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region, focusing on tech and tech-enabled startups across a variety of sectors, including fintech, healthtech, edtech, logistics, content and e-commerce.

“The Mena startup scene, rather than being crushed by the pandemic, has bounced back with renewed vigour. Major market slumps usually lead to big rebounds –the 2008 financial crash is just the most recent example. Tech companies emerged the clear winners from the last downturn, and this time around the Middle East is ideally placed to leapfrog other major startup economies as the recovery gets underway,” said Haider.

Haider has been investing in startups in the region for the past 10 years and has worked in venture capital in Silicon Valley and Mena region. He also established one of the first angel investment groups in the region. El-Badawi, who brings 25 years of technology and growth experience to the firm and has worked at several Internet companies since the mid-90s in Silicon Valley, including Google, before moving to the region to focus on startup investing.  

According to the fund managers, the VC capital being poured in the Mena startups is barely keeping up with the pace of innovation witnessed in the region, especially amid the anticipated boom in the tech sector in the post-Covid19 era. 

“Money is flowing into the region at an unprecedented rate, but is still just barely keeping up with the pace of Middle Eastern innovation. Mena’s agile startups and entrepreneurs are racing to develop new solutions in fields as varied as healthtech, fintech and edtech that meet the fast-evolving consumer needs of the Covid era,” said Haider. 

The Mena region is fast emerging as a key startup ecosystem, having seen several recent exits including the $3 billion acquisition of Careem by Uber in 2019 and Souq by Amazon in 2017. The region offers a young, highly connected market of more than 400 million people with similar cultures and languages.

According to regional data platform MAGNiTT, as much as $659 million was invested in Mena-based startups in the first half of 2020, representing a staggering 95 per cent of total venture investments in 2019. 

“With our team having invested in many startups over the years, we can provide the right level of support to the founders that we invest in. Our founders can expect deep support from experienced practitioners as well as access to a unique network of operators, mentors and investors,” said El-Badawi. “We look forward to partnering with extraordinary and innovative entrepreneurs to help build successful businesses and contribute to a vibrant regional economy.”

October 12th 2020, 1:26 am

NowPay raises $2.1 million seed

Wamda

Cairo-based financial technology (fintech) startup NowPay, has raised $2.1 million in a seed investment round led by Foundation Ventures and Endure Capital along with investors from the US, UAE, China and Egypt, with participation from a group of angel investors.

Founded in 2019 by Mostafa Ashour and Ahmed Sabry, NowPay focuses on developing financial wellness solutions for corporate employees in emerging markets.

“During the peak of Covid-19 lockdowns, we are proud to have had well-known and eminent investors back us, signaling trust in our business concept and our team. Saving, spending, budgeting, and borrowing, are our four pillars of financial wellness,” said Mostafa Ashour, co-founder and CEO of NowPay.

"Financial stress plays a major role as a top distraction for employees. NowPay bridges that gap and provides several benefits for employers that choose to proactively address this area of employee wellness. Particularly in recent months, NowPay helped empower both the employees and employers alike. We want to improve every financial aspect for employees and make financial inclusion a reality."

The company claims to have managed salaries in excess of $100 million with a 60 per cent month-over-month growth rate. It has integrated its platform with the likes of SODIC, Wadi Degla, Domty and AXA.

"We have a very strong pipeline with many more big names waiting to onboard our platform and we look forward to forging ahead as pioneers in this space,” added Ashour.

The new funds will enable the company to develop its platform, grow its team, and expand regionally. 

“There is an asymmetry between expenses and income, which puts a lot of stress on employee’s morale, and hampers productivity. We are thrilled to join NowPay’s incredible team on this journey of empowering employees with the happiness and wellness that financial stability provides,” said Ziyad Hamdy, managing partner at Foundation Ventures.

October 11th 2020, 5:20 am

Sweetheart Kitchen CEO leads its €15 million Series C round

Wamda

Dubai-based cloud kitchen operator Sweetheart Kitchen, today announced the raise of €15 million ($17.7 million) in Series C funding, a round that is backed by “strategic investors” and led by the company’s own chief executive, Peter Schatzberg.

The funds will be used to fuel the cloud kitchen’s growth and optimise its food delivery supply technology.

“We invest most of our funding into supply chain technology, food design and hiring talent,” said Schatzberg. “This will continue into 2021, as we are just 15 months old and we are still perfecting our business model. Scaling units is certainly one important objective for us, but we are also investing in streamlining our processes and systems to achieve profitability. We look forward to even more milestones in this next stage of the company’s growth.”

Having previously raised €21 million and launched 30 brands, the company now plans to launch five additional brands, and have 12 units live in the UAE and seven units live in Kuwait by Q1, 2021 with more expansion in the pipeline into Saudi Arabia in the second half of 2021.

“We are excited to relaunch in Kuwait after the pandemic lockdown measures prevented us from scaling earlier this year. It’s a great market for delivery where product innovation is valued by the consumer. We plan on re-opening in January with seven kitchens and on covering over 75 per cent of Kuwait by the end of Q2-2021 with our new brands,” said Adib Samara, vice president head of marketing at Sweetheart Kitchen.

The cloud kitchen space in the GCC is one of the fastest growing areas of the foodtech sector, fuelled by the high demand in food delivery in the region. 

October 11th 2020, 3:02 am

Small business will be the engine of the Gulf’s post-lockdown recovery

Wamda

Pakiza Abdulrahman is the manager of Startup Business Development, Bahrain Economic Development Board

Across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), governments are tentatively beginning to reopen their economies. Restaurants are once again accepting bookings for socially-distanced, outdoor dining; offices are getting busier and even border restrictions are gradually loosening. The King Fahad causeway – one of the busiest crossings in the Middle East, which connects Saudi Arabia to Bahrain – is now allowing the passage of passengers with precautionary measures. Throughout the GCC, governments are surveying the economic impact of robust, regionwide lockdown and quarantine measures. Now they are turning their attention to the future, to the question of recovery and driving sustainable economic growth.

Even before the paradigm shifting effects of the Covid-19 pandemic were felt, the GCC was undergoing a major upheaval. Near unprecedented economic diversification efforts were already underway as governments across the region raced to realign their economies away from hydrocarbons and towards the fast-evolving needs of the digital era. Forward looking regulations which encourage innovation, like “Cloud First” policy implemented in Bahrain, are being introduced along with the localisation of emerging digital trends in order to match our unique needs in the GCC. Increasingly, the focus has shifted to small business, with the growth and attraction of startups, scaleups and SMEs coming to the foreground of regionwide strategies to build tech and startup ecosystems from scratch.

Look to Saudi Arabia where now SMEs constitute a staggering 99 per cent of businesses and provide 64 per cent of total employment in the Kingdom. Under Saudi Vision 2030, the Kingdom plans to raise the contribution of SMEs from the current 20 per cent of GDP to 35 per cent by facilitating their access to funding and encouraging financial institutions to allocate up to 20 per cent of overall loans to them. And look to the UAE, where last year the Ministry of Economy estimated that the SME sector represents more than 98 per cent of the total number of companies operating in the UAE and contributes some 52 per cent of non-oil gross domestic product (GDP) – a figure the ministry wants to increase to 60 per cent by 2021. In Bahrain too, SMEs have proven to be a key pillar in the economic diversification strategy, as well as playing a major role in job creation and emerging as an increasingly significant contributor to national GDP. This prompted a recent Cabinet decision to boost public spending in the sector.

Small wonder then that SMEs have come front and centre of regionwide unprecedented support packages to mitigate the effects of Covid-19. For example, the Bahrain government recently announced plans to subsidise electricity bills for SMEs to the tune of BHD24 million ($63.7 million) to help bolster national economic growth. This was followed by an announcement from the Bahrain Tender Board in August that in the first half of the year it had awarded a record 47 public tenders worth a combined $21.8 million to SMEs in the Kingdom.

This comes against a backdrop of a regionwide surge in commercial registrations, which have seen triple-digit increases in recent months with tender boards across the region awarding tens of millions of dollars in contracts to these enterprises. In Bahrain, the number of commercial registrations soared by 109 per cent in June alone. In other words, governments are doubling down on their support for what was already a priority segment for most major GCC economies and we are now seeing the results: an SME and startup “boom” driven by a new wave of entrepreneurs and business people emboldened by clear government support for small business in these uncertain times.

Governments must not let up in their support. They have correctly identified startups and SMEs as key drivers of sustainable economic diversification. Now, small business will be the engine of the Gulf’s post-lockdown recovery too.

October 10th 2020, 10:18 pm

dreevo launches in Egypt after raising pre-seed investment

Wamda

Egypt-based last mile delivery startup dreevo has launched its operations after raising a six-digit pre-seed investment from EF Logistics, a third-party logistics service provider.

dreevo will cover all of Egypt and is currently operational in 22 cities across the country. The startup hopes to simplify the e-commerce business cycle for both merchants and customers, offering its clients door-to-door delivery, warehousing and fulfillment, pick up stations, choose and return services, all of which can be customised to cater to the merchant’s business model.

“We are positioning ourselves to be the partner of choice for all e-commerce startups and merchants in the region,” said Sameh Shaheen, CEO at dreevo.

The investment will be used to introduce new services in the market and expand into the Middle East and North Africa region in the near future.

“dreevo represents the next logical step in our evolution as a third party logistics provider. With their emphasis on advanced analytics combined with the calibre of team assembled, coupled with our own experience in the logistics field; we have no doubt that dreevo will flourish into a regional market leader in the growing market of last mile delivery solutions,” said Ahmed El Zahwi, CEO at EF Logistics.

October 8th 2020, 8:56 am

Floward raises $2.75 million

Wamda

Kuwait-based flower and gift delivery service Floward has raised a $2.75 million investment round led by Saudi Arabia’s Impact46 with participation from Faith Capital, BNK and other regional companies.

Founded in 2017 by Faith Capital’s Abdulaziz al-Loughani, Floward offers its users fresh flowers and gifts online, a sector that has traditionally been dominated by the offline. The startup has been able to grow its current annualised revenue to more than $30 million. This latest round now pushes the startups total funding to $7 million.

“Three founders from different backgrounds and different countries came together and dominated the gifting and flowers business over the course of three years,” said Abdulaziz Alomran, founding partner of Impact46. “This is the Khaliji dream-team.”

Floward currently operates in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE and plans to launch in six more cities in the region before the end of the year.

October 8th 2020, 8:44 am

14th edition of MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Startup Competition

Wamda

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 prize money in equity free fund and benefit from a range of other activities including top tier training, mentorship, coaching, media exposure and great networking opportunities. 

Applications are now open and will close on December 15th, 2020. If you are a startup and interested in applying, click here to register. 

October 8th 2020, 8:44 am

You are going to fail and that's OK

Wamda

Tarek Ghobar, founder of PointCheckout shares his experience of failing

The startup world is like dancing around a huge minefield with no protective gear on, it is only a matter of time until one gets you. The odd thing though is that every founder entering this minefield does so willingly, and few can say they do not know what to expect going in. 

The chances of a startup succeeding is extremely small, under 10 per cent small, with the chance of it being wildly successful unicorn being much, much smaller. The signs are all over the place too, startup failure statistics are clear year over year, and investors with over 15 per cent success rate in their deployed capital are “leaders”, meaning they are telling startups in advance while writing the cheque that they probably will not make it. Perhaps most impactful, founders hear it from enough family, friends, advisors, “are you sure? Isn't a stable job better? Maybe the market conditions are not the best right now”, with the Middle Eastern culture of stigmatising failure being a direct culprit in why it’s a shameful thing for local entrepreneurs.

So let's talk about startup failure. If children were not encouraged to fall and fail, they would not learn to grow. If scientists stopped being funded for failed experiments they could not invent. So, it should be no different when entrepreneurs try to create a new company and do not succeed. In fact, it should be celebrated just as much as success, because it is just as critical to the development of the entire ecosystem. 

When my first startup failed, I felt alone even though there was a team around me. It was mentally tough to go through, and the thoughts of what I could have done to prevent it never stop for months afterwards. Physically the process was also draining, with no motivation to do any work and little energy to be out and about. Add to that the pressure of having to let people go, settle with suppliers (if you even can), close the office and have that dreadful chat with investors. There should be no need on top of all this for founders to have to hide from society and make excuses because failure is a taboo in the eyes of the ecosystem. 

As a company fails or shuts down, founders usually go through the same phases of grief as any other trauma or loss (yes, its trauma). It starts with depression and denial, even anger, and eventually into acceptance. It is especially critical in that first phase that the support is sought from either other founders, advisors or even investors. Family and friends are important too, however people with experience in building companies are more understanding because of their own knowledge of venture building or running a business. When I was going through my own withdrawal, I did not want to hear “you did great and we are proud of you”, I needed to understand which strategic moves were too late, which signs I missed, and what opportunities I missed to change or pivot. It might have been confronting at the time, yet it is the best way to channel emotions away from the anger at oneself and into the lack of experience at the time or in that situation instead. The longer you stay angry and depressed, the harder it will be on yourself and your surroundings. Bringing this home to your spouse or children for example will surely be felt, and it might start to affect your relationships in your wider circles as well. 

Founders rarely have a clear separation between life at work and life outside the office, it is one, intertwined long journey because we are working at night, at the dinner table and on holidays. Even the times we are not physically typing an email or writing a proposal, it certainly is being planned in the back of the mind. This makes the separation after failure that much harder to endure, because it is never just about closing the office and letting a few people go, it becomes about changing your entire lifestyle at once. Much like a divorce, everything around you will remind you of the time you were fighting hard for a proposition you believed in, and now it is no longer there and you need to find a new reality. This is where family and close friends do become important, because they were there before you started, and it is the constant you can always fall back on to rebuild. Luckily, I did have that at home, which made me appreciate the people around me much more as well. 

As time went by and I started to recreate the timeline of the last few months before having to shut down my startup, the emotions started to subside and were replaced with rational thoughts instead. This is part of acceptance, and even if it was acceptance of the missed opportunities and wrongdoings, it had become less hurtful to think and talk about. I started to seek opportunities to talk about what had happened, and even reached out to my (ex)employees, suppliers and investors to make sure they understood and were not also blaming me, many of whom I am friends with still to this day, more than 10 years later.

Moving on, my failure experience has shaped my entrepreneurial career and has become a backbone to a lot of my decision making. Going through any project, competition or experience knowing there is a safety net gives you more focus on the goal and makes the founder a bit more confident in taking calculated risks. Assuming no irresponsible behaviour has taken place in running the company, going through a startup experience knowing it is OK to fail is that safety net for entrepreneurs that more investment money can never buy. That safety starts simply with a startup ecosystem that is accommodating, understanding, and normalises startup failures. 

It is time to normalise failure in the Middle East too. It is time to support entrepreneurs who have gone through failure. We need to give them the space to talk about their experience and spread their thoughts on what did not work so that others can ask, listen and learn. With this, I am launching www.fashalna.com, a new platform focusing on startup failure stories, learnings from former founders, and other content to help entrepreneurs go into the wild with some safety net and a space to talk. Signup today, and you will be the first to know when we launch.   

 

 

October 7th 2020, 9:29 pm

IQRA’A raises pre-seed investment

Wamda

Amman-based educational technology (edtech) startup IQRA’A Audiobooks, has raised $115,000 in a pre-seed funding round.

Founded in July by Mohammad and Hasan Abusheikh, IQRA’A focuses on developing online content for schools. The startup’s aim is to support local schools speed up their transition to online education.

“With the latest developments worldwide, students were hassled into the world of online education, with neither the privilege of time to prepare for it nor suitable, up-to-date technology to support them throughout it. IQRA’A wants to bridge that gap, and build its content to ease that process for pupils,” said Mohammad Abusheikh.

The funding will go towards enhancing the company’s platform and product offering. It also looks to expand its market reach by building connections with other edtech platforms globally.

“The Covid-19 crisis has motivated our team to give their best efforts to enable students to have access to quality content while at home and stay on track with their studies. While the rest of the world was slowing down, we were speeding up,” said Hassan Abusheikh.

 

 

October 7th 2020, 2:48 am

Mena startups raised $10.9 million in September

Wamda

Investment in startups appears to be slowing for the first time this year with just $10.9 million* raised in fresh funding in September. While more deals were made compared to August and July, investors appear to be signing smaller cheques.

Historically, investments tend to slow down in September but what we may be witnessing now is the trickle effect of the economic uncertainties around the world, with investors taking a slightly more cautious approach by investing smaller amounts. This has given rise to more diverse portfolios and investors across the region have woken up to the necessity and potential of the digital sector.

This perhaps, is most evident in Iraq, a country with a nascent startup sector where two of its startups in e-commerce and delivery, received seed funding. Now, with the establishment of the country’s first angel investor network, KAPITA, more funding is expected to go into the Iraqi entrepreneurship community.

Overall in September, startups raised $10.9 million, in 30 investment deals. Leading in terms of value was Egypt with $3.36 million, of which $2 million was raised by Elves, an app-based concierge service. The six deals in the UAE amounted to $2.78 million, led primarily by Wiz Holding while the three deals in Saudi Arabia amounted to $2.25 million led by Penny.

Of the 30 investments, five were made in education technology, health tech also featured prominently with software as a service comprising six of the deals. This reflects a maturity in VC investments in the region, moving mostly towards the markets that have benefited and witnessed growth from the coronavirus pandemic as opposed to the consumer-driven startups that have dominated over the past few years.

Flat6Labs Bahrain graduated and invested in its latest cohort of eight startups, who made their investment pitches via video.

*The $10.9 million does not include the $8 million cash injection for JustClean and the recent raise from The Luxury Closet whose round is not yet closed

October 7th 2020, 2:04 am

Milango raises seed investment

Wamda

Egypt-based community management solution provider Milango, has raised an undisclosed six-figure seed funding in a round led by A15 and strategic angel investors.

Founded last February, Milango is a community management platform for gated communities. It provides its business clients with a wide range of community management tools that help them empower their businesses online. It further looks to provide all users with a cashless environment, access control, facility management, even yacht docking, and more.

“With the support of our partners and A15’s strong technology ecosystem value they add to the equation, I am confident that Milango is on the right path to bringing the smart city of the future closer to today,” said Amr Mostafa, Milango ’s newly appointed CEO. "For us, the current climate helped. The pandemic fast-tracked digital transformation across all sectors and lucky for us, we had a product that was already digitally enabling the daily lives of thousands of people across Egypt, so it was the right timing as people began to really see the need and value of our product."

The startup plans to use the funds to further expand its services to the real estate sector and enhance its product offering to beckon more developer partners. The startup’s top partners include Orascom development, EMAAR, Sodic, Almaza Bay, and Hyde Parks, among others.

“We invested in Milango because it makes sense due to the gap it is filling in the market as in digitally transforming communities whether compounds or clubs by making the experience served to its residents and members more seamless, appealing and meaningful,” said Fadi Antaki, A15’s chairman.

 

October 6th 2020, 10:14 am

GOMYCODE raises $850,00 pre-Series A round with participation from Wamda

Wamda

Wamda has participated in Tunisia-based edtech startup GoMyCode’s $850,000 in a pre-Series A investment round. The investment included participation from Meninx Holding, Anava Seed Fund and Jasminum Capital as lead investors and angel investors Dali Kilani, Béchir Tourki and Houssem Aoudi.

Launched in 2017 by Yahya and Amine Bouhlel, GOMYCODE offers an online learning platform for coding and other digital training and provides digital training tools, content creation, skills management, technical evaluation and matching with employment opportunities. It allows stakeholders to quickly and autonomously create training programmes on a wide range of skills in areas like web development, video game development, artificial intelligence, data science, UX design and business intelligence among others.        

“We started this business three years ago with an incredible team, and on a very exciting, difficult and unpredictable journey. We have trained over 5000 students, expanded to more than four sites, hired and trained a team of 62 full-time employees, built an educational platform and we are already having a strong impact on people's lives,” saidYahya Bouhlel, co-founder and CEO of GOMYCODE. 

In addition to Tunis, Sousse and Sfax, GOMYCODE opened its first Hackerspace abroad, in Algiers, and plans to use the investment to expand to Morocco, Egypt and Nigeria. its educational platform with the aim to become one of the largest developer communities in Africa and the Middle East.

“We continue to deliver on our vision of providing high level digital education with a unique learning experience that leaves lasting impressions and has a positive impact on people's lives. We will invest massively in our technology, our team and strengthen our operations” announces Amine Bouhlel, co-founder and chief operating officer at GOMYCODE.        

Based on a blended learning model, combining physical presence at the GOMYCODE Hackerspaces with online learning, GOMYCODE aims to have a strong impact in terms of talent training and to guide them to a more digitised job market and economy.

 

October 6th 2020, 3:16 am

Forty per cent of Arab youth plan to start own business

Wamda

Frustration with struggling economies, government corruption and lack of job opportunities is pushing young Arabs towards entrepreneurship according to the Arab Youth Survey 2020. The 12th annual study reveals that  40 per cent of the youth aged 18-24 across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) intend to start their own business within the next five years. The percentage is highest in the GCC countries at 55 per cent, followed by North Africa at 44 per cent then the Levant at 22 per cent.

The trend is a response to more young Arabs looking beyond traditional government and private sector jobs, as 23 per cent prefer to work for themselves when thinking about their future career, compared to 16 per cent last year. It also stems from a lack of confidence in their governments’ ability to tackle unemployment according to the survey.

Seventy-two per cent believe that finding a job now after the coronavirus is more difficult than before with 20 per cent of young Arabs saying they or someone in their family had lost their job due to Covid-19.

The findings of the independent study, conducted for ASDA’A BCW by PSB, a global  research and analytics consultancy, spotlights the opinions of young Arabs on a range of subjects including the employment, personal debt, gender rights, personal identity, foreign relations and media consumption, and political unrest that raged through parts of the region during the past year.

The survey polled 4,000 young Arab nationals aged 18 to 24 from 17 Arab states in Mena pre and during Covid-19, with a 50:50 male female split.

Nearly half of young Arabs across the region say they have considered leaving their country, frustrated with lack of opportunities and corrupt governance in their countries. When asked which country in the world they would like to live in, 46 per cent picked the UAE as their country of choice, followed by the US (33 per cent), Canada (27 per cent), the UK (27 per cent) and Germany (22 per cent).

The appeal of the UAE for young Arabs is its association with a wide range of work opportunities (36 per cent), generous salary packages (32 per cent) and a growing economy (31 per cent).

Notably, the survey showed an exponential growth among Arab youth in e-commerce adoption. Eighty per cent of young Arabs shop online frequently, compared to 71 per cent last year. In addition, 50 per cent of the surveyed youth said they are doing more shopping online during the pandemic.

October 6th 2020, 3:16 am

Flex: Delivering a technological revolution in Sudan

Wamda

In less than 20 years, Sudan has experienced a civil war resulting in the cession of South Sudan, uprisings that led to the ouster of its president Omar Al Bashir and a revolution last year that ended military rule in the country. Amid the political uncertainty, corruption and sanctions, the country’s startup ecosystem was non-existent and negligible, but the youthful determination that has brought about such change is now being channeled into entrepreneurship. 

A staggering 64 per cent of Sudan’s population is under the age of 24 and the country boasts a mobile penetration rate of 73 per cent which is fuelling the rise of tech-driven startups. Over the past few years, a small ecosystem of incubation and accelerator programmes have emerged, as well as co-working spaces and a handful of investors. 

While the Covid-19 crisis has further devastated Sudan’s economy where 47 per cent of the population still lives below the poverty line, it has fueled demand for technological solutions, especially in e-commerce and last mile delivery.

Khartoum-based Flex is one of these last mile delivery startups aiming to take advantage of the rapid growth in the e-commerce sector. Founded in July 2020, Flex has so far onboarded over 250 stores and e-commerce service providers and has processed 4000 shipments.

We spoke with Waddah Fadel, founder and CEO of Flex, to learn more about Sudan's startup ecosystem and his future outlook for the logistics sector.

Why did you launch Flex?

We’re the first app-based last mile company in the country. The other delivery companies like DHL and Aramex, they don’t cover beyond the two or three major cities and none of them are specialised in last mile. We wanted to cater to the SME sector in the country, which is booming and last mile delivery is something that is very very important and critical for e-commerce and businesses – without that they cannot survive. 

The [Covid-19] crisis has brought about rapid growth for the delivery and logistics services in Sudan. Driven by the high demand in home delivery and online shopping, especially after the lockdown. We were focusing mainly on supporting the digital transformation of our partners. 

Many commercial enterprises, companies, banks, and service providers have suddenly found themselves hard-pressed to start using reliable delivery solutions in order to reach out to their customers during and after the lockdown and ensure business continuity for their own business.

Plus, the pandemic has pushed the country towards digital payment, which in turn helps spur the growth of last mile delivery solutions like ours. 

What is the payment landscape like in the country?

Sudan is a cash-based society, but it is slowly moving to a cashless economy. There are now multiple international solutions in fintech.

Sudan also has developed its own payment infrastructure following the US embargo. At Flex, we match our system with the local payment systems, and accordingly, we are able to provide our clients with multiple payment channels.

We still accept cash, which makes up 5 per cent of our transactions right now.

Before the pandemic cash transactions [on Flex] were 55-57 per cent. We launched a campaign telling our customers we were moving to a cashless-based system, we delayed their cash payments by a day, but processed their digital payments in a few hours. Accepting cash causes governance issues, the driver needs to carry the cash, settle the transactions with the accounting department and after that we need to send it back to the supplier. It increases the need for auditing and our costs. 

What were your main challenges in founding a startup in Sudan?

Most people were used to DHL in the city and dropping off their parcels. For the SMEs, they were used to phone-based companies, they’d call them and have their parcels picked up and delivered. Because we were the first app-based delivery company, we had to do some marketing campaigns and use influencers and explain how this works. There was some resistance in the beginning, but we’re witnessing huge growth now. 

Another challenge was the culture of bookkeeping is not there yet in Sudan, so we had to do that on behalf of our customers. We provide them with bookkeeping services like a bank statement on a monthly basis. We also provide them with all the consultation needed in order for them to understand which areas of the business they need to work on improving and thus help them enhance their core capabilities in critical functions like marketing, accounting, and finance, etc.

Also it takes a very long time to register a business, it took us 6-7 weeks and finding talent was one of the big challenges. Many people have left the country so there is a shortage of talent. We have developed an internship programme with the universities which will kick off in 2021 because we believe we need a sustainable platform to keep providing us with fresh ideas and talent. 

How do you see the future of the last mile delivery sector in Sudan? 

The potential is definitely there in Sudan and the future looks bright for the sector. And it is not only the case for Sudan.

As per the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, there will be several huge infrastructure projects linking the West and East African markets together, which will help spark a new interest in the logistics sector as a whole. These countries share a lot in common; they speak the same language and even listen to the same music. We are talking about a population of 220 million in these markets combined. The potential is huge there and the need for delivery services like ours is urgent in these countries.

Besides, we have about four to five million expats that live outside Sudan, including 1.2 million who live in the GCC area. This could also present a business opportunity for us as a logistics company when it comes to handling the flow of inbound and outbound shipments. We believe the next step for our company is to expand outside Sudan.

What do you have in store for the near future? 

We are planning to expand to another five big cities in Sudan, and continue acquiring more customers and grow our corporate client base.

In the long-term, we want to end up as a super app and integrate multiple verticals. We firmly believe that these newly introduced services need a very firm and concrete foundation for logistics services. So that is why we built it in a phased manner and started off as a last mile logistics company.

The first step in the creation of our super app will be the addition of food delivery services. We have also noticed that the area of cloud kitchens is so fragmented so we want to create a platform that will enable the providers of these services to organise and streamline their operations. It will be an isolated cloud kitchens concept with multiple people cooking in their own homes, we will provide them with the ordering platform, the marketing and the delivery. 

What does Sudan’s startup ecosystem need?

Startups are the new job creators so it is important to help them. We need clear regulations that can govern this sector. Currently there are no specific laws for startups, if the government can give incentives, maybe tax-free schemes for startups, lifting of taxation for co-sharing and co-working spaces, these things will increase the job creation level. 

 

October 5th 2020, 10:14 pm

Flick raises $1 million pre-seed investment

Wamda

Egypt-based peer-to-peer (P2P) financial technology (fintech) startup Flick, has raised a $1 million a pre-seed funding round from an angel investor.

Founded in September, Flick digitises cross-border, end-to-end money transfer and hopes to launch its service early 2021. It allows both the sender and recipient to complete a money transfer from anywhere in the world without the need to visit a bank, remittance or exchange house. 

"Our team covers a great area of expertise, and we have a track record in planning, commercial and technical. We studied the market well for a year, and we received many funding offers from bodies and individuals, but our initial focus was solely on studying the market well to identify the main problems and pain points, and then worked to solve it. I now intend to focus on the quality of the customer's journey,” said Ahmad Zalat, founder and CEO of Flick.

"In the future, we are looking to cooperate with the Saudi and UAE government, PayTabs Gateway, as well as several banks in Egypt, UAE, and KSA, “ he added.

Flick will use the new funds to grow its team and boost its marketing efforts across its four key markets where large populations of the Egyptian diaspora are based in Jordan, the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. 

Last year, $26 billion was remitted to Egypt of which $18.8 billion came primarily from Egyptians living in the GCC.

 

October 4th 2020, 7:43 am

temtem launches its super app

Wamda

Algeria-based mobility startup temtem has launched its super app, temtem one.

Founded in 2017 by Kamal Haddar, the app first started off as a ride-hailing service provider and has now become the country’s first super app, providing several services on the one platform including ordering groceries, online shopping, at-home healthcare, home repairs and payment services along with ride hailing and carpooling.

“We design 100 per cent ‘made in Algeria’ products and services that serve local needs with one goal: improve people’s lives, by getting the services that matter more easily and even innovative services that do not exist elsewhere. For example, my mother who lives abroad, can now gift her sister living in Oran a mobile phone, delivered in one hour,” said Kamel Haddar, founder and CEO of temtem One.

temtem’s super app also helps merchants and stores accelerate their e-commerce growth by providing them with the opportunity to digitise their inventory and shipping processes. It also helps create more job opportunities for drivers and freelance repairers by tapping into the services that the platform now offers. 

temtem has so far serviced 200,000 customers and counts 10,000 partners on its super app.

“We are very proud to have been able to pivot quickly during the crisis and meet the changing demands of society and consumers,” said Kamel Haddar. “I was impressed by temtem One teams, who were willing and able to evolve day after day and urgently deliver the first versions of the application, despite covid-19 constraints”.

temtem is not the only mobility startup in the region that has recently evolved into a super app. The UAE’s Careem and Egypt’s Halan have also tried to counteract the travel slump caused by the Covid-19 crisis by doubling down on payment and delivery solutions. 

In June, Dubai-based Careem invested $50 million to create its supper app, consolidating delivery and payment services along with ride-hailing. 

Also, during Covid19 period, Egypt-based Halan added payment and parcel delivery service to its platform.

 

October 4th 2020, 5:59 am

Emirex Exchange raises investment from Alpha Sigma

Wamda

UAE-based Emirex Exchange has raised an undisclosed amount from US-based blockchain and crypto fund Alpha Sigma Capital (ASC).

Founded in 2019, Emirex Exchange operates in the Middle East and Asian markets from its headquarters in Dubai. The company looks to develop infrastructure that creates a new digital economy linking these markets with Africa, Europe, and eventually the United States. 

As part of the investment deal, Enzo Villani, CEO and chief investment officer of Alpha Sigma Capital, who is also a strategist for crypto and traditional exchanges such as OKEx and Nasdaq has joined the Emirex advisory board.

The exchange has grown to over 100,000 registered users with over 30,000 active traders from around the world. It has 150,000 subscribers among social networks and over 50 trading pairs listed on the exchange. 

“Alpha Sigma Capital’s partnership with Emirex comes at a key time for the company. Emirex has entered a new strategic growth phase of bringing VCs, angel investors, and strategic partners to the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) market that requires leadership with extensive blockchain development experience,” said Kirill Mishanin, chief security officer at  Emirex.

The capital will enable the company to expand into new markets and introduce more products in the decentralised finance industry.

“Emirex’s leadership and the team have extensive experience in enterprise technology, blockchain, and financial markets. We’re excited to be aligned with our partners in the Mena region and plan to leverage our exchange experience to realise the vision and deliver for our customers,” said Enzo Villani, CEO and chief investment officer at Alpha Sigma Capital.

 

October 4th 2020, 4:29 am

Falak Startups launches first startups virtual stage

Wamda

Egypt-based startup accelerator Falak Startups has unveiled its launched a virtual platform to connect startups and investors.

The digital platform enables investors to access information on the startups pitching for investment in a streamlined and interactive way, by including videos content showcasing the startups through teasers and pre-recorded pitches. It also provides an overview of its programme and developments taking place during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The digital platform was launched with the support of Egypt Ventures and the Ministry of International Cooperation.

“This platform is intended for serious active investors, VCs, funding institutions, and angel investors wanting to connect with the Falak Startups portfolio companies and in turn contributing to their growth,” said Yousef ElSammaa, CEO of Falak Startups. 

Currently, the platform hosts the Cycle 3 cohort, which will soon graduate from the Falak Startups programme.

Founded in 2018, Falak Startups runs a six-month acceleration programme, offering up to EGP 1 million($63,000) investment to seed-stage startups.

October 4th 2020, 3:58 am

The state of subscription-based businesses in Mena [Survey]

Wamda

Wamda's Research Lab and Microsoft for Startups have partnered with Subsbase, a subscribers lifecycle management and billing platform for subscription-based businesses, to launch a survey with the purpose of understanding the state of subscription based businesses across Mena from both the startup and consumer perspective. 

The findings will be published as part of a report on the state of subscription-based businesses across Mena.

If you are a startup or consumer and would like to complete the survey, please click here. 

October 4th 2020, 2:58 am

Why we need website builders in Arabic

Wamda

Selina Bieber is the senior regional director for Mena and Turkey at GoDaddy

Although digital transformation has been a crucial goal for global industries over the past decade, applications of digital technology have grown exponentially in necessity and popularity due to the current Covid-19 pandemic. More than ever, people across the globe are relying on the internet to complete daily tasks regardless of their geography, age or gender.

When considering the adoption of the internet and digital technologies, we can liken it to RogersE. M. (1962). ‘Diffusion of innovations’ theory regarding new product development. Tech-savvy people including web designers, developers, and engineers, and millennials constitute the majority of early adopters, yet today  people of all ages and working in a variety of sectors falls into the new majority having to learn the technologies and tech skills to utilise these new tools and platforms. 

In this regard, there is an opportunity for catch-up  in the region when we look at the number of Arabic speaking users online versus the number of Arabic businesses online. By bridging this gap through the launch of localised language tools, more local businesses can tap into the existing potential online.

However, the challenge of supporting an Arabic website builder is two-fold. First, there is a layer of complexity when it comes to the convergence of technology, particularly developer languages and spoken languages. At conception, the programming world needed a language standard in order to communicate and develop 'code'. This default language is English. While this is convenient for most, it also means the majority of programs, solutions, and tools have been developed in English using the Latin alphabet. This has made the enablement of a right-to-left language website a challenge from both a development and content perspective.

Secondly, from a content standpoint, English had a first-mover advantage as the internet was created by those speaking the language. As early adopters in these markets spoke English, content in the same language was produced across the world wide web. Fast forward to 2020 and Arabic is the fourth most spoken language online, highlighting the need to better cater content and websites in local Arabic language for this growing audience.

Against this backdrop, offering an Arabic website builder tool and our e-store tool is important across a few different user benefits. By making online tools available in the native language of internet users, we remove a linguistic language barrier which simultaneously provides Arabic business owners with access to the solution needed to overcome the barrier of limited languages available in technology development. For customers, they may feel more comfortable doing business with a company with a website in their native Arabic language.

Having the ability to build and publish a website in Arabic, as well as selling products and services in Arabic, both enables local businesses to get online, and allows them conduct business and engage with their customers in their native language, end to end. Looking at the share of content online, having more sites published in Arabic means there will be more information and advice available in the region’s native language.  As well as the availability of  a breadth of services and products that may not have been available previously in a customer’s local area.

At GoDaddy, we seek to empower entrepreneurs and small businesses across the world by guiding them in their journey online and recognise that the ability to unlock the potential/benefits of digital often requires some support, advice, and guidance. With the Arabic website builder, it is easier for businesses to get online.  In addition to utilising the localised content and support available, but also, giving customers the knowledge, they need to plan, build, market, and grow their online presence in Arabic language.

As we get more Arabic speaking users online, we also gather quantitative and qualitative data that allows us to gain insights on the unique habits, needs, and behaviour of the Arabic speaking users. All this serves to create a more inclusive internet and range of online tools across the entire world. 

Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, once said: “The Web does not just connect machines, it connects people.” 

As people across the region connect online, a factor that the current global situation has been a catalyst for, the potential for economic growths develops. With accessibility increasing, more examples and inspirational stories are presented with the hopes of more businesses following suit. Conversely, as more businesses and entrepreneurs find the confidence to dip their toes in the water, they can assess the value of how an online presence , can help their business grow.

Finally, as we look to the future of digital transformation, we need to consider how much has changed in this landscape. In the early 2000s, websites were seen as an online extension to corporate brand identity, but today, a website is a mutually dependent component of a broader online presence and digital marketing strategy.

I am a firm believer that through ongoing optimisations in technological personalisation, quality advertising and content, consumers will be matched with businesses they find relevant, contributing to overall economic growth, and efficiency.  

October 3rd 2020, 11:26 pm

Fintech Saudi, Flat6Labs launch fintech accelerator programme

Wamda

Source: Fintech News Middle East

Powered by startup accelerator Flat6Labs, Fintech Saudi is launching its Fintech Accelerator, an intensive 3-months innovation and entrepreneurship programme. 

The programme brings together Fintech Saudi’s market reach and Flat6Labs’ resources to provide up to ten fintech startups with the best practices, resources, and tools they need to develop and scale their solution-driven businesses. 

With the launch of the Fintech Accelerator programme, Fintech Saudi aims to empower innovative entrepreneurs who display potential within the local fintech industry. The programme will offer the companies exposure to investors and provide them with mentorship and coaching from renowned professionals with an array of skill sets.

They will also be given the chance to enhance their pitching skills and showcase their solutions at regional and global events. 

To take part in the programme, the startups must have developed innovative fintech solutions that display a clear interest in the Saudi market and have the ability to make a difference in the sector.

Participating fintech startups should also be registered as private companies, have validated business models with existing users, and generated income over the past three months. 

Interested parties can apply to be a part of the programme through Fintech Saudi’s website until the 22nd October, 2020.

“The Fintech Accelerator is an important milestone for Fintech Saudi. Over the last year we have seen a threefold increase in the number of fintech companies operating in Saudi Arabia and we want this trend to continue and contribute to the goals of Saudi Vision 2030. We are therefore delighted to collaborate with Flat6Labs to launch the Fintech Accelerator programme that will provide entrepreneurs with the key skills, support and access they need to grow their fintech business in the Kingdom,” said Nejoud Al Mulaik, Director of Fintech Saudi. 

Fintech Saudi is an initiative launched by the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA), in collaboration with the Capital Market Authority (CMA), that seeks to support development of the fintech industry in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi is witnessing the emergence of a thriving fintech ecosystem, with the local fintech industry growing at a rapid rate. Between 2017 and 2019, the value of fintech transactions increased at a rate of over 18% each year, reaching over USD 20 billion in 2019. The fintech market in Saudi Arabia is expected to reach transaction values of over USD 33 billion by 2023. 

October 1st 2020, 8:03 am

MEVP invests in Pakistan-based Bykea

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Dubai-based Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP) has participated in Pakistan-based on-demand logistics and transport startup Bykea’s $13 million series B round. This is the second time the venture capital firm has invested in the startup. 

This round was led by Prosus Ventures (formerly Naspers Ventures) and saw participation from Pakistan’s Sarmayacar. It takes the total investment raised by the startup to $22 million. 

Co-founded in 2017 by Muneeb Maayr and Abdul Mannan, Ishaq Kothawala and Rafiq Malik, Bykea is a super app that offers on-demand motor-cycle ride-hailing along with courier delivery and payment services. With 17 million two-wheelers in Pakistan, which is four times the number of cars in the country, Bykea provides millions of people an opportunity to increase their income by tapping into the sectors of transport and logistics.

“Bykea is one of the few internet businesses offering an interface in the Urdu language and we drive our competitive advantage from being highly localised. This approach has helped us become the preferred partner for part-time motorbike gig workers. Our brand is now widely used as a verb for bike taxi and 30-minute deliveries, and the fresh capital allows us to expand our network to solidify our leading position” said Muneeb Maayr, founder at Bykea.

Currently, the startup operates in three cities in Karachi, Rawalpindi, and Lahore, where it targets a combined population of 30 million people. The fresh funds will be used to expand to other cities. Bykea further plans to invest in its platform to enable cross-utilisation of its 30,000 fleet of drivers in e-commerce logistics, food and payment services in 2021.

“Pakistan is primed to experience extremely strong growth in internet services over the next decade, with a rapidly increasing middle class. This growth provides immense opportunity for companies like Bykea that are transforming big societal needs like transportation, logistics and payments through a technology-enabled platform. Bykea has already seen impressive traction in the country and with our investment will be able to execute further on their vision to become Pakistan’s super app,” said Fahd Beg, chief investment officer at Prosus.

October 1st 2020, 3:05 am

Adopting a blended learning approach for the future

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Jamal Al Jassmi is the general manager at Emirates Institute for Banking and Financial Studies (EIBFS)

As the world resets to ensure business continuity following the disruptions caused due to the Covid-19 pandemic, among the sectors most severely impacted is education. With the growing risk of infection since early-2020, governments across the world temporarily shut the doors of educational institutions in an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus that has affected more than 1.2 billion children in 186 countries.

In the face of the unprecedented shutdown, universities across the world quickly adapted to an emergency remote teaching mode to ensure academic continuity for their students. For many, the key challenge was dealing with inadequate digital infrastructure and the lack of online teaching tools. This situation also led educators to step up the scope and scale of digital transformation like never before.

Rising up to the challenge, the EIBFS launched the Insight platform, which offers about 100 courses to date and intents to add 150 courses by the end of 2021. 

Now, as schools and universities start to reopen following the easing of lockdowns, educators around the world are still grappling with an ever-evolving barrage of questions: What is the future of education going to be? Will students – or perhaps, parents - ever want to see a return to the classroom in its earlier format? And, will the existing curriculum remain relevant in a post Covid-19 world?

Given the current scenario, a blended learning approach – one that seamlessly integrates classroom and online learning - seems to be the preferred and most effective model. Undoubtedly, a blended approach will improve access to education in the UAE and across the world. Not just that, this approach, will ensure that students are kept engaged throughout and are increasingly making a connection between what is taught inside the classroom and the outside world—translating to more students becoming ready to enter the highly competitive labor market.

On the economic front, the adoption of a flexible education model will foster a culture of lifelong learning with more people taking up shorter and frequent courses to enhance their skill set to fit the current market requirements. However, for this approach to work, higher-education institutions must evolve and take a hard look at their overall learning ecosystem. 

Swift decisions need to be made to build digital capabilities, reimagine courses and ensure that online learning complements classroom learning instead of replacing it. Moreover, universities must develop new partnerships and flexible ways of working with different educational institutions around the world, to explore how tools such as Gamification, Augmented Reality (AR) and simulations fit into the larger knowledge mix.  

In this context, earlier this year, EIBFS introduced a new Leadership Development Program in collaboration with Saïd Business School, University of Oxford to equip young and aspiring local talent in the finance sector with the right skill set and empower them to take on leadership roles in the new world. Moving into 2021, EIBFS is adopting a mixed learning approach and is exploring new resources and strategies such as microlearning, flipped learning, blended learning journeys, and self-paced e-learning apart from exploring the potential of AR in training bankers.  

As educators continue to work in a concerted manner to shape a learning education model for the years ahead, the upcoming months remain crucial in terms of planning, boosting their digital infrastructure and taking into consideration what their students want. Most important, it is a time to take a step back and assess the changing needs of society and ensure that our future generation is well-equipped to pivot through any crisis, well beyond the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

 

September 30th 2020, 9:00 pm

Mango Sciences secures investment from Spartech Ventures

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UAE-based Mango Sciences, a data science company focused on emerging markets, has secured investment from Spartech Ventures, a Dubai-based venture capital firm. The investment comes as part of Mango Sciences’ current funding round. The amount of the investment was undisclosed. 

Launched in GCC last August, Mango is tackling access to precision medicine for populations overlooked in emerging markets. The company uses artificial intelligence (AI) to better understand the cost of care, improve operational efficiencies and enable personalised care for all populations through partnering with hospitals and clinics in Asia and the Middle East to unlock underutilised health insights from complex clinical data.

"We are excited about how Mango's data platform can transform care delivery for people in the GCC, catalysing clinical research and access to truly personalised care for everyone," said Amer Fatayer, managing director of Spartech Ventures. 

"Mango’s unique ability to collaborate across the healthcare ecosystem allows us to leverage data to identify unmet need and help finance innovative immunotherapies for patients where affordability is a key issue to access," said Dr Mohit Misra, chief executive officer and co-founder of Mango Sciences.

September 30th 2020, 12:32 pm

meekd.com raises seed investment

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Source: Entrepreneur

Dubai-based global online search company meekd.com has raised its first round of seed funding for an undisclosed amount from UAE-based film production and distribution company Xmovies and an angel investor.

meekd.com, a search engine that ensures that sponsored results and paid-content are not prioritized and not ranked above real organic search results, officially launched on February 1, 2019, under its Dubai Technology Entrepreneur Campus (Dtec)-based parent company AlphaNumeric Inc.

The company, which currently handles more than 200,000 searches per day and has become the highest ranked startup of the UAE as reported by Alexa’s Global Web Ranking, plans to use the funds to upgrade its IT infrastructure for continued product innovation and acquire talent to cope with user growth.

A model that contradicts the likes of Google, meekd’s search engine algorithm considers user “votes” to rank web pages, meekd co-founder and CEO Muhannad AlDarrai explained.

The search engine has handled a total of more than eight million searches so far and released a new set of features on August 1, 2020, he added. These include ‘Trending News’ that delivers “news cards”, which present stories collated from different news outlets for each trending topic and are updated every 15 minutes.

“For example if the trending story right now is ‘US elections’, you will find articles written by CNN, Fox News, Gulf News, and others, covering this specific story in one news card,” he said.

Meanwhile, search results for some specific topics like ‘UAE’ and ‘Expo 2020’ are also delivered in the form of ‘Snapshot’ information cards.

“When searching for some specific topics on meekd.com, we show our users a complete summary about that specific topic in [both] text [format as well as] photos and videos,” he explained.

“For video search, we show a variety of results from different videos and social media website like YouTube, Instagram and TikTok. We are working on refining further the video results to be as relevant as possible to the user’s query now that we’ve figured out how to scrape data from these websites, which no search engine is currently doing.”

meekd also has plans to add ‘Weather’ and ‘Dictionary’ features in the coming months.

The search engine was born after AlDarrai and his former colleague and now co-founder Sameer Nath noticed that search for regional information using a typical search engine did not deliver the most relevant or accurate results. The duo was also frustrated by pages riddled with paid-for results and sponsored listings that make is difficult for non-paying businesses to be found and attract visitors.

“We believe that the ranking of the online search results should not be controlled by corporationsand cryptic algorithms,” AlDarrai insisted.

But this was a concept that was “extremely” difficult to sell to investors.

After bootstrapping the business for close to two years, AlDarrai said he believes the funding ultimately came because of meekd’s visible and undeniable growth in search numbers.

Continue reading this story

September 30th 2020, 8:09 am

Ma’an launches its first digital funding platform

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Ma’an, a Ghadan21 accelerator programme initiative, has launched its first digital funding platform, Ma’an Contribution Platform, under its Social Investment Fund. The new platform aims to raise capital from Abu Dhabi’s community to facilitate sustainable solutions in priority areas such as health, employment and education, family and community, basic human needs and environment.

 

The platform is considered a key tool to drive contributions to Ma’an’s Social Investment Fund, it empowers Abu Dhabi’s third sector of social service groups, non-profit organisations, volunteer groups and social enterprises by creating a consant source of funding for them, and enables businesses and individuals to select and directly fund strategic projects and programmes of their choice.

 

Through the new platform, Ma’an plans to allocate contributions through relevant partners, with priority given to community-oriented programmes. It fills an essential gap between government entities and the private sector to bring the ability, experience and expertise to directly address key social challenges and priorities.

 

The platform follows the Social Investment Fund’s first programme’s model, “Together We Are Good,” which inspired Abu Dhabi residents and private companies to contribute more than Dh1 billion towards educational assistance, medical supplies and food and basic needs.

 

H.E. Salama Al Ameemi, Director General of Ma’an, said: “Through this new Social Investment Fund [initiative], we are providing a long-term foundation for us all to work together to bring the vision of our leaders to life to ensure everyone in Abu Dhabi can participate in and enjoy a healthy, sustainable and prosperous society.”

 

Fahad Al Ahbabi, Executive Director, Social Investment Fund at Ma’an, said: “We are capitalising on the technological solutions, ease of access to such platforms and the generosity of Abu Dhabi citizens and residents, which we have felt in the previous programmes launched by Ma’an. Today this platform will be at the disposal of the community to give more and be part of an integrated ecosystem that will help overcome societal challenges that the emirate might face.”

 

The Social Investment Fund campaign clearly identified through four touchpoints: raising funds, managing contributions, deploying capital in social projects and measuring the impact.

 

September 30th 2020, 1:12 am

Bahrain issues blockchain permit to UK’s Fasset

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The Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB) has given UK blockchain startup Fasset, a first-of-its-kind authorisation to test its digital solutions inside the Kingdom’s regulatory sandbox.

Founded in 2019, the financial technology (fintech) startup is a blockchain-powered marketplace for the ethical financing of sustainable infrastructure. It looks to bridge the sustainable infrastructure funding gap which the World Economic Forum estimates will reach $15 trillion by 2040.

The company offers a tokenisation service for sustainable infrastructure assets and provides an exchange platform where these tokens can be traded.

“As disruptive technologies transform industries around the world, investment in innovation is a key enabler and driver of economic growth. Bahrain’s forward-thinking regulatory approach provides an attractive environment for fintech companies to reap the benefits of our agile economy, availability of the most skilled and diverse workforces and the best value operating costs in the region. We are delighted to welcome Fasset to Bahrain and we look forward to welcoming many more fintech companies,” said Dalal Buhejji, director of business development, financial services at Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB).

The company has raised $4.7 million in pre-seed investment from strategic backers in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Singapore.

“We thank the Central Bank of Bahrain and Bahrain Economic Development Board for their continued support,” said Aziz Zainuddin, chief product officer at Fasset. “The CBB has fostered a unique and supportive setting for startups in the region to flourish and to build impactful companies of the future. The CBB granting us this authorisation is proof of the progress the Ethereum developer community has made to earn the trust of regulators worldwide. Moreover, it is testament to the pioneering and pro-innovation spirit of Bahrain, where ideas for tackling the world’s most pressing issues based on even the most cutting edge technologies are given the opportunity to take flight.”

 

September 29th 2020, 7:29 am

Miswag closes second seed round

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Iraq-based e-commerce platform Miswag has closed its second round of seed funding. The round was led by Euphrates Iraq Fund and Shwan Ibrahim Taha, chairman of Rabee Securities, with participation from the same consortium of institutional and individual investors from the Middle East and the United States that participated in the company’s first seed round in October 2019.

This round, co-ordinated by Iraq Tech Ventures, brings Miswag’s total outside capital raised to over $1 million.

Founded by Ammar Ameen in 2014, Miswag offers products ranging from cosmetics, accessories, electronics, and household goods. It has recently expanded into food and grocery items in response to the challenges Iraqis face getting daily essentials due to Covid-19.

“As the world copes with the Covid-19 pandemic, our ability to provide essential goods to Iraqis at home is more important than ever. As more Iraqis stay home, they rely upon online shopping to meet their daily needs,” said Ameen. 

Over the past year, the company has partnered with Google, Careem, Zain Cash, AsiaHawala, Switch, Cisco, and American Garden. It has achieved a steady 25 per cent growth rate month-on-month and an average of 8 million visits monthly since its first seed fund round.

“Miswag’s mission is to offer authentic products to Iraqi consumers at competitive prices, reliably delivered to their door. Investing in cutting-edge technology, Miswag has become a reliable channel for Iraqi vendors to reach customers all over the country. Our ability to attract capital from investors of this calibre is a validation of our business model and the incredible talent and dedication of the Miswag team,” said Ammar Ameen, CEO at Miswag.

These new funds will be utilised to develop the company's existing infrastructure, strengthen its technology, develop new vendor partnerships, and expand its product offering. 

“Talented and resourceful Iraqi entrepreneurs are building some of the most exciting new businesses in emerging markets. Within this space, Miswag stands out. We are thrilled to back Ammar and his team as they work to meet the everyday needs of a fast-growing and increasingly sophisticated consumer population across Iraq,” said Grant Felgenhauer of Euphrates Iraq Fund.

“In a chaotic environment like Iraq, Miswag has proven itself to be world-class in its approach to business and execution capabilities,” said Taha Mohammed Khudairi, CEO of Iraq Tech Ventures. ”We are strong believers in Miswag and in Iraq’s transition to a more digitally-driven economy. We are proud to have been part of the first syndicated investment into an Iraqi technology business.”

 

 

September 29th 2020, 6:31 am

UAE's Danube invests in India-based Financepeer

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Source: Your Story

Google-incubated education fintech startup Financepeer announced the closure of a fresh funding round of $3 million, led by a Jaipur-based NBFC, MS Fincap.

The other key investors in the round were Danube (UAE’s largest conglomerate), Aar Em Ventures, Angelbay Holdings, JITO Angel Network, and HEM Angels.

The Mumbai-based startup said the investment will be used to bolster its partnerships with educational institutions from the existing 1,800 schools to 5,000 schools in the next 12 months, to enhance its edu-fintech product offerings, accelerate product development, and enable organic growth in India.

“Raising funds during the COVID-19 pandemic depicts our strength, positivity and our commitment. During this phase, we are glad we created a positive impact in the lives of thousands of parents who were affected financially. With these fresh funding, we expect our market-leading revenues to see sustainable high growth,” said Rohit Gajbhiye, CEO of Financepeer.

“The hockey-stick growth story of Financepeer is phenomenal and is maturing in every region of the country. The visionary team at Financepeer is not only ensuring quality education but also addressing the nation-wide issue of education loans,” said Shridhar Modi, Director MS Fincap.

Founded in 2017 by Rohit Gajbhiye, Sunit Gajbhiye, Naveesh Reddy, and Debi Prasad Baral, Financepeer focuses on financing education fees and providing other education technologies.

It provides education fee loans at zero percent interest rates and the applicant gets insurance protection for a child’s lifetime education fees in case of any adverse incidents. Including the latest round, Financepeer has raised a total of $4 million in the last two years.

The startup claims to have impacted almost nine lakh students across India through education loans while more than 1,800 schools have collaborated with the startup to provide these facilities to the parents. It has a presence in more than 50 cities of India.

 

 

September 29th 2020, 6:00 am

La Reina raises seed funding

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Cairo-based online fashion rental platform La Reina, has raised an undisclosed six-figure seed round from 500 Startups, Algebra Ventures along with a group of angel investors.

Founded in 2016 by Amr Diab and Ghada Eltanawy, La Reina connects dress owners to renters directly. Currently, the platform has over 100,000 registered users.

“Though Covid-19 has triggered seismic shifts in shopping behaviour, we are impressed with how Ghada and her team have worked hard to quickly pivot its strategy to cope with this new era and keep the fashion clothing accessible to its customers. We are excited to support La Reina as they continue expanding their product offerings and forge ahead as pioneers in this fashion rental space,” said Sharif El-Badawi, managing partner at 500 Startups Middle East and North Africa. 

The company plans to use the funds to expand its team and launch its newest fashion subscription service, The Box, which provides its members with day-to-day clothing of their favourite brands delivered to their doorstep every week for a subscription fee. It allows customers to use the items and return them in a week. According to the company, The Box is specifically intended for working women, who might be time-strapped to go shopping.

“We created The Box to offer practical shopping solutions for women who lead busy lives but are also keen on looking their absolute best every single day. We want our members to become versatile in how they dress up while also encouraging them to create a very minimal wardrobe. Such an approach stresses the importance of fashion sustainability, The Box helps with decreasing the fashion footprint by 85 per cent with each subscriber making it a game-changer that shapes the future of fashion and how we consume it,” stated Eltanawy. 

 

September 29th 2020, 5:12 am

How do you create customer loyalty online?

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Niranjan Gidwani is a consultant and the former chief executive officer at Eros Group Dubai

This topic deals with how crucial it is to have the “loyalty factor” in mind while setting up a strategic plan for success of an online business model, particularly for small, medium and large size organisations and groups whose traditional business models are traditional.

In today’s world, there is no business or service on just one or two channels, even if they believe they are.

What’s more likely is companies and organisations do not fully realise just how many channels their business requires to function. The customer journey can take their audience through a number of channels, including:

Each and every individual channel requires product information. Somehow, a lot of the big companies in the world are still using legacy technologies for this, which means that someone is opening up big, bloated Excel spreadsheets and manually editing product content for dozens to hundreds of channels. This is often someone junior in marketing, or someone in IT who in all probability could be having better things to do, or an agency. Regardless, whoever is in charge of these processes may not necessarily be an expert in product data information assimilation and distribution. This also leads to high level of passing the buck when things do not fall in place with the necessary speed required in today’s world.

If this situation is so inefficient, why does it continue to happen?

It’s simple: upgrading old databases and methods in medium and large businesses can be incredibly difficult. Making real changes is not just about implementing a new tool or launching a campaign as a quick fix. Brands, distributors and retailers need to understand that the game has fundamentally changed. Manual product content management and distribution methods will not be a viable solution for any commerce business in the future.

For those individuals not personally working with product content and feeds, it’s easy to overlook just how complex and messy it can be.

In reality, it can take several weeks to understand exactly what a channel’s requirements are and then tailor the data to those requirements. Of course, this is just the basics. To drive sales and performance marketing efforts, there will need to be additional data (attributes for mobile, channel-specific attributes, or those used to better define the product) and optimisations (more clickable titles, custom labels for marketing campaign management).

A few channels can be managed manually by one intern or a junior staff member. A business with 50-100 products can definitely manage it reliably and successfully with manual spreadsheets. Now, consider the hundreds of touchpoints that a customer will reach along their journey. Preparing those, measuring their efficacy, and constantly optimising for better performance—that’s not a manual job. Nor is it one that can be achieved with an adhoc syndication strategy.

The manner in which product and supply chain of distribution is a well thought out strategy, in the same way businesses now need to be able to manage the distribution of all their content and information from a single, well-thought out central team or location. They need processes and methods that are automated, reliable, and—importantly—business user-friendly. In short, they need to turn piecemeal data distribution into a science.

Besides selling of products and services, the future, no doubt, is all about automation, data, and perfect optimisation.

Organisations and companies need to take stock of their current product information distribution methods. First, understand who is controlling the processes. Is it several members of IT, or is it completely outsourced to an agency? Or Is it a mixed responsibility between retail, IT and the brand or product team? It’s preferable to use either a good, qualified agency or bring it in-house and keep relevant marketing teams involved.

Product information should be on-brand and support the customer journey as well as performance marketing. IT alone cannot do this. We should not forget that a consistent, on-brand, and accessible product information is the basis of a positive customer experience. A positive customer experience, over time, builds the online loyalty that the business may have already attained in its offline model.

Second, understand how the data and distribution is managed. Is it being taken care of manually or is there a tool already in place? Does this tool make it easy for non-technical employees to manage the product data and save time?

Finally, companies will need to ensure that all of this product data can be easily optimised for marketing purposes.

Recent times have forced us to assess and speed up the rate of technology adoption as sectors like e-commerce have seen a hugely accelerated adoption across all industry sectors. The UAE is the region’s fastest growing e-commerce market with an increase in the count of mobile money wallets. 

Yet, if one does a deep dive of the UAE market, it is mainly the government and government related organisations, the government related companies, banks, and an extremely few private sector large groups who have truly begun to formulate their online strategies, though almost all can stake claim to having their own e-commerce website. E-commerce requires much more than simply trying to take offline capabilities online.

In a recent survey done by E-commerce Zone Dubai,  it was established that 72 per cent of businesses surveyed found their customers are making more purchases online since the start of the pandemic, 76 per cent believe that their customers prefer mobile devices and smartphones for their transactions,  62 per cent of businesses are willing to move online to reach a wider audience.

So overall, there is huge optimism and positivity about the future of online business within the UAE and in the GCC. Saudi Arabia, after its new initiatives, is a market waiting to happen.

Therefore, using the combination of the pandemic, social distancing, the large base of youth in the UAE and the region as a huge advantage factor, companies need to do more to emulate what the government does in this country, and use that as a model to rapidly speed up and grow the portion of their businesses which comes through online and omnichannel so that the loyalty that companies have built offline over the decades also begins to show online in the next couple of years.  This is more achievable if organisations begin with the end in mind in terms of what they ultimately wish to achieve online. The starting point of this exercise needs to be how to create loyalty online. Surely, in the technology side of the business, there could be failures. But the ones who dare and also succeed will have a lot to be proud of.

September 29th 2020, 4:30 am

The angel network looking to support Iraq's startup ecosystem

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Early-stage funding has long remained an issue facing startups in the Middle East. The pandemic has further exacerbated the issue with some investors now more inclined to take less risk and place their bets on established players with a proven track record.

Other investors however, now attuned to the potential of the digital sector, are beginning to emerge and several have established angel funds and networks to plug this funding gap and invest in promising pre-seed or seed startups whose tech-enabled solutions are likely to gain market traction.

Among these networks is the recently launched Iraq-based KAPITA, which is touted as the country's first angel investor network that aims to support home-grown entrepreneurs amid a faltering business landscape. 

Heading up KAPITA is chief executive Mujahed Waisi and Ali ِAl-Suhail, the network’s fund manager. The angel network is sector agnostic, but to be eligible for funding, startups must have solutions specifically designed to fit the Iraqi market. 

“There are no funding opportunities for startups to access. There is no organisation or investors that are willing to invest in startups during such an economic situation globally, including Iraq,” says Waisi. “Most of them [startups] are tech-based and they do not even have a physical location and thereby cannot get the necessary investment, especially at the earliest stages.”

The idea of establishing the angel network was already in the works for almost a year prior to the Covid-19 outbreak as a way to help the local ecosystem develop. 

“We explored setting up a fund and then investing with a war fund structure. We had talks with the World Bank and other entities about putting a fund as a VC. But looking at the current state of the Iraqi ecosystem, we found that establishing an angel network is the best funding option for the emerging entrepreneurs,” says Al-Suhail.

With the world’s second largest proven oil reserves, a gross domestic product (GDP) of $224 billion and a population of 40 million of which almost half are below the age of 19, Iraq’s economy at the surface seems to be thriving. But corruption is rife, the World Bank ranks the country 170 out of 175 in the corruption perceptions index ranking by Transparency International and while the oil sector accounts for 90 per cent of government revenue, it employs just 1 per cent of the population. For those with the ideas and access to some capital, entrepreneurship has proven to be a way to escape the high levels of unemployment, but the ecosystem is still very nascent and underdeveloped.

The establishment of a network like KAPITA can have a substantial impact on the ecosystem. For KAPITA, its agenda goes beyond investment and focuses on enhancing founder capabilities. Through the network, founding teams will undergo an incubation programme to help them take their business from the idea stage to a revenue-generating business. 

“The network will also serve as a place where entrepreneurs as well as investors can seek mentorship. It helps both founders and investors develop an understanding of the different practices across the ecosystem and at the same time, it gives the investor the opportunity to learn about investment best case practices so they can have the confidence to go and invest even outside of the network and start thinking about better ways to invest and help the ecosystem grow.

Iraq’s private sector is dominated by a family business and now as the second generation starts taking the reins, they are becoming more interested in the tech sector and are looking to diversify their investments. The problem however, is “they do not know exactly the right mechanisms or how to do proper investment into the sector”, says Al-Suhail. 

Part of this interest in tech startups has been driven by the coronavirus pandemic, which has given rise to the gig economy in Iraq.  

“Most of the tech startups are focusing on the business-to-consumer (B2C) services, and there is a big window for so many software-as-a-service (SaaS) startups related to providing services business-to-business. Because now, most Iraqi companies and even the public and private sector companies need to promptly digitise their businesses,” says Waisi. 

E-commerce and online marketplaces are gaining momentum due to the pandemic with people turning to social media platforms to sell products as a way to boost their income.

“The already established key players are growing really fast but the other niche e-commerce players are also emerging. This trend is paired with the culture of selling items through Facebook stores and that can range from anything from a beauty product to very niche [products] like spare parts for cars,” states Waisi.

The last-mile delivery sector has also seen tremendous growth as a result. However, startups in this sector had to grapple with the implications of the curfews imposed by the Iraqi government in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak in the country.

“E-commerce players were striving to keep doing their job during the tight curfews imposed by the government. They were not doing anything illegal, yet they had to have agreements with people from ministries of health and security to get around during the curfew times so they can be able to deliver items to their customers. This is a testament to how the market is hungry for such new tech-based solutions, explains Waisi.

With more than 80 per cent of the population remaining unbanked, cash on delivery still dominates e-commerce transactions. Establishing an online payment infrastructure is vital to enable other online businesses, paving the way for financial technology (fintech) startups.

“The banks in Iraq are very archaic in terms of the way they do business. The culture of online payments has just started picking up,” says Al-Suhail. “If you talk to any commercial platform, they would not even discuss the percentage of sales that they do online since everything is done through the traditional delivery fashion, which places a burden on companies that provide online services because you cannot get paid through an online portal. It creates room for fictitious sales and orders. And that is just very troublesome for startups and tech businesses.”

KAPITA is currently in talks with the Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) and MasterCard to establish payment gateways and activate these fintech services for tech startups. 

“Now this is the time to encourage startups to get the payment gateways in order to start educating people on using online payment,” concludes Waisi.

September 28th 2020, 10:12 pm

Le Reina raises seed funding

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Cairo-based online fashion rental platform La Reina, has raised an undisclosed six-figure seed round from 500 Startups, Algebra Ventures along with a group of angel investors.

Founded in 2016 by Amr Diab and Ghada Eltanawy, La Reina connects dress owners to renters directly. Currently, the platform has over 100,000 registered users.

“Though Covid-19 has triggered seismic shifts in shopping behaviour, we are impressed with how Ghada and her team have worked hard to quickly pivot its strategy to cope with this new era and keep the fashion clothing accessible to its customers. We are excited to support La Reina as they continue expanding their product offerings and forge ahead as pioneers in this fashion rental space,” said Sharif El-Badawi, managing partner at 500 Startups Middle East and North Africa. 

The company plans to use the funds to expand its team and launch its newest fashion subscription service, The Box, which provides its members with day-to-day clothing of their favourite brands delivered to their doorstep every week for a subscription fee. It allows customers to use the items and return them in a week. According to the company, The Box is specifically intended for working women, who might be time-strapped to go shopping.

“We created The Box to offer practical shopping solutions for women who lead busy lives but are also keen on looking their absolute best every single day. We want our members to become versatile in how they dress up while also encouraging them to create a very minimal wardrobe. Such an approach stresses the importance of fashion sustainability, The Box helps with decreasing the fashion footprint by 85 per cent with each subscriber making it a game-changer that shapes the future of fashion and how we consume it,” stated Eltanawy. 

 

September 28th 2020, 8:41 am

Synkers raises $1.8 million in pre-Series A

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Lebanon-based educational technology (edtech) platform Synkers, has secured a $1.8 million pre-Series A funding round, led by Lama and Dalia Al Sulaiman, with participation from 500 Startups, Phoenician Funds, ISME Kafalat, Mulcan Investment, Seeders, Crescent Capital and Dubai Angel Investors (DAI).

Founded in 2016 by Zeina Sultani (CMO) and Audrey Nakad (CEO), Synkers operates as an online marketplace for tutoring services, offering its users a personalised education experience by matching every learner with the right tutor or mentor. It also offers a wide variety of content, including school and university subjects as well as professional development courses.

The platform currently operates in the UAE and Lebanon and has more than 60,000 learners and 1000 tutors and mentors.

"No matter how hard the journey of an entrepreneur is, the impact of our work on our student's performance pays it all off completely,” said Nakad.

Synkers plans to use the investment to enhance its product offering, strengthen its presence in its existing markets and expand into new markets, specifically Saudi Arabia.

"We invested in the Synkers team and the founders behind the vision, as we strongly believe that they have the potential to disrupt the education industry," added one of the investors in the round who wished not to be named. 

 

September 27th 2020, 7:57 am

Saudi's Aramco invests in US-based Data Gumbo

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Source: Houston Chronicle

Blockchain-based tech startup Data Gumbo scored $4 million in a Series B funding round, drawing a second infusion of capital from a pair of oil-and-gas giants as well as a Houston-based venture firm, the company said Thursday.

The funding was lead by newcomer L37, which also has headquarters in the San Francisco Bay Area, and included Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures and Equinor Ventures. The latter two had been involved in Data Gumbo’s $6 million Series A round in 2019.

The company has raised $14.8 million since its founding in 2016.

Data Gumbo operates a network called GumboNet that uses blockchain - a secure electronic ledger - to generate so-called “smart contracts” for its industrial customers, which includes oil-and-gas, construction and mining businesses.

“Time is of the essence to capitalize on greatly increased demand for our network, and we’re making key hires to support our growing commercial success and market penetration in oil and gas and adjacent industries,” said Andrew Bruce, Data Gumbo’s chief executive and founder, in a statement.

The funding closed despite the downturn in the oil-and-gas industry caused by a drop in demand due to the coronavirus pandemic. Although some Houston-area startups have indicated raising cash is difficult now, others have been able to lure funding by showing longterm viability or providing efficiencies that can help clients survive tough times, analysts said.

September 27th 2020, 6:45 am

STEP Match

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Step Match is a series of online networking events brought to you by Step, the organizers of Step Conference, the leading tech and startup festival for emerging markets. The upcoming event taking place on September 30th, 2020 will be themed Founders X Investors with a focus on seed/early stage startups and investors.

Founders will get matched through 1-on-1 virtual meetings with investors looking to connect and invest in seed stage startups. Founders will also get a chance to participate in virtual group sessions with investors to ask any questions.  

If you are a startup or an investor looking to participate in STEP Match, register here.

September 27th 2020, 5:52 am

Saudi's Aramaco invets in US-based Data Gumbo

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Source: Houstonchronicle

Blockchain-based tech startup Data Gumbo scored $4 million in a Series B funding round, drawing a second infusion of capital from a pair of oil-and-gas giants as well as a Houston-based venture firm, the company said Thursday.

The funding was lead by newcomer L37, which also has headquarters in the San Francisco Bay Area, and included Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures and Equinor Ventures. The latter two had been involved in Data Gumbo’s $6 million Series A round in 2019.

The company has raised $14.8 million since its founding in 2016.

Data Gumbo operates a network called GumboNet that uses blockchain - a secure electronic ledger - to generate so-called “smart contracts” for its industrial customers, which includes oil-and-gas, construction and mining businesses.

“Time is of the essence to capitalize on greatly increased demand for our network, and we’re making key hires to support our growing commercial success and market penetration in oil and gas and adjacent industries,” said Andrew Bruce, Data Gumbo’s chief executive and founder, in a statement.

The funding closed despite the downturn in the oil-and-gas industry caused by a drop in demand due to the coronavirus pandemic. Although some Houston-area startups have indicated raising cash is difficult now, others have been able to lure funding by showing longterm viability or providing efficiencies that can help clients survive tough times, analysts said.

September 27th 2020, 4:55 am

The rise and risk of private digital currencies

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Monica Singer is the creator of opportunities at ConsenSys, a US-based blockchain software technology company

I am concerned that central banks are so worried about protecting commercial banks that they don’t realise that the risk of inaction is greater than that of embracing innovation. The real risk comes from private companies that are in the process of issuing payment mechanisms that might entice depositors to never again have to use a legacy bank as they exist today.

A shift to the use of private digital currency or “stablecoins”—currency collateralised by fiat, cryptocurrencies, gold,  an algorithm or combination of financial instruments—could result in less use of fiat currency (currency issued by a central bank). Once this takes place, central banks will lose their ability to affect monetary policy and all their supply and distribution controls of the fiat currency will be thrown out the window. 

In addition to projects such as Libra, driven by Facebook, and Apple Pay, other major players including Google and Amazon want to come into this space and provide quasi-financial products. With Alipay and WeChat in China, people have slowly but surely stopped using cash. The Central Bank of China will soon release its version of a retail CBDC, allowing it to keep track of all transactions with unclear privacy protections.

Users should be wary of private coin issuers and how they will be managing transaction data. Do users realise that the private coin issuers will have to risk-manage the fluctuation in value of their collateralised positions? Do users of these coins realise that the issuers could suffer losses and that they might not be covered by traditional safety nets such as deposit insurance or central banks as lenders of last resort? Will users once again rely on auditors and regulators to ensure that the collateral backing these private coins is in fact in place? 

Many private coin issuers say they want to reach the 1.7 billion unbanked. Is this not the responsibility of central banks around the world? By partnering with financial technology (fintech) companies and legacy banks that have gone digital, central banks can provide the financial access and flexibility that global citizens need. It was announced last year that the United Arab Emirates’ Central Bank is working to establish its own fintech office, complementing the important strides already being taken by the UAE Central Bank and individual banks within the UAE’s financial sector. 

PROTECTING CITIZENS

In this time of pandemic, citizens should not have to stand in a line, without social distancing, to wait for their social grant or pension funds. If an economic crisis requires that the government financially support its citizens in the form of helicopter money (money deposited by the government into the citizens’ accounts), citizens should not have to wait for government-issued cheques to arrive via post, which then have to be deposited into a bank account when the banks’ working hours permit. Blockchain technology enables these payments to be facilitated electronically in real-time, directly into the e-wallet of the citizens. No more waiting or standing in a queue or walking to a bank to be paid by the government. No one should ever have to visit a brick and mortar bank branch and wait to be served again.

In many countries, the dependence on cash puts undue pressure on citizens who have no option but to risk carrying physical money and being robbed; not to mention a range of other threats surrounding cash usage such as ATM bombings and hijackings. Some companies have to transfer cash from various depots to the retailer to protect their holdings. These threats should motivate central banks to go digital and reduce citizens’ dependency on cash. 

The technology exists to protect citizens in their money management. A highly programmable and interoperable blockchain like Ethereum can be adapted to the various needs of financial institutions and citizens in different nations, while still meeting global standards that ensure compatibility between different countries’ CBDC solutions. If we consider the likes of the GCC region and consider its high proportion of global yearly remittances we can see how these cross-border payment needs can be revolutionised by real-time, low cost blockchain technology. While this is positive for the GCC, it would also contribute to the growth of the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), a region which predicts a fintech market high of $2.5 billion in the next two years.

FUTURE OF MONEY

Central banks have an opportunity to keep pace with technological change and enable this evolution towards the future of money. With Covid-19 and the risk that banknotes could be infected, digital payment solutions are increasingly top of mind and what citizens want. Recognizing this in its response to the pandemic, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) used blockchain technology to distribute a substantial portion of its $13.3 billion injection into the banking sector. Millennials and younger generations will only be attracted to digital solutions that are transparent, immutable, real-time, low cost, under their control, available 24/7/365, and interoperable with other digital financial instruments like cryptocurrencies, security tokens and utility tokens.

Central banks should look to the UAE which has seen many successful blockchain-based banking projects in recent years. Etisalat Digital’s launch of UAE Trade Connect (UTC) in June 2019 which applies blockchain as a verification layer to detect fraud in invoice financing. Emirates NBD leveraged blockchain to develop a wire fraud prevention system in March 2018. In 2019, Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB) was the first bank in the UAE to run an end-to-end blockchain trade finance transaction with full document automation.I challenge central banks to let go of their fear. When I think of central banks, commercial banks, and the system of fractional banking they currently have in operation, I’m reminded of Marshall Goldsmith’s saying: “What got you here won’t get you there.” 

The time is now for central banks to embrace innovation so they have a say in the future of money. If the conservative nature of central banks prevents them from taking this leap forward, then let us work with the private coin issuers, properly regulated, who are ready and able to provide the functionality the world needs and wants.

 

September 26th 2020, 10:10 pm

THE LIST raises bridge round investment

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Dubai-based luxury fashion and lifestyle platform THE LIST, has raised a bridge investment round from the ventures arm of media publishing house Nervora, publishers of Vogue Arabia and WIRED Middle East. The amount raised was not disclosed.

The investment was secured ahead of THE LIST’s Series A funding round, according to the company’s release on Thursday. Founded in 2016 by Andreas Skorski, the company enables its customers to shop for luxury fashion and lifestyle products from different retailers worldwide, and deliver them directly to their doorstep in over 190 countries. The platform also takes care of the entire payment and fulfillment process. 

It also provides its retail partners with  machine learning-based software integration for better automated inventory management.

"THE LIST has raised $2.4 million in previous rounds of funding, and technology investment has been a fundamental driver in the company’s recent growth. An asset-light model combined with intelligent technology is the heart that drives THE LIST, and that allows us to operate in a very competitive, demanding market highly efficiently and fast with a lean set up,” said Andreas Skorski, founder and CEO of THE LIST.

The investment will go towards enhancing the company’s technology, developing its product offering, and fuelling its geographical expansion. As part of the investment deal, the new investor will provide brand-building and digital insights, networking and support, driving continued awareness and growth in the Middle East.

“We were attracted by THE LIST’s business model since it covers areas in which we have already gained a solid footprint: digital experience, luxury brands and products. Its newest product launch will be a spin on the digital commerce model and unlock new opportunities for brands and retailers. We’re excited to support THE LIST in its next stage of development and growth,” said Shashi Menon, founder and CEO of Nervora.

September 24th 2020, 8:14 am

GCC-based entities join forces to launch region's first conscious investor fellowship

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Source: Arab News

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) has partnered with the investment platform VentureSouq, startAD, the Abu Dhabi-based global accelerator anchored at New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD), and its partner Tamkeen, to launch the first Conscious Investor Fellowship in the GCC. The pan-regional fellowship is a six-week virtual program dedicated to enabling regional investors in the GCC to create sustainable change through impact investments. The program, which will take place from Oct. 7 to Nov. 25, comes as part of the upcoming annual Angel Rising Symposium, to be held virtually between Nov. 24-25, which provides education and conversations on the future of the angel investment sector and how it can fuel national and regional innovation.

The fellowship aims to empower the next generation of regional mission-driven investors who will fuel emerging ventures using technology for meaningful change, resulting in a measurable positive impact. Twenty-five investors from family offices, corporate and government entities will be welcomed as fellows of this inaugural cohort, where they will learn how to identify and invest into tech-enabled impact-driven startups.

The program will cover conscious investment strategies, startup diligence and valuations, impact measurement, portfolio management, and global sector trends in the impact space. Elective thematic masterclasses will also be offered, with a specific focus on health tech, educational tech, environmental tech, and agricultural tech. Participants will be able to apply their knowledge and invest in live deals through VentureSouq’s Conscious Collective Fund. The inaugural edition is held in collaboration with the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center and Hub71.

Hattan Ahmed, head of the KAUST Entrepreneurship Center, said: “KAUST is driven by a mission to advance research and create new technologies that address our greatest global challenge in food, water, energy, and the environment. We are starting to see more deep tech startups emerging from the ecosystem, disrupting existing industries and creating new solutions to these challenges. The Conscious Investor Fellowship is a key step to advancing this ecosystem and educating regional investors about the potential of emerging technologies and their long-term value. For Saudi Arabia in particular, there is a unique opportunity to nurture this deep tech ecosystem for real economic transformation.”

Ramesh Jagannathan, research professor of engineering, vice provost for entrepreneurship at NYUAD, and managing director of startAD, said: “Conscious investment is a growing global force, accelerated by the ongoing impacts of the global pandemic. In the UAE, and specifically Abu Dhabi, we have a unique opportunity to engage with this global trend, given that the emirate has the highest net potential wealth globally.

September 24th 2020, 6:57 am

Group 42 invests in US-based Beyond Limits

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Source: Crunchbase

Artificial intelligence company Beyond Limits has landed $133 million in its Series C round. 

The round was led by new investor Group 42 and existing investor BP Ventures. 

Beyond Limits is focused on industrial AI, more specifically energy, utility and power. The Series C round will help it expand globally in those sectors.

The company, which is based in the Los Angeles area, is planning on launching operations in Asia and expanding in the Middle East and Africa. Beyond Limits Asia will have its headquarters in Singapore with offices in Taipei, Hong Kong and Tokyo.

It will also be expanding in North America and Europe and invest in its product portfolio, focusing on repeatable software-as-a-service products, Abdallat said.

The company last raised a $20 million Series B led by BP Ventures in June 2017. The latest round brings Beyond Limit’s total funding to more than $158 million. With the Series C round, Abdallat said going with Group 42 as the lead investor was a good strategy for the company as it goes after the industrial space.

“I always was a big fan of strategic investors and this was very evident in our B round,” Abdallat said. “BP helped us understand products and the energy sector.”

Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, the company hasn’t changed its forecast for 2020 on the booking side, Abdallat said. The company is expecting more than $50 million in booking business in 2020 and expects to double that figure in 2021, owing to its global expansion. 

Continue reading this story

September 24th 2020, 4:42 am

Elves raises $2 million in funding

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Egypt-based Sawari Ventures announced an unspecified investment in Elves App virtual assistant platform, according to a September 17th press release.

The new investment brought Elves' total pre-Series A funding to approximately $5 million (EGP 78.85 million), the statement added.

Sawari noted that the initial financing round was completed earlier this year in February, with additional follow-on in July.

Elves reportedly grew their user base by 500% over the last six months, amid the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the statement.

Sawari Ventures was initially attracted to invest in Elves due to its combination of artificial intelligence and human concierge capabilities, according to Wael Amin, a partner at the venture capital (VC).

Elves has been scaling up its development in machine learning, besides generating “Alexa Skills at a pace of tens of thousands a month through millions of live human conversations,” the statement said.

Elves App, founded in 2017, uses a “human in the loop” methodology for its platform to drive machine learning to build Alexa Skills, according to Sawari’s press release.

 

September 23rd 2020, 4:29 am

Future of mobility: Rise in private vehicle demand

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This is the fourth part in a series of features examining the impact of Covid-19 on the region's transport and mobility startups

For Saudi Arabia-based automotive marketplace Syarah, June 2020 was a fantastic month. Despite the pandemic, the company closed a bridge round and broke all of its previous sales records as Saudis rushed to buy new cars before the government increased its VAT rate from 5 per cent to 15 per cent. 

“There has been a sharp increase in car buying activity before new value-added (VAT) taxes came into effect on 1 July and people wanted to purchase their cars before they can be subject to these taxes,” says Omar Tahboub, deputy chief executive officer at Syarah. 

This sudden increase in demand, while short-lived, was a boon for the automotive industry in Saudi Arabia. At the start of the year, it was the mobility sector that attracted a substantial volume of funding in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena). Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) invested $35 million in the UAE’s online car trader SellAnyCar.com, while rental platforms Invygo, Telgani, and marketplace Seez and Syarah also raised investment. New business models of sharing and renting were making headway, but overall, the sector was devastated with the lockdown. 

Now as lockdown has been lifted and people are moving again, there has been some relief for the mobility sector with interest rising in private car ownership throughout the Middle East, spurred on by the ongoing aversion to public transport, social distancing measures and the still-widely-adopted working from home practice. 

For those who can afford it, purchasing a new car has become an attractive proposal to avoid the risk of contracting the coronavirus while overall demand has shifted to more economic cars. 

“As people use their own vehicles less, this, in turn, leads to them questioning whether they should hold on to a depreciating asset and continue to pay for things such as insurance, parking,” says Anas Kiblawi, product manager at UAE-based automotive portal YallaMotor, who expects that people will be downgrading to more affordable car brands and those with lower running costs and better fuel efficiency.

While demand for car ownership has increased, it is unlikely to go back to pre-Covid levels anytime soon. The economic uncertainty brought on by the pandemic has made many rethink large financial commitments like that of purchasing a new car. 

According to a report from YallaMotor, the current economic uncertainty has resulted in 64.5 per cent of GCC car buyers stalling their decision to purchase a car, while 74 per cent of those surveyed stated that an attractive financial agreement is the main factor when deciding to buy a new vehicle.

In the UAE the supply of new and used cars available for sale online has decreased by 2,500 units (43 per cent) since the introduction of Covid-19 measures, according to a report by UAE-based car aggregator platform Seez.

RENTALS

Such aversion to making a long-term financial commitment will help the car rental and subscription platforms thrive in terms of value proposition according to Pultik Ganjoo, co-founder of Dubai-based car subscription Invygo. 

“In most economic recessions, the younger population is impacted the most - which results in a new era of frugality as society could end up being less materialistic, with young people prioritising meaningful experiences over material products,” he says.

The demand for car sharing/leasing services has seen an uptick since the beginning of the pandemic, logging an increase from 2 to 5 per cent, said Vilhelm Hedberg, founder of UAE-based motor service provider Ekar during RiseUp’s virtual edition held in August. 

According to Global data, the car rental market in the Middle East and Africa was valued at $1.66 billion in 2017, expecting it to grow at a CAGR of 4.3 per cent from 2017 through to 2022.

“[We] were seeing more and more interest in car leasing as lockdown eased. This is because people are worried about being tied down to bigger financial commitments such as owning a car and all additional overheads that come with it,” says Tarek Kebrit, CEO and co-founder of Seez, which also operates in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

For Seez, the growth coming from the Saudi leasing market is three times the pace of that in the UAE. From a user perspective, user acquisition was half the price so it was cheaper in Saudi Arabia than it is in the UAE. 

“The automotive industry is more digitised in Saudi, they are more used to leasing in the Saudi market despite the fact that there is very little bank financing, which is the opposite in the UAE,” says Kebrit. 

Conversely, car-rental platforms that offer short-term rentals are facing far-reaching repercussions because of their reliance on the hard-hit tourism and travel industry. 

“Our business in the UAE has been badly impacted due to the Covid-19 crisis and the negative impact it has had and continues to have on the air traffic,” says Ammar Akhtar, CEO and co-founder of Dubai-based Final Rentals, whose main clients are expats that frequently travel in and out of the country, short-term business travelers as well as tourists.

“Since 14  March until recently, we have almost 97 per cent of our locations closed and lost around 80 per cent of our sales,” says Akhtar, who expects that the market will start opening up as soon tourism begins to pick up. 

Similarly, Egypt-based FriendyCar, has seen its sales go downhill due to the lockdown and virus-induced travel suspension. 

“Like any other mobility-related company, the impact was devastating,” says Abdelrahman Elgamal, CEO and co-founder of peer-to-peer (P2P) car sharing platform FriendyCar. For FriendyCar, Egyptian holiday makers who are primarily living in the GCC constitute a large segment of the company’s user base when it comes to short-term rentals. 

PEER-TO-PEER

The opportunity for FriendyCar now lies primarily in its P2P business model, allowing car owners to rent out their own cars to consumers, but it requires the right licences and regulations in order to operate. 

“We went to the UAE but could not sustain there because the peer-to-peer car sharing model is disallowed by the RTA [Road and Transport Authority],” says Elgamal, who plans to also expand into the Saudi Arabian market, which along with the UAE are positioned at the forefront of the short-term rental industry in the Mena region, as the sector is estimated to be valued at $3 billion in these two countries alone. 

“Covid-19 has taken its toll on many families’ household income so they started to realise that their assets can be utilised in a much better way where it can become an income-generating asset,” says Mohammed Khashoggi, CEO and co-founder of P2P car-sharing platform ejaro, which is the first platform in Saudi Arabia to acquire a licence to operate as a P2P car-sharing model.

The high prices of new cars as well as the lack of vehicle variety listed in other auto rental platforms have presented an opportunity for ejaro to grow. 

“[We] provide a wider selection of vehicles since they are owned by individuals. The key part of our business model is the social impact that it provides. We enable users to create an additional source of income by utilising the already existing vehicles, which ultimately leads to less congestion on the roads and makes for a sustainable ecosystem.”

September 22nd 2020, 10:12 pm

Sheraa launches $250,000 Middle East and Africa startup challenge

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Source: Gulf News

The Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center (Sheraa) is launching a $250,000 prize for high prospect startups in the Middle East and Africa. The prize comes free of any equity requirements.

The ‘UCAN’ programme will home in on entrepreneurs who invested in creating tangible solutions for current and pressing global challenges imposed by the COVID-19 outbreak. To be eligible, startups must have a fully developed product or minimum viable product (MVP), showcase growth and impact, and be interested in expanding into the MENA market.

September 22nd 2020, 10:19 am

UAE's Alpha Wave invests in India-based ClassPlus

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Source: VCCircle

Education-technology platform Classplus has raised a little over Rs 75 crore (around $10.2 million) at current exchange rates) as part of a new funding round.

Classplus, operated by Bunch Microtechnologies Pvt. Ltd, secured the funding from investors including Alpha Wave Incubation and existing backers RTP Global and Blume Ventures, Entrackr reported, citing regulatory filings.

The coaching centre-focussed startup raised over Rs 56 crore from Alpha Wave in the new round. Blume and RTP committed Rs 11.26 crore and Rs 7.5 crore, respectively, according to the report.

This round comes after the Noida-based company mopped up around Rs 73 crore in May in a Series A round. RTP Global led the infusion, with other participants including Blume, Spiral Ventures, Strive and Sequoia Capital India’s startup accelerator platform Surge.

Previously, Classplus had raised around Rs 17.8 crore in a pre-Series A round from Blume and Surge. Angel investors including Kunal Shah, Alvin Tse, and Locus Ventures partner Eric Kwan also participated.

The ed-tech company operates a mobile-first, software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform for private coaching centres. It helps these centres take their business online and streamline their business functions including communication, content distribution, payments and online assessments.

Continue reading this story

September 22nd 2020, 9:19 am

Igniting innovation to spur Saudi Arabia’s economic growth

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BIAC, a subsidiary of the Saudi Technology Development and Investment Company (TAQNIA), wholly owned by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), recently announced a new operating model in its business functions. Nawaf Al-Sahhaf, the chief executive officer of BIAC outlines these new developments. 

Saudi Vision 2030 supports and promotes innovation. The Kingdom is fostering a sound environment conducive to stimulating entrepreneurship and creativity to enhance its impact and competitiveness in the dynamic global landscape.

Digital transformation is the central pivot of the Vision 2030, encouraging the public and private sectors to work faster to keep up with such change and boost SME contribution to gross domestic product (GDP) from 20 per cent to 35 per cent, localise edge technology and knowledge, and ensure the Kingdom is in the top 10 countries on the Global Competitiveness Index. 

At BIAC, we take pride in being the first company licensed in the Kingdom to manage incubators and accelerators, operating and managing more than ten business incubators and accelerators and our innovative programmes have contributed to Saudi Arabia's GDP by more than SAR 2.1 billion.

BIAC has contributed to the establishment and support of 700 beneficiary technical companies and reaching more than one million beneficiaries through our achievements. We strive to build a world-class entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem, and our innovative programmes led to the creation of more than 3,000 direct jobs and 200,000 indirect jobs.

Our strategy intends to provide an innovation-driven environment by operating projects and platforms in the public and private sectors, including technology transfer programmes. 

The first pivot of our strategy is to manage strategic partnerships, which will contribute to the development of research in the Kingdom and staying up-to-date on the latest global developments in our sector. This will allow us to actively contribute to the transfer and localise technologies, as well as grow the percentage of local technical content to attract local and foreign technical investments.

The second pivot is to achieve innovation by organising training camps, managing and operating business accelerators and incubators, innovation and research centres, innovative labs, idea-generating camps, virtual hackathons, specialised training programmes, venture builder management, and investment tours.

The third pivot includes supporting innovation through several services, most notably information technology, HR management and development, marketing and communication services, engineering project, utility services, procurement management services, account and financial affairs management services, as well as business development.

Moreover, our strategy will expand the application of the Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies, provide cloud services in the area of engineering and industrial design, and develop supply chains to serve the public and private sectors, and build sustainable and digital knowledge-based society and economy.

Globally, the number of incubators and accelerators are on the rise, as they positively impact the GDP and growth. That said, open innovation is becoming a necessary tool for corporates to improve their innovation process significantly. 

The benefits are plenty, including reducing time-to-market, improving cost saving, developing novel products, minimising risks and increasing knowledge-sharing and idea generation.

Innovation is the most prominent driver of economic growth and diversification as it seeks to find solutions to all challenges, helps create quality jobs and new markets, improves product quality and services, and supports the acceleration of digital transformation in the Kingdom.

BIAC’s innovation-based strategy will contribute to building a sustainable digital society and nation, enabling the Kingdom to become a leading regional innovation hub and the top destination for digital investments in the Mena region.

 

September 21st 2020, 10:12 pm

Berytech to invest in Lebanese green startups

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Lebanon-based Berytech, in partnership with the EU-funded Green Impact MED Project (GIMED), has launched a green applied research and innovations support programme to support impact entrepreneurs working on green research and help them transform their ideas into market-ready products.

The programme will initially select 20 startups to participate in its capacity building programmes, of which 10 will be selected by a jury to qualify to the acceleration phase where they will receive coaching and mentorship sessions as well as an opportunity to access finance and market, among other benefits.

The 10 projects will compete in a pitching event where four only will be qualified to partake in a three-month incubation. These startups will be eligible for a grant of €7,500 ($8,85) and to attend the scheduled regional and international events to secure B2B meetings, trade deals and potential investments.

Selected projects must offer products, processes, or technologies that drive positive environmental and social impact such as energy-saving, pollution-prevention, waste recycling, green product designs, or corporate environmental management.

The programme will begin accepting applications from startups 30 October 2020, with young women particularly being encouraged to apply.

 

September 21st 2020, 6:17 am

AimFit raises $1 million to scale across Pakistan

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Pakistan-based AimFit has raised a seed round of $1 million, becoming the first venture capital-backed fitness startup in the country. The round was led by Indus Valley Capital, an unnamed unicorn founder and the founding team of Atoms.

Co-founded by sisters Mahlaqa and Noor Shaukat, AimFit has four fitness studios offering group classes to a client base of 10,000 women. The company launched a bootstrapped online offering within 24 hours of the Covid-19 lockdown to strong online traction from its members. It now plans to this grow its online platform as well as expand its studio footprint across Pakistan.

Co-founder and CEO Mahlaqa Shaukat comments “We’re on a mission to revolutionise female fitness in Pakistan and across similar emerging geographies. We’ve seen the transformative impact AimFit has had on its members who refer to AimFit as #MyHappyPlace,” said Mahlaqa Shaukat, co-founder and CEO of AimFit. “Covid-19 expedited our online launch and we now plan to double down on our omni-channel model by rapidly expanding across Pakistan over the coming months, before targeting international expansion.”

While the last few years have seen a boost in health and fitness clubs in the major cities of Pakistan, smaller cities and the female population have largely been ignored. With increasing proliferation of smartphones and high-speed internet connectivity, AimFit plans to use its online fitness solution to reach this segment.

Aatif Awan, the founder and managing partner of Indus Valley Capital, who in his previous role as VP of growth at LinkedIn grew the platform to half a billion members, said: “At Indus Valley Capital, our mission is to help founders build the most transformational companies in Pakistan. We believe that AimFit will transform the country in an incredible way by bringing fitness to millions of women in their homes. Being able to achieve fitness goals as part of a community is truly empowering and has a spill over effect into improving other aspects of life, including family, work and mental health. We’re thrilled to partner with AimFit in revolutionising female fitness in Pakistan.”

 

 

 

September 21st 2020, 6:17 am

Tarfin closes Series A round with participation from Wamda

Wamda

Tarfin, the agriculture fintech startup based in Turkey, has raised $5 million in its Series A investment round with participation from Wamda. The round was led by global fintech fund Quona Capital, Raiffeisen Bank's venture capital fund Elevator Ventures, one of the world's largest producers of agricultural inputs, Syngenta’s venture capital fund Syngenta Ventures, and the Collective Spark Fund. 

Founded in 2017 by Mehmet Memecan, Tarfin provides farmers with access to agricultural inputs at affordable prices and payment terms by combining traditional supply channels with technology and financial resources. While strengthening its balance sheet with the new capital, Tarfin plans to accelerate its investments in data science, mobile technology and team with the aim of reaching more farmers in Turkey and Eastern Europe.  

Tarfin, with its machine learning based agricultural risk scoring model, ensures that farmers reach all the agricultural inputs needed today with reasonable prices and extended payment terms. Tens of thousands of farmers reduce input costs by shopping for their inputs at Tarfin’s more than 240 partner sales points. Tarfin aims to combine the entire process from product price comparison to purchase in its new mobile application, and continues to provide services to more farmers by using its technological infrastructure and wide sales network.

“The pandemic that changed the balance of the period we live in has once again revealed the importance of agriculture. As Tarfin, we have always made it a mission to find new solutions for our farmers,’’ said Mehmet Memecan, founder and general manager of Tarfin. “Our farmers are devoted to ensuring the continuity of production. As the private sector, every step we take for our farmers today will bring a stronger economy, a healthier future and a more sustainable production tomorrow. Thank you to our new partners who support the sustainability of agriculture."

The startup had previously raised a $1.3 million seed round in 2018 led by Turkey-based Collective Spark Fund with co-investment from Wamda.

 

September 21st 2020, 6:17 am

Penny Software raises $1.35 million Seed with participation from Wamda

Wamda

Saudi Arabia-based Penny Software has raised $1.35 million in a Seed investment round from Wamda, Class 5 Global, Outliers VC, Plug and Play and strategic angel investors. 

Founded in 2020 by Iyad Aldalooj, Majid Aldalooj, and Mohammed Ibrahim, Penny is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) procurement management company and a B2B marketplace that provides a procure-to-pay solution. It helps companies of all sizes manage their procurement and spending activities. The Penny software team currently operates out of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and India. 

Penny plans to offer its procurement and spend management solution globally, but will initially focus its B2B marketplace in the Saudi Arabian market. 

Penny CEO and co-founder, Iyad Aldalooj, said: “The post-Covid reality is reinforcing our mission of digitising procurement and B2B transactions. Penny puts companies in full control of their spending and brings order to procurement.” 

According to a report by Grand View Research, the global procurement-as-a-service market size was valued at $5.7 billion in 2018, and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.3 per cent from 2019 to 2025, positioning Penny to capitalise on this surge in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region.

The startup plans to use the funds to scale marketing as well as enhance and customise its product offering for its customers.

In our Q&A with Aldalooj, he explains the reasons behind launching Penny during the pandemic and the challenges he faced.

What are the main pain points that you are trying to address through Penny?

Most organisations have their income well-managed and consolidated; however, spending is found to be a much more complicated process to manage since it can be both an internal and external activity. What we do is that we provide a software-based system that helps these companies consolidate and manage all their spendings through a unified system. We empower them by giving them full control of their spending, procurement, budget management and even vendor management.

Secondly, we found that there is a major disconnect between buyers and suppliers in the business-to-business (B2B) market. If you look at the business-to-consumer (B2C) market, you see that consumers are moving towards online now and e-commerce is growing tremendously in the region. We see the same thing happening in the B2B, but still there are no B2B marketplaces. And this is another huge pain point that we are trying to address through Penny as we are providing a B2B marketplace to help companies digitise the sourcing part of procurement. You go into the Penny marketplace, and then you find all the suppliers in the market that can provide the product or services that you are looking for.

Why did you decide to launch during the pandemic?

We have been working on building Penny for the past three years. We realised that this might have been the best time for us to launch Penny, because what we do is digitise sourcing so we are the e-commerce of B2B.

After Covid-19, it became much easier for us to acquire big companies as well as suppliers, who are also aware that what is happening in the B2C world, is also going to happen inevitably in the B2B world, so they might as well digitise. Also, there is still a big chunk of large companies in the region that are still using paper for their procurement. The crisis has prompted many companies to start digitising their operations as well. This is how our value proposition as a company has increased due to the crisis. 

What were your main challenges when launching? 

We are building a heavy enterprise software that serves large corporates and for that, a simple half-working minimum viable product (MVP) is not going to work. In order for us to go to market, we needed big investment to build the MVP alone and raising the investment to help us enter the market was a major challenge that came our way.

Fortunately, we have had angel investors backing us up, they believed in the team and in the vision and gave us the money to go ahead, hire the team, build the product and get things started. If it wasn't for the angels, we wouldn't have been able to build something that allowed us to raise money from big VCs.

Also, there is not so much happening in the B2B sphere in the region unlike the B2C. When our clients talk to us, they are judging us with the same measures that apply to B2C. It was tough to explain to them that we need to build procurement and spending management products which is a complex process. 

What are your biggest achievements so far?

We are on the onboarding stage, but we have managed to onboard large, well-known names in the construction field not only in the Saudi market but across the region. We are also in the final stages of closing deals with consulting and tech companies as well.

What lies ahead for Penny?

We are launching our Arabic version of our software later this year, and our freemium version, both in English and Arabic. We will also plan to open our software for all small businesses SMEs in the region and beyond, for free. 

September 21st 2020, 2:17 am

Sawari Ventures invests in Elves

Wamda

Source: Arab Finance

Egypt-based Sawari Ventures announced an unspecified investment in Elves App virtual assistant platform, according to a September 17th press release.

The new investment brought Elves' total pre-Series A funding to approximately $5 million (EGP 78.85 million), the statement added.

Sawari noted that the initial financing round was completed earlier this year in February, with additional follow-on in July.

Elves reportedly grew their user base by 500% over the last six months, amid the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the statement.

Sawari Ventures was initially attracted to invest in Elves due to its combination of artificial intelligence and human concierge capabilities, according to Wael Amin, a partner at the venture capital (VC).

Elves has been scaling up its development in machine learning, besides generating “Alexa Skills at a pace of tens of thousands a month through millions of live human conversations,” the statement said.

Elves App, founded in 2017, uses a “human in the loop” methodology for its platform to drive machine learning to build Alexa Skills, according to Sawari’s press release.

Continure reading this story

September 20th 2020, 11:39 am

Alsaree3, Al Zajel raise seed funding

Wamda

Baghdad-based food delivery app Alsaree3, and its sister company on-demand delivery platform Al Zajel, have raised a six-figure seed funding round, led by Iraq Tech Ventures along with a cluster of other investors.

Alsaree3 offers a point of sale (POS) and hardware technologies to help restaurants handle their own orders while providing fast-delivery services for their end users, while Al Zajel offers on-demand delivery services.

Together, Alsaree3 and Al Zajel share their own fleet of bikes and drivers and work with additional drivers on a contractual basis during peak hours.

 “Alsaree3 was one of the first companies in the whole region who started developing and using these Android POS systems since our start in 2018. This state-of-the-art technology enables our restaurants to accept, print, and check the history for each order. Also, it enables some of our exclusive restaurants to place offline orders. What is more, the special M2M sim cards in these POS devices reduce the internet cost for the restaurants enormously," said Bassam Al-Ateia, CEO and founder of Alsaree3.

Al Saree3 boasts a portfolio of over 450 restaurants in Baghdad.

“Alsaree3 is incredibly strong operationally due to the founder’s investment in quality, proprietary technology and his extensive experience operating in Iraq. We have no doubts about Alsaree3 and Al Zajel’s promising performance in the future,” said Mohammed Khudairi, CEO of Iraq Tech Ventures.

This is the second venture in Iraq that was brought to market by the collaboration between Iraq Tech Ventures and Shwan Ibrahim Taha, chairman of Rabee Securities. "I am a firm believer in the future of Iraq that is led by its entrepreneurs. Through our consortium, we are proud to help Iraqi startups like Alsaree3, and we look forward to more investments in the sector."

 

September 20th 2020, 11:39 am

ISSF invests in Endeavor Catalyst’s third fund

Wamda

Source: Jordan News Agency

Endeavor Catalyst, the investment vehicle of global non-profit organization Endeavor, has closed its 3rd Fund "Endeavor Catalyst III", with $134 million, of which $2 million is from Jordan’s Innovative Startups and SMEs Fund (ISSF), and $1.7 million from other Jordanian Limited Partners ("LPs"), according to a statement by its Managing Director, Allen Taylor.

The rest of the amount was secured from a galaxy of international investors.

Having invested earlier in 4 Jordanian companies: Kharabeesh, Altibbi, Mawdoo3 and Jamalon, Endeavor Catalyst is an innovative, rules-based co-investment fund through which Endeavor invests into its portfolio companies led by high-impact entrepreneurs around the world.

Launched in 2012, Endeavor Catalyst has raised $250M across three funds and made 150+ investments to date across 30+ different markets.Laith Al Qasem, CEO of the ISSF commented on the investment saying: "ISSF is very excited about this investment. Strategically, Endeavor Catalyst will showcase Jordanian scaleups at a global level. Practically, Endeavor provides Jordanian companies with access to global markets, capital and remarkable mentors, ultimately setting up Jordanian scaleups for global success."

In turn, Managing Director of Endeavor Jordan, Reem Goussous, said: "We are extremely grateful to the contribution of the ISSF and the LPs in this 3rd fund, which will go towards investing in Jordanian scaleups".

Goussous added that the ISSF and local Jordanian LPs are now among a lineup of iconic global founders like Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn), Michael Dell (Dell Technologies), and Pierre Omidyar (eBay), as well as world-class investors such as General Atlantic’s Bill Ford and Pershing Square’s Bill Ackman.

With deep experience mentoring and coaching entrepreneurs on the "ins and outs" of navigating the venture capital fundraising process, Endeavor Catalyst was built on top of Endeavor’s globally-distributed, trust-based network to partner with Endeavor Entrepreneurs on their equity fundraising rounds.

This $134M Fund III represents the largest Endeavor Catalyst fund to date, surpassing the $120M target goal originally set. It also brings Endeavor Catalyst’s total assets under management ("AUM") up to $250M. The support of LPs to Endeavor enables the organization to focus on investing in the next generation of founders in emerging and underserved markets around the world.

September 20th 2020, 10:06 am

Arab Bank invests in US-based Veem

Wamda

Source: The fintech times

Veem, the fast-growing global payments network built for businesses, recently announced the closing of a $31 million capital raise, led by Truist Ventures, the corporate venture capital division of Truist Financial Corporation — the 6th largest commercial bank in the U.S. This investment will go towards the development of a robust channel partner program that will widen Veem’s geographic footprint as well as further improving and expanding its product suite and capabilities.

This funding round builds on Veem’s already expansive global investor base, with participants from the United States, China, Japan, Australia, Malaysia, Canada, and the Middle East. Veem is supported by forward-looking banks and major venture capital firms who share Veem’s commitment to better enabling global commerce participation for small- to midsize businesses.

Round participants include MUFG Innovation Partners, the largest bank in Japan, as well as AB Ventures, the venture arm of Arab Bank, the largest bank in the Middle East and Africa. Existing investors that participated this round include: GV (formerly Google Ventures), Goldman Sachs, Kleiner Perkins, Silicon Valley Bank, National Australia Bank Ventures and Trend Forward Capital.

“This funding round marks an important milestone for the company, putting us in an ideal position to build out our channel partner program and prepare for Veem’s next stage of global growth,” said Marwan Forzley, CEO of Veem. “Our channel partner network serves as our vehicle to better commercialize our product offering and further expand upon our market development efforts.”

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September 20th 2020, 9:52 am

UAE's VentureSouq invests in UK-based Dendra systems

Wamda

Source: DroneDJ

Environmental company Dendra Systems has announced it has raised $10 million to rehabilitate and restore biodiverse ecosystems in Australia and other countries using drone technology.

Dendra Systems was able to secure the $10 million in Series A funding thanks to the following investors: At One Ventures, Airbus Ventures, Future Positive Capital, Lowercarbon Capital, Lionheart Ventures, SYSTEMIQ, VentureSouq.

The company uses AI, drone technology, and deep ecological expertise to restore land and ecosystems for some of the largest companies in the world. Dendra works with BHP, Glencore, Rio Tinto, and Yancoal, to name a few.

Dendra provides companies with an end-to-end solution for giving back to the earth. A client comes to Dendra asking to restore the environment it damaged while working, and Dendra then takes care of everything from figuring out what to plant, where to plan, and how much to plant.

To do this efficiently and safely, Dendra uses drone technology to map out the land. AI then takes over, using data to figure out the best plants to use. Once done, another drone is sent up, this time to deploy seeds of the land at a rate of 120 seeds per minute or about 150 times faster than traditional methods. Dendra is also using the data it collects to predict where future rehabilitation planting will be required.

‍Kelly Wanser, executive director of SilverLining and board director of Dendra said: With Dendra’s combination of observations, analytics, and automation, for the first time, companies can have a comprehensive insight into the health of the land they manage and create and execute detailed, reportable plans for repairing environmental damage. At a time when companies are committing to sustainability more than ever, Dendra helps counter the effects of climate change, improve biodiversity, and capture CO2 in a cost-effective, actionable new way, providing the scale and effectiveness required to restore our ecosystems not in generations to come, but within our own lifetimes.

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September 20th 2020, 9:21 am

Foodics expands to Egypt and hopes to become micro-loan lender

Wamda

Saudi Arabia-based food and beverages (F&B) retail and restaurant management platform Foodics, has expanded to Egypt. 

The expansion comes after the cloud-based company closed its pre-Series B investment round in 2019, raising $4 million. 

Founded in 2014 by Ahmad Al-Zaini and Mosab Al-Othmani, Foodics offers a point of sale (POS) solution and management platform which helps restaurants and cloud kitchens owners effectively manage their business. 

The company has so far serviced over 5000 customers and processed over a billion orders through its Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform, totaling over $2 billion gross merchandise volume (GMV) transactions in 2019 and catering to more than 10,000 F&B outlets.

“With an F&B Market estimated to be worth around $15 billion and growing at a 15-20 per cent rate over the next five years, Foodics' expansion into Egypt was always an integral part of our business plan,” said Ahmad Al-Zaini co-founder and CEO of Foodics. “Our objective is to continue to accelerate the F&B and retail end-to-end digitisation across the region and beyond.”

The Egyptian Foodics team will first focus on building its SaaS platform and hardware for restaurants, later followed by the launch of its Foodics NOW products. Besides Egypt, the company operates in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. 

The company has already signed up 15 new businesses in Egypt and is expecting to sign on 50 businesses before the end of the year. 

“We see a lot of development going on in Egypt, and this goes in tandem with a growing momentum in the F&B sector, AlZainin told Wamda. “Egypt is the second largest F&B market in the region after Saudi Arabia. There is so much potential in there.”

What lies ahead?

The company is also expanding to Kuwait, according to AlZaini, it is going to be either by the end of fourth quarter of 2020 or the first quarter of the next year. It also plans to expand to other markets in the Middle East as well as in South Asia.

Another product that the company is planning to launch is Foodics Capital, which is a fund programme that offers micro loans. 

“We secure more than $100 hundred million fund in order to deploy micro loans to our merchants,” AlZaini told Wamda. We are launching it in Saudi Arabia this year, and Egypt and our other operation markets will follow suit next year.”

 

September 20th 2020, 8:06 am

Kashier raises seed investment

Wamda

Egypt-based financial technology (fintech) startup Kashier Payments, has raised a seed investment round led by Glint Ventures, with participation from other undisclosed investors.

Founded in 2017 by Khaled Raslan, Mohamed Hossam, and Mohamed Mohsen, Kashier enables business owners to process and accept payments from and to their customers, vendors, and partners via a variety of payment methods and channels.

The company had launched its online payment acceptance services in 2019 after being licensed as a payment facilitator and payment service provider following its partnership agreement with two of Egypt’s acquiring banks, according to a release.

“Our aim at Kashier is to empower Egyptian businesses by facilitating their process of joining the digital economy, which in turn will lead to the long-term growth and sustainability of their business. The current global pandemic in addition to the Central bank of Egypt (CBE)’s commitment to financial inclusion have caused a major structural shift in the market towards electronic payments,” said Khaled Raslan, Kashier’s co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO).

Kashier will be using the funds to scale up its commercial go-to-market strategy, expand its team, and introduce more products.

“Fintech companies are already disrupting and reshaping the financial services world as we know it. We are excited about this investment that would address the electronic payment needs of Egyptian businesses, reinforce the digitisation of the economy and help bridge the fintech gap” said Tarek Aboualam, managing partner at Glint.

 

September 20th 2020, 6:37 am

JustClean raises $8 million Series B

Wamda

Kuwait-based laundry marketplace platform JustClean, has raised a $8 million series B round from Faith Capital Holding.

Founded in 2017 by Athbi and Nouri Al Enezi, JustClean operates as a business to business (B2B) and business to customer(B2C) marketplace platform, offering on-demand dry cleaning and laundry services. The startup looks to digitise the region’s $3 billion laundry industry.

“JustClean has become the preferred aggregator for laundry services across the region, through the combined efforts made by hundreds of our valued laundry partners and our 200 plus team members alike. Our technological solutions have proven to be effective and as such, we have built our brand on being the go-to solution provider of choice for cleaning business owners across the Mena region,” says Athbi Al Enezi, a co-founder and managing partner of JustClean. 

With this latest funding, JustClean will be able to further fuel its growth in the markets it operates in and expand its product offerings within the cleaning sector

“During the last six months of Covid-19, we have reaffirmed our model to be a versatile and fluid one that is adaptable to market conditions and through this time we have created new revenue streams that are diversified and sustainable. Our steadfast focus on delivering a stress-free, user-friendly, and highly efficient service has witnessed JustClean become an employer of choice with a corporate culture built on innovation and community investment,” said Nouri Al Enezi, a co founder and managing partner of JustClean, 

JustClean has raised over $20 million since its inception and currently operates in Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE, KSA, and Qatar.

September 20th 2020, 2:16 am

Wiz Holding raises seed funding

Wamda

UAE-based e-commerce enterprise Wiz holding, has raised $2 million in seed funding from undisclosed international investors from the US, Canada and Saudi Arabia.

Wiz Shops is an e-commerce platform that helps small and medium enterprises (SMEs) across the region transform their offline business to online, reach a wider audience and expand their presence. The company said that the platform was established with a vision to support small, medium and large businesses and ensure its continuity during these pressing times while taking advantage of the unprecedented growth witnessed in the e-commerce sphere due to the Covid-19 crisis.

 

September 17th 2020, 12:01 pm

Endeavor closes third fund with Careem and Property Finder founders among LPs

Wamda

Source: Endeavor

Endeavor Catalyst announced the final closing of Fund III, a $134M venture capital fund through which it plans to continue to invest in Endeavor Entrepreneurs in emerging and underserved markets globally. 

Since launching Endeavor Catalyst in 2012, the fund has invested into more than 150+ Endeavor Entrepreneur-led companies across 30 different markets, including businesses like Globant (NYSE:GLOB) and Rappi (valued at $3.5B+) in Latin America, Peak Games (acq’d Zynga $1.8B, 2020) and Checkout.com (valued at $5.5B+) in EMEA, and Bukalapak (valued at $2.5B+) in Southeast Asia.  

This $134M Fund III represents Endeavor Catalyst’s largest fund to date, surpassing the $120M target goal that had originally been set. It also brings Endeavor Catalyst’s total assets under management (“AUM”) up to $250M.

“Reaching $250M in AUM is an amazing milestone!” shared Linda Rottenerg, Endeavor’s co-founder and CEO. “I couldn’t be more proud of this amazing Endeavor team of 500+ people around the world who make this all possible. When we created Endeavor Catalyst eight years ago, we had a big dream: to build the world’s most founder-friendly investment fund that could be truly of, by and for entrepreneurs. Today, we are well on our way to making that dream a reality!”  

Hande Cilingir, Co-founder & CEO of Insider. Endeavor Catalyst participated in Insider’s recent $32M Series C round as one of the first investments out of Fund III.  Photo credit: useinsider.com

Endeavor Catalyst is backed by some of the world’s leading entrepreneurs and investors, including Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn), Michael Dell (Dell Technologies), and Pierre Omidyar (eBay), as well as General Atlantic’s Bill Ford and Pershing Square’s Bill Ackman.

Endeavor Catalyst Managing Director Jackie Carmel notes that that fund has also become “a powerful platform for Endeavor Entrepreneurs to reinvest their success in their peers,” with more than 60 Endeavor Entrepreneurs as investors in this latest fund. In Latin America, where Endeavor has been active since 1997, Fund III LPs include the founders of some of the region’s most successful scale-ups, including MercadoLibre, Nubank, 99, Creditas, eBanx, dLocal, Clip and others.

Across Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), dozens of Endeavor Entrepreneurs have also joined Fund III as LPs, including the founders of Careem, Yemeksepeti.com, Property Finder, Checkout.com, Softomotive, Moneyfarm, and Flutterwave, among others.

Careem co-founders Mudassir Sheikha, Abdulla Elyas, and Magnus Olsson. Endeavor Entrepreneurs and pioneers reinvesting their success in the MENA region — both directly into companies and via platforms like Endeavor Catalyst. Photo by Kieran Kesner for Endeavor. 

As Mudassir Sheika, CEO of Careem (acquired by Uber for $3.1B) sees it, investing in Endeavor Catalyst is a “great way to ‘pay-it-forward’ and invest in high-quality entrepreneurs in frontier markets!” 

With this new fund, Endeavor Catalyst plans to continue to co-invest in the Series A, B and C rounds of Endeavor Entrepreneurs — partnering with some of the world’s leading venture capital and grown equity funds as co-investment partners.

“We are proud to have at least one investor from every single country where Endeavor operates,” shared Managing Director Allen Taylor, “and we hope soon to be able to say that have at least one investment in every Endeavor market as well. We hold a deep conviction that entrepreneurial talent is globally distributed, and that this talent can build multi-billion dollar ‘scale-up’ companies everywhere.”

Continue reading this story

 

 

September 17th 2020, 4:11 am

Contributing to Egypt's growth journey

Wamda

Dina H. Sherif, Mohamed Okasha and Malek Sultan are managing partners at Egypt-based VC firm Disruptech. This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.

The Arab region is a unique region. We could write about its distinctive historical, socio-economic, and political conditions forever, without running out of material. Yet, amid this wealth of information, we want to zoom right in on a very interesting fact. The region has the world’s lowest bank penetration rate in the world - only slightly over 14 per cent are in the formal banking system. If you think that’s what makes our region unique however, you would be wrong. The uniqueness only appears when you juxtapose that low bank penetration rate with an internet penetration rate that exceeds 100 per cent, a mobile penetration rate that exceeds 100 per cent and a smartphone penetration rate that was already at 60 per cent back in 2017. This uniqueness is what makes our region, and in particular, our country Egypt – home to the region’s largest unbanked population – fertile ground for financial technology (fintech).

This uniqueness is what gave birth to Fawry, a company established in 2009 by the managing partner of Disruptech, Mohamed Okasha, and his colleague Ashraf Sabry. Back in 2009, nobody in Egypt knew what fintech was, but everyone knew that there was a deep need to solve the problem of digital payments. Fawry not only tackled that problem, but it created a space for others to innovate and design market solutions to the multitude of problems that surround the lack of access to traditional forms of financial services by those considered ‘unbankable’ or simply ‘unreachable.’ In 2019, Fawry became the first fintech company to IPO in the region and since taking that step, the price of its stock has risen by 300 per cent. In August, Fawry became Egypt’s first tech ‘unicorn,’ born during a global pandemic and what is quickly becoming a global economic meltdown of massive proportions. If this is not testimony to the importance of this sector and the opportunities that lie within it, then we are not sure what is.

If you don’t believe that Fawry’s unicorn status and the birth of numerous rapidly growing startups in the space are proof that fintech is the future or that this sector will be critical to Egypt’s ability to achieve its commitment to inclusive and sustainable economic growth under Vision 2030, forget all of that and focus on one simple reality. In the midst of the global pandemic, Egypt and many similar countries in the region and beyond are finally introducing laws and regulations that will not only allow this sector to thrive, but will allow our economies to thrive by using technology to serve the millions of people who remain economically excluded from the system.

Further to the above, recent studies have demonstrated that providing fintech services to the unbanked and micro to small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs) alone can generate additional annual revenue in the billions. According to a 2020 CGAP funded report on the landscape of Fintech in the Arab World (the region boasts significantly high survival rates, making these companies attractive for investors. For fintech companies launched in 2014, 90 per cent survived. With that in mind, it comes as no surprise that the 2019 Mena Fintech Venture Report highlighted a total of $237 million that were invested in 181 deals since 2015.

The enormous potential that lies within the fintech space was partly why Mohamed Okasha stepped down from his leadership role at Fawry to launch Disruptech, Egypt’s first venture capital fund to focus on fintech and fintech-enabled startups in Egypt. Stepping down from Fawry at a time when it was clear that the company was heading towards a billion-dollar valuation was built around a desire help entrepreneurs who have entered this space avoid the same sacrifices and hardships experienced during Fawry’s growth journey. Disruptech’s mission is to provide access to capital, specialised expertise, and the networks required for entrepreneurs in this sector to thrive and have impact on Egypt’s growth journey. This mission is reflected in the expertise and professional history of the partners and advisors brought in to join the team – Malek Sultan, and Dina H. Sherif who joined as partners, in addition to Mohamed Aboulnaga who joined as a senior advisor.

For the Disruptech team, establishing this fund – however hard it may be – is built on a solid belief that Egypt, the country that each of us loves deeply, cannot continue as is. We believe in Egypt’s potential, and we know that fintech is not just about financial inclusion, it is about economic inclusion, as Efosa Ojomo, from the Clay Christiansen Institute would say. Egypt is at a critical inflection point in its growth journey and many entrepreneurs are rising to the occasion. Our goal is for Disruptech to be a solid contributor to the story of Egypt’s future growth and its embrace of technology as a critical and essential tool within that inclusive growth journey.

 

September 17th 2020, 3:28 am

What's next for traveltech?

Wamda

The travel sector was the worst-hit during the lockdown and it will likely take years before numbers reach pre-Covid levels. Yet there are already signs of recovery and for some in the traveltech sector, opportunities have emerged to facilitate travel in this new age. In this podcast we speak with Amadeus Gulf managing director Ernesto Sanchez and Fundok founder Mohamed Nassar to get their take on the future of travel.

Wamda · Episode 33 - What's next for traveltech?

 

September 16th 2020, 9:22 pm

US-based Openner to invest in 50 Egyptian startups

Wamda

US-based venture capital firm Openner has launched an accelerator programme in Egypt, looking to invest in 50 early-stage startups.

The accelerator is aimed at supporting pre-seed and seed stage startups with a ready minimum viable product (MVP), helping them refine their product offering, accelerate their growth and become ready to raise funding. 

“We want startups to organically grow into revenue generating companies without having to raise funds, match them with a strategic investor when they are ready for rapid growth and position them as acquisition-ready,” said Ash Rofail, founder and general partner at Openner. “We have a very strong and proven track record building companies that have exited or have become leaders in their target industries, with 10 per cent of our portfolio companies exiting within three years of operation. Openner is entering the Egyptian market because it believes in its geographic and cultural centrality, and its promising tech talent.”

Openner has co-invested in startups with Andreesen Horrowitz, NEA, Sequoia, Khosla Ventures, YCombinator, Goldman Sachs and several other global top-tier VCs, and its portfolio companies received follow-up investments from ExxonMobil, Mastercard, CitiVentures and other multinationals, as well as from dozens of tier-1, US-based VCs.

It has already invested in 100 startups, deploying $25 million in over 100 portfolio companies in the US since Q4-2016, with an aggregate valuation of $2.95 billion.

September 15th 2020, 6:45 am

I failed and this is my truth

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Failure in the startup world can seem like an inevitable milestone, with nine out of 10 startups ending in failure. For many entrepreneurs, it is a harsh but necessary lesson to learn, and a particularly tough journey to live through. In this thought leadership piece, one UAE-based founder who wished to remain anonymous, explains the hardships they faced when their startup failed. 

This almost feels like one of those AA meetings, everyone here has an addiction. But it has nothing to do with drugs or alcohol, it is an addiction to a relentless feeling of being able to build something better than someone else.

 “Hi, I’m Damian and I am an entrepreneur.”

 Everyone has a drug of choice; may it be AI, fintech, edtech, data… the options are endless. We all jump in blindly because entrepreneurship and the startup world are glorified and romanticised.

We think we will become instant millionaires.

Our own bosses.

And have an unchecked amount of clout. 

No one told me the truth before all of this started. So, to all the aspiring entrepreneurs out there, this is my truth to you. Don’t think of this as a deterrent but more so the fine print in the terms and conditions of becoming an innovator. A disruptor. An entrepreneur.

My story began over four years ago when I could no longer stand the corporate world and felt capable of doing something on my own.

So I jumped. 

I left a high paying job in the Gulf to a nominal salary of zero. Before jumping, you need to be ready to step into a world of endless financial instability. The uncertainty of where your next paycheck will come from, if it will cover your basic needs and all the pitfalls associated with it.

I took my corporate paycheck for granted. The constant expectation that on the 25th of that month, you get a text from your bank saying that your salary has been deposited which then gets uncomfortably replaced with an unwanted conversation with your co-founder/employees that you can’t pay salaries this month (or even the next).

Our first advisor used to ask our potential employees one question “do you have at least one-year salary saved up?” If they said no, that was the end of the conversation. Wise words, a little too late for me.

You start seeing your friends around you enjoying life. You start becoming a hermit. A life of saying no to a lot of different things. Digging yourself deeper into a hole only to discover who your true friends are, and in some cases, your true love (corny I know but that “through thick or thin” statement really rings true).

To be a “true” entrepreneur, you also begin to read/subscribe to blogs on medium and articles on TechCrunch, Inc., Entrepreneur to name a few. Never do any of the articles actually talk about failure or even so what all this does to your emotional stability. I came into my startup with the same excitement and passion as the rest of you. We know we built a great thing, we even started to win awards and the media publicity was great. But nothing prepares you for your first no and the subsequent nos.

There was this one post on Medium which talked about the state of depression this one entrepreneur went into. But just like everything else in life, you think you’re invincible. I sit here writing this to you with a prescription for anxiety and depression. This is real and what you are going to put yourself through is very real. The life of a hermit, the life of saying no, the life of hearing no’s all begins to take a toll on you and will affect your health. There are side effects to entrepreneurship; some may experience sleepless nights, loss of appetite, impatience, etc…

My biggest fault was that I internalised everything and defined success incorrectly. So, who defines success? You know on the first day of our startup we were asked what our exit strategy was. We hadn’t even started, and people wanted to know how we were going to finish. Was success defined publicly by raising millions in your Series A? Exiting to a company in the West? We obviously know what the media likes to write about, but is that your success? You need to define your own success. A quote that resonated with me was “a billionaire is not a person who has a billion dollars but more so someone that has changed a billion lives.” We knew we had the product to do that, but we didn’t set up milestones (quick wins) along the way.

Your first customer, the first time they used your product twice, the organic leads. Don’t ever take any of those for granted. Relish in those negative reviews; they write them because they believe in your product enough to write something cause they want it to be better. Once you begin to focus on you, on your wins, on the product and blur out the rest… everything will slowly fall into place. Just know one thing, your success is not tied into your company’s success. If the company fails, it does not mean that you failed or that you are a failure. You tried something millions of others were not able to do. You may not see it now (to this day, sometimes I don’t) but you will.

So, this story could have gone in two directions; positive or negative. One implies that everything fell into place and the above was reminiscent of a time passed or the total opposite.

No money.

Chicken vs. the egg dilemma.

Doctor visits.

Disintegration of working relationship.

Burn out.

Faded passion.

Let’s not define this as failure but more so your acceptance and knowing when to move on and not regret anything. You should, or will become, mature enough to see the silver lining in the rollercoaster experience you put yourself through. The peaks of potentially generating millions in revenue to the troughs of the third failed acquisition offer. You will have the odds stacked against you in a copy-cat ecosystem that questions innovation and overly charges you for your existence.

“Fail mindfully.

Be aware of the lessons learned. And be aware of the responsibility to share those learnings with the world.” - Leticia Gasca

So, do you accept these terms and conditions?

 

September 14th 2020, 10:42 pm

Rology raises $860,000 in pre-Series A

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Egypt-based health technology (healthtech) startup Rology, has raised $860,000 pre-Series A investment in a round led by Egypt-based HIMangel with participation from Dubai Angel Investors (DAI), Japan-based the Asia Africa Investment & Consulting (AAIC) and Saudi Arabia’s Athaal group.

Co-founded in 2017 by Amr Abodraiaa, Bassam Khalaf, Mahmoud Eldefrawy and Moaaz Hossam, Rology looks to address the global shortage of radiologists. It uses technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing to facilitate the matching process between radiologists working at hospitals with patients in a timely and efficient manner.

Additionally, Rology’s board will be joined by former Cloudera co-founder and chief technology officer (CTO), and current VP of developer relations at Google Cloud, Amr Awadallah, AAIC director Shigeru Handa, and Khaled Sharbatly from Athaal group.

“At HIMangel we spotted Rology about two years ago as being one of the promising startups in healthtech. We liked very much that they are tackling the global shortage in radiologists using a mix of intelligence on top of a teleradiologists marketplace” Khaled Ismail, chairman of HIMAngel.

The company plans to use the newly raised funds to fuel its growth in Saudi Arabia and Kenya.

“For the last three years we saw first-hand how Rology’s services help hospitals offer fast and accurate care to their patients and how it can literally save patients' lives. We look forward to expanding Rology’s platform to the African and Middle Eastern market where there is a huge need for Rology’s services and ultimately help hospitals offer better care to their patients,” said  Amr AboDraiaa, Rology’s CEO and co-founder.

Currently, Rology has 87 hospitals listed on its platform in five countries.

 

September 14th 2020, 8:32 am

UAE's Alpha Wave invests in India-based EkAnek Networks

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Source: Yourstory

Delhi-based EkAnek Networks announced on Monday it has raised Rs 40 crore in its Series A1 investment round. The funding round was led by Alpha Wave Incubation (AWI), a $300 million venture fund managed by Falcon Edge Capital. Existing investors, Matrix Partners India, Sequoia Capital India, and Lightspeed India also participated in the round.

EkAnek Network is the parent company of recently launched beauty and grooming ecommerce startup, Foxy. The company said it will use the freshly raised funds to expand its presence in Abu Dhabi. The Emirate will be the global base for Foxy's international expansion to the GCA, MENA and other regional markets.

Additionally, EkAnek plans to hire and build a team of data scientists, product managers, and engineers in Abu Dhabi. Navroz Udwadia, Cofounder of Falcon Edge Capital, said in a release: "Foxy will offer mobile-first consumers a differentiated approach to supply, curation, and fulfilment of beauty products.

In addition, EkAnek’s unique B2B2C full-stack offering will drive tighter brand relationships with the platforms and consumers to offer consumers globally an unrivalled experience of beauty products.

EkAnek was founded by IIM Ahmedabad alumnus Kartik Sheth, IIT Delhi graduate Sachin Singhal, and IIT Kharagpur graduate Chandranshu in 2018.

Continue reading this story

September 14th 2020, 7:05 am

Spartech Ventures invests in UK-based Bibliu

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UAE-based venture capital (VC) investor Spartech Ventures, has participated in UK-based educational technology (edtech) platform Bibliu’s $12 million series A investment round.

Founded in 2020, BibliU is an online platform that provides students with access to their textbooks and libraries, offering a variety of flexible purchasing options to different educational institutions of all sizes.

The edtech startup had previously raised $10 million as part of its series A funding round last April, led by Impact Investments, with participation from Guinness Asset Management and Oxford Sciences Innovation.

“What attracted us to BibliU is how they are enhancing the way students consume content at universities. Bibliu has an opportunity to break the content barrier in the region by offering regional institutions with access to content similar to that offered to global prestigious institutions/customers such as University of Oxford, London Business School among others,” said Sachhyam Regmi, managing director at Spartech Ventures.

The partnership between BibliU and Spartech is aimed at supporting the edtech company’s growth in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region and globally.

“Bibliu is an exciting edtech platform to introduce to the region. We are certainly excited to have joined the Bibliu family and look forward to supporting their growth story in the Mena region and beyond,” said Yagub Alserkal, managing director of Spartech Ventures.

Dave Sherwood, CEO and cofounder of BibliU, added: "It is an exciting time for edtech, and BibliU in particular. In the past year, we’ve seen usage quadruple, with approximately 300,000 students provided with access to the platform, and expect that number to double again over the coming year. "Our partnership with Spartech Ventures has really highlighted that the need for education technology, both during the current crisis and in the following years, is a global one. Spartech is very much attuned to this need, and we are incredibly happy to leverage their expertise to create a platform that works for institutions and students everywhere."

In the UK, BibliU works with the majority of universities, including running the largest free eTextbook programme in the UK and EU with Coventry University, while in the US, they run the largest digital content programmes, with their circa 180,000 students accessing its core reading resources online through its platform, all included within the cost of their tuition.

 

September 14th 2020, 5:03 am

Anubis Gaming raises $300,000

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Source: Esports

Egyptian esports organisation Anubis Gaming has secured $300,000 (~£234,297) in it’s latest round of seed funding.

A regional ecommerce group are the source of the investment, which comes after a separate seed round last month saw Anubis Gaming raise $100,000 (~£78,069). The organisation has raised a total of $450,000 in funding since it’s founding.

Based in Cairo, Anubis Gaming has been competing in the Mena region and internationally since 2015. The following year it was recognized by Egypt’s Ministry of Youth and Sport as an official esports team and granted the rights to represent and compete at both regional and international levels.

Across the five year history of the organisation, it has competed in titles including Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends and most notably, Crossfire.

Anubis Gaming Founder, Youssef Mohsen noted that with the funding injection, the organisation plans to “add to their international coaching staff, launch their apparel line, recruit more players to form new teams that will compete on different new fronts. The funds will also be used to move into a fully equipped gaming house and training facility that could host up to 15 players as residents.”

Continue reading this story

September 14th 2020, 4:48 am

Energy-focused AFKAR ventures launches in Mena

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Dubai-headquartered AFKAR Ventures has launched in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region looking to invest in startups operating in energy technology.

The venture capital (VC) firm aims to seed and scale startups and accelerate the expansion of already established energy tech companies.   

 “We will promote the creation of fit-for-purpose regional intellectual property,” said Maen Razouqi, executive director at AFKAR executive director.

The VC was founded by a team with a wide range of experience in energy and technology with a proven track record of innovation. 

The founding team consists of Adnan Ghabris (Chairman), Maen Razouqi (Executive Director), Zied Ben Hamad (Executive Director), Ghassan Mirdad (Director), Raja Al Mazrouei (Director), Mazin Al Lamki (Director).

 

September 13th 2020, 7:08 am

Open banking: DAPI's open letter to the UAE Advisory Council

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An open letter on open banking, a framework for responsible innovation for banks and the fintech community in the UAE

Members of the Advisory Council & CEOs of UAE Banks, 

Last month on 23 and 24 August, DAPI, a financial technology (fintech) startup which was founded in the United Arab Emirates in 2019 (we operate from the Abu Dhabi Global Market’s Reg Lab), participated at Y- Combinator (YC 20), the world’s most successful technology accelerator. DAPI was only the third company from the UAE to participate at Y-Combinator since its formation. 

We participated at YC 20 not just in our own capacity but as proud representatives of the UAE’s  fintech community and as a testament to the enabling environment and ecosystem of innovation and investment that the UAE Government has purposefully built over the last decade – an ecosystem that in 2020 drove the USD $3.1bn acquisition of one of our national tech champions, Careem (our early investors include early investors in Careem including Beco Capital and Class 5 Global (ex Lumia Capital). 

Following our participation at Y-Combinator, we write to request that we seize this moment to launch a new and enduring phase of collaboration between the UAE’s licensed banks and the UAE’s emerging fintech community. 

As you likely know, DAPI is a financial infrastructure provider that enables fintechs to securely develop and deliver compelling applications that empower consumers to simplify transactions and make better decisions with their financial data. Simply put, we enable consumer permissioned payment initiation and account information services in pre-Open Banking regulatory environments across emerging markets. 

Over the last few weeks we have been made aware of certain UAE banks seeking to have our activities restricted by, for example, requesting the ADGM to rescind our licence. We believe it would send a chilling signal to the technology investment community (both foreign and domestic venture capital funds) about the investment climate in the UAE if such a precedent was created. 

There has to be, and is, a better way forward for Open Banking and bank – fintech collaboration in the UAE. 

On August 4th, 2020 we wrote to His Excellency Abdulhamid Saeed, the Governor of the Central Bank of the United Arab Emirates requesting the Central Bank’s guidance on, and consideration of, an industry driven initiative and roadmap for Open Banking in the UAE. A copy of that letter was shared with the UAE Banks Federation. 

In that letter we noted that: 

(a) UAE banks are strongly in favour of the implementation of Open Banking - recent research by Finastra shows that 88 per cent of financial institutions in the UAE plan to enable Open Banking in the next 12 months ie by June 2021

(b) an increasing number of venture-capital backed UAE fintechs are developing new payment initiation 

use-cases on the DAPI platform demonstrating innovation and consumer demand; and 

(c) that enabling an Open Banking framework in the UAE will result in increased levels of investment (both foreign and domestic), heightened innovation and competition, job creation, and ultimately the increased happiness of our residents 

The success and regulation of Open Banking in markets such as Europe, the United Kingdom, and Australia was built on first enabling companies like DAPI to operate, learning from such experiences, and then having such experience drive better regulation. Across the world best-practice regulators have not restricted companies like DAPI from operating in pre-Open Banking environments and allowing compelling applications to develop on top of them. This is the period we are currently in in the UAE and the wider region/ 

Whilst the analogy may come from another industry, our experience in the UAE and our region shows that companies like Careem would never have emerged had they not been able to operate responsibly prior to being regulated. 

It cannot be the intention of banks in the UAE to block such innovation where similar innovation has not been blocked in other developed markets, particularly in an area, Open Banking, which has their strong support. We do understand however that banks may have questions for us. We wish to enter into a dialogue to answer those questions. In fact, in June 2020, and in a spirit of openness and collaboration, DAPI held a series of discussions with a number of banks on our security protocols and architecture. 

In our August 4th letter to His Excellency Abdulhamid Saeed we proposed the formation of an inclusive industry group to move forward with proposing an interim framework for Open Banking in the UAE. We noted that such a framework should prioritise for example, consumer protection, cyber-security, regulatory oversight and reporting mechanisms whilst also enabling companies like DAPI to continue to operate – it cannot be that any collaboration is discussed only upon DAPI suspending operations which had previously been suggested to us by a UAE bank. 

Given the context and what is at stake it is incumbent on us (both banks and fintechs) to take a partnership approach to enable Open Banking and fintech innovation rather than one of attrition that may be perceived to be designed to block the emergence of innovation in the UAE. 

We respectfully propose to build such a collaborative framework as partners. To this end, we would welcome the opportunity of having an initial meeting with you in August to kick start the conversation, listen to each other, and drive things forward. 

Now is the time for us to walk the walk. Let’s walk it together. 

Yours, 

Mohammed Imran Aziz co-founder and CEO 

 

September 12th 2020, 11:08 pm

Social learning crucial to edtech says Noon Academy founder

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The coronavirus lockdown shifted attitudes towards education technology (edtech), accelerating its adoption across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region as students attempted to continue their education online. 

Founded in 2013, Saudi Arabia-based Noon Academy has established its name as one of the most prominent startups in the region's edtech landscape. Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, the startup has gone from strength to strength, with its continued expansion beyond Mena following its recent pre-Series B investment of $13 million.

We caught up with Mohammed Aldhalaan, CEO and co-founder of Noon Academy, to find out his perspective on the current state of edtech and his predictions for the sector in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

How has the crisis impacted edtech in the region?

Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, people did not fully trust digital learning let alone pay for it, and so they shied away completely from them. The crisis however, has forced both parents and educators to start accepting digital learning as a necessary solution in order for them to keep fulfilling the learning needs of the kids at home. 

However, we as a company have come to realise that the biggest problem with online education was that the experience itself was not appealing to students, who find it dull and boring and less lively compared to the offline classroom experience. So we decided to double down on social learning and increasing the engagement levels among our communities of students and tutors. 

When the pandemic arrived in our region, we realised that we were on the right track. The need for the teacher-student interaction, lively discussions and peer-to-peer collaboration was further amplified by the crisis. We have seen that students are turning down unlimited one-on-one tutorials in favour of one-to-many classes. I think many edtech startups have neglected the human component of their digital learning solutions for so long and now is the time to start taking it seriously.

How much growth have you registered during these past few months? 

I think the most important milestone achieved in the past few months was the new senior-level hires at Noon Academy. We successfully managed to attract top talent from different tech backgrounds. 

In terms of user base, we have seen a seven-fold increase in our active users due to the Covid-19 crisis. The number of  registered users increased from three to six million. We are getting high levels of engagement on our platform. 

On average, our students spend almost 45 minutes on our platform, while registered students spend around 78 minutes, five times the global benchmark which is 14 minutes. In order to cope with this demand, we are channeling our energy to creating more relevant and accessible e-social products. That is why we opened our office in London, trying to attract people from companies like Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram as well as online gaming companies in order to potentiate our e-social learning products. 

We have also expanded into India, Pakistan and Iraq.

How are you competing in the markets that you are expanding to? 

We are trying to frame ourselves as a social learning company not a tutoring company. For example, in India, there are 300 million students, around 150 million of which constitute the total addressable market. The vast majority of them study in their provincial languages, while only 15 million students study in English. The latter segment is targeted by the different, well-established tutoring companies. We would not be able to fare well as a tutoring company by all means amid the competitive tutoring landscape. We needed to go hyper local to gain the traction needed. 

What we are trying to do is to automate the digital class, decentralise the supply chain and then the network effect kicks in. One of the disruptions we are working on is to empower teachers and facilitate their work through our virtual tools so they can teach their own way. They can simply open a class, upload the material and then start teaching without even our permission. This is how we approached the Indian market and we believe that our value proposition as a social learning company is the way to win the global markets.

What are you plans for the coming year?

We are looking to broaden into the European and the US markets during 2021 and to close another investment round by mid-2021. We will also continue doubling down on monetisation and launch e-social products like virtual schools.

How do you see the future of edtech?

The options are still limited when it comes to edtech in our region. We saw that educators and parents had turned to applications like Zoom and Google classrooms, which are not designed for educational or instructional purposes.

As the market dries up in areas like transportation, talent and investment will be flowing into spaces like edtech and fintech. As a result, we are going to see more and more edtech companies being established in our region for the foreseeable future. However, the challenge will lie in how these companies can ensure the sustainability of their products after Covid-19 days are over and students go back to their brick-and-mortar classrooms.

 

September 9th 2020, 9:09 pm

Saudi’s Falak to invest SAR5 million in 10 startups

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Saudi Arabia-based angel accelerator Falak Investment Hub is planning to invest SAR5 million in up to 10 tech startups selected to participate in its three-month accelerator programme. 

Falak’s programme will focus primarily on management and strategy, marketing and growth hacking, finance and accounting, and legal and intellectual property. 

Startups participating in this year’s programme will have the chance to access different markets within the GCC, mentorship sessions with other founders and angel investors, market their B2B sales in addition to advisory sessions on organisational, technical and legal issues.

Last year, Falak invested SAR4.2 million in seven tech startups in the GCC.

 

September 9th 2020, 9:05 am

Isqan.com raises pre-seed investment

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Egypt-based property technology (proptech) startup Isqan.com, has raised a six-figure investment in its pre-seed round from an undisclosed angel investor.

Founded last month by Ali Ezzat and Karim Hazem, Ishqan.com is a property listing platform that automates real estate searches. The startup said that it had already partnered up with several market leaders ahead of its launch, including Egypt Best Properties, New Avenue, Byotat, Insider, B2B, Ultimate Real Estate, Remax, Irtkaz, Era, Daddy Estate Investment, Abrag and Proper Move.

“We created Isqan.com to simplify the home buying, selling, and renting process. Isqan.com is an easy way for today’s clientele to search for commercial and residential properties,” said Kazem Hazem. “We aim to tap into local and international property markets, ultimately revolutionising the Middle Eastern digital real estate landscape.”

According to Hazem, the funding will help the startup expand its user base and further strengthen its product. 

“We set out to disrupt what real estate search should look like in Egypt,” Ali Ezzat, co-founder of Isqan.com. “We have created a new way to discover your next property purchase through an extremely simple and easy interface. The real estate market has been developing immensely over the past couple of years and there is a huge shift in the market to utilise more digital methods of attracting new customers.”

September 8th 2020, 9:38 am

Fintech investments in EMEA rise to $4.6 billion in H1 2020

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Investments in financial technology (fntech) in the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) recorded $4.6 billion in the first half of 2020, while global fintech investments dipped to $25.6 billion, according to a report on global fintech investment trends from KPMG International.

The report said that much of the fintech investments in this region were made in early-stage startups, expecting that the fintech market in the Middle East region will further expand and diversify for the foreseeable future with key jurisdictions investing in fintech ecosystems.

Overall, VC investment remained robust in the first half of 2020, according to the report, however, new deal activity slowed down dramatically during the same period, except in high-priority sectors like payments. The reports adds that platform businesses have piqued investor interest, particularly in less mature fintech markets.

“The UAE government has moved forward with a number of initiatives to help and foster the growth of fintech. The RegLab, a sandbox style programme, is a big part of this effort, in addition to programmes like accelerateHER to promote diversity in entrepreneurship. These, combined with startup funds, are likely to be a big part of developing the UAE’s fintech ecosystem over time,” said Abbas Basrai, partner and head of financial services at KPMG in the UAE.

Globally, the mergers and acquisitions (M&A) investment has also seen a sharp decline, the report stated. It adds that M&A accounted for just $4 billion of fintech investment in the first half of 2020, compared to $85.7 billion during the same period last year, which reflects a general slowdown in deal activity, and investors’ lack of appetite in funding major deals amid global uncertainty triggered by Covid-19.

 

September 8th 2020, 8:23 am

Navigating Dubai’s next chapter of growth

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Majed Al Suwaidi is the managing director of Dubai Media City and lead of in5

Startups have always played a crucial role in the social and economic development of Dubai and the UAE. While they were dealt a blow by the pandemic, their agility and skill helped the country respond effectively to the global health crisis. They also raised millions of dollars in investment during the first six months of the year, suggesting venture capital activity could continue unabated as we gradually return to normal.

This is a somewhat bullish outlook considering the continued economic uncertainty. But it is also entirely plausible if we stick to a few simple rules, namely: developing homegrown entrepreneurs by creating an enabling ecosystem with world-class infrastructure, networking, mentorship, training opportunities, and access to investors. This creates sustainability and resilience, ensuring Dubai continues to be a home to great success stories.

The business case for developing environments focused on community-building, incubation and scale for startup and SMEs is clear. Combined, these sectors contribute up to 40 per cent of the Middle East and North Africa’s (Mena) gross domestic product and 50 per cent of its employment opportunities, according to the International Monetary Fund.

The industry is an engine of growth and technological advancement that local and international angel investors, venture capitalists and corporate lenders remain keen on tapping into. 

During the first six months of 2020, in5 members raised more than Dh65 million in direct investment through multiple funding sources. After generating more than Dh400 million between 2013 and 2019, the half-year figure is the highest six-month amount generated by in5 startups since we established the enabling platform seven years ago.

On top of this, we welcomed 41 new companies onto the incubation programme in the first six months of the year, bringing to the total number of active startups at in5 to 216. 

And we are also not the only ones to witness healthy investment activity against a backdrop of uncertainty and headwind, with several reports highlighting significant six-month investment growth for Mena-based startups. 

This goes to show that the Middle East has created an enabling environment for startups and entrepreneurs – and their success during such testing times is encouraging as markets get moving again. But where do we go from here, and how do we create the perfect ecosystem in the post-pandemic world?

Navigating Dubai’s next chapter of growth – one rooted in resilience and innovation – will require the continued development of the unique kind of environments catalysing the creation and evolution of highly scalable and sustainable companies. We need to create entrepreneurial communities supported by an array of independent organisations and individuals collaborating, interacting and spurring one another on.  

This starts with a framework that helps entrepreneurs take their idea from concept to prototype to market. Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all approach because startups and entrepreneurs require different things subject to their business needs. Broadly, though, companies at the pre-seed and seed stage require incubation and simplified business setup to obtain a trade licence and visas.

In conjunction to this, you need to provide mentorship, networking and training opportunities.  Now more than ever we have recognised the importance of infrastructure; you can have the best idea in the world, but it will get nowhere if you do not have good office space, roads, electricity, water access, mobile services, and high-speed internet. With investors in cash-preservation mode and startups facing similar uncertainty, we’ve continued to invest in infrastructure and equipment to provide entrepreneurs from across the region – and further afield – with everything they need.

Across our three innovation centres – in5 Tech, in5 Media and in5 Design – we have continued to develop and improve our physical and digital infrastructure, creative co-working spaces and state-of-the-art facilities. 

At in5 Tech, launched in 2013 in, we have established a lab that offers access to technology and devices to help members and startups leverage cloud computing, robotics, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and other Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies. in5 Design, introduced in 2017, features prototyping labs with state-of-the-art systems and machinery for designers working with metals, wood, plastics, textiles and exciting new materials. Introduced in the same year, in5 Media has advanced audio and video recording studios, high-end production facilities and a green room designed to support creative talent. 

This infrastructure helps entrepreneurs and startups create new products and services, but effective ecosystems need to provide avenues to affluence. We’ve created a network of more than 100 investors and mentors – led by a steering committee comprised of companies such as Accenture, Microsoft, angel investors, educators and industry experts. This team provides advice and guidance on a range of topics including burn rate and capital deployment to law, marketing and strategy. It's complemented by regular advisory sessions led by organisations such as IBM who share big-business expertise on staying ahead in a competitive market.

Such knowledge is imperative for the startup community which, despite raising significant funds this year, still faces revenue and burn-rate challenges. By providing training and development, networking and mentorship opportunities, physical and digital infrastructure and streamlined business setup services, talent has a platform to grow.

As ecosystems pivot and evolve during these exceptional times, developing skills and attracting homegrown and overseas talent is critical to the growth of startups and SMEs. Consequently, this becomes critical to the performance of regional economies. We will continue to invest in our ecosystem and work closely with the relevant authorities to improve rules and regulations to provide simple and seamless setup processes that improve ease of doing business here and enable local and international startups to establish themselves in one of the world’s most liveable cities. 

Navigating Dubai’s next chapter of growth will require the innovation of entrepreneurship to build on the UAE’s knowledge-based economy and create an ecosystem fit for the post-pandemic world.

 

September 7th 2020, 10:05 pm

Abu Dhabi's Alpha Wave invests in India-based SenseHawk

Wamda

Source: VCCircle

Solar software startup SenseHawk Inc. on Tuesday said it has raised $5.1 million (Rs 37 crore) in fresh capital as part of its extended Series A funding round.

The funding was led by Alpha Wave Incubation, a $300 million single-LP venture fund anchored by Abu Dhabi’s state entity ADQ and managed by Navroz Udwadia, a co-founder of New York-based Falcon Edge Capital, said Sensehawk in a statement.

Swarup Mavanoor, CEO and cofounder of SenseHawk, said the funding will help provide strategic access to West Asia and North Africa as well as other global markets.

SenseHawk was founded in 2016 by Mavanoor and Rahul Sankhe. The startup's cloud-based platform and application modules help address challenges in the development, construction and operation of solar sites. 

The platform is used by more than 80 customers to analyse over 28 gigawatt (GW) of solar assets in 15 countries, it said. SenseHawk is also expanding its offerings beyond just the solar space, it added.

Alpha Wave Incubation is a 1.1 billion UAE dirham fund that was launched in May earlier this year to invest in early-stage businesses in India and Southeast Asia.  

Alpha Wave Incubation will help companies it invests in to set up global or regional headquarters in Masdar City – Abu Dhabi’s smart city and cleantech hub, it had said.

The fund's backer ADQ, formerly known as Abu Dhabi Developmental Holding Company, is one of the region's largest holding companies.

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September 7th 2020, 8:12 am

360Moms raises fresh funds

Wamda

UAE-based online parenting platform 360Moms, has raised investment from Palestine-based Ibtikar Fund and Jordan-based ISSF (Innovative Startups and SMEs Fund) for its soon-to-be-released bilingual mobile application.

Founded in 2017, 360Moms is a source for parents seeking guidance on how to support their children’s physical and mental well-being. It also provides a platform on which parents can share their personal stories through blogging and Instagram vlogging.

"360Moms fills a critical gap in the Middle Eastern digital content market by becoming the first and only website in the region to offer content from a trusted, expert perspective on parenting, pregnancy, parent-child mental health and nutrition, special-needs children and family relationships,” said Dina Abdul Majeed, founder and CEO of 360Moms.

The company plans to use the investment to expand into regional and global markets and enhance key features of its to-be-launched bilingual mobile application.

“We were impressed by her achievements to date and her plans for the future and are excited to partner with the ISSF and support 360Moms,” said Ambar Amleh, partner at Ibtikar Fund.

“ISSF is delighted to back the 360Moms team, led by a female founder, on their next phase of growth. 360Moms offers original high-quality content focused on parenting and children’s mental and physical health with the help of qualified global experts. ISSF is confident that with Ibtikar’s support, 360Moms will be able to achieve their growth objectives,” said Laith Al-Qassem, CEO of ISSF.

 

September 7th 2020, 8:12 am

Awok’s failure: Pandemic victim or cash mismanagement?

Wamda

Last week, Dubai-based Awok.com confirmed in a statement on its website that it had shut down, and speculation swiftly began on what caused the e-commerce startup’s demise. The development coincides with a boom in the e-commerce sector globally and in Middle East and North Africa (Mena) on the back of Covid-19, but according to Awok’s statement, it was the pandemic that caused its failure. 

Founded in 2013 by Ulugbek Yuldashev, Awok grew to attract over 10 million visitors per month, offering about 70,000 low-priced products across over 30 categories in UAE and KSA and employing more than 700 employees. On the surface, it appeared that the startup was doing well or at least on the right tracks after announcing a $30 million Series A round back in April 2019. But the company was unable to survive and blamed the global crisis for shutting down its operations. 

“Awok's journey as a mass market e-commerce player has unfortunately come to an end, and the company has ceased operations… We are sad to inform you that given the current global situation it left the company no other choice than to close its platform for good,” the statement said.

The $30 million funding round was aimed at realising ambitious growth plans, improving customer experience and attracting more talent to the team and was jointly led by StonePine Ace Partners and Saudi Arabia’s Al Faisaliah Ventures with participation from Endeavor Catalyst. But it is unlikely the company received the full investment amount, as it was dependent on achieving various milestones. 

At the time of the announcement, Yuldashev said: “Our success was built on providing our customers with the best experience we could, and with this round of financing we will be able to provide an even better experience to an even larger market.”

Al Faisaliah Ventures had pinned its hopes on Awok becoming the region’s next unicorn. Alejandro Carbon, chief portfolio officer of Al Faisaliah Ventures said at the time of the investment round: “The e-commerce space in the region is set for exponential growth in the coming years. Awok.com is ideally positioned to capitalise on that growth... The Al Faisaliah Ventures team scanned the market for the best end-to-end e-commerce capabilities – from sourcing to last-mile delivery – and found Awok.com to be right player to become the next unicorn while supporting small and medium retailers in the region entering online space.” 

However, customer experience remained constantly poor throughout the company’s life pre and post the financing round until the shutdown. From users reporting fake, damaged, refurbished or poor quality products to below average quality of customer service, the company’s rating online had been negative since inception.

“It was never related to Covid-19 at all,” Hussein Khafagy, head of customer experience at Awok, told Wamda. “It was cash mismanagement, we haven’t seen any sign of the funds in reality. The whole situation spoke to bad management and leadership.”

Following the funding last year, a wave of mid- to senior level hiring was made to improve overall operations and customer experience, this is when Khafagy came onboard. 

“There was an untrusted relation between the investors and Yuldashev, investors were backing out in January, despite the earlier news reporting the financing was secured. The funds were conditioned to specific KPIs and the cash was not available for us to work with,” says Khafagy.

He says that Yuldashev told the team earlier this year the whole investment was not secure, and instructed them in January – before the Covid-19 situation erupted in Mena – that they needed to work to breakeven by cutting costs. This led to salary freezes from February onwards, pushing staff members to quit or request unpaid leave. 

The company’s debt reached over Dh60 million for outstanding bills for suppliers and partners since December 2018, “the outstanding bill for Posta Plus alone was Dh800,000. There were talks of acquisition lately by big names, who refused to go ahead with any deal when they became aware of the size of the debt,” says Khafagy.

Awok’s website was up and running this whole time. Orders were coming in and the payment gateway was running but the orders were not fulfilled with no pathway for refunds. “Yuldashev refused to shut it down. Our emails were down and we were using our personal accounts. We communicated to him that people were complaining they were paying for orders and not receiving anything.”

The team in India went on strike and many filed cases against the company. “We came to know that the C-level execs were receiving their full salaries up until the last day. Employees tried to push news about what was happening, but the stories were either removed or blocked a day after publishing,” says Khafagy.

There was no communication with the staff according to Khafagy, and no one internally knew the statement was going up on the website.

Wamda cannot verify Khafagy’s claims, but they are in line with claims that other employees have made. Requests for comment were sent Yuldashev and other senior executives at Awok but none have responded. 

September 7th 2020, 1:54 am

Us-based Village Capital invests in four UAE startups

Wamda

Source: Arabian Business

Village Capital, the US-based venture capital firm, is looking to fund UAE start-ups through its MetLife Foundation Impact Fund, a senior executive of the organisation has revealed.

The four UAE start-ups - Buyback Bazaar Technology, Datacultr Fintech Limited, Distichain and HubPay - are expected to receive funding in the region of $500,000 to $2 million.

The start-ups are part of the 12 early-stage fintech ventures selected by Village Capital, in collaboration with Metlife Foundation and PayPal, for its latest edition of the start-up accelerator programme in the MENA region.

“Besides being considered for investment from the MetLife fund, the four UAE start-up ventures will also be funded from the $150,000 grant capital as part of our Finance Forward MENA program,” Alicia Sornson, manager of Programs & Partnerships in MENA at Village Capital, told Arabian Business.

She said one of the greatest challenges start-ups are facing now is difficulty in accessing capital amid economic uncertainty and the VC fund has recently launched a grand coalition of entrepreneurs to tackle this problem.

“We look to support high-impact companies for acceleration and investment. We are also keen to support startup ecosystems that are less resourced than the major hubs such as Dubai, as also aiming to deepen our support of female-led ventures in the region,” Sornson said.

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September 3rd 2020, 12:03 pm

UDENZ raises $100,000 bridge round

Wamda

Dubai-based dental app UDENZ has raised a $100,000 bridge round, led by Global Ventures UAE and several angel investors. The company previously raised $201,000 via crowdfunding.

Founded in 2016 by Hisham Safadi, UDENZ is a mobile-based platform that connects dentists to dental patients. The app has lately introduced dentist-patient online audio/video consultations and EazeTx Technology, one of the fastest growing online consultation tech providers in the UAE Market.

Additionally, the startup began a pilot test for dental treatment installment plans via its new service UDENZPAY - which allows patients to pay in installments for their dental treatments. The pilot cases succeeded in onboarding 10 dentists within the UAE that offer installment plans for patients referred through UDENZ. 

The company intends to use funds to promote its new services in UAE, KSA, and Oman.

"UDENZ business performance perspective has witnessed an increase thanks to the recent sudden increase in demand in the online health consultation services in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has led to a permanent shift in patient behaviors and attitudes. After the Covid-19 pandemic, it is expected that many dentists in the Arab Gulf region will record an increase in online oral health consultations between 20 and 30 percent,” said Fatema Ravat, general manager of UDENZ.

 

 

September 3rd 2020, 11:33 am
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