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KRUSH Brands raises $4.5 million for its virtual restaurant marketplace Locale

Wamda

Press release:

Locale, the recently launched, foodpreneur-focused ecosystem from KRUSH Brands, welcomes its first investor Skelmore Holdings. KRUSH Brands has completed a US$4.5 million Pre-Series A investment raise with strategic investor Skelmore Holdings.

The investment is being used to grow Locale’s existing proprietary brand portfolio into a highly curated, foodpreneur-led group of around 20 innovative brands, build out a suite of next generation, technology-enabled multi-kitchens, accelerate its food technology program and bolster its senior leadership team.

KRUSH Brands is the only full-stack, fully integrated, omni-channel food and beverage company in the region. It has proprietary food technology, operates its own loved food and beverage brands and has its own professional and ethically treated delivery fleet. Its unique business model provides an economically sustainable and profitable ecosystem for innovative, local foodpreneurs to thrive and re-connect with the communities in which they operate.

KRUSH Brands recently launched Locale, its own, highly curated, online marketplace for its loved, local food brands. Locale is a place where good food, good people and good ideas matter. By not seeking profit on its delivery, technology or advertising Locale aligns its interests with foodpreneurs, customers and its employees by focusing on making a profit on food. Locale is the only alternative to the harmful third-party ecosystem.

Skelmore Holdings is a Family Office headquartered in Dubai which specialises in investments in Automotive, Retail Fashion and F&B and is perhaps best known for its award-winning restaurants Roberto’s, Rumba and Mercato Centrale. Skelmore Holdings also is an active player in the venture capital space and are also active technology investors.

KRUSH Brands has been historically self-funded.

Ian Ohan, Founder of Locale says ‘We are proud to have Skelmore Holdings as our first and as a strategic investor in KRUSH Brands. We selected Skelmore Holdings because of our shared ethics, values and vision, focus on quality and for their strategic capabilities. Their investment represents a pivotal moment in our company as we consolidate and capitalise on our intellectual know how to unlock value and accelerate growth.’

Amin Kadrie, Chairman, Skelmore Holdings says ‘We are pleased and excited with our investment in KRUSH Brands and to be part of the expansion of this unique business model and technology. We believe in Ian’s dynamic leadership and vision and in his exceptional ethical and moral standards which are reflected in the progressive culture of KRUSH Brands and its unique optimisation of human capital and customer engagement.’

May 23rd 2022, 3:17 am

Traditional family offices emerge as unlikely venture capitalists

Wamda

By Miles Kruppa

Few people would guess that Jed York, owner of the San Francisco 49ers football team, is an early investor in dozens of technology startups.

The 42-year-old owes his wealth to sports and shopping malls: his grandfather made his riches in Midwest property before buying the 49ers in 1977. In the decades that followed, the 49ers became one of the dominant National Football League teams, bringing home five Super Bowl championships. A shrewd $16.5 million investment became the basis of a family fortune worth about $4 billion, according to Forbes estimates.

But, if football made the family’s fame and fortune, it was of little help when York decided to diversify into technology investing and break into the tight-knit world of Silicon Valley. “My parents didn’t start a computer company in the 1970s . . . That’s not the make-up of my family,” says York. “There’s a level of entrepreneurship, but it’s not necessarily in what Silicon Valley would look at as tech.”

Nor did York himself have much tech experience. He was captain of the baseball team in high school, then attended the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, America’s most prestigious Catholic university. After a brief stint in investment banking, he joined the family business at the lowest rung of the organisation, sewing names on jerseys and taping players’ ankles. York’s online presence gives the appearance of a family man. The Twitter bio for Danielle York, his wife, states that she is “CEO of @JedYork”.

So the fresh-faced York had to work hard to win access to deals after he started a venture fund called Aurum Partners in 2014. To help run the fund, he recruited Brano Perkovich, a technology investment banker with Barclays in Silicon Valley. As one of its first investments, the fund started a ticketing and food-ordering app for sports stadiums that quickly received backing from Twitter’s venture arm and other strategic investors. Aurum also made an early investment in DripDrop, a rehydration drink mixture with backing from Hall of Fame football quarterback John Elway.

Even so, Aurum struggled to get into deals backed by top-tier venture capital firms, according to its principals. Instead, it heard many pitches from startups in stagnating areas such as advertising technology that had found little success raising money elsewhere.

“There was a significant — I would call it negative — selection bias,” says Perkovich, 47, who was born in Bosnia and studied electrical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. The fund was being approached by “companies that had been up and down the valley and couldn’t raise anywhere else”.

Now, says Perkovich, the fund has few problems securing access to attractive deals — thanks to tight relationships it has developed with top venture capitalists. He says Aurum has returned more than four-and-a-half times the money it has invested in more than two dozen companies since 2014.

If York seems an unlikely venture capitalist, the 49ers owner is not alone. A growing list of wealthy families from outside the tech world have tried to gain a foothold in the explosive growth of startups during the recent tech boom.

Three-quarters of family offices surveyed globally by SVB (Silicon Valley Bank) and Campden Wealth said they made venture investments in 2021, about double the share that were striking deals a decade earlier. The average family office in the survey held direct stakes in 17 companies and 10 investments in venture funds, which accounted for 12 per cent of its portfolio.

While those totals fall short of the money invested in private equity buyouts and other alternative assets, such as hedge funds and property, the growth shows how even normally conservative families have begun eyeing riskier investments. Increasingly, that includes clans that grew rich from retail, real estate and other industries with few connections to the kinds of software and internet-based products that have generated billions in the latest boom.

York says his family is “probably more overweight [in] venture [capital holdings]” than other US family offices, but not compared with those in the Bay Area that have made their fortunes in tech. Shailesh Sachdeva, managing director of the family office practice at SVB Capital, suggests the York family is not alone: there has been much more participation from ultra-high net worth families whose wealth did not come from technology.

However, wealthy families, especially those whose fortunes are not from tech, have a mixed history investing in startups. For every Uber there is at least one Theranos — a company that raised hundreds of millions of dollars from wealthy investors on the promise of revolutionising the blood-testing industry before unravelling into a financial scandal. Quibi, a video-streaming business founded by Hollywood executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, tapped a host of wealthy families for funding before imploding just six months after debuting the service.

The Walton family, the richest clan in America through its ownership of retail giant Walmart, funnelled money into both Quibi and Theranos through Madrone Capital Partners, an investment company run by Greg Penner, grandson-in-law of Walmart founder Sam Walton. Mexican magnate Carlos Slim, widely believed to be the richest man in Latin America, also made personal investments in both companies. Representatives for Madrone and Slim did not respond to requests for comment.

What makes this time different? Wealth advisers say family offices increasingly are devoting resources to operations such as Aurum that have the look and feel of venture capital firms but do not have to manage the demands of outside investors. Families that first dipped into startups by investing with blue-chip venture capital firms and evaluating deals arranged by business acquaintances are realising they can set up their own operations. “They need to have a team that can do diligence, that can source,” Sachdeva says. “Basically, they’re professionalising a mini venture fund within their family offices.”

Some family offices have even begun taking the lead position in venture deals, making the largest investment and taking a seat on a young company’s board. Mousse Partners, which manages the wealth of the family that owns French luxury fashion brand Chanel, recently helped lead a $32 million investment in Butler Hospitality, a US startup that operates delivery-only kitchens catering to hotels. Tarsadia Investments, which manages money for the southern Californian hotel mogul BU Patel, earlier this year led a $140 million deal in credit card startup Petal.

However, many family offices still have trouble cracking the clubby network of Silicon Valley venture capitalists that gets the first look at the most promising startups. Even when founders decide to bring in wealthy investors, they usually select other company founders chosen for specific reasons, such as their commercial connections. The sheer size of large family offices can also make it difficult for them to invest meaningful sums in young companies.

“It’s very hard to be a billion-dollar family investor and to be putting money to work in threes and fives and tens” of millions of dollars, says Ryan Harris, Chicago-based head of the family office practice at law firm Kirkland & Ellis. Families with less money under management, say $500 million, tend to have “more interest in venture because they are still in capital-growth mode”, he says.

Other sports team owners certainly seem keen. Perkovich says at least a dozen are considering setting up investing arms like Aurum. Often, the owners will ask his advice on how to get their funds off the ground. He says it took two years for Aurum to “get into the flow of deals”, largely through networking with venture capitalists.

One of the most active family offices in venture investing is Lauder Partners, managed by Gary Lauder, a grandson of the founder of cosmetics group Estée Lauder. Its website lists 58 private companies in which it is invested and 41 that have returned the family’s initial investment through sales or public listings. Investments that “did not turn out OK” and missed the cut-off for the website “are the expensive tuition we VCs pay”, it reads.

Lauder initially raised money from outside investors in the 1980s to purchase a stake in a company where one of his friends was its vice-president of marketing. The friend later warned him about problems at the company. Lauder lost the fund’s investment, souring him on the business of managing money for others. “I felt badly about having lost their money — I thought I was doing them a favour, but I ended up not doing them a favour,” Lauder says. “It just complicates life, and if it’s not necessary, then there’s not a good reason to do so.”

Investing his family’s money, instead, has given Lauder scope to take greater risks than if he were managing outside capital. In the late 1990s, he went big into several companies that contributed to the rise of the cable television industry, early internet technologies and some startups that “took advantage of the . . . hype wave” around the millennium bug.

“There are times when I invest in something based on a short description, liking the people and not much due diligence,” he says. “If I was a fiduciary [managing other people’s money], I would have to do more due diligence. That would have caused me to miss some good opportunities. Probably, I might have missed some bad ones, too.”

Lauder says he has dodged investment opportunities that were clearly too good to be true. Once, a university professor sent him a proposal for a transportation system that resembled a perpetual motion machine, an impossible concept under the laws of physics.

Lauder says he first learnt about Theranos through a friend who had invested in the company and raved about its star-studded board of directors, which included political elder statesmen such as Henry Kissinger. Lauder decided to not pursue an investment in the company, even after later running into founder Elizabeth Holmes at social gatherings. “That started and ended there,” he says.

So far, York’s Aurum fund has largely avoided the spotlight — it only unveiled its website this month — and many investments have not been publicly announced. Aurum typically invests between $250,000 and $500,000 at a time.

But, Tammy Sun, chief executive of fertility benefits startup Carrot, says Aurum was widely known within Silicon Valley accelerator Y Combinator despite its low public profile. She says Perkovich and York helped Carrot go from fewer than 20 customers to upwards of 50 through useful introductions after investing at the tail-end of her company’s time in Y Combinator. “The ability to diversify our customer base was really important in the early days,” Sun says.

Aurum has also started companies with its own capital — a process called “incubation” that has proved tricky for venture capitalists but can produce massive returns if pulled off successfully. For example, VenueNext, the sports stadium app founded by Aurum, was sold to payments company Shift4 in a cash and stock deal worth $72 million at the time of the announcement last year. Separately, an investment arm of the 49ers has purchased a 44 per cent stake in English football club Leeds United, with the option to buy the rest of the club.

Perkovich has words of caution for wealthy families that think they can dabble in venture investing without a dedicated team overseeing the efforts. “I think that’s very, very dangerous and a very quick way to lose money,” he says. “It’s very difficult to be a tourist in this business.” 

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022

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May 22nd 2022, 8:17 pm

Jordan’s Kitchefy raises $350,000 pre-Seed round

Wamda

Press release:

Jordanian startup, Kitchefy, recently announced a pre-seed investment worth $350,000. The company confirmed that the recent support and investment will help develop and expand its operations within the framework of a general goal of making a real difference in the food and beverage industry, as the company seeks to utilise the investment to expand locally in new Jordanian governorates, paving the way for regional expansion, starting with the Saudi market, and opening four new food brands with new concepts.

To consolidate its presence in its significant market countries by working with existing commercial kitchens as implementation partners “Fulfillment Partners”, the startup aims to increase revenue, increase efficiency and improve utilization rates to maximise the utilisation of resources with no additional costs added.

Kitchefy offers an innovative solution that transforms commercial kitchens into cloud kitchens. By doing so, the company creates high-demand food brands and injects them into the underutilised commercial kitchens of over-capacity in hotels, cafes, restaurants and other hospitality venues, to help restaurants reach new customers, explore new markets and locations and enable them to make the most out of their existing resources.

The co-founders of Kitchefy spotted an opportunity to revolutionise the food delivery industry, as the demand for services grew at a time when restaurants and cafes were closing down. Current statistics suggest that 38% of food orders are done through delivery. This figure is expected to increase to over 60% by 2026. Kitchefy is ideally placed to help businesses capitalise on this trend.

Co-Founder and CEO, Marwan Abu Sakha, said, “We have seen how much commercial kitchens have suffered during the Corona pandemic, and we thought it was due to the pandemic alone, but what we realised was that kitchens have always been suffering from underutilised capacity even before the outbreak of the pandemic. A good burger restaurant gets busy after 2 pm, as it is less demanded by customers in the morning, and this also applies to different cuisines. This is the point where we want to add value to the market and help existing and new kitchen operators thrive in a rapidly growing industry”.

Co-Founder and CFO, Abdullah Al-Absi added: “We are creating a more profitable business model for restaurants through the use of the shared economy module, and are enabling restaurants to handle more sales volume at the same fixed cost. Kitchefy has been able to work on ratios and units of the economy that guarantee the satisfaction of their partners, as each order of one of the virtual brands of Kitchefy that have been included in the restaurant guarantees a profit margin ranging from 20% to 30% for the owner of the restaurant.”

The company, which was established in the middle of last year, was chosen among five other startup companies for Landmark 2.0, the first innovation and Impact hub designed and housed by a corporate entity, and was able to secure support and investment from a group of investment companies, including the "Oasis 500" Fund, a leading pre-seed and seed investment company, the Beyond Capital Fund an LC funded by USAID, MyStartUp Incubator” Injaz”, and a group of individual investors, including Mary Nazzal Batayneh the founder of Landmark hotel and 17Venture, Zuhair Shammout the owner of Pine Catering, and Mufleh Akel, the previous President of the Social Security Authority.

May 19th 2022, 2:32 pm

Alpha Dhabi to invest $2.5 billion in Alpha Wave Ventures II fund

Wamda

Press release:

Alpha Dhabi Holding PJSC, one of the fastest-growing investment holding companies in the UAE, listed on the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange (ADX: Alphadhabi), has made a DH9.2 billion commitment to invest in Chimera Capital and Alpha Wave’s landmark ‘Alpha Wave Ventures II’ venture fund which was announced and launched at the beginning of the year. 

The total commitment comprises a capital contribution of DH2.6 billion and an undrawn capital commitment of DH6.6 billion, which will be drawn down over the fund's investment period.

The venture capital fund – which has already begun making investments – has a global remit, and will focus on multi-stage private firms, with a concentration on growth-stage companies across a wide range of sectors including artificial intelligence, financial technology, and life sciences, consumer internet and B2B. The fund’s investment emphasis is in line with Alpha Dhabi’s growth strategy, which is focused, in part, on investment in disruptive technologies as part of the UAE’s ambition to create a diversified, tech-enabled and competitive economy that fosters a culture of innovation.

The fund will target investments in high growth, tech-enabled and tech-driven businesses that provide pioneering and innovative solutions to key problems both regionally and globally. As a key and strategic contributor to the UAE’s economy and diversification efforts, the fund and our commitment strengthen Abu Dhabi’s position as a hub of innovation and technology and amplify the country’s growing position as a premier investment destination for international, institutional and growth capital.

Eng. Hamad Al Ameri, CEO of Alpha Dhabi Holding, said: "Investment in innovation and technology remains a core tenet of our growth strategy at Alpha Dhabi. We continually look at investments in disruptive technologies as a means of advancing our group of operating subsidiaries which include market leaders in their respective sectors. As a cornerstone and significant investor in this fund, we are able to firmly demonstrate this commitment to innovation, technology and growth-stage companies while also adding scale to our investment portfolio and delivering superior returns for our shareholders.”

The commitment also enhances the scale and weight of our balanced portfolio by adding sector, geographic and company size diversification while providing Alpha Dhabi with considerable deal flow and access across key markets including the USA. Furthermore, it supports our commitment to bring best-in-class technology and innovation to Abu Dhabi and our ecosystem by leveraging synergies and integrating disruptive technologies into our group of operating subsidiaries, thereby enhancing their credentials and offerings.

May 19th 2022, 7:01 am

AutoCheck acquires Morocco-based KIFAL Auto

Wamda

Press release:

Autochek, the automotive technology company making car ownership more accessible and affordable across Africa, has announced the acquisition of KIFAL Auto, Morocco’s leading automotive technology startup, to drive its expansion into North Africa. 

This acquisition represents the first major expansion of a West Africa-based startup into North Africa and it will facilitate effective Pan-African collaboration to drive innovation across the continent’s growing automotive market. 

KIFAL Auto was founded by Nizar Abdallaoui Maane (Essec Paris graduate and former BNP Paribas consultant) in 2019 to transform the automotive experience in Morocco by providing a seamless process for buying and selling used cars, and enabling access to financing, warranties, insurance and other value-added services.

The startup was the first to be accepted into the inaugural cohort of CDG Invest’s 212 Founders accelerator programme, which aims to fund and support world-class startups linked to Morocco and Africa.

Morocco is one of the most developed automotive markets in Africa, with more than 180,000 new cars and around 560,000 used cars sold annually. As a result of various policy developments and investments in infrastructure, Morocco’s automotive sector is set to grow a further $14 billion over the next five years. 

The country is home to an innovative technology hub, powered by a thriving startup ecosystem that delivers a wide range of solutions to support the automotive industry. Over the years, KIFAL Auto has emerged as a trusted partner for individuals and organisations in Morocco seeking to buy and sell used cars, with its transparent, secure and cost-effective processes.

With this acquisition, Autochek is uniquely positioned to tap into the innovation that underpins Morocco’s thriving automotive ecosystem, introduces its market-leading solutions to alleviate various challenges across the value chain and further integrate the Pan-African automotive industry to drive shared value for consumers, manufacturers, financial institutions and other stakeholders.

 Autochek is building the financial infrastructure to drive the penetration of auto financing across Africa, powered by a data analytics engine that makes it easier for financial institutions to offer credit to consumers. It has existing operations across West and East Africa (Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya and Uganda), a partner-led retail footprint in over 1,500 dealer and workshop locations, and more than 70 banking partners including Access Bank, Ecobank, UBA, Bank of Africa and NCBA Bank.

Commenting on the acquisition, Etop Ikpe, CEO and co-founder of Autochek said, “from my first interaction with Nizar and his team at KIFAL Auto, I was so impressed by their passion for delivering effective solutions and their commitment to innovation. They have built an excellent platform and we are thrilled to have them onboard at Autochek to support the work we are doing to improve the automotive finance value proposition in Africa. There are so many parallels in our individual stories and I look forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship for years to come.”

Nizar Abdallaoui Maane, CEO and Founder of KIFAL Auto, said “I have long been an admirer of the work Autochek has done to enable improved experiences across Africa’s automotive value chain. There is so much we can learn from each other and I am looking forward to bringing my experience and expertise to deliver more game-changing innovation in Morocco and beyond. In our Industry and especially in an African context, it makes a lot of sense to continue growing with a large player. Morocco is a gateway into North Africa and I am confident that we can unlock new value and drive further transformation across the Board”.

Youssef Mamou, Program Director at 212Founders said, “KIFAL Auto is a great example of the real change that innovation and a focus on value creation is driving across Africa today. Nizar and his team have shown a lot of passion, vision and entrepreneurial spirit to drive the success the company has seen to date and we are confident that this success will continue as they join the Autochek family.”

Nizar and the KIFAL Auto team will join Autochek and continue to explore new opportunities to deliver solutions to drive positive change in the automotive industry in Morocco an beyond.

 

May 18th 2022, 1:45 pm

STV partners with Meta to support Saudi startups

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Press release:

STV and Meta announce a new partnership today that aims to support tech startups in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Mena region. This partnership is built on building the community's capabilities and enabling STV portfolio growth through Meta marketing and platform solutions.

In the digital age, social platforms play a critical role in acquiring and engaging customers and the wider community, leading organisations to invest significant resources in their online presence. Looking at technology players in the region, the reliance is even higher, driven by social media local consumption compared to global benchmarks. 

Seeing this opportunity، STV and Meta entered into this partnership which is designed to build technical capabilities in Saudi Arabia and the region, through education and awareness for the entrepreneurs, marketers and developers. The other pillar of the partnership is enabling STV portfolio companies from strategic and financial incentives provided by Meta.

In a statement announcing the partnership, STV commented, “As active technology investors in Saudi Arabia and the region, we’ve seen how crucial online marketing is for scaling the new wave of business and digital champions. The Middle East has one of the highest consumption rates globally, which is reflected in the substantial allocation of venture capital raised towards these channels. The importance of social platforms like Meta’s for customer engagement and brand management led us to explore partnerships where we can support our portfolio in this area” 

Commenting on the partnership, Fares Akkad, Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Meta, said: “We are excited to be partnering with STV to support tech startups across the Mena region and in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in particular. As a priority market for Meta, we’re keen on growing the wider tech ecosystem in the country by building important capabilities and skills for business communities through our marketing and platform solutions. Now, more than ever, businesses and communities in our region rely on our platforms, products and tools to engage with customers and expand their reach and their online presence. Through this new partnership with STV, we are fully committed to furthering our investment in Saudi Arabia and the MENA tech ecosystem by building technical capabilities for SMB owners, upskilling entrepreneurs, and supporting marketers and developers.”

STV further concluded, “We believe at STV that our most valuable assets are the deep partnerships we build to transform the region’s tech sector. This partnership also is a further commitment to our founders in supporting them beyond capital in their journey to champion the region and beyond.

May 18th 2022, 1:45 pm

Healthtech startup Doxx launches after raising $1.5 million Seed round

Wamda

Press release 

Doxx launches the first fully integrated digital platform in the MENA region, connecting medical professionals and institutional healthcare providers including pharmacies, labs, scans, and insurance companies, to support the patient’s medical journey, increase accuracy, as well as improve the quality of service while reducing healthcare costs for the patient.

The startup successfully raised $1.5 million in a seed round, with expansions to close the cycle of patients’ needs, while continuing to be the preferred app for doctors and patients. Led by doctors and other healthcare and pharmacy professionals, Doxx is a patient-centric application that focuses on empowering patients to take control of their medical records, lead healthier lifestyles, and find the right medical care required through a network of fully integrated service Providers.

“Guided by our commitment to close the gap between the patients and the healthcare community and increase the quality-of-care delivery, we developed a comprehensive and inclusive platform, putting the patients’ needs at the center of our focus while providing benefits to all the healthcare stakeholders and participants. We designed Doxx to be the trusted patient and doctor-friendly app in single-source care. We help patients take control of their journey and medical needs and address their healthcare needs well beyond booking features and prescription fulfillment in a single easy-to-use platform that will be their lifelong companion.” According to Sherif Broudy, Founder, and CEO of Doxx.

“We believe that Doxx developed a truly superior technology well beyond any existing point solutions that put the focus on the patient while creating value for all the healthcare stakeholders and value chain participants. Driven by the team’'s comprehensive knowledge of the market and a mission to transform the patient journey and support by a sustainable business was fundamental to our decision to capitalise Doxx to ensure a strong go-to-market launch and sustainable growth.” Stated Ash Rofail, Openner Founder and General Partner.

Driven by its core message of empowering patients, Doxx has successfully acquired 2600 doctors, 18 Polyclinics, 52 pharmacies, 26 medical labs, and 10 scan centers in the past four months. Operating in its Cairo-based office, Doxx is seeking to increase value-added services, which currently include home nursing, polyclinic visits, home visits, and in-clinic visits, besides several signature initiatives that target older patients requiring teleconsultation around the clock, home nursing, at-home doctors’ visits, and the needs of chronic patients’ care. The app also works on providing competitive prices for medications through its vast network of pharmaceutical partners. “As medical professionals and doctors, it has always been our vision to be able to track our patients’ medical history and files, it is essential to be able to diagnose and prescribe the correct treatment, Doxx delivers game-changing features that place the patients at the center.

At Doxx, patients’ records are easily accessible as well as medical prescriptions and doctor’s appointments in several fields, this is why Doxx is backed by Egyptian doctors who truly believe that with the right tools, Egypt will be able to transform its healthcare system,” said Heba Saher Hashem, Consultant of Neurology and Doxx Investor.

Doxx also allows medication delivery and other services through the application and is set to expand in the next few months to cover several governorates outside the greater Cairo region.

“Elevate’s investment in Doxx is part of our fundamental commitment to elevating access to quality healthcare in Egypt and Sub-Saharan Africa. This is the first of a series of investments in healthcare startups as part of Elevate’s healthcare-focused venture capital platform, with our participation in Doxx being a warehousing effort. 

At Elevate, we believe that the technological innovation, creativity, and agility that healthcare startups possess, combined with the wide supply/demand gap in quality healthcare services, provides all the right ingredients for Egypt to eventually become a regional hub for healthcare services to serve the rest of Africa, and we want to be the engine that helps drive this growth. We are excited to see what Doxx can do as part of this vision," stated Dr. Tarek Moharram, Group CEO of Elevate PE and Elevate Healthcare.

 

May 18th 2022, 1:45 pm

Pemo raises $12 million Seed round

Wamda

Press release:

Pemo, the UAE-based fintech startup empowering businesses across the Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan (MENAP), announced today that it has launched its all-in-one spend management platform. Pemo offers fast, transparent, and simplified invoice payment and expense management solutions, as well as smart corporate cards, for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the region.  

The announcement comes alongside a $12 million funding round, co-led by dedicated seed fund Cherry Ventures and Shorooq Partners, with participation from FinTech Collective, Speedinvest, BY Venture Partners and Antler.  In addition, the round included private investment from prominent business angels, including unicorn founders of companies such as Nium, Payhawk, Qonto, Billie, Moss, and other successful members of the regional and global tech community, including Mahmoud Fouz from Qlub, Abdulla Elyas from Careem, and Tomaso Rodriguez from Talabat.

The Pemo platform is tailored to the requirements of SMEs in emerging markets and has begun onboarding its first batch of UAE-based companies. Currently, available features include digitised invoices, automated approval flows, one-click invoice payments and real-time cash flow monitoring. Users can soon avail of physical and virtual prepaid cards that can be topped up and distributed to employees.  Through integration into the Pemo app, the prepaid card will automatically categorise employee expenses, capture receipts for each transaction, and offer business owners and management teams full visibility of corporate spending. 

Pemo was co-founded by serial entrepreneurs, and Rocket Internet and Google alumni, Ayham Gorani, Valerie Konde, Alessandro Duri, and Saed Ghorani, who have collectively launched or scaled more than eight ventures, including Zalora and Pleo over the last 15 years.  They are supported by a founding team of 20 members stemming from successful local and international tech companies. 

Ayham Gorani, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Pemo, said: “We’re operating in a region where more than 90% of businesses are SMEs, many of which rely heavily on multiple platforms, processes and entities to manage their corporate spending, creating a number of challenges, such as irregular expense reports and high costs. This is exactly the day-to-day friction we are removing by combining all spend management functions in one hub.  Ultimately, this helps businesses to save money and time, while empowering team members to make purchasing decisions quickly and responsibly.”

Over the past two years, corporate spend startups across the US, Europe, Southeast Asia and Latin America have been on the radar of the most prominent venture capital funds, with companies such as Ramp, Pleo, Spenmo and Clara receiving significant support in scaling into new markets and expanding product offerings. Their growth and its resulting private investment were earned by a proven approach of offering corporate cards, combined with the venture’s ability to build software around those cards, taking into account the functionality needed by companies to track expenses, manage to spend access, and save money.

“We’re grateful to have the backing of incredible investors who are bringing a wealth of industry experience and market knowledge to the table.  In particular, it’s hugely beneficial for us to have the support of founders who have successfully built expense management platforms in other markets, and we are looking forward to working closely with them, and our VC partners, as we expand our offering,” Gorani continued.

Following its UAE launch, Pemo is looking to establish operations in Saudi Arabia by the end of 2022.  The expansion will support the Kingdom’s Financial Sector Development Program (FSDP), which aims to build a cashless economy as part of the Saudi Vision 2030.  The company later plans to extend its geographical footprint into Egypt and Pakistan.

Filip Dames, Founding Partner at Cherry Ventures, which has also backed fintech like Juni and Moss, said: “In the presently available software stack, expense management for companies and employee access to credit or debit cards continues to feel broken — and Alessandro, Valerie, Ayham, and Saed are the team to fix it. We’re excited to team up with them as Pemo offers a full payable suite for an underserved segment and delivers a smart and efficient way for customers to manage expenses and bill payments.”

Mahmoud Adi, Founding Partner at Shorooq Partners, commented: “We are humbled to be partnering with the Pemo team as this incredible journey takes off. The founders' customer-centric approach and a strong commitment to growth make us certain they are the right team to back in the region's expense management space. Given our deep exposure to fintech infrastructure, we have no doubt that this will be a unique success story and are very excited to see what the future holds for Pemo.” 

Faisal Kawar, Principal at FinTech Collective, said: “Pemo’s software has the potential to transform the pain points for over 23 million SMEs in the region, who are currently experiencing a $123 billion financing gap. We were impressed by what the Pemo team has accomplished in such a short period of time, against this backdrop, bringing together a veteran all-star team with a unique combination of experiences and skillsets."

May 18th 2022, 1:45 pm

Metaverse: the natural evolution to Web 3.0

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Professor Paul Hopkinson is the head of Edinburgh Business School at Heriot-Watt University Dubai and academic lead for Heriot-Watt Online

Despite the fear that comes with new inventions and developments destabilising our reality and our way of living, we fail to realise that these developments are only a response to changes that are already taking place. In other words, technological innovations and other developments are a response and an attempted solution to current global shifts. As the world changes around us, necessitating new ways of being and functioning, we look for innovations that suit our current needs. With movement being restricted during the pandemic and causing major disruption to the global economies and nearly all aspects of our life, the need for access to work, healthcare, and other forms of livelihood irrespective of one’s location became necessary. 

Currently, the uncertainty surrounding emerging technological concepts such as the metaverse and blockchain is understandable. This uncertainty is due to the pace of change that the world has undergone in only two years. However, it is important to view the metaverse as the next natural evolution of the internet. Previously, we passively accessed content online through its current form. We then moved to interacting with content through dynamic platforms such as social media through reels and stories. And today, built on the foundation of blockchain technology, the metaverse can take us to the next step: engaging with digital content in 3D and ushering us into Web 3.0.

Beyond emulating our physical reality, the use of blockchain technology becomes imperative for doing business. The pandemic has also revealed faults within our current economic systems, thereby increasing the appeal of a decentralised and self-regulated economy. With the use of blockchain technology, not only can we create digital assets, but we can enable their ownership transfer and transactions. Therefore, blockchain technology is an essential component to the existence and scalability of the metaverse. As brands increasingly realise this, we are seeing more companies invest in NFTs and blockchain technology. Nike is a good example of this; the apparel giant has acquired RTFKT studio, a digital collectibles company, which will allow the company to sell virtual sneakers to outfit people’s avatars in the metaverse. This is a testament to Nike’s recognition that they will not be able to offer and sell virtual sneakers in the metaverse without the use of blockchain technology. Furthermore, Nike’s acquisition of RTFKT studios expands the company’s potential for digital innovation in the metaverse. Owning RTFKT means Nike will be able to develop the technology of the digital collectibles studio in a way that suits its brand objectives.  

Further to the potential for digital innovation that comes with operating in the metaverse, the economic potential that the metaverse unlocks is attractive to companies and governments around the world. The decentralisation of the metaverse, which means that it is not governed by a central authority, can create resilient business models where ownership of digital goods and services is not controlled by a single brand. This means content creators can connect directly with their audiences and benefit from their own creation. In addition, the increased security of ownership in the metaverse encourages businesses and governments to invest.  For example, Dubai announced its entry into the Metaverse of The Sandbox, making the UAE the world’s first regulator to make its debut in the metaverse. Users on the Sandbox can buy a plot of land and build it with the help of a skilled developer. By reason of being held on the blockchain, the asset will belong to the user forever unless they decide to sell it. The ease of traceability and security inherent in ownership in the metaverse is therefore a major attraction for investors. 

Countries like the UAE recognise the immense potential that the metaverse provides. In addition to recently announcing its entry in the Sandbox, the country has already taken several other steps in this direction. For example, at the beginning of this year, the UAE has launched the world’s first metaverse customer happiness service centre in the health segment. Investing in healthtech is a global priority as it brings significant value for user and customer experience, encouraging citizens to look after their health. Further to the significance of Dubai’s entry into Sandbox reflecting the country’s role in facilitating a borderless market enabling sustainable economic freedom, it is now clear that the country can certainly benefit from being an early adopter of metaverse technology. In addition, through the several investments and initiatives the country has already taken, Dubai could possibly become a role model for other governments and corporations around the world in this regard. 

 

May 18th 2022, 4:57 am

Instabug raises $46 million Series B round

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Press release:

Instabug, the leading mobile monitoring, crash and bug reporting solution for mobile teams, today announced $46 million in Series B funding led by global software investor Insight Partners with participation from existing investor Accel, as well as new investors Forgepoint Capital and Endeavor. The capital raise follows record growth in 2021, in which Instabug reached more than 2.7 billion mobile devices, processed 110 billion mobile sessions and 4.2 billion issues, and drove a substantial increase in year-over-year bookings adding enterprise leaders like DoorDash, Verizon, IHG, ABInveb, Porsche, Qualtrics,  Gojek and more to its customer base. 

Instabug’s widely adopted bug, crash reporting, and performance monitoring solutions are essential for mobile developers and organisations which place a high value on understanding the performance of their mobile apps and the user experiences they deliver. With the new funding, Instabug will continue to aggressively execute its mission of serving engineering teams with performance metrics and issue visibility, and product teams with customer insights and direct user feedback. By adding to its existing proactive issue detection, advanced debugging and alert management capabilities, Instabug is building the first mobile observability and performance monitoring platform. 

“Mobile applications and our interactions with them have been evolving for almost 15 years, but only in the past few have these interactions become the primary way we interface with brands and services all around us,” said Omar Gabr, CEO and co-founder of Instabug. “Leaders in industries spanning banking, transportation, retail, and education have realised mobile applications are the primary way customers will experience their brands and products. This new  capital will help us develop more strategic partnerships with these enterprises as they increase  investment in a mobile-first approach to customer engagement.”  

“Today’s digital brands and services are increasingly demanding purpose-built mobile solutions that improve their products and experiences,” said Ganesh Bell, Managing Director at Insight  Partners. “Instabug is strongly positioned to lead the nascent mobile app observability and  monitoring space because the company has treated mobile as a first-class citizen since day  one, and its leadership has a deep understanding of the needs faced by mobile-focused/mobile-first organisations and developers.”

“We are now at the point where mobile developers and teams can’t rely on server-side performance monitoring alone to understand and improve their app experience,” said Moataz  Soliman, CTO and co-founder of Instabug. “Mobile developers have not had access to the level of observability, performance or user-level insights that web developers have historically had when developing and improving web-based applications. We strive to give mobile teams the  visibility they have been missing and are furthering our efforts to become the standard for client-side performance monitoring and management, relied on by developers and leading digital enterprises alike.”

May 17th 2022, 12:46 pm

NorthLadder raises $10 million in a convertible note

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Press release:

NorthLadder is the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region’s unique digital platform that enables frictionless trade of pre-owned electronics. Their model provides great value and convenience to consumers to sell their devices, as well as a steady and reliable supply to buyers on the platform. Today, the company announced a $10 million convertible note in the UAE, led by CE-Ventures, with supporting investment from BECO Capital, Venture Souq and Dutch Founders Fund. BECO had invested $5 million in the last funding round.

Since its launch, NorthLadder has served more than 30,000 customers and has over 200 trade-in locations and 500+ dealers across three countries. The company has also secured partnerships with large electronics retailers and is now the leading device trade-in player in the UAE. NorthLadder has created several innovative service offerings, some of which are world firsts, to fundamentally offer great value to customers and retail partners. 

CE- Ventures, the corporate venture capital arm of Crescent Enterprises, is focused on strategic investments in early-to-late-stage high-growth companies and select venture funds globally. It has invested in various companies across diverse sectors. Commenting on the investment in NorthLadder, Tushar Singhvi, Deputy CEO and Head of Investments at Crescent Enterprises, said: “NorthLadder’s journey has been impressive to date, growing to become the leading trade-in player. And, with the UAE being the global hub that it is, the company is uniquely positioned to dominate the regional market and capture a significant portion of the global trade. We look forward to supporting the scaling of NorthLadder’s operations and its expansion into other strategic markets, with the overarching mission of reducing the tech industry’s carbon footprint and working towards a more sustainable future.”

Dany Farha, CEO & Managing Partner of BECO Capital comments: “NorthLadder has an exceptional management team with an innovative business model. We are excited about continuing to partner with them to create a global business from the region.” 

Laurens Groenendijk, Founding Partner of Dutch Founder’s Fund, who previously founded Just-Eat, Treatwell, Miinto and nano-satellite challenger Hiber, commented “Northladder is trying to solve a complex problem by establishing micro-networks in emerging markets on the demand side of the pre-owned electronics market. Although many companies attempted to disrupt this value chain, NorthLadder's approach is ingenious and strengthens the circular economy. It is a global business, and we also see considerable potential in European markets. We are excited to back one of the best teams in the region”                

The new funds will be used to scale up the company’s technology platform, expand geographically, and further current B2B partnerships. Led by co-founders Sandeep Shetty and Pishu Ganglani, NorthLadder received a shot in the arm when Mihin Shah, co-founder and CRO, joined last year to lead the core business. Mihin is a former McKinsey Associate Partner and Global Head of Supply Chain for Landmark Group across 19 countries and brings deep operations and supply chain experience to the table, which is critical for NorthLadder’s success.

Sandeep Shetty, co-founder and CEO of NorthLadder is looking forward to experiencing the positive impact of this new round of funding for NorthLadder, stating: “We are privileged to partner with the region’s leading VC firms. We have always envisioned building NorthLadder into a global business. With this latest round of funding, we plan to further strengthen our talent base and expand our market reach in multiple countries including the UAE and KSA. Affordability, driven by Trade-in’s, is a key enabler for the sale of new devices and we are excited about powering this for our partners, through our unique global business model that ensures the best residual value for second-hand devices”

In the next five years, the pre-owned smartphone market is expected to grow three times faster than the new smartphone market. Northladder, the first platform of its kind, is well equipped to meet this demand. With its new investment, the company shows great potential to expand its model on a global scale.

May 17th 2022, 7:30 am

Nama Ventures invests in Pakistan’s AgriDunya

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Press release:

AgriDunya, an Agri-tech B2B platform specialising in Agri-Input sourcing & supply to farms and farmers in Pakistan, announced that it has raised an undisclosed amount in pre-Seed funding round by ​Nama Ventures.

Pakistan's agriculture sector plays a central role in the country’s economy as it contributes around 20 per cent to GDP and absorbs ~ 42 per cent of the labour force of the country.

Agriculture’s allied sectors are numerous and have a strong impact on the country’s GDP and growth. 

In the whole, Pakistan’s Agri Sector is valued at over $60 billion among which $4 billion is attributed to farm inputs (fertiliser, chemicals, micronutrients, machinery etc.). Historically Agri Input’s market remains to be the supplier's market which not only frequently faces artificial price hikes but also supply constraints to the users. 

Consequently, since farmers and landowners across the country are not accustomed to the modern farming knowledge base as well as a differentiation / effective utilisation of Agri Inputs materials (as per crop optimum requirements), this further deepens the impact the situation of Agri Input market has on the overall Agriculture economy; with a platform to source and supply the right products as well a dedicated knowledge enhancement drive as part of its platform - AgriDunya resolves to solve these challenges for Pakistan.

AgriDunya was co-founded in September 2021 by Ameet, Rahul & Faiq. 

Ameet, the COO, comes with generations of fa4ming experience and more than a decade’s farm input supply chain management experience. 

Rahul, the CTO, not only belongs to the conventional farmer’s family but also has a masters in IT and has been an application developer with over seven years of experience. 

Faiq, the CEO, has over 10 years of corporate management and startup management experience – with a rich commercial and operational experience he has worked on leading large teams and working on multiple startups for corporate conglomerates in different functional and management roles.

We see a clear need for transformation of the Agri sector in Pakistan; we aim to make our contribution to a semi-formal market by using technology as a disruption that will ultimately improve the Agri sector in the country.

“AgriDunya represents our third investment in Pakistan at the pre-seed stage and the first Agri-tech startup that we invest in” Said Mohammad Alzubi, Founder and Managing Partner of Nama Ventures, “We were really impressed by the deep knowledge and the domain expertise the team has in the Agri-tech space, and more particularly in the B2B supply chain of farming,” added Mohammed, “The AgriDunya team of has all the complementary skillsets and elements to meet the needs of Pakistani farmers and beyond. We are truly thrilled to back this amazing team.”

May 16th 2022, 3:59 pm

CASF invests in Kenya fintech FlexPay

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Press release:

The Cairo Angels Syndicate Fund (CASF), a micro venture capital fund that invests in early-stage startups in the Middle East and Africa, is delighted to announce its investment in the fintech startup FlexPay.

FlexPay is an online and offline payment gateway that allows merchants to offer interest-free targeted savings to their customers in Africa. Through FlexPay, merchants give their customers the freedom to choose how and when to pay for high-value goods and services. Shoppers get to spread the cost over time (pay in instalments) increasing flexibility and spending power. Merchants can choose to integrate FlexPay as a checkout option online or offer offline in-store flexibility. They have managed to grow their GMV 5x over the past year.  

"We are thrilled to have The Cairo Angels as investors as we plan to grow and scale to more markets in Africa. As Africa’s first merchant-embedded saving-based purchase experience that rewards customers for saving (Save Now, Buy Later), we aim to solve the un-affordability gap for the large under-banked African population without subjecting them to the debt trap.” Stated Richard Machomba, Founder and CEO of FlexPay.

"FlexPay is our first investment in Africa outside of Egypt. Richard and Johnson are two stellar founders who have built an amazing FinTech platform that flips BNPL on its head by harnessing the power of saving and digitizing the deep-rooted culture of ‘layway’. We will be supporting FlexPay with their regional expansion plans in other key African markets, including Nigeria and Egypt” said Aly El Shalakany, CEO of the Cairo Angels Syndicate Fund.

May 16th 2022, 3:59 pm

Amazon acquires 4 per cent of valU for $10 million

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Source: Khaleej Times

valU Consumer Finance (valU), a fully-owned subsidiary of EFG Hermes Holding entered into an agreement with Amazon for the Provision of Consumer Financing by valU as a Payment Method on amazon.eg (Commercial Agreement).

valU will make some of its consumer financing products available to eligible customers on amazon.eg, providing these customers with the option to split the total cost of purchases into multiple payments by using valU.

EFG Hermes and Amazon entered into an option agreement whereby Amazon agreed to acquire $10 million in EFG Hermes GDRs with the option to replace that investment into valU at a future date, translating into a stake of 4.255 per cent of the issued share capital of valU, based on a current post-money valuation of valU of $235 million.

The option will be exercisable prior to or upon the occurrence of a qualified liquidity event at the level of valU, in the form of an independent investment involving third party investors, a sale, or an initial public offering or another listing event, based on the terms and conditions of the transaction agreement.

May 15th 2022, 8:42 pm

The week that shook crypto

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Scott Chipolina and Katie Martin 

In January, Mike Novogratz — hedge fund rock star turned crypto heavy hitter — tweeted a picture of a sizeable new tattoo on his left shoulder. It featured the image of a wolf howling at the moon and a banner saying “Luna”, a cryptocurrency then trading at $78.

“I’m officially a Lunatic!!!” enthused the one-time macro investor at the Fortress hedge fund group, and now founder and CEO of Galaxy Digital, an investment management firm with ambitions to be “the Goldman Sachs of crypto”. By the start of April, luna peaked at $116 after being snapped up by buyers including enthusiastic retail investors.

But this week, luna lost it all. Its value slid to zero after terraUSD, a sister token, collapsed in value, despite being designed to track the value of the US dollar.

It is unclear what Novogratz will do about his tattoo. The CEO of Galaxy, which invested in the company behind the tokens, did not respond to several requests for comment. But the demise of luna and terra has left a mark on the global $1.3tn cryptocurrency market. Coins come and go — thousands have died since bitcoin was invented in 2009. But terra’s failure has cut through. It was designed to be a so-called stablecoin — a staid, boring token that simply tracks the dollar.

Its sudden death, at a time when crypto valuations were already sliding, has sparked serious questions over the functioning of the entire crypto market. In just one week, the valuation of exchange Coinbase has crashed, bitcoin prices have slumped below $30,000 for the first time since last summer and tether — the largest stablecoin akin to the Federal Reserve of crypto — failed to keep up its dollar peg.

Many financial markets have fallen sharply in recent weeks, as investors have been spooked by surging inflation and the prospect of sharp rises in interest rates. But the collapse in cryptocurrencies has been even more dramatic.

Their performance has undermined claims that crypto assets can provide a hedge against inflation or behave as a form of digital gold — let alone the grander boasts of crypto partisans about the potential for digital tokens to become the pillar of a new global financial system.

Research firm CryptoCompare said luna was “the largest destruction of wealth in this amount of time in a single project in crypto’s history”.

Luna’s failure is “one of the greatest catastrophes crypto has ever seen,” argues Ran Neuner, a prominent crypto trader and outspoken enthusiast for the tokens. It is a “real wake-up call” that crypto prices can fall to zero, he said in an online broadcast to thousands of digital asset traders on Friday.

Falling back to terra

Many of those faithful to the crypto project — its supposed potential to replace the dollar in global trade, its libertarian schism from the traditional financial establishment — will always believe. “On average, a government will destroy their currency every 27 years,” Michael Sonnenshein, chief executive at crypto investment firm Grayscale, said at an FT event in late April. “Investors or citizens are waking up and seeing their purchasing power eroded overnight, sometimes 10-plus per cent.”

But the turmoil of recent days has highlighted how those seeking to make a fortune from cryptocurrencies are taking a dicey punt.

TerraUSD’s model was experimental. Typically, operators of stablecoins say they are backed one-for-one with dollar-based-reserves. Terra, by contrast, was backed by an algorithm linked to its sister-token, luna, to keep its dollar peg in check. But terra’s $1 value started slipping on Monday when faith in that model evaporated, ending the day at around 90 cents. It fell further until it reached under 15 cents on Friday. Various rescue efforts by the backers failed, and on Thursday, the Terra blockchain was temporarily halted, though backers still harbour hopes that it can be revived.

The price of the oldest and largest cryptocurrency, bitcoin, fell 11 per cent on Monday, 12 per cent this week and has dropped by over 50 per cent since November 2021. The broader market sell-off is one reason for the fall in its value. But the failure of terra, once a top-five stablecoin, has also hurt.

Terra’s relatively small size means its demise is not systemic to the broader crypto market. What matters more is that the episode has renewed concerns about potential cracks in other stablecoins, including the biggest of them all, tether, calling in to question the foundations behind the crypto industry.

On Thursday, tether’s one-to-one dollar peg also stumbled, with the token’s price falling to 95.11 cents. Tether differs from terra in an important respect: rather than being based on an algorithm, its operators say its dollar peg is maintained through dollar-based reserves — enough to match the tokens in circulation.

“Cash is supposed to be cash. When it’s not, like when money markets froze during the financial crisis, sheer panic ensues,” says Andrew Beer, managing member at US investment firm Dynamic Beta.

“Terra was like putting your cash in an Iranian bank that offered a 20 per cent interest rate then suddenly shut its doors,” he adds. “Good luck getting your money back or even figuring out what happened.”

Tether chief technology officer Paolo Ardoino has sworn to defend the dollar peg “at all costs”. He said this week that he was prepared to sell some of the “ton” of US government debt that Tether has amassed in this effort. But details on the make-up of these reserves are thin. Ardoino declined this week to tell the FT more about his $40bn in US government debt holdings, saying he wanted to protect the company’s “secret sauce”.

A deeper failure in the tether peg would likely be catastrophic for the wider crypto market, as some estimates suggest as much as 70 per cent of bitcoin purchases are made using this blockchain-native dollar alternative.

“If Tether would stop redeeming one tether for one dollar — that is, the peg breaks — this would have a huge impact on all markets traded against tether,” says Ingo Fiedler, an affiliate professor at Concordia University in Montreal who runs Blockchain Research Lab.

But Ilan Solot, partner at crypto hedge fund Tagus Capital, says the crypto market has this week faced undue criticism. “What bothered me was the whirlwind of unfounded accusations . . . conspiracy theories . . . and dirt-digging,” he says.

He believes tether is more robust than its failed rival. “Tether has more of that potential . . . to be like a Lehman moment, a cascade of consequences that would be so wide,” he said. “[But] it’s far less likely for tether to go to zero than terra.” Even so, he said the potential for “systemic risk” stemming from tether is a valid point of concern.

Bitcoin city

It is not only wobbles in coin prices and stablecoin pegs that have afflicted the market of late.

Europol offered a reminder this week of the scams and fraud that have peppered through the market, when it placed Ruja Ignatova, the inventor of onecoin, on its “most wanted fugitives” list, saying she had “induced investors all over the world to invest in [an] actually worthless ‘currency’.” Losses on her scheme probably amount to several billion dollars, Europol said.

On Tuesday, crypto exchange Coinbase said in its first-quarter earnings report that monthly transacting users, trading volume and assets on the platform had all declined from the previous quarter, suggesting weaker crypto prices are not pulling retail investors to the extent they have done in the past.

Coinbase shares have now lost around three-quarters of their value since the market debut last year, and have dropped by 32 per cent this week to $72 on Friday. “We’re not sure that this stock is worth more than the cash on its books or $33 per share,” says David Trainer, chief executive at investment research firm New Constructs.

Coinbase is far from alone. The tech-heavy Nasdaq index has fallen 27 per cent this year and other once high-flying non-crypto stocks such as Netflix and Peloton have dropped 71 per cent and 63 per cent, respectively.

Some of the simultaneous slide in crypto prices and tech stocks may be self-reinforcing. “A lot of crypto holders also own tech stocks and have lost a lot of money. These guys are selling some of their holdings in panic, and that is what is driving the market down,” says Edouard Hindi, chief investment officer of digital asset manager Tyr Capital.

The slide in crypto prices is also hurting large holders. Perhaps most notable among them is the government of El Salvador, whose crypto enthusiast president, Nayib Bukele, introduced bitcoin as legal tender last year. This week, he shared images on Twitter of his golden scale model of a planned crypto-funded Bitcoin City.

Even in the teeth of a slide in bitcoin prices this week, Bukele stocked up on more of the cryptocurrency, making the government’s most recent purchase of 500 bitcoins at an average price of $30,744 each. “I could sell [these] coins right now and make almost a million dollars in just 11 hours, but of course not,” he tweeted, a day later.

Bitcoin became legal tender in September. According to FT estimates, El Salvador has spent over $100mn on bitcoin and, by this week, the country’s crypto reserves had fallen to approximately $72mn.

“Is this bet going to be worth it? At the moment, we really don’t know,” says Hector Torres, senior partner at Torres law firm in El Salvador. “Why are you investing in bitcoin when there are schools failing, or roads that haven’t been built, or bridges that have to be fixed?” he adds. “That’s the standard comment of the people that are against the president’s decision.”

Crypto markets have demonstrated extraordinary staying power, and have survived several apparent near-death experiences in the past, including a 30 per cent drop in a day last year in reaction to a regulatory crackdown in China.

Nonetheless, the latest volatility is unlikely to convince already reticent institutional investors to jump in. “The case for institutional adoption seems to be receding by the day, with the space affording no safe haven and only negative diversification via idiosyncratic risks,” analysts at UBS said this week.

The latest volatility suggests that instead of forging a path towards building a new, decentralised financial system, cryptocurrencies are likely destined to remain get-rich-quick bets for highly risk-tolerant investors.

“We believe that crypto will find it very hard to sustain the future monetary system,” Hyun Shin, who leads the Bank for International Settlements’ Monetary and Economic Department, said last month. “I think [crypto] has more of the attributes of the speculative assets.”

Additional reporting by Laurence Fletcher and Adam Samson

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022

© 2022 The Financial Times Ltd. All rights reserved. Please do not copy and paste FT articles and redistribute by email or post to the web.

May 15th 2022, 8:42 pm

The controversial and unsustainable nature of food delivery

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Over the past few weeks, delivery drivers for both Deliveroo and Talabat in Dubai have refused to turn up for their shifts, demanding better pay and working conditions

Food aggregators have in recent years come under fire for the rates of commission they charge restaurants per order (roughly 30 per cent), but now, we are seeing the concern shift to those of the delivery drivers, from concerns over safety to fair treatment. 

The food delivery sector is one mired by high cashburn rates and a long and difficult road to profitability. Restaurants on these platforms are incentivised to offer discounts in order to gain visibility and attract custom while delivery fees are kept unfeasibly low in order to encourage customers to order. The cost of delivery in the UAE is about Dh25 ($7) per order, yet customers pay on average Dh7 ($1.90) in delivery fees. The drivers delivering these orders are paid a little over $2 per order (and are expected to cover their own fuel and penalty costs). At every stage of the process of ordering and delivering food on these aggregator platforms, a loss is incurred, one that is usually subsidised by their investors. 

In this oped by Food Sheikh, a Dubai-based restaurant critic who launched DeliverDXB in partnership with Chatfood, which offers restaurants a subscriptions-based model as opposed to commissions, he passionately explains the unsustainable nature of the current food delivery model.

Delivery aggregators have spent billions of dollars to become everyday extensions to our daily habits, to become an app transaction performed without thought or curiosity. A reflex of muscle memory triggered by hunger, cravings, and discount notifications. 

Once hailed as a triumph of technological disruption and a betterment of modern-day living, these aggregators are starting to show some uncomfortable truths. Once you begin to scratch the surface and look behind the pretty app and its clever algorithms, it becomes harder to justify their continued use. The business model and practices of these apps towards both delivery workers and restaurants worldwide have led governments to introduce new laws and policies to keep them in check.

After pure stubbornness and unflinching compromise forced their Covid hit restaurant partners to accept the high commissions they charge, these aggregators have now stumbled headfirst into another firestorm, one that is arguably more intense than the first.

It is one thing to charge high commissions from vulnerable businesses, but it is a whole different ball game when it comes to the treatment of humans and their livelihoods. In the last few weeks, the UAE services of two major delivery aggregators have been affected due to their workforce refusing to work.

News spreads fast – hundreds of orange or blue-uniformed men and their bikes make for impactful imagery.  It got people thinking, scratching the surface to find out more, mainly because this is a country where such protests are almost unheard of and strikes are illegal.  

 

 

However, scratching the surface is the last thing these aggregators want their convenience-dependent users to do.

The very survival of these apps is based on our reliance on them. They need to be needed, to be depended on. However, they don’t want to be thought about or studied too closely. Dependent but unaware – the perfect user. Use me, but don’t notice me. Need me, but don’t question me. Rely on me but forget me till your next meal.

What they found was a workforce of drivers, many with endless tales of struggle and frustration, pleading with these well-funded tech giants not to reduce their delivery commissions, the lifeblood of their families back home.

These are the men who supported the whole city during the lockdown, alone on empty streets, delivering groceries and food to families that were too scared to leave the safety of their homes.  We scream at these men on the road for reckless driving, yet they are driven by an incentive model that rewards speed, so every trip they make promises a better life. Or perhaps ends one.

Over Eid, Deliveroo drivers learned that their commission was dropping from $2.86 to $2.25 per delivery with longer working hours. Further details emerged directly from the social media savvy drivers themselves, determined for their voices to be heard. Visa cost repayments, rising petrol costs, fines, 14-hour days, and difficulty finding toilet facilities they were allowed to use.

More drivers followed suit a few days later, this time from another aggregator, Talabat. The same complaints, but with a meagre $2.06 per delivery instead.

“The salaries are too low and petrol is too high. This is a problem — everyone stopped work,” said one rider at Talabat speaking to the Financial Times, who did not want his name to be published. Last year he “made Dh2,500 ($681), now it is Dh1,500 [a month].”

A Talabat spokesperson issued a response to the situation:

“We are committed to ensuring riders can continue to rely on our platform to provide for their families having decent stable gross monthly earnings of around Dh3500 on average. Until last week, rider pay satisfaction was well above 70 per cent, and we haven’t updated our payment model recently. We understand economic and political realities are changing constantly, and we will always continue to listen to what riders have to say. On background – we do not believe this is a constructive way to ask for improvements, and it is something we strongly oppose, not to mention that it goes against the regulations of the UAE.”

After the protests, UK-based Deliveroo dropped its plans to cut salaries and extend working hours

Technically, these drivers are not employees of the aggregators. They are third party contractors, hired by transportation firms that sign service agreements with the aggregators. That nuance shouldn’t allow for any moral distance, however. They still wear the brand colours of the aggregators.

It is important to note that not all aggregators are created equal. For example, Locale, the local aggregator that represents brands like Freedom Pizza, Viking Bageri, Wildflower, Itadaku and Nightjar, has a very different business model. Its drivers are fully employed and enjoy all the perks of a contracted position. They are cross-trained, so on down times, they are used elsewhere in the business, and are under no pressure to “beat the clock” when delivering food. By using efficiencies in food preparation, Locale is able to deliver quickly, safely and ethically.

 

May 13th 2022, 8:09 am

Kitopi raises $300 million Series C round extension

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Source: Bloomberg

In a world where virtual kitchens are mushrooming, the Middle East’s market leader in that sector is trying a different recipe. SoftBank Group Corp.-backed Kitopi in recent months has been investing in bricks-and-mortar restaurants, the company’s chief executive said. 

The firm, whose name is a portmanteau of Kitchen Utopia, is betting that despite a global surge in ordering food online, about a fifth of fast-food and casual diners will continue to consume food on site, Mohamad Ballout said in an interview. 

As a result, the Dubai-based startup has deployed “a few hundred millions of dollars” on nearly a dozen fast-food brands in its core Gulf markets, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, in recent months, said Ballout. “There’s a world we see where consumers still want to go experience something in person.” 

The spending spree comes after Kitopi received a big boost to its coffers. Last year it raised $415 million from a group of investors led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2 - its first in a business headquartered in the United Arab Emirates and one of the largest funding rounds to date in the Middle East. Among the other investors participating were Abu Dhabi’s Chimera, Turkey’s Dogus Group, and California-based Next Play Capital. 

Having joined the group of so-called unicorns - tech companies with a valuation over $1 billion - with that investment, Kitopi has gone on to raise even more. A few months ago, it attracted an additional $300 million through an extension of the Series C round, giving Kitopi a valuation of $1.55 billion, Ballout said. 

Awash with this cash, Kitopi has turned to physical restaurants as a new area of investment. Kitopi shifted strategy about five months ago, investing in brands such as Right Bite, Under 500, Ichiban, 800 Pizza, Circle Cafe and Taqado in the UAE, and Shobak in Saudi Arabia. 

Since its inception in 2018, Kitopi focused on building out cloud kitchens, also known as ghost kitchens, which handle food preparation of delivery orders for multiple restaurant brands. That model has boomed during the pandemic as more consumers turned to having their meals delivered at home instead of dining out.  

Ballout said that combining the technology used for cloud kitchens with the know-how required to run traditional restaurants will enable the firm to gain more data about customers and so better anticipate their needs.  

Continue reading this story 

May 12th 2022, 6:56 pm

EMERGE Gulf Health Innovation

Wamda

An unrivalled opportunity is taking place in the city of the future, Dubai, for health tech disruptors at the startup and scaleup stage to meet the most influential and active life science investment teams.  When good ideas and money come together, great things happen.

Join EMERGE GHI for two days of invaluable networking and presentations on health-tech innovation, investment, trends, opportunities and up-to-date market intelligence

Free-flowing funding and insights make EMERGE GHI a fantastic opportunity not to be missed from 24-25 May 2022 at Conrad Dubai.

Register to attend  https://bit.ly/3wZ84s2

 

May 12th 2022, 9:12 am

B2B marketplace Teegara raises undisclosed Bridge round

Wamda

Press release:

Teegara.com, an Egypt-based e-commerce startup that focuses on household and FMCG products has successfully raised an undisclosed bridge round that was led by Alexandria Angel Network from several countries.

Teegara.com, an online B2B marketplace, was founded by Ahmad Kayyali, Nader Ibrahim, and later joined Ahmed Samir as the first investor. Offering vendors new distribution methods, ways for increasing both margins and incomes for small merchants by decreasing the two-three circles between vendors and merchants, as well as providing credit lines and other financial aids, Teegara.com aims to help new small traders make the most benefits out of using the service. The area Teegara.com wants to work on is difficult as it lies in-between e-commerce on one hand and traditional merchants and distributors on the other, neither being categorized as pure e-commerce nor traditional merchants.

Teegara.com has a goal of being able to connect vendors directly to merchants through their digital ordering platform and mobile apps among the many other benefits that are offered is that merchants and vendors use it to grow their sales while lowering the cost of the product on them by overlooking the middlemen between the vendor and the merchant. 

The services and beneficiaries Teegara.com offers are first-hand prices, innovative payment methods, fixable shipping and return procedures, and a vast assortment of household products, plastics, kitchenware, detergents, makeup, and lingerie directly from factories to merchants.

Ahmad Kayyali, founder and CEO of Teegara.com, said "Teegara obtained a bridge round of financing from Alex Angels with the participation of investors from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan. This round will be utilized in its expansion plan of the company by adding more verticals to its platform and hiring more sales and operations forces in addition to enhancing its technical capabilities. The company is preparing for its “Seed round” of financing during the second half of 2022 with VCs from the region."

Alex Angels Investor, Ramy Gamal reflects “Pleased and excited to participate in Teegara’s new investment round following my participation in their first investment round last year. This comes as a reflection of my belief in the founders’ team vision, dedication, and the real socioeconomic value Teegara is offering to its customers. I’m so optimistic about seeing significant growth in Teegara after this round and inviting VCs to stay tuned and keep an eye on this startup.”

May 12th 2022, 9:12 am

Mena startups raised $297 million in April 2022

Wamda

Startups in the Middle East and North Africa region (Mena) raised $297 million across 29 deals in April 2022 a drop of just $2 million month-on-month, but a 60 per cent increase year-on-year, bringing total funding amassed in January-April 2022 to over $1 billion.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE continue to dominate venture capital (VC) inflow in Mena. It was Saudi Arabia’s startups that raised the most last month with $195 million thanks to Foodics' $170 million Series C round. The UAE emerged second on the list with $61.5 million, with Millennial Brand’s $35 million growth round leading the way.  

Egypt-based startups raised $37 million in April, a 57 per cent drop when compared to March. Proptech Pylon was the country's top fundraiser in April, securing $19 million in a Seed round.

In terms of deal count, the UAE recorded the highest number of deals, followed by Saudi Arabia and Egypt, but overall deal count dropped dramatically month-on-month from 79 investment deals in March to 29 in April. 

Last month, high-value mega rounds were a major contributor to the overall funding value; however, they made up a small percentage of total funding volume. Early stage funding continues to dominate the number of deals with 17 pre-Seed and Seed stage startups raising $55 million in April, accounting for 18.5 per cent of the total value raised. 

Sector-wise, SaaS and e-commerce startups contributed 85 per cent to the total amount raised last month. Fintech was the top segment in terms of the number of deals as startups in this space raised $9.8 million across four deals, a drop of 97 per cent when compared to the $135 million raised by fintech startups in March. 

B2B startups led the pack in terms of the deal amount for April 2022, raising over $223 million across 13 deals, followed by B2C startups, which raised $70 million across 14 deals.

As ever, startups founded by men took the bulk of investment, with $259 million, across 25 deals, while startups with both male and female co-founders raised $3 million across two deals, accounting for 1 per cent of the capital inflow. Female founded startups performed well last month, accounting for 12 per cent of the total amount raised thanks primarily to Millennial Brands. 

Investors based in Saudi Arabia were once again the region’s most active, participating in 13 deals, followed by investors in the UAE who took part in 10 deals. Of the 29 deals last month, 14 attracted overseas funding, with US investors taking part in 10 deals. Egypt-based startups had the highest concentration of overseas investors.

In April, five startups did not disclose the financial details of their transactions. They include Qidz, Remmsh, Rology and Gathern. We assigned the former two a conservative amount of $100,000 and the latter two $1,000,000.

These monthly reports are a collaboration between Wamda and Digital Digest.

 

May 12th 2022, 9:12 am

Startupper of the Year Challenge names its three winners

Wamda

Press release

Following the selection of the Startupper of the Year Challenge winners by a local jury comprised of experts, the winners of this 2022 edition were awarded during an official award ceremony organized on 10th of May 2022 at TotalEnergies Marketing Egypt Academy in Cairo. 

The three winners of the Startupper of the Year Challenge in Egypt are:

Alshaimaa Omar for the Award of Best Startup under 3 years old with EGAAD: an Agribusiness start-up specialized in producing high quality liquid organic fertilizer through recycling the organic waste via bioprocess, their product is customized for various soils. 

Sherif Zikry for the Award of Best Business Creation Idea with Recyty: a platform that facilitates the delivery of e-receipts from the stores to the customers, Recyty strives to reach a receipt-less future, to ensure a safe and a healthier environment.

Ghada Hassan for the Award of Best Female Entrepreneur with Blutruve: An Egyptian startup for manufacturing Biotechnology materials and Molecular Biology reagents for research purposes.

These young entrepreneurs will receive financial support amounting to 140,000 Egyptian pounds. They will also benefit from personalised coaching for the development of their project from Ashoka Arab World as well as media visibility for their projects. 

In Egypt, 360 applications were submitted, of which 82 were complete, and 11 out of 15 finalists were able to pitch their project in front of the local jury. 

Each winner of this edition will have their project presented in front of a "Grand Jury" in charge of choosing, in mid-May, the three "Grand Winners" of the African continent amongst the 32 countries.

 

May 11th 2022, 3:40 pm

Algeria Venture and AIF launch $10 million VC fund

Wamda

Source: Afrikan Heroes

An agreement has been inked in Algiers between Algeria’s public startup accelerator Algeria Venture (A-Venture) and the Algeria Investment Fund (AIF) to provide funding to startups at various stages of development.

“The goal of this agreement is to provide financing for all stages of a startup’s life, from creation, seed, and up to acceleration that could lead to its IPO,” said Yacine El-Mahdi Oualid, Minister Delegate to the Prime Minister in charge of the Knowledge Economy and Startups, during the signing ceremony.

According to Algeria’s Minister of Finance, Abderrahmane Raouya, who was present at the signing ceremony, the AIF, through this agreement, will assist in the diversification of the sources of financing for SMEs and startups by serving as “an important incentive tool for these enterprises.”

The AIF, which was established in 2021 as a collaboration between the National Bank of Algeria (BNA) and the External Bank of Algeria (BEA), has a capital of 11 billion dinars.

Raouya claims that he will be able to “raise the funds that he will put into the financing of the national economy, particularly through startups and SMEs” year after year.

For his part, Sid Ali Zerrouki, general manager of A-Venture, stated that the signing of this deal constituted “a new qualitative step” in the assistance of startups, by providing them with funding tools “in accordance with their progress.”

“A startup requires more funding to develop and export and does not want to be satisfied with the 20 million dinars that Algeria Startups Fund (ASF) may offer it,” he claimed. “This is what justifies the signing of the deal with the AIF, which can give funding of up to 1.5 billion dinars, a first in Africa for a public fund,” he adds.

According to the manager, this arrangement would also “lay the ground” for foreign investment funds with which A-Venture has signed collaboration agreements and which are ready to spend “hundreds of millions of euros” in Algeria.

Algerian startups will thus be helped by this agreement to attain a level of maturity that will allow them to absorb these foreign investments, he stated.

El Hocine Djemmal, the general manager of AIF, believes that the launch of the fund he leads comes “at the perfect time” to “increase” and diversify the means of financing SMEs/SMIs and startups.

May 11th 2022, 3:40 pm

Mylerz closes $9.6 million round led by Lorax Capital

Wamda

Press release:

Mylerz, an Egyptian last-mile delivery and fulfilment innovation company, today announced the closing of a $9.6 million round led by Lorax Capital Partners to scale and expand its operations in Egypt and North Africa. Fawry, Egypt’s leading payment company that also participated in the round, will help bolster Mylerz’s cash collection services for its merchants.

Launched in 2019, Mylerz currently operates a fleet of over 350 eco-friendly vehicles and 21 local fulfilment hubs strategically positioned across Egypt. The company hit the milestone of two million packages delivered within two years of launching. Mylerz’s proprietary logistics management technology allows it to deliver e-commerce products to customers in city centres in as fast as same-day delivery. The investment will enable Mylerz to construct and open a brand-new AI-enabled, automated 25,000 sqm cross-docking fulfilment centre West of Cairo by Q4 2022, to augment its current 1,500 sqm fulfilment centre that began operations in Q3 2021.

Mylerz addresses a key market need for its e-commerce customers by providing an end-to-end solution that bundles fulfilment with last-mile delivery. The company is servicing Africa’s booming e-commerce industry which is forecasted to be worth $180 billion by 2025. By offering cash on delivery as well as a full range of delivery services and tech-enabled merchant tools, Mylerz is enabling the growth of e-commerce in Egypt and its new markets of Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco.

Mylerz Founder & CEO Samer Gharaibeh, commented, “We are excited to announce the close of our first funding round. Mylerz has proven that its technology and model can be successful in a city as complex as Cairo. We plan on taking our experiences from Egypt to begin operations in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco by Q3 2022. This regional footprint will allow our customers to benefit from connected trade corridors across markets, which is key for our wider strategy to position Mylerz as the leading logistics partner for e-commerce across Africa.”

“We believe Lorax is the right partner for us to further expand Mylerz’s presence in Egypt as well as Africa. Together with Lorax and our handpicked experienced team, Mylerz is on track to become the first fully integrated e-commerce logistics solutions service provider in Africa.”

Ashraf Zaki, Managing Partner at Lorax Capital Partners, added, “We are excited to partner with Samer and the Mylerz team who have demonstrated their wealth of experience in rapidly growing Mylerz into a leader and innovator in the e-commerce logistics industry. Mylerz has leveraged its know-how and premium technology offering to address several problems associated with last-mile delivery in Egypt including complex routes, the prevalence of cash, and diverse merchants with diverse needs.

“Lorax is backing Mylerz to become the continent’s first fully integrated e-commerce logistics player, bringing a unique blend of premium customer service and efficient delivery services to regional businesses and consumers alike.”

Ashraf Sabry, CEO of Fawry, added, “Fawry’s investment in Mylerz is part of our strategy to build an integrated commerce ecosystem in Egypt and explore international expansion opportunities with strong partners like Mylerz and Lorax.”

May 11th 2022, 7:10 am

Spades launches in UAE after raising $2.5 million

Wamda

Press release:

There’s no denying that the Middle East is growing fast and its restaurant scene is growing even faster. Dining in the UAE means exploring one of the most diverse, vibrant, and delicious food destinations on the planet. Restaurants are increasingly turning to Spades to keep up with dynamic demand while providing a seamless checkout experience for dine-in customers to pay their bills. 

Spades was founded by Mehdi Chraibi, Adnan Haque, and Sameer Poonja after successful careers building digital products used by millions of users at VISA, Emirates Airline, Oracle, Millicom, and Rocket Internet. The team is backed by executives with leadership roles at global Payment Service Providers (Adyen, VISA & MasterCard), Cloud Kitchens, and multiple Hospitality Houses in the Middle East. Their oversubscribed angel round of $2.5M also included prominent European business angels, such as Thibaud Elzière (Founder, Fotolia & eFounders), Eduardo Ronzano (Founder, KelDoc & Managing Partner, Secret Fund), and Yan Hascoet, Othmane Bouhlal, Omar Benmoussa - the Founders of Chauffeur Privé - Kapten (acquired by Free Now), which was closed with early investments from global & regional VCs such as Nordstar and Impact46.

The fintech payment startup has already signed over 150 restaurants in its first 12 weeks and launched with major brands in UAE such as NOLA, Couqley, Alaca, and The Sum of Us. The company is growing fast and recruiting multiple roles across the board this year to cope with its expansion in the GCC and beyond.

How it works:

Spades allows guests to easily pay their bill by scanning a code or tapping to pay, without any downloads or registration, translating into shorter wait times. Trustworthy, and reliable, the platform provides the fastest and most secure payment solution that integrates seamlessly into all major POS systems, making refunds and reconciliation just a click away. 

Partner restaurants have already reported doubling their staff tips, turning tables faster, saving trees, and improving guest service. With a solution that caters to both restaurants and customers, Spades is set to revolutionize F&B in the region with just a quick scan and a couple of taps!

Customer journey: 

A simple tap to pay or  QR code scan allows diners to conveniently and securely clear bills at partner restaurants. The solution also allows diners to split the total bill with friends and add their own tip individually for staff, while paying using their method of choice. Customers can receive a digital receipt for their records and also review their experience. Through its partnerships, the platform integrates seamlessly with all major POS systems making transactions, refunds, and reconciliation just a click away. 

Human-centric approach:

While other like-minded rival technologies create a disconnect between customers and restaurants, Spades has a human-centric approach to challenge the status quo by increasing engagement throughout. The actual order is still placed in person with the wait staff which has been designed to ensure customers continue to get a chance to interact with their server and seek the right dine-in experience, an issue widely encountered by other online ordering platforms. The automated end-to-end payment integration with any Point of Sale removes all manual errors and simplifies daily reconciliation. By bringing payment to the table, customers can now choose traditional forms of payment or use Spades directly from their phone. 

Co-founder of Spades, Adnan Haque said, “With Spades, we have created a seamless payment portal that is fast, secure, and convenient. Our goal is to give back time to customers and restaurants, and create a perfect "phy-gital" harmony that helps achieve an exceptional dine-in experience.”

Investment Associate at Impact46, Saud Alsahaf said, "F&B is an important industry in the local market, and Spades is offering a powerful digital solution to improve the experience for all stakeholders in the value chain. We look forward to making Spades the standard for restaurant payment."

Co-founder and Managing Director of NOLA Social House & Eatery, Alex Economides said, “Since starting with Spades we’ve noticed our staff having more time to engage with guests at the end of their dine-in visit. Rather than running around at peak hours printing bills and collecting payments. Exceptional service has always been one of the WOW factors at Nola, so with Spades’ efficient and convenient payment method we see a perfect fit.”

May 10th 2022, 2:55 pm

NewTribe Capital invests $5 million in NEAR Protocol

Wamda

Press release:

UAE-based Venture Capital Fund NewTribe Capital, which invests in early-stage Blockchain and crypto projects, is set to invest $5 million in NEAR Protocol Ecosystem projects with the aim of boosting the NEAR ecosystem’s growth in the UAE and globally.

NEAR Protocol (NEAR) is a leading blockchain platform for Web 3.0 development. It provides solutions for scaling and eliminating barriers to Web 3.0 adoption. NEAR's features include high speeds, low fees, and progressive UX. It allows users to reach new levels of experience without the issues of traditional dApps experience when it comes to user experience, slower transaction times, and costs.

"We’ve been following NEAR for a while and considering it a strong technology, we see a big potential for its rapid growth. We are glad to be the first VC fund supporting the development of the NEAR ecosystem in the Middle East region. Having a strong VC partner such as us in the UAE will enable NEAR with the tools and support needed for effective growth.” stated Juliet Su, Partner, NewTribe Capital.

The NEAR Protocol is a Blockchain built for the Creator Economy. It offers a sustainable infrastructure and is a single marketplace where members of the community are the ones in control of their funds and data, providing them with the tools to build their ideas.

NewTribe Capital is offering all the necessary resources including financial, advisory, marketing, and community outreach. In addition, NewTribe Capital’s collaboration with Aurora, Human Guild, and Octopus is providing the infrastructure for all projects ready to develop on the NEAR Protocol.

NewTribe Capital has already commenced its investments in several NEAR Protocol projects such as Attarius Network, Jumbo Exchange, and YouMinter and will be announcing others soon.

Earlier last month, the fund received the ‘Best VC of the Year’ Award at the AIBC Asian 2022 Summit held in Dubai for its huge contribution to the blockchain ecosystem development.

May 10th 2022, 2:55 pm

Paymob raises $50 million Series B round

Wamda

Press release:

Paymob, Egypt’s market-leading omnichannel merchant financial services platform, today announced it has raised $50 million in Series B funding. The proceeds will be used to turbocharge the company by expanding its product range, reinforcing its leadership in the Egyptian market, and expanding into new markets across the Middle East and Africa region.

Kora Capital, PayPal Ventures, and Clay Point led the round. Other new participating investors included Helios Digital Ventures, British International Investment, and Nclude. All existing investors including A15, FMO, and Global Ventures also participated. 

This funding round is the largest ever fintech, Series B in Egypt, and brings the total funding of Paymob to over US$68.5 million making it one of the most funded companies in the region and comes at a pivotal time of an unprecedented wave of digital transformation across the region. 

Paymob builds an omni-channel payment infrastructure to enable businesses to accept digital payments both online and in-store in addition to giving them better access to financial services. Paymob’s gateway has the largest number of payment methods in the Egyptian market; in addition to conventional bank cards, Paymob added new payment methods such as mobile wallets, QR payments, bank cards’ instalments, Buy-Now Pay-Later, and consumer finance payment options to support merchants in increasing their volume of transactions and growing revenues. Recently, Paymob partnered with Mastercard to introduce Tap-on-Phone in Egypt - the first of its kind in the country and which will start to replace traditional point of sale devices. Paymob plans to launch cards for its merchants to enable B2B transactions and build tools for merchants to better manage and grow their business. 

This unique proposition has enabled Paymob to attract numerous international players such as Vodafone, LG, Virgin, Chalhoub Group, and Decathlon that have turned to Paymob’s digital payment products in addition to fast-growing companies such as Swvl, Breadfast, and Homzmart that are relying on Paymob to power their payment infrastructure to enhance customer experience and increase conversion at checkout. 

The round comes on the back of strong growth across the Paymob platform in 2021, with the number of merchants and monthly volumes growing by 4x year-on-year as of December 2021. Paymob onboarded over 100,00 merchants in less than two and half years as part of its plan to reach 1 million SMEs across the region.

We are thrilled to complete this significant fundraising with the support of such renowned international investors including, PayPal Ventures, the venture capital arm of a global pioneer in the digital payment space. It is a major endorsement of the strategy we have implemented to date and the scale of the opportunities we can harness,” said Islam Shawky, Paymob’s Co-founder, and CEO. He added that "Central Bank of Egypt initiatives that are continuously being introduced in the market to support fintech companies were key to Paymob's growth. The Central Bank has created a regulatory framework to help fintech flourish and participate in making Egypt's digital financial inclusion ambitions a reality.”

Paymob has recently announced its market entry to Pakistan, which has a population of over 220 million, and over 4 million SMEs across the country, and plans to onboard over 100,000 merchants within the first 24 months of launching its operations. This expansion should be followed by additional markets in the GCC and North Africa.

Paymob shares our mission and ambition of advancing digital payments adoption – it has made impressive strides in supporting the growth and success of underserved SMBs,” said Ashish Aggarwal, Director, PayPal Ventures. “We’re honoured to be investing at a critical point in their journey, as Paymob scales game-changing solutions to bridge the fintech gap for businesses across the Middle East and Africa.”

We are excited to partner with Paymob as they innovate at scale in the offline merchant acquiring and online payment gateway space,” said Nitin Saigal, Founder, Kora Management. “The Paymob team is leveraging key structural changes taking place across Egypt and the Middle East, as these economies evolve from being primarily cash-led to a digital heavy mode of transacting. We look forward to the road ahead.”

May 9th 2022, 1:10 pm

CE-Creates merges with hatch & boost in Mena’s first venture-builder merger

Wamda

Press release:

Marking the first-ever portfolio merger of two venture builders in the region, CE-Creates, the business incubation platform of Crescent Enterprises, has completed the merger of its portfolio of startups with hatch & boost, an Abu Dhabi-based venture-builder dedicated to ‘hatching’ startup ideas at the intersection of impact and innovation, and boosting them into scalable ventures.

Hatch & boost and CE-Creates aim to jointly advance the growth of impact-driven startups in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region while introducing unique models of building and scaling them. 

The partnership, operating under the new name hatch & boost Ventures, will see the acceleration and growth of seven portfolio startups this year, which span across agritech, sustainable mobility, femtech, foodtech, fintech, among other sectors. The merged portfolio currently includes World of Farming, a foddertech solutions provider; ION, a sustainable transportation provider; BreakBread, a supperclub digital platform; Kava and Chai, a specialty coffeehouse; RE: a feminine care platform; TipiT, a digital token tipping application; and Shamal, a      high-tech workwear brand. Driven by sustainable and social impact, hatch & boost Ventures will be working to further establish and scale up to five new start-ups per year. 

“A powerful way to address the socio-economic and environmental challenges across our region is to nurture entrepreneurs who are creating the solutions to these challenges through innovation. This is something Crescent Enterprises has always believed in, and has been pursuing for over two decades through our various platforms. Last year, the UAE ranked first in the region for venture capital investments with a record AED 4.3 billion of investments in startups, and this trend is on an upward trajectory. We are also witnessing a pivot towards businesses that align their financial goals with their environmental and social impact, and our combined venture builder intends to be at the forefront of these positive trends,” said Badr Jafar, CEO of Crescent Enterprises.

In just under two years, hatch and boost created and scaled its own startups through a sector-agnostic model that focuses on solving the world's most pressing environmental and social challenges. With its unique focus on ESG, hatch & boost’s approach serves to fill gaps in early-stage startup development as well as de-risk early-stage investment into impact-driven startups by utilizing a shared pool of resources; ultimately lowering the startup capital cost and optimizing this capital through economies of scale.

“Today, our biggest opportunity lies where impact and profit are viewed as equally imperative to the success of any startup. The merger of our portfolio of startups with CE-Creates is an incredible opportunity for us to drive ESG practices forward in the region, by enhancing our ability to launch and scale sustainable ventures across a number of sectors. This is a major milestone for us, as well as a testament to the validation of the successful model we have built,” said Faris Mesmar, CEO and Managing Partner of hatch & boost. “We share similar investment objectives with CE-Creates and, together, we have what it takes to systemize and structure the startup building process in the region. We look forward to collectively building a competitive edge for our startups in order to solve some of the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges.”

Similarly, since its inception in 2018, CE-Creates has been committed to developing numerous early-stage concepts that address complex niche problems within local communities, targeting scale, profitability, and measurable impact. The platform takes every venture through each phase of development, from early concept development to strategic growth and expansion. It focuses on establishing foundations for resilient growth and catalyzing product innovation and scale.

"We are delighted to join hands with hatch & boost to strengthen our combined dedication to scale impact-driven startups across the region.  The company's unwavering commitment to transforming businesses underpinned by sustainable practices closely aligns with our values. By joining forces, we will empower exceptional local entrepreneurs and home-grown innovation to build strong, more impactful businesses to thrive in future economies.  We look forward to working with hatch & boost to transform the next wave of highly profitable businesses," remarked Samer Choucair, Director of CE-Creates.

The newly joint venture-builders have long operated with a commitment to embedding the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals throughout their processes. Also, in line with the UAE’s ambitions to become a global hub of sustainable economic development, Crescent Enterprises partners with innovative and purpose-driven entrepreneurs, creating the infrastructure and environment for new businesses to thrive, which in turn increases the economic competitiveness of the region. The announcement of the merger with hatch & boost, for the formation of hatch & boost Ventures, is a further step toward achieving this vision. 

Headquartered in the UAE, hatch & boost Ventures has plans for further expansion across the region in the coming years, namely in markets such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and Egypt.

May 9th 2022, 1:10 pm

BNPL Cashew raises $10 million investment from Mashreq

Wamda

Source: The National

Mashreq, the Dubai lender controlled by the Al Ghurair family, has invested $10 million in UAE-based FinTech start-up Cashew, becoming the latest to tap into a rapidly expanding ‘buy now, pay later' (BNPL) sector.

Founded in 2020, Cashew offers its services in the UAE and Saudi Arabia — the Arab world’s largest economies — through an app and a web-based platform.

As part of the investment, Cashew’s payment platform will be integrated as an option on the acquiring network of Neopay, the payments subsidiary of Mashreq. The lender will also support the start-up to launch in Egypt — the Arab world’s most populous economy — in the last quarter of this year.

In March, Mashreq carved out its payments arm into its new division Neopay, in an effort to help businesses handle credit and debit card payments amid a pandemic-fuelled e-commerce boom.

“Our partnership with Cashew will lead the way for the future of financial services in the region,” Mashreq’s group chief executive Ahmed Abdelaal said.

“We will leverage the full network of Mashreq merchants and consumers to provide our ecosystem with the most ubiquitous and flexible BNPL options in the market,” Mr Abdelaal said.

Mashreq's investment is part of a larger funding round that involves other investors as well, Cashew said, without disclosing further details. Since its inception, the FinTech start-up has raised nearly $10m.

BNPL platforms allow consumers to make purchases without paying the full amount upfront, avoiding the use of credit cards and hefty interest charges. Merchants are still protected through credit risk checks, late fees and blocks on customers who have defaulted.

Consumers can choose to split payments into instalments or simply delay them by weeks to months without any hidden fees, while merchants are paid in full upfront.

The BNPL concept is gaining in popularity across the world and has been disrupting the payments industry, buoyed by consumers' fragile personal finances amid the pandemic-induced economic headwinds.

By 2025, the industry is expected to grow 10 to 15 times its current volume, topping $1 trillion in annual gross merchandise volume by some estimates, according to a report by New York data research consultancy CB Insights.

Nearly $4 billion was invested in BNPL companies last year — up from $1.7bn in 2020, according to Crunchbase.

In the Middle East, platforms such as Dubai-based BNPL start-up Tabby raised $50m last year while Saudi Arabia's Tamara raised a record $110m in a Series A round.

In September, Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank, the emirate’s biggest Sharia-compliant lender, partnered with Dubai-based digital payments provider Spotii to launch a virtual BNPL prepaid card in the UAE.

“Mashreq is one of the most respected banking brands in the region, so they will bring our customers many benefits as we continue to grow our service offerings … this partnership will give consumers the largest merchant network to shop at, larger ticket size and the ability to pay over longer terms,” said Cashew co-founder and chief executive Ammar Afif.

“We can only accomplish these goals for our customers by partnering with respected financial institutions like Mashreq that understand and want to be a part of the growing BNPL segment,” he added.

Under the partnership, Cashew and Mashreq will offer new products to the market including longer tenure and higher ticket size BNPL options for consumers, the companies said in a joint statement.

They also plan to introduce point-of-sales lending options in the region later this year. It will allow consumers to opt for BNPL but with larger tenures such as six or 12 months.

The UAE's BNPL volumes are expected to jump 71 per cent on an annual basis this year, Mashreq’s senior executive vice president and group head of retail banking Fernando Morillo said.

“This is yet another prime example of the partnerships we can forge with innovative FinTech operators, who share our mission to deliver a safe and seamless payment experience for our customers.

“We eagerly await the roll-out of further services as we continue to empower our customers with more choice and convenience in the UAE and in the future, across Egypt,” said Mr Morillo.

Established in 1967, Mashreq, like its peers in the Middle East, is pivoting towards digital banking and is reducing the number of physical branches to cater to a young, tech-savvy demographic that typically opts to complete its transactions online.

May 9th 2022, 1:10 pm

Lucky: the startup digitising the cashback sector

Wamda

The devaluation of the Egyptian pound back in 2016 was intended to preserve its foreign currency reserves, attract foreign direct investment and allow the country to meet the International Monetary Fund’s demands for a $12 billion loan

The Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) devalued the currency again in March this year in the hopes of halting the outflow of capital, but one of the biggest drawbacks of this policy has been the rise in the cost of goods for consumers. This has resulted in a shift in shopping habits and buying patterns as consumers increasingly seek out incentives and discounted deals. 

Yet amid this economic struggle, several fintech startups in the country have found an opportunity to this meet consumer demand to save money. Lucky, is one such startup, which seeks to digitise the cashback sector, tapping into the fast-growing e-commerce sector in Egypt. 

Founded by Ayman Essawy and Momtaz Moussa, Lucky started as a cashback marketplace with a vision to becoming a fintech super app, spanning the gamut of customer credit financial services. Last year, Lucky began the rollout of its buy now pay later (BNPL) feature after partnering up with financial services provider AMAN, with its main target being those who are locked out of the credit-card market.

"We commenced operations in 2019. The reason why we started initially [with] cashback was because the regulatory framework in Egypt at that time was not there. Fintech players require a lot of support when it comes to the regulator and how they can put the laws and the rules to actually support the financial services in each sector," says Moussa.

Given that most purchases are still done at brick and mortar stores, the app enables customers to avail in store cashback, which further helps increase offline to online conversion rates, all while providing instant gratification to the ever-price-conscious consumer.

Prior to founding Lucky, the duo also founded d-square, a B2B loyalty provider company back in 2012. Both businesses have different value propositions, but help address cashflow pain points for retailers and small businesses. Given the currency instability, the duo glimpsed the opportunity and launched Lucky in 2019 to enable retailers to address short-term liquidity challenges. 

“When we started d-square back in 2012, we realised that the Egyptian consumers were very much focused on reining in their expenses, but this was only the case with the lower social segments. Since 2017 onwards, after the devaluation of the Egyptian pound, savings became the main trigger towards consumer behaviour and the purchasing power of all Egyptians across different social segments. This has also impacted several industries; for example, if you go to the banking sector, the payback that each bank is giving on top of the credit card is basically one of the main reasons any consumers choose this credit card versus another one. The same applies to the telecom operators in terms of pricing," Essawy explains.

Lucky targets several industries such as fashion, food and beverage and electronics, and works with over 30,000 merchants. 

The growth potential and opportunity in the cashback sector has generated a lot of interest from investors. Last month, Lucky completed a growth round of $25 million to expand its network of online and offline brands across different segments and support its geographical expansion plans. Similarly, online cashback marketplace WaffarX raised a seven-figure Seed round back in December 2021. Besides Waffarx, Lucky also competes with the likes of Yagni and Yashri, both offering cashback on purchases placed online through their platforms. 

The digital cashbacks sector is set to grow by greater leaps as the fintech segment continues to evolve. But, the growth of the market can be waylaid by the country's existing poor digital payment infrastructure and lack of proper tech support, which can make the overall customer experience far from optimal. 

Lucky itself has faced criticism from its customers for struggling to deliver a quality service. 

"Lucky completes an average of 280,000 transactions monthly and has more than 1.7 million registered users on its platform. [We have a large], if not the largest customer base compared to other fintech startups, that's why we sometimes expect to receive complaints from our customers. I think it is pretty normal. Truth is, all the fintech services in this country are still at a nascent stage," Essawy adds.

 

May 8th 2022, 10:25 pm

How fintech solutions can bridge the trade financing gap

Wamda

Ankit Goel is the Middle East and North Africa head of MODIFI, a a global fintech company that helps small and medium-sized businesses finance and manage their international trades

The pandemic’s impact on trade and supply chains was significant and in turn, also impacted economic growth and well-being. At the same time, the crisis led to an acceleration in the digitisation of business models, including cross-border business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce as a response to disruptions in supply chains.

From the onset of Covid-19, fintech startups emerged to help businesses fund global partnerships and secure digital trade financing through game-changing non-recourse factoring. In this article, I will discuss how digital finance tools can work as springboards for post-pandemic businesses.

The $1.7 trillion trade finance gap 

According to an Asian Development Bank (ADB) study, rejection rates for trade finance reached record highs in 2020, with the gap between demand and supply currently at $1.7 trillion – a 15 per cent rise compared to the previous estimate of $1.5 trillion in 2018. The impact on supply and demand gap is particularly pronounced as the nature of the crisis continues to cause a negative ripple from downstream customer firms to upstream supplier firms.

The ADB’s latest research reiterates findings from previous studies that the trade finance gap disproportionately affects smaller enterprises, which are also strongly affected by supply chain disruptions. Approximately 40 per cent of rejected trade finance requests were from startups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) compared to a rejection of 17 per cent for multinationals. The survey covers more than 300 firms in almost 70 countries, beyond 112 banks, 50 export credit agencies, and 39 forfeiters around the globe. The lack of creditworthiness and lack of ability to provide financial statements are among the most prominent reasons to reject requests from businesses seeking trade finance.

There are significant obstacles for startups and SMEs worldwide regarding securing financing, especially in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which the European Commission has been closely monitoring to guarantee compliance with the EU's anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist funding rules.

UAE banks are currently adopting cautious tendencies, closing accounts connected to free-zone firms and avoiding lesser-known prospective customers. Many lenders have also adopted a risk-averse approach to trade financing that’s likely to continue in the future - especially towards startups and SMEs that are inclined to trade internationally.

Startups are often unable to secure access to trade finance because they cannot provide collateral. In addition to that, they lack detailed information on market trends, Know Your Customer (KYC) requirements, or risk-management strategies that appeal to lenders.

Fintech companies are uniquely positioned to fill the gap and help startups access flexible injections of liquidity exactly when they need it, as well as set up digital processes that allow them to successfully trade internationally. Many fintech companies are able to offer cheaper, and better trade finance and other export solutions to startups. Since their due diligence is primarily technology-driven, they are usually less persistent on collaterals and more reliant on technology solutions to identify credit-worthy borrowers.

Big data

Big data has the potential to even the playing field while assessing cross-border SME and startup financing risks. Since every company has its unique risk profile, fintechs adopt a more customised approach to making lending decisions over a one-size-fits-all process. 

Digital trade finance leverages data to assess the risks of a growing pool of underserved merchants. For example, digital trade financing can present a holistic view of a seller's risk profile by analysing multiple operational data points from credit insurance companies and additional, underused sources.

Understanding the actual risk of each transaction, as opposed to the perceived risk, streamlines trade workflows. Another advantage of a data-based infrastructure is that the system continually gets better at identifying what types of information are most helpful in determining the risks involved with any particular buyer or seller. 

More visibility across supply chain

One of the most significant impacts that digitisation brings in for trade finance is the ease with which visibility and transparency is established for all parties. Accessing near-real-time data about logistics and supply chain operations is a crucial component for all businesses. The more information an organisation has before a critical occurrence, the faster it can remedy the problem. This enables them to not only track where their goods are in the shipping process, but also alert partners, or customers about potential risks to initiate quick resolutions for disruptions across the whole supply chain. 

Another prevalent issue for startups has been about managing their trade documents – packing lists, warehouse receipts, certificates of origin, export licenses, etc. This whole process is manual and paper-intensive. Digitising this entire shipping documentation process can save startups and SMEs time in delivering cargo, and eliminate potential delays in shipments – ultimately saving money as well.

One of the most pressing problems digital trade solves is a dramatic decrease in paperwork through digital economy agreements (DEAs), which help businesses gain access to digital trade opportunities such as electronic invoicing, e-signatures, cross-border data protection and digital IDs, ultimately connecting overseas business partners more efficiently and helping companies improve productivity and reduce expenses. This also reduces fraud risk through greater control of the original, and the eliminated possibility of losing documents. 

How it works

By leveraging digital trade financing, small and mid-sized traders can get invoices paid early, rather than having to wait up to 120 days or even longer. Moreover, by leveraging numerous data sources, digital trade financiers have a better understanding of risk for startups and SMEs and can therefore not only vet and confirm the legitimacy of the buyer, but also ensure the payment of the invoice, even if the buyers were to go bankrupt. This eliminates credit risks that often prevent sellers from offering more favourable contract terms to buyers. 

With fintech solutions,  startups can optimise their cash flow without the need for collateral or a Letter of Credit. They can: 

Traditionally, supply chain management has been about sourcing, making, and delivering. Now, it’s about “funding”. Startups and SMEs finance more than 90 per cent of exports, but most have difficulty accessing credit from banks because their businesses are too new and lack collateral. Fintech companies can make supply chains more efficient by providing alternative solutions to startups and SMEs that can’t get traditional financing. Digital trade finance tools can help businesses reduce their credit risk, forecast cash flow and allocate working capital. In addition, having access to a digital trade finance solution can help startups SMEs explore a broader customer and supply base, possibly discovering new channels to buy or sell goods.

May 5th 2022, 9:35 am

SWVL acquires Turkish B2B mobility startup Volt Lines

Wamda

Press release

Swvl Holdings Corp, a global provider of transformative tech-enabled mass transit solutions, today announced a definitive agreement to acquire Volt Lines, a Turkey-based B2B and Transport as a Service mobility business. The acquisition builds on Swvl's recent acquisitions of controlling stakes in Shotl and Viapool, and pending acquisition of door2door. The closing of the transaction is subject to customary closing conditions and is expected to be completed in Q2 2022.

Founded in 2018, Volt Lines has a strong presence in major Turkish cities including Istanbul and the capital Ankara. The company provides corporate clients with a smart and cost-effective alternative to public transportation or ride hailing for commuters by utilizing a network of smartly routed shared buses. Through its monthly subscription option, Volt Lines facilitates consistent and reliable commutes for the employees of more than 110 companies (including ICBC, Mondelez, Axa Insurance, Pirelli, CMA-CGM, MetLife, and many more), which increases productivity for all stakeholders. Volt Lines Founder and CEO Ali Halabi will continue to lead the Turkish business going forward.

Mostafa Kandil, Swvl Founder and CEO, said, "Volt Lines shares Swvl's commitment to expanding opportunities and reducing emissions through forward-thinking mobility solutions. With this acquisition, we are deepening our presence in Europe, immediately expanding our enterprise client-base and continuing to deliver on our growth objectives. We look forward to welcoming the Volt Lines team to the Swvl family and working together to realizs our shared vision of revolutionizing mass transit systems around the world."

Ali Halabi, Volt Lines Founder and CEO, said, "When we launched Volt Lines four years ago, we set out to deliver a revolutionary transit experience to make commuting more reliable and affordable in Istanbul. With Swvl's global footprint, leading technology platform and proven ability to scale, we believe they are the ideal partner for Volt Lines to accelerate expansion of our platform. We are confident our solutions will meaningfully contribute to the Swvl platform, and together we will be able to deliver superior transportation alternatives for commuters around the world. We're also excited about scaling our R&D center in Istanbul into a global technology hub, giving Swvl a reliable access to Turkey's technical talent."

Youssef Salem, Swvl CFO, said, "The acquisition of Volt Lines expands on Swvl's position as a leader of mobility solutions, with a clear opportunity to scale the platform globally. Volt Lines brings an extensive list of multinational customers that we are excited to continue to grow relationships with as we provide them with the transportation solutions they need. This acquisition marks another decisive step that Swvl has taken to expand its footprint and to diversify our offerings globally. As always, we are evaluating a host of compelling opportunities to further our position as a leading provider of tech-enabled mobility solutions."

April 30th 2022, 8:47 am

Dubai launches $100 million debt fund to finance startups

Wamda

Source: Wam

H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council, approved the launch of the ‘Venture Capital Fund for Startups’ to bolster and sustain startup projects in the emirate.

With a capital of approximately DH370 million, the Fund aims to drive Dubai’s economic growth and fortify its position as a global hub for financial technology (FinTech), innovation, and venture capital. The Fund will come into effect starting June 2022.

The Venture Capital Fund was approved during a meeting of The Executive Council held in the Umm Suqeim Council, chaired by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed. His Highness said, "We approved the launch of the ‘Venture Capital Fund for Startups’ today under the directives of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to spearhead economic diversification and ignite sustainable economic growth. We are committed to creating a vibrant business environment and providing the opportunities to promote excellence."

"With a flexible legislative system, robust financing tools, an effective regulatory environment, and most importantly, dynamic public and private sectors, Dubai has established itself as the city of entrepreneurs and risk-tolerant investors. Dubai has been able to attract the best talent and investors from around the world to forge partnerships and mutually benefit from the tremendous opportunities offered. In short, Dubai nurtures bold ambitions," he added.

Governed by the Dubai International Financial Centre, which is also a 15 per cent contributor to the Fund, the ‘Venture Capital Fund for Startups' will create an integrated funding system with a number of suitable options that can cater to the needs of enterprises. The Fund will provide AED370 million in capital to finance small to medium startup projects, supporting their development in Dubai and gradual expansion to global markets. This will in turn help develop and foster a stimulating environment for the establishment of funds or similar financing instruments.

The Fund is set to contribute around DH3 billion to the emirate’s GDP during the implementation period, which will run for eight years, extendable for two additional years. It will also provide more than 8,000 jobs for emerging talents, thus strengthening Dubai’s position as a regional centre for entrepreneurship and financial technology (FinTech), innovation and venture capital, and ensuring that it attracts investors and entrepreneurs from around the world.

During The Executive Council’s meeting, the Council also approved the establishment of a centre dedicated to providing institutional care for vulnerable groups. The centre will offer shelter services and permanent or temporary institutional care to improve the quality of life of dependent individuals who need care through the provision of quality programmes and services.

The centre will be devoted to vulnerable groups including people of determination, senior citizens, the elderly and those deprived of adequate family care, in addition to children subjected to abuse, neglect or exploitation, who will be prioritised and primarily provided with adequate care within 24 hours including rehabilitation, personal care, and orthopaedic checks.

April 30th 2022, 8:47 am

Fine Diner raises $150,000 in Seed round

Wamda

Press release:

Dubai-based food delivery company, Fine Diner, has secured $150K in SEED funding.

Founded in 2019, Fine Diner Inc. develops food delivery brands. The Fine Diner business model eliminates the risk of launching fresh new brands into the food delivery space by eliminating OPEX and CAPEX.

Sami, Fine Diner CEO and co-founder, explains the business as “a B2B2C platform that leverages and utilises the spare capacity in fully equipped and underutilised kitchens allowing them to host third-party delivery specific restaurants increasing their revenue stream and efficiency”.

Faisal Alabdelsalam, the Lead Angel Investor, explains, “We saw an opportunity with the Fine Diner Team that we couldn’t let pass. The team is diverse and has built a business model that is very creative, lucrative and scalable. The Team’s leadership has an ironclad entrepreneurial mindset and will find solutions to multiple challenges to achieve their vision of building the largest network of kitchens in the Middle East while minimizing, if not eliminating, the CAPEX and OPEX risks of traditional dark kitchen models”.

“Working with Fine Diner over the last 2 years has been extraordinary”, explained Bernard Fantoli Cluster, General Manager for TIME Hotels. “Ever since the beginning, we have seen volumes of orders increase, as a result of our Ghost Kitchen concept. This journey together with Fine Diner helped us increase our F&B revenue by 15%, our teams are now implementing the same within our sister hotels kitchen to further develop this successful concept."

The company will be utilising the funds to expand its food delivery concepts to the rest of the Emirates, and across the GCC.

 

April 30th 2022, 8:47 am

Endeavor launches report on state of Saudi startup ecosystem

Wamda

Press release:

Endeavor Saudi Arabia in collaboration with Endeavor Insight launched its latest research project that studies, analyses, and maps the activity and connections in the entrepreneurial tech ecosystem in Riyadh for the past 20 years. The report is titled Mapping The Riyadh Tech Sector: A Network Analysis of the Entrepreneurship Community and was published during an event that hosted the Endeavor network in Riyadh and with the attendance of H.E. Eng. Haitham AlOhali, Vice Minister of Communications and Information Technology.

Successes in the tech sector are examples of Saudi Arabia’s growing diversity, inclusion, and innovation. The research showed that Riyadh’s tech sector has grown rapidly with 50% of companies in Riyadh’s tech ecosystem founded in only the past 5 years, but only 18% of those young companies have become scaled companies. These scaled companies provide the majority of jobs in tech in Riyadh with 90% of jobs created by only scaled companies. The growth of the ecosystem has accelerated in recent years from VCs, government initiatives, universities, and globally connected support organisations. 

The report focuses on understanding scaled companies in the ecosystem, who are these companies, who leads them, how long did it take for them to scale, and what support they need in order to expand. Findings show that reaching 50 or more employees is a very important milestone for companies, after which they tend to keep growing. Companies that scale are more likely to have founders with specialised professional experience and who are well-connected with other founders.

The purpose of the study was to provide insights into the sector’s current state, evaluate its strengths and weaknesses, and enable decision-makers to better understand and support local tech entrepreneurship. Social network analysis was used to visualise the Riyadh tech sector. This methodology helps trace the flow of people, capital, and information among entrepreneurs, their co-founders, employees, mentors, investors, and other stakeholders. Network maps highlight existing entrepreneurial assets and challenges in a community grounded in the experience of entrepreneurs rather than secondary data and point to opportunities to increase access to capital, talent, or markets. 

Lateefa Alwalaan, Managing Director of Endeavor Saudi Arabia, said: “We’ve witnessed firsthand at Endeavor the rapid growth of the tech ecosystem in Saudi and how valuable scaled companies are to the growth of any sector. It was important to us to document this growth and impact to better understand the ecosystem and to create a valuable tool to guide policymakers, VCs, and other stakeholders who support founders.”

One of the challenges facing the Saudi ecosystem was hiring tech talent, therefore, many of the founders interviewed have already moved some of their operations outside of the country, however, the main goal of improving the ecosystem is to create job opportunities for Saudi people. A vast majority of founders who participated in this study reported needing to hire tech talent from outside of Saudi Arabia. More than 90 per cent of them have tech teams in other countries, especially in the nearby MENA region. 

Moreover, several interviewed founders of Saudi Arabian companies mentioned plans to relocate their legal headquarters to other countries within the Middle East region or make acquisitions to further address the limitations of the local market

The research is supported by Riyad Bank as a strategic partner, Saudi Aramco Entrepreneurship Center (Wa’ed) as a supporting partner, OCEANX as an ecosystem partner, and also backed by Endeavor Saudi board members. The report is accompanied by interactive network maps that trace the movement in the ecosystem, read the full report and browse the maps here

Endeavor Saudi Arabia was launched in 2012 as a local affiliate of Endeavor, a non-profit that is the leading global community of, by, and for High-Impact Entrepreneurs. Endeavor creates a Multiplier Effect by inspiring high-growth founders to dream bigger, supporting and investing in them to scale faster, and providing a platform to pay it forward —  thereby compounding their individual impact.

April 30th 2022, 8:47 am

Saudi discount platform Remmsh raises funding from Nama Ventures

Wamda

Press release:

Remmsh, a Saudi platform specialised in providing users with live promotion codes via WhatsApp, has raised an undisclosed amount in a pre-Seed funding round by Nama Ventures.d funding round by Nama Ventures.

Historically, it was virtually impossible for restaurants to manage their promotion codes that would accommodate their customer’s cravings from their favourite restaurants and coffees. That’s until Remmsh was launched, a platform making real-time promotion codes possible!

Remmsh was founded by Abdulaziz Alsebaie and Abbas Alshqaq to offer customers an easy solution to having instant promotion codes at their disposal.  The site is steadily gaining users on a daily basis and is experiencing tremendous growth, it has become the favorite destination of customer to acquire their promotions from their favorite restaurants and cafes.  

“People appreciate discount deals and easy access to them; Remmsh makes that happen. The level of engagement and positive feedback we are receiving from our clients is priceless!’ Abdulaziz adds, ‘WhatsApp is one of the most popular platforms today which everyone uses, hence our goal of utilising it as a solution. We aspire to become the Mena region’s go-to for live promotion codes.”

“We always love it when the founders are the first customers of their own startup.” said Mohammad Alzubi, Founder and Managing Partner at Nama Ventures, “Abdulaziz and Abbas have been thinking about enabling and creating demand for a long time now.  They’ve looked the issue of extending promotion to needing customers from all angles, and what we see now in Remmsh was something that came from a great deal of data and trial and error” Mohammed added, “We saw in Remmsh’s founding team a great “seller” that has tremendous domain expertise in the space, and a “does” in Abbas, who’s a geek’s geek. And when a seller and does are in sync, this is when you get magic, we have no doubt that this dream team will be able to crack the promotion space and we can't wait to use those promotion to order our favorite Chinese food.”

 

April 30th 2022, 8:47 am

Joi Gifts closes $1 million pre-Series B round

Wamda

Press release:

Joi Gifts, the MENAPT region’s largest online gifts marketplace, announced today it has raised $1 million in pre-Series B funding from UAE-based Panthera Capital and leading regional and international angel investors. Panthera is a VC & PE firm based in Dubai and is the investment arm of Fujairah Holding.

Joi Gifts is a product of the region’s leading venture studio, Enhance Ventures. The announcement of the latest funding round comes shortly after the company raised a Series A of $2.5 million late last year from Knuru Capital, MENA Moonshots and Wa’ed Ventures, the venture investments arm of Saudi Aramco. Since then, the business has grown at an accelerating pace, with revenue doubling over just the past 4 months, while the company continues to experience double-digit growth month-on-month.

Joi Gifts also introduced its Express Gift Delivery service earlier this year, offering customers in Riyadh, Dubai and Amman an extensive selection of gifts at their loved ones’ doorsteps in under 90 minutes. In addition, the company has been investing in product innovation and pushing boundaries in the world of gifting globally. This past Valentine’s Day, for instance, Joi Gifts became the first gifts marketplace to offer customers the ability to send NFTs to their loved ones, while paying for them using just their credit cards. 

Rami Kahale, CEO of Joi Gifts, said the online marketplace would use the funding injection to strengthen its position as the leading gifting marketplace in the region. The company will invest in marketing to make the brand a household name and will continue to expand its core offering within categories such as toys and gifts for kids, beauty and personal care, jewellery and accessories, and homeware. At the same time, it will continue to innovate on new product categories like the recently launched NFTs, and new customer experiences like augmented reality and Express Delivery.

Countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the GCC have the highest average spend on gifts globally, based on research by Enhance Ventures, which values the MENA region’s gifting industry at roughly $28 billion. This rapid growth represents a significant opportunity for Joi Gifts. To deliver a truly best-in-class memorable customer experience, Joi Gifts delivers its gifts through delivery agents dressed in concierge-style uniforms, and if the sender wishes, these ‘Agents of Joi’ can also sing an appropriate song for each occasion.

“The investment we have received in this round allows us to further enhance and improve what is already the MENA region’s leading online one-stop shop for both digital and physical gifts,” Mr Kahale said. “We are passionate about providing the best offering for customers in every market we operate in, and this vote of confidence from our incoming investors gives us the resources to deliver on our quality commitment.”

Sonali Goila, Head of Venture Capital & Private Equity at Panthera Capital, said: "Panthera constantly looks for niche investment opportunities in tech-enabled, scalable startups targeting multiple emerging markets. We have been impressed by the Joi Gifts team's focus on lean growth and innovation. We believe Joi Gifts’ unique offering and differentiated customer experience are what it takes to succeed in the region, and we look forward to playing an active role in their next phase of growth."

"The MENAPT region is experiencing consistent growth - with existing merchants looking for online sales opportunities and a diverse set of customers with an appetite to shop online," commented Mr Kahale. "The region is set to witness an acceleration in online gifting. Thanks to the support and trust of our investors in the model and our business, we’re excited to capitalize on this opportunity and continue to scale the business."

April 30th 2022, 8:47 am

Repzo raises $1.4 million Bridge round

Wamda

Press release:

The Jordan-based SaaS Sales Force Automation platform Repzo has successfully raised a $1.4 million bridge round in their latest fundraising. The funding round was led by the Arab Palestinian Investment Company (APIC), Jabbar Internet Group, Ahli Fintech, Arzan VC, Shorooq Partners,  Adamtech Ventures and a group of angel investors.

Founded in 2017 by Hassan Atmeh alongside his brother Moutaz and cousin Ayman, Repzo provides a sales force automation solution that helps FMCG and pharmaceutical companies to better manage and measure KPIs of their field workforce by offering GPS tracking, sales order automation, inventory management & merchandising solutions.

This financing round comes after the company doubled its revenue last year by having over 170 clients in 12 countries with around 5000 daily active reps using its platform.

Hassan Atmeh, the founder and CEO of Repzo, commented on successfully closing this bridge round: “It has been an amazing journey as our team built a truly amazing solution that enables SMEs to implement Arabic enabled salesforce automations.”

Moutaz Atmeh, co-founder & VP of sales said: “We are proud to have one of our customers, the Arab Palestinian Investment Company (APIC), leading our round after using our platform in three of their subsidiaries: Siniora Foods Industries Company Unipal General Trading Company (Unipal) & Medical Supplies and Services Company (MSS).”

Subsidiaries of APIC offer a wide array of products and services through distribution rights agreements with multinational companies that include Philip Morris, Procter & Gamble, Kellogg's, XL Energy, Abbott, B. Braun, Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi Aventis and Nivea, among many others.

This round comes as a booster as Repzo witnesses expansion into KSA, the company has launched its offices in Riyadh and is currently onboarding companies interested in automating their workforce.

Repzo has integrated with leading ERPs such as SAP, Microsoft Dynamics, QuickBooks, Xero & other local ERPs. The Tech startup plans to utilize these newly acquired funds by hiring top talents and expanding its integration channels.

The company is currently developing a new solution that caters to the needs of field service providers. Repzo will help businesses track reactive and preventive maintenance and control the daily operations, such as safety and quality inspections and operating checklists.

April 30th 2022, 8:47 am

How can Saudi Arabia unleash national success in fintech?

Wamda

Abdullah Al Othman is the founder and chairman of Geidea, a Saudi Arabia-based fintech specialised in payments. It works with over 150,000 merchants, and provides support to more than 600,000 payment terminals and ATMs networks within the kingdom.

Over the past few years, Saudi Arabia’s fintech sector has gained tremendous momentum, as agile and innovative startups take advantage of increased technology penetration to innovate financial services across the country. Indeed, the number of fintech companies operating in Saudi Arabia has increased by 37 per cent, according to Fintech Saudi. For investors, the opportunities are huge – in 2021 alone, a record level of over SAR 1.3bn ($347 million) in venture capital investment was plowed into Saudi Arabia-based fintechs. 

Savvy investors recognise that fintech solutions are life solutions – they penetrate almost every aspect of life in all communities, accelerating financial inclusion and catalysing the digital economy. With the power of AI, analytics and machine learning, fintechs can assist the individual throughout the life journey – from the teenager’s first bank account to launching a startup, buying that first home and identifying where to invest for later in life. 

This new reality reflects two permanent dynamics: the rapid and permanent adoption of fintech services - and a corresponding explosion of the digital economy. For these two dynamics to flourish in unison, the fintech ecosystem in Saudi Arabia faces very specific challenges.

The regulatory challenge

It is important to understand that the fintech ecosystem comprises multiple players - innovators (fintech startups), technology developers, governments, financial customers and traditional financial institutions. At the heart of the ecosystem are the fintech innovators – and to truly thrive, they need to exist within an enabling regulatory environment. To enable fintech innovation, governments either issue new regulations or relax some laws. This is especially important, as lengthy procedures can reduce time in product development, expansion, and investment plans. 

Despite local regulators stepping up the level of regulations and issuances, it is an area that remains a challenge for KSA, like many countries around the world. Over recent years, the number of approvals for fintech companies to operate in KSA has been relatively low when compared to more developed financial hubs. According to various reports, there were 35 approvals of fintech startups in 2020 – and more recently, 16 companies were approved in the third quarter of 2021. While there are signs of improvement, this is a process that can be made faster when compared to the growing number of fintech startups worldwide – which now amounts to 26,000 as of 2021. Although regulators must conduct due diligence and balance economic security, there must be ways to balance this priority with a process for faster approvals. 

A proposed solution is the introduction of more sandboxes in the country. Currently, there are still numerous fintech applicants that are not invited to test in a sandbox due to several competing applications to test – and once regulations for a sandbox are close to being issued, these applicants are not considered again for a longer period. By launching more sandboxes, greater innovation in fintech can be achieved while providing the ideal testing environment for regulators and entrepreneurs to collaborate and ensure compliance with financial rules, as well as provide greater confidence to the ecosystem. 

The good news is that the kingdom is making progress. The recent shift to instant payments would not have been possible without increasing the accessibility of digital payment channels - something that SAMA, the Central Bank, has spearheaded as a priority in recent years. SAMA recently announced that the number of points of sale (PoS) terminals inside the kingdom exceeded the one million threshold – ensuring that their efforts bore fruit. 

This feat was made possible after extensive collaboration with the financial sector and with fintechs such as Geidea, which has launched over 700,000 terminals and ATM networks around the country. These trends illustrate that regulators have paved the way for fintech actors to come together in an incredibly exciting way by enabling innovation and cross-sector collaboration. 

The war for talent

As with almost every industry, the growth of the fintech sector relies on private-sector innovation, and it is clear that Saudi policymakers wish to enable invention and creativity rather than always ‘own’ it: unleashing the very best of capitalism as opposed to using the levers of big government. It should be no surprise that ‘Fintech Saudi’ was launched by the Saudi Central Bank in partnership with the Capital Market Authority in April 2018 - supporting fintech entrepreneurs at every stage of their development and building the skills and knowledge required to grow the fintech sector.

Yet skills themselves represent a threat to fintech evolution in Saudi Arabia. Recruiting digital talent to design, develop, and enhance digital financial services requires relevant expertise, background, skill and a deep understanding of the customer’s needs. This is a challenge for all fintech providers, particularly for traditional financial institutions like banks, which may not have an internal legacy of fintech innovation or invention. 

For banks, the pressure is on to attract and retain the best fintech innovators in the kingdom – and to do so in the face of competition from fintech startups. The scale of the challenge is reflected in data athered in the 2021 Fintech Saudi annual report, which says that 38-40 per cent of fintechs in Saudi Arabia consider talent and recruitment to be their biggest hurdle, and 88 per cent have named ‘finding the right skillset’ as one of the main challenges to recruiting talent.

Unleashing national success

Part of the solution is for different players from across the ecosystem to come together, collaborate and share skills and expertise. This is why it is so encouraging to see so many traditional financial institutions embrace open banking and open application programming interfaces (APIs) as a route to engendering innovation across the ecosystem. 

This is the very definition of collaboration - multiple companies and financial institutions leveraging data to build more relevant products and services for the financial institution’s customers – in turn leading to increased innovation, competition, and digital adoption. Indeed, important factors such as around 80 per cent smartphone penetration in the country – as well as two-thirds of the population being under 25 are also expected to increase investor appetite for the sector, as the kingdom moves to a more cashless future.

In summary, fintechs are leading much of the innovation in the KSA financial space, but their work must be supported by a proactive (as opposed to a responsive) regulatory approach. Saudi Arabian regulatory bodies have done well to nurture new fintech ideas within the SAMA regulatory sandbox – this is important if startups are to get to market quickly and efficiently. Through this, and through open banking and open APIs, Saudi Arabian fintechs can nurture a future talent pool with cutting-edge skills. 

The economic opportunities that this ecosystem unleashes will only be more exciting as Saudi Arabia’s fintech ecosystem matures, modern technologies continue to converge, and every single citizen becomes more empowered. It is clear to see that through collaboration, invention and regulatory support, Saudi Arabia’s robust fintech landscape is truly unleashing national success for all. 

 

April 30th 2022, 8:47 am

Saudi logistics startup Mkhdoom raises $1.1 million

Wamda

Press release:

Saudi Arabia-based logistics provider, Mkhdoom, has secured $1.1 million (SAR 4 million) in a Seed round led by Aljabr Company, with participation from angel investors.

Founded in 2019 by Ahmed Almutairi, the logistics startup provides last-mile delivery services to the e-commerce sector.

The logistics service provider received its licence from Saudi’s Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) in 2020. The startup is currently serving over 1500 e-commerce platforms with last-mile delivery services.

Mkhdoom aims to use the investment to expand within Saudi Arabia and to develop the platform while improving the user experience of people using logistics services to run their e-commerce ventures.

 

April 30th 2022, 8:47 am

SWVL acquires UK's Zeelo for $100 million

Wamda

Press release 

SWVL, a global provider of transformative tech-enabled mass transit solutions, today announced a definitive agreement to acquire Zeelo, the UK's largest smart bus platform and technology scale-up, measured by bookings. Joining forces with Zeelo builds upon Swvl's recent successful acquisitions of Viapool and Shotl, and announced acquisitions of Volt Lines and door2door, and provides a launchpad to rapidly land and expand business operations in three strategic developed markets including the UK, South Africa and the US with Zeelo's seasoned team of over 160 staff across the globe, including 29 software engineers based out of Zeelo's R&D hub in Barcelona.

In alignment with Swvl's mission, Zeelo has a well-recognized commitment to driving the shift from single-occupancy vehicles to zero-emission mass transit and deploying transportation services to connect more people to work and educational opportunities. The acquisition is expected to be completed in May 2022.

Mostafa Kandil, Swvl Founder and CEO, said, "Swvl was founded on the belief that accessible transportation is essential to unlocking economic opportunity. Swvl and Zeelo share a vision and mission to provide reliable transportation that gets riders where they need to go in an affordable, safe, and environmentally-friendly manner. With an impressive suite of turnkey TaaS and SaaS solutions and an established footprint in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and the United States, Zeelo rapidly advances our leading market position as a provider of technology-enabled mass transit solutions on a global scale."

Sam Ryan, Zeelo Founder and CEO, said, "Swvl is revolutionizing the mass transit industry and we are thrilled to join forces with them on this next phase of Zeelo's journey to firmly establish smart bus transport as the best-in-class shared mobility solution that takes account of all income levels and the needs of ordinary, every-day travelers. Bus transport done well with tech can take us beyond our dependency on cars and taxis which are not suitable for commutes from non-urban areas. We look forward to bringing Swvl insights from Zeelo's strategic pivot during the global pandemic and we've been impressed by Swvl's fast growth in challenging markets. We are excited to leverage their global experience as we embark on a shared journey to develop safe, affordable, and low emission mass transportation options, and expand economic opportunity for the people who need it most through our mobility solution. Especially shift workers, professionals and students living in transport-poor areas in the developed markets."

Youssef Salem, Swvl CFO, said, "The acquisition of Zeelo offers Swvl a superb entry point into the US and South Africa, extends our position in the UK, and provides a complementary suite of new mobility products. Combined with our past acquisitions and announced acquisitions, today's announcement further demonstrates our ability to utilize our growth capital and public currency to pursue organic and inorganic strategic initiatives. We look forward to capitalizing on the numerous opportunities provided by this transaction to advance our market position as a provider of technology-enabled mass transit solutions on a global scale."

Zeelo is an asset-light technology company that modernizes daily bus commutes to serve the needs of frontline workers and students through B2B contracts with organizations and family-run bus operator networks. Zeelo's system is used by large businesses, staffing agencies, independent schools and universities across the UK, South Africa and the US that need to provide a private travel solution to people living in areas with poor transport links. Its services model includes a driving accreditation school, contracted fleets, and proprietary technology including a SaaS platform and multiple customer apps, which leverage smart GPS route optimization and ride-sharing software.

April 30th 2022, 8:47 am

How have NFTs impacted the Middle East’s art world?

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Rarely a day goes by without the announcement of a new NFT [non-fungible token] project, artwork or even a culinary digital asset

The creative sector worldwide has embraced these digital tokens, in the belief that they will follow a similar trajectory as Bitcoins in their valuations - a way for first-movers to make a lot of money. And so far, there are artists who have indeed made a lot of money. Take for example Beeple, whose NFT project of 5000 digital artworks sold for $69 million at a Christie’s auction, or the Bored Ape Yacht Club series, a limited edition of 10,000 digital avatars that provide membership to an online social club, selling for $300,000 each. 

The momentum is just as ferocious in the Middle East, where artists like Kristel Bechara and Aya Tarek have launched their own NFT projects. Last year, three Middle East-based NFT marketplaces raised about $10 million. The Y Combinator graduate Odiggo, started out as a car parts marketplace in Egypt, only to pivot in the past couple of months to become an NFT marketplace and now, Art Dubai, the region’s largest art fair is dedicating an entire section to digital art and NFTs. 

So what exactly is a non-fungible token? If Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are the digital equivalent of a currency, then NFTs are a digital version of artworks and collectibles. Take for example the most famous painting in the world, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, which hangs rather solitarily in the Louvre in Paris. There are plenty of replicas, prints and digital copies of the Mona Lisa, but there is only one, original version of it - the physical painting itself. NFTs are essentially a certificate that identifies the original digital asset, which can be sold and bought, with transfer of ownership recorded on the blockchain - the same digitally distributed ledger infrastructure used by cryptocurrencies. It can be applied to any form of digital assets - artworks, gifs, songs and even tweets and lines of code, although currently, it is the art world that has embraced it the most. 

But one issue with NFTs is that digital products or assets by their very nature are replicable. The infamous “Charlie Bit My Finger” video was sold as an NFT for £500,000 with its new owner taking it off Youtube, but a quick search will bring up dozens of copies of the viral video, they may not be the original, but it is still the same content. 

“The media hype snowballed adoption [of NFTs] into a broader audience of predominantly millennials, gen X and gen Z collectors, as well as a few historical new media collectors. I think this signals a shift in demographic spending power and habits,” says Chris Fussner, curator of Art Dubai Digital. “In some ways, it’s also shifted value perceptions and frameworks for digital art and digital objects. There is a value framework around these digital objects but it’s still in exploratory mode, the price fluctuations have been wild and will be subject to change.”

So, is this frenzy simply a bubble waiting to burst or will NFTs become the common way to buy and sell digital assets, especially once we all end up in the metaverse?

For Dima Abdulkader, co-founder of Emergeast, an online art gallery and marketplace showcasing artists from the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), NFTs give recognition to digital artists and their work and help to make it “official”.

Founded back in 2014, Emergeast was the first marketplace of its kind to launch in the region and in November 2021, became the Middle East’s first online art gallery to host an NFT exhibition, “Meta Mena” curating digital artwork from Mena-based artists on NFT marketplace OpenSea, the largest NFT marketplace in the world. The platform is also taking part in Art Dubai Digital this year, showcasing NFT art from six artists.

Emergeast launched at a time when people “were not confident with buying art online”, according to co-founder Nikki Meftah, but as consumers became more comfortable with online shopping, the company noticed an uptick in purchases, particularly during the pandemic. With each new technological wave, Emergeast has adopted new features into its platform, most recently accepting payment in Bitcoin and Ethereum. Collating NFTs are a “natural extension” of its digital first approach according to Meftah. 

Technological impact

Technological advancements have a way of directly impacting the art world. From advancements in devices and tools to social media and online auctions. 

“There is an element of technology that opens up new possibilities and new ways of collaboration,” says Dawn Ross, head of collections at Jameel Arts Centre in Dubai. “We see artists working with tech engineers, which we didn’t really have 20 years ago.”

While some artists incorporate and work with technology to create artwork, others have stuck to their traditional tools, but have embraced the internet and social media platforms to create their own virtual galleries. 

“It’s provided artists with a lot more visibility, they’ve been able to grow their own reach via Instagram, it’s given them a lot of power,” says Meftah. 

NFTs are intended to embody this sense of power, by enabling artists to profit from their work each time it is sold. 

“One major advantage for NFTs is artists can register to get a royalty fee whenever it is sold on the blockchain,” says Meftah. “The artist enjoys the benefit of the resale and knows where it’s going. It also gives people the community around the art world.”

Some NFTs act like a key or invitation to groups and events, thus creating an online community like the Bored Ape Yacht Club. Regionally, NFT activity is strongest in Dubai with many creators and buyers based in the city - one reason why Art Dubai decided to introduce a digital art section this year. 

“The digital art space - and the art / NFT space in particular - has seen huge growth over the last couple of years. We have always been a fair with innovation at our centre and we felt this would be the right moment to take a 360-degree look at the major global players in this space,” says Fussner. “The Dubai-specific context is also important - the city is rapidly becoming one of the world’s crypto-capitals and home to a whole new generation of entrepreneurs and collectors - we also saw a need to create a bridge between the global crypto sphere and the international art market.”

Rights

Yet despite the upsurge in activity and interest, it is “still early days for NFTs in the broader art landscape”, says Fussner. There are many grey areas, little regulation and almost no visibility on how successful they will be in the long term. 

“Although we live in a digital era, geography is still immensely important because of regulatory frameworks,” says Fussner. “They almost create geo-fence markets, where certain digital assets will be able to thrive in some locations but might be slower in others. I think regulation will be welcome if it’s in the interest of spurring on innovation and protecting the end user in a responsible way. There’s a high chance we’ll see AML [anti-money laundering] laws and regulations like those in the UK and US adopted to NFT AML laws, which I think will create a shift in purchases.”

NFTs are bought using cryptocurrencies and most NFTs are sold on the Ethereum blockchain, using Ethers. Users end up having to pay “gas money”, an additional fee paid to the miners who maintain the Ethereum blockchain to ensure the purchase goes through and is recorded on the digital ledger. These fees can sometimes cost more than the NFT itself, moreover, during an NFT auction, if the losing bidder pays a higher gas fee to purchase a digital asset, their transaction can go through faster and the winning bidder will lose out on both the NFT and their money. Transacting on the blockchain is also an energy intensive activity and harmful to the environment. According to research from UK-based Money Supermarket, the average NFT transaction uses 340 kWh in energy each, more than a week’s worth of energy consumption for the average UAE citizen, and has a carbon footprint of 241 KgCO2, costing $50 in electricity costs. 

A particularly grey area is that of intellectual property (IP) rights and protections. Artists can sell their work as NFTs, yet still maintain the copyright of their work. Anything that is recorded on the blockchain is by default a contract and recognition of ownership, but what happens when a digital asset is replicated or reshared by others on the internet or metaverse? 

“There were these questions earlier with online art and posting images online and who owns the copyright” says Ross. “The culture of how digital images are used has changed and evolved with social media and how artists are using this tech. It’s a really interesting time with these sorts of changes, and it takes a while for these things to sort out. There are always grey areas.”

There are currently no regulations specific to NFTs and it is as yet still unclear whether current laws and regulations will suffice for issues like IP, financial regulations and the data security of transactions, although one benefit of blockchain is the greater transparency it can bring to the art world.

“Blockchain encrypts all this information [of transactions], there is no playing with this information. You know who the owner of the art piece is and who’s the collector. There’s a lot more transparency than what the traditional art world had. It has provenance, you can trace this art piece and see who the owners were,” says Alia Kawar, who is leading Emergeast’s NFT efforts. “In the long term it is a way to protect copyright and IP because everything is public and documented.”

Metaverse

After Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg presented his vision for the future of his social network and the creation of his company’s metaverse, brands around the world responded by creating their own NFTs and meta presence. Fashion houses like Burberry, Prada and Louis Vuitton have embraced blockchain technology and are selling NFTs in their virtual fashion exhibitions. Once the metaverse is populated with avatars, users will be able to purchase digital items of clothing as NFTs that their avatars can wear. The opportunity for NFTs perhaps lies mostly in the metaverse, providing users with the ability to recreate their physical lives in the virtual space by purchasing NFTs for whatever their avatar desires.

“All of us will have an avatar and our NFTs will be connected to our avatar,” says Meftah. “Our NFT collection will define us as people.”

March 3rd 2022, 2:06 pm

UAE’s Mindshift Capital takes part in Rebel Girls’ $13 million round

Wamda

Press release:

Global gender-lens venture capital fund Mindshift Capital today announces it has invested in Rebel Girls, a global multi-media platform dedicated to helping raise the most inspired and confident generation of girls, as part of its $13 million funding round. Mindshift Capital is investing in the company alongside Silicon Valley’s leading edtech VC fund, Owl Ventures, Base10 Partners, and Emmeline Ventures. 

Mindshift Capital is the first female-led and focused VC fund to back Rebel Girls, a female-founded and led girl empowerment brand. This raise will allow Rebel Girls to build an immersive online/offline experience celebrating, elevating and inspiring girls to become the most confident generation to shepherd in a more gender-equal world. Building upon the brand’s international best-selling book series and integrating with its newly launched mobile app, the brand is creating a premier flagship destination for girls to access a universe of storytelling across books, audio, video, consumer products, and events. Creating this hub for girls and with girls, Rebel Girls aims to revolutionise girlhood within a trusted, empowering and diverse environment. 

Additionally, Mindshift Capital will assist Rebel Girls with expansion beyond the brand’s current reach of 49 languages and more than 100 countries. Focusing on the Mena region, this partnership will accelerate translation into Arabic, one of the five most spoken languages in the world; localised editions of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls; and connections with regional publishing houses and edtech companies including Mindshift’s portfolio company Little Thinking Minds.

Rebel Girls has been an innovator in children’s media since 2016 when it introduced the original real-life fairytale story format with its first children’s book, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, which was the most successful publishing Kickstarter in the platform’s history. Rebel Girls has continued to innovate as a global empowerment brand with a full ecosystem of storytelling across its app, books, audio stories, merchandise and events. With a community of more than 20 million self-identified Rebel Girls, the brand has sold 7.5 million books and reached 17 million audio listens. 

“As the first women-led fund to invest in Rebel Girls, we are excited to be backing their expansion into the multiverse, online/offline storytelling as they work to build a community of 50 million girls by 2025. As female-founded companies continue to see only 2% of all VC funding, we must invest in women and show future girl generations examples of all that’s possible,” said Heather Henyon, Founding Partner of Mindshift Capital. “We look forward to bringing our unique knowledge and expertise to the Rebel Girls investment table as well as tap into our global network to grow the brand further in the Arab world, where there is a huge demand for localised curated digital content.”

“Confidence is the single most important predictor of how kids see their future. Right now, girls think they are less smart and less capable than boys. Girls are twice as likely to suffer depression than boys and three times as likely to experience cyberbullying. We will be relentless in leading and innovating until the confidence gap has disappeared.” said Rebel Girls CEO Jes Wolfe. “We are excited by the expansion opportunity Mindshift Capital brings to the table to assist Rebel Girls in reaching millions more girls in the MENA region and beyond.”

March 3rd 2022, 2:06 pm

Saudi proptech Aqarito raises $767,000 in crowdfunding round

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Press release:

Aqarito, a Saudi-based real estate technology platform raised 2.88 million SAR which accounts for almost $767,000 in its latest funding round with the support of 691 investors through the Scooper crowdfunding platform.

Aqarito was founded in 2019, and it aims to provide a real estate marketplace for buying, selling and renting properties in Saudi Arabia. It also allows owners to display their property easily on the platform, while providing clients with the ability to browse through available properties and search in an easy way by geographical location with the ability to preview properties through virtual reality technologies.

The platform will use the new funds to help develop its technologies, support its expansion in the region after reaching Oman and Jordan, in addition to expanding to the Egyptian market.

March 3rd 2022, 2:06 pm

Chari acquires Axa Credit for $22 million

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Source: Techcrunch 

Moroccan B2B e-commerce and retail startup Chari has acquired Axa Credit, the credit branch of Axa Assurance Maroc, for $22 million, the company confirmed to TechCrunch today.

The news comes off the back of Chari’s recently closed seed extension round that saw it valued at $100 million and begin offering BNPL services to its customers. It is one of the few African startups to publicly disclose its valuation.

Chari digitizes the largely fragmented FMCG sector in parts of French-speaking Africa, particularly Morocco and Tunisia. It operates a mobile app that connects small retailers in these two countries to FMCG multinationals and local manufacturers, allowing them to order and get products in less than 24 hours.

Last October, the YC-backed company acquired Moroccan credit book Karny.ma. The Khatabook-esque platform provides credit and bookkeeping services to about 50,000 merchants. It allows these merchants to handle the credit they give to their customers.

The acquisition of Axa Credit — the Moroccan credit branch of the French-based Axa Group — makes Chari one of the few, if not the only, startups to acquire a local branch of a global bank. The acquisition is still subject to approval from the Moroccan banking, insurance and antitrust authorities, Chari said in a statement.

CEO Ismael Belkhayat told TechCrunch that Axa was pulling out its credit business—secondary to its core insurance business—from Morocco and saw Chari fit to take over.

“They decided to give the deal to Chari because I think they believe we are the ones able to do financial inclusion,” said the chief executive who founded Chari with his wife and COO, Sophia Alj.

In Morocco, 70% of the population are either unbanked, underbanked or unable to prove recurring income. For them, accessing a loan can be difficult as lenders need them to show some financial stability to repay, which is near impossible because they have no bank accounts.

Chari thinks it can help this segment of the population, but how does it intend to lend to these end consumers and get reimbursed if they have no credit history or database to determine their creditworthiness? The solution lies in the acquisition of Karny, said Belkhayat.

Typically, merchants and shop owners in Morocco give small loans to their customers. Karny acts as that tool these merchants use to record money movement in and out of their business. Therefore buying Karny gives Chari valuable data on the loans these merchants underwrite to their customers.

The acquisition of Axa Credit will offer Chari the credit license needed to start offering loans to its FMCG B2B clients (which it currently does), who can then lend money to their consumer clients. You can think of it as a B2B2C lending model.

Chari reckons that shop owners know the consumption habit of their clients, where they live, and when and how they get paid, and are therefore able to perform the credit risk assessment that a regular bank is unable to do.

“For instance, we have 40 million people and about 200,000 shops, which means that each shop has in total, an average of like 200 customers. And effect an average family size in Morocco is like five people. So each shop has like 40 families as clients on average,” said the CEO explaining how Chari is turning shop owners to lending agents.

“Each shop knows each family, where they live, an idea of how much they earn, when they get paid; if it’s every week, is every month, what they consume and buy. So the shop owners can do credit assessments, or credit risk to define how much they can be lending to their clients.”

In addition to providing loans, shop owners and merchants can provide FMCG on credit. By offering loans and goods on credit to merchants who act as branches and, in turn, provide the same services to end consumers, Chari says the underbanked now have the opportunity to play on a level field with those who have bank accounts.

Chari offers a free credit line to its merchants; the cost of the loans is charged to the FMCG suppliers in the form of a higher distribution margin. In exchange, suppliers get data about the SKUs they sell to each store. Shop owners who intend to offer loans to their end consumers get higher credit lines from Chari, which shares the data collated from Karny (on end consumers’ purchasing behavior) with FMCG companies that pay for the cost of the higher loans.

In the future, when it amasses more users, Chari plans to charge merchants a setup fee and low-interest rates.

This transaction is noteworthy for several reasons. First, bragging rights as a startup transparent with numbers its peers would otherwise not be willing to share. Although one can argue that this isn’t a pure tech deal (startup buying another startup), it doesn’t change the fact that Chari made known the acquisition figure of this deal (and in the past, its valuation), which is rare in Africa’s startup scene.

Second, this transaction allows Axa Insurance Morocco to refocus on its core business: insurance, which seems to be in alignment with the global strategy of Axa Group, where similar restructurings have taken place in its developing markets.

“We are thrilled to announce a cross-selling partnership between Axa Insurance Morocco and Chari. This partnership will allow Axa Insurance to keep growing on the Moroccan market and play a central role in financial inclusion,” said Meryem Chami, the general manager of Axa Morocco, in a statement.

But how has Chari managed to finance this deal despite only raising $7 million so far? Belkhayat said the company’s acquisition money comprises some portion of its seed financing, a leveraged buyout (local debt from banks) and negative working capital from its transaction with FMCG manufacturers (about $5 million). The company is also gearing up to raise a large Series A round.

March 3rd 2022, 2:06 pm

Master Works raises $40 million from Merak Capital

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Press release

The Saudi company specialized in data and digital transformation, Master Works, has secured $40M (150 million SR) in private equity financing. The deal was backed by Merak Capital, an investment firm focused on technology companies and licensed by the Capital Market Authority of Saudi Arabia.

Founded in 2010 by Hani Al-Lehaibi and Bandar Al-Amri, Master Works offers products and services across multiple technology fields such as data management, artificial intelligence, data strategy, API management, software development, and Robotic Process Automation (RPA). The business is headquartered in Riyadh with offices in Egypt, UAE, Jordan, and India.

Recently, the company has succeeded in launching numerous in-house developed software such as Digital PMO (P+), Digital SMO (S+), Baseer, and Diwan. The firm served more than 140 clients across government and private sectors in the Kingdom, with the support of more than 20 global technology providers. Hani Al-Lehaibi, the founder of Master Works, highlighted: “This deal reflects the outstanding journey of our company over the past years, where we were able to develop our four product lines and services, as well as expand our customer base, while boosting our relationships with key players in the information technology sector, locally and globally”.

Al-Lehaibi added, “We aim to continue on developing local innovative products by relying on the experience of our well-qualified team to achieve our future ambitions. Having Merak Capital as a partner reflects our absolute intention to meet the investors' aspirations, and it will play a key role in helping us achieve the growth journey we desire as we help more clients, and the Kingdom, expedite this digital transformation.”

As a leading technology investor in the region, Merak Capital intends to support Master Works ambitious goals and pave the way for public listing in Saudi Arabia. Othman Abdulrazaq Alhokail, Partner at Merak Capital, said: “It was great to witness the amazing development that Master Works has achieved over the past decade and how it has succeeded in becoming one of Saudi’s leading technology companies in data and digital transformation.” Mr. Othmman concluded, “With the vision of the executive team, we are confident the company will hit more achievements in the coming years. Merak Capital is proud to be part of this distinguished journey, which is an embodiment of an inspiring success story for all stakeholders in the information technology sector in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

March 3rd 2022, 2:06 pm

Iraqi edtech IoT-Kids raises five-figure investment

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Press release:

Iraq-based edtech and children’s online learning portal for programming, IoT-Kids has successfully secured five-figure investment from the leading ISP provider in Iraq; Earthlink Telecommunications through the Iraqi Angel Investors Network via IAIN member Dr Ala’a Jasim. The fundraiser also included a matching $20,000 grant from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH via its project “ICT for Youth in Iraq” as part of the organization's support to the Angel Network.

Founded in 2015 by Mohammad Khaled and Ali Taher, IoT-Kids is a provider of programming courses for schools across the country. The Iraq-based edtech has launched its online platform in 2019 to provide its users with digital versions of its courses. The company boasts a digital community of more than 200,000 users and has had more than 10,000 students complete its courses. 

IoT Kids has won multiple local and international competitions including that of the Falling Walls Foundation in Germany, the World Summit Awards, and first place awards as an Iraqi startup for Seedstars in 2019. The Iraq-based EdTech has recently graduated from the Takween Accelerator Programme; a Yanhad project implemented by the American University of Sulaymaniyah. In light of this market-validating investment, Ali Taher, Co-founder and COO of IoT Kids commented, “We are very excited to have Earthlink as part of our journey, the funding will help us expand our online platform, marketing efforts and in due course expand outside of Iraq to other countries in the region”.

Earthlink Telecommunications is the largest and fastest-growing Internet Service Provider in Iraq and its portfolio of services includes ICT solutions, data centres, and managed services catering to the needs of the public and private sectors. Dr Ala’a Jasim, the Deputy CEO of Earthlink Telecommunications highlighted, “Earthlink's commitment to building strong internet infrastructure in Iraq derives from its vision to be the technology driver of Iraq’s future, and we already come a long way evolving from an internet service provider to an internet economy enabler. Our investment into IoT Kids echoes our strategy and we see a great potential in IoT Kids vision to raise a new tech enabled-generation”.

This latest investment does not only provide the Iraq-based edtech with the growth capital needed to support its tech platform and further ground its position in the market but more importantly provides educational depth and network potential for the platform. Mujahid Waisi, the CEO of Kapita, commented “We are very happy to see locally established businesses play an increasing role in supporting the private sector through actively investing into the local Iraqi ecosystem”. Ali Al Suhail, the Network Manager for the Iraqi Angel Investors Network concluded, “IAIN key mission is to enable investments into Iraqi businesses, our members engaging in corporate ventures is a positive indicator of established businesses and startups working together to enable disruption.”

March 3rd 2022, 2:06 pm

JumpCloud acquires Lebanon-born MYKI

Wamda

Press release:

JumpCloud today announced it has acquired MYKI for its technology portfolio, engineering talent, and strong MSP relationships.

“Our directory platform is rapidly becoming the new IT backbone, centralising critical functions around security, access, and identity management,” said Rajat Bhargava, CEO and founder of JumpCloud. “SME IT leaders know that a consolidated platform that handles user access to critical organization data and applications – from any device and anywhere – is far superior to using disparate point solutions in a patchwork approach that is not as robust and certainly not as easy to deploy. The MYKI team shares our vision for the importance of a directory platform. And, they are bringing a wealth of technological innovations and strong engineering talent that will enhance the JumpCloud platform and deliver superior security, ease of use, and value to our customers.”

A cloud directory platform plays a vital role in today’s environment of remote and hybrid work, increasing security threats, and employees who demand the freedom to use the devices they want from the locations where they want to work. JumpCloud’s acquisition of MYKI will accelerate the company’s expansion of its cloud directory platform with great technology, people, and distribution relationships.

JumpCloud did not disclose the terms of the deal, which has already closed. MYKI employees have all been offered employment with JumpCloud. Current MYKI MSPs are being invited to join the JumpCloud MSP programme.

March 2nd 2022, 12:19 pm

Mum-focused e-commerce platform Mumerz raises $1.2 million

Wamda

Press release

The Egypt-based support community and E-commerce platform for mothers and their children Mumerz.com has successfully raised $1.2M in its Pre-Seed round led by the local fund Disruptech.

Launched recently, Mumerz.com is a parent & child community platform and a one-stop online shop for all parent and child needs. The largest bilingual community and e-commerce platform in Egypt offers every parent and child their needs starting from pregnancy up to the age of 12. Mumerz.com aims to fill the gap in information, advisory, and products that parents and children need. The platform offers a blog that includes articles on a large variety of issues related to pregnancy, childbirth, and Mum & childcare, integrated with the largest parent and child e-commerce platform in Egypt. Due to the huge motherhood gap in Egypt's online market and the time consumed by general merchandisers to deliver, customers at Mumerz.com are promised next-day delivery. With competitive market prices, parents enjoy a seamless experience where an advisory team helps them choose the perfect products for their children.

The company is co-founded by Amir Shenouda, and Rahet Bally's founder, Nadia Gamal El Din. Amir brings on his 22 years of experience in the Mum and child merchandise and e-commerce business. His experience includes holding major positions at Hamley’s, Toys R Us, Cartoon Network, Mumzworld, Souq, and Amazon. Nadia complements the founding team through her vast experience in the Mums support community. Nadia founded the famous Rahet Bally in 2015, which serves more than 1.9 million active Mums in Egypt via financial, physical, intellectual, and social support. As a co-founder, Nadia utilizes her expertise and experience when it comes to Egyptian Mums' struggles and needs. "We believe that the mother, baby, and child online vertical is underserved in Egypt," according to Amir Shenouda, Founder and Managing Partner at mumerz.com. The key to that is in delivering an optimal customer experience with a wide range of mother-baby and child products at affordable prices.”

Mumerz.com is the first of its kind in the market to promise exponential growth in the femtech scene. The online platform has a wide range of information, advisory support, and products. The parent and child e-commerce platform contains an immense range of products, starting from diapers, baby gear, toys, apparel, to skin products and vitamins, in addition to free gift wrapping, customized cards, and gift listings. In addition to products, Mumerz.com offers value-adding content for moms on its blog and on Mums Mag, managed by Rahet Bally, with direct links to products on the e-commerce platform. “Mumerz.com acts as a natural continuation to Rahet Bally’s motherhood support services and allows us to serve millions of our moms who already trust us, daily consume our content, use our discount services & come to our fitness facilities. Mumerz.com also capitalizes on Rahet Bally’s massive insights on exactly what moms need as well as a seasoned advisory team that recommend what’s the best product fit for each mom’s needs based on Rahet Bally’s reviews across all product categories.” Nadia Gamal El Din, Founder at Mumerz.com and Rahet Bally.

The Egypt-based startup will be able to utilize its newly acquired funds to further support its online platform with diversified offering and content as well as expand its market share in Egypt and Beyond. Commenting on this platform-boosting investments, Mohamed Okasha – Managing Partner at Disruptech concluded, “We are excited to lead the investment round for Mumerz. We believe that Mumerz will grow into one of Egypt’s leading femtech platforms, offering unique products and services to Egypt’s community of mothers. We will be working closely with Mumerz to expand its offering to customized financial services, helping to support increased opportunities for financial inclusion of women in Egypt.”

March 2nd 2022, 12:19 pm

Circyls raises $1.3 million via Scopeer

Wamda

Across most Middle Eastern economies, the rotating savings and credit association (ROSCA) model remains the most popular saving mechanism, especially among communities with limited access to formal financial services. Over the past few years, many statusps have taken cognisance of the accelerated popularity of ROSCAs and have started to offer digital alternatives to the largely traditional practice.

Riyadh-based fintech startup Circlys, offers its users the opportunity to have expanded access to capital through its e-ROSCA model. Through the platform, users can choose to join a specific cycle based on the amount of money they need and schedule a payout date of their preference.

Founded in 2018 by Khaled Hassoun, Circyls looks to serve as many as 600,00 users across Saudi Arabia in the coming period and grow its team on the back of a SAR 5 million ($1.3 million) pre-Series A funding round recently raised through crowdfunding platform Scopeer. 

Following its completion of its SAR 1.5 million Seed back in 2019, the startup managed to join the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) regulatory sandbox and plans to  go public on Nomu, the secondary public market in Saudi Arabia by the end of this year. 

Last year, Hakbah, another Saudi startup focused on digitising ROSCAs, managed to raise $1.2 million after receiving regulatory approval from SAMA’s regulatory sandbox to test and launch its product. 

March 2nd 2022, 12:19 pm

Egypt’s Homzmart acquires German technology company MockUp Studio

Wamda

Press release:

Homzmart, the Middle East’s leading furniture & home goods marketplace platform, announces the acquisition of Berlin-based technology company, MockUp Studio.

The acquisition is further evidence of Homzmart successfully executing its strategy to consolidate the full home goods and furniture value chain, and complements the Company’s vision to transform how consumers shop and furnish their living spaces.

MockUp Studio’s technology will allow consumers to visualise their furnished home in minutes. The acquisition means Homzmart will digitise the whole interior design process, starting from an empty room - exploring different layouts, finishings and floorings with different sets of Homzmart’s catalogue assortment - shown as a 360-degree view. 

The result for consumers is a perfect visualisation of their desired space. They can also view, and interact with, Homzmart’s entire catalogue with simple clicks.

Integration of MockUp Studio into Homzmart’s operations will begin immediately. It is anticipated that the full home visualization and interior design experience will be available to Homzmart’s consumers in the fourth quarter of the year.

Homzmart’s CEO and co-founder, Mahmoud Ibrahim, said:

“We are delighted to complete this acquisition in Germany, and start integrating MockUp Studio’s technology into Homzmart's product family. We have been very clear that our intention is to grow rapidly, expand regionally, and consolidate the whole furniture value chain. We are successfully doing all these things, and this M&A is a solid step in our value chain strengthening.

“Our philosophy is all about transforming the furniture experience for consumers and sellers. Adding MockUp Studio’s technology means consumers can have the full interior design experience - browsing Homzmart’s entire catalogue and viewing their desired space, in just a few clicks. MockUp Studio is a perfect partner to welcome to Homzmart and I know consumers will be delighted when they experience the new technology later this year.”

Via its use of Artificial Intelligence and advanced computer vision, MockUp Studio digitizes furniture shop images rapidly and efficiently. The technology understands images to accurately mix and match items based on interior design guidelines.

The technology also considers the size, room layout and furniture layout of the desired space. MockUp Studio’s algorithms fetch the optimum furniture to match user styles and the room architecture.

The acquisition follows Homzmart’s rapid growth with operations in 2021 having tripled in size, following huge consumer demand. In November 2021, Homzmart also expanded into Saudi Arabia - a $15 billion market, growing at 10% CAGR per annum. 

Homzmart is backed by investors including MSA Capital - a global investment firm with over $1.5 billion in assets under management; Nuwa Capital, Rise Capital, Impact46, EQ2 Ventures, and Outliers Ventures.

March 2nd 2022, 7:05 am

Pluto raises $6 million Seed round

Wamda

Source: Waya

Pluto, corporate spend management startup, raises $6m (AED 22M) in its seed round. The round was led by GFC, with participation from Adapt VC, Soma Capital, Graph Ventures and OldSlip group.

The startup, which is focused on the MENA region, also secured funds from FinTech investors from Silicon Valley and MENA. Among angel investors that joined the round are founders from companies such as Plaid, Airbase, and Ramp. In addition to, MENA founders like Abdulmajeed Alsukhan and Turki bin Zarah of Tamara as well as Hosam Arab of Tabby also contributed capital to this round.

Pluto was founded by Mohammed Ridwan from Shopify and Square – Cash App, Nayeem Zen from Square – CashApp, Uber and Shopify and Mo Aziz, a Y Combinator alumnus.

“In MENA, most businesses distribute cash or personal cards belonging to a manager or a business owner to employees for incurring business expenses. This is because businesses usually have access to a single debit or credit card with no spend controls. Using Pluto, businesses can streamline spending by issuing unlimited virtual or physical cards with spend controls to employees while getting real-time visibility on their expenses through a powerful expense management software,” Mo Aziz, the CEO and co-founder of Pluto told Waya.

Pluto plans to help businesses in MENA digitize cash spend while eliminating the use of employees’ personal cards, by enabling businesses to instantly issue unlimited smart corporate cards with spend controls that can be connected to existing business bank accounts.

“Most businesses use multiple tools today to incur business payments, and to get paid. This includes, using spreadsheets, invoicing tools, accounting tools, expense tracking softwares and more. Our vision is to become the only platform that businesses will need to make payments and to get paid,” Aziz added.

Pluto’s team is planning to spend their capital on rapidly expanding the team in the UAE and North America to bring the product to market within a few months.

“We’re using our newly raised capital on rapidly expanding the team to launch the product soon in the UAE, with plans to launch in KSA later this year,” Aziz told Waya.

March 1st 2022, 4:48 pm

Saudi Arabia’s Sary acquires Egypt’s Mowarrid

Wamda

Press release:

Sary, the leading B2B e-commerce platform in the MENAP has announced its acquisition of “Mowarrid”, one of the leading B2B marketplaces in Egypt.

This acquisition reflects a strategic move for Sary toward its expansion plans throughout the North African markets starting from Egypt, the second-largest economy in Africa, and the third-largest in the Arab world with a $60 billion wholesale and retail trade industry.

This acquisition is the beginning of multiple expansion activities for the company toward its vision to lead the B2B e-commerce in the emerging markets starting with MENAP enabling a regional network to connect buyers and sellers throughout the different markets. 

With extensive e-commerce, fintech and startup experience coming from Fawry Pay, Jumia and Cognitev; Ahmed Essam founded Mowarrid in 2018 focusing on the B2B Food & Grocery markets. He led the company toward unlocking a 25 million USD run rate allowing more than 10,000 retailers to digitally procure all their needs across a variety of more than 1000 products in the platform.

Mohammed AlDossary, co-founder and CEO of Sary commented, “we are excited to join forces with Ahmed and the amazing team at Mowarrid, their hyperlocal understanding of the Egyptian market is profound, and we believe that our visions are in harmony toward reinventing the B2B ecosystem across the region”

He added. “Egypt is a strategic market for us and has a huge synergy with the Saudi and GCC markets. The industry has witnessed significant growth in the past years with very strong digitization in the wholesale and retail trade industry which accounted for around 15% of Egypt’s GDP.”

Ahmed Essam, the founder, and CEO of Mowarrid commented, “Since 2018, Mowarrid’s journey has been rewarding by enabling small businesses in Egypt with smarter supply chain solutions. Today, joining forces with Sary to build one stronger entity with a solid footprint, regional network, and technological capabilities in two of the most important economies in the region.”

He added. “Sharing many values and principles, our combined force is our greatest advantage in the next years as we continue to solidify our grounds in the current markets and continue the expansion journey with a solid head start.”.

Since its inception, Sary has raised a total of $112 Million in funding after closing its series C round last December, it became the first startup to close late-stage financing round in Saudi Arabia. The company is expanding toward the region with a focus on building a frictionless experience and leveraging cutting-edge technologies to connect the MSMEs with the biggest international brands and regional players to empower their businesses to grow smartly. The company has reached more than 350,000 customers and served over 40,000 businesses in 15 cities across Saudi Arabia moving more than 270,000 pallets of goods across the country. 

March 1st 2022, 4:48 pm

Saudi-based Funding Souq raises $2.5 million Seed

Wamda

Saudi Arabia-based crowdfunding platform Funding Souq has closed a $2.5m seed round with contributions from an arsenal of angel investors including Amal Dokhan (Partner at 500 Global), Omar Aljeraisi, Christian Kunz (Head of Strategy at a leading Global Financial Centre). Existing investors include Mazin Alzaidi (Partner at STV ), Musaab Hakami and IslamicFinanceGuru. 

Founded in 2020, Funding Souq is a platform that connects investors with established SMEs who are looking to borrow between $20k-150k. Investors get exposure to SME lending and realize an Internal Rate of Return (IRR) of c.20% whilst supporting their local businesses and making an impact. "SMEs in the GCC are highly underserved by financial institutions and often don’t qualify for the financing they deserve as traditional lenders are overly conservative.

 According to the IMF, only 2% of GCC lending goes to SMEs as opposed to 22% in other high income countries which in turn strains the regional economy. This lack of financing limits economic growth and is one of the main reasons why we started Funding Souq. We are incredibly proud to have financed 47 SMEs across Saudi Arabia and UAE in the first 12 months of operations and are looking forward to growing our portfolio exponentially”, says Martin Jaouni, Funding Souq’s CEO. 

Once onboarded, retail and institutional investors can choose to invest in individual businesses or a portfolio of businesses to diversify their exposure and maximize their risk adjusted return. In December 2021, Funding Souq financed a portfolio of 25 businesses which is on track to generate an IRR of 22% for the investors that participated. More than 60% of those investors are repeat investors. 

Funding Souq uses a robust credit scoring process that analyzes tens of variables before shortlisting a business for an enhanced due diligence.Less than 9% of the businesses that apply get approved on Funding Souq. 

This disciplined approach to credit risk has helped us maintain defaults impressively at less than 1%. With this round of investment, Funding Souq will scale its operations and aim to grow its debt investor partnerships with family offices and banks to focus on Sharia-compliant financing. The company is also exploring entering new markets and developing new products that will further serve its mission to empower SMEs in the Middle East and beyond.

 

March 1st 2022, 7:18 am

Kouncel raises $1.2 million in pre-Seed funding

Wamda

Press release:

Kouncel has raised $1.2 million in its latest funding round, the funding round was led by Zaldi Capital for investment “an Investment Bank focused on SMEs and Assets Management”, the African Development Bank (AFDB), the Academy for Scientific Research and Technology (ASRT) &Tanmia wa Tatweer - Egypt’s entrepreneurship development project.

€250,000 of the funding will be disbursed in banknotes, while the remaining amount will be provided in-kind as services.

Kouncel is Mena’s first online legal education platform to bring modern learning to lawyers and enterprises in the Mena region by providing them with a unique educational experience based on their different jurisdictions. Kouncel.com first aimed to reach thousands of learners and then expanded to provide premium customised courses to individuals and enterprises in Egypt and the Gulf region.

The platform has a wide range of courses categories such as arbitration, legal drafting, corporate law, intellectual property, banking and non-banking law, law for startups, etc. which consist of weekly learning sequences. Each learning sequence is composed of short videos interspersed with interactive learning exercises, where students can immediately practise the concepts from the videos. The courses often include tutorial videos that are similar to small on-campus discussion groups, an online textbook, and an online discussion forum where students can post and review questions and comments to each other and teaching assistants.

“Education forms a key part of Egyptian Economic Vision 2030, and law plays an important role in creating a healthy environment for businesses and pushes FDIs forward. and we aim to provide a highly sophisticated education experience to everyone in the legal field which will positively impact the ecosystem,” said Ibrahim Saleh, founder and CEO of Kouncel.

“Legal education has never been easier – discover various topics in the legal field and master law with Mena’s top counsels.”

March 1st 2022, 7:18 am

Alaan raises $2.5 million Seed round

Wamda

Press release:

Alaan, a UAE based corporate spend-management fintech, announced it is coming out of stealth mode with an imminent launch after raising $2.5M in seed funding. The startup is the Middle East's first multi-currency spend management platform enabling SMEs to spend through corporate cards and automated invoice payments.

The Seed round was led by 468 Capital, Global Founders Capital and Presight Capital with participation from a number of angel investors including Mato Peric, Erik Podzuweit and Florian Prucker, founders of Scalable Capital as well as Philippe Teixeira da Mota, founder of Hedosophia.

Founded in 2021 by ex-McKinsey employees, Parthi Duraisamy and Karun Kurien, Alaan aims to transform the processing of business expenses through its platform that provides employees with corporate cards to make company purchases and automatically reconciles spending in real-time. 

Additionally, Alaan instantly issues virtual cards in multiple currencies including AED, SAR and USD for e-commerce transactions, SaaS subscriptions, vendor payments or in-store purchases. The platform also eliminates expense reports and automates bookkeeping tasks via seamless integration with various accounting solution providers. 

Commenting on the imminent launch, Parthi Duraisamy, CEO and Co-Founder of Alaan said: “At Alaan, our vision is to offer SMEs and entrepreneurs an innovative platform to manage company spend, be it through card rails or account-to-account rails. In markets such as the UAE, over 80% of consumer payments are digital. But when it comes to business payments, we haven’t seen substantial transformation and the old world of offline payments still rules. This is where Alaan comes in. We enable businesses to manage expenses smartly, seamlessly and digitize their payment flow.”

Karun Kurien, Co-founder and Head of Product & Technology of Alaan added: “We are extremely proud of the product we have built and would like to take this opportunity to thank our partners for joining us in this journey to help transform SMEs in the region. We founded Alaan after experiencing first-hand the frustrating expense and invoice management processes. We have solved critical pain points in the end-to-end payment flow by building a software layer on top of the regulated banking infrastructure.” 

Alaan has partnered with multiple issuers in several countries across the region to be able to issue corporate cards and open banking players for seamless invoice payments. While in stealth mode over the last 6 months, Alaan built the product and finalized partnerships with regulated financial institutions to enable product launch. 

Ludwig Ensthaler, General Partner at 468 Capital said, “Every company in the region uses different tools for payments, with finance teams spending hours working on manual tasks. Although more than 97% of all business entities in the Middle East are SMEs, they are largely underserved by traditional financial institutions. We were impressed by Parthi and Karun’s vision to help SMEs in the region digitize their payment flow using an exceptional platform that we believe is set to revolutionize spend management”

Alaan is headquartered in Dubai and will use the new funding to expand its headcount and scale in multiple markets across the Middle East.

March 1st 2022, 7:18 am

Careem invests in Egypt’s elmenus

Wamda

Source: Bloomberg

Uber Inc.’s Careem is investing an undisclosed sum in a leading Egyptian food-delivery app, one of the biggest names yet to be lured by the sector’s growth potential in the Arab world’s most populous nation.

The partnership with elmenus, which connects customers with more than 12,000 eateries in five Egyptian cities, “will extend our reach in one of our largest ride-hailing markets,” Careem co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Mudassir Sheikha said Monday in a statement.

The Dubai-based company follows Egyptian payment firm Fawry and the former CEO of Just Eat in committing funds to elmenus, which was founded about a decade ago as an online directory before adding deliveries in 2018. It counts Delivery Hero SE’s Talabat and Jumia Technologies AG among its competitors.

The North African country of 100 million people, where everything from a slice of cake to a blood test can be sent to your door, represents a sizable and still largely untapped market for apps like elmenus. While Egypt’s food delivery market is worth an estimated $2.8 billion, 90 per cent of customers still order by phone, according to Careem’s statement.

Careem said the agreement with elmenus was a further step in launching its Super App across the region. In the United Arab Emirates, the function offers 11 services that include ride-hailing, food and grocery delivery and payments. 

Continue reading this story.

February 28th 2022, 12:33 pm

Milezmore raises $5 million pre-Seed round from Brimore

Wamda

Press release:

Brimore, Egypt’s largest social commerce platform, has invested $5 million in end-to-end logistics service provider Milezmore, Egypt’s first startup to provide cloud fulfilment, last-mile delivery, and customisable operations solutions.

On the back of unprecedented growth, Brimore believed that investing in a company that manages all its logistics was the way forward, especially since Egypt still suffers from the inefficiencies of the traditional supply chain structure. Milezmore has enabled Brimore to adapt to the ever-changing requirements of growth and has been the main factor behind Brimore’s rapid expansion. While Brimore was its first entry into the market, Milezmore rapidly expanded to cater to many other companies. 

In the span of one year, Milezmore experienced tremendous growth and built an infrastructure reaching a warehousing area of +20,000 SQM, expanding its footprint to the whole country through 15 delivery hubs, processing +15 million pieces, delivering +1 million packages, and attracting +25 new customers in different industries. 

CEO and co-founder of Brimore, Mohamed Abdulaziz said: “For decades, Egypt has suffered from a fragmented traditional supply chain structure that no longer works with the rise of new commerce models, especially after being hit with a global pandemic. To address this challenge, we believed that the best solution was to invest in Milezmore to handle all the heavy operations. After all, Brimore’s promise is to create smart infrastructure for the masses, and our investment in Milezmore is a testament to that.” 

Milezmore's mission is to enable its merchants to capture high growth potential by providing supercharged cloud logistics solutions. The new capital will enable Milezmore to blitz scale its cloud solutions through robust technology, expandable storage area, higher delivery capacity, and double its team to enable a 50X increase in its customer base.

Ahmed El Attar, Managing Director and co-founder of Milezmore said: “We are proud to be the first Egyptian startup to offer all three services and cater to all types of companies. What I witnessed during the past four years is that the traditional supply chain wasn’t built to solve today’s problem, and I believe Milezmore was built for that. In one year, we were able to build a strong and passionate team that drove the company forward and achieved tremendous results. This is only the beginning, and we’re confident that Milezmore will revolutionise the logistics industry in the near future.”

February 28th 2022, 4:32 am

FreshSource raises Seed round to cut food loss in Egypt

Wamda

For Egypt, agriculture is one of its most critical sectors, accounting for more than 11 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) and 28 per cent of all jobs in the country. Yet despite its importance, the sector suffers from a long and complex retail supply chain that results in low food availability, high rates of food wastage as well as inflated consumer prices.

A 2020 study released by the Egyptian Center for Economic Studies (ECES) showed that the final retail price of fresh produce sold to consumers is twice as high as the original price of the produce initially sold to the farmer. This is mainly chalked up to inefficient logistics, forcing retailers to raise prices to make up for the money spent on transportation and inventory management processes. 

The agricultural sector is one of the latest industries to integrate technology into its operations and has recently become a target for several tech startups looking to disrupt its largely traditional supply chain. FreshSource in Egypt, is one startup that looks to tackle the issue of food loss by enabling farmers to connect directly with businesses without the involvement of third parties or commercial intermediates. The startup was co-founded by sibling duo Farah Emara and Omar Emara in 2018 and has been operational since early 2019 and has just raised a seven-figure Seed round led by Wamda and 4DX. 

"I think agritech in general is still gaining traction worldwide, and we’ve seen a lot of advancements throughout the industry over the past few years. I think Egypt will continue to establish itself as one of the worldwide agri pioneers. I believe the reason it has been overlooked is that it is an extremely difficult and complicated field. Working with perishable goods with dynamic prices makes it hard to disrupt. Our cold chain expertise that is built three decades of experience in the field from the family business gave us a strong foothold in the industry and strategic advantage," says Omar Emara, co-founder at FreshSource.

According to Farah Emara, around 45 per cent of agricultural production ends up in landfills due to the poorly run cold chain infrastructure. 

“This was shocking to us knowing that nearly half of the fresh produce makes it to the shelves. The consumer is paying an incredibly increased price to make up for that loss," she says. "We started to research and found out that it occurs due to some harvesting processes, storage and transportation methods as well as poor packaging. There are some materials that are not really supposed to be used.

To help address the food loss issue at its core, the startup aims to serve farmers' needs throughout the agricultural production stages, having closely witnessed challenges faced by farmers during and post-harvest phases. 

FreshSource offers medium to large scale farmers the opportunity to enter into contract farming, thereby enabling them to have proper access to finance as well as farm input products. At the time of the harvest, FreshSource procures fresh produce directly from farmers and delivers it to businesses such as restaurants and hotels, and digital grocery ordering marketplaces. The startup also provides end-to-end last-mile connectivity for further enhanced logistics and storage services.

By connecting farmers directly to vendors and businesses, the startup claims to help farmers drive down the food loss rate by 20 per cent. This is in addition to ensuring both farmers and businesses get the best deals and thereby maximise their revenues. 

Its latest round of funding will be used to scale its operations across Egypt and serve more farming communities. 

"We are planning to use the funds to expand our team and invest more in our technology. Also, we are going to be covering all of Egypt's governorates by the end of 2023. By 2024, we will start considering a global expansion plan," Farah adds.

For FreshSource, building a product that can be scalable as well as easily accessed by farmers and businesses has been the biggest challenge. Farah explains that they have been faced with reluctance by its users who refuse to fully move away from pen and paper.

"In the beginning, we were just using WhatsApp and telephones to interact with users. We had people leave us a missed call, we can call them back so that they don't have to pay anything. And then we started to introduce different payment methods for them to take their wages and also other means for them to communicate with us. And that's how we're going to continue to roll out our tech, in incremental phases," she says. 

For Omar, being one of the first agritech startups to address food loss carries "a lot of responsibility to prove that the agriculture industry is ready for disruption. It has incredible potential as one of the largest industries in Egypt and in the region. We will continue innovating and working towards our mission".

February 28th 2022, 3:49 am

Milango acquires proptech startup Circle

Wamda

Source: WAYA

Milango, community management software provider, backed by A15, has acquired local rival Circle, a 500 Startups-backed company. The acquisition will help Milango increase its market share and further solidify its position as the premium community management solution in the region.

The acquisition grows Milango’s contracted user base to more than 100,000 residential units and the startup aims to leverage the acquisition to accelerate its growth in the community management category.

“I’m very proud of the work Milango’s team has done over the past 18 months. We have managed to exceed our initial usage expectations and established an engaged user base that are nearing EGP 100 Million in financial transactions with strong projected growth on that front for 2022. We are confident that with the acquisition of Circle and the addition of their premium clients to our portfolio, we are on the right track to bring #ASmarterLife to all communities,” Amr Mostafa, Milango’s CEO, said.

Circle was founded by Nancy Kamal and Essam Maged in 2020. The platform enables real estate and property management to streamline communication with tenants, handle their requests, and reduce operational costs. Circle raised investment from 500 Startups MENA in May 2020 through the MISK500 accelerator program. Furthermore, Circle was named “The Best Disruptive Startup” representing Egypt at the 4th Annual AfricArena Summit that was held in Cape Town, South Africa in March 2021.

“Circle success wouldn’t have been made possible without Nancy Kamal, my co-founder and her determined and ambitious mindset; the hard work of our team, and the support of our investors at 500 Startups. I strongly believe that the synergies this deal creates will shape a stronger proposition, that will serve millions of households across the region,” Essam Maged, Circle’s CEO, said.

February 28th 2022, 3:49 am

in5 launches space for investors in Dubai

Wamda

Press release:

in5, TECOM Group’s enabling platform for entrepreneurs in tech, design and media, has announced the introduction of a brand-new dedicated space to accommodate angel investors, venture capitalists and institutional investors at the heart of the in5 Tech centre in Dubai Internet City. 

An extension to in5’s current offerings, the permeant space will enable investors to directly engage startups at in5 for funding and partnership opportunities, enhancing Dubai’s global status as an attractive destination for investment and entrepreneurs. The announcement was made at Step Conference 2022, the largest tech festival in Dubai hosted in strategic partnership with Dubai Internet City. 

The first-of-its-kind space provides the growing volume of investors entering the UAE’s business ecosystem a common meeting and working ground to engage one another as well as ambitious entrepreneurs at the heart of a thriving startup community. in5 has always facilitated access to investors for businesses at varying stages of their entrepreneurial journey, from seed funding all the way to Series A fundraising. The addition to the enabling platform’s framework aims to further empower entrepreneurs with unimpeded access to potential investment opportunities and coaching sessions to stimulate growth and innovation.

In recent years, the MENA region has become a hotbed for investment activity, paving the way for greater funding for emerging startups. According to the region’s leading data platform MAGNiTT, MENA recorded $2.6 billion in VC funding in 2021 – the highest the region has ever seen. The UAE was the most active market with startups accounting for 45% of all funding raised across the region in 2021. Supportive business framework, a growing number of startups and its strategic location between the East and West are strengthening the UAE’s appeal among VCs and investors from around the world. Government-led initiatives have contributed to the country’s ranking as the best place to start a new business in the latest Global Entrepreneurship Index, which is likely to further fuel investor interest in MENA.

in5 aims to further enhance the investment climate by boosting investor access to leading startups in its ecosystem. At the end of 2021, in5 startups reached a new milestone by crossing the AED1.4 billion investment mark, a testament to the emirate’s strong position and its enabling environment for promising investment opportunities. The direct investments came through venture capital and angel investors. 

More than 500 businesses have been supported by the incubator since its inception, of which a quarter are led and managed by female entrepreneurs—nearly twice as high as the regional average of women-owned SMEs, according to the World Bank, and in line with international standards in places such as Australia, Europe and North America.

Speaking about the latest addition to in5, Majed Al Suwaidi, Managing Director of Dubai Media City, said: “Over the past twenty years, Dubai has successfully created a globally competitive business ecosystem and emerged as an attractive destination for entrepreneurs and investors from around the world. Comprehensive physical and digital infrastructure and an enabling business framework have cultivated a fertile environment for talent and startups to grow, thrive and innovate, and in5 plays a significant part in providing them a supportive platform from which to launch.

“Facilitating access to funding has always been an integral part of our offerings – it is what enabled our startups reach new milestones and grow regionally and internationally. It is important for us to keep adapting our offerings in step with the evolving global investment landscape, and the latest addition to in5’s key benefits is an innovative solution to continue nurturing the region’s rich and ambitious entrepreneurial spirit.” 

The future of funding 

Located at in5 Tech – Dubai Internet City, the space offers flexible office solutions to independent investors and VC organisations alike. Common areas and fully equipped meeting rooms will provide members spaces to connect and engage in5 startups as well as peers. 

A digitally enabled live feed portal will also report real-time insights and funding rounds to identify investment prospects and aspiring unicorns.

in5 offers a lively calendar of events, including specialised networking events, expert-led keynotes and coaching workshops to nurture a new generation of investors within the region. Even entrepreneurs can benefit from the expert-led training seminars to improve their pitches, seek insightful advice and empower their success. 

Writing Dubai’s startup success story 

in5 is bringing its near-decade-long expertise and network as one of the nation’s leading incubators to Step Conference 2022 as the main partner for the conference’s Start Track program. It is spotlighting 11 of its leading tech startups, including food-tech disruptor, Grubtech, cloud-based no-code SaaS application, Beezr, as well as a new-age digital sampling platform, Hamples. Emerging businesses and entrepreneurs attending the conference can also make the most of one-on-one advisory sessions from industry experts at the in5 Mentor’s Corner. 

A legacy of success 

in5 was launched as a tech-focused business incubator before rapidly growing and evolving with state-of-the-art centres supporting tech, media and design startups. Notable startups that successfully secured significant investments through the incubator include buy-now-pay-later platform tabby, which raised approximately AED485 million in the last year and now works with leading retail brands such as Adidas, Ikea and Shein. Sunglasses e-commerce company Eyewa, which secured AED77 million in total funding, has also amassed a significant following for its fast delivery, quality service and roster of brands.  

Other innovative players include agri-tech startup Desert Control, which successfully raised approximately AED85 million in its initial public offering (IPO) on Euronext Growth Oslo, a multilateral trading facility operated by the Oslo Stock Exchange. GrubTech raised $13 million in Series A funding round, accelerating its expansion into international markets. Car subscription platform and in5 alum Invygo raised more than AED15 million in several funding rounds, while fintech startup Ziina successfully raised more than AED31 million.

 

February 28th 2022, 3:49 am

ORO raises pre-Seed investment from Nama Ventures

Wamda

Press release

ORO, a Saudi based tech startup in the automotive maintenance space announces that it has raised an undisclosed amount in a pre-seed funding round by ​Nama Ventures​.

Automobiles are machines, and like all machines, they need routine maintenance.  As a vehicle owner, you are responsible for ensuring it gets the attention it needs to remain in perfect working condition. Oil change, and filter change are a few things that need constant attention, but usually, people don't have the time or the energy to handle it. ORO is here to help. ORO provides routine automobile maintenance to customers no matter where you are in Riyadh. Our automobile maintenance experts come equipped with the best tools, car supplies, and mobile vans to serve you whenever you need us. We also have a user-friendly app where you can schedule routine maintenance of your automobile.

ORO was founded by Abdullah Almuribh, Eng. Ziad Almotlaq, and Qutaibah Essa for businesses residing in the city of Riyadh. ORO has well-equipped mobile vans, skilled technicians, and a powerful app available on IOS and Android for scheduling routine maintenance online. As a gamechanger in the automobile maintenance industry, The company prides itself on leveraging innovative methods to swiftly and efficiently meet its business customer’s needs. ORO always strives to provide excellent service every time because their customer's satisfaction is their top priority.

”Fortunately, I am armed with an enthusiastic team to make ORO the most trusted automobile maintenance service provider in Saudi Arabia by providing quality services that meet customers' needs efficiently and effectively” says Abdullah. “ I’ve been wanting to address this problem for a long time now, but now that we have the right team members, each focused on their area of expertise, we have a great shot at succeeding at ORO”

“When we met with Abdullah and Ziyad, we were really taken aback by how much detail they know about the space they are solving for, after all Abdullah’s family business was in the same space ORO is trying to disrupt, and when he joined hands with Ziyad in operations and Qutaibah in tech, we saw the ideal team that can disrupt the car maintenance space, starting with one oil change at a time” Said Mohammed Alzubi, founder and managing partner at Nama Ventures. “ The pain of having your car serviced for a routine oil change is something I live with on a regular basis, is the oil being used genuine? Are the filters of the right quality? Will I have time after work to go change the oil? etc.. These are the questions that ORO addresses, they come straight to your place of business and service your oil change in a very seamless manner.  We are beyond thrilled to back this amazing Saudi tech startup. 

ORO is an automobile maintenance company for businesses residing in Riyadh. We have well-equipped mobile vans, skilled technicians, and a powerful app available on IOS and Android for scheduling routine maintenance online.

Nama Ventures: is an early stage venture capital fund focused on fuling tech innovation in MENA.  We pride ourself on being technology founders funding technology founder.  We believe our technical knowledge, entrepreneurial journey, and our investment track record is a testament to the value add we bring to seed stage technology investing.  We look forward to partnering with amazing MENA startups on their next tech entrepreneurial journey.

 

 

February 27th 2022, 9:33 am

What we learned at Step's tenth show in Dubai

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It has been 10 years since Step held its first startup conference and festival in Dubai, a time when the entrepreneurship sector in the emirate was so nascent that the team struggled to find 10 startups to showcase to the 100 people that attended. Now a decade later, the conference has provided a platform for 1224 startups from 56 countries and attracted more than 30,000 attendees.

“The past ten years have been a giant leap for us and the startup ecosystem in the region. Today, we have more than 300 startups participating annually, and it amazes me how many founders, investors, accelerators, government organisations, and pure general interest in tech and startups exists today in our region. Year on year, over the last 10 years, Step’s community has grown at a compound annual growth rate of 30 per cent,” said Ray Dargham, CEO of Step.

This year, the conference returned after going online in 2021 and the excitement of the ecosystem coming back together in person was palpable. What was starkly clear, is that entrepreneurship has not only survived the pandemic, it is now thriving, with more founders building globally relevant ideas.  

Competing for startups

In a fireside chat with Dr Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, minister of state for entrepreneurship and SMEs, the UAE’s ongoing ambitions to remain the hub for entrepreneurship was emphasised with a roster of plans and initiatives. These include the establishment of a new Dh1 billion fund, new entrepreneurship licences and an expected reduction in licence fees after the introduction of corporate tax in the country.

“The UAE has firmly established itself as a global centre for entrepreneurship; we have gone to great lengths to make sure entrepreneurs have everything they need to succeed, launching a host of ambitious initiatives and strategies to create an innovation- and entrepreneurship-friendly environment,” said Al Falasi.

According to government figures, there were 350,000 SMEs in the UAE in mid-2020, representing over 94 per cent of all companies, employing more than 86 per cent of the private sector’s labour force, and accounting for over 60 per cent of gross domestic product (GPD). The federal government also recently launched The Entrepreneurial Nation initiative to support entrepreneurship in the country and attract global unicorns with an ambition to have 20 unicorns in the UAE by 2031.

“The initiative also aims to train 15,000 entrepreneurs and support 8,000 startups to go global over the next decade. We want all brilliant minds to think of the UAE as their partner towards success, and to that end, we spare no resources or capacities in promoting a culture of entrepreneurship and building a sophisticated entrepreneurship environment,” he said. “Bold ideas are of course the essence of startups, but without the necessary infrastructure, financing, mentorship, etc., they remain just that – ideas. This is where we come in: our role is on a more macro level. We must rally our efforts and work together to set a global vision for building a cross-border entrepreneurship ecosystem.”

But building this cross-border ecosystem is proving to be illusive as the region’s top cities continue to compete with one another to attract the top startups.

“Each market is a silo, Dubai is different from KSA and Egypt. You still have to succeed in each market and that is the number one challenge,” said GV Ravishankar, partner at Sequouia Capital India, who also highlighted the lack of talent and exit opportunities as the top challenges in the region.

Valuations bubble

Moreover, competition for the best startups is also impacting the investment community. Over the past couple of years, the number of VCs in the region has jumped, access to capital has become easier and startup valuations have skyrocketed as a result. Among the topics that dominated discussions was the high valuations evident across the region and the creation of a valuations bubble that most believe is unsustainable. VCs that had initially set out to sign later stage cheques are now finding themselves investing earlier, providing startups with greater choice and further compounding the valuations issue.

“There is plenty of cash in terms of investments and valuations are going up like crazy. It’s a bubble and everyone wants to IPO,” said Michael Aswad, co-founder and chief executive officer of Saudi Arabia-based Vom, a SaaS accounting platform for businesses.

But for Sequoia's Ravishankar, there is one particular trait that stands out in the region, regardless of its challenges. 

"It goes back to the belief of do the founders here believe they can build large, world-beating companies? If the belief is there, all the challenges are real but solvable," he said. 

February 25th 2022, 6:47 pm

Mashreq bank invests in NymCard

Wamda

Press release:

Mashreq, one of the leading financial institutions in the United Arab Emirates, has taken a stake in NymCard, the only Banking-as-a-Service provider in the Middle East, to help grow the booming fintech ecosystem in the UAE and support the next generation of innovators. 

This investment is part of a fintech fund that Mashreq has created to further Mashreq’s ongoing strategy to support the fintech ecosystem in the UAE, fostering innovation through collaborations, with an aim to deliver a seamless and superior customer experience. It will allow fintechs, large and small, to launch their business propositions that need to have a payment card functionality through NymCard’s modern open APIs. The terms for the deal were not disclosed.

Fernando Morillo, Global Head of Retail Banking, Mashreq Bank, said: “The UAE has witnessed significant growth as a FinTech hub, both from an investment perspective and from a burgeoning crop of tech-savvy innovators, and this shows no signs of abating. We recognise the crucial role fintech plays in growing financial inclusion and the digital economy and will continue to identify opportunities, invest and support our partners to help drive this growth. We look forward to scaling up the FinTech ecosystem in the UAE in partnership with NymCard.”

Omar Onsi, CEO and Founder of NymCard, further commented: “We are very excited about this partnership with Mashreq Bank as it is considered a major milestone in our journey, enabling fintechs to launch and scale quickly within the UAE market.” 

“With this new relationship, NymCard has dramatically reduced the cost and time it will take for fintechs to get live in the UAE, with innovative payment cards that support their business models, leveraging our modern and open API-based infrastructure.”

The fintech sector across the Middle East is growing rapidly with a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 30%, according to the Middle East Institute, who predicted that, by 2022, more than 800 FinTech companies from sub-segments including payments, open banking, regtech and compliance, smart lending, insurtech, blockchain, and cybersecurity solutions for the financial industry - such as anti-money-laundering, anti-fraud, identity theft, identity management, and others - will raise over $2 billion in venture capital funding.

February 24th 2022, 6:46 pm

Kaso raises investment from Y Combinator

Wamda

Press release

Kaso (formerly Elkaso), the leading B2B platform digitizing the ordering process between restaurants and food suppliers in the UAE and KSA, has announced the appointment of Frank Biedka, former CTO of leading European e-commerce platform, Zalando, to lead Kaso’s tech.

“Biedka’s extensive experience in driving innovation through technology aligns perfectly with Kaso’s mission to revolutionize, digitize and simplify the food supply procurement process. I am excited to welcome a tech leader in the industry to continue taking Kaso to our path to reach $300m in GMV by end of this year”, said Manar Alkassar, Co-founder of Kaso.

Kaso’s leadership team expansion comes soon after getting funded by the prestigious Silicon Valley-based accelerator, Y Combinator. With an acceptance rate of less than 1.5%, the globally renowned startup accelerator is responsible for the launch of companies, including Airbnb, Dropbox, Coinbase, Stripe, and Reddit.

Co-founder of Kaso and former VP of Delivery Hero logistics, Ahmed Soliman, said,  “We are incredibly proud to now be part of the prestigious portfolio of YC companies. Kaso’s acceptance and hypergrowth are testaments to the region’s need for a digitized solution to streamline the food supply procurement. We are bridging an evident gap in the thriving $50B food supply Gulf market, with our users already reducing supply costs by 15% and reducing order errors by 80%.”

Fueled by an initial pre-seed funding round in 2021, the Dubai-based startup has grown 10x in the last six months, servicing over 3500 restaurant & supplier partners in the UAE and Saudi Arabia alone, after only eight months of operation since Kaso’s launch in June 2021.

Kaso has also revealed an extensive rebrand of the company representing the startup’s rapid evolution over the past few months. Formerly known as Elkaso, Kaso’s rebrand includes the launch of a new website, kaso.ai, introducing the company’s new visual identity, and a fresh new name and logo.

Kaso is available for download on Apple’s App Store and Google Play Store.

February 24th 2022, 6:46 pm

Egypt launches $50 million VC programme to support tech startups

Wamda

Source: Daily News Egypt

Nevine Gamea, Minister of Trade and Industry and Executive Director of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise Development Agency (MSMEDA), stressed the state’s interest in supporting young innovators and providing technical and financial support to help them transform their ideas into projects that meet the various needs of people.

Gamea added that MSMEDA is keen on reviewing and developing its financial services on an ongoing basis to meet the needs of various types of projects, especially those that rely on technology and modern applications and have witnessed rapid growth after the spread of the Coronavirus. MSMEDA began cooperating with the World Bank, one of the most important donors of the agency, to launch the venture capital programme with funding of $50 million to finance new and existing investment funds that support entrepreneurship projects and implement specialised training programmes for employees working in various financial institutions to raise awareness of the mechanisms of this type of funding and help them expand their applications. This will eventually encourage Egypt’s promising youth to enter the free labour market and implement modern, advanced projects that can compete on a global level.

Gamea made this statement in her speech during the opening of the Direct Investment Week, which is co-organised by MSMEDA, the Egyptian Association for Direct Investment, and the African Private Equity and Venture Capital Association, in cooperation with the World Bank, the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), the Misr Insurance Holding Company, and the National Bank of Egypt (NBE), in the presence of more than 120 finance and investment figures in Egypt. A specialised training programme is held for three days on direct investment, venture capital and equity fund management.

Gamea added that the most prominent feature of the venture capital programme is that it allows investment in funds that wish to expand in the African market. This helps increase trade exchange and exchange experiences with neighbouring countries in Africa. She also stressed that the agency continues to cooperate with various international and donor agencies to implement programmes that aim to develop incubators and business accelerators in line with international standards, which helps support entrepreneurs and encourage them to start new projects.

February 24th 2022, 6:46 pm

UAE’s EMPG invests in Pakistani Daftarkhwan

Wamda

Press release:

Regional classifieds giant Emerging Markets Property Group (EMPG) has invested Seed capital in Daftarkhwan, a Pakistani startup for co-working spaces.

EMPG owns and operates a staggering 10 brands across 16 countries in the property and classified spaces, and reached unicorn status in 2020. In the UAE, EMPG leads the market with Bayut and dubizzle. 

Daftarkhwan kicked off operations in 2016 and is one of the pioneers of the coworking movement in Pakistan, a country of 220 million people with a booming startup ecosystem that has captured significant investor interest in 2021. 

EMPG CEO Imran Ali Khan said that they were impressed with the hardworking team behind Daftarkhwan which represents Pakistani ingenuity at its best. 

"One of the key drivers of EMPG's own success has been its investment in the right people above all else, and the team at the helm of Daftarkhwan are some of the most hard-working, ambitious and dedicated people in Pakistan's startup ecosystem,” said Khan.

With this seed round, EMPG joins Walled City Co as investors in Daftarkhwan as the company gears up to change how people work all over Pakistan. This new investment will help EMPG explore the new domain of co-working spaces, which have seen a boom following the post-pandemic shift to creating more remote models creating a greater demand for such economical business setup options. This move is in line with the Unicorn’s vision to support more tech entrepreneurs and create more success stories in their many markets of operation. 

Over the years, Daftarkhwan has been a core driver of the startup ecosystems of Lahore and has seen such stellar member companies as Airlift, Jugnu, Unlayer and Careem, among many others, take root and take-off. Some of the leading Pakistani and regional startups currently operating out of Daftarkhwan have raised $570 million in investments in 2021 alone.

“Since its inception, Daftarkhwan’s singular focus has been to help founders build and scale their businesses. This has given us a front-row seat to the phenomenal growth of the startup industry in Pakistan,” said Saad Idrees, the co-founder of Daftarkhwan.

"Daftarkhwan has always taken great pride in being more than just an office for its community of entrepreneurs and innovators, and we are excited to expand this community further," Idrees added.

February 24th 2022, 12:35 am

UAE-based angel investors invest in IMAN's $1 million Seed round

Wamda

Press release 

 An Islamic Fintech startup IMAN, closes USD$1million in seed funding to introduce a new financial product that is Shariah-compliant in Muslim markets. The new platform uses technology to democratize access to finance in line with the region’s religious views and faith.

Founded by Rustam Rahmatov and Mark Zubov, IMAN introduces a tailored mobile platform for Muslim majority markets consisting of IMAN Invest, an investment platform, and IMAN Pay, a halal BNPL (buy-now-pay-later) solution, built around a vision to become one of the leading halal fintech companies in the Muslim world. With 30,000 active users, IMAN Invest manages over $1.2 million users from more than 1,000+ retail investors across 60 countries. Halal BNPL is also connected to more than 100 merchants offering goods and services across consumer electronics, household appliances, sports, healthcare, and education. 

IMAN is unique in the BNPL domain in the sense that it not only provides halal BNPL but also builds halal funding sources for such service: investors invest and shoppers buy goods/services from IMAN via merchants through a “cost-plus” financing structure (“Murabaha”). At the same time, there is a separate Islamic purchase/sale agreement with the merchant. Also, IMAN does not generate revenue from late fees or other charges that are conditional upon users missing payments. With this model, the team hopes to encourage responsible spending, which will further align spending with customers’ religious beliefs.

Investors who invest through IMAN get exposure to frontier markets and can take advantage of their high yields; generate halal profits in line with their values; make impact-oriented investments, such as funding a person’s education or medical treatments, and diversify their investment portfolios. To scale the investment platform throughout the world, IMAN is looking to build a DeFi (decentralized finance) protocol that will connect investors seeking sustainable halal yield with consumers in frontier markets where there is a gap in access to capital.

The $1 million round, announced on February 22, was completed by a group of eight VC and institutional investment funds with the participation of Battery Road Digital Holdings, Tesla Capital, UZCARD Ventures, MyAsiaVC, Le Mercier’s Capital, Block0, Vector Crypto Capital, and IT-Park Investments. In addition, a number of angel investors from the UAE, United States, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Singapore have supported the company’s plans to make halal BNPL and investments everyday accessibility, first in Uzbekistan and then globally.

Ed Simnett, Battery Road commented, "IMAN is BRDH's first investment in Central Asia. We could not be more excited about the team, the business segment, and the market. A number of our success stories were superapp businesses. The combination of a rapidly growing economy and consumers’ increased comfort with technology creates an exciting opportunity for the IMAN team to build a halal superapp."

Olzhas Zhiyenkulov, founder of Tesla Capital (Singapore) added, “IMAN represents the best of Frontier Technopreneurship: building an inclusive financial ecosystem that empowers MSMEs and consumers to control cashflow, access funding and transact in a socially acceptable and responsible way. Coming from a Muslim family, but also being a professional in “traditional” finance, I know how important it is to have access to the same financial innovation that the broader financial world enjoys while being in harmony with one’s system of beliefs and morals. That is the true spirit of financial inclusion.”

The MENA region still has a very low penetration of credit cards as people are skeptical of traditional financial institutions taking advantage of them with interest and hidden fees. To address this gap in the market, a few BNPL players, such as Tabby and Tamara, have emerged over the last couple of years, however, the industry is still at a very early stage of development growing at ~90% per year. 

The UAE BNPL Business and Investment Opportunities Report 2022 stated the BNPL payments are expected to reach $1822.7 million this year. This is attributed to the shift in consumer behaviour largely focusing on online shopping platforms and dependency on digital payments. BNPL payments have hence become one of the fastest-growing payments methods in the country.

Rustam Rahmatov, Founder & CEO at IMAN: “First and foremost, this investment will help us scale our technology in order to integrate seamlessly with retail partners across the different regions both online and offline to provide finance in seconds. Secondly, we’ll be able to roll out partnerships with merchants across all sectors more aggressively including beauty & fashion, FMCG, and services. And lastly, this investment empowers us to start exploring opportunities in other Muslim majority markets, including GCC, in early 2023. We are extremely excited to partner with our investors who have made investments in similar businesses in other geographies and bring with them a wealth of knowledge and expertise”. 

The company is one of the few BNPL players that relies solely on halal sources of funding and allows people across the world to fund consumers’ purchases directly at the point of sale. To further accentuate its commitment to Islamic Finance principles, IMAN received compliance certification (“fatwa”) from the esteemed Islamic professor Dr Ziyaad Muhammad of INCEIF (Malaysia) and the Muslim Board of Uzbekistan.

The company plans to expand into other frontier markets by early 2023 with predominantly young and tech-savvy Muslim populations, increasing disposable incomes, and rising e-commerce digital payment systems penetration. 

IMAN will be present at the Step Conference in Dubai on February 23-24 and is expected to raise another $1 million in its Pre-Series A funding.

 

February 24th 2022, 12:35 am

OneOrder launches after raising $1 million Seed

Wamda

Press release

OneOrder, the new logistics company solving Egyptian restaurants’ supply chain inefficiencies, announces its launch and successful completion of a $1 million fundraise.

The fundraise was led by A15, the leading MENA venture capital firm, and renowned as one of the most prominent backers of early-stage start-ups in the region.

OneOrder is the first company of its kind in Egypt; a logistics company addressing the major inefficiencies faced by Egypt’s restaurants when sourcing supplies. It is the creation of leading Egyptian restaurateur Tamer Amer, the founder of Fuego Sushi and Longhorn Texas BBQ – two of Egypt’s most successful restaurant chains.

OneOrder is creating a platform to address the significant structural problem faced by Egyptian restaurants – interacting on a regular basis with a number of small, fragmented suppliers and vendors from whom they source their meat, vegetables and equipment. This suboptimal supply chain structure causes: (i) inconsistent and non-transparent pricing, (ii) unreliable quality which, in turn, gets passed onto restaurant customers, and (iii) irregular delivery timing, with supplies often late, limiting restaurants’ daily menu offerings.

OneOrder’s platform means Egyptian restaurants can buy all their needs from one application, with reliable quality, prices and timing.

Tamer Amer, founder and CEO of OneOrder, said: “We are delighted to announce our launch and fundraise, and I thank A15 for their outstanding support. Given Egypt’s flourishing restaurant industry and the challenges it faces caused by a fragmented supply chain, OneOrder offers a much needed technology-enabled solution at the perfect time. My experience in the food and beverage industry means I know what restaurant owners need; it is a reliable, timely supply of quality goods, at a consistent price – without the stress of managing various suppliers on a daily basis.

We believe restaurants should be focussed on delivering a high-quality experience and service to their customers without having to worry about sourcing and procurement. We are the platform to deliver that. I’m very excited about the future as our market opportunity is huge. Egypt and the wider region are booming economically, and the food & beverage sector is only growing larger.”

Karim Beshara, General Partner at A15, said: “We are excited to partner with Tamer to solve one of the main challenges the Food & Beverages  industry faces in the MENA region. By leveraging Tamer’s extensive experience as a successful restauranteur and A15’s history of building scalable technology platforms, we will aim to provide restaurants in the region with reliable, convenient and timely supplies that are consistently priced.”

OneOrder’s market opportunity is significant. Egypt has c. 45,000 registered restaurants, but as many as a quarter of a million unregistered – all working and consuming supplies. In 2019, the United States Department of Agriculture estimated the overall Food & Beverages (“F&B”) / Hospitality market in Egypt to be $13 billion, with OneOrder expecting that figure to have increased substantially since then.

Market drivers are also compelling. The latest research by Fitch Ratings, the global ratings agency, forecasts 5.3% GDP growth in Egypt for 2021-2023, driven by strong private consumption and increasing tourism. Egypt is also building new cities such as New Alamein, with hotels and commerce expanding across the country – all of which is favourable for the F&B sector. 

There are similar restaurant supply chain inefficiencies in other countries in MENA and OneOrder aspires to, over time, expand its proposition geographically across the region.

Alongside Mr. Amer, OneOrder’s management team has an excellent track record in the F&B sector. It includes Karim Maurice as co-founder and Chief Technology Officer. Mr. Maurice founded Cube – Egypt’s equivalent of OpenTable, the global online restaurant-reservation service, as well as Bitroot, a “CTO-as-a-Service” for early-stage ventures.

Joining OneOrder’s Board is Moataz Abdelrahman, who is currently serving as Coca-Cola General Manager for Egypt, Libya and Sudan. He comes  with a diversified career path working in over 17 markets with 200 million consumers across different departments marketing, business development and operations.

Also joining as non-executive Chairman of the board is private equity veteran Karim Hassan, currently the CEO of Ankh. Karim brings 20 years of investment & operational experience in the US, Europe and the Middle East.

 

February 24th 2022, 12:35 am

Nabta Health raises $1.5 million as femtech gains ground worldwide

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Fertility rates across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) are in decline, partly for socio-economic reasons and increasingly due to the increasing prevalence of chronic diseases like diabetes. The UAE for example, currently has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world, with just 1.37 children per woman in 2020 compared to 6.58 in 1971 according to Knoema. Helping to address problems unique to women’s health is a growing number of feminine health technology (femtech) startups, whose focus can range from fertility and period-tracking apps to pregnancy care and sexual wellness.

Last year, the femtech sector attracted $1.2 billion around the world and is set to be worth $50 billion by 2025 according to research firm Frost & Sullivan. Regionally, a third of all femtech startups are based in the UAE, and chief among them is Nabta Health, a platform that provides health insights and diagnostic services on issues surrounding fertility, conception, and overall female health. The company has just closed a $1.5 million Seed round, led by Basim Anwer of Regionality Group of Companies, with participation from notable angel investors including Priya Oberoi, founding general partner of Goddess Gaia Ventures, Sarper Tanli, operating partner of TVM Capital Healthcare, and Nadia Mannell, founding general partner of Seed South Capital. Existing investors also participated in the round. 

“Women in emerging markets need access to holistic healthcare, particularly in the context of infertility, because of the growing prevalence of chronic diseases,” says Sophie Smith, who founded Nabta Health in 2017 to provide women across Middle Eastern, African, and South Asian populations access to tools that can reduce the time it takes to detect, diagnose and treat chronic diseases by combining digital and traditional healthcare.  

It takes on average two and a half years and three doctors to diagnose polycystic ovarian syndrome and seven years for endometriosis. Nabta’s technology “reimagines the clinical pathway from symptom to diagnosis” to cut down diagnosis time to mere weeks at which point the user’s healthcare needs are handed over to their clinician while Nabta continues to provide dietary, lifestyle and healthcare advice to the user through its app.

The company has spent the past few years in its research and development (R&D) phase and will now use the investment to expand its product portfolio to include B2B offerings, hire new talent and expand its market share in the UAE.

“The femtech market is still very, very nascent in the emerging markets. Fewer than 1 per cent of femtech companies target countries such as the UAE and Saudi, despite there being a sizeable, largely untapped market opportunity and a real human need. Nabta Health is in a unique position now to be the leader in femtech health and wearables in the GCC, and we are excited with what the future holds for us,” says Smith.  

Last year, 47 healthtech startups in Mena raised in excess of $64 million, of which only one was in the femtech space. While overall investment records were smashed last year in the region, with startups raising $2.87 billion, just 1.2 per cent of that went to startups founded by women. For femtech startups globally, raising investment is a tough challenge.

"Raising our Seed round has been a time-consuming process. We tried opening the round during Covid, but people were cautious about investing in femtech. In the healthcare sector they [investors] were only interested in Covid-related healthtech, companies like ours couldn’t do very much so we reopened the round in March 2021, it took us 10 months to close," says Smith.

Back when the company was raising its Seed round, the VC ecosystem in the Middle East “was not really interested. We spoke to most of the local funds here and the response we received was that it was too early [to invest]. Despite the traction and all the unique insights we have about women's health in the MENA region, there wasn’t really any interest. In Q4 last year I followed up with a couple of the local funds, but most of the others I gave up on for this round".

The difficulty in raising investment is “a combination of things”, according to Smith. “As a company, we compound a number of issues: I am a solo female founder, solo founders in the ecosystem are regarded with caution; we are female-oriented – there aren’t very many female-oriented companies that have been invested in outside of the e-commerce space; we are a deeptech company that went through R&D - there is limited funding available for companies going through R&D.”

Part of the problem is also the low cultural transparency and interest in issues regarding female health. Throughout the world, men are typically seen as the default, with clinical trials relying mostly on male volunteers. Research focusing solely on women’s health issues also receive less funding, despite women accounting for half of the world's population. This results in a skewed and limited understanding of female health in the medical and wider world.

“We were told to relocate to the US or UK if you want to succeed, but we want to address the systematic racial inequalities in healthcare, and we can only do that by operating in a market where those who have historically been underserved - women of Middle Eastern, African and South Asian origin - make up the majority of the population," she says. “I believe the region is coming around, we’ve seen that with other sectors. It was an unprecedentedly good year for femtech in the US and Europe last year, and so it is a matter of surviving long enough and being in the right place at the right time.”

Nabta is expecting to open its Series A round in December this year, with plans to expand to Saudi Arabia.

“People are now becoming very interested in where we are and what we've become, we just had to survive," says Smith.  

February 22nd 2022, 6:16 am

Udrive raises $5million

Wamda

Press release:

Udrive, the UAE’s homegrown brand providing a  pay-per-minute car rental service for UAE residents and tourists recently completed another strong funding round with strategic investments of $5 million from Cultiv8 and Oman Holding International.

Known as the first technology platform in the GCC to offer car rentals by the minute, Udrive recorded strong growth in 2021, clocking two million trips to date, making it one of the largest rental booking platforms by transactions per car in the region.

In line with the Dubai leadership’s digital vision, new funding was secured from Cultiv8, the government’s SME and startup investment arm. 

“Mobility tech is one of the key investment sectors our technology fund focuses on, and UDrive perfectly fits the fund’s guidelines and the fund manager’s ambitions. With the newly formed board and management team, we are excited for Udrive’s continued triple-digit growth across the MENAT region during 2022,” says Arif Alawi, CEO of Cultiv8. 

Joining Cultiv8 in the funding round was Muscat-based Oman Holdings International, which owns Budget Oman and sees the future of mobility.  OHI’s investment and knowledge of the space will support Udrive's commitment to doubling its annual revenue target and vehicle fleet.    

"We can expect to see radical shifts in how cars will be used both globally and regionally,” commented Oman Holdings International’s Director & CEO Eihab Saleh. “With a vision to drive this change, Udrive presented their well-articulated plan to achieve successful entry across new market making our decision easy to invest in Udrive. We are confident that their product roadmap is expected to significantly change the way cars are ‘consumed’ and utilized in the MENAT region."

The investment will support Udrive for the upcoming expansion in the region and enhancements of it’s technology. Additional emphasis will be given to streamlining the customer experience, an example of which has been the automatic parking payment system, wherein the car determines where it is parked and automatically pays the relevant meter charges. 

“We are digitising mobility making it easily accessible to everyone. The recent funding secured will help us invest in new technologies as well as grow our offerings into the region this year. We want to provide this service to everyone who can drive, and the reality is customer demand is shifting fast from buying & owning to on-demand and subscription.” said Udrive CEO and co-founder Nicholas Watson.

We are proud to have well respected and diverse regional business leaders bringing unique experiences and growth potential to the business. Raising money was never about just the funds, but our ability to operate at scale and bring true change to old incumbent business models."

 We started this concept in the UAE and are now continuing our expansion across the region.”

Car sharing platforms have seen exponential growth worldwide as well as in the Middle East. By 2026, the number of users in the car-sharing segment is expected to reach 60.7m and according to a report by Valuates, the global car-sharing market will reach $103 billion by 2025, with a CAGR of 17.2% during the forecast period. Additionally, KPMG reports almost 50% of car owners today will no longer want to own a vehicle by 2025 and a separate report by ResearchAndMarkets claim 4 out of every 10 car journeys will be via car share. 

Udrive addresses the short term on-demand rentals by adding additional services including free fuel, parking, and comprehensive insurance for all its customers. Its cars can be driven per minute or per day, depending on the needs of the customer. Cars can also be picked up from any location available and can be returned to the same city at any parking location.  The mobile app booking process is simple, fast and efficient and functions as an all-purpose digital hub for private transport, payments, customer service and logistics, reducing dramatically the time it takes compared to traditional rental companies. Moreover, customers only pay for what they need and save money with no hidden charges.

February 21st 2022, 12:17 pm

HRtech startup SAmAS Gamify raises $150,000

Wamda

Source: WAYA

SAmAS Gamify, the HRTech startup set to digitize and gamify the psychometric analysis part of recruitment, has successfully raised $150K in Pre-Seed funding led by SoftEQ Venture Studio USA. The funding will support the startup in rolling out their digital solutions and provides a more intimate commitment to the Egypt-based team. 

The startup’s idea is a gamified psychometric assessment that is AI-powered and backed with blockchain technology, changing how psychometric assessment is conducted. The startup launched in 2022, completed their wireframe, MVP and launched pre-registration for companies.

The team has been focused on building their product, growing the waitlist, and getting ready to ship the solution to first users. The startup’s team has announced they are on track for shipping an early version of SAmAS Gamify to the first selected users in mid 2022, as they continue to aggregate eager users to the waitlist. 

The funding round will empower SAmAS Gamify to move more effectively in all of the areas that are key to their success. The funds will support them in their efforts to further develop the product and back their market entry move.

February 21st 2022, 12:17 pm

UAE-based travel marketplace Wego acquires Cleartrip

Wamda

Press release:

Wego, the leading online travel marketplace in the Mena region, announced that it will acquire Cleartrip’s Middle East business in a deal expected to close in the second half of 2022. This deal is the latest in a series of entrepreneurial successes that reinforce Dubai’s reputation as a global hub for business, tech talent and companies of all sizes. 

With approximately 9 million app downloads recorded in 2021, Wego has grown into the largest online travel marketplace in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region. 

Cleartrip also expanded into the region in 2010 and acquired Riyadh-based Flyin.com in 2018, playing a pivotal role in expanding the online travel market in Saudi Arabia.  

The deal between the two Dubai Internet City-based companies follows a legacy of major partnerships in the business district aimed at geographic and product expansion, as well as the birthplace of regional unicorns.  

Wego and Cleartrip’s progress in the region speak to the tremendous growth the travel and tourism sector of the Middle East has seen in the recent decade, stimulated by its position between key global regions such as Europe, North Africa and Asia. The rapid urbanisation of cities like Dubai, Riyadh and Amman have also made it a popular leisure and business destination for regional and global travellers. Despite setbacks to the global industry due to COVID-19, the travel and tourism sector appears optimistic with the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) predicting that its contribution to the global economy could reach US$8.6 trillion this year. WTTC also forecasts that the Middle Eastern sector’s contribution to the region’s total economic output may witness a year-on-year increase of 28%. 

Much like the rest of the world, the online travel market has seen a significant rise in Mena, driven by a young, technologically savvy population. Research conducted by Mena Research Partners in 2019 predicted the online travel market in the GCC alone to reach $15 billion by 2023. Dubai’s advanced infrastructure and global reputation as a popular tourism destination render the city a particularly strategic location for players in the market. Dubai Airport remained the world’s busiest international aviation hub in 2021, serving 20.7 million passengers while Dubai-Riyadh emerged as the most active route.  

The acquisition will enable Wego to not only enhance its operations to accommodate growing demand in the region by tapping into Cleartrip’s advanced digital infrastructure and resources, but also allow the leading travel marketplace to deliver a wider range of services and products to consumers. It simultaneously marks a notable chapter in the city’s business ecosystem as two major firms merge to bolster the tech-tourism sector.

Ross Veitch, CEO & Co-Founder of Wego, said, “Wego and Cleartrip both expanded into the Middle East about a decade ago from Singapore and India respectively, and we both found a new home in Dubai. We were excited by the opportunity presented by a vibrant region with some of the world’s best airlines, airports and destinations, a population that loves to travel but a relatively under-penetrated online travel sector. Dubai’s business-friendly environment, pragmatic policymaking and status as the region’s hub for the technology and travel industries has played an important enabling role in Wego’s growth. It was also in Dubai that Wego and Cleartrip started doing business together and so in many ways, Dubai has played the role of match-maker and venue for the marriage that we are announcing today.” 

Ammar Al Malik, Managing Director of Dubai Internet City, said, “Dubai continues to consolidate its leading position as a global hub for companies and talent in technology and an incubator for the most prominent success stories of the region. The acquisitions and mergers within Dubai Internet City over the past two decades are a testament to the emirate’s strong position and its enabling platform for promising investment opportunities.

He added, "Wego’s success story over the past years, and its acquisition of Cleartrip operations in the region to expand and enter new markets, enhances the emirate's technology and innovation exports. At Dubai Internet City, we are committed to enabling our business partners to grow and thrive by providing a competitive business ecosystem, state-of-the-art infrastructure, and vibrant community with platforms to engage and explore opportunities while striving to support partners when attracting specialised tech professionals and entrepreneurs. We wish our partners at Wego and Cleartrip more success in expanding the customer base and providing new services in new markets from Dubai.”

Technology has been a special focus for Dubai’s entrepreneurial drive for more than the last two decades. Dubai Internet City, which was established as part of the emirate’s pioneering ICT strategy, provides extraordinary competitive advantages for companies in the tech industry, including world-class infrastructure, an ideal environment for business success, a culture that embraces rapid growth and innovation, and unrivalled simplicity of doing business. It has been a cornerstone of the emirate’s digital transformation and economic diversification strategy for more than two decades, cultivating a thriving community of more than 30,000 professionals and 1,600 companies.

The agreement with its parent company, Flipkart Group, India’s homegrown e-commerce ecosystem, also includes the sale of Flyin.com and a technology cooperation agreement between the two brands. The Boards of Directors of Wego and Flipkart have approved the transaction, which is expected to close in the second half of 2022, subject to customary closing conditions and regulatory approvals. 

Dubai Internet City’s robust technology ecosystem and world-class infrastructure have played a vital role in facilitating major partnerships. It is home to the region’s first-ever unicorn, Careem, which was acquired by Uber in 2019 for US$3.1 billion. Amazon was able to expand into the Middle Eastern market in 2017 by acquiring e-commerce firm Souq.com for US$650 million. 

Also included in its legacy was the Dubai-based Emerging Markets Property Group (EMPG) and OLX Group’s merger of Mena and South Asia operations in 2020, forming an AED3.6 billion ($1 billion) Dubai-based unicorn company, as well as Yahoo!’s acquisition of Maktoob.com, the first Arabic/English email service provider, for $176 million in 2009.

February 21st 2022, 12:17 pm

Insurtech startup Avidea raises $696,000

Wamda

Source: Afrikanheroes

Avidea, a Tunisian digital insurance startup, has raised 2 million dinars ($696k) in Pre-Series A funding round led by Capsa Capital Partners, one of Tunisia’s largest private equity firms, and the specialist investment vehicle 216 CAPITAL FUND I, which is managed by 216 CAPITAL ADVENTURES.

This funding will add additional talent to the Avidea team, as well as enable for the expansion of the product’s functional scope and the hunt for new markets, as the company enters a critical phase of industrialization and internalization.

AVIDEA is a startup that specializes in the digitalization of vehicle claims handling and the fight against fraud. It was founded in 2017. Its main goal is to assist insurance companies in lowering the cost of automotive claims while improving the customer experience.

February 21st 2022, 12:17 pm

WafR raises $372,000

Wamda

Source: Afrikanheroes

Following an initial investment of 300,000 dirhams made during a Moroccan TV show called “Who Will Invest In My Project,” several new investors have invested in WafR, a reward-based loyalty startup that allows users to earn phone recharges while shopping at retail shops. The startup has received 3.5 million dirhams ($372k) as a result of the funding.

The funding has increased the company’s value to 30 million dirhams ($3 million).

The financing will mostly be used to expand WafR’s retail network, with the goal of increasing the number of retail shops who use the app from 10,000 to 50,000, according to Ismail Bargach, co-founder of WafR.

WafR, which was founded in 2021, is an app that allows users to get a promotion at the time of purchase/sale in order to steer their purchases toward a specific brand. 

Essentially, WafR is a loyalty solution for large retailers. The application aids manufacturers in increasing market share, sales volume, and profit by guiding consumer choice. 

Retail shops account for 85% of sales in Morocco, while supermarkets account for 15%.

February 21st 2022, 12:17 pm

A breakdown of Mena exits in 2021

Wamda

Last year, 39 startups based in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) exited, through both acquisitions and mergers. Most were based in the UAE (17) and Egypt (11), two countries that have the more dynamic and mature eocystems. The majority of acquirers were also based in the UAE, followed by the US and Egypt. Sector-wise, it was startups in the foodtech, namely cloud kitchens, e-commerce and media sectors that were the primary targets for acquisitions. 

February 21st 2022, 6:31 am

Saudi fintech EdfaPay raises $1.6 million pre-Seed round

Wamda

Press release:

Saudi-based fintech EdfaPay has successfully raised $1.6 million (SAR6 million) in its latest funding round. The pre-seed investment was led by Nuwa capital, InspireUs VC, Wallan Investment group, and angel investors and will be a core driver of their service launch across the Kingdom.

EdfaPay was established in 2022 by the founders Ghormallah Alghamdi and Nedal Sabbah and is in the process of launching several financial solutions to the Saudi market targeting small and mid-size companies. EdfaPay products and services will help these companies to easily collect customers’ payments through the use of smartphones without the need to use the legacy traditional point of sale or any other physical payment devices. EdfaPay solutions will enable business owners to collect payments from any-where and from any location where legacy POS solutions cannot be deployed, businesses such as field agents, direct sales, small size stores, shipment agents, food delivery, temporary Bazars, and many others will be able to expand their business faster with no physical boundaries.

The state-of-the-art solution provided by EdfaPay works through NFC technology which is a fast-growing market trend all over the world contributing to more than 85% of the POS transactions according to the Saudi payments company. CEO Ghormallah Alghamdi elaborated “ One of the main drivers behind adopting this new technology is the fact that the Saudi market has a great chance of expanding in the financial technology domain. Keep in mind that most of the available solutions currently serving the Saudi market are not built by local expertise and are highly dependent on white-label external vendors. We will be offering this locally-built solution with the support of a talented Saudi team and will be furnished with solid investors who will be bringing along and wide Fintech experience to the table in order to achieve EdfaPay objectives very soon. ”

Referring to the company’s announcement, it was mentioned that, in 2021, there were more than 1 million POS devices in the Saudi market processing more than 5 billion transactions presenting more than SAR473 billion. “EdfaPay is working toward facilitating the life of business owners in their objective in expanding their business, distributing their sales channels and ease out the financial transactions performed.  Off-loading this burden is a key success factor for EdfaPay business,” Said investor Yaser Alghamdi in his announcement.

The Saudi-based fintech will be able to channel its newly acquired funds into launching its financial services across the Kingdom and supporting its market-entry efforts. In light of this platform-launching investment, partner founder in EdfaPay Nedal Sabbah concluded with high hopes for their market offering “ There is indeed a need for an urgent solution in this digital world to address and resolve most of the legacy POS shortcoming and beyond. We believe EdfaPay will be the perfect solution for that.”

February 20th 2022, 5:14 am

Dammam Valley launches BioTech Startups Programme

Wamda

Press release:

Dammam Valley has launched its BioTech Startups Programme in partnership with Imam Abdul  Rahman bin Faisal University, Saudi Aramco, the Ministry of Investment, the Ministry of  Industry, Future Investment Initiative Institute (FII), and Sadara Petrochemical Company. 

A first of its kind in the kingdom, the BioTech Startups Programme is designed to stimulate the establishment of startups in biotechnology and aims to foster communication with existing startups from around the world, providing vast investment opportunities, and motivating distinguished talents as they tackle existing challenges in biotechnology. 

Furthermore, the programme aims to transfer and localise some of the latest global technologies while developing applications in line with national biotechnology strategies, in addition to providing quality instruction and consultancy in management to train national and international cadres to invest in biotechnology. 

The programme falls under four stages, the registration of projects and startups, the selection of qualified projects, the development stage, and finally the final selection stage with grants amounting to $500,000, where qualifying candidates will have a chance to receive mentorship from seasoned leaders with extensive experience in business, investment, and decision-making.  The latter include His Royal Highness Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal, His Excellency  Eng. Khaled Al-Falih, His Excellency Eng. Bandar Al-Khorayef, Ms Lubna Al-Olayan, and several international experts. 

The programme targets startups in the biotechnology field that would like to access training,  investment, and market. Interested applicants can directly register at the official registration site.

February 20th 2022, 5:14 am

Freterium raises $4 million Seed

Wamda

Press release

Morocco-headquartered Transport Management Software provider Freterium announced today that it has raised $4M in its latest funding round closed in December. The SEED round was led by Partech, with Y Combinator, Flexport, CDG Invest, Swiss Founders Fund, Outlierz Ventures, and Business Angels from the U.S., Europe, Asia, and Africa also participating.

Launched in Morocco in 2020, Freterium has experienced fast growth in 2021 and has opened a new office in the UAE to address neighboring markets in the region. Their product, a new-generation Transport Management Software, connects shippers with their entire logistics ecosystem to collaborate in real-time, helping them cut time and shipping costs. It is aimed at any company that delivers products on a daily basis: manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and logistics providers across industries can manage all of their shipments in just a few clicks on Freterium´s slick and intuitive interface.

Freterium´s co-founders, Mehdi Cherif Alami, CEO, and Omar El Kouhene, CPO, have previously worked in consulting and logistics, helping global and local players with their strategy and operations. “This $4 million funding round is an endorsement of our unique model and approach, our team's capabilities and the tremendous market opportunity. We are grateful for the support of the finest investors that share our vision and our values. The timing is right to scale our product across the region and beyond. For most companies, logistics challenges have become a boardroom conversation. We are already trusted by leaders in their respective industries, and we look forward to putting our product at the Morocco-based T&L Tech startup currently has 20+ enterprise customers and more than 3,000 users of its software disposal of many small and large players that need us.” says Mehdi Cherif Alami.

With this funding round, Freterium has become one of the most-funded startups in the emerging Moroccan ecosystem. The startup plans to invest its newly acquired funds in its tech and product development to fuel growth and serve more companies in Africa and the Middle East. They are planning to double the size of the team within the next 12 months. “We have been looking closely at the freight trucking market in Africa & the Middle East for the past 5 years, a market worth $250Billion. 85% of the volume is carried through established legacy partnerships between shippers and carriers and still runs with manual, inefficient tools. Freterium has built a holistic approach to solving the key challenges of the industry with a next-generation cloud-based Transport Management Software (TMS) allowing shippers to connect efficiently with their entire logistics ecosystem and collaborate in real time. We are excited to support them in their mission to empower manufacturers, retailers and logistics teams across Africa” commented Cyril Collon, General Partner at Partech.

“The value proposition of Freterium is unique and we are convinced that their product will significantly impact the industry. It's a Moroccan gem that we are proud to support in its development and growth.” concluded Yassine Haddaoui, Managing Partner at CDG Invest.

February 17th 2022, 11:14 am

Jordan’s Kader raises $400,000 Seed round

Wamda

Press release:

Jordan-based Gig economy champion and online job matcher Kader raises $400,000 in its latest funding round. The Seed round was led by The Innovative Startups and SMEs Fund (ISSF) and Village Capital. Founded in 2020, Kader is an on-demand mobile app that connects pre-vetted quality gig-workers with businesses in the hospitality, retail, and service sectors, using an advanced matchmaking technology based on location, experience, and qualifications. Today “Kader” has over 1000 qualified staff and over 300 clients.

Kader” provides businesses with an end-to-end solution that is guaranteed to deliver results, providing a seamless platform carefully managed to offer the ultimate service and knowledge custom-made for businesses needs. The Jordan-based Tech startup is capitalizing on an instant-access market of freelancers and gig workers which have been prevalent with the rise of job matching platforms, accessible technology, and remote work. “Agile economies are built on agile workforces. ISSF’s investment in Kader facilitates easier matching making between defined business needs and documented worker skills and competencies.  Kader helps businesses identify and employ staff with the required skill sets to meet their immediate needs without having to provide expensive long-term employment.  This enables businesses to become more competitive and cost-efficient as well as provide workers with numerous opportunities to build their repertoire of skills and experience.  ISSF eagerly looks forward to seeing how our investment will contribute to the company's development during the upcoming period,” commented ISSF CEO, Laith Al Qasem.

In turn, the CEO of Kader, Ra'd Al-Hassan elaborated, “The gig economy was already exceptionally growing prior to the pandemic; however, the pandemic has truly revamped the industry and increased the demand and dependency on hourly work for both businesses and individuals. Businesses that previously thought hiring full-time workers was the only way they could conduct business had to suddenly pivot and become more open-minded and innovative about how they would interact with customers and employees. These changes are likely to be witnessed in the future, and "Kader" is proud to be part of this change. We appreciate ISSF's recognition of Kader's ​impact and support in this journey. This support helps us to further our mission, develop and grow.”

The Jordan-based Tech startup will be able to channel its platform-boosting investment to support and develop its tech stack as well as expand its market reach. “We’re excited to support Kader’s growth through our investment,” said Village Capital’s Vice President of Impact Investments, Heather Matranga. “The informal sector is the backbone of the local economy in Jordan and much of the MENA region, and we’re excited about the vision to improve the financial security of tens of thousands of ‘Kaderos’ by connecting them with jobs that match their interests and skillsets,” Matranga concluded. 

February 17th 2022, 6:59 am

Mena startups raised $247 million in January 2022

Wamda

Startups in the Middle East and North Africa region (Mena) raised $247 million across 46 deals, a 20 per cent increase month-on-month and a whopping 474 per cent year-on-year, marking a promising start to the year.

In terms of deal count, Saudi Arabia (15), Egypt (11) and UAE (9) continue to take the lead. However, in terms of funding value, the landscape last month has become a little more varied. 

It was Bahrain that received the highest amount of funding last month thanks to the $110 million Series B round raised by Rain, which helped push the country's ranking to the top spot. 

Saudi Arabia came in second with $55.6 million, Egypt landed third with $33 million, UAE was fourth with $24.4 million. Iraq took the fifth spot with its startups raising $15 million, a record-smashing amount for the country.

Besides Rain, other big-ticket rounds included Saudi open banking platform Lean Technologies, which raised $33 million in a round led by Seqouia Capital India, Egypt's social commerce startup Brimore raised $25 million, UAE-based in-dining fast payment solution Qlub raised $17 million. Iraq’s ride-hailing startup and soon-to-be super app Baly, backed by Rocket Internet, raised $10.5 million, the highest funding amount for a startup in the country.

Early-stage deals continue to dominate the funding landscape in terms of deal count. Of the 46 deals, 28 were at pre-Seed and Seed. Notably, the median Seed ticket size also increased to $1.15 million. 

In terms of sector, investment patterns that evolved last year have continued into January with fintech taking the lead thanks mainly to Rain, Lean and Qlub’s large rounds - fintech alone attracted more than half of the funding raised last month. This was followed by e-commerce and foodtech, the latter benefitting from the rise of quick-commerce e-grocery players. In terms of deal count, fintech and foodtech were neck to neck. 

Additionally, last month saw a spate of merger and acquisition (M&A) transactions, with startups using the funding they received last year to acquire other businesses including those based in the region and wider afield. 

Some of these acquisitions include Saudi Arabia’s Foodics which acquired Jordan-based POSRocket, UAE's Huspy which acquired Home Matters, a mortgage consultancy for businesses in UAE and UK and Kuwait’s COFE App which acquired UAE-based Sippy Beans

A total of 31 foreign investors participated in 17 deals with US investors taking the lead by participating in 12 deals, while German investors, the second-most active, took part in three deals. 

Less than 1 per cent of the VC funding went to female founders, down from 1.6 per cent the month before. Male-run startups took the majority, with 96.7 per cent of the amount raised while startups with mixed team founders raised 2.5 per cent. 

Last month, 10 startups did not disclose the exact amount they raised. They include Splendapp, Crafty Workshop, OBM Education, Super fny, Talpedia, Hamples, Douk Supply, Savii and Squadio. We assigned them a conservative amount of $100,000. Morocco's Chari also raised an undisclosed “seven-figure” sum.

These monthly reports are a collaboration between Wamda and Digital Digest.

 

February 17th 2022, 12:28 am

Can data ensure a startup's success?

Wamda

As the UAE went into a strict lockdown in 2020, those offering mobility solutions suffered immensely, among them car-leasing app, Invygo. But the startup not only survived, it grew thanks to a watchful eye on expenses and close examination of user behaviour. In this podcast we spoke with co-founder Pulkit Ganjoo, about Invygo's use of data and how it drives the company's decisions.

Wamda · Episode 44 - Can data ensure a startup's success?

 

 

February 17th 2022, 12:28 am

Qashio raises $2.5 million led by MSA Novo

Wamda

Press release:

UAE-headquartered fintech business, Qashio has entered the MENA market on a strong note by raising $2.5 million in its pre-Seed funding. Qashio’s enterprise-grade expense management platform enables business owners and finance leaders full visibility and control of all expenses.  

Their dashboard integrates real-time tracking for every business expense and allows enterprises and SMEs to make informed cash flow decisions.  The pre-seed funding round is led by global VC firm, MSA Novo (over $1.5bn AUM), and supported by Rally Cap Ventures, Palm Drive Capital, Plug and Play Ventures, as well as regional strategic angels, entrepreneurs, and family offices.  Executives from Grubtech, Danske Bank, Two Sigma, Xiaomi, and top global fintech companies participated in the round as well.

"Investing globally across b2b fintech platforms, we have monitored expense management players evolving across all major regions. Qashio is poised to be MENA's breakout winner due to its founding team's proven track record in building superior products and ability to execute in selling to enterprises. We are excited to partner with Qashio to impart best practices derived across other emerging tech markets." said Seamon Chan, Palm Drive Capital.

Founded in 2021 by seasoned serial entrepreneurs Jonathan Lau and Armin Moradi, Qashio is a Fintech solution offering businesses a comprehensive enterprise expense management solution.  Armin and Jonathan previously worked together while building Carriage, where they personally experienced the pain point of expense tracking and management.

Qashio's virtual cards combined with its software allows businesses to manage their spending in a more automated and transparent way, saving hundreds of man-hours and reducing petty cash leakage in the process.  Finance and HR departments benefit from better expense reporting, better visibility, control of cash flows and an empowered workforce.  

Qashio has over 50+ customers, including Nana, Grubtech, Carasti & Swiss International Hotels.  They have customers across UAE and KSA, and an expanding waitlist.

“Qashio’s software empowers us to have full control of our expenses and reduce our petty cash leakages.  Integrating directly to our ERP system saves my finance team hundreds of hours as well!” - Abdulaziz Alshiha, CEO of Saudi Arabia’s Al Shiha Holding & Swiss International Hotels.

With Qashio, Business Owners, CFOs, HR Leaders and finance teams can set spend limits on virtual & physical cards issued in seconds, limit and control spend categories and vendors.  This eliminates the use of cash, avoids late expense claims, reduces the amount of work put into reimbursements and ultimately replaces manual invoicing and vendor /supplier payment.

Jonathan Lau and Armin Moradi, co-founders of Qashio commented, “Businesses in the MENA region have been operating with limited ability to issue cards and manage employee expenses. At Qashio, we are committed to helping companies move away from all those manual finance processes and get more visibility and control by providing a secure, safe solution that is ready for enterprise-grade deployment as well as SMEs.”

“We are committed to having clear, easy and fast onboarding processes for brands with no long-term commitments or heavy monthly service fees” - Armin Moradi, CEO, Qashio.

The launch of Qashio is in line with UAE’s vision for the next 50 years to accelerate world-class digitization and adoption of ICT across aspects of the business.

The fintech sector in the Middle East is growing rapidly with a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 30%. By 2023, it’s predicted that 800+ FinTech companies from sub-segments including payments, open banking, RegTech and compliance, smart lending, InsurTech, blockchain, and cybersecurity solutions for the financial industry (such as anti-money-laundering, anti-fraud, identity theft, identity management, and others) will raise over $2 billion in venture capital funding.  

The funding will be used to expand the operations team and customer support, evolve the current features and integrations with additional fintech partners and rewards programmes.

February 16th 2022, 1:31 pm

Saudi Grintafy raises $2.1 million Bridge round

Wamda

Press release:

Grintafy, the leading Saudi-based football talent discovery startup and the go-to career development platform for aspiring footballers in the middle east has raised a SAR 8 million ($2.1 million) Bridge round with participation from Wa’ed, the entrepreneurship arm of Saudi Aramco, Alrashed Group (ARG Limited), Areen Investments, and a number of strategic angel investors. 

Launched in 2018 by founder and CEO Majdi Al-Lulu, the Jeddah-based sportstech company enables amateur footballers to build their football CVs and join or organise thousands of games and tryouts. Furthermore, players get rated based on their performances, work their way up the rankings, all while viewing and tracking their skills. All these rankings and skills are featured on their Grinta Card, which is viewed by football federations, professional clubs and scouts. Grintafy also boasts a social engine that connects players all around the world that have a love for showcasing their skills. 

The startup has achieved notable growth recently with over one million players using its platform – making it the largest talent discovery platform in the middle east. Those players have uploaded over 150,000 media files which have been viewed more than 100 million times and have organized and joined over 70,000 games and tryouts. 

Grintafy aims to use the funds to introduce a game-changing fintech solution, develop a live streaming feature using AI and machine learning, expand its subscription services, and strengthen its reach within the Egyptian market and North Africa where it started operations in 2021. 

“It is an honour to have multiple strategic investors that recognize the significance of our tractions, achievements, and partnerships. Their confidence in Grintafy has helped us close the bridge round with ease,” said Majdi Al-Lulu, founder and CEO at Grintafy. “With this investment, our mission continues to arm our talent with the exposure, technology and tools they need. We will also be allocating funds to create a game-changing fintech solution that will ensure players can achieve their goals. I want to give a very special thanks to our current, new investors, and our one million players for sharing our mutual dream. We are here to change the game. We are here to dominate.”

February 16th 2022, 1:31 pm

Wasla raises $9 million from Contact Financial Holding

Wamda

Press release

Contact Financial Holding (EGX: CNFN.CA), Egypt’s largest non-bank financial services provider, today announced the completion of a strategic investment into Wasla, an e-commerce SuperApp. With the tie-up, Contact will support Wasla’s product rollout and regional expansion with a series of investments totaling up to $9 million aiming to realizeWasla’s mission to enable e-commerce, payments and credit for large audiences in emerging markets.

Contact, (formerly Sarwa Capital), is Egypt’s largest consumer finance platform, transforming the way people access finance since 2001. Being the first financial services platform to introduce advanced credit scoring and collection mechanisms in Egypt, this strategic investment adds to Contact’s growing footprint in fintech, and especially e-commerce, allowing Contact to engage consumers at the beginning of their e-commerce journey while they search, discover, and shop online.

This investment reinforces Contacts quest to enable tech-first ventures in Egypt's financing ecosystem. Focused on optimizing the end-to-end online shopping experience, Wasla is the first emerging markets mobile web browser and desktop extension that helps users save money, pay securely, build their credit profiles and gain access to flexible and convenient financing. Currently, Waslais focused on optimizing the e-commerce search and discovery experience, by helping users save money online through aggregating deals, for a network of over 100, local and regional, e-commerce merchants (similar to US startup Honey, which sold to PayPal in 2019 for $4 billion).

Founded in 2019 by Mahmoud El Said, Serag Meneassy, and Taymour Sabry, Wasla currently has 35 team members, 1.5 million app downloads, with 8.5x year on year growth in total e-commerce traffic and having also recently secured a partnership to expand its services across

Africa, the fastest-growing consumer market in the world. With this strategic partnership, Contact and Wasla will work together on realizing the vision of further enabling e-commerce adoption in emerging markets through its various tools supported by a new suite of financial services offerings including online payments and Buy Now Pay Later.

Operating as an extension to Contacts core business, Wasla will allow Contact to move into adjacent market segments and attract new user groups. Hazem Moussa, Chairman of Contact Financial, commented “We are thrilled to be supporting the Wasla team build out their vision of a digital ecosystem enabling online shopping for all.

With over twenty years of innovation in consumer financial services, this strategic investment demonstrates Contact’s drive to multiply its reach and empower businesses with its advanced credit services platform.”Said Zater, Managing Director and Group CEO of Contact Financial, added “This partnership comes as Contact continues to extend its credit services platform to serve digital channels. Welook forward to supporting Wasla in its rollout of payments and financing tools, bringing the quality and superior customer experience that has come to be expected of Contact. We will continue to seek new ways with which we can serve our expanding audience with high quality services through a wide variety of channels, continuing to transform the way consumers and businesses access financial services.”

Mahmoud El Said, CEO of Wasla commented, “Having personally worked with the Contact team before, I was always amazed at what they have been able to build as a leading consumer finance platform in the region. This is why we believe this deep partnership, leveraging contacts market position, experience, and fully digitized loan origination process, will allow usto expand our offering catering to the online shopping experience by introducing completely newways to help consumers save money on each online purchase, pay securely, build their credit profiles, and borrow flexibly”

February 15th 2022, 6:05 pm

UAE's digital bank Zand receives fresh funding

Wamda

Source: Bloomberg

Zand, a digital bank helmed by Dubai businessman Mohamed Alabbar, has won the backing of investors such as Franklin Templeton and Aditya Birla Group as it seeks to seize on opportunities thrown up by fintech.

The roster of investors also include Abu Dhabi’s Al Hail Holding, Al Sayyah & Sons Investments, Global Development Group, Yusuff Ali of Lulu Group, and Zand co-founder Olivier Crespin, according to a statement.

The launch of Zand, which will offer both retail and corporate banking, in the United Arab Emirates is “imminent,” according to the statement. It didn’t provide financial details of investments. 

Digital banks have taken off with the spread of finance technology in Middle East, a region with high internet penetration and a largely young population. Zand will be competing other digital platforms including Wio, backed by Abu Dhabi wealth fund ADQ and the offshoots of traditional banks such as Dubai’s Emirates NBD.

The shareholders of Zand completed the acquisition of the majority of shares in Dubai Bank from Emirates NBD in December.

February 15th 2022, 6:05 pm

MoneyHash raises $3 million pre-Seed funding

Wamda

Press release:

MoneyHash, an Egyptian fintech startup based in the US building the Middle East and Africa’s first Super-API for payment orchestration and revenue operations, emerged from beta to launch its platform across MEA. They also announced raising $3 million in pre-seed funding. With an ambitious plan to become the AWS of payments, MoneyHash empowers businesses in emerging markets to streamline their payment stack and optimize pay-in/pay-out operations without breaking the bank.

Early-stage companies often start with one or two providers for payment processing and payout. But as they grow, they have to tack on provider after provider to meet their growing needs.

“Each expansion can take an in-house tech team 3-10 weeks, not to mention the ongoing demands of reporting reconciliation, operational inefficiencies, and technical vulnerabilities,” says Mustafa Eid, co-founder and CTO at MoneyHash. “And that’s a challenge we are passionate to solve.”

“When it comes to emerging markets, and particularly the Middle East & Africa, these challenges are magnified,” adds Nader Abdelrazik, co-founder and CEO. “The region is highly fragmented due to the lack of economic integration between countries in MEA, which means that the countries’ payment methods, currencies, and regulations operate in isolation. By building a custom infrastructure with a single integration and a central dashboard, we provide a platform for companies to grow and address this complexity without depleting their resources.”

The company has been in beta since early 2021, with 17 companies using their sandbox environment to test integration and tools. The team has conducted extensive user research with over 150 companies, engaged multiple providers across the region, and built a comprehensive suite of tools.

With one connection point, MoneyHash users can connect with services across the revenue stack, from pay-in/pay-out providers across MEA to value-added service providers such as KYC, fraud detection, and loyalty programs.

In addition to the Super-API, MoneyHash offers customizable services for a variety of businesses: a unified checkout experience for e-commerce, centralized reporting for business intelligence, and micro-services such as transaction routing, subscription management, and invoicing.

With MoneyHash, companies can quickly and easily build a payment stack that fits their unique needs.

The pre-seed round has an impressive ensemble of investors led by UAE’s venture capital firm COTU Ventures, and the participation of MENA fintech fund VentureSouq and European fund VentureFriends. Other participating funds include Nuwa Capital, The Continent Venture Partners, First Check Africa, Fox Ventures, Kepple Africa Ventures and Lofty Capital Inc.

A global group of angel investors also participated in the round, including NerdWallet’s Tim Chen and Jake Gibson, Belvo’s Oriol Tintore, and regional operators such as Jad Antoun (Huspy), Feras Jalbout (Baraka), and Hussein Elkheshen (Sakneen). Some were moved to invest after their companies participated in MoneyHash’s beta program, a reflection of their enthusiasm about MoneyHash’s team, product, and vision.

“When I first heard of MoneyHash, I was very excited by the idea. I saw huge potential in having an aggregator for all different payment gateways, which would both reduce engineering time and increase visibility on transactions. Sakneen saw these benefits firsthand when we enrolled in the MoneyHash private beta, and I believe that their tools will continue to help us scale and expand in the future. I am excited for what the future holds, both as a customer and as an angel investor.” says Hussein Elkheshen, CTO of Sakneen.

This round is an extension to an undisclosed six-figure raise announced in 2021, which was also led by COTU Ventures with the participation of Venture Platform (Nigeria) and repeat investors Kepple Africa Ventures and Lofty Capital Inc.

While massive global companies like Airbnb and Uber create dedicated teams to design and manage payment systems, and companies like Spreedly and Zooz sprung up to serve the US and Europe, emerging markets have remained underserved.

Joshua Kaplan, partner at Wilson Sonsini and the former COO of Checkout.com, and a member of MoneyHash’s advisory board explains: “The financial technology sector, and digital payments, in particular, is a foundational piece of the infrastructure on which the digital economy in the region is being built. MoneyHash is building an important framework to accelerate the development and growth potential of SMBs and enterprises in the region by automating their access to digital payment methods and adjacent services.”

MoneyHash will use the funds to grow its team and extend the capabilities of the Super-API to serve businesses across MEA with a simple, comprehensive payment solution.

MoneyHash is a product loaded with features, with a Super-API that provides an open infrastructure through a single integration. This integration unlocks core capabilities for companies to grow their stack and optimize their operations:

  1. Consolidation: integrating or removing a provider is now a few clicks away instead of months of development work.
  2. Unified checkout: companies can embed MoneyHash checkout to dynamically localise methods, currencies, and experience.
  3. Smart routing: establishing rules for an optimal transaction route and higher authorisation rates.
  4. Secure storage: a PCI-compliant vault for storing customer and card information.
  5. Micro-services: allowing businesses to stitch together the features necessary for their unique business needs.
  6. Seamless reporting: streamlining reconciliation and generating sophisticated intelligence thanks to a central dashboard for all transaction reports.

"We are crafting a comprehensive revenue solution built for flexibility and scaling. With a custom payment stack powered by a single API integration, businesses throughout MEA can instantly access the providers and products they need to grow. We increase speed to market and save months of effort upfront, and with a complete view of the stack, we provide insights, automations, and smart routing to save time and money in the long term. Our mission is to build an efficient, secure, comprehensive solution that helps - rather than hinders - growing businesses." said Anisha Sekar, co-founder and CPO of MoneyHash

MoneyHash sits on top of payment providers like Stripe or Adyen, and offer its infrastructure as an extension to companies product backend. This extension becomes their connectivity layer to the entire payment and fintech ecosystem in emerging markets.

Businesses looking to simplify their revenue operations can check out moneyhash.io to sign up.

MoneyHash was founded in late 2020 by three co-founders: Nader Abdelrazik (Egyptian), Mustafa Eid (Egyptian), and Anisha Sekar (American). Combined, they have over 30 years of experience and worked for 11 startups, in addition to an impressive portfolio of employers and education such as Microsoft, UpWork, NerdWallet, UC Berkeley, SigFig, and Brown University.

Amir Farha, the founder of COTU Ventures, has been a champion of MoneyHash’s team. He explained that “MoneyHash is led by three remarkable founders with deep knowledge of payments and acumen for product-led execution. They are attracting a great team of talent, and after their impressive beta run, their product is ready for prime time. We are excited to be part of their journey.”

Since its inception, MoneyHash has been a fully remote team with 15 team members across the US, Egypt, UAE, Nigeria, and Europe. The team is currently hiring mid-level and senior software engineers.

February 15th 2022, 6:05 pm

Egypt ratifies its Fintech Act

Wamda

Source: Enterprise

President Abdel Fattah El Sisi has ratified the Fintech Act, which regulates robo-advisory, nano-finance, insurtech, and (tech-enabled) consumer finance, among other sectors. The law makes the Financial Regulatory Authority (FRA) the only entity in charge of licensing and regulating fintech companies. It also sets transparency and governance standards and protects consumer rights. The bill was also passed by the House in January, about a year and a half after it was first drafted by the FRA.

The president also signed off on the Unified Budget Act, according to a decree published in the Official Gazette (pdf). The law requires the government to be more transparent in how it plans public finances, forcing it to present an annual medium-term budgetary and fiscal strategy to the House of Representatives and set spending limits for each ministry. The bill was passed by the House of Representatives in January, after the Finance Ministry first drafted the act in early 2020.

 

 

February 15th 2022, 6:05 pm

TruKKer raises $96 million in Series B

Wamda

Press release 

Saudi-headquartered and digital freight network TruKKer raised $96M in a mix of Equity and Debt Series B financing. The equity round was led by ADQ and Riyadh-based Saudi Technology Ventures(STV) with the participation of Mubadala. Existing investors including the Public Investment Fund-backed Riyad Taqnia Fund and Shorooq Partners also took part, according to a statement on Monday. As part of the financing round, the company also raised $50M in venture debt from Mars Growth, a Liquidity Group and MUFG joint venture fund, and San Francisco-based Partners for Growth, backed by the Silicon Valley Bank.

Since its inception in the B2B space in 2018, TruKKer has grown to become the largest digital freight platform in the Middle East and Central Asia region, bringing together a fleet of 40,000+  trucks and 700+ enterprise customers across 8 countries. The deal follows a $23 million equity raise by TruKKer in 2019, which was one of the largest  Series A funding rounds in the region at the time. 

The TruKKer platform weaves a central layer of control and transparency and crystallizes the disparate parts of the industry. "Through this information web, we create unparalleled business availability while organizing, optimizing, and redefining standards for the land freight market. Our products focus on simplicity with sophisticated back-end algorithms that are multilayered for multi-tenanted access in parallel. The sector requires a strong operating business that can demonstrate the use of high-tech solutions to solve multiple simple and complex issues at the same time." said  Pradeep Mallavarapu, TruKKer Co-Founder and CTO. 

As the T&L startup adopts aggressive expansion strategies, this Series B funding round followed their pioneering acquisition of Pakistan-based Trucksher to access yet another critical South Asian Market. The success of TruKKer’s fast expansion could be attributed to its agile approach to market entry as well as a fully equipped data-driven platform that puts technology in the driver's seat. Gaurav Biswas, Founder  & CEO, TruKKer elaborated, "TruKKer's growth has been exponential, both in our home markets of KSA & UAE and in new markets across North Africa and Central Asia. This has made our stakeholders believe in our exceptional product innovation, execution abilities, and category leadership. We are constantly improvising on the launch playbook that allows us to rapidly launch new markets followed by scaling our offering in them. At the same time, the core market teams are becoming more data and analytics-driven in business processes to ensure improving user experience, setting standards, and leading the sector’s direction. We are a constantly evolving team with a passion for problem-solving, hunger for growth, and obsession to succeed." 

Saudi-headquartered TruKKer will use the money to expand in existing markets across the Middle East and Central Asia in addition to launching new products and features, according to the company’s chief financial officer, Amit Agarwal, a former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. banker. Amer Al Ameri, Head of Venture Capital & Technology Investments at ADQ added, “We are strong believers in TruKKer’s technology and team to overhaul the regional logistics sector. This is an opportune time to drive growth in the sector as the world focuses on digitization and technology like never before. TruKKer is a sector leader in the region and aligns with ADQ’s long-term strategy towards sustainable investments in fundamental sectors.” While Ahmad AlNaimi, General Partner at STV concluded, “TruKKer is building a platform that is set to become the de-facto infrastructure for land freight in the region, seamlessly connecting the atoms and the bits, with superior execution and operations. We’ve been part of TruKKer’s journey since  2019 and we’re proud to be doubling down and partnering with ADQ and Mubadala.” 

February 14th 2022, 8:03 pm

The Power Law — how venture capital ate the stock market

Wamda

By John Gapper

In May 1976, a California securities regulator wrote to the venture capital fund Kleiner Perkins to deliver a warning about the riskiness of its $100,000 investment in Genentech, an early biotechnology start-up. “We are in the business of making highly speculative investments,” its co-founder Eugene Kleiner retorted calmly.

Silicon Valley’s “adventure capitalists” have provoked scepticism and sometimes hostility since Kleiner Perkins became the first partnership to open an office on Sand Hill Road — the nondescript highway that became northern California’s equivalent of Wall Street — in 1972. Paul Graham, an influential technology investor, described them as “the classic villain: alternately cowardly, greedy, sneaky and overbearing”. Another critic denounced them as “soulless agents of Satan”.

Yet half a century later, while “software is eating the world”, in the words of Marc Andreessen, co-author of the groundbreaking Mosaic browser, venture capital has eaten the stock market. Apple, an epitome of Californian technology risk-taking, has reached a market capitalisation of $3tn. Facebook, Google and Elon Musk’s Tesla dominate investment portfolios.

The Genentech investment shows why: Kleiner Perkins made a return of 42 times on its first investment fund after Genentech went public in 1980 at a heady valuation. This proved the power law of venture capital: a small minority of investments produce most of the returns. It only had to get right a couple of financial bets out of many to generate big profits.

Sebastian Mallaby’s sweeping and authoritative history of the venture capital revolution, from its cottage industry roots in the 1950s to its colossal influence today, tells an undercovered tale. More attention has focused on the entrepreneurs who remade the world with technology, such as Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, than those who backed them.

Mallaby remedies it with The Power Law. A Brit who is a senior fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations is not an obvious Boswell to a cabal of American financiers, but he sympathises with their contrarian cage-rattling. If not scintillating, this is a worthy successor to (2010) and (2016), his acclaimed books on hedge funds and Alan Greenspan, former chair of the US Federal Reserve.

The venture funds dotted around Palo Alto and Menlo Park, from Benchmark and Sequoia to Andreessen Horowitz, the fund co-founded by Andreessen, exert extraordinary influence. Their financial backing has given all manner of disruptive enterprises an imprimatur, from social media platforms to today’s cryptocurrency and blockchain hopefuls.

The Power Law is comprehensive to a degree that occasionally tests the reader’s patience, but Mallaby enlivens it by diving into the personalities, and the tensions, behind the industry’s evolution. They include the loquacious Mike Moritz (now Sir Michael) of Sequoia, the mercurial Andreessen and Peter Thiel, the vengeful libertarian behind Founders Fund.

The question is, as Mallaby writes, “Did the VCs create the success, or did they merely show up for it?” In the early days, they played a big role. There were fewer investors then willing to stake money on risky ideas, and funds often worked “with entrepreneurs in an entrepreneurial way”, as Tom Perkins of Kleiner Perkins phrased it. In other words, they dispensed a lot of advice.

Mallaby attributes this alchemy to a “combination of laid-back creativity and driving commercial ambition” boosted by “a frank lust for riches”. A key venture capital insight was to invest in founders as much as technology, since the latter was impossible to assess. It was easier to identify individuals, often ambitious immigrants, who would not tolerate failure.

But as more investments produced outsized returns (Sequoia and Kleiner Perkins jointly put only $24m into Google in 1999; when the company went public five years later, it was valued at $23bn), entrepreneurs’ self-regard grew. If capital was easy to snare and they were the key to success, how much did they require the Moritzes of the world? Many founders, such as Zuckerberg at Facebook, thought Sand Hill Road’s old guard were being paid to show up.

Thiel turned resentment into a philosophy, arguing not only that venture capitalists offered little more than cash, but that their oversight actively caused harm. Since the most original founders were “arrogant, misanthropic, or borderline crazy”, it was best to let them go their own way. Mallaby notes that several early employees of PayPay had built bombs while at school.

Sand Hill Road is still chasing the next big thing with crypto

The revolt coincided with capital becoming much looser. Sand Hill Road had prided itself on investing limited amounts discerningly, but its success produced a wall of money. Masayoshi Son of SoftBank muscled his way into a $100m investment in Yahoo in 1996 by “shooting from the hip”. Benchmark’s $1bn fund in 1999 was 10 times the size of its first one, four years earlier.

It was bound to end in tears and it did so at Uber, where Benchmark had to plot to defenestrate the wilful co-founder Travis Kalanick, and at WeWork, whose guru-like leader Adam Neumann was brought down by a failed attempt at an IPO. The saving grace for Sand Hill Road was that no big name invested in Theranos, the fraudulent blood-testing start-up founded by Elizabeth Holmes.

The scandals produced a bit of humility among a group to whom it does not come naturally. In the wake of the WeWork debacle, Son recanted on making companies grow “crazier, faster, bigger”. But SoftBank and its Vision Fund have not stopped taking bets with other people’s money, and Sand Hill Road is still chasing the next big thing with crypto.

Something will go wrong, but how useful is it to warn of that when history suggests the opposite lesson? Venture capitalists’ secret has been to look through the doubts and “imagine . . . what can happen if everything goes right”, as Moritz told Mallaby. Despite the industry’s nasty side, including its male-dominated, testosterone-tinged culture, it has changed the world.

Mallaby concludes judiciously that “venture capitalists as a group have a positive effect on economies and societies”. They have unquestionably proved powerful. Behind Facebook, Google, Uber, SpaceX, Amazon, Deliveroo and all of the rest were venture funds with unbounded financial appetites and very strong nerves. You kind of have to admire it.

This article was originally published 12 January 2022 on The Financial Times

February 14th 2022, 8:03 pm

YallaMarket raises $2.2 million bridge round

Wamda

Press release:

Dubai-based 15-min grocery delivery service YallaMarket raises $2.2 million in bridge round with the participation of Doha Tech Angels, Flyer One Ventures and AngelsDeck.

The bridge round is coming after the closing of the first $2.3 million pre-Seed round by Wamda and Dubai Angel Investors in November 2021. With the new funding, YallaMarket financing has passed the $5 million mark in less than three months.

The funding will be used to expand the presence of the company in the UAE by opening new dark stores in Dubai prior to the next financing round, which is scheduled for March 2022.  

Since the first funding round YallaMarket has increased revenue and the number of daily orders fourfold — on average the YallaMarket client makes 1.5 orders per week. The startup also reached 2.5x growth in app installs compared to November.

The delivery area was expanded by new dark stores in Dubai Marina and DSO areas.

“The developments of the last two months proved that entering the UAE market was the right thing to do. Daily orders growth validates that MENA consumers need instant grocery delivery to save their time. The interest from the established international companies also confirms that the region's q-commerce market will be driven by the grocery segment”, says Leo Dovbenko, YallaMarket СEO and Co-Founder.

According to the recent Redseer research, the Mena Q-commerce market is expected to grow by 24 per cent to reach $20 billion by 2024. The region is a global leader in quick commerce, contributing 20 per cent to Mena’s digital economy.

The food delivery share, which accounted for 83% in 2021, is going to drop to 55% by 2030, while groceries are expected to have a market share of 14 per cent, 21 per cent and 31 per cent in 2021, 2024 and 2030 respectively (starting from a tiny 2 per cent in 2018), Redseer said.

“The UAE is actively implementing technology in all areas of life, so this is a promising market for projects that AngelsDeck is focused on. Already now we can say that MENA has the potential to become one of the leaders of the grocery delivery in the 10-15 minutes segment. Therefore, we are very pleased to become a partner of YallaMarket, which is the first hyper-local delivery service in the UAE, and we believe that the project has a great future” comments Igor Kaloshin, CEO of AngelsDeck.

By the end of the year, YallaMarket plans to launch 100 new stores across the UAE and to enter Qatar.

February 13th 2022, 10:47 pm

Egyptian proptech Nawy raises $5 million Seed round

Wamda

Press release:

Nawy, an Egyptian proptech startup, has concluded its seed funding round securing $5 million in investment led by the Sawiris family office.

Nawy currently employs over 200 individuals. So far, the company has assisted over 60,000 individuals to locate their ideal homes, sold over $200 million worth of properties, and helped thousands of families purchase their dream homes. The company has witnessed unprecedented growth this year on the back of its fundraising, where the annualised year on year growth at exit is 5.4 times the prior year.  

Nawy is an online real estate platform that facilitates purchasing and selling property. The proptech startup makes the process simple, hassle-free, and transparent for everyone involved, providing its clients with a first-class experience. 

Nawy’s platform contains a massive database of properties, where the customers can search and filter their options using various criteria, such as unit space, price and location. This feature provides users with full autonomy over their real estate decisions, as opposed to more traditional methods that involve multiple parties and less-informed decisions. Additionally, Nawy employs machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms to develop personalised recommendations for their clients, in addition to offering homes that are more appropriate for their specific requirements and preferences. This centralised, fully-integrated model renders a handoff between an online platform and brokerage obsolete, ushering in a more efficient, user-friendly approach. Once customers are ready to make a purchase, Nawy’s brokerage arm provides a seamless transaction process using the expertise of veteran agents and consultants, at no additional cost. Nawy’s tech does not stop at the customer-facing component of the business. It deploys its own CRM with a smart allocation of leads, as well as assists its agents with the ability to access market information. Furthermore, it also gives agents insights on their performance as well as suggests areas of improvement with recommendations through artificial intelligence & machine learning.

"We were one of the initial investors in Nawy because we saw the company's potential and shared its ambition. We immediately increased our investment when we realised how quickly they were expanding and saw the company's trajectory coming to life. We are very excited about what the future holds especially as Nawy expands its services and furthers its momentum in the real estate market," commented Onsi Naguib Sawiris, who leads the family office.

When asked about the future of Nawy, CEO Mostafa El Beltagy responded, “I truly believe that technology is still scratching the surface when it comes to enabling and supporting the real estate industry in Egypt. Even though we have accomplished a lot in a short time span, the opportunities we have in front of us to provide more services and capitalise on digital technologies, are still tremendously larger. We will be restless in expanding our business with the goal to truly transform the real estate market in the region, making the decision making the process much more informed and transparent for the customers.”

February 13th 2022, 7:01 am

Saudi logistics startup RedBox raises $3 million

Wamda

Press release:

RedBox, a logistics solution provider company offering smart lockers today announced its SAR 11.5m seed funding round led by Vision Ventures. The round also included participation by RAF Investments and prominent angel investors. RedBox eases last mile delivery to e-commerce shops through its network of over 170 smart lockers around Saudi Arabia today.

RedBox was founded in 2019 in Riyadh by Thamer Altuwaiyan and Zun Phan. Thamer and his partner saw a clear problem in logistics services and the experience customers go through. Delivery companies call clients for location of their home or business and don’t provide, yet, a pleasant experience to clients. In addition, the load on delivery companies continues to increase with the explosive growth of ecommerce in Saudi Arabia with no solutions to break the ongoing cycle of needing more delivery cars and drivers which ends up with congested roads and additional costs. In addition, many clients value their right to privacy and don’t want delivery drivers to come to their doorstep.

RedBox solves these issues by completely re-engineering delivery into a pleasant all-around experience to both e-commerce shops and clients. RedBox provides clients with a low-cost alternative to receiving their orders. It also provides a safe logistical solution which ensures clients’ privacy is protected as no delivery agents need to know where you live or work. It also provides peace of mind to pick up your shipment at “your” convenient time instead of having to wait for delivery agents at their own convenience which takes hours today.

According to the latest study by BCG and Meta (previously Facebook) published in December 2021, e-commerce in Saudi Arabia has grown in the past two years by over 60 per cent which is 2.5 times the average international growth rate. Current market size is estimated at SAR 19 billion with only 6 per cent penetration versus the worldwide average of 18 per cent which signifies huge growth potential. The market study also notes that efficient logistical services are one of the major potential blockers of that huge growth to materialize. RedBox is designed to solve the logistical bottleneck and is here to unlock eCommerce growth in Saudi Arabia and the region by easing up last mile delivery.

Thamer Altuwaiyan, Co-Founder and CEO at RedBox, said, “Last mile delivery issues continue to be one of the biggest bottlenecks in coping up with the increasing demand on e-commerce. There is no solution in sight as logistics companies continue to pour more cars and drivers into the mix in an effort to cope up with demand. Our goal is to help e-commerce in opening up this bottleneck once and for all through a totally different approach with our technology and smart lockers.”

In addition to its easy to connect to API, RedBox is vertically-integrated as the company utilises a strong technology infrastructure for their order management and logistics operations — giving them a unique ability to control the end-to-end client journey by developing and delivering data-driven solutions. The company aims to use the funding to further invest in technology, cement its position in the current markets, and invest in talent.

Zun Phan, RedBox’s Co-Founder and CTO said: “We are excited to bring the best technology available to the Saudi and MENA markets through the use of innovative logistical infrastructure that can provide our clients with many services to come. We are now focused on parcel delivery with e-commerce partners, but are soon going to launch other innovative solutions that will be game changers.”

“We’re excited to support such a game changing logistics solution provider in a market that is growing way above international levels. This growth demands innovative solutions that break the cycle and deliver on its promise, and RedBox does just that.” said Kais Al-Essa, Founding Partner and CEO of Vision Ventures.

RedBox directly integrates today with Shopify, Salla, Zid, Magento, OpenCart and other platforms. Over 9,000 e-commerce businesses use RedBox today and this number continues to grow daily. According to e-commerce partners, they save on average of 50 per cent from delivery costs. 97 per cent of clients who choose to deliver their orders through RedBox love it and have used it again several times.

RedBox recently partnered with Aramex, DHL and AJEX. Many well-known e-commerce stores use RedBox today to offer their clients a more affordable and secure delivery option such as: NiceOne, Golden Scent, Mokab, Lebara and many others.

RedBox plans to reach 300 smart lockers by end of Q2, 2022 and 800 smart lockers by end of 2022 considering the current demand that RedBox is experiencing.

February 13th 2022, 7:01 am

UAE ranked world’s most supportive entrepreneurship environment: GEM Report

Wamda

The UAE was ranked top in the world in the 2021/2022 Global Entrepreneurship Mentorship (GEM) report in terms of countries that allow for better ease of doing business ahead of both The Netherlands and Finland. Saudi Arabia ranked fourth in the rankings while Sudan ranked last in 47th place. 

“The United Arab Emirates is the only economy to have scored as sufficient or more for all framework conditions. These changes are the direct result of policy adjustments that have moved increasingly to promoting business conditions for entrepreneurs,” the report explained. 

The latest edition of the global report, which was released on Thursday at Expo 2020, surveyed 2,000 respondents across 47 countries, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, Morocco, Qatar and Oman.

The report pointed to the increased appetite of people in the Middle East likely to pursue entrepreneurship, and that they remain confident that they have the skills and knowledge required to launch their own ventures. Wealth generation remains the main driver for entrepreneurial activity across the world, but especially in the lower income countries of the Middle East. 

A large chunk of the respondents revealed that the process of setting up a business has become more daunting than it was a year ago. While respondents in the UAE and Saudi Arabia said that it has become easier to start their own business when compared to the past, the majority are less likely to launch their own ventures over the coming period. Of the seven Arab countries surveyed for the report,the UAE and Saudi Arabia have the lowest score in the "entrepreneurial intentions" indicator due to fear of failure, which remains the key deterrent and number one reason why young people and adults alike are reluctant to pursue entrepreneurship. 

To counter this prevailing lack of enthusiasm, the report recommends that more spotlight should be put on impact-driven startups that have made notable strides to serve as inspiration to the wider population. 

Rise of TEA 

Overall, the Middle East region has seen a spurt of startup entrants and a notable uptick in the total early-stage entrepreneurship (TEA) levels over the past couple of years thanks to the growing need for digital technologies sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

But, the impact of the pandemic has varied in intensity in each of the region’s ecosystems. The report highlighted that countries like Egypt, Oman and Qatar witnessed a rise in the number of startups exits (which includes failures) and lower levels of TEA, as these countries continue to grapple with the economic fallout of the pandemic.

While the notable increase in the TEA levels indicates a growing bullishness regarding the tech industry, these ecosystems require more later stage startups to promote maturity.

The report also mentioned that the early stage companies outnumber their counterparts stages of development, adding that new policies should be put in place to fast track startup progress to accelerate their organic growth and increase their share and contribution to the overall gross domestic product (GDP). 

Access to finance 

Despite the progress made, the report further states that startups are still faced with poor access to finance, red tape bureaucracy and policies that discourage entrepreneurship. Regionally, Qatar came out on top in terms of the countries that facilitate better and enhanced access to credit for startups and small businesses, followed by Oman, while Egypt’s score was the lowest. 

February 11th 2022, 4:16 am

UAE fintech Pyypl raises $11 million Series A

Wamda

Press release:

One of the region’s fastest growing fintechs, Pyypl (pronounced “People”), announces it has closed a US$ 11 million series A financing round with participation from a diverse group of international family offices and HNWI’s. 

The international blockchain technology-based company provides digital payments and financial services for smartphone users to carry out online transactions, without the need for a bank account or credit card.

Backed by a diverse group of investors from Europe, North America, Asia, and the Middle East - the funding round was oversubscribed. This follows significant investment in previous rounds from Global Ventures, an UAE-based, international venture capital firm. The proceeds will enable Pyypl to continue its rapid growth in its core GCC markets, and expand further in Africa – particularly Kenya and Mozambique.

The Middle East and Africa region is ripe for fintech sector growth, and Pyypl is carving out a niche position. The region has two billion people and it is the fastest-growing, with a high adoption rate of smartphones. Despite this, the majority are without access to essential financial services and there is no multi-billion-dollar FinTech company, such as Revolut (Europe), Chime (North America), Nubank (Latin America) or Ant Financial (Asia).

Antti Arponen, Founder and CEO of Pyypl, commented: 

“Pyypl is on a mission to serve MEA’s huge consumer base. Hundreds of millions of people, whilst having a mobile phone and internet connection, are either completely unbanked, or severely under-served in their daily financial services. The new capital will be deployed to scale our operations in the GCC and Africa – particularly Kenya and Mozambique.

“We welcome all our new investors to our financial inclusion journey, and we couldn’t be more excited to enter the next phase of our growth.”

Paul Goldfinch, Pyypl CFO, added:

“Pyypl is in the right industry, in the right geographies, at the right time, evidenced by the 10x growth in business volumes we have generated in the last 12 months. We are very pleased to have a successful, over-subscribed investment round, and welcome our new investors.”

Pyypl’s card services have been used by its rapidly expanding customer base at thousands of merchants globally, in over a hundred different currencies, by customers from over a hundred nationalities. 

With connections to numerous global financial institutions facilitating cross-border money transfers, Pyypl’s solutions cover many key remittance corridors in the region, and the company is excited about expanding its availability of essential financial services including remittance products to further Middle East and African markets in 2022.

Headquartered in United Arab Emirates, Pyypl was awarded a prestigious “2021 Global Visionary” award by Ripple, and recently became the first-ever company in the Middle East to deploy a “Blockchain On-Demand Liquidity” solution for its customer cross-border transfers, in partnership with Ripple. Earlier in 2021, Visa and Pyypl announced a Middle East and Africa Strategic Partnership Agreement, further positioning Pyypl as a leader in the region’s FinTech sector.  

Pyypl’s 140 strong team is managed by experienced senior executives, who have held C-suite positions in the MEA region for companies such as Virgin, UBS, Sberbank, and Mastercard.

 

February 10th 2022, 7:51 am

Micropolis Robotics raises $4 million Seed round

Wamda

Press release:

Micropolis Robotics, a UAE company focused on the rapidly expanding AV industry, is announcing a $4 million Seed round investment by San Francisco based venture company Mindrock Capital. 

Mindrock Capital invests primarily in emerging tech leaders utilising an activist approach to capitalise on existing momentum and accelerate growth.  

“We trust that Mindrock Capital, with its deep expertise and successful track record of bringing to market several projects in the AI and AV space, leaves us well-positioned to deliver the next generation of autonomous vehicles at Micropolis Robotics,” said Egor Romanyuk, CEO of Micropolis Holdings. 

Managing partner of Mindrock Capital, Grigorii Trubkin stated, “We are always looking for new investment opportunities, especially those in which we are able to leverage our sector-specific experience to enhance growth. Having a good number of unicorns in our portfolio, we know exactly what needs to be done for our portfolio companies to achieve that milestone and how we can help a company to succeed. We believe Micropolis has tremendous growth potential and will become one of the future pioneers in the AV industry”.  

Micropolis has dedicated years of research and development, identifying new ways to make functional transportation safer, cleaner, and more accessible.   

The proceeds of the $4 million investment will be used to accelerate commercial production capabilities as well as fund continued R&D and business development.

February 10th 2022, 7:51 am

Anghami: Success built on localisation

Wamda

When Eddy Maroun was skiing in a Lebanese mountain resort back in 2011, accessing music was a cumbersome affair. Music players like the iPod were already rife, but they required users to first download songs and install them onto the music player or convert them from CD to MP3 files. That was the main option available to those willing to pay for their music and avoid piracy, which was, and still remains commonplace in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena). In the West, music streaming platforms had started to emerge and it was on this holiday that Maroun considered launching something similar in the Middle East.  

He shared his vision for a Mena-focused music streaming app with Elie Habib and the pair co-founded Anghami in 2012, which has now become the first regional tech startup to list on the NASDAQ in New York.

The listing, via a merger with special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Vistas Media Acquisition Company (VMAC) valued Anghami at $220 million at the time of the announcement. After it began trading on the NASDAQ on 4 February 2022, Anghami saw its shares skyrocket 80 per cent raising its market capitalisation to over $500 million, before settling to $250 million at the time of publishing. 

With 75 million registered users and over a billion song streams a month, Anghami is Mena’s biggest music streaming platform and a success story for the region’s startup ecosystem.

But Habib and Maroun’s journey was not without its challenges. While the pair quickly raised $1 million in 2012 from Lebanon-based venture capital (VC) firm Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP) and managed to sign partnerships with Rotana, Sony Music, Universal, EMI and Warner, providing them access to two million Arabic and international songs, the market’s appetite for music streaming was small.

Initial challenges

When it initially launched, the internet penetration across the Middle East and North Africa was no higher than 25 per cent in more than half of the countries in the region according to the World Bank, while in the GCC it exceeded 50 per cent. Mobile penetration however was on the rise and the availability of cheaper smartphones enabled vast swathes of the population to experience the internet first via mobile, which is why Anghami launched initially as a mobile app.

Back then the most common handsets in the Middle East were Nokia phones, and many countries were either on 2G or 3G mobile frequencies, far slower than the 4G and 5G speeds we have today.

“When we started it was really on devices that were not designed to stream, they didn’t have the capabilities that you find on Androids or iPhone today. What helped was the speed of mobile internet and the whole infrastructure and ecosystem that helped grow adoption and consumption. The hardware part is very essential, another part is connectivity and that became more and more available,” says Maroun.

Figuring out payments

It was with the rise of smartphone penetration and 4G that streaming really picked up. But even with the development of handsets and connectivity, there was still one major issue – payments.

Convincing people to pay for music was one of Anghami’s biggest challenges. The freemium model, providing free access to music, punctuated by the occasional advert was working, but converting users to subscribers took greater effort.  

“It wasn’t easy to convince people to pay for music, they’d never paid for music. They never had the culture of paying for music. That was part of the education…you needed to give them payment mechanisms,” says Maroun.

According to the World Bank just 14 per cent of people in the Middle East and North Africa have a bank account, the highest unbanked rate in the world. Credit card penetration remains low across Mena and the digital payments space when Anghami launched was still in its infancy and so the most viable solution to get users to pay for a subscription was through the telecoms operators through direct mobile billing. The first to sign up was Jordan’s Orange and soon, others began to partner up with Anghami, encouraged by a new revenue stream and service they could offer their users.

“The telcos have been instrumental in making it easy for users to subscribe in a convenient way. They were seeing the traction of the platform and they were happy to see how we could monetise this transaction. [Telcos] don’t just want to be pipes, most of them were trying to give incentives to the users so that it’s not just a payment method. Sometimes [the Anghami subscription] comes with free data package, and payment flexibilities like paying daily or monthly – all of this helped us to scale up and grow our subscriptions base,” says Maroun.

Understanding these nuances of the Mena market, from the mobile infrastructure to the lack of credit card penetration helped Anghami to not only scale, but maintain its market leadership when global players started entering the region.  

Today, Anghami has 40 direct telco partnerships, and direct mobile billing remains the dominant payment method for its users. Saudi Arabia’s Mobily even became an investor in 2013, putting in $1.5 million alongside Dubai-based du in 2014 which invested $5 million.

“This is part of the localisation you always have to think about, I don’t think a global company will go to each telco and go through each of their billing cycle,” he says. “This is a very strong edge we have as a local player to remain competitive and we have a very solid differentiator compared to the global competition.”

In 2018 both Spotify and Deezer entered the region, two players that enjoy strong presence around the world. The growing competition helped with educating the market says Maroun and as a result, Anghami’s own user base rose.

“The biggest competitor for us has always been piracy,” he says. “When Spotify and Deezer came to the region we had growth, the past three years we grew by 80 per cent. Having competition might sound like they will eat your market share, but it educates the market more, there is more awareness around streaming, it grows the whole pie and ecosystem, and it puts you on your toes, you want to innovate more and you want to push yourself more.”

Maroun refuses to reveal whether either Spotify, Deezer or other platforms made an acquisition offer, but says “if you want to be dominant in the Middle East, Anghami is the obvious target”.

Pandemic

By 2016, Anghami had amassed 30 million users of which 65 per cent were paying subscribers and had built up a catalogue of 20 million songs and raised $23.7 million from investors which included $3 million from MBC Ventures who also provided Anghami with exclusive video content. Anghami’s platform continued to mature, adding new features and services along the way including podcasts, movies and TV series streaming by 2019 when it reached one million paying subscribers.

The company seemed to be going from strength to strength, until the pandemic hit.

“The pandemic was one of the biggest challenges, we were in a tunnel without any lights, no visibility on what was going to come or how we were going to go past this. It came at a stage when we were fundraising and we were looking for funds to grow. It was really hard, the learnings out of these times are very important,” says Maroun.

At the beginning of the pandemic, consumption dropped by about 10 per cent on the platform, people were consuming more news than listening to music, artists were not releasing new content, but eventually habits went back to “normal”.

During this time, the team pushed themselves to be more “disciplined and nimble” according to Maroun and worked hard to launch new features including virtual concerts and live radio.

“We pushed ourselves more and more to become efficient financially, we closed the year at almost being topline positive,” he says.

The company eventually did secure funding, this time from Shuaa Capital in December and the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) which prompted Anghami to relocate its headquarters from Beirut to Hub71 in Abu Dhabi, a move that Maroun says is “more suitable” for Anghami’s next phase of growth.

“You have a much bigger economy [in the UAE], you’re closer to your core markets, you have easier access to the world and talent, you have more access to capital, this is very important and you have a serious and tremendous support by government authorities who are conscious of growing home-grown and local tech companies,” he says.

Future growth

While Habib and Maroun had several exit offers, they refused. As a “pan-Arab media tech company”, the pair thought it more important for the region to go public and develop the local ecosystem.

“We were exploring a lot of funding options, mostly on private placement level. We started to see the emergence of SPACs in the US, we had been approached by Vistas and we clicked, we thought their size and our stage of the company are a perfect match, being public in a liquid market made perfect sense for us,” says Maroun.

Going public on NASDAQ will enable Anghami to be “more local” and “more independent” according to Maroun.

"When you’re not reliant on VC funds or you’re not acquired by another company, you maintain some sort of independence on how you want to function. This has been one of the core pillars in our decision to go public. We didn’t want to settle for another company and somehow kill the Anghami brand and the experience we’ve been building for this particular audience,” he says.

We believe Anghami can always be this Arab platform that provides more customisation and works closer with the Arab and local and ecosystem. We have the funding to grow and do better without being under a bigger company.”

Now that it has gone public, this is when the “real work starts”, says Maroun, which will entail growing the team and establishing a research and development (R&D) centre in Abu Dhabi, to innovate and “be more adaptive and relevant to the region”.

Anghami's AI and machine learning algorithms currently process over 56 million data points from its user base every day. Over nine years of user data is enabling the company to predict user behaviour and trends to better focus its investments and improve monetisation.

“We always innovate in our space to be more relevant and respond more the needs of our market and ecosystem, we always believed the region’s Arabic content is very under-penetrated,” says Maroun.

The platform now has more than 72 million songs, of which only 1 per cent is Arabic, whereas consumption of Arabic songs accounts for half.

“There is a gap in demand and supply and there is an opportunity for Anghami to play a role in filling this gap,” he says. In late 2021, Anghami launched record-label Vibe Music Arabia in partnership with Sony Music Middle East dedicated to supporting the independent Arab artists across the GCC and Levant. The label will help provide a way for Arab artists to reach their audience and “monetise through streaming, brand partnerships” while giving them “a platform or stage to develop their identity as artists from a popularity point of view and revenue points of view”.

The company is also setting its sights on future growth in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, “there’s huge potential and a lot of untapped potential in the Mena region,” says Maroun.

This article was originally published in March 2021

February 10th 2022, 1:24 am

UAE’s Hubpay raises $20 million Series A fundraising

Wamda

Press release:

The Middle East and North Africa-focused fintech Hubpay on Tuesday (Feb. 8) announced it has closed a $20 million Series A fundraising round and has also launched a cross-border digital wallet with no-cost remittances to drive financial inclusion across the region.

Signal Peak Ventures led Hubpay’s most recent funding round, its first investment in the Arabian Gulf, with participation by Olive Tree Capital and BECO Capital as well as early-stage investors Stormbreaker, Emkan Capital and Aditum.

Hubpay, the first startup licensed in the United Arab Emirates for digital money services, will use the fresh capital to hire more employees and continue its international expansion, particularly in Asia and Africa in 2022. The company has offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Karachi and London.

The company has “multiple products in the pipeline,” the company announcement says.

“The fintech market across MENAP is at a turning point,” said founder and CEO Kevin Kilty in Hubpay announcement. “A wave of new digital regulatory regimes has been launched, enabling businesses like Hubpay to offer fully digital solutions to underbanked users.

“Key ecosystem building blocks, such as digital KYC and the ubiquity of smartphones, have created a landscape to drive the largest financial inclusion trends that we’ve seen since Alipay was launched in China,” he said.

February 9th 2022, 4:20 pm

Wamda works with The Financial Times to bring global insights in English and Arabic to Mena’s techno

Wamda

Wamda, the Middle East region's leading startup ecosystem enabler and bilingual knowledge platform, integrates global publisher Financial Times’s most relevant content into its thought leadership strategy to bring its community and readers a broader scope, and deeper global insights and trends. 

The Financial Times is one of the world’s leading business news organisations, recognised internationally for its authority, integrity and accuracy. FT journalists provide authoritative analysis of the biggest issues in global business, finance and industry.

The Wamda multi-format knowledge platform features opinion pieces from the region’s most seasoned entrepreneurs and experts, sector deep-dives and insights, as well as research reports, surveys, podcasts, to support startups and the technology ecosystem across the Middle East and North Africa. 

Wamda will select regionally relevant, and globally insightful Financial Times’s content, translate it to Arabic, and publish it regularly in both languages on its platform wamda.com. 

The global pandemic has been a catalyst for the long-anticipated rise of the digital sector and tech adoption with the primary beneficiary being the local startups. According to Wamda, In 2021, Mena’s startups raised $2.87 billion, a record-breaking amount for the region, and a testament to this newly found commitment to the technology sector. 

In response to the pandemic, Mena’s governments are implementing reforms and introducing new policies to build a more sustainable and technology inclusive economic model to catapult growth and development. But the Middle East and North Africa's startup ecosystem no longer operates in silo and is increasingly part of a global ecosystem. 

Republishing the Financial Times’s extensive world-coverage will allow Wamda to broaden its content and research spectrum, and continue to inform and enable Mena’s founders, business leaders, and ecosystem stakeholders in these times of uncertainty, opportunity and change. 

 

February 9th 2022, 8:24 am

Egypt fintech Thndr raises $20 million in Series A

Wamda

Press release:

Thndr, the Egyptian digital investment platform, announces a new $20 million series A investment. The round was co-led by Tiger Global, BECO Capital and Prosus Ventures, in addition to participation from Base Capital, firstminute and existing investors Endure Capital, 4DX Ventures, Raba Partnerships and JIMCO. 

The new funding will go towards product development and to expand Thndr’s presence across MENA. Thndr has grown assets under custody rapidly – 29x during 2021 – and monthly traded values up are by similar levels. Thndr also accounted for 36% of all new registrations in the local Egyptian exchanges during 2021.

Launched in late 2020 by Ahmad Hammouda and Seif Amr, Thndr is filling this gap by transforming the traditionally outdated, slow, and non-user-friendly process of opening and managing investment accounts in the region. The company is making it easy to invest in stocks, bonds, and funds in the region through its mobile-based and low-commission digital stock brokerage. 

Compared to the US and Europe, MENA countries are significantly underserved when it comes to investment platforms and current investor penetration is less than 3 per cent across the region.

MENA’s market fundamentals are compelling: The region’s population of 370 million amasses $500 billion in annual savings; 62 percent have smartphones; and half the population is aged between 14-45 years old. Platforms like Thndr are creating investors out of members of the population who previously had limited equity market exposure. In fact, 87 per cent of Thndr’s user base are first time investors and 40 per cent of users come from rural areas. 

Ahmad Hammouda, Co-Founder and CEO of Thndr, said: 

“We are building an investment supermarket for MENA consumers to access relevant investment products. With a focus on financial literacy, we equip investors with the knowledge to make self-directed investment decisions. We pride ourselves in being agents of change in the investment sector, and staying true to our mission of democratising investing for everybody in the region. The support from leading global investors is a significant endorsement to our strategy and the very clear market opportunity in the region. We’re thrilled to announce this new funding to continue pioneering wealthtech in the region.”

Alex Cook, Partner at Tiger Global, commented: 

“We're excited to support Ahmad, Seif, and the Thndr team as they make investing more accessible in Egypt and the MENA region. The market is lacking a low cost, easy to use platform for investing and saving, and we believe Thndr will deliver best-in-class customer experience as the platform scales.” 

Yousef Hammad, Managing Partner at BECO Capital, said:

"The Thndr team's vision and mission to empower millions of individuals across the MENA region, starting off with Egypt, to become everyday investors resonated very strongly with us. We have been close to the Thndr team since the very beginning and have seen first hand the team's ability to continuously execute. After scoping the MENA landscape, it became very clear that Hammouda and the Thndr team are tackling the space in a far superior way to others."

Sandeep Bakshi, Head of European Investments for Prosus Ventures, commented:

“Compared to other developed regions, the opportunity in MENA for equity brokerage is more complex for an international player to capture given the regional fragmentation, cultural nuances, and regulatory framework. Thndr is in a unique position to execute on this massive opportunity. We believe the company’s mission is part of a transformative era for fintech in the region, enabling a larger and younger population of individuals to access equity capital markets.”

 

February 9th 2022, 8:24 am

Social media app ASKWHO raises $1 million Seed funding

Wamda

Press release:

ASKWHO, the UAE’s most innovative social media group app, has successfully raised $1 million  from a series of well-known angel investors during its latest funding round. 

Designed to improve people’s mental health and promote a sense of community, ASKWHO invites users to join localised group discussion pages that focus on particular interests such as fitness, outdoors, art, lifestyle, travel and wellness within a certain city.This organised, topic-based format makes it easy for users to meet like-minded individuals, see posts about things that interest them, share tips, gain knowledge and feel a better sense of belonging. Most of all, ASKWHO aims to help people turn online friends into real ones. 

Michael Askew, CEO of ASKWHO, said: “Communities are so important and they have been around since the beginning of time. So, we want to provide our users with a ‘home from home’, a place they can belong to and depend on. We alleviate the pain points caused by current social media applications and promote doing more together in real life”.Indeed, ASKWHO is the result of years of hard work, research, iterations and countless hours of speaking to people through interviews, surveys and focus groups.Matthew Gaziano, COO of ASKWHO, said: “We’re excited to continue our growth and build on our current success. We hope to become the region’s market leader in the social media sector.”

ASKWHO is a valuable resource for expats who have just moved to the region, or for those who have been here for years and are looking to make new friends. Plus, with the new trend for home and hybrid-working making it more difficult for many adults to make friends within the workplace, the service provided by the application is arguably more vital than ever.  

Proving the need for such an application within the region, ASKWHO’s key metrics are on par with Facebook, whilst they surpass those recorded by LinkedIn, Reddit, Discord, Twitter and other leading social media platforms. The ground-breaking application is available to download for free from the App Store, and it will also be featured very soon on Google Play. Users can also unlock additional features when they upgrade to a premium account for AED 24.99 per month. 

ASKWHO joins a growing list of start-ups that are thriving after launching into the region’s vibrant ecosystem. ASKWHO also bolsters Dubai’s reputation as a leading destination for talent and entrepreneurs.

 

February 9th 2022, 8:24 am
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