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Jordan’s TWIG raises funding from AMC

Wamda

Jordan-based agritech startup TWIG, has raised investment from Miqdadi Agricultural Materials Company (AMC).

TWIG works as a mobile-first platform providing gardeners with integrated services and products such as landscaping and garden maintenance, making it easy for them to manage their business and workforce. The startup also offers software solutions for home gardening.

“We are looking forward at TWIG to creating a leading technological service component in the agricultural sector and making a quantum leap at the information and technical levels of operation, qualification, and automation using technologies and modern innovations and also contributing to improving the commercial spread of products and services on the global map, starting from the landscaping sector in Jordan, with the aim of expanding in the region and globally,” said Mohammad Al Homsi, founder and CEO of TWIG.

The agritech startup recently participated in the acceleration programme provided by HASSAD, that is specialised in supporting startups operating in the field of agricultural and food technologies.

With the fresh funds, the startup will be able to implement its growth plans and invest in its technology as well as expand to other markets.

Mohammed Alafranji, programme manager at HASSAD, said: “HASSAD recently started working with six new startup companies to accelerate their businesses within the second cohort of HASSAD’s business acceleration programme and during this current month, HASSAD began working on the third cohort of the acceleration programme, with the hope that this programme will result in qualifying several Jordanian pioneering companies specialised in the agricultural sector to be able to grow and influence the agricultural sector positively.”

 

January 21st 2021, 9:01 am

NewGen, MooMe raise funding from Maxula Seed Fund

Wamda

Source: Disrupt Africa

Two Tunisian tech startups have secured investment from the newly-launched Maxula Seed Fund, which aims to support innovative, early-stage Tunisian startups with high growth potential across a range of impactful sectors.

Created by asset management company Maxula Gestion, the fund has raised capital from insurance company MAE and the Arab Tunisian Bank (ATB), and wants to back companies with innovation at the heart of their business models.

“The Maxula Seed Fund was created by Maxula Gestion as part of synergy with our portfolio of investments. Our objective is to offer both financing to startups to develop their activity and new ideas to the companies which constitute our portfolio of participations in order to try to allow them to create new markets,” said Raouf Aouadi, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Maxula Seed Fund. 

The fund announced its first two investments this month. They are in NewGen, a gaming startup founded in May 2019 by Seifeddine Ben Hamouda, and agri-tech startup MooMe, a decision-making system for farmers.

January 21st 2021, 8:16 am

Egyptian fintech in 2020: The journey ahead [Part Two]

Wamda

In the second part series, Michel Assaad, vice president of Europe, Middle East and Africa strategy at Citi Bank, outlines the trends that have emerged in Egypt's financial technology (fintech) space over the past year. The views expressed below belong solely to him and not his employer.   

The past 10 months have been eventful, exhausting and sometimes painful. With vaccines being rolled-out, there is finally hope and a tentative timeline to get on a bumpy road to recovery.

Regardless of the timing of the recovery, 2021 will be exciting and lively for Egyptian fintechs. In addition to the trends outlined in the first part of this feature which will continue to drive most of fintech activity in 2021, there are a few other areas that I will be following closely:

Fintech IPOs?

Initial public offering (IPO) volume went through the roof in 2020 in the US, raising a record $180 billion, driven by a very strong stock market performance. The story couldn’t have more been different in Egypt (it was a very slow year for IPOs) EGX30 index dropped by 22.3 per cent in 2020, causing a series of postponements to several high profile processes. Depending on the developments and road to recovery, we could see a number of high-profile IPOs in the financial services and fintech spaces in the new year. Ebtikar, the non-banking financial services platform, is planning an IPO, for a 25-30 per cent stake in the first quarter of this year. E-finance has also pushed its anticipated IPO to Q1 2021. There are also rumours that Banque Du Caire (BdC) might float a share of its equity on the EGX this year while Aman holding might be heading for an IPO in the next couple of years. 

Banks are expected to step up their fintech involvement and investments

Banks have always played a leading and pivotal role in financial services. This is unlikely to change anytime soon but what has already changed is the speed with which banks are embracing and accelerating innovation (through acquisitions, partnerships, venture building and incubations and intrapreneurship).

We are at a stage where it is no longer optional for banks to go all in on digital. Banks that want to lead the market will have to do a lot more than just embracing digital. A few days before 2020 ended, NBE announced the acquisition of a 24 per cent stake in Aman, similarly, Fawry and Banque du Caire have set up a joint remittance service while Banque Misr has partnered with digital payments app, Masary.

This trend is likely to continue and accelerate. I expect more banks to speed up their involvement in fintech by launching new digital products, by acquiring existing fintechs that complement their offerings and by partnering with startups that are looking for a way to enter a heavily regulated market.

Digital Banks

Digital banking has been at the forefront of the global fintech revolution for years, and by that, I mean truly digital neobanks and not traditional banking operations that have adopted a digital layer. Globally, independent banks, with no brick-and-mortar presence, have been very successful at acquiring customers at an accelerated rate due to their seamless customer experience. Notable examples include Chime and Sofi in the US, Revolut and Monzo in the UK, N26 in Germany, NuBank in Brazil and Tinkoff in Russia.  Stand-alone digital entities launched by legacy banks have generally been less successful.

On the regional level, it is still unclear who will establish themselves as the main contenders in this space. Current efforts are predominantly led by existing legacy banks, but I expect much more dynamism in the future, especially with open banking making its way to the region (open banking in Egypt is probably on my 2022 watchlist rather than 2021.)

In Egypt, we still haven’t really dipped our toes in the water. There has been news and rumours of large banks building their digital brands and others that planning to, for example, NBE and Housing and development banks are in the process of applying for CBE digital licenses, while Banque Misr announced plans to launch a stand-alone digital bank.

The battle for leadership in this space will be fierce and will not be resolved in 2021 but I certainly expect, and hope for, some developments during the next 12 months.

Expected pick-up in lending activity, with micro-financing at the forefront

In recent years, the Egyptian state, through government, FRA and CBE initiatives, has been pushing for a more dynamic micro-financing space. The microfinance loan portfolio grew at a three-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 54 per cent, reaching EGP16.5 billion ($1 billion) in 2019, and is expected to continue to grow at an accelerated rate in the next few years.

We have already seen a heightened level of activity in the first few days of the new year. Fawry’s microfinance subsidiary raised EGP310 million in debt to fuel expansion. Cassbana, micro-financing startup, has raised $1 million from fintech-focused fund DisrupTech Ventures and NCB Capital’s microfinance arm is working to get the required licenses in the next couple of months

Lending in general (including buy now pay later, microfinancing, money circles, factoring and others) will remain a very active part of the Egyptian fintech ecosystem.

The Mena region has started to become very attractive for global fintech players. How will that impact growth and ambitions of local startups?

Over the past couple of years, we have seen a large number of global giants expanding to the Middle East. If we focus on the payments space, Stripe, Adyen and Checkout.com have become very active in the region. Similarly, Revolut is pursuing a local banking licence in the UAE. These giants have, so far, targeted the Gulf region but Egypt will surely follow. Their entry to the local market will undoubtedly help accelerate innovation and exit opportunities but can also have a negative impact on local startups that might struggle to grow and compete with companies with huge resources,  established operations and established business models.

Expansion of B2B fintechs beyond payroll and HR

If we look at the fintech landscape in Egypt, a large proportion of active companies are business-to-consumer (B2C), targeting individual consumers. There is, however, a growing focus on business-to-business (B2B) startups, but from a very small base. Perhaps the most active sub-segment of B2B is human resources (HR) and payroll services, including the likes of NowPay, Paynas and Dopay. I look forward to seeing a more diverse outlook for the B2B space where there is a lot of untapped potential.

Will Egypt ride the crypto wave?

We have recently witnessed a series of manic developments in Crypto: from Bitcoin nearing the $30,000 mark towards the end of 2020 to Paypal entering the cryptocurrency market – the two events are not completely unrelated. On the local level, the National bank of Egypt (NBE) signed a partnership agreement with Ripple to use blockchain in remittances while Egyptians seem to have gotten hooked on mining and trading bitcoin. There are still ambiguities on the legality of crypto in Egypt, but this is certainly an area where we will continue to see more interest and activity.

Regtech beyond E-KYC?

The regulatory technology (regtech) space might see a wave of dynamism in the new year on the back of the CBE piloting e-know your customer (E-KYC). The two leading startups in this space, Digified and Valify, have both on the automated E-KYC testing. Digified has also announced plans to raise funding to fuel expansion.

Insurtech has taken off in several parts of the world but not yet Egypt

Innovation and disruption have been largely sparse in the relatively big Insurance market in Egypt (EGP35 billion in 2018/19.) The market is served by 39 insurance providers and a large number of brokerage individuals and companies. If regional developments are a good indicator of what is coming, insurance technology will slowly disrupt the market but I am personally not holding my breath for much in 2021.

Promising look ahead

2020 will always be remembered as the year of Covid-19, with all its agony, pain and disruption. However, for Egyptian fintech, it is not all bad. It is the same year that got us the first Egyptian unicorn, the new banking and central bank law, and the accelerated adoption of digital practices. I have to admit that the process of writing this review has helped me realise how much has changed for Egyptian fintech and stressed how much potential there is. I am conscious that for every new launch mentioned here, there are ventures that never made it through the year. For every funding round there are startups that ran out of cash. The road will be bumpy, like it always has been, but the sense of optimism that I see in many people in the sector is encouraging.

Egypt has a huge talent pool that is increasingly excited to go into fintech. There are more and more startups taking on various challenges, one step at a time. Capital is beginning to follow (but is not yet where it should be.) And we finally have a regulatory environment that is moving forward and attempting to catch up with innovation. We would not have been able to say that a few years ago. The challenges however, are still enormous and we are beginning to scratch the surface in fintech but the direction of travel is promising.

January 20th 2021, 8:54 pm

Tamara raises $6 million in seed funding

Wamda

Saudi Arabia-based buy now pay later (BNPL) startup Tamara, has secured a $6 million (SAR 22.5 million) seed round, with participation from Vision Ventures, Wealth Well, Seedra, Khwarizmi, Hala, and Nama, along with multiple family offices. This marks the largest seed round ever raised by a Saudi Arabian startup.

Founded by Abdulmajeed Alsukhan and Turki Bin Zarah and Abdulmohsen Albabtain, Tamara is the first Saudi Arabian fintech startup to acquire a sandbox licence to operate as a BNPL platform.

The fresh funds will help Tamra accelerate its growth plans as well as expand across Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Tamara’s top partners include: Namshi, Whites, Floward, Saif Gallery, Toys R Us in addition to the e-commerce enablers: Salla and Zid. The company has offices in Germany, UAE and Vietnam.

“We enable merchants to grow their sales and entice their customers with our buy now pay later and installment services that do not include any fees the customer has to pay. We strongly believe Tamara will be a game-changer for both merchants and customers. It will positively re-shape the purchasing power in the market”, said Abdulmajeed Alsukhan, CEO and co-founder of Tamara.

Abdulaziz Alomran, CEO of Impact46, Added: “The fintech market is expected to reach $33 billion in transaction value by 2023. We believe that buy now pay later is an untapped area in this huge market, and we are proud to support the Saudi pioneers leading Tamara who will surely play a major role in the transformation and future of financial services in KSA & GCC.”

BNPL has become one of the fastest growing sectors within fintech in the region, driven by the rise of e-commerce

 

January 20th 2021, 6:04 am

Egyptian fintech in 2020: A tale of crosswinds and tailwinds [Part One]

Wamda

In this two part series, Michel Assaad, vice president of Europe, Middle East and Africa strategy at Citi Bank, outlines the trends that have emerged in Egypt's financial technology (fintech) space over the past year. The views expressed below belong solely to him and not his employer.   

It is hard to find an original way to describe 2020. I think we can all agree that it was truly a unique year that has had, and will continue to have, immense and uneven consequences on most aspects of our lives.

Among the sectors that thrived last year, many would count fintech as one of them, after all, Covid-19 has helped leapfrog digital adoption, particularly in payments and e-commerce.  

The story is, however, more nuanced and convoluted. It is true that several sub-sectors of fintech flourished and that startups with strong, adaptable business models thrived. The crisis, however, has also severely impacted people’s ability to spend, borrow and repay loans in a way that threatened a large number of companies with shorter cashflow runways. Fintechs that cater to heavily impacted industries (e.g., travel) struggled. Many fintechs that service small to medium-sized enterprises also struggled.

The true and multi-layered, impact of the crisis can only be assessed a year (or more) from now when we are well on a path to recovery. By then, the impact of policy initiatives and fiscal and monetary interventions will have started to wane off.

A closer look at Egypt

Fortunately, Egypt’s first Covid wave was milder than those in other countries. The country managed to get by without going into full lockdown and the country is now one of the few in the world with a positive gross domestic product (GDP) growth outlook for 2020. Despite the mild top-line hit, most startups still felt the impact of Covid-19, with a whopping 83.9 per cent indicating, in May, that they had been negatively impacted by the crisis. The same survey highlighted that 29 per cent of Egyptian startups had suspended operations – an alarming proportion that would have increased with the recent resurgence of the virus. It remains to be seen what the full impact of the second wave is.  

Despite these crosswinds, Egypt remained one of the leading hubs of entrepreneurship in the Middle East in 2020. The country had the highest number of investment rounds in the first half of 2020 in Mena, according to Magnitt, despite having a lower average investment per deal compared to GCC countries. In addition, Cairo was listed among the world’s top “Ecosystems to watch” in 2020 in Start-up Genome’s recent report.

If we look back on 2020, the largest funding rounds for Egyptian startups were not in fintech but healthcare and transport, with Vezeeta raising more than $40 million and Swvl more than $20 million. Yet, fintech still managed to make headlines on several occasions, including new regulations, high profile investment rounds and exciting launches. It was an eventful and exhilarating year for the fintech ecosystem in Egypt.

Here is my attempt at summarising what 2020 meant for Egyptian fintech and what spaces I will personally be watching closely in 2021.

Despite the pandemic, we have seen several new fintech-focused funds and a decent investment pipeline for Egyptian fintechs that help solve post-Covid problems

 

The pandemic has undoubtedly had a negative impact on funding, with several investors waiting to see who would emerge victorious and what new ventures would start solving for post-Covid problems. Half of the startups surveyed by Wamda, in May, indicated that their funding rounds were impacted by Covid-19. Despite the pandemic, we still saw a decent number of funding deals in fintech in Egypt - although not at the same scale as Swvl or Vezeeta. It is worth noting that most startups that raised money are still in early stages and cater to a post-Covid world of accelerated digitisation.

Notable mentions include Moneyfellows, Paymob, Nowpay and Flick. We also need to mention Halan and Fatura, both operating in fintech despite it not being their primary focus.

Last year also brought to life new local funds that focus on fintech: Disrputech, a $25 million fund founded by Fawry’s co-founder, Central bank of Egypt’s (CBE) $55 million fintech fund, EFG-EV founding by EGF Hermes and others. In parallel, we have also witnessed a rise in angel investment in Egypt, with the likes of Alexandria Angels and Cairo Angels enriching the early stage startups funding ecosystem.

The regulatory framework is finally beginning to react to innovation

2020 has finally brought the much anticipated Banking and Central Bank law, replacing the one from 2003. The new law addressed for the very first time digital payments and the payments infrastructure, digital banks and digital currencies.

Throughout the year, the state has continued to promote financial inclusion and the digitisation of the financial sector. In March, the CBE announced the E-KYC pilot with participation of a few fintechs. Shortly after, in response to Covid-19, CBE organised the distribution of free point of sale (POS) terminals, eased fees and charges, and increased contactless payments limits. July saw the launch of the regulatory fintech sandbox and in November, the E-invoicing system was launched. There has also been news of a non-banking financial services law and regulations in planning.

There is a long way to go to create a dynamic regulatory environment that truly enables a thriving fintech ecosystem but recent developments are positive and welcomed.

Digital payments

The digital payments infrastructure in Egypt had been improving for some time prior to Covid-19. This trend was massively accelerated by the strong tailwind from the pandemic, causing a boom in e-commerce and awareness of e-payments. Moreover, Fawry’s success story has undoubtedly encouraged investments in other e-payments venture that will help dynamise this space in coming years. The industry is still massively underpenetrated as cash remains king but will remain as one of the more active areas within fintech in coming years.

Fawry has become the first Egyptian unicorn

A moment to celebrate and remember; we finally have an Egyptian unicorn!

Fawry’s market cap exceeded $1 billion in August, a year after its initial public offering (IPO), and is currently valued at more than $1.5 billion. The fintech giant is the largest e-payment platform in Egypt, with potential to grow, but there are also several other e-payments players that have been doing very well.

The number of mobile wallets has jumped to more than 14 million in October, surging by 17 per cent since March

The pandemic has clearly helped the adoption of e-wallets as the numbers clearly show. In the absence of GooglePay and ApplePay, the competitive landscape in Egypt is currently dominated by telcos and banks. Vodafone is currently leading the ranks, operating 65 per cent of e-wallets in Egypt, followed by its telco competitors and several large banks (e.g., CIB, NBE, Alexbank, and Banque Misr).

In November, we got our first independent, licensed e-wallet provider, Raseedy, which partnered with the Saudi Investment Bank (SAIB) and Mastercard.

Covid-19 and the rise of e-commerce helped popularise buy-now-pay-later (BNPL)

BNPL has spread in the US and Western Europe with the rise of e-commerce. Globally, players like Klarna and, most recently Paypal, have been at the forefront of this trend. From a local perspective, 2020 has been the year when BNPL has really taken off in Egypt, catalysed by the rise of e-commerce and Covid-induced financial struggles.

 ValU, by EFG Hermes, has been leading the BNPL effort in Egypt. The innovative startup, which you might have seen on Cairo’s billboards, has partnered with Payfort and Al-Futtaim and continues to grow. Another exciting player, Shahry, raised $650,000 in pre-seed funding in May. I expect several others to follow suit and that BNPL surges in popularity in 2021.

The surge in e-commerce and digital payments has benefited a series of related sub-sectors including loyalty, discounts and offers and rewards apps. In December alone, we witnessed two investment rounds in this space. Zeal, loyalty and rewards app founded in 2009, raised a seed round while Lucky app, rewards and cashback app, raised capital, as part of an investment in its parent company, DSQ group.

Have you heard of Robinhood? You might want to start paying attention to Thndr, Egypt’s newest stock trading platform

In August, Thndr, the Y Combinator-backed startup, received its brokerage licence from the Financial Regulatory Authority (FRA). The company is the first to announce commission-free trading on the Egyptian stock Exchange, with no account minimum required – à la Robinhood.

Wealth management startups and robo-advisers have been very popular in many parts of the world during the pandemic and are expected to remain popular in a low-interest rate environment.  It will be very interesting to watch this space in Egypt and Mena in 2021.

A year of partnerships

Fintech has become much more than just financial services. We have seen, and will continue to see, a large number of tech and telco players using partnerships (and acquisitions) as a way get into fintech or expand their footprint. Large banks have also been partnering with tech firms, telcos and even startups. From the startups’ perspective, partnerships can allow them to access new markets and geographies, to accelerate customer acquisition and to navigate complex regulatory environments.

2020 was a year of partnerships in the Egyptian fintech space. Examples include Paynas, Visa, and Banque Misr partnering to launch a digital platform for micro and small to medium-sized enterprises and contractors. The National Bank of Egypt (NBE) signed an agreement with Ripple that will see the state-owned bank using the company’s blockchain technology for remittance payments made through NBE. TPay partnered with Vodafone Egypt and China’s Huawei to expand its footprint. And in late December, Mastercard and Carticard partnered to drive financial inclusion in Egypt. I would expect this trend to continue in the new year.

January 19th 2021, 9:15 pm

KBW Ventures invests in BlueNalu

Wamda

UAE-based KBW Ventures has increased its stake in US-based BlueNalu, participating in its newly-raised $60 million convertible note financing round. KBW Ventures previously invested in BlueNalu’s $20 million Series A round.

The fresh round was led by Rage Capital and included the participation of Agronomics, Lewis & Clark AgriFood, McWin, Siddhi Capital, Clear Current Capital, CPT Capital, Flat World Partners, Losa Group, OurCrowd, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, AiiM Partners and Stray Dog Ventures along with several strategic investors. It marks the largest financing to date in the cell-based seafood industry worldwide.

“We have increased our stake in BlueNalu by investing for the second time. Our commitment to inject further capital is based on the company’s impressive forward roadmap, detailing a clear path to ramping up production and bringing its first product to market. KBW Ventures is pleased to play a role in the largest financing ever for a cell-based seafood company, aligning ourselves with mission-driven businesses that seek to solve the world’s food security issues sustainably,” said Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud, founder and CEO of KBW Ventures.  

Established in 2018, BlueNalu has been on a mission to use fish cells to produce various seafood products. With the new capital injection, BlueNalu will be able to open a 40,000 square foot pilot production facility, complete Food and Drug Authority (FDA) regulatory review for its first products, and embark on a marketplace testing in a variety of foodservice establishments throughout the US.

BlueNalu plans to introduce a wide variety of cell-based seafood products from its pilot production facility in San Diego, starting with the launch of mahi mahi later this year, followed by the launch of a premium bluefin tuna thereafter.

“The global market for seafood is highly vulnerable today and is valued at an estimated $200 billion. With strong investor support, our innovative and visionary management team demonstrates a clear value proposition, technology, IP, and a comprehensive regulatory strategy, all of which provide a solid foundation as we move closer to our in-market launch,” said Amir Feder, BlueNalu’s chief financial officer (CFO).

 

January 19th 2021, 11:10 am

Mohamed Hilal Group invests in Spain’s VirtuE through SAIN

Wamda

UAE-based Mohamed Hilal Group has signed an investment agreement with Spanish Startup VirtuE R&D, through the newly-launched Sharjah Angel Investors Network (SAIN), operated by The Sharjah Research, Technology, and Innovation Park (SRTI Park). The deal marks the first investment to be made directly through the newly launched Sharjah initiative and also the first for MHG in the technology sector.

VirtuE, specialised in the development of AI applications for psychology, joined the STRI Park back in June 2020.

“We aspire that the value of the Spanish company, with which our group has signed a four-year investment agreement, to reach Dh3 billion to Dh4 billion and to go global through Sharjah,” said Mohamed Hilal, CEO of Mohamed Hilal Group.

“Our new investment clearly reflects our commitment to attracting quality investments, especially in future sectors, owing to the importance of the healthcare and psychology in maintaining the solidness of our community and economy, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic has shown us the importance of harnessing modern technology to maintain our physical and mental health, while the startups have proven to be the spearhead in technical investments that support the economy and humanity,” Hilal added.

As per the agreement, MHG will expand VituE’s operational presence to include other markets besides the UAE. Additionally, both parties will collaborate on launching an AI-based scientific research hub that focuses on Equine‐assisted therapy and developing game-based digital programs to enhance mental and psychological health and to promote a more self-conscious society. 

“We are pleased to see such kind of strategic partnerships under the umbrella of Sharjah Angel Investors Network (SAIN) between one of SRTI Park-headquartered large investment groups, Mohamed Hilal Group, and the Spanish company VirtuE R&D which is also operating in the SRTI Park,” said Hussain Al Mahmoudi, CEO of SRTI Park.

SAIN was launched last December, with an aim to convert high-net-worth individuals into angel investors and help them execute the angel investment process. 

From its side, SRTI Park will provide the angel investors with a training programme to educate them on the key elements of angel investment, how to diversify risks, negotiate deal terms and ways to pursue deals and support emerging companies.

 

January 19th 2021, 6:52 am

Derayah VC invests in Pakistan’s Bazaar

Wamda

Saudi Arabia-based Derayah Venture Capital has invested in Pakistan-based business to business (B2B) e-commerce platform Bazaar’s $6.5 million seed round, co-led by Global Founders Capital and Indus Valley Capital. Other participant investors include S7V, Wavemaker Partners, Next Billion Ventures and existing investor Alter Global.

The fresh round takes the startup’s total funding to $7.8 million. Since its launch in 2020, Bazaar has served over 10,000 retailers in Karachi and has a catalogue of over 500 SKUs on its platform.

Founded by Saad Jangda and Hamza Jawaid, Bazaar enables small grocery stores to purchase directly from manufacturers, wholesalers, and suppliers. Bazaar’s existing board includes a group of angel investors as well as founders of other B2B startups such as Maxab (Egypt), Ula (Indonesia), and Sokowatch (Africa).

It plans to use the capital to expand its footprint across Pakistan, build its product capabilities, and offer more value-added services to its customers.

“As the fifth largest country in the world with rising digital adoption, we have an incredible opportunity to empower micro-businesses through technology. Over 80 per cent  of our customers own and operate smartphones, yet their way of running a business has not changed, until now. By bringing them online, we can meaningfully improve their business and their lives, freeing up time to focus on the most important tasks, eventually enabling greater returns,” said Hamza Jawaid, co-founder of Bazaar.

Saad Jangda, co-founder of Bazaar said: “At Bazaar, we believe that building the technology layer for traditional commerce is a massive opportunity. With the sheer size of the Pakistani market, a new narrative and spotlight on our ecosystem, and an abundance of Pakistanis moving back home, we finally have all the right fundamentals to build massive tech institutions. We have been blown away by our early team and humbled by the roster of investors who are supporting us on this journey. It is further validation of the sheer yet untapped potential of tech in our country.”

 

January 19th 2021, 6:37 am

Alpha Wave leads $2.5 million seed round in India’s Udayy

Wamda

Source: YourStory

Udayy, the Gurugram-based edtech startup, has raised $2.5 million in a seed round led by Alpha Wave Incubation (AWI), managed by Falcon Edge Capital, and InfoEdge Ventures. The funding round also saw participation from Better Capital, Kunal Shah, and other angels.

The edtech startup will use the fund for its next phase of growth, which will include curriculum development, product suite expansion, and hiring.

Udayy, founded by Saumya Yadav, Mahak Garg, and Karan Varshney – alumni of IIT Delhi and Stanford University — raised its first round of angel funding in June 2019.

According to the edtech startup, it facilitates the development of Mathematical thinking and confident speaking in children by engaging them in an interactive, small classroom with three-five children. Recently, it also launched a free app providing daily worksheets for children. The startup claimed that its business model has solved for high contribution margins and upwards of 97 percent retention.

Speaking on the investment, Udayy Co-founder and CEO Saumya Yadav, said, "Primary grades are formative years of education for children. An outdated education system is failing Indian parents and children.

Udayy is making learning fun and engaging for children by bringing ‘learning by doing’ methodology through games, role plays, and activities to our classrooms.” The edtech startup claims its USP lies in the flipped classroom methodology, where the student drives his or her own learning pedagogy, customised to the student’s individual capability. Also, Udayy believes it is catering to the untapped segment of the younger age group.

Anirudh Singh, Managing Director, Alpha Wave Incubation, said, “After-school education in the younger age group segment is an untapped market in India. Udayy is on track to disrupt the space through its experiential learning model, which uses technology-driven gamification as a key driver of learning outcomes."

It runs over 400 classrooms daily for children from 45 locations across India.

 

January 19th 2021, 4:21 am

VentureSouq invests in Singapore-based Volopay

Wamda

Source: TechCrunch

Volopay, a Singapore-based startup building a “financial control center” for businesses, announced today it has raised $2.1 million in seed funding. The round was led by Tinder co-founder Justin Mateen, and included participation from Soma Capital, CP Ventures, Y Combinator, VentureSouq, the founders of Razorpay, Antler and other angel investors.

The funding will be used on hiring, product development, strategic partnerships and Volopay’s international expansion. It plans to launch operations in Australia later this month. The company currently has about 100 clients, including Smart Karma, Dathena, Medline, Sensorflow and Beam.

Launched in 2019 by Rajith Shaiji and Rajesh Raikwar, Volopay took part in Y Combinator’s accelerator program last year. It was created after chief executive officer Shaji, who worked for several fintech companies before launching Volopay, became frustrated by the process of reconciling business expenses, especially with accounting departments located in different countries. Shaiji and Raikwar also saw that many companies, especially startups and SMEs, struggled to track different kinds of spending, including subscriptions and vendor payments.

Most of Volopay’s clients are in the tech sector and have about 15 to 150 employees. Volopay’s platform integrates multicurrency corporate cards (issued by Visa Corporate), domestic and international bank transfers, automated payments and expense and accounting software, allowing companies to save money on foreign exchange fees and reconcile expenses more quickly.

In order to speed up its development, Volopay integrated Airwallex’s APIs. Its corporate cards offer up to 2% cash back on software subscriptions, hosting and international travel, which Volopay says are the three top expense categories for tech companies, and it in November 2020, it launched a credit facility for corporate cards to help give SMEs more liquidity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Continue reading this story

January 19th 2021, 4:21 am

Wamda participates in Ziina’s seed round

Wamda

Wamda has invested in UAE-based peer-to-peer (P2P) payment application Ziina’s seed funding round, which was led by the Oman Technology Fund (OTF)-backed Jasoor Ventures. Other investors who participated in this round include Class 5 Global, Long Journey Ventures, Graph Ventures, Jabbar Internet Group and FJ Labs.

Founded in 2020 by Faisal Toukan, Sarah Toukan and Andrew Gold, Ziina offers its users in the UAE simplified P2P payment services. The startup intends to increase its product offering to serve freelancers and small businesses, grow its team, expand its footprint going into 2021, with plans to expand to Saudi Arabia and Jordan by 2022.

“One of our missions at Ziina is linking the best talent and resources of the UAE with those of Silicon Valley. We’ve seen the UAE take a highly proactive approach to supporting the fintech ecosystem and we are thrilled to be a part of it,” said Faisal Toukan, CEO and co-founder of Ziina.

“Coupled with this, we’ve received an enthusiastic response from VCs and angel investors during our latest funding round and are incredibly grateful for their support. This will contribute to supercharging Ziina’s growth in the year ahead, achieving the goals we’ve set. Through Ziina we want to help redefine the way people in the Middle East think of, interact with and experience financial services. Our company is founded on the belief that everyone should have access to the next generation of financial services,” he added.

Ziina is the third UAE startup to be recognised by Silicon Valley’s startup accelerator Y-Combinator, and is participating in its Winter 2021 batch.

“The participation with Y-Combinator is a game changer for Ziina and we are thrilled that we have fallen into the very small bracket of companies who are accepted. We’re excited to tap into Y-Combinator’s larger network, including its exceptional talent and investor pools. Furthermore, it also allows us to have access to mentors from top technology companies, which will propel Ziina to an even higher level when it comes to scaling our operations,” said Toukan.

 

January 19th 2021, 12:50 am

Women entrepreneurs can boost Middle East economies

Wamda

Last week, TiE held its Women Global Competition in person in the UAE. The global initiative is dedicated to empower women entrepreneurs from across the world. More than 2000 startups submitted their pitches, of which 26 participated in the grande finale. Three winners – Inochi Care, Ahammune Biosciences and WeavAir all received a cash prize and will receive training mentoring and further access to funding.

Empowering women to pursue entrepreneurship is one of TiE’s key objectives and in this oped, Ashish Panjabi, president of TiE’s Dubai chapter explains how women entreprenuers can boost the region’s economy.

The startup ecosystem in the Middle East and especially in the UAE is a perfect ensemble that rings in the right notes and the well-orchestrated symphony.

The initiatives implemented by the regional governments for diversifying their economies from oil revenues have given rise to a plethora of startups across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region. The regional startup ecosystem has grown from strength to strength; last year saw  496 startup investment deals take place across the Mena region, exceeding to $1 billion in total investment, a report by Magnitt found. The report also highlighted that the UAE remained the most active startup ecosystem with 26 per cent of all deals, followed by Egypt (24 per cent), and Saudi Arabia (18 per cent).

The gender gap in startup activity is reasonably consistent across most countries. According to a recent report from the World Economic Forum, in terms of economic participation, it will take another 257 years for the world to close the gender gap and even today there are 72 countries that prevent women from opening bank accounts or obtaining credit. Sadly, inequality exists even in the venture capital space. An experiment by researchers from Harvard, MIT and the Wharton School found more than two-thirds of investors preferred to invest in startups founded by men.

Although the findings appear disheartening, it is relevant to note that the Mena region has made a lot of progress on the gender parity front. It is fair to say empowering women entrepreneurs to flourish across the region has been taken quite seriously in this part of the world.

An analysis by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) shows that if women and men participated equally as entrepreneurs, global gross domestic product (GDP) could rise by approximately 3 per cent to 6 per cent, boosting the global economy by $2.5 trillion to $5 trillion.

The UAE business environment is committed to driving equality in the business world, and hence the UAE government is implementing initiatives to address gender inequality and to empower female entrepreneurs. Some of these initiatives include the rise of Women Entrepreneur Support Groups, Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative, Support Through Private Company Partnerships, Business Setup Packages Exclusively for Women. Organisations like TiE (with its local chapter of TiE Dubai) also play an active role in the community life, supporting the rising number of entrepreneurs through mentoring, networking, education, incubating, and funding and a number of initiatives like TiE Women, TiE Hustle among others. These initiatives are aimed at addressing the concerns of entrepreneurs in the region such as access to financing, coaching, networking and professional advancement opportunities, etc.

Encouraging women entrepreneurs to step into the business ecosystem has myriad of benefits that go far beyond boosting the global GDP. If more women had equal access to entrepreneurship opportunities and could start accumulating wealth, the gender wealth gap could also begin to reduce further. Gender diversity, in the startup ecosystem can fuel the growth of women-owned enterprises which can ultimately unleash new ideas, services and products into the markets, redefining the future.

Experts suggest there is compelling evidence, further supported by the recent findings of the Kauffman Fellows Research Centre, that top management teams with more significant gender, international experience and educational diversity have a significant positive impact on business performance.

At TiE Dubai, while interacting with various women entrepreneurs, we have witnessed that they have tremendous untapped potential. Research by the Harvard Business Review also suggests that women outscore men in most leadership skills. Women scored higher than men in critical skills such as team working, innovation and problem-solving. Such research bears testament to the immense potential of women when given a more level playing field, such as mentoring, capacity building and access to credit, as well as their inherent leadership skills critical to success in entrepreneurship.

Initiatives policymakers can implement to tackle gender inequality which is critical for economic growth include:

Unleashing the power of women entrepreneurs will require action from a range of groups, including venture capitalists, nonprofit organisations, and corporations. These efforts will at least start to uncover impediments to their growth.

January 17th 2021, 9:02 pm

Jada to invest in Merak Capital

Wamda

Source: Saudi Gazette

Jada Fund of Funds Wednesday made an official commitment to Merak Technology Ventures Fund, which focuses on early-stage technology companies in the Kingdom, and is managed by Merak Capital, a blind pool venture capital (VC).

Merak Capital launched one of the first VC funds operating under the jurisdiction of the Capital Market Authority (CMA) in Saudi Arabia, focusing on the growth and scaling of small to medium enterprises (SMEs) and startups operating in the fields of the digital economy and infrastructure, financial technologies (FinTech) and emerging fourth industrial revolution (4IR) technologies.

Adel Al Ateeq, CEO of Jada, commented on the commitment: “Jada’s commitment to Merak Capital demonstrates our appetite for Emerging Managers, which is a testament to our core belief that emerging fund managers can propel Saudi’s venture capital sector forwards, once they have the right structures, strategy, governance and alignment of interest in place."

He added: “Raising a venture capital fund is not straight-forward. The fact that Merak Capital offers such a compelling value proposition at this stage of their life, with a new strategic approach to unlocking Saudi’s emerging tech industry, makes our partnership all the more exciting.”

Merak Capital was founded and officially launched as a CMA-licensed investment firm in July 2020, by founding partners Abdullah Altamami, Othman Alhokail, and Abdulrahman Bin Mutrib. The three founders are Saudi nationals, whose focus at Merak Capital falls on forging a technology-centric portfolio of high-potential tech startups based in Saudi. Each one of Merak’s founders brings an extensive track records of investing in technology across different asset classes.

Jada’s commitment to Merak Capital also underscores the fund of fund’s confidence in emerging tech startups to fuel and sustain long-term socioeconomic growth in the Kingdom.

Indeed, Merak Capital’s focus on emerging tech start-ups stems from the enormous potential for digitization in the Kingdom, in alignment with the ambitions of the Vision 2030 to use the technology sector to catalyze the nation’s economic diversification over the next decade. And with 60 percent of Saudi’s 34 million population under the age of 35, the Kingdom has an online presence of 90 percent. The potential for the technology market’s growth in the Kingdom and the region at large is tremendous.

Remarking on Jada’s commitment to the firm, Merak Capital CEO Abdullah Altamami, said: “We are delighted to secure this commitment from Jada, whose approach to capital commitments is thorough, diligent and challenges funds to prove what value they can bring to the market.

Our partnership also stands out as a clear vote of confidence from Jada in our process, CMA structure, and the venture capital asset class in Saudi Arabia. He added.

“Together through our partnership, we are confident that we can empower and enable Saudi’s SMEs and startups in the emerging technology sector to create a long-term impact on the Kingdom in the next ten years and beyond.”Jada was established to increase the localization of non-oil sector economic growth and build an institutional venture capital and private equity ecosystem that can propel the Kingdom’s long-term diversification efforts and raise the SME sector’s contribution from 21 percent to 35 percent of the Kingdom’s GDP by 2030. — SG

 

January 17th 2021, 3:53 am

Rain secures $6 million Series A

Wamda

Bahrain-based cryptocurrency exchange Rain has raised $6 million in its Series A round of funding. The round was led by Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP) with participation from existing and new investors including Coinbase, Vision Ventures, CMT Digital Ventures, Abdul Latif Jameel Fintech Ventures and the DIFC Fintech Fund.

Founded in 2017 by four entrepreneurs, Abdullah Almoaiqel, AJ Nelson, Joseph Dallago and Yehia Badawy, Rain offers buying, selling and custody services for cryptocurrencies. It was the first crypto-asset platform in the Middle East to receive a licence in 2019 in Bahrain. The startups plans to use the investment to grow its engineering team, expand its presence across the Middle East and work with different regulators in the region to achieve its mission.

Riyad Abou Jaoudeh MEVP’s Junior Partner commented on the round, “As crypto assets continue to grow and transform into a recognised asset class, regional retail and institutional investors alike need a localised, safe, and regulated fiat-to-crypto rails. We are excited to back Rain Management, Mena’s first regulated crypto-asset company. This marks our first investment in Bahrain, a progressively regulated launchpad for GCC fintechs.”

Interest in cryptocurrencies has grown over the past few months following Bitcoin’s soaring value. Wamda spoke with co-founder Yehia Badawy to get a better understanding of why this has been happening.

Why is the value of Bitcoin soaring?

We saw this price activity [for Bitcoin] in 2017, there came a time when there was a big spike when it almost reached $20,000, there was a lot of interest then, then the price started to depreciate, reaching a low of $4000. Since then, the ecosystem has matured quite a bit in terms of the regulatory environment, in terms of institutional adoption. If you look at the pandemic, it has been a very good thing, it has accelerated a few things, PayPal is now supporting crypto, so is Square. This time around there is more mass adoption in terms of institutions supporting the ecosystem, making it more accessible. We’re seeing more players in the market.

Values are very subjective thing when it comes to crypto. One thing to note is that a lot of crytpo assets are decentralised and not just in design, but how they’re controlled. Their fate is controlled by participants that believe in them.

What is the level of interest like in the Middle East?

There is still a lot of education that needs to be done. As an industry we have to make it easier for people to understand crypto. That’s why as a company we understand regulatory compliance and having a way to regulate crypto is the way to start. We had two options when we started, go unregulated, set up an offshore company and serve clients in the region. But we’re big believers in the industry so we chose the tougher route: educate the regulators and try to get them to regulate this asset class. That’s what happened in Bahrain, we went to their sandbox, graduated and acquired the licence in July 2019.

We’re big believers in cryptocurrency as an asset class. It is important to talk to other regulators in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar and get this new asset class licensed and regulated in those jurisdictions. It requires education and collaborations with different partners in the ecosystem to educate them about how we apply compliance, anti-money laundering, CFD [contract for difference], the systems that exist today.

What are the benefits of cryptocurrencies?

Crypto is a very modern and innovative solution to several problems. Some people talk about ease of making payments, there’s less cost, less hassle and it’s more secure. There are other cryptocurrencies and assets like Ethereum where you can use the crypto to create smart contracts to enable distributed ledger technology and apps. This can give access and democratise new investment opportunities. It’s a good method of moving value from one place to another. Expats or migrant workers can use crypto to send funds back home to their loved ones, we know of people who are doing that. It is a very exciting ecosystem and we still have barely touched the surface of the system. But the tech behind crypto is still not at the level where it’s seamless.

January 17th 2021, 3:53 am

Rise of angels: More money or more inexperienced investors?

Wamda

Angels are coming forth in the Middle East, more ready than ever to start investing in startups. Over the past year, several new angel investment networks have emerged, while existing networks are expanding their activities, hoping to contribute to, and benefit from the growth of startups and their technology.

What began as a rather informal landscape, with keen investors coming together every so often to invest in startups in the region, has bourgeoned into well-established networks and syndicate structures providing crucial early-stage investment.

Across the startup funding spectrum, angel investment is focused on the seed to pre-Series A investment stage, typically before a startup has a proven track record. Ticket sizes can range from $10,000 to $100,000 and in some cases, reach a few million. Given these smaller cheque sizes, angel investors tend to be more agile than traditional venture capital (VC) firms and respond quicker to new opportunities. And over this past year, many angel investors have taken the opportunities that the pandemic presented.

“We thought that investors might be reluctant to get in on new deals; however, what happened was that we closed one of the largest deals in our history,” says Zeina Mandour, general manager of Egypt-based Cairo Angels, which most recently participated in Opio’s $300,000 seed round.

Launched a decade ago, Cairo Angels is one of the region’s longest-standing angel networks. It has investments in 29 companies across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) and leverages a network of 80 angel investors. The network, which describes itself as a “club model” based mainly on individual investments, launched a micro-funding syndicate of angel investors in November 2020, with the intent of providing fast funding to early-stage startups. 

“There’s a lot more cash in the market that is circulating [and] chasing the talent, which was not the case before. So, it's become a lot more important to deploy cash quickly to good startups, because good startups require immediate funding,” says Nader Aboshadi, a member of Cairo Angels’ board of directors and one of the founders of the newly formed syndicate. “If you're too slow in allocating the funding, you lose out on the good opportunities.”

The syndicate was launched as a way for Cairo Angels to stay ahead of its competition according to Aboshadi.

“We've realised over the past few years the industry is evolving, and we need to evolve with it. The regular club model that we are operating under is no longer enough,” he says.

Most of the region’s angel networks follow the syndicate model including Dubai Angel Investors and Saudi Arabia’s Najd and the women-focused Spark.

“The market is going towards [this] trend - syndicate funds; because it is filling a gap and helping aspiring angel investors join forces with experienced angel investors, who can find the resources, do the due diligence of the good deals, and double down on them with a larger amount of funding,” says Musaab al Hakami, a Saudi-based angel investor.

Angels versus VCs

As a result of Covid-19 and its ensuing economic crisis, VCs are either doubling down on the sectors that boomed like edtech and e-commerce or focusing on their existing portfolio companies instead of backing new startups.

Angel investors can help fill this funding gap, however, the level of experience that both bring to the table is quite different. VCs are better placed to manage funds and carry out the required due diligence while benefitting from the advantages of later stage investment when startups are more likely to have proven their model or have some traction.  In angel investing, few startups will have a proven track record and so identifying a good deal is more testing.

“In normal investing, people use debt for leverage, in angel investing, our leverage is people,” said Kushal Shah, founder of Dubai Angel Investors (DAI) during the Angel Investing Forum Riyadh 2020 held virtually in November 2020.

The role of the angel investor, beyond supplying cash, also extends to providing the mentorship and guidance needed to facilitate a startup’s growth.

According to Hakami, the lack of investment experience among many angel investors might be a challenge that could stand in the way of quality deal flow and thereby the evolution of the ecosystem as a whole.

“Unfortunately, what we have is a lot of money and less experience. Financially, the gap will be filled by the angel investors. However, they still lack the experience and the value that they need to add to the startups,” Hakami adds, highlighting the need to have institutions that could provide angel investors with relevant support and counselling.

“For example, many angel investors understand the commercial side of things, yet they need help and support with the legal aspects. [I] know a handful of legal entities who can support them with that aspect. Because most of the international firms usually offer their services at high prices and mainly work with the VCs, so for angel investors, I think this is another challenge,” he explains.

Last month, the Sharjah Research, Technology and Innovation Park (SRTI Park) launched the Sharjah Angel Investors Network (SAIN) to not only encourage more high-net-worth individuals to consider investing, but to also provide them with a training programme to educate them on the key elements of angel investment, how to diversify risks, negotiate deal terms and ways to pursue deals and support emerging companies.

Addressing these issues will require collaboration among angel groups in the region and globally to facilitate access to the market and the exchange of knowledge and expertise, which will ultimately support the growth of the regional startup ecosystem, suggested Saleh Alrasheed, governor of the Saudi-based General Authority for Small and Medium enterprises (Monsha'at) during the Angel Investing Forum.

Regardless of whether these collaborations come to fruition, the pandemic, while a driver for angel investment, will likely accelerate the exit of inexperienced investors according to Hakami.

“I think from a grand perspective, the total funding amount will decrease, however, the smart investment will increase,” he adds.

January 13th 2021, 8:08 pm

Hi-Express raises seed investment from Iraqi Angel Investors Network

Wamda

Iraq-based Hi-Express has raised a “six-figure” seed round led by the Iraqi Angel Investors Network (IAIN), marking the network’s third investment to date. The investment was partially matched by a USD 20,000 in grants from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH via its project “ICT for Youth in Iraq” as part of the organisation's support to the Angel Network.

Hi-Express is a last mile delivery startup focused on the B2B segment of the market and was founded in 2019 by Mujahid Waisi, Ameen Saleem and Ahmed Al Alousi. The company has grown to serve more than 170 vendors over the past year empowered by its proprietary technology and the deep experience of its founding team.

The investment will be used to expand its fleet and its presence across the country.

“Despite the increasing competition in the last mile market in Iraq, the size and potential of the market makes it still up for grabs. Our growth over the past year is a testament to our abilities,” said Ahmed Al Aloosi, CEO of Hi-Express.

Amar Shubar, a member of IAIN and partner at Management Partners said: “Operations excellence is a key challenge for most companies operating in Iraq and especially the last-mile delivery segment. The team and technology behind Hi-Express has demonstrated its ability to overcome such challenges. While currently most of the last-mile-delivery demand is driven by the increased e-commerce transactions in Iraq, Hi-Express is well positioned to transform customer engagement and service fulfillment for a number of sectors – especially related to the government and financial service sector.”

 

January 13th 2021, 8:51 am

Opio raises $300,000 seed investment

Wamda

Egypt-based women’s fashionwear brand Opio has raised $300,000 in a seed round from AUC Angels, local and regional angel investors along with follow-on funding from Flat6labs Cairo.

Launched in 2017, Opio is a direct-to-consumer e-commerce platform and commissions white label and toll manufacturing women’s wear apparel to different manufacturers.

“What I see in this market is a huge supply-demand imbalance.” said Shady Mokhtar the co-founder and CEO of Opio, adding “Egypt has thousands of manufacturers with exceptional manufacturing capabilities yet, a total lack of modern day customers requirements, up to date fashion trends and marketing know-how, specifically in digital marketing practices. On the other hand we’ve witnessed some jaw dropping internet penetration in Egypt the past 10 years, a hyper exposed gen Z, with very limited online offerings.”

Opio seeks to eliminate the hassle of researching brands and choosing from numerous options, to make the shopping experience more effortless. The company develops strong ties with local manufacturers, markets, and distributes its own products without using middlemen, thus interacting directly with consumers and reducing costs

“We’ve proven that we can develop a value proposition that can easily compete with international brands, Egypt is full of design and creative talent. Backing this up by relentless focus on customer experience we are confident that we can easily add a strong mark on the local and regional online fashion market.” said Reem Abdellaftif Opio’s co-founder, creative director and designer-in-chief.

Yaser El Khereji CEO of Albasateen trading company and one of Opio’s lead investors, says: “We were impressed with Opio’s unique value proposition, We are planning on providing Opio with the logistical infrastructure they need to set up a strong foothold in the GCC region. With a special attention to localising the brand to further appeal to the target demographic.”

The company is hoping to benefit from the rise in online shopping in the country following the pandemic.

Mariam Kamel from AUC Angels said: “OPIO has been very responsive to market trends, both in terms of how it interacts with its clientele, and how it reacts to changes induced by the recent developments in the digitalisation of the shopping experience. They've revised their business plan when they’ve needed to and established key partnerships where it was beneficial. Shady and his team move fast, and always have news to share on what’s coming next.”

 

January 13th 2021, 8:51 am

Abu Dhabi startups to get funding and tech support from ADIO-Microsoft alliance

Wamda

Source: Gulf News

In alliance with Microsoft, the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) will offer owners of local startups the resources and tools to “scale their businesses”. Another tech entity, Plug & Play, is also part of this initiative.

“The partnerships are part of ADIO’s commitment to supporting innovation-focused companies,” said Dr. Tariq Bin Hendi, Director-General of ADIO. “We are providing strategic funding and support to the knowledge and tech experts to develop and run programmes that accelerate opportunities in Abu Dhabi for startups.”

Microsoft will bring its Startups Programme, which provides technology, Azure cloud services, and business support tools to develop the required skillsets. The first two are the Growth X Accelerator, a virtual accelerator programme with a focus on recruiting local and regional startups, and ‘Highway to 100 Unicorns’, an initiative to recruit high-potential startups for the Accelerator as well as future programmes by Microsoft and ADIO.

Further initiatives focused on entrepreneurship for Emiratis and UAE residents, as well as university students, are in the works.

As the global economy looks to the future, Abu Dhabi’s ecosystem is well-positioned as the region’s foremost investment destination for big thinkers to realise their ambitions

Dr. Tariq Bin Hendi of ADIO said: “We are committed to deepening our support for investors and innovators in 2021,” said Bin Hendi. “As the global economy looks to the future, Abu Dhabi’s ecosystem is well-positioned as the region’s foremost investment destination for big thinkers to realise their ambitions.”

Plug and Play is a platform that brings together top startups and leading corporations and government entities. It currently runs accelerator programmes in the Middle East from Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM).Since 2017, the partnership between Plug and Play and ADGM has provided local startups with expertise from overseas players.

January 13th 2021, 4:20 am

Wamda and Tarjama launch translation tool to serve the regional ecosystem

Wamda

Wamda, the Middle East region's leading startup ecosystem enabler, has launched an English-Arabic business terminology translation tool, in partnership with smart language solutions provider Tarjama.

As the tech ecosystem evolves globally, a need arises for localising the oft-used tech-related words and terms. The newly-launched service was developed specifically to address the language gap by helping Arabic-speaking audiences find the correct and easy-to-understand Arabic translation of English words and phrases that are relevant to the investment, tech and startup scene. It also provides multiple Arabic translations for a single word/phrase.

“We’re very excited to be partnering with Wamda in this initiative which aims to support the regional startup ecosystem with accurate and instant Arabic translations for highly-used modern English terms. With this much-needed tool, we focus on enriching and innovating the Arabic language, adapting it to the English terminology that is constantly evolving in the world of business and tech,” said Nour Al Hassan, founder and CEO of Tarjama.

Together with Wamda, Tarjama will continue to update and expand the term base.

Please click here to access the translation tool

 

January 13th 2021, 12:02 am

Checkout.com to open office in Riyadh after raising $450 million

Wamda

Checkout.com, the UK-based payments company is expanding its presence in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) after securing a $450 million Series C funding round, tripling the company’s valuation to $15 billion.

Founded in 2012 by Guillaume Pousaz, Checkout.com offers e-commerce players a one-stop-shop for payments – including managing financial transactions, processing payments and detecting fraud.

“We were the first global player to arrive in Mena back in 2013, and now we are doubling our operations in the region,” says Sebastian Reis, executive vice-president of global e-commerce at Checkout.com. “2020 was an eventful year for us, and the recent funding rounds allow us to do what we have been doing so far but faster and more aggressively.”

The company is opening offices in Riyadh and “significantly growing” its team in Dubai to localise customer support and onboarding. While still a small part of its business, the Middle East presents a growing opportunity for Checkout.com, where e-commerce has boomed over the past year.

According to the Connected Payments in MENAP report that was recently released by the company, Checkout.com saw more than 1,000 new merchant inquiries since Covid-19 hit the region, as an unprecedented number of businesses moved online to serve their customers. In addition, the platform witnessed 86 per cent growth in volume of transactions year-on-year throughout the region.

“We have been a very fast-growing company irrespective of Covid-19 happening or not. At no stage have we significantly deviated from our plans that were laid out all the way back to our Series A round of funding. The pandemic did provide us with a strong tailwind, but if anything, it simply reinforced and made more obvious trends that we were seeing anyway. It accelerated the speed at which people moved over to e-commerce and used digital payments,” says Reis.

As Covid-19 proved to be a strong enabler for the growth of the e-commerce industry, Checkout.com has been able to process more than 400 million e-commerce transactions in the region since the pandemic.

“The demand is on a one-way track, people are trusting payments more, seeing how convenient they are and understanding the protection they get from card schemes if there are any problems. All of this increases people’s willingness to use digital payments. On the other side, we have more and more retailers that are putting a lot of effort into making the e-commerce experience the best it can be. This helps to keep driving people down this route,” adds Reis.

According to the report, 47 per cent of consumers in the region say they expect to shop online more frequently in 2021. Only 15 per cent expect their online shopping frequency to decline, while the remaining 38 per cent expect it to remain about the same as in 2020.

“At the margin, we will see a deviation this year. The trajectory we saw in 2020 is unsustainable, so we might see this taper off, but I do not see any form of reversal where we have a dip before things go back to the long-term average again.

“There are still many things we can do to build a system of connected payments, and the more we scratch the surface the more opportunities we see and the road for innovation exists,” says Reis.

In 2020, Checkout.com raised $150 million in Series B fundraise, tripling its then valuation to $5.5 billion.

January 12th 2021, 5:07 am

Docspert Health raises six-figure seed round

Wamda

Egypt-based telemedicine startup Docspert Health, has closed a six-figure seed funding round from Flat6Labs as well as a group of angel investors in the UK and the US.

Launched in February 2020 by a team of medical doctors, Docspert Health is the first telemedicine platform that connects patients in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) with international medical experts through video chats.

Through Docspert’s platform, patients are able to book video consultations with a specialist to ask for their medical opinion, or a multi-disciplinary opinion for complex medical issues, such as cancer. Patients are also assisted throughout their journey by a dedicated Arabic speaking case manager.

Docspert Health has offices in the UK and Egypt, with plans to use the newly-raised investment to expand its services across Egypt and the GCC. It provides its services in over 40 medical specialties through a network of more than 100 international medical experts in the UK, US, and Europe. 

“We are extremely pleased to have closed this deal with a group of angel investors from Silicon Valley and London. The investors were particularly attracted not only to our innovative platform and business model, but also to our ethos of social responsibility. They were keen to help Docspert Health in its journey to provide the best medical advice to the people of the Middle East and Africa,” said Hisham Mehanna, chairman of Docspert Health and head and neck cancer surgeon. 

Docspert Health is currently taking part in Flat6Labs Cairo’s on-going cohort and is set to graduate its accelerator programme next month.

“Docspert’s innovative global health tech platform, alongside their strong founding team, adds up to a recipe for success. Flat6Labs Cairo is looking forward to being part of their growth journey,” said Albert Malaty, managing director of Flat6Labs Cairo.

 

January 11th 2021, 10:04 pm

What impact will the restoration of relations with Qatar have on its startups?

Wamda

The almost four-year blockade of Qatar was lifted last week at the GCC Summit. Now that Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have restored full diplomatic ties, it presents a big opportunity for Qatar’s startup ecosystem to expand. 

In this piece, Nazar Musa, chief commercial officer at advisory firm Pro Partner Group, which has offices in the UAE, Oman and Qatar explains the impact the decision might have.

The restoration of ties between Qatar and the remainder of the GCC opens up a great deal of opportunity for entrepreneurs and the startup sector as a whole. The opportunity lies both ways.

Qatari startups and entrepreneurs now have a far wider and diverse market in which to launch their products and services. The various free zones and centres of regional excellence that attract startups from across the globe in the UAE and in Saudi Arabia are now open to Qataris. Startups that have launched in the past three years in Doha can now look at expansion and the basics of infrastructure will now be open to them. 

Ease of travel between GCC locations has returned. Regional banking for Qatari businesses will now be available and of course a significantly larger potential market will now exist. The free movement of materials should now allow more competitive pricing as new sources of regional supply emerge and this should not only allow increased margins for new businesses but also may improve pricing for the end consumer. One of the greatest challenges for entrepreneurs and startups in general is raising capital. With the restoration of ties in the region Qatari businesses can now reach further afield to raise their startup capital or the capital needed for scaling their businesses. With more VCs, private equity partners and angel investors available, good, well positioned businesses may even attract competition for their investment needs.

Reciprocally non-Qatari GCC startups and entrepreneurs now have a new market to sell their products and services. With the World Cup coming to Qatar in 2022 opportunities will become more prevalent for regional businesses to be part of this great global spectacle. Regionalisation of existing and new businesses becomes a reality and the ability to travel freely between all markets will support this. Qatari investment funds, family offices and angel investors will now become a potential source of fundraising for GCC startups. This once again creates liquidity in the market and allows entrepreneurs a choice that hasn’t existed in the past three or four years.

Knowledge sharing is an important aspect of the startup community and with more openness in the region this can only improve. We can see real opportunities in the travel and hospitality sectors. With airspace now open, regional carriers will be able to ferry both leisure and business travelers into and out of Doha airport, once the effect of the pandemic eases. The startups in these fields or ones that support this industry suddenly have more opportunity and a new market to aim for.

Startups need a few key things to be successful outside of just a good idea. A marketplace that’s fair and equitable. The ability to raise funds through as many sources as possible. Free movement of people, goods and services. Startups need company. They need the ability to develop and learn from their peers, to recruit and retain talent easily and to be part of ecosystems that support their endeavours. The opening of the borders with an important neighbour such as Qatar can only support the startup world and encourage entrepreneurs to spread their wings even further.

 

January 11th 2021, 10:04 pm

Businesses in Saudi Arabia are showing signs of recovery, with some big winners

Wamda

By Khalid Suleimani and Loulwa Bakr, senior partners at Chrome Advisory 

Some of the most optimistic people did not expect to see the rapid recovery of startups and small and medium enterprises (SME) in Saudi Arabia, following both the lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the increase of VAT. In addition, few expected to see the dynamic transformation of business models across many of the startups and SMEs, along with the overall growth of some within this sector. The notable and rapid intervention of the Saudi government, and the introduction of various initiatives to support these companies are to be credited for this recovery.

Within the retail sector specifically, micro enterprises in Saudi Arabia faced many challenges, as a result of the imposed curfews and lockdown across all cities in the country on 23 March 2020, followed by the partial closures on 26 April, to contain the spread of the virus. As was the case across the globe, these decisions led to a great many challenges affecting retailers, these included:

Government initiatives and tailored financing solutions

These numerous challenges were faced by small business owners globally, especially those working in the non-essential goods sector. However, there were multiple opportunities and various governmental programmes that were successfully rolled out in Saudi Arabia, to support the survival of such businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic, and enabling them to flourish post crisis.

Since the beginning of the crisis, Saudi Arabia’s government and regulatory bodies, along with the banking sector, have been very quick to respond and support local businesses. The Saudi government has accounted for over SAR 51 billion in the form of stimulus packages and funds to support the private sector during this unprecedented difficult period. These steps have been taken with the aim of limiting the impact of the pandemic on the Saudi economy, in the short and long-term. 

The following table lists the various initiatives that apply to startups and SMEs in Saudi Arabia: 

Governmental initiatives to stimulate the private sector during COVID-19

The official body offering the initiative 

Type of support

Details of the initiative

Saudi Central Bank 

Financing support for SMEs

  1. 1. Funding Lending Programme 

  2. 2. Loan guarantee programme (Kafala)

General Authority of Zakat and Tax

 
  1. 1. Deferred submittal for declarations and payments, for companies registered in VAT

  2. 2. Extending the period to submit zakat returns and income tax declarations (fiscal year ending 2019), for a period of three months

  3. 3. Suspending any fines for later payments of installments, as well as any fines for amending declarations

  4. 4. Granting zakat certificates without any restrictions, for the 2019 declarations 

Saned Programme 

Insurance to compensate for the suspension of work for Saudi employers in the private sector 

  1. Paying 60% of salaries of Saudi employees working in the private sector for a period of three months

 

The steps that were taken by the Saudi authorities included:

  1. Following the lockdown in the Kingdom, the government eased measures on retailers, and excluded some economic and commercial activities from the ban, allowing them to open during select days of the week, and subsequently, lifting the curfew completely, to cater to the needs of local consumers. 

  1. The “Kafala” programme, designed to support SMEs by offering loans, was increased to 95 per cent (compared to 80 per cent in the past), with fees ranging between 1 – 1.5 per cent. The Kafala programme provides loans of around SAR 2.5 million to small and micro enterprises, and SAR 15 million for medium-sized enterprises.

  1. Some banks in the Kingdom worked to facilitate and ease the procedures and paperwork required from companies for borrowing and loans. Some Saudi banks have also provided loans for businesses to purchase raw materials, pay rent expenses and implement business expansion plans, with a grace period of up to six months.

  1. Alternative financing options were also made available for startups. For example, fintech companies operating in Saudi Arabia, such as Al Raida, Lendo and Raqmeya, have facilitated the access to financing for startups and SMEs, providing easier terms and alternative guarantees, reducing paperwork requirements, when compared to traditional means. 

  1. The government’s Saned programme provided unemployment insurance to all employers, facilitating the process for businesses to obtain compensation to ensure continuity and pay salaries. The conditions of Saned were amended in response to the downtime during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Saudi government announced that it will pay 60 per cent of Saudi employees working in the private sector, for a period of three months, with a ceiling of SAR 8.96 billion. The compensation adheres to the conditions stipulated in the unemployment insurance programme (Saned).

  1. By shifting to e-commerce platforms, retailers found opportunities to sell online, opening up to a wider target audience. Many industries, such as those operating in the essential categories, including foodstuffs and delivery services, have seen a significant increase in revenues and business activity, since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak. 

The way forward

During the pandemic, startups and SMEs worked hard to adapt to the new reality of the world, and work to generate sufficient cash flows to ensure their continuity and survival, until the end of the crisis.  In addition, many have modified their business models to embrace a new reality of a highly digitised market. According to a study by Ernst and Young, 92 per cent of consumers in the UAE and Saudi Arabia have switched to online shopping, which has forced the majority of retailers to quickly adopt digital transformation strategies to keep up with the market and continue to do business (more in our article published in Wamda). One such example is the increase of use of digital payments as an alternative to cash, which is expected to continue even after the pandemic. In addition, sectors that have thrived during the pandemic, such as e-commerce, delivery services, edtech and healthtech, have all adopted digital payments, thus stimulating the digital financing sector.

In light of the pandemic, the entire retail sector, from micro enterprises to larger establishments, faced multiple challenges and worked hard to maintain their sales, and to sustain business activity. On a global scale, SMEs and micro enterprises struggled to navigate in light of the forced closures and decline in purchasing power. According to the Saudi Central Bank’s statistics, the volume of spending instore decreased during the months of April and May by 32.95 per cent and 15.7 per cent respectively, compared to the same period last year. However, what is interesting to note is that the percentage of online sales increased by 78.3 per cent, reaching SAR 37.02 billion by June, far surpassing the highest recorded figure of sales, at SAR 27.93 billion recorded in December 2019. 

On another note, the increase in VAT, from 5 per cent to 15 per cent, effective on July 1, 2020, motivated citizens in Saudi Arabia to increase their purchases before the increase was implemented. This resulted in containing the overall impact and the repercussions of Covid-19, with point of sale (POS) transactions not exceeding a 3.3 per cent decrease in the second quarter of 2020, when compared to the POS transactions of the previous quarter (Q1 2020). In addition, the points of sale transactions increased by 52.64 per cent in Q3 2020 (amounting to SAR 96.99 billion), when compared to Q2 2020 (SAR 63.54 billion). These figures reaffirm the effectiveness of the preventive measures and financial initiatives taken by the Saudi government, which have led to normalise consumer spending rates.

The distribution of transactions across various points of sale in different sectors, in Q3, 2020

Source: The Weekly Reports on Point of Sale Transactions, issued by the Saudi Central Bank

It is expected that the businesses that have adapted to the new reality will have valuable opportunities to achieve business continuity and growth in the phase following the crisis. One should note that consumer spending in Saudi Arabia did not decrease by more than 5.57 per cent during the first 9 months of 2020, on an annual basis, with a decrease equivalent to SAR 42.52 billion recorded during the same period last year. This indicates that the retail sector is on the way to recovery, and that the impact of the pandemic was limited.

 

January 10th 2021, 9:09 pm

Cwallet secures $220,000 pre-seed

Wamda

Qatar-based financial technology (fintech) startup Cwallet, has raised a $220,000 pre-seed round from its founders and MBK Holding.

Founded in 2019, Cwallet empowers the unbanked community by granting them access to online payments without having to use physical credit cards. The blockchain-powered wallet was designed as a one-stop-shop where users can spend, transfer airtime top-up from their home country, and eventually receive their salary, and send money back home.

Cwallet also enables a cross-border bill payment feature. The startup is currently working with Qatar Central Bank to obtain all the necessary licenses to launch a payroll and remittance feature in the near future.

"Not only does Cwallet provide digital wallet services, but now merchants, including startups and e-commerce platforms can use Cwallet as a built-in wallet for their app via API integration. We are looking to make payment gateways affordable in Qatar, paving the way for smaller businesses to process online transactions with ease and affordability,” said Michael Javier, CEO and co-founder of Cwallet.

Moreover, Cwallet won the first Qatar Fintech Hub Hackathon and is currently competing as one of the 20 shortlisted startups globally for the IOE & Seedstars Migration Challenge. 

 

January 10th 2021, 7:33 am

Saudi Arabia’s SAMA issues open banking policy

Wamda

SAMA, Saudi Arabia’s Central Bank has today announced its intent to launch an open banking regulatory framework in the kingdom.

In a policy paper issued by SAMA, it describes open banking “as a pivotal role in the further development of the Kingdom’s financial sector…[and] in this journey towards innovation and financial inclusion”.

Open banking encourages greater financial transparency through the use of open application programming interfaces (API), providing third-party developers access to consumer financial data from banks.  Having access to such data allows third-party developers to create more financial products and services for consumers.

Besides innovation and financial inclusion, open banking is set to increase competition and reduce barriers to entry for financial technology (fintech) startups and encourages greater efficiency in the banking system.

“With the support of market participants, SAMA plans to go live with open banking during the first half of 2022,” according to the policy paper.

SAMA is currently assessing the potential impact of open banking and is working with financial market participants to collaborate on building a framework to “address the ecosystem stakeholders’ needs”.

Banks in the region have been particularly hesitant with sharing their customer data with third party players. It is therefore unclear how SAMA will proceed if the banks in Saudi Arabia do not support the initiative.

January 10th 2021, 7:33 am

Nawah Scientific raises $1 million in pre-Series A

Wamda

Egypt-based life science startup Nawah Scientific, has raised $1 million in a mix of equity and debt in its second pre-Series A round led by Egypt Ventures, with participation from Alexandria Fund (AF), Cairo Angels, Alex Angels, HULT Alumni Angels along with international angel investors. 

This round brings the startup’s total funding to date to $2 million, making it the most funded life science venture in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena). Nawah now plans to close its Series A round later in 2021.

The latest investment came on the heels of Nawah’s launch of its new hub of labs, described as “the biggest private multidisciplinary research hub in Egypt”. Previously in 2019, Nawah also won second place and an award of $15,000 at the first edition of Jack Ma's Africa Netpreneur Prize. 

Founded in 2015, Nawah looks to empower scientific research and scientists by enabling them to carry out higher quality research regardless of their location. Through its online platform, Nawah receives experiment requests from scientists. The company then dispatches a courier to them to collect samples for analysis so that Nawah's in-house scientists can carry out the required tests and return the results online.

The company currently operates only in Egypt but caters to clients around the world. So far, it has analysed over 50,000 samples from more than 3000 clients across nine countries, with plans to accelerate its presence in Mena and set a foot in the African market.

“Every day, I realise that Nawah’s potential is way beyond our initial imagination and that we are barely scratching the surface. I’m extremely thankful to the amazing team of scientists who are making this happen,” said Omar Sakr, Nawah’s founder.

The fresh funds will enable Nawah to make inroads into the food, agriculture, and petrochemical industries, and expand to the Saudi market in 2021 Q3, Sakr told Wamda.

Ahmed Gomaa, CEO of Egypt ventures said: “Egypt Ventures has a clear mandate to support exceptional Egyptian Startups bringing actual value to the Egyptian community. We have witnessed Nawah firsthand and we have seen how they deliver on their promise to empower scientific research in the entire Middle East and Africa region and we are thrilled to be part of their journey as they scale their offerings and expand into new markets.”

 

January 10th 2021, 5:50 am

Alpha Wave leads $5 million Series A in India's edtech platform Kyt

Wamda

Source: The Financial Express

Edtech platform Kyt on Wednesday said it has raised USD 5 million (about Rs 36.5 crore) in funding led by Alpha Wave Incubation (AWI), a venture fund managed by Falcon Edge Capital. The series A round also saw participation from Sequoia Capital India’s Surge, January Capital, Titan Capital and other angel investors, a statement said.

“The funds raised will be used for deeper investment in technology and product, to enhance the overall experience of the students and to accelerate global expansion. Kyt already has students from India, UAE and Singapore and is looking to scale its footprint to the US, Canada, UK and Australia,” it added.

As part of this investment from AWI, Kyt will expand its operations to Abu Dhabi and use the Emirate as its regional headquarters for targeting the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and other global markets, the statement said.

Kyt is also working on building a team of data scientists, product managers and engineers located in Abu Dhabi. Founded in June 2020, Kyt runs online-only extracurricular courses by combining live classes with video-based revision materials for children from ages 5-15 years, in a full-stack model. It offers one-on-one and small group sessions for courses such as yoga, dance, music, chess and others.

The company is backed by prominent angel investors including Allen Penn, Kunal Bahl, Rohit Bansal, Amrish Rau, Kunal Shah, Jitendra Gupta, Martin Li, Apremeya Radhakrishna, Anand Chandrasekaran and Akhil Paul.

“With Kyt, we are going beyond the conventional academic learning by building an academy that nurtures holistic and all-round development of children. It is essential to foster children’s interests and encourage learning that equips them with creative and real-world skills; thereby molding their individual strengths and making them more confident,” Kyt co-founder and CEO Bhavik Rathod said.

This new investment will help boost the company’s efforts in providing a well-structured curriculum, designed by pedagogy experts and education consultants to help each child realise their potential, he added.

The platform has more than 20 teachers onboard and plans to increase this to 500, over the next 12 months.

It has secured exclusive partnerships with top educators and artists, including Indian Chess Grandmaster Vidit Gujrathi, Mumbai-based vocalists Kamakshi and Vishala, Philippines’ hip-hop legend Ruel Varindani, and celebrity yoga instructor Sabrina Merchant. Kyt plans to add more courses, including speech and debate, spelling bees, guitar and keyboard among others, the statement said.

January 10th 2021, 5:50 am

Ejaro raises $850,000 seed round

Wamda

Saudi Arabia-based peer-to-peer (P2P) vehicle sharing platform Ejaro, has raised a $850,000 (SAR 3.2 million) seed round, led by Saudi Arabia-based angel investors and supported by BIM Ventures.

Founded in 2019, Ejaro provides car owners with the opportunity to make extra money by enabling them to rent out their cars to those in need of one. Ejaro is the first platform in Saudi Arabia to acquire a licence to operate as a P2P car-sharing model.

“We are very thrilled about this milestone for Ejaro, which comes in time with the launch of our new and improved application and the finalising of the new licence requirements for peer-to-peer vehicle sharing from the Saudi Transport General Authority,” said Mohammed Khashoggi, founder and CEO of Ejaro.

According to Khashoggi, the startup aims to tap into the regional car rental market, valued at over $4 billion, adding that the market is set to experience a large potential growth in the post-Covid19 economy.

“With millions out of jobs and rental companies struggling, our platform empowers owners to earn an additional source of income through their depreciating assets and share it with the masses, I truly believe that Ejaro will boom in the coming weeks,” he added.

The platform was first established as a co-sponsor of the Riyadh Season - an entertainment and tourism event in Saudi Arabia and has recently launched a peer-to-peer vehicle sharing insurance policy, in partnership with Kingdom Brokerage and MedGulf.

Mohamed Amine Merah, Ejaro’s finance and strategy partner and managing partner of BIM Ventures said: “We are proud that Ejaro, with its dynamic leadership and team, was able to come out of the Covid-19 crisis with a success story. During the downtime, we were able to develop and launch a new and improved app, build strategic partnerships, and solidified our internal processes.”

Merah added that the company plans to expand its geographical focus, starting with the UAE in 2021.  

The funds will be used to accelerate the development of additional features on the platform, to increase the hosted cars and renters’ bases, and to expand the teams capacity.

January 10th 2021, 5:50 am

Mena startups raised $65.5m in December, pushing 2020 total to $654m

Wamda

Last year was meant to be the year that startups in the Middle East and North Africa broke the billion-dollar investment mark, but the pandemic put to rest ambitions of that milestone. The damage the coronavirus wrought however, only resulted in a 7 per cent year-on-year decline, with Mena startups raising $654 million in total across 363 deals in 2020. Close to half of that was raised in the first three months of the year, before the pandemic hit the region. Investor sentiment erred on the side of caution for the remainder of 2020, although we have seen the number and value of deals pick up in the past couple of months.  

In December, startups raised $65.5 million across 48 deals, a rise of 77 per cent month-on-month. The strong close to the year was a result of several deals in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, with UAE-based buy now pay later startup tabby raising $23 million in its Series A round in the biggest deal of the month.  This deal also accounted for fintech’s strong performance in December.

There was a significant pick up in the mobility sector, with seven startups raising investment, primarily in the car-sharing and car-rental space, signifying a rise in demand for transportation that reduces exposure to large groups.   

For the first time, Oman-based startups managed to secure the highest number of deals, a result of Oman Technology Fund (OTF) graduating cohorts from two accelerators programmes – Techween and OTF Wadi. The UAE however maintained its prime position with regards to investment value as startups in the country raised $37.5 million.

January 6th 2021, 8:55 pm

Cassbana raises $1 million from Distruptech

Wamda

Source: WAYA

Fintech startup Cassbana raised $1 million from DisrupTech in participation with other funds.  

The startup uses AI to run a behaviour-based credit scoring system, which determines individuals and businesses’ access to credit, focusing especially on unbanked individuals.

Founder and CEO of Cassbana, Haitham Nassar, said in a statement to Al Mal :”We aim to establish financial identities for those dealing with institutions and service providers contracting with us, in order to enable these clients to obtain financial services, whether to grow their business or bypass any unaccounted risks. Without this financial identity, many suffer from uncomfortable and expensive options for obtaining financial services or no options at all.”

Cassbana launched its services on a trial basis in June 2020, with one service provider in Cairo. Now, they are dealing with over 20 service providers in a few Egyptian cities. It plans to enter Upper Egypt’s market this month.

January 6th 2021, 5:46 am

Access Bridge Ventures launches with first close of its $25 million fund

Wamda

Access Bridge Ventures (ABV), a newly launched regionally focused early-stage venture capital fund, has made its first close. The fund, which will target a final commitment of $25 million, garnered commitments from regional institutional investors, including Mubadala Capital, the financial investment arm of Mubadala Investment Company, Saudi Venture Capital Company (SVC), Jada, and several prominent family offices.

The International Monetary Fund estimates that micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) represent about 96 per cent of registered companies and about half of all employment in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region. Despite this, the total financing gap for MSMEs is estimated to be as much as $240 billion, according to the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

ABV will support high-growth tech startups from the Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, Pakistan and the wider Mena region, with focus on healthtech, edtech, fintech and SaaS sectors.

Established earlier this year, ABV’s team is led by Issa Aghabi and Rakan AlRashed, who bring 25 years’ experience in investing and exiting tech companies in the Mena region and beyond. Prior to ABV, Issa headed the venture capital activities of the IFC in Mena and Pakistan. Meanwhile, Rakan was part of a Saudi investment firm that focused on SMEs and startups.

CedarBridge Capital Partners (CedarBridge), a middle market private equity firm, has co-founded the fund as part of its mandate to partner with promising founders and management teams and help them expand their investment remit and achieve exceptional growth.

“The Mena landscape has transformed over the past few years, with entrepreneurs and startups acting as a catalyst for economic growth and development,” said Aghabi, co-founder and managing partner at ABV. “Securing our first close reflects the confidence in ABV’s capabilities and investment strategy, where we lead the round and support our founders throughout their journey, as early as first institutional investor.”

January 6th 2021, 4:18 am

Anghami raises investment from SHUAA Capital

Wamda

Lebanon-based music streaming platform Anghami, has raised a fresh investment from UAE-based investment firm SHUAA Capital alongside other undisclosed private investors. The announcement was made by Jassim Alseddiqi, chief executive officer (CEO) at SHUAA Capital via LinkedIn. The terms and value of the deal were not disclosed. 

This marks Anghami’s fourth investment raise to date. Prior to today’s investment, the startup closed its Series B investment back in 2016 in a round led by private equity firm Samena Capital, with participation from UAE telecoms operator Du. 

Founded in 2012 by Maroun and Elie Habib, Anghami is the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region’s first legal music streaming platform. It boasts over 21 million monthly active users listening to more than a billion songs every month.

 

January 5th 2021, 7:52 am

NearPay raises $600,000 pre-seed

Wamda

Saudi Arabia-based financial technology (fintech) startup NearPay, has raised a $600,000 (SAR 2.2 million) pre-seed round, led by Saudi angel investor Musaab Hakami alongside other angel investors.

Founded in early 2020, NearPay offers an NFC technology-enabled point-of-sale (POS) software solution for small businesses, enabling merchants to accept customer payments directly on their phones. NFC technology constitutes 79 per cent of POS payments in the Kingdom, according to the latest reports issued by the Saudi Payments Company. 

“The Saudi market has a great opportunity to enter and expand into the field of financial technologies, and by doing so, this will help in achieving our goals in the coming year," said Muhammad Al-Aiban, CEO of NearPay.

The startup recently obtained the Visa Tap on Phone certification. 

 

January 5th 2021, 5:04 am

Why are governments hoarding Bitcoins?

Wamda

Khurram Shroff is the chairman of UAE-based private equity firm IBC Group which holds a million Bitcoins. Shroff has been an ardent champion of Blockchain and was also instrumental in the recent launch of Ethereum 2.0, through an investment of $10 million (around 20,000 Ether stakes). 

The US-based S&P Dow Jones Indices will debut cryptocurrency indices this year, an important event marking the mainstream acceptance of crypto. This development follows a period of bullish tailwinds for digital currencies, particularly Bitcoin which, at the time of writing this article, is hovering at a valuation of $32,000 per Bitcoin.

Bitcoin's current bull run can be attributed to its new-found role as a hedge investment – somewhat in the vein of gold and silver bullion, which can sustain value through inflationary pressures and debasement of fiat currencies. Although this situation is largely owed to the pandemic and its knock-on economic impact, many experts have reasons to believe that the bull run will continue beyond the crisis. Such projections are validated by indications that governments around the world are warming to cryptocurrencies.

The US, like many other governments, had reservations about cryptocurrencies at the onset. However, in recent years, greater regulatory clarity has led to an increase in institutional crypto adoption. But, despite a much-awaited debut on Wall Street in 2017, mainstream markets continued to be averse to accepting this new investment vehicle, until the pandemic. It is therefore unsurprising that crypto thought leaders, like Garrick Hileman, the head of research at Blockchain.com, believe that 2020 will be perceived as a critical inflection point in the wider adoption of crypto-linked assets and Blockchain technology.

A recent report by Bitwise Asset Management, which reinforces Hileman’s point, found that the number of US financial advisors allocating funds to crypto doubled in 2020. Even more astounding is the fact that the advisors surveyed manage roughly half the wealth in the US.

How divided global governance is fuelling the crypto fire

As nations gear up for life after the pandemic and ramp up efforts towards economic revival, experts are predicting a “new Cold War'' which, unlike in the 1960s, will be limited to non-kinetic, economic and trade conflicts. And this could prove costly for the US and China. There are lingering concerns around existing debts, government spending and stimulus packages. The US Federal Reserve is likely to increase the money supply, which in turn could put pressure on dollar-pegged currencies like the UAE dirham. Such volatility is incentivising governments to diversify their asset portfolios and invest in decentralised crypto assets. Additionally, the US government's increasing support for decentralised digital currencies and open financial markets, is aimed at countering a centralised system promoted by China.

Despite regulating crypto transactions and banning exchanges and trading platforms in 2017, China continues to have disproportionate monopoly over cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Going forward, as Bitcoin's bull run continues, the US and its trading partners could attempt to level the playing field, by investing and reducing China's crypto footprint. In fact, this development could already be underway, with media reports indicating mass exodus of Chinese Bitcoin miners to the West.

Since decentralised crypto domains are inherently democratic, they are better suited to the regulatory ecosystems of liberal and progressive economies. The US could set the precedent for other key jurisdictions like India and South Korea to revisit their earlier reservations about cryptocurrencies. In fact, following the attempted hacks of South Korean digital currency exchanges, which analysts have linked to the North Korean Government, policymakers in Seoul have launched a comprehensive crypto framework and are contemplating state-sponsored digital currencies.

Governments are taking a renewed interest in crypto, globally

Similar national-level digital initiatives can be witnessed in Ecuador, China, Senegal and Singapore too. And the likes of Japan, Sweden and Russia are expected to launch their own digital currencies soon. But national cryptocurrencies will mirror the centralised aspects of fiat currencies, making them unlikely to rival the opportunities that Bitcoin's distributed-consensus model offers. Considering some of these countries have already ratified Bitcoin and Ether as legal tender, many regional policymakers are keen on investing. Recently, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez went on record, articulating an interest in making Miami the US’s first crypto-centric municipal government.

Such tell-tale signs, emerging from the US are often early indicators of how global capital will be deployed in the future. And a few dollar-pegged economies, particularly the UAE, have picked up on these signs and are devising favourable regulatory framework for crypto transactions. The launching of Blockchain as a Services (BaaS) platform to host use cases for public governance and the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) Financial Services Regulatory Authority's efforts to guide virtual asset activities, are a couple of examples.

All in all, even from a purely mathematical standpoint, the value of supply-constrained assets like Bitcoin will continue to surge, as central banks increase money supply and reduce interest rates. With bullion losing their appeal in the digital economy, cryptocurrencies are emerging as "digital gold", and governments, which previously regarded crypto as a bubble waiting to burst, are now hedging in an asset class whose time seems to have come.

January 4th 2021, 9:48 pm

Akhdar raises six-figure seed funding

Wamda

Egypt-based educational technology (edtech) platform Akhdar, has raised a six-figure seed investment from EdVentures, the venture capital arm of Egypt’s Nahdet Misr Publishing House.

Founded in 2017 by Mohamed Osama, Akhdar is a cultural platform that generates simplified content from books and presents it in an interactive and engaging way through different media. It started off as a YouTube channel that summarises books through short videos.

Akhdar has recently launched an application that features hundreds of videos for audio and printed books covering more than 16 different genres.

“Akhdar started with the aim of providing simplified summaries and information about different books for people who don’t have time to read. Back then, we didn’t have a very clear vision of what we wanted to achieve…. we worked very hard with the limited resources we had to build our platform and to be able to continue presenting useful content. Now, we are quite excited about the coming period, our new partnership with EdVentures will definitely add a lot to our business especially with Nahdet Misr’s extensive experience in education and content creation,” said Mohamed Osama, founder of Akhdar.

The company plans to use the funds to expand its content offering, add new game features to its online application for an enhanced more engaging user experience.

Dalia Ibrahim, founder of EdVentures and CEO of Nahdet Misr Publishing House said: “EdVentures is always keen to support and nourish educational startups; hence, we see this investment as a new brick we add to enrich the readers community with a smart and fun learning experience. We will also be working closely with “Akhdar” team to further expand their services in order to cover a wider range of users.”

Established in 2017,  EdVentures focuses on seed and pre-series A investments. The corporate VC supports startups operating in education, culture, and innovative learning solutions in Egypt, Africa, and the Arab Worl

 

January 4th 2021, 5:36 am

Emile Cubeisy's tragic passing marks a loss for Jordan's entrepreneurship ecosystem

Wamda

Jordan has lost entrepreneurship pioneer Emile Cubeisy founder and managing partner of Silicon Badia, who sadly passed away at the vigorous younge age of 51. He was a proud Jordanian, an ecosystem builder for entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship in the country and wider Middle East region. 

He was there from the founding days of entrepreneruship in Jordan. When the Young Entrepreneurs Association of Jordan was created, he was one of its builders, when venture funding was not even a word in the region, he created one along with his partners, when Oasis500 was launched he was there, when the new funding wave was launched in the region, he was there to launch Silicon Badia, and when entrepreneurs needed a committed mentor, he was always there.

Emile was a staunch believer in his work, full of passion, always focusing on impact for entrepreneurs wherever they are in the Arab region. He will be remembered as a pioneer, an entrepreneur, and a builder. Jordan and the Arab world has lost a good man, the entrepreneurship community has lost a dear friend and a staunch believer. May he rest in peace, his legacy will endure.

The Wamda team offers our deep heartfelt condolences to his family and friends.  

January 4th 2021, 12:05 am

Trends to expect in 2021

Wamda

Last year we outlined several trends we expected would take place in 2020 – rise in foodtech, growth of e-commerce and the year that e-scooters would finally get regulatory approval across the region. We did not have the foresight for a pandemic, nor did we anticipate the speed at which these trends would come to light. The digitisation that analysts expected to take anywhere between two to five years, happened in the space of a few months as a result of the coronavirus.

While the pandemic brought about economic devastation, regionally, demand for e-commerce boomed, cloud kitchens proliferated, companies that enabled businesses to digitise flourished. The pandemic cemented the move to online and this trend will continue this year. We will see greater acceleration of edtech as more governments become comfortable with homeschooling, more productivity tools that enable flexible/remote working and hiring, while on-demand services across various sectors will continue attracting customers. However, simply replicating the offline experience online will no longer be feasible, greater innovation is necessary as consumer habits have altered, perhaps permanently.

Hybrid world

Although several vaccines have been approved and are now being administered around the world, a return to life pre-pandemic is unlikely to happen anytime soon. Several countries are now battling new, more contagious strains that have pushed whole cities back into lockdown. Technologies that help to prevent the spread of the virus will continue to emerge, particularly in contactless and touchless tech, which are already becoming part of daily life. From simple innovations like the “hook” and a rise in contactless payments, to more sophisticated biometric technology, there will be more experimentations to avoid touching surfaces (which will be a risky endeavor in the years to come).

This staggered state of the world presents an opportunity for a new breed of technologies that bring people together. As the pace of economic recovery and a return to normality will differ per country, we are likely to see a hybrid world that attempts to combine the virtual with the reality and technological innovations will become more sophisticated in order to provide a seamless experience for both.

The need to adapt to this hybrid world and innovate will not only apply to startups, but the wider ecosystem too, accelerators and incubators will need to rethink their business models to remain relevant and survive.

More money

This year has seen an unprecedented rise in the number of venture capital (VC) firms in Saudi Arabia and greater interest from the region’s family offices and large corporations keen to get sufficient exposure to the technology sector. Startups are increasingly viewed as a quick route to innovation and portfolio diversification by the larger retail and commercial conglomerates. We expect to see the sovereign wealth funds continue to pursue startups, especially abroad.

“Pandemic-proof” will become a prerequisite for many investors going forward. Their hesitancy at the beginning of this pandemic became evident over the past few months and will likely play out into the first quarter of this year. But this hesitancy will dissipate as they become more comfortable with bigger cheque sizes especially in the Series B stage and beyond. Following on from Instashop’s $360 million acquisitions, we will also see more exits this year, as well as failures from startups who struggle to adapt – a sign of a maturing market.

In terms of pipeline, Saudi Arabia will be the market to watch and the country will churn out more deals than before and could replace the UAE in terms of total investment value.

Ripple of e-commerce

The remarkable growth of e-commerce was a boon not only for the SaaS companies that enabled offline retailers to establish an online presence, but also for the wider ecosystem including the logistics and delivery sectors, and this will continue in 2021.

Consumers in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) are now more comfortable than ever with making purchases online and customer retention will remain the focus of online retailers. This need for customer retention has also spurred the growth of super apps. From Careem and Halan to temtem and Yassir, on-demand mobility startups have shifted to become platforms with a variety of e-commerce offerings, including food, grocery and pharmacy delivery. This has been a way to offset the losses of the mobility segment, which will continue to suffer as remote working becomes a standard offering. Beyond e-commerce, these super apps are also establishing a presence in the financial technology (fintech) space with closed loop digital wallets that allow their customers to transfer credit and eventually, if regulations allow, cash out.

In light of the growth of e-commerce and emergence of super apps, we will likely see more innovation in digital payments and financial inclusion as well as greater adoption of buy now pay later among retailers and consumers. Overall, regulators will need to catch up to this acceleration of digital commerce in all its aspects while financial regulators will come under greater pressure to choose between the innovation that startups bring and protecting their incumbent players resisting disruption.

Abraham Accords

The UAE and Bahrain both normalised relations with Israel in September 2020 in a move that the two GCC countries hope will lead to economic prosperity. While interest from both sides has piqued and conversations and partnership are being struck, it is as yet unclear how this budding new relationship will pan out and affect the GCC’s startup sector. Given the GCC's focus on consumer technology, there is little opportunity for Israeli startups to offer products or services that are not already available to consumers here. 

However, Israel’s startup ecosystem is one of the most advanced in the world, with more than 8000 researchers per million inhabitants, the country tops global rankings in research and development spending as a percentage of gross domestic product at 4.2 per cent. The country is a global leader in artificial intelligence, cyber security, agritech and fintech and while that presents an opportunity for UAE-based investors, there is a sense of hesitancy and worry among some UAE-based startups who feel that Israeli technology and expertise will outstrip theirs.  

Competition for startups

The need for innovation and to be at the forefront of technological change is one of the biggest takeways from this pandemic. The role that startups play within this has been paramount and we are already seeing governments and cities across the region launch a plethora of incentives and new licences to enable and facilitate entrepreneurship. Regulators are also becoming more engaged, keen to continue accelerating the digitisation brought on by the pandemic.

Competition is heating up between the major hubs, namely Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh in attracting startups and while on the face of it this may seem positive, it risks the introduction of protectionism, which will disadvantage the wider regional ecosystem.

To thrive in this (ongoing) pandemic world, startups will need more flexible licensing, the ability to work remotely without the need to take out office space, access to finance and a regulatory landscape that enables them to operate cross-border.

No matter how much we may wish it, the pandemic is not yet over, and this year will be a variation of 2020, with more uncertainty, more innovations and more startups proving the value of the entrepreneurship sector.

January 2nd 2021, 9:10 pm

Our top stories from 2020

Wamda

The coronavirus pandemic usurped every aspect of our lives, dictating our movement, altering our habits and causing both devastation and elation in business. Many startups in the Middle East suffered as a result, but there have been shining moments of hope across the entrepreneurship sector. The pandemic reinforced the need for digitisation, highlighted the importance of innovation and the crucial role that startups play within it. To that end, we have complied some of our most read stories of 2020, highlighting the growing interest in foodtech and fintech. 

Much like the rest of the world, we also took to Zoom and hosted several webinars, here are our top three:

December 30th 2020, 8:15 pm

Interstar, DPS invest in India's Countingwell

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Source: VCCircle

Illuminati Learning Solutions Pvt. Ltd, which operates the mathematics-focussed education-technology startup Countingwell, has raised $1 million (Rs 7.36 crore at current exchange rates) in a pre-Series A funding round.

Participating investors in this round include the UAE-based Delhi Private School and education management company Interstar. Some angel investors also took part in this round, Countingwell said in a statement.

The Bengaluru-based company was set up by Nirmal Shah and other founders in 2018. It says its aim is to transform mathematics learning across the country through a ‘daily workout’ concept.

It targets children between the sixth and eighth grades via an app that is aligned with the curriculum offered by the CBSE and NCERT. Shah said the company also has proprietary pedagogy that focuses on inculcating analytical thought processes in children.

Countingwell will use the capital it has raised for marketing as well as expansion to new markets. It will also focus on enhancing its technological infrastructure.

“Countingwell has picked the right audience in middle school students, which is not only a highly underserved segment when it comes to learning, but also spans the most important years to build a foundation for future career,” Delhi Private School director Pravin Batavia said.

The startup says its app operates on a subscription-based model. It is currently available for the Indian market and will soon be launched in other countries.

Continue reading this story

December 30th 2020, 6:53 am

What 2020 has taught us about digital transformation

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Selina Bieber is the senior regional director for the Middle East, North Africa, Turkey, and South Africa at GoDaddy

The year 2020 has seen profound and far-reaching change throughout society and the global economy. It seems that every industry and sector has been upended in some way, creating a shift that has changed the trajectory of large, small and emerging businesses.

The pace and extent of digital transformation in 2020 has experienced some of the most furvert change as compared to any other year. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen technological transition occur at a breakneck pace, whether that is pushing forward digital transformation for businesses, connectivity in the shape of 5G, advances in artificial intelligence and augmented reality, and greater use of digital automation to help enable business to run smoothly in times of crisis.

However, there is often a tendency to focus on broad or advanced digital change risks, while overlooking the emotional component of the global pandemic-enforced transformation. For me, the real story is that of the smaller businesses and entrepreneurs in the region and the need to help them empower themselves.

Earlier this year, in a matter of a few weeks, entrepreneurs and micro-businesses were forced to pivot their traditional business approach to factor in the online world. Breaking the traditional face to face, physical communications and in-person sales model, to quickly understand how to connect and engage online – not as a consumer, but as a business.

There is no doubt that a lot of people knew the value of digital and were planning to make the plunge one day soon, but it became a necessity almost overnight - and that was the real challenge.

More consumers in the region have begun shopping online and in greater frequency. According to studies in the US, the global pandemic has accelerated the shift from physical stores to digital shopping by about five years. This seismic shift has forced businesses to rapidly pivot to digital channels such as e-commerce to drive traffic, sell online and remain competitive.

Deciding on the right products to invest in to help ensure businesses meet current market demand and more importantly, keep pace with the evolution of e-commerce technology and new ways of doing business, can often slow down the process of digital transformation. Yet it need not do so.  A variety of online tools available today are designed to help set an online store, easily and more affordable.

The success stories of our customers during these unprecedented times are inspirational to others looking to start their own small business. Many startups that have transitioned to adding e-commerce online transactions, home delivery, and expanded digital marketing during this pandemic can help others with their own stories.

Looking ahead to the rest of the year and beyond, we think it’s vital that businesses reinforce their online brand identity and presence. In practical terms, this means honing your website, social channels, and other online properties. These elements are your virtual shopfront and it is essential to continually keep them updated and interesting to help your business grow. They need to be integrated, not just from a traffic flow point of view, but also in terms of their look and feel. Here are a few tips to consider:

This year has shown us that a functional and integrated digital platform has become even more essential.

December 29th 2020, 9:34 pm

Qoyod raises $2.1 million in Series A

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Saudi Arabia-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform Qoyod, has secured $2.1 million in a Series A round led by Merak Capital, with participation from other investors.

Founded by Abdullah Aldayel in 2016, Qoyod provides startups and SMEs with a cloud-based accounting software to help them manage their day-to-day accounting and finance operations as well as access to real-time reporting and analytics tools. It also offers business owners other complementary financial products and services. 

The startup is currently working on boosting its product offering as well as expanding its regional footprint.

"Despite its obvious challenges, 2020 has been an amazing year for us here at Qoyod, with significant growth in our customer base and topline for the year. Nonetheless, the Saudi market is sizable, and we have yet to scratch the surface. We are thrilled to end the year with key new partners on board and look forward to working with Merak Capital, who will be adding tremendous value by way of their fintech expertise,” said Abdullah Aldayel, founder and CEO of Qoyod. 

Globally, businesses are spending $6.4 billion on accounting software, which is expected to reach $10.5 billion by the end of 2027, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.4 per cent. In Saudi Arabia, the direct market exceeds $500 million and is growing more than 13 per cent annually, while the adjacent market opportunity exceeds $2 billion, said Abdullah Altamami, founding partner and CEO of Merak Capital. 

“Yet, we don't have a ubiquitous SaaS accounting platform with localised features that are integrated within the local infrastructure. We envision Qoyod to be the player that fills this gap and captures the increasing demand,” he added.

 

December 29th 2020, 7:54 am

Sharjah Angel Investors Network launches

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The Sharjah Research, Technology and Innovation Park (SRTI Park) has launched the Sharjah Angel Investors Network (SAIN). The announcement of SAIN came at a special forum organised by SRTI and attended by a number of investors and business leaders in various technical sectors in the emirate.

SAIN aims to convert high-net-worth individuals into angel investors and help them execute the angel investment process. From its side, SRTI Park will provide the angel investors with a training programme to educate them on the key elements of angel investment, how to diversify risks, negotiate deal terms and ways to pursue deals and support emerging companies.

“We are super excited with the launching of Sharjah Angels Investors Network. Our network of Sharjah angels will boost access to investors and funds for companies and partners based at SRTI Park. In the past two weeks, we have cemented our relationship with various strategic regional and local funds to facilitate startups and innovative SMEs access to funds,” said Hussain Al Mahmoudi, CEO of SRTI Park.

The network aims to attract 30 investors in 2021 and will be limited to members only. 

Al Mahmoudi also noted the startup environment in the Middle East and North Africa region (Mena) has grown by 66 per cent compared to the first six months of 2018, with the UAE maintaining its position as the region’s most active startup environment.

 

December 29th 2020, 7:54 am

Salasa raises $8.6 million in Series A

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Saudi Arabia-based e-commerce enablement startup Salasa, has raised $8.6 million (SAR 32 million) in a Series A round, led by AlSulaiman Group, with participation from Saudi Venture Capital Company (SVC) and 500 Startups.

The company plans to deploy the new capital to expand its services across Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, grow its team and grow its network of partners.

“We are excited to have partnered with leading investors in the region and look forward to their valuable advice and support in backing our growth. Our ongoing strategy is to maintain transparency, be flexible in our services and able to scale our business to the next level. We would like to replicate this in all the markets we establish,” said Abdulmajeed Alyemni, co-founder and CEO of Salasa.

Established in late 2016 by Abdulmajeed Alyemni and Hasan Alhazmi, Salasa offers pick-up and packing services alongside multiple shipping options to help reduce overhead costs for e-commerce companies. Salasa also receives, scans, and shelves e-commerce products in its warehouses.

“Our clients receive the products they order online delivered at their doorstep by the click of a button. Since its launch, Salasa has been a game changer in the Kingdom, helping brands to grow faster by eliminating their logistic pains and focus on customer fulfillment,” added Alyemni.

To-date, Salasa has shipped more than 10 million products and served more than 300 local and international clients across more than 15 industries.

“We are poised for growth and we are aggressively investing in our proprietary technology to achieve superior operational excellence and utilise predictive analytics and insights to help our customers in making strategic decisions. The market outlook indicates significant growth in this sector, and we are confident, as experts in this field, we can meet client demands, faster, with better delivery experience, at affordable prices,” said Hassan Alhazmi, co-founder and chief operating officer (COO) of Salasa. 

Saud AlSulaiman, CEO of AlSulaiman Group said: "We feel proud to lead this investment round in a startup that provides services with a business model that promises rapid growth and development, especially in these difficult times where the world is going through with Covid-19 pandemic and the urgent need to rely on e-commerce and supply chain. Our previous investments in the logistics industry can give a boost to Salasa where they can collaborate and build synergies."

December 28th 2020, 7:08 am

What are the four phases of leadership?

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Sri Shivananda is the senior vice-president and chief technology officer at PayPal SVP

I have benefitted significantly in my career from people who have had more confidence in me than I sometimes had in myself. I have also received help from people who have given me very direct feedback on where I may be undermining myself – or blocking myself from growth – and those who have pointed out the blind spots and development that I needed to pursue. These lessons have helped me create a framework that has helped me chart my course and as well as assess and help leaders, both those leading teams and individual contributors: the four phases of leadership.

Phase one is a phase of effectiveness. This is where skill, execution, and basic management abilities all play a role and a leader gets to a place where they are effective at what they do. Effectiveness earns one a badge on executing well and delivering value outcomes. This is table stakes and a foundation for one’s career campaign, but to grow as a leader, you must move beyond mastering your job effectively to scaling as a leader. 

Phase two is about scalability, where a person moves from leading a team of 5 to 25 to 50 to 500 to 5000. Each one of these positions is a different competency set, and a different behavior set. Just like in technology, there is scaling in leadership that is involved and that journey requires you to improve your capabilities in communication, time management, delegation, empowerment, change management, conflict management and crisis management. This is also the time where you are probably first introduced to concepts beyond your main function: you will be running a portfolio, there are administrative actions you need to take, you need to gain understanding around your team’s financials, and define your strategy. 

People who are ambitious tend to scale faster than they realise. If you are not careful, you could be a victim of the Peter Principle – we tend to rise to our level of incompetence. This is the reason all of us need to continuously learn and develop every day and cultivate our potential.

In the third phase, the journey turns inward. This is the phase of resilience, where you start to challenge yourself with doubt: “Am I ready for this? What is happening to me on the inside? Why am I feeling this way? Why am I feeling criticised? Why am I feeling sidelined?” There are so many things that go on emotionally when you shift from focusing outward to focusing inward to make a better you. This is commonly referred to as Impostor Syndrome.

At a certain level, leadership is about what you do, but it also about what you become. You stay true to your core values system and you grow as a person. You become more self-aware, you are more aware of your surroundings, you conquer your emotions, you master mindfulness, you know what makes you thrive, and you form a personal criterion of success – there is a sense of calm you develop without losing passion or energy. If you pass these three phases, you get to the last one: the phase of transformation.

In the phase of transformation, you become a leader that transcends your title and role. You have a followership that is well beyond your span of control. You develop a repeatable playbook for success. You inspire. You create lasting transformations in culture and organisations that endure beyond your tenure. You are someone people seek out as a coach for help in becoming a great leader themselves. You leave a legacy. The phase of transformation does not only happen in large companies, it can happen in small spans of influence in communities as well.

As I look to grow leaders in my organisation, I assess people across this spectrum of four phases and then I measure them based on the matrix of intent and capability:  

Whether you are building a team of 5 or 5,000, you can use these four phases to transform the development of your leadership pipeline to produce sustainable, empowered, high-performance organisations.

 

December 27th 2020, 9:07 pm

How will life change after the vaccine?

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When the pandemic first began to take hold, the development of a vaccination against the coronavirus wasn’t just a way to prevent its spread, but a means to go back to normality.

Yet now that several vaccines have received approval and are being administered in many countries around the world, the route back to normality is looking rough and somewhat vague. With these vaccines, we are likely to see widening gaps between the countries that can afford it and have the infrastructure in place to administer it to their populations and the countries that do not. We are likely to see further not fewer travel restrictions and the way we do businesses will depend on where we are in the world.

We spoke with Dr Noah Raford, futurist at the Dubai Future Foundation, to get a better idea of what the world will look like post-vaccine, the opportunities it presents for startups the Middle East and why Chinese technology has the potential to surpass Silicon Valley.

Wamda · Episode 36 - How will life change after the vaccine?

 

December 23rd 2020, 8:06 pm

Abjjad raises $1 million in Series A

Wamda

Jordan-based e-book subscription service Abjjad, has raised a $1 million Series A funding round from Rimal Capital, JordInvest and The Innovative Startups and SMEs Fund (ISSF).

Founded by Eman Hylooz in 2012, the Abjjad platform offers users unlimited access to over 6000 Arabic e-books and novels for a monthly fee of $5.99. 

"We at Abjjad, consider ourselves lucky to have onboard strategic investors that will take the company to the next level, we are very excited about the next stage and we already are witnessing at the very moment the growth within our team, our users, our publishers, and our beloved writers,” said Eman Hylooz, founder and CEO of Abjjad.

While only 3 per cent of internet content is in Arabic, Arabic speaking users on the internet are the fourth largest in the world. The startup looks to tap into 180 million users who are frequent Arabic book readers. 

“ISSF is excited about investing in Abjjad, an innovative provider of much-needed Arabic digital content. At ISSF, we are always delighted to help innovative and scalable startups, particularly those managed by women and youth, achieve their full potential,” said Laith Al Qasem, CEO of ISSF.

Abjad currently has 1.5 million registered readers and writers and is aiming to onboard 20 million. With the new funding, the company will be able to invest in its platform, enhance user experience and acquire more e-books.

"Although we live a busy life, many still want to read and because this need is fulfilled by Abjjad in a unique model, you find Abjjad to be one of the few businesses that started working even before being extensively worked on,” said Obaida Rawashdeh, CEO of Rimal Capital.

"As a regional investment house, Jordinvest is shifting its strategy towards investing in the new economy, whereby Abjjad correlates best with this vision in terms of technology, market reach and content,” said Ahmed Tantash, CEO at JordInvest.

 

December 23rd 2020, 4:59 am

From pearl trade to e-wallets: The rise of digital payments in the GCC

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Dalal Buhejji is the director of business development, financial services at the Bahrain Economic Development Board

At the turn of the 20th century, Bahrain’s illustrious pearl trade was at its peak. While formal banking was yet to be properly established in the kingdom, a number of savvy merchants took deposits from the pearl traders, which they kept in their shops. In 1919, these deposits were estimated to be worth some 2 million rupees. This exceptional wealth led to the merchants opening branches of their companies in Bombay, where local pearl traders could deposit their money and send it to Bahrain – a kind of early proto-banking. These merchants long opposed the establishment of formal banking, which they saw as being disastrous to their own economic interests. But eventually on 3 June 1920, with the support of the British foreign office, the Oriental Bank officially opened its first branch in Bahrain. Thus, 100 years ago in Bahrain, the GCC banking industry was born.

Since then, the rise of GCC banking has been vertiginous, with Bahrain, the region’s oldest and most established banking and financial services centre leading the charge. Today, nearly 400 financial institutions call the island home, enjoying a stable, predictable and proven regulatory and business environment with a substantial presence from every major industry and business sector. Indeed, banking and financial services more broadly have come to the forefront of region-wide economic diversification efforts, and play significant roles in almost every GCC economy. Here in Bahrain, the sector now constitutes some 17 per cent of national gross domestic product (GDP) – the largest non-oil contributor.

However, despite the banking and financial services sectors taking on such prominent roles for GCC economies, the region lagged others when it came to adapting to the digital era. Just as the early merchants who provided proto-banking services for the pearl traders resisted the establishment of formal banking, for some time banks across the GCC resisted another paradigm shift: rapid global digitisation. This was in large part owing to the behaviours of GCC consumers, specifically their persistent preferences for paper cash and physical retail. A recent report from KPMG notes that in the GCC, shopping malls are the main driver of the retail industry, while in the US and Europe, for example, online shopping plays a much larger role. In fact, in the Middle East cash has long been the preferred method of payment even for online purchases, with cash on delivery accounting for a staggering 76 per cent of the region’s ecommerce orders as recently as 2017. But in more recent years, a change started to take place.

According to data published by the Central Bank of Bahrain, point of sale  (POS) transactions indicating the use of debit and credit cards have been steadily rising in number and value. The number of such transactions rose from some 64.5 million in 2018 to 73.7 million in 2019 – a 14.3 per cent increase. Moreover, in that same period the number of POS terminals in use increased by 15 per cent. The value of transactions made on the national Electronic Fund Transfer System (EFTS) was on the rise too, with e-wallets such as Fawri, Fawri+ and Fawateer seeing a 13.4 per cent rise in total amounts transferred – to BHD 12.7 billion in 2019. Consumer behaviour was shifting – Bahrain’s banks began to follow suit. The last couple of years has seen a flurry of activity from the kingdom’s banking sector that can only be characterised as a digital revolution. It included Bank ABC’s launch of ila Bank – the region’s first fully digital bank; the National Bank of Bahrain – the first in the region to launch open banking services; BISB, which launched Bahrain’s first virtual branch; and GIB, which launched Meem – the region’s first shari’a compliant digital banking service.

This revolution in digital banking and payments has been reflected across the entire region. Online payments penetration across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) had already reached 76 per cent, which is expected to increase. E-commerce is expected to grow exponentially from $8.3 billion in 2017 to $28.5 billion in 2022. In short the move towards digital was already underway. But then a sudden global event took place that would catalyse the movement, decisively shifting consumer behaviour, and subsequently the activities of service providers, straight into the digital era: Covid-19.

Governments across the GCC responded quickly and robustly to the pandemic, instigating strict lockdowns and temporarily closing non-essential businesses from an early stage. In Bahrain, the change in consumer behaviour was instant and dizzying. In March 2020, EFTS saw a 1257 per cent increase in the number of remittances through its Fawri+ service alone – worth some BHD103 million ($273 million). Nine months on, Bahrain’s BenefitPay looks set to surpass $4 billion worth of transactions by the end of 2020, having facilitated $3.99 billion worth by the end of November this year. And as we look ahead to the new normal, it seems that many of these new consumer habits are here to stay. According to a survey of consumers across the Middle East and Africa region from Mastercard, 70 per cent of respondents said they are now using some form of contactless payment amid safety concerns relating to the pandemic; 81 per cent said they will continue to use contactless once the pandemic is over, pointing to a long-term behavioural shift.

Small wonder then that platforms across the region are continuing to enhance their payments technology offerings for customers across the GCC. The GCC contains over 54 million people predominantly united by a common language and similar consumption habits, not to mention some of the highest internet and smartphone penetration rates in the world.  Formal banking might have only appeared in the region a century ago, but the likes of Careem, Talabat, Benefit, Apple and Android are all right to bet on the GCC as a hub for digital payments in the future.

December 22nd 2020, 9:08 pm

UAE-based Zenith Global invests $1 million in India's TaxBuddy.com

Wamda

Source: YourStory

TaxBuddy.com, a Mumbai-based fintech startup, on Monday raised $1 million in early-stage funding from UAE-based fund Zenith Global.  According to a statement, the funds raised will fuel market outreach of TaxBuddy's products and deepen the connection with users.

Owned by Mumbai-based SSBA Innovations Pvt. Ltd, TaxBuddy.com was launched in late 2019 as India’s online tax adviser offering for first-time, subscription-based plans of tax advisory. It offers filing services for income-tax and GST, tax-saving advisory and even ‘tax notice management services.’

Speaking about the new development, Sujit Bangar, Founder of TaxBuddy.com, said, “This has been possible because of the optimum use of technology for services to clients. For us, the client comes first, and we fit technology to the needs of the clients — what we call ‘human technology.’ Perhaps, TaxBuddy is the first in India to automate tax planning and notice management.”

“Tax compliance and advisory services are distinct from other fintech services. The user needs to feel confident and trust that his compliance is in safe hands. Our people build that trust and the technology help us reach out to customers and expand the user base with zero concession on efficiency,” Sujit added.

There are about 60 million individual taxpayers in India. Of these, most are unaware of tax-related compliances — either they get poor advice or no advice at all, the startup said.

In fact, according to the Ministry of Finance, around 94 percent of Indian taxpayers do not claim all the deductions available and end up paying higher taxes, and this is where TaxBuddy steps in.

The fintech startup claims to have become users natural choice for tax planning and tax-filing related matters.

Commenting on the investment, Rushabh Shah, CFO, Fund Zenith Global, said, “TaxBuddy is leveraging technology for automating tax advisory, which is way beyond tax return filing. Therefore, TaxBuddy is well-positioned to lead digital tax advisory space, and this makes them confident about the way forward.Read more at: https://yourstory.com/2020/12/fintech-startup-taxbuddy-raises-1million-uae-fund-zenith-global

December 22nd 2020, 6:32 am

Wadi Makkah invests in Bab Makkah and Tarteel

Wamda

Saudi Arabia-based Wadi Makkah Ventures has invested 250,000 SAR ($65,000) in a pre-Series A round for Bab Makkah, as well as SAR 200,000 ($55,000) in a seed round for Tarteel.

Founded in 2019, Bab Makkah is a B2C e-commerce marketplace that sells cultural products made in Mecca and Medina inspired by Islamic culture. It is a graduate of Wadi Makkah’s Business Incubator Programme “Nomow.” The startup also received its seed funding from Wadi Makkah last month.

Tarteel is an assistive technology-based startup that offers an electronic device to help the visually impaired to read the Quran in Braille.

Wadi Makkah Ventures looks to diversify its investments in technology startups in various local and international fields, particularly those interested in the Hajj and Umrah sector.

“Wadi Makkah Ventures aims to diversify its investments in local and international startups in their various stages through multiple programmes; seed, pre & Series-A, thus realising the goal and vision of Wadi Makkah Ventures to achieve the vision of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 2030,” said  Faisal bin Ahmed Allaf, CEO and member of the Investment committee at Wadi Makkah.

 

December 21st 2020, 4:32 am

CliniDo raises seed funding

Wamda

Egyptian healthtech startup CliniDo, has raised a six-figure seed funding round from angel investors. 

Founded in January 2020 by Wael Soliman and Mina Shawky, CliniDo helps patients make and schedule appointments with doctors. In under a year, it has launched three services; clinic booking, telehealth service and CliniDo medical blog. 

CliniDo.com has managed to onboard 1500 healthcare providers and served more than 12,000 patients through 15,000 bookings across greater Cairo, Upper Egypt with plans to launch soon in Alexandria.

“We are aiming to be the healthcare companion for our patients empowering them with the knowledge needed to choose the most appropriate and convenient healthcare service for a better life,” said Mina Shawky, founder of CliniDo, who further explained that CliniDo will use the investment to complete their product development, introduce new services and acquire more healthcare providers.

 

December 21st 2020, 4:32 am

Udrive raises $1.3 million in ongoing Series A round

Wamda

UAE-based car-rental platform Udrive has raised $1.3 million from 186 investors via crowdfunding platform, Eureeca. The investment is part of the startup’s ongoing Series A round.

Founded out of the UAE in 2017, Udrive, claims to have around 180,000 registered users across Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, and Ajman. The company recently completed a million trips, with user growth expected to double in 2021 as new users increased by 20 per cent in the last six months.

With the new capital injection, the company will be able to boost the fleet of cars in the UAE as well as set the stage for its expansion into Saudi Arabia and Turkey as part of the company’s drive back into growth mode.

“In October, we decided that now was the time to continue our Series A funding round with Eureeca, a plan that originated in January 2020. As a regulated funding vehicle, Eureeca was able to give investors, many of whom are our customers, greater levels of confidence in investing in our business. Thanks to this funding, the future of the company looks incredibly positive,” said Hasib Khan, Udrive CEO and founder.

Since its launch in 2013, Eureeca is designed to host investors of all profiles, from casual retail and active angel investors to institutional investment firms such venture capital funds - all of which are looking to buy equity in growth-oriented businesses of the future. It now counts over 30,000 active investors from 70 countries on its platform with an average investment size of $5,800.

“Institutional investors were keen to participate on this raise prior to going live and the demand has been compounded in the last 48 hours by the appetite from their customers and everyday investors to own equity in one of the Middle East’s most exciting growth companies. It also highlights the maturity of our platform and our ability to work with companies and facilitate raises of anything between $1 million – $5 million and beyond,” said Sam Quawasmi, co-CEO and co-founder of Eureeca.

“Despite the challenges of Covid-19, Eureeca continued to successfully fund companies from the UAE, Malaysia, UK and Holland in the midst of the crisis, underscoring Eureeca, and the business model as recession proof. As a result of our success, we have seen a 400 per cent increase in applications, including larger businesses looking to raise seven-figure raises, which is subsequently piquing the interest of institutional investors,” he added.

 

December 21st 2020, 4:19 am

What is driving the growth of buy now pay later?

Wamda

Before the emergence of online shopping, there were shopping catalogues, published and distributed by retailers who offered everything from clothes to household appliances and sometimes even furniture. Shoppers could browse through the pages and order, by mail, the items they wanted. Payments could be made via bank transfer or cheques and in most cases, paying in instalments (usually with some interest or added fee) was also an option.

As e-commerce began to take hold in Europe and the US, these catalogues were eventually replaced by websites, and cheques were shunned in favour of credit cards and digital payment services like PayPal.

Growth in e-commerce is closely aligned with innovation in financial technology (fintech), particularly in digital payments – buying goods online requires one to pay for them online too. The latest innovation in the payments space is the digitisation of paying in instalments, better known now as “buy now pay later” (BNPL), which offers shoppers the option to purchase goods online and pay for them in instalments without the added fees that the catalogues imposed on their customers.

It’s a financial product that has attracted millions in investment around the world, leading to the success of startups like Afterpay, Affirm, Klarna and now even PayPal has launched its own BNPL offering in the US, PayPal in 4.

Regional Landscape

Hoping to replicate the success of these global players, some 10 new BNPL startups have emerged over the past year across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), alongside last-mile powerhouse Aramex. It’s a segment of fintech that has benefited from the pandemic, bolstered by the rise of e-commerce and the ongoing uncertainty over financial security among large swathes of the population.   

The best funded of these new startups in Mena is UAE-based tabby (part of Wamda’s portfolio of startups), which recently raised $23 million in debt and equity financing for its Series A round, pushing its total investment raised to date to $32 million. 

Tabby presents itself as an alternative to cash on delivery (COD), which in many Mena countries remains the mainstay of e-commerce transactions. While COD payments dropped during lockdown when fear of transmission of the coronavirus on surfaces was especially high, it has picked up once again.

The lack of financial inclusion and a lack of trust in paying online is often cited as the reason for COD’s popularity in Mena. As the only part of the value chain that customers can control, they want to receive and touch the product before they pay for it. BNPL allows them to do this, they receive the product and pay for it in small amounts as opposed to a big financial commitment in one online transaction.

“People are becoming comfortable paying by card, but a large portion of customers prefer to pay COD, they want the product first and then pay for it later. Merchants don’t like it, but they feel the need to offer it because that’s what customers want,” says Hosam Arab, founder and CEO of tabby. “With BNPL, you can receive your order first. When you receive it and are satisfied, that’s when you pay.”

BNPL is being touted not only as a solution for COD, but an alternative to credit cards too, something that appeals to the younger generations who are keen to avoid debt.

“I would say BNPL is the antithesis to credit cards,” says Anuscha Iqbal, co-founder and CEO of UAE-based Spotii. “Credit cards and traditional financial products have been modelled entirely on profiting and benefitting from people’s bad behaviour, they rely on high fees and APR [annual percentage rate], they want you to be late [in repayment] so they can charge you the financing cost. BNPL flips that on its head, it’s designed to benefit off of people’s good behaviour.” Spotii recently attracted investment from publicly-listed Australian BNPL company, Zip

A study from Cardify in the US showed that 80 per cent of users of BNPL are between the ages of 19 and 34, more than 70 per cent are female and 60-65 per cent of users earn less than $50,000 a year. The study also showed that many consumers try BNPL once they’re close to reaching their credit limit, although many could still cover the cost of the purchase upfront if they chose to.

“They don’t want to spend what they don’t have and they’re able to manage their cash in a way that makes sense for them, but they still want everything right now,” says Tariq Sheikh, founder and CEO of Postpay, which is currently raising for its pre-Series A round.

Regionally, the userbase covers all sections of society and income levels who are financing their BNPL transactions primarily through their debit cards according to the startups we spoke to.

“The user skews young, millennials and Generation Z are a large part of it, there is a natural aversion of that generation to credit. Younger millennials saw the excessive cost of debt in the 2008 [financial] crisis, psychologically, there are a lot of negative connotations to credit,” says Iqbal.

To determine the “trustworthiness” of customers and their eligibility, BNPL players assess their credit risk, they analyse their digital footprint from a host of public and private data, including their shopping habits and behaviour, spending power and purchases to determine if they can be trusted to buy now and pay later.

Merchants

When consumers pay back on time, it increases the frequency of purchases, for the merchants, BNPL helps drive sales according to Arab and increases loyalty and conversion rates by about 20-50 per cent depending on the vertical.

“Merchants have two tools to incentivise customers to buy, the first is discounting,” says Arab. “Generally, you’re not moving the needle much if the discount is below 20 per cent. The next tool is marketing and it won’t work unless you’re investing relatively heavily. Instalments is another way to incentivise sales and that is much, much cheaper.”

BNPL not only help boost sales for merchants, it also improves transaction sizes too. Typical basket sizes for BNPL are Dh200 with the most popular verticals being fashion, beauty and home furnishings.

“The customer is more comfortable spending more money if they can pay it over a longer period of time, it improves loyalty,” says Arab.

Instalment periods can vary between two to three months, all the way up to a year. While merchants foot the bill for BNPL fees, it is not too dissimilar from the processing fees charged by credit cards and banks.

“In addition to the facilitation of payments, the way successful BNPL works is they form a much deeper partnership with merchants. It brings the entire ecosystem up,” says Iqbal. “Everyone is looking to offer online payments and to give consumers the flexibility they’re demanding and looking at ways to enhance customer acquisition and loyalty.”

Postpay requires customers to pay one instalment up front, which reduces return rates to less than 2 per cent according to Sheikh.

“When there is skin in the game for the customer, they are less likely to return the product,” he says.

Ethical Question

Following reports of young people racking up debt as a result of BNPL, questions are now being raised over the ethics of the payment option, with calls for regulations in several countries. In the UK, social media influencers have come under fire for promoting BNPL options, particularly Sweden-based Klarna’s services for encouraging young people to spend more money than they have. BNPL’s focus on fashion and beauty suggests they are focusing more on impulse purchases that threaten to push consumers into financial overcommitment, while presenting itself as a consumer-friendly cashflow management tool rather than an interest free loan.   

BNPL in Australia, where Afterpay is based, remains unregulated, but the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and a Senate committee forced the sector to introduce a code of conduct to prevent the prospect of tighter government regulation.

There are currently no regulations in Mena specific to BNPL, but in October this year, tabby became the first BNPL startup to operate in the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority’s (SAMA) regulatory sandbox.

“The regulator has a task to balance the need for growth and innovation while protecting the consumers,” says Iqbal.  

The sector is still too small in the region to attract the ire of regulators or even banks for that matter.

“A lot of the banks we’ve spoken to especially the ones that are digitally savvy, they want to figure out how to work with BNPL to bring in another value added service to give to merchants or figure out how to work with BNPL for better customer acquisition,” says Iqbal. “Interestingly they’ve taken a very collaborative approach, maybe they think it’s still small enough space that is not eating into credit card fees.”

Most of the regional BNPL players have also signed up with offline merchants and some have partnered with Visa and Mastercard with the intention to create their own digital payment cards. Over the next few months, we’re likely to see new offerings and services from these BNPL startups to entice customers to sign up.

“The market is big in the region, but it’s not big enough for six, seven or 10 players, in the coming months we will start to see some of the players who have been late to the market fizzle out,” says Shiekh. “The balance is trying to understand how to create value in the market for retailers and customers and making sure we’re sustainable.”

December 20th 2020, 9:17 pm

Global Ventures invests in Kenya’s Ilara Health

Wamda

Source: Disrupt Africa

Kenyan e-health startup Ilara Health has raised a US$3.75 million Series A funding round to expand its diagnostic reach across the continent and accelerate the development of its integrated patient health management platform.

Ilara Health provides affordable diagnostic equipment to patients and healthcare providers in peri-urban areas and has partnered with more than 200 clinics, enabling access to life-saving point of care diagnostic tools to thousands of patients across Kenya. 

The startup’s underlying technology seamlessly integrates these diagnostic tools into easy to manage tablets and mobile phones that require minimal training to operate. Ilara raised a seed funding round in August of last year to help it scale its offering, and in October secured a US$1.1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Its Series A round was led by TLcom Capital, with participation from DOB Equity, Global Ventures and Chandaria Capital, and will be used to help the fast-growing Nairobi-based company expand further. It is looking to expand across wider Kenya and into a new East African market within the next 12 months.

“This funding round allows us to significantly grow our on-the-ground presence and invest resources into our technology capabilities. In just one year of operation, we have seen the incredible impact our Ilara Health platform has had in delivering improved services across maternal, metabolic, cardiovascular and infectious disease care,” said Emilian Popa, chief executive officer (CEO) and co-founder of Ilara Health.

“We view this as only the beginning, widening our disease indication coverage and creating end-to-end value throughout the entire care delivery process. In the coming months, we will continue working to reach patients who currently struggle to access basic lifesaving tests and on developing data-driven insights for better quality care across the continent.”

Ido Sum, partner at TLcom, said his company had been following the underserved health space in Africa for quite some time. 

“While this is one of the areas on which African consumers spend the most, the quality of health outcomes needs to improve. The challenge of bringing affordable and high-quality diagnostics to the actual points of care is yet to be solved,” he said. 

“We are excited about what Ilara Health was able to build in such a short time, and more so about their wider vision of combining world class technologies, financing and their own tech layer to bring true value to medical professionals and patients at the clinics visited by the majority of the population. Ilara Health very much represents the companies we like to partner with the most: solving a true, and large African problem, using tech to achieve scale, and bringing clear and very tangible value to its clients.”

December 20th 2020, 4:39 am

KBW Ventures invests in TurtleTree Labs’ $6.2 million pre-Series A

Wamda

UAE-based KBW Ventures, has participated in the $6.2 million pre-Series A funding round for Singapore-based TurtleTree Labs, a biotechnology company that uses technology to create real milk from animal cells.

Other investors participating in this round include Green Monday Ventures, Eat Beyond Global and Verso Capital.

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

The biotech startup will use the funds to accelerate research and production of functional, bioactive proteins and complex sugars found in human milk. It has offices in San Francisco and Singapore.

KBW Ventures also participated in the company’s seed round funding round it raised earlier this year.

“The vision of TurtleTree Labs is to create a truly sustainable and cruelty-free food system,” said Max Rye, chief strategist of TurtleTree Labs. “We are grateful to have the support of leading investors from every corner of the world.”  

“TurtleTree Labs’ groundbreaking technology, which allowed our company to win The Liveability Challenge and Entrepreneurship World Cup, has certainly attracted interest from a global and diverse panel of investors and customers,” said Fengru Lin, CEO of TurtleTree Labs.

Additionally, KBW founder Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud, will join TurtleTree Labs as an advisor. In his role, Prince Khaled will shape new market growth plans, lend his expertise in the alternative protein and food tech spheres, and liaise closely with the founding team on other areas of the business. 

“TurtleTree Labs represents the spirit and impact of the Entrepreneurship World Cup where they emerged from a pool of 175,000 registrants from 200 countries,” said Ana Maria Torres, director for the Entrepreneurship World Cup. “This investment — and the continued support it will receive from a global network of ecosystem leaders — provides them with an opportunity to scale in a rapidly-changing industry while addressing an extensive global need.”

 

 

December 17th 2020, 10:39 am

GasNas, Unihance raise $200,000

Wamda

Jordan-based StartLabz, a pre-seed incubator and the venture arm of Startappz, has secured $200,000 seed funding for two of its startups: GasNas, an on-demand gas delivery service and Unihance, an edtech platform. The investment was raised through the incubator’s angel investor network during a virtual pitching event hosted by StartLabz. 

The incubator is keen on expanding the angel network in the Middle East by educating investors and providing them with the information they need to enter the early-stage high-risk capital investment market.

“We believe that there is great potential for this kind of angel network to develop in the region. Many individuals with extra savings are looking for the kind of opportunities that are available in our startup ecosystem but lack the knowledge needed to follow through. This is where we come in. At StartLabz, in addition to working with startups to help them connect with investors, we are providing investors with the information and knowledge they need to understand angel investing better,” said Rama Dawod, managing director of StartLabz.

 

December 17th 2020, 7:52 am

Morni raises $9.1 million in Series B

Wamda

Saudi Arabia-based mobility solutions platform Morni, has raised SAR34.3 million ($9.1 million) in a Series B funding round, led by GSquare Investments, with the participation from Al Turairi and others.

Launched in 2016, Morni provides towing and roadside assistance, both on-demand and subscription-based solutions through web and mobile apps to individuals and corporates. It enables users to obtain integrated logistics services for vehicles in emergency situations.

The startup so far has serviced more than 600,000 customers in KSA, with an annual membership of 490,000 and services are now available to more than 200 insurance companies and car rental agents as part of its daily services.

The startup plans to use the newly raised funds to continue expanding its vehicle preservation services, debris management, and support services for vehicle claims.  

“This will contribute to providing more than SAR3 billion annually from financial waste in the vehicle insurance sector, by providing innovative solutions to deal with vehicle accidents and their claims,” said Salman Al-Suhaibani, founder of Morni.

The startup also plans to cover new cities in the KSA, and introduce new products for the owners of classic and luxury sports vehicles to provide preservation and accommodation through storage areas of over 300 thousand square meters in Riyadh.

“We believe that this investment round will help the system grow in an integrated and accelerated manner, which will support the digital economy in the kingdom to raise the customer's experience and reduce the circulation of cash. We are working to ensure that the system has an added value to the Saudi economy and is ready for public offering in the coming years,” said Bassam Al-Wabel, partner at Growth Square Investment Company.

 

December 17th 2020, 6:05 am

Wahed Invest acquires UK digital banking app Niya

Wamda

Source: Reuters

Wahed Inc, a U.S.-based Islamic-finance fintech startup backed by Saudi Aramco, will acquire Niyah Ltd, a British company that runs a digital banking app designed for the Muslim community, the companies said on Thursday.

Wahed hopes the acquisition will enable it to broaden its offering and eventually become a one-stop-shop for Islamic law-compliant digital financial products and services, it said.

The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Launched in 2017, Wahed runs an online investment management platform in the United States which ensures its portfolio does not include investments in companies in restricted sectors such as gambling, firearms and alcohol.

The deal will allow Wahed to provide its customer base with more interest-free financial products, such as digital bank accounts and debit cards in the UK and elsewhere globally, it said.

It comes as more tech-savvy startups seek to tap the growing demand for financial products and services aimed at the Muslim community, and follows a $25 million investment in Wahed led by Saudi Aramco Entrepreneurship Ventures, the oil conglomerate’s venture capital arm.

Islamic law, known as Shariah, strictly prohibits charging interest. To make digital banking Shariah-compliant, Wahed will allow customers to keep minimum amounts of their funds in cash so that deposits are not used for lending, and invest the rest, Junaid Wahedna, the company’s CEO said in an interview.

“All the money you keep with us will be invested according to your preference, ” Wahedna said.

The company, which has more than 100,000 customers, also plans to tap into growing demand for ethical financial products from a wider customer base, beyond just the Muslim community.

“There is no reason why we should not broaden out the scope of our reach to everyone,” Wahedna said.

December 17th 2020, 5:20 am

TruKKer raises $10 million venture debt from US-based Partners for growth

Wamda

UAE-based on-demand truck aggregator TruKKer, has raised a $10 million strategic venture debt from San Francisco-based specialty lending firm Partners for Growth (PFG). This marks the largest-ever venture-debt in the Middle East and North Africa region (Mena) tech history, as well as the first for PFG in the region. 

Established in 2016, TruKKer claims to have a fleet of over 25,000 trucks and 500 B2B customers on its platform, including multinational consumer products companies. The newly-raised funds will be used to finance the working capital needs required for the instant payment of thousands of transporters operating on TruKKer’s network.

It currently employs over 175 people in UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and officially operates in five countries in Mena. It also plans to expand to other markets, starting with Pakistan.

“We are disrupting a very fragmented industry, both operationally and commercially, by using advanced data science and technology tools. One of our essential capabilities is the ability to finance instant payments to the small transporters and owner-operators, while offering standard credit terms for enterprise clients,” said Amit Agarwal, TruKKer’s group chief financial officer (CFO).

“We have a very diverse and high-quality client base with three years of consistent payment cycles. Having demonstrated performance and substantial growth, financing our expanding working capital needs with a structured debt facility was an obvious next step for us. We are very happy and proud to have a world-class institution like PFG on board,” he added.

The trucking industry employs thousands of entrepreneurs as owner-operator drivers across the world, with the Middle East especially seeing a significant increase in digital freight.

“TruKKer offers a very interesting proposition for a debt fund to support a diverse and growing portfolio of debtors with a custom facility tailored to enable the company’s rapid expansion. We are very excited about working with the TruKKer team to provide capital to help them scale their impressive platform harnessing the trend of increasing technological adoption to deliver efficiencies across the massive freight industry across the Middle East,” said Jason Geogatos, PFG’s managing director. 

“We will continue to work with TruKKer to support their rapid growth and hope to work with other emerging technology companies as we get familiar with the Mena markets, and build strong relationships in the region,” he added.

Today’s raise comes a year after the company raised $23 million in one of the region’s largest Series A investments. The round was led by Saudi Technology Ventures (STV), International Finance Corporation (IFC), Endeavor Catalyst Fund and Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP), with participation from Riyad TAQNIA Fund, Oman Technology Fund, Iliad Partners, and Shorooq Ventures.

 

December 17th 2020, 5:20 am

Spotii receives investment from Australia's Zip

Wamda

UAE-based buy now, pay later (BNPL) startup Spotii, has received a strategic investment from Australia-based BNPL company Zip.

Zip, which is listed on the Australian stock exchange,  is expected to provide Spotii access to expertise, public finance support, technical knowhow and access to a global merchant network, while enabling Spotii’s merchants to access new geographic opportunities, including the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand.

“Buy now pay later is booming globally and the region is no different. The pandemic has accelerated the need to provide new and innovative solutions to merchants and consumers alike in a period of rapid digital adoption. Spotii has been working to create a consortium of strategic partnerships with best-in-class organisations in the payments and technology sector, first with Microsoft, then with Mastercard and now with Zip, in order to provide truly differentiated and unique solutions,” said Anuscha Iqbal, co-founder and CEO Spotii.

Founded earlier this year, Spotii provides shoppers with the ability to defer payments or pay across four equal instalments, with no cost or hidden fees. Through the platform, customers get access to a simple budgeting tool allowing them to pay for purchases over time while merchants enjoy more sales.

Spotii merchants have reported a 40 per cent uplift from new customers to an average order-value increase of 70 per cent and a conversion uplift of 55 per cent. The platform counts more than 600 integrated merchants across the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

“Spotii’s focus on data analytics, technology, exciting product roadmap and customer-friendly approach ensures the company will remain the region’s leader, delivering an exceptional experience for merchants and customers. Together, our vision is to disrupt the payments sector with digital and fairer alternatives. We look forward to the exciting road ahead,” said Larry Diamond, Zip CEO and managing director.

 

December 17th 2020, 3:46 am

A look at the subscriptions-based economy in the Middle East

Wamda

Digitisation has become the mainstay of the coronavirus pandemic, shifting both consumer and business behaviour. Amid this trend, the subscriptions economy has boomed, offering its users convenience and reliability.

Globally, the subscriptions economy has remained resilient, benefiting from the pandemic and the ongoing lockdowns in various parts of the world.  According to Zuora, 50 per cent of all subscription companies are growing just as fast as they were before the pandemic while 18 per cent are seeing subscriber growth rates accelerate.

Regionally, the boom in e-commerce and improvements in the digital payments infrastructure has helped the subscriptions economy grow in tandem. To get a better understanding of the subscriptions economy in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), Wamda’s Research Lab, in partnership with Microsoft for Startups and SubsBase, conducted a survey of 193 people including consumers, subscriptions-based businesses in the region, and businesses that are planning to launch a subscription offering soon.  

The findings highlighted the unique challenges of the sector, consumer preferences and the areas of growth.

More than 70 per cent of the companies we surveyed are in the pre-seed and seed stage, highlighting the nascent nature of the subscriptions economy. The majority of subscriptions businesses are based in the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, countries with strong e-commerce markets and more advanced B2B ecosystems. Most of the new subscriptions businesses set to emerge over the next few months will also be based in these three countries, alongside Jordan which has a robust developer ecosystem.

Main challenges

Traditionally, collecting payments and managing subscribers has been a major challenge. In economies with advanced digital payment infrastructures, these issues have largely been resolved. In the Middle East however, where large segments of the population remain unbanked and cash on delivery continues to dominate, businesses here face bigger hurdles in this regard. This is why the business-to-business (B2B) software as a service (SaaS) segment dominates in Mena, accounting for 55 per cent of all subscriptions-based offerings. The pandemic’s push towards remote and working from home policies have also helped the B2B segment with tools from Microsoft and Zoom attracting greater numbers of subscribers. Going forward, we expect a rise in the number of subscriptions businesses in healthcare, entertainment and e-commerce.

Another major challenge is the lack of education in the market, which affects both the B2B and business-to-consumer (B2C) segment.

Consumers are also reluctant to autopay, there is a lack of trust in paying upfront for a product or service and the lack of digital payments infrastructure in many countries is holding back the B2C segment. But there are signs that this is changing. The strict lockdowns across the region, prompted many to turn to online services and helped to increase consumer trust in online payments. This has helped regional companies like Anghami and Shahid grow and their growth has also helped educate the wider market according to SubsBase’s founder and CEO Mohamed Farag.

Looking ahead

The rise of e-commerce and improvements in local logistics is also pushing the growth of subscription-based boxes planning to launch in the next six months. These offline boxes are also increasing demand for regional payment gateways and subscriber management platforms like Payfort, Fawry and Hyper Pay.

One way to overcome the challenge of digital payments is through direct mobile billing. Anghami’s users can pay for the music streaming service through their mobile phone operator. Another payment option that is gaining steady growth is buy now pay later (BNPL) which can help to alleviate some of the reluctance that consumers have towards autopay.

In Mena, close to 30 per cent of the subscriptions offerings cost $1-10 per month, with more than half of the businesses we surveyed saying they had fewer than 1000 active monthly users.

“In any market it’s more about people understanding what is the ongoing service that they’re getting,” says Farag. “From the business side, the subscriptions model gives businesses a better chance to survive.”

For businesses, a subscriptions model provides a steady, predictable stream of income, benefitting their cashflow. With the ongoing impact of the pandemic, accelerated digitisation, we are likely to see the subscriptions economy continue to grow in Mena.

The full report can be found here

December 16th 2020, 8:01 pm

Sigma Fit raises fresh funds

Wamda

Egypt-based sportswear company Sigma Fit, has raised new funds from its compatriot investment company, Innlife Investments. 

Founded in 2017, Sigma Fit is a tech company that specialises in sports consumer products. The company has created high-tech clothing with several features that interact with the individual’s body to be sustainable and save water/electricity when washing. With the use of hydrophobic technology, Sigma Fit can create and sell clothes that can be worn for around three weeks without having to be washed. 

The new funds will be used to fast track the implementation of new technologies and sectors, including augmented reality (AR) and hologram projections sales, embedded sensors clothing, and new sports product lines.

"We would like to expand to football, launch our retail stores where robots will be serving humans, and AR will be used instead of fitting rooms. We'd like to expand our medical productive clothing lines to fight any upcoming pandemic and launch the first hologram based shopping booth!,” said Omar El Metwally, managing director and co-founder of Sigma Fit.

Over the past few years, Sigma Fit has diversified its revenue streams from technology and white labeling to wholesale and medical protective equipment. Their sportswear brand is currently operating in Egypt, the USA, Kuwait, and has patents pending in the field of antimicrobial sports products.

"Techwear is changing the world and Sigma Fit made a huge role in protecting us from the pandemic and we believe it will play a worldwide vital role in the techwear field,” said a partner at Innlife Investment.

 

December 16th 2020, 7:55 am

Calega Ventures invests in India-based Callify.ai

Wamda

Source: YourStory

Mumbai-based smart calling platform for working professionals Callify.ai on Tuesday said it has raised a seed funding of $560,000 led by Malpani Ventures. Investors, including startup incubator and accelerator Venture Catalysts, UAE-based Calega Ventures, The Chennai Angel Network, and Marvari Angel Network also participated in the round.

“We are excited that some of India’s leading investment institutions are confident in our value proposition and the team’s capabilities to execute the planned growth. This funding only validates that we are on the right path and motivates us to continue working towards our long-term goal,” Chetan Indap, CEO, Callify.ai, said on the investment. With this capital infusion, the startup aims to strengthen its presence in the HR tech domain and replicate its technological infrastructure to address use-cases across several other industries.

Founded in 2016 by Chetan Indap, Callify is an industry-agnostic, voice-powered technology for working professionals that enables them to automate their daily outbound phone interactions through cutting-edge technology such as speech AI and virtual assistant.

The platform claims to empower users to screen leads without calling, increase closure rates, reduce cost-per-hire, and conduct performance data analysis, thereby eliminating over 70 percent of wasted or unproductive time.

This makes it an essential tool in any job that entails making outbound interactions throughout the day like HRs, sales, operations, marketing, etc. “Callify has single-handedly enhanced user productivity by automating repetitive and transactional daily tasks, freeing up time to devote to their core strength of engaging, sourcing, and closing,” said Dr Apoorv Ranjan Sharma, Co-founder and President, Venture Catalysts.

“The strong background and expertise of the Callify.ai team have turned a promising idea into an innovative, unique, and marketable product that is now simplifying the outbound call-centric workload across industries,” he added.

At present, Callify.ai works with global brands like Infosys, Accenture, NTT Data, HDFC Bank, Orange Telecom, ICICI Prudential, HCL, Kelly Services, and Allegis, among others.

December 16th 2020, 5:40 am

Is open banking the answer to boosting the UAE property market?

Wamda

Michael Hunter is the co-founder of Holo

Open banking is a term we have been hearing a lot over the past three years, since the concept emerged as a means of allowing third party access to banking and financial accounts.  The initiative aims to increase information-sharing between financial institutions, in order to make new financial products and services more accessible to individuals and businesses alike.  It also promotes greater transparency by allowing new and dynamic ways for consumers to track and control their finances.

This is more important than ever in light of the recent Covid-19 pandemic, which has pushed many customers to take a step back and reassess their financial health.  In doing so, they face the hurdle of only being able to access limited, individual bank accounts, rather than a holistic view of financial activity, which naturally lends itself to more flexible and agile options.  In addition, open banking significantly decreases the processing times of banking applications, as the need for multiple KYC and AML checks are reduced.

So, what does this mean for property buyers in the UAE?  A study conducted by Colliers in the second quarter of this year showed that 91 per cent of real estate purchasers were made by first-time buyers, indicating a huge appetite for buying over renting.  In turn, this has fuelled a rise in demand for home loans, with 1,189 mortgage transactions worth US$2.8 billion in Dubai during the month of August 2020 alone. 

Having said that, for many wanting to make this transition, one of the main barriers to purchasing their dream property is selecting and securing the best financing product. The process can be complex, arduous and overwhelming.  

We have already begun to simplify this process at Holo, through a secure algorithm-backed platform that gives prospective buyers access to a full range of unbiased mortgage and remortgage options that meet their specific needs, within minutes.  Now, imagine what we could do if an applicant’s eligibility could be predetermined based on full visibility of their credit history, spending patterns and savings, without them even having to fill in a form?

Of course, this comes with its own set of challenges – namely, data security.  Understandably, customers would raise a red flag when thinking third parties could have access to their personal and banking information.  This is where regulators, brokers and financial institutions must all play a part in ensuring the right guidelines and infrastructure is in place to ensure the protection of the end user.  We are witnessing a surge in the number of fintechs building platforms that enhance the customer journey, but without a framework to support open banking in its fullest capacity, the experience will remain one dimensional. 

The onus is on all of us, as members of the country’s financial ecosystem, to contribute to the progress of this sector – whether it means governing authorities putting parameters in place to allow secure data sharing, innovative companies exploring new backend systems to facilitate or brokers helping to assuage customer concerns by effectively explaining the process.  We at Holo are certainly looking forward to collaborating with our peers, wherever necessary, to make this a reality.  


Wamda has invested in Holo

December 15th 2020, 10:38 pm

Alpha Wave invests in India's DealShare

Wamda

Source: Laffaz

India-based social commerce startup DealShare, on Tuesday announced that the company has raised $21 million in its Series C round led by WestBridge Capital, with participation from Alpha Wave Incubation (a venture fund managed by Falcon Edge Capital), Z3Partners, and existing investors including Matrix Partners India and Omnidyar Network India, along with a few angel investors.

Founded in 2018 by Vineet Rao, Sourjyendu Medda, Sankar Bora, Rishav Dev and Rajat Shikhar; DealShare says that it targets value-conscious consumers and offers them grocery and other daily household products.

The company is aiming to deploy the fresh funds towards fueling its growth by tapping into more geographies, deepen its footprint in existing markets, expand local sourcing networks, and augment its technological infrastructure.

Speaking of the development, Vineet Rao, CEO of DealShare, in a press statement said, “We plan to use the funds to strengthen our technology platform & talent pool and scale our unique “Made-for-India” solution. Over the last two years, we have witnessed rapid adoption of our app amongst tier 2, 3 cities and will continue with this growth journey,”

Sandeep Singhal, Co-founder & Managing Director of WestBridge Capital, said, “We are excited to partner with DealShare on their journey to tap the untouched potential of the e-commerce business into the mass population of the country. Majority of Indian population is currently residing in the non-metros and there is a huge business opportunity in these regions. The buying pattern of low- and middle-income group is different especially in smaller markets and DealShare seems to have understood the nuances very well,”

Sourjyendu Medda, Chief Business Officer of DealShare, stated, “With this investment, we will augment our brand presence across existing and new markets. Over the next one year, we are targeting to increase our footprint to 100 cities and towns across five states. We will also increase our customer base to 1 crore. This investment will take us to an annual GMV (gross merchandise value) of ₹2500 crore,”

Navroz D. Udwadia, Co-founder & partner at Falcon Edge, quoted, “DealShare brings together a focused assortment that is differentially procured. This, when coupled with the delight of discovery and a gamified shopping experience, drives robust repeat usage and cohort behaviour. These factors coupled with creative first principles driven fulfilment drive exciting unit economics,”

DealShare says that it also focuses on Tier III & Tier IV cities, unlike the other players in the social commerce domain.

December 15th 2020, 2:04 pm

Urent raises pre-Series A investment

Wamda

UAE-based vehicle-sharing and car rental app Urent, has raised a seven-figure pre-series A funding round from an undisclosed serial entrepreneur to accelerate growth and expand into other markets.

Founded in 2018, Urent now enables commercial hosts to list their vehicles via the "My Garage" section on the app, as well as set their own rules, limits, pricing and availabilities of their fleets. Renters will then enjoy navigating via a wide range of vehicles tied to hosts, with the option of interacting with vehicle owners via the app pre-booking, as well as getting vehicles booked and delivered to their doorstep.

The company will use the funds to hire new talent and boost its marketing efforts in the UAE. It also plans to expand into Saudi Arabia in 2021.

“As a new concept in the UAE, we are just beginning to show what our platform can do. Much like Airbnb, our model will usher in a new era of vehicle sharing where guests and hosts will share a wide range of personal vehicles. We will also target large established vehicle rental companies as a core part of our business model,” said Omar Al Ashi, founder of Urent. “We can help struggling rental companies, like Hertz, to revolutionise and digitise their business through Urent’s proprietary technology. Not only can we provide the technology but also access to a new global audience of consumers.”

 

December 15th 2020, 2:04 pm

GELLIFY to launch €20 million Mena fund

Wamda

Italy’s GELLIFY, a B2B software startup focused accelerator and investor is launching a fund for the Middle East region in 2021.

The platform has already established its presence in Dubai and is keen to begin investing in regional startups through an initial €20 million ($24 million) fund.

“We are scouting startups to start investing with our own funds and mid next year we will also open a fund to attract other investors from Europe,” said Massimo Cannizzo, CEO and co-founder of GELLIFY Middle East.

GELLIFY is looking for B2B software as a service (SaaS) startups in healthcare, wellbeing, education, culture, wealth and finance, environment and sustainability, hospitality and entertainment.

“There is a fragmentation in the innovation ecosystem in the Middle East, capital is available but the ability to connect to that capital is difficult,” said Cannizzo.

GELLIFY already has an €80 million fund in Europe and is keen to bring its European portfolio of startups to the Middle East to build up the ecosystem. It is also planning to export solutions from the Middle East to the rest of the world.

“The weakest part of the bridge of all these [regional] ecosystems is exporting to the rest of the world. We import a lot, but if we don’t export our startups from the Middle East ot the rest of the world, we will never make another unicorn,” sad Cannizzo. “B2C requires a lot of consumers to grow, but in B2B when you have a nice solution it is easier to sell it globally.”

December 15th 2020, 2:04 pm

Mena startups raised $37 million in November

Wamda

When Yahaal announced its Series A round, we expected investments to exceed $60 million in November, but a correction from the company almost halved our estimate. It wasn’t $27 million that the e-commerce company had raised, that was just its valuation after its latest round.

And so total investment in startups in November was $37.1 million, a 22 per cent fall month-on-month. Logistics and e-commerce startups accounted for the bulk of investments both in number and value, a sign of the unstoppable growth of online shopping. The GCC’s e-commerce sector is expected to grow by 600 per cent by the end of 2020, valuing it at $24 billion according to AT Kearney.

Overall, 30 startups raised investment, two from crowdfunding (Egypt-based Argineering via Kickstarter and UAE-based Fruitful Day via Eureeca), with a welcome rise in the Series A stage. As ever, the UAE dominated in terms of investment value, but startups in Egypt were able to match the number of deals in November.

The startups that raised the highest amounts in November were:

  1. Salla ($8.5 million)
  2. Quiqup ($5.5 million)
  3. Fenix ($3.8 million)

December 15th 2020, 2:04 pm

Capria invests in Global Ventures' second fund

Wamda

Seattle-based global investment fund of funds Capria Ventures (Capria) has invested in UAE-based venture capital firm Global Ventures’ second fund, as part of a strategic partnership. This marks Capria’s first direct investment in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region.

Capria Ventures is a global investment firm, partnering with and funding the largest network of emerging market fund managers. It is backed by international investors, including Vulcan Capital, the Ford Foundation, Bill Gates, the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, Unitus Labs, and other impact investors.

“Capria has always backed fund managers across the globe with aligned interests and incentives. Our collaboration is our first entry into the region, which will diversify our investors’ access to opportunities in a region seeing significant growth in the digital health, fintech, edtech and agritech sectors. We are already seeing synergy between Global Ventures’ portfolio and the portfolios of our Capria Network managers in Asia, LatAm and Africa,” said Susana Garcia Robles, venture partner at Capria Ventures.

Capria manages over $400 million in assets, deployed in early-stage/growth companies in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. It has more than $100 million in assets under management invested directly in India and in other markets.

Since its inception, Global Ventures has focused on backing growth-stage companies in MEA and globally. To date, It has invested in 25 companies, operating across 15 markets, using capital from its two funds. The second fund is focused on technology companies addressing critical needs and demands in recently accelerated industries.

“We are delighted to welcome a new investor to the regional ecosystem. Capria is one of the first US fund-of-funds to invest in the region and is internationally renowned for its success in emerging markets. We are very excited to see the transformative impact this investment and partnership will have across the region. We’re very much looking forward to our partnership with Capria and expanding ties between our regional ecosystem and other high-growth markets,” said Noor Sweid, founder and general partner of Global Ventures.

December 15th 2020, 2:04 pm

Startup Istanbul launches $10 million fund to invest in Mena-based startups

Wamda

Istanbul-based event organiser and seed investor Startup Istanbul is raising a $10 million VC fund, targeting startups in the Middle East and North Africa region (Mena) Africa and Asia. 

“We decided to start the fund as we believe that there’s a huge, untapped opportunity in these emerging markets, and that the US and European investors are found to be not so much interested in investing in startups in these regions. This is our investment thesis,” Burak Buyukdemir, founder and managing director of Startup Istanbul told Wamda.

“With this lockdown situation, raising investment has been difficult for early-stage startups for the last year. And this is the reason that we are raising our fund to invest in them,” he added. “From the Middle East, we have been receiving startup applications from Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, among others.”

The Startup Istanbul Fund plans to invest $50,000 per company for a total of 100 companies to be invested in three years. The fund will have a 25 per cent follow-on reserve and will aim to be deployed to approximately 25 companies.

Launched over a decade ago, Startup Istanbul has been organising the tech-focused event, gathering startups, investors, relevant organisations and corporations in Istanbul and from other parts of the world. “It's not a Turkish event. Normally, it is an event for all entrepreneurs globally. We have received more than 200,000 applications in the last three years, from 170 countries,” he explained.

The company started a remote acceleration programme a couple of years ago. With Covid-19, it has been progressing more in this model, pursuing promising startups from different parts of the world. 

To date, 700 startups pitched on Startup Istanbul’s stage; 111 of which received seed investment, 33 received Series A or B rounds, and dozens were acquired after their participation in the event.

 

December 15th 2020, 2:04 pm

Uber Egypt achieves 80 per cent recovery rate

Wamda

Uber Egypt has achieved a recovery rate of 80 per cent, Uber Egypt’s general manager Ahmed Khalil announced at RiseUp Summit 2020, adding that the company looks to fully recover next year. 

Shortly after Covid-19 began spreading across the world, the company shut down its food delivery business Uber Eats in several markets, including Egypt, in an attempt to preserve costs and avoid more losses, especially after the company’s ride-hailing services were dramatically affected by the subsequent lockdown. 

“In Egypt, we had to shut down one of our two businesses, which came as part of a global push to focus our resources in our top markets,” said Khalil.

Throughout the past period, the company has leveraged partnerships with others across different industries to better respond to the crisis and scale its operations.  

“For example, we partnered with Nacita auto care to sanitise 1000s of vehicles, and distribute more than 300,000 masks to our drivers for free.”

Similar to other mobility companies, Uber has introduced new services to help revive its business and make up for the losses it incurred in the ride-hailing space. These products include intercity bus service, and Uber Connect, which is a delivery tech solution for the transportation of goods, among others.

Khalil concluded his talk by saying: “If Covid19 has taught us anything; first, it is the importance of acting fast, but not to overreact and always keep the long term in mind, and the importance of having a positive P&L, meaning that any business should definitely have to spare some resources to help get it through the tough situations that might abruptly arise. And lastly [it] is to leverage partnerships.”

Over the last weekend, RiseUp Summit’s virtual edition took place under the theme of “Reset” which came almost three months after the company held its special edition, RiseUp From Home “Got Grit”, held in response to the pandemic, to help educate the tech community on how to confront businesses challenges caused by the crisis and how to prepare for similar threats. 

 

December 15th 2020, 2:04 pm

Progressive Generation raises pre-Series A investment for its kids-safe streaming platform

Wamda

Jordan-based production house and investment firm Progressive Generation, has raised an undisclosed pre-Series A funding round from Oman Technology Fund (OTF), 500 Startups, and ISSFJO. The company will deploy the fresh funds to develop and launch its child-friendly video-on-demand (VOD) platform, offering edutainment content in Arabic and English.

Founded in 2011, Progressive Generation Studios produces original content for its clients in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region and owns a group of intellectual properties. It specialises in the production of creative animation artwork in both 2D, 3D, VE and programming.

"After more than 15 years of experience in building children's content and producing more than 100,000 minutes of original children content, we have decided with our investors and partners to produce one of the biggest and safest children's VOD platforms in the world,” said Ahmad Al Masri, CEO of Progressive Generation.

"The content will be built on excellent and validated Arabic and English language, and will be edutainment; categorised for boys and girls, full of fun, colours, upbringing messages, original songs, and music - stimulating the creative thinking process. We have based this on deep research in children's psychologies and the variation of each age group; AI has been used to help keep parents updated with what their children are watching,” he added.

 

December 15th 2020, 2:04 pm

360VUZ raises bridge round investment

Wamda

UAE-based Immersive video mobile app 360VUZ, has raised an undisclosed amount of funding as part of a bridge round from Knollwood, Impact46, and DAI. This latest investment brings the startup’s total funding raised to date to $8.4 million. According to Crunchbase, the company raised $7.2 million in its Series A round. 

Other investors include Shorooq Partners, KBW Ventures, Media Visions, AlTouq Group, Vision Ventures, Hala Ventures, 500Startups, Magnus Olsson, Samih Toukan, Jonathan Labin, DTEC Ventures, Plug and Play Ventures, Al Rashid family and other strategic angel investors.

Founded in 2017, The 360VUZ Teleporter mobile app has been adopted in more than 25 countries with a significant increase in user engagement and revenues month over month. The app leverages immersive media such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and extended reality (XR) to disrupt the telecommunications market.

In Q3 2020, 360VUZ signed agreements with more than 25 new telecoms companies from around the world covering markets such as the UK, Spain, Malaysia, Indonesia, Kuwait, Turkey, Morocco, Algeria, and South Africa. The new agreements were aimed to ease out the subscription for 360VUZ users around the globe and enhance their immersive experience.

“We believe that now more than ever our mission is vital to help people and businesses from all around the world by removing barriers of TTA (Travel, Time and Access) using our immersive platform and technologies,” said Khaled Zaatarah, founder and CEO of 360VUZ.

Recently, 360VUZ has introduced a set of features on a monthly basis such as the celebrity voice chat feature and VIP chat feature, connecting its users to celebrities.

With the new capital infusion, the company will be able to further develop its immersive video app proprietary technology and innovative features, expand its global reach, and offer more personalized experiences to build a hyper-connected world.

“360VUZ is uniquely positioned to build a global success story. The company has already demonstrated success in building an innovative product that is capable of being highly scalable to different geographies globally,” said Chris Rogers, 360VUZ board member and mobile industry expert.

“With the rise of the entertainment sector in Saudi Arabia, 360VUZ is in a great position to capitalise on this opportunity with its innovative technology and offer a full virtual experience. We’re excited to share the journey with the 360VUZ team, and admire their desire and determination to explore various areas of partnership with both local and international enterprises and introducing a product to serve a global scale,”  said Abdulaziz Alomran, founding partner at Impact46.

December 15th 2020, 2:04 pm

A cashless society in the UAE cannot happen without financial inclusion

Wamda

Anouar Bourakkadi Idrissi is the CEO of Edenred UAE

At the onset of 2020, implementation of the wide-scale lockdown and social distancing measures in the fight against Covid-19 triggered significant changes in consumer behaviour. From crisis to recovery and the reopening of economies, businesses have witnessed a profound change in the way consumers behave. While some of these changes were temporary, others are expected to have long-term repercussions, and since many of the changes in consumer behaviour are still being formed, it gives companies an opportunity to help shape #TheNewNormal.  

Online shopping and food delivery are obviously not new trends; however, lockdown would have necessitated participation from even their biggest opponents. Hidden behind these obvious developments was another digital trend: digital payments. According to a survey by Standard Chartered, 47 per cent of the UAE respondents said they prefer making online payments now over in-person card transactions or cash payments and almost two-thirds of people in the UAE (64 per cent) expect the country to become fully cashless by 2030. Globally, the volume of ATM cash withdrawals tumbled at least 12 per cent in the second quarter, according to research firm MoffettNathanson.

Recent trends show that there is an increasing tendency and trust in the digital payment solutions in the UAE, but the age-old saying 'cash is king' still rings true and is still holding an important amount of share in the economy because modest income workers are struggling to participate in the economy, with no access to a bank account or mobile banking solutions. In the UAE, close to 60 per cent of the working population is unbanked or partially unbanked, earning less than the minimum usually required for opening a bank account.

The fintech industry in the UAE is developing and offering comprehensive solutions embracing both the digitally savvy and cash users.

According to the recent report by Fintech Consortium, Bahrain Fintech Bay, and Jordan Fintech Bay, in the GCC region, the UAE has the highest financial inclusion rate at 46 per cent, followed by Bahrain at 39 per cent and Saudi Arabia at 31 per cent.

The UAE’s relatively good results are due to the numerous initiatives launched by both the public and private sectors to foster innovation and improve access to financial services. These initiatives have been mainly focused on the financial literacy, with, for example, the UAE Bank Federation launching in 2018 a public handbook on financial literacy, as well as financial access for minorities, including communities with disabilities. To build on the initiatives launched by the government to reduce the knowledge gap, Edenred UAE conducts workshops for modest-income workers to educate them on topics such as personal finance management and enhance their financial wellness along with a WhatsApp support channel launched to reach out in case they need any personal assistance.

The UAE is known for its high percentages (around 91 per cent) in smartphone penetration and around 92.17 per cent of active mobile internet users. This provides a fantastic opportunity for banks and fintech companies to build innovative solutions that are available digitally and on mobile while leveraging technologies such as digital know-your-customer (e-KYC) to allow individuals to open accounts seamlessly with minimum barriers, leading to greater financial inclusion. Inclusion in the financial ecosystem can be a key factor of the increasing trends in digitisation in the banking industry, especially for payment methods.

Additionally, the government is launching initiatives, establishing appropriate policies and legislations and playing an active role to nullify the detractors to a cashless economy. Even for businesses in the UAE, the rising need for faster, more economical, smoother and safer payment processes was getting more crucial and urgent.

The shift to digital services is becoming increasingly important as we move towards 2021. With more than 60 per cent of the working population in the UAE sitting outside of the financial system, especially in manufacturing, trading, F&B and construction, it is important to cater to this market as well. Joint efforts of government and solution providers based in the UAE are becoming more important than ever to have a smooth move to the cashless economy providing the solutions catering to all categories of residents. In this perspective, to support businesses along with their employees, one solution for example, is to offer modest-income working professionals within those organisations, a salary card so an individual can use it for withdrawals and purchases in the UAE and across the globe, providing them with financial security. This card is linked to a mobile app, where they can access essential financial services such as real time balance, transaction history and instant international money transfers, which contributes to integrate them in the digital economy.

The combination of the rapid pace of innovation in financial services technology and the commitment to financial inclusion of an unprecedented number of leading policymaking institutions in developing and emerging countries, is a unique opportunity to resolve some of the most intractable challenges for financial inclusion and reach ‘last mile’ consumers with high quality financial services.

 

December 15th 2020, 2:04 pm

The Saudi accelerator removing roadblocks for women

Wamda

By May Rostom

For reasons ranging from cultural or self-imposed barriers to age-old beliefs, sex-role stereotyping has proved one of the biggest obstacles to women’s progress in the workplace and one of the main causes for the lack of female representation at the executive level and in startup culture in Saudi Arabia. 

Despite the constant progress in the Middle East’s startup scene, the region still faces some unique challenges. These include the lowest female labour force participation rate (LFPR) in the world – at 24.6 per cent, it significantly trails the global average of 47.8 per cent.

According to a McKinsey report and to Emon Shakoor, CEO of Saudi Arabia's first female-focused accelerator, Blossom, women’s participation in professional and technical jobs is not on par with men’s.

“As it is, starting a company is pretty difficult, but starting a company as a woman often had additional challenges. Gender biases and cultural beliefs added an extra layer of difficulty for women who wanted to launch their own business,” says Shakoor.

In 2017, the then 23-year-old sought to start her own venture and build a strong entrepreneurial network in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. However, she found it extra hard to reach out and talk to upper echelons, which is when the idea for Blossom emerged.

“At that time in Saudi Arabia, there weren’t any startup accelerators or network platforms that offered startup advice, especially ones that catered to women,” she says. “That’s when I realised that women who launched their own business in KSA faced a different set of challenges than the average Saudi male founder.”

“With Blossom, I wanted to tailor an experience that met the needs of female founders while enabling and equipping them with everything they need to know to overcome the barriers they might face along the way, she adds. “This is a global phenomenon; it happens even in Silicon Valley."

As noted in a MAGNiTT report: "5.1 per cent ($36 million) of total funding went to startups with only female founders in 2019, which is close to double the figure in the United States. Beyond that, startups with only female founders accounted for 4.5 per cent of all deals in 2019, more than twice the percentage in the United States.”

Pushing forward

While the founder of Blossom acknowledges there have been noticeable efforts to increase female participation in the economy, “we still have a long way to go".

The Jeddah-based accelerator gives early-stage startups the opportunity to participate in a bootcamp and a demo day while also providing them with resources, knowledge, networking, and access to mentors, speakers and investors.

“Startups get mentorship on everything – from business models, introduction to entrepreneurship, lean principles, hands-on implementation, marketing and finance, and a lot more,” says Shakoor. “We believe one of our differentiation points here at Blossom is our heavily-mentored programmes that give access to mentors and speakers from both Silicon Valley and the region. Having that international exposure, alongside local expertise, gives our female-focused startups a 360-picture of the entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

Since its launch, Blossom has mentored more than 300 female-focused startups and arranged three events: Techpreneurship Sprint (a one-day business plan competition for technology startup ideas), SELLA (a technology entrepreneurship function focused on idea-sharing, inspiration, and networking), and THIQAH (a female- empowerment event teaching women how to be more confident and create the company they deserve). A fourth virtual event is underway.

Shakoor adds  “The coronavirus has motivated us to take our event online. Going virtual means reaching more startups across the globe and expanding our Blossom network worldwide. We always had the idea for the online accelerator, but corona expedited the process for us.”

Blossom continues to grow and evolve, with mentorship programmes spanning the GCC and Mena, but Shakoor is only getting started.

“I see Blossom being the accelerator and platform for female founders in MENA, the place for any woman who wants to start or grow a company to go to and ultimately scale and succeed. We’re also planning on starting our own fund to grow our business and network and eventually invest in multiple talents across this part of the world.”

December 1st 2020, 10:59 pm

Boxit raises investment to continue its growth

Wamda

UAE-headquartered on-demand storage company Boxit, has secured its second funding round led by Kuwait-based Alif Ba Holding, with participation from a group of private investors. The startup has raised a total of $1.6 million over the past year.

Founded in 2016, Boxit looks to disrupt the traditional self-storage model. It enables its users to store their belongings in secured storage facilities and pay for the volume they occupy without having to visit a storage unit themselves.

The company was started in Kuwait and has recently expanded to the UAE. Back in September 2017, Boxit's Kuwaiti strategic investors acquired a significant majority stake in the company to fuel its growth in Kuwait as well as set the stage for its expansion to other GCC countries. 

"We were fortunate to engage with the right partners at the right time, the combination of which allowed us to unlock the platform and team’s full potential and embark on a journey of significant growth and eventually market leadership in the region in the years to come,” said Premlal Pullisserry, founder of Boxit.

Despite the current economic instability caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the company claims to have achieved a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 160 per cent in Q3 of this year as compared to the same period last year.

In 2016, Boxit received a $600,000 seed round led by Wamda. This round also saw participation from Kuwait-based Arzan VC, Dubai-based Equitrust, Sheikh Hamad Jaber Al Ahamad Al Jaber Al Sabah and Saad Mouasher, vice chairman at Jordan Ahli Bank.

 

December 1st 2020, 4:17 am

Former Souq executive invests in Pakistan's Clicky

Wamda

Source: Daily times

Lahore-based fashion e-commerce startup, Clicky, closed USD 700,000 in a Pre-Series A round of funding. Former executives from Amazon MENA region as well as Xiaomi along with few other angel investors participated in the round.

Founded in 2016 by Muhammad Khalid & Syed Shahzad, Clicky.pk is Pakistan’s top fashion-focused marketplace and retail startup. Having known each other for 15 years, the founders go back to the Manchester Business School, with extensive working experience in the Middle East. Asif Keshodia, former MENA Executive of Souq.com and one of the key investors in this round said, “I am thrilled to be a part of this startup in Pakistan.

Earlier investors of Clicky.pk include Souq.com and Fatima Ventures. Representing the local investor on the Board of Clicky.pk, Ali Mukhtar from Fatima Ventures said, “Khalid and Shahzad have been building a focused e-commerce business and we are excited to see how this investment will bring opportunities for local brands and private labels to grow and provide a high-quality fashion retail experience to Pakistani consumers.”

Pakistan’s e-commerce market value has crossed USD 1 billion, with an average pre-paid order value of USD 27.8 in 2019. Fashion & apparel remains one of the top three categories of e-commerce in the country. Search insights from Google also tell the popularity of women’s wear, with 89% of Pakistani consumers researching fashion products online before purchasing.

The fashion industry in the country is projected to grow its revenue by USD 5 billion in the next three years. 

Continue reading this story

November 30th 2020, 5:24 am

AHOY raises $2.2 million seed

Wamda

UAE-based e-commerce logistics startup AHOY, has raised a $2.2 million seed round from a GCC-based corporate venture capital as well as family office investors. 

Launched in 2018, AHOY offers companies and e-commerce retailers a full turn-key solution, enabling them to offer same-day deliveries across the UAE.

It also helps the companies scale and achieves a 100 per cent national total addressable market (TAM) without having to invest in new locations, warehousing nor people utilising AHOY's tools for fulfillment planning, predictive APIs, web-hooks, software development kit (SDKs), and UI tools.

The company will use the newly-raised funds to further grow its footprint in the UAE, with plans to expand into the Saudi market in 2021 as well as to other GCC countries.

"In AHOY's team, we consider ourselves to be the leanest and most agile operation of its kind, globally. With more great things to come, we are raising the bar for the golden standard in logistics while lowering it for entry to e-commerce merchants of every size. We disrupt by being innovative and out of the box and we have our clients and our success partners to thank as we enjoyed receiving love, trust, and appreciation from them,” said Jamil Shinawi, founder and managing director of AHOY.

 

November 30th 2020, 5:24 am

The regional tussle for startups: Is Dubai at risk of being overtaken? [part two]

Wamda

As outlined in the first part of this feature, startups have become a fundamental pillar of the economy, a means not only for innovation, but job creation too. For more than a decade, Dubai has surpassed other cities in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) as the regional hub for startups, a powerhouse of talent, capital and both physical and digital infrastructure.  

Recently the emirate issued new licences and visas, aiming to attract more talent from freelancers to doctors and retirees alongside the UAE's 10-year golden visa for entrepreneurs.

“People are building startup ecosystems in the world, it is about ease of doing business, the quality of life, accessibility, access to talent, the laws and regulations that allow people to have multiple jobs. Dubai will always be a pioneer in this,” says Abdulaziz Aljaziri, deputy CEO of the Dubai Future Foundation (DFF).

Indeed Dubai and the UAE in general, has long been a pioneer in the region for ease of doing business, ranking top in the Middle East and 16th globally in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business report 2020. The country recently scrapped its foreign ownership laws, which is likely to open up new sectors for onshore companies and attract more international companies and talent to the country.

"Onshore startups had to assume the burden of paying sponsorship fees to the local sponsor, ranging from Dh20,000 to 50,000 per year, which are significant sums for most startups," says Michael Kortbawi, partner at law firm BSA Ahmad Bin Hezeem & Associates. "Although 100 per cent foreign ownership was and remains permitted in freezones, most freezones impose restrictions on permitted activities and require the business to lease an office space within the freezone, which is generally limited in supply and expensive. With these changes, entrepreneurs will get the best of both worlds, with full ownership capability, no corporate governance issues arising from the presence of a local sponsor, fewer limitations on business activities, as well as increased options and cheaper rent for office spaces."

The UAE’s dedication to entrepreneurship also became clear with the creation of the Ministry for Entrepreneurship and SMEs in July this year, something that Aljaziri believes will help drive forward the startup agenda.

But over the past couple years, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have been especially bullish in creating a friendly business environment. Saudi Arabia jumped 30 spaces in the rankings in one year, highlighting the rapid pace of change. The UAE, and particularly Dubai now face stiff competition from other cities and countries in the region keen to develop a comfortable environment for startups, and increasingly, it seems that Dubai is at risk of being overshadowed by emerging ecosystems with more money and more economic heft behind them.

High Costs

One big criticism that startups have with Dubai is the cost of both living and doing business. The emirate is one of the most expensive places in the world to start a business. To set up a company in the UAE requires a minimum fee of Dh27,340 ($7444), but according Aljaziri, it is a trade off that is worth making.

“If you have cheap rent, cheap visas and licences, then you don’t have the quality of life, you won’t have everything,” he says.

Other hubs will likely disagree and examples across the world highlight low cost of doing business does not equate to low quality of life.

“To drive growth, you need to seriously cut the costs and administrative burden associated with launching a startup in the region,” says Patrick Rogers, co-founder and CEO of Dubai-based legaltech startup Clara. “Governments should not be making direct investments into startups, they should be focusing on how they can create a more fertile environment to encourage business formation – particularly for tech companies who have no chance of being profitable for their first few years.”

What happens then is that many founders operate in a grey zone until they get traction and do not “plunge directly into their operation” as they would in other countries according to Rogers.

“Governments not only lose out on additional people not being hired as a result of these unwarranted costs and administrative burdens, but it also makes startup success less likely as formally launching a startup is so much riskier in the minds of would-be founders than it would be in other places,” he says.

Abu Dhabi

Recognising the sheer cost of operating in the UAE, Abu Dhabi’s Hub71 created an incentive programme offering subsidies of up to $800,000, equity-free, to cover the initial costs of setting up. Seed stage startups receive free housing, free health insurance and free office space in Abu Dhabi for two years. Series A companies receive 50 per cent off housing, insurance and office rent for three years.

“[Hub71] is a very well thought through approach, but that speaks to how expensive it is to do business here for your average tech company. A policy that saw early stage tech companies (who are potentially massive employers) relieved of many of the standard costs involved with launching a tech startup would certainly support far higher business creation numbers and act as a magnet for regional talent,” says Rogers.

Since its launch in 2019, Hub71 now counts 75 startups in its ecosystem and is aiming to have 200 startups by the end of 2020.

“I think you will definitely see cities getting more visible and prevalent in the startup space, and that relates to the resilience of the city and its economy, and the continued focus on strong startups foundation for the companies,” says Nader Museitif, senior vice president at Hub71. “Abu Dhabi has always been a stable place with one of the biggest economies in the region, and it has been quite serious about diversifying and stimulating strong tech and innovations sectors. When you have that vision and it is quite solid and resilient even during Covid-19, that is a very good sign and has been a very good, attractive element for the startups.”

But it’s not just the cost of setting up that attracts criticism in the UAE and wider Middle Eat region, increasingly it is its regulatory environment that treats startups and large enterprises in the same vein. In places like Europe and the US, startups are taxed differently, licensed differently and are often provided with incentives to create jobs and to innovate with a plethora of grants and loans, but few such incentives exist across the region.

“There could well be more creative ways for governments to generate revenues from corporates than relying on the traditional formula that is applied across the board regardless of the type of business you are,” says Rogers.

One area where Abu Dhabi has an edge is in the financial regulatory environment – the Abu Dhabi General Market (ADGM) has adopted some of the most progressive regulations for venture capital (VC) investments in the region.

“From a holding company perspective, nothing in the region comes close to the ADGM SPV when you’re talking about VC investments,” says Rogers, which could help break away from the trend of establishing holding companies abroad, typically in the British Virgin Islands or the Cayman Islands. “Nearly every single exit of consequence has involved the exit of an offshore entity, whether Careem or Souq, in every case, the shareholders were selling the shares or assets of an offshore company.”  

But Hub71's incentive programme is not sustainable, nor is it enough (even with ADMG) to overtake Dubai’s spot as the region’s startup capital. The only place that currently has a real chance at doing so is Saudi Arabia.  

Saudi Arabia

With the Middle East's biggest economy and large youth population, the Saudi market is the most lucrative for many startups. Entering Saudi and operating in the country has until recently been difficult, but efforts from the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) and the General Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises (Monshaat) have eased these challenges and have cut the red tape required to establish a base in the country. It costs $1266 to set up a company in Saudi Arabia and the cost of living is substantially lower in Riyadh compared to Dubai. The average monthly salary in Dubai stands at $3000, in Riyadh it is $1780, while the average monthly living costs without rent for a single person in Dubai is $952, in Riyadh it is $734.

Moreover, the dramatic societal and economic changes that Saudi Arabia has undergone over the past few years is a remarkable testament to the country’s willingness to embrace the future and the disruption that comes with it.

“The first wave of entrepreneurship, from 2009-2013, we were just teaching people what entrepreneurship is and how to create technical businesses. From 2012-2018 we had a lot of new tech businesses starting in Saudi, in the past two years there has been a lot of focus on VCs and closing the financial gaps. The next focus is on unicorns, creating and supporting them,” says Sarah AlMubarak, director of innovation platforms at the Business Incubators and Accelerators Company (BIAC).

It’s a playbook developed by Dubai, embraced by Saudi and accelerated at a level unseen in the region. The government has introduced extensive plans and projects to incentivise the establishment of a startup hub, from launching a fund of funds, simplifying and digitisng licences and opening up its telecoms market. There are more than a dozen VCs that have emerged in the country this year with more in the pipeline according to BIAC. Even in lockdown, as government stimulus packages across the region focused on injecting capital to the banks, Saudi Arabia launched programmes aimed directly at startup and SME survival.

Home cleaning services platform Matic, which has operations in both the UAE and Saudi Arabia felt the difference in approach from both governments during lockdown. The SANED programme offered private sector companies up to 60 per cent of Saudi employee wages, which proved a lifeline for many startups employing Saudi nationals.

“In Saudi, the government approached us to help us and cut down the losses, the SANED programme bore that burden, we applied for it and luckily for us our entire Saudi operation is made up of Saudi nationals. In the UAE, there was no support like this,” says Mohamed Samad, co-founder and CEO of Matic.

From the conversations we have had with entrepreneurs, it seems there are more people in the Saudi government who are willing to listen to startups. One consultant who is familiar with the regulatory landscape in the region and asked not to be named, described Saudi Arabia as “the Wild West”.

“There are little regulations in place that prevent startups in Saudi and so when someone launches a new product or service, the regulators are more willing to listen and develop regulations around new technology,” they said. “In the UAE, a regulator like the RTA [Road and Transport Authority] makes money from issuing fines, that is their business model, issuing fines or a revenue share scheme, this makes life difficult for startups and prevents innovation.”

Beyond encouraging global companies and VCs to establish a base in the country, Saudi’s heavy investment in its higher education sector is also helping to create more of an organic ecosystem. Research institutions like the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) are contributing to the culture of innovation and have helped Saudi Arabia register more intellectual property and patents than any other country in the region. In the same way that Stanford University serves as the innovation nucleus for Silicon Valley, these universities – and especially KAUST, which has graduated 78 startups through its TAQADAM accelerator programme including several deep tech startups like Red Sea Farms and GlucoJet – have the potential to do the same for Saudi Arabia.

But the country still lags behind Dubai as a hub, processes tend to be more laborious and time-consuming, Riyadh and Jeddah both lack the quality of life and crucially, access to talent.

“We have the biggest market in the region, we have the best access to capital, the thing that needs to be fixed is talent,” said Mohammed Aldhalaan, from Noon Academy while speaking on a panel at Step Saudi. “I can tie it easily back to the culture – how likely they are to join a startup, how they are perceived by their peers and families.”

As mentioned in the first part of this feature, remote working could help mitigate some the challenges of accessing talent, but changing culture will take longer.

“From an operating company level, it always comes back to access to talent, lifestyle, and amenities. Dubai has the most liberal environment in the region, but Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are gaining momentum. With any economy trying to thrive in the knowledge economy, you have to attract those top brains and have those liberalised policies and laws in place in addition to great schools and hospitals and internet speed and Dubai has historically had all of that,” says Rogers. “Dubai had such a massive head start in this game, it’s not been overtaken, but the strategies being pursued by the Saudi government and the Abu Dhabi government in particular certainly seem to be narrowing the gap in the minds of the entrepreneurial class.”

 

November 29th 2020, 11:24 pm

Management buyout at Intellect Code

Wamda

Source: Iraq business news

Erbil-based Intellect Code, which specialises in advertising, marketing and market research, has announced the acquisition of 100 percent of the company's shares by Ahmed Gorani, who is the current CEO of the company.

A statement from the company said that Mr Gorani bought the shareholdings of his partners Mohamed Emad and Waleed Worya.

November 29th 2020, 4:14 am

MiSK Foundation buys 33.3% of Japan’s SNK for SAR 813 million

Wamda

Source: Argaam

The Mohammed bin Salman Foundation (MiSK) acquired a 33.3% stake in SNK Corporation, a Japanese video game hardware and software company, for nearly SAR 813 million, the foundation said in a statement.

The acquisition was implemented through the Electronic Gaming Development Company (EGDC), a wholly owned subsidiary of MiSK Foundation. Under the deal, MiSK Foundation will buy another 17.7% stake in SNK’s share capital going forward, to raise its ownership in the company to 51%.

The investment will strengthen the capacities of EGDC, which holds several patents in the games industry to enhance future growth, as the electronic games industry is a high-growth promising sector, MiSK Foundation added.

It also aims to develop the skills of youth through forming economic partnerships.

The acquisition is part of MiSK strategy that aims to build more partnerships with local and international organizations in various fields.

It also comes as part of MiSK solid partnership with SNK, under which both entities worked on joint ventures of animations and electronic games.

November 29th 2020, 3:46 am

Tabib Baghdad raises seed round

Wamda

Healthtech startup Tabib Baghdad, which connects patients to doctors for appointment bookings has raised a six-figure seed funding round through the recently launched Iraqi Angel Investors Network and led by KAPITA and Nass Al Iraq. In addition, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH with its project “ICT for Youth in Iraq” matched a grant of $20,000 towards this round, as part of its support to the Angel Network and the Iraqi startup ecosystem.

Founded in 2018, Tabib Baghdad now counts more than 300 doctors on its platform and has facilitated more than a thousand bookings. The recent investment will be used to expand its operations to cover the whole country in the coming year.

‘’We estimate that there are more than twenty thousand doctors in Iraq today, but most patients are finding their doctors through word of mouth. Tabib Baghdad will allow patients to find a doctor they can trust,” said Ali Alkhazaj, founder of Tabib Baghdad. “With the funding in place, we are looking to optimise our backend technology to make the experience of our patients and doctors more seamless. Covid-19 has highlighted the potential of telemedicine in Iraq and this is an area that we are keeping a close eye on.”

The startup is a recent graduate of the ScaleUp Academy, the accelerator programme run by KAPITA where the company received training in preparation for its fundraising process.

“We are very happy to see the progress that Tabib Baghdad has made, from joining the ScaleUp Academy to raising its first round. Kapita remains committed to supporting founders across their startups’ lifecycle,” said Mujahid Waisi, the CEO of Kapita.

Bahaaddin Salim, the CEO of Nass Al Iraq, commented, “We see a great potential to disrupt and address the healthcare sector in Iraq through technology. We believe that Tabib Baghdad has all the right fundamentals to address this potential”. Nass Al Iraq is a holding company that uses innovation, modern management, and digital transformation to transform businesses.

 

November 26th 2020, 7:00 am

Why successful companies view learning as a boardroom priority

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Anthony Tattersall is the vice president of Europe Middle East and Africa at Coursera

Business in the UAE has traditionally been face-to-face, and the same is true with enterprise learning. Many believe that stronger connections are built with in-person learning and that participants are more engaged with course material if they’re in physical sessions. Additionally, training is seen as a perk to recognise the success of hardworking employees.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic wiped the opportunity for face-to-face learning out almost entirely. According to WEF’s Future of Jobs Report, nearly 80 per cent of businesses in the UAE have accelerated their business digitisation because of Covid-19 - and a big part of this has been delivering virtual learning to ensure the skills and accreditations of their employees remain current.

But moving Learning and Development (L&D) online hasn’t been an easy task. Companies have had to find content and technology partners to deliver learning at scale to fit fast-changing business needs. They’ve had to work quickly to ensure that staff can access materials and, crucially, that employees realise that a move online doesn’t mean compromised quality. The good news is that a culture of open-mindedness and a willingness to diversify has always resulted in the UAE being at the forefront of embracing and deploying groundbreaking innovations and best practices. So how are businesses in the UAE transitioning to online learning, and what benefits are there for those who get it right?

Delivering against business objectives

The shift to virtual learning is likely to be a new approach for many businesses and it may take time to identify what works best. Even though speed has been the essence in the past few months, this mustn’t be at the expense of ongoing reflection and measurement. As programmes roll out, it’s important to continue reviewing, refining, and improving them to better understand what success looks like and secure support from learners and stakeholders.

Some companies meet this challenge by complementing ready-made courses from industry and university educators with content created by their own organisation. This is possible using tools Private Authoring tools, which allows businesses to create their own projects, courses, and assessments. Indeed, companies such as Hertz are already using this to develop courses in areas like IT, SaaS management, data visualisation, and software onboarding.

The companies best placed to succeed have a clear view of their learning objectives. These vary - from the need to attract and retain staff, to helping employees re-train and upskill to fit changing business needs. Whatever these needs are, learning strategies are more likely to permeate through an organisation if seen as a strategic business imperative linked to specific business outcomes - not ‘just’ a job for HR departments.

Driving employee uptake to ensure your investment pays off

Savvy companies in the region are not just looking to provide access and availability of learning resources. For them, employee adoption is a critical measure of success. Digital resources of any kind can be effective only if employees embrace them. While the change in organisational practices can be daunting, the benefits far outweigh any apprehensions.

While the C-suite cares about the bottom line, promoting more immediate benefits will resonate more with employees. These might include reduced travelling time, a quicker response rate to training needs and more convenient accessibility for a global audience.

Right now, it may well also mean the ability to better work remotely, fostering virtual collaboration through shared course experiences and interactions. It is also about emotional well-being - research shows that the act of learning helps cope with stress, and online learning can empower employees to continue investing in their futures -  crucial in such an uncertain period. As an example, The Science of Wellbeing course by Yale University has become the most popular course on our platform this year, reaching over 2.5 million enrollments.

Notably, while companies in the region have perhaps previously favoured face-to-face training, staff must now be shown how virtual learning can deliver improved quality - through consistent and measurable learning experiences instead of the more free-flowing in-person classroom environment.

Focusing on the skills needed to meet new business challenges

The pandemic will likely encourage businesses to reassess the skills they need and how they deliver them to their workforce. As the region sets its sights on recovery, a robust and scalable virtual enterprise learning infrastructure is essential to ensuring that organisations can respond with agility. For example, Coursera’s Skills Development Dashboard enables companies to measure how their learning programme is helping employees - ensuring they’re making progress and delivering against objectives.

Rather than encouraging the development of narrow skill sets, many organisations are now looking to promote a resilient mindset. Indeed, McKinsey’s recent report cited ‘adaptability’ as an essential skills for employees in a post-Covid world. By prioritising this mindset, companies can cultivate employees who move from skill to skill with sufficient ease to hold and develop new roles as opportunities come and go.

This is partly why we’ve seen a greater focus on soft skills from companies across the globe. On Coursera, year on year enrollments for personal development courses grew by 500 per cent this year. Some of the most popular include Learning How to Learn by the University of California, How to Understand Arguments by Duke University and Communicating Effectively in Groups by the University of Colorado. As businesses navigate uncharted territory, developing these soft skills will become more critical.

One of the most important business priorities for companies right now is keeping employees engaged and supported. Offering learning opportunities signals continued investment in their professional development, even as companies tackle a challenging economic climate. And, of course, in cases where employees cannot do some or all of their job during the pandemic, learning can help them advance their skills so they come back better prepared when work resumes.

A final word

We know that companies in the UAE are quickly pivoting to online learning, driven by the need to continue adapting amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The most successful ones are aware that delivering against a well-designed enterprise learning strategy is not just a ‘nice to have’ but an absolute necessity that impacts business performance. They see L&D firmly as a boardroom issue, which determines profitability, resilience and their ability to grow.

Increasingly, companies in the region enjoy greater access to a diverse selection of courses, superior learning experience, and the ability to better measure progress. Although a short-term necessity has accelerated the move to online learning, the success companies are seeing means that it’s here to stay - long after the pandemic is over.

November 25th 2020, 8:13 pm

Amazon created 2,000 jobs in the UAE for White Friday

Wamda

E-commerce retailers are scrambling to attract consumer attention during the annual month-long biggest sales event, White Friday.

E-commerce giant Amazon said that it has increased its storage capacity by 45 per cent and created 2,000 jobs in the UAE,  in anticipation of the shopping event.  The company now has more than 2.4 million cubic feet of storage capacity across its network and third-party partners.

“Amazon’s investment in strengthening operations reflects our long-term commitment to delivering a world-class customer experience for our customers and partners in the UAE. We feel a deep responsibility to the communities where we operate, and the creation of thousands of new jobs will benefit the entire country,” said Prashant Saran, director of operations for Amazon Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region.

“Our goal is to ensure that customers across the country are able to get what they want from the comfort of their home while prioritising the health and safety of our associates, partners, and customers,” he added. 

According to Statista, the UAE’s e-commerce market is projected to hit $5.8 billion in 2020, rising to $11 billion by 2025.

 

November 25th 2020, 7:32 am

RiseUp Summit 2020 : RESET

Wamda

RiseUp Summit is the largest entrepreneurial gathering in the middle east. This year, the RiseUp Summit 2020 is going virtual with the same RiseUp Buzz you know and love. The event offers you the chance to network with over 10,000+ attendees and the ability to engage in numerous features. The event will take place on Decemer 10, 11 and 12. 

As you navigate through a digital summit you will be able to attend different talks and workshops and also network, meet employers, speak to investors, and thoroughly interact with speakers and mentors through various features that will bring you the summit experience home.At this year’s summit you will RESET all you’ve known for sure, you will REBUILD perspectives and plans for the new normal and beyond.

If you are interested in attending RiseUp Summit 2020, please register here.

November 25th 2020, 4:14 am

Eksab raises $500,000

Wamda

Cairo-based daily fantasy sports platform Eksab, has raised $500,000 from 4DX Ventures.

Launched in 2017, Eksab allows users to make predictions on live international football games, collect points based on the accuracy of their predictions and receive either cash rewards or prizes.

“Daily fantasy sports and monetised competitions are a multi-billion dollar a year industry in the US,” said Aly Mahmoud, co-founder and CEO of Eksab. “Our goal is to become the premier sports entertainment company in the Middle East and Africa region by offering exciting fantasy sports competitions as well as highly engaging local sports content.”.

Eksab plans to use the investment to scale its product to the one billion football fans in MEA, and also plans to launch its first paid competitions in 2021.

“We see the region as one of the most exciting and underserved markets for a sports entertainment platform. We’ve been really impressed with Aly’s vision for a next generation and technology-driven platform that is also highly tailored to local fans and their preferences. We’re excited to be on this journey with Aly and the rest of the Eksab team,” said Peter Orth, partner at 4DX Ventures.

 

 

November 24th 2020, 8:46 am

Salla raises $8.5 million in Series A

Wamda

Saudi Arabia-based e-commerce Salla, has closed a SAR32 million ($8.5 million) Series A round led by STV, with participation from existing investors Raed Ventures and Vision Ventures.

Founded in 2016 by Nawaf Hariri and Salman Butt, Salla enables SMEs and e-commerce startups to establish their digital stores in Arabic. To date, the startup has processed eight million orders valued at over SAR2 billion ($533 million) in gross merchandise value (GMV) through the 10,000 online stores on its platform. 

The company offers a freemium subscription model with three tiers, offering small businesses the ability to set up their operations free of charge, and upgrade their subscription based on their needs and requirements.

“Our platform offers users inventory management and marketing tools, as well as detailed reports on store performance and automatic invoices for orders, which enables e-commerce merchants to set up, maintain, and increase sales through their stores without any fees or commissions. Furthermore, due to a variety of payment and logistic partnerships, e-commerce store owners who are using Salla do not have to worry about payment or delivery challenges once their store goes live – it is all taken care of,” said Nawaf Hariri, Co-Founder and CEO at Salla.

With the e-commerce market growing rapidly in Saudi Arabia and the wider Mena region, many offline businesses are looking to expand their scope and start offering e-commerce solutions. This can however be a challenge for many as a whole host of aspects need to be taken into account including inventory management, delivery, payments and analytics. 

“We are happy to have STV on board in our journey, as we continue to grow our proposition across the region. We believe that our easy-to-use and business-friendly platform, coupled with our Arabic offering and our flexible subscription plans, sets us apart from our competitors. With STV and our previous investors, we are confident that we will be able to capture an even larger part of the market,” said Salman Butt, co-founder and chief operations officer (COO) at Salla.

The company will use the capital to develop its product and expand its regional footprint.

“We are incredibly excited to partner with Salla. It is our first investment in the space. Our thesis is based on the move towards software-enabled e-commerce, more than the digitisation of traditional commerce. Salla, with its intuitive software and its app store, is not only enabling the creation and launch of new businesses with ease, but is building the backbone of the thriving e-commerce market in the region,” said Ahmad Alshammari, partner at STV.

 

November 24th 2020, 8:01 am

Quiqup raises $5.5 million

Wamda

UAE-based last-mile logistics delivery startup Quiqup, has raised over $5.5 million in a funding round led by Delivery Hero, with participation from strategic shareholders, Cedar Mundi, JOBI Capital and Transmed.

Launched in 2017, Quiqup offers on-demand and same-day delivery services for restaurants and retailers. The startup primarily targets the e-commerce sector, spurred by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The company will use this capital to expand its AI-driven logistics infrastructure to better its customer experience. 

“The pandemic has enabled us to turn challenges into opportunities. We managed to quickly expand by diversifying our portfolio to include new sectors such as pharmaceutical clients and also add more grocery businesses. These positive developments opened up a whole new universe of clients, which encouraged us to raise further investment,” said Bassel El Koussa, founder and CEO of Quiqup. “We are now gearing up for a new phase of expansion to champion on-demand and same-day urban delivery across the GCC region.”

According to Bain & Company, the UAE e-commerce sector is poised to triple in size from $8 billion to $28 billion over the coming three years, with a yearly growth rate of more than 28 per cent.

The company has also welcomed Iyad Kamal, ex-COO at Aramex on board as a strategic advisor. 

“Quiqup is changing the game in the e-commerce and delivery space. They have a unique and transformative business model that is a game changer for the region. Same-day delivery is the next frontier in e-commerce logistics and Quiqup has what it takes to crack the model,” said Kamal. 

 

 

November 24th 2020, 6:18 am

Bidayatech launches Mena’s first reward-based crowdfunding platform

Wamda

Bahrain-based accelerator Bedayatech has launched a reward-based crowdfunding platform, in an attempt to address startup funding challenges.

The platform is the first of its kind in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region and was established with the objective of empowering founders to execute and close funding rounds and thereby accelerate their growth and scale up.

The Bedayatech platform enables startups to create and launch a fundraising campaign through an assigned campaign page on the platform to pitch their product or service to the crowd. Its rewards tier system allows startups to pre-sell their products or services at a discount to their campaign backers.

“We are creating a platform that is totally inclusive by expanding the access to funding for all tech startups, and spur financial inclusion of more startups and their founders to pursue their dreams while adding value to their communities and the economy to reach new horizons,” said  Dhafer Salih Alqahtani, founder and CEO of Bidayatech.

 

November 24th 2020, 6:02 am

Why Ireland is taking an interest in the UAE's cleantech sector

Wamda

The UAE government is determined to become a regional hub for clean energy development and production, encouraging the adoption and development of innovation in the cleantech field. In 2017, the government launched the UAE Energy Strategy 2050, which aims to boost the contribution of clean energy to the total energy mix from 25 per cent to 50 per cent by 2050, and increase the consumption efficiency of individuals and corporates by 40 per cent.

This has resulted in global companies setting up base in the country to explore ways to lower emissions, promote sustainable energy, and spur clean energy production. Among these companies is Enterprise Ireland, which uses Dubai as a foothold for Irish startups to start their businesses and expand regionally and globally.

Among the Irish cleantech companies operating in the UAE are NuLumenTek Ltd,  Automsoft, Suparule Systems, ESB International, and ResourceKraft. 

We spoke with Mike Hogan, senior market advisor at Enterprise Ireland to learn more about the government-led institution and the reasons why it is taking an interest in establishing a strong footprint in the Middle East.

Can you tell us more about Enterprise Ireland and its goal?

In Ireland, we don't have any kinds of indigenous energy resources, and we have high energy prices because we are a net energy importer. As a consequence, we tend to encourage the development of small businesses that focus on cleantech activities. Also given that we have a very large industrial base, we are also focused on sustainability issues around the elimination of waste from production activities. While energy prices are high, and Ireland is a small country; we survive or die by exports because our home market is small.

As a company, we are involved in everything from ICT food production, sustainability, smart farming, to industrial waste management. Our job is to primarily help Irish indigenous businesses grow, innovate, and then export. We help companies from the moment of their foundation through to scaling. We've got 40 offices around the world to help them do that as well.

Why are you keen to expand into the Middle East?

We're a believer in partnerships, so we're keen to develop partnerships between Irish startups and local partners here. We talk to startup ecosystems across the Middle East, define routes and partnerships for our companies to use bases in the Middle East to expand operations and footprint, and for most Irish companies, that tends to be Dubai.

Also, there's a growing number of Middle East entrepreneurs displaying an interest in starting a business in Ireland; some have already decided to start businesses there. 

Why was Dubai your first destination?

Dubai sets targets in particular activities in the field of cleantech, whether that's driverless vehicles or other energy-related targets such as promoting a carbon-neutral environment, etc. And these tend to be very aggressive targets for Irish startups and puts Dubai at the forefront of sustainability issues in general – which makes it a very attractive destination for our companies.

When compared to other cities in the Middle East, Dubai has lower levels of bureaucracy, which tends to be very reassuring for them as they start the process of establishing a business. Besides, we have a large Irish population here in Dubai and the UAE and Ireland enjoy a long-standing relationship, so it is easier to build connections here. For us, Dubai is regarded as our primary access point to the wider Middle East.

Where else are you planning to expand to?

We are very heavily embedded in Dubai, and certainly, more Irish companies are taking much more attention to Egypt at the moment. Because Egypt has a large industrial base, which offers opportunities for Irish companies that aren't available in any other regional comparable county. Also, with the transformation happening in terms of cleantech and sustainability in Saudi Arabia, the market there is very attractive for us.

What are the key trends in the cleantech industry?

Energy-saving smart building and lightning, and smart application of the internet of things (IoT) and other smart technologies in the field of energy production. 

How do you think the Covid-19 crisis has affected the cleantech sector? 

Many companies around the world, not just Irish companies, are surviving in 2020, based on the pipeline or business they did in 2019. Whereas 2021 may be more complicated because there weren’t many new businesses that have been developed this year. As you look at the cleantech industry, the progress of many projects that involve a lot of new technologies has been slowed down because of the shock of Covid-19. Also, some projects may have to be re-evaluated in light of the normal caused by the pandemic. This will affect the global cleantech sustainability agenda.

 

November 23rd 2020, 10:30 pm

Yahaal raises $27 million in Series A

Wamda

Kuwait-based e-commerce platform Yahaal has raised a $27 million Series A round from Seeds Partner and AlMutamaiz International Company.

Founded in 2017, Yahaal offers a range of children and baby products and has benefited from the strict lockdown measures implemented in Kuwait during the height of the pandemic. The funding will be used to enhance its portfolio of products, enhance its operational infrastructure and accelerate its expansion plans. “We are humbled by the trust and confidence our investors have placed in us in securing the financial means to expedite our expansion plans,” said Ali AlZankawi, founder and CEO of Yahaal. “While the Covid-19 pandemic interrupted markets across cities and countries, the demand for online shopping has substantially increased. During the early stages of the pandemic, we witnessed a great number of new customers using Yahaal App and we are proud to have retained a great percentage of those customers."

AlZankawi concluded by saying, “Today we are proud of our achievements and the direction we are heading towards despite these unpredictable circumstances. We will spare no effort in utilising the additional capital to further scale our business model and achieve our strategic vision of supporting families through the application of tech-based solutions and best practices that are in line with international standards.”

November 23rd 2020, 8:21 am

You need to focus on the problem to succeed

Wamda

Ayman Alashkar, is the founder of UAE-based proptech startup OVERWRITE.ai 

We entered 2020 like everyone else, full of ambition and excitement. As the new decade dawned, there was clearly something about this  year that was going to be different. Business sentiment was abuzz; as were we.   

We had soft-launched OVERWRITE.ai just two months before and were new on the property technology (proptech) scene. For my part, I was nervously confident, I knew our technology was ground breaking. What I didn’t know was how it would be received.   OVERWRITE is an artificially intelligent, B2C web-application that instantly auto-writes property marketing descriptions; allowing estate agents to optimise their search rankings, reduce costs and increase their sales leads. Put simply, we intelligently automated what is otherwise a crucial yet time-consuming everyday task for realtors. 

The inspiration for OVERWRITE had come to me a few years before. I’d been involved in real estate since my youth. Something had lit a spark in me at an early age, which led to an 18-year career in professional real estate.  I’d banked it, built it, bought and sold it, and started my first business trading it. But I felt like it wasn’t enough. And then I had a eureka moment. 

The world had digitised, but unlike other major industries, real estate was painfully slow to embrace technology. That had to change, and it was the very inevitability of that change which fired me up to seek out a new challenge. Having written a thesis on real estate predictive modelling some years before, I dusted it off, rolled up my sleeves, and looked for a way I could marry my passion for predictive machine learning, with real estate.   

Starting a business isn’t just hard. It’s downright the hardest thing you can do. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to make setting up on your own, a little easier for yourself. 

This Tip to Rule Them All 

Every entrepreneur’s journey begins by identifying a problem they’re going to solve. Ask yourself and those around you; “Does what I do solve a problem for anyone?” If no, stop. Don’t waste your time. 

Hopefully you answered yes. Starting a business is hard and we can make it easier for ourselves if we have crystal clarity on the problem, and its solution.  

So, follow up by asking yourself these three simple questions, i) Who am I solving a problem for? ii) Is the problem worth solving? And iii) How easily does my solution solve the problem for the people who suffer it? 

This exercise will force you to focus, to become so single-minded and clear about what you want to do. Knowing who you’re solving a problem for allows you to shape your messaging and target your communication to your specific audience, saving precious dollars on wasteful marketing.   

You might have a great idea and build a slick solution around it, but if the problem wasn’t that big an issue for those you want to sell it to, every sales pitch will be an uphill battle, and you can kiss recurrent revenue goodbye. If you’re solving a legitimate problem, then genuine demand will beat a path to your door, flattening your sales funnel, lowering your cost of sales.  

Remember to keep it simple. So many people correctly identify a problem and have great ideas. But their effort falls apart in the execution. They overcook the egg, making their solution so complex that it befuddles its intended customers. Keep things as simple as possible. Build an elegant solution. Otherwise, you’re just allowing room for your competitors to mop up your customers for themselves.  

Spotlight the Problem 

The problem you’re solving is your raison d’etre. Always keep it front and centre. Fix a spotlight on it so you don’t lose sight of it. Speak to those that suffer it. Hear how they’d solve it. Imagine you are one of them. Would you buy your solution? Be true to yourself. If that justifies plotting a new course, be open to it, you can learn a lot along the way.

 

November 22nd 2020, 9:02 pm

Investcorp invests in India's Xpressbees

Wamda

Source: Reuters

Bahrain’s Investcorp said on Sunday it has made an investment in Xpressbees, an Indian logistics startup, as part of a consortium of local and global investors.

Xpressbees has a presence in more than 2,000 towns and cities in India, with more than 1,000 customers across industries including e-commerce, pharmaceutical, consumer goods, retail, manufacturing, electronics and consumer durables.

Investcorp did not disclose the size of its investment, but said it was part of a Series E round - a late stage funding round to scale up a business.

Indian newspaper reports have reported that Xpressbees raised $110 million in its latest funding round.

November 22nd 2020, 6:22 am

Mubadala Capital leads $35 million investment round in Sweden's FirstVet

Wamda

Source: Crunchbase

Swedish startup FirstVet is expanding its on-demand video consultation platform in the United States after securing a $35 million financing round.

Mubadala Capital led the round with participation from Cathay Innovation, as well as existing backers, OMERS Ventures and Creandum. Since its inception in 2016, FirstVet has raised a total of $65 million in funding, including an approximately $22 million Series B round in 2019, according to Crunchbase data.

Using some of the new round, FirstVet established a U.S. presence with 14 staff members in New York to care for the 184 million cats and dogs there, David Prien, FirstVet co-founder and CEO told Crunchbase News. It offers its video-based vet consultation service in all 50 states, including 24/7 expert advice and diagnoses for a variety of different animals, ranging from cats and dogs to horses and reptiles.

Prien, who has been involved in the veterinary and pet space for the past 12 years, started out by providing a content-driven website for pet stores.

“That worked tremendously well and became popular, though it never converted to e-commerce as we had hoped,” he said. “We created similar content for FirstVet, but we have full-time vets hired to answer the questions that are coming in.”

He sees virtual veterinary visits as a “super nascent field” in Europe to address the 20 percent year-over-year increase in average price of vet visits. It also increased the insurance penetration. People who had insurance for their pets were taking them to the vet all the time, but those who didn’t were reluctant to seek vet care because of the cost, he added.

Continue reading this story

November 22nd 2020, 3:40 am

Western Union buys $200 million stake in STC Pay

Wamda

Source: Bloomberg

Western Union Co. acquired a 15% stake in stc pay, a unit of Saudi Telecom Co. that’s focused on digital payments and financial technology services, for $200 million.

Saudi Telecom will inject 400 million riyals ($107 million) as additional capital stc pay and a further 802 million riyals if it manages to obtain a digital banking license, according to a statement.

stc pay is a financial company that launched a digital wallet mobile application in 2018. The e-platform provides digital and financial services to individuals and companies, and facilitates financial transactions and payments.

November 22nd 2020, 3:22 am

ExpandCart raises $2.5 million in Series A

Wamda

Egypt-based e-commerce and retail company ExpandCart, has raised a $2.5 million Series A round led by Sawari Ventures, with participation from Agility Ventures, Graphene Ventures and two angel investors.

Founded in 2013, ExpandCart enables merchants and retailers to build their online stores and expand their sales. 

According to the company, the demand for its solution has skyrocketed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, allowing it to support thousands of merchants to continue their business online. The investment comes as part of the company’s strategic plan to double down on digital commerce solutions that target online and offline retailers and reduce the gap between suppliers and merchants in the Middle East.

“At ExpandCart, we believe that technology can empower commerce, with that vision in mind, over the past couple of years, we have built solutions to help merchants expand their sales online and offline,” said Amr Shawqy, CEO and co-founder of ExpandCart.

ExpandCart operates across the Gulf area, Egypt, and North Africa, and has so far serviced 20,000 merchants in over 40 countries. It works with Facebook, Google, PayPal, DHL, Boubyan Bank, among others.

“Over the past years, the ExpandCart team was able to build an amazing platform supporting thousands of merchants from all over the Middle East. Their new e-commerce solutions roadmap proves that they truly understand the future of e-commerce, and we are excited to be part of their journey,” said Ahmed Alfi, chairman of Sawari Ventures.

 

November 22nd 2020, 1:35 am

How did a high school dropout become a billionaire?

Wamda

The school dropout who becomes a successful entrepreneur seems like a typical Silicon Valley success story, but where the likes of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of university, Nikhil Kamath left school at the age of 14 with no qualifications. Twenty years later, Kamath is among India’s most successful entrepreneurs, having built Zerodha, the country’s largest retail brokerage with a daily turnover of $10 billion and wholly-owned by Nikhil and his brother without any external funding.

A serial entrepreneur, Kamath is also one of India’s youngest billionaires. In this podcast, we find out more about his journey to success, his regrets and advice for those embarking on their own entrepreneurship journey.  

Wamda · Episode 35 - How did a high school dropout become a billionaire?

 

November 21st 2020, 11:04 pm

Fruitful Day raises $817,000 in funding

Wamda

UAE-based fresh food delivery company Fruitful Day, has secured Dh3 million ($817,000) via equity crowdfunding platform, Eureeca.

Started in 2015 by Marie-Christine Luijckx, Yael Mejia, Lyla Rawi and Lindsey Fournie, Fruitful Day is a direct to consumer(B2C) platform offering fresh food and healthy snacks.

"We are extremely proud to welcome such a diverse array of new investors to Fruitful Day. Investors were attracted by the strength of the brand and the resilience of the business to Covid-19 as we were able to significantly grow our home segment and introduce new products to our customers. Despite the obvious headwinds we have been able to maintain our growth story,” said Marie-Christine Luijckx, managing partner at Fruitful Day.

With the recent launch of a line of all-natural vegan Fresh Fruit Pops, Fruitful Day is introducing a healthier alternative to ice cream focused on high-quality fresh fruits and unique flavors. 

"Working with Marie-Christine and the rest of the Fruitful Day team was a real pleasure. It was particularly insightful to be conducting the raise whilst the pandemic started, as we were able to see how quickly the team were able to react and switch their focus from B2B to B2C home deliveries. By delivering record numbers throughout a very difficult period, they showed their mettle and won investor confidence, causing the round to be oversubscribed,” said Siddarth Dalamal, head of investor relations at Eureeca.

 

 

November 19th 2020, 5:20 am

Argineering raises $200,000

Wamda

Source: WAYA

Argineering, the award-winning tech company, raised more than $200,000 through their Kickstarter campaign exceeding their funding goal by over 400%, making them one of the most-ever funded startups on a crowdfunding platform in the MENA region, and the most-funded in Egypt. Last September, Argineering launched modular motion control kit RGKit Play and reached their funding target in the first 18 hours. 

RGKit Play is the first-ever modular wireless motion control kit of motors, light controllers, and sensors that gives access to videographers, stop motion artists, designers, and all creatives to add tons of movement to their designs easily, instantly, and affordably. 

“We’re so excited to see creatives play with movement like pros,” says David Erian, CEO &  Co-Founder, “When the pandemic hit, we decided to quickly expand our solutions offering  an accessible tool to all individual creatives from videographer to stop motion artists.” 

RGKit Play easily lets creatives play with movement in their design with a phone app that makes the whole process quick and smooth. Through a simple plug-and-play process, the modules connect to each other and to the phone app wirelessly. It does not require complex wiring and electronics and it runs with zero lines of code. 

RGKit Play’s accessories make it even more versatile, offering a variety of movements that go beyond linear motion and all with one motor. Videographers can easily sync their camera, subject, and light movement while orchestrating an entire sequence of movements. Stop motion artists could do the same, and connect to third-party apps. 

This crowdfunding campaign allowed Argineering to scale their network worldwide and to diversify their clientele, with most backers being from the USA (more than 50%), UK, and  Australia. They are currently shifting to mass production and scaling their team and marketing process.

The tech startup secured $400,000 in seed investment from 500 Startups and Flat6Labs earlier this year.

November 19th 2020, 3:49 am

A glimpse into the Careem Mafia

Wamda

When Uber acquired Careem in March 2019 for $3.1 billion, the exit was significant not only for the size of the deal, but for its ripple effect on the wider ecosystem. Over this past couple of years, we have seen a proliferation of new startups emerge across the region, founded by former employees of Careem.

Now called the Careem Mafia, or as some call it, the Careem Cartel, it resembles the PayPal Mafia, the group of former employees and founders of the digital payment company, who went onto become some of the most influential entrepreneurs and investors in Silicon Valley. The PayPal alumni, which includes Peter Theil, Elon Musk and Reid Hoffman, went onto found Palantir, Tesla, Linkedin, Youtube, Yelp and Square. Even as investors their impact has been substantial, backing most of the unicorns in Silicon Valley and making more than 1000 investments to date.  

Careem’s exit generated wealth for many of its employees, co-founders Mudassir Sheikha and Magnus Olsson themselves gained a large infusion of funds and both have become investors. Where the Middle East wealth generation relies mostly on inheritance or family businesses, Careem’s exit demonstrated an alternative way to create value and has inspired many to pursue their own entrepreneurship journey.  

The company served as a fantastic training centre, a place for its workers to develop the skills required to found their own startups – navigating difficult regulations, launching in countries with poor or little infrastructure, flexibility in solving solutions and digitising efforts. Careem’s culture is embedded with innovation and such an environment encourages employees to go out and innovate themselves or do the same for other startups. So far this year 23 new startups have emerged, built by the Careem Mafia, most are focused on the mobility sector, but there several in e-commerce, marketing, fintech and edtech.  

Most of these startups are also based in the UAE, where Careem has its headquarters, but the Mafia’s reach extends throughout the world including to Somalia and Australia. Over the next few years we are likely to see more Careem graduates starting their own businesses, taking the region to the next level of innovation and creating new jobs, and new wealth along the way.

 

November 18th 2020, 8:02 pm

Foodtech challenge awards $1 million grant to four startups

Wamda

Four startups were selected to share a $1 million grant as part of the Tamkeen Foodtech Challenge. Out of 12 finalists, it was Saudi Arabia-based Red Sea Farms, UAE-based QS Monitor, Austria’s Has Algae and UK-based SafetyNet Technologies who were awarded with the grant.

In addition to the cash prize, the winning startups are set to join the UAE-based Catalyst accelerator.

“The Foodech Challenge helps us deliver our long-term commitment to achieving greater food security in the UAE. These types of cross-border collaborations are key to enhancing a certain degree of self-sufficiency and improving our efforts toward sustainability. Throughout the competition we have seen a number of new and promising ideas emerge which can contribute towards tackling global food security challenges,”  said Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, UAE Minister of State for Food and Water Security.

“As the winners embark on the next phase of their journey, we are excited to see their solutions implemented and scaled in the UAE,” she added.

Launched jointly by the UAE Food Security Office and Tamkeen in September 2019, the international competition has been on a mission to scout for innovative, commercially viable solutions to address UAE’s food security and water scarcity challenges and promote sustainable agriculture.

In total, the Foodtech Challenge received more than 400 proposals from over 60 countries. 

“Seeking solutions to the world’s greatest challenges through innovation and technology defines the UAE’s forward-looking approach to development and diversification. I am delighted that the Foodtech Challenge has generated such compelling entrants, and its winners are set to help drive the UAE’s food security and sustainability for years to come,” said Rima Al Mokarrab, chairman of Tamkeen.

 

November 18th 2020, 9:24 am
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