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Pure Harvest raises largest seed round in Mena


Source: The National

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading this story


September 19th 2019, 3:10 am

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



September 18th 2019, 8:54 pm

UPayments raises seed funding


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

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

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

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

September 18th 2019, 4:09 am

Mobile drives online travel bookings


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


September 17th 2019, 6:08 am

Saudi Arabia and UAE reconsider Softbank investment


Source: Business Insider 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading this story

September 17th 2019, 3:49 am

Shorooq Partners invests in Teacherly


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

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

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

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

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

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

September 16th 2019, 4:06 am

Techne Summit 2019


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

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

More information and tickets here.


September 16th 2019, 2:37 am

The opportunity for startups in energy sector


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 15th 2019, 10:03 pm

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


Source: MenaBytes

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

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

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

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

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

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September 15th 2019, 4:09 am

Swvl expands further into Pakistan


Source: MENAbytes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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September 15th 2019, 3:22 am

Wamda X opens applications for its second cohort



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

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

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

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

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

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

September 15th 2019, 1:08 am

Localized closes $1.2 million funding round


US-based Localized, a talent technology platform that connects university students and alumni with employers and industry experts in emerging markets, has closed a $1.2 million funding round from a range of angel and institutional investors including Bisk Ventures, Next Wave Impact and other Middle East-based individual investors. 

Launched last year, Localized targets science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and business-focused universities. The company is live in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) in more than 65 career centres, universities and student organisations in Arabic and English with plans to expand to India this year. It already has offices in Cairo, Ramallah and Amman. 

“With a proven ability to develop innovative solutions, Localized will play a key role in shaping connectivity, mentorship and knowledge-sharing across the region. We are very excited to take part in Localized’s journey and hope that we will be able to contribute to its growth and success,” said Tamer Al-Salah, managing director at Amman-based Beyond Capital.

Localized aims to provide educated talent for global companies through its platform where employers can recruit from schools without having to attend in-person career fairs while students can gain industry insights from professionals who share the same language and roots.

“Finding and recruiting the best new talent in rapidly developing economies hasn’t been easy. Localized launched so students can access growing professional opportunities regardless of where they live,” said Mohannad El-Khairy, board member of Localized. 

September 13th 2019, 8:06 pm

Egypt to establish 7 technological parks with EGP 1 billion investments: ICT Minister


Source: Daily News Egypt

Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Amr Talaat, told Daily News Egypt that seven technological parks will be launched in 2019 in different universities at a total cost of EGP 1bn.

During the Euromoney Egypt 2019 conference on Monday, Talaat revealed that the parks will be financed through the ministry’s resources in parallel with the beginning of the new academic year.

Talaat said that the ministry is ready to contribute to the fintech fund, which the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) plans to launch next year if the latter requests it.

Talaat told Daily News Egypt that the CBE aims to launch a fund to support fintech startups early next year with a capital of $50-100m.

Egypt has exerted more efforts in improving information and communication technologies (ICT) and digitalisation. 

Egypt’s ICT sector recorded 16% growth in fiscal year (FY) 2018/19, he revealed, explaining that the country’s CT exports reached $2.6bn in one year.

The ICT sector stood at 3.2% of Egypt’s GDP during the previous FY, and the target is to reach 4% of GDP this year, the minister noted.

Continue reading this story

September 13th 2019, 8:06 pm

Fintech Abu Dhabi


This October 21-23, MENA’s leading FinTech festival will be held at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. FinTech Abu Dhabi will bring together 5,000 influencers and innovators who are pioneering the new wave of innovation across financial services.

Building on the success of the previous two editions of FinTech Abu Dhabi, ADGM has partnered with Unbound, an award-winning global innovation ecosystem builder with a successful track record of creating innovation events around the world, to deliver FinTech Abu Dhabi.

This third edition will establish FinTech Abu Dhabi as MENA’s largest FinTech festival, exploring the next frontier of financial technology and innovation. This will be the meeting point for the global FinTech community in 2019, featuring many country delegations, a new global challenge format, a FinTech World Tour, the inaugural FinTech Abu Dhabi Awards and a showcase of the world’s most promising FinTech startups and scaleups.

Find out more, and book your tickets using WAMDA50 to get 50% off. 

September 13th 2019, 8:06 pm

Beyond the headlines - Careem, regulatory hurdles and Saudisation


A closer look at this week's top news stories


Earlier this week, Careem announced a line up of managing directors whose mandate will be to develop the ride-hailing platform into the “everyday Super App” of the Middle East.

We have already seen the UAE-based unicorn transition beyond its core ride-hailing origin to offer on-demand bus and bicycle services alongside food delivery. But the company now hopes to emulate the likes of China’s WeChat and Indonesia’s Go-Jek and build an app that offers services across several sectors.  

In a blog post on the company’s website last year, Careem described itself as a “large internet business”. Through its infrastructure of mobility, payments and mapping, it has enabled other businesses to leverage its platform to generate custom – food delivery is one example, the company has built a marketplace model for restaurants in several cities, a model that can be rolled out for other verticals.

What Careem has managed to do by scaling, is create a platform that operates seamlessly across its 14 geographies. It has done the hard work of attaining licences, regulatory approvals, integration of services like SMS to overcome the fragmented nature of the region’s markets to offer a service that works in the same manner from Morocco to Pakistan.

By doing so, it has amassed more than 33 million customers, all of whom sit on the one app, providing a vast trove of valuable data. Currently, 90 per cent of these 33 million continue to pay in cash and so for Careem, the opportunity to convert these cash payments into digital is ripe.

The Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region has the world’s lowest banking penetration rate. Credit card penetration is also low and so financial technology (fintech) has become one way to enable financial inclusion. Careem recently enabled a mobile recharge service through its Careem PAY wallet, allowing users in Egypt, Pakistan and Egypt to top up their phone credit through the app. It comes after the company launched a peer-to-peer, closed loop and prepaid credit transfer service to its customers. Quite simply, users can upload credit into their Careem accounts and transfer that to other users of the app. The company also introduced a rewards programme, where users can gain points per ride and exchange them for credit on the app or transfer them to charity.

These are the markings of both a digital payments and currency or remittance transfer service and so enabling that infrastructure can allow the company to branch out and enable users to purchase other goods and services beyond the app.

This super app platform in theory, could be used by anyone with a product that can be sold online and delivered directly to the customer. Instead of setting up the infrastructure from scratch, a consumer-facing internet business should soon be able to “plug and play” into the Careem platform.

Regulatory Disapproval

But on its quest to become the internet giant of the region, Careem has faced a couple of regulatory setbacks. Earlier this year US-based Uber agreed to acquire Careem for $3.1 billion, a decision which brought much fanfare to the region’s startup ecosystem. But the deal has not been celebrated by a handful of the competition regulatory bodies in the region. According to Uber’s SEC filing, “the Qatar competition authority issued a decision in August 2019 blocking the proposed [Uber’s] acquisition [of Careem] in Qatar”.

The Egyptian Competition Authority has also issued some murmurs against the acquisition, warning both companies earlier this year that the deal would harm competition in the country.

So far, the UAE is the only country to have approved the deal, but Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority (RTA) this week demanded both Careem and Uber remove their cheapest offering on their apps, ensuring that its own fleet of taxis remains the most economical taxi service in the emirate.  

The move comes shortly after the RTA partnered with Careem to onload the authority’s 10,000 fleet of taxis onto Careem’s platform and to launch a joint-venture – Hala, an economical ride-hailing service.  


In further regulatory upheaval, Saudi Arabia’s General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers issued a decree preventing foreign consultancy firms from winning government contracts.

The value of contracts awarded to foreign firms is believed to be worth $3.2 billion according to the General Auditing Bureau. The move is yet another example of the government’s Saudisation policy, intended to bring more employment to Saudi nationals. The government will also phase out foreign workers in the hospitality sector. But this patriotic notion does not come cheap. Saudi nationals demand higher salaries and more benefits when compared to the foreign labour force who are willing to work longer hours for fewer Riyals to feed their families back home.

The decree has created uncertainty among the barrage of foreign consultancy firms like McKinsey & Co, Boston Consulting Firm and Oliver Wyman that have, over the past few years, made millions from creating strategies for Saudi ministries and government agencies. In a country that ranks 68th most innovative out of 190 and whose private sector decries access to talent, this sudden ban of foreign consultancies will not bode well. What is likely to happen is that new Saudi consultancies will emerge who will then sub-contract the work to these foreign consultancies and thus either increase the fees that the government pays for these contracts or force the foreign consultancies to reduce their fees. As ever, we will have to wait to see what happens.

September 13th 2019, 8:06 pm

Google's YouTube launches music streaming service in Mena region


Source: The National

Google-owned YouTube launched its music streaming services in the Middle East and North Africa market on Tuesday.

The YouTube music streaming services will initially be available in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Lebanon and Oman. The company is offering two services — YouTube Music offers a music streaming application from Dh19.99 per month, while YouTube Premium offers ad-free streaming from Dh23.99 per month. Both services will be available on both Android and iOS operating systems.

“For over a decade, millions of people in the Arab world have come to YouTube to watch, learn and listen. Music is the second most popular category on YouTube [in the region] and it continues to grow,” said Tarek Abdalla, regional director of marketing at Google Middle East and North Africa.

Following its Mena launch, YouTube Music and YouTube Premium are now available in 70 countries globally.

YouTube is offering the services for a free introductory period of three months to users in Saudi Arabia, and one month in the rest of the region. Saudi Arabia is the biggest user of YouTube per capita globally, and the Mena region is among the top five globally for time spent watching YouTube.

The amount of time spent watching music content on YouTube has grown by nearly 60 per cent annually in the past three years, the company said.

“Before launching this service, we have taken utmost care of local flavour, culture and preferences of consumers from this part of the world. There will be a huge library to cater to the needs of all age groups,” T Jay Fowler, director of product management for music products at YouTube told Dubai media through a video conferencing call from California.

Continue reading this story 

September 13th 2019, 8:06 pm

Careem moves further into fintech


Careem now allows its users to recharge their mobile phone credit on its platform. The service is already available in Egypt, Pakistan and the UAE with Jordan to follow soon. 

The service marks a bigger step towards the company’s mission to become a “super app” and a player in the financial technology (fintech) space. Users can top up their phone credit on all the major telecoms networks in the countries listed above through the Careem PAY wallet. 

The UAE-based ride-hailing app entered the payments space with closed loop peer to peer transfers in November 2018 as part of its broader payment strategy. It hopes that payments capabilities will enable it to offer multiple products and services and be a host to third parties.

 “Careem’s payment offerings will be core to becoming the region’s every day super app. Our wallet is the most downloaded digital wallet in the market and we will continue to add more products and services that can be paid for through our platform,” said Junaid Iqbal, managing director of Careem Pay. 

“ With only 14 per cent of the region holding a bank account, there is a massive opportunity for us to serve this unaddressed audience and enable them to participate in digital finance. Providing the option to purchase mobile recharge credit is the beginning of many more ways in which we aim to simplify and improve our customers’ lives.”

September 13th 2019, 8:06 pm

UAE's Masdar, UK government invest $86 million in green technology fund


Source: Zawya

Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar) together with the UK government have invested £70 million ($86.48 million) in a new green technology fund.

The UK treasury has launched a £400 million fund, CIIF, to bolster Britain’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure, with the first £70 million provided by government and UAE renewables investor Masdar - allocated for 3000 charge points, Masdar said in a statement.

“This more than doubles the number across the UK to 5000. The fund is managed by London-based Zouk Capital,” the statement added.

The investment by Masdar, which is wholly-owned by Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company, will create 3,000 new rapid charge points.

Charge point is an infrastructure that supplies electric energy for recharging plugged-in electric vehicles.

Rapid charge points can recharge a family car in 20 minutes, compared to existing technologies which can take up to 40 minutes.

Continue reading this story

September 13th 2019, 8:06 pm

"How Ads Work": Facebook attempts to increase Mena digital advertising spend


Social media users in the Middle East are the most engaged in the world and yet digital advertising spend in the region is among the lowest globally.

The mismatch is one that Facebook hopes to rectify and the company began with hosting a “How Ads Work” day at its headquarters in Dubai to “demystify” online advertising on its platforms including Instagram and Whatsapp.

There are 187 million active monthly users on the Facebook platform in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region and more than 63 million users on Instagram. Globally, there are 90 million businesses listed on the social media platform with 7 million advertisers. The company refuses to break down its ad revenues per region. 

“Put yourself in the shoes of users and consumers of social media, never before have people had so much control over what they read, interact with, watch and buy and social media platforms have enabled that,” said Shant Oknayan, group director at Facebook Mena.

Users scroll through 92 metres of content every day and grabbing their attention has become one of the toughest tasks for marketing managers. The attention span of Generation Z on social media is just 3.2 seconds.

“If the content is not captivating, educational or emotional, consumers will not interact with that. We are drawn to richer experiences and brands and businesses are seeing that as well,” said Oknayan.

Impact on Purchases

Consumers are using social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and increasingly, Whatsapp to communicate directly with brands and businesses. In 2018, Facebook introduced Whastapp for Business in the Middle East, enabling consumers to communicate directly with brands on the messaging app.

“People expect to communicate with businesses in ways that are instant and personal. They want direct answers. We’ve seen the volume of messages sent to businesses balloon,” said Oknayan.

According to Facebook, 20 million messages are exchanged between people and businesses every month and users are 50 per cent more likely to shop with a business if they can interact with them directly “and we’ve seen businesses in the region play into this”.

A PwC report found that just 37 per cent of shoppers use social media to find inspiration for retail purchases, whereas in the Middle East, this figure jumps to 78 per cent. More than half of all purchases in physical stores had a prior “online touch point”.

“Digital ads influence e-commerce purchases…but [user] attention span is limited. If the experience is clunky or if there are friction points, they leave and 83 per cent of shoppers are unlikely to buy from a business if they’ve had a bad experience,” said Oknayan.

In a report recently published by Crowd Analyzer, which analysed more than 172 million interactions for its State of Social Media report, social media users in Mena are becoming more active and engaged online. The report found that the automotive industry was the most talked-about sector across all social media platforms in 2018 in Mena with 61 million interactions, followed by the telecommunications industry (38 million) and the media industry (23 million). The financial technology (fintech) sector came in last with only 5 million interactions. Businesses were the most interactive out of the interactions analysed in the report, with close to 52 per cent of businesses engaging in conversations related to fintech and 26 per cent discussing the automotive industry.

Small Advertising Budgets

Overall advertising spend is decreasing in the Middle East and Africa (MEA). According to Warc, the fall in oil prices has impacted advertising budgets although digital advertising is growing, making up a larger share of ad spend.

Internet advertising spending in the MEA region in 2019 will increase 20 per cent from 2018 and valued at more than $5 billion according to eMarketer. By 2022, spending on digital ads account for 28 per cent of total ad dollars spent in the region.

Most of the online advertising is being driven by startups in the Middle East according to Oknayan, who are more likely to have a “digital first” approach across their business. Successful campaigns the company shared from the region included Egypt’s Swvl which wanted to build brand awareness and saw twice as many app downloads, Kuwait’s Boutiqaat which saw a 17 per cent increase in order value and the UAE’s Washmen which doubled its sales after its digital advertising campaign.

For Facebook, online advertising has enabled small-to-medium-sized enterprises to have the platform to scale and reach customers beyond their vicinity. 

“Marketing plays an extremely critical role. Ten years ago small businesses…couldn’t compete with the largest organisations for ad slots,” said Nikila Srinivasan, director of product management for ads at Facebook. “Every TV or newspaper ad slot you bought was really expensive and it was expensive to reach beyond your immediate community.”

But for ads to be successful, they have to be engaging and the rise of high-powered smartphones with sophisticated cameras have resulted in a barrage of filters and augmented reality (AR) apps that alter the face and allow for real-time interaction.  

“Every 10-15 years we see a shift and the latest shift is augmented and virtual reality. Today there’s already one billion people who have used AR on our Facebook platforms in the last year, it expands the immersive experience, the way people express themselves and enables them to connect with friends, family and brands in new and fun ways,” said Oknayan.

Facebook's Advertising Guideline


September 9th 2019, 8:52 pm

Qatar blocks Uber’s acquisition of Careem in the country


Source: MenaBytes

Qatar’s competition authority has blocked Uber’s proposed $3.1 billion acquisition of Careem in the country, Uber’s recent SEC filing (10-Q has revealed. The filing does not share a lot of details about Qatar’s decision but notes that “the Qatar competition authority issued a decision in August 2019 blocking the proposed [Uber’s] acquisition [of Careem] in Qatar.”

The Qatari authority apparently hasn’t issued any public statement announcing the decision and has shared it privately with the two companies. At least we couldn’t find a trace of any such statement online.

According to Uber’s filing, Uber and Careem intend to seek further review of the decision. The filing also confirms that the United Arab Emirates is the only country to have approved the Uber-Careem deal. UAE’s Ministry of Economy had granted full approval of the deal in June earlier this year.

As MENAbytes reported earlier this year, the price of $3.1 billion deal is supposed to be decreased if Uber and Careem fail to obtain regulatory approvals in some or all of their markets. This reduction is capped at 15 percent (of the total purchase price) but is limited to only a portion of the value ascribed to Careem’s operations in any such markets, according to Uber’s IPO prospectus and recent SEC filing. Uber and Careem fail to obtain regulatory approvals in some or all of their markets, the price of $3.1 billion deal would be reduced. The reduction will be made from convertibles portion of purchase price.

Careem’s business in Qatar represents only 1.8 percent of its overall business, according to Uber’s SEC filing, which means that it won’t have a big impact on the acquisition price. It still is a setback for both the companies, though. UAE that has approved the Uber-Careem deal, according to the filing represents 12.9 percent of Careem’s overall business.

The filing also notes that the Uber Careem deal has been under review by some other antitrust agencies in the region including Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi, “The transaction has been approved in the United Arab Emirates, but we face significant challenges in other countries and we cannot assure you that the transaction will be approved in any or all of such other countries.”

Egypt’s competition watchdog had issued multiple statements warning both the companies against the merger, with one of them stating that the two companies could face fines of $28 million each in case they proceed with the merger. In May earlier this year, the Egyptian authority met officials from Uber and Careem to discuss the proposed acquisition. The statement issued by the authority at the time did not share what it plans to do next but appreciated the cooperation expressed by Uber and Careem.

Both Uber and Careem have repeatedly said that the deal is expected to close in January next year but with all these complications, that might not be the case.

September 8th 2019, 8:57 am

Afric'Up African Startups Summit 2019


Afric’Up – Africa Startup Summit in Tunis, will take place on 24th & 25th September, as 2019 marks the return of the largest event related to innovation and African Tech, under the auspices of the Tunisian Government, in partnership with Smart Africa Alliance, GIZ & Make IT.

This year, conferences and workshops led by more than 150 speakers and renowned investors under the main theme 'Smart Cities & Open Innovation in Africa, what opportunities for startups?'. 

Afric’Up’s 2nd edition will offer a rich program that promotes discovery and learning through the many workshops (more than 30) led by international mentors, aiming mainly to equip and to promote a culture of innovation and collective intelligence, shared growth, and experimentation in African startups. The event will launch several challenges, actions, in addition to the first Makeathon in Africa, as there will be a 3D/VR contest to imagine the African city of the future, a startup pitch to choose 25 promising companies, a startup stage to showcase 50 startups to international investors, a graphic battle, a discoverability Training of Internet content with the OIF, a hackathon, a competition for the best mobile e-commerce application African Awards (ECMAA Awards), as well many other challenges.

More on the program here

September 8th 2019, 7:57 am

Foloosi raises $500,000 in seed round


UAE-based financial technology (fintech) startup Foloosi has raised $500,000 in seed funding from existing investor Rasheed Alfalasi along with new investor Mohammed Alsuwaidi. 

Founded in 2018, Foloosi aims to facilitate consumer-to-business card payments by enabling businesses to display QR code and share payment links and API integrations that make it possible to accept card payments without the need for a point of sale machine.

Foloosi’s chief executive officer (CEO) Omar Bin Brek said that the company will target all of the GCC countries for growth, with plans to launch in Saudi Arabia soon. 

The company claims its transaction volumes have been growing at more than 40 per cent month-on-month and achieved more than Dh1 million in revenue at the end of July 2019. Foloosi has over 300 businesses signed up to accept card payments and more than 2000 users paid through its platform since its launch earlier this year, which supports more than 150 currencies. 

In June this year, Foloosi raised a pre-seed fund from Angel fund investor Rasheed Alfalasi.

“With the support of our strategic investors, we are accelerating the development of our product further in this digital world,” said Mohan K, chief technology officer (CTO) at Foloosi. 


September 8th 2019, 3:37 am

Can artificial intelligence eradicate death? [Podcast]


Ben Goertzel is one of the most prominent artificial intelligence (AI) architects in the world. He is the founder of singularityNET and the chief scientist at Hanson Robotics, the makers of Sophia, the humanoid. In this podcast, Goertzel discusses the future of AI and the impact it will have on societies, economies and political systems of the future. 


September 7th 2019, 9:02 pm

Women Power Summit 2019


The Women Power Summit 2019 will be held on October 13th and 14th with a focus on 'Women in Leadership: Inspiring Action and Leading Change'. The summit aims to connect and empower women by providing them with access to network and knowledge that can allow them to innovative and succeed as well as to unleash their power to create positive change

Objectives of the conference include empowering women in the workplace, highlighting gender equality gaps in the workplace, fostering networking and collaboration opportunities, and creating links between individuals and corporates. The event audience will include students, young professionals, freelancers, entrepreneurs, startups, SMEs, corporates, family business owners. The Women Power Summit aims to showcase new opportunities for investments, partnerships and collaborations created by inspiring female entrepreneurs and investors.

Register to attend. 


September 5th 2019, 6:28 am

Doctoorum raises seed funding


Source: Trade Arabia

Numu Capital, a Dubai-based venture capital firm,  has announced its investment in Doctoorum - a curated marketplace for medical tourism.

The deal was closed a few months ago during the graduation of Doctoorum from the AUC Venture Lab accelerator.

Begad Nasser, a Yemeni entrepreneur who picked Cairo as the headquarters for his medical tourism startup, founded Doctoorum to help millions of patients across the world get affordable and high-quality medical treatments in hand-picked destinations.

“Doctoorum is a very promising venture, and Begad has a solid understanding of the industry and has built a top-notch team that we believe in. We have been eyeing the medical tourism sector for a while and we were thrilled when Begad pitched Doctoorum to us,” said Jamal Al-Mutarreb, managing director of Numu Capital.

Medical tourism is on the rise globally, and it is expected to reach $180 billion by 2026 according to Grand View, a research firm that specialises in the field. The GCC region is one of the top-ranked regions in terms of outbound medical tourism traffic, and countries like Jordan, Egypt, and Morocco are becoming increasingly popular as inbound destinations. Doctoorum is planning to expand its operations beyond Egypt & Mena region to include destinations such as Turkey, India, Germany, and Thailand.

Doctoorum is currently ramping up their growth and is expected to raise a Series A round in the next few months. Numu Capital usually invests in startups to help them increase their traction, and secure the next funding round. The fund’s unique value proposition to entrepreneurs is its friendly and quick deal cycle; which usually takes less than 30 days from initial pitch to wiring the funds to the startup’s bank account.

September 5th 2019, 3:57 am

Exits by IPO…healthier for the ecosystem


When Egyptian financial technology (fintech) company Fawry went public on 8 August, it was a fantastic moment for the tech ecosystem, not just for Egypt, but the Arab world as a whole.

The technology startup sector has, over the past few years focused too much on fundraising with an aim to exit via acquisitions to companies abroad. This has become the ultimate sign of success for startups, but while it has been the dominant way investors make money and entrepreneurs and their employees realise financial value, it leaves the regional ecosystem wanting.

When I was raising funding for Aramex back in 1996, we were trying to do a private placement which did not get much appeal in the region. People questioned whether Aramex could survive in the face of formidable competition from the giants of the industry even at a mere valuation of $30 million, so we decided to take the company public.

“Great idea, but where do we do that?” I told my partner Bill Kingson. Certainly not on any of the regional exchanges! Why? Because of all sorts of restrictions, from foreign investor restrictions, to small illiquid exchanges, to a restricted process of fund raising and book building, and interference by the regulator in company valuations rather than the market/investors.

"Oh well, let us then go to Nasdaq!"

We listed on Nasdaq in New York and stayed listed on it for five years, then we took the company private in 2002 and listed it again on the Dubai Financial Market (DFM) in 2005.  Eleven years later, Aramex continues to be a public company in Dubai, 37 years after its founding.

While acquisitions can provide a boost for the ecosystem and can bring global investors to the region, initial public offerings (IPO) allow for a deepening of the ecosystem and gives more options to regional startups.

So why is it that companies that could IPO in the region do not even have it in their thinking to go public and why would a company like Jumia, which has its corporate office in Dubai lists in New York rather than on one of the Middle East regional exchanges?

There are several challenges currently in place and the following will need to change if we are to see more companies going public:

Listing more companies creates deeper liquidity for our exchanges, which they all need. It is also the best way to democratise and to trickle down the benefits of companies like Aramex and Fawry, making liquidity available on the public market – where most of the region’s investors are based.

The bigger the exchange, the more funds there are, the greater the possibility to get investors and give their listed companies their fair value.

Fawry managed to do very well in Egypt, it listed on the Egyptian Exchange at a share price of EGP6.46. After the first day of trading, its share price soared by 31 per cent to EGP8.48, valuing the company at $366 million. It seems regional exchanges can and will give you the valuation that you want.

IPOs give companies the ability to stay independent, keep the brand that they have worked so hard to build, generate liquidity and exits for their investors, create a liquidity option for their founders and employees while giving the general investor public a chance to participate in the success of these companies. It also encourages and widens the base for regional and even global institutional investors to invest in the region and generate healthy foreign direct investments (FDI).

This is exactly what happened with Aramex since it went public on the DFM. Employees enjoyed their stock options, founders were able to find their exits, regional investors had huge appetite for the share, and global investors waited in line to gain access to the share. The company stayed independent, continues to thrive, and retained its talented people and created a great platform to access funding from various financial institutions in the region.  

Having the region’s tech and non-tech scale-ups IPO,  means the stock exchanges become less dependent on traditional businesses like real estate, banks and insurance companies and can attain the diversity that reflects the new businesses of the 21st century, generating new wealth for a new generation that is currently building the businesses of the future. 

September 4th 2019, 9:06 pm

Pitch by the Pyramids - RiseUp



Building on the successes of past startup competitions and RiseUp’s extensive reach in MENA’s startup ecosystem, RiseUp is launching the region’s greatest pitch competition yet, Pitch by the Pyramids. 

Startups from across the Middle East and Africa are invited to join by participating in their local country qualifiers hosted by our regional partners in Cairo, Dubai, Tunis, Beirut, Riyadh, Amman, Baghdad and Ramallah. 

Finalists will get to Pitch by the Pyramids at the grand final event at the Pyramids of Giza, in Egypt. Among the hundreds that will be in attendance are local and international media heavyweights, renowned investors, and industry leaders waiting to hear what MENA’s got to offer this year!

For thousands of generations, the pyramids stood as a symbol of innovation for Egypt and the region. Today, they stand as a reminder for the world’s youth that the impossible can be built. That’s why RiseUp is inviting MENA’s most inspiring youth to participate in Pitch by the Pyramids, and get the chance to stand where history’s greatest once stood and tell a story that could one day change the future.This is not just a competition for startups to showcase their ideas, but also a program that provides the startups with relevant webinars, mentor-ship and coaching that would help them develop as individuals and as an entity. 

Who can apply?

- Purpose driven startups

- Startups with disruptive business ideas

- Startups between 0-3 years of operation

- Scalable business model.

Submit your application by September 21st. 

September 3rd 2019, 9:17 am

In conversation with Abdelhameed Sharara of RiseUp


After seeing Banque Misr founder Talaat Harb in his dream giving a speech to entrepreneurs, Abdelhameed Sharara decided to launch the first RiseUp Summit on 25 November 2013, the day of Harb’s birthday.

What was initially a small gathering of entrepreneurs and investors in Cairo’s Greek Campus, has now grown to become the Middle East’s largest startup event, counting some 5000 attendees at the last summit.

Sharara had initially trained to become a lawyer, before embarking on his entrepreneurial journey. He completed the Injaz mentorship programme and later worked at Injaz as an incubation manager.

Why did you become an entrepreneur?

My personal passion is imagining something and making it happen. I think that gives me the most joy, especially if it is something that has societal impact at its core.

It was the Injaz programme where I realised instead of working as a lawyer or a judge, there is an opportunity to realise that passion and energy that I had. I realised there is a more grassroots way of impact through working with people.

How did the idea for RiseUp come about?

There was a gap between those who wanted to start their business and investors and support organisations and media so the idea of RiseUp was to bring everyone together.

Back in 2013, the ecosystem was very nascent, no success stories, very little exits, and the culture of entrepreneurship was not a big thing in the region, but we always knew there was a drive. All these entrepreneurs needed access to resources, talent, know-how, marketplace, tools, services, mentorship, investors and all sorts of support. There was no platform to bring together that entire ecosystem and thus the idea of RiseUp started. Initially, it was an online platform and then we pivoted to an offline platform where we do events, hackathons and, meetups across the past six years.

You recently acquired online publication MenaBytes, what prompted that decision?

The vision of RiseUp is to build that access to a community platform and so we are a very collaborative entity and we work with anyone who supports entrepreneurs. If you want to do this alone, it will not work.  So you need to have the physical side as in spaces, the events side and the digital side and through this pyramid or triangle, it then creates continuous access for those companies. So the upcoming acquisitions are going to be in both the physical and events side. We also have our own digital platform that we are launching as well that will be integrated with MenaBytes and TrackMena.

What are your challenges now at RiseUp?

Scaling. How do you take what you do and scale it to other cities? It is management. I am not a trained manager at all so I'm learning how to be a good manager through mentors, my team and through mistakes. I am trying as much as I can to listen and to realise that I really don't know anything and I'm going into a new phase. I have to be really grounded to be able to understand how things happen. I don't have to work everything my way. So managing growth is my biggest challenge.

What are the main lessons you’ve learned?

There is a risk that you take. Anything can just fall apart at some point. Perseverance isn't just about being hit and you continue. It is about thinking differently, changing strategies and tactics and mitigating things.    

One thing I really learned is that I have to challenge advice from experts. For example, one expert told me the best format of leadership is Level 5 Leadership [by Jim Collins] and I read that book. It is a great concept but it does not work here, you need to do a lot of work to be able to reach that. I didn't do that work so I jumped into this one day and everything collapsed. So I needed to challenge the thought. I am still distant from management but you learn strengths and weaknesses and you basically focus on the strength points and delegate the weaknesses. Another thing I learned is people and culture come first.

What’s next for RiseUp?

There will be more expansion across the region. We started in Upper Egypt and we are going to have constant presence there.  We will start out with Saudi this year and we are looking at UAE, morocco, Jordan, Tunisia then Africa and Asia. We will have satellite summits that lead to the big summit happening here in Egypt.


September 2nd 2019, 9:06 pm

Dubai halts Uber X and Careem's Go ride options


Source: The National

Ride-hailing giant Uber and its UAE-based partner Careem have halted their cheapest ride options in Dubai, following a decision by the emirate's transport authority.

Dubai's Road and Transport Authority (RTA) has decided to stop the Uber X service and Careem's Go car service from September 1 after both pilot projects came to an end, the companies said in separate statements on Sunday, without providing reasons.

A spokesman from RTA said both “Uber X and Careem Go were introduced as short-term pilot e-hailing services for customers seeking an economy option. All this was done to compare and evaluate existing and new e-hailing services in the city and check on the feasibility of such technology and services in the market."

Last week, Careem formed a partnership with the RTA to make more than half of the authority's taxi fleet available to book through its app by mid-September. Careem will list all 10,000 RTA taxis on the app by early next year.

Careem and the RTA created a joint venture company named Hala to operate the service, under which the former aims to forge other public sector partnerships.

"As a result [of the pilots with Uber and Careem], RTA decided to incorporate the entire fleet of over 10,000 taxis onto the platform," RTA said in a statement to The National. "This includes all the taxi franchise companies in Dubai through Hala, an economical e-hailing service. Other economical ehailing services like Uber X and Careem Go, which operated as pilot, were thus requested to cease operations, with a set deadline over a few months ago."

Continue reading this story

September 2nd 2019, 6:40 am

The Egyptian startup encouraging pharmacies to go online


By Ahmed Gabr

Inconsistencies have always plagued access to healthcare services in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region. A report released as part of The World Bank Health Nutrition and Population Sector strategy for Mena (2013-2018), says that these inconsistencies can manifest as glaring disparities between the availability of healthcare services in rural and urban areas, as well as in poor urban settlements and wealthy neighbourhoods. Urban women, for example, are twice as likely to have access to contraceptives and a skilled attendant at birth compared to their rural counterparts.

However, technology can bridge this access gap in various innovative ways. Online services enabling patients to book doctor appointments from the comfort of their homes and initial trials of telemedicine services have been growing in popularity in many countries across the region.

“The digital transformation of healthcare in Mena is coming, and that's for sure. But it may take more than five years to make sure all stakeholders and services are digitised and to educate the public about it,” says Rasha Rady, co-founder and chief operating officer (COO) at Chefaa, an Egyptian e-pharmacy service where people can order and schedule regular deliveries for the medications they need.

From Cancer to Business 

Solutions that make life easier could prove to be game-changers for both cancer survivors and entrepreneurs in Egypt and beyond. Doaa Aref, Chefaa’s other co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO), is a cancer survivor whose struggle inspired her and Rady to launch the company.

Aref was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2017. During her treatment, she hoped she could safely order and pay for her medicine online. Regular telephone-based pharmacy deliveries never worked out for her: sometimes, she was unable to find what she needed, and at other times, she ended up getting the wrong medicine.

Having recovered, she decided to take matters into her own hands. Teaming up with Rady, Aref founded Chefaa in April 2018. The e-pharmacy service, which is free to use both on desktops and mobile devices, allows people to search for medicines, prescription drugs and personal care products. In their profiles, users can scan a prescription, place an order, pay online or opt for the cash-on-delivery method, and schedule regular deliveries of refills for chronic condition medications. The platform also features a reminders app, which can be configured to alert patients when it is time for their daily medicine dose. It can additionally send automated reminders about the availability of recurring medications and notify users when to place refill orders.

Disrupting Brick & Mortar

Little has changed in the way the retail pharmacy business in Mena operates, making the sector ripe for innovation. According to Chefaa’s founders, the most challenging part of launching the venture was giving pharmacies the right incentive to sign up to the service since the company’s business model is based on charging them a commission fee for every transaction.

In an attempt to diversify the revenue stream, the team is looking to introduce a subscription plan for pharmaceutical companies and medical organisations to gain access to medication sales insights. 

“It's important that all stakeholders in [the] healthcare sector understand that it was never about the cost, but it's all about being cost-effective,” Rady says. “We aim to help chronic patients have safe and sustained access to their recurring medicine and help decision makers with data-driven solutions using our AI structure,” she says.

As of the end of May 2019, Chefaa has fulfilled more than 77,000 orders across nine cities in Egypt in collaboration with more than 800 pharmacies. The company plans to expand to the GCC region by 2020.

“E-pharmacies are inevitable,” says Wael Kabli, CEO of Cura, a Mena smartphone app for remote medical consultations.

 However, it will take time and considerable efforts for them to prevail, according to Kabli. “For prescribed medications, verification, consents and dispensing [remain] unsolved issues,” he says.


“The Middle East Exchange” in partnership with Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, provides a unique global platform to help frame and stimulate regional and global debate on the vital development issues shaping Arab societies.

August 31st 2019, 9:14 pm

The 3arabi Impact Initiative


The 3arabi Impact Initiative aims at identifying and supporting projects/social enterprises that impact the Arab world, regardless of sector or country. Three innovative finalists will be matched with an advisory panel comprised of experts that will provide mentorship and advice to help the innovator develop a concrete action plan to take their initiative to the next level – through investment, commercialization, scale up, team-building, strategic partnerships, or other aspects that are appropriate for the initiative. The projects will be presented to the audience in a dedicated, interactive session at the Harvard Arab World Conference, Dubai happening early December 2019. Milestones will be presented during the Arab Conference at Harvard (ACH) which will take place in the spring of 2020.

Overview of the Harvard Arab Alumni Conference (HAWC) 2019:

The Harvard Arab World Conference (HAWC) Themed “Arab Faces: Reframing our Narrative”, HAWC 2019 will be organized over three days through highly interactive panels, breakout sessions organized around disruptive technologies, literature & arts, economy and innovation. This year, the conference would like to showcase the diverse faces of the Arab World and demonstrate what it takes to build the narrative for the region across different sectors and topics.

The HAAA community and wider public will be voting to select the project they like the most from August 24 to September 9th which will result in the ranking of projects and identification of the top 7 projects as semi-finalists - vote here

August 29th 2019, 7:14 am

NowPay Raises $600,000 in seed funding


Source: Digital Boom

Egyptian fintech startup, NowPay, said it’s closing a new undisclosed round after raising USD 600,000 in Seed funding from Silicon Valley’s Endure Capital and 500 Startups.

The Cairo-based startup, launched in early 2019, came out of stealth promising to improve financial wellness of corporate employees in emerging markets through its fintech solution that helps people get their salaries in advance at any point during the month.

“Saving, spending, budgeting and borrowing. Those are the four pillars of financial-wellness. We want to improve every aspect of those for employees,” said Mostafa Ashour, Cofounder and CEO of NowPay who previously led Innovation teams at Microsoft Research.

Ashour started NowPay with co-founders Ahmed Sabry of Amazon Lending, and Cherif Radi who led special projects at Orange.

“In order to reduce money worries, lower financial stress and cut down attrition rates, employees need to feel that they can get their salaries whenever they are cash-strapped,” said Ashour, explaining that his solution helps employees better manage their budgets, overcome cash flow problems and avoid unexpected events.


August 29th 2019, 5:15 am

Jordan introduces e-commerce fees


Source: MenaBytes

Jordan Customs Authority last week has introduced new rules and custom service fee for personal online cross-border purchases of apparel and clothing, shoes, children’s toys and food items, made by citizens and residents in Jordan. Previously, the products purchased online from international ecommerce websites for personal use were exempt from customs fees.

Amazon (Global) and most of the other website don’t ship to Jordan but there are many third-party package forwarding services that have been facilitating these purchases through their online platforms. These online platforms including Aramex’s Shop and Ship provide users with a virtual address in the United States, United Kingdom or wherever the products are being purchased from that they can use when placing the orders. Once the products are delivered to this address, they’re forwarded to the customer’s doorstep in Jordan.

According to an email sent by Shop and Ship to its customers in Jordan, all the shipments that are valued under JOD 50  (USD 70) will be subject to JOD 5 (USD 7) customs service fee and the customers are required to declare these purchases on Jordan Customs Authority’s new Arabic-only (yes, you read that right. It is Arabic only) platform. In case the customer fails to declare the shipment on the platform, they will be charged three times of what they’re supposed to pay as customs service fee i.e. JOD 15 (USD 21).

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August 29th 2019, 5:15 am

Falcon Network invests $450,000 in six startups


Dubai-based Falcon Network, a group of emerging markets-focused angel investors, has completed six investments worth $450,000 in high-growth and impact-focused startup enterprises.

The startups include Wamda X graduate Caravan, alongside Aion Sigma, Saaya Health, Teacherly, Virtual i and WorkAround.

“These exciting businesses will not only benefit from the financial capital, but also strategic expertise which our angels will provide in order to accelerate their growth potential,” said Sayd Farook, co-founder of the Falcon Network.

“We have received high-quality, invaluable mentorship and advice from the experienced and vetted angels of the network. We are ambitious and confident about the future of Caravan because we have the guidance and backing of Falcon Network and would like to thank them for their support,” said Syed Karim, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Caravan, an aggregator of privately operated buses in UAE to help employees find the best private bus for their work commute. 

Launched at the sidelines of the Global Islamic Economy Summit, the Falcon Network includes senior executives working in both the public and private sector across the Middle East and wider Asia. Current members of the Falcon Network plan to invest a minimum of $ 50,000 by October 2020.

 The next round of funding applications will open in November 2019 for investment by 2020.


August 29th 2019, 3:41 am

Challenges facing entrepreneurial leaders


Areej Khataybih is the founder of The Spark Back and co-author of A Woman's Work. 

In the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), our traditions add deep value to our personal lives and cultural interactions not only with one another, but with others around the world. Unfortunately, holding to traditions within business keeps leaders—especially those entering entrepreneurship—from really exploring their full potential and achieving innovation across all industries.

Entrepreneurship has grown significantly in recent years throughout the Mena region, but leadership has not developed to fully support the thriving new industries. Entrepreneurs struggle with adopting flexible leadership styles to address the changing and dynamic business environment that we are seeing today, which leads to a deep sense of frustration among leaders in every industry as they work to apply their business ideas into a traditional leadership framework.

The overarching themes that have emerged among leaders throughout the region largely centre around:

Lack of honest feedback from followers

Leaders everywhere, not just in the Mena region, suffer from isolation. It is often difficult to find strong, objective advisors who will give honest feedback and criticism to a leader in a position of power. For leaders to create a sense of security for followers, they must create a strong organisational culture that prizes input from others, rather than view criticism as a direct threat to the leader’s position of power. Building this sense of trust within an organisation starts from the top-down, which means that it is the leaders that set the stage for how followers will interact with them.

Many leaders may choose not to receive feedback from their followers, because they believe that it means they will have to promise to take action on what they have heard from others. This is the primary reason that many leaders choose to isolate themselves because they don’t know how to receive feedback without raising expectations of their followers that solutions will be found or that the feedback will be implemented.

Being able to receive feedback is a strong leadership skill that must be developed, as is the ability to actively listen to followers, even if a solution cannot be found or a problem cannot be fixed to everyone’s satisfaction. When leaders can acknowledge others and genuinely listen to the words of others, they give their followers a sense of acknowledgement that improves the commitment levels of employees and leads to higher levels of engagement and satisfaction. Through receiving feedback, the leader can see the perspectives of the employees and their needs and concerns, which in turn leads to a better understanding of what stakeholders want and expect from the organisation and the leader.

A desire to take more risks and dream big, but a deep fear of failure

At their heart, entrepreneurs are dreamers. As they become more entrenched in the role of a leader, however, the responsibilities thrust on them can lead them to take fewer risks out of fear of failure. Leaders have the ultimate responsibility for all their stakeholders, which can often create enormous pressure to make the “right” decisions via traditional methods of leadership, rather than to explore new opportunities. It is because leaders are so responsible for the well-being of others that they begin to feel that their dreams are unachievable. If leaders were able to tap back into the mentality that they had when they were just starting out as entrepreneurs, they would be able to free themselves from the fear of failure and learn to dream big again. Through the act of dreaming comes new ideas, which the leader can transform into even greater business opportunities.

Personal values that do not always align with organisational values

The personal values of the leader go a long way in inspiring their followers. When a leader doesn’t believe in the organisational values, however, it takes away from their authenticity. This has a direct impact on the leaders’ followers, who can sense that the leader may not fully support the organisation’s goals. If the leader is unable to be authentic and have their personal values align with organisational goals, it has a negative impact on employee trust, which in turn reduces the loyalty and satisfaction levels of employees.

One of the greatest aspects of entrepreneurship for leaders is the ability to align personal and professional values within a new business. Not only does the leader become more invested in their own vision for the company, but it inspires those around them to connect to the shared vision within the organisation. Ultimately, this brings success for leader, their followers, and the organisation.

Failing to develop new leaders

In the Global Leadership Forecast conducted in 2018, one of the more alarming statistics was the lack of leadership development worldwide. Within the Mena region, leadership development is far more important, given the difficulties experienced with finding skilled labourers to support the current economic growth.

Developing new leaders within an organisation is critical to the success of entrepreneurship, but many leaders neglect this area of responsibility. One of the primary reasons for this is the belief that leadership is a natural trait that develops on its own. Leaders will often forget their own experiences with formal or informal mentors who gave them the chance to learn and develop their skills.

Leaders must be aware of their role as mentors, particularly among the younger generation who have shown a great aptitude for entrepreneurship and innovation. By taking the time to recognise potential leaders in the workplace and create strong leadership programmes to improve autonomy and leadership skills, the leader will create a strong support network within the organisation, which will reinforce the organisational culture and climate that the leader has developed.

Entrepreneurial leaders face a number of challenges, especially in the Mena region, but by creating a culture of feedback and input from followers, addressing the underlying fear of failure and re-learning how to take risks, aligning personal values with the organisation’s values, and creating a strong leadership development programme, they will be able to set themselves up for even greater success.


August 28th 2019, 8:53 pm

Harvard Arab Alumni Association


The 3arabi Impact Initiative aims at identifying and supporting projects/social enterprises that impact the Arab world, regardless of sector or country. Three innovative finalists will be matched with an advisory panel comprised of experts that will provide mentorship and advice to help the innovator develop a concrete action plan to take their initiative to the next level – through investment, commercialization, scale up, team-building, strategic partnerships, or other aspects that are appropriate for the initiative. The projects will be presented to the audience in a dedicated, interactive session at the Harvard Arab World Conference, Dubai happening early December 2019. Milestones will be presented during the Arab Conference at Harvard (ACH) which will take place in the spring of 2020.

Overview of the Harvard Arab Alumni Conference (HAWC) 2019:

The Harvard Arab World Conference (HAWC) Themed “Arab Faces: Reframing our Narrative”, HAWC 2019 will be organized over three days through highly interactive panels, breakout sessions organized around disruptive technologies, literature & arts, economy and innovation. This year, the conference would like to showcase the diverse faces of the Arab World and demonstrate what it takes to build the narrative for the region across different sectors and topics.

The HAAA community and wider public will be voting to select the project they like the most from August 24 to September 9th which will result in the ranking of projects and identification of the top 7 projects as semi-finalists - vote here

August 28th 2019, 11:07 am

SINC raises $250,000 in pre-seed funding


SINC, a Bahrain based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) mobile platform, has raised $250,000 in a pre-seed funding round led by Dubai Angel Investors and other regional angel investors. The funds will be used in the short-term to expand SINC’s development team. 

SINC aims to simplify the management of a mobile workforce by operating timesheets, location tracking, staff scheduling, and job tracking by improving the reporting on staff tardiness and no-shows, as well as improving productivity and accountability with job costing analysis capabilities. SINC claims its application reduces payroll administration time by 98 per cent and reduces payroll costs by 10-15 per cent.

“We are trying to win the domain of blue-collar [small to medium-sized enterprise] SME job tracking and costing, so nailing this feature is the next big priority for us and what we have been working towards since we started building SINC two years ago,” said Sam Dolbel, co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) at SINC.  “We are now on the cusp of implementing the solution, so it is a very exciting time for us.” 

The company currently has 4,000 businesses customers on its platform with 90 per cent based in the US and Canada. SINC will grow its engineering team in Bahrain where operating costs are relatively low according to Dolbel.

SINC is looking to initially expand its presence and customer base across North America, targeting the estimated 1.5 million SMEs in that market before targeting the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region. 

“We believe we have a unique strength in that we are scrappy and cost-effective. By strategically positioning ourselves in the Mena region to take advantage of the labour market and available subsidies through organisations such as Bahrain entity Tamkeen, we are confident we can compete with some of the large US-based competitors and win our vertical of blue-collar small businesses,” said Sam Matthews, co-founder and chief technology officer (CTO). 

August 28th 2019, 5:47 am

Trolley raises $200,000 in seed fund


Source: MenaBytes

Cairo-based grocery delivery platform Trolley has raised $200,000 as seed funding, the startup told MENAbytes today, adding that the investment came from a Kuwaiti individual investor.

Founded late last year by Mohamed Abbas, who comes with over ten years of experience in the FMCG industry, Trolley was launched in January earlier this year. The Cairo-based startup sells and delivers groceries all over Cairo and Giza through its web and mobile-based platform.

Mohamed Abbas, the founder and CEO, of Trolley, in a conversation with MENAbytes, said that they are using a hybrid model, owning and storing a part of their inventory in their own warehouse (and distribution center) and relying on small offline grocery chains for the rest of products. He said that they’re selling over 20,000 products (SKUs – Stock Keeping Units) with over 500 of these owned and stored in their own warehouse.

Trolley also has its own fleet that delivers groceries (including fruits and vegetables) to customers all in Cairo and Giza. The startup claims that it offers two-hour delivery in all parts of these two cities.

The startup is currently completing over 400 orders every month with 30 percent of products being fulfilled from Trolley’s own warehouse and the rest being sourced from its partners. Trolley, learning from its data, is also adding the more products that are being ordered on a frequent basis by customers to its own warehouse.

Mohamed told MENAbytes that they’re planning to expand to three more Egyptian governorates by mid-2020, starting with Alexandria. Trolley plans to use a large part of investment on its marketing efforts. The startup will also use the investment to further develop its website and apps and expand its team.

Trolley currently employs over 20 employees with most of them being part of its fleet team.

August 27th 2019, 11:37 am

Mecal raises funding


 Amman-based Mecal, an e-commerce platform focused on men’s accessories has raised funding from Palestine-based Ibtikar Fund and Jordan-based Innovative Startups and SME’s Fund (ISSF).

The investment will fuel Mecal’s expansion to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, and allow it to expand its product offering. “I have no doubt that Mecal can become a leading provider for one-of-a-kind gifts in the Mena region. We are excited for this funding round that will allow us to continue to grow and expand,” said Tojan Onallah, chief executive officer (CEO) at Mecal.

“ISSF is delighted to have closed its second direct investment with Mecal, a woman- owned and-led business. ISSF’s interest is based on the high added value derived from its unique product designs and focused marketing. Mecal’s design capability will enable it to compete in the local, regional and international market thus driving its ability to scale,” said Laith Al-Qasem, chief executive officer (CEO) at ISSF.

Mecal’s designs celebrate Arab culture by incorporating local tastes, and cultural imagery and sayings. Clients can also order customised products and corporate gifts. 

“We initially invested in Mecal in 2017 and have since witnessed very positive signals from the market that prompt us to double down in this space. Tojan is a relentless entrepreneur, whose passion for design drives a very unique product offering that fills a demand for high-quality, unique men’s accessories, and we are excited to welcome ISSF to join us in this journey.” said Habib Hazzan, managing general partner at Ibtikar Fund.

August 27th 2019, 9:14 am

In conversation with Muneeb Maayr of Bykea


As one of the founders of Daraz, Pakistan’s biggest e-commerce platform, Muneeb Maayr is considered one of the country’s most successful entrepreneurs after the company was acquired by China’s Alibaba Group in 2018. 

Now, his latest venture, a motorbike-hailing and logistics platform called Bykea, is also attracting investor interest after closing a $5.7 million Series A round -  the largest Series A raised in Pakistan to date. 

We spoke to Maayr about his entrepreneurial journey. 

Why did you become an entrepreneur?

It boils down to a desire to build something meaningful. After I graduated from Virginia college, I worked in investment banking then I returned to Pakistan to set up the back office for a company that sold data to banks called SNL. I did that for about seven years and I hired around 600-700 employees in Pakistan to do data analysis for investment banks in the US. So, I always wanted to build something utilising the internet. I think entrepreneurship is about building things and it is a painful journey. Everyone says “I didn’t get a job let me start my own sort of venture”, but I think that is a bad idea because if you were unable to get some of the best jobs coming out of college, I don’t think you will have the resilience to build something big or raise money for that matter.

How did the idea for Bykea come about?

We started it primarily because of my experience prior to Bykea, I ran Daraz which ultimately became the largest e-commerce venture in South Asia, outside of India. When I ran that business we did a lot of deliveries and so initially the idea was to take some of the learnings from cash-on-delivery and try to build a motorbike-based network for deliveries. But when we started with researching motorbike platforms, we were very inspired to start a motorbike or two-wheeler based taxis in Pakistan. No one was doing the two-wheeler in the offline space, let alone online place, before we launched this category.

Most of the business continues to be transporting people and yes there is and continues to be a significant portion of the business, about a quarter for business deliveries but the people-transport business far outgrew our expectations. So the idea was how to leverage the 17 million motorbikes in the country and of course all these smartphones that a lot of these people have and how to make these two things, motorbikes and smartphones, a way for people to make money.

What is the transportation sector like in Pakistan?

Unlike many global metropolises, the cities here do not have a real metro or tram system.  Recently, two cities [in Pakistan] have set up microbus systems but again microbuses are things that developed economies put out maybe 60 or 70 years ago and they don’t solve the last-mile [problem]. All of the cities we operate in have a population of five million people. So there are a lot of people, very geographically spread out, and very densely populated. A lot of their residential areas where people work and live, you can’t take a car in these alleys and that is one of the reasons why motorbikes are very popular. Traffic congestion is a problem and public transport is broken and in terms of private transport, you had these three-wheelers but they were unreliable and most of the guys would only operate in short zones. 

How did you know this was a viable business?

When you look at transport, you have to understand economics - what is the cost of the asset and what is the fare you are charging? Ride-hailing works in countries where the average fare for the trip is high because that fare based not only for the cost of the driver but also the cost of the asset. What we recognised early on is that it is only motorbikes that can really make ride-hailing profitable in emerging markets. So, yes, cars can absolutely be profitable in San Francisco, Dubai, Kuwait but ride-hailing cars cannot be profitable in cities like Cairo or Karachi because the fare is very low. Motorbikes have an opportunity to be profitable where the fare for trips is low. In the earnings for one month, you can pay for the cost of the asset. 

What are the challenges you face?

One big challenge is that big companies come in with a lot of money and try to steal market-share from you. They would throw all the money they have to give crazy incentives like five or 10 free trips and once they have acquired the customer, they keep giving promos over and over again to keep re-acquiring the customers. That is a challenge because essentially they don't care about profitability or their economics because it is not their mandate. They have to choose growth. The second challenge has been around the country. Most people in the country can’t type and search in their own language. In Pakistan, people can’t search in their own language online and I know that sounds very odd but as a nation, we haven’t developed online content or capabilities for people to be able to type fluently in the local language. The challenge we solve is dumbing the product down and dumbing it down means just writing stuff, videos, voicenotes. Passengers and drivers exchange a lot of voice notes with each other. 

What are the main lesson that you have learned?

Know what you are talking about and know the space that you are in. I think there are a lot of entrepreneurs who don’t know their category better than the [venture capital] VC they are talking to. Because if you go ill-prepared, the VC will ask you very pertinent questions and if you can’t answer that, you will not be able to win their trust. I think it is very hard to pull in a bunch of people to agree to invest in you as an entrepreneur, because these companies that you are setting up are initially, from the onset, not companies and it is only after a few years that the founding team is able to build something of value that dissociates the investor’s trust into the business itself. But initially, the investors are looking at the credibility and the ability of the founding team to not waste their money. 

What do you think your sector will look like in the next decade?

I think what is going to change is the ability for people to communicate and be matched with each other is going to improve. In the next 10 years, I see the product as a platform for transactions and services that can be in transport or in trade which can be in logistics and payments. The opportunity we are really trying to crack is dumbing the product down enough to make it super simple for people to be connected to one another, to communicate with one another and be able to receive money from each other as well.

August 26th 2019, 8:54 pm

Onsi Sawiris leads investment on Canada's Drop


 Source: Tech Crunch

Commerce and marketing are radically changing these days. Consumers are increasingly looking for brands they identify with, while at the same time, the cost of acquiring users is increasing year-over-year for marketers. For brands, that math makes marketing complicated: they want to reach the right customers with the most efficient acquisition channels in order to drive the best return.

Toronto-headquartered Drop thinks it has a formula — and one that might put some dollars (Canadian and U.S.) in consumers’ pockets. Drop  is a mobile app that scans your credit card purchases and then proceeds to give you offers on things you might want to spend money on.

Those offers have now led to a big offer from VCs, to the tune of a $44 million Series B round of capital led by Onsi Sawiris of HOF Capital. In addition, the Royal Bank of Canada joined the round as a strategic investor.

When we last caught up with CEO and founder Derrick Fung, Drop had recently raised its Series A from NEA. In the interim, the startup has continued to grow rapidly, providing customers $19 million in rewards and helping to drive $350 million in sales to 300 merchant partners, according to the company.

Fung said that “our thesis … from two years ago is generally the same: consumers, especially this new generation of consumers, are all looking for new ways to save money and improve their financial health.” Meanwhile, “with retailers, they’re all hungry to find more cost-effective ways to market. And I’d say more than ever before, Facebook, Google, and the traditional platforms are just very expensive.”

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August 26th 2019, 6:00 am

Ready for investment in Pakistan


Pakistan’s presence in global news is more commonly associated with tense political conflicts, the threat of nuclear war and breakouts of contagious diseases. But beyond the theatre of politics, Pakistan’s youth and private sector have embarked on a transformation with the potential to develop the country into one of the most enterprising in Asia.  

Current Prime Minister Imran Khan is attempting to refashion the country’s image as a place welcome to foreign investment. In July 2019, he addressed an audience at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, describing Pakistan as an “attractive investment destination”, highlighting the country’s 200 million-strong population, of whom 64 per cent are below the age of 30. Khan described the population as a “resilient and enterprising people...imbued with immense energy and creativity”.

This energy has resulted in a burgeoning startup sector, where smartphone penetration stands at 43 per cent and small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) account for 90 per cent of the private sector. 

But the country continues to be riddled with challenges of corruption, a weak currency and poor infrastructure. The World Bank ranked Pakistan 136 out of 190 economies in its Ease of Doing Business Report, while Coursera’s Global Skills Index ranked it 57 out of 60 countries for business, technology and data science skills. 

And yet despite these challenges, the country’s startups are giving Pakistan hope. 

A consumer market

In 2018, Pakistan was ranked 126 on the Global Entrepreneurship Index but within a year managed to move up six ranks and is now at 120, reflecting the growth of startups and the SME sector. 

SMEs contribute 40 per cent to gross domestic product (GDP), which stood at $312 billion in 2018 according to the SME Development Authority (SMEDA). They have also proved crucial to creating jobs for the youth, accounting for 80 per cent of employment opportunities in the country.  

Kalsoom Lakhani and Misbah Naqvi noticed the potential of the ecosystem eight years ago, when they founded Invest2Innovate (i2i), an accelerator that has worked with 31 startups to date in Pakistan. The duo recently launched i2i Ventures, a $15 million early-stage fund and announced their first investment in tech startup Mauqa Online, which provides on-demand domestic services through a mobile application. 

“We started supporting local Pakistani startups and investors because we saw the existing gap in the startup ecosystem. We wanted to offer an option for businesses to grow through our accelerator programme and that is how i2i came into being,” says Lakhani. “Me and Misbah are both Pakistani. So, the purpose was to create something in my home country and fill in the gap.”

Pakistan is the world’s 26th biggest consumer market and its startup sector reflects this appetite. E-commerce, food delivery and ride-hailing services are common in the sector and several have been attracting international attention. Online retailer, Daraz was acquired last year by China’s Alibaba in a deal thought to be worth $200 million, while Dubai-based Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP) recently invested $2 million in motorbike ride-hailing service Bykea

“As the 5th largest [nuclear power] in the world, with a young population, a rising consumer class and increasing smartphone penetration, Pakistan presents tremendous investment opportunities,” says Lakhani.

Tackling the challenges

The ecosystem has played witness to a rise in the number of investors, incubators and accelerators, but wider support is lacking. Overall access to capital is difficult, seed-stage financing is lacking and the taxation environment hinders investors and thus startup growth. 

According to US-based consultancy McKinsey & Co, there is only $0.06 per capita of VC money in Pakistan per year, while Bangladesh has $0.07 per capita and Nigeria has $0.18 per capita. 

“The issue is two-fold: regulations make it cumbersome to set up our fund inside Pakistan; regulations make it hard to get money out of the country - so as much as there is liquidity in the Pakistan market, it is not something we, or many other VC funds who have also had to set up outside, can take advantage of,” says Lakhani. “This makes fundraising more difficult and means we must compete with our colleagues in the space for a smaller slice of the pie. This is not conducive overall for the future growth of the venture capital space in Pakistan, nor is it conducive for building a collaborative ecosystem of investors.”

Half of all Pakistanis do not have access to formal financial services according to the World Bank and of the 3 million SMEs in the country, banks have lent to fewer than 200,000 of them.

“There are not enough resources available for a startup to succeed. It was a lot easier two years ago because there was more hype about entrepreneurship back then compared to now,” says Nabeel Siddiqui, founder of Modulus Tech, a hardware startup launched in 2017.

But the hype could return after the government announced the Kamyab Jawan Programme this August, comprising six initiatives including startup loans, internship programmes and technical skills training. The government will provide Rs100 billion ($637 million) worth of loans over the next five years to empower the youth in these initiatives and loans of up to Rs5 million will be provided to those who start their own business.

“Some of the best innovations come out of hard times. Whenever there’s stagnancy, I see opportunities. A lot of people don’t want to invest right now (in Pakistan) but then, there are people who want to with the likes of Airlift, Gobi, Eat Mubarak as there’s a huge demand for food delivery services in the country,” says Lakhani. “So, it’s not completely a lost case. In fact, I see challenging times as a means for growth and that is when many startups and businesses push their limits and grow.” 

August 24th 2019, 8:58 pm

Kuwait Sovereign Wealth Fund leads round in Knotel


Source: Pitchbook

Enterprise workspace provider Knotel has banked $400 million at an estimated $1 billion valuation in a round led by Wafra, the investment arm of the Sovereign Wealth Fund of Kuwait. Tokyo-based Mori Trust, Itochu and Mercuria joined Norwest Venture Partners, Newmark Knight Frank, Bloomberg Beta and Rocket Internet in contributing to the round.

Founded in 2016 and based in New York, the company provides over 4 million square feet of workspace in more than 200 cities. Knotel did not immediately respond to PitchBook's request for comment.The funding announcement follows reports in May that the company was seeking an undisclosed amount of funds at a $1.5 billion valuation, with Singapore's GIC Private Ltd.possibly participating. GIC Private appears to be largely absent in Wednesday's announcement, however.

Knotel reportedly holds big names such as Starbucks, Microsoft, Oracle and AT&T as clients. It has cumulatively raised about $560 million, per the PitchBook Platform.

The company will pursue an entrance into Asian cities including Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing and Hyderabad, as well as US cities including Houston, Dallas, Chicago and Atlanta, according to Bloomberg. In addition to its global expansion plans, the company plans to invest in Baya, an internal blockchain-based software platform used to analyze potential acquisition opportunities, and Geometry, a furniture rental subscription service for the company's clients.

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August 22nd 2019, 7:26 am

Who is spearheading digitisation in Saudi Arabia?


Sofana Dahlan is one of the first ten female lawyers authorised to practice law in Saudi Arabia. She is also the president and founder of Tashkeil, a Saudi-based social enterprise that embraces, accelerates and encourages creative entrepreneurs

Digitisation is no longer a thing of the future and has become a vehicle of the new age of transformation. The imprint of digital technologies is embodied in every spectrum of our lives and extends beyond our modus vivendi to the way we transact, interact and conduct business. That is why the current era is aptly termed as the “digital age”.

For the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, digitisation is the key to fully realising its National Transformation Plan 2020 and Vision 2030. Both roadmaps lay great emphasis for government entities to understand the needs of citizens better, find new solutions to policy challenges, streamline government procedures and improve the effectiveness of government services. Therefore, considering the shortcomings of the archaic administrative system that was prevalent in the Kingdom until 2016, the only solution available to the government entities was to reinvent themselves.

Conversely, two entities took a head start in the digitisation process, the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Commerce and Investment. The Ministry of Interior launched Absher, the one-click e-services app in 2015 and laid down the mark for others to follow. In recent years, Absher has been incredibly successful and is considered the leading government platform for Saudi citizens, relieving them from bureaucratic inefficiency. As of today, Absher has 11.6 million users and provides access to more than 160 services. Comparatively, the Ministry of Commerce and Investment was slightly less successful in its attempt to digitise its services and is constantly undergoing enhancements to improve its services.

While analysing the progress of government entities in the past three years, there is one entity that significantly stands out in my opinion, the Ministry of Justice. The Ministry has been able to make a profound impact as compared to others as it has unhesitatingly adopted the notion of digital transformation and has put citizens first rather than forcing them into the maze of government bureaucracy.

The Ministry has strongly addressed three critical areas, that are vital for a digitally-enabled government entity.

Consumer Experience: citizens expect services to be personalised and responsive.

In 2018, the Ministry pushed forward one of its main policies of going paperless and launched e-notarisation with eight different services which included the issuance of power of attorney (PoA), verification and cancellation of PoAs and e-notarisation of property without having to physically visit any notarial office. Since then, the Ministry has built on this and increased the number of services. Presently, almost 12,000 e-notarisations take place daily.

In 2019, the Ministry launched Najiz, a court case management portal to unify judicial proceedings, enable digital transformation of the judiciary and speed up the litigation process. Najiz allows citizens to save a personal legal profile, which enables them to follow the progress of a case, document it and manage judicial procedures. It also serves as an open-source of information for citizens, so they can better understand their legal rights and responsibilities.

Public Value: use digital technologies to enhance return on public investment

In 2017, the Ministry launched an e-link system that connected its technology infrastructure with the National Information Centre. In 2018, the Ministry was connected with 19 government entities and as of now, it is seamlessly linked with 26 government entities. The aim from the start has always been to eliminate the bureaucratic hassles and it now offers 90 different e-services such as property registration, property ownership transfer, and electronic marriage contracts.

Future Workforce: improve the skillset and capacity of those who are currently in the legal profession and create a work culture to simulate the existing and prospective workforce.

In 2017, the Ministry established its Legal Training Centre to improve the performance of the legal sector and anyone who works under its umbrella i.e. judges, lawyers, notaries, legal staff and trainees.

In 2018, the Ministry made available several online services for lawyers and trainees to improve process efficiency and cut down on time spent on applications. These services included registering a trainee by a lawyer or law firm, displaying a database of trainees and inquiring about licensed lawyers to name a few. This streamlining of procedures has resulted in doubling the number of lawyers that have been awarded licenses and in 2019, a total of 779 licenses have been issued, 619 to male lawyers and 155 to female lawyers.

However, implementing digital transformation is easier said than done and requires an overhaul of organisational structures, governance, work processes, culture, and mindset. The Minister of Justice, Dr. Walid bin Mohammed Al-Samani has spearheaded this revolution, understanding the value of digitisation. He has been able to discover ways to apply new technologies to the services provided by the Ministry and has translated this into a comprehensive digital transformation strategy. His effective leadership continues to successfully lead the Ministry through the transformative effects of digitisation and ultimately towards its goal of digitising 80 per cent of its services by 2020. 

August 21st 2019, 9:06 pm

E-Commerce Summit 2019


Egypt’s E-Commerce Summit returns this year to drive the growth of the e-commerce industry in Egypt and the MENA region. The Summit will be taking place on September 18th at the Nile Ritz Carlton Hotel, Cairo, Egypt. Corporate executives, brick & mortar retailers joining the digital wave, and startups will be gathering under the same roof for a networking experience driving the frontiers of e-commerce in the region.

The summit is back to help break all the barriers that different businesses & industries are facing on their quest for digital transformation and online retail penetration. For their 2019 edition, the event is set to present the breakthroughs taking the e-commerce scene by storm across MENA and explore on actionable strategies to change the landscape of e-commerce in Egypt.

With 3 content stages, presented by 80+ local & international speakers, exploring business transformational stories, the latest in payments & logistics and the basics to optimize and perfect the customer journey, this year’s edition of The Summit will host an ecommerce exhibition, with all ecommerce service providers participating to help nurture the ecommerce business ecosystem in the region.

Apart from the conference and exhibition, it will include in-depth Masterclasses, town-hall roundtables on policies governing technology & e-commerce in Egypt and close with the E-Commerce Awards honouring the incredible efforts of retailers, agencies, marketplaces & service providers.

Register to attend

August 20th 2019, 6:53 am

Nana raises $6.6 million in series A


Saudi-based Nana Direct, an online grocery platform, raised $6.6 million in its series A in an investment co-led by Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP) and Impact46. Other investors include Watar Partners, Saudi Venture Capital (SVC) Company, Wamda Capital and the Alzamil family.

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

“Having built several enterprise products in the past, I wanted to tackle a core consumer challenge and was curious to build technologies to resolve it. Groceries form a significant fraction of a Saudi family’s monthly expenditure and I believed the experience they get in return could be enhanced manifold,” said Sami Alhelwah, founder and CEO of Nana Direct.

“All around Mena more and more offline retail verticals from electronics to food were moving online, and this is what led me to Nana, a supermarket in your mobile phone.”

The deal also marks the debut investment for the partnership between MEVP and Impact46.

“At MEVP, we like to back strong founders with exceptional technical capabilities, who are building truly differentiated products; and that is exactly what we saw in Nana,” said Walid Mansour, partner and chief investment officer at MEVP. 

“What the Nana team does very well, is offer a large selection of products, delivered seamlessly; and this is executed on the back of very robust tech.”

August 20th 2019, 5:09 am

In conversation with Amr Fawzi of GoodsMart


After working for several years in engineering, Amr Fawzi decided to quit his job and start his own business when he saw a problem in shopping for and delivery of groceries. In 2014, he co-founded GoodsMart, an e-commerce application that delivers groceries in Cairo in a pre-installed box in a no interaction process. The startup now has a team of 200 people and closed an investment round last February. It is now preparing to raise its Series B round.

Why did you become an entrepreneur?

I did not know that I wanted to become an entrepreneur, I wanted to start something and I always like to learn new things and see what is new in the market. In the last three or four years at my work, I thought "I want to quit,I want to quit". It took some time but then I did.

How did the idea for GoodsMart come about?

As usual, I would go and buy the groceries and then people at home would call and say get this and that on the way back. There are always those calls and there is always something missing at home. I saw all the fights and hassles about it, so I decided to automate this process.

When did you know it was the right time to quit your full-time job?

I was actually doing great and I was in my comfort zone so I thought I would never leave my job in the UK. But I really wanted to start my own thing but it was a difficult decision to start because I traveled a lot and I was comfortable where I was. But then I called them at the company to schedule a meeting and told them I will quit and then went back to Egypt and started GoodsMart. 

What were your main challenges when you first started?

The main challenge was understanding what a business is. I was new to this. This is my first startup and there were not a lot of people or accelerators to help us. I had some money in the bank and I thought I had enough money to start four or five startups but that was not the case.

What are your challenges now?

Cash is available now, but good talent in the market is very little because of the brain drain and also because of education; people want to work for big companies and multinationals but for them, startups are just a small thing that will die. 

What is the biggest sacrifice you have made?

You get something that is better so it is not really a sacrifice. I am very grateful for the experience. I lost my job to a much better job, the experience I had to a much better experience that I am getting every day. I spent everything I owned but I learned a lot and the future is great and the company is growing. You have less free time than anyone else but you get a lot more experience. People work for eight hours but I spend all my day enjoying my time doing what I do.  

What are the main lessons that you have learned?

Things take longer than expected. The most important thing is the team. Get the right team and give them all the support and power and they will build so many things. I mentor a lot of startups and that is a lesson; I learned a lot through helping others. When you teach something you like, you learn twice. 

What are your plans for expansion?

We are planning to expand to other areas within Cairo. We now operate in Sheikh Zayed and 6th of October and we plan to go to New Cairo and then Maadi. The target is to grow out of Sheikh Zayed and gated communities and compounds and go to other areas. We get a lot of requests from people to go and launch there. That is only phase one then we are planning to go to one GCC city by the end of 2019.

What will your sector look like in the next decade?

The sector of e-commerce is already growing very quickly. I believe the traditional way will not be able to compete with e-commerce. Having a physical store compared to having your goods delivered to you at your comfort and you get everything you need. 

August 20th 2019, 12:07 am

RiseUp acquires MENAbytes


Egypt-based RiseUp, the organiser of the Middle East and North Africa’s (Mena) largest startup and entrepreneurship summit, has acquired MENAbytes, a Saudi-based startup and technology publication for an undisclosed sum. The acquisition also includes trackMENA, a new data platform by MENAbytes to help users track startups, venture capital (VC) firms, investments and acquisitions in Mena. 

Founded in mid-2017 by Zubair Naeem Paracha, MENAbytes has recently expanded its coverage to Pakistan and is looking to further expand it to Turkey and some other emerging markets. 

Paracha will join RiseUp as a result of the acquisition and continue to lead MENAbytes, trackMENA and some other digital efforts of the company. 

“It made a lot of sense to partner with RiseUp. They want to build a platform with both online and offline resources for entrepreneurs in Mena and other emerging markets and that's what I always wanted to do with MENAbytes,” said Zubair Naeem, founder of MENAbytes. “RiseUp already has the offline part figured out. And MENAbytes has been doing well on the digital front. Joining forces would help both the companies.”

MENAbytes will remain an independent media platform while also integrating with RiseUp’s digital content arm to design a fully integrated platform. 

“We’re immeasurably excited about the opportunities MENAbytes will offer RiseUp.” said Abdelhameed Sharara, chief executive officer at RiseUp. “The acquisition, and working with Zubair, is the first big leap in our vision of being a one-stop shop for the entire spectrum of resources entrepreneurs and startups in the region need to grow.” 

August 19th 2019, 8:57 am

Middle East Youth Expo 2019


The Middle East Youth Expo (MEYE 2019) will bring together thousands of young people in the Middle East to collaborate and explore sustainable solutions for both people, communities and the planet. The event will help youth contribute to their future and will empower them with the necessary tools, as well as inspiration and direction to achieve life goals as future responsible global citizens of the world. MEYE 2019 is aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals to protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.

MEYE 2019 is a 3-day event including an expo, a conference with inspirational international speakers, workshops, awards and immersive feature experiences at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre from 19-21 November 2019.

The event is youth-led, mainly targeting ages between 14 - 21 year-olds in the UAE and the Middle East to empower, explore and inspire life goals as responsible citizens. Students aged between 14-21 years in the region, whether from a school or university, are eligible to attend for free.

Once registered, MEYE will get in touch with the relevant educational establishment accordingly. Use this link.



August 19th 2019, 5:40 am

The bakery that finds clients on Instagram [podcast]


The food and beverage sector is incredibly competitive in the Middle East, something that Rami Badawi and Amber Haque know only too well. The couple opened and ended up shuttering two restaurants before founding their latest venture, a wholesale bakery.

In this last episode of the Food Tech series, we discuss the challenges facing the food sector in the region and how Instagram has proven to be a crucial factor in garnering custom for the bakery.




August 17th 2019, 9:02 pm

The case for accelerators in the UAE


Shahzad Bhatti is the founder and owner of the Co-Working PopUp, a community-driven coworking space and incubator for startups and small businesses.

Dubai has always been entrepreneurial. Time and time again, it exemplifies the statement that ‘anything is possible’ and because of that, it attracts some of the best and brightest minds, all hoping to realise their dreams. But every dream needs to not only to evolve before it can become a viable business idea, it also needs support - this is where accelerators come in.  Firstly, it should be noted however that not all accelerators are created equal or tailored to the same type of startup. For us, as The Co-Working PopUp, we saw a specific gap within the retail space as many of the accelerators out there focus solely on technology which is why we launched a retail accelerator programme which so far, has supported startups ranging from fashion to food, beauty to even the flower industry. Unlike, incubation, accelerator programmes usually last for a shorter, more defined period of time. A market that has a wide variety of accelerators, focusing on various sectors, help shape and grow a diverse small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) community and culture by supporting the growth of startups in a number of ways:

Licensing and Set-Up: While Dubai and many other markets in the region are supportive of SMEs and startups, challenges still exist at a very foundational level for entrepreneurs.   Most of the time, retail brands specifically kick-off as a side project for a lot of entrepreneurs but once they decide to invest more time into it or make it their full-time job, it becomes a significant undertaking. Accelerators can be beneficial in navigating through and setting up the foundations - trade licences, visas, workspace permits etc. Just getting a payment gateway sorted in Dubai for example requires a registered office and trade licence, so solo founders and first-time entrepreneurs really do value the experience and expertise an accelerator can bring to the table in guiding them through the process. Our programme for example offers startups access to a trade licence for them to legally trade while developing, testing and launching their concept.

Mentorship and Knowledge Exchange:  Mentorship and knowledge exchange is perhaps the most valuable thing that accelerators offer. Last year, we took six aspiring fashion designers to London Fashion Week to provide them with international brand exposure, sales opportunities and at the same time, it gave them a window into the industry in a well-established international market like London. We are doing something similar this year by taking 10 Dubai entrepreneurs to our branch in London to give them the opportunity to connect with London-based SME owners and exchange best practices with them. Exercises like these are invaluable. The knowledge startups gain from experiences like these, and the connections we help foster, help them fast-track their progress and launch in new markets. For the startup founder, it is also an opportunity for testing and education. Beyond special programmes, accelerators also offer ongoing mentorship through their individual networks.

Growth Growth Growth: Accelerators can expedite growth, which in this day and age often means investment. When we work with a startup, we are not passive observers. We take a deep dive and give personalised feedback. Our experience predominantly has been with retail startups, and unlike tech startups, new retail brands in Dubai have a tougher time finding financing. Our job is to be first set of eyes to review the business plans and five-year growth projections with a fine-toothed comb and to use our network to connect them to prospective investors. At the end of the day, having had a third-party review and also the support of a wider network -  including mentorship – available through an accelerator, puts them in good standing with angel investors and venure capital (VC) firms, who appreciate oversight on initial planning and financing.

Every startup that graduates from its set-up stage and kick-starts growth, can benefit from an expert hand to ensure that it is meeting targets, setting new goals and mapping out a path towards achieving those goals. That’s where accelerators can step in as guide, mentor, educator and connector.  When we see SMEs prosper, we see innovation, growth and a better-off business environment for all.


August 14th 2019, 9:03 pm

Chefaa closes a six figure seed funding round


Source: Disrupt Africa

Egyptian e-health startup Chefaa has closed a six-figure US dollar seed funding round from Flat6Labs and 500 Startups as it plans geographic expansion and the rollout of more products.

Founded in May 2017, Chefaa helps patients make scheduled medicine orders in a bid to tackle challenges with accessing medication in a timely fashion.

Users can locate medicine using a real-time search engine, make orders, and schedule deliveries with a GPS functionality. It also runs a medicine-dedicated CSR platform to match donations with low-income patients.

Chefaa received pre-seed funding from Flat6labs Cairo in 2018, as well as a social impact grant from the StartEgypt initiative, and has now closed its seed round. The undisclosed investment, which Disrupt Africa has been told is a six-figure US dollar amount, comes from Flat6Labs and 500 Startups, and will be used to help the startup expand both geographically and in terms of its product offering.

“We are currently serving nine Egyptian cities, including Delta and Upper Egypt, and we plan to cover Egypt totally by the end of this year. We will start our expansion plans to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region by the end of this year as well,” said Dr. Rasha Rady, co-founder and chief operating officer (COO) of Chefaa.

Chefaa is free to use for patients, with the startup charging pharmacies a commission fee on transactions and a monthly subscription fee in case of scheduled monthly packages for chronic patients. It also charges monthly subscription fees to medical and pharmaceutical organisations in return for access to insights.

“In just 12 months we have fulfilled more than 93,000 orders through over 800 pharmacies, and generated total sales of more than US$1 million,” said Rady.

August 14th 2019, 6:23 am

Lamar Holding invests $1 million in Nigeria's TechAdvance


Source: VentureBurn

Lagos-based payments infrastructure firm TechAdvance has secured $1-million in funding from Bahrain’s Lamar Holding.

TechAdvance was founded in 2009 by CEO Edmund Olotu (pictured above) and develops payments applications.

Olotu hit Ventureburn headlines earlier this year when he accused Polish entrepreneur Marek Zmyslowski of defrauding Nigerian investors and provided details thereof in a blog postat the time.

It comes as last month Håvar Bauck, the Norwegian entrepreneur who hit the news earlier this year over his dealings with Zmyslowski announced that his Kenyan travel tech startup HotelOnline had raised $320 000.

Although technically not a startup anymore, TechAdvance has six platforms offering solutions in the payments space, namely: Transfer2Africa, GPay, PayElectricity Bill,,, and

The firm said in a statement on Friday (9 August) that it will use the funding — its first external investment — to support its emerging market expansion.

It is not clear which countries TechAdvance is looking to expand to, it is likely these include markets in the Middle East.

The company said it has received an approval for a payment solution service provider (PSSP) license from the Central Bank of Bahrain.

Continue reading this story 

August 14th 2019, 6:23 am

VentureSouq invests in Hong Kong's QFPay


Source: E27

QFPay, a QR code-based payment technology company headquartered in Hong Kong, has received US$20 million in fresh funding from existing investors Sequoia Capital China and Matrix Partners.

New strategic investors, including MDI Ventures (the corporate VC arm of Telkom Indonesia), Japan’s Rakuten Capital, and Dubai-based VentureSouq, also invested.

With this new round of capital injection, QFPay will continue to expand its presence deeper into its core markets and further research and develop new digital payment products and solutions.

“Strategic value from new investors in this round is expected to catalyse QFPay’s expansion plans” adds Patrick Ngan, Co-founder and International CEO of QFPay. “We have been witnessing tremendous growth in digital payment adoptions across Asia and given the need for localised strategy and networks in each of the markets, having support from trusted strategic partners like MDI Ventures, Rakuten Capital and VentureSouq as your investors and advisors plays an important role in navigating through the complex business environments.”

Established in 2012, QFPay empowers merchants with end-to-end online and offline QR-code mobile payment solutions and value added services, including food ordering services and customer loyalty programs. To date, QFPay claims it has served over 1.2 million merchants and executed over 1 billion transactions. These customers range from large, medium and small merchants, from luxury fashion and jewellery brands to restaurants and hotels, exhibitions to convenience store chains.

The startup has presence across 13 markets in Asia and the Middle East, including Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and the UAE.

Continue reading this story 

August 14th 2019, 6:23 am

In conversation with Sara Sawaf of AYA Animations


Sara Sawaf studied finance and marketing while at university, but her career path took her along a more humanitarian route. Prior to founding AYA Animation in 2015, Sawaf worked with the Saudi Arabia-based The Jasmine Project which employs more than 100 families in Syria, training them in various handiwork.

Having studied the Quran for more than a decade, Sawaf looked to translate the values of the text into animations aimed at children. Since the inception of AYA Animations Sawaf has raised $500,000 in seed capital, allowing the company to invest in research and development and create the pilot episode.  In the coming year, AYA Animations will be looking to raise further investment to spend on developing an interactive app, marketing and distribution.

We spoke to Sawaf about her entrepreneurial journey.

Why did you become an entrepreneur?

It was not that I wanted to become an entrepreneur per se. What I was more interested in was filling a gap I felt was critical to a child's development. When I realised there was no engaging moral education material out there, I took it upon myself to bring it to the market. So, in 2015 I set out to create values-based content kids could both enjoy and learn from.

How did the idea for AYA animation come about?

I had no background in animation. I took Quran literature lessons for 10 years. When I became a mum, I wanted my children to watch something that was educational yet entertaining during their screen time and I was surprised to see that there wasn’t enough such content available for children. This motivated me to venture into animation and create something for my children as well as other children so that they could learn universal values like patience, perseverance and equality.

When did you realise that this could be a viable business?

We previewed the [pilot] episode with parents, children in schools and focus groups in different countries. I received lot of testimonials from parents and teachers who stressed that this needs to be part of our curriculum, so that’s what we worked towards. I took it to the international audience in Malaysia, London and the reception was very good.

What were your main challenges in the beginning?

I would probably say that the biggest challenge for a business in this industry is surviving the initial development stage without generating revenue.

I had the idea and I was extremely excited about it but worried at the same time about who’s going to be in my team? How is it going to work? But I have to say things just happened and worked out.

What are the main lessons you have learned?

Patience! Producing animations is not easy, it takes time and meticulous attention to detail. I’m so grateful for my super talented team who is working hard to deliver the series to the standard we set out for ourselves. 

When it came to building this team, I learned not to feel limited by my geography, community or those around me. I stepped out of my comfort zone to travel and meet people I felt I could work with and trust. I couldn’t be happier to be where we are today with a global team including producers, animators, scriptwriters, voice-over actors and more.

What will your industry look like in the next decade?

Today, parents are becoming more conscious of what content their children are consuming. While some decide to limit screen time, many want to ensure that time spent on-screen is beneficial for their child. As parents increasingly monitor what their kids watch, the demand for enriching content that educates children while keeping them entertained grows accordingly. The edutainment industry will surely see more and more players entering the space delivering apps, movies, books and TV shows for younger audiences.



August 12th 2019, 9:04 pm

Fawry lists on Egyptian Exchange


Source: MENAbytes

Egyptian electronic payments company Fawry, after months of hype, finally went public on The Egyptian Exchange (EGX) on Thursday in first Egyptian IPO of the year. The shares that were listed at the price of EGP 6.46 soared 31 percent to close at EGP 8.48  on the first day of trading, which gives the company a market cap close to EGP 6 billion or $366 million.

“The Egyptian Exchange’s (EGX) platform welcomed today Fawry for Banking Technology and Electronic Payment, newly listed company number 216, to its main market with a trading code FWRY.CA,” the Egyptian Exchange said in a statement on Thursday.

“The private placement was oversubscribed by 16 times and the IPO by 30 times. Egyptians represented 80.3% of the IPO and 50% of the private placement. Arabs & Foreigners represented 19.7% of the IPO and 49.3 of the private,” the statement added.

Fawry offered 36 percent (254.6 million) of its shares on The Egyptian Exchange to raise EGP 1.64 billion ($100 million). The offering was comprised of a secondary sale by Netherland Holding BV.

Founded in 2008 by Ashraf Sabry & Mohamed Okasha, Fawry offers over 250 electronic payment services through its network of over 100,000 service points across 300 cities in Egypt – that include ATMs, mobile wallets, retail shops, post offices, and little vendor kiosks.

The company also has its online payment gateway that allows online businesses to collect payments from their customers using different methods including cash, credit cards, and mobile wallet.

Continue reading this story


August 11th 2019, 1:07 pm

MEVP invests $2 million in Bykea


Source: MenaBytes

Dubai-based leading regional VC Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP) today announced in a statement to MENAbytes that they have invested $2 million in Bykea, a Pakistani on-demand transport, logistics, and payments startup. The investment that was made a few months ago was part of Bykea’s $5.7 million Series A(which was the largest Series A raised by a Pakistani startup).

At the time, Bykea had said that a Middle Eastern VC had participated in the round without disclosing the name. Saramayacar, Pakistan’s leading VC and an investment firm from Southeast Asia were the other investors in the round.

Founded in 2017 by some big names from the ecommerce and logistics industry of Pakistan including Muneeb Maayr, who previously co-founded Rocket Internet’s Daraz (acquired last year by Alibaba), Abdul Mannan, Ishaq Kothawala and Rafiq Malik, Bykea is a super app that offers different services, with on-demand motorbike ride-hailing and parcel delivery being its most popular offerings.

The startup claims to have 2 million app users (apparently downloads) and a fleet of over 200,000 driver-partners, which it says is the largest of its kind in Pakistan. It also enables users to book its services through an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) solution. The users can book any Bykea service by placing a regular call on a phone number (without having a smartphone).

Continue reading this story

August 8th 2019, 10:45 pm

Jollychic secures $65m from G42 Group


Source: Tech in Asia

G42, which is behind several national strategic tech projects in the region, considered Jollychic’s potential and position in the Middle East and its vision of building an ecommerce-based internet ecosystem for the investment, according to a statement.

Jollychic said it plans to use the fresh funds to expand its segmentation, improve its logistics system, and develop third-party payment options and e-wallets. The funding will also help the company further strengthen its localization efforts.

Its payment platform, JollyPay, recently received relevant licenses in the UAE and online payment service qualification in Saudi Arabia. The development will help Jollychic with its goal to build an ecommerce ecology and “no cash society” in the Middle East

August 8th 2019, 10:30 pm

The key to sustainable growth lies in Jordan's SMEs


Yara Asad is the project manager at Building Markets in Jordan where she focuses on assessing businesses and their investment readinesswhile also evaluating opportunities for refugees and migrants and their economic impact on host countries.

Small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Jordan have a rather positive outlooking according to a new report published by Building Markets - Another Side to the Story: An Assessment of Jordanian, refugee and migrant owned businesses. More than 60 per cent of SMEs in the country are expecting their profits to increase in the next six months, and 58 per cent expect to hire more employees. Overall, 59 per cent expect to hire an average of 14 people in the next six months.

Jordan has experienced significant turmoil over the last decade. First, the global financial crisis took its toll, and then before markets could recover, Jordan began taking in refugees feeling the war in Syria, ultimately absorbing 1.4 million forced migrants over eight years. Simultaneously, primary trade routes closed, and Jordan’s resources and infrastructure were quickly depleted and strained by massive population growth. As a result, the country’s debt rose, unemployment increased, and gross domestic product (GDP) rapidly declined. While Jordan has received unprecedented levels of aid, the ebbs and flows of assistance have also made it difficult to strategically leverage this support.

Many view this influx as negative however, Jordanian, migrant, and refugee entrepreneurs offer another side to the story. Since the first wave of migrants and refugees saw a better future in Jordan, they have been contributing to the country’s development. Many are skilled traders, have moved their business to Jordan, and are introducing new products to the market. Fifty-three per cent of the owners of SMEs in Building Markets’ study are migrants and an additional 9 per cent are refugees, and 21 refugee/migrant entrepreneurs stated they owned a business prior to coming to Jordan, with an average of 86 employees.

Alongside this, Jordan’s government has made important progress upgrading the country’s economic infrastructure, which has been aided by openness to trade and investment. Internationally, Jordan has received unprecedented support and interest from donors, the private sector, and investors. The country is also emerging as a technology hub. In its findings, Building Markets noted that 10 per cent of refugee/migrant-owned businesses and 25 per cent of Jordanian businesses work in tech sectors or in sectors that intersect with technology (such as manufacturing computer components or selling computer software).

Ensuring that these entrepreneurs can thrive will create much needed jobs and ensure Jordan remains on a path of inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

In its recommendations, Building Markets urges policy makers to assist refugee/migrant and Jordanian SMEs to increase employment opportunities within their firms by boosting access to work permits, opening up new sectors where refugee/migrant businesses can operate, and by ensuring refugee/migrant women entrepreneurs have equal access to economic opportunities. 

Building Markets also urges stakeholders and international organisations as well as the wider private sector in Jordan to develop inclusive local procurement policies. These policies can emphasise contracting goods and services from SMEs and creating quotas for contracting SMEs that are women-owned, refugee/migrant-owned, or that employ refugees, where such vendors can perform to acceptable standards and at a cost equal to or less than alternatives.

Building Markets has paved the way towards a new perspective about refugee/migrants in Jordan. Telling more of these stories would highlight the positive impact of these entrepreneurs and would encourage financial institutions, policymakers, and other market actors to realise their positive contributions and to put in place measures that overcome risks and enable them to work and formalise their businesses. The faster this happens, the faster they can become productive members of society that generate benefits for all.

To read the full report, visit:




August 7th 2019, 10:15 pm

Match group acquires Harmonica


Source: MenaBytes 

Match Group, the online dating giant with a market cap of over $20 billion that owns different dating websites and apps including Tinder, OkCupid, PlentyOfFish, and has acquired Egyptian online dating startup Harmonica, the Dallas-headquartered company announced today in a statement to MENAbytes, without disclosing financial details of the transaction.

Founded in early 2017 by Sameh Saleh, Tamer Saleh, Shaymaa Aly & Aly Khaled, Harmonica’s app that’s carefully designed for Muslims helps users find a potential life partner. The app, as a statement by Match Group notes, approaches mobile matchmaking with respect to local traditions and cultures. You can read more details about how the app works in this piece we had written last year.

Continue reading this story


August 7th 2019, 11:23 am

In conversation with Ahmed Hashlamon of Mashvisor


Mashvisor was founded by Peter Abualzolof and Mohammed Jebrini in 2014 with the aim of providing real estate investment data analysis to investors. The Palestine-based startup has fast become one of the most prominent real estate analysis platforms in the US, helping users cut down on three months’ worth of research into 15 minutes by taking into account features like budget and area to shortlist properties available to rent or buy.

Data engineer Ahmed Hashlamon joined the pair as the third co-founder. The company won MIT Enterprise Forum’s Arab Startup Competition earlier this year, winning a cash prize of $50,000. So far Mashvisor has raised $800,000 and is now looking to raise up to $4 million in its Series A over the next six months.

We spoke with Hashlamon about his entrepreneurial journey.

Why did you become an entrepreneur?

I studied software engineering at Hebron University and a day after my graduation, I started working for Mashvisor. I had three scholarships and had the opportunity to continue studying but in Palestine, we don’t need very high degrees, we need to find opportunities for other people to build their careers. Mashvisor gave me the opportunity to establish a business and start helping others.

How did the idea for Mashvisor come about?

The idea came to Peter when he was in the States, he was doing real estate investments and he had a problem finding the right investment, it took him four to five months, so he had the idea to do something automated and get data from different sites. He came back to Palestine because he wanted to found a Palestinian startup and team and help the ecosystem here.

What were your challenges in the beginning?

The ecosystem in Palestine is really bad, there were not many investors, particularly in tech. We were able to make it to the 2015 Ibitkar Fund and took $250,000 from an angel investor at first. It was challenging to find good investors and someone who doesn’t want to control you step by step but still wants to invest. Now, our challenge is still funding. I was in Beirut when we won the MIT prize, there were more than 40 investors who wanted to invest with us, but when they found out our HQ is in Ramallah, many of them moved away because it is a war zone and they are scared to invest in Palestine. More than 20 moved away and another 15 to 20 asked us to move to the Gulf so that they could invest in us. They need us to move somewhere else other than Palestine so they can keep their money safe.

The challenge is also finding the right people, we work in Palestine, but we work with Americans, so we need to find people who understand the American mentality, how they think there and the real estate market in the US.  

What are the main lessons you have learned?

You always need to knock on the door because no one will come to you and say, I want to help you. You’re going to have so many hits, but never give up. With patience and passion, we survived, so stay focused and listen to your loyal customers, they are the people who tell you exactly what they need to see on your platform. We always try to get feedback from customers monthly or twice monthly. We call some of our customers and ask if they have complaints and when we’re trying to introduce a new feature, we trial it with them and then we go live with everyone.

If you are working on establishing a startup, you don’t need to be super perfect and release all the features at once, you can start very small as a pilot, have the first few customers try it, this is how you test if your business will make money or not.

What will your industry look like in the next decade?

Currently, we’re seeing that people are moving away from the traditional ways of doing real estate investments to online sources. Everything is becoming automated and we believe that everything should be totally automated. In the next five years everything will be done online and providing all the information on a single platform in an easy to use way. We’re working on machine learning and artificial intelligence because people like to have someone guide them on what they like and don’t like, even in real estate.

August 5th 2019, 9:09 pm

Vy Capital invests in UrbanClap


Source: MenaBytes

Indian home and beauty services marketplace UrbanClap has raised $75 million in a Series E round led by Tiger Global, the startup announce on Friday. The round was also joined by Steadview Capital and Dubai-based Vy Capital, both of which had invested in company’s $50 million Series D late last year. The latest round according to the statement also includes secondary share sale by some of UrbanClap’s early investors.

Founded in 2014 by Abhiraj Bhal, Varun Khaitan, and Raghav Chandra, UrbanClapis a mobile marketplace for a wide range of local services including housekeeping (which consists of part-time maids, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, etc.), beauty and spa, and mobile repairs. The Indian startup that had expanded to United Arab Emirates last year has most of these services available in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

At the time of launch in Dubai, UrbanClap’s co-founder Abhiraj Bhal had said that they don’t see it as international expansion but a strategic entry into a global city that’s close to India. A year after launching in Dubai, UrbanClap also announced its expansion to Abu Dhabi.

UrbanClap that’s now available in ten cities in India and two in the UAE claims to have over 20,000 professionals on its marketplace providing different services. The startup works with them to provide them with tools, uniforms, financing, insurance, bank accounts, and products and consumables.

The Indian startup is competing with the likes of ServiceMarket and MrUsta that provides different on-demand home services, and (to some extent) cleaning-only marketplaces Matic and Justmop.


August 4th 2019, 11:04 am

FinTech Hackathon


Monsha’at and NCB are collaborating to launch the first FinTech accelerator in KSA. The program supports the growth of FinTech and entrepreneurship in the region. It targets idea-stage FinTech startups with at least one Saudi co-founder. Following the Hackathon happening on the 23-24 August, 25 successful startups will be selected to undergo a 5 day Bootcamp from 25th - 29th August 2019.

Following the Bootcamp, 10 final startups will be selected to undergo an 11-week accelerator program to launch their businesses under the mentorship of industry experts from 1st September until 14th November 2019.

 Apply here by August 17th.

August 4th 2019, 10:04 am

MoneyFellows raises more than $1 million


Source: Menabytes 

Cairo-based fintech MoneyFellows has raised over $1 million in a bridge round (Pre-Series A), the startup told MENAbytes today. The investment came from 500 Startups and Dubai Angel Investors, both of which had previously invested in company’s seed round as well, last year, Beirut-based Phoenician Fund, and some individual investors including some of its previous angels.

Founded in late 2016 by Ahmed Wadi, MoneyFellows is digitizing concept of money circles (ROSCAs), commonly known as gam’eya in Egypt and other Arab countries.

The years-old practice that is common across many countries in the world, known as chit funds in India, committee in Pakistan and Tandas in Mexico, allows a group of people (normally friends or coworkers) contribute a fixed installment every month to a pool with one of the members taking whole pool as payout every month. The circle ends when everyone receives their payout and is usually repeated if the participants are interested.

MoneyFellows plans to use the latest investment for scaling the userbase mainly. The startup also plans to raise a $3 million in Series A by the end of this year.


Continue reading the story

August 4th 2019, 9:53 am

MidChains raises funding


Source: The National

The venture capital arm of Mubadala Investment Company has taken a stake in MidChains, a company which recently gained approval from Abu Dhabi Global Markets (ADGM) regulators to operate a crypto asset exchange in the capital.

MidChains, a two-year old company offering digital asset exchange and custodian services, gained in-principal approval from ADGM’s Financial Services Regulatory Authority last month to set up and run a global crypto asset exchange and custodian service and has now become one of the first digital asset firms in the Middle East to gain funding from Mubadala. The sum invested was not disclosed.

“Given Mubadala’s reputation as a global investment company, this investment will provide us with a platform to scale up, including for retail and institutional clients,” said Basil Al Askari, co-founder and chief executive of MidChains.

The company, which is based in the new Hub71 accelerator in Abu Dhabi Global Markets, is looking to launch its platform by the end of this year, subject to regulatory approval. MidChains will target both retail and institutional investors in digital assets, and is one of a number of crypto asset exchanges to have received in-principal approval from ADGM’s regulatory body in recent months.

“We’re excited to be an early-stage investor in a company like MidChains which is both an Abu Dhabi-based company and one founded by two inspiring [UAE] nationals,” said Ibrahim Ajami, head of Mubadala Ventures. “This is in-line with our investment strategy to find and nurture home-grown start-ups.”

Mubadala Ventures, which was set up in 2017, expects to grow its portfolio of assets to about $1 billion (Dh3.67bn) by 2021 as it deploys capital from its existing and new funds, including a UAE technology vehicle.

Mubadala Ventures oversees its parent company’s $15bn commitment to Japan’s $100bn SoftBank Vision Fund, which counts Apple, Qualcomm and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund as investors.

Mubadala Ventures also manages the $400 million Ventures Fund I targeting early stage US tech companies, a $200m fund-to-fund investment business with the aim to deploy $70m each year, and a $400m European fund due to launch in 2019.


August 4th 2019, 4:01 am

The reasons behind Egypt's startup boom


Barely a week goes by without a startup in Egypt announcing an investment round. The country has over the past few years ramped up its entrepreneurial activity, becoming the fastest growing ecosystem in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region according to a report by Magnitt.

Helped by the falling inflation rate and an economy that is on its way to recovery, more people are gaining the confidence to launch their own business.  

“We have seen a lot of change in the startup ecosystem in Egypt in the last couple of years. We see it in the number of our applications; it is doubling. Also, in the quality of the entrepreneurs who are applying to join the programme," says Marie Therese, managing partner at accelerator Flat6Labs Egypt.

With a population of more than 100 million, Egypt’s market has the potential to be one of the most lucrative and it is attracting the attention of not just startups from the wider region, but also investors.

"Over the past three years we have been seeing more access to finance and more interest from global investors to invest in the ecosystem, adding to that the governmental initiatives supporting starts and SMEs,” says Mohamed Hamza, associate director at AUC Venture Lab. “We have been seeing an increased awareness about entrepreneurship through the work of various stakeholders, appearing on TV and having dedicated programmes directing attention towards the topic as well as the introduction of entrepreneurship education as a requirement in a number of public universities.”

The number of venture capital (VC) firms, accelerators and incubators in Egypt have been increasing, indicating a growing interest in entrepreneurship in Egypt. In fact, according to one report by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), launched by The American Univeristy in Cairo School of Business in 2018, 82 per cent of Egyptians perceive successful entrepreneurs as having high social status and almost 76 per cent of Egyptians, mostly youth, perceive entrepreneurship as a good career choice, compared to a global average of 61.6 per cent. Moreover, 55.5 per cent of non-entrepreneurs surveyed expressed their interest in starting their own business, a percentage that is double the global average.

"There is a shift in the mindset. Young people are more eager now to start their own projects. Also, there are so many entities that provide help and support to startups. The more young people know about these entities and the fact that there is so much support, the more they are encouraged to start their own projects,” says Therese.

But perhaps one of the biggest drivers for the rise in entrepreneurship is the lack of “interesting jobs for young people”, according to Therese. While the overall unemployment rate stands at around 8 per cent according to CAMPAS, Egypt’s statistics agency, the youth unemployment rate as of 2018 was more than 32 per cent according to the World Bank.

The GEM report reveals that opportunity-driven entrepreneurship has been decreasing at the expense of necessity- driven entrepreneurship that is driven by the lack of other work alternatives, increasing from 31.1 per cent in 2016 to 42.7 per cent in 2017, compared to a global average of 22.2 per cent.

Solving global problems in Cairo

The historic capital, Cairo, is a city with a dense population of 30 million, crumbling infrastructure and an unwavering sense of hope. The metropolis has proven to be fertile ground for solving problems that many cities in emerging markets around the world are experiencing.

One particular sector that Cairo has excelled in, is solving the transportation problem for overcrowded cities with poor public transportation systems. It has been startups that have provided the solutions and one such example is Swvl, an application for booking buses that recently closed a $42 million investment round, marking the biggest VC investment deal in the country and the highest in Mena in the second quarter of this year.

"Startups can offer many innovative solutions for the big issues. We cannot say they are solving the whole thing at one time, but at least they are offering a know-how and a new way of dealing with things just like what happened with the transportation market starting with Uber then the rise of Careem then Swvl which is much more Egyptian and much more related to our situation and streets," says Ahmed Adel, business mentor at Fekretak Sherketak. 

Swvl’s understanding of the Egyptian market enabled it to become the market leader and highlighted the opportunities in the buses sector with both Uber and Careem launching their own service.  

“We can even see that the public transportation sector started to use mobile applications such as Mwasalat Misr which I think will be a good experiment that will be generalised soon,” says Adel.


Yet despite the innovation and enthusiasm, there remains plenty of challenges that hinder the growth of startups in the country. Many end up failing, the country had the highest rate of business discontinuation among the 49 countries studied in the GEM report with a rate of 10.2 per cent in 2017, a significant increase from 2.7 per cent in 2010.

The report attributes the high discontinuation rate to the challenging business environment reflected mainly in the lack of profitability for businesses and the difficulties in accessing capital.

"Investors need to understand that the nature of investing in startups is different,” says Mohamed Khedr, managing partner at Endure Capital and founder of Fatakat, an online network aimed at Arab women. “Investors are used to dividends and thus find it difficult to supply startups with money for seven or 10 years and wait for its exit until they can have their money.”

According to Khedr, many investors “do not understand that they can have a maximum of 30 per cent stake because the founders still have upcoming investment rounds and stake to share and do not want to end up with 3 or 4 per cent share”. While others tend to be overbearing and tend to get too involved in the day to day running of the startup, which ultimately might contribute to the failure of the company.

The regulatory environment is also a hindrance, particularly with regards to investing in startups.

“There needs to be new laws that are introduced specifically for startups such as shareholders' agreement as well as regulations that ease taxation and financial restrictions and facilitate procedures of registering startups,” says Khedr.

Lack of experience is one other main reason why startups fail. Generally, Egyptian entrepreneurs have low fear of failure compared to the global average in GEM, but despite the positive attitudes, most entrepreneurs report that it is a tough and stressful job with extended working hours, high risk and high level of uncertainty. About nine out of 10 startups in Mena fail but few are aware of the failure rate since much of the media focuses on the success stories, investment rounds and acquisitions.

"One of the biggest reasons why startups fail is experience. You can learn how to be an entrepreneur but not open your own business,” says Adel who founded a startup when he was still a university student and had to shut it down a year later. “You can be an intraprenuer. You can join a startup to learn more. I am not encouraging students to open their startups without experience. If you have a good idea that you think will change the market, just get some experience in your team.”

Yet, there are lessons to be learned in failure. Many entrepreneurs in Egypt who have failed learn from their mistakes and strive to start new businesses. One example is the team behind Wasla Browser, their third venture after their initial startups failed. While university graduates continue to found their own businesses in the hope of becoming their own boss and creating employment opportunities for themselves, it is the ones who are on their second or third ventures that are likely to see success and it is these founders who are contributing to the most value to Egypt’s startup ecosystem.

"The youngest people think that they will be their own decision makers, and no one will tell them what to do and so on which is actually not true. An entrepreneur is bossed by the market itself, the customers and investors," says Adel.  


August 3rd 2019, 8:13 pm closes seed round


Source: Startup MGZN, a Saudi startup focusing on artificial intelligence-based traffic analytics and monitoring solutions, announced today a Seed round of an undisclosed amount from Saudi Aramco’s Wa’ed Ventures. This is’s first funding round, and Wa’ed Ventures is the sole investor in this round. The financing will be used to further invest in the proprietary Computer Vision platform developed by and to help it reach global markets.

Founded in 2017 in Makkah al Mukarramah, is leveraging on advances in Computer Vision and Machine Learning for the traffic analytics and enforcement industry. is the brainchild of co-founders Dr. Anas Basalamah, Dr. Saleh Basalamah, Muhammad Amin and Dr. Sohaib Khan. The startup won the Product Innovation Award at Gulf Traffic 2018, which is a leading traffic industry event held in Dubai.

“Winning the award at Gulf Traffic meant a lot to us, because it gave us validation that the industry is ready for these new innovative solutions”, says Muhammad Amin, co-founder and CTO of “We are using the latest Deep Learning algorithms to introduce new products in this very important industry. In the end, it is about saving lives on the road.”

“We believe Hazen has great promise, using its cutting-edge algorithm with a potential to revolutionize traffic management and safety. In such an early-stage company is already exporting its AI-based traffic enforcement software to the United States. This makes the company one of the earliest advanced AI software exporters in the region”, said Wassim Basrawi, managing Director at Wa’ed Ventures.

“Hazen’s advanced computer vision and deep learning platform has the potential not just to significantly enhance traffic management and road safety, but also integrate into the evolving space of smart-city applications”, said Salman T. Jaffrey, Chief Investment Officer at Wa’ed Ventures highlighted.

August 1st 2019, 9:35 am

How can consumers take back control of their data?


By Ankit Chaudhari, CEO and founder of Aiisma, a data management software and hardware company with headquarters in Las Vegas and an office in Sharjah. The Aiisma app allows consumers to sell their data to businesses in a bid to give them greater control over their privacy.

Data management and privacy is a major concern among consumers and governments, highlighted by the introduction of GDPR regulations in Europe, the recent slew of fines slapped on big US name brands for continuous data privacy breaches and the introduction of the personal data protection bill in India.

Consumers are demanding more control over the data they generate, which may include information about what they’re buying, where they’re going and who they’re communicating with. However, the majority of consumers have limited information and knowledge about where their data goes, the use of their data, which businesses are accessing it, how they are using it and most importantly how much value their data represents.

Consumers are beginning to wake up to the value of their personal data. Aiisma has introduced one of the first data exchange ecosystems for consumers and enterprises, enabling consumers to achieve the requested control, privacy, security and, ideally, the opportunity to get rewarded for their data. While businesses gain access to structured and filtered data.

The most significant hurdle for consumers and businesses is the ambiguity of global data protection. While many enterprises consider data protection laws to be too complex, creating challenges for businesses looking to access consumer data, consumers believe the laws are too lenient, not affording them ample protection against invasions of privacy. With so many grey areas, and lack of education, consumers continue to run the risk of being exploited for their data. The amount of data that is collected globally from consumers by organisations is staggering. Large corporations have long benefitted from the informational and monetary value, but consumers have mostly been left out in the cold.

To curb data appropriation, new laws have been introduced in the Middle East. For example, Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) has its own specific data protection laws and regulations, which are generally consistent with data protection laws from other more developed jurisdictions, such as the European Union’s GDPR. The scope of these stringent regulations covers personal information being processed fairly, lawfully, securely and with a specified and legitimate reason. While there are currently no direct general federal data protection laws in the GCC, enterprises with connections to Europe fall under the umbrella of Europe’s GDPR.

Middle East consumers are savvy; they are beginning to realise their data is a valuable asset, and we are witnessing signs of them wanting greater transparency and control. In exchange for their data, loyalty and trust, GCC companies will need to be more transparent and willing to trade something of value rather than gathering data without consent.

Data monetisation is poised to tip the balance by giving local and global consumers the opportunity to turn their data into money. Aiisma has combined proprietary software and hardware solutions to create a data exchange ecosystem in which consumers are asked before their data is accessed or shared among companies seeking to target you with adverts for products, services and brands. Consumers are given the power to choose exactly what information they are willing to share and are rewarded for it accordingly. Businesses also benefit from the arrangement. The ecosystem provides quality over quantity, so rather than analysing huge volumes of data, companies can access filtered, structured, targeted and consensually-gathered consumer data, which is both relevant and actionable.

Although consumers are becoming more aware of the value their data has, most simply don’t know how much data they are sharing every day. Every photograph shared on social media, every tag or status update gives companies a little more information about consumers. How many times do consumers click on an ‘I Agree’ button just to get to the next page without reading what they are agreeing to? A survey conducted by OnePoll for the Chartered Institute of Marketing in November 2018 found 48 per cent of consumers do not understand how and where organisations are using their personal data. A third of all consumers reported they had received communication from a business they had not given permission to contact them within the month preceding the survey. Although consumers are willing to share their data with companies offering something in return, it is unlikely they would consent to sharing their data with third parties, a common practice that is still prevalent in many countries.

Companies are constantly dipping into our lives, gathering data about who we are, what we do, where we go and who we know. The impact of consumer data being shared ranges from minor infringements, such as your name and number being shared with social media applications, to more significant intrusions, such as data brokers compiling and selling personalised profiles filled with information that has been collected without consent.

New data regulations are clamping down on sharing data with third parties and are imposing stringent fines on those companies found breaching data privacy. As recent scandals hit the front pages, public concerns have heightened about the abuse of personal data, where it goes and how it is used. Consumers are becoming more aware of the downsides and hidden costs of sharing data, leading to a fundamental shift.

However, businesses having access to consumer data needn’t be a negative experience. Enterprises willing to be more transparent can build trust with their consumers. Companies who explain how consumer data is being used and exchange data for something of value, will be rewarded by more consumers willing to share their data with them. Aiisma provides an ecosystem in which this relationship can be fostered. Consent will be gained not through overly-long and complicated terms of service agreements, but through transparency and the provision of mutual benefit.

Ultimately, consumers vote with their wallets and, increasingly, their data. When asked, the majority of consumers say they will not buy products and services from unethical companies. The same will soon be true of consumer decisions regarding companies they are prepared to share their data with. Organisations that are not willing to pay a fair price or misuse data will lose customers and access to information, potentially having a long-term impact on their brand and profitability.

July 31st 2019, 8:58 pm

Rain raises $2.5 million and acquires regulatory license


Source: Coindesk

Cryptocurrency exchange Rain has opened its doors for business following regulatory approval by Bahrain’s central bank. The exchange also closed a $2.5 million funding round co-led by BitMEX Ventures.

Rain received a Crypto-Asset Module (CMA) license following a two-year regulatory sandbox process per a statement from the exchange. Both the first project and graduate under the Central Bank of Bahrain’s (CBB) sandbox program, Rain is looking to fill a gap in the Middle East’s digital asset market.

Along with BitMEX Ventures, the funding round was co-led by Bahraini cryptocurrency fund Blockwater. Bitcoin enthusiast Jimmy Song, Cumberland Minings’ Mike Komarnsky, and Aaron Lasher and Aaron Voisine, co-founders of Breadwallet now BRD, also participated.

Commenting on BitMEX Ventures’ investment, CEO and co-founder Alex Hayes spoke on the need for crypto on-ramps, particularly in the developing world: “As the first licensed cryptocurrency exchange in the Middle East, Rain has an unprecedented opportunity to tap into the incredible potential that cryptocurrency trading will bring to the region. We believe that Rain will bring greater diversification to Middle-Eastern traders with its exchange offering and experienced team, and we are thrilled to contribute to this defining moment.”

Founded in 2018, the exchange plans on using the funds for continued infrastructure development and team additions.

Central banks continue to set the pace for fintech development in the Middle East with Iran recently looking to green-light crypto mining. In December, the National Bank of Kuwait partnered with Ripple for a remittance service, NBK Direct Remit, as a pilot program between Kuwait and Jordan


July 31st 2019, 4:10 am

In conversation with Priscilla Elora Sharuk of Myki


Myki is a Beirut-based cyber security company that offers users an offline password manager through a mobile application. The app allows users to store and manage passwords and sensitive information like credit cards and government identification documents to lift the burden of remembering the plethora of passwords required for the many applications that people deal with every day.

It was founded by Priscilla Elora Sharuk and Antoine Vincent Jebara who started thinking of the idea in 2013. The company has so far raised a $4 million Series A round and $1.2 million in seed investment. We spoke to Sharuk about her entrepreneurial journey.

Why did you become an entrepreneur?

I became an entrepreneur by mistake, I had no intention of building a business, I just had an intention to solve a problem that most people suffered from – which is forgetting passwords and one thing led to another and here we are. I didn’t have it all planned out, I didn’t know where it was going, it was a day to day sort of thing. It’s interesting to look back now and think “damn”. The domino effect put everything into place.

When did you realise it was the right time to quit your job?

I was working as a landscape architect which is what I studied. It is completely different, but building software is very much like architecture, everything is about creating a specific function. I completed an acceleration programme in Helsinki and when I came back, I felt I was equipped with what I was supposed to do next. I had like-minded people that I could pool and work with and for me, that was the trigger. It was coming back and saying “I got this’.

Why Helsinki?

We had heard a lot about this particular accelerator and its strength in this type of technology. We went for the strategic connections in this space and to gain credibility abroad. Because of the nature of the product, it was important to go out there and speak to industry professionals and get their approval. It was a faster way of finding the product market fit and get that credibility.

What were your main challenges when setting up?

It is step number one – the existential question of “do I have it in me to quit my job, which I invested eight years of my life?”. The second challenge, if I am quitting my job, is that I need to raise money. We had to identify the strategic partners, find smart money, their ticket size for everything to fall into place. We were bootstrapping for 10-11 months before we closed funding. It takes time to close investments and these were processes we didn’t understand, everything we thought we would accomplish sooner, took a long time.

What are you challenges today?

Our challenges now are the operational things, hiring a person and that’s not something you learn anywhere but on the job. Also, maintaining a culture across continents. We set up offices in New York City, we have teams working remotely out of Spain, UK, Dublin. We speak the same language in terms of the DNA of the company, but it’s a challenge to maintain that with the teams that are working remotely. So when we have calls, we use Face Time, it helps to feel the environment around you.

Is being based in Beirut a hindrance?

People who say you can’t build a global product out of Beirut is just making excuses. It is all about the talent. We have amazing talent here, but every single talented person is leaving Beirut and going to Dubai to work in this kind of vertical. But we are getting to retain talent and getting a share of it. Yes, we can build a cyber security company from here. Today, hiring 20 people in Lebanon is equivalent to hiring five in the US. If I can get the same amount of talent, I can be savvy in how I spend money, that’s what every investor and founder wants.

What will your industry look like in the next decade?

Cyber security spending is increasing massively, one of our biggest opportunities as a company is to target the managed service provider market. We have a product for the consumer and we have a product for a small team – this is the next big thing when it comes to our industry and our future of becoming massive.



July 29th 2019, 9:24 pm

Investigating the engagement of stakeholders with innovative startups in KSA [survey]


Wamda is conducting a research report on stakeholder engagement with innovative startups in Saudi Arabia in collaboration with MiSK Innovation. The report aims to investigate the challenges and opportunities in the Saudi ecosystem and the involvement of different stakeholders in creating a favourable ecosystem. The end-result will provide a practical, hands-on research and guide to stakeholder engagement in the Saudi startup ecosystem.

If you are involved in the Saudi ecosystem in any way, either through your own startup or as investors or as an employee, we’d love to hear your opinion on the ecosystem.

Link for survey:


July 29th 2019, 7:50 pm

EmTech MENA 2019


EmTech MENA conference is happening on 04-05 November 2019 at the Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel, Dubai. The conference is organized by MIT Technology Review Arabia, and under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Future Foundation’s Board of Trustees, in partnership with Dubai Future Foundation.

EmTech conferences are held in seven regions of the world including EmTech MIT conference in the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The theme in 2019 will include:

-  AI and the future of work, examining technologies like Spatial technology, IoT, AR, VR and Blockchain.

- The future of digital health, improving healthcare through the transformational use of data and technology, including Predictive medicine, drug discovery, AI & self-diagnosis, and robotic surgery.

- Climate change and future cities while examining emerging technologies and technological innovations.

More about the conference, and registration here


July 29th 2019, 8:58 am

HiGuests closes investment at $1.1 million


Source: Menabytes 

Dubai-based property management startup HiGuests has closed $1.1 million (EUR 1 million) in an investment round, the startup announced last week. The investment came from a leading Spanish real estate player Forcadell. It is not immediately clear if the entire $1.1 million is fresh capital or includes some of the money that HiGuests has announced previously.

Founded in 2016 in Dubai by two Spanish entrepreneurs, Miquel Manzanas & Oriol Plana, HiGuests manages properties on behalf of their owners for short-term rentals. HiGuests takes care of the entire process from creating profiles for the properties on booking platform like Airbnb,, HomeAway, Stayz, and Expedia, to post-check in assistance for the guests. The startup has its own booking platform as well, enabling guests to book rooms it manages from it.

With the latest funding, HiGuests has also expanded to Barcelona and according to the statement manages over 300 properties in Dubai, Goa, Mumbai, and Barcelona. In Barcelona, HiGuests has launched both short-term and mid-term rentals. The short-term rentals include anything less than a month and mid-term anything between a month to one year.

Continue reading the story

July 29th 2019, 5:29 am

Russia's comeback to the Middle East


Much has been said about China’s rising trade and investment in the Middle East, particularly in the tech space, but another superpower is now eyeing up the region’s lucrative markets. 

Last month, Russia opened its first Russian Centre for Digital Innovators and Information and Communication Technologies in Dubai’s Internet City (DIC), marking its first official foray into the Middle East’s technology sector. The centre aims to provide Russian businesses with the opportunity to explore the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) and provides support to Russian entrepreneurs, startups and technology companies to better understand and market their products to the region.

“This centre is a joint [UAE and Russia] government initiative. In 2018 it was agreed between both governments to establish a centre by the joint committee to have this innovation hub,” says Muhammad Shiha, chief executive officer (CEO) of the Russian Centre of Digital Innovation & ICT. “An increasing number of Russian tech entrepreneurs and investors are pursuing new avenues of growth for their organisations.”

Traditionally, Russia’s presence in the region has been politically and militarily motivated, but it seems the country is now hoping to expand its scope and mandate.

“Dubai is technically more than prepared for meaningful and robust cooperation with Russia. It is economically ready and eager to buy and import Russian technology,” says Mikhail Mamonov, deputy minister for digital development, communication and mass media at the Russian Federation.

The two countries have also established a joint fund, part of which will be committed to investing in technology, including in startups.

“Startups are an interesting breed, they don’t have a nationality. Loads of startups go to Silicon Valley, where they can find investors,” says Mamonov. “But I think since we now have a joint fund that will commit part of its resources to technology, we can put in a number of Russian venture capitalists into Dubai and bring Emirati business angels to Russia to see what potential we have.”

Russian Tech

Russia is a chief exporter of crude oil and natural gas but given the fall in oil prices and its deteriorating relationship with the rest of Europe, the country is striving to move away from its conventional export products and enter new avenues, particularly in the technology sector. 

The country has invested heavily in IT education and has built up its own technological ecosystem. Besides space technologies, the country boasts developments in the fields of smart city and facial recognition technology, cybersecurity and government-citizen engagement – technologies that are in high demand with the governments of the Middle East.

“There were only a few Russian companies that were successful globally and looked outside, [cybersecurity firm] Kasperksy was one,” says Dimitry Doshaniy, country general manager at UAE-based NNTC, which provides IT solutions using Russian technology. “Most technology companies had enough market within Russia. Oil prices were quite high and there was not much motivation to compete on a global scale.”

But over the past few years, Russian tech firms have been venturing out and now, they are looking to sell their products to the Middle East, which is one of the biggest spenders on ICT. According to UAE-based research firm Gartner, Mena’s ICT spend is likely to reach $160 billion this year, with software accounting for the largest portion of that spend.

The problem however, is that “Russia doesn’t know how to sell its product”, according to Mamonov, a problem that he hopes the Centre will solve.

Besides poor marketing skills, “the maturity of [Russian] technology was not up to the global market”, according to Doshaniy. But the worsening economic conditions over the past few years has forced them to up their game and improve in order to compete.

One sector the country has focused on is artificial intelligence (AI) with the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) establishing a $2 billion fund with investment from partners in the Middle East and Asia to launch at least 10 AI startups in Russia every year.

“AI will become the key to world dominance in the near future,” said Russian president Vladimir Putin during a high-profile meeting. “The solutions based on AI may be more expensive than traditional ones in the start, but afterwards they provide for such a leap forward that all of the initial investment will be repaid.” 

After screening 100 AI projects the RDIF shortlisted 20 of them. The projects under discussion for the first round include a startup which will help with oncology treatments as well as VisionLabs which is a facial recognition company. 

“Facial recognition is one of the technologies we are betting on the most, the second is virtual reality. There are industrial use-cases for virtual reality and it has big potential for industrial training,” says Doshaniy.

China’s Sensetime, which specialises in facial recognition technology recently announced it would open its regional headquarters in Abu Dhabi. Given its rather robust use case in security, it is one technology that many governments in the Middle East are interested in deploying, particularly the ones who are rolling out smart city initiatives. Coupled with AI, facial recognition technology can identify criminals in a matter of seconds and is a powerful tool used by police and security services.

“Dubai is interested in all kinds of smart city topics, it can be technical smartness like buses, cars, security, facial recognition or the social sphere like the interaction between government and citizens,” says Olga Kuznetsova, international projects director at Moscow-bsaed Altarix. “We came here for Gitex last year, we met a lot of different people from the IT and government sphere and we understood it can be interesting and of value to come here.”

Beyond the Wars

In one sense, Russia is already “here”. When the US refused to be pulled into the war in Syria, it created a vacuum that Russia swiftly filled in 2015, backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It sent a clear message to the world – Russia is prepared to put its boots and money on the ground in the Arab world. This enabled it to strengthen its ties with several other Arab countries and slowly began signing multiple, mutual investment deals ranging from weapons, infrastructure and technology. 

“Russia has politically returned to the Middle East and all great powers should learn it’s not a game of chess,” says Mamonov. “Mid-ranking powers have a very important role to play – the Emirates, Turkey, Iran for that matter – we work in a totally different political environment now. There is a very natural interest from Russian investors and companies to come to Dubai, it is a good and safe place to keep your money.”

Bilateral trade between Russia and the UAE reached $3 billion in 2018, rising 21 per cent from the previous year, while the number of Russian tourists exceeded 820,000, a hike of almost 65 per cent from 2017.

Like the Chinese government, Russia views the UAE and primarily Dubai, as a hub and stepping stone into other markets in the region.

“Over the years, we have seen a host of organisations, ranging from global tech giants to exciting local startups set up their base within the community and achieve their fullest potential,” says Ammar Al Malik, managing direct at DIC and Dubai Outsource City.” We are keen to offer the same support and enabling infrastructure to Russian technology companies venturing into the region.”

In 2017, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman visited Moscow, the first ever state visit by a reigning Saudi monarch and signed several agreements which included $2 billion purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defence system, the construction of a Russian nuclear power plant and a joint fund worth $2 billion to invest in the technology sector.  

Russia has also strengthened ties with Iraq, Qatar and Egypt, where it has pledged some $8 billion in projects, particularly in the oil and gas sector.

While exact numbers remain unknown, Russia’s Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute has projected that a total of $3 trillion has been preserved for investment funds in the Mena region. 

Changing Attitudes

According to the Arab Youth Survey, published by ASDA’A Burson-Martseller, 41 per cent of the region’s youth consider the US as a “strong ally”, while 65 per cent consider the same of Russia. In the GCC specifically, 45 per cent see the US as a strong ally while 38 per cent feel the same of Russia. To Doshaniy, this was “strange”, given the GCC’s close ties to the US.

In the report, Hussein Ibish, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington writes:

“It remains fascinating that, despite Russia’s strong alliance with Iran and intervention in the Syrian civil war, that Washington is only seen as a stronger ally than Moscow by Gulf youth by a few percentage points. Arguably, Russia, which is barely present in the Gulf except as an alternative arms supplier, mainly represents an abstract idea for many Gulf youth, rather than a set of specific relations and policies. Russia’s continued strong showing suggests that its primary appeal could be as a supposed alternative global power to the US, despite Moscow’s relatively tiny Middle Eastern presence compared with Washington’s and a striking global mismatch in leverage and capabilities.”

Politics matters in this part of the world and can influence a whole host of decisions at the very top levels of government.

As Kuznetsova explains, Russian companies now “get a very good reception here. If the UAE is not very happy with US politics, then we receive the best things”.



July 27th 2019, 9:00 pm

What impact will the recent UAE-China deals have on the Mid East startup sector?


In a recent piece on Wamda, I discussed the choice the Middle East would eventually have to make between US and Chinese technology. It seems that this week, the UAE made its choice, signing several high-profile deals with the Asian giant.

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on Monday this week in a three-day visit aimed at developing cooperation and establishing strategic partnerships between the two countries. More than 240 senior UAE political and business officials attended the forum, where 16 Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) were signed worth billions of dollars.

Among the most notable were those signed by Mohamed Alabbar, chairman of Dubai’s Emaar Properties, and Symphony Investment.

Emaar Properties, owners of the Dubai Mall, signed an $11 billion deal with Beijing Daxing International Airport to develop residential and leisure facilities across the airport.

Online markteplace partnered with Chinese technology company Neolix to trial driverless delivery vehicles designed to deliver its products. Noon will introduce and trial Neolix’s autonomous delivery vehicles in both the UAE and Saudi Arabia within the next few weeks, marking the first time such technology has been used in the Middle East. Neolix was founded in 2015 and has since developed and industrialised the production of autonomous vehicles targeting commercial applications. The company, known for its robust research and development (R&D) in autonomous vehicles will prove to be a valuable partner in innovating and solving last-mile logistics in the region.

Alabbar continued his signing spree with a deal between Symphony Investment and China’s home-grown ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing, to establish an “industry partnership across the Mena region and China”. The parties will set up a joint venture headquartered in Abu Dhabi to promote the sharing economy and internet consumer services in the region. Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company is likely to join the consortium to help Didi expand in the region. Didi counts some 550 million users on its platform and provides 10 billion passenger trips a year. The company has been able to scale at an incredible pace since its launch in June 2012 and if it launches its services in the region, it will be a hot contender for US-rival Uber, which acquired Dubai-based Careem earlier this year.

The value of these partnerships is not just the trade and investment they will yield, it is in the skills and expertise that they will bring with them. When Ireland encouraged global tech firms like Facebook, Dropbox and PayPal to open their European headquarters on its “Silicon Docks”, it did so with the intention of developing an ecosystem that was able to grow organically and give birth to startups like Soundwave which was acquired by Spotify, Movidius which was acquired by Intel, and Intercom, which is now considered a unicorn.

The arrival of Chinese tech firms will likely create opportunities for acquisitions for startups across all sectors in the region, providing validation and a boost to the ecosystem. China-based venture capital (VC) firm MSA Capital has already established a presence in Bahrain, eyeing up investments in the Middle East tech space. Such “smart money” and greater collaboration will not only create more job opportunities and competition here, but the Chinese will inevitably bring their R&D capabilities that will stimulate economic growth and innovation in an ecosystem that currently feels more comfortable with copying global ideas.

China’s technological brilliance has been in identifying and understanding the wants and needs of the Chinese consumer and tailoring its products and services to them. In the absence of US-based powerhouses like Google, China’s entrepreneurs have had the space to develop products and services that have become some of the most valuable businesses in the world. This is why an app like WeChat has managed to grow to the behemoth that it is today.  While the rest of the world is content with using different apps for different services – Whatsapp for messaging, Uber for ride-hailing, Amazon for shopping, WeChat has managed to combine them all and other services onto one platform, essentially becoming the internet on mobile.

It’s a model that many tech companies would love to emulate, the vast amounts of data the company churns out on individual users is incredibly valuable and Careem has already expressed an interest in becoming the WeChat of the Middle East.

“We are a hungry, talented and ambitious nation. I hope it will inspire our tech-driven youth to dream big and to achieve those dreams because everything is possible here,” said Alabbar of the partnerships in a statement.  

These new deals are not limited to the UAE alone. China views the emirates as a route to gain access to the other lucrative markets in the region, namely Saudi Arabia and Egypt. China is now the second largest trading partner of the Mena region, and bilateral cooperation has expanded from commerce to finance, manufacturing and advanced technology.  Since 2005, China has invested close to $189 billion in Mena, much of it after the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative first outlined in 2013 and part of which pledges to build a digital silk road to support “innovation action plans for e-commerce, digital economy, smart cities and science and technology parks”.

The main beneficiaries of these investments have been Saudi Arabia with $37.55 billion, the UAE with $32.82 billion and Egypt with $25.06 billion according to American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

While the West frequently flinches at the mention of Chinese technology, the Middle East has embraced it, for better or worse.

Where China has managed to gain trust is in its reluctance in getting involved in the region’s political and security affairs. Unlike other players in the world, it is not engaged with the wars in Syria or Yemen and although it has an interest in ensuring the security and stability of the Middle East due to its reliance on the region’s hydrocarbons, it has not meddled in state affairs– at least on the face of it.

"We share common aspirations, ambition, a vision of investment in human capital and envisage a future of safety, peace and stability worldwide. The UAE and China are moving towards a promising future," said Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed in his speech in Beijing.


July 24th 2019, 11:02 pm

Investigating the current state and potential of cultivating an ecosystem for 'Deep Tech'


In collaboration with King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Wamda is conducting a research report to highlight the current status and potential of the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) Deep Tech ecosystem. The research will identify the key players and sectors of the region and deepen the understanding of the needs to cultivate an ecosystem for Deep Tech startups in the Mena region. The report will provide practical recommendations for anyone interested in the region’s ecosystem. Regardless of your background or startup, we’d love to hear your opinion on how you would hope to see the Deep Tech ecosystem develop in the Mena region.

Interested in sharing your thoughts with us? Please take a few moments to fill the survey.


July 24th 2019, 11:02 pm

SOS Credit receives funding from SEAF Morocco Growth Fund


Source: Venture Burn 

SOS Credit, a Casablanca-based fintech startup, has received an undisclosed investment from the SEAF Morocco Growth Fund (SMGF).

The fintech startup was founded in 2016 by CEO Bachir Benslimane. The startup’s SOS Credit online platform offers free mortgage brokerage services for those looking for mortgage-related financial products in Morocco.

The investment will be used to support and accelerate SOS Credit’s growth.

Slimane, commenting in a statement last month, said SOS Credit’s partnership with the SEAF Morocco Growth Fund will enable the fintech to achieve its vision of emerging as a leader in the online brokerage of financial products, whether traditional or sharia-compliant.

“This effort began in Morocco through, with the ambition of exploring other international markets by 2020,” added Slimane.

Continue to read the story 

July 24th 2019, 5:28 am

Zid raises $2 million pre-Series A


Source: Menabytes 

Zid, a Riyadh-based Shopify-like e-commerce management startup that helps people (and businesses) set up their online stores has raised $2 million Pre-Series A, the startup announced yesterday. The round was led by VC arm of Elm, a leading Saudi technology company, and joined by China’s MSA Capital, Kuwait’s Arzan VC and some angel investors.

Founded in 2017 by Mazen AlDarrab, a serial entrepreneur who has previously founded and led different companies, and Sultan AlAsmi, Zid enables people to create their online stores and manage them without having any technical knowledge through Zid’s web or mobile apps. The e-commerce-in-a-box solution also comes with services (at discounted prices) including delivery and payments from over 20 partners that can be integrated into any store in a plug-and-play manner.

The store owners, according to Zid’s website, also receive access to special prices for product photography, packaging, logistics, design, marketing, and even shared a workspace.

The startup that currently employs a team of 15 plans to use the investment to attract new segments in the retail industry and expand into new geographical markets.

Continue to read the story 

July 24th 2019, 3:59 am

Industry session: Is technology the solution for sustainability in fashion?


Wamda is hosting ''Industry session: Is technology the solution for sustainability in fashion?'', a panel discussion on August 6th, at 4:00 PM - 6:00 PM, at the Wamda X space in Dubai. Register your interest to attend. 

Every so often the fashion world is rocked by scandals and problems that force it to readdress its practices. From size 0 models to working conditions in factories across Asia, the sector, like its clothes, has had to stay on trend. Now, the buzzword is sustainability. As the second most polluting industry after oil and gas, brands and manufacturers are exploring new ways to cut back on their environmental impact and technology seems to be golden solution.

In this panel session we will discuss how technology is being used to cut back on wastage, develop new materials and whether consumers in the Middle East really care about sustainability. The discussion will feature:

- Kunal Kapoor, The Luxury Closet. 

- Dr. Haifa Al Anjari, Dean of the College of Fashion and Design in Dubai.

- Fatma Mulla, fashion designer.

*Confirmed panelists to be updated.

Please note that seats are limited - register your interest by filling the form and a team member from Wamda will reach out.

July 23rd 2019, 8:41 am

Coded raises $1.3 million pre-series A


Source: SME10X

Along with being the first coding academy in the Middle East, Coded is also the startup that brought the first coding bootcamps to the Arab region.

It has now raised $1.3 million in Pre-Series A to offer more of its popular coding bootcamps—called Barmej Online Bootcamps—to help Arabs learn the valued skill for the coming years.

The funding round was led by KISP Ventures, who was joined by 500 Startups, Sijam Ventures, Sirdab Lab, Sharq Capital and Abdullah Al-Zabin.

Founded in 2015 by Ahmad Marafi and Hashim Behbehani, Coded started with the aim of teaching coding in Arabic. Knowing that coding is becoming a necessary and valued skill in the growing tech industry, the startup has helped many successfully get a job placement.

Two years ago in July 2017, it raised an undisclosed Seed round, which helped them develop the Barmej Online Bootcamps structure. It was in that year when it also started holding the bootcamps and offering high-quality education material to help participants learn better.

The four-year-old startup’s coding bootcamps helped participants get hands-on experience with practical learning projects, which were reviewed by expert trainers.

As of now, the bootcamp has over 200k users on 8 different free learning tracks that offer multiple programming languages and technologies.

Continue reading this story

July 23rd 2019, 8:27 am

China's Didi to set up joint venture in Abu Dhabi


Source: Arabian Business

Didi Chuxing, a Beijing-based mobile transportation platform with 550 million users, on Monday signed an agreement with Symphony Investment and other investment institutions in the Middle East to establish a partnership across the MENA region and China.

The parties will set up a joint venture headquartered in Abu Dhabi, with an aim to promote sharing economy and internet consumer services in the region, a statement said.

It added that Mubadala Investment Company is evaluating joining the consortium to help expand Didi in the region.

Symphony Investment is funded by the likes of Emaar Properties, e-commerce venture Noon, logistics giant Aramex and food firm Americana Group.

"The investment institutions will actively partner up with leading Chinese technology companies to leverage their respective strengths, facilitate resource sharing and bring new technology and operational advantages to stimulate economic growth in the region," the statement said.

The agreement, which was signed at the UAE-China Economic Forum, which was organised by the UAE Ministry of Economy, comes as economic ties between the Middle East and China continue to strengthen.

China is the second largest trading partner of the MENA region, and bilateral cooperation has expanded from commerce to finance, manufacturing and advanced technology.

Outside China, Didi currently provides ride-hailing services in Brazil under the 99 brand, operates Didi-branded mobility services in Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Australia, and provides taxi-hailing service in Japan through a joint venture.

July 23rd 2019, 2:54 am

In conversation with Savitar Jagtiani of Twinning


Savitar Jagtiani has a lot of experience taking a traditional brick and mortar business online. The Landmark Group, one of the largest retail groups in the GCC kept pace with the technological changes thanks to Jagtiani, who headed up all things digital at the company. After almost a decade, he decided to step down from his role as chief digital officer and join the world of startups by launching Twinning, an app-based e-commerce platform targeting people who want to match their items of clothing.

The company has already signed 25 brands onto the platform, from fast fashion to luxury and has raised $3 million in seed funding is now looking to raise $4 million for its Series A round.

Was it difficult to leave the Landmark Group?

It was a very hard decision to leave Landmark Group. I built the whole digital team, by the time I left the team was 500-people strong, we took 11 of Landmark’s biggest brands and took them online. But I left all that in February last year, I walked away from a phenomenal package. But the thing is it felt incredibly exciting, I believe in it completely, I have no regrets, I am back in full startup mode, starting from scratch.

The main difference now is that I’m no longer running the 18th floor at Landmark, I’m now in a co-working space, surrounded by loads of hardworking, ambitious entrepreneurs.

How did the idea for Twinning come about?

The idea for Twinning hit me when I was reading about New York Fashion Week. I was already familiar with the concept of twinning, as a father of three sons, they match their fashion 70 to 80 per cent of the time. But New York Fashion week got my attention, when you think of fashion weeks, you think of catwalks and the runway, but this was parent and child fashion, matching it as a concept.

So, I went onto Instagram and saw 4.6 million posts with the hashtag #twinning. I asked myself where exactly in the world is the greatest destination for buying matching styles and it didn’t exist so I though it was a great opportunity. I have 18 years of retail and e-commerce experience, I felt it was a great time to build something to become the ultimate destination for matching fashion and style.

The fashion e-commerce space is becoming saturated, how do you cope with that?

We’ve done a couple of really unique things. There is no shortage of online fashion players today, but all of those players essentially focus on shopping for the single user. Where Twinning is different is the concept of matching style and we give you discount if you buy the matching styles. The other differentiator is content, we have video products for almost everything in our catalogue.

What will your industry look like in the next decade?

There will be much greater dependence on artificial intelligence and machine learning to enhance the online experience. AI will be used for greater personalisation and ML will become a personalised style assistant and give you recommendations based on current trends and what looks best on you. These technologies have very realistic use cases from enhancing search to styling. As for brands and fashion businesses, they need to focus on sustainability and fair trade and be more inclusive as a business. There is going to be a need for greater transparency

Retail will always be both brick and mortar and online, it’s not one or the other. Globally, e-commerce is 10 per cent of retail, it comes down to your preferences, you might feel the need to shop conveniently online all the time or you might want to go to the stores and do your research there – it’s complementary behaviour.

July 22nd 2019, 9:05 pm

How to identify the ideal startup founder [podcast]


What makes a startup successful? There are many studies conducted to try to pinpoint the factors that contribute to the success of a startup, but one of the most pivotal is the founder of the business. There are certain traits that make for a good entrepreneur. The stereotypical graduate, fresh out of university with a thirst for disruption is more a myth than a reality these days. 

Wamda X, a fellowship programme, was launched earlier this year with the aim to identify founders with the potential to succeed.  

Some 600 people applied, but just two companies managed to complete the four-month programme. In the process, the formula for what makes an ideal founder became clearer. In this podcast, Wamda X chief Fares Ghandour discusses the characteristics of a successful founder and Syed Karim, founder of Caravan, explains his experience as a fellow.



July 20th 2019, 9:02 pm

Is the Palestinian diaspora key to enabling local startups?


Ghassan Taha Amayra is the co-founder of MENACatalyst

The Palestinian plight is not a foreign notion, but one that has witnessed hardships, setbacks, and attacks against its very foundation. Most recently, the Palestinian cause has gained more recognition and support from around the world. It may be that more media coverage has brought the issue into the limelight, or quite possibly that the Palestinian diaspora community abroad has become more willing and less refrained to speak the truth, coupled with the rise of social media, which has undoubtedly played a huge role in allowing for a new generation of advocates to freely express issues they deem close to the heart.

Still, today, while progress has been made, Palestinians still have a long journey ahead. Today, Palestinians continue to fight for their basic rights and freedom, hindered from realising any real change on the ground due to the ruthless prolongation of the occupation. And while Palestinians around the world are making strides on the political front, a continuation of the occupation will never allow for real change on the ground - which begs the questions - how can we as make real and effective change until then?

Palestinians on the ground have been thwarted time and time again. Unemployment in Palestine is nearly 32 per cent, and in Gaza unemployment reached 53.7 per cent compared to 19.1 per cent in the West Bank according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. These numbers are indicative of the difficulties and with joblessness on the rise, Palestinians are struggling to make ends meet. But while Palestine boasts one of the highest rates of education in the region (and by global standards), one would expect the numbers to speak differently. Further, the unemployment phenomenon has taken a toll on the youth.

Fresh graduates are finding it more difficult to make their way into the job market and in Gaza, the circumstances are even worse. With Palestinians forced to look elsewhere for employment opportunities, a new rise in social and tech entrepreneurship has made its way on the doorstep of our frontiers.

Banking in on this new wave of entrepreneurship, MENACatalyst, an organisation dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship in Palestine, has managed to dive into the diaspora community’s talent to match them with local entrepreneurs seeking mentorship, networks and investment opportunities, with the intent to build a global ‘Palestinian Virtual Economy’ model, which would feature a range of local and international startups and act as an archive of diaspora investors and mentors alike.

Moreover, with the emergence of new technologies fueling the path towards job creation, Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza, are gearing their focus towards entrepreneurial ventures. Further, the diaspora’s intent to help people back home has attracted more interest in the newly emerging startup scene in Palestine and has rapidly attracted international investment and outsourcing opportunities for local entrepreneurs.

By way of illustration, Mashvisor, a startup based out of Ramallah, has managed to use the resurgence of the US real estate market to help real-estate agents find high-return property investments in cities around the US.  Now, one of the leading real estate platforms in the US, employing roughly 35 people, Mashvisor has offered a glimpse into the future of technology for young and striving entrepreneurs in the region seeking international markets.

Understanding the importance of exposure, networking and investment opportunities for these young entrepreneurs, MENACatalyst has devoted its work to ensuring that Palestinian entrepreneurs are given optimal opportunities, by offering them the chance to participate in their host of ‘Pitch Challenge’ events spanning the West Bank and Gaza Strip, for coveted spots to travel to international destinations for an array of meetings with business enablers, mentors, and investors from around the world. Thus far, MENACatalsyt has flown its winning startups to Santiago, Chile - which boasts a large Palestinian diaspora population eager to support local startups and the UAE, where startups met with a community of entrepreneurs and investors from the diaspora and Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region. Meetings with critical players in the realm of entrepreneurship such as Wamda, MBC Ventures and MBC Al Amal, Middle East Venture Partners, in5, Dtech, and diaspora-run startups Bayzat and - opened the doors to a new reality for participating entrepreneurs, and offered a new outlet of potential areas of support for the Palestinian diaspora keen on helping these entrepreneurial ventures succeed.

Ultimately, this new model is intended to bring to the table innovative ideas, increased and more focused support in the scope of mentorship and investment, but also give way to a more powerful and connected diaspora which can help increase awareness of the Palestinian cause and help shine a light on the talent that Palestinian entrepreneurs hold. With this we can build a resilient Palestinian economy and create thousands of sustainable jobs for women and youth in Palestine, building an economy that closely resembles those around the world, with free movement of people and goods. That is the hope, but with the current status quo, it is critical that we continue to explore smart alternatives to create opportunities and foster resilience.


July 17th 2019, 8:23 pm

Cryptyd raises pre-Series A funding


Egypt-based mobile games development studio Cryptyd has raised a pre-Series A funding round from The Cairo Angels and Alexandria Angels network.  

Founded in 2016 in Alexandria, Cryptyd has developed five mobile games to date and is looking to launch another two over the coming months with the help of this latest round of investment. The company will also expand its product development and target more markets as wells enhancing its marketing capabilities across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region.

“This Pre-Series A investment will reinforce our position in the Mena mobile gaming landscape and will accelerate our ability to improve our product and overall user experience,” said Ahmed Alaa, chief executive officer at Cryptyd. The company was recently selected by Google to participate in the Google play Indie Accelerator Programme 2019 in Singapore and was among 30 companies selected out of 1700 applicants from 37 countries.

For Cairo Angels, this is the second gaming company it has invested in.

“The [gaming] industry is gaining momentum and investment in such companies leads to higher levels of innovation, clustering of talent and display of pure artistic abilities,” the network said in a statement.  

July 16th 2019, 9:24 am

Oasis500 launches second fund


Source: Mena Fn 

Oasis500 has announced the launch of a second fund with support from the King Abdullah Fund for Development (KAFD), the Innovative Start-ups and SMEs Fund (ISSF) and the Arab Bank.

The second Oasis fund aims to drive social and economic change by investing up to $100,000 in effective entrepreneurs to establish ICT and innovative industrial companies, according to a KAFD statement. 

The investment includes a six-month business acceleration programme, and a programme offering technical supervision and guidance services from 'high-level' councillors, among other services.

The programme will conclude with entrepreneurs showing their projects to investors and partners in order to receive post finance and help their companies grow, the statement said.

Oasis500 CEO Luma Fawaz announced the launch of the second fund, in cooperation with the Crown Prince Foundation, which aims at increasing young people's preparedness to open their own businesses. The programme will be launched in Karak.

Continue reading this story 

July 16th 2019, 7:38 am

Grofers receives funding from Abu Dhabi firm


Source: Arabian Business

A unit of Abu Dhabi Capital Group (ADCG) has invested about $10 million in Grofers, the Indian online grocery start-up, further evidence of the growing appetite by Middle East-based investors to fund Indian start-ups and e-commerce companies.

Capital Investment LLC, part of the Abu Dhabi-based private institutional investment house ADCG, has invested $9.99 million to acquire 191,688 shares in Grofers, according to regulatory filings made by the Indian start-up, sourced business intelligence tracking firm paper v.c.

The ADCG arm concluded the investment deal with Grocers last week, as part of the latest round of fundraising by the Indian online grocery startup. Capital Investment LLC has been allotted class F shares in Grofers.

Founded by IIT graduates Albinder Dhindsa and Saurabh Kumar in 2013, Grofers offers products across categories such as grocery, fruits and vegetables. It currently operates in 13 cities across India.

According to industry sources, Grofers is to utilize the fresh funds to expand into new markets, besides beefing up its supply chain, warehousing infrastructure and private label product offerings.

Continue reading the story 

July 16th 2019, 7:24 am

Oasis500 begins round two of investment for young entrepreneurs


Source: Mena Fn 

Oasis500 has announced the launch of a second fund with support from the King Abdullah Fund for Development (KAFD), the Innovative Start-ups and SMEs Fund (ISSF) and the Arab Bank.

The second Oasis fund aims to drive social and economic change by investing up to $100,000 in effective entrepreneurs to establish ICT and innovative industrial companies, according to a KAFD statement. 

The investment includes a six-month business acceleration programme, and a programme offering technical supervision and guidance services from 'high-level' councillors, among other services.

The programme will conclude with entrepreneurs showing their projects to investors and partners in order to receive post finance and help their companies grow, the statement said.

Oasis500 CEO Luma Fawaz announced the launch of the second fund, in cooperation with the Crown Prince Foundation, which aims at increasing young people's preparedness to open their own businesses. The programme will be launched in Karak.

Continue reading the story 

July 16th 2019, 7:24 am

In conversation with Abdullah Bahabri of Nota Nota


Nota Nota creates bespoke perfumes through a custom-made 3D printer, which enables users to mix their own perfumes according to their own tastes and desires. The Saudi Arabia-based startup was founded by Abdullah Bahabri who began developing the idea for the business in 2014 before launching the brand in 2018.

Since its launch, the company has established a presence in Riyadh, Dubai, Kuwait and London and recently won the iF Design Award. The company is now looking to raise $4 million before the end of the year.

We spoke to Bahabri, who prior to founding Nota Nota was the chief executive officer at Ebram Investments, about his entrepreneurial journey.

Why did you become an entrepreneur?

As a child I had this dream to start a car company solving the issue I had in my family. Everyone wants to see the road when they’re in the car, so I had this model for a backseat in my head and I dreamed about building this car company when I was in high school.

My definition of entrepreneurship is not just starting your own business, it’s coming up with something that has uncertainty and converting it to a business model that works. I was looking for an idea that had a competitive advantage and I thought it would come from innovation.

The trigger for leaving my previous job was every day you see your dream becoming true and getting bigger and bigger.

How did the idea for Nota Nota come about?

What motivated me was to create a company from Saudi that could go global. I was searching for an idea and I was interested in the Fourth Industrial Revolution and 3D printing was part of that. I was speaking to a perfumer and the next day I had an idea to combine the two – 3D printing and perfume.

What were your main challenges when you first started?

The biggest struggle was to find the manufacturer who believed in us. Manufacturers usually need millions of units for something they know. Convincing manufacturers is just like convincing investors. That was one issue that delayed us for a year. I was using a technology that existed in the market and needed to use it upside down so we faced a technology issue.

The challenge now is growing the business in general. We work in different areas, we are in IT, we are in perfumery, and now we have to go into retail. Every couple of months we have to start something new.

What are the main lessons you’ve learned?

Patience is the number one skill that you have to have. As an entrepreneur you always have to clear up stuff and know how it works. This takes time and if you don’t have the passion, and if you are not patient, then you will quit.

What will your industry look like in the next decade?

Perfumery is one of the industries that hasn’t taken advantage of the IT revolution. Makeup had growth with Instagram and Snapchat, it’s visual, but perfumery hasn’t grown much. You buy perfumes you know online, you don’t have the courage to buy something new. If there is a solution where people can, from a recommendation system, know if it will work for them or not then, that is where perfumery will gain from artificial intelligence in recommendations. Personalisation is the thing for all consumer goods products, it is in the early stages, but we have seen major brands are now taking on personalisation. Currently, major brands don’t have clear data about what’s going on in different regions, with the availability of data, brands can create hundreds and thousands of personalised scents and send the exact numbers to stores.

July 15th 2019, 8:59 pm

COLNN raises $100,000 in seed round


Egypt-based education technology (edtech) startup, COLNN has received $100,000 in seed funding from EdVentures which focuses its investments on innovative learning solutions, culture and education.

The company will invest in COLNN’s cloud-based app which connects teachers, students and parents at the same time. The startup makes use of school management system (SMS) to manage and optimise internal processes, departments and activities in educational institutes. COLNN will also provide customised software in order to cater to each school’s needs.

“Becoming a part of EdVentures will definitely support our expansion plans," said Tamer Samir, founder at COLNN


July 15th 2019, 9:20 am

Code Geist Entrepreneurial Hackathon


Code Geist Entrepreneurial Hackathon is one of the first entrepreneurial hackathons in the MENA Tech Ecosystem happening on July 29-31 at the Triumph Luxury Hotel, New Cairo, 5th Settlement. The Hackathon is dedicated only for Undergraduates and organized by Undergraduates, where students build digital solutions that can potentially be developed into a direct opportunity for students in both building their own startup, and joining companies while networking with some of the most impacting tech and entrepreneurship entities and figures.

Undergrads will work on innovative, tech-based, business ideas with the support of some of the top tech and entrepreneurship leads in Egypt and MENA including the partners from Instabug,, Incorta, to Wuzzuf and many other tech-based entities. The Hackathon will also be hosting Omar Gabr, Co-Founder and CEO of Instabug, Wael Fakhrany, Former Regional Manager at Google EMEA and current VP at Incorta and our venture partner Gemini Enterprises Africa and many other VCs to help support and contribute to the student's ideas.

July 15th 2019, 8:34 am

in5 expects to raise Dhs 200 million for participant startups


Source: The National

Dubai's Tecom Group, the owner and operator of 11 investment free zones in the emirate, expects to secure Dh200 million in funding for the participants of its start-up incubator in5 this year - almost equaling the amount raised over the last six years through the end of 2018.

The Managing Director of Dubai Internet City said that the capital raised will help entrepreneurs in setting up their business and fund the training, mentoring and networking programmes. 

In5 is a platform for entrepreneurs and start-ups within the DIC ecosystem and its investors include leading venture capitalists, private funds and large- and medium-sized enterprises, Mr. Malik said, declining to name investors.

Launched by Tecom, a unit of investment conglomerate Dubai Holding, in 2013, in5 has so far secured about Dh200m in total funding for the start-ups in the programme. Currently, more than 100 mentors and investors are associated with in5 under three different incubators focused on technology, design and media.

So far, over 230 start-ups have gone through in5 and nearly 200 start-ups are currently part of its community, with an average of seven new start-ups joining every month, according to DIC.

Start-ups coming out of in5 include Arabic social media monitoring platform Crowd Analyzer, money remittance firm Remiter and Wrapupp, an AI-driven app that was acquired by Silicon Valley-based firm Voicera.

Continue reading the story 

July 14th 2019, 11:32 am

in5 incubator expects to raise estimated Dhs 200 million for participant startups


Source: The National

Dubai's Tecom Group, the owner and operator of 11 investment free zones in the emirate, expects to secure Dh200 million in funding for the participants of its start-up incubator in5 this year - almost equaling the amount raised over the last six years through the end of 2018.

The Managing Director of Dubai Internet City said that the capital raised will help entrepreneurs in setting up their business and fund the training, mentoring and networking programmes. 

In5 is a platform for entrepreneurs and start-ups within the DIC ecosystem and its investors include leading venture capitalists, private funds and large- and medium-sized enterprises, Mr. Malik said, declining to name investors.

Launched by Tecom, a unit of investment conglomerate Dubai Holding, in 2013, in5 has so far secured about Dh200m in total funding for the start-ups in the programme. Currently, more than 100 mentors and investors are associated with in5 under three different incubators focused on technology, design and media.

So far, over 230 start-ups have gone through in5 and nearly 200 start-ups are currently part of its community, with an average of seven new start-ups joining every month, according to DIC.

Start-ups coming out of in5 include Arabic social media monitoring platform Crowd Analyzer, money remittance firm Remiter and Wrapupp, an AI-driven app that was acquired by Silicon Valley-based firm Voicera.

Continue reading the story 

July 14th 2019, 10:10 am

AlgoDriven raises $625,000 in Pre-Series A


 Dubai-based automotive software company AlgoDriven has raised $625,000 in seed funding from domestic and international venture capital (VC) firms. 

Regional investors include Oman Technology Fund and DTEC as well as international VC firms including 500 Startups and Silicon Valley-based Social Capital who joined the fundraising round. 

The new investment will be used to expand AlgoDriven’s market share across the Middle East and North Africa as well as funding international expansion to Australia and New Zealand.  

July 14th 2019, 9:58 am

in5 incubator to fund startups with estimated Dhs 200 million


Source: The National

Dubai's Tecom Group, the owner and operator of 11 investment free zones in the emirate, expects to secure Dh200 million in funding for the participants of its start-up incubator in5 this year - almost equaling the amount raised over the last six years through the end of 2018.

The Managing Director of Dubai Internet City said that the capital raised will help entrepreneurs in setting up their business and fund the training, mentoring and networking programmes. 

In5 is a platform for entrepreneurs and start-ups within the DIC ecosystem and its investors include leading venture capitalists, private funds and large- and medium-sized enterprises, Mr. Malik said, declining to name investors.

Launched by Tecom, a unit of investment conglomerate Dubai Holding, in 2013, in5 has so far secured about Dh200m in total funding for the start-ups in the programme. Currently, more than 100 mentors and investors are associated with in5 under three different incubators focused on technology, design and media.

So far, over 230 start-ups have gone through in5 and nearly 200 start-ups are currently part of its community, with an average of seven new start-ups joining every month, according to DIC.

Start-ups coming out of in5 include Arabic social media monitoring platform Crowd Analyzer, money remittance firm Remiter and Wrapupp, an AI-driven app that was acquired by Silicon Valley-based firm Voicera.

Continue reading the story 

July 14th 2019, 6:59 am

The GCC's smallest island is attracting startup attention


Despite its small size, the Gulf island of Bahrain is proving a force to be reckoned with in the startup world.

The tiny nation – the smallest in the GCC – is punching well above its weight with its plethora of small to medium-sized enterprises (SME) support initiatives, well-educated workforce and innovative regulations.

Testament to the island’s SME might is its inclusion in the 2019 Global Startup Ecosystem Report (GSER) as a top 10 place to start a business globally.

The GSER report also grants Bahrain a special mention for having the largest share of female founders – 18 per cent of its startups are founded by women, topping Silicon Valley (16 per cent) and London (15 per cent).

Perhaps less surprising is that the report highlights Bahrain as one of the top 10 ecosystems to watch for financial technology (fintech) in Europe and the Middle East. Bahrain has long been known for its pioneering financial sector and is currently home to around 400 domestic, regional and international financial institutions.

As a legacy of its thriving financial industries, the island is now one of the most diversified economies in the region, with the hydrocarbons sector representing less than a fifth of the kingdom’s annual gross domestic product (GDP).

‘Cloud-first’ and open regulation

The Bahrain government implemented a “cloud first” policy in 2018 to encourage government entities and businesses to use cloud services for technology solutions. This unified approach has been gradually bolstered by innovative and open regulations.

Bahrain ranks first globally in Islamic finance regulation in the Global Islamic Finance Report for its standards on open banking and crowdfunding. More recently, the kingdom’s central bank issued regulations around data protection, open banking, crypto-assets, and robo-advisory. 

“Dubai is undoubtedly the [Middle East and North Africa’s] Mena’s startup and technology hub, and the Uber-Careem deal was a watershed moment that solidified its role as an emerging global technology leader,” says Wes Schwalje, chief operating officer (COO) at Tahseen Consulting. “ But the deal is pushing Arab countries, such as Bahrain, to get more serious about entrepreneurship ecosystem development and the enabling polices that support startups to complete in legacy industries.”

The arrival of AWS

In what could be viewed as the ultimate endorsement of the kingdom’s tech ecosystem, US tech giant Amazon has chosen Bahrain to launch its first Amazon Web Services (AWS) data centre in the Middle East, which will go live this year.

AWS has predicted that 10,000 data solutions architects will be needed across the region within the next five years. The government has confirmed that 2,500 Bahraini nationals have already signed up for AWS training programmes.

Commenting on the AWS deal, Schwalje says Bahrain is well placed to take on its bigger rivals and the kingdom should not be ‘underestimated’.

“Since data is so critical to many of the technologies driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Bahrain has sought to distinguish itself is by adopting one of the Mena’s first personal data protection laws,” says Schwalje. “This type of forward-looking regulatory competition related to technology and startup policies is one way Bahrain can potentially stand out.

“In the case of AWS, Bahrain saw an opportunity for regulatory competition which it leveraged to entice Amazon to open its first data centre in the region. If data is the new oil, then Bahrain is repeating the historical role it played as the first GCC country to discover oil with this move.”

Schwalje also said that recent findings from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor suggest that there are significant opportunities for Bahrain to draw startups away from other competing regional hubs through regulatory competition surrounding the business-enabling environment, access to finance, and incentives to support research and development (R&D) intensive startups.

The battle is on

As the regional battle for startup and SME hearts and wallets heat ups, the Bahraini government has reduced capital startup requirements from $50,000 to $100 for some businesses and introduced a regulation-exempt ‘sandbox’ for fintech startups.

The local startup ecosystem is also supported by myriad government initiatives, such as its labour programme, Tamkeen­ – which offers startup companies access to subsidised local talent – and SME incubation and funding schemes, like the ROWAD seed programme from Bahrain Development Bank (BDB).

Crucially, the government-backed BDB boosted the nation’s SME drive in 2018 when it successfully closed its $100 million Al Waha Venture Capital Fund of Funds (Al Waha FoF), which aims to invest in promising regional tech startups.The FoF has already allocated 50 per cent of its capital to five tech funds across the region. 

Fuelling fintech

In February 2018, the kingdom established Bahrain Fintech Bay (BFB) which bills itself as a one-stop-shop for fledgling fintech companies. A private-public partnership between EDB and Singapore-based FinTech Consortium, BFB provides a physical co-working space for local fintech companies, supported by startup incubation and corporate initiatives.

According to Khalid Saad, chief executive officer (CEO) at BFB, the organisation already has 43 firms on its books, mainly from the GCC and Europe. Saad, for one, is delighted that AWS has chosen Bahrain as its first Middle Eastern base.

“AWS has moved in to a floor below us and their data centre will open soon. I think having a name like Amazon opening in Bahrain sends a big message that we have made major strides in developing a tech and entrepreneurial eco system,” he says. “It really helps to position Bahrain as a data jurisdiction in the region, even globally – if we play our cards right.”

Saad says that the availability and proximity of AWS cloud services will be a boon for local startups and fintechs.

“The increase in data speed and access to data is going to be significant – this will help some of the companies that have put their data outside to bring it back to Bahrain. AWS has recognised our cloud-first policy,” says Saad.

The BFB CEO highlights Bahrain’s ‘collaborative approach’ as the main strength that allows the kingdom to pack a punch on the global startup stage.

“Now we just need to stay focused and continue accelerating the pace of development. I think we are in good shape,” he says.

Not just fintech

Bahrain’s tech-ready infrastructure and attitude have positioned the kingdom as more than just a fintech hub, suggests Tahseen Consulting’s Schwalje.

“Fintech was an initial focus of Bahrain due to its historical legacy as the region’s financial services centre,” he says. “In some ways its strategy as a first-mover in regional fintech is reminiscent of its historic move to establish the first Islamic bank in 1979.”

However, Schwalje notes that there are a number of promising regional tech sectors where no clear leader has emerged, including renewable and clean energy, travel and transport, smart mobility, additive manufacturing, education technology, health-tech and agricultural technology.

“There are emerging fields, such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and extended reality, with broad applications that offer opportunities for Arab countries to carve out competitive niches,” says Schwalje.

Bahrain has managed to foster an environment that supports SMEs, with the added advantages of a lower cost of living, a well-educated population and a desire to invest in startups. But its biggest setback is its size – the small population makes for a small market.

This means that in order to scale up, startups very quickly need to consider regional and international expansion,” says Schwalje.

Given its proximity to Saudi Arabia, one competitive niche that Bahrain is starting to carve out is access to the region’s most lucrative market.

It would be a big mistake to underestimate Bahrain – it is a small country that packs a big punch with a history of innovation at its core,” says Schwalje.

July 13th 2019, 10:05 pm

How Middle East startups can win on social


Lama Abdelbarr leads on digital communications for Middle East & Africa at Talkwalker, a social media analytics platform uses AI-powered technology to monitor and analyse online conversations in real-time across social networks

The startup scene in the Middle East & North Africa (Mena) region is growing rapidly as more and more talented and innovative players come to the forefront. This has led to an increasingly competitive market that is challenging startups to consistently stay ahead of the curve in order to thrive.

An effective way for startups to thrive is through growth hacking - smart, self-propelling tactics used in marketing to grow a business without massive marketing resources. This is achieved mainly through technology and metrics, relying heavily on social media as a platform to grow quickly with limited resources.

Keeping tabs on the latest social media trends is one way to stay ahead of the curve. To make the most of these trends, a social media monitoring and analytics tool is invaluable to measure progress and results accurately in real time.

To help startups embark on their journey to win on social, we’ve put together some key guidelines:

When it comes to customer support, don’t fall into the trap of using automated customer support messages that don’t directly address customers’ pain points and actually end up aggravating a disgruntled customer even more. Instead, ensure that your dedicated customer support employee(s) are in tune with your customers’ needs and offer informative replies. Using a social media monitoring tool, you can ensure your customers’ complaints are being addressed in a timely manner and that any wider conversations around topics that involve or interest your brand are being monitored as well.



July 10th 2019, 8:00 pm

Clara closes seed round at $2,000,000


UAE based-Clara, a legal technology firm targeting startups has raised $2 million in seed funding from multiple investors including Wamda Capital, Techstars, 500 Startups, VentureSouq, Delta Partners, Shorooq Investments and Dubai Angel Investors.

The investment will be used to support international expansion and its technology, design and creation teams.

Clara's software automates many repetitive tasks including agreement drafts and enables startup founders to learn more about their startup’s legal structure. 

The company was founded in 2018 and graduated from Techstars earlier this year.

July 10th 2019, 11:41 am

The Intelak Incubator


Led by the Emirates Group, GE, and Dubai Tourism, Intelak supports the most promising startups in the industry to launch, grow and scale, taking their ventures to new heights.

Startups selected will gain exclusive access to a 4-day pre-incubation bootcamp from the September 15 to 23 in Dubai. Work with industry experts as well as leading business mentors to validate the startups’ market fit and build a pitch deck. Startups will be given the chance to pitch their deck to the judges panel with senior management at the Emirates Group, GE, Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing and Dubai Technology & Entrepreneurship Center with four startups selected to enter the Incubator.

Winning startups will receive a cash prize of up to AED 50,000 (distributed at key milestones) and will enter Intelak’s three-month intensive learning-by-doing incubation programme. The programme consists of structured workshops, mentorship, and a space to build your venture at DTEC, the Dubai Technology & Entrepreneurship Center in Silicon Oasis. It is important to note that the company will retain all equity and IP. It is mandatory that at least one individual from the startup is present at all the workshop sessions. 

The incubation programme will conclude with an Investor Demo Day during which each startup will get the opportunity to pitch to industry experts, angel investors and venture capitalists for potential further collaboration and/or investment. 

Deadline for applications is September 1st, 2019. Apply here

July 10th 2019, 11:41 am

Fawry to IPO within next few weeks at a valuation up to $330 million


Source: Menabytes

Fawry, the leading Egyptian electronic payments company will go public within the next few weeks by listing its shares on Egyptian Exchange, Enterprise reported this morning citing a report from a local media outlet that spoke with unnamed sources close to the matter. Fawry’s co-founder and Managing Director Mohamed Okasha had said in an interview in March earlier this year that they’re planning to go public later this year or early next year.

The company will reportedly list 45 percent of its shares on Egyptian Exchange before Eid Al Adha (by Aug 8 as that apparently will be the last working day before Eid Holidays) raising EGP 2 to 2.5 billion (~USD 120 to 150 million), which according to Enterprise will be the largest Egyptian IPO since 2015 when Emaar Misr went public raising EGP 2.28 billion.

This means that the company is eyeing valuation between EGP 4.4 to 5.5 billion (~USD 265 to 330 million), which is 3x of the valuation that the company had received when it exited its majority stake to a consortium of investors including Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund, Helios Investment Partners and the MENA Long-Term Value Fund. The three investors had reportedly acquired 85 percent of Fawry at a valuation of $100 million in 2015.

Helios Investment Partners, at the time, acquired 40 percent stake, MENA Long-Term Value Fund 25 percent and Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund 20 percent. International Finance Corporation that had first invested in Fawry in 2013 after the deal with this consortium of investors was left with 5 percent in the company and the rest of 10 percent was owned by Fawry’s management. It’s not clear if the ownership structure has changed since 2015.

Continue reading the story 

July 10th 2019, 6:23 am
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