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Majid Al Futtaim: The corporate engaging with startups

Wamda

Corporates are a necessity in the startup journey. They provide entrepreneurs with the work experience required to understand business and industry, they can end up being a startup’s client or investor and they are crucial to the overall development of the private sector.

In the Middle East however, many corporates tend to compete with startups and thus become an obstacle, creating barriers to market. UAE-based Majid Al Futtaim (MAF), the retail and shopping giant, has taken an entirely different approach and has embraced startups through partnerships, investments and acquisitions, taking risks even when the returns do not transpire.

At the helm of this strategy is Joe Abi Akl, chief corporate development officer at Majid Al Futtaim Holding who spoke to Wamda about the need to work with startups and the lessons the company learned during the coronavirus pandemic.

As a corporate, is it better to invest in startups or to partner with them?

If you give that money to a startup, they will use it to develop their tech, build infrastructure and scale. If I give them access to customers, integration to digital assets, co-marketing with them, giving them that is more valuable than money. A partner that will give them a stamp of quality and someone who will help them scale is worth more than money. There’s a tendency from corporates to take a startup as a partner and the startup becomes a mini team, that’s not good, neither for the startup nor for the corporate. You want to keep startups at arm’s length so they benefit from you but they keep their independence. The moment you try to embed them into your team, you lose the agility and entrepreneurial spirit they have. Yes, we have to support them, but we keep them at arm’s length.

How do you enable innovation within the corporate environment?

We haven’t really created a centralised team to handle innovation. At the end of the day we want innovation to happen with everyone and everywhere in the business. When we’re trying to bring new tech inhouse, we bring in an internal team that have built digital platforms and touchpoints and they create components inhouse. When there is the opportunity to work with someone else, we look from the outside who can complement what we’re doing from within.

Most corporates believe they have the resources to develop everything inhouse.

It’s corporate arrogance that they think they can do everything inhouse. In this day and age and speed of technology, and customer needs evolving so quickly, there is no room for anyone to think they can do everything from within. They need to focus on what they’re good at and they need to partner with the ecosystem, not just the startups, but also the global tech players, the public institutions, even with the customers themselves to do something at a much faster pace, to be able to always be ahead.

We have a school of analytics, technology and customer experience where everyone gets trained on how to use digital and leverage analytics, to know not only how to procure tech, but how best to use it and customise if for our benefit. We’ve moved from working in a siloed manner to start looking at synergies. We’re working with SMEs and started looking at it with a more strategic angle, not only to partner with these players but to generate synergies – how can we help them grow? How do we let them help us change our DNA? How do we look at human capital differently?

What were the trends you experienced during Covid-19?

Most of them existed before, they just got intensified or accelerated. Most of them will remain in the future. Grocery shopping increased exponentially during Covid, now things are settling, that growth that was achieved, I don’t think will slow down. When people get used to the convenience of ordering, a big chunk of them will keep doing this, but it will be a mix of ordering online, click and collect or going to the shops.

Why did Carrefour struggle with fulfilling online orders in the UAE?

It wasn’t a challenge with technology that put us in that situation, we had a surge in demand, we had constraints on how we could operate. What people miss is the digital process is not fully digitised. There are people sitting in fulfilment centres, or instore and picking and packing. We had to be careful with how we treated our people. This is where the bottleneck happened, in the fulfilment aspect. In the UAE we got a surge of 4 to 5 times in terms of daily orders, we moved people from VOX [cinemas], trained them and moved them to Carrefour. We opened dark stores and managed to work overtime on the backlog. We  were doing 15,000-20,000 orders a day.

What were the main lessons that you learned from the pandemic?

The key learning is build for the future. Whenever you’re building for the future, try to build faster. If you think demand will be X, build for 3X.

At MAF a lot of importance was put on transformation, and innovation became core to what we’re doing. There is a lot of pressure to move much faster to how we used to move before. Speed and agility became much more important, doing things at pace and scale is important and having this ability to not only innovate from within, but to partner with the ecosystem around us, with the entrepreneurs, corporates and tech companies.

What do you think is the future of retail?

Nothing will go back to what it was previously, not because of Covid, but because of natural progression. People will still want to go to the mall, but the nature of the offline experience will be different, people will go not to transact, they will go to have an experience around entertainment, food and personalisation.

For a retailer to come and say I just want to rent a physical space and for a mall operator that just leases physical space, that equation will not work. The traditional rent formula will cease to exist, it is no longer a rent equation but what value the mall is bringing to the tenant. The more long term, sustainable solution is a full omnichannel proposition, buying online or offline, book things online and collect from the mall or a full online transaction.

August 4th 2020, 9:12 pm

Dresscode raises six-figure in seed funding

Wamda

Source: WAYA

Dresscode, a Cairo-based e-commerce retail startup has raised USD six digits in Seed funding from Egypt Ventures.

DC is on a mission to transform the lifestyle and fashion retail shopping industry. Founded 2018 by Mohamed Abdel Dayem and Ali Zakaria, Dresscode is an e-commerce retail platform selling women wear, beauty and home products, with an aim to connect, Egyptian manufactures to the consumers directly. Dresscode are working to fill a gap in the market for affordable high fashion, aspirational and the reach to multi-brand product variety.

Dresscode provides a platform for local fashion brands and designers to market and sell their products, adding to their income streams and helping them grow their business. The company’s business model also depends on third party manufacturers which contributes to job creation across the entire fashion supply chain in the Egyptian market.

Egypt is a huge market and the textile industry is one of the heights contributors to Egypt’s GDP. We are trying the solve a problem that many manufactures, brands, suppliers face, which is how is to reach the consumer, Many Factories produce great material and products, that are exported everywhere in the world, but these factories lack the marketing and branding aspects, hence they go to merchants to sell the products which take a big portion of their margins, and offer them the worst payment terms.

Mohamed Abdel Dayem, the co-founder and CEO of Dresscode, comes from a family rooted in the textile industry since 1920’s, his family’s business has been an essential part of textile and garment manufacturing, where he experienced some of the pains facing the garment manufacturers and owners including lack of data, distribution and sales which inspired him to this platform.

The startup is offering experiential retail environments and a well-curated mix of on-trend women’s clothes, from boho dresses, denim, graphics, and evening gowns to shoes and home collection, catering to both young women and teens without breaking the bank.

Dresscode is the ultimate one-stop-shop for the modern yet economical woman. It aims to promptly offer stylish quality products at appealing prices to every user in Egypt, With a high-tech website and APPs with fully integrated logistics service, they focus heavily on delivering the right product at the right time to the customers, Dresscode has been creating beautiful marketing campaigns and aspirational editorial images for the brands in addition to consistent e-commerce photography to continuallyinspire and motivate our customers purchasing decisions.

The most inspiring campaign was the free mask campaign at the beginning of Covid-19, encouraging everyone to wear their face mask, while offering the cotton face mask for free. Dresscode is working with industry’s pioneers to improve the offering for the client, brands like Carina, Izzy Apparel and Believe.

Dresscode as a brand and as a platform has a strong team behind it, they have successfully tapped into the rapidly changing consumer buying behavior,” explained Ali Zakaria, Managing Partner and co-founder at Dresscode. “We are confident that our products are well positioned to cater to our customer needs.

“We have managed to reach 9000 monthly recurring users without any funding, consumers are always seeking, a better offering and we worked hard to offer them what they are looking for. For many years consumers lackedaffordable, durable products to depend on rather than imported products, that are usually expensive and not the best quality,” he added.

The startup has witnessed huge growth due to the Covid-19 crisis which accelerated the process with Egypt Ventures to raise the funds to maintain this growth and make the best of the opportunity ahead.

Egypt Ventures Managing Director, Ahmed Gomaa stated, “We are excited to be part of Dresscode, as part of our mission to support talented Egyptian entrepreneurs contributing to the growth of local tailor workshops.”

The funding will be used to maintain the growth, by expanding our team, the product offerings, and infrastructure to start offering next and same day deliveries to our customer.

August 4th 2020, 6:42 pm

NAR technologies acquired by US-based B3Bar Holdings

Wamda

Beirut-based startup NAR Technologies, a portfolio company of Leap Ventures, has been acquired by US-based B3Bar.

Founded by Charlie El Khoury and Nicolas Zaatar, NAR works on automating drone inspection management processes using technologies like unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and unmanned aerial systems (UAS) analytics for real-time data analysis and management.

“This is a successful [Lebanon Circular funding[ 331-story that speaks to the merits of encouraging and investing in Lebanon’s knowledge economy and the Lebanese talent” said Hervé Cuviliez, managing partner at Leap.

In 2015, NAR joined Speed accelerator’s first cycle after winning Microsoft’s Imagine Cup.

“NAR complements B3Bar’s offer and integrates well with their platform serving B3Bar’s wide portfolio range of infrastructure & utilities-focused technology companies,” said Sami Abou Saab, CEO at Speed.

“With NAR, drone pilots can manage and work with data in real-time and literally on the fly. At B3Bar, our clients are ‘boots-on-the-ground’ engineers, inspectors, and contractors. As we continue our expansion in infrastructure and utilities, NAR brings proven tools that immediately reduce operating expenditure and help our clients deliver faster, “said Mothusi Pahl, chief commercial officer at B3Bar.

 

August 4th 2020, 6:06 am

Creating a comprehensive model for e-commerce success

Wamda

Darren Hodgkin, CEO of Digital&Code

E-commerce has made massive gains during the Covid-19 pandemic. Consumers were forced to purchase online at the height of the crisis, and confidence has been slow to return for bricks and mortar stores. People are likely to choose the safety and convenience of virtual shopping for some time yet, and now they’ve made that shift, physical footfall might never be the same again. But just because the current market conditions mean more people are buying online, it doesn’t mean e-commerce providers have it easy, or that the current surge in sales will correlate to long-term loyalty. Alongside the rapid rise in digital adoption came a 228 per cent increase in e-commerce complaints during May compared to the same month last year; 26 per cent of those cited non-compliance with the terms of the agreement and 13 per cent non-compliance with after-sales service, according to Dubai Economy. These figures prove there is no time for complacency. Instead, retailers need to focus on building robust foundations before purchasing habits evolve again.

PRE/POST-COVID

Digital marketplaces were thriving in 2019, with more options becoming available across multiple sectors. Many grocery retailers had migrated their offering, increasing market share and tempting tech-savvy customers. Fashion and apparel brands were experimenting with integrated technologies, adding native applications and augmented reality, while last-mile delivery and F&B aggregator services were exploding globally. 

Despite this, the pandemic took retailers (and shoppers) by surprise, because of the speed in which its shockwaves spread across the world. With entire supply chains cut off, even the most well-considered logistics solutions faced massive challenges to keep the flow of goods moving into customer hands. Online retailers with strong stock holdings and stable supply chains were the first to feel the benefits, as were those with expert delivery services and attentive customer communications. For retailers without an e-commerce solution, the race was on to catch up and capitalise on online spending.

INGREDIENTS FOR SUCCESS

During the first six months of 2020, Dubai’s Department of Economic Development issued its DED Trader licence to 1,947 new e-commerce businesses, up from 1064 in the same period a year ago.

The total number of DED Trader licences issued in June reached 577, an increase of 163 per cent on the same month last year. The assumption was that almost everyone had something to be gained by going online, and the faster the better. However, speed to market is just one aspect in a much bigger picture. There are many examples of companies failing to deliver the goods in more ways than one. ‘The customer's perception is your reality' message is true in any economic climate, and business that was so fiercely fought for can be lost far easier in just one transaction. Whatever stage of the journey they’re at, online retailers need to get the critical areas right to survive:

These days, simply being online is not enough and we always recommend an omni-channel approach where possible. Consumers expect instant access to their favourite brands and the ability to interact across multiple channels, whether that’s via a website, an app, social media or in-store. All of these elements need to work in conjunction to deliver a consistent user experience and a seamless shopping journey that reflects the buyer’s needs. Brands should take time to understand what customers are looking for at every stage and remember that digital performance still depends on customer care. Quality interaction across different channels means access to more data, allowing retailers to serve customers in more personalised ways and build loyalty.

The online retail environment is just as important as the physical one, if not more now fewer people are leaving home to shop. Customers still want an immersive experience, which is why platform design and content should bring a brand’s essence to life in the most enriching way possible. Elements such as thoughtful copy, impactful photography, simple navigation, and clear calls to action will all help to drive traffic, boost conversion, and build positive customer connections.

Even with the above in mind, a digital commerce offering that isn’t integrated at every possible level can interrupt consistency and have a negative impact on the overall strategy. Integrating enterprise resource planning (ERP) and point of sale (POS) ensures active stock and price reconciliation, ultimately helping to prevent negative customer perceptions caused by non-availability or price surges. Also being able to streamline a product’s transition through picking and packing and into an efficient logistics process, which prioritises timely last-mile delivery, is crucial. Connecting everything with cutting-edge technology is what turns an e-commerce platform to a truly comprehensive solution for superior results.

 

 

August 2nd 2020, 9:03 pm

The audiobook opportunity in education

Wamda

UAE-based audiobook platform Kitab Sawti was recently acquired by Storytel. In this exclusive piece for Wamda, Kitab Sawti's founder Sebastian Bond outlines the opportunity for audiobooks in the Middle East

Literacy has and will always be a key indicator of progress for nations around the world. It impacts the quality of labour, and therefore the quality of the economy and its resilience as well improving gender equality and industry, innovation, and infrastructure, all of which are Sustainable Development Goals agreed upon by global nations in the UN.

Quality education is not just about schools and formal education, nations strive to make education more accessible, entertaining, and sought after by youth and adults alike. We now live in a world where education is a constant requirement for professionals to stay competitive and keep their skills sharp for a fast-evolving job market too.   

Efforts to increase the adoption of long-life learning as a lifestyle has been ongoing across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region, with efforts such as the Knowledge 4 All by United Nations Development Programme &  Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation, focused on publishing reports on the status of the knowledge and readiness for the future by nations, as well as encouraging reading through competitions like the Arab Reading Challenge.

A key challenge we hear in our community is reading and learning can be hard to fit into a busy day with responsibilities, it can also feel like a chore. It is no secret that education and publishing still lag behind in technology adoption and maximisation in the region, however, this is exactly where the opportunity lies.

AUDIOBOOK GROWTH

Physical books still represent 60 per cent of all publications sold globally, and while e-books have gained significant market share, it is the audiobook category that witnessed consistent growing quarter-on-quarter since 2012. 

Today, there are more than 500 million audiobook consumers around the world according to Deloitte, which predicts that the global audiobooks market will be valued at $3.3 billion by the end of 2020 at its current annual growth rate of 25 per cent.

It, therefore, is no surprise that major publishers are investing heavily in increasing production. More than 60,300 new titles were produced in 2019, an 18 per cent increase from the previous year according to the Good e-Reader Global Audiobook Report 2019. This has already translated into an increase in ad-spend for mobile audio-platforms of 25.3 per cent last year according to iAB’s Annual Internet Advertising Revenue Report.

Dominating the space is Amazon and its subsidiary Audible, the latter captures 27.8 per cent of the global audiobook market, while the former has 16.73 per cent of the market. That’s almost 45 per cent of the global audiobook market controlled by one company.

The global audiobook platforms are still busy capturing and nurturing the market in their key territories, Arabic is not considered a key language, nor are many Asian and African languages, and there lies the opportunity.

EMERGING MARKETS OPPORTUNITY

While the market numbers are all focused and available for developed markets, the opportunity in emerging markets is massive. Here are a few reasons why:

This verifies our mission and excites our team at Kitab Sawti. Archaic copyright & publishing laws are in favour of localisation and segmentation, which is an advantage to emerging markets. We have over the past few years developed, and now host the biggest library of Arabic audiobooks globally.

DOES MENA READ?

According to the Arab Reading Index in 2016, adults in Mena read 17 books a year, lower than their counterparts in emerging markets, but a significant number nonetheless.

While we do not have a recent index to compare, we may consider book fair footfall as an indicator: Riyadh’s International book fair attracted over 1 million visitors in December 2019, while Jeddah’s attracted over 400,000 visitors. Muscat hosted its last book fair just before the global lockdowns in March 2020 and attracted over 770,000 visitors.

Given the impact of the pandemic, it is unlikely that fairs of such a scale will be held in the near future, and so digital and audiobooks are ideally fitted for the “new normal”. The Mena region stands in good stead to take advantage of this with a 64 per cent mobile penetration rate and 57 per cent smartphone penetration rate.

If podcasts can be a precedent or parallel for audiobook consumption in Mena, the future is very bright. According to markettiers Mena 2019 survey, there are approximately 1.3 million regular podcast listeners in the UAE alone.

Online (and mobile) payment is now the last piece of the puzzle to be solved for frictionless conversion. That is a challenge the region has long struggled with but is today the key focus of the public and private sectors in light of recent events.

PANDEMIC, DISRUPTION, ADOPTION

As the world started shutting down due to Covid-19 it became evident that access to the internet is crucial for our survival both in connecting us while physically separated, helping us access information and keeping businesses running.

Online media consumption is up, and so is consumer confidence in digital products and payments. At Kitab Sawti, we have seen the impact of these changes in consumer behaviour first-hand. Our paid subscribers increased by 204 per cent between February and May 2020.

With the efforts of the governments to empower youth, reskill and upskill talent, and improve financial technology adoption, the question is not “will audiobooks grow in Mena”, but “when consumers come asking for it, will you be ready?”. 

July 29th 2020, 9:06 pm

Qatar SportsTech launches EntelaQ pre-accelerator programme

Wamda

Source: Menafn

Qatar SportsTech (QST), a leading startup accelerator and hub for innovative sportstech companies in Qatar, has announced the launch of its new Pre-accelerator programme, EntelaQ.

EntelaQ will prepare entrepreneurs, or teams residing in Qatar by helping them build their idea and gain traction for QST''s upcoming fourth cohort of its highly anticipated Accelerator programme. 

EntelaQ, which reflects the Arabic meaning of the word launch, is QST''s newest programme and is aimed at local entrepreneurs, nationals or residents, with an innovative sportstech idea or prototype which fits QST''s thesis that includes innovations that support the Athlete & Team; Fan & Viewer; Mega Sports Events; and E-Sports.  

EntelaQ which was launched virtually recently, will continue its recruitment process for the programme until the end of October. The programme''s Selection Day will be held on October 30, wherein the top 10 startups from the shortlisted applicants that will join EntelaQ will be announced. The EntelaQ programme will officially start on November 15.

Commenting on the launch of EntelaQ, Ibrahim Abdulaziz Al Mannai, Executive Director of Advisory & Incubation at Qatar Development Bank (QDB), QST''s founding partner, said: ''We encourage all sportstech entrepreneurs with great ideas or prototypes to leverage the myriad of opportunities available to them with QST, and benefit from its extensive learning and development program. QDB is working diligently to bring the best local, regional, and international expertise to help promote entrepreneurs'' skills and support their development. 

Heba Almasri, Managing Director at QST, added: ''We are pleased to announce the launch of our new Pre-accelerator programme, and are looking forward to working with budding entrepreneurs to prepare them for our upcoming cohort of the Accelerator programme. This initiative is part of our ongoing efforts to develop the local entrepreneurial ecosystem by developing the start-up, onboarding mentors, and creating an investor community. We look forward to engaging with other local entities as we transform the sports industry.

EntelaQ aims to develop and accelerate the entrepreneurship journey and to help entrepreneurs, whether in teams or individually, develop their skills and to recognise business opportunities, kick-start their ideas from concept to launch, and implement their businesses in the local market. Participating entrepreneurs will also have the opportunity to meet potential co-founders and other like-minded individuals, and get access to QST''s strategic partners, mentors, and investors. 

The 12-week part-time programme will run for two days a week and will engage entrepreneurs in guest lectures and specialised workshops, providing one-on-one coaching sessions with QST''s programme managers and specialists, as well as keynotes and inspirational talks by leading local and international mentors.

Selected entrepreneurs will be able to participate in local events including Hackathons, the region''s top digital event, QITCOM, and local conferences including GES, GIS, and many others.

Entrepreneurs will be scouted by QST throughout various industry events and the ones with the best ideas or prototype will be recruited to join EntelaQ. 

Furthermore, entrepreneurs with pioneering ideas can also apply by visiting the QST website. On the Selection Day, all entrepreneurs will be invited to pitch their idea in front of QST and its partners in order to be selected amongst the top 10 winning teams or entrepreneurs who will join the first cohort of the programme.

QST, which won the ‘Most Innovative Company'' award at the QFC''s 2019 Qatar Business Awards ceremony, is recognised for its commitment to innovation and the future of the SportsTech industry in Qatar and beyond. It was initiated by QDB, powered by Startupbootcamp, and supported by the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, beIN Media Group, Aspire Zone Foundation, Qatar Financial Centre (QFC), and the Ministry of Commerce & Industry. 

Sportstech entrepreneurs who are interested in applying are advised to visit the website to find out more about the requirements and how to apply.

July 29th 2020, 10:29 am

ASMA Invest invests in SMGF

Wamda

Morocco-based institutional investor ASMA Invest has invested in SEAF Morocco Growth Fund (SMGF). The amount raised remains undisclosed.

Launched in September 2018, the SMGF focuses on investing in early-stage startups and SMEs based in and outside Morocco. The Fund was created as part of the "InnovInvest Fund (IFI)" programme managed by the Caisse Centrale de Garantie to promote innovative entrepreneurship.

Other fund shareholders include La Caisse Centrale de Garantie, La Caisse Marocaine des Retraites, Bank of Africa (BMCE Bank), USAID (Wise Venture Capital), and the SEAF group.

"The entry of ASMA INVEST demonstrates the confidence of leading institutional investors in supporting innovative companies and their willingness to support talented Moroccan entrepreneurs, a very buoyant segment with a strong impact on the national economy,” said Meriem Zairi, managing director of the Fund. “This is all the more timely in the context of the economic crisis linked to Covid, in which companies will have to redouble their innovation to seize emerging opportunities.”

The investment will help the Fund to continue supporting local entrepreneurs and accelerate the launch and expansion of their companies.

"We are pleased with our association with SEAF, with a track record of more than 30 years in emerging countries, which allows us, through its SMGF fund, to contribute to the emergence of great initiatives carried by a gifted Moroccan youth, in whom we must have confidence,” said Hicham Safir, managing director of ASMA Invest.

Founded in 1989, ASMA Invest’s committed investment portfolio stands at MAD 5 billion, ranging from real estate and agriculture - directly managed - to equity investments in several companies.

 

July 29th 2020, 7:29 am

Savour VC invests in Turkey’s FineDine

Wamda

Kuwait-based food vertical accelerator Savour has participated in a $600,000 seed round raised by Turkey-based digital ordering and restaurant management platform FineDine. This is the second time the Kuwaiti accelerator has invested in FineDine.

Other investors participating in this round included 500 Startups Istanbul, TechOne VC, two zero VC as well as a consortium of angel investors. 

Founded in 2016 by Duygu Kutluoglu Kilic and Adil Burak Kilic, FineDine provides restaurant operators with devised AI-powered systems to help them make data-driven, informed business decisions. The platform also enables features like self-ordering and self-checkout through AI-driven interactive digital menus. 

The company said that it will use the funds to continue developing its AI module and spur their growth in the countries they operate in. 

 “COVID-19 pandemic affected many businesses. The restaurant industry had one of the most significant hits. The change of regulations and consumer demand is forcing restaurants to digitize their operations rapidly, and FineDine products fit perfectly with restaurants’ new requirements,” said Duygu Kilic, co-founder and CEO of FineDine.

FineDine serves around 1200 customers in 64 countries.

 

July 29th 2020, 7:29 am

Foundation Holdings invests in India's Toppr

Wamda

Source: Vccircle

Toppr Technologies Pvt. Ltd, which runs an eponymous ed-tech startup, has raised Rs 350 crore ($46 million) in its Series D round of funding led by UAE-based family investment office Foundation Holdings.

Education-focused private equity firm Kaizen Management Advisors Pvt. Ltd also participated in this round, Mumbai-based Toppr said in a statement.

The fresh funding takes the total that the ed-tech company has raised so far to around Rs 700 crore.

Toppr said it will use the fresh capital to develop an artificial intelligence-based school operating system and launch new platforms for coding. The company claims its school operating system has over 55,000 learners.

Zishaan Hayath, co-founder and chief executive of Toppr, said the operating system will help teachers and schools.

The ed-tech startup was founded in 2013 by IIT Bombay alumni Hayath and Hemanth Goteti. Prior to setting up Toppr, Hayath had founded phone-commerce startup Chaupaati Bazaar. Goteti was head of engineering at e-commerce platform Futurebazaar.com and held stints at Chaupaati Bazaar, Qlip Media, Synechron and Ubiquity Inc.

Hayath is also an angel investor and has invested in firms such as Housing.com and Ola. In September 2010, Chaupaati Bazaar was acquired by Future Group. He also operated an angel investment group called Powai Lake Ventures.

Toppr is a test preparation platform for engineering, medical and secondary school students. It uses artificial intelligence-based machine learning algorithms to personalise learning paths for students, the statement added.

“Toppr’s market leading, proprietary machine learning technology is uniquely positioned to provide an integrated, curated, personalized pedagogy platform, mapped to 22 curriculums, designed to take schools to the future," said Aakash Sachdev, managing director at Foundation Holdings.

The company had raised $35 million in its Series C funding in 2018. In February 2018, Toppr’s valuation stood at $60 million after it had raised an undisclosed sum from Axis Capital Partners.

Continue reading this story

July 29th 2020, 5:59 am

Mayday's mission to improve roadside assistance in Egypt

Wamda

By Mostafa Adel

In Cairo alone, it is estimated that traffic issues cost Egypt’s economy $7 billion every year. This figure comprises health costs from air pollution; lost productivity due to extra time in traffic; and costs of road injuries and fatalities.

At a time when people feel the need to be extra safe due to the pandemic, Mayday, a startup by Egyptian entrepreneurs Mohamed Aboelfotouh, Islam Ahmed, and Amr Essam, is a much-welcomed solution that is able to solve many car issues on the spot.

“We surveyed around 300 people to understand more about the market. People really welcomed the idea of an app to help them if they encountered roadside trouble,” Aboelfotouh, 34, says. 

According to the survey, the average waiting time for towing help was around two hours, and the prices were always variable and inflated. People also highlighted safety concerns and the lack of proper customer care for such services. 

“We wanted to create a platform in a similar model to ride-hailing apps, with a large network of providers,” Aboelfotouh adds. 

THE EARLY DAYS

Mayday faced several roadblocks after its soft launch in November 2018. For starters, the service was available for only eight hours a day. Moreover, the initial subscription-based business model via the app proved unsuccessful as people did not know the company well enough to subscribe. 

“We started exploring an on-demand option. So, we added a hotline to streamline the orders we get while keeping the app for subscriptions and businesses,” Aboelfotouh explains. 

When a person calls in, a Mayday agent responds, liaising between customers and tow truck drivers and then informing the caller of the estimated time of arrival and the service cost. 

The hotline gradually became available 24/7, but it was signing one of the country’s biggest ride-hailing companies as a client that pushed the company in the right direction in early 2019 and provided a much-needed cash flow. Mayday soon struck more deals and currently offers roadside assistance to over 30,000 clients through various business partners, from banks to insurance companies.

GROWTH AND FUTURE PLANS

The official launch of the app was in January 2019, and Mayday soon expanded from the initial locations of Cairo and Giza, currently offering its services in any province and across all highways. Most of the service providers contracted by Mayday are tracked through GPS, with plans to include the rest soon.

“Now, our platform has 1,200 service providers, between tow trucks, cars and motorbikes. If a person just needs a hand changing the tires, we can send a motorbike rider with the necessary tools to help in their backpack,” Aboelfotouh notes.

Despite not offering significantly lower prices than independent tow truck operators, Mayday has kept growing in popularity because of its speedy service, quality control and fixed prices with no hidden fees. The company gets a commission from the orders, and its partners get to enjoy a steady flow of work through the company. 

One of the main challenges Mayday encountered early on was hiring talented personnel to ensure this level of quality. The founding partners tackled the issue by creating a healthy work environment rather than opting for the gruelling conditions imposed by many startups. Despite not being completely reliant on the app, the company also faced some challenges with technology. 

“In 2020, we’re investing in technology. We want our app to have an on-demand option, too. So, we’re releasing a new one in a few months,” Aboelfotouh reveals.

Mayday will leverage a recent six-figure investment to achieve that goal. 

“We have a unique position to present our company as the go-to brand for roadside assistance in the country. One of the main areas where we plan on investing this money is in marketing and raising awareness about our brand and services.”

Commenting on other plans, Aboelfotouh says: 

“We're considering adding simple maintenance services, like car checks and quick repairs while people are on the road. We also want to expand within the next few months. We’re currently exploring and meeting suppliers, as well as doing market research. Soon, we will have settled on our next market in a new country.”

 

 

 

 

July 28th 2020, 10:11 pm

Cubex Global raises $1 million in seed funding

Wamda

Source: Arab Finance

Muscat-based digital marketplace for ocean freight Cubex Global has raised $1 million in a seed round led by Oman Technology Fund, it announced in a statement to MENAbytes. The round also included angel investors and an undisclosed Hong Kong-based VC. Cubex had previously raised $100,000 in a pre-seed round from Oman Technology Fund as part of its Wadi Accelerator.

Founded in 2016 by Sheikh Ahsan Tariq, Hood Al Hoqani, Hamza Al Kharusi, and Wajiha Khalid Paracha, Cubex Global makes it easy for businesses to buy and sell cubic meters of container space in what it says is a real-time auction setup. Its online platform allows businesses to book space in containers (or even full containers) across the world.

The startup in a statement said it provides affordable prices for container bookings to its customers by placing unutilized and empty inventory of carriers on the platform.

Cubex Global told MENAbytes that it currently has 2,000 active shippers and carriers on its platform with its services being used in the Middle East, Asia Pacific, and some parts of Europe.

Sheikh Ahsan Tariq, the co-founder and CEO of Cubex Global, in a conversation with MENAbytes said that they make money by charging 10 percent commission from the selletrs for placing their inventory on the platform. They also make money by charging both shippers and carriers a nominal subscription fee for full access to all the features on the platform which include shipment tracker, automated documentation, and more.

Ahsan also told MENAbytes that they plan to use the latest funds to expand across six continents by opening new branch offices in China, Singapore, and Taiwan. In addition to Muscat, Cubex Global already has branch offices in the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, and the United States.

The Omani startup had recently also won Ocean Challenge by World Economics Forum where it competed with 50 startups from the world.

July 28th 2020, 2:41 pm

Kuwait's Boutiqaat being investigated for money laundering

Wamda

Source: Zawya

Boutiqaat, the leading Kuwaiti beauty ecommerce platform has found itself in the middle of a money-laundering scandal involving social media influencers that has sent shockwaves across the country, according to MENAbytes.

The Kuwaiti ecommerce platform is built around social media influencers. It enables them to set up their virtual boutiques (stores) on Boutiqaat where they can add their favorite products allowing, their fans and other customers to buy these products with Boutiqaat taking care of the entire transaction.

The local media has reported that social media influencers in question are suspected of using Boutiqaat’s platform to launder the money. The public prosecutor of Kuwait has ordered the central bank of the country to freeze bank accounts of all the social media influencers suspected of money laundering and Boutiqaat. He has also placed travel bans on all of them including Abdulwahab Al Essa, the founder, and CEO of Boutiqaat.

All the bank accounts of Boutiqaat and its founder in Kuwait have been frozen, we’ve learned.

Boutiqaat’s investor Boubyan which had invested $45 million in the ecommerce startup in January 2018, in a disclosure document confirmed that the public prosecutor has ordered the bank accounts of Boutiqaat to be frozen. The document also explained that the effect of the development on Boubyan’s financial position cannot be determined at this point.

The Kuwaiti startup itself hasn’t issued any statement but the platform is up and running. A source with the knowledge of the matter has told MENAbytes that the sales of Boutiqaat have dropped by over 90 percent since the news surfaced on social media.

The startup had recently hired Citigroup to raise fresh funds at a valuation of up to $1 billion.

July 28th 2020, 1:37 pm

Nucleus Ventures launches programme to support Lebanon startups

Wamda

Lebanon-based Nucleus Ventures has launched a seed programme to support early-stage Lebanese entrepreneurs.

The Nucleus programme will offer selected startups and SMEs with cash prizes ranging from $5,000 up to $100,000 in seed funding to help them kickstart their businesses with the addition of mentorship and access to local and international markets.

Moreover, Nucleus Ventures, through its partnership with Lebanosse Enterprise and Employment Program (LEEP), will offer selected startups fresh cash grants to help them increase their exporting opportunities.

“Lebanon’s economy has been decimated. We’ve hit rock bottom. But we are bound to reinvent ourselves. Someone has got to start somewhere. That has been our mission since inception in 2015 to turn Lebanon’s rentier economy to a productive one. Now, more than ever, we can’t quit that fight. And ​The Nucleus​ is our defiant rallying call,” said Nadim Zaazaa, managing partner of Nucleus Ventures. 

 ​The company said that it would accept applications from startups starting this month through its online platform or in-person.

“Now is the time to mobilise your money, your know-how and your networks to retain and harness our best value creators,” said Naji Boutros, chairman of Nucleus Ventures.

July 27th 2020, 9:42 am

Drowzy secures six-figure funding from UAE Angel Investor

Wamda

Source: Afrikanheroes

UAE Angel Investor has made a six-figure investment in Cairo-based direct-to-consumer (D2) furniture and home accessories startup Drowzy, the startup said in a statement without disclosing the exact size of investment.

“We’ve been studying the furniture scene for some time in Egypt, regionally & globally, and we believe that there is an obvious gap in fixed, fast & practical home products. We started in Egypt 3 years ago & now we believe that this partnership will add value & ease the way into different markets”, said Alaa Khalil, CEO of Drowzy.

Although the identity of the angel investor was not disclosed, the investment was, at least, in excess of $100k. The startup also met the strategic angel investor at the ongoing STEP 2020 Dubai, a fundraising bootcamp program for startups from emerging markets.

The financing will be used to accelerate the growth, widen the catalogue of products, disrupt the global market, hire more resources and launch a Do-It-Yourself line of products.

More of preparation meets opportunity here! Drowzy took advantage of the ongoing bootcamp program organised for startups in emerging markets by STEP. Startups are selected from those participating in the Startup Basecamp to participate at STEP’s online pitch competition to present their products and services to leading investors and industry experts. Participating startups and entrepreneurs then go ahead to get the opportunity to sign up for online 1-on-1 sessions with leading investors from the region from pre-seed to early and growth stage investors.

Founded in 2017 by two architects — Alaa Khalil & Mohamed Lotfy — Drowzyis an online store, which offers a wide range of locally manufactured: trendy, affordable, practical & durable furniture & home accessories pieces. 

The startup partners with different small and medium-sized furniture workshops and mini-factories to manufacture the furniture designed by Drowzy’s team and then sell it on its platform. The startup currently sells close to 100 products and about 300 SKUs through its online platform all across Egypt.

“Drowzy helps designers all over the world, monetize their designs, while helping the small/medium-sized workshops & mini-factories increase their revenues significantly & grow”, said Mohamed Lotfy, CDO of Drowzy

Alaa Khalil, the co-founder of Drowzy, said furniture brands in Egypt take up to two months to deliver their orders mainly because they offer customizations and Drowzy doesn’t. 

“No need for the hassle of visiting a physical store, just visit our online store & choose your missing piece & we will deliver it right away. What if you don’t like, just return it for free,” Khalil noted. 

Drowzy, he said delivers all its products across the entire country within six to ten days of receiving the order. They’re aiming to bring this down to two to three days by the end of this year. 

 

July 27th 2020, 5:24 am

Lemonade Fashion raises pre-seed investment

Wamda

Lebanese-US online peer-to-peer (P2P) fashion marketplace Lemonade Fashion, has raised pre-seed investment from Draper University Ventures in San Francisco.

Now headquartered in the US, the startup was initially founded in 2018 in Lebanon by Arthur Bizdikian. The platform connects shoppers with designers, allowing users to browse through a wide variety of designer outfits and order personalised items. 

“Fashion will see some dramatic changes in a post-Covid-19 era, and the part of online shopping will increase rapidly. This will require solid platforms and technologies, but also a bigger understanding of the new market shift,” said Arthur Bizdikian, co-founder and CEO of Lemonade Fashion. “In this new world, trust will play a great factor; clients want to know who made their clothes, if they will fit them and if they have ever been worn before. Sustainability, quality, and price will greatly influence consumer behavior."

Lemonade Fashion has more than 50 designers listed on its platform and is currently working on developing its technical department in Yerevan.

The company intends to use the proceeds to develop its platform, improve user experience and expand its network of designers.

"We are building a strong development team based in Armenia, and our primary focus in parallel with satisfying business requirements is technical excellence. There is a lot of variance among designers, and our designer count roughly doubles every 4-6 months,” said Mohamad Baydoun, co-founder and chief technical officer (CTO) at Lemonade fashion.

 

July 27th 2020, 5:10 am

Has the office become a burden?

Wamda

Life is returning to offices in the UAE and the wider Middle East region as workers go back to their desks wearing masks and attempting to maintain a safe distance from one another. While some have embraced the change of scene and in-person interaction after four months of lockdown, others are still reluctant to return fully to the office space.

In a survey conducted by Wamda, 60 per cent of startups in the region are now offering their employees the flexibility to work from home and the office, while 20 per cent have decided to implement remote working as their primary policy. This, in the Middle East would have been inconceivable pre-corona, but attitudes have changed, and the lockdown shifted notions of productivity, creativity and management.

“I was very much against working from home, the reason being I thought I would be unproductive because I have a family and children, but I’ve probably never been as productive,” says Hosam Arab, founder of UAE-based financial technology startup tabby. “It is very clear that people can be exceptionally efficient if they’re allowed to be working from home.”

The advantages of working remotely are not only greater efficiency and more productivity, but easier access to a global pool of talent and a cutback in travel-related costs.

“We’re now definitely much more efficient, there is less time wasted from commuting to work, no one is late to a meeting,” says Mohamad Ballout, founder of Kitopi, a UAE-based cloud kitchen operator. “The only thing missing is how do we make sure we don’t lose on the culture side.”

Besides the loss or difficulty in maintaining company culture, there is also the risk of burnout.

“There is a cost [to working from home]. I’ve locked myself in my home and there is no barrier between work and home,” says Arab who believes that flexible working is only successful if the entire working day is spent either at home or in the office. 

Office Required

The hybrid approach of splitting time between home and office still requires an office. But paying rent for a space that sits empty several days a week seems frivolous, and so many companies have attempted to renegotiate their lease.  

“With buyers and tenants in a better position to negotiate, we observed minor declines for sales prices in comparison with the previous quarter,” says Fibha Ahmed, director of sales at Bayut. “The average rental price per square foot also declined on average for office spaces in most of the popular commercial centres.”

In the UAE, the comparatively newer commercial areas such as Business Bay and JLT saw prices dropping by more than 6 per cent, while older, more established districts such as Deira and Sheikh Zayed Road stayed more or less resilient, with rents for offices dropping by less than 1.5 per cent according to Bayut.

Some companies, particularly those that reduced staff numbers, are opting for smaller facilities of less than 1000 square metres according to JLL’s latest UAE Real Estate Market Performance report.

“Looking ahead, we expect corporates to adopt a hybrid model of working, with some of their employees based in HQ offices, while others continuing to work from home, or in flexible office spaces. The game is changing and evolving rapidly, and we expect to see companies apply their own philosophy and ways of working based on business needs and staff comfort levels,” says Dana Salbak, head of research, JLL MENA.

Visa Restrictions

But in several countries in the GCC, the visa quota for employees is calculated according to the size of the physical office space. In the UAE freezones, one employee visa is given per nine square metres of office space, forcing companies to maintain a physical location even if all their employees work remotely.  

This regulation has exacerbated frustration felt among the startup community, particularly in the UAE where the cost of starting a business is among the highest in the world.

“I have to look for a new office, even though everyone is working from home. I cannot hire a fifth person because our current office only has space for four,” says Arab.

It is a contentious issue, particularly in the UAE where real estate is such a crucial part of the economy. Changing the regulations to enable companies to hire without the need for a physical office space could have a disastrous impact on the real estate sector.

But according to Hamza Khan, founder of co-working company Letswork, “there are plenty of options”.

“Startups and SMEs, who traditionally only opted for offices in the first place for visa requirements will be evaluating their options as they try to reduce overheads and the government introduces reforms to business licensing,” says Khan. “This is great news for co-working operators as the office space demand moves towards short-term, flexible and 'plug & play' solutions that companies like Letswork readily provide.” 

Even the freezones in the UAE are adapting to the shifts in working behaviours.

“Work is better done when done collaboratively and physically. More and more people are preferring to be in the office and now it’s accepted to be able to have that flexibility,” says Katrina Anderson, director of commercial services at twofour54 in Abu Dhabi. “You won’t move away from having an office, we will get more and more people into a community.”

Twofour54 is creating co-working and community spaces at its new campus in Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, while the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC), is focusing on incubators and accelerators to attract startups and claims to be more flexible with regards to visa allocation.

“Depending on the nature an size of your office, you get a standard visa allocation, having said that we’re flexible and it is not a rule set in stone, we understand that there are certain businesses that can operate without needing as much space,” says Ahmad Hamza, executive director at DMCC.

SaaS of Co-working

The push towards shared and co-working spaces has given rise to software as a service (SaaS) startups that facilitate their booking and backend functions.

One such startup is UAE-based Hotdesk which allows users to book co-working spaces and meeting rooms. The company has seen rapid growth during the pandemic, expanding to 49 cities around the world over these past few months, up from fewer than 20 cities at the end of 2019.

“It has picked up in many different ways and customer segments,” says Mohamed Khaled, co-founder and CEO of Hotdesk. “Freelancers and startups are born during recessions, freelancers are on the rise and there is a push to more growth in co-working spaces.”

The supply side has also increased by 60 per cent according to Khaled, driven mainly by the empty meeting rooms in large offices.

“Another factor is corporates, they had these mega large offices, everyone was required to come in all the time, now the corporates themselves have three problems – expensive leases that cannot be changed, they’re still not using the rest of the space, they’ve fired people so there is even more extra space and they’re not making enough revenue so it is another reason to hate the lease,” says Khaled.

Even prior to the coronavirus, the amount of unused assets in the GCC was "substantial" according to Chris Cooper, co-founder of aceplace which focuses on booking unique spaces for companies and individuals.

“Owners of assets were not fully utilising them and we noticed more and more people were looking for that flexible working environment. What Covid-19 has done is accelerated that demand,” says Cooper.

Demand may be on the rise, but until the employee visa laws change, companies that employ more than two or three workers will still have to lease out an office, adding to the burden of costs.

 

 

 

 

July 26th 2020, 11:23 pm

Lezzoo closes seven figure seed round

Wamda

Source: Iraq Business News

Northern Gulf Partners, a frontier market investment firm, and California-based Pay It Forward Venture Capital, have led a seven-figure US dollar seed round investment in Lezzoo, a delivery and e-payment platform that aims to become Iraq's first super-app.

Lezzoo received a pre-seed investment from Silicon Valley's Y Combinator and is the only Iraqi start-up accepted into its well-known accelerator program. Angel investors and family offices in the USA, Europe and the Middle East joined the seed round.

Lezzoo delivers items such as prepared food, groceries and pharmaceuticals in several Iraqi cities. The recently launched Lezzoo Pay seeks to disrupt Iraq's predominantly cash-based society by bringing digital transactions to a population that is majority unbanked.

Lezzoo founder and CEO Yadgar Merani said: "We are using technology to solve the biggest logistical challenges in people's daily lives. This investment will allow us to expand across the country while also rolling out new verticals. By integrating deliveries, transportation, payments and other services we are on our way to becoming the super-app for Iraqis."

Zaab Sethna, partner at Northern Gulf Partners, said: "Lezzoo has a forward-thinking, creative and dynamic team of founders and we are excited to back them. Iraq is a country with a young, connected and increasingly sophisticated population. Incomes are rising but the barriers to entry remain high and this gives an advantage to home-grown firms."

Raaid Hossain, General Partner of Pay It Forward Venture Capital, said: "We are proud and privileged to be able to back Lezzoo, a company that challenges the status quo by providing a best in class delivery experience for consumers, as well as drives the spirit of digital entrepreneurship in Iraq. We believe that a connected service industry, especially during times of restricted movement due to covid-19, is paramount to staying safe, healthy and feeling a sense of comfort. We truly believe Yadgar and the team are doing their part to make the world a better place.

July 26th 2020, 4:59 am

Fetchr raises $15 million to expand to Saudi Arabia

Wamda

Source: Bloomberg

Fetchr secured at least $15 million in fresh funding to expand in Saudi Arabia as part of a turnaround plan that saved the Dubai-based courier app from collapse.

The latest financing round, which still needs shareholders’ approval, could see pledges increase to as much as $25 million, according to documents seen by Bloomberg. The commitments are being made by venture capital firm BECO Capital, Saudi Arabia’s Tamer Group and French shipping company CMA CGM SA, the documents show.

Fetchr’s interim Chief Executive Officer Mazen Mamlouk confirmed the details of the financing round.

The company, which offers delivery and logistics services to e-commerce firms, late last year had to consider selling the business or filing for bankruptcy due to a “rapidly diminishing” financial performance. It was able to raise $10 million in bridge finance, which diluted existing shareholders to almost zero, according to a letter to investors seen by Bloomberg in December.

One of Middle East’s Largest Startups Narrowly Averts Collapse

Since then, the company has brought in new management, reduced the rate at which it burns cash and closed operations in Jordan, Bahrain and Oman, according to the latest documents. It also cut about 1,230 jobs.

Mamlouk will soon pass the reins to Hussein Wehbe -- the former managing director of United Parcel Service Inc.’s Middle East business - but will remain as an adviser with Fetchr, he said by phone.

Representatives for BECO, CMA CGM and Tamer Group didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

Fetchr, once one of the rising stars of the Middle East’s nascent startup scene, was valued at almost $300 million in a 2017 fund-raising round. Silicon Valley investors such as New Enterprise Associates, Nokia Oyj’s venture capital arm and Winklevoss Capital were among its backers.

Continue reading this story

July 24th 2020, 5:36 am

Rology raises investment from Dubai Angel Investors

Wamda

Egypt-based healthtech startup Rology, has raised investment from Dubai Angel Investors. The amount raised was not disclosed. 

Co-founded in 2017 by Amr Abodraiaa, Bassam Khalaf and Moaaz Hossam, Rology uses technologies like artificial intelligence(AI) and cloud computing to facilitate medical reporting and diagnosis remotely. The healthtech startup looks to address the shortage of radiologists by matching radiologists with patients in a timely and efficient manner.

It plans to use the investment to enhance its AI algorithms and further expand into more African markets.

The startup claims to have around 86 hospitals listed on its platform from across Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Congo and Maldives, and has around 100,000 patients diagnosed through its platform so far.

July 23rd 2020, 1:17 pm

Abu Dhabi Capital Group invests in China's MissFresh

Wamda

Source: Reuters

Chinese online grocery startup MissFresh said on Thursday it has raised $495 million in its latest round of fundraising.

Investors include a fund under China International Capital Corporation, Tencent, Abu Dhabi Capital Group and Tiger Global, the company said in a statement.

July 23rd 2020, 6:28 am

elGrocer: The lessons we learned in the era of Covid-19

Wamda

Nader Amiri is the founder of UAE-based e-grocery startup elGrocer

E-commerce is on everyone’s mind. There’s a lot being said about e-commerce and e-grocery, so we’ll skip the buzzwords and buzz statements, as well as discussing how the few months of Covid-19 lockdown resulted in years of sales and customer contributions, and so on.

Instead, we’ll start with the importance of timing and readiness, for in the startup world, we all know timing and preparation can be everything. At elGrocer we have been fortunate enough to have the right people, in the right place, at the right time. Of course, no one can claim that they were “ready” for the effects of this pandemic, except perhaps for UK-based supermarket Tesco with their wise “doomsday planning”, which you can read more about here - I came across their while back and it inspired us on so many levels on how to plan for the future.  

I’m sure like me, to many, the last few months feel like a blur. The end of February to the end of March feels like years ago, however in our industry, this period was what we like to refer to as the “Surprise Phase”. While no one knew what was ahead, in a matter of days or even hours, the whole grocery and e-grocery industry suddenly experienced a resurgence not felt in years. For us at elGrocer, this phase was about managing the sudden spike in demand. It was always part of our plan to be a few weeks or even a few months ahead of the demand curve and we kicked off 2020 with some major improvements in some fundamental business aspects such as tech, data analysis, operations, business development and more. We thought to ourselves, so far, so good, and we felt confident that thanks to our start of the year planning we would be ready for what was to come. Two months of hard work were paying off on our topline and to some extent on our bottom line, however then we entered the “Panic Phase” (April to early May).

It’s no secret that during this phase there was some panic among people and businesses alike, no one knew what to do, it was a completely unprecedented situation we all found ourselves in. From a business perspective we faced questions such as: should we hire more people? How many more people should we hire? How can we get ourselves ready for the next lockdown announcement and a further increase in demand? How can we optimise our delivery times and how fast can we train new members of staff? The industry experienced 40-50 per cent growth in a matter of weeks, if not days, and on our platform we witnessed a 5-6x transaction growth and 7-8x sales growth versus pre-Covid. Facing such an accelerated industry growth, we realised that no amount of preparation would help, but rather our key asset, what mattered most, was our people. By people I mean everyone in our ecosystem: our team who were relentless in their efforts to serve customers and support partners, our retail, brand and logistics partners who were tirelessly working to assure customers they didn’t have to worry, our investors who gave us the fuel, our advisors who rolled up their sleeves and helped, our startup partners who supported us with some of their team, and our families and friends who without their support and encouragement we wouldn’t have been able to handle the pressure.

The “Now What Phase"

On the one hand we all knew we had to keep moving fast, invest and serve, but to what level was the key question. In response, we devised a three-tiered strategy to be well-positioned not just for the short term but for the mid and longer term.

1. Manage the short term in the best possible way. Rapidly hire and train individuals for the core and on-ground teams, while simultaneously working closely with all partners (retail, logistics and brands). At first, a lot of things were not perfect, customers faced delays, items out of stock, new colleagues not trained well enough, but in the midst of all this we still managed to keep most of our customers happy. These were widely-faced issues and I believe the whole industry issued apologies to everyone who experienced these growing pains.

2. Plan for the mid-term. The pandemic brought some gaps to our attention and we spent a good while updating our playbooks/SOPs, as well as reshuffling and accelerating some of the plans we had in our roadmap on the operational side as well as the technical side. A key action we took was that while we learned to cope with the new scale, we also knew that all of this demand wasn’t going to be permanent, so in terms of on ground operations, we hired a mix of permanent and temporary team members. While we knew we were ahead of the curve, we knew we still needed to act faster and smarter than the flood of competitors that came into the industry.

3. Gearing up for the longer term. With the acceleration of the industry and a flood of new entrants, we are using our industry experience and our key asset (our team) to our advantage. We remain focused on our long term vision of building sustainable growth while evolving to meet existing and new customer needs, as well as the needs of our partners.

In retrospect it sounds well thought out, but it wasn’t. We worked, and continue working, hard and fast to serve customers better, to support and collaborate with our partners, to innovate and to gear up.

E-commerce, and in particular e-grocery, will never go back to the way it was, and in the midst of a lot of growing pains, we see the importance adapting and championing the digital landscape.

 

July 22nd 2020, 9:10 pm

Volvo Cars Tech Fund invests in blockchain firm Circulor

Wamda

Source: Trade Arabia

Trading Enterprises, the exclusive distributor of Volvo cars in the UAE, has announced that Volvo Cars has made an investment in blockchain technology firm Circulor through the Volvo Cars Tech Fund, the company’s venture capital investment arm.

Circulor and Volvo Cars have been working together in recent years on the implementation of blockchain technology to boost the traceability of cobalt used in the batteries of its electric cars.

Circulor’s blockchain technology is today used throughout Volvo Cars’ battery supply chain, which will achieve 100 per cent traceability of cobalt used in the XC40 Recharge P8, its first fully electric car. Production of the XC40 Recharge P8 will start later this year in Ghent, Belgium.  XC40 Recharge T5 will be available from next year and XC40 recharge T8 will be available from 2022 in the UAE.

The investment in Circulor by Volvo Cars allows both companies to expand their focus beyond cobalt, for example by looking at increasing traceability of mica, a mineral used as isolation material in the battery pack of electric Volvos.

Volvo Cars and Circulor are also investigating the possibility to expand their blockchain technology cooperation to other areas, for example tracking and reducing CO2 footprints, helping Circulor to potentially set standards for ethical sourcing in automotive and other industries.

The investment by the Volvo Cars Tech Fund is part of a funding round by Circulor, which also involves three other investors: SYSTEMIQ, Total Carbon Neutrality Ventures and Plug & Play Tech Fund.

“We are committed to an ethical supply chain for our raw materials and our partnership with Circulor has been instrumental in that regard,” said Martina Buchhauser, chief procurement officer at Volvo Cars. “By supporting Circulor’s ongoing development we can expand the use of blockchain technology in our operations and contribute to a more sustainable business.”

Volvo Cars was the first car maker to implement global traceability of cobalt used in its batteries by applying blockchain technology across its supply chain. The technology developed by Circulor is implemented in partnership with CATL and LG Chem, Volvo Cars’ battery supply partners.

CATL and LG Chem are renowned battery manufacturers with long and successful track records supplying lithium ion batteries to the global automotive industry. They fulfil Volvo Cars’ strict sourcing guidelines in terms of technology leadership, responsible supply chains, reduction of carbon emissions and competitive cost models.

The agreements between Volvo Cars, CATL and LG Chem cover the supply of batteries over the coming decade for next generation Volvo and Polestar models, including the XC40 Recharge P8.

The Volvo Cars Tech Fund was launched in 2018 and invests in high-potential technology start-ups around the globe. It focuses its investments on strategic technology trends transforming the auto industry, such as artificial intelligence, electrification, autonomous driving and digital mobility. 

July 22nd 2020, 9:49 am

What is the future of events?

Wamda

Last week, after four long months of coronavirus lockdowns, Dubai hosted its first “in-person” event. AI Everything, held at the Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) on 16 July, marked the resumption of the emirate’s events calendar, away from the virtual world and back to physical interactions. 

The event was by invite-only but saw considerable turnout as well as safety measures like temperature checks, social distanced seats, contactless badge collection and pre-packed food.

“The event industry is one of the key main propositions to Dubai. It has always been a fundamental part of what Dubai is about. Now we need to think about what are the new opportunities within these challenges”, says Issam Kazim, chief executive officer of Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing.

For many, these new opportunities will still be in the virtual world. Until a vaccine is made available, many around the world are still hesitant to travel or interact with large numbers of people in enclosed spaces. 

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the $1.5 trillion global business events industry has seen events either cancelled, rescheduled or gone virtual since the outbreak. The pandemic led to the cancellation of high-profile conferences and exhibitions including Mobile World Congress, SXSW, Facebook’s F8 developer conference to name a few. 

DWTC may have shown bravery or perhaps desperation in resuming its physical events, but a growing number of businesses are experimenting with virtual events for the first time, while others are scaling up their digital offerings to new heights. Google transferred its Cloud Next conference into an entirely virtual experience called Google Cloud Next ’20: Digital Connect.

Virtual Interactions

As more communities go online amid Covid-19, the majority of events are following that trend, and seem to be reaping the benefits. Event management platform Eventbrite has recorded a 1,100+% year-over-year increase of business and professional online events taking place in April 2020 compared to April 2019, and consumers are spending money to attend those events.

“Our data is showing a significant rise in demand for online events and it’s been inspiring to see the innovative ways event creators are leveraging our platform,” says Crystal Valentine, chief data strategy officer at Eventbrite. “We expect online events will continue to play a big role in events post-pandemic.”

Step Conference co-founder Ray Dargham believes virtual events lend the industry better opportunities in the long term. Step’s annual event is set to take place online this year and rebranded to Step Anywhere, which according to Dargham offers better access to members of the community who could not afford to attend in-person in previous years, improved experience through data and tech and reduction of environmental waste and carbon emissions.

“When you look at industries tech has disrupted – like Uber in transportation and Airbnb in hospitality – you see that tech solves inefficiencies,” says Dargham.. “The events industry has not really changed much for the past hundred years, it has a lot of inefficiencies.”

Large events’ build-up, food and plastic waste constitute few of the main issues of the industry, in addition to the costs involved in travel and accommodation to attend global events.

“If you break it down to fundamentals, the key objectives of exhibitions and conferences is to meet someone, a potential client or vendor, or learn something new, and both of these can be achieved online,” says Dargham. 

Following its recently announced investment to launch a virtual events platform, Eventtus’ Mai Medhat agrees that virtual events can be as efficient as physical ones. 

“Nothing will replace meeting people in person, nothing will replace a handshake, we need this,” she says. “But in terms of the events’ core functionality, like networking and engaging with different industry players, I think all of that can be done in a very efficient way virtually. 

“It is cheaper, it is easier to organise, and also easier for anyone to join. An event we organised three weeks ago got 3x their target audience and managed to get speakers from 12 countries, which was not going to happen if the event was physical,” she says.

Event organisers at some point started losing revenue from sponsorships, not to other events or online ones, but to digital players, like Google Ads. Online events would help keep these sponsors’ interest in events by enabling them to track their return on investment (ROI) and analyse their spend through more data.

Replicate versus Innovate

Despite innovative technologies and approaches, digital alternatives to physical events are not set to merely replicate the in-person experience. They are expected to deliver content and experiences in ways that do not look and feel like a digital-only version of a physical gathering.

“The technology is not yet 100 per cent there to create these experiences. People are experimenting, some are trying to mimic the physical events, but I do not believe in that. You have to investigate what people are looking for and how to achieve that in a new way, not to do a 3D booth like it looks in the real world,” says Dargham.

Hosting a conference online is not as simple as broadcasting main-stage speaking events on YouTube. Delivering an online event costs time and money, it needs technology for small groups, communication, virtual lobbies, exhibitor halls and networking spaces.

“We are seeing a lot of virtual event platforms that still need to build different features to deliver a similar experience to what we had in personal events,” says Medhat.

Another challenge with virtual events is that you do not have a captive audience. 

“How can we attract the audience to be engaged during the event? If they are attending from home they still need to look after kids and run other home errands at the same time of the event,” says Medhat.

Top online experiences incorporate gamification, recognition, raffles and rewards to keep their audience’s attention and engagement.

According to Data Connectors, 85 per cent of participants in online meetings report equal or higher levels of engagement compared to in-person

“It took years to create the offline events industry, and now a new ecosystem is being created for online events. That does not happen overnight. The technology for online events is not Zoom. It is going to evolve, there are tonnes of startups doing work now to build the right platforms, and this is going to continue improving tremendously,” says Dargham.

Hybrid Future

According to DWTC, 96 per cent of event professionals do not believe virtual will replace in-person events and 54 per cent of event organisers plan to host more events in the future.

Many events will likely go back to normal and resume as they always have, but given the costs involved in travel and attendance and the capacity for online tools to offer a similar experience, it may well be that the event industry has changed forever.

More businesses are currently resorting to virtual meet-ups as a necessity, however, with a serious look at their long-term events plans after the crisis is over. Companies and organisations are focusing on how to benefit from the virtual trend even as lockdowns are lifted, and a hybrid model is prevailing as a solution.

“Very few physical events will remain, and people would want to make the effort and bear the costs to attend, but online events will create more potential for new events to be created and for people to access more information. This is extremely important when you are in countries that you cannot afford to pay in US dollars for a flight and a ticket to attend an event,” says Dargham.

Hybrid events can include hosting a main event in one location, and have satellite events in other locations to avoid having thousands of people conglomerate in one space at a time. As people gather for in-person events, companies will also focus on providing a virtual event hub for virtual attendees.

Chances are there will be no physical events in the future that do not have a virtual component, but it will require organisers to rethink their pricing model, simply replicating booth and sponsorship charges for their virtual platforms will not suffice. 

 

July 20th 2020, 9:34 pm

Insider closes $32 million Series C

Wamda

Wamda portfolio company Insider has closed a $32 million Series C funding round led by Riverwood Capital and joined by Sequoia India, Wamda and Endeavor Catalyst. 

The Singapore-based digital marketing software-as-a-service (SaaS) company will use the funds to enhance the platform’s capabilities, grow its engineering team and invest in the company’s global sales and marketing efforts. 

Insider’s artificial intelligence (AI)-powered platform enables enterprise marketers to connect customer data across channels and systems, predict their future behavior with an AI-powered intent engine, and orchestrate and deliver individualised experiences to customers. Its platform is unique in how it offers the widest set of product features in the market while coordinating all offline and online data across the unified platform and its various engagement channels. 

The AI intent engine consists of 15+ algorithms that enable marketers to make precise predictions such as which customer segments are likely to convert, buy, and churn — and then design the most optimised experiences accordingly.  

Ultimately, Insider enables digital marketers to drive growth across channels,  and throughout the funnel from acquisition to activation, revenue and retention (AARR) — thereby impacting ROI metrics such as conversion rate, and average order value. 

To date, the company has raised $47 million and now has teams on the ground in 24 countries to provide deep localisation for its 800 global clients including UNIQLO, Singapore Airlines, Marks & Spencer, Estée Lauder, Virgin, Samsung, Carrefour, Dominos, Toyota, Newsweek, Avon, MediaMarkt, AVIS, Allianz, BBVA, IKEA and CNN. 

“So far, we’ve focused on leading in high-potential markets in the Eastern part of the world. We plan to grow substantially in our existing 24 countries and we are now ready to enter the US market and believe that our fresh solutions to marketers’ biggest pain points will be a major differentiator,” said Hande Cilingir, co-founder and CEO of Insider.

The beginning of the pandemic saw a rapid surge in demand for e-commerce and media companies worldwide. Insider’s digital sales team was well-positioned to turn this increasing traffic into conversions by helping their partners respond to ‘net new digital behaviours’ in real time. In the post-Covid market, brands will need to digitise more than ever. As online consumption increases and shoppers start reprioritising their postponed purchases, Insider expects to continue its accelerated levels of growth. 

 

July 20th 2020, 1:30 pm

HOT Technologies raises $1.1 million in seed funding

Wamda

Kuwait-based e-fitness startup HOT Technologies, has raised $1.1 million in seed funding from a cluster of regional angel investors.

Founded in 2018 by Nazer Al Saleh, HOT Technologies is a subscription-based fitness application that offers bilingual fitness content as well as a range of live exercises and group workouts catering to all levels.

“Covid-19 helped shed light on the value of training regularly at your own time and place. Without tech-enabled solutions such as HOT, quarantine would have been harder than it was for many people,” said Nzaer Al Saleh, CEO and cofounder of HOT Technologies. “During this period, we experienced unprecedented growth, and are happy to have most of these users continue living a healthy lifestyle." 

With the latest funding, the company will be able to further develop its product offerings and continue onboarding top coaches from across the Middle East.

The startup also plans to offer personalised sessions based on individual needs. 

 

July 20th 2020, 10:14 am

E-sports and gaming: Mena's new global frontier

Wamda

Yousef Buhazza is the founder of Unreal Bahrain and vice chairman of the Bahrain Internet Society

Growth in Crisis

All manner of industries around the world are feeling the strain of the global Covid-19 pandemic. Margins have been squeezed and cash flows contracted. Even as economies begin to tentatively reopen, businesses are steeling themselves for months of supply chain disruption not to mention the impact of postponed or cancelled projects and the shift to entire offices of staff working remotely – if at all. One industry, however, has bucked the trend. As the whole world went into varying degrees of lockdown, increasingly people turned to video games to combat the boredom and loneliness of self-isolation.

And the rise in number of people playing games has been vertiginous. Steam, the largest PC gaming platform in the world, announced a new record in March of well over 20 million players gaming or chatting on the platform at the same time. The previous week, data from Verizon showed gaming traffic in the US up 75 per cent since the quarantine began. Similarly in Italy, Telecom Italia saw a 70 per cent increase to its landline traffic, which it attributed in large part to gaming industry mega-phenomenon Fortnite. Online streaming sites Twitch and Youtube Gaming saw 10 per cent and 15 per cent jumps in viewership respectively over one week in March alone. According to a report by Cheesecake Digital, Youtube has seen a substantial increase in viewership from just over 1,000,000 hours watched in Feb to 3,000,000 in March. This is in large part thanks to one Bahraini streamer who recorded 911,000 hours of viewership while streaming Minecraft.

A New Market

These developments are of enormous significance to the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region, which boasts the world's most active gaming community and – at 25 per cent year-on-year growth – the fastest growing online gaming population in the world. According to a recent whitepaper from Chinese internet giant Tencent and Pubg Mobile – one of the region’s most popular mobile games – the Mena gaming market will be worth some $6 billion by 2021, up from $4.8 billion in 2019. These figures can now be considered conservative at best. The Covid-19 lockdown has sparked a regional gaming boom with Arabic language Twitch streams more than doubling during March and April.

Moreover, when this crisis is over, most industries will still be dealing with fallout. But gaming has built such rapid momentum, such strong foundations, that it will be one of the few industries to see continued growth. The region has developed an enthusiasm for e-sports in recent years, which will see crowds returning to arenas in greater numbers than ever before once the pandemic dies down. The tiny Kingdom of Bahrain alone has played host to three major gaming and esports events in as many years: the IGN Convention, DreamLand Expo, and the long-awaited global final of BLAST Pro Series CS:Go, the enormously popular multiplayer first-person shooter.

The Opportunity

Indeed, Bahrain has emerged as something of a regional gaming and ICT hub as it has sought to diversify its economy away from hydrocarbons. A focus on nurturing startups, progressive, tech-friendly regulation and savvy public-private partnerships with global digital infrastructure providers has resulted in a supportive, hyper-connected test-bed ecosystem where game developers can thrive. Already, a wealth of exciting, local talent is emerging:

Gaming Ecosystem

Bahrain is also home to a growing industry specific ecosystem - the game development sector. At Unreal Bahrain, we play an active role in fostering that community. Before we launched Unreal in 2017, the gaming community was very much still emerging. Without hampering innovation, we’ve sought to put some structure around it in order to provide a healthy environment for game developers on the island. To date, we have focused on driving forward several international initiatives along with partner goals. Some of the initiatives include: physical and virtual meetups to engage and network with local and regional game developers, free game development workshops and training delivered by volunteers, game jams that aim to challenge game developers and introduce new entrants to the field, and supporting game developers in showcasing their games at local and regional events, through our partnership agreements. A personal favourite initiative of mine was our work with the UNDP office in Bahrain, to gamify the Sustainable Development Goals.

Local accelerators such as Flat6Labs are also interested in game development. The Stories Studio was its first gaming investment in Bahrain. Additionally, at the Bahrain Game Jam in 2019, Flat6Labs in partnership with Unreal Bahrain offered a bootcamp sponsorship worth over $32,000 as a special category prize for the team with the most potential to succeed.

Furthermore, Bahrain Polytechnic offers a game development course, further supporting the education and knowledge, offering overlaps in other disciplines such as artificial intelligence in game development, notably facial recognition and machine learning for games.

Connectivity is King

The Unreal community has a global reach and we have formed partnerships with a range of entities – from local government organisations to accelerators to academic institutions.  

In today’s globalised and decentralised world, genuinely untapped growth markets are increasingly rare. The Mena gaming opportunity should not be understated. With Bahrain and others in the region seeking to attract international talent and entrepreneurship as part of ongoing diversification efforts, the market has the potential to really explode as foreign investment, ideas and skills start to flow in. In the meantime, of course, we have been relegated to our homes as we attempt to curb one of the most significant global health crises of the last 50 years. But we are not as isolated as we might feel. Technology, though e-sports and video games, is allowing people from all over the world to come together.

July 20th 2020, 12:37 am

IntiGo raises more than $1 million

Wamda

Source: Zawya

Tunisian ride-hailing and logistics startup IntiGo has raised a little over $1 million (TND 2.9 million) in fresh funds. The investment came from local investment firm Capsa Capital Partners that invested about $710,000 and some angel investors. The new investment takes total money raised so far by IntiGo to $1.6 million. It had raised $300,000 from angel investors in February earlier this year and another $300,000 three months before that.

Founded in late 2019 by Bassem Bouguerra and Nebil Jridet, Tunis-based IntiGo had started as a motorbike hailing startup but has since expanded into different other categories too including different types of delivery services.

The motorbikes (scooters) on IntiGo’s network are owned by the startup but the drivers are not its on payroll. They pay rent and a 20 percent commission on every ride, to IntiGo. It currently has a network of over 50 bikes that are used for both ride-hailing and delivery services. The Tunisian startup had launched its grocery and concierge delivery services in March earlier this year.

The concierge delivery service allows users to book an IntiGo captain to run their errands on an hourly basis for about TND 12 ($4) an hour and the grocery delivery service enables grocery stores to deliver groceries to their customers. The orders are taken and prepared by the grocery stores themselves with the delivery taken care of by IntiGo.

IntiGo was doing 12,000 rides a month before Covid-19. Their ride-hailing activities were hit badly by the pandemic (as the was a lockdown in place) but the transportation business is picking up slowly and they plan to open up to independent drivers (with their own motorbikes) next month.

Bassem Bouguerra, the co-founder and CEO of IntiGo, who has previously led different other startups and Tunisia’s leading startup investor IntilaQ said that they will use the investment to further expand into existing categories that they’re operating in and potentially explore other areas too including car sharing. He also said that having an institutional investor on board is another validation of their business model and value proposition.

He also said that they will use a part of the investment to hire more resources and build internal R&D team.

July 19th 2020, 3:44 pm

Real to virtual: Buying and selling property online

Wamda

Real estate is one sector that appears to have resisted the indelible disruption that has redefined other, traditional sectors like mobility and food and beverage. The process of buying, renting or selling property is still largely conducted offline, but as the coronavirus pandemic has restricted movement, demand for a distanced approach to finding property is on the rise, paving the way for greater digitisation in the sector.

“There’s a big movement happening globally for real estate portals,” says Amad Almsaodi founder and chief executive officer (CEO) at Egypt-based Aqarmap. 

These portals have slowly developed from the classified advertising business model, purely listing property available to rent or sell, to a marketplace where users can conduct various transactions online. Both models are still successful, in fact UAE-based Emerging Markets Property Group, which owns Bayut, Mubawab and Zameen emerged as the region’s latest unicorn and merged earlier this year with the OLX group, owners of Dubizzle, to lead the classifieds sector in a region where the aggregated value of properties sold is estimated at $90 billion.

Around the world, different models have emerged to buy and sell property online. In the UK, Purple Bricks has digitised the real estate agent, in the US, Zillow has the country’s largest database of property for sale and rent and most recently launched Zillow Offers, buying homes directly from owners to resell on its own platform. In Pakistan, Zameen started off by advertising and selling property exclusively for a few developers and taking a 5-6 per cent commission on all transactions. Its model proved so successful that the company has now itself become a property developer.

Selling Online

Traditionally, new projects tend to be sold at lavish events, or impressive offices that have small models and renderings of the houses and flats to lure customers to buy. With Covid-19 and the restrictions on movement and travel, an alternative is still necessary.

For Aqarmap, the solution is its online expo, an event that connects buyers from all around the world with developers in Egypt that have off-plan properties. Aqarmap reaches out to the developers, promotes the event to the 2.5 million buyers on its database and hosts a three-hour online event to sell their property.

“Because of corona, you can see how much people need something like this. It is about doing transactions without meeting developers and completing the whole transaction online,” says Almsaodi.

Developers who wish to take part are required to give a 5-10 per cent discount on their price, anything above 10 per cent is considered “too good to be real” he says. Customers willing to purchase a property and gain access to the discount are required to pay a $100 upfront fee which is fully refundable if the transaction is nullified.

“If they buy the property, we take the success fee from the developer and if it doesn’t then we give the $100 back to the customer,” says Almsaodi.

The next expo is scheduled for 24 July and will be Aqarmap’s third. Almsaodi says the developer spots sold out in four days.  

“[We] believe that this trend will continue to grow moving forward, and many companies will be willing to experiment with such new technologies given the new circumstances,” he says.

Coronavirus Impact

But while Aqarmap’s online expo works well for real estate that has yet to be built, buying or renting a property to move into immediately is an entirely different matter.

There is a strong physical element to real estate and property, not only with regards to visitation, but in signing the paperwork and making payments. During the lockdown period, the entire industry had two options – either delay everything until lockdown restrictions were lifted, or go digital.

“In real estate, physical operations are a main characteristic of the industry,” says Sahar Abdulrasoul, growth manager at Kuwait-based property management platform Ajar, which recently raised $7.5 million in a pre-Series A round. “One positive side to it is the faster adoption for online solutions. It has been a wakeup call for the whole industry that you have to have an alternative for when such crises happen.”

Prior to the pandemic, clients would take at least a week to onboard their data according to Abdulrasoul, the process now takes “a day or two. This is truly a testament to the fact that technology is the way forward, even for an industry that is considered very traditional…It is something that cannot be overlooked anymore”, she says. 

Search

Over the past few years, the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region has become exceedingly comfortable with conducting their search for properties online.

"People have now become experts because of the internet,” says Kevin Gormand, co-founder of Morocco-based Mubawab. “You get a lot of information much more than before, you get virtual visits, real 5-10 minute videos on exactly what it looks like, the location, where are the hospitals, schools in the area, the local transportation, you can get all the documents. If you want to see the property deed, construction authorisation, masterplan of architecture.”

Gormand argues that much of the technological evolutions in terms of search will come from technologies that are already available today. The use of these sorts of technologies and the desire to prevent too much exposure to other people will allow users to shortlist the places they want to see down to one or two, rather than six or 10.

“We understand that there is a growing demand for simple, virtual experiences that can elevate the entire property search experience,” says Haider Ali Khan, CEO at UAE-based Bayut. “We plan to release more innovative new products and solutions to bring greater coherence to the virtual property search experience. We are looking at interactive ways in which we can use technologies such as machine learning and AI to enhance the customer experience.”

Sign

Once the online search is completed and users have a shortlist of properties, the next step typically moves offline in Mena. Phone calls, Whatsapp messages are exchanged with the agent to arrange a viewing and if successful, contracts are drawn up, cheques are signed and the keys handed over.

It is this process that can be incredibly tedious and the majority of property technology (proptech) startups in the region are attempting to tackle this challenge. 

Cafu founder Rashid Al Ghurair launched Urban this year, a platform that digitises the entire process of searching for and renting a property in Dubai to alleviate the problems of this stage.

“We took the entire rental experience and moved it online,” says Tala Nsouli, general manager at Urban. “The rental journey is painful in Dubai from search to transaction to move in, we reimagined that whole journey and brought it online.”

The company removes duplicate and inaccurate listings, allows users to book a viewing time, offers 3D virtual tours of every room in the property and allows users to contact landlords directly, bid on the property and negotiate a suitable rent term.

“We do 150 plus points of detection, you see the exact condition down to things like the hinge on this closet isn’t working. Every apartment has a digital lock installed, users can open the door with their phone,” says Nsouli. “We had a few examples of people renting their homes without visiting the apartment beforehand.”

Users can get access to information, reports and details on a property and all paperwork is conducted digitally, without the need to meet any agents or landlords. Urban effectively behaves as the virtual agent to communicate between tenant and landlord.

So, with so much digitisation, does this mean the end of the real estate agent?

“Agents will always have a role to play, but there is room for efficiencies,” says Nsouli. “There are a lot of inefficiencies that can be digitised and allow agents to focus on what they do best – that relationship and people part of bringing together two parties [landlord and tenant]”.

It is a sentiment that both Almsaodi and Gormand agree with.

“We’ve thought about removing agents for a long time, every portal worldwide has attempted to do this, but in reality it is not possible. It is very hard to remove agents completely out of the game,” he says. “If I build a marketplace built on doing one transaction with you, I cannot build a repeatable business, agents on the other hand are a repeat client.”

For Aqarmap, bringing agents on board for its online expo resulted in a 400 per cent increase in the number of people taking part.

“If the middle man is only opening the door, then they will disappear in Dubai, but frankly I don’t think the middle men will disappear, you want to make the right choice because it is such a big choice,” says Gormand.

Pay

The next step after discovering and selecting a property is the payment, usually made in cheques or cash in the region and so it is at this stage where most of the disruption is innovation is likely to occur.

“Innovation will not only come in the search process, but on the transaction process. It’s not only about moving the process online, but the fintech portion which is something we’re looking into as well,” says Helen Chen, co-founder at UAE-based Nomad Homes which recently raised $4 million in seed funding.

Urban already allow payments to be made on its platform, including the ability to set up a direct debt and pay in 12 instalments instead of one or two lump sums as is typical in Dubai.

“There is an Emirates-wide vision to become completely paperless by 2021, I personally believe cheques will go away by then. Customers love not paying by cheques, especially younger people moving to cities,” say Nsouli.

The vast majority of people across the region however, still do not feel comfortable making such large transactions online, but with the coronavirus lockdown, it seems attitudes are beginning to shift.

“From the tenant perspective, a lot of people were not able to pay their rent purely because they were not given the means to, most rent collection in Kuwait and UAE happen via cash or cheques, this has interestingly changed,” says Abdulrasoul. “The appetite for online collections has spiked, this was the first time we saw the demand increase from both the landlord and tenant’s side.”

Innovation in the financial technology (fintech) aspect of real estate however, requires regulatory approvals.

“What we’re shooting for is that the disruption will be in the financing. Down the road what we see is being able to plug in financing with purchasing and selling,” says Saoud AlHumaidhi, founder and CEO of SBX Capital, a Kuwait-based investment company which invested in Ajar. “The real estate market will be completely digitised and as the barriers to entry go down, I will be able to invest $100 a week in a property on an autopilot function.”

It might be a while before the regional regulators enable such an “autopilot” function to purchase property, but things are moving in the right direction. Wamda X graduate Holo, the UAE’s first digital application and tracking platform specialising in home loans, has seen rapid growth in applications as a result of the pandemic, cutting out the need to go physically into banks to apply for a mortgage.  

“We had a concept we believed would work, when we did launch mid-Feb it was with an element of hesitance,” says Arran Summerhill, co-founder at Holo. “With the website figures we were getting and tracking people’s journey we were surprised with the number of people comfortable with using the site and completing an application online. The number of [visitors] has been growing month on month by 100 per cent.”

As the region's biggest asset class, any shift in real estate will have a wider economic impact. Simplifying the process of buying and selling and cutting out the efficiencies will only be a boost for the sector and might attract higher numbers of foreign buyers. 

July 15th 2020, 9:40 pm

Eve virtual raises $1 million in seed funding

Wamda

Source: WAYA

Eve virtual – MENA’s first virtual hosting platform announced it has raised $1 million in a seed funding round from Dubai-based Wiz Holdings and angel investors. The investment will help the company make further strides in product development and customer acquisition. 

The pandemic caused by COVID-19 witnessed a more rapid digitalization process, as the business world struggled to find continuity.  Eve virtual is a platform developed to harness the power of 3D technology. It aims to bring education, innovation, on-ground events, exhibitions, trade shows, rock concerts and conferences to the virtual landscape.  

eve virtual is owned by TGW live and powered by Entourage, the live communications agency that has been leading the world of offline events in the Middle East for the past decade. Due to their robust experience with live events, development of the virtual platform is a natural progression in its trajectory. 

The funding comes a week after the platform was officially launched. Users and clients can now download the app on App Store or Play Store and experience the platform for themselves. 

Commenting on the influx of capital, Ali Hamade CTO at eve virtual said, “It is a very exciting time for us as we are in the nascent stage with eve. Last week we launched the platform, which got great response from our industry and our investors. The fully built platform and its adaptability to all formats invoked credibility in the business model and has reiterated the trust of our investors. Our investors have entrusted us with the seed capital to ensure the success of the platform. Accelerated by digital transformation, we believe that virtual platforms will pave the way for the future and eve virtual is going to be a game-changer in the market.”

July 15th 2020, 10:21 am

KoolSkools raises MAD 4 million

Wamda

Source: Maroc Numric Fund

KoolSkools is raising MAD 4 million, including MAD 3 million from Maroc Numeric Fund II and MAD 1 million from a business angel.

Koolskools welcomes MNF II as an investor. MNF II is an investment fund backed by some major Moroccan institutions (Caisse Centrale de Garantie, Attijariwafa Bank, BCP, BMCE and MITC). The investment will be used to finance the development of KoolSkools both in Morocco and internationally.

A full learning platform

Developed by Ed-All company, KoolSkools is a collaborative learning platform that responds to pedagogical requirements by digitalizing different processes (interactive courses and exercises, content bank, live courses, monitoring of skills acquisition, remediation processes, etc.

The platform also offers digital management of school day-to-day operations (student records, absences, report cards, payment management, parent communication, etc.).

The platform aims to democratize access to quality learning content and close monitoring for the largest number of Moroccan students regardless of their social level.

The funds raised will be fully invested in Morocco. They will enable the company to acquire technical, marketing and commercial resources to serve a large network of schools and students.

With currently more than 30 major schools corresponding to nearly 20,000 students and more than 700 teachers across the various cities of Morocco (Ouarzazate, Agadir, Marrakech, El Jadida, Casablanca, Rabat, Fez, Meknes …), Koolskools aims to cover all regions of Morocco and accompany the digitalization of the largest number of schools and reach at least 100,000 students in two to three years.

Continue reading this story

July 14th 2020, 8:21 am

Aumet raises $1.25 million in seed funding

Wamda

Jordan-born healthcare marketplace Aumet, has raised a $1.25 million seed round from Right Side Capital, TechStars, and Plugs and Play.

Now headquartered in the US, Aumet has offices in France, Jordan and recently opened one in the UAE. Launched in 2015 by Yehya Aqel, Mohammed Issa and Jamal Abu Samra, Aumet operates as a B2B marketplace that aggregates bulk orders from medical vendors and then offers them at discounted prices. It also automates the process of matching distributors with medical manufacturers.

"Normally, creative ideas come from the West to the East, Aumet is the first e-commerce between medical manufacturers and buyers starting from the Middle East and scaling to the West,” said Yahya Aqel, CEO and co-founder of Aumet.

The startup has managed to invoice $30,000,000 worth of bills during the second quarter of 2020 and is growing by 20 per cent month-on-month. Its team has expanded from 16 to 37 employees.

It plans to use the funds to automate the ordering process between buyers (healthcare providers, distributors) along with the medical manufacturers, build its e-commerce platform, onboard 10,000 medical manufacturers and more buyers from GCC countries.

"Aumet is a leading healthcare e-commerce marketplace in Mena, led by a dynamic CEO. The healthcare sector is rapidly being disrupted and experiencing digitisation. We are excited to invest in such a space," said Vijay Tirathrai, managing director at Techstars.

Aumet has been selected twice (2017, 2019) by The World Economic Forum as one of the best 100 startups that form the fourth industrial revolution.

July 14th 2020, 8:21 am

Adopting emerging technologies in a post-Covid-19 world

Wamda

By Jad Hajj, partner, Imad Atwi, Jean Salamat, principals, and Riazul Raquib, senior associate, with Strategy& Middle East, part of the PwC network

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, governments and companies throughout the world have been forced to accelerate the adoption of emerging technologies to mitigate its impact. They understand that such technologies can alleviate future economic upheavals. GCC governments, together with regional technology and telecom companies, should follow suit. They should adopt a structured and phased approach to digital transformation, take the necessary steps to turn theory into reality, and then collaborate to build a robust ecosystem that supports this transformation.

The GCC regional economy is suffering from a dual shock, the Covid-19 pandemic and lower oil prices. Before the dual shock, GCC countries were part of a global trend to increase technological investment in such areas as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and robotics. The search for means of managing the economic and societal problems arising from the pandemic has intensified the trend toward emerging technologies. Once countries have resolved immediate problems, they need a fundamental digital transformation to sustain long term growth and soften the blow of any economic shocks. Organisations that do not prioritise digital transformation will quickly lose relevance.

To prepare for this digital transformation over the next two years, regional leaders must develop a structured approach to their unique challenges, devoting attention to both the short term and long term. Short term requirements involve shoring up the economy, continuing vital services, and ensuring containment of the pandemic. Digital technologies can be invaluable in all these endeavours. Meanwhile, institutions should revisit their digital strategies for the long term and make certain that they have the necessary supporting framework in place.

For governments, this supporting framework comprises various elements, such as laws, public awareness, and tax and governance measures that will contribute to a thriving ecosystem. In terms of policies, they need to ensure that they have a legal framework that encourages innovation, protects patents and ownership of new technologies. They should build public awareness by making use of marketing techniques to inform citizens about digital developments and increase relevant knowledge and adoption of technologies. Taxation and other incentives, such as long term contracts, will foster the emergence of cutting-edge and highly motivated technology companies. Appropriate governance and operating models should delegate authority within government ministries to ensure the efficient supply of technologies to the marketplace. Public-private partnerships can also be a fertile breeding ground for technological development.

Telecom operators and technology companies also need to re-examine how they can contribute to a successful digital strategy. They should undertake bold new initiatives and set revised goals accordingly. Companies which can exploit their specific areas of expertise will benefit and become national technology leaders.

Telecom operators and technology companies should rethink investments. They should divert their plentiful resources to the technologies and use cases that can resolve the business challenges of specific industries. Before moving to the development phase, they should carry out rigorous quantitative and qualitative analysis to determine those use cases that promise a strong return on investment. They must be ready to deploy use cases widely as soon as they receive such validation, and thereby encourage large scale adoption in targeted industries.

However, governments and the private sector will confront major obstacles without a strong digital ecosystem to facilitate success. Collaboration between government and the private sector should be founded on a common interest in creating a technologically adept economy and society. A broad range of areas require digital upgrading, and both private and public stakeholders must participate in this process.

One example of this cooperation could be new technology parks. These create a platform for an exchange of ideas and day-to-day development of technology, pilots, and proofs of concept. Governments and telecom and technology companies, together with private sector and society leaders, can also establish taskforces to set a targeted agenda for these technology parks, establish use cases, and monitor progress.

Similarly, the private sector can engage proactively with government officials to overcome legal and regulatory barriers. Open sharing of data between stakeholders will stimulate more rapid technological development, while both parties should prioritise secure data transfers and personal privacy. Stakeholders can agree on essential infrastructure, thereby preventing duplication and securing the efficient delivery of services.

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of technology and all institutions will need an advanced digital framework to keep pace. Successful institutions will take a systematic approach to digital transformation. To succeed, governments, telecom operators, and technology companies must take the necessary independent actions and then come together to create a robust digital ecosystem.

July 13th 2020, 9:12 pm

Thobi raises SAR 2.5 million in seed funding

Wamda

Saudi Arabia-based online retailer Thobi, has raised a SAR2.5 million ($670,000) in a seed round led by ABN Ventures and Abunayyan Holding’s VC Investment arm. 

Launched in 2018 and co-founded by Khalid Abanami (CEO) and Abdulmajeed Alresaini (COO), the startup describes itself as a “smart thobe tailor”, allowing its customers to order custom-made thobes online. Its propriety technology enables its customers to take accurate calculations of their body measurements remotely. 

“With consumers increasingly in need of a value proposition driven by convenience, especially in a post Covid-19 world, we at Thobi sought to develop a unique thobe tailoring business model with technology at its core,” said Abanami. “Through our application, we offer customers an easy and instant purchasing experience. They can select and customise their thobe of choice, and instantly measure themselves with a few clicks; all from the comfort of their own home.”

The company has managed to deliver more than 1000 thobes to customers across 47 cities in Saudi arabia during the first half of 2020.

“Thobi, with its technology, will disrupt the traditional thobe tailoring business in the region. We see a huge opportunity for scale and growth in this segment,”  said Abdullah Almedbel, head of investments at ABN Ventures.

July 13th 2020, 8:09 am

Fatura raises seven-figure seed funding

Wamda

Egypt-based e-commerce startup Fatura, has closed a “seven-figure” seed round led by Egypt-based fintech fund Disruptech, with participation from EFG EV and Cairo Angels.  

Founded in 2019, Fatura provides retailers in the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) access to a network of wholesalers.

“Egypt has more than 5,000 wholesalers, investing heavily to build another one will not solve the existing inefficiencies at scale,” said Hossam Ali, co-founder and CEO of Fatura’. “Alternatively, we are on a mission to curate a network of 200-250 wholesalers across the country, digitally transform the way they work, and enable them to collectively lead the FMCG distribution business nationally.”

The company further plans to offer working capital loans to its retailers utilising the data derived from transactions to analyse retailers’ behavior and credit worthiness. 

“Around 60 per cent of the current wholesale market in Egypt is through on-credit purchases. We will be the first player to unlock the opportunity of digitizing the lending cycle,” said Ahmed Anwar, Fatura’s co-founder and chief operating officer(COO).

“I have worked in the FMCG industry for more than 25 years in several markets, the challenge manufacturers face in markets where the wholesale channel represents more than 50 per cent of the ACV distribution, is how to ensure excellence of execution,” said Ahmed Al Bakary, Fatura’s co-founder and non-executive chairman.

Fatura also helps plug the sector’s data gap by making market intelligence reports available to FMCGs.

“’We are excited to lead Fatura’s investment round and we firmly believe in the opportunity that lies in the digitisation of the wholesale-retail relationship,”said Okasha, Disruptech’s fund manager and the co-founder of Fawry. “Disruptech sees Fatura playing an essential role to transform the market and we are committed to helping Fatura achieve its mission.”

July 13th 2020, 4:53 am

A deep dive into the GCC’s cloud kitchen sector [part two]

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Cloud kitchens are the backend equivalent of the food courts found in malls - several offerings all under one roof. They emerged as a response to the growth of online food delivery, enabling restaurants to reach a wider audience without the need to build physical locations.

As previously outlined in the first part of this deep dive, several cloud kitchen business and operating models have emerged. Within this, it is the virtual brands that are the fastest growing segment. This model, which shuns the high cost of renting and fitting out a kitchen, creates the brands and then outsources the rest of the value chain to others. They make for an attractive proposition for venture capitalists (VC) who have become more comfortable with asset-free investments, particularly those that do not need to commit to long rental leases.  

In Dubai, The Leap Nation and Cloud Restaurants currently dominate this space, while other players are slowly beginning to emerge.

According to RedSeer Consulting, satellite or cloud kitchens account for 60-70 per cent of the market while virtual restaurants and brands account for 20-30 per cent.

“Generally, what we have seen in most countries is that satellite kitchens are the first wave, they take most of the market. The next wave is the virtual restaurant and brands, they correlate with the satellite kitchens,” says Sandeep Ganediwalla, managing partner at RedSeer Consulting.

The Second Wave

The Leap Nation, which has 13 brands ranging from fried chicken to freekeh bowls has partnered up with Kitopi to cook its dishes which are listed on the delivery aggregator platforms. The benefit of outsourcing every step besides the menu and brand creation, allows the company to pivot quickly and respond rapidly to customer demand. If a particular item or menu does not sell well, it can be killed off immediately, without incurring major losses.

Cloud Restaurants, also based in the UAE and founded by Ziad Kamel, the founder of Couqley French Bistro in Beirut and Dubai was approached by Deliveroo to onboard his restaurant on Deliveroo Editions in a bid to offer users of the platform a fine-dining concept.

“We had a unit [in Deliveroo’s kitchens], fully-equipped with our staff and we had a brand working out of there on a virtual basis. Why not use the same infrastructure to launch a purely virtual brand? That’s where the idea came from in 2017,” says Kamel.

And so, with his business partner Rowan Kamel, the pair founded Cloud Restaurants, focusing on brand and menu creation. Its first virtual brand Go! Greek averaged 800 orders per month when it initially launched and now with seven brands, Cloud Restaurants has more than 12,000 orders a month.

Algorithms Versus Creativity

The success of these concepts is largely down to branding and creating customer loyalty through social media platforms, which requires a large marketing budget.

“A lot of people are creating virtual restaurants in a matter of weeks, but they have forgotten what makes a restaurant successful and that’s creating an identity, a theme,” says Mubarak Nabil Jaffar, founder of Kuwait London Company (KLC), which operates its own cloud kitchens and brands in Kuwait and has partnered up with Kitopi to offer those brands to customers in Dubai. “We developed everything from the logo, packaging, uniforms, we created an identity for the brand.”

But it goes beyond just the logo and packaging, these operations rely more on adwords, discounts and visibility on food ordering platforms. Even if orders come in, repeat custom is not guaranteed if the quality and standard does not match the customer’s expectations.  

“If you launch a virtual brand and you get 100 orders, you think that’s great, why would I improve the quality? It may not be due to the fact that people genuinely like your food,” says Jaffar, who argues that orders could be coming through because of the discount offered or out of curiosity.  

“Virtual restaurants haven’t proved that this model or industry is sustainable in the long term, there’s no real brand loyalty, so many brands open and close,” he says.

The barrage of new brands also creates a lot of noise and they crowd the aggregator platforms, creating an ever-expanding funnel for marketing spend.  

“These online aggregators started as online menu and delivery service, but they have morphed to become a marketing platform, they charge restaurants to be more visible on their app. You gain visibility if performance and delivery time is good, but lose that visibility if you don’t take part in their marketing,” says Paul Frangie, founder and head chef at Dubai-based restaurant Hapi.  

The roster of different brands are also created by a small team of chefs who focus more on consumer ordering patterns and create menus tailored specifically to certain areas or zones of a city. It is data that drives their decision-making and menu creation, rather than creativity and authenticity.

“I think a lot of business people moved into this sector, they see an opportunity to make money, but it is not necessarily creative. They don’t understand the food industry enough to want to differentiate themselves,” says Frangie. “What we have seen in the last year and a half is companies coming up and throwing 10 to 15 concepts and they see what sticks. If they are doing deals to launch brands, customers benefit because they get a cheap meal, but they might not see that concept on the platform a few months later.”

Restaurant Lifeline

For a “kitchen as a service” operator like iKcon, the high marketing cost is one reason why they prefer to work with established restaurants rather than creating their own brands.

“It’s not easy to get a brand out there, it needs a lot of investment, it needs marketing experts and knowledge, we’d rather work with well-established brands,” says Khalid Baareh, co-founder and chief executive officer at iKcon.  

And according to Khalil there are now plenty of restaurants that are considering cloud kitchens in the aftermath of the coronavirus lockdown. When the pandemic swept through the region and governments enacted strict lockdown measures, restaurants suffered terribly and those that relied mostly on dine-in customers had to shift their business model to a delivery-only model overnight.

What was once considered an incremental source of revenue became the only lifeline.

“There is no doubt that the delivery part of most restaurant concepts is here to stay and will accelerate,” says Hashem Montasser, co-founder of The Lighthouse restaurant in Dubai.

Although the online food delivery market dropped by about 40 per cent during the three months of lockdown, the sector has bounced back. According to Statista the online food delivery sector is set to grow to $4 billion by the end of this year (accounting for Covid-19) in Mena, up from $3 billion in 2019.  

But the growth of online food delivery is still not enough to make up for the losses incurred over the lockdown period and the reassurances of hygiene standards and hand sanitisers on tables have not lured customers back to pre-Covid dine-in levels.   

“Brick and mortar is suffering and will continue to suffer,” says Baareh. “You don’t have the volume or footfall and instead of shutting down, you can go to a cloud kitchen and keep your brand and brand awareness.”

One of the main reasons why brick and mortar restaurants are suffering at the moment, particularly in the UAE, is the high rate of rent. Some landlords have renegotiated their terms with tenants, others have been less willing to do so and many restauranteurs are now considering alternatives or risk shutting down.

“The economics of F&B [food and beverage] businesses have always been difficult and are now particularly challenged. Landlords need to understand that it’s a partnership, but here, there’s a disconnect and they just want those cheques,” says Montasser.

Food delivery subscription platform Munch:On expects 30 per cent of all restaurants in the UAE to shut down by the end of 2020. As restauranteurs tussle with landlords for more favourable rent terms, cloud kitchen operators have stepped forward, believing they offer restaurants a lifeline to survive. The chefs can take their menu and recipes and switch to a delivery-only option using a cloud kitchen and save on paying substantial amounts in rent.

“When Covid-19 hit, and we couldn’t do any dine-in at all, we struggled. I had tried to renegotiate the rent with the landlord but that wasn’t successful, so I started to look at other options,” says Frangie, who ended up signing onto Krush Brands’ platform to widen his delivery reach.

If the food aggregators created the use case for cloud kitchens, then Covid-19 cemented their necessity for the growth of food delivery.

“We will probably see some of the bigger traditional restaurant groups move into cloud kitchens because if you want to play in food, you will have to do delivery first then dine-in second. It became the opposite way round,” says Mohammad Al Zaben, co-founder of Munch:On. “For the [smaller] shops, it might be very hard for them to mobilise something like this, but we will probably see a few courageous entrepreneurs starting a restaurant from a boutique cloud kitchen from scratch and plug into aggregators.”

Third Wave

Essentially, the aim of most cloud kitchen operators is to maximise the utilisation of its space and facilities. For Olaf Abi Aad, founder of The Cloud, this needn’t take place in a separate cloud kitchen facility.  

“The first generation, the shared space, it needs investment in a massive kitchen space that you subdivide, and chefs can come and rent a corner. I don’t see this going too far, it’s like a big vessel that you need to keep filling up and it keeps leaking,” he says.

Those that rent the space either succeeded and leave to establish their own kitchen, or they fail and still end up leaving he says.

“For the Kitopi model, it is very asset intensive, you need to keep investing in kitchens and operations and need to keep up the quality, you need to expand geographically which means you need to expand in investment,” says Aad.

His solution is to create virtual brands within the restaurant’s own kitchen, in line with their own menus, rather than encouraging chefs to lease out a space in a cloud kitchen.

“If you have a burger joint and you’re able to organically reach Dh5,000 worth of orders a day, to reach Dh6000 you need to spend extra on marketing. I come in and look at your assets and capacity and I can see you can cook double what you do today. I establish a brand based on your own knowledge, but the brand is mine and I drive the sales and I increase the asset utilisation at your end,” says Aad.

It is a model that reflects the diffusion line often launched by fashion houses to appeal to different segments of the market.

“If you have the existing infrastructure, it does make sense to try to do that,” says Montasser. “Experimenting from your own kitchens is a good thing, kitchens are very rarely busy all day, you can pick up on the slack and convert it into a separate brand or you create certain products that are only available on a digital menu and cook them for deliveries.”  

Having the option to maximise utilisation of kitchen space and develop virtual brands is how “traditional restaurants will be able to work with this new world”, according to Montasser.

For Aad though, his business goes beyond kitchen utilisation and moves into the franchising space. The Cloud plans to map all the kitchens in the region and understand the types of cuisines they cater to, their size, capacity and quality.

“Suddenly you have a map of 5000 different kitchens, so if you have a Thai food brand and they were thinking of franchising, currently they only have a couple of options either a joint venture or find a partner to franchise with. This is a very tedious and lengthy job with a lot of legal costs,” he says.

The Cloud’s solution is to offer the brand its platform which identifies the kitchens that are able and willing to onboard the restaurant’s menu.  

“It is a very minor step before your brand is up and running the Middle East. This is the thing that will disrupt the franchising industry,” says Aad.

As is the case with the virtual restaurants and brands, the sustainability of the business model has yet to be proven. All the cloud kitchen operators we spoke to claim they are currently running at a profit or close to making a profit. What remains to be seen is how the wider F&B sector will develop in light of Covid, how consumer expectations will evolve and the impact that will have on the cloud kitchen space. Because while these new brands keep emerging, the fast-food chains, namely McDonald's, KFC and Pizza Hut still dominate the online food delivery orders in the Middle East, benefitting from their long experience in delivery, affordable price point and strong brand awareness. 

July 11th 2020, 9:06 pm

Periscope Media raises seed funding

Wamda

Dubai-based edutainment startup Periscope Media has raised its initial seed round funding.

Founded in early 2020, Periscope Media is designed to cater to children by offering child-friendly education and entertainment digital products while adhering to the global digital privacy laws such as COPPA, GDPR-K.

“I am very happy to have the support of our investors as we look to launch truly innovative and regional products tailored specifically for the Mena region,” said Smeetha Ghosh-Jorgensen, CEO and founder of Periscope Media. “Our mission is founded on protecting our children whilst providing an engaging and educational experience.”

 

July 9th 2020, 8:04 am

Storytel acquires Kitab Sawti

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Swedish audiobook streaming group Storytel, is acquiring UAE-based Arabic audiobook platform Kitab Sawti.

Founded in 2016 by Sebastian Bond and Anton Pollak, Kitab Sawti boasts more than 2,500 audiobooks including 80 per cent of the regional best-sellers.

The company claims to have witnessed an annual sales growth of 79 per cent in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same period last year. As per the deal, Sebastian Bond, co-founder and current CEO of Kitab Sawti, will lead and oversee Storytel’s business in the Middle East and North Africa region (Mena).

“I am really thrilled and excited about the great opportunities that the combination of Storytel and Kitab Sawti will offer Arabic consumers, publishers and authorships. Online media consumption is booming in the Middle East, as is the confidence local consumers are showing in digital products and payment solutions,” said Jonas Tellander, CEO and founder of Storytel.

“The positive trend in customer interest for audiobooks that we presently see in the region, clearly indicates the big potential. And this potential is also reflected in the leading combined skills and experiences of Storytel and Kitab Sawti’s amazing local Arabic teams.”

Founded in 2017, Storytel hosts more than 500,000 audiobook and ebook titles on a global scale, with over 1.2 million paying subscribers and operations across 20 markets. 

“We are really proud of what Kitab Sawti and our amazing team has achieved with our businesses in the Arabic region. I am confident that Storytel, with its technical capabilities, entrepreneurial spirit and multi-market experience, will be an excellent owner and develop these businesses further. I am also eager to experience the potential that will be unleashed as we continue to fuel the passion of the consumers and the unique qualities of the Arabic authorships, publishers and cultural life”, said Bond, CEO at Kitab Sawti.

 

July 8th 2020, 12:12 pm

Galactech raises investment from Oman Technology Fund

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Tunisia-based Galactech has closed a six-figure investment in its pre-Series A round from Oman Technology Fund (OTF) and other business angels.

The startup, which aggregates entertainment content and services like video games for mobile devices will use the investment to launch a series of VAS gaming services in the Middle East and North Africa and expand into international markets.

Galactech had previously raised a $200,000 seed round from OTF and is a graduate of the Orange Fab Tunisia accelerator programme.  

“[Galactech] will be the stage on which local talent can develop and showcase their skills,” it said in a statement. “Galactech gives developers the chance to make more profit and monetise their games by publishing them on the portal, beyond traditional outlets such as the Play Store and App Store.”

July 8th 2020, 12:12 pm

Nomad Homes raises $4 million in seed funding

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Dubai-based digital real estate platform Nomad Homes, has raised a $4 million in a seed round led by Comcast Ventures, with participation from Abstract Ventures, Partech, Precursor Ventures, WndrCo and Class 5 Global.

Founded in 2019 by Helen Chen and Dan Piehler, the property technology (proptech) startup uses its technology to streamline the process of sales or leasing commercial properties. The company plans to incorporate financial products in its set of offerings such as turning mortgage buyers into cash buyers or facilitating trade-ins.

“Although EMEA’s real estate market represents over $600 billion in transactions per year, the customer experience remains far behind that of the US,” said Chen, co-founder at Nomad Homes. “Proptech goliaths including Zillow and Opendoor are built atop multiple listing services (MLS), which provide detailed property information including transaction history, tax assessments, and nearby school districts. Across Nomad’s markets...that level of data transparency does not exist.”

This leaves buyers and renters to navigate duplicative listings with no understanding of the underlying details and what the property is actually worth according to Nomad. 

“The majority of the process of finding a home across EMEA is still completed offline and is consequently confusing and inefficient. Through the use of better technology and customer service, Nomad aims to bring the entire journey online,” added Chen.

The funding will be put towards scaling the company’s US-based engineering team, developing its platform and expanding its services. Additionally, the company announced plans to expand to Europe.

Daniel Gulati, managing director at Comcast Ventures said: “Helen and the team bring a unique blend of Silicon Valley DNA, real estate insights and on-the-ground operating experience. We are excited to support Nomad’s quest to deliver a superior experience for all market participants with a technology-first approach.”

 

July 8th 2020, 8:57 am

OnePay raises $409,000 from Maroc Numeric Fund II

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Source: Maroc Numeric Fund

OnePay announces a MAD 4 million ($409,000) investment from Maroc Numeric Fund II.

OnePay is a Moroccan fintech that operates as a distributor of means of payment and aggregator of payment and value-added services in electronic transactions.

The funds raised will be fully invested in Morocco. They will enable the company to invest in technical, marketing and commercial resources in order to extend its network to a large number of users.

The co-founder of OnePay, Mr. Karim Zaitouni has accumulated 21 years of experience as an innovative and dynamic player in the field of electronic payment and value-added transactions.

OnePay intends to act and serve as a reference solution for the aggregation of payments and value-added services in electronic transactions.

OnePay is the result of a co-investment between the MNF II fund and SisPay S.A., an expert in the development of banking and private payment solutions and value-added services. Its unique integrated platform ”SISWIN”, which encompasses in a single homogeneous and harmonized platform the payment tools, management of virtual cards, Mobile Wallets (with all its components) and value-added services (loyalty, oil payment systems, phone top-up, discount card, virtual gift vouchers, etc…), is now installed in several major accounts in Morocco and Africa.

This is the 1st investment of the new fund Maroc Numeric Fund II and the 18th investment of its management team, taking into account the investments made by the fund Maroc Numeric Fund I, which is now in a divestment phase.

Mrs. Dounia Boumehdi, Managing Director of MITC Capital, the management company of Maroc Numeric Fund II, said: “The management team of the fund is proud to accompany OnePay startup which has a strong growth potential in Morocco and on the African continent, by responding to the major issue of financial inclusion through the expansion of access to financial services”.

Maroc Numeric Fund is since 2010, the reference investment fund in technology startups in Morocco. The expertise accumulated by its management team has led to the emergence of several Moroccan success stories. More than a simple financial leverage, Maroc Numeric Fund is a real accelerator for high-potential start-ups. It acts as an active shareholder by providing its portfolio companies, in addition to investment, with advisory and support for their managers, while holding a seat on their boards.

July 8th 2020, 6:27 am

Lean raises $3.5 million in seed funding

Wamda

Riyadh-based financial technology (fintech) startup Lean, has raised a $3.5 million in a seed funding round led by RAED Venture, with participation from Shorooq Partners, Outliers VC, Rocket Internet’s Global Founders Capital and Global Ventures along with other angel investors.

Founded in 2019 by Hisham Al-Falih, Aditya Sarkar and Ashu Gupta, Lean operates as a B2B platform that enables fintech companies and other financial institutions to securely access customer financial data and payment initiation capabilities using programming interface (API) integration, ultimately helping them develop a full-fledged open banking system.

“As fintech adoption has grown in the Middle East so have the needs of financial institutions who must now manage unprecedented customer connections across a multitude of fintech apps. Lean gives institutions an open finance platform that includes everything they need to manage the data connectivity customers demand,” said Al-Falih, co-founder and CEO at Lean.

The company intends to use the funds to attract global talent, with plans to expand to the UAE, Egypt and Kuwait. It further announced that it is currently in the process of integrating with several banks in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

“Financial inclusion is a great mission that needs the right infrastructure to thrive. Hisham, Aditya, and Ashu built Lean Technologies to ensure that FinTech innovators have a seamless platform to build the greatest products for their communities in the Middle East. The founders are determined and definitely capable to achieve this mission,” said Omar A. Almajdouie, founding partner at Raed Ventures.

 

July 8th 2020, 4:07 am

Top five investment deals in the second quarter of 2020

Wamda

The second quarter of this year was dominated by Covid-19 and a lockdown that drastically weakened economic activity, but investors in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) appear to have maintained faith in the startup sector. 

The top five disclosed venture capital (VC) deals in Mena totalled $91 million in the second quarter. While it is $82 million less than the top five deals of the first quarter, it is on par with the year-on-year investment levels

For the first time, UAE startups were absent from the top five deals and instead it was Saudi Arabia startups that attracted the lion’s share with $73 million. The investments align with the wider trends brought on by the pandemic - a rise in foodtech, fintech edtech and e-commerce. 

 

 

1-Jahez 

Saudi Arabia-based food delivery startup Jahez, raised a $36 million in its Series A funding round led by Impact46. This round marks the largest VC deal of its kind in Saudi Arabia so far this year.

The company said it plans to use the funds to expand into cloud-kitchens, grocery delivery, and non-food e-commerce services.

2-Wahed

Saudi Arabia-based Islamic fintech startup Wahed, raised $25 million. The startups enables its customers to invest their money into a diversified portfolio consisting of stocks, commodities, real estate and sukuk, the latter being Halal-focused asset ownership certificates.The funding round led by Saudi Aramco Entrepreneurship Ventures, also known as Wa’ed Ventures, a venture capital investment arm of global petroleum and natural gas company and existing investors BECO and CueBall Capital, as well as Dubai Cultiv8 and Rasamee.

3-Noon Academy

Saudi Arabia-based educational technology (edtech) company Noon Academy, raised $13 million in a funding round led by Riyadh-based venture capital fund STV. ​Alturki Holding and NFX Ventures also took part in the funding round,

Noon Academy will use part of the capital in the pre-Series B fundraising to open a hub in London, where its product, design and data teams will be based. 

4-Zoodmall

ZoodMall, a Lebanese mobile application built to innovate the e-shopping experience, secured $10 million in Series A funding round.

The app currently operates in several countries in Central Asia and the Middle East, including Uzbekistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. The latest investment will be used to expand the company’s presence into Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait and Bahrain.

5-Ajar

Kuwait-based cloud-based property management and rent collection platform Ajar, raised $7.5 million through its pre-series A round with backing from SBX Capital, 500 Startups and Seed Partner.

The newly raised investment will be deployed to further deepen its platform capabilities, grow the team, and expand its footprint in the Mena region and beyond.

 

July 8th 2020, 3:51 am

How do you build a company to last?

Wamda

Mudassir Sheikha and Magnus Olsson founded Careem in 2012 initially as a transportation service for the corporate world. It soon became the premier ride-hailing service in the Middle East and within four years grew to become the region’s first technology unicorn. Last year, US-based Uber acquired Careem in a deal with $3.1 billion and the exit marked a poignant moment for the Middle East’s startup ecosystem.

For Mudassir, the acquisition was merely the closure of Careem’s first chapter and he is now pursuing the company’s second chapter – the launch of its super app and creating a company that inspires and eases life for the region.

In this podcast Mudassir speaks about his role, how it changed over the years and the wider implications of the super app strategy.

Wamda · Episode 31 - How do you build a company to last?

 

July 6th 2020, 9:06 pm

Privity invests in Verofax

Wamda

UAE-based advisory firm Privity has invested in Abu Dhabi-based Verofax Limited’s pre-seed investment round.

Founded in 2018, Verofax, a blockchain “traceability as a service” startup, aims to enhance traceability throughout the entire supply chain. The platform offers a wide range of services including serialisation, anti-counterfeit and anti-diversion solutions.

"We are truly thrilled to welcome Privity as a shareholder in Verofax.Traceability plays a key role in upgrading brand owners' business through authenticity validation, advanced product marketing and access to financing and global markets,” said Wassim Merheby, CEO at Verofax.

Launched in Dubai in 2004, Privity is a venture-focused advisory firm that has invested in more than a dozen companies.

"Privity participated alongside reputed regional investors in the pre-seed round of investment in Verofax. This is also Privity's first portfolio company based in the UAE, and its second healthtech venture,” said Sleem Hasan, founder and CEO of Privity. “I am delighted to open Privity's network to Verofax as I find the underlying value proposition of their business idea compelling. Covid-19 has demonstrated the need to transform secure delivery and offer protection to the most vulnerable in our society.”

 

 

July 6th 2020, 9:00 am

In5 startups raise Dh65 million in first half of 2020

Wamda

Dubai-based incubator In5, today announced that its startups have raised more than Dh65 million ($17.7 million) in the first half of 2020.

Launched in 2013, in5 has incubated 216 startups in total, of which 41 joined in the first six months this year. 

“At in5, it is our endeavour to create a best-in-class platform for entrepreneurs and startups to launch and scale their ventures in an agile, business-friendly environment with state-of-the- art infrastructure   and   streamlined   corporate   and   government services,” said Majed Al Suwaidi, managing director of Dubai Media City and an in5 leader.

Launched by Tecom, a unit of investment conglomerate Dubai Holding, In5 is dedicated to empowering entrepreneurs across the UAE and Middle East and North Africa region (Mena). It has a steering committee comprising more than 20 experts   representing   local   and   international   companies   such   as Accenture, Microsoft and Chalhoub Group.

“Mentorship and networking opportunities are fundamental to our operations at in5 – and the number of homegrown innovators joining in5 year-on-year coupled with investment growth demonstrates our continued commitment to attract and develop talent in Dubai that can transform the technology, media and design landscapes,” added Al Suwaidi.

 

July 6th 2020, 8:48 am

Al Waha Fund of Funds invests in Bedaya Fund

Wamda

Source: Gulf Daily News

Al Waha Fund of Funds invested an undisclosed amount in the Bedaya Fund I of seed-stage venture capital firm Shorooq Partners, it has emerged.

The Bahraini government-led initiative announced its investment indicates renewed confidence in the startup sector during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

The UAE-based Shorooq Partners – which has supported 23 firms including on-demand truck aggregator Trukker and hybrid robo-adviser Sarwa – plans to enhance its presence in the kingdom while working to find, support and enable the next wave of regional founders.

The funding injection is the latest announced by Al Waha, which was launched in 2018 with $100 million to drive greater venture capital investment across the Middle East.

The fund of funds (FoF) provides market access for organisations looking to invest in the region, as well as for portfolio companies looking to expand.

The addition of Shorooq Partners to Al Waha’s portfolio shows that despite the ongoing global pandemic, investors are actively seeking new opportunities to support startups – particularly in sectors such as fintech and healthtech which have played an increasingly important role during the crisis.

Founded by Shane Shin and Mahmoud Adi, Shorooq Partners focuses on early-stage technology startups in fintech, platforms, software and tech-enabled business services subsectors.

Geographically, Shorooq targets the Middle East and North Africa with a key focus on the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt.

Major Shorooq Partners portfolio companies include Sarwa, a hybrid robo-adviser wealth management platform; Trukker, a technology enabled, on-demand truck aggregator; Teacherly, a platform built for a global community of educators to improve learning outcomes; and Breadfast, an Egypt-based native e-grocery service.

Al Waha fund director Areije Al Shakar said it was proud to partner with a regional firm that understands the importance of backing new ventures at the earliest of stages and the aim is to support the next phase of Shorooq’s growth, which has been successful by investing in fast-growth sectors such as fintech and software.

“This partnership also shows that Bahrain is not only an attractive investment option for international venture capitalists, but also for those already based in the Middle East and looking to expand their reach within the region,” she added.

According to Ms Al Shakar, startups have a major role to play in accelerating the GCC economy during the ongoing global health crisis and Bahrain offers an innovative and stable startup ecosystem that enables entrepreneurs to grow their ideas amid an atmosphere of pro-business regulation and strong public-private partnerships.

Shane Shin, co-founding partner at Shorooq Partners, said: “Our mission is to support the most promising entrepreneurs in the region who are creating substantial economic value in their home countries and beyond as they grow and expand within the GCC markets.

“This is aligned with the exponentially evolving startup ecosystem in the GCC that is becoming more intertwined and collaborative as stakeholders including government entities, investors and startups engage and build.

“Bahrain is taking tangible measures to become a strong hub for businesses and founders wanting to build their presence in the kingdom and broader GCC market. We are excited to join our partners in Al Waha Fund in fostering this vibrant business ecosystem and support further local and regional development efforts.”

Shorooq, he said, would look to accelerate the process of finding, supporting and enabling “the next wave of amazing founders and passionate problem solvers to create a lasting impact in Bahrain and the region”.

With its unique positioning and connectivity to other Gulf countries, as well as a truly multicultural society that welcomes more than 160 nationalities, the kingdom is the ideal destination for Eastern and Western businesses to converge.

Al Waha Fund of Funds has so far deployed tens of millions of dollars to a range of venture capitalists, including MSA Capital, Lumia Capital, BECO Capital, Middle East Venture Partners, 500 Startups and European fund manager Finch Capital.

July 6th 2020, 8:48 am

MidChains closes new funding round

Wamda

Source: The National

MidChains, an upcoming Abu Dhabi-based virtual asset trading exchange, said it closed its latest funding round with backing from investors including Mubadala Investment Company's asset management arm as it plans to start operations in 2020.

Mubadala Capital, Miami International Holdings (MIH), the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (Adio) and other regional backers were among the investors in the fund-raising deal, MidChains said in a statement on Monday. The sum invested was not disclosed.

"As we aim to launch the MidChains platform later this year, the backing of established institutions will enable us take the next steps in our development while supporting our long-term growth strategy... in regards to the development of financial markets," Basil Al Askari, co-founder and chief executive of MidChains, said. "Our group of world class shareholders bring a wealth of international experience that will allow us to build a global business out of Abu Dhabi.”

The company is the only Emirati founded virtual asset exchange in the UAE capital. Last year, MidChains gained approval from Abu Dhabi Global Markets (ADGM) regulators to operate a crypto asset exchange in Abu Dhabi. The venture capital arm of Mubadala Investment Company took a stake in MidChains in 2019.

"There has been significant interest in MidChains since we made our initial investment in 2019,” Ibrahim Ajami, head of ventures at Mubadala, said. “We are therefore pleased to increase our commitment ahead of the launch of MidChains’ virtual asset trading platform, which is expected later this year....we look forward to supporting MidChains build global operations from its headquarters in Abu Dhabi.”

Mubadala Capital was established in 2011 as the financial investment arm of Mubadala Investment Company, one of the world’s biggest sovereign wealth funds, with over $232 billion ($852bn) of assets.

The company aims to become a multi-asset class blockchain-enabled investment exchange and custodian. This includes virtual assets, digital securities, stable coins, and derivatives.

“We are excited by the prospect of MidChains becoming one of the first regulated exchanges for virtual asset trading and investing, as it aligns with our ambitions to scale our business globally in areas including digital assets,” Thomas P. Gallagher, chairman and chief executive of MIH, said. “We look forward to being long-term, value-added partners and together pursuing technology licensing and product listing opportunities throughout the world.”

Adio has invested through its Ventures Fund, an initiative of the Ghadan 21 accelerator programme created to support innovation-focused start-ups in Abu Dhabi.

"We have invested in MidChains as part of our commitment to ensure that promising startups are given the help they need to take off and grow in Abu Dhabi, providing them with capital and support to develop cutting-edge solutions of global and regional significance," Tariq Bin Hendi, director-general of Adio, said.

July 6th 2020, 3:45 am

Spotii raises investment from Daman Investments

Wamda

UAE-based “shop now, pay later” startup Spotii has raised investment from Daman Investments.

Founded by Anuscha Iqbal and Ziyaad Ahmed, the financial technology (fintech) company allows consumers to pay for goods bought online over four equal instalments with no interest. The pair believes its technology empowers customers while also offering business owners benefits that include full upfront payment for their sales, larger basket sizes, improved conversion rates and fewer refunds.

“We are extremely excited to be partnering with Daman Investments. Daman has been an active advocate of regional startups for decades providing long-term support and we look forward to growing Spotii together through our strategic partnership,” said Iqbal, co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) at Spotii.

Spotii went live in April and already has more than 30 merchants on its platform.

“The launch of this payments platform couldn’t have come at a better time, especially as business owners navigate the current market turbulence in order to position themselves for future success. We have been monitoring the startup landscape for businesses that are able to traverse the current situation and would also be active contributors to the growth of the region,” said Ahmed Khizer Khan, CEO at Daman Investments. “Spotii, as a brand and the strong team behind it, has successfully tapped into the rapidly changing consumer buying behaviour. We are confident that this product is well positioned to greatly contribute towards the fast developing fintech eco system in the GCC region.”

July 5th 2020, 5:05 am

GrubTech raises $2 million seed

Wamda

UAE-based GrubTech, a foodtech startup has raised $2 million in seed funding to fund its growth and product development.  

The software-as-a-service (SaaS) provides restaurants, cloud kitchens and virtual brands with an end-to-end solution for their operations.

“GrubTech’s vision is to revolutionise the landscape of the foodservice industry by offering the best technology to let anyone start, run and scale their food business online in the fastest way possible,” said Mohamed Al Fayed, co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) at GrubTech.

One of its main products, GrubONE, uses integrated APIs to automatically deploy menus across various channels and automate order capture from food aggregators into a unified and easy to manage dashboard. GrubTech also creates in-kitchen efficiencies through its smart kitchen display system and has integrated with various 3rd party logistics providers and point of sale systems to expedite and accelerate brand onboarding and activation. Additionally, GrubTech has developed a machine-learning driven marketing solution that provides restauranteurs with unprecedented abilities to segment customers and manage digital and social media campaigns.   

Future modules aim to incorporate the use of robotics to further enhance in-kitchen efficiencies, in addition to IoT sensors to automate appliance monitoring and tracking.

The company is in the process of implementing its solution in more than 100 restaurants.

“We are currently focusing on the Mena region thanks to its unique customer metrics such as highest order per capita and a large food and beverage footprint,” said Al Fayed. “But given GrubTech’s easily scalable technology we certainly intend on entering key markets in South East Asia, Latin America and Europe by 2021.”

July 5th 2020, 3:20 am

In a world of remote work, will control replace culture?

Wamda

Marilyn Zakhour, founder and chief executive officer of UAE-based Cosmic Centaurs

At the height of the pandemic, I started a company called Cosmic Centaurs to help organisations and individuals adapt to the new realities of work and education. We spend a lot of time studying the impact of the profound changes to the workplace that were accelerated by the global pandemic. We frequently discuss the rapid rate of digital transformation, collaboration and remote work, the need to continuously retrain and upskill teams as well as how humans can use technology to enhance their lives.

During one of these conversations it occurred to me that my grandmother, Jamal, had been a remote worker in the early 1990s. Originally a stay-at-home mum, she decided that she needed to find a way to financially contribute when my family emigrated to Canada. So, Jamal became a seamstress, turning precut fabric into garments each week. I vividly remember massive shipments of bright yellow GAP sweaters arriving to our home and I am fairly certain she had no idea who she was producing for, save for the name on the label which she carefully sewed inside each garment. Someone in a warehouse somewhere would control the number of items that were up to standard, and my grandmother would get paid by the unit.

Undoubtedly, the retailer probably didn’t know of my grandmother’s existence. She never received a welcome email or took part in a company town hall.  “Company Culture” was a foreign concept, the only thing she knew was “control”.

The pandemic has brought the collective realisation that remote work can be hyper productive. Companies that had once completely rejected the idea have suddenly become vocal advocates. 

Increasingly, more of us will be asked to work from home, hired into companies without ever visiting their offices, or meeting our colleagues in person. Our work will be divided into small, precise, bite-sized, series of inputs and outputs. We will be judged solely on the quality of our outputs, much like my grandmother and her yellow sweaters.

In that world, people whose contribution is more intangible may find it harder to demonstrate their value. Doers may be favoured over dreamers.

When efficiency becomes the strategy, where do culture and brand fit?

On the bright side, examples of successful and happy remote-only companies do exist. Companies like Git-Lab, Zapier and Automattic (the company behind WordPress) have been location-independent since inception.

These companies offer appealing benefits such as unlimited vacation days, home office or co-working space allowances, flexible work hours and more. They are actively focused on promoting diversity and learning and are generally quite successful companies. By way of example, in September 2019, GitLab was valued at $2.7 billion ahead of an initial public offering (IPO) set for November 2020. That’s $2 million per employee.

Of course, there are some obvious commonalities between these all-remote companies. First, they are all American companies, dominated by Anglo-Saxon cultures that are highly  individualistic, making it easier to design organisations that rely on individual contributions. They are also all software companies, meaning their input is already “subdivided” into lines of code. In fact, Git-lab’s product is a software that enables hundreds of other companies to also operate remotely.

While most employees enjoy working for these types of companies, a quick scan of their Glassdoor reviews reveal some patterns:

Simply put, these employees don’t feel “seen”. They are hired to be a cog in the system. Cogs don’t get promoted.

These companies also have one more thing in common. They lack a real brand and culture. While they all have logos, taglines, a shared purpose everyone can rally around, their clients don’t use their product or pay a premium for them because of their brand. They are selected entirely for their feature set and pricing, unlike say, choosing Spotify over other streaming platforms. If you read their careers pages without knowing whose website you’re on, you could easily confuse one for the other.

And so, we are left to wonder if our shift to remote work, to a more efficient world, where we are measured only against our output, will ultimately lead to the death of brands and culture. Or, will brands and culture be our best defence against a dehumanised corporate world.

How do we keep our companies humane?

As humans, we are drawn to the social constructs we have created overtime. The workplace is no exception, and as organisations in the UAE begin working from physical office spaces, many will return more skeptical, questioning its sanctity and arguing against its necessity. The return to the office will also be somewhat anti-climactic. No high fiving, no handshakes, masks hiding people’s reactions and safety measures hindering our ability to take advantage of the co-location.

Ultimately, it is the role of managers and leaders, to put culture and brand back at the centre of how we work. Hybrid remote work models and rotational shifts will become commonplace, with a few companies like Twitter choosing to stay remote for the remainder of this year. Therefore, it is especially important to preserve brand and culture for employees who will never set foot in the office or for startups operating out of co-working spaces just a few days out of the week.

To keep these companies humane, I am a believer in the primitive tools of community building: storytelling, rituals, ceremonies, shared values, costumes, and good old synchronised dancing. We can use these tools to build collaborative, connected cultures, both in-person, and online.

As a student of History, I truly believe that the species capable of inventing the concepts of countries, money, and companies and encouraging hundreds of thousands of people  to rally behind them is perfectly capable of finding new ways of building communities and alignment over Zoom calls.

There are some simple things one can do. Branded conference call backgrounds, company merchandise shipped to every new comer, “Thank God it’s Thursday” Zoom calls, plants sent to team members to keep them company and reconnect them with this idea that we are growing something together, support groups among employees who live in the same neighborhood regardless of their role, or even a day where people can come to work or Zoom dressed up in their favourite superhero costume.

And if you are skeptical about this, go ahead and google “fancy dress video parties”.

July 4th 2020, 9:17 pm

Mubadala Capital invests in France's Owkin

Wamda

Source: Crunsh base

Owkin, a French company applying machine learning to medical research, has secured $18 million in funding from Mubadala Capital and Bpifrance, through the bank’s Large Venture fund. This Series A extension brings the startup’s total amount raised to $70 million.

The AI platform connects data scientists, clinicians, academic researchers and pharmaceutical companies to create global datasets and encourage collaborative research, all the while protecting patient data within a hospital’s local infrastructure. This “medical research ecosystem” consists of four tools: Owkin Loop (the network), Owkin Connect (the technology infrastructure), Owkin Studio (the AI software tool), and Owkin Lab (the expertise).

“We are changing the world of medical research by breaking down silos and augmenting research capabilities at scale,” said Thomas Clozel, the startup’s co-founder and CEO. “Numerous discoveries of new multimodal biomarkers and disease mechanisms are changing how pharmaceutical companies approach drug development and how clinicians design treatment plans for patients.”

Commenting on the investment, Laurent Higueret, investment director at Bpifrance Large Venture said: “Owkin now has the resources and the partners to position itself as a clear leader in the field of AI for biomedical research. We are also delighted to team up with Mubadala Capital for their first direct equity investment in France and thus further capitalize on our strategic partnership with them.”

Founded in 2016, the healthtech startup is headquartered in New York City. Other investors in the Series A round, which was initially announced in 2018, include Cathay Innovation, MACSF (a French pension fund for clinicians), GV, F-Prime Capital, Eight Roads, Frst and NJF Capital.

July 2nd 2020, 6:46 am

Refd secures investment from OceanX Holding

Wamda

Saudi Arabia-based Refd, a mobile application that provides services for people of determination, has secured investment from OceanX Holding. The amount of the investment was not disclosed.

Refd provides services for people with special needs in Riyadh, Jeddah, Makkah and Sharqia cities in the Kingdom, to develop their capabilities and integrate them within various aspects of public life, all within a safe home environment by Saudi specialists.

The platform offers remote follow up and development of academic programmes, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, behaviour adjustment, psychological and virtual support sessions.

OceanX seeks to develop startups in the Kingdom through different support and investment programmes. The recent investment will contribute to facilitating the connection between service providers, including teachers and rehabilitation specialists and users according to residential neighbourhoods, in order to provide education and rehabilitation services through home visits.

Refd is a graduate of the education technology incubation programme of Small & Medium Enterprises General Authority (Monsha’at) in 2019.

July 2nd 2020, 5:46 am

QIA invests in Beijing-based Zuoyebang

Wamda

Source: Tech Crunch

Zuoyebang, a Beijing-headquartered startup that runs an online learning app, said on Monday it has raised $750 million in a new financing round as investors demonstrate their continued trust in -- and focus on -- Asia’s booming edtech market.

U.S. investment firm Tiger Global and Hong Kong-based private equity firm FountainVest Partners led the six-year-old startup’s Series E financing round. Existing investors -- including SoftBank’s Vision Fund, Sequoia Capital China, Xiang He Capital and Qatar Investment Authority -- also participated in the round, which brings the startup’s to-date raise to $1.33 billion.

The app, which offers online courses and runs live lessons, also allows students to take a picture of a problem, upload it to the app and get its solution. The startup claims it uses artificial intelligence to identify the question and its answer.

Zuoyebang, which targets K-12 students enrolled in the national compulsory education system, has amassed 170 million monthly active users, about 50 million of whom use the service each day, the startup said in a post (in Chinese). More than 12 million of these users are paid subscribers, it said. For comparison, China had about 200 million K-12 students in 2019, according to the Ministry of Education (in Chinese).

Continue reading this story

July 1st 2020, 8:39 am

VentureSouq invests in Nigeria's Wallets Africa

Wamda

Source: Disrupt Africa

Nigerian fintech startup Wallets Africa has secured an undisclosed amount of funding from a host of investors as it prepares to expand usage of its product to more African countries.

Founded in 2018, Wallets Africa allows people and companies to send and receive money, and make payments, using their phone numbers.

The startup took part in the Y Combinator accelerator last year, and the programme’s chief executive officer (CEO) Michael Seibel is among the investors in this latest round which also includes Samurai Incubate Africa, Mozilla Corporation, Brad Flora, Friale Fund, 9 Yards Capital, Venture Souq, Maria Alegre, Zach and Noah Cohen, and Radu Spineau.

Wallets Africa founder and CEO John Oke said the startup recently began supporting businesses, allowing them to perform bulk payments, issue wallets and make payroll, and currently has over 1,400 businesses signed up.

It will be using the round to provide corporate banking services to businesses in Nigeria and add more transfer destinations to its product.

“We’ve vastly improved what a digital wallet could do. Back in the day existing wallets could only pay bills, buy airtime and do money transfers. Now in addition to those, people can generate physical and virtual cards with our wallets, they can continue using the wallet when they travel to more wallet-native countries like Ghana, Kenya and very soon more countries on the continent,” Oke said.

“Last December, we rolled out international transfers to mobile money wallets and agents in Ghana for Nigerians travelling down there for Afronation and the Year of Return celebrations. Since then we’ve added Kenya and we’ll be looking to add up to 10 destinations by the end of this year.”

July 1st 2020, 8:10 am

Play:Date raises investment from Modus Capital

Wamda

UAE-based Play:Date, an application that helps parents build their child’s social circle, has secured investment from New York-based Modus Capital. The amount invested was not disclosed.

Play:Date will use the investment to grow its presence in the Middle East with plans for international expansion. Modus Capital intends to aid Play:Date, in tech support, management, investor relations, and overall leadership support in a bid to become globally competitive.

“The opportunity to work with Modus Capital poses exciting expansion opportunities for Play:Date. We decided to work with them as they are not your typical venture capitalists that are solely focused on investing, instead they actively assist entrepreneurs by supporting with strategies and high-growth prospects. Additionally, we required a firm that had presence not only in the region but also in the US, as it is currently our biggest market outside the UAE,” said Shamim Kassibawi, founder and CEO of Play:Date.

The mobile app allows parents to engage with each other based on the interests and personalities of their children, further expanding a parent’s network within the community. The app features various vouchers and offers, exclusive to Play:Date members, giving brands access to a direct channel to connect with their customer base for continued exposure and brand recognition. The app also hosts regular playdate tours at various play areas, and virtually during Covid-19

“They are tackling a major connectivity and discovery pain-point for early parents that we see a major demand for in both Mena and US markets, and they're doing so in the most innovative ways. We're keen to support socially impactful companies and Play:Date fits the criteria on multiple levels,” said Kareem Elsirafy, managing partner at Modus Capital.

July 1st 2020, 7:58 am

Shorooq Partners invests in Pakistan-based Airlift

Wamda

Source: Dawn

Bus ride-hailing service Airlift has raised an impressive $10 million in seed financing, taking its total investment to $24.1m, its co-founder and CEO Usman Gul said in a statement.

"At a time of mass turbulence in capital markets, Airlift’s Series A-1 round marks one of the largest capital investments in the region," Gul said in a statement posted on Medium. "We are thrilled to partner with investors who share our vision for building decentralised platforms to introduce easier, faster and more efficient ways of moving people and goods around urban ecosystems."

The investment round was led by San Francisco-based Quiet Capital and also included TrueSight Ventures (London), RT Ventures (London), Shorooq Partners (Abu Dhabi), and ACE Capital (Taiwan), as well as local investors. The startup's previous investors, First Round Capital (San Francisco), Fatima Gobi Ventures (Pakistan) and Indus Valley Capital (Pakistan), chipped in as well.

Gul also announced Airlift's new venture into grocery delivery, called Airlift Grocer which is "a 45-minute delivery service for all household essentials".

“In the last few months, we have streamlined our processes so much that we now have the capability to deliver groceries within 45 minutes and with high order accuracy,” Airlift Technologies’ Executive Director, Syed Mehr Haider, told Profit.

Airlift, which started its decentralised mass transit operations just 11 months ago, had raised $12m in investments in November last year by leading investors in what was Pakistan’s largest Series-A round for a start-up.

It started off as a smart bus service that offers stop-to-stop public transport services on selected routes across Lahore and Karachi. It was founded last year by Gul, along with five other partners, using $50,000 pooled in by himself and family.

The bus ride-hailing service had suspended its operations in March, when the novel coronavirus started to spread in the country, leading provincial governments to impose restrictions on public transport.

"Given the Covid-19 threat, Airlift is committed to keeping our transit operations on pause until the situation stabilises. Our team is excited to resume transit operations once the worst of the pandemic is behind us," Gul said in his statement.

July 1st 2020, 7:58 am

Felix closes $800,000 seed round

Wamda

UAE-based Felix, an insurance e-commerce and automation platform for insurance brokers launched in January 2019, announced that it has closed an $800,000 seed round led by a Saudi Arabian investor with participation from the Oman Technology Fund. This follows a $120,000 investment made by Techstars and GINCO Investments in 2018 and will help the company invest in product development and regional expansion to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The company’s platform allows brokers to sell motor insurance by automating processes and leveraging the internet for sales and distribution.

“We’re excited to be bringing on board strategic partners in Saudi Arabia and Oman at a time when the insurance industry’s shift to digital sales models is accelerating. With their support, networks, and relationships with regional regulators we will continue to deliver best-in-class software and tools for insurance brokers and agents in the GCC,” said Edmond Husseini co-founder of Felix.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further accelerated the need for digital transformation in the regional insurance sector, with Felix seeing an increased level of interest from insurance brokers and agents looking to sell online and work on the cloud.

“Insurance brokers have deep insurance product knowledge and strong relationships with both their clients and their insurance partners that they’ve built up over many years. With this new round of funding, we’re in a strong position to help them deliver even better value and convenience to their clients by leveraging all the benefits technology has to offer,” said Taline Vahanian, co-founder of Felix.

July 1st 2020, 5:09 am

Wamda invests in freelance marketplace Ureed.com

Wamda

Wamda, the Middle East region's leading startup ecosystem enabler, has participated in Ureed.com’s seed funding round along with Anova Investments and Nour Al Hassan. 

Founded by Nour Al Hassan in 2017, Ureed.com is an online marketplace where employers & freelance experts connect quickly and effortlessly. The platform helps employers tap into a global network of vetted freelancers from all professional backgrounds that can be hired on demand. 

The investment will be used to fuel the company’s expansion across multiple markets and its new hires in technology, growth, and business development departments. Part of its growth strategy also includes its acquisition of Nabbesh’s business operations. 

Nabbesh, founded in 2012, is a freelance marketplace that provides tech solutions for freelancers to work remotely or on-site with employers. Nabbesh’s assets, including both freelancers and contracts, will be automatically integrated into Ureed.com’s brand and will operate under its name. All Nabbesh freelancers will be pre-vetted before they can join Ureed.com and start working with active employers on the marketplace. This acquisition will help accelerate Ureed.com’s expansion plans across new verticals and into new markets in the GCC and North Africa.

“This is a very exciting time for Ureed.com. As we’re dealing with Covid-19 and working post the crisis, we are learning so many lessons, notably that there’s no better time than now for freelance work to become easier, better and more accessible in the region and beyond,” said Marwan Abdelaziz, CEO at Ureed.com.

“In this time of exponential change, people of skills want a platform to enable them to utilise their talent and find avenues to become innovative and productive in times of uncertainty...and that’s where we see Ureed.com interfering to help them out” added Rakan Al Hassan, COO at Ureed.com.

 

June 30th 2020, 9:32 am

KRISPR raises $600,000 pre-seed

Wamda

UAE-based urban indoor vertical farming startup KRISPR, has raised $600,000 in pre-seed funding from Dubai-based family office KAIZEN.T

The agritech startup aims to shorten the fresh produce supply chain by addressing the traditional agricultural challenges such as harsh climate conditions, water scarcity and non-arable land. The company uses its technology to grow high-quality fresh produce within aeroponic indoor controlled environments without the use of pesticides and herbicides. 

“The post-Covid-19 environment has clearly demonstrated the need for localised supply chains, especially for essential goods and services, and KRISPR is committed to tackling the GCC region’s food security challenges head-on,” said Khadija Hasan, founder and chief executive officer at KRISPR. “While we address a critical consumer need for clean and nutritious food, we are also excited to partner with hotels, restaurants, and supermarkets across the GCC region to deliver high-quality, fresh, and beyond organic produce locally.”

The company plans to use the newly raised funds in setting up its urban indoor vertical farming pilot in Dubai Investment Park.

“It may sound a bit grandiose to talk of providing fresh, clean and chemical-free food everywhere in the world, but then clean and nutritious food is a real challenge and we all must have the courage to recognise it for what it is and also have the courage to dream the big dream and then make it happen,” said Ameer Hamza Hassan, chairman at KAIZEN. “I strongly believe that KRISPR and others like it are going to meet this challenge and we on our part have an obligation to support this effort.”

 

June 30th 2020, 5:31 am

Munch:On - Going beyond lunch

Wamda

Most food delivery platforms witnessed a slowdown in business once lockdown came into effect. Working from home gave people enough time to cook their own meals and with redundancies and salary cuts, a more frugal attitude was embraced. For UAE-based Lunch:On – now rebranded to Munch:On – its main business of delivering lunch to workers in offices came to a standstill. The startup had to counter the crisis with a shift in its model.

We spoke to Mohammad Al Zaben, co-founder and chief executive officer, about how the company is coping with the crisis and its future plans.

How have you pivoted your strategy and operations to cope with the outbreak?

The virus really affected us in a major way. People were working from the office, and we built a business model that catered to them in that physical location. As soon as we started seeing people working from home, that had a huge impact on our business. Overnight we saw our business dropping and over the course of a week we went from over a 100 per cent all-time high to a significant low rate, it was a major hit.

We really needed to improvise. What was good is that we were piloting a dinner service on a very small scale just before coronavirus, which overnight we had to quickly rely on as people were then staying at home.

We shifted all of our volume automatically to this new vertical. It took a huge effort, within a matter of 10 days we were able to launch a residential lunch and dinner service on our platform. It was very well received.

It felt like we were starting from scratch, but things moved a lot faster when we launched a new vertical. Our side business became our main one.

What are the main challenges and changes the food delivery space is experiencing?

Things are changing very rapidly and we see developments on a week by week basis. Regardless of the economic situation, the amount of people who are leaving the country is going to affect [our] business. Everything is connected, if 20 per cent of the workforce leaves and you have salary cuts, people will have less spending power.

The supply is one of the main challenges. A lot of the restaurants were similarly caught off-guard, we had a very large group shutting down operations completely because the climate didn’t make sense for them to sustain. That caused a huge impact on the delivery space.

Fine dining, which is at the intersection of people not wanting to go out and also not wanting to spend, is going to be impacted for months and years to come. Not a lot of people are ordering fine dining for delivery, as it is also more of an experience, people pay for the ambiance, the music and the level of service.

Moreover, a lot of our avid users were saying they were preparing their own meals at home now that they have the time. This is starting to taper off, though.

As a third-party aggregator, how has your model of bulk delivery been able to face the massive changes the market has seen?

Drivers became a really big asset in this crisis, whether for e-commerce or food delivery, because people could not go out. That caused the cost of delivery go up, as being able to mobilise drivers to fulfil orders became more valuable than pre-Covid-19. A lot of the platforms were not able to react quickly to handle this cost increase, and those who could not make it efficiently work by mapping the drivers’ supply with the demand were really harmed financially.

Because the cost of delivery went up, our model became even more compelling. The change of the cost per order from say Dh12 to Dh15 across 15 orders does not make a huge difference. This is where it started to show that you need to build a very efficient delivery solution.

What were the difficult decisions you faced during the crisis?

We did have to make tough decisions. We were fortunate that we were well capitalised, but we also got to hear from others in the ecosystem how hard it can be to raise capital. Any plans that we had in the past we had to put on hold and stay focused. We had aggressive plans to enter other cities in Saudi Arabia as well as Kuwait, now we are just focusing on the UAE and Riyadh.

We also had to cut costs. We love our team and we felt they would be able to capitalise on any new verticals that we find ourselves in, so we kept every single one on the team but we had to cut salaries by an equal percentage for those who earn above a certain amount.

We re-evaluated our marketing and discretionary spend and we were able to cut our spend by 50 per cent. We looked at every single contract we had that was negotiated pre-Covid-19, we had a diligent discussion to look at this with fresh eyes and push for discounted costs.

Why did you change your name now to Munch:On?

We started with just lunch, and when you start your company the first thing you want is for people to know you in an easy way. Our name came from the motto that lunch is always on, allowing people to access affordable meals via delivery. But once we started offering breakfast, catering and most recently residential and dinner, we became much more than lunch.

It made sense to make that transition now to adapt to the situation.

What kinds of policies you wish were in place to better help you during this crisis?

We are hearing a lot of restaurants getting rid of their drivers, and this is a problem for us as we rely on the restaurants’ infrastructure. It is mitigating risk in response to a variant demand.

With lots of them losing their jobs, these people become a burden on the state. You have an obligation as a country to support them. One of the first things that need to be considered is relooking into restrictions placed on these individuals in order to ease their lives in times that are so uncertain like this, this can be achieved through looking at the gig economy.

If it is allowed or regulated in a way to enable people to earn their living, they will become productive. This will kickstart a lot of businesses. If someone wants to open a restaurant or a delivery business, it would make sense for them to pay as money comes in. This will mean less startup capital as you avoid hiring someone and providing them with a visa. People can infinitely then scale their business according to demand.

June 29th 2020, 9:12 pm

SIDF signs two investment agreements to support SMEs in Oman

Wamda

Source: Times of Oman

Shumookh Industrial Development Fund (SIDF) signed two investment agreements with a total value exceeding OMR700,000 within the framework of supporting Omani SMEs and enhancing their growth competency. The agreements were signed with Trust FinTech (TFT) and Al Manjam Agricultural Development.

The first agreement was signed by Hilal bin Hamad Al Hasani, Chairman of Shumookh Industrial Development Fund (SIDF), and Ahmed Al Rahbi, Chief Operating Officer of Trust FinTech.

Shumookh Industrial Development Fund is partnering with Trust FinTech (TFT) by investing in the equity of the company and taking 15 per cent of the stake.

This will be the first of its kind strategic cooperation for the financial technology supporting company in Oman. TFT as a Fintech company works in developing, managing, and operating financial mobile solutions for its clients.

Hilal Al Hasani, Chairman of SIDF, indicated that demand estimation for the company in Oman is based on the financial transactions carried out by individuals and businesses through banks. He pointed out that as per the annual report of Central Bank of Oman 2018, the statistics reflect growth in consumer preference for payments using different electronic payment modes instead of cash. Al Hasani also hoped that looking at the company’s ambitious business plan, the investment of the Fund and its assets grow significantly and benefit all its stakeholders.

Second agreement

The second agreement between Shumookh Industrial Development Fund and Al Manjam Agricultural Development was signed by Hilal Al Hasani, Chairman of SIDF, and Khalid Al Habsi, Chief Operating Officer of Al Manjam Agricultural Development. The two parties have partnered to form a new entity which will invest in a project that plans to grow fruits and vegetables using Hydroponics method in a completely controlled environment.

Commenting on the second agreement, Al Hasani stated that the Fund has agreed to form a strategic alliance with the promotor to form an agricultural company to work towards achieving self-sufficiency in the food sector and long-run support of food security in the Sultanate. Al Hasani also noted that the fund is always willing to support innovative homegrown companies and hoped that the new initiative will bear fruits to everyone as well as support the national economy.

June 29th 2020, 7:37 am

SVC signs investment deal with venture capital fund

Wamda

Source: Mubasher

The Saudi Venture Capital Company (SVC) has signed an investment deal with a venture capital fund licensed by the Capital Market Authority (CMA) and founded by Osool & Bakheet Investment Company (OBIC) and iMENA Group.

The agreement signing took place virtually between the CEO of SVC, Nabeel Koshak, and OBIC’s CEO, Mazin Al Dawood, through videoconference, Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Sunday.

Moreover, the signing was attended by the governor of the General Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises (Monsha’at) and chairman of SVC, Saleh Al Rasheed.

The investment was carried out under the Saudi SVC project of investing in funds programme, which encourages the establishment of venture capital funds that invest in startups during their different stages, which is also one of Monsha’at’s initiatives, Al Rasheed noted.

June 29th 2020, 7:22 am

Will cash on delivery return post Covid-19?

Wamda

By Faris Fallouh, the Global Express and ground services director at Aramex

During this pandemic, consumers globally and in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region flocked to online channels to buy all sort of essential and discretionary goods. The effect of different patterns of areas and cities in lockdown, restrictions on movement, feeling unsafe to go out resulted in an unprecedented surge in e-commerce volumes.

Offering consumers the ability to pay cash on delivery (COD) has always been a necessary formula in the Mena region to grow the e-commerce sector due to the low credit card penetration rates and lack of trust in paying online.

For those in the industry, we have always thought that the appeal of COD would eventually weaken with the maturing of the ecosystem as a whole and with greater involvement of regulatory consumer protection agencies which can aid in creating a trusted environment for consumers. What no one could have predicted was the sheer impact that the coronavirus pandemic would have on daily life, which ended up accelerating consumer spending behaviour to online and ultimately pay online versus using COD.

Let’s take a closer look at two key markets in the Mena region where e-commerce is extremely vibrant and mature and the impact that the coronavirus had on shopping habits

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is the biggest e-commerce market in the region for both cross border and domestic markets. Traditionally, the country has been the market with the highest COD service demand across its major and smaller cities.

During the pandemic, the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC), the postal regulator, issued very strict guidelines that prevented COD in order to control the spread of Covid19, which is believed to survive on cash.

This created a very different dynamic for online retailers within Saudi Arabia and abroad. Some e-commerce sites began to only offer online payment options and removed COD, while courier operators adapted to the regulation by offering electronic point of sale devices to allow consumers to pay via credit or debit cards at home. 

Alternative payment methods were also quickly introduced, Aramex for example established an online payment portal to offer payment before delivery to serve both the consumer and the courier company itself. This created a very interesting model of paying for cost of goods after shipping but before delivery.

As a result of these new measures, the percentage of COD orders saw a substantial drop compared to the pre-Covid period. In May, COD transactions dropped by 40-50 per cent when compared to previous months before the lockdown.

CITC continues to play a significant role in making the e-commerce ecosystem a more trustworthy environment by forcing specific rules and regulations that protect consumer rights with regards to receiving goods on time, the right to return items and receive a full refund. They also continuously work to weed out non-compliant e-commerce operators.

United Arab Emirates

Contrary to Saudi Arabia, the UAE enjoyed the highest adoption of online payment methods within the Mena region with two thirds of all e-commerce orders paid for online. 

What has been noticed is the same regional e-commerce players who capitalised on the Saudi Arabia CITC guidelines to reduce dealings with cash adopted similar strategies to reduce offering COD and make it less appealing.

As a result, there has been a noticeable reduction in COD transactions but not to the same extent as we have seen in KSA. We saw a decrease of 15-20 per cent decrease in COD orders adoption. This is quite natural given that UAE consumers were more likely to pay online.

Effect on the courier companies

It goes without saying that offering cash on delivery puts greater strain and requires more resources from both the back-end operations and the last mile couriers delivering and collecting the cost of goods.

The reduction in the percentage of COD transactions has a very positive effect on the productivity of the courier companies and enables them to deliver more packages using the same resources.

As consumers were not as mobile as before, the chance for the courier to get hold of the consignees and deliver packages increased during the pandemic. The average ratio of attempted deliveries to successful ones was reduced by 10 per cent.

The restrictions on the ground also had a very positive effect on the traffic situation where roads became less congested, enabling the delivery vehicles to navigate faster.

Unfortunately, the positive effects overall were offset by the reduction of the working hours allowed for courier companies as a result of the same curfews and restrictions.

Lasting Change?

Looking at the significant reduction in COD in Saudi Arabia, it is obvious that consumers will respond to external factors like CITC guidelines to reduce handling cash and pay online. Online retailers have strongly pushed customers to pay online, but only a few online retailers have adopted such a strategy and overall, retailers who are fiercely competing against each other found it difficult to lose market share.

Offering COD during the pandemic was really a two-edged sword for both sides of the equation.

The consumer who used to shop using COD has been experiencing extended and longer delivery times by both the retailers with their own fleet and courier companies who had to deal with multiple factors from lockdown to shortened working hours and to a surge of business. It is quite natural in such circumstances to feel more comfortable using COD and pay only when goods are delivered or shipped at the very least.

Naturally many e-commerce companies faced operational pressure to handle the surge which resulted in longer processing times and longer delivery times, which had a direct negative impact with the percentage of successfully delivered COD orders.

I believe the shift toward online payment and the decrease in adopting COD will have a sticky effect as more consumers change their behavior. However, as lockdown restrictions are lifted and life returns back to normalcy, then some customers would be tempted to revert back to using COD as they now more choice in the number of e-commerce sites and retailers will be forced to offer a full suite of payment options to stay relevant.

The positive increase in the adoption of online payment will translate to a much better streamlined delivery experience at a lower cost for all parties involved from the online retailers to courier companies and the consumers themselves.

Data in the coming few months will certainly validate our assumptions and hypothesis about consumer behaviour, market dynamics and the way the e-commerce ecosystem develops.

June 27th 2020, 9:16 pm

Fincasa Ventures invests $50 million in US-based MediSponsor.Inc

Wamda

Source: Zawya

Fincasa Ventures, a UAE Based advisor to Multi-Royal-Family fund Houses has invested 50 million USD into MediSponsor.Inc - a USA incorporated company, which offers easy-to-use XAAS-based innovative yet Integrated Healthcare Cloud CRM Solution along with Payment Gateway. 

Along with Fincasa Ventures, Strategic Swiss Partners AG (SSP), a leading boutique management & financial advisory firm based in Zurich, will also be part of this collaboration to enhance business development for MediSponsor.

Varis Sayed, Founder & CEO of Fincasa Ventures said that the “MediSponsor is upcoming player in the start-up industry which will bring value proposition on COVID-19 Pandemic through its Visual Analytics technology as well as impact in healthcare service delivery”

This investment would enable MediSponsor to capitalize and position company in the healthcare sector of Africa, Middle East, South America & South Asia through care model innovation and digital market transformation.

Rahul Pawar, Founder & CEO of MediSponsor said that “Fincasa Ventures investment along with the strategic partnership of SSP will help us scale up and expand in global markets. We at MediSponsor, endeavour to integrate the fragmented global healthcare ecosystem, spread across multiple countries and continents, into a singular digital platform to ensure seamless flow of our bouquet of innovative offerings.

MediSponsor delivers services into three segments – cognitive, care and cure through its proprietary XAAS platform. Through this investment, the company aims to introduce innovative solutions as TraCovid IT Solution (a contact tracing application), Hospital Management Information System, Augmented Glasses with inbuilt thermal and facial recognition system that will not only enhance the healthcare industry in the country, but also serve as a key essential for government organisations and retail sector.

The Head Quarter in Dubai gives the company a world-class business environment for speedy growth. This investment along with strategic partnership will help MediSponsor to achieve its vision of being the most valued brand in Healthcare Technology

June 25th 2020, 7:13 am

W3BCLOUD raises $20.5 million

Wamda

W3BCLOUD, a joint venture between US-based Advanced Micro Devices and ConsenSys, announced today that it has completed its initial close of $20.5 million. Investors included AMD, ConsenSys, along with several family offices in the United Arab Emirates.

With this first round of funding, W3BCLOUD will begin to operate its first Ethereum blockchain data centres and expand its network of decentralised data centres across the globe as more funding is raised. 

“The trust-less, permission-less and decentralised economy requires robust and dedicated data centres to scale. W3BCLOUD brings together the pre-eminent GPU manufacturer and the leading blockchain developer to build the compute infrastructure for the blockchain economy,” said Sami Issa, co-founder and CEO at W3BCLOUD. 

Ethereum is emerging as the programable blockchain of choice for decentralised finance (DeFi) and United States Dollar-pegged stablecoins. The economic dislocation of 2020 coupled with the global dollar shortage sparked a significant increase in dollar-backed stablecoins transactions on the Ethereum blockchain. 

Post economic recovery, individuals, enterprises and governments will prioritise resilience and resiliency requires geopolitical decentralisation, permission-less and robust infrastructure.   

 "W3BCLOUD is building the next generation decentralised compute, storage and bandwidth for the planet" said Joseph Lubin founder of ConsenSys and co-creator of Ethereum.

June 25th 2020, 3:27 am

Steppi raises $720,000

Wamda

UAE-based Steppi, a corporate health and community engagement platform that encourages users to be more active by allowing them to exchange daily steps for discounts has raised $720,000 from undisclosed investors.

The platform, founded by Joe Franklin and Milos Savic addresses inactivity in the workplaces and aims to improve wellbeing of employees by incentivizing them with rewards for being active.

“We saw wearable adoption increasing and growing demand for corporate health software from government and privately-owned companies here in the UAE,” said Franklin. “We set out to create a corporate health platform that adhered to local regulations on data hosting and supported both English and Arabic language.”

Steppi connects to wearable devices from a variety of different brands including Fitbit, Garmin and Apple and can also be paired up with mobile phone devices to track activity. The company is now looking to expand its platform being the corporate world and into schools and education facilities.

“Addressing inactivity at a young age encourages users to make healthier decisions for their future,” said Emily Frankly, head of wellness at Steppi. “We are running pilot projects with GEMS World Academy and Sunmarke International School and the results have been amazing. Our first challenge with Sunmarke saw an 81 per cent increase in activity from participants throughout the period.”

June 25th 2020, 2:41 am

Edtech and its roadmap to new realities

Wamda

Wamda, in partnership with Columbia Global Centers, is hosting an online panel discussion, ‘Edtech and its roadmap to new realities’ on Tuesday, June 30th, at 4:00-5:00 PM (GMT+4) featuring Fadi Ghandour, Executive Chairman of Wamda, Safwan Masri, Professor and EVP for Global Centers and Global Development at Columbia University, Mounira Jamjooom, Chief Executive Officer at Aanaab, and moderated by Wamda's Triska Hamid, to address the future of education in the Mena region, as well as globally. 

The panel will highlight how the Coronavirus pandemic accelerated the shift in the education sector, and how online learning has taken the lead and opened new horizons for learners everywhere. What will the permanent and long-lasting impact of this pandemic on learning look like in the Mena region?

Register to attend.

June 25th 2020, 2:10 am

KBW Ventures invests in TurtleTree Labs seed round

Wamda

UAE-based KBW Ventures, the venture capital (VC) firm founded by Saudi Arabia’s Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed, has participated in a $3.2 million seed investment round in Singapore-based biotech company TurtleTree Labs. This is the second time KBW Ventures has invested in the biotech startup.

Founded in 2019, TurtleTree Labs uses cell-based technology to produce lab-grown dairy and breast milk. It currently has a team of more than 20 scientists and engineers, with multiple cross-functional teams working in parallel.

“This fresh round of funding will enhance our scale up development, bringing us one step closer to commercialization,” said Max Rye, founder at TurtleTree.

Other investors in this round included Green Monday Ventures, CPT Capital, Artesian, and New Luna Ventures.

“KBW Ventures has invested in the seed round building on our initial commitment during TurtleTree’s pre-seed raise. We see the founding team commitment and the potential of this company and its technology as a winning combination,” said Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud, founder and chief executive officer atKBW Ventures. “Now more than ever, people are waking up to the benefits of food technology and the massive positive implications of innovations in cellular agriculture.” 

 

June 25th 2020, 2:10 am

What is the future of human resources?

Wamda

By Somaya El Sherbini, co-founder and managing partner at RightFoot

With global economies facing challenges for the remainder of 2020, some businesses will look at creating new revenue streams, some will try to reinvent themselves introducing new product lines or different ways to attract and retain their customers, other businesses will look at ways to really understand what their operational state is, how they can work differently, to ensure the biggest return on their investments are achieved.

The key to addressing these different business challenges lies in an organisation’s ability to understand the current mode of operation of its different functions, so that they are able to come up with a well-thought through future state, that would stand the test and succeed.

An example, the savvy marketers who will look at the data to understand the performance of each product, the underlying themes influencing growth and market share rely on data and analytics to be able to make more informed decisions.  In the new world of work, what if these business objectives were not only clearly tied to the teams and individuals working in the organisation but would shift as and when the data insights support this?  What if businesses were able to identify their inability to drive market share growth because their teams needed to build new types of skills?  What if they understood that these skills are so scarce in the market and invested sooner, rather than later in re-skilling and up-skilling their people?

The digitisation of human resources (HR) processes and creating the connections between the main business functions is how the world will need to transform.  The business of HR has always been about people with relatively high subjectivity driving decision making.  In the new world of work, businesses will need to weave into their business strategies data insights and predictive analytics. 

HR analytics is a mixture of methodology and software that works on the statistical model in order to deliver work-related data, which enables the company’s decision-makers to optimise and enhance human resource management.  This will result in the biggest disruption and will set companies up for fast-paced success, or will keep them locked in the old ways of execution. 

Global technology companies and some of the top e-commerce and retailers of the world have started to look at data insights to help them make better hiring and retention decisions.  On the global level, the adoption has been slow, however leading the world is the Asia Pacific where the use of some type of HR analytics has reached 70 per cent.

It is no surprise that according to Bersin Research, only 2 per cent of HR organisations have a mature people analytics capability. Despite the fact that businesses globally have adopted HR solutions and the size of this technology market has grown by 29 per cent from 2018-2019 according to PwC.  The adoption of technology solutions continues to grow, however the abilities of using such solutions for data insights is still lagging.

New rising HR solution providers are tackling every point in the employee journey to be able to connect and monitor their impact on business performance.  Talent acquisition has had the lion’s share of focus over the years, this will continue to grow and dominate the focus areas, however, there are a lot of close runners up.   We strongly believe that by 2025, companies who have not considered and challenged the value of their investments in this space will be confronted with their inability to keep up with their financial targets.

We categorise the principles of decision making of software as a service (SaaS) HR Systems to be those that: Smart HR solutions continuously on the rise will be the disruptors in the coming few years. 

In summary, business leaders need to think deeply about how they are able to get the biggest return on their investments, they need to think beyond the independent processes of HR and consider the broader sense of how their People Agenda influences their businesses in the broader scale. They need to consider the fact that the digitally embracive culture and mindset is something that they might not have, and that they need to be taken into account to ensure adoption and bigger, more impactful return.

 

 

June 24th 2020, 5:35 pm

OTF invests in Sana e-learning platform

Wamda

Source: Times of Oman

Oman Technology Fund announced investment in the Distance Learning Centre smart educational platform called "Sana Electronic Platform".

This initiative harnesses scientific and technical capabilities in information technology in the field of e-learning and distance education and adapts it to serve higher education institutions inside and outside the Sultanate by providing the necessary and specialised expertise and skills.

This platform comes within the initiative of OMR1,000,000 from the Oman Technology Fund to overcome the challenges of the spread of coronavirus.

In light of the current conditions and the existing need of higher education institutions in the Sultanate to activate modern education systems that can keep pace with modern technologies using e-learning and distance education systems, so that they are scientifically and technically compatible with global standards recognised in these areas.

From this standpoint, the Sana platform came as a specialised electronic platform containing an integrated system for managing e-learning and distance education and producing digital courses. This platform aims to help various educational institutions, towards achieving an integrated interactive education from recorded lectures, virtual meetings, class activities and electronic tests compatible with academic quality standards.

Zeyad bin Talib Almawaly, the general supervisor of the “Sana electronic platform” said: “Sana electronic platform” came to be specialised to contain an integrated system for managing e-learning and distance education and producing digital courses, as it aims to help various educational institutions to achieve an integrated interactive education from registered lectures, live virtual encounters, class activities and electronic tests with the most appropriate smart solutions in line with international academic quality standards.

Almawaly indicated that the platform is the result of a partnership between the Endowment Fund for Distance Education of the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs and the Omani Fund for Technology.  As this partnership sought to use education systems live in the distance education center of the Endowment Fund for Education. It is worth noting that the center started its activity since 2013 as the first educational institution in the Sultanate to operate the e-learning system.

June 24th 2020, 8:00 am

PIF invest $1.5 billion in India's Jio Platforms

Wamda

Source: Techcrunch

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds, said on Thursday it will invest $1.5 billion in Jio Platforms for a 2.32% stake in the top Indian telecom operator.

With this deal, Jio Platforms, which is India’s largest telecom operator with more than 388 million subscribers, has secured $15.2 billion from 10 investors, including social giant Facebook, in the past nine weeks by selling a 24.7 per cent stake in its business.

For some comparison, India’s startup ecosystem raised $14.5 billion last year — in what was its best year.

The announcment further illustrates the opportunities foreign investors see in Jio Platforms, a three-and-a-half-year-old subsidiary of Reliance Industries  (India’s most valuable firm) that has upended the telecommunications market in India with cut-rate voice calls and mobile data tariffs.

Analysts at Bernstein said this week they expect Jio Platforms to reach 500 million customers by 2023, and control half of the market by 2025. Jio Platforms competes with Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, a joint venture between British giant Vodafone and Indian tycoon Kumar Mangalam Birla’s Aditya Birla Group.

In a statement, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of PIF, said, “We are delighted to be investing in an innovative business which is at the forefront of the transformation of the technology sector in India. We believe that the potential of the Indian digital economy is very exciting and that Jio Platforms provides us with an excellent opportunity to gain access to that growth. This investment will also enable us to generate significant long-term commercial returns for the benefit of Saudi Arabia’s economy and our country’s citizens, in line with our mandate to safeguard and grow the national wealth of the Kingdom.”

Jio Platforms also owns a bevy of digital apps and services, including music streaming service JioSaavn (which it says it will take public), on-demand live television service JioTV and payments app JioMoney, as well as smartphones and broadband business. These services are available to Jio subscribers at no additional charge.

Pankaj Jain, a high-profile angel investor, told TechCrunch that Jio Platforms’ digital services suite appeared to have helped it attract foreign investors. “Foreign investors see that owning the pipes is a race to the bottom in terms of ARPU (average revenue per user) but having so many bundled services seems like it’s the future for telecommunications companies. By solidifying their content strategy, they have appealed to investors that are seeing this same strategy play out in other markets,” he said.

“Unfortunately, it’s still to be seen whether content can help increase margins significantly in India.”

Though Reliance Jio  Platforms has not revealed why it is raising so much money, this capital could be deployed to cut oil-to-retail giant Reliance Industries’ net debt of about $21 billion, said Mahesh Uppal, director of communications consultancy firm Com First, in a conversation with TechCrunch.

Ambani pledged to clear Reliance’s debt due by early 2021. Reliance Industries had no debt in 2012, but that changed when the company decided to enter the telecommunications market.

“From Oil Economy, this relationship is now moving to strengthen India’s New Oil (Data-driven) Economy, as is evident from PIF’s investment into Jio Platforms. I have greatly admired the defining role PIF has played in driving the economic transformation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” said Ambani, India’s richest man, in a statement today.

 

June 24th 2020, 8:00 am

Raising the bar for women’s healthcare

Wamda

Investment in the Middle Easter and North Africa (Mena) healthcare sector is booming. Over $144 billion will be ploughed into Mena-wide medical facilities by the end of 2020, with GCC nations contributing over half of the total expenditure, according to Al Masah capital.

But while much attention is being paid to the region’s general rise in non-communicable diseases, more focus must be given to female-specific health issues, urges Sophie Smith, founder of Sharjah-based healthcare startup Nabta.

“Women’s health has been under-researched and underfunded since time memorial,” she says. “So much global testing is still done only on men, which means women still get adverse reactions to medicines, for example.”

Nabta, which she dubs a “hybrid healthcare” company, aims to address gaps in local women’s healthcare, and to make affordable and accessible healthcare available to the next generation of women.

According to Smith, a new model of healthcare is required, “one that improves clinical outcomes by removing some of the inherent inefficiencies in the healthcare ecosystem.”

Nabta uses a combination of digital solutions and cutting-edge research to slash the time and expense taken to treat regional female healthcare issues.

The social enterprise also supports women by providing hundreds of health-related articles on its online portal and social media support groups in Arabic and English.

Healthcare ‘Pathways’

Nabta’s business model is based around care pathway models. Its first pathway, to be launched this month, concerns fertility and enables the diagnoses of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – a condition that Smith says is responsible for around 70 per cent of local infertility.

The Nabta solution for PCOS incorporates a pay-as-you-go virtual consultation and a 48-hour couriered blood test. “We can diagnose in three months rather than years, and for significantly less than it would cost in a clinic. Our solution affords women more privacy and autonomy,” says Smith.

In the coming years, Nabta hopes to deliver care pathways for ailments such as endometriosis, gestational diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and reproductive cancers, as well as PCOS aftercare.

Concerned by what she views as a “provider-led and provider-centric” health system in the UAE, Smith stresses that Nabta is an independent company, focused on bettering women’s healthcare.

“The local healthcare system is very commercially driven. A lot of the laboratories and healthcare providers are given kickbacks. Patients often get given tests they don’t need because of commissions. We don’t take kickbacks. We would happily see that aspect of the UAE healthcare system eliminated forever.”

Rapid-Fire Research

Nabta, which is headquartered in Sharjah Innovation Park, has partnered with the University of Sharjah to help expedite its research and development (R&D) ambitions.

“Our plan this year is sign some joint ventures so we can more effectively innovate on a pathway-by-pathway basis and really become more disruptive in women’s healthcare,” explains Smith.

The social enterprise is also focused on closing its seeding round, before launching its Series A round in June.

Smith, who initially set up Nabta with $110,000 of combined co-founder funding, says she wants to build a “trusted global leader in women’s health”.

“We want to acquire companies that can help us add to our services. The more money we make, the more people we can help,” she says.

Currently Nabta employs 21 people across the region, including five developers based out of Egypt.

“In this region there is a huge amount of growth potential for female-focused hybrid healthcare solutions. We eventually will export globally but for now we are very much focused on the Middle East,” says Smith. “Nabta, which means blossoming plant in Arabic, is here to support women’s healthcare as they blossom throughout their lifetime.”

 

June 24th 2020, 8:00 am

Noon Academy raises $13 million

Wamda

Source: Reuters

 Noon Academy, an educational technology company in Saudi Arabia, has raised $13 million in a funding round led by Riyadh-based venture capital fund STV, it said.

Noon Academy will use part of the capital in the “pre-B” fundraising to open a hub in London, where its product, design and data teams will be based.

It said it had effectively doubled its user base to three million students during the global coronavirus pandemic.

​Alturki Holding and NFX Ventures also took part in the funding round, it said. 

June 24th 2020, 8:00 am

The Middle East's post-pandemic future

Wamda

A new reality is beginning to emerge as lockdown measures begin to ease amid the Covid-19 outbreak, imposing a dramatic restructure to the future economic and social landscapes as we traditionally know them. In the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region, governments intially responded to the pandemic with stimulus packages and are now planning for their countries’ post-pandemic future as borders open back up and curfews are lifted. 

The significant pullback in economic activity, necessary to protect public health, has jeopardised the economic well-being of individuals and institutions and resulted in slowdown in business operations. In addition to activating crisis-response efforts in full motion, governments across the world are considering and adapting a range of longer-term trends that have been accelerated by the crisis as they shape their recovery plans post-Covid-19.

“The reality of work will change and the way of work must change. The world after coronavirus needs different preparations," said Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, during a virtual UAE Cabinet meeting to discuss post-Covid-19 strategy. "Preparing for a post-coronavirus world is to prepare for a new future that no one expected just a few months ago."

A Digital Future

Digital innovation will play a defining role during the recovery period, as Covid-19 has accelerated the migration to digital technologies at staggering scale and speed, across every sector. The use of internet during the pandemic is up 50 per cent in some parts of the world, according to World Economic Forum, as more aspects of our daily lives have moved online.

In specific, automation, digital and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies are expected to have a substantial economic and social impact. These technologies will likely account for about 60 per cent of potential productivity growth globally by 2030.

It is of no surprise that many governments have created, or started to activate, national AI strategies, as they will need to more than double their productivity growth to sustain economic growth rates.

The global economic trends for the post-Covid-19 era will give rise to a new global supply chain and new business patterns. It will also lead to allocating substantial investments for digital infrastructure, 5G networks, smart cities, smart services, health, education and trade.

Creating digitally enabled ecosystems therefore becomes critical because they catalyse growth and enable rapid adaptation.

“Being digital is the new design principle for any organisation moving forward post-pandemic, we need to be digital by default, because this will be the new infrastructure to enable businesses in the future. The blend between physical and digital world will be much more accentuated. The best performing companies and organisations during this crisis are the ones who were better prepared in terms of IT infrastructure,” says Adil ElYacoubi, chief strategy officer at Dubai Future Foundation (DFF).

Most companies were already digitising their operations before the coronavirus hit. By accelerating these efforts, they will likely see greater benefits in productivity, flexibility, quality and end-customer connectivity post-Covid-19. However, the adoption of digital and AI technologies will also require most workers to upskill or reskill.

Accelerating Industries

Some sectors have been hard hit by the crisis including tourism, aviation, retail and real estate, while other sectors have grown such as technology, internet services, digital entertainment, e-commerce and e-groceries. Many are dealing with severe slowdowns in their operations while others seek to accelerate to meet demand in critical areas spanning food, household supplies and pharmaceuticals.

“Sectors like construction may take longer to recover as businesses and governments reduce investment while sectors like healthcare, digital, and online retail might be able to capitalise on new growth opportunities. Throughout all of this, we will likely see an economy where businesses become more focused on identifying efficiencies, reducing costs and implementing new technologies,” says Stephen Anderson, Middle East strategy and markets leader at PwC.

In order to come back stronger, companies across sectors will reimagine their business model as they return to full speed. During the current crisis, businesses have worked faster and better than they thought possible just a few months ago. Maintaining that sense of possibility will be an important source of competitive advantage.

New Ways of Business

The pandemic is accelerating new ways of working. According to PwC’s CFOs Pulse survey, more than half of Middle East’s chief financial officers indicate they will take steps to improve the experience of remote working and will look to make remote work a permanent option, while 50 per cent report they plan to accelerate automation and new ways of working.

“Organisations will look to preserve some of the benefits from remote working (better engagement, communications, efficiencies) and look to reduce their office footprint going forward. That said, interestingly, in one of our recent surveys only 1 in 4 companies in the UAE felt they would move to remote working as a more permanent option. So there is still lots of work to do in this regard,” says Anderson.

Company leaders will need to consider the tools, behaviours and incentives that will enable employees to be productive, collaborative and creative.

“The aftermath of the pandemic will provide an opportunity to learn from a plethora of social innovations and experiments, ranging from working from home to large-scale surveillance. With this will come an understanding of which innovations, if adopted permanently, might provide substantial uplift to economic and social welfare—and which would ultimately inhibit the broader betterment of society, even if helpful in halting or limiting the spread of the virus,” according to Kevin Sneader, global managing partner at McKinsey & Company.

Role of Startups 

Globally, government economic-stimulus responses to the coronavirus crisis outsized those established after the financial crisis of 2008.

“We have learned from previous crises that quick action from government and substantial packages to be deployed form the main recipe to stabilise the economy, we have seen now the dichotomy between the stock market in the US and the reality that it is not falling, this is explained by the quick action from the government to deploy funds and inject enough liquidity in the system, in addition to the technology sector that thankfully saved the market,” says ElYacoubi.

Economic recovery will rely on long-term growth, innovation and adaptability to the new economic and social landscape, in order to create an economic framework that is more resilient to future crises. It is within this long-term vision that the role of small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) and entrepreneurs becomes crucial to economic recovery from the pandemic.

But startups and SMEs are in an especially difficult position.

A report by Wamda and ArabNet found that lockdown measures to curb the spread of the virus and the economic uncertainty have resulted in a negative impact on 71 per cent of the startups, of which 22 per cent have suspended operations, and 21 per cent are witnessing a high decrease in demand resulting in significant losses.

Reported venture funding deals took a hit in the first quarter in the UAE, declining 33 per cent year-on-year, according to Magnitt. Plunging demand has forced startups to lay off workers, and many don not have the financial resources to survive in this climate. Although these companies have the potential to be an economic and employment engine after the crisis, an effective government response now is critical.

“This is a really tough time for SMEs and one of the dangers for the GCC is that years of gradual diversification of the economy can be quickly eroded by the impact of Covid-19. SMEs are the lifeblood of this diversification contributing to employment, job creation and growth of the economy in various sectors, for example, wholesale, retail trade, hotels and restaurants are dominated by SMEs,” says Anderson.

The startup and SME sectors combined contribute up to 40 per cent to gross domestic product (GDP) and up to 50 per cent to private sector employment in Mena, according to the International Monetary Fund.

SMEs and entrepreneurs are capable of creating a large, diverse job market and adapting to the new digital environment generated by the pandemic. For example, booming SME sectors in Saudi Arabia, such as financial technology, real estate and e-commerce companies, would thrive by catering to a digital society post-pandemic, while drawing on a huge talent pool for job opportunities.

“The dynamic of the economy is a knowledge-based one, at the core of it is the tech startups and innovation-driven enterprises. This is critical for the future growth for cities and economies,” says ElYacoubi.

Now more than ever, startups and SMEs need comprehensive support based on a coherent strategy. Governments recognise that they will be a vital engine for the post-crisis economic recovery, and many have already implemented programmes in response to the pandemic. But ensuring that aid reaches SMEs and startups, and makes the desired impact need a more tailored approach.

“A bunch of things need to fall in place for startups to make it. This can include the macro environment of the economy and the city where the startups exist, all the way down to the micro side of how the startup is designed and building its product offering,” says Nader Museitif, head of business development and partnerships at Hub71.

To address immediate disruptions, governments have announced unprecedented stimulus packages, yet not enough packages tailored to entrepreneurs have been put in place. The effectiveness of government support to date has been limited.

“The problem is even if the amount of the stimulus packages is very big at the macro level, we do not have certainty that this stimulus will reach the startups. Therefore, we need to think of stimulus packages directly designed to this specific segment of the economy. That could take a wider spectrum of incentives, from cash injections to matching schemes with VCs and freezing some government fees, even factoring in the balance sheet of startups that have certain receivables over risk factoring solutions to speed up their financial cycle. Government procurement also need to favour SMEs where relevant to give them some business,” says ElYacoubi.

A report by DFF titled ‘Life After COVID-19: Innovation and Entrepreneurship’ offers recommendations to support the innovation ecosystem in the UAE and the region, which include reducing or delaying office costs, utility bills and licence fees as well as offering open grants, providing loans and flexible financing. The report also suggests and promotes the concept of funding salaries for a short period of time, reducing living costs, increasing mobility across visas and free zones for highly skilled talents and supporting temporary employment as means to support the startup sector.

Government response in the region has so far focused on supporting the survival of larger companies and SMEs, however, these efforts should be complemented with promoting and supporting entrepreneurship to enhance business creation in priority industries post-Covid-19, increase the number of high-quality jobs, and improve the socioeconomic resilience and competitiveness of the regional economy.

 

June 24th 2020, 8:00 am

MoneyFellows raises $4 million in Series A

Wamda

Egypt-based MoneyFellows, has secured a $4 million Series A investment from venture capital firms Partech and Sawari Ventures.

Founded in 2016 by Ahmed Wadi, the financial technology (fintech) startup digitises the prevalent practice of gam’ia or rotating savings and credit association (ROSCA), helping individuals and groups effectively manage their finances and savings. 

The startup plans to use the funds to expand its operations across the African continent, scale its business and boost its financial offerings.

“Partech’s support from their African fund will help us expand into other countries in the continent with hands-on global expertise. While Sawari Ventures have been a cornerstone of Moneyfellows’ journey for the past three years,” said Wadi, founder and CEO of MoneyFellows.

Cyril Collon, general partner at Partech said: “The impact of MoneyFellows on financial inclusion is already massive in Egypt, as the solution offers convenient secured lending and saving schemes to consumers by digitising a traditional savings model.”

Currently, MoneyFellows has more than 150,000 active users. 

"MoneyFellows is one of the most promising fintech companies to come out of the region; their fusion of technology and existing ROSCA culture solves both the problem of financial inclusion and helps people to better plan their personal finances,” said Hany Al Sonbaty, managing partner at Sawari Ventures. “In enabling people to save beyond their immediate circles, they are not only promoting a culture of saving, but also facilitating a gateway for the further introduction of financial services to larger numbers of people as they become more financially aware. We are thrilled to be investing in the company and joining them on this exciting journey."

 

June 24th 2020, 8:00 am

Should businesses be spending or saving their marketing dollars?

Wamda

By Anastasiya Golovatenko, account director at Sherpa Communications

The economical whirlwind caused by the outbreak of Covid-19 has affected businesses of all sizes and nature. The magnitude of the crisis has led businesses around the world to come up with solutions to rework on their communications plan to stay afloat while continuing to market themselves. 

While there is continues to be uncertainty around 2020 growth prospects, and even more so about the 2021 outlook, the impact of Covid-19 across the globe will be severe and unprecedented. The global economy is expected to contract in 2020 by 3 per cent — the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

As communication advisors, we would advise businesses to go against the grain of instinct and maintain or reduce their marketing budget, but to never slash it completely.

Recent studies have shown that sustaining a company’s brand image is important during the good times, but it is even more crucial to do so during the not-so-good times. The effect of strategic communication in times of crises can keep a brand on top of the consumer’s mind, possibly generating future sales and a bigger market share. Think this way, your customers still buy products and services, but most probably through different channels now. So, instead of killing your presence on the market, transform, adapt and make those sales for your business possible. Especially, with social media, there are many organic tools and tactics that you can execute yourself.

Businesses can focus on spending their budget minimally by employing organic tools such as SEO marketing, digital public relations (PR) and strategic content marketing to leave a lasting impression on their audience and most importantly, build trust, credibility and awareness.

Here is a quick list of certain tactics which businesses can apply internally to position their brand and influence their presence and profitability.

  1. Act as an industry leader

This means the spokesperson of your company should step up and offer valuable insights across the area of his/her expertise. The communications team should identify right platforms to help the leader share the information, it could be through a media interview or webinar in association with relevant entities, participation in panel discussions, or by being a business mentor to be able to guide small and medium-sized businesses with tips and tricks to survive the market volatility. While you build some brand awareness, you will also be helping some businesses survive. Another way to look at it is to be supportive and the world will change around you.  

  1. Be empathetic

Right now, brands need to be as human as possible, as they need to be sensitive towards their customer’s needs, so the ideal scenario to deal with this transition is to do a deep dive into finding their motivation and behaviour trends. Stay in constant communication with relevant target groups, monitor and analyse the market and adjust your marketing strategy to be of help to your customers. Keeping your audience in mind, injecting your brand personality will also have a profound impact. 

  1. Conduct a market and audience analysis

Businesses cannot turn a blind eye to what their key audience is facing and need to get creative about collecting and analysing consumer behaviour data. Segment your audience to communicate the information based on their priorities. It is important to share facts in real time and approach all challenges individually based on the current scenario. With potential leads, think this way: now is the time when people spend up to 10 hours a day browsing online. They are now reading newspapers and magazines and browsing websitesmore than ever. They still buy products and services, but mostly online. Try to be there for them, adapt and get those new customers.

A simple exercise that businesses can execute to understand where they stand is to Google yourself. People use online search for everything, after reading this article, Google yourself and your business to see if you can easily find yourself by entering your full name or the relevant keywords. Are you happy with what you see? Are your offerings well explained? If not, then you can look at engaging PR professional or agency to help you work on your brand image, build brand awareness and stand out from the competition.

What matters is for businesses to be active, positive and to believe in themselves. Do not be afraid to start, what is key for any business now is to invest time to stay ahead of the competition, keep pace with emerging technologies and meet customer needs as they arise. While many businesses think that investment in their corporate communication is not crucial now, you need to bear in mind that people think about you or your business based on what they read and find online, if you disappear from their radar, you become non-existant to them. Use your website, social media platforms, newsletters (these are all organic tools) to keep communicating with your audience, this is important for your brand survival now more than ever.

 

 

 

June 24th 2020, 8:00 am

ZoodMall secures $10 million in Series A

Wamda

Source: Zawya

ZoodMall, a Lebanese mobile application built to innovate the e-shopping experience, has secured $10 million in Series A funding round.

The app currently operates in select countries in Central Asia and the Middle East, including Uzbekistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. The latest investment will be used to expand the company’s presence into Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait and Bahrain.

It operates on a ‘buy now pay later’ model and seeks to reach more than 200 million consumers in more than 15 countries across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) regions.

“With the backing of our financial and regional strategic partners, ZooMall will be rapidly developing its leadership position in the large and fast-growing market for cross-border B2C (business to consumer) marketplaces,” said Michael Khoi, CEO of ZoodMall.

The app allows customers to purchase goods online from more than 30,000 merchants and make their payments in easy installment plans without interest through ZoodPay.

It is available in Playstore and App Store and features more than four million cross-border products, including low-cost and top-tier mobile phones, apparel, accessories, beauty, home and garden products, children’s toys, as well as locally-branded goods.

June 24th 2020, 8:00 am

Band Industries raises $2.8 million Series A

Wamda

Lebanon-based Band Industries has raised $2.8 million in a Series A round led by Cedar Mundi Ventures with participation from other Lebanese investors including iSME, B&Y Venture Partners, Berytech Fund II and US-based SOS Ventures.

The hardware startup, which builds toolkits for musicians was founded in 2013 by Hassan Slaibi and Bassam Jalgha and launched its first product, the Roadie Automatic Instrument Tuner.

The latest investment round will be used to expand its business reach and product portfolio while also boosting its proprietary technology.

“The world of music is full of possibilities. This great human endeavour brings millions of people together all over the world and gives them a common language. We want as many people as possible to enjoy more time playing music and get inspired by our tech,” said Hassane Slaibi, co-founder and CEO at Band Industries.

The startup has also launched a campaign on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter for its new product, the Roadie 3 which it hopes will be available to the public in October 2020. The campaign has so far gathered more than 3300 backers and raised $350,000. The company also plans to expand into the music education space.

“Band Industries a is a fast-growing startup, with a strong development model. Hassan and Bassam are passionate entrepreneurs, developing smart devices and software disrupting the edtech space, vastly underserved market with identifiable pent-up demand. We are very happy to partner with such Lebanese talents and further accelerate their expansion plans,” said Bassel Attieh, managing partner at Cedar Mundi Ventures.

June 24th 2020, 8:00 am

Mindshift Capital Fund invests in Singapore’s Shiok Meats

Wamda

Source: Tech in Asia

Singapore-based foodtech startup Shiok Meats said it has raised $3 million in a bridge funding round from Agronomics, US-based VegInvest, UK-based Impact Venture, and UAE-headquartered Mindshift Capital Fund, securing a total of $7.6 million in funding to date.

Founded in 2018, Shiok Meats produces lab-grown seafood meat such as shrimp, claiming to be the first cell-based meat company in Southeast Asia.

The startup will use the new funds to set up its first manufacturing plant in Singapore as it looks to commercialize its business in the next two to three years. 

Shiok Meats previously revealed that it’s aiming to sell its first product – a dumpling made with cell-based shrimp – in Singapore by 2021. It’s also eyeing expansion in Hong Kong, India, and Australia.

Currently, the company is still in the pre-revenue, research and development phase. It looks to create more prototypes with its cell-based shrimp meat moving forward.

For now, the startup is working to close its series A round by the end of this year, said Sandhya Sriram, CEO and co-founder of Shiok Meats.

Continue reading this story

June 24th 2020, 8:00 am

Chefaa secures pre-Series A investment

Wamda

Spurce: Afrikanheroes

Egypt-based on-demand medicine delivery platform Chefaa, has raised a seven-figure (USD) Pre-Series A, without disclosing the exact size of the investment.

The money came from 500 Startups (who are following-on), Vision Ventures, Womena and few other investors. Chefaa had previously raised a six-figure seed from 500 Startups, Flat6Labs and a few angel investors in August last year.

“Chefaa is merging ecommerce with the pharmaceutical industry and positioning itself to lead the digital transformation of the pharmaceutical industry. With the capital, we have just raised and support of partners like 500 Startups, Vision Wentures and Womena, we are focused on scaling efficiently and sustainably,” Doaa Aref, the co-founder and CEO of Chefaa, said Doaa Aref and Dr. Rasha Rady, co-founders of Cehfaa.

Hasan Haider, Managing Partner of 500 Startups MENA (500 Falcons), said: “In the current environment, any startup that can improve people’s lives and assist in social distancing measures is doing a service to all of us. We’re happy to be supporting Chefaa in providing people with a more efficient way to get their medication. The team behind Chefaa have done an exemplary job in executing their goals in a very short period of time, and we look forward to their ongoing success.”

“Health and personal care are basic needs for all humans. Our investment into Chefaa plays a part in ensuring that more people have easy access to basic medicine and personal care products. The team behind Chefaa has shown a deep understanding of the field that translated into great growth. We are glad to be part of their ambitious journey,” Kais Al Essa, Founding Partner & CEO of Vision Ventures said. 

Founded in 2017 by Doaa Aref and Dr. Rasha Rady, Chefaa connects patients and pharmacies, enabling chronic patients to schedule, order, and refill their recurring prescriptions as well as other non-pharmaceutical products from pharmacies, through its web or mobile apps. The Egyptian startup claims to have fulfilled hundreds of thousands of orders to date.

Continue reading this story

June 15th 2020, 4:42 am

Shgardi raises investment to expand regionally

Wamda

Saudi Arabia-based on-demand delivery startup Shgardi, has raised a seven-digit figure investment from Riyadh-based Mad’a Investment Company.

The last mile startup was founded in 2019 by Abdulaziz Al-Mousa and this latest round of funding will be used to expand its scope of on-demand delivery offerings and grow its regional footprint. 

"Within only two months, our customer base increased from 100,000 to one million and we also managed to onboard 300,000 couriers over three months,” said Tarek Dahab, co-founder and chief technology officer (CTO) at Shgardi.

This rapid growth has been a result of the lockdown measures in Saudi Arabia

 

June 14th 2020, 11:00 am

Rizek raises $3.5 million in seed funding

Wamda

Source: Trade Arabia

Abu Dhabi-based service marketplace Rizek has announced that it has raised $3.5 million in one of the largest seed funding rounds in Mena region which saw the participation of strategic investors from across the region, including the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO), E-tech investments and Rozana capital. 

With $1.5 million pre-seed raised in 2019, this investment round takes Rizek’s total funding raised till date to $5 million.

With the fresh capital, Rizek plans to activate the region’s gig economy with its service marketplace, as well as increase job opportunities for people to earn a service-based income through the portal. 

On its record seed finance round, Rizek Founder and CEO Abdallah Abu Sheikh said: "Most of the big cities in the region have a service-based economy. However, the way these services are delivered happens to be outdated and costly."

"We at Rizek believe that the region needs an inclusive platform where customers can view all their options before commissioning the services," observed Sheikh.

"What we plan to do at Rizek is to essentially democratise the informal workspace by being the first to build a one-stop-shop marketplace for services in the region. This will allow both suppliers as well as consumers to maximise the value and benefit they receive," noted the top official. 

"I believe that the team we have put together at Rizek is one of the best teams that can and will realise this vision and build this platform that our region will be proud of," he added. 

ADIO said it had invested through its Ventures Fund, a Ghadan 21 initiative created to support innovation-focused startups in Abu Dhabi. 

"Rizek is part of a new generation of startups thriving within the Abu Dhabi innovation ecosystem," remarked ADIO Director General Dr Tariq Bin Hendi. 

"Our investment will fuel the next stage of the company’s growth while helping to connect more freelancers and SMEs with potential commercial opportunities," he added.

In light of the current economic challenges, Rizek intends to strengthen and maintain a fair marketplace. This will ensure customers receive the highest quality of services at prices that are fair to them as well as to those providing the service, said the company. 

The startup also plans to invest in upskilling its freelancers and SME service providers to help them land more opportunities. Furthermore, it looks to work closely with government bodies to help their employees upgrade their skills. 

Having launched their service marketplace in February 2020 with the support of its strategic stakeholders and experienced management team, the startup has built a strong platform of suppliers and consumers, and have delivered thousands of on-demand services with high levels of satisfaction.

 

June 14th 2020, 8:45 am

From the valley of death to the oasis wadi

Wamda

It has become evident that the Covid-19 crisis is like no other. While its persistence and long-term impact on society as a whole remain unclear, it has proven to be extra punishing for the livelihoods of those who work in small and medium enterprises (SMEs), the entrepreneurs who earn a living from their neighbourhood businesses and the individuals who work in these establishments.

The startup and SME sectors combined contribute up to 40 per cent to gross domestic product (GDP) and up to 50 per cent to private sector employment in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), according to the International Monetary Fund. They are the engine of employment and they sustain a huge part of society. When they suffer the whole society suffers, and when they thrive the whole society thrives.

These businesses are contagious, both negatively and positively. They have a multiplier effect on consumption across all sectors, be it retail, entertainment, travel and tourism, food and beverage, finance or logistics.

According to the Wamda Research Lab, Covid-19 has resulted in a negative impact on 71 per cent of the startups in the region, of which 22 per cent have suspended operations, and 21 per cent are witnessing a high decrease in demand resulting in significant losses. Since the outbreak hit Mena, these startups have either pivoted to maintain business or scaled back their operations to survive.

It is not only about the livelihoods of individuals who own and work in SMEs in countries where there is a slowdown, but also the ripple effect on the countries where these individuals and expats come from. Most SME workers in the GCC are expats, the fact that they support their families through the remittances they send back home, results in an even bigger wave of impact across borders.

So what can be done to help SMEs and consequently the wider economy from suffering so much?

To begin with, any support programme tailored to SMEs needs to be viewed as an investment rather than a cost or a burden, and it is down to governments to step up their support to SMEs first, and most aggressively. In a severe crisis like this pandemic, it is governments that are the supporters of the last resort, it ought to be part of governments’ purpose and their investment in the wellbeing of societies.

Even in the most economically-liberal countries in the world like the US, it was the government that stepped in so aggressively with stimulus packages through the Pay Check Protection Program  which gives loans to SMEs to keep their employees for two months on the payroll. According to Small Business Administration, “the loan will be fully forgiven if the funds are used for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent, and utilities (due to likely high subscription, at least 75 per cent of the forgiven amount must have been used for payroll). Loan payments will also be deferred for six months. No collateral or personal guarantees are required. Neither the government nor lenders will charge small businesses any fees”.

In the European Union (EU), where SMEs represent more than 99 per cent of businesses and employ two out of every three people, the European Commission has taken several steps to prolong the survival rate of this crucial sector of the economy. These have included liquidity measures to mobilise financial support SMEs while EU countries, national and commercial banks have also quickly put measures in place to facilitate the provision of financing to SMEs adversely affected by the Covid-19 outbreak. Enabling SMEs to preserve cash has become top priority with governments in several countries in Europe instructing companies to put staff on furlough, whereby the government pays part of employee salary. 

As other governments think of such stimulus programmes, they are really investing in society in a time of need so that it stays on its feet and maintains productivity, thus maintaining economic activity, which is a return on investment to the stimulus providers. It is also viewed as a government partnership with the private sector by supporting small business entrepreneurs, who avail certain incentives in return. This keeps the sector healthy so that the economy thrives and consumption is sustained. The multiplier effect then takes hold and as a consequence, society as a whole continues to thrive or at least the impact of a downturn is limited. This view looks at the world as a two-way process of benefit, it is a holistic view of the economic cycle of investment and empowerment for prosperity.

So, what do SMEs need to weather the financial crisis?  The answer is very simple, SMEs need cash flow - funds to bridge the downturn period and safely escort them to the return of economic activity where they can self-sustain.

  1. They obviously need clients who are able to pay, so that they have the capacity to operate and cover their costs. When capacity is cut down by 50 or 70 per cent, costs need to go down in parallel. Some companies with difficult and unsustainable business models will die regardless and so they need to be left alone, but the majority that were thriving or even just surviving before the crisis do not need to shut down. This can all happen if we bridge the valley of death reflected in no cash flow coupled with the same cost structure and far lower revenue.
  2. What is ideal for SMEs at this point is to get direct salary support from government, or at least salary support matching funds where government matches the salaries already paid by owners.
  3. Moreover, SMEs need loan guarantees, especially if the company can show a history of good cash flow.
  4. Cost reduction by getting rent support, utilities and VAT/customs duties subsidies are all factors that contribute to preserving cash flow that contribute to companies’ survival.

It all comes down to cash flow until the economy gets back to some normalcy. However, the required support cannot be just a delay of liabilities to a future date which will then pose a long-term burden, it should be a combination of carrying and easing the cash flow challenge as well as some cost relief. If we are able to achieve this, we will keep SMEs alive and hence help the economy bounce back so that the economic cycle goes back, slowly but surely.

June 14th 2020, 2:26 am

A deep dive into the GCC’s cloud kitchen sector [part one]

Wamda

When Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick sold most of his shares in the mobility giant to launch CloudKitchens, securing a $400 million cheque along the way from PIF, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, it ignited a wave of interest among the world’s tech community. With one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs at the helm and plenty of capital, then surely this new startup was going to be the next unicorn.

Also known as dark, satellite, virtual and ghost kitchens, the cloud kitchen space has opened up a world of virtual restaurants, menus and brands. Prior to Kalanick’s foray into the sector, cloud kitchens were already making their mark in India and Singapore.

While industrial and commercial kitchens have always existed, they have traditionally operated as a real estate play – leasing out their facilities to caterers, cooking classes and food manufacturers, usually small brands creating shelf-ready products. With technology this evolved, initially by incorporating an online booking system and then with the rise of online food delivery, these kitchens became the spot where restaurants and virtual brands serviced the delivery-only market.

And so commercial kitchens went from being a space to cook, to becoming a tech-infused “cloud” operation and over the past couple of years, the UAE has emerged as a global hotspot for startups in this sector. According to data from RedSeer Consulting, cloud kitchen revenues in the UAE and Saudi Arabia jumped 160 per cent from 2018 to 2019 and is currently worth more than $65 million. 

Within the cloud kitchen space, several business models have also emerged and speaking to the founders of each reveals one thing – each is convinced and adamant their model is the right one.

But before we explore the different business models, it is important to understand what has driven such a fast-paced rise in cloud kitchens in the region.

Food Delivery

The Middle East and North Africa (Mena) is one of the most lucrative parts of the world for online food delivery, data from Statista shows that the market was worth $3 billion last year.

When the third-party food delivery startups like Deliveroo and Talabat first appeared, they aggregated demand for online food delivery and did so on a single screen. Printed menus, ordering by phone and paying cash on delivery were soon replaced by a single app that offered variety, live tracking of food and the ability to pay online which simplified the process.

“The fact that 80 per cent of customers said they wanted food delivery platforms because of convenience and variety, this changed behaviour and it meant satellite kitchens suddenly had a very big use case,” says Sandeep Ganediwalla, managing partner at RedSeer Consulting.

As more people ordered online, restaurants struggled to handle large delivery orders inhouse and that opened up the opportunity for cloud kitchens according to Peter Schatzberg, founder of Sweetheart Kitchen which is backed by Germany's Delivery Hero. The company has raised a total of $24 million in funding and just opened its fifth cloud kitchen in Dubai this week.   

“They [food delivery aggregators] created a new model that relied on a product from restaurants that was never designed for delivery,” he says.

Restaurants were more familiar with plating up meals for their dine-in guests than packaging them up for a 20-minute motorbike ride.

“They never designed their product for rapid assembly, cooking, production and delivery. You now have all these restaurants that have been around for 10-15 years trying to adapt to a product that needs to be ready in three to five minutes for pick up,” he says.

According to Schatzberg, a typical restaurant can process 15-20 delivery orders per hour, but a cloud kitchen like his can process 60 with just one employee.

“Our kitchens are built to remove all the challenges in the supply chain system for delivery. It is more about building a system where everything is assembled on an assembly line in a way where the employee is moving from left to right, they’re not moving around the kitchen. It is a lot of volume coming to a small, limited area,” says Schatzberg.

In short, cloud kitchens aim to maximise the utilisation and revenue per square foot of kitchen space and from that two main models have emerged.

Kitchen-as-a-Service/Satellite Kitchen

This business-to-business (B2B) kitchen-as-a-service (KaaS) model provides kitchen space and operations to either existing restaurants or virtual brands (more on virtual brands later). Startups like Kitchen Nation and OneKitchen supply a fully-fitted space to individuals or small brands who pay about Dh14,000 in rent every month. This model essentially works like a co-working space for chefs.

“Our philosophy is very simple, we build the best kitchens and we fit them out for the operational needs of restaurants. The restaurants bring their own ingredients and staff because that’s what they do best,” says James Kilcullen, co-founder of OneKitchen.

Others like iKcon and Kitopi, which has expanded its presence to six cities across the UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and London, and has raised $89 million in three funding rounds, also employ their own chefs to cook the meals.

They effectively operate as a satellite kitchen for brands and the dishes are sold on the food delivery aggregator platforms. The main benefits of the KaaS model is it allows restaurants to increase their distribution network across a city, it serves as an economic opportunity to experiment in new locations without the hefty fees of opening up a restaurant and by listing on a third party aggregator, it gives them instant access to the aggregator’s user base.

According to RedSeer, the KaaS business model currently accounts for 60-70 per cent of the cloud kitchens market in the region, but there is a lot of variety in how each operates.

Kitopi for example keeps about 85 per cent of the brand’s revenues and pays 15 per cent in royalty to the restaurant and sets a monthly marketing budget for them too. iKcon has a similar model and gives back 10-13 per cent in royalties. Deliveroo Editions charges a fixed monthly rent as well as delivery fees and commission from the meals sold on its platform.

Virtual Restaurants

While KaaS and satellite kitchens rely on existing brands, the virtual restaurant operators like Sweetheart Kitchen create their own brands and menus, usually centred on offering a variety of one dish, like salads, or poke bowls or falafel wraps.

“I don’t partner up with other restaurant operators, we build our own brands, everything is private label, it allows us to make quick changes to menus. So if something is not selling, I can change it, I don’t have to secure raw materials from different vendors,” says Schatzberg.

Sweetheart Kitchen currently has 11 brands in Kuwait and 20 in the UAE inculding Wingo (chicken wings) and Affordabowls (grain salad bowls).

Like India-based Rebel, which began as a restaurant that pivoted to offer several brands out of its one kitchen, Jihad El Eit, founder of the Dubai-based restaurant Manou’she Street, decided to repurpose his entire business model into a virtual restaurant. Currently a mix of dine-in and delivery, El Eit will convert all his restaurants into cloud kitchens to serve his roster of virtual brands.

“Today someone who has a space and wants to increase efficiency per square foot will take out 15 to 20 brands. The game is to make sure you utilise your people and space efficiently,” he says. “What we’re trying to do now post-Covid is to convert all our kitchens to cloud kitchens. So today we have 10 brands, we are going to keep building brands and change the layout and designs of our kitchens to accommodate the delivery operation.”

Besides Manou’she Street, the company also operates Buk Buk Chicken (fried chicken) and Wrapped (sandwich wraps).

The advantage of operating several brands out of one space is wider exposure to different segments of the food delivery market, it also allows for swift responses to customer ordering habits and this sort of data can be used to develop new brands aimed at specific geographic areas in a city. But one man who does not rely on data is Schatzberg who boasts his experience in the sector is enough to determine what consumers want.

“I’ve been in the food business for a long time, sometimes you build something innovative and the customer doesn’t know what they want until they’re presented with it, I see myself as more of an inventor than an entrepreneur. It is combination of common sense and what works well for delivery and what people are buying,” he says.

Virtual Brands to Full Stack

While the virtual restaurants have their own kitchens and cook their own foods, virtual brands focus on the creation of the brands and menus only, leaving it to the third party operators to prepare, cook and deliver the food. This is still a small sector of the market, with only two operators in the UAE - The Leap Nation and Cloud Restaurants, both of which work with Kitopi.   

All of these cloud kitchen business models rely on a third party to execute various aspects of the chain, whether it is the brands in the case of KaaS operators, the delivery platforms in the case of virtual restaurants or both the cloud kitchen operators and the delivery platforms in the case of the virtual brands.

Where there are middlemen, there are fees and there are also cases of exclusivity required by the likes of Deliveroo Editions and Delivery Hero which can limit market reach. Wamda explored the criticisms that the food delivery aggregators have garnered recently and their struggles in producing healthy unit economics, which is why Ian Ohan, founder of UAE-based Krush Brands decided to opt for the “full stack” model – handling the entire supply chain from brand creation to last mile delivery. This, according to Ohan is the only way to control quality and ensure decent unit economics today.

“We own the entire value chain. I don’t believe in [the other] business models because all of them are giving up fees to franchisees or third-party delivery,” says Ohan.

Krush already has four brands under its roof, Freedom Pizza, Salad Jar, Wildflower and Coco Yoco, it will add six more and is also leasing out its spaces to local chefs to develop and curate their own menu, a virtual restaurant pop-up on its platform.

“We’ve been very selective about who comes into our kitchens, our idea is to support local chefs and give them all the tools, they pay a small rent, fee per delivery and a joint marketing fee,” says Ohan.

The first chef to join the Krush platform is Paul Frangie, founder of Hapi which once operated a restaurant in Al Serkal in Dubai. The menu that he creates and cooks in Krush’s kitchens will then be sold on Krush’s own platform and delivered by them too.

Krush’s brands have maintained a presence on Zomato, but Ohan has pulled them from all other third party platforms. Sixty-three per cent of the orders come directly through to the Krush website and app, the remainder through Zomato and phone orders.

“I’d love to stop it, we’ve tried everything to stop the phone orders, but they like speaking to us,” he says.

Tech or Real Estate?

When one considers technology in the kitchen, you might consider smart devices, perhaps even robots cooking food, but the sector is not quite there yet. Instead, the technology is in the systems put into place, ordering, storage and tracking of ingredients and meals. Kitopi is now using artificial intelligence to track whether its cooks are wearing gloves and face masks and washing their hands to ensure they are complying with the new safety guidelines.

“Most virtual kitchens might market themselves as tech, but they are not. We happen to be remarkably tech, every piece of inventory, quantity, movement is all in our system and there are no human decisions made. An employee does not cook or move food without being informed by the system,” says Schatzberg.

But it is not the technology that determines the success of a cloud kitchen, it is the rent of the space, it is the quality of the brands that operate in it and the food that comes out of it, it is the cost of the delivery, which is why for many, it essentially falls into the real estate sector.

“Out of all the other models, the real estate play is interesting, that’s real acknowledgment that the last mile is based on nodes, physical locations. You need a place to stage your delivery, you need to be within a 9-11 mile radius. Buying up real estate is interesting because that real estate will become more valuable over time,” says Ohan. “Being an operator of other people’s brands, I don’t know how much value there is in that. I see a lot of people playing with the idea that this is disruptive tech, but at the end of the day we serve food to people.”

In the second part of this deep dive we take a look at how cloud kitchens have performed during the Covid-19 lockdown period and whether they could be the saviour of the region’s restaurant sector.

 

June 10th 2020, 8:58 pm

TPAY Mobile acquires Turkey's Payguru

Wamda

Source: Zawya

UAE-based FinTech firm TPAY Mobile is acquiring 100 percent stake in Turkey’s mobile payment platform Payguru, it has been announced.

The acquisition is expected to strengthen the payment enabler’s presence in the Middle East and diversify into new business lines.

The deal comes at a time when demand for digital payment services is surging due to the coronavirus pandemic. Within the Middle East and Africa region, mobile payments is a popular alternative among 50 percent of the population, most of which is underbanked.

The FinTech sector in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is also growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 30 percent, much higher than the average global rate of 11 percent.

However, the transaction between TPAY and Payguru is still subject to the approval of the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey (CBRT) and the Competition Authority. 

Payguru offers several services, including mobile payments, ATM cash payments and bank transfers to merchants.

TPAY Mobile is a digital merchant acquirer that enables payments acceptance from more than 54 mobile payment types and wallets, which are connected to more than 580 million consumers.

According to Sahar Salama, founder and chief executive officer of TPAY Mobile, the acquisition of Payguru will support their diversification and expansion strategy.

“This transaction extends our footprint in the region, continues our diversification into new business lines and also significantly strengthens our value-added services proposition int he region,” he said.

“The regional and global FinTech sector is at an inflection point for growth, making this the perfect time to welcome Payguru in our fold,” he added.

June 10th 2020, 10:21 am

Syarah closes bridge round with participation from Impact46

Wamda

Syarah, an online marketplace for cars based in Saudi Arabia has closed its bridge to Series B round of investment, for an undisclosed amount, with participation from Impact46 and an angel investor.

The startup was launched in 2015 as a car-listing website and has grown to become of the largest automobile marketplaces in Saudi Arabia. The investment will be used to increase sales, expand to new cities, increase its inventory of used cars, and integrate with financial institutions to offer car-financing leases.

"Syarah Online is on a mission to disrupt and reshape the way cars are bought and sold in the region. Our new partnership with Impact46 will help us greatly towards achieving this goal. It will help us to improve our product offering and to better serve our users with a wider range of services,” said Salah Sharef, co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) at Syarah.

The company has about 300 active dealers from across the kingdom and has sold more than 1800 cars online since last year. The team is now planning to launch “Syarah Online”, a service that allows the end user to buy a car online and have the car shipped and delivered to their doorstep, offering the full process online without the need to contact or visit a dealer showroom.

“Saudi Arabia is the largest automotive market in the Middle East and North Africa accounting to ~40 per cent of total car sales. Syarah is well positioned to take the market not only by being one of the very first movers, but also by uniquely utilising their expertise to hone the opportunities in this underserved space,” said Kholoud Almohammadi from the Impact46 team.

 

June 9th 2020, 6:01 am

What is the most important lesson we can learn from this pandemic?

Wamda

Students of history will be familiar with the term “superpower”, countries that wield global influence by means of economic, military, technological or cultural strength. As superpowers shifted from empires to nation states, it was countries like the US and China that dominated the trajectory of global development.

But the coronavirus has not only demonstrated the vulnerability of the world’s most influential states, it has decimated the notions of grandeur that once surrounded them. It is no longer the size of the defence budget or nuclear capabilities that matter, but the systems and the technologies that one has in place to deal with such a pandemic.

Thanks to the early lockdown in our part of the world and the large youth population, we in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) seem to be faring better than others where the death rate is concerned. But if there is one lesson to be learned from this nightmare, it is the need to invest locally and invest heavily in research and development (R&D).

Because ultimately, the only way to defeat this virus and cope with the devastation it has caused is through innovation. Currently, governments across Mena invest about 1 per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP) in R&D, a pitiful sum that has led us to become consumers of technology rather than pioneers of its development. According to the Unesco Institute for Statistics, just 10 countries account for 80 per cent of global R&D spend – these include South Korea, Japan, Switzerland, Finland and Denmark as well as the US. Israel, with more than 8000 researchers per million inhabitants, tops the ranking in R&D spending as percentage of GDP at 4.2 per cent.

This lack of funding in R&D has resulted in a lack of commercialisation of research, it has contributed to the brain drain, where some of the region’s most accomplished scientists go abroad to further their research or work. This has a direct impact on the ability to innovate, a target for governments across Mena.

That is not to say that we are a region without the capability to innovate. Startups that pioneered online and digital services have helped us maintain access to daily essentials like groceries, allowing life to continue in lockdown. Local manufacturers like 3D printing companies shifted their efforts to help support frontline workers around the world. Yes, we have managed to adapt to the new normal better than most, but we are still waiting for the global community to provide us with the critical medical equipment, and a vaccine.

The pandemic has highlighted the precarious nature of the global supply chain and shifted procurement to the local, resulting in new opportunities for local manufacturers but a shortage and a void where local suppliers do not exist. Continuing to rely on the global community, particularly for scientific knowledge and advancement will become a disadvantage.

To truly move towards a knowledge-based economy where innovation can thrive, it requires vast amounts of investment into the people working on innovation – this means the education system, the research centres in universities, it is the startups that are working on and developing new technologies. These are now the areas where governments and investors ought to focus their efforts and channel their dollars.

The hackathons that have taken place around the world and highlighted solutions put forward by innovators from the Middle East demonstrate the availability of the skills and talent here. We have already seen the first steps, Abu Dhabi Stem Cell Centre is working on developing a treatment for Covid-19 using stem cell therapy, meanwhile Citizen Science, a collective of 20 UAE scientists, researchers and engineers have come together to develop solutions to ease medical pressures on the healthcare system and successfully assembled its first ventilator prototype.

Engineers at the Technology Innovation Institute (TII) in Abu Dhabi are exploring new ways to sterilise equipment and to maximise the use of ventilators to treat more than just one patient.

A team of researchers and students at the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) in Al Ain have developed a solution that converts existing touchpoints into touchless ones to prevent the spread of the virus. The startup, called Meta Touch, has seen its technology, which converts elevator buttons into a touchless pad with users simply hovering their finger over the button, installed at Abu Dhabi Airport.  

“We live in a digital era and the Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us. Youth have a curious mind and curiosity is the engine of innovation. The ultimate reward is when you see pioneering technology such as touchless elevator buttons being implemented and positively contributing to the fight against Covid-19,” says Professor Nihel Chabrak, CEO at the UAEU’s Science and Innovation Park.  

The coronavirus is reconfiguring global status and rankings and the fight against it has led advanced economies looking to smaller nations for solutions and examples. A small country like Estonia has become a benchmark for countries like the UK and France to learn lessons in effective e-government.

With greater investment, an environment with regulations friendly to startup development and innovation, easier and more accessible means to patent and commercialise research, we too have the capability to offer the rest of the world solutions and technologies to help fight this pandemic, but it can only start with more R&D.

June 8th 2020, 9:27 pm

Ajar raises $7.5 million in pre-Series A

Wamda

Source: Trade Arabia

Ajar, a cloud-based property management and rent collection platform, has announced that it has raised $7.5 million through its pre-series A round with the backing from SBX Capital, a venture capital firm, 500 Startups and Seed Partner.

The newly raised investment will be deployed to further deepen its platform capabilities, grow the team, and expand its footprint in the Mena region and beyond, said the statement. 

Founded in 2016 by Shaheen Al Khudhari, Ajar is at the forefront of digitizing and transforming property management. . Today, Ajar manages over 35,000 units across Kuwait and the UAE, said Al Khudhari, who is also the CEO. 

Ajar has been gearing up for a regional expansion that includes Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Bahrain, he stated. 

“Our strategy is to enable anyone - from a landlord with one unit, to a real estate company with 10,000 units - to create an account online and immediately start automating their real estate management, wherever they may be,” added Shaheen. 

Sharif El Badawi, the managing partner for Mena, 500 Startups said: "Ajar is solving a real market problem, and has managed to rally a strong team of passionate innovators to carry its vision. The past few months have only been a testament to the startup’s resilience, and we are excited to see Ajar rise as a leader in PropTech." 

 Al Khudhari said: "During the Covid-19 lockdown, it quickly became very clear to landlords that going digital was the way forward. Rent collection for those who depended on cash and cheque payments completely stopped, affecting the majority in the market."

"Landlords saw Ajar as an opportunity to not only go digital, but to also gain insights on how the industry was minimizing losses, what tactics worked, and what didn’t. We became our clients’ advisors,” explained Al Khudhari. 

The company focused heavily on market education throughout the crisis, releasing several studies and collaborating with government entities to help them understand the state of the real estate market and guide their strategies, he added. 

Saoud Al Humaidhi, the founder and CEO of SBX Capital, said: "Real estate makes up the biggest asset class in the region. With the whole world going towards complete digitization, it makes perfect sense to tap into this industry."

"We are very excited about Ajar and the Mena property technology market, and hence made Ajar our first investment in the region.” affirmed , a venture capital firm focused on early stage companies that are leveraging technology," he added.

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June 8th 2020, 9:21 am

Seedstars: It's Easier Online Hackathon

Wamda

Digital & Financial inclusion have transformative power on the economy, community and employment. Digital transformation initiatives have been held back for various reasons but the COVID-19 outbreak showed that the need for Digital transformation can no longer be ignored, especially for vulnerable communities.

Therefore, Seedstars Cairo is launching a hackathon: 'It’s Easier Online' under the theme “ ﻋﻠﺷﺎن اﻟﺷﻐل ﻣﯾﺗﺄﺛرش ” with 2 challenges. No eligibility criteria, entrepreneurs from rural areas have a priority. 

Hackathon Challenge A: 

Following the outbreak of COVID-19, bustling markets, such as Attaba, Mosky, Darb El Barabra had closed down. The vendors were losing money by the hour and consumers had no access to their needs. The reopening of the market on 13th April 2020 caused public health concerns with the virus’ contagion risk ramping up.

Hackathon Challenge B: 

Farmers and producers in Upper Egypt don’t have access to a broad consumer base, especially with the limited movement between rural and urban areas. How to highlight speciality products in rural areas and transport them to urban areas.

Prizes: 

TOP 3: 

- Incubated under Intelaq, incubator program by the Academy of Scientific Research and Technology

- Receive 200.000 EGP initial funding throughout the six months program by the ASRT

TOP 5:

-  Support from Seedstars to implement submitted Business Models

- Discounted Services from our partners

- Three Months Zvendo membership

- Six Months Vexls membership

- Support on Logistics and Data by Aramex

- 20.000 EGP Cash Prize for 4th and 5th places

The deadline to submit the applications is June 18th 2020.

June 8th 2020, 8:16 am

Wahed Raises $25 million

Wamda

Source: Forbes

Wahed, the ethical investment fintech for Muslim investors, raised $25 million in venture funding with proceeds being funneled into ensuring people can invest their money into a diversified portfolio consisting of stocks, commodities, real estate and sukuk, the latter being Halal-focused asset ownership certificates.

The funding round led by Saudi Aramco Entrepreneurship Ventures, also known as Wa’ed Ventures, a venture capital investment arm of global petroleum and natural gas company and existing investors BECO and CueBall Capital, as well as Dubai Cultiv8 and Rasameel, is notable given the Covid-19 pandemic has destabilized private capital markets and decimated the fintech investment market.

“The Muslim investor has a specific requirement that prohibits them from keeping their excess savings in bank accounts,” said Junaid Wahedna, Group CEO of Wahed. “Banks utilize deposits to lend money for interest which is proven to increase inequality and cause an unfair advantage to the wealthier borrower, whilst charging a high interest fee for lower income consumers.”

Wahed has experienced incredible demand, not only in the MENA region but globally. With Saudi Arabia’s young population that are born digitally-savvy and practicing religion, the fintech organization have high hopes for development of the company’s subsidiary in this country in line with the KSA’s Vision 2030 that looks to be the investment powerhouse and thriving economy that connects three continents.

Since launching in 2017, Wahed was recently awarded the first RoboAdvisory permit by the financial regulator, the U.K.'s Capital Markets Authority (CMA), to launch its platform in KSA.

Tapping into the rising demand for Islamic and ethical investments, a sector that merges Sharia law and modern investment theory hasn’t hurt. Wahed have created an easy to use global platform, with free portfolio recommendation and no hidden fees, available through a mobile app and accessible in the U.S., U.K., and Malaysia. 

Wassim Basrawi, Managing Director at Wa’ed Ventures, made the following statement: “We believe in Wahed’s mission to provide ethical investing. The company has taken the lead in delivering investment services to one of the world’s fastest growing sectors – Islamic finance.

“Wahed is also, in the true spirit of fintech, helping to broaden the investment landscape. This latest funding round will enable Wahed to make Saudi their regional MENA hub and contribute towards a fast-growing fintech ecosystem.”

Wahed’s foray into Malaysia in 2019 bolstered their global presence, and the fintech firm now serves over 100,000 clients globally, with growth plans for the largest Muslim markets including Indonesia, Nigeria, India and the CIS.

Wahed believes that they are paving the way for ethical investment in Islamic finance and showing the world how underserved the Muslim market is. He adds that there is no doubt that Wahed’s growth will motivate local players to launch similar offerings. “We welcome efficiency in our industry as the end customer should always win without having to pay an unnecessary cost for investing in line with their ethics."

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June 8th 2020, 7:33 am

Orange Digital Ventures launches seed challenge for African, Middle Eastern startups

Wamda

Source: Disrupt Africa

Orange Digital Ventures has launched a seed challenge for startups from Africa and the Middle East, which will provide up to seven startups with investments of between EUR50,000 (US$56,000) and EUR150,000 (US$168,000).

Aimed at startups with high-growth potential and based on new technologies, the challenge is making available EUR500,000 (US$560,000) in funding and is open to startups in Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Morocco, Senegal, Tunisia and Jordan.

“As a major player in support of the digital ecosystem in our territories, it is important for Orange to provide a financing solution in addition to our training and support activities for entrepreneurs in Africa and the Middle East,” said Alioune Ndiaye, chief executive officer (CEO) of Orange Africa and the Middle East.

The winning startup, which will secure the main prize of EUR150,000 in funding, will also receive three months of support from Seedstars. Applications are open until July 19, with winners announced in September.

June 8th 2020, 4:33 am

DIFC invests in four fintech startups

Wamda

Source:Techradar

Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), an international business hub in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) region, has invested in four fintech start-up companies as part of its $100m fund, created in 2019.

The start-ups who applied for funding were evaluated by the DIFC FinTech Fund and more applications are being evaluated and further investments will be made by the fund soon.

The four companies are FlexxPay, a cloud-based B2B fintech employee benefits platform allowing instant access to earned income; Go Rise, a unique start-up building a holistic and seamless financial services platform; Now Money, which provides payroll services to Gulf-based companies; and “Sarwa, a robo-advisory wealth management firm.

“The DIFC FinTech Fund accelerates the development of impactful FinTech firms, taking them a step further toward capitalising on the strong growth opportunities available in the region. Through investing and providing the region’s most comprehensive platform, we can drive innovation across MEASA’s financial services sector,” Arif Amiri, Chief Executive Officer at DIFC Authority, said. 

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June 8th 2020, 4:33 am

Tabby raises $7 million and expands to Saudi Arabia

Wamda

UAE-based Tabby, a buy now, pay later financial technology (fintech) startup, has raised $7 million to fund its growth and launch its offering in Saudi Arabia. The funding round was led by Raed Ventures with participation from MSA Capital and existing investor Arbor Ventures.  

Launched in 2019 by Hosam Arab, previously co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of online retail site Namshi, with an initial $2 million in seed funding in which Wamda participated, Tabby gives consumers the flexibility consumers to buy products and pay for them at a later time. 

The startup says its Pay Later option is an alternative to cash on delivery (COD) by allowing customers to purchase products online using only their mobile phone number and email address and requires no pre-registration or credit card to use. Tabby’s Pay in Installments option gives customers the flexibility to pay for their purchases in multiple, interest-free installments without requiring a credit card.  

“We are very pleased to bring our best-in-market solution to Saudi Arabia at a time when consumers and merchants alike will be strapped for cash. This funding will give our merchant partners further security and assurance that we are sufficiently capitalised to support their sales,” said Arab.

Over the past few months Tabby has partnered with more than 20 regional e-commerce retailers including Golden Scent and most recently the Apparel Group, whose portfolio includes Tommy Hilfiger and Aldo. Tabby also signed an agreement with logistics firm DHL to handle its COD payments.

“Hosam and his team have built an impressive product that structurally solves key friction points in a transaction for both consumers and merchants, which is especially relevant given the current pandemic. We’re very excited to partner with Tabby, and support its timely launch in Saudi Arabia,” said Saed Nashef, founding partner at Raed Ventures.

The Coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown has boosted e-commerce in the GCC. Coupled with the likely negative financial impact on businesses and consumers in the months to come, Tabby claims to offer a financial product that can help customers better manage their spending by splitting their purchases into multiple installments which can increase customer loyalty and open retailers up to new customers in the region.

June 8th 2020, 4:02 am

Shezlong raises investment to expand operations

Wamda

Cairo-based Shezlong, an online mental health platform, has raised a new investment round. The round saw participation from Singapore-based AAIC, which is focused on the healthcare sector in Africa, Mohamed El Khamissy, chairman of MK Capital, and Khaled Ismail, chairman of HIMangel, an angel fund in Egypt and one of Shezlong’s early investors. The amount of the round was not disclosed.

 

Founded in 2014, Shezlong allows patients to connect with licensed therapists through video calls online. It offers free sessions to assess the patients’ mental health and to detect any psychological problems.

 

The platform uses cognitive behavioural therapy to teach individuals how to manage stress and anxiety.

 

The round will enable Shezlong to expand its services in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region as well as to Arabic speaking population globally. In addition, the platform will introduce new products that focus on mental health, including text-based therapy and corporate wellness programmes.

 

“Mental health is important at every stage of life and our mission in Shezlong is to help people manage their psychological and mental health at all times and make therapy accessible to everyone,” said Ahmed Abu ElHaz, founder and CEO at Shezlong. “We believe that with the new investment, Shezlong will be able to expand its services vertically and horizontally in the Middle East.”

 

The platform, which currently hosts more than 500 consultants, has attracted ten thousand cases from several countries including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Germany, and the US. It also has about 100,000 registered users who follow up frequently with their therapists.

 

“Your mind controls your health. Shezlong has great potential to help bring people back to good health through its platform with its privacy protection. We live in a stressful world with uncertainties such as COVID-19, which has led to increased psychological distress. We are excited to join Shezlong’s journey to address such mental health challenges,” said Shigeru Handa, director at AAIC.

 

“Besides the peak in demand that is happing during these difficult times, we believe that the number of people who need mental health support is much higher than reported, and the convenience and quality of support offered by Shezlong will uncover these numbers”, said Khaled Ismail, chairman of HIMangel.

June 7th 2020, 10:21 am

What happens when things don't go to plan?

Wamda

At the start of this year, Wamda launched the second cohort of its fellowship programme, Wamda X. The 13 startups selected embarked on a series of workshops, one-to-one mentoring and exclusive events to kickstart their businesses. But towards the end, lockdown measures were enacted in the UAE and so plans had to change. The remaining workshops were conducted online, so too was the demo day. For the fellows themselves, they also had to tweak their business plans to become "pandemic-proof".

In this podcast, we speak to Wamda X's Annelies Docx and two of the startups that graduated - Holo and Simply New Cars, to discover what happens when things don't go according to plan. 

Wamda · Episode 30 - What happens when things don't go to plan?

 

June 6th 2020, 9:43 pm

Payfort launches Dh1 million initiative to support startups

Wamda

Source: Arabian Business

Payfort, a subsidiary of retail giant Amazon, has launched a AED1 million ($272,000) initiative in the UAE aimed at supporting startups and small-to-medium sized businesses (SMB). 

The initiative, which will also roll out to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, targets start-ups from more than ten categories including, grocery, food & beverage, home services, fashion, beauty, entertainment, health & fitness, automotive and e-learning.

Payfort will fund a three-month digital marketing campaign across multiple media channels, including organic, paid and influencer social campaigns, video content production, email marketing campaigns and internal marketing promotions.

More than 100 of its startup and SMB partners will also feature on Payfort’s digital channels.

Omar Soudodi, managing director of Payfort, said: “The Payfort team understands that this is a critical time for many startups and SMBs. With #StartUpStayUp, we aim to help as many businesses as we can to accept payments online quickly and improve cash flow.”

Continue reading this story

June 4th 2020, 1:48 pm

Payfort launches $272 million initiative to support startups in UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt

Wamda

Source: Arabian business

Payfort, a subsidiary of retail giant Amazon, has launched a AED1 million ($272m) initiative in the UAE aimed at supporting start-ups and small-to-medium sized businesses (SMB). 

The initiative, which will also roll out to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, targets start-ups from more than ten categories including, grocery, food & beverage, home services, fashion, beauty, entertainment, health & fitness, automotive and e-learning.

Payfort will fund a three-month digital marketing campaign across multiple media channels, including organic, paid and influencer social campaigns, video content production, email marketing campaigns and internal marketing promotions.

More than 100 of its start-up and SMB partners will also feature on Payfort’s digital channels.

Omar Soudodi, managing director of Payfort, said: “The Payfort team understands that this is a critical time for many start-ups and SMBs. With #StartUpStayUp, we aim to help as many businesses as we can to accept payments online quickly and improve cash flow.”

Payfort has also joined forces with leading banks in the region, including Emirates NBD Bank in the UAE, Commercial International Bank (CIB) in Egypt and The Saudi British Bank (SABB) in Saudi Arabia, to promote the campaign to their customers through targeted announcements.

June 4th 2020, 7:27 am

Dubai family office invests in India's iNurture

Wamda

Source: Vccircle

Bengaluru-based ed-tech startup iNurture Education Solutions Pvt. Ltd, a provider of formal higher education programmes in India, has raised $4 million (Rs 30 crore) from Kimera Ltd, a Dubai-based family office.

The company said in a statement it closed 2019-20 with revenue of about Rs 150 crore and that, it has turned profitable in this financial year.

Previously, in January 2018, the startup had raised Rs 28 crore in Series C round of funding led by venture capital firm Ventureast.

Founded by Ashwin Ajila and established in 2007, iNurture offers industry-related courses in association with universities and colleges across India. It has more than 10,000 students in its full-time undergraduate and postgraduate programs and is currently present in more than 35 campuses across the country.

With the current COVID crisis, the company is delivering classes online and is finishing the academic requirements for its students on schedule using its technology platform. “The Covid-19 crisis presents an enormous opportunity for iNurture to engage with undergraduate and postgraduate students digitally and make them career ready within the confines of their homes,” Ajila said.

“We are making this platform free during these times so that students can avail of the full benefits of the platform. We are also seeing a rising demand globally for our employability solutions and with Kimera’s investment, we will soon be available in the middle-east market as well”, he added.

Kimera, meanwhile, is a Dubai-based a single-family office established in January 2017 with a global multi-asset investment mandate, investing across public equity, private equity, venture capital, fixed income and real estate. Kimera’s CIO is Zaid Al-Qaimi, who was previously with the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), according to a Bloomberg report.

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June 4th 2020, 5:13 am

AUC Angels Invests in Mogassam and Furnwish

Wamda

Source: WAYA

AUC Angels, the first university based investment network in the Middle East, has announced its investment in dental 3D printer manufacturer, Mogassam and AR furniture startup, Furnwish. The network led the pre-seed round for Mogassam, and participated in the seed round for Furnwish. However, the exact investment amounts were not disclosed. 

Mogassam: Streamlining the Dental Workflow 

Founded by Ahmed Adel, Ahmed Atef and Mostafa Saleh, Mogassam is a B2B platform that designs, manufactures and markets digital light processing (DLP) 3D printers, currently used for dental equipment. Mogassam digitizes the workflow for dentists allowing them to print their own crowns, aligners and Hollywood Smiles based on their patient’s imprint. The startup aims to complete the digital dental workflow. 

Furnwish: Brining Your Furniture to Life

Founded by Reham Elmasry, Ahmad Amin and Inji Naguib, Furnwish is an augmented reality (AR) application empowering furniture stores and design professionals to better showcase their products and services. An innovative solution helping millions of people who are trying to furnish their homes, the startup has been making waves ever since it launched in 2017. Most recently, Furnwish won the title of “best company that has innovative work plans for the future” at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January 2020.  

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June 4th 2020, 4:25 am

Beyond Incubation: Universities as agents of startup development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Covid-19 Response

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

June 3rd 2020, 8:55 pm
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