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Is the Palestinian diaspora key to enabling local startups?

Wamda

Ghassan Taha Amayra is the co-founder of MENACatalyst

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

July 17th 2019, 8:23 pm

Cryptyd raises pre-Series A funding

Wamda

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

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

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

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

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

July 16th 2019, 9:24 am

Oasis500 launches second fund

Wamda

Source: Mena Fn 

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading this story 

July 16th 2019, 7:38 am

Grofers receives funding from Abu Dhabi firm

Wamda

Source: Arabian Business

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading the story 

July 16th 2019, 7:24 am

Oasis500 begins round two of investment for young entrepreneurs

Wamda

Source: Mena Fn 

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading the story 

July 16th 2019, 7:24 am

In conversation with Abdullah Bahabri of Nota Nota

Wamda

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

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

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

Why did you become an entrepreneur?

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

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

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

How did the idea for Nota Nota come about?

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

What were your main challenges when you first started?

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

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

What are the main lessons you’ve learned?

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

What will your industry look like in the next decade?

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

July 15th 2019, 8:59 pm

COLNN raises $100,000 in seed round

Wamda

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

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

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

 

July 15th 2019, 9:20 am

Code Geist Entrepreneurial Hackathon

Wamda

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

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

July 15th 2019, 8:34 am

in5 expects to raise Dhs 200 million for participant startups

Wamda

Source: The National

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading the story 

July 14th 2019, 11:32 am

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

Wamda

Source: The National

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading the story 

July 14th 2019, 10:10 am

AlgoDriven raises $625,000 in Pre-Series A

Wamda

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

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

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

July 14th 2019, 9:58 am

in5 incubator to fund startups with estimated Dhs 200 million

Wamda

Source: The National

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading the story 

July 14th 2019, 6:59 am

The GCC's smallest island is attracting startup attention

Wamda

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Cloud-first’ and open regulation

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

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

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

The arrival of AWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

The battle is on

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

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

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

Fuelling fintech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not just fintech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 13th 2019, 10:05 pm

How Middle East startups can win on social

Wamda

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

July 10th 2019, 8:00 pm

Clara closes seed round at $2,000,000

Wamda

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

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

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

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

July 10th 2019, 11:41 am

The Intelak Incubator

Wamda

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

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

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

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

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

July 10th 2019, 11:41 am

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

Wamda

Source: Menabytes

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

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

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

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

Continue reading the story 

July 10th 2019, 6:23 am

Washmen raises $6.2 million Series B

Wamda

Source: Menabytes

Washmen, a Dubai-based dry cleaning and laundry service has raised $6.2 million in its Series B round, the startup announced today in a statement to MENAbytes. The round was led by AddVenture, a global VC based in Russia, which happens to be a returning investor and has prev. invested in Dubai-based ServiceMarket as well. The round was also joined by Germany-based leading consumer goods company Henkel, Lebanon’s Cedar Mundi Ventures and B&Y Partners and UAE’s Clara Ventures. This round takes total investment raised so far by Washmen to $7.8 million.

Founded in 2015 by Rami Shaar and Jad Halaoui, Washmen had originally started with an asset-light model connecting customers with logistics partners and existing laundromats, but now fully owns the supply chain after launch of its own 30,000 square feet laundry and dry cleaning facility last month.

Washmen allows users to order laundry or dry cleaning services through its mobile app (for Android or iOS) by selecting pick up and drop off times. The turnaround time is 48 hours but users also have the option of requesting next day delivery by paying 50 percent premium on the charges.

The statement by Washmen notes that its strategy to vertically integrate across the supply chain was gradual over the last 4 years which helped them improve unit economics and customer retention. The startup claims to have become the largest retail laundry and dry clean operator in the UAE.

Continue to read the story 

July 9th 2019, 4:15 am

In conversation with Sahiqa Bennett of Searchie

Wamda

Searchie uses artificial intelligence (AI) to determine a candidate’s suitability for a job. The technology monitors 361,000 factors during a 15-minute video interview, including micro-facial analysis, body language and the interviewee’s talking points.

It was co-founded by Sahiqa Bennett, after going through a difficult recruitment process when hiring for her own business. Bennett claims that the AI platform prevents human bias and can help companies prevent high employee turnover and toxic work environment by identifying the candidates best suited to the job requirements and the company culture.

Searchie recently raised $2 million.

Why did you become an entrepreneur?

It was accidental and it was not at all what I expected it to be. I couldn’t really find the service I was looking for when we were hiring people and growing really fast as a business. Hiring was a dreaded pain, I moved into that space because I couldn’t deal with it.

The thing about being an entrepreneur is you can really experiment more. If you’re working for a company your wings are clipped, there’s politics, bureaucracy, things that are not good for the business. Being an entrepreneur you can create a unique offering and an environment you’d love to work with.

What were your main challenges when you first started?

Funding was the main challenge, you have to balance growth with cash. It was all self-funded, this year we had huge growth, so we raised a round this year. The decision is always difficult to go from self-funding to investors, we got valued outside the region and looked at our competitors and tried to gauge where we were. Sometimes you can be a bit blinded, you can be a big fish in the UAE, but a tiny fish globally.

What are the main lessons you’ve learned?

You have to be proactive, everything you get exposed to, you have to go start learning about it. You have to be so obsessed with your business and vision that you cannot think of anything else. One of the secrets of entrepreneurism is to be more open minded and absorb the expertise of the people who know more than you.

People think you have the freedom to do what you want, but you sacrifice so much. There is a fire inside of you which totally brings this whole new energy you never knew you had. You have to make many decisions under pressure, decisions on things you’ve never thought about. As you long you think strategically, the painful stuff doesn’t feel as painful, because it’s a step to get to your goal. If you get caught up in the pain and difficulty, you give up.

How did the AI component come into play?

We didn’t start with AI. Our [minimum viable product] MVP was a video platform for freelance recruiters, but we thought there are other video platforms out there, there were other freelance recruiter networks. We didn’t feel like it was a ground breaker. It took 10 months of research, reports, looking at personality traits and then we tried AI. We developed our own framework internally and used third party solutions in a different way to build our own and combine it all together.

What will your industry look like in the next decade?

AI is there to speed things up and be efficient. One of the biggest challenges is diversity of data and Mena has one of the most diverse databases, it is reflective of the region, which is one of our strongest points. The misunderstanding of AI is that it is taking away people’s jobs, but AI can solve everything about a business. If you give a person the right tools, they will improve the way things are done. As for hiring, a lot of people will continue to hire through word of mouth, then technology will change the way hiring is done and how we develop employees.

July 8th 2019, 8:57 pm

Misk Innovation's growth accelerator to invest $100,000 in MENA startups

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Misk Innovation, the innovation arm of Misk Foundation, a non-profit established by Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman to develop and empower country’s youth, has announced the launch of a growth accelerator for startups in the Middle East & North Africa. The accelerator has been launched in partnership with Seedstars and Khobar-based Vision Ventures, who will be investing $100,000 (collectively) in each selected startup. The selected startups will also have the chance to receive up to $1 million in follow-on funding from Vision Ventures and/or Seedstars.

It is the second accelerator launched by Misk Innovation within the last one year. The organization last year had launched an accelerator program for pre-seed and seed stage startups in partnership with 500 Startups. And the feedback we’ve been hearing about that program is excellent. Misk 500 had graduated its first batch a few weeks ago. The selection criteria for Misk 500 was a bit lenient so the first batch had many startups that didn’t have any traction.

For this growth accelerator, however, the organization is only looking for startups (from all across MENA) that have achieved product-market fit, have over $10,000 in monthly recurring revenue ($120,000 annual revenue) and have prev. raised between $250,000 and $1,000,000. This falls somewhere in the territory of 500 Startups’ Pre-Series A program. Misk and its partners have not shared the details about how much equity they will be taking from the participating startups. 500 Startups invests $150,000 (including the program fee) in exchange of 5 percent equity in the startups participating in its Pre-Series A program.

According to Misk Innovation’s website, the three-month program will feature three on-site bootcamps in Riyadh and virtual webinars and one-to-one mentor meetings. The program will kick off in September with a five-day bootcamp in Riyadh and end with a closing bootcamp and demo day in December. The accelerator will also feature a midway bootcamp. Misk’s website states that all the expenses (apparently flights and hotel) will be paid by the accelerator.

Continue reading this story

July 7th 2019, 7:26 am

Crowdfunding: A way to bridge the credit gap

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At first glance, the Middle East and in particular the GCC, seems like an ideal market for a robust crowdfunding economy. But the growth of this peer-to-peer form of financing has been sluggish, blamed in part by slow-moving regulations.

Having a great idea is only the first step for an entrepreneur and it can be difficult to attract and convince the right investors to support the vision. It requires networking, pitching one’s idea and picking out the smart money if one is lucky enough to attract the investment. For young startups that may not be ready to take on large, single source investments, alternative financing models may provide an answer.

The alternative finance market is worth billions globally, and chief among them is crowdfunding where businesses can finance themselves or their projects by requesting small amounts of money from a large group of people.

In theory, this way of raising investment is not new, most businesses essentially “crowdfund” from friends and family in the early stages. However, the internet’s ability to address millions of potential investors at once has brought crowdfunding to the forefront of alternative financing and a promising aspect of financial technology (fintech). According to Statista, the worldwide transaction value in the crowdfunding segment currently amounts to $6.9 billion.

With open online platforms, crowdfunding makes raising capital and investing more accessible, efficient and transparent than other traditional sources of capital. Rather than replacing angel investors and venture capitalists (VC), the model serves as a vehicle for them to invest in small to medium sized enterprises (SME), along with other, perhaps smaller investors.  

From an investor’s point of view, it allows individuals to become involved in a project, without risking large sums. This opens up the possibility of investing to a larger demographic. According to Eureeca, a Dubai-based equity crowdfunding platform, up to 50 per cent of the investments come from the entrepreneur’s own network.

“Crowdfunding gives small investors access to something they wouldn't necessarily have access to before as it required significant capital. It allows them to diversify their investment better rather than increasing concentration risk by allocating too much capital to one investment,” says Siddiq Farid, chief executive officer (CEO) at UAE-based real estate crowd-investing platform Smart Crowd.

Credit Gap

Following the 2008 global financial crisis, banks tightened their lending policies and traditional investors became more risk averse. This has created a credit gap of $260 billion for SMEs across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) with just one in five having access to bank loans or other forms of credit. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), SMEs represent 96 per cent of registered companies in the region and about half of employment, but they account for just 7 per cent of total bank lending – the lowest level in the world.

This shortage has opened up the opportunity for companies like Liwa in Jordan and Dubai’s Ureeca and Smart Crowd to offer an alternative for SMEs seeking capital, but the uptake of crowdfunding in the region has been slow, partly due to local banking and financial regulations. As a startup itself, Smart Crowd has successfully navigated complex regulation red tape both from real estate regulatory bodies and the financial entities governing crowdsourcing. On region-wide delays in adopting crowdfunding platforms, Farid points to risk aversion and lack of awareness.

“Crowdfunding is a retail-focused product, hence the regulators have been slow to adapt to it,” he says. “Second, lack of understanding has led to delays and falling behind from global peers. The regulators here are a little more risk averse.”

The low credit-card penetration and banking penetration rate is also a barrier. World Bank data suggests that 69 per cent of the region’s population remains unbanked – transferring money online for the unbanked individual therefore, is a challenge. Egypt’s MoneyFellows, a rotating savings and credit association (ROSCA), another form of peer to peer lending where a small community of people contribute a fixed amount of money and take it in turns to receive the whole sum every month physically collects the cash from some its customers to overcome this issue. But this is costly and near impossible for crowdfunding campaigns that attract investors beyond one city.

“A lack of regulatory innovation, awareness and infrastructure play a role, even though the alternative finance market is worth over $300 billion around the globe. Mena and other emerging markets are not even close to harnessing this opportunity,” says Leila Mroueh, acting CEO of Zoomaal, a creative economy focused crowdfunding platform.  

Regulatory Hurdles

As the startup economy in the Middle East continues to grow, and more entrepreneurs turn to alternative investement, financial authorities throughout the region are tasked with putting into place appropriate regulations that protect both the investors and recipients alike. Existing crowdfunding platforms are taking it upon themselves to work with authorities, providing guidance in the development of crowdfunding regulations.

“The industry needs to develop in a safe and sound manner and countries need to adapt their regulatory, supervisory and consumer protection framework to address the unique risks of equity crowdfunding,” says Quawasmi.

But it is not just regulatory challenges that has held back crowdfunding. Some startups have been put off by the slow pay-out timings and concerns for their fundraising efforts in the future. If, and when a VC does come along to invest in a project, the concern is that they may be turned off by too many investors already on the capitalisation table. Sam Quawasmi, co-CEO and co-founder at Eureeca thinks that this mindset may be on its way out.

“While it is true that some VCs did have concerns about messy capitalisation tables, this is less the case now as crowdfunding has become more commonplace,” he says. “A large crowd of investors can be viewed as extremely positive because they are likely to be some of your best customers and advocates going forward. This is particularly true for B2C [business to consumer] businesses.”

Eureeca has recently seen a rise in the uptake of the alternative financing model, with 24,413 active investors on its platform and an average investment size of $5,800. The majority of its business comes from the UAE, but it has seen growth in the number of campaigns from Jordan, Egypt and Turkey. Of the 18 investments listed on Eureeca’s platform last year, 13 were successful. In 2017, the company listed 12 investments.

“The crowdfunding industry in the Middle East is now at a turning point. With the first deals funded by platforms now reaching the point in the cycle (three to five years) where we would expect to be seeing returns and exits to the crowd,” says Quawasmi. “We can anticipate the emergence of transparent and quantifiable statistics about the industry.”

Jobedu, a Jordanian streetwear startup that promotes Arab designers, successfully raised $220,000 using crowdfunding in only six months. In addition to raising the funds that the company required, it enabled the startup to engage with its customer base in a completely new way.

“Being a very public brand, we always want our community to own a piece of Jobedu and crowdfunding helped us facilitate that,” says Tamer AlMasri, co-founder at Jobedu. “Some of our crowd investors are now mentors to our team in their area of expertise and others have joined the board. Our most engaged investors are active with us on promoting the brand on a regional and international scale which is great.”

For now, crowdfunding may be the right solution for B2C startups with a strong customer base, while ROSCAs could provide an answer for founders in need of small cash injections every so often, but the only way alternative investments can grow is with the introduction of better regulations.

 

July 6th 2019, 9:07 pm

Ola raises $11 million in series J round

Wamda

Source: LiveMint

ANI Technologies-owned Cab aggregator Ola has raised $11 million in its ongoing Series J round from investors such as Swedish-based DIG Investment Ab, US-based Deshe Holdings, and individual investors, including Samih Toukan and Hussam Khoury, both of who are co-founders of Dubai-based technology investment firm Jabbar Internet Group, according to documents sourced from business information platform Paper.vc

"The current round of allotments appears to be part of Ola's ongoing $472 million Series J round of financing that includes a $238 million investment by Hyundai Motor Company and a $62 million investment by KIA Motors Corporation," said Vivek Durai, founder, Paper.vc.

Over the past few months, Ola has been raising capital in tranches as part of its broader discussions to raise $1 billion in fresh funds. The company had earlier secured $100 million from Sachin Bansal in January this year in its ongoing Series J round, which was also Bansal’s first major investment after his exit from Flipkart.

With new names like Jabbar Internet surfacing in the ongoing round, it can be seen as an effort to diversify Ola’s investor base. Ola’s founder Bhavish Aggarwal is considered to be in a long-drawn boardroom battle with its largest shareholder, SoftBank, which had offered to invest more in Ola and increase its stake in the ride-hailing platform. The Economic Times reported in December that SoftBank had offered to invest $1 billion in fresh capital into Ola.

Ola, which has a valuation of over $5 billion, has so far raised funding from institutional investors like SoftBank, Sequoia Capital, Accel, and from automakers like Kia Motors and Hyundai in the past.

Continue to read the story

July 4th 2019, 8:15 am

Angel Oasis 2019

Wamda

The Middle East Angel Investment Network (MAIN) is launching its 2nd edition of their annual conference, Angel Oasis 2019, which will be held in El Gouna, Egypt starting 31 October 2019. MAIN aims to promote angel investing across the region, to facilitate the syndication and flow of deals between its members and to provide a platform for training and exchange of best practice.

This event will bring together a large number of business angel networks, groups and funds as well as individual angel investors from across the Middle East and North Africa. The two-day training & networking conference will feature high-level panel discussions and break-out sessions with local, regional and international speakers and offer the unique opportunity to jointly discuss hot topics and issues relevant to angel investors in the region.

This year, the conference will build on last year’s success and will again feature high-level panel discussions that will cover sectors of interest, such as TransportTech, FinTech, Healthcare, CleanTech, and AgTech, as well as case studies unpacking some of the biggest exits in the region from an early stage investor perspective.

Register to attend

 

 

July 4th 2019, 6:58 am

2019 Futurism Programme

Wamda

The Futurism Programme, a 6-week, zero equity, accelerator programme in Dubai for the travel and tourism industry, aims to transform the tourism experience in Dubai, reinforcing Dubai’s position as a leading global destination. This year Dubai Tourism collaborates with Accenture to deliver the programme connecting the global technology startups with the leading tourism players in Dubai and the UAE.

Launched in 2017, the Futurism Programme was borne of the Dubai 10X initiative by the Government of Dubai to accelerate the city 10 years ahead of others, with the name 10X reflecting experimental thinking. In its 3rd edition, Futurism presents an opportunity for forward-thinkers to connect with major players in Dubai’s tourism industry and nurture radically different solutions for the next-generation of travelers.

Apply to the Programme if you are a growth stage startup that is looking to scale in a fast paced environment and connect with some of the top executives of Dubai’s tourism industry, as well as:

• Obtain free access and prime exhibition space at GITEX Future Stars, one of the largest startup conference in the Middle East & Africa.

• Pitch at GITEX Future Stars and get a chance to win a total prize money of AED 100,000.

• Network with the region’s startup ecosystem including investor, legal experts, technology partners and more.

• Connect with UAE government entities.

• Receive support to obtain licensing, visas and office space in Dubai.

 

* Please apply using the link here. Applications Close on 31st July 2019.

July 4th 2019, 3:55 am

Ecomz raises $4 million series A

Wamda

Source: MenaBytes

Beirut-based ecommerce management platform Ecomz has raised $4 million in a Series A round led by local VC Cedar Mundi Ventures, the startup announced yesterday. The round was also joined by iSME Lebanon, a government led funding initiative, and BLC Bank.

Founded in 2015 by Rudy Bekerejian and Amer Tabbara, Ecomz, just like Shopify, is an end-to-end ecommerce management platform that enables merchants to set up their mobile-optimized online stores and sell online. The merchants can set up their online stores using Ecomz’ store builder without having any technical skills.

The platform offers a variety of free and paid themes to choose from, for merchants. Ecomz also offers a range of built-in store management applications and different integrations including payments and shipping, enabling merchants to easily accept payments with international gateways and deliver their products all across the world. Ecomz’ personalized insights engine allows merchants to identify the weaknesses of their stores and optimize the performance.

The startup also enables merchants to grow in new markets through new sales and distribution channels including product sourcing and dropshipping, multi-vendor marketplace, and multi-channel integration.

Rudy Bekerejian, Co-Founder and CEO of Ecomz, commenting on the occasion, said, “Ecommerce is not only a game for pure players. Traditional retail can be largely enhanced with an online presence. Ecomz can ensure a smooth and seamless shift towards building a successful online business and aims to empower retailers throughout their business journey.”

Continue reading this story 

July 4th 2019, 3:24 am

What makes a good entrepreneurship hub?

Wamda

Recently, we published a feature on the battle of the startup hubs in the Middle East. There are several cities across the region, attempting to lure startups to their lands in a bid to boost and diversify their economies. But in their attempts at doing so, the competition might derail collaboration between them than encourage it.

A hub is not so much about the city but rather a location that can cater to multiple geographies and provides easy access to market. There are many factors that contribute to this and while some hubs in the world have emerged organically, like Silicon Valley, others have been purpose-built in a bid to foster innovation and collaboration between the different stakeholders.

Many of the West’s hubs and ecosystems were built on the principle of the Triple Helix framework as outlined in the 1990s by Professors Henry Etzkowitz and Loet Leydesdorff. The framework has academics, corporates, and government as the backbone of the knowledge society and innovation. This theory inspired many governments’ innovation policies, resulting in science and technology parks and eventually ecosystems.

As entrepreneurship has grown worldwide, this helix has developed into a pentagon, adding entrepreneurs and their lifeline – capital to the mix.

But in the Middle East there is another essential aspect to ensuring the success of a hub and that is the quality of life. In a part of the world that has more experience with conflict than innovation in recent times, attracting the best quality talent requires offering better living conditions and good infrastructure.

 

This is where Dubai in particular has excelled, attracting global and regional talent, providing a tax-free lifestyle, security and robust physical and telecoms infrastructure. It has, more so than any hub in the region, managed to draw global corporations to set up their regional headquarters, who have provided the experience necessary for budding entrepreneurs.

Other hubs, like Jordan and Egypt have managed to create their own talent pool with strong university programmes and a slew of engineering graduates every year. Yet neither country provides the quality of life that some of the other GCC hubs offer, nor do they have the same access to capital, rendering them the back office for many startups in the region.

Cairo, which is abundant in startups and new ideas, has become a hub for the rest of Egypt, but not the wider Middle East for this very reason. 

Saudi Arabia, the market that almost every company wants to access, has the capital and an improved regulatory environment, but its conservative societal laws make it a difficult destination for the expat community and thus the talent pool is lacking in the country.

Bahrain provides an interesting proposition to startups, particularly ones in the financial technology (fintech) sector. It has good infrastructure, a competitive telecoms environment and a regulatory environment that is very encouraging of entrepreneurship. But it is a late starter compared to Dubai, its talent pool is small and ecosystems and hubs take time to grow, they don’t appear overnight just because the government wants it to.

Where Bahrain can succeed is if it positions itself as a hub for Saudi Arabia. Around the world such examples like this exist, Hong Kong is a hub for China and Singapore is a hub for Asia.  

A hub is essentially an aggregator of companies, talent and capital. It requires a robust governmental and regulatory environment to support all aspects of this and the region’s hubs would do well to work more closely together to offer entrepreneurs different characteristics and focus and a more collaborative environment to ensure easier access to the region’s markets.

 

July 3rd 2019, 9:04 pm

Boutiqaat raises investment and doubles its valuation to $500 million

Wamda

Source: MenaBytes

Boutiqaat, the leading Kuwaiti beauty ecommerce startup has doubled its valuation to $500 million in eighteen months after raising an undisclosed amount of investment from a Gulf-based investment firm, different local media outlets reported yesterday. Abdulwahab Alessa, the founder and CEO of Boutiqaat confirmed the development to a Kuwaiti publication Alrai, without disclosing the size of the deal and name of investor. He also retweeted a couple of tweetsby other users confirming the news.

With this valuation and Uber’s acquisition of Careem, Boutiqaat with Property Finder is now the most valuable technology startup of the Middle East & North Africa.

Founded in 2015, Boutiqaat had raised $45 million from Boubyan Petrochemical Company, a Kuwaiti company with investments in different sectors including petrochemicals, manufacturing, healthcare and education, in January last year. At the time, it was reported that the investment came at a valuation between $250 to 300 million. Abdulwahab has now confirmed that the valuation when Boutiqaat made the investment was about $250 million.

Boubyan, the first investor in the company, has sold a part of its stake to the new investor, it announced in a different statement.

Continue reading this story 

July 3rd 2019, 6:57 am

FlexxPay raises new funds

Wamda

Source: GulfNews

FlexxPay.com, a Dubai-based social impact start-up, announced it has raised funding from a group of individual and corporate investors to roll-out its financial wellness platform.

The new platform will enable companies to offer salary advances to employees and will be launched in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. This follows the success of similar platforms in the US and the UK.

In a statement, FlexxPay did not disclose the value of the funding it raised or whom it came from.

The company’s platform allows employees an alternative to the traditional pay cycle. 

Where most employees receive a salary at the end of the month and may not be able to cover unexpected expenses, FlexxPay allows employers cloud-based technology through which they can offer employees a portion of their already-earned but yet to be paid salary.

Continue to read the story

July 3rd 2019, 6:09 am

Faylasof raises $500,000 Pre-Series A for its online bookstore

Wamda

Source: Menabytes

Amman-based online bookstore Faylasof has raised $500,000 as Pre-Series A funding from Saudi-based Wise Ventures, the startup told MENAbytes today. The startup before this round had raised capital from Amman-based Adam Tech Ventures, a VC firm founded by founders of leading Arabic encyclopedia Mawdoo3, and a UAE-based angel investor.

Founded by Mohamed Zatara in 2015, Faylasof currently sells over 2 million Arabic & English titles, shipping them all over the world with a focus on MENA. The platform features titles from over 4,000 publishers in nine countries and has its offices in seven countries across the region including Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.

Falyasof claims to have sold over 50,000 books in the last twelve months, shipping them to over 72 countries.

Mohamed Zatara, the founder & CEO of Faylasof thinks that the direct integration option that it offers to publishers, allowing them to control their inventory and pricing, is an edge Fayalsof has over its competitors.

Faylasof plans to use the latest investment to continue building different tools with the aim of digitizing the relationship between authors, publishers, and stores.

Continue reading the story

July 2nd 2019, 3:00 am

In conversation with Amr El Sawy of Buseet

Wamda

As the Middle East's most populous city with an insufficient public transportation system and rising fares, Cairo leaves millions of people struggling with their everyday commute.  

 Having to drive daily for long hours on his way to work, Amr El Sawy suffered from the same problem as the majority of the city’s inhabitants. So in 2016,  he decided to co-found Buseet, a bus network startup that offers affordable and convenient shuttle bus rides.  

 Before that, El Sawy worked as a mobile applications developer and was in technical sales at Microsoft after graduating from university with a degree in computer engineering. 

Why did you become an entrepreneur?

Since I was a student in university, I knew that I wanted to start my own thing that really affects people's lives positively. I had some ideas that I wanted to implement after I graduated but I could not because of lack of experience.  

How did the idea for buseet come about?

I used to live in El-Sheikh Zayed area and my work was in the 5th settlement. So, I used to drive everyday for almost four hours back and forth. The effect this had was dreadful on my productivity and my general mood. Our streets are not the best and are always busy. The driving attitude is not comfortable. 

At that time back then, Uber was launching in Egypt and I thought why not utilise a similar idea using buses. Also back then, tourism declined in Egypt and there were lots of high-quality tourist buses that were no longer in use and we could use it for public transportation and that was the idea.

 What were the challenges when you first started?

There was no reference for us to go back to and so we started talking with the users from the beginning, what they wanted, and how much they are willing to pay. We did not know whether users were excited to use such a service. We built a prototype through a website, we did not have a [mobile] application. We started advertising on social media and we found lots of demand. The first day, we started with two buses and they were full back and forth and that was a strong indication that there was a need. Our clients owned private cars and so we offered an alternative method of commute.

 What are your challenges now?

The challenge is to grow sustainably while creating a unique solution to address the users' problems. We do not want to recreate the model of public transportation that has fixed lines and fixed routes. We are trying to build something that is customisable to users and does not compromise the trip time. The other challenge is how to grow the team while not compromising on quality.

What is the biggest sacrifice you have made as an entrepreneur?

Mainly, my peace of mind. Startup life consumes your time almost by 100 per cent. So basically, my right to have vacation.

 What lessons have you learned?

Persistence. Nothing will succeed without persistence. Anyone who is trying to launch a startup that is not conventional and is trying to change lots of fixed beliefs will be met with lots of resistance. So, if you do not believe and protect your idea fully, you will fail.  

How do you reflect on Uber's recent acquisition to Careem?

It is good for us as startups but might not be the best for customers. It shows that there is huge potential for startups coming from this region to build businesses and to grow it. However after the acquisition, I expect that the fares will increase. Competition is good for all of us and pushes us to do our best and spend maximum effort we can do to solve those issues rather than just being lazy.

What will your industry look like in the next decade?

There will be huge investments that will happen in the sector. We are still scratching the surface including Uber and Careem. There is an enormous untapped market in terms of affordable and low-cost transportation. The challenge is to maintain the quality without increasing the prices.

 

July 1st 2019, 8:57 pm

Dhad closes an investment round

Wamda

Source: MenaBytes

Dhad, a Saudi-based audiobook startup has raised investment in a round led by Raed Ventures, the startup told MENAbytes today without disclosing financial details of the deal. The round was also joined by Khobar-based Vision Ventures, 500 Startups and Saudi angel network Oqal.

Founded in 2015 by Manar Alomayri, Dhad (for some reason their website is down atm – Twitter page here) is an Arabic audiobook platform enabling users to listen to different Arabic titles through its mobile apps. The books available on Dhad’s mobile apps are priced at SAR 6 to 22 ($1.6-5.9) each, with some of them being available for free. The startup currently has audiobooks published in the categories of literature, poetry, kids and teenagers, science & Islamic fiction, philosophy and novels.

Manar Alomayri, the founder and CEO of Dhad, speaking to MENAbytes, said, “Most of the Arabic content available online is religious, political or sexual. Its the type of content that divides people. We are trying to do the opposite. We want to bring them together through literature. We want to build content that brings them closer.

Dhad’s content according to Manar is being listened by the audience all across the world including places like Argentina where a large number of Arab Argentines (with Lebanese and Syria) reside and Germany that has received hundreds of thousands of Syrian immigrants in the last few years.

Manar also told MENAbytes that Dhad will be spending a big part of investment on content and technology.

Kitab Sawti, another Arabic audiobook platform, headquartered in Sweden raised $6 millionSeries A from different investors including Careem’s Abdulla Elyas, last month.

July 1st 2019, 7:45 am

WideBot closes pre-Series A round

Wamda

Source: Menabytes

Cairo-based Arabic chatbot building platform WideBot has raised six-figure (USD) Pre-Series A investment, the startups told MENAbytes today without disclosing the exact financial details about the deal. The investment came from Business Valley, a regional angel group network. WideBot had earlier raised $100,000 last year from two angel investors.

Founded in late 2016 by Mohamed Nabil and Ahmed Labib, WideBot had first started as an English chatbot building platform but has lately developed an Arabic version as well, which it claims is the first-ever Arabic chatbot builder in the region.

The platform is not available for the public but is being used by a small number of partners who have been given its early access. The platform enables people and businesses to build chatbots without coding in less than ten minutes. WideBot will be making the platform available to anyone with its public launch next month, the startup confirmed to MENAbytes. 

WideBot makes money by selling monthly subscriptions that start from $15 per month for SMEs and go as high as $1,000 per month for enterprises.

WideBot’s AI engine, according to Mohamed, comes with six Arabic slangs and features different drag and drop templates making it easy for its partners to build the bots.

He added that the investment will be used for further development of their platform to be able to offer an even better experience for building bots and support more slangs and more domains.

“We want to make bot building as easy as signing up for an account on Instagram,” noted Mohamed, in his conversation with MENAbytes.

The startup will also use a part of this investment to launch WideBot.AI later this year which will give data scientists and developers access to WideBot’s AI engine to build and their own Arabic NLP models.

Continue reading the story.

 

June 30th 2019, 3:23 am

Top five VC deals in the second quarter of 2019

Wamda

This quarter’s top five disclosed venture capital (VC) deals amounted to $98 million, with the UAE accounting for three of them. It was, however, Egypt’s Swvl that accounted for almost half of the total, the highest amount ever raised by an Egyptian startup. Three of the five startups were in the e-commerce sector, all of which are based in Dubai.

 In the first quarter of 2019, the top five disclosed deals amounted to $191 million, bringing the top 10 deals of the first six months of the year to $289 million, with the UAE accounting for $229 million of that.

 Here are the top five from the second quarter:

 

1) Swvl

The biggest investment in the second quarter of 2019 went to Swvl, an Egyptian application for booking buses, raising $42 million from VC firms including Sweden’s Vostok, Dubai-based BECO Capital, China’s MSA and Endeavor Catalyst, based in New York. 

The fund is also the biggest investment in an Egyptian startup so far. The startup that currently operates in Cairo, Alexandria and Nairobi said that it will use the funds to expand to different parts of Africa including Nigeria. 

2) AWOK.com

 The UAE-based e-commerce platform AWOK.com came second in the list with $30 million in a round jointly led by StonePine ACE Partners out of its StonePine ACE Fund and Al Faisaliah Ventures. 

The startup said that capital raised will mainly be used for further geographical expansion into Saudi Arabia, to enhance the AWOK platform, to reinforce the team and to increase AWOK’s offering across multiple product categories to cater to the growing demand in the region. AWOK also said that in the near future, it will scale its operations across growth markets in the GCC countries and North Africa.    

3) Mawdoo3

Amman-based Mawdoo3, an online Arabic content publisher, secured $10 million in May. The startup had secured an initial closing of $13.5 Million in July 2018, closing its series B with a total of $23.5 million. The investment came from UK-based Kingsway Capital, US & Egypt-based Endure Capital, Endeavor Catalyst, Choueiri group’s investment arm Equitrust, and Amman-based AdamTech Ventures. 

The startup said that the fund will be used for the launch of Ujeeb, a Quora-like digital Q&A platform that allows users to ask questions and receive answers in Arabic from different individuals. 

4) Sprii

The most recent and fourth biggest investment this quarter went to Sprii, a Dubai-based e-commerce platform that connects mums to different global brands. The startup raised $8.5 million in its Series A funding.  

The startup said it will use the fund to accelerate its expansion across the Middle East and invest in new technology and recruitment to enhance its customer experience.

5) Eyewa

In April, UAE-based eyewear e-commerce player eyewa raised $7.5 million in a Series A round, making it the fifth biggest deal. 

The investment was led by Wamda Capital with participation from GS shop, Choueiri Group’s Equitrust, 500 Startups and Kuwait’s Faith Capital among others. The startup currently has operations in the UAE and Saudi Arabia and will use the fund to expand across the Middle East.

June 29th 2019, 9:54 pm

Foodics raises $4 million in pre-series B

Wamda

Source: MenaBytes

Foodics, a Saudi cloud-based point-of-sale system for F&B businesses has raised $4 million in fresh funds, the startup announced today. The Pre-Series B investment comes from Riyadh Taqnia Fund (RTF), Kuwait-based Fatih Capital, and Riyadh-based Tech Invest Com and Naseel Holding. The round takes Foodics’ total investment raised so far to $8 million. The startup had raised its $4 million Series A in 2017.

Apparently, this round was also announced about two months ago but the financial details and names of investors (excluding Faith Capital) were missing from the previous statement.

Founded in 2014 by Ahmad Alzaini and Musab Alothmani, Foodics is an iOS-based point-of-sale system for F&B outlets that runs on iPads, allowing these businesses to accept payments, monitor sales, send orders to the kitchen, digitize menus, manage employees and analyze the business with smart reports.

The startup plans to use this latest investment plans to become an all-in-one POS system with a payment processing device optimized for retailers. That’s a very interesting move considering the fact that Foodics already has hundreds of businesses using its POS and would be willing to switch to its payment processing as it will obv. offer better integration and perhaps more competitive rates. Currently, the majority of retailers use Geidea devices in the Saudi market.

“For the first time in Saudi Arabia and the GCC, a local company will provide a full POS solution with Payment terminal, which is designed to be fully integrated with every type of business. Foodics plans to make the innovative device fast, simple and secure in order to help corporate users better focus on their businesses,” the company said in a statement.

The Foodics terminal that will first be introduced to the Saudi market and later rolled out to the rest of the Middle East (as Foodics software is being used almost all across the region) will allow businesses to easily key in a sale, quickly accept any form of payment, and print receipts, from one device.

Foodics also plans to launch web and Android-based version of its software, evolve its hardware and sell its solutions to new types of sellers (maybe its time for a rebrand).

Continue reading this story

June 28th 2019, 6:18 pm

Noon Academy raises $8.6 million

Wamda

Source: MenaBytes

Riyadh-based online learning platform Noon Academy has raised $8.6 million Series A co-led by Raed Ventures and Saudi Technology Ventures (STV), the startup announced today. It is the largest ever funding round raised by an EdTech startup from the Middle East & North Africa.

The round was also joined by Saudi-based Alisamiah Investment, Saudi Venture Capital Company (SVC), and different individual investors including Careem co-founder Abdulla Elyas, Dr. Abdulrahman Aljadhai, CEO of Elm, and Mazen Aljubair.

Raed Ventures’ Omar Almajdouie, STV’s Hani Enaya and Careem co-founder Abdulla Elyas (who invested in his individual capacity) will join Noon Academy’s Board of Directors.

Founded in 2013 by Mohammed Aldhalaan and Dr. Abdulaziz AlSaeed, Noon Academy that had initially as a simple test prep website is now a social learning platform that enables students to study with friends in groups, compete with one another, and request top tutors on demand. The students, per statement, spend over 60 minutes (on average) on the app per visit, vastly exceeding the EdTech industry average of 14 minutes per visit.

Noon’s web and mobile-based platform offers tutoring and free educational content following a premium model, with users having free access to basic content. For advanced content and access to private tutors, the users are required to pay a monthly fee. The platform, according to the statement, has attracted 2 million students and 1,500 certified tutors to date.

Noon Academy also focuses on helping students pass the Saudi general aptitude test and the achievement test, and is accredited from the Saudi National Centre of Assessment (QIYAS).

Mohammed Aldhalaan, Co-Founder and CEO of Noon Academy, commenting on the occasion, said, “The biggest issue in studying isn’t comprehension; rather, it’s boredom, and that’s where Noon Academy’s unique social learning platform achieves what others can’t. Noon is transforming into an open platform, where teachers around the world can start their own educational groups, allowing exceptional teachers to organically cultivate their own following and generate additional income through excellent performance and positive reviews.

Continue reading this story

June 27th 2019, 9:09 am

CLIX 2020

Wamda

CLIX – the Climate Innovations Exchange, launched in 2018, supports the UAE’s Ministry of Climate Change and Environment strategy to enable the sourcing and funding of climate change solutions and technologies. CLIX is a unique global marketplace located in Abu Dhabi, UAE, a World Future Energy Summit initiative and a part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week connecting entrepreneurs, innovators and investors on a global level to enable partnerships that will power climate change solutions through knowledge, innovation and funding.

In 2019, 41 finalists showcased their inventions at CLIX Marketplace in Abu Dhabi, and met with investors. During the 4 days, start-ups met with visitors, investors and authorities and reported a total of $53.9 million USD of potential involvement in projects and investment intent in the region.

For 2020, CLIX organisers are searching the globe for the breakthrough innovations in Sustainability in Space, Future of Energy, Future of Food and Agriculture and Future of Mobility. Finalists will benefit from free exhibition space, financial support, in addition to the opportunity to pitch their solution to investors.

Submission deadline is August 06, 2019. Apply here

June 27th 2019, 3:04 am

Can corporates in Mena change the entrepreneurial landscape?

Wamda

Omar Al Sharif is the head of partner programmes at Wamda

Governments across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) are eager to transform their economies to address the myriad problems that face them, from rising unemployment rates to economic uncertainty. The majority have outlined economic visions that make them less dependent on oil and will instead create a shift from a consumption economy, to a productive one.

For oil-producing countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the question that most policymakers are asking is how long can you sustain an oil-reliant economy, and what are our options for diversification?  According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the growth of oil exporting countries will decrease from 0.6 per cent to 0.4 per cent in 2019.

For oil importing countries such as Jordan and Lebanon where the debt is high, it’s imperative to tackle the slowdown. Economic growth is expected to decline from 4.2 per cent in 2018 to 3.6 per cent in 2019. And pressure from the World Bank and donor countries for reform and restructuring of governmental agencies has been pushing these countries to think of more innovative ways to grow the economy and create new business opportunities that will reduce the deficit and decrease unemployment rates alongside the brain drain to other neighbouring countries.

Although the scale of the economic challenges for both parties might differ, all governments in the region seem to have found a solution in fostering entrepreneurial hubs that help in growing startups and provide a seemingly fast remedy to becoming a more innovative, productive economy which could effectively solve the growing unemployment rate and help spur the economy.

Attracting startups and entrepreneurs has become a mission for many of the region’s countries, with several funds and initiatives like Bahrain’s Waha fund, the National Kuwait Fund, Saudi’s Monsha’at and SMEA, Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Hub 71, Dubai’s Area 2071, and Lebanon’s Circular 331. Critical gaps in legislation are also being addressed to accommodate new business models and attract foreign startup founders and investors.

But for an ecosystem to flourish, there must be a fundamental contribution from the private sector. The majority of established corporates and institutions in the region are joining the race with corporate venture capital (CVC) arms such as Saudi Telecom Ventures (STV), the UAE’s Majid Al Futtaim Ventures and Saudi Arabia’s Al Tayyar.

But the majority of corporates in Mena are hesitant to explore the entrepreneurial landscape, especially with a fledgling economy. Many of them prefer to focus on stabilising their core businesses and grow their channels and continue to ask, “what is in it for us and how can it improve our business?”.

Several industries and business models are facing significant shifts due to the digitisation and global change in consumer dynamics. These businesses and corporates need new, agile ways to create new business opportunities and to enter new markets. Collaborating with startups seems to be one of the more obvious solutions to the problem, but many corporates remain hesitant.

Some of this hesitance is justified. There is an abundance of entrepreneurial initiatives that ask corporates for substantial monetary contribution to join programmes that have no clear objectives or long term visions to enable the corporates to evolve their business models. Instead many seem more focused on celebrating the idea of entrepreneurship.

So how can corporates contribute effectively and can they truly change the market dynamics? Or is working with startups simply treated as a public relations (PR) and brand positioning stunt?

Globally, the model has and continues to be tested with four main partnership trends emerging that have yielded several success stories.

Co-Innovation

Co-development and innovation in products is one opportunity where startups can help corporates create new products and expand on their existing offerings. This model was adopted by BMW when they decided to develop their electric cars and formed partnerships with several startups to help them develop the whole experience from the main electrical power train, to add-ons such as creating applications that help in differentiating the user experience.

Intrapreneurship

This is a corporate culture and intrapreneurship model where companies allow their employees to use their resources to develop new technologies and products which they can eventually acquire. Google is one of the most famous examples of this model where they allow their employees to work on individual projects using company resources.

Corporate Venture

Most the companies in the region are leaning towards the corporate venture model which enables corporates to invest in budding startups allowing them diversify into new markets and business models that they may not have the agility or resources to explore on their own. One regional success story of this approach is STV’s investment in Careem.

Accelerators

The fourth approach is corporate accelerators and incubators, similar to Spain’s Telefonica Wayra model. Telefonica has more than 10 accelerators in as many countries around the world with a portfolio of startups that are valued at about $900 million. The model is simple, Telefonica has the telecommunications infrastructure while startups require help in building their products on Telefonica’s core network. This not only provides prospective clients to the corporate’s network, it also creates new business models that will enable them to grow and expand to new segments and markets.

Other corporates are experimenting with tailored engagement models that include two or more of the aforementioned partnerships, in the hope of getting to startups first and being able to grow their businesses with new innovative business models.

In this age of digitisation, whatever the narrative or business model, it is imperative for corporates and the private sector to shift their mindset and practices to accommodate for new technologies, rapidly changing consumer behaviors and newly introduced sales and marketing channels. Collaborating with startups might be the most agile approach and the fastest route to getting them there.

 

 

 

June 26th 2019, 9:02 pm

Elmenus secures investment from Foodora’s co-founder

Wamda

Egypt-based food discovery and ordering platform Elmenus announced that it has secured investment from ​Julian Dames​, co-founder of Foodora and vice president of German-based Delivery Hero.  

Dames has also joined the company’s board of advisors.

Founded in 2011 by Amir Allam, Elmenus is a platform that focuses on personalising food recommendations using artificial intelligence. Recently, the company launched an online food-ordering service.

“The mainly phone-based market is just on the verge of going online. As a native Egyptian player with well-established positioning as the consumer’s go-to platform, and with strong ties in the restaurant sector, elmenus will be able to focus on features that are relevant for the Egyptian user (from consumer to delivery rider to restaurants) which may prove advantageous against the global competitors,” says Dames.

In 2017, Elmenus raised $1.5m in Series A funding from Algebra Ventures, an Egypt-based venture capital.

‘As Elmenus scales rapidly, Julian’s uniquely valuable experience and insights will help accelerate our growth and sharpen our focus as we grow,’ says Allam, CEO of Elmenus. “We are obsessively personalising and enhancing users’ food experiences at scale. We are very excited.”

June 26th 2019, 3:45 am

In conversation with Kunal Kapoor of The Luxury Closet

Wamda

The Luxury Closet (TLC) is an online store that sells pre-owned fashion items founded in Dubai in 2012 by Kunal Kapoor. The company recently raised a growth funding round, taking its total investment up to $11 million and in keeping with retail trends in the region, TLC just opened a physical store in Dubai’s Marina Mall.

Born into an entrepreneurial family in India, Kapoor his homeland to study in the US and returned to work at his father’s shoe manufacturing business. He later completed an MBA at the INSEAD business school and went on to work for French luxury brand Louis Vuitton before founding TLC.

We spoke with Kapoor about his entrepreneurial journey.

Why did you become an entrepreneur?

I was always pretty sure I would start my own company. My father was an entrepreneur, so it came naturally. As an entrepreneur you can really create an impact if you put all the work behind it and be smart.

How did the idea for TLC come about?

I wanted to start a business that had core completeness, I found that fascinating. There were used cars, so why not used bags? I realised it already existed in the offline model in South East Asia and online in the US and I decided to go with the online model because it could scale a lot larger. It was easier to solve the problem with the online model.

What were your main challenges when you first started?

The ecosystem was very small, it was fairly hard to make decisions on how to get everything up and running. Solving the basic problems was very challenging, how do you build the technology, how do you ship items, the basics of e-commerce. The ecosystem was very small and the knowledge was quite hard to get. I had to literally figure out everything myself, I learned advertising, how to build technology, how to run e-commerce, customer care, payment, all this stuff was quite challenging in the beginning.  

Funding was another challenge, but seed stage funding now is way easier.

What are your challenges now?

The problems now are of a very different complexity: how do you cater models to different countries, how you build a solution that impacts everyone, how do you get everyone to sell?

What is unique about our company is that we have a very unique supply chain, we do what no one else does in terms of incoming supply chain. We reach out to a fragmented place of sellers who are hard to find and have very high standards and then convince them to give us their prized possessions.

We’ve also identified 500 brands with a back catalogue of 20 years, recording the item, price, what we should price it at and the next step is to automate that.

Tell us about your recent acquisition of the operations of Guiltless in Hong Kong

We’re taking over their customers, operations and inventory, which means we will now have operations in Hong Kong, it’s a complete foray outside the GCC.

The Middle East closet has a very high value and has the highest per capita spend on luxury in the world. The buyers here are collectors, they’re finding the best of items the world over. Put that into numbers and the Middle East residents of the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait buy $1 billion dollars of items from Western Europe. When we lift these amazing closets, they’re wanted all over the world and this makes us one of the few Middle East businesses that was global from day one. A Chanel bag is a Chanel bag where you go  and already our second biggest country we sell to is the US.

What will your industry look like in the next decade?

There will be two big changes: the percentage of people going online will rise and the 9 per cent of the luxury goods sold online will go up to 25 per cent by 2025. The next step is the share of the pre-owned will go up, but it will all become circular and the brands will become part of this. Look at the car industry, they manufacture a car knowing it will have multiple owners. The brands design the car around that, it will know the warranty will need to be transferred and people will buy it and resell it. In fashion, the brands will become the major contributors and enable the pre-owned and circular economy.

How can the fashion brands do this?

Moving authentication and identification to blockchain. Louis Vuitton will adopt the blockchain and identify every single item and transfer to owners which will be very interesting. Brands will enable their customers to give back old items and then take new items, this allows trade. Five to 10 years ago, a brand like Cartier would do this if they made unique items.

Wamda Capital has invested in The Luxury Closet

 

June 25th 2019, 3:35 am

Sprii closes $8.5 million in Series A

Wamda

UAE-based e-commerce platform Sprii.com has raised a further $8.5 million in its Series A funding that it will use to accelerate its expansion across the Middle East and invest in new technology and recruitment to enhance its customers experience.

To date, the company has raised $13 million in investment.

Sprii is an online marketplace which connects mums to their favourite global brands. It does not manage inventories directly, instead the site connects directly to partner inventory and provides customer support.

“The first six months of 2019 have exceeded our expectations,” said Sarah Jones, founder of Sprii. “We have launched a new application, opened our operations in Saudi and have now finalised our funding round early, which will allow us to continue to deliver on our promise to our loyal customers.”

June 24th 2019, 9:44 am

The Cartier Women’s Initiative

Wamda

The Cartier Women’s Initiative is an annual international business programme that aims to identify, support, and encourage businesses led by women entrepreneurs. It aims to encourage inspirational women entrepreneurs worldwide to solve contemporary global challenges.

All finalists will receive:

The Cartier Women's Initiative is open to women from all countries and sectors of industry. Seven inspiring women entrepreneurs will receive $100,000 each and 14 others $30,000 each for their impact-driven businesses.

To find out more about the programme, criteria & eligibility, and to register, follow the link here. Deadline for submission is August 14, 2019.

June 24th 2019, 8:44 am

Hopi raises six-figure seed funding

Wamda

Source: MenaBytes

Hopi, a yet-to-be-launched Dubai-based direct-to-consumer subscription contact lens startup has raised seed funding from Esanjo Ventures, a trading, investment and technology firm founded by JadoPado’s Omar Kassim, the startup announced today in a statement to MENAbytes. The startup did not disclose the exact size of investment but confirmed to MENAbytes that its a six-figure (USD) deal. It is Omar’s first investment since exiting JadoPado to Noon in 2017.

Founded earlier this year by Kristian Stinson and Charles Wright, Hopi had run a lead generation campaign to understand market demand in the UAE. The campaign that offered customers a discounted supply of lenses in exchange for their early-signup, per statement, secured more than 19,000 (email) subscribers in less than two weeks. This does not mean that all of them will turn into customers but it’s still a very large number that seems interested in the product.

Charles Wright, co-founder of Hopi, said that the results surpassed their expectations and prompted them to seek funding rather bootstrapping the business.

“Hopi’s subscription model ensures consumers can receive high-quality prescription lenses to their door, at a fraction of the cost of branded retail lenses,” said the co-founders in a statement.

The startup plans to use the funding to begin shipping its own range of optical and colored lenses to customers across UAE, with deliveries expected to begin later this year. Hopi is producing lenses by partnering up with Taiwanese optics manufacturer Pegavision.

Kristian Stinson, commenting on the occasion, said, “Contact lenses can be costly, so many GCC residents choose to buy them in bulk abroad rather than purchase them locally. Hopi aims to remove the barriers to buying with on-demand delivery of premium and reliable lenses to consumers across the region.”

Continue reading this story 

June 24th 2019, 3:10 am

BSynchro raises $1 million

Wamda

Lebanon-based BSynchro Holding, an insurance technology company, has raised $1 million from its current shareholders Berytech Fund II and Phoenician Funds I.

The company, which specialises in digitising the process of insurance-related companies, plans to invest the newly received funds in developing its products dedicated to transitioning insurance-related companies into the digital world, notably with the use of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotic process automation.  

BSynchro currently operates in the GCC, Levant and Africa and claims to have a customer base of more than 80 clients across 25 countries.

 

June 23rd 2019, 4:00 am

Shopping for groceries with El Grocer [podcast]

Wamda

The Middle East is no stranger to online food delivery. Apps like Zomato, Deliveroo and Talabat are found on almost every smartphone in the region, but increasingly consumers are becoming more comfortable with purchasing their groceries online.

Nader Amiri founded El Grocer in Dubai to bring the same ease of ordering his dinner to his weekly shop. In this podcast we discuss his startup story and follow the online ordering process with one of the shoppers instore. 

 

June 22nd 2019, 10:09 pm

Swvl raises $42 million to expand to Africa

Wamda

Source: Bloomberg 

Swvl, an Egyptian app for booking buses, has raised $42 million as it looks to expand into other parts of Africa, including Nigeria.

The two-year-old company, which started in Cairo and also operates in Alexandria and Nairobi in Kenya, got the money from venture-capital firms including Sweden’s Vostok, Dubai-based BECO Capital, China’s MSA and Endeavor Catalyst, based in New York.

“The plan is to be in at least two or three more African cities by the end of the year,’’ Mostafa Kandil, the founder and chief executive officer, said by phone from Cairo. “Lagos, Nigeria, is most likely the next market.’’

Swvl carries hundreds of thousands of customers each month, according to Kandil, an engineering graduate who once worked for Careem, a Middle Eastern-focused transport firm that Uber is acquiring.

Uber and Careem have both launched bus services in Cairo in the past year. Along with Swvl, they’re exploiting growing demand among the city’s 20 million people for transport options that are cheaper than taxis but more convenient than public buses, which are often perceived as unreliable and dangerous.

“We tap into the middle class and upper middle class, a segment that public buses in emerging markets don’t really serve,’’ said Kandil.

June 20th 2019, 5:33 am

How blockchain can enable economic inclusion of refugees

Wamda

Jessica Camus is Head of Partnerships and Impact at Diginex. Chris Hambarsoomian is Senior Associate, Government Solutions at Diginex 

With approximately one person every two seconds forcibly displaced as a result of conflict, we are witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record according to the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Nearly half of all refugees under the UNHCR’s mandate are estimated to have been in exile for at least five years, with many forcibly displaced for more than two decades. Due to the difficult circumstances under which refugees are forced to flee, identity documents are often lost, destroyed or stolen. Refugees may sometimes even decide to travel without any documentation to guard against potential persecution.

Refugees may, especially at the outset of their displacement, lack the identification documents required to pass Know-Your-Customer (KYC) criteria, putting them at increased risk of social exclusion, poverty and exploitation. Furthermore, a lack of educational and professional credentials can make it difficult for refugees to find a job and start the process of socioeconomic inclusion in their host countries.

The Syrian refugee paradox

The challenge becomes apparent when considering real-life scenarios. The world’s largest refugee population is currently from Syria. According to a study conducted by Deloitte and the University of Oxford’s Refugee Studies Centre, the economic lives of Syrian refugees in Europe are characterised by a paradox:  Many are highly educated (38 per cent have a university education) yet unemployment among them is disproportionately high at 82 per cent. Of those unemployed, nearly all rely on government support. And though 97 per cent of refugees own a smartphone, only 30 per cent have used an app to find a job. It is interesting to note that many refugees have concerns about seeking employment in sectors that do not relate directly to their existing skills and qualifications. On the other hand, businesses appear interested in employing refugees and there are examples of positive experiences. However, many businesses have misconceptions about refugees or lack information relating to their potential as prospective employees according to the study.

For Syrian and other refugees travelling to Europe, emerging blockchain-based solutions can play a vital role in facilitating labour recruitment and data exchange of jobseekers in a trusted and secure manner, enabling refugees to find a job or start a business. A digital economic identity application can, for instance, allow for reliable portability of academic and employment records to be integrated into platforms such as UNHCR’s Population Registration and Identity Management EcoSystem (PRIMES).

Benefits of a digital economic identity solution

In contrast to a traditional centralised solution, decentralised blockchain infrastructure can ensure trust, transparency and security between stakeholders. Since data are not held or managed by a central party, individuals can have confidence that their digital identities are not being viewed or altered without their authorisation.

When an individual’s digital economic identity is viewed or edited, a timestamped record is created that links the person who interacted with the data profile. This immutable log improves auditability and transparency of the various stakeholders interacting with refugee identities.

This functionality is enhanced through a data-permission system, where individuals can control if, when and how their data is viewed by other parties. Data can be shared on a hidden and/or anonymised basis, reducing the repeated recording of data by multiple parties.

Throughout the development and deployment of blockchain solutions for data integrity concerns in the human rights context, we have identified the following functions as the most promising for economic empowerment of refugees:

a) Making skills qualifications portable

Portable skills qualifications allows refugees to prove job-fit for stakeholders supporting their economic integration, as well as helping to easily identify training needs. According to the World Economic Forum’s research, comparability of qualifications remains unclear due to a lack of broad standards. The principles of portability and inter-operability of skills certifications are required across different granting institutions, bodies and economies. Logging existing paper qualification documents on a blockchain enables refugees to have a portable, secure and safely stored version of their qualifications throughout their journey. Storing information skills certifications on a blockchain can help refugees to validate skills required and competencies they possess, which will in turn increase mobility between labour markets. In response, the public sector and businesses can develop more effective and agile training programmes and certifications on an ongoing basis to refugee workers.

b) Enabling financing for starting a business

A digital identity tool can also be used for refugees to gain access to financial services. An effective digital payment program enables refugees to access money on demand without special restrictions. Through a blockchain-based economic identity, payments can be made to individuals through a secure network. The user experience looks similar to existing digital platforms, such as mobile money or online banking. However, a blockchain-based solution would have the added benefit of enhanced auditability, as the movement of funds are traceable directly to recipients.

Various stakeholders have expressed to Diginex increasing interest in donation/microlending transparency, as they would be more inclined to fund programmes run by organisations like the UNHCR if there were a greater level of assurance that funds were having their desired impact. Moreover, this transparency is valuable for ensuring anti-money laundering and counter terrorism financing compliance for regulators and financial institutions. For refugees, the added benefits include sharing authenticated information about themselves, their businesses, training records and loan repayment information in an efficient and secure manner.

c) Storing employment information 

Refugees play a significant role in the informal economy of their host countries; yet without formal employment contracts, they are especially prone to exploitation without means of recourse. They have little way of proving their work experience to potential employers or governments of subsequent host countries, reducing their employability and mobility.

Together with The Mekong Club, an anti-slavery non-governmental organisation (NGO), Diginex developed eMin to protect migrant workers from workplace exploitation. At its core, eMin is a digital economic identity solution that focuses on employment information. eMin addresses this problem by providing an immutable record of employment contracts and any other informal professional arrangements, while also providing permanent access to refugee records and an ability to add metadata on working conditions.

This data can also be shared securely with trusted parties such as the UNHCR, supporting NGOs, potential employers and governments. Data on informal employment can prove invaluable at the point of resettlement, as governments may be more inclined to accept or even attract populations with specific employment track records who can demonstrate the ability to contribute to the local workforce. Potential employers can demonstrate contractual adherence by making payments to refugees on the digital platform. This would link to salary terms within the employment contract or mutually approved metadata to prove legitimacy and, for refugees, prove receipt of regular income streams valuable for accessing other public and private sector services.

Data liquidity and ownership

Blockchain technology has the potential to significantly increase the functionality of a digital economic identity solution by improving the quality and quantity of data available. It also enables the sharing of data between stakeholders in the refugee ecosystem without compromising the safety, security and privacy of individuals. A well-implemented solution can allow refugees to own and control their data to be able to utilise opportunities for social and financial inclusion in their host countries.

 

June 19th 2019, 9:13 pm

The General Assembly of Citizen Entrepreneurs and Organizations

Wamda

The General Assembly of Citizen Entrepreneurs and Organizations is happening on June 28-30 in Essaouira, Morocco and will be bringing together 250 participants around the notion of Prosperity. Through this overarching theme, participants will explore the tools available to link economic growth to well-being and performance to social good.

This General Assembly will give the floor to those who are finding the most efficient solutions to the prominent challenges of our time: fighting climate change, fostering equality and advancing social progress.

Around these three most urgent issues for future generations, other subjects will be tackled: advancing social justice, protecting the environment and biodiversity, using technology for the common good, building tolerant societies.

For three days, working in collaborative sessions, participants will collectively :

- Draft international pledges to be shared on an online citizen platform of the United Nations ;

- Commit to supporting three initiatives with a positive impact on society. 

- Launch the « Equality for Growth » circle.

- Take part in the creation of an accelerator and mentorship program in Morocco.

- Work on a shared Manifesto of Prosperity for business leaders and entrepreneurs.

More information here

 

 

 

 

June 19th 2019, 11:37 am

Dubai-based Mubawab acquires Jumia House

Wamda

Source: MenaBytes

Mubawab, the leading real estate portal of Morocco that was acquired by Dubai-based Emerging Markets Property Group last year, has acquired Jumia’s property portal Jumia House in Morocco, Tunisia & Algeria, Mubawab announced today. The news comes a few months after Jumia went public and Emerging Markets Property Group (EMPG) closed its $100 million Series D.

“The acquisition consolidates Mubawab’s position as region’s leading real estate website, while providing access to the most promising real estate markets in the Maghreb, with more than 90 million people,” the company said in a statement.

Emerging Markets Property Group that owns different property portal including UAE’s Bayut and Pakistan’s Zameen has been on a shopping spree acquiring different smaller competitors across the Middle East & North Africa. Interestingly, all the acquisitions made by EMPG, except Mubawab, in the last one year are (were) Rocket Internet companies, including Lamudi in Bangladesh, UAE, Jordan & Saudi and now Jumia House in Morocco, Tunisia & Algeria.

Bayut, EMPG’s UAE-based property portal recently expanded to Saudi after acquiring Lamudi Saudi in April.

Mubawab, the leading real estate portal in Morocco, has bought Jumia House in the Maghreb region. Jumia House occupies a strong position not only in Morocco, but also in Tunisia as well as in Algeria. 

Kevin Gormand. Co-Founder and CEO of Mubawab, commenting on the occasion, said, “We believe strongly in our ability to provide real estate solutions to customers through our sophisticated platform. We are excited to build on our success and experience in Morocco to provide a broader platform, maximizing consumer reach and visibility while providing personalized and local support to our customers.

Sacha Poignonnec, co-founder and co-CEO of Jumia, said, “We believe in the potential of real estate portals in Africa and we have built a great platform across Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria to seize this opportunity. We are confident that Mubawab will sustain the success that Jumia House has had in these markets.”“This transaction allows us to focus on our core business of our marketplace while expanding the scope of our payment and logistics business,” he added.

June 19th 2019, 6:35 am

Dubai-based Urent raises seed funding

Wamda

Source: Arabian Business

Dubai royal, Sheikh Saeed bin Ahmed Al Maktoum, has invested in Urent, a new online platform that aims to revolutionise the UAE car rental industry.

Dubbed an Airbnb for cars, it offers the first peer-to-peer vehicle sharing platform in the region, creating a whole community that focuses on building trust between two people, one being the private vehicle owner, the other being the renter.

It will also provide UAE residents and citizens with the right to rent vehicles of up to six categories.

CEO and founder Omar Al Ashi announced a partnership with Seed Group, an association of diversified companies owned by The Private Office of Sheikh Saeed bin Ahmed Al Maktoum, to launch the platform and make it the first of its kind to be licensed by the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA).

He said the concept will not only solve many problems that currently exist in traditional rental companies but will ultimately provide opportunities for people to make good use of their vehicles.

“With the support of The Private Office and Mr. Hisham Al Gurg, URENT will set an example for the people of the MENA region and highlight the promising future of the sharing economy and, more importantly, the importance of using existing vehicles,” said Al Ashi.

Hisham Al Gurg, CEO of Seed Group and The Private Office of Sheikh Saeed bin Ahmed Al Maktoum, said Urent could meet the enormous demand for rented transportation options brought about by the growing number of tourists and expatriates in the UAE.

"Urent has come in the right place at the right time," said Al Gurg. “Omar provided us with an excellent presentation on how Urent could make full use of its unique business model as being the region's first Airbnb for cars.”

Urent launched its website recently to introduce the concept to the UAE but the official launch will take place on June 29.

The Private Office was established by Sheikh Saeed Bin Ahmed Al Maktoum to directly invest in or assist potential business opportunities in the region.

June 19th 2019, 6:19 am

London-headquartered GuestReady raises $6 million in series A

Wamda

Source: MenaBytes

GuestReady, a London-headquartered short-term rental management startup has raised $6 million in its Series A led by Dubai-based VentureSouq and existing investor Impulse VC, the startup announced yesterday. The round takes total investment raised so far by GuestReady to $9.8 million. Business Incubator and Accelerator Company, VentureSouq’s Saudi partner that happens to be a subsidiary of Saudi sovereign wealth fund, also supported the investment. Some high-net-worth individuals from GCC also participated in the round.

Founded in 2016, GuestReady manages residential properties on behalf of hosts for short-term rentals. They turn vacant residential properties into short-term rental accommodations and then rent them using different online platforms including Airbnb, Booking.com, Experida’s HomeAway and some offline mediums as well. The startup, per statement, helps property owners to increase their revenues by delivering a hotel-quality experience to guests, “The set of services goes beyond housekeeping and guest check-in, GuestReady also helps property owners to ensure their asset stays in shape, is well maintained, and continuously delivers the maximum return on their investment.”

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June 19th 2019, 5:49 am

UAE-based Zbooni raises $1.1 million

Wamda

UAE-based Zbooni has closed its latest funding round of $1.1 million led by the Chalhoub Group and B&Y Venture Partners. It will use the funding to continue to grow its business.

Founded in 2017, Zbooni helps merchants conduct transactions with customers via preferred social media and chat services such WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook.

“Business is increasingly done through WhatsApp and social media services such as Instagram and Facebook. These channels are the modern equivalent of shop windows that showcase a merchant’s products and services to the world, but consumers want to engage before they transact,” said Ramy Assaf, chief executive officer at Zbooni.

“We see strong demand from businesses in the UAE for this service, with the transaction volumes consistently growing at above 30% month-on-month,” he added.

June 19th 2019, 5:35 am

Saudi-based Averos raises Pre-series A round

Wamda

Source: MAGNiTT

Averos, a Saudi Arabian startup based out of Makkah, raised an undisclosed Pre-Series A funding round from Saudi Aramco’s Wa’ed Ventures, the investor told MAGNiTT. This funding round came almost 3 years after its seed round, which it raised from UAE-based MultiLinks in August 2016. Wa’ed Ventures was the only participating investor in the recent funding round.

Founded in 2015 by Yusuf Sabadia, Shaharyar Ali Anis, Dr. Saleh Basalamah, and Dr. Anas Basalamah, Averos is a B2B startup that provides innovative tracking and analytics solutions to its customers, among which companies in logistics, travel, retail, and security.

With its unique technological solutions, Averos provides companies and their customers with full and real-time situation awareness of their environment, their customers, their staff and their valuable assets. Its products include sensors, scanners, and its software platform, improving its customers’ operational efficiency and their market positioning. 

Continue reading this story

 

June 18th 2019, 4:36 am

In conversation with Elie Nasr of FOO

Wamda

FOO started as a mobile app development company in 2009 in Lebanon. Founded by Elie Nasr and Ghady Rayess, the pair pivoted their business model to focus on the financial technology (fintech) sector. The company now develops apps and services like peer-to-peer payments, remittance and bill payments and online digital banking platforms for its clients which have included bank and telecoms operators.

FOO is now looking to raise $7 million by the end of this year. We spoke with Nasr about his entrepreneurial journey.

Why did you become an entrepreneur?

My entrepreneurial life started in school, I would organise cake sales to make money. At university I started two companies one which was a social platform for elections at the American University of Beirut.

I worked at Accenture and after six years of corporate life, I said it’s time for me to do my own thing, I was so eager to start. We built something like Whatsapp, a chat service between different devices. At the time in 2009 there were no smartphones in the market. But no one was willing to invest and we had to kill it. We were not in the right ecosystem and the right region. We couldn’t compete because Whatsapp was in the right ecosystem with the right funding.

Why did you decide to pivot to fintech?

It was a series of reasons why we shifted. Lebanon cannot compete with servicing prices in India, Eastern Europe and the Far East. So we stopped being a servicing company and said let’s focus on building products in the domain of banking and fintech. We built something similar to MPesa in Iraq, a wallet for financial inclusion and to bank the unbanked. This is how it all started, we started focusing more on fintech and innovating in that space and delivering our own products.

Did you and Rayess ever consider parting ways?

We’re school friends, we’ve always been on the same line. Our failures brought us closer together and strengthened us as entrepreneurs.

We always come up with concepts that we try. We fail a lot. In 2012 we tried something like [dating app] Tinder before Tinder launched. The problem was we based it on friends.

What’s the biggest sacrifice you have made?

I don’t feel like I have made any. I’m not after the money. If you were, you could make more money starting your company elsewhere. If you do things you love and like, you don’t feel like you’re working. We were lucky and now we’re investing in companies. I spend a lot of time seeding companies and educating entrepreneurs and connecting them with the right people.

What was your main challenge setting up?

In the beginning it was the infrastructure. We had very bad internet, access to electricity and water was ridiculous and there was little access to money and funding. Back in 2009 it was very hard to start your own business unless you came from a rich family and they had connections who injected money and sustained the business.

Now it is the brain drain, losing people who leave and go to work at Google, Amazon or Apple. These are the people we are not able to retain over the years.

But fintech is more interesting and has helped us retain people and compete with the big players. We’ve grown from a company of two people to 80, so you have communications and structuring problems, things you need to organise and fix. Now our challenge is how you keep an organisation lean in order to constantly innovate and launch products quickly in the market. Every year has its own challenges, but no challenge is no fun.

What is the most important lesson you have learned?

It’s all about the people. I learned to work with people who are ethical, intelligent and people who have the drive, who are hungry to perform, those are the qualities we use to hire.

Where do you see the fintech industry over the next decade?

You will see a lot of money spent on launching fintech initiatives by big banks. I see a lot of consolidation, ultimately everything will converge to something similar to WeChat in China. One player will dominate the region.

 

June 17th 2019, 9:02 pm

Cairo-based Eksab raises seed funding

Wamda

Source: Enterprise

Egyptian sports startup Eksab has raised a six-figure seed investment from 500 Startups and plans to use the proceeds to fund regional expansion, the company said in a press release. 

Eksab is a daily fantasy sports platform allowing users to make predictions about live football games, earning points based on how accurate their predictions are, and being rewarded with prizes.

It has processed over 5 mn predictions since its launch in November 2017 and aims to increase this to 100 mn in the coming year, using the seed funding from 500 Startups.

California-based VC firm 500 Startupshas an investment portfolio of over 2.2k companies in more than 74 countries. “We believe we can add significant support to Eksab with our investment,” partner Sharif El Badawi said.

June 17th 2019, 4:40 am

Turkey-based Iyzico acquired for $165 million

Wamda

Source: MenaBytes

PayU, a Netherlands-headquartered online payment service provider, owned by South African internet and entertainment group Naspers, has acquired Iyzico, a Turkish online payments startup for $165 million. The acquisition that was announced yesterday is one of the largest exits for a Turkish startup. It adds to over $500 million PayU has deployed across fintech investments and M&A. Their most recent acquisition before Iyzico was Wibmo, an American payments solutions startup. PayU had acquired Wibmo for $70 million in April earlier this year.

According to a statement by Naspers, PayU’s acquisition of Iyzico will allow the Dutch company to consolidate its position as a leader in the payments space and accelerate scale and efficiency in Turkey, “where there is a huge growth opportunity for ecommerce and online payments.”

Founded in 2013 by Barbaros Özbugutu and Tahsin Isin, Iyzico, per statement, currently provides payments solutions to over 300 online marketplaces (with over 400,000 personal sellers of different sizes) and 30,000 online merchants, which are using its checkout solution. Some of the companies that are using its payments solutions in Turkey include Amazon, Nike, H&M, and Zara. The startup had raised a total of $27 million in five round from different investors including International Finance Corporation, Endeavor Catalyst, Turkish VC 212, and some others. It’s most recent funding round, the $15 million Series C, had come in April 2017.

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June 16th 2019, 7:16 am

The Dreamers 2019 Summer Camp | Technology, Space, and Entrepreneurship

Wamda

Dreamers platform designed to build the workforce of the future and the next wave of entrepreneurs. 

STEP Group, organizers of the annual technology festival,  STEP Conference, has launched Dreamers, a platform dedicated to preparing children with skills needed to succeed for the jobs of tomorrow.

The Dreamers program will have 3 modules covering future industries and technology, space exploration, and foundations of entrepreneurship. Theory and practice will be combined in an experimental setting while involving successful entrepreneurs and professional role models. The first Dreamers Summer Camp will start on June 30th for children between the ages of 8 and 18 years old, which parents can purchase memberships for today.

The first module, Building the Future, will cover IoT & automation, design thinking, 3D modeling & printing, robotics and coding. The Space Exploration module will cover rocket and satellite building, Earth and gravity, and a mission to Mars, to name a few. The Entrepreneurship Foundations module will cover the startup and ecosystem cycle, the business model canvas and pitch practice, amongst other activities and workshops. STEP will also be leveraging its network of successful entrepreneurs, startup founders, corporate professionals and intrapreneurs to invite guest speakers and provide real-world examples and experiences to the camp participants.

Dreamers has been launched to support the future workforce from an early age with the right technology insights and entrepreneurial skills to succeed in the non-traditional work environment and to compete for jobs that are now in the market.

The Dreamers 2019 Summer Camp includes multiple options for each module for parents to sign up their children. The Dreamers platform will host year-round in-school and after-school programs across schools in the UAE.

More information can be found here - register using promo code WAMDA20 to get 20% discount. 

June 16th 2019, 7:04 am

Dubai’s Jabbar Internet Group leads $1 million Pre-Series A in India’s Arzooo

Wamda

Source: MenaBytes

Jabbar Internet Group, one of the leading Dubai-based tech investors founded by the co-founders of Souq and Maktoob has led a million-dollar Pre-Series A in Arzooo, an Indian retail tech startup founded by former Flipkart executives, Arzooo announced in a statement to MENAbytes yesterday. The round was also joined by some other investors from India and United Kingdom.

Arzooo, founded by Khushnud Khan and Rishi Raj Rathore, is a retail tech startup that enables physical retailers to compete with online platforms. Both Khushnud and Rishi previously worked for Flipkart, the leading Indian ecommerce platform that was acquired by Walmart last year. That’s where the two met initially and came up with the idea.

Arzooo’s tech platform ‘Go Store’ enables its partner stores to offer a large selection of products to customers without having to invest (or own) inventory. The platform allows retailers to buy over 5,000 products from 100 brands with its one-touch order solution without having to deal with wholesalers, distributors or suppliers. The product purchased by retailers through Arzooo gets delivered to their shop or directly to a customer within 24 hours.

Continue reading this story

 

June 16th 2019, 4:27 am

The fintech way of sending money abroad

Wamda

The Gulf is the world’s biggest source of outbound remittances worldwide and fintech startups are vying to disrupt the ultra-competitive sector, but regulatory hurdles and scaling difficulties will make it tough for unorthodox providers to succeed in the region.

Britain’s TransferWise, founded in 2011, is now valued at around $4 billion and transfers about £3 billion a month cross-border, completing remittances faster and at significantly lower cost than conventional banks. But following a similar model in the Gulf is tricky, as Dubai-based NOW Money can testify.

Regulatory hurdles has delayed the company’s roll-out since it launched its services in April 2019. Its app operates as a marketplace for exchange houses. Customers who otherwise would have to visit various exchanges in search of the lowest fees, can find the best deals through the app and then make money transfers within the platform. Crucially, though, the transfers are conducted by the participating exchanges, not NOW Money itself.

“In this region, we wouldn’t be granted an exchange licence, so we’ve turned that into a [unique selling point] USP by using our independence to build the marketplace and share revenue with the exchange houses that we work with,” says Ian Dillon, co-founder of NOW Money. “We can often offer better rates than you’d normally get because we do remittances in bulk and pass on those savings to the customer.”

Around four to six exchange houses will be part of the marketplace by the end of 2019, Dillon predicts, while the company aims to have up to 100,000 customers on its platform within the next two years, also expanding its services to other GCC countries. 

“We’re not really in competition with traditional providers, because if you want to send money cross-border from the UAE you have to do it via a bank or exchange house – it’s different to the West, where new entrants into the market can send the money themselves,” says Dillon. “If you’re a new player here, you have to partner with an existing company. We’re partners, rather than true competition, although those banks and exchange houses which don’t embrace the new ways of working will be left behind.”

NOW Money’s target market is low-income migrant workers in the GCC who would otherwise remain outside the financial system, with its app soon to be available in multiple languages including Arabic, Urdu, Hindi and Tagalog. Customers receive a debit card and can also pay bills and top-up mobile phone credit via the app. 

“We’re bringing these workers into the financial system, giving them a proper account so they can shop online, find better deals, build a credit history,”says Dillon. “We’re focusing on our core offering at the moment, but are also looking at expanding into providing credit, insurance over the next year or two.”

UAE residents must usually earn at least Dh5000 a month to be able to open a local bank account, excluding hundreds of thousands of workers from the banking system. Instead, these workers typically receive their salaries via a pre-paid card that allows a single cash withdrawal free-of-charge per month. Rather than woo workers directly, Now Money is targeting employers, with around five signed up already, covering about 5000 workers. 

Despite the operational obstacles, the potential for companies such as NOW Money is vast - the United Arab Emirates is the second-biggest source of outward remittances worldwide, according to the latest World Bank data. This shows that UAE residents sent $44.37 billion abroad in 2017, eclipsed only by the United States’ $67.96 billion.

Saudi Arabia’s $36.12 billion of outbound remittances placed the kingdom third, while Kuwait ($13.76 billion), Qatar ($12.76 billion) and Oman ($9.82 billion) were also all in top 15.

Such huge volumes have made for intense competition, with Saudi and the UAE among the cheapest markets to send money from worldwide, according to the World Bank. Fees for sending Dh735 from the UAE to India varies from 2.4 - 3.2 per cent, for example. That compares with a global average of 6.9 per cent.

“The Middle East market is very commoditised,” says Grant Lines, chief revenue officer at MoneyGram International, which operates in more than 200 territories and serves 22,000 “corridor” pairs such as UAE to India. “It’s very competitive. Pricing is low compared to other regions globally, but there are a lot more outbound corridors than you would expect due to investment across the region and a large migrant and expat workforce. It’s very competitive in terms of pricing in the core corridors.”

Traditional, brick-and-mortar remittance companies used to only provide remittances to customers who visited their outlets in person, but these firms are responding to the fintech threat by increasingly offering digital services via partnerships with the likes of MoneyGram.

“Regulators are increasingly encouraging fintech,” says Lines. “Fintech providers could offer – either directly or through MoneyGram – a very competitive service. They tend to focus on a limited number of corridors and if they want to expand to more markets, they need a partner like MoneyGram that has an existing pay-out network.”

The latter point is especially important, with regulators in many destination markets insisting on the receiving agent being pre-funded for the amount being transferred before any money is paid out. A further challenge is ingrained consumer preferences.

“Fintech, while providing choice and convenience, won’t necessarily change the behaviour of how and when people remit money,” says Lines. 

Dubai-headquartered start-up MenaPay is taking a different approach to disrupting the remittance sector, with the company aiming to replace cash with its Sharia-compliant, blockchain-based digital currency MenaCash.

Customers can top up their MenaPay wallets through wire transfer or via top-up points at participating venues such as convenience stores, money exchanges and internet cafes, with 1 MenaCash worth $1.

Once MenaCash has been added to a person’s wallet, they can transfer the money to another MenaPay account holder in less than 10 seconds. There is no limit on how much MenaCash can be transferred from one user to another.

Crucially, though, individual customers cannot then convert MenaCash into fiat currencies, while merchants will be charged 7 per cent to do so; MenaPay aims to make MenaCash a widely-accepted digital currency so that users will not need nor want to cash out. It has already partnered with a Turkish company that has 50,000 top-up points within the country.

“We want to be as global as Visa or Mastercard, but of course it’s going to take time and we’re trying to collaborate with intermediaries and ecommerce websites – we want merchants to accept MenaPay as a payment solution,” says Sera Akinci, MenaPay brand manager.

For outbound remittances, MenaPay is focusing on the Gulf, says Akinci. 

“We’re concentrating on a few big deals and after that we’ll soon be pushing India, Pakistan and some other Asian countries in terms of making deals with top-up places to be our resellers,” she adds.

June 16th 2019, 1:27 am

Who can prepare Saudi Arabia for the future?

Wamda

Leaders around the world are increasingly concerned with one word: change. Change is happening at higher speeds, in more areas of life and with more unknown consequences than anyone can remember. And it is not going to slow down. Experts speak of us being on the brink of a Fourth Industrial Revolution. They mean that analogous to how past Industrial Revolutions of Steam, Electricity and Computers changed the way societies worked, the compounding breakthroughs in various technologies, communications, nano- biology, artificial intelligence, energy, robotics and big data in the coming decades will create fundamental shifts in how societies work.

Exciting? For some maybe, but a threat to many others. Therefore, leaders are giving serious thought on how to prepare a society to survive or even benefit from change. There are very few leaders who can bet on just one industrial base to see a society through the next four decades. So, the big question today is, how do you futureproof a society? Or who can prepare Saudi for the future?

During previous industrial revolutions, it often took decades to build the training systems and labor market institutions needed to develop major new skill sets on a large scale. Given the upcoming pace and scale of disruption brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, however, this will simply not be an option1. Without targeted action, today to manage the near-term transition and build a workforce with futureproof skills, governments will have to cope with ever-growing unemployment and inequality, and businesses with a shrinking consumer base2.

It is easy to say we need targeted action today, but it is quite a different thing to design effective policies to prepare people at scale for such an unknowable thing as the fast changing future. Saudi Arabia has formulated a positive and concrete vision for 2030 that targets transitioning to a knowledge economy.

Some commitments made in that vision are:

But what skills will be needed in this new economy is not an easy question. That things are changing is certain, the direction much less so. What skills then, will help people not only survive unknown change but also benefit from it? What are the skills of the future?

UNESCO writes: The demands of the modern workplace change rapidly and employers now need employees who combine numeracy and literacy with an aptitude for learning, a flexibility of mind, an ability to handle change and a developed inquisitiveness, more than they need employees who have mastered the knowledge required to pass exams in traditional academic subjects3.

Therefore, just investing in the ‘right industry’ will not be enough. The real challenge is creating the ability to handle and even initiate change in tomorrow’s workers. And this leads us to look at one part of the economy where change has always played an important role: The Creative Industries.

The Creative Industries refers to all professions where people are pursuing solutions through looking for new forms. Three areas are distinguished: the cultural, the economic and the societal professions. Thus, fashion designers, architects, entertainment and media professionals along with theatre-makers, writers, artists, and also social entrepreneurs are part of the creative industries. Together they form a small sector in the economy where people are used to change. Even more than that, they pursue and leverage change in their work. They have skills and mindsets that allow people to be pro-active and positive in the face of change.

Around the world governments are deciding to actively stimulate their Creative Industries for a variety of reasons, three of which are directly aimed to helping people be more futureproof. These are related to skills/mindsets, job-creation and identity.

However, nurturing and stimulating the growth of the creative sector is by no means a one-off simple policy decision and depends a lot on specific circumstances in a society. So how can the cultural industries in Saudi Arabia be stimulated in order to help the Saudi society transfer to a more diversified and more knowledge-based economy and with that be more ready for the future?

This has become the mission of Tashkeil, a social enterprise that I founded in 2011 to help talented creative entrepreneurs who lacked knowledge of strategic, operational and legal matters. It met with an increasing demand and quickly grew into a nation-wide platform for the further development of the creative industries and does so in five main ways:

1. Capacity building within the creative industries, through workshops, consulting and coaching

2.Community building through an online central hub, conferences and social media

3.Report writing - Researching and mapping out the creative industries to gain first data

4.Partnerships with universities and businesses

5.Social Engagements- Initiating projects with a social purpose.

In a sense, the creative industries themselves can be a bridge for the rest of the economy and society to handle the bigger changes of the next decades. Through sharing the skills and mindsets, creating the new jobs of the future and preserving our identity we as a whole can bridge the gap with the future. And Tashkeil as an organization together with its mega project SNCI, the Saudi National Creative Initiative, are functioning as a bridge to the creative sector for government, universities, businesses and individuals. And as bridge to future growth for the Saudi youth and talent, through capacity building and international exposure.

SNCI, has since become an internationally connected platform partnering with educational institutes around the world with a long list of projects and events in Saudi that are creating the network, the data and the innovative ecosystem.

Tashkeil strength has proven to be that it knows how to create a structure for the creative industry that works. Now through the experience of how to engage the creative community it can leave a structure for local and national governments. Tashkeil’s can do this because it knows the creative community well, what it is exactly that they need and Tashkeil now has the expertise to develop a mechanism that will transform the creative industry through engagement of the community.

The goal is for the creative industry to help Saudi have the skills, jobs and strong identity to prosper also in the next fifty years. At stake is the success of our beloved nation and the urgency is that we need to start building the structures, people and knowledge now to be ready for the tomorrows that come. The creative sector has a key role to play. Let’s enable them to do that.

As the Vision 2030 states:

“Today, as we face fresh challenges, new roles and responsibilities are required. We should feel great confidence in our capabilities, in our understanding of our obligations and in our ability to achieve excellence for our nation, our society, our families and ourselves.”

June 12th 2019, 10:14 pm

Dubai-based Tenderd raises $5.8 million in seed fund

Wamda

Source: MenaBytes

Dubai-based heavy equipment renal marketplace for the construction industry has raised $5.8 million in what it’s calling the largest ever seed funding round of MENA from some of the leading investors of Silicon Valley and the region. The round is led by Y Combinator and BECO Capital and joined by Paul Graham, Peter Thiel, Paul Buchheit, Justin Mateen, Matt Mickiewicz, VentureSouq, SOMA, Dynamo, and Global Founders Capital.

Founded by Arjun Mohan last year who started the company because of not being able to find equipment for his family’s construction business, Tenderd allows equipment owners to list their equipment on the platform to reduce idle time, increase overall fleet utilization and generate consistent revenue and contractors to access a fleet of over 3000 equipment for rent which includes dozers, excavators, cranes, rollers, trucks and more.

Arjun Mohan, Founder of Tenderd, commenting on the occasion, said, “We’re a startup run by a small, tight-knit team tackling a large and exciting problem. The construction industry has always lagged in adopting technology. However, our clients are increasingly more receptive to solutions that will help increase productivity and reduce capital investments. Our goal is to combine the efficiencies of a marketplace with the latest technologies to help them better compete.”

Continue reading this story

 

June 12th 2019, 4:04 am

Cairo-based Orcas raises $500,000 Pre-Series A

Wamda

Source: MenaBytes

Orcas, a Cairo-based online marketplace for babysitters and tutors has raised $500,000 in Pre-Series A funding round led by Egypt’s largest VC fund Algebra Ventures and joined by cross-border edtech fund NFX Ventures, the startup announced in a statement today. Orcas has previously raised $150,000 from Khaled Ismail, Kamelizer, and Cairo Angels.

Founded in 2013 by Hossam Taher, Amira El Gharib, Omar Fayez and Ahmed Ismail, Orcas(prev. known CairoSitters) had initially started with a simple booklet that the four co-founders used to distribute among parents who were their target customers. The four had pooled in $1,000 initially to start the business so that’s all they could do with it. The booklet was created after Orcas had registered a decent number of registered babysitters and tutors who work with them.

Continue reading this story

June 12th 2019, 3:03 am

CE-Ventures Leads $11 Million Series A Round in India's FreshToHome

Wamda

CE-Ventures, the corporate venture capital arm of UAE-based petroleum company, Crescent Enterprises, announced that it has led a Series A funding round of $11 million in Indian meat and seafood e-commerce company FreshToHome. Other investors in the funding round included Das Capital, Kortschak Investments, TTCER Partners, Al-Nasser Holdings, Abdul Azeez Al-Ghurair and M&S Partners.

FreshToHome will use the new capital to expand its supply chain network, connect with up to 8,500 new farmers and expand its operations within India to Mumbai and Pune, and further internationally to the Middle East  and North Africa (Mena) region.

“FreshToHome’s technology is revolutionising the way the meat and seafood industry functions by disintermediating the supply chain, eliminating the middlemen and working directly with the fishermen and farmers to make fresh and chemical free food more widely accessible,” said Tushar Singhvi, director of CE-Ventures. “As a strategic investor, we are actively working towards the company’s international expansion to the Mena region.”

June 11th 2019, 7:28 am

UAE-based Foloosi raises pre-seed fund

Wamda

Foloosi, a UAE-based financial technology (fintech) startup has raised an undisclosed amount of pre-seed funding from angel fund investor Rashed Alfalasi.

The startup aims to facilitate consumer-to-business card payments through enabling businesses to display QR code and share payment links and API integrations that make it possible to accept card payments without the need for a point of sale machine.

“With the support of our strategic investors, we are accelerating the development of our products further in this digital world and this is a great opportunity to improve in the advanced technology experienced by our users,” said Omar Bin Brek, chief executive officer at Foloosi.

"I invested in Foloosi because I believe the future will be cashless and that Foloosi is one of the companies that will emerge to lead this effort because of its great team and their strong vision. With dedication and the right strategy, Foloosi can build the cashless society and will provide payment solutions that serve all kinds of businesses,” said Rashed Alfalasi.

June 11th 2019, 7:18 am

In conversation with Amir Allam of elmenus

Wamda

When working as a technology consultant, Amir Allam realised the frustration he had with finding up-to-date restaurant menus and pictures of their dishes was an issue that many others faced.  So he decided to launch elmenues in 2011, an online food platform that helps people decide what to eat with the help of digitised menus, while helping to bring Cairo’s roster of restaurants online. The platform now has more than a million users and has curated more than 7000 restaurant menus and has raised $1.6 million so far.

We spoke with Allam about his entrepreneurial journey

Why did you become an entrepreneur?

I did not really know what an entrepreneur meant or what a startup really was. For me, it was just a problem that I wanted to solve and I did not think about anything else. There was a very clear problem and I was very curious about solving problems in general, so I tried to solve this in the most creative way possible and then I learned as I progressed how startups work and how scaling works.

When did you know this was a viable business?

I think deep down from the beginning, I knew that this is something that could go somewhere because I had a couple of other ideas that I was also considering but somehow I knew that elmenus was going to be something that would be in demand because of the insight I got from talking to everybody. Also of course, when we got big traction and our first advertiser it started to make sense that this could be an actual business and not just a side project.

What were you biggest challenges when you first started elmenus?

We needed to really educate the market. The restaurants did not understand why they should put their menus online, a lot of them were really against the idea. They thought their competition would look at their menus and see what they are serving. It took a lot of legwork and going to the restaurant owners myself and talking to them and trying to convince them that this is something that is inevitably going to happen. Surprisingly, until today, there is still a lot of education that needs to happen in the market and people need to understand the benefits of being tech-enabled. The second challenge was always hiring the right people and the right talent. You need to understand the patterns of the highest performing people, the passionate people and those who are just looking for a job and would not really put everything they have into it.

What challenges do you have now?

How to scale quickly. You have a lot of moving parts at the same time and you are trying to figure out how an industry can be taken to a very different level to enable everybody online and to make the processes that are usually inefficient and offline more streamlined. Sometimes you have to get in with your own hands and try to solve the problems the restaurants have either with the technology or their own processes.

How do you maintain momentum after seven years?

You need to be very focused on what you want to achieve. So, if there is a problem, you need to be very clear on how you want to solve it and how you can take it to the next level. Since day one, we have been trying to solve the problem of making the right decision at the right time for each user and this has been sustained as a vision and it gets very exciting as we progress trying to figure out different solutions.

But it is not easy to sustain your passion and motivation for a long time. A lot of people either give up or they struggle to renew their motivation for the business and I think this is something that one has to be very conscious of.  So, unless you have the right motive and the right incentives and the right people to work with, and all of this is aligned, you will be in big trouble.

What is next for elmenus?

Currently, we are really big on trying to personalise recommendations and this is mainly helping the users with the dining decisions throughout their day we have a lot of data and insights on how to solve it and we are currently materialising this into our product. We are getting better at figuring out how to make online ordering a much smoother and more pleasant experience for everyone.  

What do you expect for your industry in the next decade?

The restaurants industry in Egypt is very interesting. Egyptians spend 50 per cent of their income on food and we are one of the first pioneers in the world to figure out how to get anything delivered to your home. The delivery economy is very big in Egypt so I think the industry is at an exciting point where we are transitioning that into online platforms. Restaurants, users and brands are hopping onto that bandwagon and trying to make the best out of their online presence and what that can bring to them and the data they can utilise. What is coming next is very exciting because there are a lot of problems to solve for restaurants and for users and we are at the intersection of being a good mediator.

 

June 10th 2019, 9:41 pm

The Stories Studio secures $70,000

Wamda

Source: Startup MGZN

The Stories Studio, one of the graduates from Flat6Labs Bahrain’s First Cycle has officially secured follow-on funding. Founders Saba Saleem Warsi and Sajad Hameed announced that they had received an angel investment of $70,000 from Mr. Faris Algosaibi. 

The Stories Studio, is a game development startup that focuses on the concept of creating impactful and ethical games with effective storytelling that raises awareness on key causes such as refugees and donating 2.5% of its profits made to respective cause the game is based on. 

New Investor Mr. Faris Algosaibi said: “I came on board with the Stories Studio because I think there is good chemistry. A company with a good mix of people, high aims, and importantly- a mission to communicate important issues through gaming.”

Saba Saleem Warsi, CEO & Founder of The Stories Studio said: “Having Faris on board is a dream come true for us, at the absolute right time. His knowledge and love of the gaming world fits in perfectly with the studio’s plans and what we need at the moment. We feel it is so important to have an investor who holds the same values as the business they are investing in. We are ecstatic that he has decided to back the studio.”

The Stories Studio was selected as part of Flat6Labs Bahrain’s First Cycle in July 2018, where they received $32K in seed funding and successfully completed the 4-month acceleration program. 

Ryaan Sharif, the Managing Director of Flat6Labs Bahrain said: “We are very pleased to see the hard work of our accelerated startups such as The Stories Studio pay off. We would like to thank Mr. Algosaibi for sharing in the vision of The Stories Studio and being part of its future journey that undoubtedly has a lot of potential.”

The Stories Studio is currently working on securing publishing deals with global mobile game publishers and this new funding from Mr. Algosaibi will allow them to cover their operational costs while they continue to work on their product development and revenue generation.

June 9th 2019, 5:13 am

Dubai-based Oliv expands to Singapore

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Source: MenaBytes

Oliv, a Dubai-based youth career platform has expanded to Singapore, the startup announced last month. The announcement came few weeks after Oliv announced closing of its $2 million Series A led and joined by family offices in UAE & Saudi.

Founded in 2014 by Jean-Michel Gauthier, Oliv, previously known as InternsMe and connects youth talent with employers mainly in UAE & Saudi, helping them finds jobs and internships. The startup since launching more than four years ago has helped over 1,500 businesses hire interns, graduates, part-time staff and volunteers, across the region and currently has profiles of over 200,000 students and graduates on its platform.

Singapore already has some established players in this but Oliv’s founder and CEO Jean-Michel Gauthier thinks that there’s enough room for entry of a platform like Oliv.

“Singapore is officially the world’s most competitive economy, out-stripping the United States, Hong Kong, and Switzerland when assessed against 235 indicators such as IT infrastructure, the ease of establishing new businesses and the availability of skilled local talent,” said Jean, in a conversation with MENAbytes. “We believe that the market opportunity in Singapore isn’t a zero-sum game, and there is enough capacity today and tomorrow in this booming and dynamic economy for Oliv’s entry. We put our faith in the quality and reputation of the Oliv service and tech offering.”

Continue reading this story 

June 9th 2019, 5:13 am

How do you grow tomatoes in the desert? [podcast]

Wamda

In the latest edition of our Food Technology podcast series, we spoke with Sky Kurtz, co-founder and chief executive officer at Pure Harvest Smart Farms, the UAE's first hydroponic farm where they grow 17 different varieties of tomatoes. 

We discuss the difficulties he faced in founding a deep-tech startup int he region, how technology is changing agriculture, the future of our food production and insect-killing drones. 

 

June 8th 2019, 9:06 pm

The challenge of delivering goods on time

Wamda

Faris Fallouh is the Global Express and ground services director at Aramex

Peak seasons such as Eid, Christmas and the many popular discount days like White Friday and Cyber Monday, bring with them joy to the consumer hunting for bargains, but they also represent a huge challenge on both the online retailer and the carriers doing the last mile delivery.

For the e-commerce and online retailers, they have a huge burden to forecast multiple aspects of their business. Which include predicting the most popular items and ensuring they are in stock. The amount of growth that will be realised based on the company’s marketing efforts and budgets allocated to persuade consumers to browse their websites and make purchases and finally to prepare their supply chain, warehouse and fulfillment capabilities during the peak seasons.

The logistics and delivery firms in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region are starting to experience what UPS and FedEx faced in the US back in 2013. In just a few short years, the demand far outweighed the capacity, and some ended up overcompensating, resulting in a lot of under-utilised capacity once the peak seasons subsided.

What makes these seasons even more challenging is the preparation not only on the operational level, but the huge surge in demand for customer services when handling a vast majority of products that need to be shipped to non-address structured countries. This increases the cost of shipping and with the high prevalence of cash on demand (COD) in this region and the uncertainty of payment it brings, it can take several delivery attempts before the transaction is fully completed.

For the carriers, the preparation and forecasting exercise is certainly multi-dimensional, it involves:

  1. Data collection from their customers
  2. Looking at historical trends
  3. Checking the retail situation and marketing efforts conducted by the traditional brick and mortar side of the business.
  4. Rationalising all the inputs collected

 

 

Data Collection from Customers

Naturally this needs to be done for each market the carrier operates in and from the large and sizeable customers of e-commerce players who can seriously affect the capacity allocated for those peak periods. This process includes all domestic e-commerce and cross-border volumes feeding that country.

For short production peaks of one to two days, it is probably easier than extended peaks like Christmas or Ramadan where promotions may run for a couple of weeks when the volume fluctuates during the period and can seriously affect capacity.

Historical Trends

This involves looking at the past spikes and making use of this information to forecast the future. This obviously needs to be taken with caution as the customers’ mix and the marketing activities done by each customer can drastically change, the production of that customer during the year can give signals that affect the peak volumes.

Retaliation of Traditional Retailers

This has been a very interesting change in the past couple of years where we see both the key traditional retailers in the malls and the small shops making significant efforts to ride on the same wave of the “online” e-commerce shopping discounts days. Superdeals on Black Friday or White Friday and similar events in markets have a significant impact on how the consumer spends their money. The efforts of the traditional retailer have a serious effect on the potential online business to be generated during those seasons

Rationalising the Factors

This is the most important stage in order to understand how all the inputs gathered previously add up and how the total business volume expected compare against the overall growth projections in the market.

For example, if we discuss the growth projections of online retailer A , B and C, they expect a 50 per cent, 40 per cent, 70 per cent increase in their volume during the peak season, we need to think deeply about this. Can the market and the customer buying power really support the cumulative “projected” real volume of packages produced and pumped into the market?

What is known is the buying power and the expendable money can grow certain percentage points depending on the peak season and the market economic condition, hence it is not a total zero sum game, but the market cannot surely support exaggerated growth rates that might be forecasted.

Considering all the above, it is complicated to account for all above variables, especially when trying to balance holding the online retailers accountable for inflated projections that can cost carriers a lot of wasted and costly capacity, and at the same time building sufficient capacity and contingency plans to react faster and clear capacity shortages.

 

June 5th 2019, 10:08 pm

The Jordanian boosting farmers’ profits through technology

Wamda

Ghoorcom is a Jordanian business-to-business startup that could transform the country’s agriculture sector, swelling farmers’ income and improving the quality of produce in shops.

Its premise is ingeniously simple – by leveraging technology, it eliminates the middleman, enabling Jordan’s smallholders to sell directly to retailers, hotels and restaurants. That means higher prices for growers, lower prices for buyers and a more efficient distribution model – currently, goods transportation is often unreliable and can lead to spoiled produce.

“Small farmers face lots of difficulties,” explains founder and chief executive officer Mohammad Oqeili. “There are many struggles that need to be solved. We first enabled a few transactions between farmers and retailers offline, also taking care of logistics, payment and quality assurance. Now we’ve built a platform to do the same online.”

The company, which began testing its platform in June 2016 and launched services in January 2018, has ambitions to become a regional agricultural platform, says 28-year-old Oqeili, citing China’s Alibaba as his inspiration. Major source and destination markets will likely include Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

“Our vision is to expand across the Middle East. Our mission is to connect with farmers and help solve their problems. Then we go to potential buyers.”

For now, Ghoorcom’s main destination markets are Amman and Irbid, with buyers segmented by their size and geographical location.

“It’s a very challenging process to convince retailers to buy from us. They worry about our commitment – they want reliable, fresh, quality supplies,” says Oqeili.

Already around 200 farmers have signed up to the platform, which began by focusing on oranges and now sells seasonal produce.

“We match farmers with retailers. Each season produces different types of crops – in winter it’s citrus fruits like oranges and lemons, while summer produces watermelon and grapes.”

Ghoorcom is partnering with an IT company to build a blockchain system to ensure product quality. The system will verify the quality of the produce by adding a code to every box of both vegetable and fruits. This code incorporates various details on the produce including seed type, soil type and country of production.

Ghoorcom’s various features should help farmers reduce their reliance on intermediaries.

“The big issue with middlemen relates to micro-financing,” explains Oqeili. “Some middlemen lend farmers money to grow their produce at a high interest rate. This sometimes create unfair trade terms to farmers who are restricted to growing specific types of products for the middleman.

“Late payments are another huge problem for small farmers – we’ve reduced the payment period so that farmers using our platform are paid on time.”

Oqeili’s grandparents were agricultural workers and he knew from a young age that he too wanted a career in the sector. He has a degree in accounting and finance, plus a masters’ degree in agricultural economics from Britain’s University of Birmingham.

On returning home from his studies, he worked full-time as a business development manager, creating Ghoorcom in his spare time. The company, which now has six staff, participated in a six-month, European Union-funded startup incubator in 2017.

Currently, Ghoorcom is self-funded, having turned down potential investors, although Oqeili is keen to find the correct partner to help the business grow.

“I’m seeking a visionary investor who believes in helping farmers, who believes in social enterprise as well as creating a successful, profit-driven business,” says Oqeili. “Someone who believes in our capability to add value to the market. I’m very willing to collaborate with investors who can support us in achieving our vision.”

 

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

June 3rd 2019, 10:02 pm

The Gulf embraces quantum power

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Quantum computing could herald a breakthrough for Middle East innovation and security, according to experts.

A quantum computer would use quantum mechanics to process huge amounts of data through its ability to be in multiple states, and perform computations in powerful new ways not possible with today’s conventional computers.

According to Simone Vernacchia, partner of digital, cyber security, resilience and infrastructure leader at management consultants PwC Middle East, quantum computing could be applied to research challenges across the Gulf.

“Quantum computing has applications in almost every industry and could help boost the performance of artificial intelligence (AI) technology across the board,” says Vernacchia.

Manufacturing plants, energy research, weather research, energy efficiency and investment optimisation are just some of the sectors that could benefit from the near real-time automation of complex decision making.  

“In a world in which major companies and governments across the world are benefitting from real-time AI insights, the region must ensure it stays ahead of the curve,” say Vernacchia. “The development of data analytics and AI is critical… lagging behind in this disruptive technology would potentially strongly undermine the competitiveness of local companies."

Embracing Quantum Computing

Universities in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE have already launched quantum computing research groups to help cultivate homegrown knowledge of the technology that is set to transform the world.

However, Vernacchia believes much more needs to be done to ensure the Gulf fully embraces quantum computing and all the benefits it can bring.

The expert says the region must continue to invest in quantum computing research, post-quantum cryptography and quantum computing applications to maximise the advantages of the new technology for the region and protect it from potential risks.Vernacchia also urges regional governments to equip native professionals with the necessary skills to drive quantum research across strategic, commercial and technical applications.

The PwC expert believes ‘striking the right alliances with global pioneers of quantum computing’ is another critical step to building a viable technology strategy for the region.

While the global quantum computing ecosystem is still in its infancy, the UAE is reaching out to global technology giants to form early-stage partnerships. Big US IT companies such as IBM, Google and Microsoft are investing in Gulf research into quantum computing.

The UAE minister for artificial intelligence recently partnered with Canadian company D-Wave to house the region’s first quantum computer in the Museum of the Future in Dubai.

Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) in June 2018 announced plans to work with Microsoft to develop quantum-based products to address energy optimisation where classical computers have limitations, making it the first organisation outside of the US to participate in the Microsoft Quantum Programme.

“Undoubtedly, quantum computers will bring unprecedented computational power for solving complex problems million times faster than high powered computers today,” says Anas Haj Kasem, senior consultant of ICT and digital transformation, at consulting and research firm Frost & Sullivan.

Kasem compares the development of the quantum-computing sector to ‘the moon race’.

“The race will be won by countries that build the most complex encryption and decryption methods. The leaders will be those who revolutionise industries and boost economies,” he says. “It is imperative that Gulf governments adopt the power of quantum computing to maintain national cybersecurity, because quantum computers could eventually crack traditional encryption methods."

The GCC countries will be some of the first countries to launch 5G and will open up their countries to innovations like autonomous vehicles, internet of things (IoT) devices, and industrial control systems in the coming years.

As first movers, the GCC countries will be well placed to become pioneers in commercialising security solutions based on quantum technologies.

“Many quantum computing use cases will only become apparent once the technology is deployed. In the GCC, there is a real fear of missing out because the possibilities are at the same time endless and unknown,” says Wes Schwalje, chief operating officer at research firm Tahseen Consulting. “Lagging behind could lead to counterfactual risk – if a country does not embrace quantum computing, there is a real chance that their leaders will be asking ten years down the road what would have happened had they moved earlier.”

 

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

 

 

 

June 1st 2019, 9:06 pm

Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures co-leads $6 million investment in US blockchain startup

Wamda

Source: MenaBytes

Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, the corporate VC arm of Saudi Aramco, has co-led $6 million Series A of Houston-based Data Gumbo with Equinor Technology Ventures, the venture subsidiary of Equinor, Norway’s leading energy operator, the startup announced earlier this month. Founded in 2016, Data Gumbo has developed a Blockchain-as-a-Service (BaaS) platform that streamlines smart contracts management for industrial customers.

As the statement by the startup notes, one of the problems with industrial companies including the ones in oil and gas sector, is that transaction resulting from measurements which could be weight, speed, height, connection, delivery time, volume, quality controls or any other contract term, are interpreted differently by companies, their service providers and suppliers.

All the companies in the supply chain have their own interpretation of data which could create disputes and delays when it comes to payments, filings, and audits. The statement claims that currently, the supply chain parties lose hundreds of millions of dollars in extra expenses and delays every year due to these delays and disputes and ensuing reconciliation between supply chain parties.

This what Data Gumbo is solving by eliminating the differences in interpretation with its BaaS network and smart contract technology which facilitates automated calculation, reconciliation, and payment of invoice line items almost real-time with total transparency.

Data Gumbo, after removing the disputes and enabling automated payment, records the result in an unchangeable record shared with all the parties to the traction. The startup says that its product helps companies with significant cost saving, better report, payment of bills on time, and clarity and certainty over financial positions of all parties in the supply chain.

“Customers realize savings of 5-10 percent off the top on Data Gumbo-managed contracts from a combination of fewer disputed invoices, fast-pay discounts, and performance contracts. Additionally, Data Gumbo offers a subscription model, freeing industry from building and sustaining standalone, in-house blockchain solutions with their inherent lack of interoperability and neutrality,” said Data Gumbo in a statement.

Continue reading this story 

May 30th 2019, 5:35 am

Egypt’s Mintrics is raising a $500k funding round earmarked for US expansion

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Source: VentureBurn

Egyptian social video analytics platform Mintrics is currently busy closing a $500 000 investment fund and intends to use the funding to expand to the US, Mintrics growth hacker Adel Heikal has revealed.

While it’s not clear which investors are participating in the round or when the round will be concluded, Heikal explained in an email yesterday (28 May) that the investment will be used to set up a sales office in the US.

The news follows an announcement by the startup on Sunday (26 May) that it had been accepted into the 11th cohort of US-based Blue Startups‘ accelerator programme.

Mintrics was founded in 2016 by Tarek Nasr, Tarek Shalaby and Muhammad El Zahlan. 

Mintrics was selected for the programme along with six other startups, namely Via, Junction AI, Instant Teams, DriVR AI, Cruisio and ChatENG. Mintrics becomes the first startup from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to have been accepted in the Hawaii accelerator.

In a call for applications for the 13-week acceleration programme earlier this year, Blue Startups said it invests up to $350 000 in funding in each startup selected for the programme.

Mintrics was launched in 2016 by veteran digital professionals CEO Tarek Nasr and Tarek Shalaby, as well as CTO Muhammad El Zahlan.

Continue reading this story

 

May 30th 2019, 5:05 am

The challenges facing Lebanon's fashion ecosystem

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Christina Chehade is the managing director at Endeavor Lebanon

Lebanese designers have been rising in the ranks, dominating international Fashion Weeks, red carpets and catwalks for decades. In addition, many successful fashion businesses have been established in recent years, positioning Lebanon as a creative hub.

However, rising through these ranks is much more challenging for these designers than it seems. The brands that have made headlines are considered an exception and many local aspiring talents are struggling to succeed. Investigating this further, we found that it is primarily due to weaknesses in the local fashion ecosystem that have not received the attention they deserve. The main challenges voiced by various designers and industry professionals that are pertinent throughout the journey of the designer include branding, supply chain, financing and tech advancements.

To expand on this issue, Endeavor Lebanon, together with the Beirut Digital District, gathered industry professionals to understand the changing fashion landscape, and to propose solutions for the challenges that exist.

The Brand at the Core

Of course, behind every successful fashion label is a visionary designer, backed by a team of skilled professionals who together, can realise the vision. The experts first emphasised the importance of developing the designers’ creativity, mentoring them to develop a unique brand that would ultimately help them build their story and grow. While the industry requires the right support to help designers scale on numerous fronts, the core challenge is inspiring creativity.

Experts who gathered at the roundtable discussion pointed to the importance of authenticity and the unique story told by each designer as pillars of the business, which could determine its scalability as a result.

Strengthening the Supply Chain

In addition, there is a need to encourage more industrialists to enter the fashion sector and build factories as a means to attract the right talent needed for the designers to successfully produce that brand. This ultimately creates more jobs and contributes to growing the Lebanese economy.

To date, only a handful of Lebanese designers have managed to penetrate international markets and gain access to specialised production facilities in these markets, such as France and Italy.

During the roundtable discussion, Rabih Kayrouz, founder of Maison Rabih Kayrouz emphasised the need to build factories that cater to fashion production needs as a first step. He mentioned that one of the reasons for which Italy and France are leading in this field is because they have the industrial know-how. However, it is up to the country to encourage fashion industrialists by financing and building factories. He suggested that the Lebanese should work towards opening factories and bringing experienced people from abroad to train the local talent. He believes this could become sustainable within a couple of years.

“There is a certain conflict today when the designer goes to a small factory and has a limited production choice…it affects the final product,” said Kayrouz.

Technological Disruptions

With the rapid advancements in technology, many have been unable to adapt fast enough, especially compared to the international scene. There are many technological tools that are disrupting the fashion and luxury industry globally, representing a great opportunity for fashion designers on the one hand as they need to leverage this technology to grow; and technology players on the other hand to develop this technology.

According to Edward Sabbagh, managing director at Farfetch Middle East, the online and offline worlds should not be disconnected, they need to co-exist. In reference to a Bain & Company Luxury Goods Worldwide Market Study 2018, Sabbagh said, “The two worlds need to merge seamlessly and the traditional retail world needs to develop. Online luxury e-commerce represented 10 per cent of the luxury market but is expected to grow to 25 per cent by 2025. This means that the growth in the industry will predominantly come from the online channels, but it also means that brick and mortar is here to stay”.

Financing the Ecosystem

Another weakness in the ecosystem is the lack of financial support for the industry.

Once designers are poised for growth, they need more support from investors, banks and other private and public institutions to develop incentives to grow this sector in Lebanon.

We will only see the growth and success of Lebanese designers once we begin to address the main challenges that they face starting with the brand itself, the supply chain, financing opportunities, and finally, tech advancements.

All participants of this discussion included: Christian Daccache, Founder of Bureau Des Créateurs (BDC), Christina Chehade, Managing Director of Endeavor Lebanon, Delphine Eddé, Co-Founder of Diwanee, Edward Sabbagh, Managing Director of Farfetch for the Middle East, Gonçalo Cruz, Co-founder of Platforme, Stephanie Abi Abdallah, Programs Director of Beirut Digital District, Nadim Chammas, Founder of Fashion Next Door and Rabih Kayrouz, Founder of Maison Rabih Kayrouz.

Click to read the full whitepaper

May 29th 2019, 9:10 pm

Careem acquires Abu Dhabi's Cyacle bike-share company

Wamda

Source: The National

Careem has acquired UAE-based bike-sharing company Cyacle for an undisclosed sum as the ride-hailing company makes its first foray into "micro-mobility" - an increasingly popular service providing easy access to scooter and bike rentals in urban areas.

“Many journeys are relatively short in distance, including those to and from transportation hubs such as metro and bus stations," Magnus Olsson, Careem’s chief executive and co-founder, said. "So increasing bicycle availability and expanding routes will transform how people commute, as well as offering micro-mobility solutions for short-distance trips.”

The venture has 50 docked bike-share stations throughout the emirate, which run 24-hours a day through an app, a touch screen kiosk and docking system that releases bikes using a ride code or a member key, according to its website. The company charges Dh20 for a day pass of unlimited rides of up to 60 minutes each, or Dh50 for three-day access to its bikes.

More than $5.7 billion has been poured into micro-mobility by investors since 2015, growing two to three times faster than either car sharing or ride hailing, according to McKinsey. In just a few years, micro-mobility start-ups like Bird and Lime - US-based operators of electric-powered bicycles and scooters in cities across North America and Europe - have reached valuations exceeding $1bn.

Continue reading this story

May 28th 2019, 3:40 am

In conversation with Maya Talih Khatoun of RIOT

Wamda

The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry after oil and gas. The total greenhouse gas emissions from textile production stands at about 1.2 billion tonnes each year, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined according to Nature Climate Change.

Realising the damage that fashion causes the environment, Maya Talih Khatoun along with her cousin Tima Hamadeh, launched RIOT, an online marketplace for pre-owned fashion items.

To date, the pair have raised $350,000 and are currently looking to raise their Series A round.

Why did you become an entrepreneur?

I worked with the UN [United Nations] in economic development and poverty management and I was interested in circular economy and sustainability. I was in Dubai and had started speaking about RIOT three years before we launched. As soon as we started getting serious, we rounded up the money and we were ready to go and spoke to developers and had a prototype of what we wanted to do.

How did the idea for RIOT come about?

The whole idea started from our own closet. We were hoarding designer items and because they were expensive we didn’t want to let go of them. The realisation of monetising pre-loved items got us researching. As soon as we started this research, we wanted to create a luxurious experience and give customers more and more reason to wear pre-loved.

How have you incorporate technology into your business?

We’ve created an algorithm that assigns a retail value to determine what something is worth, it’s a price calculator. We outsourced it to financial analysts based out of Mumbai. We use data points of every single retail website in the world, its constantly evolving and changing and getting more and more refined.

How do you find a balance between work and home life?

I don’t find a balance. It’s a constant struggle and you always feel guilty. I’ve sacrificed more time with my kids unfortunately, and I’ve sacrificed my social life completely. You just don’t have the time to do anything. My day starts at 6am, I’m in the office before anyone at 8am and then I leave around 7pm in time to get my kids to bed and then I work at night or I research. It’s a rush, but I love it.

What were your main challenges when you first started RIOT?

Setting up, the legal part of it, the trade licences, all the hidden costs were major challenges. Finding the right people for our team was very, very difficult. You want people who are good and willing to take a massive pay cut because they believe in your dream.

There were cash flow issues too, it’s really like a chicken and egg situation, you end up having to spend money to get money, but where do you get that initial money from?

It became all-consuming, I’d go to sleep still dreaming about RIOT. When it’s your own business, it’s a risk and a leap of faith. I didn’t have the physical or mental capability to focus on anything else.

How did you deal with these challenges?

You persevere and you show up everyday and you let people know that you’re serious and you get things done the way you want them to be done. When it came to finding the right people, we found people who truly believed in what we were doing and were willing to stay with us and grow with us. People have to believe in what they’re doing and be passionate.

What will you sector look like in the next decade?

The region will definitely catch up with the rest of the world where the pre-loved market will be massive. When it comes to technology, we’re trying to create a custom calculator to measure the positive environmental impact so customers can see their choices and actions. In the near future this will be very important for people, and seeing their environmental impact will be important.

 

 

 

May 27th 2019, 10:06 pm

Jordan’s Mawdoo3 closes Series B with $23.5 million

Wamda

Source: MenaBytes

Amman-based Mawdoo3 has raised $10 million in fresh funds to close its Series B with $23.5 million, the startup announced today. The investment came from UK-based Kingsway Capital, US & Egypt-based Endure Capital, Endeavor Catalyst, Choueiri group’s investment arm Equitrust, and Amman-based AdamTech Ventures. The startup had raised $13.5 million as first tranche of this round in July last year.

Founded by Rami Al-Qawasmi and Mohammad Jaber, Mawdoo3 that is often labeled as Wikipedia of the Arab world is currently the largest Arabic website, receiving tens of millions of visitors every month. The website features over 150,000 articles on different topics ranging from lifestyle and food to health and education. The two had started the platform to enrich the Arabic content on the internet.

Dr. Mohammad Jaber, CO-Founder and Chief Operating Officer, said that this strategic investment will be used for launch of Ujeeb which is apparently a Quora-like digital Q&A platfrom that allows users to ask questions, and receive detailed answers from experts, specialists, and individuals who have shared similar experiences around the world, in Arabic. The platform is already live and has over 200,000 answers already. Mawdoo3’s team is aiming to take this number to 10 million within first year of the launch.

“We believe that Ujeeb will fulfill a vital need in the Arab world through a unique, more interactive type of Arabic content that Mawdoo3.com, our flagship website, does not cover. The Ujeeb platform was launched to complement the approach we had started with the establishment of Mawdoo3.com, allowing us to address both general and very specialized topics through a personalized knowledge-sharing experience,” said Jaber in a statement adding that Ujeeb will be supported by artificial intelligence and tools to optimize the users’ experience while browsing the platform on the basis of users’ interests and needs.

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May 27th 2019, 8:59 am

UAE and Saudi-based Trukkin raises $3.5 million

Wamda

Saudi Arabia and UAE-based logistics firm Trukkin has raised $3.5 million in a funding round led by investors from the AL-Namlah Family Group, the Al-Madi Family Group, the Abanumay Family Group and Batic Investments and Logistics. The startup will use the investment to scale itsservices across the GCC region.

Launched in 2017, Trukkin operates throughout the GCC region and aims to innovate and simplify logistics and land transportation for long-haul trucking. The company claims to have shipped to more than 200 locations in the Middle East and to have completed over 10,000 long-haul, business-to-business truck movements in Saudi Arabia alone.  

“Trukkin is building up its marketplace to connect thousands of mostly independent truckers. The long-haul land transport market is highly fragmented and disorganised, and our aim is to institutionalise and professionalise this business,” said Janardan Dalmia, CEO of Trukkin.

Through its app and online marketplace, the company brings together shippers who need more transparency and easier access to trucks with truckers who need better access to demand and higher fleet utilisation.  Their client base ranges from businesses who order close to 100 trucks a day to ones with smaller needs who order as few as three trucks a month.

 

May 26th 2019, 8:16 am

Sustainable style and the rise of circular fashion

Wamda

When luxury fashion brand Burberry admitted to destroying more than $35 million worth of fashion and cosmetic products last year, there was outcry around the world over the amount of wastage created by the fashion industry for the sake of protecting their brand from counterfeits and discounting.

The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry after oil and gas. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), it takes 2,700 litres of water to produce the cotton needed for just one t-shirt; add a single pair of jeans to that and you need 20,000 litres of water in total.  Moreover, the pesticides, fertilisers and chemical dyes and manufacturing methods have polluted the freshwater supplies of hundreds of villages in places like Indonesia where on the banks of the Citarum River are some 400 factories that release toxic chemicals into the river every day.

To combat the impact on the environment, the fashion industry is beginning to focus on sustainability and one solution is the sharing economy.

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) the sharing economy will be worth $670 billion by 2025 as people become more comfortable with renting and leasing goods and services for a short period of time instead of buying them outright. 

Fashion rental companies already exist, but the concept is likely to evolve to more subscription and brand-based models and according to GlobalData, the online clothing rental market is set to grow to $2.5 billion by 2023.

US-based fashion chain Urban Outfitters, which also counts Levi’s, Anthropologie and Fila in its portfolio of brands plans to launch a subscription service, allowing customers to rent six items each month before choosing to buy them or swap them. The service, called Nuuly, will be launched in the US later this year.

The Luxury Closet (TLC), a Dubai-based marketplace for pre-owned fashion will soon begin piloting something similar with a fashion brand in the UAE.

“Brands will enable their customers to give old items back to them and then take new items. We’re working with this brand [to be announced soon] to allow their customers to resell their items in exchange for store credit,” says Kunal Kapoor, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) at The Luxury Closet. "Ownership and rights as a concept will go away."

Creating this circular economy in fashion will help to make it more sustainable. TLC has seen a rise in people selling and buying pre-owned goods on its platform and is embarking on a global expansion strategy after closing an additional round of investment

For Maya Talih and Tima Hamadeh, encouraging people to buy pre-owned goods was the easiest option and one of the most ethical. According to the Thread Up Sustainability Report 2018, consumers can increase the life of an upcycled piece by more than two years, thereby reducing its carbon, waste and water footprint by about 73 per cent.

They launched RIOT, a circular fashion online boutique and movement after noticing the value of items sitting in their wardrobes.

“Saying I have a closet full of clothes, but I have nothing to wear is no longer acceptable given the state of the planet,” says Talih. “We wanted to give customers more and more reason to wear pre-loved, but there is a massive stigma especially in the region.”

Part of the reason why RIOT refers to the items on its website as “pre-loved” instead of “pre-owned” is one way to help change the perception of second-hand items.

“In the fashion industry, you’re looking at the runway, there is all this beauty, the last thing you’re thinking about is water, gas emissions and dyes,” says Talih.

The influence of social media and Instagram has further increased demand for fast fashion and now a third of women wear an item on average five times before they throw it away.

“We’re buying twice as much and wearing it for half as long. That alone is crazy,” says Talih. “There is definitely more awareness and education. It is trickling down to the region, but not as fast.”

Kapoor believes that the fashion brands will soon begin to think like car manufacturers, who design and build cars with the understanding that it will have more than one owner during the product lifecycle. This, he believes, will push clothing manufacturers to create higher quality and more durable products.

Creating such quality clothes requires the right materials and for Mathew Benjamin, co-founder and managing director at Benjamin Siggers, a Dubai-based company that produces bespoke men’s suits, these materials need to be sustainable and organic, free from the use of pesticides, fertilisers and chemicals.

“The largest impact we can have is through raw materials and choosing the most sustainable for the conventional materials that are used which saves water and is better for everyone involved,” says Benjamin. “From our point of view, it’s the right thing to do. Building the company for the future is the way it has to go, it benefits everyone in the long-term.”

While the demand for such products is still limited in the Middle East, there are several startups that have emerged over the past few years that are pushing the message of environmental impact and sustainability.

Egypt’s Green Fashion collects and salvages clothes from landfills to create unique items of clothing. In Lebanon, NK by Nour Kays repurposes plastic carrier bags into a new material to make bags and accessories, while Dubai’s Ohoy Swim uses recycled plastics for its swimsuits.

Plastic is one particularly toxic material that has great potential to be refashioned into clothing. Every minute one million plastic bottles are purchased worldwide, totalling almost one and a half billion bottles per day. Since 91 per cent of all plastic is not recycled, they end up in landfills or the ocean and take 400 years to decompose. 

But it will take a while before people feel truly comfortable wearing plastic and so perhaps the most compelling model at the moment is the circular and sharing economy. While the stigma associated with buying and wearing pre-owned goods still exists, many in the region feel comfortable with selling their wardrobe items as a way to make some money, thereby becoming important contributors to the sustainability of the products.

“Consumers are becoming more and more conscious, they hold the power to make the change. More and more they are checking labels and manufacturing process,” says Talih. “Circular fashion is the easiest option and arguably the most sustainable and has the most direct impact.”

Wamda Capital has invested in The Luxury Closet

May 25th 2019, 9:23 pm

«الثلث المتحدة» للاستثمار تستحوذ على 30% من «المكان»

Wamda

المصدر: صحيفة مال الاقتصادية

كشفت لـ "مال" شركة المكان The Space المتخصصة في مساحات العمل المشتركة، عن إتمامها جولة استثمارية Seed Fund تمخضت عنها استحواذ شركة الثلث المتحدة للاستثمار على 30% من رأسمالها، بهدف التوسع في نشاطها عبر إنشاء مساحات عمل جديدة في عدة مدن في المملكة، وكذلك التخطيط للتوسع الإقليمي.

وبيّن لـ "مال" عمر الشبعان الرئيس التنفيذي لشركة المكان The Space إن الصفقة تعتبر أكبر صفقة في هذا القطاع، إلا أنه تحفظ على ذكر حجم مبلغ الاستحواذ، مشيرا الى أنه تم عبر رفع رأسمال "المكان" وانه سيتم الإعلان عنه خلال الفترة المقبلة.

 وأكد الشبعان أن الهدف من الاستثمار هو مواكبة لرؤية السعودية 2030 والتي تهتم بالمنشآت الصغيرة والمتوسطة ورواد الأعمال، حيث تقدم الشركة بيئة خاصة تساعد رواد الأعمال والشركات الناشئة على بدء نشاطاتها وأعمالها دون تكاليف كبيرة إضافة الى خدمات لوجستية اخرى ومن بينها إقامة ملتقيات ودورات وإرشاد والوصول إلى المستثمرين وخدمات أخرى تساعدهم في أعمالهم.

واوضح الشبعان أن The Space مرخصة من الهيئة العامة للمنشآت الصغيرة والمتوسطة "منشآت" وتعتبر من أوائل من حصل على رخصة كحاضنة اعمال ولديها شراكات مع مسرعات أعمال، مشددا على أن "المكان" تطمح لأن تكون العلامة التجارية الأبرز في المنطقة لمساحات العمل المشتركة وحاضنات الأعمال، وذلك من خلال إنشاء نموذج عمل فريد يجمع بين التصميم وتجربة المستخدم المتميزة، وكذلك انتقاء المواقع الجاذبة، وتفعيل المجتمعات من خلال الفعاليات والأنشطة والبرامج المختلفة، إضافة لسعيها لان تكون شريكة لشركات استثمار رأس المال الجريء في استقطاب وتمكين الشركات الناشئة.

قم بمتابعة قراءة هذه القصة

May 23rd 2019, 9:07 am

Jordan’s DigitaSport raises seed funding

Wamda

Source: Startup MGZN

Oasis500, one of the leading investment companies and business accelerators based in Jordan announces a seed round of investment in Jordanian Sportech startup DigitaSport, according to a blog post on their website. However, the amount was not disclosed. 

Founded by Omar Dweik (CEO), and Omar Rida (CTO), DigitaSport, the startup is a one-stop shop for sporting entities that seek to digitize brand value. With its fully customizable mobile application, sporting entities of all types and sizes can afford to launch their own official app. They can also shop for various fan-engagement features and digital tools. 

“We invest in startup companies in their pre-seed and seed stages accelerating their time to market and building the capacity of the team to enable them to grow and solicit funding,” Oasis500 mentioned in their blog post.

Oasis500 business accelerator also play an integral part in guiding the startups in different stages through their various business support such as finance, business, development, marketing, corporate linkages and more. 

May 23rd 2019, 8:02 am

We are stuck in the middle of a technological cold war

Wamda

As the US government banned China’s Huawei from purchasing US goods and services last week, many were left wondering whether their Android-powered Huawei smartphones would still work.

The Asian telecoms giant has become the latest target in the US-China trade wars, which saw the company and 68 other entities placed on an export blacklist, the so-called “entity list”.

It is not the first time that Huawei has fallen foul of US policymakers, who accuse it of conducting espionage on behalf of the Chinese government. The ban goes beyond commercial protectionism and into the realm of politics where both superpowers are fighting for global economic domination.

Without a resolution, the move risks further fragmenting the internet and governments around the world including in the Middle East, will eventually have to pick a side.

While many countries close to the US have already banned Huawei from building its telecoms infrastructure like Australia, others are less reluctant given the company’s leading capabilities in 5G technology  - expected to be the main enabler of innovations like machine learning and artificial intelligence and internet of things.

Huawei was the first Chinese company to go truly global after the government began to embrace capitalism. It expanded across the world and established a strong presence in the Middle East and Africa, where it enjoys the second highest smartphone share in the local and global market, just behind South Korea’s Samsung. The company has also been instrumental in rolling out the telecoms infrastructure of much of the region including in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

So with this latest snubbing, where does that leave the Middle East in this new technological cold war that is beginning to unfold?

The Cold War of the last century between the US and the former Soviet Union focused on an arms race centred on nuclear prowess, later becoming a race to space.

Nowadays however, a new cold war has emerged, but this time it is between the US and China and one centred on technological innovation.

While the US was spending trillions of dollars fighting its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, China was busy innovating and building up its manufacturing capabilities. Instead of producing “cheap Chinese goods”, it is now producing “cheaper” Chinese products that are good enough to compete on a global scale, with Huawei sitting at the forefront of technological innovation.

Over the past 10 years, Huawei has invested $45 billion in research and development (R&D), of which more than $13 billion was spent in 2017 alone. It is the world’s fifth largest spender on R&D, outspending Apple, Intel and GE and has ploughed $2 billion into 5G technology research.

Its P30 smartphone, its flagship phone launched this year and priced at around $700 offers specifications that enable it to compete with Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy phones. But whether consumers will risk investing in the handset now remains to be seen. Google, which develops the Android operating system (OS), confirmed that it will continue to offer its services for existing Huawei devices, but future models will no longer be supported.

Huawei’s chief executive of its consumer business, Yu Chengdong, stated that the company has already developed its own operating system which will be available by early 2020, should the US refuse to take it off the entity list. For its Chinese consumers, this is unlikely to be an issue since Google services are not available in the country, but for consumers in the Middle East, where Android and Apple are the dominant OS, this will matter. If Huawei develops its own OS and app store, developers will have another OS to cater to, and Huawei fans will need to decide whether to forego Google services like Gmail, Youtube and Google Search and instead opt for Chinese-made solutions.

But since more than half of Huawei’s revenues come from China, what the Middle East consumer decides is only likely to make a modest dent. What is more important however, is whether governments in the Middle East will continue to trust Huawei with their mobile telecoms infrastructure.

As the world’s principal energy supplier, the Middle East’s political stability and ideological preferences play a crucial role in the global economy. Given its strategic location and resource-rich lands, the region has throughout its history, been a theatre for global conflict with empires and superpowers attempting to either invade it or woo it for political, ideological and economic support.

Most recently, it has been China that has attempted to win over the Middle East and it has been succeeding. According to the Arab Investment Export Credit Guarantee Corporation, China is now the region’s biggest investor and holds almost a third of the foreign direct investment (FDI) stock in the Arab world.

Trade between China and the Middle East is expected to rise to $500 billion by 2020, up from more than $300 billion today according to US-based consultancy McKinsey & Co.

One catalyst for the growth in this partnership has been the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) first outlined in 2013, which aims to build roads, ports, railways and other infrastructure of connectivity from China across to North Africa, a modern-day silk road with up to a $1 trillion of Chinese investment.

In February this year, Saudi Arabia agreed to include Mandarin in the curriculum at all stages of education from school to university following a meeting between Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and a high-level Chinese delegation. The decision is intended to strengthen bilateral cooperation and increase opportunities for partnerships in the long-term.

China is banking on its historical ties to the region, re-imagining the old trade routes for the modern day and a return of an Eastern civilisation powered by the latest technologies. This, for many in the region, is a more attractive proposal even with the accusations of espionage, than pandering to the US, whose recent history in the Middle East has been left wanting.

But what many fail to realise is that technology is interdependent. No one superpower can win a technologically-driven economic or trade war without causing its own economy to suffer. Banning Huawei from buying US goods and services will negatively impact the US.

Of the $70 billion that Huawei spent last year buying components, about $11 billion went to US companies including Qualcomm and Intel.

It is worth noting that another Chinese telecoms player ZTE, was also placed on the entity list last year, but the ban was lifted within a few months after it paid a $1 billion fine and $400 million in escrow and replaced its board of directors and senior management.

It remains to be seen whether Huawei will suffer the same fate, but if the US remains steadfast in its decision, then governments around the world will be forced to re-evaluate their telecoms policies. At some point, the Middle East will have to choose the technology it wants to deploy for its future so that it doesn’t risk losing out on yet another industrial revolution. And it is a choice that will be driven by either cost or ideology. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 22nd 2019, 9:14 pm

Cairo-based Yumamia raises $1.5 million Pre-Series A

Wamda

Source: MENABytes

Cairo-based foodtech startup Yumamia has raised $1.5 million as its Pre-Series A, the startup announced today, saying that the investment came from Saudi-based boutique consulting firm Pure Consulting. The round, per statement, takes Yumamia’s total investment raised so far to $2.8 million, making it one of the best-funded startups in Egypt.

Founded by Belal El Borno in 2014, Yumamia had originally started as a food delivery platform to deliver junk-free (wholesome) food prepared by professional chefs using premium ingredients and top hygiene standard to customers in Cairo but has recently expanded into corporate catering, adding a business-to-business (B2B) solution.

The startup partners with F&B outlets to help them monetize their underutilized resources by outsourcing entire food preparation operations. Yumamia uses a franchise-like model that allows these F&B outlets to operate using existing resources while following operating rules and recipes of Yumamia.

Yumamia sells the food to companies through its corporate catering solutions. Its ordering platform for offices allows employees at companies (that partner with Yumamia) to order food (lunch) on a daily basis. The platform comes with a dashboard for HR/Operations to manage the invoices, Yumamia’s founder and CEO Belal El Borno told MENAbytes.

Yumamia charges the companies who can either provide the food for free (as a perk) to their employees or charge them perhaps by deducting the monthly invoices from their payroll.

The food delivery platform for consumers that Yumamia had started with is still live but its the B2B platform has been doing exceptionally well, responsible for over eighty-percent of company’s revenue, said Belal, speaking to MENAbytes.

He also said that the startup plans to use the latest investment to expand to Saudi by launching in Riyadh later this year and accelerate its growth in Egypt.

 

May 22nd 2019, 9:37 am

Jordan Introduces its first Agritech Accelerator HASSAD

Wamda

Source: Arabnet

Since the early days of plant and animal domestication, agriculture has progressed enormously, enabled by rapid technological developments. Agriculture needs to meet today’s needs while at the same time addressing costs constraints, environment changes and population growth for growing global population.

Agriculture probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about entrepreneurship. But some experts see innovation as key to giving farmers in the MENA region the boost they need to survive in this new age of agricultural challenges – desertification, population explosion, increasing production costs, and decreasing support for traditional and family farming.

Jordan aims to invest in this sector by encouraging its people to provide tech solutions regarding agriculture. On the 4th of May, HASSAD Agritech 3-month business acceleration program supported by ITG Solutions was launched. It will provide its services to support startups, solutions, and SMEs specializing in technology within the agricultural sector.

The accelerator aims to be a catalyst for the development of the sector in Jordan through its innovative startups. The way to do this is by building a supportive and stimulating environment that captures the distinctive Agritech solutions and transforming these solutions into companies capable of scaling, influencing, and accelerating the development of the Jordanian economy.

Mr. Walid Tahabsem, Chief Executive Officer of the ITG Solutions, believes that “Jordan is in need for specialized business accelerators which will help bring out innovative solutions and convert them to successful, sustainable and scalable businesses.”

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May 21st 2019, 8:19 am

In conversation with Ahmed Wadi of MoneyFellows

Wamda

In a bid to fund his wedding, Ahmed Wadi realised he’d taken out the maximum loan limit from his bank and so he came up with the idea for MoneyFellows, an application that digitises and manages “gam’eya”, the informal lending circles commonly practised in Egypt. More formally, it is known as a Rotating Savings and Credit Association (ROSCA) where a small community of people contribute a fixed amount of money, taking it in turns to receive the whole sum every month.

Wadi founded MoneyFellows in 2016 in the United Kingdom with Adham Badr, but moved to Egypt and joined the Flat6labs incubator in Cairo where there is a greater need for financial technology (fintech) companies that focus on financial inclusion. The company has so far raised $600,000 and is currently looking to raise a Series A round.

We spoke with Wadi about his entrepreneurial journey.

Why did you become an entrepreneur?

I always wanted to do something challenging. With any challenge I face, I just usually go ahead and try to solve it myself, especially using technology, so that was the main reason behind MoneyFellows.

Was this your first experience of launching a startup?

I studied and worked in Germany and did a few startups there. In 2005 we built one of the very first object tracking software and we worked with some companies like Microsoft on this project, but we lacked the company aspect. We just built a solution that worked but we didn’t really monetise it. There was no acquisition, we just worked with the relevant department and we left and got on with our lives. We didn’t take the company seriously, I do have regrets, there was a lot we could have done to monetise it and maybe got something useful out of it, that was the first key learning. It’s not just about building a solution.

What were the main challenges when you started MoneyFellows?

Funding challenges and regulatory challenges. It was a chicken-egg problem. Investors in the financial sector are usually afraid to invest in startups that do not have a licence. We needed funding to grow and the regulators thought we were too small to regulate us or talk to us. For regulations, we understood that we do not fall under anything that breaks the law. We are now working closely with the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) to issue regulations that best fit “gam’eya”. It was also a challenge to build credibility with customers, but it is getting much better now.  

Our main challenge now is finding sophisticated tech talent such as data scientists.

What is the biggest sacrifice you have made?

It is all about sacrifices. I sold everything I had mainly to fund the company. Also, family time is compromised. I gave up almost everything I have, time, effort and money just to see this company thrive.

What are the most important lessons you have learned?

 The balance between too patient and not being patient. Also, persistence because things take time and sometimes you need to adapt and change things that you think will never work. Also being close to the users is very important to build the right version based on the feedback and not on my own vision.

Why did you move from London to Cairo?

We went to the UK for MoneyFellows because of the Asian and African population who practice ROSCAs. We joined the startupbootcamp accelerator which really helped us. But although ROSCAs are common in the UK, there are a lot of alternatives for access to cheaper credit. So we moved to Cairo where it is very common here and access to credit is very hard.

How do you convince an unbanked population to trust an app with their money?

Most of our customers join through referrals so they are assured from their close friends. We do not really spend on marketing but we’re now working on onboarding people through offline channels. We are also in the process of partnering with on-ground channels to allow customers to join gam’eya” offline. They submit their documents and money manually instead of submitting on the app.

What will your industry look like in the next decade?

I think recently there are lots of startups tackling the financial sector and the CBE started putting regulations and plans in place. So, there is an acknowledgment at least for fintech. There is now more support and the whole country is moving towards financial inclusion.

 

May 20th 2019, 10:59 pm

Jordanian edtech startup Little Thinking Minds raises $500,000 to close its Series A with ~$1.8 mill

Wamda

Source: MenaBytes

Amman-based edtech startup Little Thinking Minds has raised another $500,000 to close its Series A with $1.765 million, the startup announced today. This latest tranche of investment came from The Innovative Startups and SMEs Fund (ISSF), which happens to be the first (disclosed) investment by ISSF, the $98 million Jordanian fund that was established last year to invest in startups and VC funds. Little Thinking Minds had raised $1.265 million as first tranche of its Series A less than six months ago led by Algebra Ventures with participation from Mindshift Capital and Al Turki Group.

Founded in 2004 by Rama Kayyali and Lamia Tabbaa, Little Thinking Minds used to create educational content in form of videos and other things for children, before transforming recently into an educational technologies and products provider that creates digital solutions and platforms with the aim of improving learning outcomes for school-aged children in Middle East & North Africa and beyond. The two co-founders were joined by Salwa Katkhuda in 2014 who started leading company’s strategy and growth.

These platforms according to a statement by Little Thinking Minds are being used over 200 schools and 100,00 students across the region in both public and private schools.

Rama Kayyali, commenting about the latest investment, said, “We are very excited that ISSF chose Little Thinking Minds as their first investment. This is a big testament to how far we have come and the impact we are creating and hopefully continue to create. We hope now with officially closing our Series A round we will continue to work on improving the delivery of our educational solutions aimed at improving learning outcomes and reach many more children in the region and globally.”

Laith Al-Qassem, CEO of ISSF, said, “Digitization is transforming education and Little Thinking Minds are offering quality content with an engaging model in a region which has a growing student population. We are delighted to back this team led by Jordanian female entrepreneurs in the next phase of growth.”

Continue reading this story

May 20th 2019, 7:22 am

The Luxury Closet closes $11 million growth funding round

Wamda

UAE-based The Luxury Closet (TLC) has completed its growth funding round by securing additional capital to bring its total investment to $11 million.

This second closing was led by Knuru Capital, which will now become a key shareholder in TLC together with its two existing shareholders, Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP) and Wamda Capital.

The e-commerce platform which sells pre-owned goods was founded in 2011 by Kunal Kapoor and the latest investment will be used to fund the company’s global expansion efforts, starting with Hong Kong, after its acquisition of Guiltless.com.

“2019 is proving to be a very exciting year for us. The Luxury Closet has built one of the best catalogues in the world, and we are now taking it international,” said Kapoor. “With the acquisition of the operations of Guiltless.com, it will provide us with a strong foothold in the rapidly growing Asian market and enable us to offer delivery, and concierge services to our customers in Hong Kong.”

This transaction contains a secondary portion as well that allows MEVP’s seed vehicle, MEVF I, to provide its limited partners an initial return on their investment. MEVP still remains as the biggest single shareholder in The Luxury Closet.

Commenting on the transaction, Walid Mansour, partner at MEVP said “The Luxury Closet is disrupting not only the ~10bn USD personal luxury consumption in the GCC but also opening-up the ultra-valuable GCC closets to a fast growing global demand for unique pre-loved luxury items. Knuru’s investment only serves to underscore our bullishness and confidence in the success of The Luxury Closet”.

May 19th 2019, 4:50 am

Banking for the unbanked: The growth of fintech in Egypt

Wamda

In Egypt, cash is king, even when it comes to salaries. Of the 100 million-strong population, the World Bank estimates that just 10-15 per cent have a bank account, one of the lowest penetration rates in the world.  

Part of this has been the fault of the banking sector itself, whose offerings have been inadequate in their reach.  Egypt has few banks branches and Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) per capita, in comparison to countries with the same per-capita income, with most of these services concentrated in urban areas than in rural ones. In addition, state-owned banks, are slow to innovate and modernise and are poor in the products and services they offer, according to a study by the World Bank. 

The development of the financial sector has been proven to be vital for economic growth and creation of jobs in a country where the youth unemployment rate exceeds 30 per cent. Increasing access to financial services will also help to reduce Egypt’s 30 per cent poverty rate and economic inequality.

So, with a mobile penetration rate of 102 per cent and 28 million smartphone users, it is through financial technology (fintech) that Egyptians have a better chance to access financial products and services.  

Financial Inclusion

Over the past few years, financial inclusion has been brought to the forefront in Egypt as a means for financial sector growth. Along with the increasing need for innovation and the shift towards digitisation, plenty of fintech startups have emerged in the country.

“Financial inclusion is no longer a corporate social responsibility [CSR] topic but rather, an investment opportunity because a big sector of Egyptians is deprived from basic financial services that are not available through normal banking operations.,” says Rami El-Dokany, co-founder and CEO of Pride Capital, Egypt’s first fintech-focused venture capital. “So, investing in fintech technologies will increase financial inclusion in Egypt and will encourage cross-selling for financial products.”

One of the most notable Egyptan fintech startups is Fawry, a provider of e-payments through more than 100,000 locations. Having completed the first transaction in 2009, Fawry now has 20 million customers and processes 2.1 million transactions daily.

“Most people use Fawry because it has solved a problem for them. If I had talked about financial inclusion and all that, it would not have mattered to them, but the point is to actually make their lives easier and provide a solution that they would be willing to pay for,” says Mohamed Okasha, co-founder and managing director of Fawry.

One example that Fawry noticed is that people were willing to be an extra EGP2-3 to pay for their mobile phone bills at a kiosk closer to their workplace than go to a Vodafone store to make the payment there.

“Convenience has a price and people would happily pay for it and feel that they are saving money because otherwise, they would drive to the store which would cost them much more,” says Okasha. “So, we provide an efficient solution to everyone, companies, merchants, and consumers. Everyone is benefiting from the system and it is cheaper for them to use that service.”

Challenges

While startups like Fawry have gained wide popularity and can facilitate big payments, other emerging fintech startups are struggling.

Ogra, an emerging fintech startup that digitises payments below EGP50 through mobile phones, faces the challenge of having to deal with banks that are not quite ready for innovation, according to Khalid Khalil, co-founder of Ogra.

“Banks and payment gateways impose high transaction fees and commission rates on e-payments. This poses a problem for small payments such as transport, scratch cards or goodies from kiosks, placed at EGP100 or less, because we cannot place a high commission on users for small transactions,” says Khalil.

Since the fintech sector is relatively new to Egypt, companies are facing different kinds of regulatory and societal challenges that might hinder the growth of fintech startups.

“There are many challenges including the unclarity of regulations and integration with banks. The second challenge is that there is not enough awareness for entrepreneurs in that sector of financial services. They could be tech savvies but do not know how the process goes or the economics of the transactions. Another challenge is that sometimes the network is down and there are infrastructure problems that make the user's experience uneasy,” says El-Dokany.

In addition to obstacles from the side of the government and entrepreneurs, others believe that there are obstacles on the side of the customers and the Egyptian culture that favours and trusts cash payments.

“The biggest challenge is the culture. Our culture is cash-based and most transactions are cash-based. We should work on the awareness strongly so we can attract lots of people and gain their trust in using their mobile phones to make a transaction,” says Ayman Hussein,  sub-governor of payment systems and business technology sector at Central Bank of Egypt (CBE).

Another thing is that systems need to be interoperable and connected and that is what happened when we connected all mobile payments schemes. We also need to work on the fees because lots of people think the fees are a lot so we need to have incentives and programmes for consumers and merchants so they are encouraged to be part of the system.”

Fintech Hub

Realising the value of financial inclusion, the CBE has been taking active steps towards the advancement of the financial sector and has introduced several new initiatives and regulations and an EGP1 billion ($58 million) fintech fund for startups.

With the aim of becoming a hub for fintech startups in the region, Egypt is placing itself in competition with Bahrain, Abu Dhabi and Dubai’s Fintech Hive. But unlike these places, it has the population that would benefit more directly from the financial inclusion startups.

“We are developing a three-year strategy for fintech with the vision to be a fintech hub for the region in the next three years. We are working on a fintech hub where investors meet entrepreneurs so they can find adequate funding,” says Hussein.

Alongside this fund will be a regulatory sandbox to test the environment for regulations.

“People with new ideas can come and test their ideas so we can make sure these ideas have no harm and operate in a regulatory correct programme,” says Hussein. “After that programme, they can start operating in the market. This is being done in collaboration with all stakeholders because we are not the only regulators, there is also the Financial Regulatory Authority and other institutions.”

Expectations

According to the Arab Youth Survey 2019, just 35 per cent of youth in North Africa prefer to pay via credit card online. But with the high mobile penetration rates, more and more startups are relying on mobile phone payments to make the user's experience easier and financial services more accessible.

“We believe mobile phones are key and will be our tool in Egypt to get into fintech and will be the winner in the methods of payment offered. We believe in ‘less cash’ rather than cashless,” says Okasha. “Things happen transitionally, Fawry did not happen overnight and so things like that take time to mature.”

Okasha believes the fintech industry in Egypt will boom in the next decade, “but its shape will change dramatically. What we think of today as an innovation will be a commodity in two years and there will be new ideas and solutions for problems”.

For El-Dokany, the change is already happening.

“I am seeing lots of traction from investors into the sector specifically, regional hubs are being created to cater for fintech and all of them are eyeing for Egyptian startups. It will be a game changer,” says El-Dokany. “Fintech will pick up very quickly because it is something that you use every day. So, when you provide a digital platform for it, it will be a lot easier. There will always be the challenge that cash is king but when you provide a solution that is as simple as cash, things will change.”

 

May 18th 2019, 9:14 pm

Egypt's XPay raises $250,000 in pre-seed

Wamda

Source: MENAbytes

Cairo-based fintech startup XPay has raised $250,000 in pre-seed funding from two angel investors, the startup announced today in a statement to MENAbytes. XPay that is part of Startupbootcamp Fintech Cairo’s first cohort had previously raised an investment from EFG EV Fintech as well which is a Fintech-focused accelerator in Egypt.

Founded last year by Dr. Mohamed AbdelMottaleb, XPay empowers communities to go cashless through its community management platform (for communities) and mobile app (for the consumers). The startup enables universities, schools, gyms, social and sports clubs, residential compounds and different other communities to set up their offerings and collect payment online. XPay’s mobile app allows members in these communities to pay in less than a minute using debit/credit cards, mobile wallet, and a cash collection service.

“XPay was established to become the platform of choice for all members of the family – eliminating the stress of juggling numerous transactions, subscription and bill payments, payment methods and due dates. One platform to ease the unavoidable inconvenience of modern living,” said Dr. Mohamed AbdelMottaleb, founder and CEO of XPay, speaking about the platform.

The startup plans to use this latest investment to execute its growth plans and expand its team.

Continue reading this story

May 17th 2019, 7:06 am

Saudi's Resal raises $800,000

Wamda

Source: MENAbytes

Jeddah-based gifting ecommerce platform Resal has raised $800,000 in its Pre-Series A funding, the startup announced today.

The investment was led by BIAC Incubators. It apparently came from their Saudi investment initiative that was announced late last year. The round was also joined by Derayah Ventures who is starting to become an active player in the local ecosystem and Nayyara, a Riyadh-based events company that runs and operates business lounges and banquet halls.

Founded in 2016 by Hatem Kameli & Fouad AlFarhan, who have founded different other startups as well, Resal enables users to buy gifts and flowers for anyone have it delivered to their doorstep. The startup that had started with one city at the time of its launch is now available across 30 cities in Saudi and two in Egypt & Jordan where it expanded earlier this year by launching in Cairo and Amman.

Resal in addition to selling to individuals also offers gifting solutions for corporate clients across all its markets.

Continue reading this story

May 17th 2019, 7:06 am

Saudi Cabinet approves the residency permit for skilled expatriates, investors

Wamda

Source: Alarabiya

Saudi Arabia’s Cabinet approved on Tuesday the special residency permit for entrepreneurs, investors, and skilled expatriates. Saudi’s Shoura Council had approved the special visa last week.

The new Green Card-style “Privileged Iqama” (residency permit) law will see foreigners benefit from the new residency scheme, which will not require a Saudi sponsor or employer.

According to the law, the residency permits will be offered to highly skilled expatriates who will benefit from added advantages including the ability to recruit workers, own property and transport, and enter and exit the Kingdom without a sponsor.

The permits will also include a family status so that a holder can issue visit visas for relatives.

There will be two types of systems under the permit, one which can be used for an unlimited period and the other valid on a yearly basis and subject to renewal.

Requirements for foreigners to obtain the new Privileged Iqama permit include having a valid passport, a good credit report, a health report, and a clean criminal record.

May 16th 2019, 7:47 am

Majid Al Futtaim acquires Wadi.com

Wamda

Source: MenaBytes

As reported by MENAbytes last month, Dubai-based Majid Al Futtaim has acquired the Saudi online grocery delivery platform, MAF’s CEO Alain Bejjani confirmed, speaking to reporters during a media roundtable yesterday. The CEO apparently did not share the details about acquisition but said it was completed earlier this year.

We’ve learned that the Rocket Internet’s team is still with Wadi.com helping them with the transition.

Wadi.com had Rocket Internet, Al Tayyar Travel Group (now known as Seera) and Majid Al Futtaim among its shareholders.

Majid Al Futtaim that is one of the leading conglomerates of the region, owning and operating shopping malls, hotels, and many other businesses across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, had first invested $30 million in Wadi.com in November last year after Wadi’s pivot to groceries in early 2018. French hypermarket chain Carrefour that is owned and managed by Majid Al Futtaim in the region, had become Wadi’s strategic partner for both food and non-food groceries as a result of MAF’s investment in it.

The startup had initially started as an ecommerce marketplace in 2015, with the backing of Rocket Internet. Wadi.com was headquartered in Dubai, selling products in UAE & Saudi with a focus on the Saudi market. It had raised $67 million in the largest Series A (to date) secured by a startup in MENA. Al Tayyar had invested about $33.3 million at a valuation of $100 million, acquiring 33% stake in the company.

Al Tayyar had fully written off its investment in Wadi, in its 2018 annual report that was published about three months ago.

With different online grocery delivery startups in Saudi raising investments in the last few months and MAF’s commitment to invest more, the competition in this space is heating up. It will be interesting to see how the retail giant who now owns Wadi with the likes of Zad and Nana Direct.

 

May 16th 2019, 7:47 am

KAUST’s Red Sea Farms closes $1.9m investment

Wamda

Source: Arab Net

Red Sea Farms, an agriculture technology spinout company from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) specializing in saltwater greenhouse technology, has secured $1.9 million of co-investment from the KAUST Innovation Fund and Research Products Development Co. (RPDC). 

Red Sea Farms is uniquely positioned to serve the growing food security needs of the Middle East. A combination of irrigation water scarcity and hot, arid lands are constant barriers to the region’s ability to achieve agricultural self-sufficiency. 

For Red Sea Farms co-founder and KAUST professor of plant science, Mark Tester, food security has always been central to his research. “The Middle East is one of the most water-scarce regions of the world. Here we often rely on unsustainable sources of water for irrigation, such as groundwater, which is being rapidly depleted, or desalinated water,” said Tester. 

“Desalinated water requires large amounts of energy to produce which is costly — at least $1 for every cubic meter -— and has a high environmental impact.” 

With its combination of engineering and plant science, Red Sea Farms has developed solutions to grow saltwater-tolerant crops in greenhouses cooled using saltwater. In their saltwater greenhouse, 80 to 90 percent of freshwater is substituted with saltwater, massively reducing both the water and carbon footprint of food production. The result is a system where both fresh water and energy requirements are reduced up to 10-fold.

The seed investment will enable the company to build a 2,000 square meter saltwater greenhouse on the KAUST campus in Saudi Arabia and realize plans to produce 50 tons of tomatoes annually by 2020.

Continue reading this story 

 

May 16th 2019, 4:45 am

Snooze notification: How LUNCH:ON copes during Ramadan [podcast]

Wamda

For a lunch delivery company in the UAE, Ramadan is the seasonal dip that LUNCH:ON needs to contend with. So how does the company adapt to the changing demand?

As part of Wamda's food technology podcast series, we spoke with LUNCH:ON founders Dana Baki and Mohammad Al Zaben about the company's growth since its launch in 2015, how they developed their technology and their expansion plans after closing a $5.5 million Series A round led by Wamda Capital. 

 

May 15th 2019, 9:10 pm

Careem starts bus service from Jeddah to Makkah

Wamda

Source: The National

Careem, the Dubai ride-hailing platform that was bought by Uber for $3.1 billion (Dh11.39bn), has launched direct bus services from Jeddah to Makkah, the company announced Tuesday.

The service will start with 13-seater buses and is priced at 25 Saudi riyals (Dh24) each way, 60 per cent cheaper than typical ride-hailing services, according to Careem.

“Careem Bus will revolutionise mass transportation across Saudi Arabia and bring a new level of sophistication and price to our customers,” said Hadeer Shalaby, director of Careem Bus, in a statement. “The 13-seater service has been a huge success in Egypt, easing traffic flows and providing a safe and efficient way to commute.”

The Jeddah-Makkah route, which received approval from the Saudi Public Transport Authority, serves pilgrims travelling to Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah or Hajj. Many fly into Jeddah airport, 85 kilometres away from Makkah.

Careem Bus is the first app-based mass transportation bus service in Saudi Arabia and is part of Careem’s “ongoing commitment to solving transportation issues, improving mobility and creating jobs”, the statement said.

Customers can book through a separate Careem Bus app, but walk-on passengers are also accepted. The service is currently cash only, but soon will be available via several payment methods, including by credit card or Careem wallet.

Careem is looking to offer bus routes throughout the region. It acquired Indian bus-shuttle app Commut in September last year and also said Pakistan is a possibility. Careem Bus may add routes in the Kingdom based on customer feedback.

May 15th 2019, 3:45 am

Startup Arabia Book

Wamda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Startup Arabia Book: Stories and advice from top tech entrepreneurs in the Arab World. Download free e-book.

Startup Arabia captures the untold stories of the high-tech entrepreneurs in the Middle East who are creating one of the most vibrant and fertile tech hubs in the world today. Through their bold vision, creativity, and tenacity, they are transforming business in this region at record speed, ultimately giving rise to an endless stream of new opportunities for wealth creation and social impact.

Through a collection of interviews, Startup Arabia touches on the early days of those entrepreneurs and the startups they created. It explores how they got their initial ideas, what challenges they faced and how they overcame them, what lessons they learned from those experiences, and what advice they have for the next generation of Middle East entrepreneurs. They also share what they believe is required to ensure continued development of a startup ecosystem in the region... Read more, and download the free e-book.

 

About the Author: Amir Hegazi

Amir Hegazi is a life-long entrepreneur, with over 15 years of startup, tech, E-commerce, and digital media experience. He is the Managing Partner of intoMENA Group, a consulting firm that helps international companies do business into the Middle East and North Africa region. Prior, Amir was the Director of Marketplace at Souq.com, the region's largest E-commerce platform (recently acquired by Amazon.com), where he helped build its marketplace from the ground up to account for sizable portion of overall sales volume. Amir is also one of the early pioneers of digital media in the region, having launched the largest online TV network in the Arab world at such companies as JumpTV and Talfazat. Amir is passionate about entrepreneurship, technology, and promoting the startup ecosystem in MENA. Amir lives in Los Angeles and Dubai.

Buy the book on Jamalon

 

 

May 14th 2019, 3:09 am

In conversation with Bernard Lee of GlassQube Coworking

Wamda

Bernard Lee was an investment banker in New York before moving to Abu Dhabi to work in debt restructuring for the Executive Council, where he met his current business partner Fahad Al Ahbabi.

Following the government’s Emiratisation programme, Lee was made redundant and set about establishing a real estate fund with Al Ahbabi. In the process of trying to find an office for their new venture, the pair struggled and so they decided to establish Abu Dhabi’s first co-working space – GlassQube in 2016, to offer affordable office spaces.

 We spoke with Lee about his entrepreneurial journey.

Why did you become an entrepreneur?

When I left [the Executive Council] I had a choice to go back to New York but the thought of going back to banking was not an option, I couldn’t visualise going back to that life, so I spoke to my partner and came up with some ideas.

We envisioned a real estate fund, but there was no office space. Co-working was not in the UAE at the time at all, it was a very frustrating experience, business rents were very high, double where they are today. I was shocked at the lack of choice and cost and I made the decision that it’s something we should look into doing ourselves. That’s the story of why we did it, it was out of necessity. The demand wasn’t necessarily there, but we saw a need.

It was extremely high risk because both my children were born, I was supporting my family, I had no income for a couple of years. It was touch and go for a few years.

What were your main challenges?

We spent one and a half years creating a business plan and launched GlassQube in 2016 and within two months, the oil price crashed and we were dealing with a whole new market. The price of oil drives everything in this market, it doesn’t matter what sector you’re in. Oil will dictate the performance of the market whether you’re selling shawermas or real estate.  The crash completely turned out our initial projections.

It took a while for the market to accept what we had built. For the first year people still didn’t understand co-working. We had exposed ceilings, concrete walls and people would come and ask when we would finish. Some people thought we were a restaurant, it took a long time for the market to catch up. We never have these questions anymore.

How did you keep going?

I had already passed the point of no return, there was no alternative, this business had to succeed. What I see from a lot of startups in the region is they want to keep their day job. They have one leg in and one out. It’s a risk-mitigating way to go, but unless you’re all in…There’s something about that experience of being awake at night, at 4am sweating, not knowing whether you will survive or not. There’s something about that experience that’s very valuable and I think that’s lost on entrepreneurs who are unwilling to quit their jobs.

How do you decide where to open a new location?

We look at the location the same way we look at real estate – ease of access, improvements to lifestyle and cost. Now, all of our projects in the pipeline are partnerships with the landlords. We have a new location in the pipeline in Abu Dhabi, the next two will be in Dubai and we’re also looking at Africa and Pakistan. 

What will your industry look like in the next decade?

People see it as an easy real estate pseudo play. It’s much more than that, it’s providing a space and experience as a service. Real estate is one factor, but anyone with capital can build it, hire a designer, but if you don’t know how to offer the right experience to retain them while maintaining a margin, that’s very hard to do. We learned that the hard way. I literally believed that if you build it they will come. I thought people would be so excited, but it took a long time for people to get what we were doing. In the future flexible workspaces will become a permanent part of commercial real estate portfolios. Institutional landlords will allocate a space to support this type of business.

 

May 13th 2019, 10:07 pm

Cairo-based ArqamFC gets acquired by UK’s StatsBomb

Wamda

Source: MenaBytes

Cairo-based sports data startup ArqamFC has been acquired by English football analytics company StatsBomb, the Egyptian startup told MENAbytes today.

Founded by Ali Elfakharany, Hesham Abozekry, and Mohamed Osama in 2017, ArqamFC collects, analyzes and presents football data to clubs, agents, fans, brands, and players. According to its website, the startup collects over 5,000 data points every match including every shot, pass, and touch that takes place on the football field. The data is then sold in presentable form after analysis to clubs, agencies, media orgnaizations, and players to help them make better decisions. The data, for example, helps football clubs scout, manage and recruit better.

ArqamFC did not disclose the financial details of the transaction but Ali Elfakharany, the co-founder and CEO of the startup, speaking to MENAbytes, said, “This deal is less about financials and more about aligning incentives for the future, and building together the industry leader in sports data and analytics. We’re extremely satisfied with the deal terms and excited about the future.”

Ali also told us that the startup was bootstrapped until this transaction and had only raised a small friends and family round during its early days.

Statsbomb is also a data and analytics startup that helps football clubs improve their performance and productivity with its football analytics tool that can be used for player recruitment, opposition analysis, and performance marketing.

Ted Knutson, CEO of StatsBomb, speaking about the acquisition, said, “We are pleased to formally bring the Arqam data quality expertise into our mix. Arqam gives us more than 2X data points of any other provider and we are seeing results on and off the field.”

Continue reading this story

May 12th 2019, 4:38 am

Tunisia’s InstaDeep raises $7 million in Series A funding

Wamda

Source: Disrupt Africa

Enterprise artificial intelligence (AI) startup InstaDeep has raised US$7 million in Series A funding from AfricInvest and Endeavor Capital to expand AI opportunities in Africa.

Founded in Tunisia in 2014 but now headquartered in London having gone global, InstaDeep delivers AI products and solutions for the enterprise sector, and also has offices in Paris, Tunis, Nairobi and Lagos.

Powered by high-performance computing and outstanding research and development breakthroughs, InstaDeep utilises deep reinforcement learning and other advanced machine learning techniques to create AI systems that can optimise decision-making processes in real-life industrial environments. 

It has now raised $7 million in Series A funding in a round led by ]pan-African private equity firm AfricInvest with participation from Endeavor Catalyst, a New York-based co-investment fund under Endeavor.

The funding supports the development of a new scalable product platform aimed at empowering enterprises with better decision-making using AI, leveraging deep reinforcement learning and other advanced machine learning technologies to bring AI to applications within an enterprise environment, allowing companies to optimise decisions and improve efficiency.

“Through our own cutting-edge research, we have developed a platform that goes beyond what we have seen in AI applications in the past. It can tackle challenging optimisation and automation challenges in dynamic and complex environments such as, but not limited to, mobility, logistics, manufacturing and energy. We already see that our product is providing real value and ROI for our clients,” said Karim Beguir, co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of InstaDeep.

Continue reading this story 

May 12th 2019, 3:22 am

Succession planning: Knowing when to hand over the reigns

Wamda

While many startups hope to eventually exit and enjoy a large payout, others in the region want to create a business that may become the basis for a family dynasty.  

Throughout the GCC region, family businesses have played a vital role in fuelling the economy, with many now investing in startups and tech companies to diversify their incomes away from the more traditional sectors like real estate, manufacturing and steel.   

Today’s established family companies were once startups themselves. The tough lessons these firms learned in trying to achieve business continuity through ceding control to the next generation will also apply to the tech startups that endure.

In the Gulf, about $1 trillion of wealth will be transferred through business successions over the next seven to eight years, according to research by The Family Business Council – Gulf (FBCG) that also indicates only around 12 per cent of regional companies will make it to the third generation.

“Gulf family businesses operate in an extremely tribal and emotional context, which exacerbates the difficulties in conducting a successful succession,” says Fadi Hammadeh, author of Family Business Continuity in the Middle East & Muslim World: Betting Against the Odds. “Family businesses in the Gulf don’t have the longevity or maturity of family businesses in other regions due to the nature of our economies – our countries are young, so the phenomenon of family businesses is still relatively new.”

In the West, founders often create a company constitution or a family governance model that will be conducive for a peaceful transition, but in the Middle East such structures have no legal enforceability - Sharia law dictates that mandatory heirship rules must apply.

“Family members whom the founder didn’t think had the skills to take over the business can become owner-managers, which often ultimately leads to business failure,” says Hammadeh.

Ambiguities

Under the tutelage of a company’s founders or co-founders, power and ownership are concentrated and there is little doubt as to who is in control. Not so with the next generation.

“Usually, several people are now exercising that power - they need to agree on who will be CEO and create a governance model that incorporates the other children into a collegial decision-making process,” says Hammadeh. “This must also enable the family members who own a stake in the company but don’t work there to be informed about what’s happening.

“Often, family members don’t see eye to eye and when there is money there is greed, wherever there is power, there is jealousy – 80 per cent of the problems are emotional or psychological in nature.”

Hammadeh advises separating economic interest in the business from the legal ownership, which is similar to the trust or foundation set-up in the West.

“You put the legal ownership of the business in a metaphorical safe so no one can touch it and distribute the economic benefits of the business – for example, company dividends – according to a pre-agreed formula,” he says.

Albert Jan Thomassen, executive director at the Netherlands’ Family Business Network, urges company owners to start succession planning five to 10 years before the planned handover.

“The biggest challenge for the succession process is giving it enough priority. Succession is the most important investment in the future of your family business. It’s very easy to be distracted by more pressing issues,” says Thomassen.

Common mistakes include a lack of commitment from the successor to really want to run the business and a failure to spend sufficient time on difficult conversations.

“Letting go for the business owner is a tough process, and you have to acknowledge that,” says Thomassen. “For the successor, getting the self-confidence that they can succeed is also tough.”

The lesson to “let go” can also be applied to founders of the startups of today. When raising investment, founders ought to be prepared to take on board the views and wants of their investors.

“The founders are minority shareholders by the time the business is mature and they already have professional management and institutional investors which none of the family businesses in the region or anywhere else have for that matter,” says Fadi Ghandour, chairman of Wamda Capital.

Another blunder is failing to pay enough attention to what the company needs in terms of leadership.

“Usually, it’s not a clone of the father. That’s often due to the way society was changed, and a very authoritative leadership style is less and less accepted. It also has to do with life-stage of the company,” says Thomassen.

Difficulties

Lise Stewart, Principal-in-Charge at the US Centre for Family Business Excellence and a global expert on succession planning, has spent years researching why business owners fail to plan sufficiently.

“They tell us they don’t know how, who to talk to. It feels very complex – they might need an attorney, a tax specialist, a family therapist or a business specialist and on and on, so it’s daunting,” says Stewart. “They also tell us that putting things down on paper is very final and they worry that the situation will change and will commit to something that they’re unsure of, which is scary.”

Shame is another huge deterrent.

“Sometimes, they’re really embarrassed about family relationships. That sense of vulnerability plays an important role in succession planning,” says Stewart. “Worldwide, only 15-20 per cent of business owners do the appropriate planning to protect their business and their families.”

Consequences

Sometimes an owner dies while still in day-to-day control of a business, with it all too common for succession planning to start at the deceased’s funeral. Ownership passes by default to the next generation, who may not be suited to run the company.

“Within two to three years, the business will begin to wobble – it usually takes a little time because there’s some residual good things present from the previous owner,” says Stewart. “The new owners can’t keep it going … it becomes a fire sale. They never get the return on the investment they could have. Even worse is the impact on the family.”

Failing to plan creates a high probability of family conflict that end up in the courts, relationships forever ruptured. To avoid this, owners should start a business with an end in mind, including how they may eventually exit, Stewart urges.

“Many people think that planning limits your options, but it’s just the opposite,” she adds. “The more planning you do, the more ideas you generate, the more options you’ll have in the future.”

Many founders of startups would be well-placed to heed this advice. Succession planning is important regardless of whether family is involved or not.

CASE STUDY – KUWAIT’S ALEA GLOBAL GROUP

Mohammad Al Duaij is chief executive of Kuwait’s Alea Global Group, which was created in 1998 to consolidate his family’s investments and business interests. The group is wholly-owned by his father. 

Al Duaij, 39, started working at Alea in 2008 when his father asked him to assume control. An accounting and finance graduate from Leeds University Business School, he previously worked in Kuwait’s government and corporate sectors before joining the family firm.

“The biggest challenge was for me was to get my fingerprints on the company, because I wanted to expand it, I’m always an initiator and wanted to integrate new businesses within the group,” says Al Duaij. “I took a regional business and made it global.”

Today, Alea has private equity investments in Europe and real estate investments in Latin America, as well as its own commodity trading business based in China. Al Duaij is the sole decision maker in the business but provides his family with an annual update on the company’s performance.

He has some key advice for other family businesses mulling how to plan for the next generation to take over.

“Being transparent and making sure everything is clear from day one is the best way to achieve a smooth transition,” says Al Duaij.  “The only way to educate the next generation is to make them fall in love with the business and for them to become more attached to it so that it’s not just a job or a means to earn money.”

May 11th 2019, 9:23 pm

The three blind spots of social entrepreneurs

Wamda

Suzan Elsayed is a Google Policy Fellow at Wamda and an independent researcher focusing on the Fourth Industrial Revolution and future of jobs in Middle East and North Africa (Mena). She previously worked as a strategy consultant in the GCC and London.

Social entrepreneurship is often misunderstood as "non-profit" or simply an extension of corporate social responsibility programmes, but while it remains a theoretical concept without a solid definition, they tend to be companies that tackle various societal or infrastructural issues.

Plenty of social enterprises have emerged across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region. There are now startups that tackle issues in the healthcare and education sector, enabling better efficiency and accessibility and companies that focus on environmental issues due to the misuse of resources and the arid lands that surround the region.

But social entrepreneurs face a host of challenges, particularly when it comes to maintaining focus or understanding the business lingo. 

The lack of communication and gaps in understanding the necessity and the needs of social enterprises results in governments, investors, and startups to be ‘lost in translation’. For a starter pack, it would be recommended to focus on those three ‘blind spots’ for social entrepreneurs:

Money Speaks

In a recent panel discussion, one of the investors made a poignant statement. Given the political situations of the region, many of us cannot voice our opinions or vote on challenges facing our societies, so, “private finance can provide a democratic vote”. With investments being the key driver for change, social entrepreneurs need to speak the lingo. Given the limited number of venture capitalists who are open to social enterprises in the region, there needs to be a strategic and quantifiable language with potential investors.

On the other hand, it is crucial to highlight that the social entrepreneurship ecosystem struggles with a lack of pre-seed and Series B funding. However, this gap is substituted with grants and funding from international donors and charities which is considered unsustainable. Donors usually provide their funding as part of a one-off investment and do not drive a business-mindset in social entrepreneurs as they are not expected to showcase return on investment or profits.

Innovative Business Models

Social entrepreneurs are mission-driven individuals who are keen to make a visible impact in their societies. Yet, this can sometimes be difficult to translate into quantifiable and measurable results. Thus, the key is to make the business models ambitious but be humble about your social impact. For instance, if you are adding two to three UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), this will draw some scepticism towards the achievability of the business – especially if it is not backed by solid financial figures. It is vital to be strategic and pinpoint the aim of a startup to a primary and secondary key performance indicators (KPI).

It is understandable that social enterprises do not have the traditional business structure and can require a longer time-frame in order to achieve results. Therefore, it is beneficial for social entrepreneurs to consider the investors’ mindset and create a risk profile that can include organisations or entities that are able to withstand such social innovations. This is currently being tested through similar models of social impact bonds. Such innovative and strategic thinking would require entrepreneurs to have access to a pool of mentors that understand the nature of mission-driven businesses and their objectives.

Know Your Audience

Many social entrepreneurs already struggle to define their businesses to people as they can still be considered as ‘non-profit’ or charity organisations. Therefore, social entrepreneurs need to ensure they are innovative with their pitch in a way that can showcase their business mindset and their social impact - a pitch can be done in both ways. For instance, it is not necessary to align your startup with an organisation’s values or with the SDGs just for the sake of showcasing a social impact as long as you already have one.

For many business leaders and investors, it can be difficult to understand the social impact and its measurement. Thus, it is crucial to evaluate and understand the audience before presenting or pitching. In addition, it is vital to step back and create a simple value chain of the service or product – including its social impact. It needs to be quantifiable, financially viable and empathic to the social challenge. Last but not least, do not show up to a pitch riding your Ferrari. Walk the talk!

 

 

May 8th 2019, 8:02 pm
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