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Beyond Incubation: Universities as agents of startup development


In the 1990s, professors Henry Etzkowitz and Loet Leydesdorff, put forward the idea of the Triple Helix framework, which highlighted academia alongside corporates and government as key pillars of innovation in a knowledge-based society.

The role of universities remains as critical as ever when it comes to fostering an environment that supports and nurtures entrepreneurship. As the Coronavirus pandemic has put many out of work and is proving to be the catalyst for people to start their own business, students who are eager to tackle some of society’s most urgent and present problems, are also increasingly looking to entering the startup world ahead of pursuing traditional employment.

With giants like Google, Tesla and Apple no longer requiring employees to hold university degrees, universities are under pressure to adapt to this changing world and enable an environment of innovation from within.

This then creates an opportunity for universities to extend their support to entrepreneurship beyond academia and instead become agents of economic development by supporting venture creation and commercialising the outcomes of research.

Over the past few years, several universities across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) have incorporated entrepreneurship and innovation into their curricula in the form of credit courses and degree programmes. Yet as with so much in academia, the focus can often become the grade, rather than truly learning and mastering the skills needed for setting up a successful business.

Others have established inhouse innovation and entrepreneurship centres in a bid to foster entrepreneurship skills while some universities have gone beyond that to establish research hubs, incubators and occasionally venture funds that provide support for the commercialisation of early stage ideas of students, as well as faculty and alumni. They offer activities including bootcamps, mentoring programmes and entrepreneurship resource centres that provide students with networking opportunities with venture capitalists, business angels, established entrepreneurs and mentors.

“Data doesn’t support that education alone is sufficient. There has to be some change in the higher education system,” says Ramesh Jagannathan, research professor of Engineering at NYU Abu Dhabi, vice provost for innovation and entrepreneurship and managing director of entrepreneurship platform startAD. “We teach students that just having an idea does not make you an entrepreneur, but there is a process how to convert that idea into a minimum viable product.”

startAD created systematic incubation programmes for university students and offers a capstone where undergraduate students can participate in one of its programmes and be embedded just like a startup. It gives them curricular credit and real-life learning, in addition to exposure to investors and corporate partners -whose collaborations represent a vital and key success factor for university entrepreneurship support by providing industry know-how and investment.

It is an approach also adopted by Saudi Arabia’s Taqadam, part of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). Taqadam offers a runway programme for startups looking to commercialise their research, a connection-based programme to follow up with startups post-graduation, in addition to a funnel programme that tests the appetite and talent prior to kick-off.

Taqadam focuses on very early stage startups, knowing these young talents have an idea of how things should be done but they lack expertise of the implementation.

“We connect them with the experts and industry players,” says Arwa Shafi, ventures associate at KAUST and co-leader at Taqadam Entrepreneur University. “We would like to be the ones taking new technologies into the market. We do aspire for students to come up with startup ideas, but we also equip them with skills, resources and connections that we know will leave them there eventually.”

Recent studies found a gap between education for entrepreneurship and knowledge transfer, because in universities, commercialisation of technology occurs in controlled environments and its development beyond this context to commercialise viable innovations to market-fit products is not always supported.

Students and researchers are usually highly interested in working with industrial colleagues. It is the institutional environment that hinders them from doing so more effectively.

“We are supporting a push approach for innovation, where students have ideas and try to find a need for them, in addition to a pull approach, where we bring together industry players with students and startups to create a transdisciplinary team, bringing different perspectives to come up with solutions to actual challenges,” says Nihel Chabrak, CEO at the UAE University’s (UAEU) Science and Innovation Park (SIP).

SIP aims to create a pipeline through competitions to come up with ideas that can be transformed into products they can then bring to market.

Through SIP, UAEU offers startups pilot opportunities in-house where possible. “This is a way for them to go to market in a very friendly environment, and a chance for us to test and see if the solution fits,” explains Chabrak.

Covid-19 Response

As startups and small to medium-sized enterprises (SME) have been seeing their businesses heavily impacted by the measures taken to stop the spread of Covid-19 worldwide, higher education institutions’ innovation and entrepreneurship arms are doing their part to support the ecosystem.

In addition to transitioning its current programmes online and making plans to support its community virtually post-Covid-19, startAD, in association with VentureSouq and Scalable CFO, has launched ‘Runway Grants’ totalling $30,000 that will be awarded to startup alumni in the UAE that have been exceptionally impacted by Covid-19.

SIP is also offering free office space for startups, in addition to intensified connection with mentors and a network of experts to work with founders on spotting opportunities amid the crisis. “Most of the startups are not able to see the opportunity, and think their solution is not working well. We try to help them pivot and find the opportunity,” says Chabrak.

SIP has also launched the Face Shield initiative with Seha and Tawazun, producing face shields for health workers. It also helped to launch a new startup called MetaTouch, which uses patented technology developed by researchers in the university to develop touchless technologies in elevators, in order to limit cross-contamination. It has been installed at Abu Dhabi International Airport and will be rolled out in all government buildings in Abu Dhabi starting in June.

For Taqadam, the programme is helping startups adapt to the new reality by providing mentorship to guide them on how to optimise team communication, focus on lead generation and pivot their business models to cater to market demand. Taqadam ran several hackathons and bootcamps that focused on how to deal with Covid-19.

“Some of the startups have been hit hard, however, some others are coping with the situation,” says Shafi. “Some of our startups are currently launching new services and product lines.”

With access to research and the tools to develop and innovate, universities have the potential to support the most necessary of innovations, but in addition to the incubators and funds, higher education institutions need to ramp up investment in technology transfer offices responsible for creating joint ventures between students and researchers and industry players, in order to promote research commercialisation. Companies and universities need to realise that working in collaborative technology research contributes to the transformation of applied research into technological innovations that can transform society.


June 3rd 2020, 8:55 pm

Jahez raises $36 million in Series A


Saudi Arabia-based food delivery startup Jahez, has closed a $36 million Series A funding round led by Impact46.

This round marks the largest venture capital (VC) deal of its kind in Saudi Arabia so far this year.

Founded in 2016, Jahez offers a full logistics solution with its own proprietary delivery capabilities, including last-mile delivery services and plans to use the funds to expand into cloud-kitchens, grocery delivery, and non-food e-commerce services.

“Our starting point when creating Jahez was to give restaurants the tools they need to remain competitive in a digital world. In the current climate in particular, we help restaurants, supermarkets, pharmacies, and other retailers gain access to a new digital channel and generate revenue by selling through Jahez,” said Ghassab Al-Mandil, co-founder and CEO at Jahez. “With this funding round, we will further invest in building differentiated offerings, plugging the white spaces in the ecosystem, expanding in new verticals and developing our in-house technology, while keeping excellent customer experience at the core.”

To date, the company claims to have served 3 million users through its partners fleet of 15,000 freelance couriers, processed more than 20 million orders. It further claims that it is on its way to exceed a billion riyals worth of orders in 2020.

“Jahez’s management team has an entrepreneurial spirit that makes miracles happen, they grew from a small departmental team to where they are today in less than 3 years,” said Abdulaziz Al Omran, partner at Impact46. “Seeing how the team has stepped up during the lockdown to help many restaurants and grocery stores offer delivery services in a matter of hours has only reinforced our conviction that this start-up is something special.”


June 3rd 2020, 7:15 am

EMPG reveals details of merger with OLX


Source: Emirates News Agency

Dubai-based Emerging Markets Property Group, EMPG, and OLX Group, owners of home grown technology firms Bayut and Dubizzle, have announced the merger of their MENA and South Asia operations to form an AED3.6 billion (US$1 billion) Dubai-based unicorn company.

The merger is the latest in a series of entrepreneurial successes that reinforce Dubai’s reputation as a global hub for talent, enterprise, investment and innovation.

The agreement includes an AED550 million (US$150 million) investment round, led by existing EMPG shareholders and OLX group. With this merger OLX has become EMPG's largest single shareholder with 39 percent of shares.

In the UAE, both Dubizzle and Bayut will be operated by EMPG. Global presence for EMPG other than the UAE includes Pakistan with Zameen, Bangladesh with Bproperty, Morocco and Tunisia with Mubawab, and Thailand with Kaidee, with all assets under EMPG ownership. In addition to Dubizzle, the merger brings OLX entities in Egypt, Lebanon, Pakistan and several GCC countries into EMPG’s fold as well.

Ammar Al Malik, Managing Director of Dubai Internet City, where Bayut and Dubizzle started, said, "Even in these exceptional times, Dubai has demonstrated its attractiveness as an international investment destination. Our infrastructure and business-friendly environment have created an enabling ecosystem for entrepreneurs to scale up their ventures in a community that is home to everyone from startups to Fortune 500 companies.

"The success of Dubizzle and Bayut shows once again that the UAE’s technology sector is growing thanks to the vision of our leaders to create a knowledge-based, innovation-driven economy," he added.

The Head of EMPG - MENA, Haider Ali Khan, commented, "This deal would not have been possible without the supportive business environment created in Dubai which has paved the way for companies such as ours to grow and expand both locally and in the region,"

"This merger of EMPG and OLX will allow us to better serve our customers, given that both operate brands with a strong following and will allow us to leverage existing tech and data to paint a more accurate picture of the state of affairs in the real estate industry across the region. At the same time, we will be making significant technology investments to provide more value to all users of property, automotive and other segments of the Dubizzle and OLX platforms. I look forward to a bright and prosperous future for the group," he added.

The aggregated value of properties sold in the UAE, Egypt, Lebanon and Pakistan is estimated at AED330 billion, providing a commission pool for real estate agencies of over AED7 billion per annum. This presents a great opportunity for EMPG – the latest unicorn company in Dubai – to enhance its real estate services.

June 2nd 2020, 6:44 am

Alex Angels: Egypt's latest angel network


Fewer than 6 per cent of pre-seed startups in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) raise investment from angel investors according to Wamda Research Lab. Access to funding in the early stages is still difficult to entrepreneurs and so in April this year, Egypt-based Alexandria Angels launched a $6.3 million fund to plug this funding gap for Egyptian startups. 

The fund is a spin off of Mediterranean Angels, a network of business angel networks operating across the countries of the Mediterranean.

We spoke with Tarek El Kady, co-founder of Med Angels and Alex Angels to learn more about the recently-launched fund, who it is targeting and his views on the state of the angel investment in the region. 

Can you tell us more about the fund?

We are still receiving applications from startups and the selection process should be over within the next couple of months. We are still raising and should be active by September.

The main objective of the fund is to help early-stage startups at seed or pre-seed rounds get their initial investments. We are mainly scouting for technology-enabled startups that have good minimum viable product (MVP) and good traction. They should also have gone to market and be in their first or two years’ of operations. Furthermore, being part of the Med Angels network, Alex Angels allows winning startups to be exposed to a wider network of investors across nine offshore markets and help them globalise quickly.

Where is the main funding gap in the Middle East?

While there are a lot of startups that are able to raise grassroots investment, a significant funding gap still exists at the seed and pre-seed stages. If you do look at Egypt and the whole region, big ticket VC investments are abounding while startups ready for large investments like these are still few. Most startups from the region are looking for early stage investment, which VCs are not interested in. And here comes the role of the angel investors - either individuals or clubs – that can provide small-ticket seed funding.

However, angel networks still act slowly given that decision making processes are reliant on its members. As such, the slow pace of decision making is not compatible with the fast-paced world of startups.

That said, the local investment scene still needs more of angel networks that could help startups get their operations up and running.

How has the Covid-19 crisis impacted the investment landscape?

In the region, and during this time specifically, the angel investment scene has a good opportunity to grow since the number of deals they are cutting are still few and thus they deal with less problems. Unlike Europe and the US, where angel networks are with a huge number of companies so they are currently busy solving their portfolio companies’ problems, supporting whatever they can support or shun what they want to shun. In terms of investments overall, the appetite is still there and also the bar has been raised. It is not becoming an easy feat to raise investments unless you come up with innovative solutions that could result in the necessary disruption, especially across the sectors that suffer the most due to Covid-19.

What should startups consider when pivoting to survive during this pandemic?

It is a no-brainer that cash preservation is of top priority for startups during these times, so when considering a pivot, it must not cost too much money. However, pulling a pivot off correctly requires being realistic and forward looking. For example, if a startup looks to add or integrate a new vertical into its operations, it is important to ensure the business continuity of this vertical and that its implementation does not cost them a lot of cash. Given that no one knows with certainty how the crisis will unfold, startups should not go for solutions that would take them long to execute.

What is next for Med Angels?

Besides our work with angel investors from the Mediterranean countries, we are looking to work closely with other partners from Middle Eastern countries, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE. 


June 1st 2020, 9:11 pm

TiE Dubai offers $100,000 to winning startup


TiE Dubai, a chapter of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), announced the launch of a regional Women 2020 pitch competition as part of its participation in TiE Women, the global initiative dedicated to empowering women entrepreneurs across the globe. 

Through the initiative, TiE Dubai will provide women entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region with a platform to collaborate and showcase their business potential. It features a series of startup support programmes for women entrepreneurs, culminating into the competition. 

Finalists will be invited to attend the Women 2020 finals in Dubai and have an opportunity to be part of the Grand Finale Pitch with a chance to win $100,000 as well as  other prizes, in addition to investor support. 

“According to research reports, just one in seven investments in the Arab World go into female founded businesses, we all recognise the challenges women face when accessing funding and financial support,” said Ziad Matar, president of TiE Dubai. 

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) Women Entrepreneurship Report 2018/2019 states that the largest gender gap in established business ownership is found in Mena at over 40 per cent. However, the report states that the highest rates of women’s entrepreneurial intentions were reported in Mena at 36.6 per cent, highlighting a trend of younger women founding companies in countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

“There is so much untapped potential in the Arab World and by empowering women to go into business and rewarding aspiring female leaders, we will ensure global economic gains and a competitive knowledge economy in line with UAE’s 2021 Vision,” added Matar. “By bringing together a global network of entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, and a prize money pool of $100,000, we will provide a unique launch pad for the winners.”

The TiE Women initiative is open to registered businesses founded or led by women across Mena region. Participants can submit their nomination online from 1 June to 1 August 2020 on Twenty businesses will be shortlisted to participate in the  live online pitch in December 2020. 

June 1st 2020, 4:15 am

Franco-Tunisian startup NextProtein raises $11.2 million in Series A


Source: AgFunder news 

NextProtein, a French-Tunisian startup working on new ways to produce insect-based animal feed and fertilizer, has raised €10.2 million ($11.2 million) in Series A funding. According to AgFunder data, this is the largest early-stage agrifoodtech deal in Tunisia yet.

Leading the round were a group of investors drawn together by Blue Oceans Partners, including Telos Impact and RAISE Impact. Further support came from Mirova and Althelia Sustainable Ocean Fund, along with Japan’s Kepple Africa Ventures and Aucfan Incubate Inc (since its founding in 2015, nextProtein has also secured funds from investors including Kima Ventures and angels Khaled Helioui and Cyril Grislain.)

Using EU-approved organic waste to raise black soldier fly larvae for animal feedstocks, nextProtein will first target the aquaculture industry.

Continue reading this story

May 31st 2020, 7:11 am

HSEVEN launches three programmes for African entrepreneurs


Source: Morroco World News

Moroccan startup accelerator HSEVEN, the largest startup accelerator in Africa, has launched three incubation and acceleration programmes to help African entrepreneurs build high-impact startups.

Programmes “Rise-Up,” “Re-Start,” and “Disrupt” aim to accelerate the transformation of the African economy amid the fourth technological and industrial revolution and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is time for entrepreneurs and startups of Morocco and Africa to transform our economies by focusing on new homegrown solutions in key impactful sectors: SharedEconomy, MedTech, EdTech, AgriTech, GreenTech, inclusive FinTech, and GovTech,” said Amine Al-Hazzaz, founder and CEO of HSEVEN.

The three programmes target startups with two to five founders that are still in an early stage of conception and aim to impact Africa through innovative services, products, and business models.

“Rise-Up” and “Re-Start” programmes will grant the selected entrepreneurs MAD 200,000 (€18,000), as well as a MAD 500,000 forgivable loan (€45,000) and an eventual MAD 1.5 million (€135,000) to MAD 15 million (€1.35 million) non-guaranteed loan.

The Innov-Invest programme of Morocco’s Central Guarantee Fund (CCG) will provide the funds with the support of the World Bank and the Central Popular Bank (BCP) of Morocco.

Meanwhile, startups selected in the “Disrupt” programme will benefit from a seed investment of MAD 1.65 million (€150,000) at the start of the programme for 5 per cent to 7 per cent equity, then an eventual investment of MAD 5.5 million (€500,000) to MAD 16.5 million (€1.5 million) at the end of the programme.

Venture capital firms Azur Partners and Upline Alternative Investments will finance the selected projects, in collaboration with the Dutch Good Growth Fund’s (DGGF) Triple Jump programme.

“HSEVEN’s ambition is to accelerate entrepreneurs and startups that will reshape Africa’s future,” Al-Hazzaz said in a press release.

The call for applications for the programmes will be open until June 30 via HSEVEN’s website. HSEVEN’s team and its network of experts will conduct the selection process.

Besides funding, the selected startups and entrepreneurs will also benefit from strategic advice and expertise.

Selected entrepreneurs for the “Rise-Up” and “Re-Start” incubation programmes will benefit from seven design sprints, 12 workshops, 24 mentoring sessions, and 24 weekly sessions with HSEVEN’s team, as well services with a value of $8,680 from Amazon Web Services.

Meanwhile, startups selected for the “Disrupt” programme will benefit from 15 workshops, 15 mentoring sessions, 15 working sessions with HSEVEN, and services valued at $50,680 from Amazon Web Services.

Entrepreneurs will also have access to a network of more than 350 mentors, influential leaders, and partners to gain increasing access to national and international markets.

Participants in the three programmes will spend the incubation period at the HSEVEN campus, located in the Marina of Casablanca

May 31st 2020, 3:39 am

Hackathons: An opportunity for Mena's tech innovators


Finding solutions for the disruption and devastation of the “new normal” caused by the Coronavirus pandemic has ignited a wave of hackathons around the world. Hackathons are essentially design-focused events, bringing together people with different skillsets like software developers and project managers to collaborate and develop what is usually a software solution for a particular problem.

Over the past few months, the tech community all over the world has come together to innovate and alleviate the daily struggles faced by governments and the people.

For entrepreneurs and innovators based in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), these hackathons have become a platform for them to showcase their technological capabilities to the rest of the world.

Egypt-based DXwand is one such startup that captured the tech community’s attention. Its artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot “Ask Nameesa” was selected as one of the top tech projects worldwide by 350 judges in the #BuildforCOVID hackathon. The chatbot helps governments and health authorities to remotely interact with suspected Covid-19 cases through Facebook and Whatsapp through its AI engine that can communicate in 70 languages, including conversational dialects. This direct line of communication means suspected cases do not need to leave their house to report their symptoms.

The startup was among 1561 projects submitted from 175 countries.

“Being part of this hackathon has allowed us to gain further insights from experts at global hi-tech organisations, like Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon, which has helped us further develop our product,” said Ahmed Mahmoud, founder and chief executive offer (CEO) at DXwand. 

As scientists race to develop a vaccine, these hackathons have proven beneficial in dealing with the peripheral issues that have arisen as a result of the pandemic and are helping to inspire a new wave of innovation.    

“Now is the time to adopt moonshot ideas that will help tackle the crisis,” says Dima Saleh, one of the organisers of the Jordan Pandemic Hackathon, whose goal is to help emerging startups find innovative solutions for problems facing the Jordanian community before and after the crisis.

“We were always on the lookout for ideas that would boost the public awareness about Covid-19 and provide the tech industry with the necessary backup technical material such as applications in case of any potential outbreak,” she adds. 

Hackathons are also proving to be an effective convener of the region’s tech ecosystems.

The Jordan Pandemic Hackathon, whose initial round took place 8-11 April, was held as part of the regional Arab Pandemic Hackathon which brought together the IOT Jordan Community, Egypt’s ASRT and Tunisia's ATAST, who each organised a local chapter of the hackathon in their respective countries. 

Among the ideas that emerged from the hackathon were Healthtech - which follows a crowd-sourced data approach to enable epidemiological teams track infection locations and Blue Cash, a device to sterilise cash.

Meanwhile Dubai-based Global Grad Show launched an open call related to Covid-19 for its hackathon, attracting more than 400 entries from 110 universities across 40 countries including the UK and US as well as universities in emerging markets such as Peru, Kenya, Uganda, Iraq, Egypt and Thailand. 

“We are not very concerned about finding something that does not apply to other continents or other countries because we see overwhelming similarity between the issues that people face during the current situation. The open call was set up to identify not only solutions but problems as well,” says Tadeu Baldani, director at Global Grad Show. “It is not about who is winning and who is not. It is more about nurturing the good ideas that can be developed into go-to-market solutions.”

The participants were called to find solutions for challenges impacting hygiene and personal protection, mental health, remote and home care, children’s health and development, medical supplies, business opportunities, data-driven strategies and life post-lockdown.

“We are looking for solutions that are quicker and easier to implement. It is also important for the winning ideas to have a large impact or scale. By impact, I mean that we prioritise the ideas that address a bigger part of the population,” he explains.

Submissions included antiviral gloves from the American University of Sharjah and Echoo, a pro-socialising headset from the National University of Singapore.

The pandemic has also presented an opportunity for the corporate sector to engage with startups through hackathons. In Saudi Arabia, in a hackathon sponsored by Domino’s Pizza, a new platform that uses virtual reality and augmented reality for video conferences emerged as well as an automated respiratory screening project for healthcare practitioners to help them avoid getting infected from a potential carrier of Covid-19.

Winners of these hackathons are afforded a level of recognition that would be difficult to achieve without a significant marketing budget and access to mentorship from global tech companies.

“The winning teams get the opportunity to be awarded grants offered by several donors, including the EU Commission, Y Combinator, and ministries of health, education, telecommunication and others. This in addition to mentorship support programmes from well-known accelerators,” says Hussein Mohieldin, co-founder and CEO of Egypt-based Robusta which has organised a series of hackathons under its Fight Not Flight campaign to solve the urgent problems facing businesses, health communities and the wider society.

Some of the winning ideas from Robusta’s hackathons include KOY, a platform that develops multi-use personal protective equipment and Glaveko, a B2B marketplace for medical equipment suppliers to ease the procurement process for hospitals.

May 30th 2020, 10:05 pm

How local businesses support the economic fabric of countries


By Miguel Angel Povedano, chief operating officer and customer experience at Majid Al Futtaim Holding 

The magnitude, complexity, and socioeconomic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is only now being fully understood. The ongoing black swan event is, by force, pushing industry leaders to rethink and transform their global supply chain model. While the full impact of the crisis remains unknown, failure to respond effectively, particularly with regards to the adoption of localised supply, is likely to be fatal for many struggling companies and damaging to the economic fabric of individual countries. Furthermore, we can no longer expect governments to tackle a large-scale crisis alone. Managing a situation of this severity requires the efforts of multiple players across the business ecosystem; bringing together government departments, the private sector and community organisations to collaborate and support the overall economy through these difficult times. 

An Over-reliance on Globalisation 

Disruption in global supply chains and traditional sourcing methods is significantly impacting economies where suppliers and distributors rely heavily on single-source markets for imports. This impact is particularly severe in the context of the food supply chain. Increasingly, businesses are looking to become innovative and adaptive to rely less on globalisation and elevate the resources already in place locally. This can lead to safeguarding industries, ensuring resilience in the long-run, and supporting the economy long into the future. Covid-19 has perhaps accelerated this process. Investing in the productivity of the local economy in this region will not only help companies to weather the current crisis, but it also will support longer-term prosperity. The move towards more localised and sustainable systems of growing, manufacturing, and distributing food is now more critical than ever.

Thinking Local

Localising food supply reduces the distance between companies and suppliers and, in turn, makes these companies stronger and more resilient. Additional benefits of a local model include quality enhancements, greater control, lower costs, increased flexibility, community employment and better environmental sustainability. It is crucial, therefore, that businesses operating locally consider how they fit into this framework to ensure they are resilient to global supply chain disruptions; and more broadly, the opportunities that localised supply chains could present for each company. This imperative could not be more critical at a time when climate change is forcing tremendous pressure on our food security. In fact, the UAE ranks 21 in the Global Food Security Index and aims to make it within the top 10 by 2021 and to the first place by 2051. Furthermore, food imports currently stand at 90 per cent of total consumption in the country. 

Innovative Ideas for the Local Market

Majid Al Futtaim has taken this call to action seriously, adopting and developing new initiatives that respond to the lessons provided by the ongoing pandemic. This response includes our newly launched hydroponic farms and our local farming commitments. We have inaugurated Dubai's first in-store hydroponic farm at our Al Wasl Carrefour Market branch, and our third in the UAE. Through this farm, we can increase the quantity of fresh, local and sustainable produce supplied to Carrefour customers, while also reducing the food miles and carbon footprint involved in food production. In consideration of the environment and sustainability, the farm also uses 90 per cent less water and less space than traditional farming techniques.

Another locally focused initiative by Majid Al Futtaim comes through our collaboration with the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MOCCAE), in which we aim to increase the availability of locally grown produce across Carrefour stores in the UAE. A primary goal of this programme is to open new distribution channels for more than 6,000 small and medium-sized local farmers whose traditional route to market has been disrupted. As a result, we are pleased to ensure a sustainable supply of produce across the country. This collaboration with a government department is an example of the public and private sector working together to turn a challenging situation into an opportunity for shared prosperity. 

Additionally, our own regional Carrefour private label range is playing an essential role in addressing gaps in the supply chain from global brands. Most products are made by local and regional producers. This enabled us to increase production quickly with these producers to meet increased demand, while controlling the price to cater to a now very cost-conscience customer. As a result, our private label sales grew four times faster than category leading brands.

Focus on Future Resilience

As companies pick up the pieces and seek to forge a new path forward, I believe we will see a new commitment to strengthening our local supply chains and thinking creatively as we seek to develop greater resilience in the years to come. As large retailers, we have a responsibility to demonstrate our commitment by signing longer-term purchasing contracts that enable local suppliers to grow. Developing strong public and private partnerships within our local regions are likely to become a new normal.  Companies should understand their supply chains more deeply and seek to reduce reliance on international suppliers, especially where local alternatives may offer viable replacements. 

Investing in the productivity of the local economy in this region will not only help companies to weather the current crisis, but it will support longer-term prosperity too.  Together we will continue to seek the more sustainable solution, supporting the economic fabric of the country, for a bright, more resilient tomorrow.


May 27th 2020, 8:51 pm

Munjz secures pre-Series A investment


Saudi Arabia-based Munjz, an online marketplace for maintenance services, has secured its pre-Series A investment. The round was led by Vision Ventures with participation from Seedstars and Al Khathlan Holding Company. The amount of the investment was not disclosed.

Munjz connects licensed and vetted handymen with customers through its mobile app, providing services such as plumbing, electrical, air-conditioning, cleaning, furniture assembly and CCTV among others.

Founded in 2017 by Abdullah Al Daij, Munjz was launched  in response to the lack of quality property maintenance in Saudi Arabia.

The application works to solve the lack of transparency of prices in a fragmented market with unreliable communication channels to find the right technicians who provide services with clear standards.

Munjz seeks to use the new funding to expansd its prescence, team development and offer broader maintenance services in the areas where it operates.

Munjz is one of the main incubated projects by Badir Program for Technology Incubators and Accelerators.

May 27th 2020, 8:25 am

The angel network looking for halal opportunities


Muslims concluded the celebration of Eid Al Fitr this week, marking the end of Ramadan in lockdown. During this time, 64 per cent of UAE consumers reported an increase in online shopping, according to Criteo. Governments in the region urged people to give presents instead of the traditional Eidiyah (cash) to children in a bid to prevent the spread of Covid-19, further prompting online purchases and money transfers. 

Muslims account for a quarter of the world’s population according to the Pew Research Center, and their spending power and habits is one of great interest to not only retailers, but investors too, creating what is now known as the “Islamic economy”. This economy comprises halal food, travel, cosmetics, modest fashion and Islamic finance and other goods and services that are “halal” or align with Islamic principles. 

Tausif Malik, an American-Indian social entrepreneur launched the world’s first halal angel investors network in May this year with the aim to promote innovation and halal entrepreneurship to mobilise a consumer market he says is worth $5 trillion. 

“Halal Angel Network was established with a vision to connect investors with different startups which are Sharia-compliant, which would serve the society and economy alike,” says Malik. 

For Malik, a Sharia-compliant startup is one that has “a social impact, takes care of its employees, makes everyone accountable for their own actions and then eventually when it makes money, it supports the poor in the neighbourhood through corporate social responsibility (CSR)”.

To be eligible for funding from the Halal Angel Network, startups “should not be bad for the environment, not driven by a false operation or copycat another model”, says Malik. “If somebody copies the Amazon version we are not interested because it is some money stealing idea.”

The network is looking to invest in startups of all sizes in the core sectors of the Islamic economy such as pharmaceuticals, food and beverages and fashion. 

“Nobody talked about modest fashion in a big way. There are a lot of fashion bloggers doing that, but it has not come up under a big umbrella yet,” he says. “We [also] tend to invest in healthcare startups given the increasing importance of the sector as a result of Covid-19 pandemic.”

In addition, the network is also taking an interest in startups operating in future technologies - including blockchain, cryptocurrency, financial technology, given their “high valuations”, adds Malik. 

“We have several requests by 600 investors and startups from across the Mena region and Gulf area, mostly from Oman,” says Malik. “Our target now is to onboard one hundred angel investors by the end of August and a couple of hundreds of them in total by the end of the year as we are looking to raise $100 million worth of investments.”

Globally, Muslims spent $2.2 trillion in 2018 across the food, pharmaceutical and lifestyle sectors according to the 2019 Global Islamic Economy Report and the market is set to grow to $3.2 trillion by 2024.

In between 2018 and 2019, $1.2 billion in disclosed private equity investment was invested in the Islamic economy, reflecting a growth of 399 per cent on comparable transactions across halal products and services and Islamic finance. The biggest markets for the Islamic economy are the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Indonesia and the Halal Angel Network plans to set up offices in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena). 

“The halal market [in Mena] is approximately valued around $1-2 trillion minimum,” says Malik. “The opportunity for growth is robust and the market is lucrative for more investments in halal compliant companies.”


May 26th 2020, 10:34 pm

A public relations strategy is critical now more than ever


Sean Pattwell is the founder and chief executive officer at CW8 Communications

The Covid-19 pandemic has shaken international commerce in ways we could never have anticipated before the virus took hold. The human toll is harrowing, and the subsequent economic impact has left many businesses fighting for air. The resultant economic fallout it has precipitated, which is not projected to disappear at any point on the near-term horizon, the media landscape has been dramatically upended. The impact on media coverage has been substantial: many journalists have been reassigned to cover the crisis and globally, headlines are dominated by Covid-19 coverage. While justifiable, this adds an increased level of pressure on companies in all industries to get their message out there in a clear and effective way, and in a time when expanding customer reach is more critical than ever. 

Some companies also have positive stories to share, and if there was ever a time that the markets and media are hungry for a bit of good news - it's now -, the UAE-based skincare e-commerce site has seen a surge in demand for its self-care and wellness products; Pure Harvest Smart Farms, the UAE technology-enabled agribusiness, just closed a funding round of $20.6 million Series A together with a $100 million multi-stage investment commitment from Kuwaiti investment firm Wafra; and InstaPract HealthTech IT Solutions has partnered with a major hospital in the UAE to roll out its technology in the fight against the Coronavirus.

Why Is Public Relations Important?

Getting your message into the media is pivotal for companies in raising their brand profile, which is of course crucial to attracting investment, customers and talent. Many management consultancy firms assert that during this crisis, there is a role for companies across a variety of industries to play in mitigating threats to our economies. However, in order to propel your efforts into successful outcomes, a profile large enough to capture market share is essential. Those that succeed most in this are those that will be recognised throughout their industry, gaining a foothold in the share of voice for sector issues, which is where the crucial importance of public relations comes into play.

You may have the best product known to mankind, but if the right audiences are unaware of it, it has little chance. I strongly believe that now is a critical time for companies to revitalise their public relations (PR) strategy and I have outlined the top five PR objectives that companies should prioritise:

1) Strategise

All companies should take this time to craft their PR Strategy. While it may not seem like a traditional consideration in times of crisis, working on a comprehensive public relations strategy will enable you to maintain viability and attract new business during and after the crisis. Businesses need to plan exactly what they want their public image to be and pay close attention to what they need to achieve to set themselves aside from their competitors: set objectives. Do you want to be featured in the Financial Times to send your message out far and wide? Or do you want your product to be showcased in a trade magazine read by your target audience? Decide on a realistic strategy early on while crafting your narrative. Utilise the time you have during this crisis to plan exactly what you want to achieve in a business sense, and then mirror this strategy with your PR plan.

2) Map Out Relevant Media

If you are a blockchain startup with a target audience in the UAE, identifying US political journalists will not serve you very well. Read strategically and read with your business in mind. Identify journalists writing about your industry or companies similar to yours. This will broaden your business horizons and help you identify what the narratives of other companies are, what is interesting to readers, what interests journalists and what tells a good story.

3) Reach Out

Once you have identified the journalists most relevant to you and your business, contact them; they might be writing a story and need an expert opinion or a comment. They might be interested in your company specifically and want to sit down with you for an interview (over Zoom, of course). Journalists are, by nature, approachable and interested in hearing about intriguing stories. Tell them yours.

4) Engage in Thought Leadership

Hone your thought leadership skills. What do you want to tell the world about your business? What are your thoughts on the industry you work in and how do you think we should tackle the challenges we are facing? If you can answer any of these questions eloquently and/or think you have something to add to the conversation, you should engage in thought leadership. Write an article or a blog, show it to colleagues or advisors for a review and post it on LinkedIn or better yet, send it to a news publication. Engaging in thought leadership is a highly fruitful method of getting your message across, increasing your personal brand and engaging your audience.

5) Plan for the Future

Achieving media attention is possible however, maintaining media traction without a PR firm can be a challenge but you can lay some important ground work without an advisor. Decide how you are going to build out your brand once relative normality resumes. If you have followed these steps, you need to plan what you are going to do next. Decide what worked best for you, where you can improve and which areas present the most prime opportunities for you and your business after the Covid-19 crisis has passed. This crisis will pass. We have faced few challenges as demanding as this, but I have full confidence that the international business community will work together to weather this storm.

May 24th 2020, 8:52 pm

Dubai SME allocates Dh20 million in loans


Source: The National

Dubai SME, a part of Dubai Economy, allocated Dh20 million to a capital guarantee scheme backing peer-to-peer loans made to small and medium businesses.

The guarantee scheme was first launched by Dubai SME's financial arm, The Mohammed Bin Rashid Fund, and lending platform Beehive to facilitate funding of up to Dh780,000 for businesses that are fully owned by Emiratis.

With the new injection, the scheme has been extended to allow Dubai-based SMEs that are 50 per cent owned and managed by Emiratis to seek funding up to Dh420,000, which will be backed by a 50 per cent capital guarantee.

"The strengths and diversity of SMEs are strategic assets for Dubai in ensuring that business activity remains uninterrupted and new opportunities are created continuously," said Sami Al Qamzi, director-general of Dubai Economy.

"The agreement between Mohammed Bin Rashid Fund for SMEs and Beehive extends the benefits of their partnership to a wider SME community and will thereby strengthen the position of Dubai as a competitive hub for business and entrepreneurship, particularly during the present global economic challenges.”

“We are delighted to extend this important partnership with Dubai SME and [add] services which will allow the benefits to be appreciated by more SMEs, especially those who need it at this challenging time,” Craig Moore, chief executive of Beehive, said.

Continue reading the story

May 21st 2020, 9:09 am

Evergo raises seed investment from Tenmou


Source: Startup Bahrain

Bahrain-based Evergo, the startup that prides itself as a one-stop app for all your lifestyle requirements, has raised an undisclosed amount from Tenmou in a seed round. 

In a conversation with StartUpBahrain, Tenmou stated that the decision to invest in the startup was driven by Evergo’s rich potential as a one-of-a-kind product in the region. 

“It also has high potential in introducing different services that will provide more holistic user experience,” Khalifa Al-Mannai, Evergo’s founder, added. 

For those out of the loop, Evergo’s online platform enables users to schedule and book appointments, call-backs, and all kinds of sessions with businesses across multiple sectors. The booking feature is available for both in-person and online appointments.

“This investment means that Evergo is a product that now has a collective vision,” the company said, further adding that the yield from the seed round will help Evergo expand its marketing budget and take the product to all target markets.

Evergo also made a series of improvisations to improve efficiency and adjust to the changing market dynamics in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis. 

Khalifa Al-Mannai told StartUpBahrain: “Until Mid April Evergo’s primary function was to book physical appointments across multiple sectors. Due to the unexpected circumstances, the world was facing we decided to think out of the box and instead on finding a way to be able to continue to cater to the market’s needs.”

Besides temporarily withdrew all bookings to all physical locations and started working on adding new features to the app to serve users better against the backdrop of the lockdown. 

“As Evergo has a full in house team we managed, in the span of only 4 weeks to deploy video servers hosted locally on AWS and build a workflow around the application. Allowing our vendors and staff to create sessions, set the number of seats and prices, and publish it on evergo for live sessions that take place online,” Khalifa explained. 

Evergo’s experiments with new features and services will likely continue in the post-coronavirus market. However, Tenmou’s CEO Nawaf Al-Koheji is optimistic that with the new investment from the region’s leading Business Angels Company, Evergo is now in a much stronger position to expand its presence in all target markets quicker. 

Continue reading this story

May 21st 2020, 8:51 am

The logistical developments in e-commerce


The importance of the e-commerce industry has been multiplied by 10 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic according to Iyad Kamal, chief operating officer at Aramex.

The executive, who has been at Aramex for almost 30 years, describes Covid-19 as a pivotal moment for the e-commerce and logistics sector, one that will have a lasting impact. We spoke to Kamal about the trends that have emerged so far.

Consumer Shopping Habits

With restrictions on movement still in place across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), sales of items deemed non-essential have taken a hit.

“People are looking at what’s happening globally and regionally and are postponing non-essential purchases in favour of key, essential products that can be used during these uncertain times.”

These essentials include groceries and pharmaceutical goods which have seen an unprecedented surge in demand. Demand for fitness equipment, office and kitchen supplies also saw an uptick in the beginning of the lockdown as people anticipated the shift to working from home. According to data from Redseer, e-groceries saw a 500 per cent growth in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, while fashion and beauty declined by 10 per cent. Overall, the e-commerce market in these two countries grew from $7.5 billion pre-lockdown to $11 billion after lockdown.

The method with which consumers are paying for these goods is also changing as many are now shying away from cash-on-delivery (COD), a long-established payment mechanism offered by e-commerce players in the region, which constituted 60 per cent of all transactions.

Now, in Saudi Arabia, 50 per cent of COD orders have switched to other payment means. This includes payment upon order or upon delivery using credit and debit cards or online payment upon checkout. 

“In my opinion it will become a habit of people just not wanting to use cash and instead they pay using card on delivery. Retailers are likely to push for more online payments instead of payment on delivery which will reduce the rate of returns. This is good for the e-commerce industry.” 

Growth of Domestic Markets

Due to the disruption in cross-border shipping, strict border controls and limitation in airline options,  the demand for locally-sourced products has increased.

"Specific increase in demand for essential goods has driven the domestic market up, yet as retail stores close down, they have shifted to online overnight to fulfil demand.”

Kamal believes that this rise in local demand will result in a “global reorganisation” of the supply chain.

“Global companies will re-evaluate their supply chain and will aim to have multiple fulfilment centers around the world. In the event that something happens in the future, they will have backup centres from which they can fulfil locally and regionally. This will certainly reduce delivery times. In the past you would purchase products online that were delivered cross-border, now with marketplaces and retailers, you will find the same product domestically and it will be delivered overnight.”

The Challenge of Last Mile Delivery

As more people shop online, the load on delivery and last mile logistics has also increased.

“There’s a big inflow of business, but the challenge is in finding ways to increase delivery capacity almost instantly in order to accommodate for that growth.”

In Dubai, the Road and Transport Authority (RTA) enlisted taxi drivers to fulfil the delivery of online orders and are currently working with Aramex as “delivery extensions”. 

In some markets including Saudi Arabia and Jordan, Aramex has introduced a crowdsourcing model, Aramex Fleet, to attain delivery resources to satisfy peaks in demand without long term commitment and resources.

There is also a greater need for contactless delivery as consumers try to limit their exposure to others. Aramex recently introduced its “Leave at Door” service, where the courier leaves the package by the front door and takes a picture as proof of delivery instead of requiring a signature.

“There will be a lot of innovation in the last mile, we will see more click-and-collect and locker deliveries. These alternatives for delivery will accommodate for the changes in consumer demands towards minimal contact between the courier and the customer. Customers can buy online and deliver to a locker then they can pay using their credit card… a fully contactless experience.”

But perhaps the most contactless form of delivery will be via drones.

“We will see drones develop for expedited delivery, from products ranging from medicine to sensitive equipment that would need to be delivered in a timely manner. Also, drones are likely to be more effective in hard to reach or rural areas. But within urban areas, I still don’t envision delivery of packages to soar by drones in the near future.”

Throughout his career at Aramex, Kamal has witnessed several crises, but  he says Covid-19 is the “worst of them".

“I have never seen disruption of supply chains like this before. We’ve been through different types of conflicts and logistical challenges, but because of its global scale, the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had, and continues to have, is much more substantial.”

May 20th 2020, 8:59 pm

EYouth raises $180,000 seed funding


Cairo-based social enterprise EYouth, has raised $180,000 in seed funding from EdVentures, the venture capital arm of Egypt’s Nahdet Misr Publishing House.

EYouth, founded in 2010 by Alaa Obeida and Mostafa Abdellatif, aims to empower by offering a wide range of specialised training programmes in several areas including entrepreneurship, employability and personal skills enhancement, and community development.

It also provides entrepreneurs with mentorship services and helps them scale up by connecting them to potential investors. 

“In light of the fierce competition in the labor market, therein lies a great demand for investing in training and developing skills and capabilities of young entrepreneurs located in various governorates and even extend this to other Arab and African countries," said Alaa Obeida, co-founder and innovation director at EYouth.

Since its founding, the company has trained more than 65,000 entrepreneurs in 27 cities across Egypt and has helped launch more than 1500 social enterprises and initiatives.

The company plans to use the funds to build an online platform, grow its services and further expand to other African markets.

“EdVentures focuses on empowering youth through education, and promoting innovation and entrepreneurship; thus, we see our investment in EYouth as key in extending our support to a wider base of young entrepreneurs especially those located in upper Egypt with very limited resources," said Dalia Ibrahim, founder of EdVentures and CEO of Nahdet Misr Publishing House.

Launched 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 World.


May 20th 2020, 10:42 am

ADQ launches Dh1.1 billion fund to invest in Asian startups


Source: The National

ADQ, one of the region’s largest holding companies, launched a Dh1.1 billion ($300 million) venture fund to invest in early-stage Indian and Southeast Asian startups and help them set up a base in Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City.

Alpha Wave Incubation (AWI) Fund will be based at the emirate’s financial hub, Abu Dhabi Global Market, the company said in a statement on Wednesday. The programme will be managed by New York-based Falcon Edge Capital.

AWI will help the budding Asian businesses gain market access to the UAE and the broader Middle East North Africa region. These companies will benefit from the “exceptional digital infrastructure” already in place as well as highly advanced regulatory frameworks and other R&D initiatives, it said.

“As a national champion for the Abu Dhabi government, we are working to embed a performance culture across our broad portfolio that includes many of our emirate’s most important strategic commercial entities,” Mohammed Hassan Alsuwaidi, chief executive of ADQ, said.

ADQ is looking to maximise long-term impact of its investment on society, and will invest in companies that are “pioneering cutting-edge technologies and developing new and innovative business models”, he said.

“Nurturing Abu Dhabi’s start-up ecosystem will attract entrepreneurial talent, create jobs and other opportunities, particularly for those working in data science, artificial intelligence and other knowledge-based industries,” Mr Alsuwaidi said.

Mayank Singhal, head of venture capital and technology at ADQ, said AWI will help the company invest in start-ups that will generate sustainable, long-term financial returns and bring young entrepreneurs to Abu Dhabi.

"We will aim to support them in ways that accelerate their development to create a new wave of winners in the tech landscape," he said. "These start-ups will also benefit from access to ADQ’s leading companies in sectors such as healthcare, food and agri-business, utilities and FinTech.”

Continue reading this story

May 20th 2020, 10:42 am

HOF Capital's take on investment post pandemic


HOF Capital is a global venture capital (VC) firm founded in 2016 by three Egyptian entrepreneurs, Fady Yacoub, Onsi Sawiris and Hisham Elhaddad. It focuses its investments on nascent technologies that have the potential to solve big societal problems and counts Uber and Alibaba among its portfolio of investments. 

In this interview, the three co-founders share their thoughts on the impact of Covid-19 on the investment landscape in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena). 

What do you think is the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on VCs, especially those in Mena?

Sawiris: Despite the obvious challenges that this pandemic poses towards the broader economy and technology industry, it is not all bad news for startup founders and venture capitalists. Many of the most successful technology companies today were started or built during challenging times. Past crises have inspired entrepreneurs to build new innovations, and also led to consolidation of capital and talent towards the most promising companies. We expect that this pandemic will be no exception.

Venture capital in Africa and the Middle East had seen promising growth in the years leading up to the pandemic, with 2019 marking a watershed year for these ecosystems with Uber’s $3.2bn acquisition of Careem as well as record-setting funding volume. As such, while startups and VCs in Africa and the Middle East will feel the negative impact of this pandemic, these ecosystems have tailwinds and new capital inflows that may cancel out the virus’ consequences to some extent. Therefore, while VCs in these regions should proceed cautiously, they may be less likely to experience down rounds and write-offs than those in other regions.

How does the pandemic affect the future of investments and where do the opportunities lie in a post-Covid-19 world? 

Sawiris: In the post-Covid-19 world, VCs will no longer be able to achieve superior returns through a momentum investing strategy, and will instead need to diligently search for investment opportunities that have asymmetric risk-reward profiles, many of which may be non-consensus bets.

Yacoub: Challenging times inevitably bring new problems that need to be solved, leading to the creation of new market opportunities and the accelerated growth of some existing ones. This certainly holds true for the current Covid-19 pandemic, which for the first time in modern history has caused the majority of people in affected countries to socially isolate themselves, resulting in the accelerated adoption of technologies needed to survive in such a world, such as those enabling or related to remote working, telemedicine, e-commerce, digital payments, and robot-powered delivery. Even after this pandemic has passed, it is likely that many of these resulting changes to society will persist and that many of the organisations and people who started using these technologies for the first time will continue using them. Hence, the startup founders that can quickly adapt to this challenging time and solve the new problems that have arisen will likely find themselves building the next generation of category-leading businesses.

What impact will that have on the amounts that will be raised in the future? 

Elhaddad: Data suggests that global VC investment volume fell by around 8 per cent year-on-year (YoY)  in Q1 2020, a statistic which likely understates the eventual impact on funding, since many investors did not appreciate the severity of the pandemic until late February or early March. We anticipate that the YoY drop-off in investment volume will be even steeper in Q2 and Q3. The number of deals has fallen as well, though not as sharply as the volume of funding, suggesting that average round sizes are shrinking. This means that even founders who are in a position to raise successfully will need to plan to run their businesses at a lower cash burn rate.

One positive for startups that can successfully raise is that challenging times also lead to less competition. Too much competition in a given market usually leads to market fragmentation, followed by price wars, compressed margins for all players, and dispersion of the best talent among too many companies. In contrast, challenging times usually lead to market consolidation, followed by increased pricing power, stronger financial performance, and higher concentration of the best talent among surviving companies.

Is this a moment of convergence or divergence of interests between founders and VCs?

Sawiris: Fundamentally, we believe that our interests at HOF are as aligned with founders as they have ever been. We seek to invest in founders with the ambition to build category-leading businesses in large, fast-growing markets. We succeed as a firm if and only if our founders achieve their missions, and a pandemic does not change this fact.

We do caution founders that in a more austere fundraising environment, they should expect to see some VCs offer term-sheets with more aggressive anti-dilution and liquidation preference clauses, and that they should think carefully about the potential long-term implications of these terms before accepting offers.

What kind of pressure will that put on founders? 

Yacoub: Founders will need to be more conscious than ever to maintain a reasonable cash burn, and if possible, achieve profitability. While blitzscaling and growth at all costs have been the mantra of many Silicon Valley investors in recent years, in the current environment, having a  higher-than-necessary cash burn is a risk that founders should make every effort to avoid.

Will the pandemic kill off certain sectors as far as investment is concerned? 

Elhaddad: Companies with unprofitable unit economics are likely to struggle most severely, since these companies may find that follow-on funding is unavailable when next they need it. We expect certain sectors like coworking, micromobility (e.g. scooters), physical retail, and travel/hospitality to be most impacted, since these businesses tend to be capital-intensive, have low gross margins, and are heavily affected by social distancing measures. Some startups in these sectors will inevitably shut down. With that said, we doubt that the pandemic will kill off investment in these sectors entirely. It is likely that by the time this pandemic finally ends and the global economy begins to recover, these markets and others will have significantly consolidated. In the post-Covid-19 world, the startups that are able to survive and grow will likely find themselves with greater pricing power than before and an even higher proportion of the best talent in the industry, enabling them to become even more successful than they would have been in a pre-Covid-19 world.

Will “pandemic-resilience” become a criterion for investment? 

Yacoub: Pandemic-resilience will become a criterion in the sense that investors will now be even more focused on investing in founders who are capable of fending off threats to the company by any means necessary. Founders who are perceived as overly lax or generous may find that they have a much harder time fundraising than they did in the bull market.

In addition, we expect that investors will prioritise startups that do not require any large gatherings and minimal in-person interaction to execute their business models. Many investors fear that even after lockdowns are relaxed, consumers will shy-away from public gatherings for the next few years in order to protect their health.

What effect does the fluctuating oil price have on VCs’ ability to raise investment in the region?

Sawiris: It’s too early to say with certainty, but we do expect it to become more challenging for VCs to fundraise in the region. Many of the economies hit the hardest by oil prices have been among the largest LPs in recent years, so if the price wars continue and these nations scale back their investment in VC, it could have a significant impact on the ecosystem, especially at the growth stage.


May 19th 2020, 9:32 pm

Ziina secures $850,000 in pre-seed round


Ziina, the UAE-based social peer-to-peer (P2P) payment application, has raised $850,000 in a pre-seed funding round. The investment was led by San Francisco based Class 5 Global, with participation from Samih Toukan’s Jabbar Internet Group and other angel investors.

Launched November 2019 by co-founders Faisal Toukan, Sarah Toukan, and Andrew Gold, the financial technology (fintech) looks to encourage the adoption of mobile payment solutions.  The application enables users to send and receive money with just a phone number with no requirement for an IBAN or a swift code.

“We are very excited to be out, and very proud of the team for everything they have done so far. It is time to build and make the app useful to everyone,” said Faisal Toukan, co-founder and CEO of Ziina, in an interview with Wamda. “We are here to end cash. We are not getting there from day one,  but with mobile penetration in the region going through the roof combined with the youth being digital-savvy, we will be able to end cash and give [payment] accessibility to everyone.”

Ziina offers bank-grade security and end-to-end encryption so UAE bank account holders can use their smartphones to send and receive money as easily as sending a text message. The company graduated from Dubai’s In5 tech startup incubator and is youth-oriented in response to the average age of 27 years old in the Middle East, in a bid to fast track the UAE’s transition towards a cashless society.

“Financial services are pleasant to have in the US and Europe, but in our region of the world they are more of a necessity. Not everyone can have a bank, but everyone can have a digital wallet. When regulations opened up in Mena, that is when we saw the opportunity and started building the team,” he added.

The application is gradually introducing several value-added services such as QR Code Integration, Prepaid Cards and Utility Payments, amongst others. In the medium-term, Ziina will integrate different revenue streams. For POS solutions and prepaid cards, Ziina will take a small percentage fee on all transactions from vendors.

During 2021, Ziina plans to launch operations in Saudi Arabia to tap into the vast market potential of the GCC's largest market of 32 million people, with 58 per cent of those under the age of 30. Nearly 60 per cent of the Kingdom’s population use smartphones with roughly 23 million of the population being active on social media. In the UAE, 8.8 million individuals, making up 91.57 per cent of the population, access social media with their mobile devices. On average these users spend 2.56 hours on social media daily.

“The Middle East is a massive market, and the more players in the ecosystem, the better. There are so many services that need to be provided besides basic banking, from cashless payments, family accounts, business expense reports, budgeting solutions and others. There also different segments and demographics, and we haven’t seen a youth platform yet,” said Toukan.

“The Middle East has one of the highest rates of smartphone penetration in the world and a young population. However, the economy is still cash-based. Ziina is taking a Silicon Valley mindset to the region and solving this problem with technology,” said Joel Ayala, co-founder and managing partner of Class 5 Global VC. 

Ziina’s cofounders are joined by a strong advisory board including serial entrepreneur Samih Toukan, and Emre Tok, who previously served as vice president of growth at Careem leading a team of 80 people. It is considered the UAE’s first licensed social peer-to-peer payment application.


May 19th 2020, 7:23 am

Unipal raises seed investment


Bahrain-based Unipal has raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding from angel investor network Tenmou, as part of the fundraising round by Flat6Labs Bahrain. Unipal is one of 28 startups that graduated from Flat6Labs earlier in May with a $32,000 seed investment.

Founded in 2019, Unipal provides university students access to tailored discounts and promotions through a digital identification. The company plans to use the newly raised funds to build their app and grow their team.

 “As Tenmou shares Unipal’s understanding of the essential need for an established student-centric platform in the region, their support will help us in moving forward to making Unipal the best student offering platform,” said Ali Al-Alawi, co-founder and CEO of Unipal.

Nawaf Al-Koheji, CEO of Tenmou said: “We are excited about what the next months hold for Unipal, they have been actively and innovatively navigating the market during this testing time and that’s what made the young founders standout for us.”

May 19th 2020, 12:03 am

Interact Labs secures $60,000 in funding


Source: Disrupt Africa

Egyptian startup Interact Labs, which develops solutions that enhance collaboration, has secured funding commitments worth $60,000 after taking part in Zoom-based “Shark Tank” equivalent The Nest.

Disrupt Africa reported last week on the Covid-19 lockdown-inspired The Nest, a Zoom-based digital event where each week three startups pitch to a panel of angel investors, and anyone else that wishes to listen, in a bid to secure funding.

Interact Labs develops hardware and software products that enhance collaboration, increase engagement and effectiveness through an enhanced user experience and interactivity. 

During lockdown, the Nest will take place every Thursday. When lockdown restrictions ease, Jim Chu, chief executive officer (CEO) of UNTAPPED and organiser of the initiative, told Disrupt Africa it will occur once a month.

“We’ve seen the potential for this to make so many valuable connections, we are definitely going to keep it going, indefinitely,” he said. “I’d like to see The Nest for different regions and specific verticals in the future. We intend to open-source the operating model and brand so that others can take it far beyond what we can do.”

Continue reading the story

May 18th 2020, 11:37 am

Wamda Research Lab report on Covid-19 impact


More than 70 per cent of startups based in the Middle East and North Africa have witnessed a negative impact on their business as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, while 50 per cent have had their latest funding round disrupted.

From supply chain disruption to travel restrictions and payment collection hurdles, multiple areas of business have been impacted by the outbreak and the restrictions put in place to combat its spread. The majority of startups in the region have either pivoted or scaled back their operations in order to navigate the disruption caused by the pandemic.

The findings are part of a report jointly published by Wamda and Arabnet based on data collected from 247 startup founders from across the Mena region. The report aims to identify the extent of the impact of Covid-19 on the region’s entrepreneurship sector and the measures that can be taken to alleviate the financial stress on startups.

The report was launched in a webinar session that hosted key stakeholders from the region’s entrepreneurship sector including Matic, Eon Dental and Seez as well as the Bahrain Economic Development Board and Saudi Arabia’s director of innovation and entrepreneurship at the Ministry of Investment. 

“In Bahrain, there are clearly some winners who are really struggling; however, there are some sectors that have tremendous potential. What we are seeing in Bahrain is an acceleration of the digitisation process and acceleration of diversification of oil and gas. Whether it's edutech healthtech e-commerce, these sectors are really doing quite well at the moment,” said Simon Galbin,  managing director at Bahrain Economic Development Board.

“This is a very strange situation but I think we are getting a bit of a sense of it right now,” said Mazin Al Zaidi, director of innovation and entrepreneurship sector at Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Investment of Saudi Arabia.  “Everybody understands what is happening but nobody can predict what is going to happen over the upcoming period. So startups have to play a role in managing how they are going to manage their startups and what they are going to do like large businesses and governments.”  

Key highlights from the report ‘The Impact of COVID-19 on the technology entrepreneurship ecosystem in Mena’:

 To read the full report please click here


May 18th 2020, 11:37 am

Ogram raises $870,000 in pre-Series A


UAE-based Ogram has closed a $870,000 pre-Series A round led by Global Ventures.

Started in 2016, Ogram operates as a virtual marketplace that connects on-site temporary workers and freelancers to employment opportunities across several industries including in food and beverage (F&B), hospitality, retail, e-commerce and logistics sectors.

With this latest financing round, Ogram plans to continue to scale up in the UAE. The company has further stated that post funding, Global Ventures will join Ogram’s board.

“We founded the company on the premise of solving a pain point that we often faced in the hospitality sector: inflexible and costly staffing solutions that were not suitable for on-demand business requirements. Our mission is to push the global labour market towards a more flexible modus operandi, shaping the future of the gig economy - with no better place to start than our home in the UAE,” said Shafiq Khartabil, co-founder and CEO at Orgam.

Since its founding, the company has served more than 450 businesses and individual clients in the UAE, with over 1,050 active service providers placing over 2,000 jobs per month. Ogram was initially founded by former restaurant operators, Shafiq Khartabil and Karim Kouatly. The two founders were later joined by former banker, Karim Beyhum in 2019.

“We are thrilled to partner with Ogram as they pioneer the regional flexible work economy,” said Noor Sweid, general partner at Global Ventures. “The current pandemic is challenging existing employment structures and we believe that embracing flexible work and upskilling the workforce to adopt multiple jobs will be the future of work in the region”.


May 18th 2020, 9:06 am

Orgam raises $870,000 in pre-Series A


UAE-based Orgam has closed a $870,000 pre-Series A round led by Global Ventures.

Started in 2016, Orgam operates as a virtual marketplace that connects on-site temporary workers and freelancers to employment opportunities across several industries including in food and beverage (F&B), hospitality, retail, e-commerce and logistics sectors.

With this latest financing round, Ogram plans to continue to scale up in the UAE. The company has further stated that post funding, Global Ventures will join Ogram’s board.

“We founded the company on the premise of solving a pain point that we often faced in the hospitality sector: inflexible and costly staffing solutions that were not suitable for on-demand business requirements. Our mission is to push the global labour market towards a more flexible modus operandi, shaping the future of the gig economy - with no better place to start than our home in the UAE,” said Shafiq Khartabil, co-founder and CEO at Orgam.

Since its founding, the company has served more than 450 businesses and individual clients in the UAE, with over 1,050 active service providers placing over 2,000 jobs per month. Ogram was initially founded by former restaurant operators, Shafiq Khartabil and Karim Kouatly. The two founders were later joined by former banker, Karim Beyhum in 2019.

“We are thrilled to partner with Ogram as they pioneer the regional flexible work economy,” said Noor Sweid, general partner at Global Ventures. “The current pandemic is challenging existing employment structures and we believe that embracing flexible work and upskilling the workforce to adopt multiple jobs will be the future of work in the region”.


May 18th 2020, 6:49 am

How AI can help governments in a post Covid-19 world?


Jad Hajj, partner, and Wissam Abdel Samad, principal, Christian Stechel, senior manager, Gustave Cordahi, senior associate, with Strategy& Middle East, part of the PwC network

GCC countries are slowly easing their Covid-19 lockdowns while living with the threat of a resumption in infections. The aim is to restore some semblance of normality, and find the right balance between public health and economic sustainability. Already, Abu Dhabi and Dubai have issued guidelines for businesses to reopen once they have complied with protocols such as limits on operating hours, disabling of any touch screens, mandatory temperature checks and face masks. Technology will be crucial for governments as they seek to get people back to work while safeguarding their health. In particular, artificial intelligence (AI) can play a major role by helping to limit the spread of infection and boost the efficiency of embattled organisations.

There are three ways in which AI can help the region get back on its feet:

First, AI can help governments limit the spread of infection as people start to move around more. Traffic authorities can use AI along with speed radars to identify which vehicles have movement permits or belong to people working within vital sectors. Dubai police have tested this technique during the strict lockdown period, issuing fines for people breaching curfews without a valid reason. On the public transport system, AI and machine learning could help to identify communicable diseases, screen the temperature of passengers, and provide transit operators across different modes of transport with real-time information. This would allow operators to identify risks, implement additional cleaning protocols, and reduce or stop the relevant service.

AI can also measure and monitor the occupancy of people in stores and restaurants and alert public health authorities to excessive crowds in public areas. They can achieve this by feeding images from existing government and commercial CCTV cameras into a centralised AI platform. Similarly, AI can help individuals discover their potential exposure to the virus. Bahrain has tested such a system through an application called “BeAware” that uses location data to inform individuals if they approach someone currently infected with Covid-19.

Second, AI can build on the lessons learned from Covid-19 to alert governments to the next pandemic. Indeed, BlueDot, an AI company which uses machine learning to monitor outbreaks of infectious diseases around the world, told institutions about an unusual spike in pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China before the World Health Organisation confirmed the outbreak. Similarly, AI can further help analyse data collected throughout the various phases of the Covid-19 pandemic around the world. It can offer insights on the effectiveness of control measures, predict healthcare capacity, and help decision making.

Third, AI can offer commercial benefits for organisations as they attempt to achieve sustained operational efficiency under the current pressing circumstances. It can assist in answering queries, enhancing reporting speed and accuracy, and identifying and resolving operational bottlenecks.  For example, call centres can use chatbots to compensate for the lack of staff during extended lockdowns. Meanwhile, supermarket chains such as Saudi Arabia’s Danube Online have been using AI-enabled “aisle-mapping” technology. By using a mobile application, packers can locate items from an online customer’s order in a store.

If AI is to have maximum impact, however, governments must put in place the requisite supporting technology, regulation, and governance. These will enable large-scale adoption in response to the pandemic and promote broader economic transformation in the future.

Governments need to ensure that the supporting technology for AI is adequate, including development of standards for interoperability and technology integration, cloud infrastructure, connectivity and the establishment of centralised platforms for data management. These pillars will allow large datasets from various sources to be collected and managed in a robust manner, and thereby facilitate accurate conclusions and effective solutions. 

In terms of regulation, governments need to protect data privacy, data classification, anonymisation, purpose, and time limitation on data retention. These issues must be addressed from the outset, as they allay significant concerns relating to human rights. They will also boost uptake from the population, especially for voluntary tracing apps on personal smartphones.

Governments also need robust governance for AI. This means clear direction on data ownership, on the split of roles and responsibilities between relevant entities, and on funding and collaboration models between government and the private sector. Strong and clear governance would ensure the viability and sustainability of AI-enabled systems as they become the foundation stones for many vital processes and solutions in our society.

As the region starts to open its doors to business again, governments can ensure that AI plays a role in the recovery and the return to long-term growth.


May 16th 2020, 9:49 pm

MCKD launches grant program to support freelancers, SMEs


Source: The National

The Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development (MCKD) has launched a programme to support freelancers and SMEs in the creative industry, helping out those that have been impacted by the coronavirus crisis.

Freelancers, entrepreneurs and small businesses in the cultural and creative industries can apply for the grant on the MCKD's website beginning on Sunday, May 17. Applications will be open for seven days.

The grant is open to freelancers and SMEs in the UAE. Emiratis and residents can apply. Individuals can receive between Dh15,000 to 50,000 in aid.

Applicants could range from small visual arts companies to freelance photographers and videographers. More specifically, those who are eligible for the fund include individuals and entities working in the following fields: natural and cultural heritage, performing arts, visual arts, audiovisual and interactive media, literature, press and design. The full list of eligible professions can be found on the MCKD’s website.

The requests will be reviewed by a committee that will consider factors such as the amount of lost work or projects, the financial impact of Covid-19 on the individual or entity and the amount of content and work they produced in 2019. Priority will be given to those most affected by the crisis.

Continue reading the story

May 16th 2020, 6:32 pm

The future of SMEs after Covid-19


Rafael Lemaitre is a partner at consultancy SIA Partners and Maria Garrido is the manager of growth and innovation 

During 2019, we conducted (together with our friends of Changeist) extensive research on the long-term trends impacting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the context of the GCC region. We visualised the possible futures of how the competitive landscape of these enterprises will look like in the next 10 years. Our scenarios accounted for multiple factors, such as the shift in the productivity curve, the rapid increase of economic growth, the rise of automation, the displacement of the workforce, the skills-gap and the future skills required, among many others. Unfortunately, none of our scenarios accounted for the major disruption of Covid-19, which no doubt will have tremendous impact on the SME sector.

SMEs are key players in the global landscape, especially in emerging economies. On a global scale, SMEs represent 90 per cent of businesses and more than 50 per cent of employment according to the World Bank. Worldwide, SMEs are broadly focused on the service sector which is characterised by low entry costs and low resource requirements. Nevertheless, there is also a huge heterogeneity of SMEs, as a result of different market conditions. For example, in the UAE, according to the country’s Ministry of Economy, SMEs represent more than 98 per cent of the total number of companies operating in the country, contributing towards 52 per cent of the non-oil GDP. 

Entire sectors, such as hospitality, food and beverage, entertainment, tourism and travel, will have to be at least reshaped if not totally reinvented. These sectors constitute an important base of the economy of the GCC countries. 

Covid-19 scenarios range from a deep-steep to an optimistic recovery

Scenarios for the world economy post-Covid-19, range from a deep-steep (L-Shape economic growth) to an optimistic recovery (V-Shape). Within the range, there are all types of possibilities as key variables are widely unknown, including virus containment, ripple and systemic effects of economic shutdowns.

We believe that regardless of the shape of the scenario, we will be experiencing a “new normal” where not only economic but also social behaviours will drastically change. This will comprise a change in social dynamics (i.e. social distancing, restricted public events/entertainment), values (i.e. support to local businesses, value added to consumers/users, impact on wellbeing), consumer behavior (i.e. different expenditure priorities, less disposable income, online over brick and mortar), international travel decline (i.e. quarantine while traveling inside/outside countries), among others.

Winners and Losers

In such a context and based on the changes of the five trends analysed, we have laid out a set of potential impacts that SMEs will face once all the dust settles and the world moves into the “new normal”. 

In the short term, the focus for SMEs is to stay alive, through the capacity to react, act and adapt to the current situation. This implies identifying and adjusting to the changes not only from the customers’ preferences, behaviours and needs, but also from the suppliers, networks, employees, and those untapped.

For those SMEs that manage to navigate through the current crisis and stay alive, there will be new opportunities that could emerge in the long term. 

Trend 1: Culture of entrepreneurship / Venture culture

Pre-Covid-19 situation:

·   Venture capital culture has been on the rise

·   Major successful exists have boosted the morale of entrepreneurs

·   Young age of average entrepreneurs 

·   Large number of SMEs operating in the service industry, F&B, and traditional economic sectors

·   Startups emerging are mainly from the service industry using “traditional” technology. Absence of deep technology in new ventures

Wild Guess #1: How the future of entrepreneurship could look like in the region after Covid-19:

·   There will be new fields of play for SMEs and startups in health, wellbeing, agritech, in-home entertainment, cybersecurity, virtual reality, food, online delivery.

·   VC appetite for traditional technologies and service platforms will be further diminished, prioritising deep-tech investments

·   The entrepreneurship landscape of the region could take a significant step back

·   Many SMEs will disappear, especially those in the most affected economic sectors that do not have solid digital capabilities or the ability to digitise parts of their business model

·   Only the few SMEs or startups working with deep technology will be significantly better off

Trend 2: Education needs upgrading – New skills development

Pre-Covid-19 situation:

·   Despite a shortfall of STEM education, GCC governments are investing massively in upgrading education

·   New tertiary education offers new knowledge fields (e.g. MBZ University of AI, or 1 Million Coders Initiative), although low level of post-graduate enrolment will remain

·   High reliance on expatriate human capital for delivering advanced levels of education

·   Limited success of previous MOOCs and online distance learning platforms

Wild Guess #2: How SMEs will cope with the future skills required

·   Covid-19 will fast forward the mass adoption of distance learning adoption 

·   It will accelerate automation and create demand for new knowledge and skills

·   It will put even more pressure on advanced degrees and STEM education

·   SMEs owners/founders will have to upskill and reskill themselves 

·   GCC Governments will accelerate the development of micro degrees and micro training, as well as push for developing technology skills and advanced degrees. 

Major trend 3: Technology Uptake and 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR)

Pre-Covid-19 situation:

·   4IR industrial sector expected to be 20 per cent of GDP in 2030

·   UAE and KSA (which together account for 70 per cent of technology spending in the region) are encouraging tech-driven business around internet of things (IoT), robotics, health, biotech, etc.

·   High level of investment creates barriers for SMEs to enter these sectors

Wild Guess #3: How the future of 4IR for SMEs could look like 

·   4IR technologies will take a big boost as work becomes more remote, less reliant on physical interactions

·   As companies will look to de-risk global supply chains, decentralisation and the use of alternative manufacturing like 3D-printing will grow 

·   GCC governments will place even more focus on boosting 4IR agendas and policies 

·   Less funding will be available and financial pressure will increase the barriers for SMEs

Major trend 4: Financing availability for SMEs

Pre-Covid-19 situation:

·   While new funding mechanisms like peer-to-peer (P2) lending, crowdfunding are still incipient in the region, they are gaining traction and SMEs are getting used to them

·   Mega funding initiatives are being deployed in Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia, which are injecting capital into the ecosystem

·   Sovereign wealth funds are looking to create local impact 

·   High levels of disposable income and saving capacity of GCC citizens and residents can become an influx for new funding mechanisms

·   Low level of interest from traditional banks towards SMEs means there is limited funding mechanisms available

Wild Guess #4 – What the future of the new financial models for SMEs will look like

·   Disposable income will be seriously impacted, reducing drastically new funding mechanisms.

·   Investors will look to safer assets like gold and low risk investments

·   GCC citizens and residents will prioritise cash availability and low-risk investments over riskier investments for example P2P for SMEs

·   Financial stress on SMEs could increase the number of defaults on their P2P loans, eroding confidence in this mechanism

·   Government-backed funding mechanisms for SMEs will allocate larger sums of capital, although many existing SMEs funded pre-Covid will most likely default on their loans, causing larger stress in the system

·   The indifference of banks towards SMEs will only be intensified, creating more stringent lending criteria and banking requirements

Major trend 5: Regulatory evolution impacting SMEs

Pre-Covid-19 situation:

·   Countries start moving towards long-term and flexible visa programmes

·   Changing bankruptcy laws and incentives for setting up new businesses

·   Introduction of VAT and additional taxes on the rise

Wild Guess #5 – What the future of regulation on SMES will look like

·   New restrictions could be imposed on mobility of people given health concerns

·   Governments to relax further long-term visas aiming to attract and retain residents

·   New taxes could be introduced to fund healthcare expenditure

·   Starting a business could be easier as governments will relax restrictions and reduce costs for SMEs

·   While GCC-owned SMEs will keep having preferential treatment and incentives, governments could start relaxing further restrictions for non-GCC founders

·   There will be more pressure coming from countries outside the GCC, who manage to offer better incentives and leaner regulation

In light of uncertainty, it is important to stabilise and explore. While there is no single path forward for SMES, a short recommended path of action is to stabilise exploitation activities while focusing on exploring new horizons:

SMEs that are able to successfully focus on both will be able to navigate the crisis, others will face the risk of disappearing.



May 13th 2020, 9:14 pm

Shahry raises $650,000 in pre-seed


Egypt-based online lending startup Shahry, has closed a $650,000 pre-seed round from the investment arm of EGBANK. 

Powered by a proprietary artificial intelligence  (AI)-based credit scoring engine, the financial technology (fintech) company allows its users to apply for contactless, virtual credit, place an order online and then pay fees later in monthly installments. 

“While Shahry is for everyone, we can see Egypt’s un- and underbanked, who live outside of the formal banking system, as being our largest customer segment. Those are people who need access to finance most, and we try to help them make ends meet,” said Sherif ElRakabawy, CEO of Shahry who claims that this is the first time a bank has invested directly in a fintech startup in Egypt.

The company further claims to have recently seen an uptick in demand and achieved more than 100 per cent month-on-month growth.

"We see a great potential in Shahry and the area of financial non-banking services in Egypt, and are looking into investment opportunities that offer innovative solutions for lending. In alignment to this belief, we strive to complement the vision and destination of EGBANK, aiming to center the youth at the heart of its organisation and support young entrepreneurs and innovation," said Mohamed Moheyeldin, CEO of Egyptian Gulf Holding for Financial Investments.

May 13th 2020, 11:05 am

Tunisian Parliment supports startups with €66.9 million loan agreement


Source: Tunis Afrique Presse

The House of People's Representatives (HPR), on Tuesday, passed a loan agreement amounting to €66.9 million (about 208.580 million dinar) to support startups and innovative SMEs in Tunisia.

The loan agreement, signed between the Republic of Tunisia and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) on January 30, 2020, aims to help Tunisia achieve the objectives of a five-year programme for the creation of 1,000 startups and consequently the creation of 10,000 jobs.

The programme also aims to achieve a cumulative turnover of 1 billion dinars and to set up a giant Tunisian start-up with global reach (ICORNE).

456 applications have been submitted for startup labels since April 2019, of which 268 applications have been approved.

May 13th 2020, 10:36 am

[Report Launch] The Impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on the entrepreneurship ecosystem


Wamda and Arabnet have joined efforts to conduct research for a report on the impact of COVID-19 on the startup ecosystem across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), and will be launching the findings in an online event on Tuesday, May 18th, at 3:00 PM (GMT+4).

The report features findings based on data collected from 247 startup founders from across the region including the UAE, KSA, Egypt, and with research supplemented by Arabnet and Wamda. The report aims to identify the extent of the impact of Covid-19 on the region’s entrepreneurship sector and the measures that can be taken to alleviate the financial stress on startups. 

Register to attend.

May 13th 2020, 8:59 am

Mustafa Koita: Your modern-day milkman


The majority of entrepreneurs work in the corporate world for several years before something triggers their decision to leave and start their own business. For Mustafa Koita, this trigger was a new boss with whom he had a “big falling out”.

So he quit his job as vice president at Boeing, where he had honed his sales skills in the company’s defence and national security department and decided to launch Koita Foods in 2015 in Dubai, which began as a trading and distribution company. Koita quickly pivoted to introduce his own brand of organic long-life milk.

Today, Koita Milk is stocked in 10 countries including Vietnam, the Philippines and Mauritius and is further expanding into Europe in a market traditionally dominated by large conglomerates. Even during the Coronavirus pandemic, Koita Milk has managed to grow, particularly in e-commerce, which now account for a third of its sales.

We spoke with Mustafa Koita about his startup’s journey.

How did you go from selling weapons to selling milk?

My family has always had a passion for healthy living and food. I decided to quit, took some pension money and I got into milk because I had relatives in food. I took my life savings and jumped into something I had no experience in. I went to a lot of trade shows and I tried to get an agency from a big milk company, but they said no. When someone tells me no, I always like the challenge, I said fine, I will prove you wrong.

So how did you start?

I did a lot of market research and we interviewed 1000 mothers and had some focus groups. We asked them what they wanted in a milk product. We quickly realised there was only one long-life milk player [in the UAE] offering semi-skimmed milk and no vitamins, so it was a huge opportunity. I went to 23 farms around the world and we honed in on Italy for a number of reasons. Geographically Europe was close, and the quality of the milk and taste profile of Italian milk superseded everyone else’s. I found a company that was family-owned so we signed a contract.

We started with just two SKUs [stock keeping unit], now we have 18 SKUs including plant-based milks in 10 countries. We’re the leading player in certain categories and my competition is multi-million dollar companies.

How did you fund this?

I funded this all on my own. We brought it to market and we had no money whatsoever, but every time we launched an SKU it cost a lot of money – the listing the marketing. It forced us to be very laser focused. I still own 100 per cent of the business, we’re self-funding our growth and have virtually no debt whatsoever and that’s a personal choice.

The traditional thinking is that if you don’t have money, you won’t be able to compete with the big guys – if that is the case then no company would ever start. Our thinking is that we won’t compete in places we can’t, but we will compete where we can.

How did supermarket buyers react to your product?

We had these two beautiful products, the buyers thought they were great, but they asked us “where is your million-dollar marketing budget?”. It was very difficult when we did the initial launch, they had to take something off the shelf that was selling and take a chance on us. I had to use my salesmanship and I was able to get in front of the right people. We sold out every month in the first three months.

Why do you think it was so well received?

What I underestimated was the proprietary research, I didn’t realise how valuable it was. We sent those 1000 mothers an email telling them we’d launched the milk. The mothers felt like it was their product. Right around the time I launched, Instagram influencers were also taking off. We did unique grassroots marketing – coffee mornings with mums, where we would pick 10 mums who had one thousand followers each on Instagram. At that time didn’t have rate cards and so they would all post unpaid. It converged the online and offline.

What were the challenges you faced in the beginning?

Whatever happens in your personal life impacts 95 per cent of your business life. It takes a toll on your family and kids, it’s tough in the beginning. When I was starting the company, it was hard. I didn’t have money, no one knew who I was, this market is tough. I am part of a network called EO [Entreprenuers’ Organization] and they really took me through some tough times. They didn’t give me money, but there was always someone to talk to. Now I worry more about supply chains and all these other issues that come with growth.

How has the Coronavirus pandemic impacted your business?

Through this corona time we’ve been lucky to be in the centre of the storm on both sides – the demand side and the retail side which is booming. But it has affected our supply chain side. The Italian production of milk has been unscathed, and we have seen an increase in demand, but the challenge is in the logistics, freight costs have gone up and been delayed.

The market here in the Middle East is not very large, right now some of our bigger markets like the Philippines, Vietnam and US military, are balancing the volatility in the GCC and soon we’re going to launch in Europe.

Has it changed how you work?

We’re all working from home and we’ve realised remote working has some serious advantages. We’re going to start working from home more and it will affect my hiring decisions. I can hire oversees and they can be just as productive.

May 12th 2020, 8:53 pm

Invygo raises $1 million in pre-Series A


UAE-based car subscription platform Invygo, has raised $1 million, as part of a pre-Series A funding round led by EQ2 ventures, Class 5 Global, and 500 Startups.

Co-founded by Eslam Hussein and Pulkit Ganjoo in 2018, Invygo offers an alternative to traditional car rental. Through its app, Invygo enables its users to file a request to rent a car for a specific period of time. It allows them to choose a car of their choice, upload the licence picture, sign relevant documents and then have it delivered directly to their door.

“We are incredibly pleased to see further confidence from our investors with this latest funding round especially in the current climate,” said CEO and co-founder Hussein. “Our teams have received ongoing feedback from our customers stating they have seen the real value of the subscription model, over owning a car. With many people working from home and spending less time driving to and from work, our customers have been able to easily pause their subscription, swap to a less expensive car, or save money by choosing a lower mileage option.”

The company plans to use the funds to expand in the Middle East, invest in its technology and introduce new services to cater to a wider customer base.

“The Coronavirus crisis has now affected almost every part of our world; for many years to come, it will change the way we all move and commute,” said Patrick Thiriet, CEO at Equitrust. “Invygo’s value proposition looks even more relevant in this post-Covid19 world, with consumers still expecting to drive a car of their choice, but without the visibility to commit for 3 or 5 years.”

The latest funding follows the company's $1 million pre-seed round that was closed back in November 2019. Since then, Invygo claims to have tripled its customer base, increased its dealership partners from two to seven and now has 12 car brands onboard.


May 12th 2020, 7:52 am

Brimore raises $3.5 million in pre-Series A


Egypt-based direct-selling distribution platform Brimore, has raised $3.5 million in a pre-Series A round led by Algebra Ventures, with participation from Disruptech, Vision Ventures, 500 Startups, Flat6labs and other returning investors.

Co-founded in 2017 by Mohamed Abdulaziz, Ahmed Sheikha, and Mahmoud Refaay, Brimore directly connects domestic manufacturers to distributors who can sell and promote their products. It leverages a network of thousands of social sellers across Egypt, serving thousands of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and individuals seeking to expand their businesses with minimal initial capital.

“I am proud of the trust our investors are showing in Brimore. We continue to provide unique opportunities to our micro-distributors and suppliers in such a tough time. Our growth strategy was built on strong fundamentals and healthy unit economics which has enabled us to maintain 10X year-on-year growth while facing several challenges, including the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Abdulaziz, CEO and co-founder of Brimore.

The company intends to use the newly raised funds to strengthen product development, enhance its technology infrastructure and scale its team.

“For the past two years, on-the-ground operations and commercial planning have been the cornerstone of Brimore’s success,'' said Sheikha, chief brand officer and co-founder of Brimore. ‘We are now focusing on technology, data analytics and smart financial solutions to make a solid contribution. This new round of investment will enable us to expand our amazing team of star performers aspiring to transform the retail industry in Egypt.”

Tarek Assaad, managing partner at Algebra Ventures said: “We believe that the large base of consumers in Egypt is best served through customised technology solutions. Brimore is developing world-class technology for our local market which will open up tremendous untapped potential in distribution of goods.”

Last year, Brimore secured $800,000 in seed funding co-led by Algebra Ventures and Endure Capital.


May 11th 2020, 11:59 pm

Telgani raises seed funding


Saudi Arabia-based car rental platform Telgani, has closed a six figure seed funding round. The round was backed by 500 startups, Saudi venture capital company, impact46 and a group of angel investors.

Founded in 2018, Telgani allows its users to order a car to rent via its app, which is then delivered directly to the customer. The company now operates across more than 20 cities in Saudi Arabia and recently expanded to the UAE where it has more than 300 service providers listed. 

“We are experiencing one of the most significant and important developments towards vision 2030, and we consider ourselves fortunate to be in the position to join this movement in building a more efficient and sustainable car rental industry,” said Abdulkader Almkinzy, founder and CEO at Telgani 

Telgani claims to have and achieved a 300 per cent growth year-on-year for 2019. 

“[Our] marketing strategy takes place within two interrelated segments. On the corporate market, we have a focus on airports and hotel surroundings. While in the leisure segment, our rental services target agency owned facilities that are conveniently located within most major roads and metropolitan areas,” said Almkinzy.

The investment will enable the company to enhance its car-rental services and propel its expansion.

The car rental industry in the Middle East and North African (Mena) region is valued at $4 billion according to Telgani, with Saudi Arabia accounting for more than15 per cent of the market at about $600 million.

“Telgani is tackling a great opportunity in the car rental space, especially with customer behaviour currently changing to look for simple solutions of streamlining the long process of searching and renting transportation. We are proud of the Telgani team who are a top tier team that are playing a key role in the disruption of this market,” said Basmah Alsinaidi, financial analyst at Impact46. 

May 11th 2020, 11:59 pm

Blitzscaling and the COVID-19 crisis


Theory, a JV with MENA media giant StarzPlay, and its partner network Nat Geo and Discovery, and Harvard affiliates that bring the world's top %10 intellects in business and finance, will be hosting a live and interactive session 'Blitzscaling and the COVID-19 crisis' on May 13th at 9:30 PM (GMT+4) featuring Chris Yeh, the co-author, along with Reid Hoffman, of Blitzscaling.

Blitzscaling is a book that explains how to build world-changing companies like Amazon, Alibaba, and Airbnb in record time. Chris is a writer, investor, and entrepreneur, and has had a ringside seat in the world of startups and scaleups since 1995 that will be sharing tips on growing fast with a strategy called Blitzscaling.

Register to tune in using code: WAMDA

May 11th 2020, 12:02 pm

ISSF allocates $7.5 million to Jordanian startups


Source: Jordan Times

The Innovative Startups and SMEs Fund (ISSF), a private-sector-managed fund making investments in innovative start-ups and early-stage SMEs, has announced a strategic reallocation of funding from the existing indirect investment funds to its direct investment companies to support Jordanian SMEs (small- and medium-size enterprises) and start-ups during the coronavirus pandemic. 

According to a recent statement from the fund, the ISSF is reallocating up to $7.5 million of indirect funding to direct companies in two or more steps, starting with $3 million at present.

A total of $2 million in funding will provide liquidity to start-ups that have been affected by the current crisis and require working capital, and $1 million to companies which seek to increase capital to modify their business models or their value propositions to address Covid-19 impacts and opportunities.

Laith Al Qasem, CEO of the ISSF, said in the statement: “As a response to Covid-19’s economic impact on SMEs in Jordan, the ISSF has reallocated money to this fund to support Jordanian SMEs and start-up companies to survive the global economic retraction." 

"We are here to support the entire Jordanian entrepreneurial ecosystem to weather the impacts of this global pandemic to not only survive but be in a position to thrive when the situation stabilises,” Qasem added.

Contrary to the traditional direct investments made by the ISSF thus far, the start-ups benefitting from the convertible notes will not need to have a lead investor, the statement said, adding that eligible start-ups must have already received funding from an institutional investor, which was previously not a requirement for ISSF’s traditional direct investments. The due diligence is covered by the ISSF team, the statement added.

The investment process for convertible notes is expected to be reduced to five weeks instead of the regular 10-week minimum timeline, starting from application submission day to the approval and sign-off.

May 11th 2020, 8:13 am

CVentures invests in London-based Countingup


Source: MenaBytes

CVentures, the venture capital arm of Egypt’s largest private bank CIB (Commercial International Bank) has invested in London-based fintech Countingup.

The investment was made as part of ~$5 million (£4 million) bridge round raised by the British startup. CVentrues did not disclose the size of their participation. The round was led by VC arm of a leading pan-European banking and financial services institution ING Group with the participation of local VCs (and CVentures).

Tim Fouracre, the founder and CEO of Countingup hinted that the Egyptian bank could potentially help them expand into Egypt, “We are thrilled to have ING Ventures and CVentures onboard. ING is a leading pan-European bank, and CIB is Egypt’s largest private sector bank with prospective geographic expansion plans underway, all of which present meaningful opportunities for Countingup as we look to expand outside of the UK in the coming years.”

The startup offers banking and accounting services to startups, freelancers, and self-employed self traders. It enables them to open a Countingup current account that comes with a suite of accounting and banking features (available through its mobile app).

Shady Tadross, Director at CVentures, commenting on the investment, said, “Countingup’s seamless solution reduces the costs and complexities associated with banking and accounting services for small businesses. This new approach makes it significantly easier for sole traders and micro-enterprises to manage their accounts, and run their business. CVentures is excited at the prospect of working closely with Countingup, and we look forward to helping Tim and his team achieve their vision and grow into additional markets.”

Continue reading the story

May 11th 2020, 6:55 am

How can we encourage more women to pursue entrepreneurship?


Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, Sana Afouaiz, founder of Womenpreneur, an organisation established to support women entrepreneurs, toured three countries in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) to gain an insight into the challenges faced by women founders in the region. In this article, Afouaiz outlines the steps needed to overcome these challenges.

If we put together the words “Mena region” and “women-led startups” into the same sentence most of us probably would not expect the following statement: one in three start-ups in the Middle East and North Africa region is founded or led by a woman, which is a much higher percentage than in Silicon Valley. Women in Arab countries make up for 34-57 per cent of STEM graduates, a figure which is also much higher than in universities across Europe and the US. This led us to ask ourselves: how come, given these numbers, the proportion of female workforce in 13 out of 15 Arab countries remains among the lowest in the world? 

The answer to this is neither short nor simple. It is safe to say, however, that the figures above unveil the amazing potential to be unlocked in the region. For this reason Womenpreneur Initiative and SANAD’s Entrepreneurship Academy joined forces to promote female tech entrepreneurship in the Mena region. The goal of this unprecedented empowerment campaign was to give visibility to women in tech, innovation and entrepreneurship as well as to provide platforms to assess the current state of the tech ecosystem in three countries: Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan. 

During the Womenpreneur Tour we interviewed female tech entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds. They shared with us what motivated them to launch their businesses, as well as every obstacle they encountered on their journey. Did you know that 71 per cent of Tunisian women started their enterprises with absolutely zero resources and zero support? Or that only 10 per cent of Moroccan women are entrepreneurs despite them representing half of the population of the country? Or that only 6 per cent of women entrepreneurs in Jordan are generating revenues exceeding $100,000?

Mindset as major drawback for women entrepreneurs in the region

Most of them point out mindset as the main barrier preventing women from having equal access to the job market or promotion opportunities. Traditional values in Arab countries are still deeply-rooted and this is reflected in recruitment processes for example, where women are still inquired about their marital status and left as second choice in the presence of a male competitor. High demands in the family setting are another major drawback for women to advance their career. This traditional mindset extends to the investment-seeking process too. Due to lack of precedent in the region, investors are more likely to distrust the profitability of women-led businesses. 

What can be done to eliminate these constraints?

Many argued that a change of mindset is slowly emerging. For example, Jordan recently passed a new labour law providing equal day care obligations to both female and male parents in the workplace. This is a great achievement but real changes are taking too long to materialise. During our tour across these countries we also interviewed multiple experts from various fields who shared their recommendations to make the tech ecosystem more accessible and fairer to women. Most of them agreed on the need for gender quotas in the public administration to ensure the involvement of women in strategic decision-making at the political level as well as in board of directors in the private sector to promote that they reach top management positions. Recruitment processes should be revised from a legal perspective as well in order to prevent gender-based discrimination due to marital and family status. On the other hand, many pushed for the need to break the glass ceiling as well as gender roles and stereotypes which traditionally portray women as more suitable in social and human sciences and men as more capable for physics, mathematics and technology. 

Further recommendations related to the financial sphere, where some of our experts suggest a democratisation of processes and requirements for opening a business bank account is needed. This would facilitate that women receive funds quickly to start their activities and demonstrate recorded payments and credit history. As a result, female tech entrepreneurs acquire financial credibility and are in a better position to fundraise further. Additionally, the creation of female-oriented or women-only funds for all stages of start-ups, in forms of government grants or equity investments, would facilitate women access to funding and present the investment-seeking process as one based on merit and business skills rather than a risk journey into gender discrimination.

What next?

After the great success of our tour we are embarking ourselves into a second edition that will explore three new countries: Algeria, Egypt and Lebanon. This time, however, in the context of the current Covid-19 crisis our aim is to find out how this pandemic is affecting female entrepreneurs’ lives across the Mena region and how the female talent is tackling this challenging situation and bringing about solutions. 

If you want to know more about all the inspiring female tech entrepreneurs we met, then watch our documentary

May 10th 2020, 8:49 pm

Source Beauty raises pre-seed funding


Egypt-based beauty e-commerce platform Source Beauty, has raised pre-seed funding from 500 Startups.

Founded in 2018 by Lydia Schoonderbeek, Source Beauty acts as a marketplace for beauty products sourced from 55 local brands. The company claims that its sales have  gone up seven-fold and simultaneously increased revenues nine-fold since its launch.

“We are very pleased to receive funding from 500 Startups to support Source Beauty on its growth journey. With a sustainable and scalable business model with substantial potential for further expansions, our strategy is to emulate Source Beauty’s concept in selected regional and global markets over the next three to five years,”  said Lydia Schoonderbeek, founder and CEO of Source Beauty. 

With the latest funding, the company plans to expand to regional markets, grow its team and further develop its platform.

“The local beauty market remains widely untapped and growing year-on-year at around 15 to 20 per cent. Keen on shaping the market while capturing a major share, we have introduced monthly beauty subscription boxes, a pillar in our value proposition, providing women with high-quality local alternatives that are affordable. Later on, in the year, we look forward to having further investors who support such initiatives to join us onboard,” said Schoonderbeek.

Egypt’s beauty market is expected to reach a market size of  $200 million, making it a significant contributor to the economy, noted the company in a press statement.

Sharif El-Badawi, managing partner Mena, at 500 Startups said: “Our mission at 500 Startups is to back talented entrepreneurs and help them create successful companies at scale and Source Beauty is one such company. Despite the current Covid-19 situation, we are delighted to have invested in this e-commerce beauty platform. We wish Lydia and her team the very best and look forward to seeing them scale their business to the next level and excel in the near future.”


May 10th 2020, 9:27 am

A conversation on mental health and the power of harnessing communities in the MENA region during un


Wamda and Microsoft for Startups are hosting 'A conversation on mental health and the power of harnessing communities in the MENA region during uncertain times' on Wednesday, May 13th at 3:00-5:00 PM.

The session, with two consecutive panels, will start with a discussion on mental health and the impact of COVID-19 on founders across Mena, followed by a conversation on community building, and the role of music, film, art, and culture in Mena. The sessions will be moderated by Wamda and Microsoft. 

Register below to join the session. 

Here's a look at who will be joining us for the sessions:



May 10th 2020, 4:37 am

Swvl raises over $20 million in new funding round


Source: MenaBytes

Swvl, the Cairo-born mobility startup quietly raised over $20 million in a new round right before the spread of Covid-19 in the region, MENAbytes has learned. The investment round which hasn’t been officially announced yet, we’ve learned, had both existing and new investors take part in it.

The round was also confirmed in the recent financials of Vostok New Ventures, the Swedish VC that co-led Swvl’s $42 million Series B-2 in June last year. Vostok in its 2020 Q1 report said that it invested $7 million in Swvl in a larger funding round in February 2020, pre Covid-19. The report by Vostok does not reveal the exact size of the round but we’ve learned it is between $24 to $28 million.

Swvl connects commuters with private buses on its network (that operate on fixed routes), allowing them to book the rides through its app and pay using a credit card or cash. Started with Cairo in 2017, Swvl which is now headquartered in Dubai operates its service in six cities across three countries, including Kenya, where it expanded in early 2019 and Pakistan where it launched a month after announcing its $42 million round.

Swvl has also been taking part in different initiatives across all its markets to help the community in these tough times.

The hiring spree suggests that Swvl is preparing to execute its expansion plans once the Covid-19 situation improves.

Continue reading the story

May 7th 2020, 9:49 am

How do you maintain the relevance of a brand?


Jones the Grocer is one of the UAE's longest standing restaurants, but few are aware of the legal and financial difficulties faced by Yunib Siddiqui, the man who introduced the brand to the country, as he attempted to build the chain amid a competitive food and beverage market. Now, the Coronavirus pandemic has hurled yet another challenge at Siddiqui. In this podcast we explore the ways businesses can navigate unexpected difficulties and how, with limited resources you can maintain the relevancy of your brand. 

May 6th 2020, 8:55 pm

Grintafy raises $1.25 million seed


Saudi Arabia-based Grintafy Technologies, has raised $1.25 million in a seed funding round led by Wa'ed Ventures, with participation from Nafithat Al Mustagbal Investments.

The sportstech startup, which operates a talent discovery platform for amateur footballers was founded by Majdi Al-Lulu and allows its users to find, join or organise games, rate players based on their performance while facilitating booking services for fields, referees, coaches and others. 

“With this investment and based on the current data and analytics available, our team is keen on working towards helping the kingdom’s vision in the sports domain, come to life,” said Al-Lulu.

Grintafy will use the funds to invest in its technology, introduce new products to its business clientele including scouts, clubs and academics, grow its teams and expand geographically.

“Grintafy has great prospects to improve the local scouting domain for sports athletes, improve amateur talent, and further develop the regional sports industry,” said Wassim Basrawi, managing director at Wa’ed Ventures. “The platform has achieved promising milestones, and with Wa’ed Ventures’ investment and support, the company has a strong promise to democratise sports scouting.”


May 6th 2020, 10:01 am

Online food delivery: The disruption heading to destruction


Uber Eats has exited the Middle East, or rather passed the baton onto its wholly-owned regional subsidiary, Careem. The publicly listed company made the announcement in a filing shortly before Careem announced a 31 per cent job cut and the suspension of its bus service. Being a unicorn clearly provides no magic to protect against the impact of the Coronavirus.

In total, Uber has pulled its Eats business out of eight markets (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE as well as Czech Republic, Honduras, Romania, Ukraine and Uruguay) which together account for just 1 per cent of the company’s total revenues. Although an insignificant portion of their business, it signifies defeat in the face of one of the most competitive sectors in technology – online food delivery.

But it’s not just Uber Eats that has struggled, the majority of third-party food aggregators around the world have yet to turn a profit, the notable exception is UK-based Just Eat which until recently left it to the restaurants to fulfil the actual delivery of orders.

The rest run at a loss, backed by vast amounts of venture capital (VC) money and up until now, investors have been happy to plough hundreds of millions into the likes of UK headquarted Deliveroo and US-based Grubhub in a bid to secure the largest market share. But the Covid-19 pandemic is causing damage to these companies. Deliveroo, which last month secured regulatory approval for investment from Amazon, is currently at risk of collapse.

Instead of delivering burritos and burgers, third-party aggregators have now started delivering groceries as people around the world keep a closer eye on expenses and take advantage of time at home to cook. But this pivot has not been enough to shield them from the overall loss in demand as a result of the pandemic.

The “cash-guzzling” business model that focuses on fast growth in order to attain market leadership and thus eventually lead to profit, is one backed by a “disruption” story and the promise of profitability. VC firms, particularly in Silicon Valley, were not only charmed by charismatic entrepreneurs, but supported the lofty valuations based on top-line growth instead of profitability in their hopes to make a good return on their investment. But this business model has crumbled. It started with Softbank and is now at the door of online food delivery aggregators. High cash burn startups are not pandemic-proof and investors are now enacting triage, demanding clearer routes to profitability, and increasingly, determining the valuation of startups themselves.

High Commissions

For the food aggregators in particular, the disruption they initially brought to the food and beverage (F&B) market brought efficiency and ease and, in many cases, great exposure to the restaurants. But with commission rates of 30 per cent on every order, which can sometimes be as high as 35 per cent, they have eroded the oxygen of their own supply chain.

“At the beginning they turn you on, they give you a lot of customers and then it starts to disappear, then they say you need to discount. How many businesses can afford to give up 30 per cent of income?” says Ian Ohan, founder of Krush Brands, who decided to shun the third-party aggregators and set up his own ordering platform instead. “They think they own us, but I’m their customer and that’s the amazing thing, they don’t treat you like that.”

For the aggregators that fulfil the last mile delivery, their losses run even deeper. The cost of delivery in the UAE is about Dh25 ($7) per order, right now customers pay about Dh7. Even third-party last mile delivery providers run at a loss, charging Dh13-18 for each delivery. At every stage of the process, a loss is incurred, and this loss is currently subsidised by the investors.

“Last mile delivery is a cost centre, not profit. It costs me Dh20 to deliver one order, it costs Deliveroo more because their drivers are idle until an order comes through. It is not a very efficient business model,” says Ohan.

The only way it can become efficient is with bulk delivery – where one driver delivers to multiple customers in one trip. The only company that is doing this in the region is UAE-based LUNCH:ON and DailyMealz in Saudi Arabia.

Since the lockdown, and restrictions on restaurant opening times and dining capacity, restaurants have suffered greatly. In Dubai, 100 members of the F&B industry including Marriott International and café chain Tim Hortons signed an open letter stating that they are losing more money staying open during the pandemic than by remaining closed. They urge the government to “intervene and find a solution”, requesting an extension of licences, waiver of tax and a reduction in the fees charged by the aggregators. The restaurants claim to be losing Dh1 billion ($272 million) a month during the pandemic.

A campaign on social media started by food blogger Food Sheikh called on the aggregators to lower their commission rate. Careem NOW responded by dropping its rate to 15 per cent across its markets, the others like Talabat and Deliveroo have not budged. And so Food Sheikh in partnership with UAE-based Chatfood, launched – a commission-free website that allows consumers to order directly from the restaurant.

Within days 300 restaurants had signed up to the platform, today there are more than 1000 restaurants listed.

“We’ve had restaurants that have said their direct orders have matched those coming in from big aggregators which is really, really positive. Others have had their orders triple. And some have had to close because they’ve had so many orders come through – these are all really positive feedback,” he says.


The online food delivery market globally is worth $123 billion according to Statista with 1.1 billion users. Despite the recent slowdown, consumers will not seize ordering their meals online, but the sector is currently ripe for another disruption – one with healthier unit economics.

One solution is a subscription-based model, where restaurants pay a monthly fee to access an online food ordering software instead of paying commissions on every order. This model initially emerged in the Middle East, developed by ChatFood, whose technology allows consumers to order directly from the restaurant’s website or social media channels.

“We built ChatFood to help restaurants take back control. The delivery business picked up drastically through Deliveroo and Uber Eats, it was a great new sales channel, but the restaurants lost business and their relationship with their customers,” says Benjamin Mouflard, co-founder at ChatFood. “This represents a massive part of their revenue that is going to a third party that are charging 30 per cent fees on every order.”

ChatFood aims to help restaurants “find the right balance” between having direct channels to their customers as well as maintaining a presence on third-party aggregators. Unlike the aggregators, ChatFood gives the restaurants access to valuable customer behaviour data.

“This enables a healthy and sustainable ecosystem. We created a community concept, you can order from all other restaurants that use our technology without putting in your credit card details every time. This is the main killer of online ordering, the hassle of signing up every time when ordering from individual restaurants. We provide this unified ordering experience across all the restaurants,” says Mouflard.

Right now, the aggregators have a lower customer acquisition cost, which tips the power in their favour, but this is slowly changing as restaurants begin to come together against the conditions imposed by the aggregators.

“We were on all of them to see what it meant for us. I determined early on there was nothing good from being on those third-party platforms,” says Ohan.

No matter how the battle between the two pans out, the winner will be determined by the consumer. Studies show that consumers tend to order regularly from four or five restaurants and so if restaurants can offer their customers the same ease and convenience that platforms like Deliveroo can offer, the landscape could change.

Afterall, not only is it easier to order your favourite meal from your favourite restaurant through Whatsapp, it is also less time-consuming and more personable than browsing a plethora of deals and restaurants on an aggregator platform.


May 5th 2020, 9:04 pm

Hikma Ventures invests in US-based Altoida


Hikma Ventures, the venture capital arm of Jordan-based Hikma Pharmaceuticals has invested an undisclosed sum in US-based Altoida, a predictive digital biomarker company.

The latest funding follows the company's $6.3 million Series A round that was closed back in 2019.

Founded in 2016, Altoida uses technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning and augmented reality to collect functional and cognitive biomarkers to help identify people with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) due to Alzheimer's disease- with up to 94 per cent accuracy. 

"We are excited to invest in Altoida and their digital health technology, which is helping patients and healthcare providers by reinventing digital biomarkers to drive better clinical outcomes for brain disease," said Lana Ghanem, managing director at Hikma Ventures. "This is the latest example of Hikma Ventures commitment to supporting innovative companies utilising machine learning and other cutting-edge technologies to meaningfully improve patients' lives."

Altoida  plans to utilise the fund to promote its growth and expand its footprint in the US and other global markets including Japan, Brazil, and Europe. 

"Hikma Ventures is a highly reputable venture capital firm, and we share a common vision of putting better health within reach for millions of people across the globe," said Richard Fischer, president and CEO at Altoida. "Their investment in Altoida during these unprecedented times is a testament to their belief in the strength of our company and the value of our digital health technology. Hikma Ventures is the perfect addition to our investor syndicate and an important partner as we continue to execute on our clearly defined commercialisation strategy."


May 5th 2020, 7:15 am

Careem cuts more than 500 jobs across all markets


Source: The National

Ride-hailing company Careem is shedding 31 per cent of its workforce to offset the impact of coronavirus-related restrictions on its business across the Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan, with the company’s chief executive not expecting a recovery until late next year.

The pandemic, which has tipped the global economy towards a recession expected to be the deepest since the Great Depression, pushed Careem’s core ride-hailing business down by as much as 90 per cent and its delivery business by 60 per cent in some of the markets it operates in, Mudassir Sheikha told The National.

The company has also paused further investment plans in its mass transport 'Careem BUS' venture as it tries to conserve cash to ride out the storm.

“Our [overall] business is down 80 per cent and with that sort of reduction in the business, our losses are multiplying rapidly as well,” Mr Sheikha, who is also one of the Dubai company's co-founders, said.

“Unfortunately, we had to look at our people cost, which is of course the most disruptive change you could make in an organisation … that still wants to go after the future opportunities … but still has to survive in the short-term.”

Covid-19 has infected more than 3.5 million people and killed more than 247,000 worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The pandemic has forced governments to close borders, shut all non-essential businesses and confine billions across continents to their homes in a bid to stem the spread of the virus.

Careem reacted quickly to the outbreak and with its cost saving exercise, has “better appreciation of the recovery timeline”, Mr Sheikha said.

“The current expectation is that the recovery will not happen fully until sometime late next year” to the same level as before the crisis.

The job cuts will see Careem reduce its headcount across the board, according to Mr Sheikha’s blog post to Careem employees.

"There is no easy way to say this, so I will get straight to the point: starting tomorrow and for the next three days, 536 of our colleagues who make up 31 per cent of Careem will leave us. We delayed this decision as long as possible so that we could exhaust all other means to secure Careem," Mr Sheikha wrote.

Over the last seven weeks the company has looked critically at its cost base and stopped all non-essential spending, which also includes indefinitely halting the new benefits announced earlier in the year.

"While we have achieved significant savings from these efforts, they have sadly not been enough," he wrote.

"While the details vary slightly from market to market, we have arranged at least three months of severance pay, one month of equity vesting, and where relevant, extended visa and medical insurance for you and your families until the end of the year", he wrote.

The aim of the reorganisation is to make Careem a self-sustaining company by the end of this year, he said without specifying how much Careem would save in costs.

Continue reading this story

May 5th 2020, 6:45 am

Instabug secures $5 million Series A round


Instabug, the in-app feedback and bug reporting software company, has raised $5 million in a Series A round. The investment round was led by Accel Partners with participation of angel investors including Amr Awadallah, co-founder of Cloudera, and Jim Payne, founder and CEO of MoPub.

Founded in Egypt by Moataz Soliman and Omar Gabr in 2012, Instabug provides mobile developers with real-time contextual insights throughout the entire mobile app lifecycle, using its bug and feedback reporting, secure crash reporting and in-app surveys. The company relocated its headquarters to San Francisco in 2016 after graduating from the Y Combinator acceleration programme.

Instabug started with a simple means for testers and beta users to report bugs by shaking their device, it gained popularity quickly among developers. Over the years, Instabug became a platform that provides mobile apps with contextual insights about how their apps are performing in its production environments.

Since the Covid-19 outbreak, Instabug has seen a growth of 45 per cent since January, reflecting the surge in usage. It is designed to streamline the communication between QA and Developers which saw increased relevance in relation to self-isolation and social distancing measures.

Currently, thousands of apps are using Instabug including 28 of the top 100 apps on the App Store. The system is now serving 2.5 billion devices worldwide.

“We grew 120 per cent in revenues in the last 12 months, adding dozens of enterprise customers. We’ve always been running a disciplined business, we’re almost profitable for some time now. This is what made our fundraising fast in the middle of all the current events,” said Omar Gabr, co-founder and CEO at Instabug. “We’ve been working with Accel since 2016 and we’re very excited to continue our partnership.”

Instabug raised $1.7 million in its last funding round in 2016, which was also led by Accel Partner to expand beyond mobile app bug reporting. It was reporting across 300 million devices then.

May 5th 2020, 5:15 am

The startup finding better jobs for blue-collar workers


Unscrupulous recruitment agencies often lure blue-collar staff to the Gulf with false promises about wages and working conditions, charging migrant workers exorbitant fees that can take several years to repay. Aspiring to find a solution to this long-standing problem, which also troubles employers, Spandana Palaypu forsook a graduate trainee opportunity with an accountancy firm to launch ZoEasy.

Palaypu, grew up in Dubai, where her company is based. An extrovert by nature, she has always enjoyed chatting with everyone she meets, from shop staff to waiters.

“Out of curiosity, I’d ask how they decided to take a job abroad, and almost every time I’d hear they’d paid large sums of money to a broker back home, sometimes up to $3,000,” says Palaypu, noting that blue-collar job seekers often go through many intermediaries to get work.

“Although employers have clear descriptions of the job and salary, this information becomes exaggerated as it travels through these layers, so job seekers get sold a dream, which is far from reality, and they end up in jobs that they may be unprepared or overqualified for,” Palaypu says. “I've met a teacher who was working as a toilet cleaner and a waiter who’s actually a software engineer, for example.”

The Modus Operandi 

In order to get a better deal for blue-collar workers, ZoEasy works with ethical employers that have demonstrably strong human resources and corporate social responsibility practices and which provide blue-collar employees with visas, airfare, appropriate accommodation, transportation and access to other resources.

First, though, ZoEasy analyses job seekers’ experience and skills so it can place them in suitable roles.

“This skillset doesn't just mean the type of work they've done before or qualifications they have - we also try to understand their personality because soft skills play a key role. If you’re a good communicator, for example, you don't necessarily have to work in a specific field,” Palaypu explains.

“We look at it from the job seeker's perspective to see how best they’d fit into the job market, and if they don't have those qualifications, we guide them on how they could improve their skills. After this, we place them with an appropriate employer.”

The First Steps

ZoEasy, which has a seven-member team, began by approaching job seekers active on social media as well as regional governments in Asian countries, such as India. Through this, it created a database of 65,000 people looking for work in the UAE. The company then selected 100 to participate in a proof-of-concept pilot.

This process was painstakingly conducted offline in order to identify the difficulties that both job seekers and employers experience. Using this data, ZoEasy is now taking these processes online to create a platform that is more scalable and efficient to use.

During the pilot, ZoEasy was able to find employment for all 100 job seekers, who now enjoy better working conditions and higher salaries than they had previously.

Recognition and the Road Ahead

These successes helped the company win the Lead2030 UN SDG Challenge, which focuses on 10 of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). ZoEasy applied in the SDG 4 category, where the focus is on quality education.

As a programme sponsor, Credit Suisse gave ZoEasy a $50,000 grant and also mentored the startup to help it hone its marketing, technology and overall business strategy. ZoEasy has also received $100,000 as a winner of Expo Live’s Innovation Impact Grant, an Expo 2020 Dubai Initiative.

The for-profit company charges employers a recruitment fee for every successful placement. This is typically equivalent to a month’s salary of the recruited employee. It aims to place 100,000 blue-collar workers in jobs within the next three to five years.

For now, ZoEasy will focus on ethically employing job seekers in the UAE but has longer-term plans to expand to the wider Middle East and beyond. Palaypu comments:

“Job seekers are often so ingrained in the system they're sometimes unaware of the alternatives, so when you tell them you’re not going to charge them anything for providing a SERVICE, it seems too good to be true, and many still end up wanting to use a broker or [intermediary] who's going to charge them a lot of money. As our word-of-mouth reputation grows, and by combining technology with the right partnerships, this becomes less of an issue.”


May 4th 2020, 9:43 pm

UberEats shuts down in UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt


Source: Reuters

Uber (UBER.N) said on Monday it was closing down its Uber Eats operations in eight markets because they did not offer a clear route to becoming the number one or number two online food delivery operator, its stated aim for its Eats business.

“We have made the decision to discontinue Uber Eats in Czech Republic, Egypt, Honduras, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, and Uruguay, and to wind down the Eats app and transition operations to Careem in UAE,” a Uber spokesman said.

“This continues our strategy of focusing our energy and resources on our top Eats markets around the world.”

Uber said its core rides business was unaffected in all of the markets.

Operations will cease by June 4 in the markets, apart from UAE, where they will transition to Careem, its wholly-owned subsidiary operating primarily in the Middle East. About 50 full-time roles would be affected, it said.

Uber said the discontinued and transferred markets represented 1% of Eats gross bookings and 4% of Eats adjusted core earnings losses in Q1 2020.

May 4th 2020, 10:19 am

World’s first Halal Angels Network aims to tap $5trn


Source: Trade Arabia

The World’s First Halal Angels Network was launched to promote Innovation, entrepreneurship & startups to tap $5 trillion, as the Halal consumer market is on track to grow to $9.71 trillion by 2025.

It was launched during the Covid-19 pandemic to help investors, businesses, entrepreneurs & startups overcome these challenging times.It is founded by Indian American Dr Tausif Malik, who is a serial entrepreneur based out of Pune, India, and Chicago, USA. India is the biggest manufacturer of Halal consumer goods and has huge market opportunities in the Middle East, North Africa, and Southeast Asia.

Halal Angels Network would be the 1st Angels Network backed by Blockchain technology. The areas of interest for investments would be future technologies (Blockchain, Fintech AI, etc), Modest Fashion & Cosmetics, Retail, Pharmaceuticals, Food Cafe & Restaurants, Processed Food & Tourism.

 According to Dr Malik to it is an extension of his earlier initiative of All India Muslim Business Startup Network (AIMBSN), India's only (AIMBSN) is a very unique business ecosystem and the objective of the All India Muslim Business Startup Network (AIMBSN) is to create an entrepreneurial spirit and participation amongst the Indian Muslim community, so they can participate and contribute back to the economic activity of India.Halal Angels Network would be based on the traditional format of Angels Network where membership would be offered to Angel investors, Investment corporations, organizations, and, startup and they could network with each other for investments and business. 

 Halal Angels Network is also setting up offices in GCC, Europe, and South East Asia. Halal Angels Network would be hosting Halal Angels & Venture Capital Two Day Summit 2021, for Networking, Startup Showcase & Strategic Partnership.

“When discussed this idea with the investment and startup community; they all got excited about the Halal Angels Network platform and the consensus was this would be win-win situation for everyone to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic,” Dr Malik concluded.

May 4th 2020, 6:16 am

The rise of contactless payments


In a part of the world more comfortable with cash on delivery (COD) rather than online or even card payments, the notion of contactless delivery has unleashed an operational shift for online retailers as well as brick and mortar shops that now encourage payment by card in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19.

In a global consumer study conducted by Mastercard in March this year, 70 per cent of respondents in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region stated they now use some form of contactless payments for safety and hygiene purposes with 81 per cent of the respondents saying they will continue to use contactless post-pandemic. We spoke with Gaurang Shah, senior vice president of digital payments & labs, Mastercard MEA to get a better understanding of the trends that have emerged in the contactless payments space.

1. What patterns have you seen since the start of the Coronavirus outbreak?

As people around the world practice social distancing, this has led a growing number of merchants to encourage consumers to pay using contactless methods over cash to avoid human-to-human contact.

In line with the mandate from global health authorities, we have noticed that governments and financial institutions across the region are stressing on the importance of adopting contactless and mobile payment methods to avoid contact with payment terminals or dealing with cash. Central Banks across the region, notably, in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and Egypt have also increased the cardholder verification method (CVM) limit to improve purchaser experiences.

Several players across industries including food delivery aggregators, retailers, supermarkets and gas stations are adapting to the changing environment. They are also encouraging customers to adopt contactless and mobile payment methods and use apps and online stores to conduct transactions to limit human-to-human contact. As this situation unfolds, we continue to see a rise in people who are embracing these safe and hygienic solutions as their preferred form of payment every day.

2. What has been the growth rate of contactless payments?

In 2019, the Middle East and Africa region saw 200 per cent growth in contactless transactions. Today almost 1 in 9 Mastercard transactions at point-of-sale (POS) terminals in MEA are contactless. We have worked with various industry partners and sectors in multiple markets to increase the use of digital and contactless payment technology in an effort to enhance safety, security, speed and convenience in the payment experience for cardholders.

In an era of digitisation, contactless technology is already at the forefront of payment solutions – it’s safe, unique to every purchase, reduces the risk of loss or counterfeit, and makes the shopping experience convenient and hassle-free.

3. Does this mark the end for cash on delivery methods?

The region is home to a youthful tech-savvy population that is constantly connected and on the go. A 2019 GSMA report titled Mobile Economy in the Middle East and North Africa indicates that the youth account for 30 per cent of the region’s population, with a mobile penetration rate of 64 per cent  In addition, the overall mobile payment industry across MEA is expected to record a compound annual growth rate of 17.8 per cent to reach over $434 billion by 2025.

Across the globe, the prominence of digital payments, as well as other innovative technologies, has risen dramatically over the last decade. A McKinsey & Company study on global payments revealed that the share of the world’s transactions carried out in cash has fallen from 89 per cent to 77 per cent over the past five years. At the same time, the share of combined debit and credit card use for transactions has nearly doubled, from 5 per cent to 9 per cent.

The decline of cash usage globally is expected to be even more pronounced over the next five years. This is driven by several factors namely, increasing the range of payment options, the push towards real-time payments, the growth of digital commerce, and continued regulatory focus on the digitisation of payments.

More importantly, the hidden costs of cash are felt across societies – from consumers to businesses to governments – in both high and low-income countries. Providing greater access to safe, secure and affordable methods of electronic payments has the potential to reduce those costs and fuel broad-based economic growth.

The current pandemic and subsequent government regulations and directives by health authorities foretell a shift in consumer spending behaviors as more people embrace forms of payment that allow them to abide by the rules of social distancing.

4. What can be done to support those who don't have access to credit and debit cards and other forms online payments?

People without access to financial services are effectively locked out of many economic activities, have extremely limited retail choices, cannot access credit and often pay more for goods and services. The growth of mobile and digital technology has presented the private sector with a tremendous opportunity to connect people to the tools and networks that can help them reach their potential and achieve financial security.

As an example, a partnership between Mastercard and the Ministry of Social Solidarity in Egypt has resulted in the first government disbursement model, which helps over 60,000 women receive social benefits. Mastercard is also supporting the development of payment infrastructure to digitise all payments for the New Administrative Capital and working with partners to digitise payroll for garment workers in factories.


May 3rd 2020, 8:55 pm

yallacompare secures $4.25 million funding


yallacompare, the UAE-based insurance aggregator, has secured new funding of $4.25 million from Gulf Insurance Group (GIG). The investment results in the Kuwaiti stock exchange listed GIG to acquire a sizeable stake of the financial technology (fintech) company.

Launched in 2011, yallacompare became a leading company in digital insurance sales in the UAE, accounting for more than 75 per cent of online insurance transactions. The company, part of Wamda's investment portfolio, recently announced partnerships with Smart Dubai, Etisalat, National Bonds among others, leading to expectations of a double market share by the end of 2020.

The finance comparison site operates insurance aggregators in the UAE, Kuwait and Egypt and currently employs over 120 people between their Dubai and Egypt offices.

“We are delighted to add GIG as an investor and partner and have big plans for the next few years,” said Jon Richards, chief executive officer (CEO) at yallacompare. “I believe that the combination of GIG’s regional and industry expertise and yallacompare’s digital capability will combine to deliver innovative products via customer friendly channels to consumers across the region.”

“We are all too aware of how fortunate we are to bring in fresh capital at this time and we very much appreciate the courage that GIG have shown to invest in yallacompare in this turbulent economic climate,” he continued.

GIG is hailed as one of the largest and most diversified insurance groups in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region with a strong competitive market position in Kuwait, Jordan, Bahrain and Egypt.

“I am confident that this partnership will return several success stories and prosperity between gig and yallacompare as well as our valuable customers and stakeholders. GIG is keen to strengthen and develop its digital services and this acquisition is a step for the group in the adoption of digitisation; the characteristic of this era,” said Khalid Al-Hasan, GIG Group CEO

Wamda Capital is an existing investor in yallacompare. Previous investors include STC Ventures, DSO and New York-based Argo Ventures. 

May 3rd 2020, 4:30 am

Wamda graduates second cohort of its fellowship programme Wamda X


Wamda, the Mena region’s leading entrepreneurship platform, has graduated the second cohort of Wamda X, its grant-based fellowship programme. In an online event conducted over two consecutive days on 29 and 30 April, 15 startups pitched to the wider investor community. The startups presented solutions across industries such as foodtech, sportstech, Software as a Service (SaaS) and financial technology (fintech) among others, with substantial representation from across the region including, the UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia. 

The four-month Wamda X programme was designed to support budding entrepreneurs and early-stage startups by offering them access to the Wamda platform of growth hackers, a network of very high calibre mentors, in addition to a financial grant provided to each company. 

More than 650 startups applied from across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) and beyond, who underwent a rigorous selection process including phone and in-person interviews.  The successful candidates were selected based on their industry experience, their business ideas and ability to solve for market inefficiencies. 

"We are proud to see the immense progress the startups have made over the last few months, which is a testament to their commitment and extensive understanding of their industries’’ said Fadi Ghandour, executive chairman at Wamda. ’’Even in a time of crisis, the fellows have managed to maintain resilience and focus on the opportunities ahead, we are glad to see them maintain an agile approach as the landscape of the technology ecosystem transforms and accelerates across the Middle East and North Africa region.’’

The 2020 cohort launched on 14 January in Dubai and progressed through three core stages of the programme: XStart, XSolve, and XScale as the fellows continuously worked on growing their businesses with the help of Wamda’s growth team, seasoned mentors, partners, as well as many more industry experts. 

The ‘Global Grad Show Track’, an innovation and social impact acceleration programme for graduate projects, ran as an extension to the second cohort of the Wamda X programme in partnership with the Investment Corporation of Dubai (ICD), the principal investment arm of the Government of Dubai, A.R.M Holding, and Consult and Coach for a Cause (C3). The track included four startups from around the world, with representation from countries including Malaysia, India, Pakistan and Italy.

The online event featured an overview of the programme, an introduction from Fadi Ghandour, followed by the 15 pitches from the startups who were then asked questions from an audience comprising investors and other key stakeholders from across the region. 

The first cohort of the programme ran in February 2019 and graduated SafarPass, a business travel management tool and Caravan, an on-demand bus service based in the UAE. 


May 3rd 2020, 2:25 am

Global Ventures invests in African healthtech startup


Source: Zawya

Dubai-based Global Ventures has co-led a $7 million investment with AAIC Japan in Helium Health, West Africa's largest electronic medical records provider, as investors scour for health-related startups amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The Lagos-based startup also received investment from China's Tencent, Noor Sweid, general partner and founder at Global Ventures told Reuters.

"Only 30% of hospital visits across Africa are recorded so it's a massive need in the market," she said.

This is Global Ventures' first investment in a health technology firm. The Dubai-based firm has 14 different investments in companies including fintech startups.

"Now what we are excited about is health tech. That for the next five years is what fintech was for last five years," Sweid said.

Other investors are also eyeing the healthcare sector.

The venture capital arm of Abu Dhabi state investor Mubadala plans to launch a healthcare fund next year to tap into increased demand for investment in life sciences and digital health technology following the coronavirus outbreak. 

April 30th 2020, 8:24 am

Pravica raises $500,000 pre-seed


Cairo-based Pravica, (previously known as Dmails), has raised US$500,00  in a pre-seed round, led by 500 Startups, with the participation of Modus Capital and DYRES Venture.

Founded in April 2019, Pravica is a blockchain-based startup that offers a decentralised email service. The company will use the investment to build its customer base, expand its team and develop additional private communication tools to further enhance its product. 

“As the first Blockchain Email Service Provider in the Mena, at Pravica, our strategy is to guarantee the user, full data privacy. Developing a decentralised network on Blockchain was my passion and I have been able to successfully make that dream come true. Today, Blockstack (Software for a user-owned Internet) has enabled us to rapidly expand our client base in a very short period of time and helped us scale to the next level with a solid and scalable Blockchain-based infrastructure. With the new funding, we hope to further expand our offering with several value-added options and grow our footprint.” said Mohamed Hussein Abdou, founder and CEO of Pravica.

“Running email systems on blockchain technology like that of Dmails (Pravica) is becoming increasingly imperative to ensure data privacy and security. As Mohamed and his team, work to deepen their platform capabilities, we look forward to supporting them as they cement their position as leaders in this Blockchain space,” said Sharif El-Badawi, managing partner at 500 Startups Mena.


April 30th 2020, 6:23 am

Managing Covid-19: Recessions, the runways for innovation?


On 23 April, Wamda hosted its second webinar titled 'Navigating COVID-19: Recessions, the runways for innovation?,’ featuring Jason Nadal, founder of Centrado Advertising. Nadal explored the lessons we can learn from past recessions, and how founders can pivot in the face of crisis. 

Looking Back

Reflecting on the financial collapse in 2008/2009, Nadal explained that crisis led to the creation of tech-based business models and the gig economy, which set the stage for the startup ecosystem to thrive across the world.

“If you take a look back at 1998-2000, it would cost half a million dollars just to get a startup up and running. Fast forward to now, it costs around $450 to get a startup off the ground.”

Highlighting the emergence of unicorns like Airbnb and Pinterest which were founded in the wake of the 2008 recession, Nadal explained that the Coronavirus pandemic could spur innovation and the creation of the next unicorns. 

"With unemployment rates going upward as a result of the 2008 financial crisis, people started to think about things they can do at home – which later led to the establishment of Pinterest where its founders were only starting out by providing people with the means to look at things in a creative manner. The company was later followed by 10 million users from all over the world." 

Stay in Lane

For startups attempting to survive the current situation, Nadal recommended they adapt quickly to the evolving business climate which “provides an opportunity and a runway for innovation and growth”. Those that make drastic amendments to their business model as an attempt to weather the economic slowdown need to be consistent and remain true to the company’s value proposition. 

“This does not mean you should not pivot right now on certain things,”  said Nadal. "Now is not the time to go for IT related tasks for some organisation while you work in fintech. This is completely off scope.”

Consistency is key to attracting investment and customers alike during these times, said Nadal.  “It is more important now than ever in this gig economy in this time, is to really focus in on what you are doing and have clarity around that, so that your investors, employees and most importantly, your customers can have a very clear understanding what you are offering to them and how they fit into that story.”

Pivot Smart

In addition to consistency, Nadal said that having an impactful brand that is willing to add value to its customers must be foremost in a business owner’s mind. 

He further warned that some brands can come across as tone deaf to the situation that people live in, which eventually can inflict long term damage to the brand’s reputation. “'When you communicate with customers, you do it clearly with action and intention that benefits them, telling them that you're there for them.”

"Pivoting is about being creative and planning and understanding what is driving your customer base right now. When big companies attempt to pivot they look at the means through which they can cut out the non-essential costs to preserve cash for as long the crisis stays. As for a startup, your pivot should be figuring out where you are wasting money, how to repurpose people, and what are the non essential parts about my platform,” he said.

April 29th 2020, 9:03 pm

Ibtikar Fund invests in Tawazon


Ibtikar Fund has announced a seed investment in the Palestine-based meditation app Tawazon.

Tawazon, or “balance” in Arabic, offers its users meditations guides in Arabic to help them practice breathing exercises, mindfulness and relaxation before sleep.

“I had first-hand experience of how meditation had helped me become more balanced,” said Suna Zoabi-Othman,founder at Tawazon. “I realised that many of us native Arabic speakers would prefer to meditate in our language, yet the Arabic meditation apps available offered only a mediocre product, at best. So, I brought together the best team I could to create Tawazon and help others find that balance which we all seek.” 

Meditation in the Arabic language remains a largely untapped market, the company noted in a statement, adding that the global market leader, Calm, is now valued at more than $1 billion.

“We realise the need for meditation and mindfulness, especially during such trying times. We are investing in Tawazon because we see great potential in the product and the ability of the team to make their vision a reality,” said Habib Hazzan, managing general partner at Ibtikar Fund. 


April 29th 2020, 7:42 am

Mena's 3D printing startups pivot to save lives


Every so often, a new technology grips the tech community, usually ones that are described as pioneering and disruptive. A few years ago, it was 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, that was bestowed this hype. While the technology has been around since the 1980s, it was in the 2010s that 3D printers had become affordable, giving its buyers the freedom to print whatever they wanted in plastic.

The hype around 3D printers was soon replaced by on-demand and gig economy startups like Uber and Airbnb, but now as the world grapples with the Coronavirus pandemic, additive manufacturing is attracting interest once again and growing at an unprecedented pace.

According to Statista, the global 3D printing market was valued at $14.5 billion in 2019, up from $12 million in 2018. Its prediction for this year is a market worth $17.5 billion, reaching $21 billion by 2021, a forecast that takes into consideration the impact of the pandemic.

The Unfortunate Gap

Some of the world’s richest countries turned out to be the least prepared for the pandemic, putting the lives of their frontline healthcare staff not only at risk, but eventually counting them among the number of deaths that continue to rise daily. Thousands of healthcare workers have died in Italy, the UK and US due to a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), which is still in short supply.

The main reason is that most of the world’s PPE is manufactured in China, where manufacturing came to a halt during its lockdown, resulting in a backlog of freight shipping.

The one industry that has been agile enough to come to the aid of healthcare workers and frontline staff is 3D printing. Designs for face shields, medical equipment including ventilator valves and parts have been shared on open source channels around the world, allowing anyone with a 3D printer to produce them.

In the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), several 3D printing startups have pivoted to contribute to the fight against the Coronavirus.

Jordan-based Eon Dental, which 3D prints dental aligners, is now collaborating with the Royal Scientific Society of Jordan and three individuals to develop and produce the consumables and spare parts for ventilators. The company re-configured its machines to prints thousands of parts daily.

“We knew that we had to be proactive to combat the Covid-19 outbreak in Jordan and leverage our scientific engineering and manufacturing capabilities,” says Fadi Samawi, director of manufacturing at Eon Dental. The startup managed to deliver the first parts in the first week of April, the week that Jordan went into lockdown.

For Fahmi Al Shawwa, founder of Immensa, a UAE-based startup that focuses primarily on the oil and gas industry, it was a trip to the dentist that inspired him to begin 3D printing face shields.

“My dentist said his supplier couldn’t get these face shields anywhere, so I got back to the office and asked our engineers to design a face shield, they modified and optimised an open source design and produced the first one in eight hours,” says Al Shawwa.

Immensa produced 15 face shields on the first day in February and now produces 10,000-12,000 daily, exporting them to Europe, the US and to the rest of the Middle East region.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) face shields can decrease the transmission of viruses by 83 per cent, making them a highly effective form of PPE. It takes 30 minutes to just over an hour to print each face shield with a retail price of up to Dh20, and getting them to frontline staff in local markets is far quicker than shipping them in from elsewhere.

“We rely so much on supply chains that are not necessarily efficient,” says Al Shawwa. “Shipping now takes much longer, people need to have better risk aversion plans and minimise the loss of production.”

The disruption in global supply chains and dependence on China’s manufacturing sector has led some to call for a return to local manufacturing of goods.

“I’ve lost my voice shouting that people need to localise the supply chain, people need to print spare parts on demand. The whole world is going towards that, as unfortunate as the Coronavirus is, it will wake up a lot of people,” says Al Shawwa.

Sustainable Manufacturing

But it is not just efficiency that might propel the industry’s growth. Prior to the pandemic, the biggest issue that affected the world was climate change and sustainability. Much of the world’s governments had committed to reducing their carbon emissions while startup and investor focus had shifted to sustainable and impactful innovation.

The lockdown halted manufacturing and construction in most countries which account for 20 per cent of the world’s CO2 emissions according to data from the International Energy Agency. As factories closed their doors, carbon emissions decreased by 5.5 per cent, resulting in clearer skies and a return of wildlife to shores and towns. A swift return to a large carbon footprint will be difficult to justify, particularly when options like 3D printing are proving to be a more economic alternative. The US Department of Energy estimates that 3D printing can reduce energy costs by 50 per cent and cut material costs by 90 per cent.

“We will see completely new industries developing because of this situation, preventative measures and how to protect yourself and loved ones will become more of an industry that will develop,” says Lothar Hohmann, president at UAE-based Precise Group.

How soon these new industries will emerge remains to be seen, but it seems that additive manufacturing will play a part.

“This could be the trigger point for 3D printing, what was meant to happen in the next five to eight years will happen in five to eight months,” says Al Shawwa.


April 28th 2020, 9:35 pm

EMPG reaches unicorn status and announces merger with OLX


Source: MenaBytes

Dubai-based Emerging Markets Property Group (EMPG) that runs property portals in different emerging markets across the world including Bayut in Dubai, Zameen in Pakistan, and Mubawab in North Africa, has become a unicorn after raising a $150 million round led by OLX Group and its existing shareholders, the company announced in a statement to MENAbytes today.

EMPG did not disclose the exact valuation but said the deal values the company at over $1 billion post-transaction.

Imran Ali Khan, the co-founder, and CEO of EMPG, said, “EMPG has grown at a tremendous pace since its inception. Our unique ability to scale using our proprietary tech has aided and enabled this expansion. This deal puts us one step further in our journey towards providing solutions in multiple markets to over a billion consumers around the world, expanding our classifieds offering significantly.”

The deal includes merger of OLX Group’s classifieds business with Emerging Markets Property Group (EMPG) in Pakistan, Egypt, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates. EMPG will also operate OLX’s platforms in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman after this deal.

The $150 million investment is fresh cash injection will be used by the company to develop a range of new services, creating a more seamless user experience, enhancing data transparency, and deepening market intelligence for both consumers and business users.

Martin Scheepbouwer, CEO of OLX Group, says “I’m proud of what we have built in these four markets. Our brands are household names, and currently help tens of millions of people to exchange goods and services every month. The next phase is an exciting one, with EMPG’s real estate industry expertise helping deepen the customer experience. As EMPG’s largest shareholder, we’ll have a front seat to explore how we can scale their services model further – taking our ambition to shape the future of classifieds into its next stage.”

Haider Ali Khan, Head of EMPG - MENA on this collaboration: “We, at Bayut and EMPG, are very excited about the future of the UAE real estate industry and the prospects of real estate in the MENA region. This merger of EMPG and OLX will allow us to better serve our customers, given that both operate brands with a strong following and will allow us to leverage existing tech and data to paint a more accurate picture of the state of affairs in the real estate industry across the region. At the same time, we will be making significant technology investments to provide more value to all users of property, automotive and other segments of the Dubizzle and OLX platforms. I look forward to a bright and prosperous future for the group.”

Continue reading the story

April 28th 2020, 9:30 am

Covid-19: Ushering in a new era for healthtech


In the wake of the Covid-19 crisis and resulting lockdown, it is not just the global economy and healthcare systems that are suffering dreadfully, but individuals suffering from other illnesses and ailments too. Amid the lockdown, going to the doctor for a check up is no longer feasible for many and so the only viable solution is online healthcare. 

Globally, in the first quarter of 2020, $4.5 billion was invested in health innovation funding “before the markets began their pandemic-induced decline,” according to a report from Startup Health. Regionally, UAE-based Okadoc and Egypt-based Vezeeta were among the top healthtech companies attracting investments in the first quarter this year with an aggregate of $50 million.

The crisis has already inflicted drastic changes to healthcare systems around the world and has kicked off a digital makeover of the industry in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena). 

Current State of Healthtech

While there has been a significant improvement in the growth and investment towards the healthtech in Mena, the sector  “is only scratching the surface of the problems facing the healthcare system”, according to Sajjad Kamal, co-founder and chief technology officer at healthtech startup AlemHealth, which provides telemedicine and digital health solutions.

“If you look at the Middle East, there are primarily two types of healthtech companies: telemedicine and on-demand doctor companies,” says Kamal who attributes this to the fact that most entrepreneurs working on healthcare solutions mainly come from a digital background.

“As entrepreneurs, they have been airing towards a bit on the digital side. A lot of them actually have not spent much time in the actual care delivery process,” he says. 

Consumerisation has been the prevalent trend in healthtech in the past few years, with patients being treated as consumers, this has led to a barrage of startups focused more on convenience and efficiency rather than innovation

One of the main causes of this issue was the lack of early-stage funding and investors interested in healthtech.

Medicus AI, which was founded in Dubai, but relocated to Austria soon after its founding did so to attract “smart money”

“When I started Medicus AI, most of the team was based in the Middle East between Dubai and Beirut, but the lack of funding and strong business opportunities, made us decide to move the company to Europe,” says founder Baher Al Hakim, “The investment sector was not as interested in healthtech as Europe was.”

Medicus AI recently launched a Covid-19 health monitoring app in partnership with Luxembourg-based Bionext, a medical analysis laboratory. The app also will also be available in Arabic soon in collaboration with their partners in Saudi Arabia.

AlemHealth also suffered a similar fate. 

“When we were pitching our idea in Dubai, a lot of the investors were just not familiar with what healthtech is and what kind of opportunities really exist, hence, we moved to Singapore, where there lies a much more mature market,” recounts Kamal.

On the other side, senior associate at Hikma Ventures,the venture capital arm of Jordan-based Hikma Pharmaceuticals, Hamzeh Abdulhadi argues that lack of innovation in the healthtech area has been putting the company off from investing in Mena healthtech companies. However, as demand for and adoption of the healthcare services has surged, he argues that VC investments in healthtech startups will increase.

“There has been a heightened interest in the healthtech startups, mostly in telemedicine during the past few months, but I am still not sure if the trend will continue to remain in Q2 of 2020,” says Abdulhadi, adding that the company has plans to invest in Egypt-based teleradiology firm Rology.

“Before the crisis hit us, investors had probably done the research and analysis based on the previous state of the healthtech ecosystem. So they need to look to re-evaluate opportunities again in this space that are likely to catch-on during and after the crisis,” explains Al Hakim, suggesting that it is high time for governments to put in funds to help spur the growth of the healthtech companies. 

The Impact of Covid-19

As people become more comfortable with using healthtech services In response to the pandemic, there is likely to be a surge in telemedicine, remote monitoring, and home testings in the coming period, according to Al Hakim while Abdulhadi expects there will be a spike in digital therapeutics and mental health companies in the second half of this year.

One mental health company has already seen a surge in demand. Egypt-based Shezlong, has registered a 31 per cent in the number of therapy sessions booked on its platform from February to March, alongside a rise in the number of psychiatrists looking to join its platform since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak.  

“Previously, many psychiatrists were reluctant to conduct therapy sessions online; things have changed now with the closure of clinics nationwide as a result of the Covid-19 crisis,” says Mohamed El-Shami, co-founder and chief medical officer at Shezlong.

The pandemic has also forced doctors and hospitals to accelerate their digitisation plans. 

“It serves as a wake up call for doctors to start ditching the traditional approach to medicine practice and be more open to digital disruption,” says Kamal who believes the current situation has enabled a spirit of collaboration within the sector. 

”Taking a collaborative approach to tackle the crisis becomes necessary more than any time before. It is high time for tackling the healthcare system problems through a collaborative approach where doctors can join forces with data scientists, entrepreneurs and other stakeholders concerned with the digital health ecosystem,” says Kamal.

Vezeeta’s co-founder and CEO Amir Barsoum argues that the current situation will help doctors establish a robust medical experience without shouldering extra costs.

“As for telehealth, doctors benefit from the opportunity to work remotely from any convenient location and reach out to a wider patient-base across their country. Doctors can grow their clinical practice without adding on additional staff­ or physical locations, and monetise on remote consultations with a personalised experience, cutting down on waiting time and no-shows, making it a lucrative tool for all modern healthcare entities,” he says. 

April 26th 2020, 8:49 pm

Faith Capital invests in YouGotAGift’s share offering


Kuwait-based venture capital firm Faith Capital announced its participation in the secondary share offering in Dubai-based online gifting platform YouGotaGift.

Launched in 2012, YouGotaGift offers a range of online card gifts from more than 400 brands through email, SMS and its app. It operates across three major business verticals including consumer gifting and employee and customer rewards. The investment will enable the startup to expand across the GCC.

“'YouGotaGift is disrupting the gift card industry in the Middle East. As an end-to-end digital business, it is leading the cultural shift to digital gifting for consumers and transforming the procurement & distribution of bulk rewards for businesses,” said Husain Makiya, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) at YouGotaGift. “It is operating in an industry predicted to grow to $700bn globally by 2024”.

YouGotaGift enables the integration of brand loyalty programmes, serving as a one-stop-shop, for brands like Noon, Carrefour, Lulu, Careem and ITunes to corporate clients including banks, telecommunications, government and private enterprises in the GCC and beyond.

“We at Faith Capital have kept an eye on technology companies looking to reinvent and digitise large fragmented offline markets. With so many players in the e-card space, YouGotaGift very clearly sets itself apart from the competition with its distinct module and rapid growth,” said Abdulaziz Al Loughani managing partner atFaith Capital. “We are proud to partner with innovative entrepreneurs like Husain Makiya, and naturally, Faith Capital looks forward to adding significant value as the company expands into additional GCC markets and scales up the operation.”


April 26th 2020, 2:11 pm

Faith Capital invests in YouGotAGit’s share offering


Kuwait-based venture capital firm Faith Capital announced its participation in the secondary share offering in Dubai-based online gifting platform YouGotaGift.

Launched in 2012, YouGotaGift offers a range of online card gifts from more than 400 brands through email, SMS and its app. It operates across three major business verticals including consumer gifting and employee and customer rewards. The investment will enable the startup to expand across the GCC.

“'YouGotaGift is disrupting the gift card industry in the Middle East. As an end-to-end digital business, it is leading the cultural shift to digital gifting for consumers and transforming the procurement & distribution of bulk rewards for businesses,” said Husain Makiya, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) at YouGotaGift. “It is operating in an industry predicted to grow to $700bn globally by 2024”.

YouGotaGift enables the integration of brand loyalty programmes, serving as a one-stop-shop, for brands like Noon, Carrefour, Lulu, Careem and ITunes to corporate clients including banks, telecommunications, government and private enterprises in the GCC and beyond.

“We at Faith Capital have kept an eye on technology companies looking to reinvent and digitise large fragmented offline markets. With so many players in the e-card space, YouGotaGift very clearly sets itself apart from the competition with its distinct module and rapid growth,” said Abdulaziz Al Loughani managing partner atFaith Capital. “We are proud to partner with innovative entrepreneurs like Husain Makiya, and naturally, Faith Capital looks forward to adding significant value as the company expands into additional GCC markets and scales up the operation.”


April 26th 2020, 11:59 am

The Impact of Covid-19 on Mena's economy with a special focus on ecommerce


In light of COVID-19 outbreak emerging as the major disruptor to the regional economy, INSEAD National Alumni Association UAE is hosting an insightful conversation on April 28th at 5:00 PM, focused on community-centred business leadership with a vision towards moving forward.

Together with Fadi Ghandour, the discussion will highlight the challenges we are currently facing and provide recommendations on how businesses should remain agile to reinvent themselves and  contribute to continuous economic growth in MENA region. In addition, the conversation will address the topic of innovation and the rise of E-commerce as one of the rare performing sectors during the world-wide crisis.


Register your interest to join. 

April 26th 2020, 3:41 am

EMPG acquires Thai online retailer Kaidee


Source: Deal Street Asia

Dubai-based online classified group Emerging Markets Property Group (EMPG), parent company of Bayut, has acquired Thai online marketplace Kaidee, marking its foray into the Southeast Asia market. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Founded in 2011, Kaidee offers over 30 categories of both new and second-hand goods and services. The company claims to have seven million users and is expected to touch 10 million by the end of this year, according to a Bangkok Post report.

EMPG said in a statement that the acquisition will help the Bangkok-based unit to expedite its plans for providing solutions across all verticals in Thailand.

“Thailand is one of the most exciting, dynamic markets in Southeast Asia, and its real estate and auto verticals are some of the largest in the region,” said Imran Ali Khan, CEO of EMPG, who now joins Kaidee’s board of directors.

“This acquisition comes with a number of opportunities to learn and grow for both parties, and capitalising on them will be very important,” added Zeeshan Ali Khan, co-founder of EMPG and CEO of, its Pakistan-based property portal.

Apart from Zameen, EMPG operates a spate of other classified portals in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and South Asia regions, including Bayut, Bproperty and Mubawab.

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April 26th 2020, 2:08 am

Mumm raises investment for ongoing pre-Series A


Source: MENAbytes

Cairo-based foodtech startup Mumm has raised an undisclosed amount of investment from Alex Angels, the startup announced in a statement today to MENAbytes. The investment is part of an on-going pre-Series A round.

Founded in 2015 as an online marketplace to deliver homemade food to individuals, Mumm has recently moved its focus towards business customers. It launched its meal subscription service for corporates and SMEs late last year.

Through the service, the startup partners with companies to offer ‘nutritious meals’ at discounted rates to its employees. Once a company partners with Mumm, its employees can subscribe to receive food on the working days. They have the option to either pick the meals they’d like to receive for the entire month in advance or choose on a daily basis every morning.

Waleed Abd El Rahman, founder and CEO of Mumm, said, “The market today needs businesses to be agile more than ever. Given the distributed network of kitchens we have built through the past years, today, we are well situated to grasp the opportunity of increased demand on food delivery whether to consumers today or to offices when teams are back to their work premises in a more optimised capacity. We appreciate the trust given to us by our investors in such unique times.”

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April 26th 2020, 1:54 am

Taker raises seed funding


Saudi Arabia-based Software as a Service (SaaS) startup Taker, has raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding in a round led by 500 Startups, Saudi Venture Capital (SVC) and a consortium of angel investors for its online ordering management platform for restaurants.

The funding will be used to invest in research and development (R&D) and further augment the company’s proprietary technology which provides several services for restaurants including developing a website and/or building an app to order food online. Restaurants that sign up with Taker can also get their own branded ordering channels.

“At Taker, our mission is to make the food ordering process easy and delightful for both our clients and their customers. With the newly raised capital, our highly ambitious team looks forward to further enhancing our online capabilities.” said Abdullah Al Asaadi. “With the onset of Covid-19, over the past few weeks, we have witnessed a significant surge in demand for our services and hope to see more offline restaurants take advantage of our offerings as we forge ahead to meet the growing demand by facilitating a robust online ordering management platform.”

Founded in 2019, Taker has been helping restaurants and other food and drinks suppliers boost their online delivery services and streamline their operations. 

“Surging demand for online food ordering has resulted in many offline restaurants signing up with Taker within a short period of time. Abdullah and his team have been working very hard to achieve double-digit growth month-on-month and this has made us proud,” said Sharif El-Badawi, managing partner at 500 Startups.


April 23rd 2020, 9:33 am

Facebook's advice for businesses in Ramadan


The impact of social distancing as a result of the Covid-19 crisis has been felt across industries and sectors, with technology and social media playing a critical role in connecting people, communities and businesses – this is even more pertinent given the imminent start of Ramadan. Amid this difficult period, it has become even more important to connect with your customers, maintain open lines of communication and keep them informed at this challenging time.

To better understand how to create meaningful connections during Ramadan, Facebook IQ, Facebook’s insights and research division in partnership with Kantar, has unveiled findings of a study conducted during Ramadan 2019 that looks into user behaviour and purchase decisions in Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt. The study was conducted online across nine countries, engaging with over 7,000 respondents, including 2,780 from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

The research revealed that while many of Ramadan’s moments happen in person, values and traditions are equally expressed online. To help marketers join the conversation in meaningful ways, such as by highlighting the values of Ramadan and sharing content that’s truly relevant to people’s needs during this holy month, here are some tips:

Be where it matters

Many communities that observe Ramadan use Facebook’s family of apps throughout this period: 96 per cent of survey respondents in the UAE say they use at least one Facebook platform—often to connect with their community and loved ones. That number is 85 per cent in Saudi Arabia and 95 per cent in Egypt. This year, as Ramadan takes place in the midst of Covid-19, people are going to rely on technology and digital platforms even more to connect with the people and brands they care about. Meet them on the platforms they use most and share useful information to help them during this busy time.

Maintain customer communication

The research shows that 95.2 per cent of Ramadan observers in UAE use mobile, similar stat is for Saudi Arabia where 92.6 per cent use mobile and in Egypt, it is 76 per cent. In the UAE, 77.7 per cent use their mobile phone while watching TV, making it imperative for marketers to consider omnichannel strategies. In Saudi Arabia, it is 70 per cent while in Egypt it is 76 per cent. In light of this new landscape, focus on business continuity and maintain ongoing dialogue with customers. This could mean proactively answering customer inquiries, responding to changes in consumption scenarios or marketing the most relevant products.

Tell meaningful stories while showing support to Covid-19 efforts

Given the religious importance of Ramadan, it’s important to speak to the core values of the season while balancing promotional messages. Be respectful and connect with your audience authentically and consider use of motifs and symbols. This could mean giving back to society, taking a stance on an issue that matters to Ramadan observers, being of service to those affected by Covid-19 or simply avoiding clichés.

“The living room is now a digital experience, with more people multi-screening than ever before, and mobile proving to be an integral part of people’s communication. As businesses pivot to ensure their engagement remains relevant, they must explore new ways of connecting with audiences and build communities who will champion their brands,” says Ramez Shehadi, managing director at Facebook Mena. “With Covid-19 creating barriers for physical engagement, we continue to work with businesses to create community first engagement and provide them with the support they need to get through this period.”

The research is based on “Ramadan 2019: A time for reflection, connection and inspiration", a consumer research by Kantar, commissioned by Facebook IQ. More Ramadan insights and marketing recommendations are available on SHAREDbyFacebook.


April 23rd 2020, 9:16 am

Navigating Covid-19: Managing people and talent


On Wednesday 15 April, Wamda hosted an online webinar, 'Navigating Covid-19: Managing people and talent,’ featuring Nathalie Spree, partern at executive search company, True.  

Spree has more than 11 years' experience in building teams, especially at startup-phase, leadership recruiting and addressing the challenges that companies face in all things related to people, talent and operations. 

In the webinar, Spree shared her views on the impact Covid-19 continues to have on businesses and the best way to approach talent management during these times.

Maintaining the human side of the business

Keeping employees engaged and connected while working remotely is imperative for business productivity, says Spree, suggesting that employees can meet up online over virtual coffee meetings, cooking demonstrations or meditation sessions.

“Reach out to someone from a different department as if you were walking past their office or you would pass each other at the coffee machine.”

When transitioning to remote work, employers have to bear in mind that people have different situations at home and some people work better at certain times, says Spree.

“People are expected to be responsive, but it should be understandable that there are times when you perhaps are not.”

She further emphasises that it is common that employees might face burnout during the trying times, stressing that people still can receive their sick leave whether or not they have Covid-19.

Building trust

On the managerial side, Spree recommends that employers allocate an hour or two hours per week so people can ask questions that they have, whether it is work related or they just want to engage with the founder.

“Managers should treat everyone as an individual as well and regularly give timely, consistent feedback as you might be doing when you were in an office environment as well."

However, excessive checkups on employees might signify the management’s total lack of trust in employees.

“They might feel that they are being checked up on a little too much. This might cause some negativity,” warns Spree.

Corporate brand re-defined

The way managers treat their employees in these times is going to leave a permanent mark on the companies’ brand image, says Spree.

“When a company resorts to layoffs as a result of Covid-19 caused panic, it gives a negative view for both potential employees and customers alike."

She further adds that when this crisis is over, it might consequently be hard for them to be attracting talent especially that a lot of people will probably be hiring at the same time.

In the event of a layoff, managers should have conversations with employees explaining the position of the company. She further explains that if an employer decides to release people, the company is still obliged to pay all of their allowances and keep their health insurance open until they find another job or return to their home countries.

She praised the idea of opening up a virtual labour market in the UAE, a step recently taken by the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation to help people affected work-wise by the Covid-19 crisis.

Weighing on the right talent

Businesses benefitting from the current lockdown, including e-commerce, healthtech, edtech among others have been reporting intensive waves of hiring to keep up with the mounting customer demand. Still, recruiting the right talent in the right place constitutes a challenge for these businesses. In  similar situations, according to Spree, businesses are becoming more product-oriented. Accordingly, there has been a surge in chief product officer (CPO) and chief technology officer (CTO) roles currently across the Middle East, particularly in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

As companies start to revisit their business plans in light of the current situation, companies need to look at their talent structure and the way they approach it. Since some industries are going to bounce back a lot quicker than others, it is very important to keep looking at your talent structure to see if you can be leaner in some areas for the time being, suggests Spree, adding that filling up the critical roles of the business with the right talent is going to impact the companies in the long run as they come out on a big offensive.

April 22nd 2020, 8:50 pm

Wamda X Startup Reveal: Cohort II


Over the course of the last 4 months, and through the 3 stages of the programme: XStart, XSolve, and XScale, the second cohort of the Wamda X Fellows have been working on growing their businesses with the help of our programme growth team, Wamda’s seasoned mentors, and the Wamda team as well as many more industry experts. 

The current cohort received 650 applications and will be graduating 11 startups next week. The startups will be presenting solutions across industries such as human resources, sports tech, and Software as a Service (SaaS)among others with representation from across the region including the UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Tunisia.

The Global Grad Show Track, an innovation and social impact acceleration programme for graduate projects, was executed in partnership with the Investment Government of Dubai, A.R.M Holding, and C3. The track included 4 startups from around the globe, with representation from countries including Malaysia, India, Pakistan and Italy.

The second batch of Fellows is ready to reveal what they've been working on, as will be pitching for investment in a two-day online event. The startups will be pitching over two consecutive days on Wednesday, April 29, and Thursday, April 30, at 2:30 pm to 4:00 pm for both days.

The online event will feature Wamda X startup pitches, with Q&A intermissions for your questions to the Fellows.

Register your interest to join us. 

April 22nd 2020, 9:43 am

Ways to improve your financial health


The rate of unemployment is increasing daily across the world, particularly among startups that have gone into “survival mode”. As a result, financial technology (fintech) startups that focus on personal finance and budgeting have seen a spike in usage. One such app is Wally, which has seen an 80 per cent growth in downloads as the pandemic began to take hold and impact the global economy. Here, Wally’s founder and chief executive Saeid Hejazi, outlines his top tips to improve your personal finance health, tips that are also applicable on the macro level to your startup.

We are living in extraordinary and unsettling times; our daily routines, activities, relationships, and finances have been affected dramatically by the novel Coronavirus. With lots of information being shared on how to focus on your personal health, we wanted to cut through the noise to share some tips on how you can take care and improve your financial health. Our tips involve looking at your spending pre-crisis, setting a plan throughout, and returning to normalcy during the recovery period from a position of strength.

Step 1) Understand your pre-crisis spending

With so many of us around the world on social-distancing and lockdown instructions, naturally, our spending patterns have drastically changed. To weather through this period, take a look at your spending before the crisis started to find opportunities for savings. Go through your spending insights for the past three months to get an understanding of:

• Non-essentials: How much you were spending across entertainment, nightlife, shopping, sports, travel, and transport. These are the categories you are less likely to spend on during this period.

• Essentials: How much you were spending across groceries, rent, education, utilities, bills, and others that will remain constant throughout this period. Taken together, this should serve as guidance on where you can expect to save on non-essentials and how to budget the essentials.

Step 2) Follow a budget to increase your savings during the crisis

Setting a budget

Over the next few weeks and months, a lot of your offline spending, such as dining out, groceries, and entertainment, are likely to move online. The seamless nature of paying online will make it hard to keep a mental account of where your money is going. Set a budget (on an app like Wally) across categories so you can track your spending in real-time over the next few weeks or months. You will need to adjust your spending to this new circumstance and any expense that can be stopped, should be. Knowing how much you need and where to cut back will help prevent you from panicking and weather this period with confidence.

Increase your savings

Depending on your circumstances, this could be a great opportunity for you to increase your savings. With so much of our spending tied to social events and gatherings, move what you typically would have spent in those categories into a savings account. You never know how long a tough period can last, or what surprises are around the corner, so plan for the worst while we all hope for the best.

Loss of income

Dealing with the sudden loss of income when the government tells you to stay home can be devastating. If you’re facing lost or reduced income, identify your upcoming payments for loans, credit cards and bills. It’s important to contact your creditors and billers immediately, they are aware of how the virus is affecting people and will likely work with you. The more you communicate with them, the more willing they might be to work with you. Many governments are already asking creditors to be lenient so if you’re finding that they’re being difficult, complain to your consumer protection agency and they will be happy to help.

Step 3) Returning to normalcy: post-crisis recovery

Resist the urge to splurge

After the crisis, you might have the temptation to splurge and go back to your pre-crisis spending. But doing that will prevent you from rebuilding your savings. Remember that we can never predict when an emergency can hit us in life. When the crisis passes, take the time to re-assess which nonessential expenses are important, and which are not. No one’s financial life is guaranteed and it’s a good rule of thumb that having three to six months’ of your spending in savings can help ensure that you’re prepared next time.

This too shall pass

This crisis is not the new normal. These are unprecedented times but stay calm and know that humanity has made it through these events before, and we’ll make it through again. The Wally family hopes you and your family are staying healthy. Our hearts go out to everyone who has been impacted.

Stay home. Stay safe. Stay healthy.

April 21st 2020, 9:19 pm

Axeed labs announces $272,000 launchpad for startups, SMEs


Source: Trade Arabia

Axeed labs, the UAE-based mobile application and software development firm, has launched its Dh1 million ($272,000) SME and Startup Tech Launchpad campaign.

The activation comes as a response to the global Covid-19 linked economic crisis and ahead of Ramadan 2020. This campaign creates an opportunity for UAE Startups and SMEs to continue their technology development, with a Dh1 million credit line and enables Axeed labs to support the business community, said a statement.

Chintan Sareen, CEO at Axeed labs, said: “We are really excited to see who we can help in the tech space at a time when it’s truly needed. Axeed labs has a track record of designing and developing state of the art mobile and web-based applications using the most novel technologies for industries including; last mile delivery, logistics, healthcare, pet care, e-commerce, fashion, vehicle leasing, facility management, payment wallets, food and beverage and grocery delivery, so we are very confident we can support any requirements that come in.

“We’ve all been start-ups at some point in time and this is usually where you find the hidden gems when it comes to ideas and evolution. We want to hear from as many startups and SME’s as possible and encourage all who feel they could benefit from development support, investment or big company ideas, to contact us and tell us what is needed,” Sareen said.

The SME sector represents more than 94 per cent of the total number of companies operating in the UAE and provides jobs for more than 86 per cent of the private sector's workforce. In Dubai alone, SMEs employ 42 per cent of the workforce and contribute around 40 per cent to Dubai's GDP. The UAE Government has an ambition to enhance the contribution and performance of the SME sector and Axeed labs is taking this opportunity to follow suit, it said.

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April 21st 2020, 9:27 am

Mubadala Capital invests in US-based Unlearn.AI


Source: Techcrunch

 Unlearn.AI, which has built a machine learning platform that builds “digital twin” profiles of patients that become the controls in clinical trials — is announcing that it has raised $12 million in a Series A round.

The round is being led by 8VC with previous investors DCVC, DCVC Bio and Mubadala Capital Ventures also participating.

The startup’s DiGenesis platform is first being applied to neurological diseases, specifically Alzheimer’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis, where effective treatment options remain an elusive goal and it has been hard to build clinical trials around patients with already-impacted health.

Although Unlearn.AI is not working on anything close to medicines related to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is a timely reminder of why improving clinical trials is important. We are now in an urgent race to find vaccines and treatments for this new virus, and that highlights the need for more efficient approaches to trials, and that is an area where AI could prove to be a boost.

“This new financing marks an important milestone in our growth and will contribute to the significant progress we are making with regulators and with our commercial partners, who are already running studies with Digital Twins and demonstrating their value in generating robust evidence and increasing the potential for trial success,” said Charles K. Fisher, Ph.D., founder and CEO of Unlearn.AI, in a statement.

“Clinical trials are facing a number of persistent challenges that have only been exacerbated in recent weeks. With support from our forward-thinking investors and industry partners, we are excited to continue growing our exceptional team and advancing the science behind our first-of-its-kind Digital Twin approach.”

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April 21st 2020, 8:27 am

Anghami pledges $3 million to SMEs



Leading Middle East music platform Anghami has revealed a $3 million budget to help small businesses survive during the current coronavirus crisis.

Co-founder Elie Habib revealed that, since March 15, the company has been running $850,000 worth of free audio ads for small businesses – supporting 90 SMEs so far.

He said: “Ads will reach over 13 million people in the Middle East and hopefully will help businesses get through these critical times.”

Anghami is also granting more than 400 local independent artists $1.5 million of ‘Amplify’ credits - a feature allowing artists to promote their content on Anghami to help them promote their current or future releases.

Plans are in place to incorporate a ‘Support my music’ button of artists’ pages, while small businesses will soon be able to launch their own web and mobile storefront with free advertising to promote their businesses on Anghami.

While a $6 family plan will allow six people to get the full Anghami Plus experience, a discounted price that will be valid for 12 months.

Habib said: “As an active member of the Arab community at large and its start-up ecosystem, but also as a founding member of the digital music community in the region, we believe we have to be outspoken about the necessity for everyone who can, to do more.”

He has also revealed a facility for members of the public to add their own suggestions on what can be done to help eachother through the Covid-19 outbreak.

“And we are far from done. While more challenging times unfold, we’re all together in this, trying to play a part as much as we can. The ball is in your court now –  got an idea that could contribute? 

“Together we will overcome this crisis, and tomorrow will play a better tune,” he added.

April 21st 2020, 6:52 am

Vy Capital invests in India's Itilite


Source: Vccircle

Itilite Technologies Pvt. Ltd, a software-as-a-service company focussed on business travel, has raised $13 million (Rs 99.45 crore at current exchange rates) in a Series B funding round.

New investor California-based Greenoaks Capital and existing backer Dubai-based Vy Capital led the round, Itilite said in a statement. Other returning investors including Matrix Partners India also put in money.

Bengaluru-based Itilite says its artificial intelligence-backed platform helps customers in managing their business travel process. It claims its service suite reduces the time taken with the booking experience while helping companies save up to 30% of their travel budget.

The company will use the capital it has raised to focus on its international expansion efforts and product innovation. “Consistently delivering a great experience to travellers and seamless process efficiency to companies has helped us become the business travel platform of choice,” chief executive officer Mayank Kukreja said.

Matrix India director Gourav Bhattacharya said the firm was confident about its latest commitment to Itilite because of the startup’s focus on its product and the opportunity in optimising travel costs for the business segment.

The company was founded in 2017 by Kukreja and chief business officer Anish Khadiya. Kukreja is an alumnus of IIT Delhi and IIM Ahmedabad while Khadiya is an alumnus of IIT Kharagpur and IIM Lucknow. Prior to Itilite, both of them worked at consulting firm McKinsey and fashion e-tailer Myntra.

Itilite had raised Rs 30 crore in a Series A funding round in January last year from Matrix and others including Helion Ventures founder Ashish Gupta. Prior that, it raised an undisclosed sum from Matrix and other angel investors in November 2017.

Continue reading the story

April 20th 2020, 8:57 am

Disruptech invests in Khazna & Brimore


Source: MenaBytes

Disruptech, the recently established Egypt-focused $25 million fintech fund founded by Fawry’s co-founder and former managing director Mohamed Okasha, and ‘leading finance guru’ Malek Sultan, has made its first two investments, it told MENAbytes today. The investments have been made in Khazna & Brimore. The firm did not disclose the exact size of investments but has told MENAbytes that each one of them is a six-figure USD deal.

Khazna, founded last year by Omar Saleh, Ahmed Wagueeh, Fatimah El Shenawy, and Omar Salah is a Cairo-based fintech that aims to provide mobile financial services to over 20 million underbanked Egyptian.

Omar Saleh said, the co-founder and CEO of Khazna, said, “We are happy to have Disruptech as an investor and longterm partner in Khazna. It is an industry specialized fund that will bring significant value to the company.”

Founded in 2017 by Mohamed Abdulaziz and Ahmed Sheikha, Brimore is a distribution technology platform that enables local manufacturers and suppliers to have nationwide coverage through a network of individual sales agents– mainly females – selling products directly to consumers in their circles using mobile apps and different other channels.

Mohamed Okasha, the Managing Partner of Disruptech, speaking to MENAbytes hinted that the Cairo-based startup could explore the option of expanding into digital lending (for its partners), “We look at fintech as an ecosystem and Brimore is an edistribution platform with a clear digital lending opportunity and supply chain finance which is part of this ecosystem.”

“We have been very selective with our choice of investors. Disruptech is a partner that will be adding great value and supporting the company with the experience its management team has, specifically in financial services and social impact," Mohamed Abdulaziz, the co-founder and CEO of Brimore, said

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April 20th 2020, 7:40 am

Hubpay raises seed investment


UAE-based Hubpay, a digital wallet for remittances has announced its seed round led by US venture capital firm, Signal Peak Ventures, marking its investment in the Middle East and was joined by angel investment group, the Falcon Network. The amount raised was not disclosed.

The financial technology (fintech) startup will use the investment to support the launch of its digital wallet in the Middle East market. According to a statement from Hubpay, the company is in the advanced stages of the licensing process to received a Money Services Licence in the UAE, to enable low cost digital remittances and international bill payment. Hubpay is hoping to address both the remittance market and the mobile money market by launching a digital wallet for both the senders and receivers.

“The fintech market in the Middle East is at a turning point.  A wave of new digital regulatory regimes has been launched enabling businesses like Hubpay to offer fully digital solutions to users in one of the largest remittance markets in the world,” said Kevin Kilty, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) at Hubpay. “In a post Covid-19 world, the digitalisation of remittances will accelerate, creating better access and supporting financial inclusion for the international remittance community."

The UAE is the third largest market for remittances globally, with $44 billion worth of payments made in 2019. The regional market is vast, with Gulf countries remittances exceeding those of the USA, and the majority of these flows going to the fastest growing mobile money markets in the world; India, Pakistan, Philippines, Bangladesh and Indonesia. The remittance channels provide a direct route to the $3trn digital wallet market across Asia. 


April 20th 2020, 7:40 am

OTF commits funding support to three online startups


Source: Oman Observer

The Oman Technology Fund (OTF), the Sultanate’s leading venture capital investment fund, has announced funding support for three Omani new startups that will help strengthen the virtual marketplace at a time when many conventional shops and establishments remain shuttered amid the current lockdown over the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Tharwa, Drewel and Hadaya join a total of seven online platforms named by the government-backed Fund as beneficiaries of funding assistance from a special purse of RO 1 million earmarked for innovative IT initiatives that help mitigate the effects of the pandemic.

As with all of the beneficiary projects supported by OTF, the latest platforms are designed to enable Omani farmers, livestock breeders and manufacturers of consumer goods to connect with customers online and thereby fuel the growth of e-commerce in the Sultanate.

Tharwa, an online platform set up by three Omanis, will serve as a virtual marketplace for suppliers and distributors of all kinds of fresh and processed meat to offer their products to consumers. The platform will cater to local as well as internationally sourced produce.

Hadaya’s launch coincides with the start of the Omani rose harvest and rosewater distillation season in Al Jabal Al Akdhar and is thus an apt platform for buyers of rose essence or other related products to connect with suppliers.

Finally, Drewel specializes in the home delivery of a range of fresh of produce, including fruits and vegetables, meat, foodstuff and household goods. It caters primarily to Omani farmers, producers and traders.

Continue reading the story

April 20th 2020, 6:49 am

360VUZ raises $5.8 million in Series A


UAE-based virtual reality (VR) mobile app 360VUZ, has secured $5.8 million in a Series A investment round led by Shorooq Partners with participation from KBW Ventures, Media Visions, Vision Ventures, Hala Ventures, 500Startups.

Other investors included Careem founder  Magnus Olsson and Maktoon founder Samih Toukan along with Jonathan Labin, the former managing director of Facebook Middle East.

“We are on a mission to help connect people around the globe by building a hyperconnected world while offering full control and authenticity,” said Khaled Zaatarah, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) at 360VUZ. “We are expanding the ability of every individual to teleport and connect with people and experiences virtually while removing the constraints of travel, time, and access. Today more than ever, we understand that building a hyperconnected world is vital, and it is solving one of the major problems that the entire world is facing right now.”

The investment will help the company further its global expansion and develop its immersive video app technology.

The 360VUZ Teleporter mobile app has been adopted in more than 15 countries, with a user engagement increase of more than 571 per cent in 2019 compared to the previous year. Over the past 30 days, the app saw a surge of 297 per cent in terms of user base.

“None of this would be possible without the tireless efforts of our team in addition to our partners who put 360VUZ on the global map,” said Zaatarah. “Our team is determined to keep on innovating and keeping users at the core by focusing hugely on personalisation and continuing our global roll out to more cities in Asia, Europe and the USA. We see the demand on our immersive and VR content increasing and we are excited to keep on innovating in the VR, AR [augmented reality] and live virtual video space."

“360VUZ reflects the true spirit of innovation. It is not only a regional, but also a global pioneer in the immersive video streaming space and we are truly privileged to join this exciting journey. By forging strong partnerships with telcos, the company has been able to rapidly scale into pivotal markets. Even during these difficult times of COVID-19, 360VUZ has continued to prove its value as an entertainment provider with massive growth in user engagement,” said Shane Shin, founding partner at Shorooq Partners.

This latest funding round brings the startup’s total funding raised to date to $7 million. 


April 20th 2020, 3:46 am

Fintech boom threatened by slowing economy


As retail businesses scramble to get online and banks and exchange houses shutter their doors for the foreseeable future, the one solution for consumers and businesses alike to conduct their financial services, has been financial technology (fintech).

A recent report published by the deVere Group found that the global pandemic has driven a 72 per cent rise in the use of fintech apps in Europe, indicating a huge spike in fintech adoption at a time when most sectors of the economy are suffering from what the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has described as the biggest recession since the 1930s.

The rise in the use of fintech apps comes amid a general growth in the use of digital technology in a bid to adapt to life in lockdown.

Existing fintech solutions already embrace many of the social distancing measures that are now a necessity. The lockdown is simply accelerating and strengthening trends that were already in motion and pushing the fintech sector to come up with further creative solutions to problems that have surfaced related to supporting customers, building relationships and planning for the future.

“Although there is a lot of uncertainty around the economy and how the next few months are going to look like, as we come out of this storm, there will be a lot of positives and momentum given to fintech,” says Mohammad El Saadi, co-founder of Mamo Pay, a UAE-based money transfer startup which recently raised $1.5 million in the run up to its official launch next year.

Fintech serves as a pivotal backbone of all online transactions from services like e-commerce, salary transfers to personal finance budgeting. Currently, it is the e-commerce drive that has pushed the momentum for fintech across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region as store closures have moved purchases online.  

“This crisis serves as a catalyst for enforcing digital transformation in companies. There was a lot of resistance from companies, and now they are forced to transform. All retailers who cannot sell anything are now putting their efforts to put everything online,” says Michael Truschler, co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) at UAE-based FlexxPay, which provides salary advances to employees.

Social Distancing Opportunity

The growth in online commerce has not only given a lifeline for some retailers but has redefined the spending behaviour for consumers.

Egypt-based payment platform Fawry, saw a shift in the type of services consumers purchase since the crisis began. Booking tickets for transportation, cash transactions for Uber and Careem, sports and events has almost stopped, but e-commerce payments have dramatically increased because of the working hours decrease of both banks and operators.

“The current pandemic and subsequent government regulations and directives by health authorities foretell a shift in consumer spending behaviors as more people embrace forms of payment that allow them to abide by the rules of social distancing,” says Gaurang Shah, senior vice-president of digital payments & labs at Mastercard Middle East and Africa.

With bank branches temporarily closed, customers have no choice but to resort to digital services, presenting an opportunity for banks and fintech companies to strengthen their relationship.

“Anybody who is lagging behind in terms of digital adoption, this has given them a massive shot to catchup and take advantage of what you can do via a smartphone,” says Katharine Budd, co-founder of NOW Money, which provides financial services for low-income workers in the GCC such as labourers, taxi drivers and cleaners who are usually paid in cash and do not earn enough on a monthly basis to open a bank account.

NOW Money has witnessed a 50 per cent growth month-on-month since the pandemic took hold in Mena, with a significant rise in engagement from existing customers as they prefer to stay at home.

“We initially saw a bit of a slowdown in terms of new clients over the first few weeks, but now people start to realise this is the new normal for a while, and we are seeing more demand from companies who need a way to manage finances remotely,” says Budd. “Most of the companies we work with are delighted they went through the change of the payroll process to move to us at some point over the last year, because now they are able to pay their staff without having to visit a bank, and more importantly the staff don’t have to visit somewhere to collect cash.”

As per Finch Capital’s Fintech: The Future Post CV-19 report, financial Institutions are turning to fintech companies rather than in-house solutions to accelerate their digital transformation. Consumer desire for digital banking services will most likely steadily increase, forcing many traditional financial institutions to fast-track digital innovation efforts.

“Last year we started to see a shift from regulators in the region. Now we are also seeing it with a lot of the financial institutions that are accepting this as the new reality to be able to support their customers and meet their expectations. Now there is more openness from banks to partner with fintech players,” says El Saadi.

Rising challenges

“Fintech is so broad, everybody will have their own pros and cons,” says Saeid Hejazi, founder and CEO at Wally, a personal finance budgeting app founded in Dubai. “If you’re someone who powers these e-commerce companies, you might see a boost in usage. It is very sector-specific in terms of how different companies are performing.”

Fintech startups focused on crowdfunding or issuing loans according to Hejazi “might be faced with a lot of people defaulting. There’s so much volatility, you might not see so much activity now. When your product targets first time investors, they might not have the stomach to deal with this volatility”.

This volatility and the overall economic slowdown might eventually stump the growth of fintech, particularly for startups looking to secure investment. As investors become more cautious, some early stage fintech companies may not be able to survive, as the pandemic could affect venture capital funding for new companies, as well as existing ones.

In addition, the impact of the expected drop in transactions at all levels of the economy worldwide poses a challenge. Cancelled flights, closed stores and social distancing have resulted in a fall in transaction volumes everywhere, impacting profitability as well as valuations for fintech firms.

“As a lot of people lose their jobs and incomes, there will be less people paying and spending money,” says Truschler. “We also expect a negative impact from the crisis in terms of onboarding new companies, it is challenging because a lot of them moved their attention to survival mode and they don’t want to do anything else.”

This need to go into survival mode is one that will have a knock-on effect on the fintech sector too.

“Fintech is not a sector that lives on its own, payments are enabling other sectors. We need to keep an eye out on how these sectors will shift, because that will also shift the payments needs for users, merchants and service providers,” says El Saadi.

But overall, many seem hopeful. While the volume of transactions is decreasing in the short term, in the long term, companies will likely “see the functional benefits of sending and receiving money digitally” according Truschler and that is something that will outlast the pandemic.

Wamda has invested in FlexxPay and NOW Money



April 19th 2020, 9:02 pm

Navigating COVID-19: Recessions, the runways for innovation?


Uncertainty is stressful in normal times. It’s hard enough to have the right business plan, create a clear strategy and message for both our teams and customers to understand. Throw in a pandemic, and uncertainty skyrockets.

History has also shown us that recessions give founders tremendous opportunities to innovate and reshape their businesses. Wamda is hosting an online webinar, 'Navigating COVID-19: Recessions, the runways for innovation' on Thursday, April 23rd, at 4:00 PM featuring Jason Nadal, from Centrado Advising, to discuss how founders can be more prepared. 

The webinar will address:

- The old runways: How past recessions laid the ground for new ways of thinking and new products.

- Being in the air now:  the turbulence that’s happening now and how that impacts short-term vs long-term thinking.

- The future can have smooth skies

 - A guide into how teams have the clarity on what they need to execute:

a. Business Strategy

b. Marketing

c. Sales Acceleration

Register your interest to tune in on the webinar, here.

April 19th 2020, 8:07 am

The e-grocery map of Mena


The online grocery market has grown rapidly since the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, with other food delivery platforms like Deliveroo pivoting to offer groceries to meet the rise in demand. Wamda has mapped the main e-grocery players across the Middle East and North Africa region. 


Marketplace - an online marketplace which fulfils consumer orders based on partnerships with local convenience stores and supermarkets

Pure Play - online-enabled grocery player which handles most, if not all the logistics of the value chain from farm to consumer 

Omnichannel - existing offline supermarkets with online grocery capabilities


April 15th 2020, 9:29 pm

Edtech startups: From perk to necessity


Schools and universities were among the first institutions that shuttered their doors around the world in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic. According to UNESCO, more than 150 countries have implemented nationwide closures, forcing over 80 per cent of world’s student population, estimated at more than 1.4 billion learners, to stay at home.

These closures have placed unprecedented challenges on governments to ensure learning continuity, likewise on teachers, students and parents. The only viable solution has been e-learning, paving the way for a boom in education technology (edtech) startups.

Across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), edtech was rarely at the forefront of investment deals prior to the pandemic. Back in 2017, just $2 million was invested in edtech startups in the region, but as schools looked to upgrade their system and incorporate more technology into their curricula, the level of investment rose to $21 million by the end of 2019. The number of edtech startups has also increased, on Magnitt’s database there were just 270 listed on the platform in 2017, but this has now exceeded 800 edtech startups as investors seek opportunities that are proving to be “pandemic-resistant”.

Most recently, the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Centre (Sheraa) awarded Jordan-based Little Thinking Minds a $100,000 equity-free grant to boost its development in the emirate. Three other edtech startups, BoBu, Narrativa and were each awarded $20,000 grants.

An Inescapable Need

Various facilities available on digital platforms, which were until now considered as a secondary learning option, are becoming a necessity according to Holon IQ’s Global Education Outlook amidst Covid-19, which states that “the time for online learning has come”.

“There is no running away from education technology,” says Mounira Jamjoom, co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) at Aanaab, an online platform specialised in the professional development of Arab educators through open learning. “The education sector is being transformed like there is no tomorrow. I see online learning becoming the norm, not the second option.”

The company recently raised $1.5 million in its seed round with participation from Wamda.

Similarly focusing on teacher enablement, UK-based online teaching platform Teacherly, which has presence in Europe and Mena, provides teachers with an opportunity to work collaboratively, fostering a community of peer-to-peer coaching.

“By 2040, 70 per cent of the population will be urbanised and this will have an impact on education,” says Atif Mahmood, founder and CEO at Teacherly. “We did not know this [outbreak] was going to happen, but we already had the vision to promote remote lessons and enable teachers to connect across schools and work remotely. This put us in a really good position now to take a massive leap and grab the opportunity.”

Teacherly has an increase of 30 per cent in the number of leads it is receiving every day. The team aimed to shorten the sales cycle by approaching the middle leadership, who are more receptive and quicker to take decisions. Currently, a big chunk of their inquiries come from principals and CEOs. Teacherly was already present in more than 2,000 schools around the world, and in the first week of home learning, the company onboarded 80 new schools while more than 6,000 teachers and 2,000 students have signed up during the coronavirus period.

“There will be a huge demand post-coronavirus for home schooling, which has been rising significantly year-on-year. This is a lesson to learn during this experimentational process, it has shed more light on home-learning,” adds Mahmood.

Startup Response

Edtech companies are navigating through the situation in multiple ways, from fast response to strategic shifts, product development, scaling and pushing for high conversion rates. UK-based Century Tech, an artificial intelligence (AI) company whose autonomous machine identifies areas that students find challenging and supports them with content to lead them through initially changed its business model and then its product in response to the virus.

“Century is an autonomous machine that essentially learns how the student is learning, so you do not need to sit next to the child. It constantly adapts based on every mouse movement the child makes,” says Priya Lakhani founder and CEO at Century Tech. “This is very fast. We looked at the crisis in January and we changed our model. We then looked at consumer demand and we changed our product.”

Century implemented several infrastructure changes in order to scale up and be able to meet the rise in demand.  

“[The outbreak] also affected the business model itself. At Century, we suddenly got an influx of parental interest. While the schools are using a standard LMS [learning management system], the parents are working and cannot sit next to young children all day to go through a scanned textbook, print it, take pictures of their child’s learning progress and send it back to teachers,” says Lakhani.  “A lot of parents started reaching out to us asking to have access for their kids, so at least for one or two hours a day they are supported by AI.”

This is a welcome respite for many parents juggling their own work with their children’s education.

“Parents are much more involved now with their children’s day to day education. We operate mostly in schools, but as a result of this distance learning we saw much more engagement from parents on our platform,” says Rama Kayyali, founder and CEO of Little Thinking Minds. “A lot of parents now are thinking why are we paying crazy amounts of money for schools? This is a great opportunity to up our game.”

Little Thinking Minds creates advanced digital solutions and platforms aimed at improving learning outcomes. It is also geared to help teachers manage their classrooms remotely.

Regional Inequality

“We had some schools who we were not able to reach before, now coming to us after realising the importance of edtech solutions,” says Kayyali. “At the same time, some schools are worried and freezing purchasing decisions until things are clearer. We have heard of plans for schools mergers and closures.”

The online learning readiness of schools and universities varies across the region. Governments in the GCC embraced the technological progress of public schools early on and private schools that charge hefty fees were already well-prepared with edtech solutions.

“Not a lot of schools could afford having the online component, but today schools and governments have no choice,” says Dina Shawr, CEO at Adam Tech Ventures, which recently invested in Jordan-based online learning platform Abwaab. “Investors in general do not like edtech because it is a volumes game and the multiples on it are low, the more students you have, the more traction you can achieve and the higher valuation you can get. However, the engagement numbers today are unbelievable, no one had expected this in such a short period of time.”

But investors and governments needs to be aware that online learning goes beyond providing students with a laptop and tablet and offering online tuition or education videos. The efficacy comes down to the technological infrastructure of the country and access to the internet. With the uptake of digital learning as an alternative solution for providing education to students at home higher than before, internet and servers capabilities need to be boosted in order to keep up with the surge in users.

“Going forward, the majority of the education sector would have understood how to use these technology effectively. The big challenge for ministries of educations around the world will be how to ensure that every child has access. There is always going to be this small percent of the population that do not have strong enough bandwidth, nor access to devices,” says Lakhani.  

The education sector has witnessed a paradigm shift in both learning and teaching that calls for public-private partnerships more than ever. Governments can avoid reinventing the wheel by working with edtech companies that already came a long way.

Moreover, many startups are looking to form partnerships with others working in the same field. With the demand rising for a holistic solution, there are a lot of edtech companies who seek to join hands as a conglomerate.

“Edtech companies that are rising to the challenge have to think about their cost-base. They should consider benefiting from government schemes and be as smart as they can to get through this time by mitigating the risks as much as possible,” says Lakhani. “Companies are thinking about how they can [grow] not just to thrive, but to survive. If people are not radically thinking of how to change their business right now, they are on the route to failure.”



April 15th 2020, 9:29 pm

Baims secures first edtech funding in Kuwait


Kuwait-based Baims has secured a seed round funding, the first education technology (edtech) investment in Kuwait. The round was led by AlWazzan Education with participation from Seeds Partners and several angel investors. The amount of investment is undisclosed.

Founded in 2017 by Yousef Alhusaini and Bader AlRasheed, Baims is the first to digitise the offline tutoring experience in Kuwait, making educational content accessible to students at all times.

Baims commenced operations with tailored tutoring courses based on university curricula. It then expanded its scope to include multiple colleges and universities in Kuwait and Riyadh, in addition to adding courses for high school students. With a recent 70 per cent discount on the usual price tag of a normal tutoring hour, the startup managed to break even within 24 hours.

The co-founders are now looking to boost the platform’s growth within the GCC and the wider Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region and create a more dynamic and fuller experience for students.

“Our ultimate goal is to be a part of the student’s life, Baims stands for Big Aims and our aim is to build a strong youth community for a better educational ecosystem in the GCC & MENA region and improve educational content,” said Bader AlRasheed, co-founder and chief technology officer (CTO) at Baims.

The platform offers a revenue-sharing model to participating instructors, who provide content tailored to each subject's curriculum by recorded courses, notes and quizzes. As of 2020, the startup has created more than 1,000 recorded courses and 30,000 lectures, recording more than 450,000 course enrollments.

As the COVID-19 outbreak continues, Baims is now offering all of its high school courses for free, which has attracted more than 130,000 new course subscriptions.

“Baims has been profitable since day one, and we believe that everyone should make money when they work with Baims. So basically, instructors invest their time and teach students, and create a new source of income, and they can do that while they are anywhere and anytime,” said Yousef Alhusaini, co-Founder and chief executive officer (CEO) at Baims.

April 15th 2020, 10:54 am

#AfricaVsVirus Challenge


The AfDB Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab is organising the #AfricaVsVirus Challenge as an opportunity to create tech and non-tech solutions to tackle some of the most pressing challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic. We are calling on socially committed citizens worldwide, problem solvers, creative minds, health experts, programmers, graphic and web-designers to come together in a 72-hour digital collaborative process to bring about ground-breaking solutions addressing some of the social and economic challenges posed by the coronavirus.

Following the #AfricaVsVirus Challenge the best solutions will be selected and will be fully implemented with partners and donors in Africa and worldwide. 

20 ideas will be selected to participate in the Seedstars Investment Readiness Program, a one month educational program that will further support the ideas in getting to MVP. In addition, the top 3 ideas will be eligible for over 50K USD in in-kind prizes and other prizes to help further support their idea.

Deadline to submit is April 15th. Details here

April 15th 2020, 7:22 am

Falcon Eye Drones raises investment from Aerodyne Group


Falcon Eye Drones Services (FEDS) Group Holdings, announced a “major strategic investment” from global drone-based management solutions provider Aerodyne Group.

This marks Aerodyne’s first investment in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region. The fund will help strengthen FEDS’s technology stack and benefit from Aerodyne’s drone and data technology as well as digital transformation capabilities.

FEDS has conducted thousands of commercial operations for some of the biggest companies in the Middle East, while Aerodyne itself is already a global leader with more than 300,000 infrastructure assets inspected and managed across 25 countries. Both companies are ranked among the top 20 drone service providers by Drone Industry Insights.

“I am very excited with this strategic alliance and have no doubt that it will add significant value to FEDS, our clients and Aerodyne Group.,” said Rabih Bou Rashid, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) at FEDS. “We look forward to continuously create value and expand the frontier in the drone services space together with Aerodyne.”

The new investment comes as part of Aerodyne’s two-year plan to aggressively expand its global footprint, with plans to complete seven mergers and acquisitions.  

“By combining our expertise and FEDS local content, we have created a platform that is primed to be the market leader in the region and will supercharge our next phase of growth,” said Kamarul A Muhamed, founder and group CEO at Aerodyne.

April 15th 2020, 6:49 am

Roundup of STEP’s first virtual conference


Dubai-based STEP launched its first online event as part of its series on the impact of COVID-19 on businesses. The two-hour event featured Fadi Ghandour, executive chairman at Wamda, Rabea Ataya founder and CEO of and Eleni Kitara regional head of automotive and financial services at Facebook who all shared their expert views and strategies on handling business in times of crisis.

Here is a summary of the main points:

Fadi Ghandour, Wamda 

- Everyone in the ecosystem now is in the “triage mode”. Startup founders should be aware that everyone now is in the triage mode, and VCs and investors are no exception.

 - Everyone - including government, private sector companies, is now focusing on what keeps their businesses agile and relevant rather than on focusing on things they cannot control or foresee.

- When it comes to raising funds in times like these, relevance is the key word here – which means that in order to get the attention of investors, it is important to prove that your businesses would be able to come out resilient and relevant during, and after the crisis period.

Rabea Ataya,

- Drawing on our experience at the company, what we did early on in this crisis is to divide our team into those that would focus on defence and those who focus on the offence. 

- On the defence side, people like the chief financial officer, the human resources managers and myself are most concerned with preserving cash flow, creating new efficiencies and ensuring that we are able to survive the crisis in the long run. Meanwhile, the head of marketing along with our chief commercial officer and our chief technology officer are all tasked with looking for new investment opportunities and driving the business forward.

Eleni Kitra, Facebook

- Working from home especially for women working at the company lends a challenge for them as they have to create a tradeoff between their responsibilities at home and work. The new situation is affecting women in terms of how they are going to work after the crisis ends. Industries with high concentrations of women workers are going to be affected the most as the focus would be shifted towards generating more income rather than empowering women. We will see women not being able to get a job or being the first ones to be taken out of the production.


April 15th 2020, 5:35 am

Eventtus secures investment to launch a virtual events platform


UAE-based Eventtus, has secured an investment round to launch a new digital events platform in response to the Covid-19 impact on the events industry. The round was led by Algebra Ventures, Hala Ventures and DAAL VC. The amount is undisclosed.

Founded in 2012 by Mai Medhat and Nihal Fares, Eventtus develops mobile event apps, ticketing and registration systems and business intelligence reports that enable event organisers to create engaging event experiences.

The company came up with a new solution, which will be available within the next few weeks, to meet the market demand as virtual events continue to replace on-ground ones across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region following the Covid-19 outbreak.

The new platform will enable audiences to check into the event, attend sessions, network together and interact with speakers. It is planned to offer diverse features that fit different types of events, including workshops, corporate events, large summits and hackathons.

"Virtual events are here to stay. The current pandemic is changing human behaviour and how we use technology and do business, and the current video conferencing offering doesn't fit the future of events,” said Mai Medhat, co-founder and CEO at Eventtus.

Eventtus is developing the new platform with the future of events post Covid-19 in mind so that it supports hybrid events that merge between on-ground and live experiences.

“What Eventtus has built over the last few years provides a solid foundation that will allow them to reinvent conferences and exhibitions. The team’s track record of creating innovative experiences makes us confident they can succeed in that,” said Ziad Mokhtar, general partner at Algebra Ventures.

Earlier, Eventtus had announced a partnership with the media company Sawarly to modify their event app so that it supports the digital experience, only a week after the pandemic.

April 14th 2020, 6:03 am

Mubadala Capital invests in US-based Wellpay


Source: IBSintellegence

California-based Wellpay, a FinTech platform provider for the healthcare industry, has also announced that the company secured $3.8 million in funding led by investors 8vc, Montage Ventures, Mubadala Capital-Ventures, TTCER, and

The company is planning to use the finance to open its services as early as possible, considering the increased demand from patients and providers across US.

“As the spread of COVID-19 continues, many Americans find themselves experiencing unprecedented financial hardship due to unanticipated employment terminations, layoffs, and changes in health insurance coverage, compounding the already stressful medical billing and payment situations. Likewise, medical providers are working harder than ever to profitably run their practices, and deliver quality care. Our independent healthcare providers are the backbone of our healthcare system. With this pandemic they’re struggling to make ends meet while grappling with the complexities and operational burdens of patient billing,” said Mohammad Gaber, CEO and co-founder, Wellpay.

Wellpay’s FinTech platform is powered by machine learning, and it enables patients to secure their medical bills or upload medical bills they wish to pay over time. It then negotiates, facilitates disputes, or provides a zero-interest, zero-fees plan. The platform will manage payment plans, bill management, and communication.

The company has announced that it is waiving off all platform fees for healthcare providers, aiming to offer administrative and financial relief for providers and their front line staff. It has also announced that a dedicated advocate, who support via SMS text message will be provided for COVID-19 patients.

“Good health and financial security shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. Many Americans struggle with difficult decisions about their medical care, including whether or not to seek diagnoses or treatments in light of their financial situation. Wellpay helps to alleviate this problem by offering socially responsible solutions that improve the results and trust for providers and patients alike,” said Alaa Halawa, Co-head of US Ventures, Mubadala Capital-Ventures.

Continue reading the story

April 14th 2020, 4:33 am

Fawry’s founder launches fintech fund


Egypt-based financial technology (fintech) company Fawry has played a pivotal role in providing digital payment capabilities to businesses and consumers alike in the country. Last year, the company went public on the Egyptian Exchange, a feat realised by few startups in the Middle East. Now, Fawry’s co-founder Mohamed Okasha has stepped down as the company’s managing director to launch his own fintech fund with a target size of $25 million. 

We spoke with Okasha about the fund and why he decided to launch it. 

Can you tell us more about your fintech fund?

It is an early-stage fund that focuses on Egyptian startups that have the potential to realise success in two years and are Covid-19 resilient -which means that their business was not negatively impacted by the ongoing crisis. We have already started talks with startups that we are willing to work with.

The launch itself was already planned a few months ago before the Covid-19 crisis. I believe that there is no better time to proceed with this step than now. With the changes in the e-commerce market speeding up, I was more and more confident that this is the right time to launch because I believe that after the crisis is over, fintech will be a main winning segment of the economy. 

Who else is going to be leading the fund?

We have Malik Sultan on board [he] is an incumbent board member of Raya Holding and used to work as a financial investment advisor for one the Gulf family offices. Another member coming from the field of venture capital (VC) is going to join us this month.

What advice would you give to fintech startups to help them navigate the current situation? 

There are two approaches to tackle the situation; firstly, most businesses should be working on passing the stress test placed on their PNN and cash, in order to ensure that they can survive the situation for as long as it lasts. This is called the defensive approach. Secondly, once you secure enough cash to survive, you should then embrace the offensive approach, which means to move aggressively into growth in areas that you believe are going to maintain their momentum after this crisis.

What are the major fintech trends that are likely to be seen in the near future?

Merchants will be rapidly disrupted in the coming period, plus a lot of businesses will go [online], particularly the distribution business since it is very traditional. There is a lot of disruption in that space that is going to happen. The integration of open banking should be quickly embraced by banks and other financial institutions, which has already happened in different parts of the world. Also, the insurtech is growing very fast.

What has happened to Fawry since going public? 

Given that Fawry has around 25 million monthly users, the brand continues to gain the trust of people. We had people investing in Fawry with their personal money after they realised the extent of the good impact that the services offered them, so some of them took the decision to invest in Fawry and then realise some of the returns. That was one good impact. Besides, as the result of being listed on the Egyptian Exchange, we had three main anchor investments, including National Bank of Egypt, Nasser Social Bank (NSB) and private equity firm Actis.

Do you think this is a good step for other fintech startups to follow?

It depends on the stage and the time. As in the case of Fawry, we had the first exit in 2015, when we had a complete acquisition from a consortium of funders, who acquired the company from the old shareholders. And then we continued our operations with them being in charge for four years until we realised that this was a good time to go to the stock exchange. We were the first financial technology company to list in Egypt. 


April 13th 2020, 8:54 pm

Mena startups raise $277 million in Q1 2020


Source: Arabian Business

Startups in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region raised $277 million in the first three months of 2020, a two percent increase on last year, according to Magnitt’s Q1 2020 Mena Venture Investment report.

The startup data platform revealed this was down to a strong start to the year - pre-coronavirus - with several startups raising large funding rounds in January and February, including Kitopi ($60m), Vezeeta ($40m), and SellAnyCar ($35m).

However, it added that investment deals for Q1 were down 22 percent compared to the same period last year and, with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, that figure tumbled further in March, with a drop of 67 percent recorded.

"Historical data highlights that investment rounds across Mena tend to take, on average, six months to come to fruition,” said Philip Bahoshy,​ Magnitt’s founder & CEO.

“We will most likely not see the full impact of Covid-19 on the venture funding space yet for a few months. However, early indications have already shown a slowdown in funding announcements, as startups and investors re-evaluate their positions in this new environment.”

E-commerce, edtech interest

Understandably, Bahoshy said that investor appetite has increased in startups covering grocery delivery, healthcare, e-commerce and edtech.

While Magnitt’s fundraising tool, which virtually hosts 74 investor and accelerator applications, has seen a ​117 percent increase in applications month-over-month since January, as startups increasingly look for alternative ways to fundraise during the current crisis.

A survey of over 100 startup founders participating in Magnitt’s weekly webinar series saw 59 percent say their business had already been impacted by the crisis.

Some 48 percent said revenue generation was their major concern and 25 percent pointing to fundraising as the issue that keeps them up at night; while 41 percent anticipate lower-than-expected revenue growth rates in 2020, with 29 percent anticipating revenue below 2019 figures.

April 13th 2020, 4:58 am

Navigating COVID-19: Managing people and talent


Wamda is hosting an online webinar, 'Navigating COVID-19: Managing people and talent' on Wednesday, April 15th, at 4:00 PM featuring Nathalie Spree, Partner at True. The webinar will address the impact COVID-19 continues to have on the way we work and operate, as well as the way we manage talent.

How can founders manage their employees, and teams during these times? What are some of the issues founders may be facing when dealing with people and talent in light of the changes brought on by this crisis? 

About Nathalie Spree: 

Nathalie has worked within the tech industry for the past 11 years in Dubai, previously heading up the people functions at Dubizzle and Property Finder. Currently she is a Partner at True, having recently launched their Dubai office, and focuses on attracting and retaining high-class talent from around the world, to work with innovative tech lead companies here in the Region. She has extensive experience of building teams, especially at startup-phase, leadership recruiting and the challenges that companies face in all things related to people, talent and operations. Well versed with building strong cultures from very early stages through to companies in high-growth phase.

If you are interested in attending this online webinar, please fill out this form.  Wamda will reach out with a confirmation email, along with the link to the webinar. 

April 12th 2020, 5:43 am

HDC raises $350,000 in seed funding


UAE-based startup Hotel Data Cloud (HDC), has raised $350K in seed funding from both local and international investors, to help hotels re-connect remotely with their customers.

The funding will enable HDC to accelerate the introduction of its artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) based recommendation engine to help hotels optimise their customer experience and expand their customer base in an effort to help hotels quickly get back on their feet as soon as the crisis is over.

Through the new technologies, the company will manage to create customisable and personalised AI-powered travel recommendations engine, which is expected to increase CTR (click through rate) by over 35 per cent for online bookings  

"The travel and hospitality industry has taken a catastrophic hit and we need to work together to ensure a fast and effective recovery," said Gregor Amon, co-founder and managing partner at HDC. "We’re very proud of our investors, who believe in the vision of HDC and have stepped up to ensure that we are able to accelerate the introduction of AI and machine learning into our systems.”

HDC has a portfolio of over 11,400 hotels across 153 countries.


April 12th 2020, 5:26 am

Navigating COVID-19: Managing performance while working remotely


Wamda is hosting an online webinar, 'Navigating COVID-19: Managing performance while working remotely' on Wednesday, April 15th, at 4:00 PM featuring Nathalie Spree, Partner at True. The webinar will address the impact COVID-19 has had on the way we live, work and operate, as well as the way we measure performance as teams, and individuals, while working remotely. 

What are the metrics founders can use to measure the performance of their employees during these times? 

About Nathalie Spree: 

Nathalie has worked within the tech industry for the past 11 years in Dubai, previously heading up the people functions at Dubizzle and Property Finder. Currently she is a Partner at True, having recently launched their Dubai office, and focuses on attracting and retaining high-class talent from around the world, to work with innovative tech lead companies here in the Region. She has extensive experience of building teams, especially at startup-phase, leadership recruiting and the challenges that companies face in all things related to people, talent and operations. Well versed with building strong cultures from very early stages through to companies in high-growth phase.

If you are interested in attending this online webinar, please fill out this form.  Wamda will reach out with a confirmation email, along with the link to the webinar. 

April 12th 2020, 4:56 am

Balancing short-term survival with long-term stability


Scott Cairns is the managing director at Creation Business Consultants, a structuring and advisory services firm based in the UAE 

An unexpected crisis can be a huge blow, especially if you haven’t planned for adverse market conditions. It’s natural to go into survival mode, doing what you can to stay afloat, but then it becomes about existing rather than thriving. Webster’s Dictionary defines existence as living “at an inferior level or under adverse circumstances”, and the problem with an existence stance is that once conditions improve, you’re unlikely to be in a position to capitalise on the growth.

What’s more, you run the risk of diminishing your cash supplies until the only options available are being bought out by a more powerful entity or being forced to close. Instead, the aim of surviving a crisis should be to emerge stronger and more resilient.

So, what can you do to get through the immediate challenges and secure your position for long-term prosperity? The answer is planning. One of the fundamental pillars of any business should be a comprehensive business strategy, and you need to revisit these core areas:

  1. Cashflow Forecasting

Create extended forecasts for a broader picture

The old “cash is king” adage never rang truer than now when cashflow management should be your top priority. The first step is to construct a forecast. While a 12-week cashflow forecast is the norm (anything longer becomes more of a guesstimate), given the level of uncertainty at the moment, we would recommend running a cashflow forecast until at least the end of 2020.  

  1. Cashflow Management

Balance cashflow constraints with commercial operational needs

Once the forecast is prepared, you can determine essential versus non-essential spending, and make swift decisions to pare back the non-essential as quickly as possible. You also need to manage the essential spending by taking informed decisions. We’re hearing of many companies decreasing salaries, making redundancies, closing and consolidating divisions, etc. but the best advice when it comes to examining staff costs is to tread carefully.

Staff members are the lifeblood of most businesses and redundancies should be a last resort. Re-arranging work hours and pay levels is the first step and a potential decrease in salary can be modeled in the forecast to see the impact on your short and long-term cash position.

Aim to retain enough human capital to offer an adequate service level to clients during the challenging times, while keeping an eye on the future. When things improve, you want your staff to hit the ground running and respond to a rapid increase in output, rather than going through a lengthy hiring and training process.

  1. Supplier Negotiation

Try to be fair, not right

You’re likely to be looking for extended credit terms, payment terms, and discounts from suppliers. Now is a good time to have these open discussions, but again consider the future impact. If you push too hard for a quick win, it can damage your long-term relationship and jeopardise the goodwill you have previously earned. You’ll need to work with these companies in the future; people remember those who helped them and treated them fairly when times were tough.

  1. Customer Negotiation

Offer added value with mutually beneficial terms

If you’re asking your suppliers for discounts, don’t be surprised when your customers come looking for the same help. Try to see it as an opportunity rather than a loss of cashflow or revenue and use your negotiation skills to find a mutually beneficial solution. One of the worst things you can do is instantly offer a massive discount in price, just because a client asks for it. Instead, look at options to maintain the sale value as much as possible, but consider including some complimentary services. Or a manageable discount combined with a longer minimum contract period. Everything is on the table, so come up with creative ways to offer extra value to your clients, as well as keeping your cashflow healthy and securing longer customer agreements.

  1. Re-evaluate Operations

The old way isn’t necessarily the best

This worldwide experiment is proof that people and businesses can adapt and operate in circumstances they never imagined possible. Now is a great time to analyse whether the old way of doing business was actually the most efficient. For example, remote working can reduce short-term costs and large office overheads, as well as attracting valuable talent that can’t manage the usual 9 to 5 office attendance (think stay-at-home parents with an amazing skill set that have a lot to offer).

  1. Outsourcing

Don’t keep all of your expertise in-house

The benefits of outsourcing your back-office functions will be immediately visible on your cashflow forecast. Consider if certain tasks, such as accounting, payroll, public relations services, and human resources/legal support, can be outsourced to other providers. This means that the quality of work can be easily maintained as you’ll be dealing with skilled professionals who are dedicated to providing these services, but you can still see a cost-saving when there is a slowdown.

So, with all the preceding advice in mind, it is extremely important to consider the long-term ramifications of your short-term decisions. Now isn’t the time to save a few hundred dollars on consulting fees, only to find yourself battling lawsuits for breach of contract in the coming months. Make sure all the steps you take have a solid professional basis to keep you in a strongly defensible position moving forward.  

April 11th 2020, 8:51 pm

ADIO allocates $100 million to four agritech companies


Source: The National

Abu Dhabi Investment Office (Adio) invested $100 million (Dh367m) to bring four agriculture technology companies to the emirate as part of government efforts to attract high-skilled talent and cutting-edge research.

Adio partnered with AeroFarms, Madar Farms, RNZ and RDI to build new agri-tech research and development (R&D) facilities and production centres in Abu Dhabi, it said on Thursday. The idea is to explore how arid-climate countries can benefit from these technologies.

"It's quite significant because it's in line with Abu Dhabi's long-term ambitions through these programmes to attract technology, R&D, high-skilled labour ... but also to use this as a platform to expand, trial and refine these technologies and export them to the world with Abu Dhabi having led these initiatives," Tariq Bin Hendi, director general of Adio, said in an interview.

Last year, Adio launched a targeted incentive programme to accelerate the growth of the emirate’s developing AgTech scene and promote innovation that is relevant locally and can be exported globally. To date, Adio allocated nearly 40 per cent of its Dh1 billion agri-tech incentive programme, which is part of the government’s Ghadan 21 accelerator initiative.

The deal, which has been in the making for six to seven months, will see Adio support the companies operating in the emirate from set-up to commercialisation, Mr Bin Hendi said.

"We've got 24,000 farms here, so based on that, what kind of technologies can we use to drive efficiencies in crop yield, water usage and so on. Some of these companies we're looking for address some of these requirements," he said.

Partnering with these firms to further develop the agri-tech base in Abu Dhabi could also attract other companies in the sector to plug into the R&D centres here, while the four companies are also partnering with one another, he said.

Four companies, four challenges

Each of the four companies is tasked with solving regional and global challenges.

US-headquarted AeroFarms conducts research while also tackling the challenges of desert agriculture from its new 8,200-square metre R&D centre in Abu Dhabi. The centre will be the biggest indoor vertical farm of its kind in the world, according to Adio, and projected to employ more than 60 highly-skilled engineers, horticulturists and scientists.

Madar Farms, a home-grown UAE firm, will build the world’s first commercial-scale indoor tomato farm using only LED lights in Kizad. The company is also set to scale up the commercialisation of micro-green growing to help provide a consistent local food supply that responsibly uses the region's natural resources.

RDI is developing an irrigation system to transform water usage in UAE agriculture and conducting research trials to increase crop yields in sandy soils and non-arable land.

Locally-based firm RNZ will set up an R&D centre to research, formulate and commercialise "agri-input" solutions that will help to grow more with less.

Adio offered a package of cash and non-cash incentives to the companies including rebates of up to 75 per cent on R&D expenditure upon commercialisation of new solutions developed in Abu Dhabi, it said.

The companies will benefit from "plentiful land, natural heat, competitive energy prices and access to research universities and skilled talent", according to the statement.

Many of Abu Dhabi’s 24,000 farms use modern irrigation and specific techniques designed to grow produce in minimal water.

Adio has a "very healthy pipeline" of companies at various stages of discussions and is pursuing other companies that can benefit from establishing a base in the emirate, Mr Bin Hendi said, without disclosing details.

"We've been looking across the technology spectrum in agriculture and proactively reaching out to many of the entities and institutions globally that we think could benefit from being in Abu Dhabi, our programme supporting their ambitions and the long-term aspirations we both have," he said.

"We do have quite a few firms in our pipeline now in various stages of discussion... there's more in pipeline, there's more to come."

April 9th 2020, 12:07 pm

ADIO invests $100 million in 4 agritech companies


Source: The National

Abu Dhabi Investment Office (Adio) invested $100 million (Dh367m) to bring four agriculture technology companies to the emirate as part of government efforts to attract high-skilled talent and cutting-edge research.

Adio partnered with AeroFarms, Madar Farms, RNZ and RDI to build new agri-tech research and development (R&D) facilities and production centres in Abu Dhabi, it said on Thursday. The idea is to explore how arid-climate countries can benefit from these technologies.

"It's quite significant because it's in line with Abu Dhabi's long-term ambitions through these programmes to attract technology, R&D, high-skilled labour ... but also to use this as a platform to expand, trial and refine these technologies and export them to the world with Abu Dhabi having led these initiatives," Tariq Bin Hendi, director general of Adio, said in an interview.

Last year, Adio launched a targeted incentive programme to accelerate the growth of the emirate’s developing AgTech scene and promote innovation that is relevant locally and can be exported globally. To date, Adio allocated nearly 40 per cent of its Dh1 billion agri-tech incentive programme, which is part of the government’s Ghadan 21 accelerator initiative.

The deal, which has been in the making for six to seven months, will see Adio support the companies operating in the emirate from set-up to commercialisation, Mr Bin Hendi said.

"We've got 24,000 farms here, so based on that, what kind of technologies can we use to drive efficiencies in crop yield, water usage and so on. Some of these companies we're looking for address some of these requirements," he said.

Partnering with these firms to further develop the agri-tech base in Abu Dhabi could also attract other companies in the sector to plug into the R&D centres here, while the four companies are also partnering with one another, he said.

Four companies, four challenges

Each of the four companies is tasked with solving regional and global challenges.

US-headquarted AeroFarms conducts research while also tackling the challenges of desert agriculture from its new 8,200-square metre R&D centre in Abu Dhabi. The centre will be the biggest indoor vertical farm of its kind in the world, according to Adio, and projected to employ more than 60 highly-skilled engineers, horticulturists and scientists.

Madar Farms, a home-grown UAE firm, will build the world’s first commercial-scale indoor tomato farm using only LED lights in Kizad. The company is also set to scale up the commercialisation of micro-green growing to help provide a consistent local food supply that responsibly uses the region's natural resources.

RDI is developing an irrigation system to transform water usage in UAE agriculture and conducting research trials to increase crop yields in sandy soils and non-arable land.

Locally-based firm RNZ will set up an R&D centre to research, formulate and commercialise "agri-input" solutions that will help to grow more with less.

Adio offered a package of cash and non-cash incentives to the companies including rebates of up to 75 per cent on R&D expenditure upon commercialisation of new solutions developed in Abu Dhabi, it said.

The companies will benefit from "plentiful land, natural heat, competitive energy prices and access to research universities and skilled talent", according to the statement.

Many of Abu Dhabi’s 24,000 farms use modern irrigation and specific techniques designed to grow produce in minimal water.

Adio has a "very healthy pipeline" of companies at various stages of discussions and is pursuing other companies that can benefit from establishing a base in the emirate, Mr Bin Hendi said, without disclosing details.

"We've been looking across the technology spectrum in agriculture and proactively reaching out to many of the entities and institutions globally that we think could benefit from being in Abu Dhabi, our programme supporting their ambitions and the long-term aspirations we both have," he said.

"We do have quite a few firms in our pipeline now in various stages of discussion... there's more in pipeline, there's more to come."

April 9th 2020, 10:17 am

How startups beat the supermarkets in online grocery surge


The 24-hour lockdowns that have become commonplace in several cities across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) has resulted in such a drastic rise for online grocery shopping, that traditional supermarkets are struggling to fulfil orders in time.  The demand has pushed food delivery platforms like Deliveroo, Otlob in Egypt and Careem NOW in Saudi Arabia to start offering groceries on their platforms alongside their roster of meals from restaurants. Even Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority (RTA) has redirected its taxi drivers to carry out deliveries for groceries and other online orders across the city in a bid to meet customer demand.

According to research firm Euromonitor International, “the number of individuals working from home or unable to leave their homes placed a tremendous burden on the infrastructure of e-commerce retailers, as consumers look to purchase necessary goods from their home and remain dependent on their country’s delivery infrastructure and supply chains.”

Complaints against supermarkets that have missed delivery times have increased on social media. Carrefour, one of the region’s largest supermarket chains, was targeted heavily on social media by irritated customers.  

One post on the company’s Facebook page said: “this just shows that you are not prepared for times like this. Just stop taking orders online if you can’t keep up.”

The supermarket responded by sending an apology to all its customers via email saying, “despite our best efforts, we have been unable to process all orders within the committed delivery time”. As a solution Carrefour, like other outlets, has reduced the amount of delivery slots available and encouraged customers to shop in store. Majid Al Futtaim, the company which operates the Carrefour chain in the UAE also tried to reinforce the supermarket’s capacity by redeploying 1,000 workers from its other entertainment attractions that were shut down due to the Coronavirus outbreak, including Vox Cinemas, Magic Planet and Ski Dubai, to work in Carrefour’s warehouses, distribution centres and complete online orders. Still, the earliest delivery time that Carrefour currently offers in the UAE is two weeks from the date of order and other supermarkets are struggling to deliver in under a week.

Startups Leading the Way

But while the traditional operators have struggled to meet demand, the e-grocery startups responded better and are managing to tackle the surge more effectively.  

“There was a huge rush in terms of meeting this extra demand. As a startup we have the luxury of deciding and acting fast, so we have been quick to add more people on the ground, who got fully absorbed and utilised,” says Nader Amiri, founder of UAE-based el Grocer.

According to Amiri, customer shopping habits prior to the Coronavirus outbreak already signalled an inevitable growth in e-grocery.

“Whenever there was rain in Dubai or it was flu season, we saw a spike in orders,” he says. “There have been signals of this, not to the current level though. This is giving the opportunity for the whole e-grocery segment to break the convention of early adopters stage. People are now proactively looking for solutions.”

E-grocery startups that operate the marketplace model have proven to be in a better position to meet customer demand and maintain shorter delivery times as the last mile tends to be fulfilled by the supermarket themselves.

“The beauty of being a marketplace is that we are already prepared for higher volumes of orders, compared to other platforms offering only their own stores. We cover 500 supermarkets in UAE, they are able to cope with the increasing percentage using their capacity,” says Cosmin Manea, founding partner and general manager of UAE-based InstaShop, which recorded a spike of 70 per cent in app downloads. The company’s daily rate of orders has increased by 53 per cent and is still on the rise while basket value has seen a 71 per cent increase.

And it is not just in the UAE where e-grocery startups have witnessed a boom, it is a trend reflected across the region as people avoid leaving their homes. Saudi Arabia-based Nana, which recently secured an $18 million series B investment round with participation from Wamda, is witnessing a substantial increase in consumer demand, increasing its capacity three-fold.  

“This is a gamechanger. There is a trigger in certain periods that makes businesses big. We are closing contracts with new partners and onboarding a huge number of customers every day,” says Sami Alhelwa, founder and CEO at Nana. “This is a chance for us not just to increase orders, but to create habits, and convert customers from offline to online. We also help partners to survive and even sell more in this hard period.”

Changing Habits

Founders are confident that once the pandemic subsides and restrictions on movement will be lifted, people will continue to buy their groceries online.

“People shifted to online purchasing because of indicators from the World Health Organisation to try to stay at home. I think a big amount of these new users who are trying e-grocery will stick to the convenience of it moving on,” says Manea.

Prior to the outbreak, e-groceries accounted for just 1 per cent of the e-commerce sector in Mena. Moreover, the vast majority of these online grocery purchases were completed through cash on delivery (COD), but this has already shifted as companies try to maintain “contactless” deliveries. Some e-grocery companies like Nana and UAE-based Kibsons have stopped offering COD as an option altogether, while others have seen a reduction in the number of customers opting to pay by cash.

“COD used to be around 30-35 per cent of transactions, but it is now around 20-25 per cent,” says Amiri. “We have customers who still request COD especially with groceries, they are conscious to see and receive them, then pay.”

Whether this pandemic will spell the end of COD however, remains to be seen.

“Nowadays customers are shifting more towards card or wallet payments, Corona will not end cash on delivery but it will reduce it drastically,” says Mohammad Nassar Al Refaee, founder of UAE-based NRTC Fresh, which claims to have seen a 200 per cent growth in sales on its platform.

Challenges of Fast Growth

Amid this boom, the entire e-grocery sector has been put under pressure and in many cases overpowering their capacity to meet demand.

“It’s not easy to double or triple staff and train them on the right procedures [so quickly] especially with some curfew constraints and the extra precautions needed,” says Amiri. “We are trying to iron out issues that pop up, add more people, launch new stores that have been approaching us more and we want to accelerate.”

Some have resorted to limiting the amount customers can order in a bid to keep up. Egyptian household shopping app GoodsMart is allowing customers to order a maximum of 10 items per product to ensure sufficient stock. Lulu Group, which operates hypermarkets across Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE arranged for charter flights to be flown into the region from India to stock up its outlets in response to the dramatic rise in demand.

“We increase our supply every day by 10 -15 per cent and it is still not enough. Another challenge lies in new regulations that come up every day by the government to control people’s movement, affecting deliveries,” says Nana’s Alhelwa.

While no one can be certain of when this pandemic and the restrictions on movement will end, one thing is clear - online grocery shopping in Mena will continue to thrive.



April 8th 2020, 8:55 pm

In conversation with Hussam Hammo of Tamatem


The Middle East’s mobile gaming industry was already a booming one prior to the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic that has seen much of the region cooped up inside.

This, coupled with a complete shut down of outdoor activities has given the region’s population more time and incentive to play games on their mobile phones. The size of the mobile games market across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) is expected to reach $2.3 billion in 2020 according to Statista, a 238 per cent increase from $680 million in 2015.

One of the region’s largest mobile phone publishers, Jordan-based Tamatem, is one such gaming company that has noticed a growth in demand. Just before the outbreak, the company raised $3.5 million in an investment round led by Wamda.

We spoke with Tamatem’s Hussam Hammo, who founded the company back in 2013.

What has been the impact of Covid-19 on your business?

Despite this very difficult time for humanity, for the entertainment and gaming businesses, now is the big time. The main reason is that people are staying at home with no outside entertainment options. So in the past, we, as a gaming company were not just competing with other gaming companies, but anything that takes times from the users, like the cinema, parks, going out, doing anything is a sort of a competition for time.

Most people are indoors, with powerful devices and an internet connection and they’re willing to try new things now.

We have seen significant growth in daily active users. We have seen a 20 per cent increase in revenues since the beginning of March. We have also seen growth in the time spent playing games. This year, we’re looking to break records.

How have you responded to the rise in demand?

I think the quarantine will take longer than expected. Our aim is to acquire as many users, we’re doubling down on our marketing efforts to acquire as many users as we can. We have increased our marketing spend by 200 per cent since the beginning of March.

We are seeing that we are acquiring users for a significantly lower cost, the main reason behind that is there is less competition for brand advertising. Advertising in general has gone down on a global scale. We have acquired users outside of the region, mainly Arabs living in the US and Europe, who are usually more expensive to acquire.

Have you noticed any negative impact?

The only negative impact is on business development. We’re a publisher, we have a B2B (business-to-business) and B2C (business-to-consumer) side. The B2C side went up in an excellent way but the B2B has been hit. The main reason behind that is the other companies we are dealing with are also in lockdown and they are afraid. They are trying to manage their work remotely and things are changing.

A lot of the business development efforts we do depends on us attending events and conferences. One of the biggest gaming events, where about 100,000 people attend was cancelled. So many other conferences have been cancelled and meeting partners to go and close deals has not happened.

What makes the gaming market in the Middle East such an attractive investment?

The main reason why it is an interesting market is because it has the highest average revenue per paying user in the entire world and Saudi Arabia is the country with the highest rate in the world, we are looking at seven to eight times higher than China. The average spend per user in Saudi is $270. We have seen in our games averages of $450 spend per user. We have heard stories from our partners and friends in China and South Korea who are targeting the Arab market because some users are paying $1000-2000 in a single game.

It is an industry that is not affected very much on a day to day basis. We compare it a lot to buying a cup of coffee, even if the price of oil goes down, you still buy your coffee. Most of these people who spend lots of money on games, this is their main source of entertainment, they spend hours playing them.

How have you adapted to working remotely?

We tried to be pioneers and implement a quick plan to work from home. We anticipated things would escalate quickly. We gave managers and employees training on how to manage work from home, it required us to learn how to do that and we found a lot of networks and material online. I am seeing excellent results. I believe the entire community will learn how to work from home and maybe we will start doing that and start hiring people to work from home.

As a culture, we’re very sensitive about that, we want people to sit at their desk at the same time, check in, check out. We have employees who take one and a half or two hours to commute to the office, if we eliminate that stress, I believe this will be the big outcome of this Coronavirus.

What can we expect from Tamatem?

We are blessed we were able to close the round before all this happened, otherwise things would have been much slower and more difficult. Tamatem today is still growing at 20 per cent month over month. We are launching two new games, and for the first time we are targeting female players. Currently 80 per cent of our users are male.

The investment, we are using today is for more marketing pushes and more awareness for the company and to grow the company further. We want to hire and increase the amount of employees by 20-25. We want to reach 75 employees.


April 7th 2020, 8:52 pm

Mamo Pay raises $1.5 million


UAE-based Mamo Pay, a peer-to-peer payments app has raised $1.5 million in a round led by Global Founders Capital (GFC) with participation from Global Ventures, VentureSouq, MSA Capital, Dubai Angel Investors (DAI), 500 Startups and some angel investors.

Founded by former Google employees Mohammad El Saadi, Asim Janjua, and Imad Gharazeddine, Mamo Pay enables users to transfer payments to family, friends and businesses through its app without charging any fees.

“Mamo Pay not only increases speed but removes all of the hassle associated with banking in the Mena region”, said Mohammad El Saadi, co-founder of Mamo Pay. “In our survey, we found that 87 per cent of regional respondents had challenges with money transfers and 89 per cent were unhappy with the existing solutions available to them.”

The financial technology (fintech) company worked with regulators to ensure that users could make payments and transfers using the recipients phone number or email address only, simplifying the traditional process and data that banks usually require, like IBAN numbers.

“We’re excited to see how our platform streamlines money transfers across financial services. Our vision is for Mamo Pay to simplify everything from sending money quickly, to splitting a bill at a restaurant, to speeding up payments for SMEs and entrepreneurs,” El Saadi added. 

 The region’s cash-based economy, partly caused by low-income workers who are unable to open traditional bank accounts, is another issue that the Mamo Pay team wants to overcome. 

“Low-income workers in the region often have two options: getting paid in cash, which is inefficient and potentially insecure, or relying on an exchange company to distribute their salary on their behalf, which is expensive. Mamo Pay will eliminate this problem for the region’s low-income community,” said Asma Alyamani, head of product at Mamo Pay.

Sunele Gokhale, founding partner at VentureSouq added: “In keeping in line with the UAE’s drive to continue to be a centre of innovation, we are excited about Mamo Pay’s vision of building a fintech platform that will enhance the lives of people and businesses in the Mena tegion.”


Mamo Pay is currently testing on Android in run-up to launch this year, followed by iOS and web versions.


April 7th 2020, 2:15 pm

We are now in the age of triage


As the Coronavirus outbreak brings the world's economy to a halt, many businesses in the region are beginning to feel the effects. Fadi Ghandour, executive chairman of Wamda and founder of Aramex outlines the lessons to bear in mind during the uncertain and difficult times. 

For people around the world trying to keep up with the latest news on the Covid-19 pandemic, the word “triage” is one that has become familiar and often cited by politicians, doctors and analysts. It is a medical term that first emerged in the battlefields of the Napoleonic Wars, where surgeon Dominique-Jean Larrey developed a system of treating the wounded according to the gravity and urgency of their injuries.

Military rank or status played no part, attention was paid firstly to those who were likely to survive if they received medical care. Today, the concept of triage has advanced from the battlefields and into hospitals and (virtual) company board rooms around the world.  

In a recent talk to some entrepreneurs and founders of startups, I told them they had better get used to the word triage, because every single company, government and non-government organisation as well as every venture fund and investor, is engaging in triage while they manage this unprecedented crisis.

Everyone is trying to decide where to focus their resources and which areas require more or less of these resources to keep them relevant, or in many cases, keep them alive as organisations.  

This is no different for startups and small businesses and they must do the same today and decide where to focus their resources. This has become a battle of life and death and the oxygen supply is diminishing daily while governments attempt to curb the spread of the virus. You need to do all you can to keep your company alive until this battle ends.

This pandemic is unlike any other crisis I have experienced before. In my 38-year career and during my time at Aramex, I witnessed the civil war in Lebanon, the Intifada in Palestine, the Iran-Iraq War, the First and Second Gulf Wars, the financial meltdown of 2008 and the economic disruptions of the “Arab Spring”. Each of these had a severe impact on the economy and our business, but we always found a way to work around the disruptions and continue our operations. If there was war in one area, there was peace in another, if one region was going through a slump, another region was more resilient, there was always a way to allow one resource to cover for another.

But the Covid-19 pandemic has brought the entire world to a standstill, we have limited resources to find that alternative solution to keep operations going. So, what should you do to stay alive?

This will be the most painful time of your life as a founder and it will be the time you will talk about most. It will stay in your memory and in those of everyone around you for life. As a leader, and a manger, how you act and how you conduct yourself will determine how your company will look like post-crisis, and how you are viewed as a leader and a responsible person. Work transparently, share the information with all your employees, be the first to sacrifice and sacrifice most, be on the frontlines and lead by example, now is the time to show who you are and what defines you!


April 6th 2020, 9:02 pm
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