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Want economic prosperity? Help women become more financially capable


Dina Alnabulsi is a business analyst at Globitel, a Jordan-based telecommunications company

Financial exclusion is a universal issue, one that is facing the majority of the global population. The latest figures from the World Bank’s Findex report indicate that there are at least 1.7 billion adults—one-third of the world’s adult population— remain unbanked and do not utilise any banking services. Women make up 56 per cent of the world’s unbanked adult population.

The Middle East and North Africa (Mena) not only has the largest unbanked population in the world, it also has the largest global gender disparity in terms of financial inclusion. The World Bank report states that 52 per cent of men have access to a bank account as opposed to only 35 per cent of women in Mena; this disparity has a remarkable impact on women’s employment and financial independence. 

By definition, unbanked individuals are the ones who do not have access to a bank account or financial services, such as saving accounts and credit cards, etc. While underbanked individuals have limited access to some financial services; however, they rely on cash and alternative financial systems to perform their financial transactions instead of an affordable banking setup. Due to their lack of access to a proper banking system, these unbanked (or underbanked) individuals have no credit history, making it tough for them to buy real estate or initiate a business. Moreover, participating in a cashless economy, daily financial transactions become more challenging to manage, which can influence the overall poverty gap in society.

 In 2019, the average women's employment participation rate in Egypt, Jordan, Oman, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and UAE—was 24.6 per cent compared to the global average of 47.8 per cent. As a result, women are generating less than 1/5th of the region’s GDP, resulting in an annual loss of $575 billion according to OECD. This disparity in the Mena region exists due to the social barriers imposed upon women, which hamper their chances to access jobs easily. 

On the other hand, it seems like in some countries like Jordan; more women use alternative finance; according to Tanmeyah Jo’s website, approximately 74.5 per cent of the microfinance borrowers in Jordan during the first quarter of 2021 were women, with an average loan size of 569 Jordanian Dinars (JOD); and 426,574 active loans. It is important to realise that financial literacy is a prerequisite for financial inclusion. Although governments and institutions are making efforts to improve access to financial resources, such efforts can easily result in high debts and mortgage defaults if the stakeholders are not financially skillful, and even though alternative financial services may appear cheaper as costs are disclosed early on, they could add up to be more expensive. 

Why is it important to close the gap?

Both men and women must be financially literate to make sound financial decisions, but in many instances, women usually face greater restrictions to banking access and suffer limited knowledge regarding financial benefits and products. Being financially capable is exhibited in common behaviours such as saving, planning, keeping track of one’s financial situation, participating in the financial system, and remaining up-to-date and informed. It is evident that when people are included in a financial system, they are better capable of improving their health, investing in businesses and education, and facilitating their entire families. Consequently, there is a ripple effect on the wider society to ameliorate standards of life.

Usually, children observe and mimic their parents' spending habits and in Mena, it is still very common for women to spend most of their time with their children. Hence, their interaction can play a vital role in transmitting financial skills and habits to their children, as they tend to follow the habits adopted by their mothers. Therefore, it can be concluded that the financial education of women can help educate future generations.

Mena women also tend to manage household resources; according to an IPSOS study, women are the major household shoppers in several Mena markets. The study reveals that 8 out of 10 women in the region are responsible for their household grocery shopping. However, these statistics vary from country to country; approximately 93 per cent in Egypt, 94 per cent in Saudi Arabia, 56 per cent in Jordan, 55 per cent in Morocco, and 46 per cent in Iraq. Moreover, women in Mena usually have high involvement in household purchasing decisions. However, they are mostly dependent on receiving an allowance - in Iraq 82 per cent of women and 81 per cent of women in Jordan are dependent on an allowance, compared to 45 per cent and 41 per cent in the UAE and Kuwait, respectively.

Women typically live longer, but they have shorter working lives on average which means they require financial awareness and education to sustain themselves. The average life expectancy for women in the UAE in 1999 was 77.8 years, compared to 73.5 years for men. Likewise, in other GCC states, the average life expectancy for women was 78.4 years, compared to 74.3 years in men. Furthermore, the complexity of financial markets is increasing, and women must be able to cope with it. They should be accomplished with adequate skill sets, participatory knowledge, and confidence to make sound financial decisions. Not only should they acquire appropriate financial literacy to manage their individual and family financial setup, but also they must be empowered to utilise the right financial services and cultivate their own entrepreneurial opinions and attitudes. As a result, they will free themselves financially and positively impact society in general.

How is financial literacy measured?

Financial literacy can be measured through a combination of three different components: financial knowledge, behaviour, and attitudes. Financial wellbeing is derived from positive behaviours, thereby indicating that financial education is required to change behaviours and improve financial wellbeing.

It should be noted that there is a difference between financial wellness and financial education. The latter suggests that education brings awareness and comprehension of how money works and how to handle it responsibly by creating an optimum budget, management of debt, and saving process. On the other hand, financial wellness is related to the implementation of this knowledge. 

How can fintech help?

The female economy is growing fast in Mena, but it is still greatly ignored and underserved. Therefore, fintech startups have a great opportunity to exploit this situation. One idea is to adopt a gender-intelligent approach and transcend beyond the traditional gender-neutral products. Focusing on data-driven solutions designed around the needs and preferences of women. This model can enable women to be more resilient to financial insecurities and economic management. Moreover, fintech should seek collaborations with governments, financial institutions, and ecosystem stakeholders to design strategies, which can address the unfulfilled financial needs of women.

Finally, Mena countries have exhibited some growth in active and registered users of mobile money. Although this growth is not as high as Sub-Saharan Africa or East Asia, it still accounts for 51 million registered and 19 million active users of mobile phones. There are about 65 million unbanked women in Mena who own a mobile phone, among whom three million work in the private sector and are paid their salaries in cash. This can be an opportunity to leverage mobile solutions for the financial convenience of women. Such steps will make banking more accessible and reduce gender disparity in the financial industry.

July 22nd 2021, 12:47 am

Istikana: Streaming its way to production


In most homes in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), the television is still the focal point of the living room, bringing together families to consume news, entertainment shows and their favourite musalsalat. The daily time spent watching TV per capita in Mena was six hours and 20 minutes in 2018 according to Statisa, more than double the global average of two hours and 48 minutes. But this has been slowly declining as cheaper access to the internet and growth in digital payment solutions has led to a rise in subscription-based video-on demand (SVOD) and streaming services. 

The sector, which includes regional players like Starzplay, Jawwy TV and Shahid and international services like Netflix, have done exceptionally well since the outbreak of the coronavirus. According to Statista, the number of subscribers for video streaming services has risen by 56 per cent since the pandemic in Mena. 

Carving out a niche for itself is Istikana, a Jordan-based SVOD platform that focuses on Arabic content, including hard-to-find classics, never-seen-before independent films and documentaries that are difficult to find on other online streaming platforms.

“Movies are made to be watched, not to just be displayed and compete in international film festivals and remain anonymous to the audience,” says Tareq Abu-Lughod, Istikana’s CEO who co-founded the company in 2011 alongside Samer Abdin and Sami Shalabi. “Istikana gives a golden chance to independent movie makers in the region to showcase their movies to a wide-scale audience.”

The idea for Istikana started in 2011, when Abu-Lughod, alongside his co-founder Sami Shalabi came across Netflix, which pioneered online video streaming. 

“We both came to the realisation that traditional platforms of television would soon be outdated and people would be seeking and consuming content online. So we started researching a little bit and we bumped into Netflix, at the time it was a much smaller company, and we decided we should do the same for Arabic content and Arabic audiences,” says Abu-Lughod. 

The pair toyed with the idea and spoke with content developers, producers and distributors about the concept and licensing their content for it. 

“We found that there was huge demand for this and this kind of delivery of the content  and in 2013 we decided to go a little serious about this business model,” he says. 

After raising some investment, the pair decided to switch from an advertising-based model to a subscription-based one. Today the vast majority of its subscribers are from the younger diaspora in the US, Australia and Canada.

“The younger generations in the diaspora are eager to be connected to home, that is why they form the biggest chunk of our subscribers. They also use Istikana for educational purposes for kids,” says Abu-Lughod.

Istikana’s subscribers has increased tenfold to 30,000 since the start of the pandemic, helped by new partnerships struck with platforms like Sling, a US-based streaming television services and Foxxum app store. 

“People expected the content to be free on television or on YouTube and I think there’s been a major shift. The likes of Netflix really enabled and helped us and others operate in this very difficult market,” says Abu-Lughod. 

Despite the recent surge in demand, the nascent sector still faces several key challenges. 

“For us, the major challenge is payment methods; we have provided almost every possible payment option for the unbanked subscribers with no credit cards, such as physical scratch cards and prepaid mobile payments,” Abu-Lughod explains. 

Piracy and protecting intellectual property rights is another issue facing content creators and streaming platforms. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges facing Istikana is having to compete with regional giants like Starzplay (1.5 million subscribers), Shahid (839,000 subscribers), and most recently Jawwy TV who are backed by large budgets and large studios to create their own content. 

With its focus on promoting independent films, Istikana is planning to co-produce its own content, in collaboration with independent filmmakers with six films in the pipeline set to be launched next year. 

“We have a limited budget to create and support original content, but we want to spread it to as many people as possible,” says Abu-Lughod. “What used to be hard was locating this content, identifying it, and getting the licence for a global audience.  I think over time, more and more of these filmmakers are more familiar with our platform, our plans and how we can support them.

We're really looking at building a platform with a mission to get Arabic content with a purpose to [showcase] and tell our story with our own voice,” he adds. 

July 20th 2021, 1:51 am

Nawah Scientific expands to Jordan, prepares for Series A


Press release

Nawah Scientific, Egypt’s fastest-growing life science venture, has announced today the soft launch of its business in Jordan.

“With a very vibrant and strong scientific ecosystem, Jordan was the must-go option for Nawah” Nawah’s founder Dr. Omar Sakr commented. “Despite the relatively smaller size of Jordan to other MENA countries, Jordanian scientists are way ahead of others on so many fronts, and Jordanian universities are the cornerstone behind this significant impact. Yet, there is much more to achieve and Nawah is coming to Jordan to help make this happen.” This is not Nawah's first time doing business in Jordan. In fact, collaboration with Jordanian universities and scientists has been established since 2018 remotely through Nawah's hub in Cairo.

With a clear mission to “Empower Science in MENA & Africa”, Nawah has introduced a brand-new business model to the region, bringing the power of the digital era to the capable hands of scientists.“Scientists' role is to think, design the experiments, and interpret results, we do the rest of technical work for them at Nawah” commented Prof. Ali El-Halawany, Chief Scientific Officer at Nawah.

Here is how it works: Nawah's online platform receives experiments requests, a courier collects samples for analysis, Nawah's scientists carry needed tests and return results online.  By this, Nawah enables scientists to do higher-quality research regardless of their location and owned lab facilities. Several industries are direct beneficiaries of Nawah services. In the last couple of years, Nawah has become an integral part of the Pharma industry in Egypt with hundreds of samples flowing for analysis, routine checks, or formulations requiring improvement by Nawah pharmaceutical formulation team. The food industry comes second with a massive need for analysis of ingredients as well as the growing need for ensuring food safety.

Nawah plans to extend its scope of services to the agriculture, chemical, and oil industries in the foreseeable future.  Earlier this year, Nawah has announced closing another 1M USD pre-series A round with the inauguration of its new hub of labs, which was described as “The biggest private multidisciplinary research hub in Egypt”. In a recent media interview, Dr. Omar Sakr has announced that Nawah is working on a record Series A investment round, that is the biggest for a life science venture in the region, with decent traction from international VC funds.

July 18th 2021, 7:46 pm

Egypt’s healthtech Estshara raises $500,000 in Seed round


Press release:

Estshara, the Cairo-based healthtech startup and teleconsultations platform has successfully raised $500,000 in a Seed funding round led by Egypt Ventures. This fund put the startup on the map of promising Healthcare Startups in Emerging Venture Markets.

Founded by Amin El-Hemaily and Ahmed Mahmoud, Estshara is an online platform providing health consultations and telepharmacy services to a vast number of patients, including employees of private enterprises and partner medical insurance companies. With the increasing need and preference for remote digital solutions, Estshara has been especially helpful for patients since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Currently serving two million users, with a track record of more than 200,000 consultations to date, Estshara is on the path to leave its mark on the healthtech industry. Egypt Ventures Chairman & CEO, Ahmed Gomaa highlights “We are excited to see this promising healthtech player, Estshara, contributing to digital transformation and financial inclusion in the Egyptian market.” By the end of 2021, Estshara will additionally be providing consultations from specialty doctors including pediatricians, dermatologists

The Cairo-based healthtech startup plans on employing its newly acquired $500,000 fund to expand its current user base from two million to six million by the end of the year, as well as further develop its offerings and customer care activities. Founder and CEO of Estshara, Dr. Amin Elhemaily concludes “The investment will help us scale our organisation with exceptional talent and enhanced resources, as well as further increase our marketing and sales outreach to support our focused go-to-market strategy and achieve our expansion goals.” 

July 18th 2021, 7:46 pm

Does Palestine have investment-ready startups?


Majd Zghyer is the strategy officer at uMake, an entrepreneurship support organisation (ESO) based in Ramallah, Palestine.

So far this year, startups across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) have raised over a $1 billion in investment, a record-breaking amount for the regional ecosystem. Most of the investment in the region however, is concentrated in the three biggest hubs – the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Out of the 249 startups that raised investment in the first half of this year, just one of them was Palestinian (Kenz).

The funding gap becomes more insurmountable when compared with the mere $150 million that Palestine-based startups have raised – not over the span of a calendar year but to date – based on data published by the International Conference on Entrepreneurship in Palestine (ICEP).

There is no doubt that Palestine is facing existential challenges due to long years of restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation - the big elephant in the room. I should also be clear that the aim of the comparison here is not to deny facts and context but rather to put things in perspective so we can acknowledge the current state of startup funding in Palestine and explore ways to address gaps and unlock opportunities.

 A fragmented donor-funded ecosystem

Palestine’s long history of struggle against occupation and injustice has directly affected its development trajectory and created a long list of obstacles that continue to impede unlocking the true potential of its talented people. An overview of the recent available macroeconomic data published by the World Bank (WB) can reveal some of the features that characterise the Palestinian economy. Frankly, given its structural deficiencies, the Palestinian economy is still largely dependent on donor funding from foreign governments and international institutions. According to official data published by the World Bank, Palestine received $2.2 billion in net Official Development Assistance (ODA) in 2019. Not surprisingly, this figure represented more than 13 per cent of the Palestinian gross domestic product (GDP) - which was estimated at $16 billion for the same year. On the other hand, Palestine attracted $122 million as total foreign direct investment (FDI) throughout 2019 which represented a meagre 0.7 per cent of Palestinian GDP. This very low level of FDI inflows indicates that Palestine is not seen as an attractive investment destination by traditional pools of capital, let alone by VC funds and tech startup investors.

More importantly, the enormous gap between FDI and ODA should give us a clear indication of how much Palestine is experiencing “donor-dependency” while also suffering when it comes to attracting private investments. It is worth noting that while I don’t doubt the good intentions of international donors nor the effectiveness of foreign aid, I strongly believe that addressing many of Palestine’s developmental challenges requires a new approach. Yes, donor funding has enabled Palestinians to build an institutional foundation for their long-awaited future state and helped address social and economic challenges here and there. For example, in May 2021 the WB approved a new US$30 million Development Policy Grant (DPG) to support the digital foundations of the Palestinian economy, strengthen recovery and resilience post Covid-19, and improve governance and transparency in the public sector. Yet, when it comes to building an innovation-based economy and a robust startup ecosystem, a completely different approach is urgently needed. With youth unemployment rates still exceeding 40 per cent, it’s time to move beyond the conventional narrative of philanthropy and endorse a transformative approach that rewards hard work, talent, innovation and impact.

In its recent ‘Palestinian Startup Ecosystem Summary Document’ that was prepared by Startup Genome, the Palestinian Ministry of National Economy’s Innovative Private Sector Development (IPSD) Project concludes that the Palestinian ecosystem is going through its ‘Early Activation Phase’. Specifically, with fewer than 300 tech startups, limited early-stage funding and no success stories yet (in terms of high valuations and exit deals), the Palestinian startup ecosystem is still fragmented with limited connections to regional and international markets. In order to help address existing gaps, IPSD recommends building a ‘collaborative approach’ that emphasises knowledge exchange among local stakeholders as well as improving access to regional and international market opportunities. Importantly, the document sends a message of hope by confirming that despite the challenges, the Palestinian ecosystem has a growth potential and that by taking the right actions, it can advance through the next phases of an ecosystem lifecycle. The most important factor in building a robust startup ecosystem is ‘multi-stakeholder cooperation’. Unlocking untapped opportunities requires greater collaboration among the three main players within the ecosystem - government, the private sector and the entrepreneurial community.

 The way forward

On a governmental level, so much work needs to be done with regards to regulation, spending on research and development (R&D) and the establishment of government-backed investment funds. First of all, the government should play a role as an enabler and facilitator of economic growth by creating the regulatory framework that makes it easier to launch new businesses and provides incentives for risk-taking innovation. Secondly, the government can help plant the initial seeds in the ecosystem by catalysing R&D and supporting innovators at universities and research institutes to commercialise their innovations. Palestinian policymakers should give much greater attention to R&D and devise well-structured initiatives to improve it – there should be no excuses when we know that Israel spends around 5 per cent of its GDP on R&D and this has definitely had a significant impact on its booming startups that recently raised US$10.5 billion in the first half of 2021. Lastly, the government can activate new opportunities by establishing government-backed investment funds that can be managed by the private sector and aim to invest in VC funds or directly into startups at the earliest stages. These types of funds are very critical to de-risk investments and help create a local VC industry that attracts the attention of investors from Palestine and internationally. An inspiring lesson can be drawn from the success of the Innovative Startups and SMEs Fund (ISSF) in Jordan which changed the entrepreneurial game in the Kingdom and encouraged hundreds of amazing Jordanian companies. The Palestinian national institutions such as the Higher Council for Innovation & Excellence (HCIE), the Ministry of Entrepreneurship and Empowerment and the Palestine Investment Fund (PIF) are perfectly positioned to lead the way in addressing gaps in this necessary field.

Furthermore, the private sector as the ultimate ‘engine of economic growth’ must play a bigger role in building the startup ecosystem. Strictly speaking, local Entrepreneurship Support Organisations (ESOs) - such as accelerators, incubators and innovation hubs - can play a significant role by providing the infrastructure and tools that would enable early-stage founders to embark on a rewarding entrepreneurial journey. The role of local ESOs becomes more pivotal when the ecosystem is still in the Early Activation Phase. Therefore, ESOs themselves should be supported, their capacities must be enhanced and their financial independence must be ensured so they can make a meaningful difference to their direct beneficiaries: the entrepreneurs and early-stage startups. In addition to local ESOs, the presence of funding options is critical for startups that seek to grow and expand their offerings. Unfortunately, there’s currently only one active institutional VC fund in Palestine, Ibtikar fund, which invests in Palestinian startups at the Seed and pre-Series A stages. Indeed, VC funding is probably the most important factor in the startup game and the Palestinian ecosystem is in dire need for new emerging funds (and angel investing networks) with greater focus on the pre-Seed and Seed stages. Another arena where the private sector can play an essential role is through increased cooperation between big corporates and startups. This kind of cooperation can be beneficial for both sides through knowledge exchange, technological diffusion and impactful synergies. Corporates like Bank of Palestine and PalTel Group have led the way in this field not only by supporting local initiatives, but also by creating their own innovation hubs.

The final piece in the puzzle – the entrepreneurial community – lies at the heart of any thriving startup ecosystem. Despite their important roles, both the government and the private sector are considered the ‘enablers’ of change in the ecosystem. It is the entrepreneurs who are the real ‘builders’ and ‘drivers’ of the ecosystem through their innovative ideas and disruptive business models that aim to positively change our economy and society. However, entrepreneurs have a responsibility to keep updating their skills and commit time and effort before they can enjoy the rewards of success. In recent years, there has been a number of excellent incubation and accelerator programmes that have enabled Palestinian entrepreneurs to acquire the skills and confidence needed for success in their entrepreneurial journey. Among these programmes is the Founder Institute (FI) accelerator programme which targets startups at the pre-Seed stage and based on the programme’s direct links with Silicon Valley, it provides its graduates with excellent mentorship, training and upskilling opportunities. Importantly, over the past three years, the programme has enabled Palestinian entrepreneurs to launch 18 promising startups with completed company registration, minimum viable product (MVP) and limited traction in terms of customers/users and revenue. Yet, the impact of the programme is constrained by limited early-stage funding and few connections to regional and international markets. It is hoped that the recently launched “IGNITE Investment Readiness Advisory Services’’ programme can address these two gaps by enabling aspiring entrepreneurs to get their ‘businesses ready for investment’ and ultimately enhance the investment deal flow in Palestine.  

 The moment will come

Despite being in its ‘Early Activation Phase’, the Palestinian startup ecosystem has genuine growth potential. However, the right pieces of the puzzle must come together in order to establish a transformative approach capable of addressing existing gaps, especially the challenges related to early-stage funding and access to regional and international markets. Additionally, a ‘triple helix’ model of cooperation - between the Palestinian government, the private sector and the entrepreneurial community - is the ultimate pre-condition for unlocking the true potential of the Palestinian ecosystem. Equally important is the urgent need to move beyond the unproductive mentality of ‘donor-dependency’ and utilise all available resources to create a different reality that rewards hard-work, talent, innovation and impact.

I cannot finish this article without giving a round of applause to all Palestinian entrepreneurs who have demonstrated their resilience and managed to succeed despite the challenges. Startups like Mashvisor, ReceetTawazonWeDeliverRedCrowFanera,  GamiphyInggezFlowless and Kenz - to name a few - give us a valuable lesson in startup growth and success. It is the need to build products/services tailored for solutions to problems in regional and international markets from the get-go. In other words, what all these inspiring startups have in common is the direct route to scalability. This strategy helps turn the curse of a small fragmented local market into a blessing by taking advantage of the growth potential in other markets and regions thus attracting the attention of customers, partners and investors. There is no doubt that the next generation of Palestinian entrepreneurs can follow the same strategy and provide the region and the world with impactful solutions to complex problems in exciting fields such as fintech, agritech, edtech, medtech and many others. With the right incentive structure and transformative opportunities, I am optimistic that we will soon start hearing about investors knocking on Palestine’s door and declaring their willingness to invest.


July 17th 2021, 11:46 pm

SRMG acquires 51 per cent of Saudi podcast platform Thmanyah


Press release:

The Saudi Research & Media Group (SRMG) announced Wednesday the acquisition of a 51 per cent controlling stake in Arabic podcast platform Thmanyah, one of the leading podcast platforms and documentary producers in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region.

SRMG’s acquisition of Thmanyah is part of the Group’s new digital-first, multi-platform approach and commitment to delivering original, unique and exclusive content to consumers through new digital and social platforms.

SRMG will leverage its global network and reach to support Thmanyah’s growth ambitions into new genres and geographies, while benefiting from Thmanyah’s creative and production capabilities to enhance brand equity across its titles.

Founded in Saudi Arabia in 2016, Thmanyah is a leading producer of Arabic podcasts and documentaries. Its many highly rated podcasts include “Fnjan”, an Arabic talk show with more than 1.6 million average monthly listeners, as well as “Swalif Business”, “Socrates”, and “Things That Changed Us”.

Its podcasts and documentaries have been recognised with seven awards across the Mena region, including two consecutive awards from the Saudi Ministry of Media. On “Socrates,” Thmanyah has documented three years of progress on Vision 2030 objectives, featuring more than 50 leaders from the Saudi public sphere.

Thmanyah is also a leading documentary producer in Saudi Arabia, with more than 90 documentaries and short films with more than 15 million viewers. The documentaries cover a broad range of topics including popular videos on Malcolm X, Edward Said, and the kidnapping of a Saudi consul in Iran.

Jomana Al-Rashid, CEO of SRMG, said: “By acquiring one of the leading Arabic podcast platforms and documentary producers, we are reinforcing our commitment to providing our audiences with original, exclusive and premium content through new digital platforms. The global podcast market is expected to grow in value to around $3.9 billion in the next two years, enabling forward-thinking and creative platforms to capture new audiences and capitalise on monetisation opportunities, such as advertising revenues.”

“With its award-winning podcasts and documentaries, Thmanyah presents an exciting opportunity for us to explore new ideas and openings in this space. We look forward to welcoming the Thmanyah team on board and working with them to help grow the business into new genres and geographies.”

Abdulrahman Abumalih, CEO of Thmanyah, said: “We are delighted to be joining SRMG, a leading source of news, information and lifestyle content for people in the Mena region and around the world. In the five years since Thmanyah was founded, we have grown steadily with a clear focus on delivering quality content to the region’s expanding digital audiences through our podcasts and documentaries.”

“We will continue growing and will use this investment to create more content and tap into new audiences. I look forward to working with SRMG to produce an even stronger platform that combines our strengths and SRMG’s wide reach to benefit our listeners, viewers and advertisers.”

SRMG’s new strategy focuses on expanding its current portfolio, digital offerings and global reach, unlocking international commercial opportunities in fast-growing regional markets and worldwide. It is worth noting that SRMG owns more than 30 major media outlets including Asharq Al-Awsat, Arab News, and Asharq Business with Bloomberg, and has a combined monthly reach of 165 million.

July 15th 2021, 4:00 pm

Arrow Labs raises $5 million in Series A


Press release

Arrow Labs, the technology company uniting deskless, frontline workers - welcomes the investment of Draper Associates, the Venture Capital fund founded by renowned American investor Tim Draper, in its US$5 million Series A fundraise.

Draper Associates’ investment is one of the company’s first in a MENA region company, reflecting the company’s excitement at the technology of Arrow Labs. Other prominent investments to date by Draper include Baidu, Hotmail, Skype, Tesla, SpaceX, and Twitter.

Tim Draper, Founder & Managing Partner of Draper Associates, said: “For many years, investment in critical remote working tools has focused almost exclusively on office based staff. This has caused front-line workers to become disconnected. This is a global issue, affecting hundreds of millions of people, and a solution is required. Arrow Labs’ technology has really caught my eye. They have built the solution the world needs, which is already being used by some of the biggest global brands.

“The start-up ecosystem in the MENA region is very exciting, and Arrow Labs is a unique player there. I’m delighted to make them one of my first investments in the region.”

Arrow Lab’s core product is a platform (MIMS) – an enterprise SaaS software – unifying frontline workers. Accessed by mobile app, web, and wearables – it connects employees/machines/facilities – to deliver flawless work-flow execution. The platform reduces operating costs by 20%, increases staff productivity by 30% and business efficiency by 40%.

Investment proceeds will be used to accelerate growth into new markets. Specifically, funds will drive further growth in the U.S. market, and enhance development of the MIMS platform’s machine-learning capabilities.

Arrow Labs has experienced high growth in enterprise customer acquisition and geographic coverage, onboarding clients in MENA, Europe and the United States, especially with industry leaders in the telecoms, oil and gas and logistics sectors. Clients include G4S, Linde AG, Dubai Ports World and Bnet.

Arrow Labs MIMS platform will make deskless work simpler, better and more productive for millions of frontline workers who have yet to be empowered with technology. By bringing innovation and Machine Learning capabilities to the front line, MIMS removes the complexity of scheduling, work distribution, recourse management, workflow automation and route optimization in a unique easy to use software tool set.

Rami Darwish, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Arrow Labs, commented: “Securing such strong financial support and backing from investors such as Tim Draper is transformative for our business. The funds will support our growth, further development of our MIMS platform, and accelerate our journey to connect the 80% of the global workforce that is deskless – and protect their jobs. We are ideally positioned to rapidly grow, and further expand our presence in the United States, and into South-East Asia.”

Other leading technology investors who participated in the round include international venture capital firm, Global Ventures, and B&Y Ventures.

Noor Sweid, General Partner at Global Ventures, said: “Rami Darwish and the team at Arrow Labs have been our partners since 2018. From then until now, the company has been a leading player and innovator in its space, addressing a critical and global challenge in workforce management. We are strong supporters of reverse innovation and emerging market founders building cutting-edge technology with both regional and global potential, and Rami is definitely one such entrepreneur. We are thrilled to be a part of the next chapter of Arrow Labs.”

Abdallah Yafi, Managing Partner at B&Y Ventures, commented: “Most of the innovation globally has been aimed at improving desk and office work resulting in field work being largely overlooked. Arrow Labs solves the disconnect between the deskless workers and the back office and is on a mission to transform the way businesses manage field resources. At Arrow Labs, B&Y is backing a hyper exceptional team - led by Rami Darwish - that we believe can build a category leading business in this space, thanks to an extremely intelligent platform, flawless execution and strong focus on delivering profitable growth.”

July 15th 2021, 4:00 pm

Majarra raises funding from US-based North Base Media


Source: Arabian Business

US-based global digital media investor North Base Media (NBM) announced on Thursday an investment in Abu Dhabi-based Majarra, an Arabic online content provider.

Other investors included strategic GCC individuals, according to a statement.

“We’re delighted to have a high quality and specialised investor like North Base Media as a believer in our vision for a new business model that addresses the massive inefficiency of Arabic online content,” said Abdulsalam Haykal, Majarra’s executive chairman.

“NBM’s global perspective and unique insight into the industry strengthens our commitment to deliver the best content and user-experience for the Arabic-speaking internet users in the region and around the world.”

Majarra, formerly Haykal Media, announced earlier this year a plan to offer a single-subscription sign-on to a network of reliable, high-quality online content platforms in Arabic.

The network so far includes Harvard Business Review Arabia, MIT Technology Review Arabia, Stanford Social Innovation Review Arabia, Popular Science, Fortune, and Manhom, the largest professional profiles service in the Arabic language.

“We’re really thrilled to partner with Majarra,” said Marcus Brauchli, NBM’s managing partner. Brauchli, a former editor of both The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, will join Majarra’s board of directors.

“We look for partners that combine content and technology to unlock the power of the internet in high growth markets. Majarra combines a bold business vision, a solid track record, and a strategic approach to addressing the demand for quality Arabic-language content.”

Michael Garin (pictured above), CEO of twofour54 Abu Dhabi, said: “There is real untapped potential within media and entertainment when it comes to Arabic content – particularly online. At twofour54, we’re proud to see international players realising this growth opportunity and joining forces with leading regional platforms, such as our partner Majarra, to provide quality Arabic content for the 420 million-plus Arabic speakers around the world.

"This is a high-impact investment both in terms of the growth and development of the knowledge economy in our region, and also in helping unlock the potential of digital Arabic content.”


July 15th 2021, 4:00 pm

Healthtech platform selfologi raises $17.5 million


Press release:

The Dubai-based healthtech startup and cosmetic treatment platform, selfologi has successfully closed a $17.5 million led by angel investor Tamer A Wali and Xenel International group. 

Set to launch in Q4 2021, selfologi is an online healthtech platform where users can discover, learn about, and book cosmetic treatments. It will provide a rich source of information – backed up by the very best medical expertise. Presented in a way that’s accessible and user-friendly for all. 

To commemorate this milestone founder and angel investor Tamer A Wali comments “As an expert, I’m constantly asked about treatments, from friends and people I meet from all over the region. ‘Which one is best for me, which clinic and doctor should I choose, how much does it cost?’ And that’s because there’s not a single, comprehensive, trusted source that can answer those questions. So, we’re creating one – selfologi.”

selfologi has put together an in-house team of globally successful experts to create a vast content hub of knowledge and understanding for the cosmetic treatments industry. The result will be the ultimate, one-stop-shop for users while simultaneously driving consumer engagement for clinics across the region. Rob Pye, selfologi CEO concluded: “We're going to launch something at a scale that's not been seen before in the region, leveraging the latest headless technology, original content, and proven growth strategies to empower consumers to find the right aesthetic treatments for them from the most trusted clinics and practitioners.”

July 15th 2021, 1:50 am

UofCanada, DMZ team up to launch incubator in Cairo


Press release:

Universities of Canada in Egypt (UofCanada) and Ryerson University’s the DMZ are announcing a new partnership that will attract scalable startups and ignite a new wave of innovation in Cairo.

Launched today, the DMZ Cairo sector-agnostic incubator will support the growth of high-potential tech startups based in Egypt’s capital. The incubator will offer fully furnished workspaces, one-on-one guidance from dedicated Programme Leads and mentors, peer-to-peer sessions, expert-led workshops, networking opportunities and more to accelerate their success. 

As an ecosystem, Cairo offers an attractive landscape for entrepreneurs to grow and scale their businesses. Backed by a strong economy and social influence, startups are well-positioned to create strong business trajectories with access to new markets and investment opportunities. Cairo is well connected to the rest of the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region, as well as to Europe and North America, which offers startups great scaling opportunities. In 2020, startups in Egypt received a record $190 million in funding — more than one-fifth of every venture capital deal in the broader Mena region. 

Earlier this year, Ryerson University and UofCanada announced a new partnership and launched a campus in Cairo to provide students in the region with access to top-tier programming and global learning experiences. By introducing a world-class incubator, the DMZ, to Cairo, UofCanada is further building on its vision to drive an entrepreneurial and innovative ecosystem through experiential learning, state-of-the-art facilities, and cutting-edge technology.

“The DMZ has a proven incubation model, as evidenced by the 500+ alumni startups that have raised over $1.24 billion dollars in only 10 years,” explained Hadia H. Abdel Aziz, Vice President at Universities of Canada in Egypt. “We are confident that DMZ’s presence in Egypt will greatly contribute to the development of the Egyptian entrepreneurship ecosystem, especially in supporting globally oriented tech startups.”

“We are thrilled to be expanding the DMZ’s global presence and supporting Universities of Canada in Egypt to create a launching pad for entrepreneurs,” said Sherif El Tawil, Senior Director of Programmes and Partnerships at the DMZ. “Cairo has quickly become a competitive and vibrant centre for innovators. DMZ Cairo’s programming, mentorship and connections will give startup founders the tools they need to hit the ground running and grow their global footprint.” 

While DMZ Cairo is based at UofCanada’s campus, participants do not need to be current students or affiliated with UofCanada to join the incubator programme. Any entrepreneur who meets eligibility criteria is welcome to apply.

DMZ Cairo’s inaugural cohort kicks off this October. Cairo-based tech startups are welcome to apply by September 9, 2021. For more information and program eligibility requirements, visit

July 14th 2021, 11:02 am

What can open banking do for Egypt?


Akram Abdou is the founder of Egypt-based Underlie, an open banking platform offering application programming interfaces (APIs) to banks

Open banking is set to make an economic impact in any country that adopts it. Whether it's customer-merchant transparency or automation, all use-cases of open banking have made a direct impact to any country's gross domestic product (GDP).

Simply put, open banking is the ability for a customer to have full control of their bank account data. This would include two approaches: easily accessing that information, and easily sharing that information. Fundamentally, if data is money, then customers should have the freedom to share that data 'money' with whoever can provide them with financial benefits and services in return.

Open banking has impacted different markets in more ways than one:

To better understand the impact of open banking we have to look at market trends.

Let us put this in perspective. Here is a list of the 10 most unbanked populations in the world.

Now lets look at the countries with the highest finance related app downloads.

The trend is obvious, the most unbanked populations needed open banking to create a value proposition for their consumers through customer-centric products and servicesTherefore, contributing to more finance app downloads.

The real catch is when we look at the two diagrams above and compare:

These market trends make it very obvious that open banking plays a big role in empowering financial inclusion in any country (developing or developed). 

Every country has its own approach to open banking. Whether it is regulator driven or market driven, there is always a way to implement Open APIs in a safe and secure way that enables banks, fintechs, and the customer to benefit from such a paradigm shift.

Wider economic impact

By improving the transparency of current account data, open banking means more third-parties will have access to customer data, which can lead to a reduction in the risk premium currently charged on interest rates linked to products such as mortgages, due to a clearer understanding of a person's underlying credit risk.

We will focus on two different industries in Egypt that will be transformed with an open banking economy. We will use other countries that have adopted this technology and see how this will apply to local use-cases. This will be a problem/solution approach.

Industry 1: Car Leasing/Financing

Leasing is essentially long period renting. In developed countries, both banks and consumer finance companies offer customers with different leasing deals depending on the best financial fit. Around 30 per cent of car sales in the United States are leased versus financed/bought. By tailoring the car lease deal based on the customer's financial standing, you lower the barrier for the transaction to go through, which would eventually increase car transactions.

Problem: Currently, there is no significant leasing economy in Egypt. Financing companies take the risk when understanding their customer with their own in-house formulas eg: customer living location to assess credit worthiness.

Solution: By providing customers with an ability to share their bank information, you can accordingly get deals from both the banks and consumer finance companies that better match your criteria. As you can see in the image above, both banks and financing companies can offer competitive deals by having a comprehensive financial understanding of that consumer.

Example country: We saw in developing countries like Nigeria how an open-banking approach has allowed more cars to be leased and financed, further empowering the lending economy in the country.

Industry #2: Real estate rentals/installments

The real estate market in Egypt is currently booming. With multiple projects developing, and brokers always looking to capture customers, there is a need to ease the transactions of the influx of demand coming in. For developers and real estate companies to propose rental and sale agreements, they need to fully understand a customer's financial capability. Furthermore in Egypt, card payment fees are 20x more expensive than bank transfers.

Problem: Real estate companies are currently offering long payment periods to entice customers. The approach has been widely used but isn't necessarily the financial burden that consumers want to bear.

  1. Real estate companies don't have a sense of a customer's financial health, making it hard to offer a tailored deal to a customer.
  2. Egyptian agents are now offering card payments for financing and rental terms. Making fees too expensive for customers when bank payments should be an option.
  3. Currency inflation could contradict installment interest rates if contracts are binding for such long periods.

Solution: Using a standardised open banking platform, customers can securely share their bank account information with a real estate company.

  1. Real estate companies will be able to attract customers in a better way by providing a tailored deal for their customers’ current financial standing.
  2. Transaction fees will be lower because they will be utilising bank-to-bank payments for all customers depending on their bank of choice.
  3. Realtors will try to absorb bigger first installments to reduce longer period payment risks associated with interest rates.

Example country: The UK has found great success with banks monetising customer data by selling deeper insight and analytics capabilities beyond what is required by regulation. This has increased API call offerings and allowed most real-estate deals to include an open-banking decision maker. After three years, the UK has over 800 million successful API calls happening every month where banks can monetise on each one.

At Underlie, we offer 25+ different API calls for banks to utilise and monetise their data. Allowing a secure transfer of information from banks to share with automobile and real estate companies in the market who can offer customer-centric products to Egyptian consumers.


July 14th 2021, 11:02 am

Aleph acquires 86 per cent of Connect Ads


Press release

Aleph Holding, global partner to the world's biggest digital media players, has today announced its acquisition of 86% of Connect Ads in a cash and shares’ swap transaction. The acquisition sees Aleph Holding entering the MENA market as it continues its drive to expand globally and increase its presence in new territories, now reaching 90 markets and territories.

Aleph provides leading digital platforms such as Facebook and many others access to new geographies and under-served markets through its complementary suite of digital media service companies which include Httpool, Internet Media Services, Wise.Blue, Social Snack and AdDynamo.

The majority acquisition of Connect Ads extends Aleph's services across the MENA region through Connect Ads’ more than 14 other exclusive media partnerships with global and leading digital media names including Twitter, TikTok, Verizon Media, Spotify, Adobe Advertising Cloud, Huawei Ads, Bigo Ads and many more.

In 2021, Aleph is on track to generate $1 billion in sales with an expanded footprint reaching over 90 markets supported. The acquisition marks a key milestone in this journey.

"There is huge value in expanding throughout MENA, both to serve our current partners and clients and to expand on existing relationships in other parts of the world. We have been following Connect Ads’ growth and geographical expansion over the last five years and I am excited to welcome them to the Aleph family and we will work together with Connect Ads and A15 to make this a successful partnership" said Gastón Taratuta, Founder & CEO of Aleph Holding.

"A15 is happy with the phenomenal results, value and growth that Connect Ads created over the years; it validates A15’s venture building strategy in creating outliers. This is A15’s second dragon exit from fund I, and our third major exit overall.” said Karim Beshara, General Partner of A15.

He adds “A15 is looking forward to continuing this journey with Aleph and Connect Ads and contributing to a global digital powerhouse. We are excited about the growth opportunities and potential returns this deal will bring in the future.”

"We see this as a giant leap in the right direction for Connect Ads and all our stakeholders including our teams, partners, and clients. Being a part of Aleph, this truly global structure, will give us more leverage in managing our business as well as global exposure and potential that goes far beyond MENA and EMEA. The numerous synergies and shared vision make this a very exciting time for us. The enhanced accessibility that this entails will enable us to grow faster and bigger than ever before” said Mohamed El Mehairy, CEO of Connect Ads. 



July 14th 2021, 11:02 am

US-based Bevy acquires Egypt’s Eventtus


Press release:

Bevy, the only enterprise community event engine, today announced the acquisition of Eventtus. The acquisition adds more than 20 engineers to the Bevy team, including Egyptian founders Mai Medhat and Nihal Fares. It also extends Bevy’s event technology stack with the addition of a mobile in-person conference app, and several other engagement tools for attendees. Once integrated with Bevy’s enterprise community event engine, customers will have the most comprehensive, end-to-end event management solution to manage and scale their virtual, hybrid, and in-person event programmes.

“Enterprises have invested in creating connected communities for their customers, employees and partners. Events are not only an extension of these communities but also provide an important channel for driving ongoing engagement,” said Derek Andersen, CEO and co-founder of Bevy. “With this acquisition, we can now further advance our leadership role in enterprise events by delivering an end-to-end white-labelled event system of record that helps enterprise leaders build even stronger and more engaged communities.” 

Founded in 2012 by Mai Medhat, CEO, and Nihal Fares, chief product officer, Eventtus is an event management software company based in Cairo, Egypt. The Eventtus mobile app helps marketing leaders seamlessly connect the worlds of virtual and in-person events, and provides enterprises with the flexibility they need to return to in-person events, continue taking advantage of lower-cost virtual events, or embrace a hybrid model.

“What’s unique about Bevy is how they thread events together. They’ve built a powerful community event engine that helps enterprise teams create a sense of community among their customers, prospects, partners and employees. This is what all other event platforms are missing. And it’s the key to unlocking global scale and growth” said Medhat.

Throughout the years, Eventtus was able to attract some of the biggest regional and global investors such as Algebra Ventures and 500 Startups, to help guide and support the company to become the leading event tech platform in the Middle East. 

“At Algebra we always believed Mai and Nihal had the potential to play a role in shaping the global events tech space through Eventtus,” said Ziad Mokthar, a Managing Partner at Algebra Ventures. “Bevy would provide a perfect home to deliver on this potential. We are very happy for both teams.”

By threading community through events, attendees end up with a better experience, and businesses end up with actionable data. As customer data and privacy policies continue to change, successful marketers are shifting away from cookie-based behavioural tracking and instead of building communities of customers and advocates using Bevy’s Community Event Engine.

July 14th 2021, 11:02 am

Healthtech Sehteq raises $3 million in debt financing


Press release:

Sehteq, the Dubai-based healthtech startup and insurance platform has successfully secured $3 million in venture debt investment dispatched by key investor 971 Capital. 

Launched in 2018, Sehteq positioned itself as a technology-driven health insurance startup that aims to make insurance accessible, affordable, and most importantly automated. Through its platform, the startup leverages AI to digitise the supply of insurance plans to individuals and families in the UAE, radically accelerating and fully automating the sale & post-sale processes.

In a highly user-friendly experience, Sehteq’s users are able to tailor their own insurance plans seamlessly on their AI-driven platform. In the backend, Sehteq integrates machine learning to automate post-sales service and claims management. Powered by an innovative evidence-based rules engine, they are able to automate up to 100% of the back office work saving innumerable amounts of time and expenses in the process. Their tech-driven approach was the key to disrupting the insurance market as co-founder Saif AlJaibeji remarks “Sehteq was born to be the innovation lab of the industry, and after a successful launch of products and technology solutions for the health insurance market we have expanded our offering to travel, life and other lines of insurance and in partnership with our competitors.”

This newly acquired investment is a cornerstone of their newly launched Techcelerate project, working towards building two business units and expanding the technology arm to regional Insurtech, on the road to transitioning the insurance business unit from startup to enterprise. Notably, Sehteq has already set the business model that will allow them to ramp up. The platform is white-labelled to brokers and agents within 60 seconds and has more than 120 versions implemented in the UAE and Oman markets. 

As they set forth to develop their offering and expand their markets, co-founders Noor Al Kamil and Saif AlJaibeji are hopeful of Sehteq’s future. “The fund will be channelled to cover the cost of project Techcelerate, and support our future plans”, Sehteq’s co-founder and chief medical officer Noor Al Kamil adds, as co-founder Saif AlJaibeji concludes: “Sehteq 2.0 will bring our offering to customers in Oman, Iraq, Egypt, and Saudi.”

July 13th 2021, 8:32 pm

Sabbar raises $4 million in pre-Series A


Press release:

Sabbar, a Saudi-based tech startup and a pioneer in flexible staffing in Mena, has raised a $4 million pre-series A round led by STV, with previous backers Derayah VC and SEEDRA Ventures joining the round as well. 

Hiring and staffing blue-collar workers in high turnover industries such as retail, hospitality, and entertainment is a big pain point in the region, as they often see 70% employee turnover rates. Sabbar looks to streamline this lengthy and cumbersome process, which typically includes sourcing, interviews, vetting, training, placement, shift scheduling, worker payments, and everything in-between. By doing so, the company takes on the heavy lifting of the recruitment process, relieving its customers from the significant cost and time commitments.

Founded in early 2019 by Mohamed T. Ibrahim, Abdulrahman AlMudaiheem, and Afnan Sherbeeni, Sabbar aims to “create a world where everyone can work”. The team has been disrupting flexible staffing in targeted industries by understanding the pains of their partner companies and the motivation of the workers in a hyper-localised approach. 

Ahmad Alshammari, partner at STV, highlights, “We're proud to back Mohamed, Abdul Rahman, Afnan and the Sabbar team. Sabbar is redefining the resume. By aggregating the labor pool, identifying flexible work opportunities, and removing friction from the matching process, Sabbar is unlocking greater economic value for both workers and businesses.”

By following this approach and launching a two-sided marketplace matching businesses with high-quality flexible staff, the platform has been able to achieve a monthly growth rate of 40%, fulfilling shifts for over 150 customers such as IKEA, Toys "R" Us, Domino’s Pizza, and Tamimi Markets, while ensuring high-quality workers with an on-time arrival rate of 96.8%. 

Owing to its steadfast data-driven approach, the startup scaled its operations to serve thousands of shifts. Currently, the platform is able to deploy workers to businesses within a 60-min window from the request time and maintain a fulfillment rate reliability of 98%.

As hiring blue-collar staff remains one of the toughest challenges globally, Sabbar has a mission to fuel the growth of the gig economy in the region by deploying the funds to expand its solution to capture a market of US$11bn of temporary blue-collar staffing across MENA and Pakistan. Sabbar is also expanding its scope to cover warehousing, logistics, and tourism industries. Moreover, with more than 70,000 workers on their registration waiting list, the startup is aiming to change the status quo of how people perceive blue-collar jobs and provide its workforce with opportunities to upskill, as well as get full-time perks and benefits.


July 13th 2021, 8:32 pm

Raya launches corporate accelerator for customer experience-focused startups


Press release

 Raya Customer Experience (RCX), one of Raya Holding’s companies, has announced launching its first Corporate Accelerator “Raya FutureTECH”, powered by the venture builder, Openner.

Raya FutureTECH will power early-stage tech startups that have a minimum viable product or a solution that addresses a problem in the customer experience field across all industries. The accelerator’s mission relies on Raya CX’s strategic vision to drive innovation and digital transformation of its services and solutions to keep up with the evolving customer expectations in digital-oriented industries via implementing CX best practices.

Raya FutureTECH has opened the call for its applications till July 31st on its website After going through the selection process and a three-day bootcamp, Raya FutureTECH will announce up to 10 startups that will each receive a cash investment of up to EGP 1M alongside hands-on support to scale their business from Openner, the program’s main partner, in addition to gaining access to Raya CX’s technical capabilities, customer experience expertise, and its wide and diverse client base. 

The accelerator also provides hands-on design sprints, technology support, tailored growth plans, and 1-1 coaching for startup founders, guided by Openner’s expert team. In addition, Raya allocated a team to work hands-on with participating startups to facilitate more cooperation between Raya’s stakeholders and the founders.

“We are thrilled to announce the launch of Raya FutureTech in parallel with Raya CX's new vision, which aims at encouraging and enabling more digital transformation and fueling innovation. We started from the comprehensive development of our internal operations, increasing the share of technology, and activating more solutions to revolutionize the customer experience, and now we continue this journey by launching a startup accelerator that supports emerging technology startups and stimulates innovation, in addition to enhancing cooperation between tech corporations such as Raya CX and the startup landscape,” said Ahmed Refky, CEO of Raya CX.

He also added that the collaboration with Openner will help in achieving the accelerator's goals through co-investment, designing the best selection criteria for the participating companies, and providing well-rounded hands-on support to the future founders.

Raya Holding’s Head of Venture Investments, Mohamed Nazir stated that, “The goal of establishing FutureTECH is to power techstartups and fuel entrepreneurship in the Egyptian Market. We are looking to welcome the founders that have a vision on how to contribute to the improvement of customer experience across all industries. The program comprises all the tools and workshops needed for these startups to scale their businesses in addition to the investment that will enable the application of this knowledge turning it into tangible outcome.”

Openner’s Managing Director Ahmed Elsherif expressed his thrill about the partnership with Raya CX, “Along with Raya CX, Openner aspires to build a unique portfolio of tech startups through FutureTECH. We are also looking to power the growth of founders to enable them to positively contribute to the domain’s needs and future.”

Elsherif also pointed out, “This partnership comes in light of Openner’s focus on partnering with leading corporations to help them identify new business models and investment opportunities. We work with our partners to co-create, co-invest in, and launch a continuously evolving pipeline of domain-specific tech startups.” 

July 13th 2021, 8:32 pm

Jordanian edtech Abwaab acquires Pakistan’s Edmatrix


Press release:

Abwaab, the Jordanian-born online learning platform, announced its successful acquisition of Pakistan-based Edmatrix, the social e-learning platform, for an undisclosed amount. The acquisition means that Abwaab will start operating immediately in Pakistan, the world’s 5th most populous country with more than 50 million students, and strong demand for high-quality, affordable education. 

Founded in 2019, Abwaab is an online learning platform that allows secondary school students in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region to learn at their own pace. By offering visualised learning journeys, continuous assessment, and performance-tracking features, they aim to uplift the way students learn outside the classroom. This marks the startup’s first move into the wider Asian market, after having recently announced the ramping of its operations in Egypt.

This acquisition joins two edtech startups on a mission to decentralise and digitally transform the student’s learning process. Recognising this propitious milestone, Abwaab co-founder and COO Sabri Hakim comments: “Our mission to provide the highest-quality education and make it accessible and affordable to each and every student regardless of socioeconomic background aligns perfectly with Edmatrix’s. We are proud to have them on board as we embark on a journey to change the way students learn in our part of the world.”

Joining forces and growing the team comes as a new opportunity for Abwaab, as they reach out to students in Mena and the wider Asia market as the Edmatrix team invests their expertise in this new journey. “Our team is passionate about creating impact in Pakistan, and joining forces with the Abwaab team will enable us to unlock massive potential,” Edmatrix’s Raja Ahmed Shuja on this newly formed venture.

July 13th 2021, 8:32 pm

elmenus raises $10 million in pre-Series C round


Press release:

elmenus, Egypt’s biggest food discovery and ordering platform, has secured new funding from three new investors, based in the Mena region and North America.

Fawry Group - the renowned digital transformation and e-payment platform – is leading the investment from Egypt. The investment follows Fawry’s new strategy to take minority stakes in fast-growing, Egyptian, technology businesses. As well as investing, Fawry will work closely with elmenus to develop innovative solutions to benefit restaurants and consumers. Also investing is Marakez - a leading Egyptian real estate developer. 

Ashraf Sabry, CEO of Fawry, said: “Fawry is looking forward to its journey with elmenus, working closely with the executive team and entering many ventures together.  By this investment, we show our desire to not only be a payment catalyst but to be a strategic partner to elmenus, its customers, restaurants and its riders. The Egyptian food space has high growth potential, with technology disrupting the status quo, as customers’ needs in food service provision rapidly change.”

From North America, investment has also been received from New York-based hedge fund, Luxor Capital Group, which has $11 billion of assets under management. elmenus is its first investment in the Mena region - a testament to elmenus’ growth track record and market opportunity in Egypt. Luxor has a long history of successfully investing in food technology companies around the world.

Amir Allam, CEO of elmenus, commented: “Attracting new investment from Fawry, Luxor Capital and Marakez - following the endorsement of industry veteran, David Buttress, earlier this year - validates elmenus’ unique strategy. We are accelerating the adoption of online ordering by users, while enabling restaurants with new verticals - to help them scale. This funding demonstrates the investors’ strong belief in our position in Egypt, and our capability to dominate the market.”

elmenus - which now has over 1.5 million monthly users - is the most comprehensive platform for restaurant information and food discovery in Egypt, and its aim is to personalise food recommendations at a dish level.

elmenus continues to expand rapidly, and today’s announcement follows the investment and board appointment of David Buttress - the former CEO of global food ordering firm, JustEat - announced earlier this year.

By the end of 2021, elmenus expects to empower 12,000 restaurants with new data and tool offerings to help them scale their businesses, across 20 Egyptian cities. Its cutting-edge digital solutions will also drive its existing database of several million users, to switch to online ordering.

July 13th 2021, 6:31 am

Speero raises $1.8 million in pre-Series A


Press release

Riyadh-based digital automotive services start-up Speero has announced the closure of its pre-Series A funding round of US$1.8 million (SAR 6.75 million), co-led by Nuwa Capital and Eq2 Ventures. This funding round also includes the participation of Saudi and international investors including JIMCO (Jameel Investment Management Company), Impact46, Access Bridge Ventures and Mountain Partners 

Speero is Saudi Arabia’s leading digital platform for automotive after-sales, and is used by over 1,000 partners and service providers, with over 750,000 registered customers across the Kingdom, generating 3.5 million instant quotations for spare parts. Through Speero, partners can buy parts for several leading brands including Toyota, Nissan, BMW, Audi, Honda, and more.

Founded by entrepreneurs Abdullah Bin Shamlan and Ameen Mahfouz in 2017, Riyadh headquartered Speero is an online platform for automotive after-sales solutions, enabling providers to digitalise transactions and customers to access services online. The new funding will help deliver on the start-up’s ambition to become a one-stop destination for services across the automotive after-sales ecosystem with its offering including spare parts, repairs, for end customers such as individuals and insurance companies.

“We are excited to welcome our new investors, all of whom are renowned for partnering with and supporting the growth of the start-up ecosystem. The automotive after-sales value chain hasn’t evolved in this digital era. Vendors seek solutions that will help create access to growth opportunities, while customers today want a convenient, affordable and digital first approach to their vehicle ownership experience. With Speero we are building just that,” said Abdullah Bin Shamlan, Co-founder & Managing Director at Speero.

He continued, “The next stage of our growth will be focused on strengthening our market-leading position and realise the untapped potential of this multi-billion-dollar sector. As we evolve the automotive after-sales experience with a made -in Saudi Arabia, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offering, , we are strongly positioned to transform the sector through innovative technology.”

Saudi Arabia’s automotive components sector for commercial and passenger vehicles is set to grow to US$10.15 billion by 2023. Speero’s mission to digitalise transactions also closely aligns with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 target to accelerate the transformation of legacy industries and grow non-cash transactions to 70%.

With this new funding round, Speero will also move closer to introducing the region’s first SaaS enabled business-to-business-to-consumer marketplace, offering partners and providers with an integrated platform of services from inventory management and administration to business development and demand generation. Partners will also have access to cutting-edge data and analytics, which will advance their growth and help them deliver products to customers within 24 hours. 

“Speero has been driving concrete change in the automotive after sales market since launch in Saudi Arabia. Through its SaaS platform, the company is helping drive digitization, efficiency, and transparency in a space that's remained largely fragmented and opaque, and we're excited to be joining Abdullah and Ameen on their journey,” said Sarah Abu Risheh, Partner at Nuwa Capital.

A spokesperson from JIMCO, the Jameel family’s global investment arm, stated: “JIMCO's participation in Speero's latest funding round is an example of our commitment to invest in early-stage and breakthrough technologies. We are excited to contribute to this critical stage of Speero's growth, which will help drive the digitalisation of Saudi’s mobility sector."

This funding round will also be leveraged to strengthen Speero’s logistics infrastructure, with the creation of fully-automated warehouses – also known as cloud warehouses - for partners in Riyadh and Jeddah, who will be able to set up storage at no cost and optimise the delivery of services. Over the coming months, in line with its growth, Speero will also invest in hiring across key leadership positions.

Brands on Speero include leading repair shops Mohrkey, Geoshield and h2o; suppliers AutoHub and Abdul Latif Jameel Motors; and insurance providers Salama Insurance, and Chubb Insurance.

July 12th 2021, 10:31 am

Yodawy raises $7.5 million in Series B funding


Press release:

Yodawy, Egypt’s leading online pharmacy benefits marketplace, has successfully raised $7.5 million in a Series B funding led by Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP), Global Ventures, and Algebra Ventures, with the participation of CVentures, P1 Ventures and Athaal Angel Investors Group.

Founded in 2018, Yodawy has pioneered a pharmacy benefit management platform that enables the entire healthcare ecosystem - insurance companies, pharmacies and pharmaceutical/FMCGs, - to serve a wider customer base faster.

Through Yodawy’s digital infrastructure:

Patients can have their medicines and personal care products delivered in less than 45 minutes

Insurance companies can automate approvals, generating cost savings and elevate the customer’s experience

Pharmacies can benefit from Yodawy’s e-commerce offering, reinforcing their online presence and boosting sales

FMCG companies can tap into Yodawy’s network of over 3,000 pharmacies to put products in the hands of consumers faster than ever

Over the last four years, Yodawy has rapidly integrated over 3,000 pharmacies and 8 leading health insurance companies. With over 2 million users on its platform, Yodawy fulfilled over 800,000 orders.

Yodawy was the first company in Egypt to partner up with leading health insurance providers including AXA, MedNet, (Munich Re), NextCare (Allianz) and MetLife - global Fortune500 insurance companies-, to enable patients to use their medical insurance cards online and get their prescriptions delivered at home, saving them an otherwise painful process to get their medications.

Yodawy’s marketplace is democratising the distribution of medicine and personal care products – typically distributed by large chains of pharmacies – the platform enables ‘Mom and Pop’ pharmacies to sell their products and boost sales, and benefit from shared services and faster claims settlement.

Yodawy will use the funding to roll out additional value-adding offerings to its growing network of pharmacies, patients and health insurers and expand into the other key emerging markets.

Founded by Karim Khashaba, Yasser Abdel Gawad and Sherief El-Feky, the Company has built an exemplary management team that have worked for some of the world’s largest companies, including Booz & Company, Procter & Gamble, Reckitt Benckiser and Yahoo.

Karim Khashaba, Yodawy’s founder and CEO, said: “We are thrilled to have completed this funding round. It comes at a time of huge growth for Yodawy, as we continue to add more pharmacies and insurers to our platform. Yodawy is powering a digital healthcare revolution in Egypt. The digital infrastructure that we have created is breaking down silos and creating a more integrated healthcare system that better serves patients.”

Jad El Boustani, Managing Director at MEVP, said: “We have been following Yodawy closely since its launch and were amazed by the capabilities of its founding team. The Egyptian Healthcare market is massive and very fragmented which puts it in a prime position for disruption. Yodawy is uniquely positioned to digitize the health-tech space by connecting insurance companies, pharmacies, and patients in a seamless and efficient way. At MEVP, we believe that Egypt is one of the most promising markets in the MENA region and look forward to investing in additional amazing opportunities there.”

Amal Enan, Managing Director at Global Ventures, said: “The burden of healthcare expenditures disproportionately fell on Egyptian households for decades. The accelerated growth and commitment to medical insurance today presents an attractive market opportunity for enabling payers and the Pharma-Retail industry where Egyptians are spending a combined

$6BN a year. Yodawy is the only player with both B2C and B2B insurance and pharma products and holds a leading market position with its end-to-end offerings. The business has been hugely successful in Egypt, and we are looking forward to supporting Yodawy as it enters new markets in the MENA region, and beyond.”

Karim Hussein, Partner at Algebra Ventures, said: “Since our initial investment, Yodawy has created an innovative platform for delivering medication and managing claims throughout Egypt. Their unique digital services are essential to powering the next phase of growth of health insurance in Egypt and similar emerging markets. Yodawy has built an exceptional team that has a focused vision, clear market understanding and strong technical capabilities to drive this healthcare transformation. We look forward to further supporting Yodawy’s continued expansion.”

July 12th 2021, 10:31 am

Opontia: Enabling e-commerce brands to go global


The GCC region is one of the fastest-growing e-commerce markets in the world according to a report from Dubai’s CommerCity, with online sales set to treble by 2022. US-based consultancy firm AT Kearney predicts the region’s e-commerce sector will grow from $29 billion this year to $50 billion by 2025. While the sector continues to see higher adoption of online shopping among consumers, for UAE-based e-commerce enabler Opontia, which acquires e-commerce brands and helps them grow, the sector still has a long way to go. 

“The e-commerce industry in the region is slightly less mature than it is in the US and Europe and Southeast Asia, but it's growing much faster,” says Philip Johnston, co-founder of Opontia. "For example, Noon only has an assortment of two million products across both UAE and KSA. Whereas lazada, for example in Malaysia, had 15 million products at the end of 2018. So I think we're still three or four years behind many other marketplaces [and] many other markets in terms of e-commerce.”

In the past, the B2C e-commerce sector attracted the bulk of VC investment, but with increased digitisation across the Middle East and the GCC region, the startups in the e-commerce “enablement” sector have quickly gained a strong foothold and have become an attractive investment destination. Of the $182 million invested in e-commerce startups in the first half of this year, $73 million of that was directed at the e-commerce enablers according to the Wamda Research Lab. 

Opontia works by acquiring e-commerce brands “that have a defensible product-fit market and make decent profit margins”. Through its proprietary channels, Opontia enables them to expand globally and thus provides them with an exit opportunity to sell their businesses.

"There are many entrepreneurs who are passionate about their products and then, with no fault of their own, they reach a ceiling of how far they can go; this is where we come in," says Johston.

These entrepreneurs typically amass a loyal customer base, build up a strong brand and enjoy a steady income. But growth for these types of businesses can stagnate due to constraints on their working capital and inexperience in growing their operations. And that is where Opontia steps in, acquiring the business and providing the founders an opportunity to participate in the growth of their brand. Opontia typically looks to acquire profitable e-commerce businesses with over $10,000 in monthly revenues.

Both Johnston and his co-founder Manfred Meyer have extensive experience in the sector. Johnston worked in e-commerce strategy, private equity and post-merger integration at Mckinsey Dubai while Meyer worked as the chief marketplace officer of Southeast Asia-based e-commerce giant Lazada. 

Through their work, both founders took cognisance of similar business models including that of Germany’s Razor Group, the US’ Branded Group which claims to “take Amazon brands to the next level” and Thrasio, which recently raised $750 million. These companies primarily target brands that sell on marketplaces like Amazon. According to Amazon, there are 6.2 million third-party sellers on its platform, of which 1.5 million are active. So far this year, 373,000 new sellers have joined the Amazon Marketplace, hoping to get a slice of the estimated $300 billion generated by third-party sellers

“We heard about the business model and found it successful elsewhere,” says Johston. But none of these major brands have sufficient exposure in the Middle East and North Africa, which is why the pair decided to launch Opontia in March 2021. 

Just three months after launch, they managed to close a $20 million debt and equity Seed round to acquire e-commerce businesses. The round attracted investment from Global Founders Capital, Presight Capital, Raed Ventures and Kingsway Capital as well as notable angel investors including Razor Group’s CEO Tushar Ahluwalia and Jonathan Doerr, co-founder of Jumia and the former CEO of Pakistan’s Daraz.

While e-commerce has enjoyed substantial growth since the pandemic, success is not guaranteed. Over the past year alone, several e-commerce startups failed and shut down their operations including UAE-based the Modist, one of the first casualties of the pandemic and Sprii, which shut down after failing to raise investment. The sector still carries risk, brands typically require vast marketing budgets while traversing the challenges of cash on delivery and cross-border trade regulations in the Middle East. In a bid to avoid making risky investments, Opontia focuses on businesses that are already profitable. 

“We're not like a VC fund, which is betting on future success, we only buy businesses that have already been successful,” says Johnston who told Wamda that Opontia is currently in the process of acquiring a couple of e-commerce platforms. The company is also planning to open offices in Istanbul and Cairo, as well as in some African cities.

July 12th 2021, 4:16 am

Edutainment platform Jeel raises $1.2 million in Seed round


Press release:

Jeel Platform, a promising edutainment startup, has finished a seed funding round with $1.2 million from Kuwaiti and Jordanian angel investors, besides acquiring high-quality animation series, songs, and games to be added to its library, as the company stated.

Jeel Platform is an edutainment digital platform founded in the US with headquarters in Riyadh and Cairo. The platform provides children with exclusive and safe edutainment series, shows, songs, stories, and games. The team behind the platform consists of more than 60 full-time professionals and experts, besides more than 150 part-time and freelance creatives, and the number is rising as the startup grows.

The company’s main project is Jeel App, a mobile application for children aged between 3 to 9 years old, with access for parents to control tools and rich parenting content. The application is created upon an educational and psychological criterion that highlights values and ethics, under the supervision of parenting specialists.

The Jeel Platform’s CEO, Ahmed Sobaih, said: “Jeel Platform is stepping forward steadily with clear vision and strategy and this step pushes it towards our next milestone”. “We plan to launch more products and services soon, as a part of our expansion strategy” he added.

Commenting on this progress, Amr El-Basiony, the platform’s Product Marketing Manager, said: “We will broad the platform’s marketing activities to include more methods and target a wider range of users, and this fund, including the cash and the bilingual content, will support us to achieve that”. 

The platform’s Advisory Board Member, Ahmed Rashed, highlights the opportunities of the startup, saying: “We all aim for the sky since we are working with passion on a promising platform that creates a unique, fun environment that gathers parents and children”. He added: “The platform witnesses a great growth potential, especially with the unpreceded demand on the digital entertaining and educational services due to the Covid-19 pandemic”.

The company plans to use the seed fund in strengthening its technical capabilities, offering more services and content, and expanding its team.

July 11th 2021, 8:01 pm

Carsharing app Sharik raises SAR2.5 million


Saudi Arabia-based peer-to-peer carsharing app Sharik, has successfully closed a SAR2.5 million ($666,000) financing round via crowdfunding platform Scopeer. 

The company's post-funding valuation is pegged at SAR11.910 million. It plans to use the funding to grow its team as well as continue developing the app, which is set to launch in December this year.

Founded by Jamal Al Bugmi, Sahrik connects car owners directly with renters. The app currently has over 68,088 users, and 170 cars listed on its platform.  Sharik is the first local carsharing app to be officially licensed by the Public Transport Authority.

The Saudi car rental industry has been considerably growing over the past year, with startups entering the scene looking to digitise the car rental process while enabling car owners to make extra income. According to Sharik, the Saudi car rental industry is projected to grow by 2.5 per cent annually in 2021 and 2022.

July 11th 2021, 10:31 am

Jordan’s edtech Wajeez raises $3 million in pre-Series A round


Press release:

Wajeez, the Jordan-based edtech startup and book summary platform has successfully closed a pre-Series A funding round at $3 million. The round was led by STV with the participation of Shorooq Partners, Mawdoo3, and Wise Venture.

Founded in 2020, Wajeez is working towards closing the gap between the Arabic-speaking Middle East and North Africa (Mena) users, comprising 7 per cent of the world’s internet users, and Arabic content constituting only 3 per cent of overall content through their app-based platform compiling 3,500+ Arabic summaries of global and local non-fiction literature.

Since its official launch, the company amassed an audience of 800,000 users in just 7 months by providing a carefully curated selection of summaries for the most popular non-fiction books. After deep vetting and content control, Wajeez produces easily consumable summaries as co-founder and CEO Mohammad Zatara highlights “People in the region often have a preference for shortened summaries of books and content, rather than full books. Through Wajeez, we offer anyone the opportunity to distil the main points from the most popular and award-winning non-fiction books, in Arabic, saving people the time while still extracting the key points.”

This spectacular fund comes as a booster and a promising sign for Wajeez, Talal Damen, Senior Associate at STV, concludes “We are happy to partner with a fast-growing startup like Wajeez, which marks our first investment in the Levant. With the largest library of non-fiction summaries in the region, the company has created a flywheel that only gets stronger with more time, content, and listeners. We believe this to be a significant whitespace in the region, and are excited to partner with Mohammad and Rami on their journey.”

Through this newly acquired fund, Wajeez plans on expanding its offering: developing shortened podcasts “WajeezCast”, B2B partnerships, and expanding into other languages like Turkish and Urdu as its next frontier.

July 11th 2021, 10:31 am

UAE launches national programme for coders


Source: Gulf News

The UAE has launched a major new programme to develop talent, expertise and innovation in the field of coding in collaboration with top tech firms including Google, Microsoft and Facebook, among others.

The National Program for Coders will seek to foster the growth of the digital economy in the country, said Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai.

It will seek to accelerate the adoption of digital applications and tools in various economic sectors by promoting close links and interaction between coders, public and private organisations, as well as academic entities.

“Today we launched the National Program for Coders in collaboration with Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Cisco, IBM, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), LinkedIn, Nvidia and Facebook, with the aim of training and attracting 100,000 coders, establishing 1,000 digital companies within five years and increasing investment in startups from Dhs1.5bn to Dhs4bn,” Sheikh Mohammed said on Twitter.

The programme will operate under the supervision of the UAE Artificial Intelligence Office.

It will focus on five key pillars, including:

* Supporting coders, entrepreneurs, startups, large companies and the academic sector* Developing a comprehensive platform for promoting engagement and linkages between coders and local companies and universities* Launching global skill development initiatives featuring international trainers aimed at enhancing the efficiency of local talent* Attracting the best international coding professionals to the UAE* Recommending policies to foster the development of the coding sector in cooperation with various government entities

The National Program for Coding will also grant golden visas to 100,000 of the world’s best coders. It will also provide a range of financing options to entrepreneurs and coders, support the implementation of their projects and ideas, and establish digital companies to promote the competitiveness of the national economy, a statement said.

In its next phase, the programme will invite coders from around the world to find innovative solutions to 100 government, economic, technological, health and services challenges and help accelerate the adoption of modern technologies. It will also organise 10 hackathons.

A global campaign called #UAE_Codes will be launched to highlight the UAE’s efforts in attracting the world’s best coding professionals. It will also provide services and encourage coders to find jobs and establish startups in the UAE.

“Our youth need to know that the future has new tools, speaks a different language and adopts online work methodologies. We want them to be at the heart of this future. The National Program for Coders aims to engage local digital communities in the digital transformation of the UAE. It further highlights the UAE’s leading role in designing the future, embracing talent, entrepreneurs, academics, startups, global companies, and future investments globally,” Sheikh Mohammed said.

“We seek to attract the best international coders and provide them with the infrastructure needed to develop innovative ideas that serve the world. We aim to establish 1,000 startups in the field of digital economy in the UAE within five years. We will support national coders in developing themselves into the best in the world. We will employ promising talent in the development of 10 platforms for supporting social and humanitarian projects in the UAE.”

Sheikh Mohammed issued directives to all government entities in the UAE to support the development of national and international coding talent; work with legislative bodies, business incubators, investment companies, universities and research centres to support coding-based initiatives and projects that foster national talent in the field; and further develop the legislative framework.

The programme’s partners include: Google, Microsoft, IBM, LinkedIn, Facebook, Huawei, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Nvidia, Cisco, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), Majid Al Futtaim, Dubai World Trade Centre, Emirates NBD, Group 42 (G42), Khalifa University, Higher Colleges of Technology, University of Sharjah, Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI), American University in Dubai (AUD), Le Wagon and Yalla.


July 11th 2021, 10:31 am

Nejree closes $15 million Series A for its 'try now buy later' platform


Press release:

Nejree, the Saudi-based online fashion & lifestyle destination has successfully closed a $15 million Series A round led by Impact46 growth fund. 

Founded in 2018, Nejree set forth on a mission to transform the online customer journey and elevate users’ shopping experience. The e-commerce startup integrates technology to crack untapped opportunities in the user experience, most remarkable of which is their adoption of the Try Now Buy Later (TNBL) model with their latest product release "Nejree Closet". 

Nejree tapped into the TNBL model as the first mover in adopting the solution in the region. "Nejree Closet" allows consumers to try on products before purchasing them with no upfront payment. This closes a critical gap in the virtual showroom experience, allowing shoppers to experience the size-fitness, quality, look, and feel of the items.  In the backend, Nejree adopted a holistic approach to its operations as founder & CEO Ibrahim Almogren explains “We have released five different versions of app updates in less than 60 days to deliver "Nejree Closet" experience at scale. A whole ecosystem is very critical for the success of this service, we are investing tremendously in the whole in-house supply chain and infrastructure from logistics, operations, real-time updates & automation.” 

Nejree has been on a steady growth, continuously developing its technology, platform, and features with the end-user in mind. “Each day at Nejree, embracing our vision, we strive to enhance & innovate, by delivering the most convenient, reliable and unique experience, using big data, AI and innovative tech solutions”, Ibrahim Al Mogren said in a statement. As e-commerce and Fintech startups in Emerging Venture Markets slowly introduce innovative models including Buy Now Pay Later solutions, Al Mogren projects that the whole industry will inevitably adopt the TNBL model, marking this a bold move into the future.

This newly acquired fund will be impactful to Nejree’s operations and the e-commerce industry in the region. Investing in this vision, Impact46’s Abdulrahman Almodaimeegh adds: “Nejree is tackling a great opportunity in the e-commerce space… With the right framework, innovative technology, and the team behind Nejree, the platform is set to play a driving role in growing the market." 

Through this investment, Nejree plans to scale its operation and further develop “Nejree Closet”, growing into more categories and brand offerings, and accessing new markets.

July 11th 2021, 10:31 am

Deepfakes: Who can we trust?


Deepfake technology has rapidly developed over the past few years and while many will have experienced it through fun apps designed to edit their own faces onto famous movie scenes, the technology beholds a far more sinister side.

In this podcast we spoke with Mark Little, founder and CEO of Ireland-based Kinzen, a media startup whose technology helps to identify fake news online, and Liz Gibbons, head of news at BBC World News, to explore the impact that deepfakes could have on society and our ability to trust what we see online.

Wamda · Episode 39 - Deepfakes: Who can we trust?


July 11th 2021, 12:31 am

ShipBlu raises pre-Seed funding led by Nama Ventures


Press release:

ShipBlu, the platform that is redefining the e-commerce shipping and fulfilment experience in Egypt, announced that it has been accepted into Y Combinator’s Summer 2021 Batch, and has raised an undisclosed amount in a pre-Seed funding round led by Nama Ventures, with participation from Y Combinator and other prominent angel investors from San Francisco, CA and Saudi Arabia.

ShipBlu is built to deliver a unique e-commerce shipping experience. Powered by ShipBlu’s own artificial intelligence and machine learning technology, ShipBlu uses its fleets to deliver shipments on time, every time, guaranteed. ShipBlu allows customers to select their preferred three-hour delivery window and to view the live location of couriers as they approach their locations, delivering complete shipping transparency. Building on its last-mile technology, ShipBlu also provides e-commerce fulfilment services, with planned fulfilment centres across all of Egypt. Integrating fulfilment services with its last-mile operations provides for a unique and seamless experience for merchants and customers alike.

ShipBlu was founded in October 2020 by Ali Nasser, Abdelrahman Hosny and Ahmed El Kawass. Ali, the CEO, comes from an investment banking background, previously at Citi in New York City, returned to Egypt in 2018 and became painfully aware of the woes of last-mile delivery in the region. Ahmed, COO, comes from a supply chain and advertising background, previously at Nestle and Reckitt Benckiser, and most recently leading the communications department at 77 Media of Saudi Arabia. Abdelrahman comes from a computer science background and is currently completing his PhD at Brown University in the US, focusing on the applications of artificial intelligence and machine learning in combinatorial optimisation. Together, the three founders joined forces in 2020 and began building ShipBlu, seeking to redefine the shipping experience in Egypt for thousands of merchants and millions of customers who shop online every day.

“People are excited about shopping online in Egypt because it’s effortless and convenient. Unfortunately, a lot of times the delivery experience really puts people off. Some of it is due to a lack of infrastructure, some of it is due to poor resource management. At ShipBlu, we’ve solved both parts of that problem. We promise to deliver a shipping experience that customers will look forward to so that merchants can stay focused on what matters, and customers can continue to enjoy online shopping,” says Ali Nasser.

“We are super proud to have ShipBlu be our first investment in Egypt”. says Mohammed Alzubi, Managing Partner of Nama Ventures. “We have really enjoyed getting to know the founders and seeing their passion to disrupt the e-commerce shipping experience. The team is unparalleled to address this opportunity. We are witnessing first-hand what a well-rounded team with complementary skillsets can do in a very short time. Riding with Ali, Ahmed and Abdelrahman on the ShipBlu spaceship has already been exciting, but we can't wait to see what the future holds together”.

July 8th 2021, 6:42 am

Mena startups raised $267 million in June 2021, pushing Q2 investment to $552 million


Startups in Mena have raised $267 million across 44 deals in June, propelling the second quarter investments to more than $552 million, a 33 per cent increase compared to the first quarter of 2021.

It was tabby’s $50 million debt financing round that pushed the UAE to the top spot in terms of investment value in June, which saw the country raise $137 million in total last month across 14 deals. The UAE’s eyewa ($21 million) and The Luxury Closet ($14 million) both closed a Series B round, while Opontia managed to raise $20 million in a Seed round for its e-commerce enablement platform.

Perhaps one of the most exciting investment deals in June was that of Egypt-based Trella, which attracted $42 million in a debt and equity round led by global shipping giant Maersk. Overall, eight Egyptian startups raised $52 million, ranking the country second in terms of number and value of deals.

Large rounds in the e-commerce sector including those from Floward ($27.5 million) and OpenSooq ($24 million) pushed total investments in the sector to $110.9 million across nine deals, while nine fintech startups raised $71.5 million. The logistics sector raised the third highest amount with $49 million thanks to Trella’s round.  

Of the 44 investments in June, 37 went to male founded startups, and seven to mixed founding teams. Startups led by female founders received no funding.

In the first half of 2021, the 249 investment deals in Mena nearly broke the billion-dollar mark reaching $978 million, of which 44 per cent went to UAE startups, 27 per cent to Saudi Arabia and 12.5 per cent to Egypt.  

It was the fintech sector that attracted the most investment with $306 million, of which $110 million alone was raised by Saudi Arabia-based buy now pay later startup Tamara in its Series A round. E-commerce did well once again with $181 million in investments, led primarily by the growth of B2B e-commerce players, and finally logistics startups raised $103 million, a reflection of the strength and growth of online shopping in the Middle East.

The top 10 biggest rounds in the first six months of 2021 were:

  1. Tamara: $110 million Series A
  2. Pure Harvest: $50 million raised via sukkuk
  3. Tabby: $50 million in debt financing
  4. Anghami: $40 million ahead of its SPAC
  5. Trella: $42 million in debt and equity
  6. Lyve $35 million in Series B
  7. Yellow Door Energy: $31.2 million debt financing
  8. Floward: $27.5 million Kuwait in Series B
  9. Starzplay $25 million in debt financing
  10. Sary: $20.5 million in Series B

Once again, startups founded by men dominated and attracted the vast bulk of investments with 96 per cent in the first six months of 2021, while female-founded startups attracted just 0.9 per cent.

These monthly reports are a collaboration between Wamda and Digital Digest. For startups that do not disclose the amount they have raised, we provide a conservative estimate for their rounds.

July 7th 2021, 9:57 pm

Seven Mena startups selected for Y Combinator's summer cohort 2021


Y Combinator’s latest summer cohort contains the largest group of startups from the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) in its history, with seven regional startups participating in the famous accelerator programme, which has graduated the likes of Stripe, Dropbox and Airbnb. 

While Mena-based startups comprise less than 10 per cent of this summer’s cohort, the number of startups from the region has been steadily rising, reflecting the rising global interest in the region’s tech ecosystem.

The seven startups selected are fintechs Baraka, Nomod and Amenli, e-commerce and logistics platforms Shipblu, Chari and Freterium and Odiggo. The startups are set to receive $125,000 in exchange for 7 per cent equity and will pitch remotely to an audience of over 1000 investors during the demo day slated for this August. YC’s last winter batch featured Egypt-based fintech NowPay and Dayra and UAE-based fintech Ziina.

The fintech, e-commerce and logistics sectors are the three fastest growing sectors in Mena in terms of investment, a result of the rise in online shopping and increased digitisation. In the first six months of 2021, fintech startups raised $306 million, e-commerce startups raised $181 million while logistics startups raised $103 million.

Here’s the list of Mena startups participating in Y Combinator’s summer 2021 batch:

Nomod: Founded by Omar Kassim in 2019 in the UAE, Nomod enables businesses to accept card payments.

Odiggo: Founded by Ahmed Naser and Ahmed Omar in 2019 in the UAE, Odiggo directly sells car parts and accessories sourced from different suppliers.

Amenli: Founded by Shady El Tohfa in 2020 in Egypt, Amenli is a digital insurance brokerage that enables its clients to buy insurance in less than 10 minutes.

Chari: Founded by 2020 by Ismael Belkhayat and Sophia Alj in Morocco, Chari is a B2B e-commerce platform that connects FMCG store owners and retailers to suppliers.

Freterium: Founded by Omar El Kouhene and Mehdi Cherif Alami in Morocco, Freterium is a SaaS platform that aims to disrupt the logistic supply chain.

ShipBlu: Founded by Ahmed El Kawas, Ahmed ElKawass and Abdelrahman Hosny in 2020 in Egypt,  ShipBlu offers full-stack last-mile delivery and fulfillment solutions for e-commerce businesses.

Baraka: Founded by Feras Jalbout and Kunal Taneja in 2020 in the UAE, Baraka offers a commission-free investment app for users in the Middle East.


July 7th 2021, 9:57 pm

Five Colors raises SAR5 million


Saudi Arabia-based video production company Five Colors, has raised SAR5 million ($1.3 million) via crowdfunding platform Scooper. 

Since its founding by Tareq Melfi, Five Colors has served over 512 clients, fulfilled 2,345 projects, and produced 542 films. The startup also has offices in Abu Dhabi and the US. 

Five Colors looks to bridge the supply-demand gap in the creative industries by facilitating the local production of films. The company is currently in the process of developing an app to operate as a marketplace that connects creators to prospective clients.

July 7th 2021, 9:57 am

Global Ventures invests in insurtech Democrance


Press release:

Democrance, the UAE-born insurtech company completed its latest funding round, led by Dubai-based international VC firm Global Ventures, along with the participation of Veridian Ventures and existing investors.

Founded in 2015 with a mission to enable partnerships that make insurance accessible and affordable for all emerging market segments of society, Democrance helps insurers expand their digital offering thereby unlocking the potential for entirely overlooked pockets customers, products or channels. Democrance is a B2B data-enabled, white-label SaaS, plug-and-play technology platform that digitises sales and distribution verticals of the insurance value chain for emerging market segments.

Democrance’s platform enables insurance companies to increase sales, drive retention and cross-sell, and unlock new segments through leading-edge digital and data-enabled technologies, plugged into the wider insurance and partner ecosystem. By automating the entire value chain of insurance sales from marketing, distribution, underwriting, and policy administration to claims management, insurers can benefit from incrementally higher sales conversion and substantial cost savings while widening the reach of new and untapped markets at significantly lower unit costs. Democrance’s solution obviates the need for core system replacement by sitting on top of an insurer’s core and seamlessly connecting various modules to automate the end-to-end customer journey.

Michele Grosso, Chief Executive Officer of Democrance, said: “Democrance aims to enable the consumerisation of insurance where insurance products will be bought and serviced remotely and seamlessly in the growing digital, virtual, and remote e-commerce world. In six years, we have expanded our footprint across 12 countries and work with the world’s leading insurance organisations. And we are proud to have Global Ventures among our investors: their expertise in growing enterprise SaaS businesses coupled with their regional focus will help us grow and uphold our position as the leading insurtech in the region."

Basil Moftah, General Partner at Global Ventures, added: “Among insurers, the Covid-19 crisis has fuelled innovation ambitions, and accelerated efforts to adopt a digital-first approach to customer and worker interactions, to modernise technology infrastructure and improve data capabilities, and embrace touchless, digital underwriting and claims processes. In this scenario, insurtech companies will play a key role in helping change the trajectory for insurers in achieving these ambitions. We have followed the success story of Democrance – their grit and commitment to bridging the gap between insurers and technology are one to watch. This partnership validates our confidence in the Democrance story. At Global Ventures we are committed to supporting founders and innovations with game-changing ambitions, as well as enabling the digitisation of the UAE’s economy.”

Fuelled by population growth, regulatory reforms, infrastructure development, the influx of foreign capital, and the current low penetration, The GCC insurance market is projected to grow from $32 billion in 2020 to $43 billion in 2025, registering a healthy CAGR of 4.3 per cent. Capturing these opportunities is going to require insurers and therefore drivers of insurtech to ramp up digital capabilities in the near term.

July 7th 2021, 7:27 am

Damanesign raises $450,000 from Maroc Numeric Fund II


Press release:

Damanesign, a Morocco-based digital trust solutions startup has successfully raised MAD4 million ($450,000) in funds led by Maroc Numeric Fund II.  

Founded in 2021 by Zouhair Hamdaoui, Damanesign is a startup that is seizing new legislation opportunities on digital trust in Morocco to provide users with the utmost safety in the documentation. Damanesign provides electronic signatures, seals, and timestamps allowing users to sign and have documents signed in total security while guaranteeing their probative value. Damanesign also offers advanced management of signature transactions (multiple signatories, documents and roles, etc.) and organisations (users and workflows). As legal frameworks constantly evolve, legal startups in emerging venture Markets have been keen on introducing digital and tech solutions to make transactions safer.

This is the 5th investment of Maroc Numeric Fund II and the 22nd investment of its management team at MITC Capital. Commenting on the impact of this investment round Mrs Dounia Boumehdi, Managing Director of MITC Capital, said "The recent adoption of Law 43-20 on digital trust, opens the way to widespread and more accessible use of various services, including electronic signature. The Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated the importance for companies, public administrations, and individuals to have end-to-end dematerialised processes, allowing to fluidify transactions of any nature. Our investment is part of this approach to democratising digital trust services by enabling companies of all sizes to take full advantage of the services and ergonomics of Damanesign.”

This round comes as a pivot point for Damanesign as they benefit from their newly acquired funding to hone their digital products and develop their operations.

July 7th 2021, 5:42 am

The basics of IP: Trademarks


Ludwig Lindermayer is a patent and trademark attorney at PAUSTIAN & PARTNER. In a series of thought leadership pieces, he outlines the basics of intellectual property and how best to protect them as a startup.

As the last session was about the sometimes quite "dry" patent topic, in this session on IP, we will have a look at a more vivid topic: trademarks. 

What are trademarks? 

A trademark may consist of any signs, in particular words, including personal names, or designs, letters, numerals, colours, the shape of goods or of the packaging of goods, or sounds, that distinguish the goods or services of one undertaking from those of another. 

If you have a sign that makes people think of your company when they see it, you might already have a trademark. Famous examples here are a certain "swoosh" of a sports company, the triangular shape of a chocolate bar, the shape of a glass bottle -even when it is not filled with the dark and sweet beverage- and red soles on high heels. 

Without mentioning the companies' names, almost everybody knows who I am talking about. And this is exactly what a trademark is: People see it and think of your company.

The only limit is that it needs to be represented in the register clearly and precisely. That is why a smell-trademark for golf balls (the smell was freshly cut grass) did not enter the register, because it could not be represented clearly and precisely.

Of course the possibilities of what can be registered vary between jurisdictions.

There are multiple possibilities for how to register a trademark: nationally with the office of the corresponding country or regionally (like an European trademark EUTM) or internationally (making it easier to bring your trademark to many countries). Tonnes of different rules and laws apply here so we better leave it at this or we might get lost in the IP-rabbit hole.

In order to apply for a trademark you need your sign and your list of goods and/or services you want your sign to protect. This list is structured by the so-called "Nice Classification". A classification of 45 classes ( 1 to 34 for goods and 35 to 45 for services) that covers each and every imaginable good and service. As the classification was established 1957, it is a living document since many goods and services that are in the classification today were not imaginable back then (internet, 3D-printing, etc.). Accordingly, the classification develops with time and each new good or service will find its place in one of the 45 classes. The number of classes is usually highly influential for the costs of a trademark application.

If you have found your sign and determined your list of goods and/or services as well as the office you would like to file your application, you usually have two hurdles to take during the registration process:

  1. Your sign must not be descriptive for the goods and/or services you want it to be protected for; and

  2. There must not be an older trademark that could be confused with yours.

Here is where there are many case laws all over the world so I will only talk about each point in principle. If you want to register the word "milk" for your goods "beverages; yoghurt" and the service of "smoking fish" you most probably will run into problems as your sign will be perceived as being descriptive for your claimed goods and/or services. Or another example: A bitten apple as a sign would certainly cause problems for "fruits", however, not so much for mobile phones or computers.

If you try to register a bitten pear for mobile phones and computers, you most likely will have problems with point two above.

Trademarks are certainly the intellectual property rights (IPR) where startups can do at least a fair part of the preparative work for an application themselves.

Benefits of trademarks:

Of course, not all is easy going with trademarks. There are some points to consider:

Trademarks are sometimes considered not as valuable as patents, especially among startups and technology SMEs, which – in my opinion – is very wrong. Trademarks protect the names and sometimes even the coolness a company makes its money with. A successful brand is not possible without trademarks as they help to protect your investments in marketing.

The golden rule is: If you earn your money with a sign (this starts with the company name / logo) the IPR should belong to you.

July 6th 2021, 10:10 pm

Y Combinator acquires 7 per cent of Morocco's B2B e-commerce startup Chari


Press release

Y Combinator is a San Francisco-based startup accelerator. It is known to be the most selective startup incubator in the world (only 1% of the start-ups that apply are accepted1 ).

Big names such as Airbnb, Dropbox, Stripe, Twitch, Sendbird, Reddit, or even Zapier have gone through Y Combinator2 . With offices in Morocco and Tunisia, Chari becomes the first startup operating in several Maghrebian markets to welcome YC in its cap table. With the acquisition of 7% of Chari’s equity, Y Combinator joins the prestigious cap table of the Moroccan e-commerce and FinTech app already comprised of American and European Venture Capitalists such as Plug and Play (Silicon Valley's Most Active Venture Capitalist3 ) or Orange Digital Ventures (Financial arm of the French telecom operator Orange4 ).

Sophia Alj and Ismael Belkhayat, co-founders of Chari, will participate in Y Combinator's 'summer batch 2021', which will take place between July and September 2021. At the end of this acceleration program, the startup will be presented during a 'Demo Day' to an audience of over 1000 international Venture Capitalists looking for the next gold nuggets.

"It's an honor for us to participate in the S21 batch of Y Combinator. With my co-founder, we will belong to the very closed circle of YC Alumni, allowing us to benefit from a global network of brilliantly successful startups. This will create a lot of value for our start-up, says Ismael Belkhayat, CEO and co-founder of Chari.

As a reminder, Chari is a B2B e-commerce and FinTech application allowing traditional convenience stores to order all the products resold in their shop with the promise of having them delivered in less than 24 hours. Chari was incubated within Dislog Group before joining the ranks of STATION F Paris and seducing more than ten thousand grocery stores in Morocco.

Launched in January 2020 by the duo Ismael Belkhayat and Sophia Alj, Chari is experiencing a monthly growth of more than 10% and plans to end 2021 with a turnover of more than 20 million dollars. At the end of 2020, Chari received the African startup of the year award from the French telecom operator Orange in a competition in which more than 500 startups participated.

July 6th 2021, 4:38 pm

C3 completes graduates its third accelerator programme


Press release:

The third edition of the C3 Social Impact Accelerator Programme – powered by HSBC, concluded on Thursday 1 July, with the three winners announced by Stephen Moss, Regional CEO of HSBC Middle East, North Africa and Turkey.

Egypt’s Baramoda came first, with the UAE’s The Zola Collective in second, and EduPloyment in third – also from the UAE. 

The three winners have received equity-free cash prizes courtesy of HSBC, pro bono consulting support from Bain & Co, and pro bono legal support from Al Tamimi & Company, in addition to a complimentary license to the DMCC – the world’s leading free zone1. C3’s corporate partners have also supported the entrepreneurs tremendously throughout the Board Meeting Simulations and participated in the selection of the finalists as part of the judging panel.

The winners will also benefit from Amazon Web Services (AWS) promotional credits as part of the AWS Activate program, and receive support from FH Insights – a corporate training company that will help them align their company values with their mission. 

This year, the programme attracted more than 1,000 applications, with 42 entrepreneurs from eight countries across the Middle East and Turkey (MENAT) region – covering 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – shortlisted to join the semi-finalist training sessions. 

The shortlist was then cut to 24 finalists, of whom 45 per cent are women founders, to continue their journey and participate in board meeting simulations and the final pitch competition. 

The new interactive format of the online programme, developed by C3 in partnership with data analytics experts and learning technology providers, allowed the entrepreneurs to maximise their learning outcomes and effectively implement all the learnings acquired over the course of the three-month programme.

Sabrin Rahman, HSBC’s Managing Director and Head of Sustainability EMEA, said: “I couldn’t be prouder of how the programme has evolved year on year. Scaling up these social businesses also means scaling their impact, which means we are able to begin tackling some of the most critical issues in our communities. Collaboration and partnerships across all sectors are key if we want to create long-term solutions for the region, by the region, which is why we value our partnership with C3.” 

The programme underlined the remarkable cooperation between different ecosystem players in their mission to support C3 entrepreneurs. 

“This year, the support from our network has been incredible: more than 160 experts from blue-chip companies and more than 30 international and regional VCs have participated in the board meeting simulations, and 20+ distinguished judges have helped us with the very difficult task of selecting the winners. Moreover, we have observed a phenomenal spirit of collaboration among the finalists. It is heartwarming to witness emerging partnerships between business leaders that are intentional about creating positive change in our communities!” highlighted Medea Nocentini, C3 co-founder.

Sanjeev Dutta, Executive Director – Commodities and Financial Services, DMCC, said: “Time and time again, I am amazed at the creativity, innovation, talent and true commitment to social impact that we keep witnessing across the region. The C3 Social Impact Accelerator Program powered by HSBC is such an important initiative as it uncovers this untapped potential. This not only benefits the entrepreneurs themselves but more importantly supports the advancement of the UN SDGs. We very much look forward to welcoming Verofax, providing them with the opportunity to set up and grow in our vibrant business district and guiding them every step of the way.” 

All the C3 entrepreneurs will continue to receive support from C3 and different partners and experts as part of the efforts towards building a collaborative ecosystem. 

July 5th 2021, 2:10 pm

GOMYCODE: The Tunisian startup upskilling Africa's youth


Unemployment has long been a concern for governments across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region, which suffers from the world’s highest rate of youth unemployment. The curriculum in many countries is outdated and fails to prepare students for a labour market that increasingly relies on digital and technical capabilities. According to the World Economic Forum, digitisation and technology integration will change 42 per cent of core employment skills by 2022, a shift that some education technology (edtech) startups are looking to address. 

As communication, training, and learning moved primarily online during last year's lockdown, Mena’s edtech scene, like its e-commerce market, saw positive growth in both adoption and investment. The period opened the door for investors to back the region’s leading edtech startups such as Saudi Arabia-based Noon Academy and Lebanon-based Ostaz which was acquired by Global private school provider Inspired Education Group, and urged them to explore digital learning opportunities beyond the K-12 scope.

All of this has been fuelling Tunisia-based upskilling edtech GOMYCODE to expand across the Middle East and Africa to meet the dire need to address widespread unemployment among youth. 

Launched in 2017, the startup has trained more than 10,000 users across eight countries including Morocco, Egypt, Bahrain, Nigeria, and recently Senegal, offering intensive hybrid courses through 30 learning tracks with classes in full stack development, artificial intelligence, data science and other technology-centred fields. Last year, the company raised $850,000 in a pre-Series A round with participation from Wamda and has amassed over $4 million in estimated revenue. 

“The countries and economies where we operate suffer from high rates of unemployment and a large youth population. Fifty per cent of university graduates in Africa won’t get jobs, which is an alarming number. On the other hand, there’s a massive skills gap happening. People need access to good opportunities, and education and upskilling both help,” says Yahya Bouhlel, founder and CEO of GOMYCODE.

According to the UN, and as Bouhlel points out, Africa’s youth population (under 18) is expected to increase by nearly 170 million, and the overwhelming slow adoption of technology across Africa’s industries’ leaves an estimated $130 billion investment opportunity in digitally upskilling Sub-Saharan Africa alone through 2030, a region that suffers a 13.8 per cent youth unemployment rate in total.

GOMYCODE’s hybrid learning model not only helps with “the completion rate” for online courses, according to Bouhlel, but also reinforces a need for academic instructors that could alleviate the striking unemployment rates among African youth. Freelance tutors make 80 per cent of the startup’s instructors, and the turnover of students whose physical attendance is divided to accommodate space makes the startup’s model both sustainable and scalable across countries.

“Not everyone has access to the internet or a good working or learning environment, so it’s not just a space that we are offering, it's a way to acquire learning. It can be a coworking space, an open space, or a university class, and when we expand to a country, each country has a network of people qualified to teach. In traditional learning centres, you can only train around 50 people in one space, with our model and with 30 chairs, we can train up to 1600 students per year,” says Bouhlel.

In addition to its B2C model, the startup offers corporate training and curriculum development for companies on a membership basis, and aids in hiring processes by “help[ing] employers connect with developers”.

But across the Mena region, the newly-emerging edtech space is riddled with a number of challenges including the heavily-regulated education industry, the strong competition from the region’s public organisations, and the need for localised content in various languages.

“There are a number of challenges in edtech, like the regulation, the lack of data, the cultural differences, the language barrier,” says Bouhlel, “In the Middle East, English is a main language for example, but in Africa, there are so many languages and a lot of countries use French. That’s one of the things we realised when we started, and so we began building localised content.”

The accelerated rate that regional investors tend to expect from local startups is also affecting the support that the Mena edtech market receives, having a typically slower traction model.

“It also takes much longer to scale an edtech in general because you have to wait longer to measure success rates. The iteration loop is much longer in the education business, which is common, but investors are interested in fast growth models and It’s these small things that could affect the whole growth trajectory a little bit for edtech startups,” explains Bouhlel.

Despite these challenges, GOMYCODE’s regional growth is a sign of Tunisia’s relatively affordable economic market, its abundance of young talent, as well as Africa’s general lack of competition among specialised edtech startups - which overall, present boundless potential for the edtech market.

“The environment in Tunisia is really interesting for entrepreneurs, there’s a huge population of developers, Tunisia is the second country in Africa in the number of developers - for every one million we have around 5000 developers, or 30,000 in tech in total, and that’s a lot of talent,” says Bouhlel. “Our success story with GOMYCODE is encouraging a lot of Tunisians to become entrepreneurs and that is really important. We will have more investors in the [edtech] space, and if anything, covid has shown how learning skills really matter.”


July 5th 2021, 9:55 am

MaxAB raises $40 million in Series A


Press release

MaxAB, the largest Egyptian B2B e-commerce platform that serves food and grocery retailers, has secured $40M in a Series A round, led by RMBV, a prominent impact investor in North Africa. The round included participation from the IFC, Flourish Ventures, Crystal Stream Capital, Rise Capital, and Endeavor Catalyst as well as MaxAB’s existing investors, Beco Capital and 4DX Ventures. MaxAB is Crystal Stream and Flourish Ventures’ first North African investment. This round brings the company’s total investment to date to more than $45M since its seed round in September 2019.

MaxAB was founded in 2018 and serves a network of traditional retailers (Mom-and-Pop stores) across Egypt. In less than 3 years, the company leveraged technology to develop a transformative supply chain model and offer a product that empowers both traditional retailers and suppliers. MaxAB serves traditional retailers, offering the simplicity of dealing with one supplier, transparent pricing, on-demand delivery, and a range of value-added services. Suppliers benefit from MaxAB’s end-to-end supply chain solutions and business intelligence tools that allow them to accurately predict, monitor, and control the impact of their strategies in real time.

The new capital raised will be deployed to expand MaxAB’s physical footprint across the MENA region, following its expansion to every key city in Egypt by the end of 2021. The company also plans on scaling recently launched business verticals including new supply chains and embedded finance solutions. Additionally, the company will expand its talent pool by bringing onboard some of the best minds in the world to join the dynamic team, further positioning Egypt as one of the primary technology hubs in the region.

Commenting on MaxAB’s growth ambitions, Belal El-Megharbel, Co-Founder and CEO at MaxAB, says: “Three years ago we embarked on an ambitious mission to create a more cohesive, transparent and efficient food and grocery supply chain in Egypt. This additional capital will allow us to continue to give retailers the economies of scale our platform offers while serving many more new customers. Being backed by a diverse group of renowned and experienced investors will enable us to rapidly scale our operations across the MENA region and developing markets.” He continues, “In this short timespan, MaxAB has been able to impact the lives of more than 55,000 retailers, successfully fulfil more than 1 million orders, and create more than 1,600 direct jobs in the process. It has grown more than 5x year-on-year, fuelled by its capacity to reliably fulfil deliveries within 24 hours of orders being placed.”

Ahmed Badreldin, Managing Partner at RMBV commented: “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the unique structure of Egypt’s economy, with hundreds of thousands of shopkeepers and small businesses becoming the lifeline of our country at the time of crisis. We are delighted to be backing visionary entrepreneurs that have created a transformative business with impressive growth that is a catalyst for financial inclusion and job creation. We look forward to supporting MaxAB in its next phase of development as they continue delivering on growth and innovation.”

“MaxAB is set to play a central role in retailers' financial lives - it directly boosts retailers' profits by reducing the hassle and the cost of buying inventory and, with embedded fintech products in its core offering, customers can easily buy more goods and pay for them seamlessly," said Ameya Upadhyay, venture partner at Flourish Ventures. "With its founding team of seasoned operators who have scaled world-class ventures before, MaxAB is pioneering the global trend towards Embedded Finance. We are proud to back MaxAB as our first investment in Egypt and eager to see the next step in their journey."

July 5th 2021, 9:55 am

Laila Hassan: More women inclusion in the ecosystem drives better economics


Egypt-based venture capital firm Algebra Ventures announced today that Laila Hassan and Omar Khashaba will be joining its second, $90 million fund, as General Partners (GP). Both are expected to bring “valuable experience to the fund” according to a statement released by Algebra. 

For Hassan, her appointment marks progress in Egypt’s VC ecosystem, becoming the country’s second female partner at a VC. She was previously venture partner early-stage venture fund and seed accelerator 500 Startups, where she will continue to support startups within the 500 Falcons Fund portfolio before starting her position at Algebra later this year. 

The desire to be part of the thriving entrepreneurship community has driven Hassan to return to her homeland, where she sees “a huge potential in the growing Egyptian market”.

“The startup founders and entrepreneurs' profiles have grown quite impressively; they are well-educated, heavily experienced in their fields. They could have joined remarkable international firms but they opted to build their own startups with a solid background,” she says, asserting that the Egyptian market has several attractive attributes that enhance its uniqueness in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region as well as the African continent.

Egypt’s ecosystem is one of the most active in Mena, benefitting from a large youth, tech-savvy population. Government focus on technical education to improve the skills of its workforce as well as increased funding geared towards startups has created fertile ground for an ecosystem to develop and bear great potential to become one of the leading ecosystems in the region.

“Egypt has a large population, half of which are under the age of 24, it is an optimal age bracket for tech adoption. Also, the digital infrastructure has evolved from 2016 until now, with 95.75 million mobile connections in Egypt at the moment,” says Hassan, who points out that the biggest chunk of the portfolio companies at 500 Startups was based in Egypt. 

In the first six months of this year, Egypt-based startups have raised $122 million across 61 deals, a promising trajectory when compared to the  $190 million raised in VC funding in 2020. The country currently ranks second in terms of the number of deals, and third behind the UAE and Saudi Arabia in terms of the value of investments.

Nevertheless, the Egyptian ecosystem is still facing some challenges that hinder its progress.

“The biggest challenge is the size of the market, unlike the Saudi market for example, where the purchasing power parity is higher and reflects on the sales of a startup that can be at its earliest stages in comparison to a later-stage startup in Egypt,” says Hassan, adding that the ecosystem in Egypt is male-dominated, which represents another challenge.

According to Hassan, greater inclusion of women in the Egyptian ecosystem drives better economics, helping to capture a wider market.

“If you look at the market fragmentation, especially in the B2C segment, you can see that not all the startups or business models serve women's needs, which means they have condemned 50 per cent of the population,” she says. 

As a GP at Algebra, Hassan says she is determined to empower more female founders to come forward to pitch their ideas, through the AV Sigma Women programme. She is also willing to add a new investment stage to Algebra's second fund’s area of focus. 

“Instead of focusing on Series A only, we will focus on Seed investment as well. By virtue of being four partners now and having the AV Sigma Network, we have the opportunity now to spot the talent and bet on them at the early stages,” Hassan explains.

Last April, Algebra announced the launch of its $90 million second fund, a sector agnostic fund which will focus primarily on Egypt with a small allocation going to sub-Saharan Africa. 

“We are thesis-driven VC, we will focus in our second fund on bottom-of-the-pyramid type of startups. We are open to every sector that can solve a problem or fulfil a need in the market or the society, however, agritech, insurance and market-enabled enterprises are hot sectors that should be tackled in Egypt,” says Hassan. 

Four years into its first $54 million fund, Algebra invested in 21 startups including elmenus, Trella, Halan, Yodawy and other heavyweight startups in Egypt. Its six most established companies are valued at over $350 million. 

July 5th 2021, 9:55 am

Global Ventures participates in Nigeria-based teamApt's Series B funding round


Source: Disrupt Africa

Nigerian fintech startup TeamApt, which provides financial services for the underserved mass market in Africa, has announced the completion of its Series B funding round as it looks to expand in the aftermath of switching its focus from B2C from B2B.

Launched in 2015, TeamApt was formed to solve inefficiencies in Nigeria’s growing digital financial services market, and has a variety of products. The startup counts 100 per cent of the country’s commercial banks amongst its customers and in 2019 secured a switching licence from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as well as a US$5.5 million Series A funding round. 

Disrupt Africa reported in January the startup announced it will be shifting its focus from delivering financial services products to banks to delivering products for consumers and businesses, as it aims to build on a strong performance in 2020. 

Its ambitions have now been boosted by an undisclosed Series B funding round, led by Novastar Ventures with participation from FMO, Global Ventures, CDC, Oui Capital, Kepple Africa Ventures, Soma Capital, and a syndicate of local angel investors including Gbenga Oyebode. 

The funding will see TeamApt extend its offerings directly to customers and micro-SMEs, giving them access to the financial access lifelines they need to succeed, while expanding its solutions beyond Nigeria. 

“Universal access to financial services is key to the advancement of any society. We built Moniepoint because we believe everyone deserves to enjoy financial happiness and this can only happen when they can access financial services effortlessly,” said Tosin Eniolorunda, co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of TeamApt. 

“This fundraise is happening at a significant time in our growth as a company. In the past years, we have exceeded several strategic milestones without external funding, helping accelerate the Central Bank of Nigeria’s target of 95 per cent financial inclusion by 2024, but as the hurdles of financial access are not unique to Nigeria, this funding allows us to extend our solutions to other parts of Africa.”

Brian Waswani Odhiambo, head of West Africa at Novastar Ventures, said TeamApt had swiftly and successfully established its agency network to become the leading operator in Nigeria, a testament to the team’s capabilities and the platform’s superior user experience. 

“We are glad to catalyse their vision by providing TeamApt with sufficient capital to pursue its new phase of growth,” he said.

July 5th 2021, 9:55 am

Arab Financial Inclusion Innovation Prize


The Arab Financial Inclusion Innovation Prize (AFIIP) 2021 is well underway and scouting for solutions that can improve access to and usage of financial services for the low-income and MSMEs in the Arab world. The winning innovators will receive prizes of up to $60K in cash in addition to technical support.

This year a second stream of the prize will provide additional resources for financial innovations that can generate green outcomes.

AFIIP [] is also providing additional resources to innovations that can generate green outcomes. There is a second stream to the prize looking for financial solutions that can help mitigate the risks of climate change, increase environmental resilience for the low-income and MSMEs, provide sustainable opportunities to the underserved and enhance the green finance ecosystem of the Arab world.

AFIIP 2021 is supported by SANAD Technical Assistance Facility, FSD Africa funded by UK Aid from the UK government and Spectrum Digital Holdings.

Who can apply?

What’s the timeline?

What are the judging criteria?

A panel of world-class experts will evaluate the applications based on the following criteria:

For the green stream there are two additional criteria:


Apply below to either stream before 9 July.  For more information please email

July 1st 2021, 11:38 am

Localization Strategy Made Simple




One-size-fits-all English content and experiences are no longer sufficient. According to a study by Common Sense Advisory (CSA) Research carried out with web consumers, 72.4% of consumers said they would be more likely to buy a product with information in their own language. At the same time, localization often gets overwhelming with so much content to localize into so many languages. But it doesn’t have to be that way. 

In this webinar that Tarjama, a Dubai-based language services provider and expert, is organizing on July 7th, you’ll discover the easily applicable methods to build a localization strategy.

The live webinar will include:

- How to research and plan for the next target language

- How to decide on the right translation management software

- How to decide between partnering with a language service provider, freelancers or building an in-house localization team


How it will contribute to the business:

- Improving customer satisfaction in international markets

- Increasing customer database

- Enabling the company to enter new markets more rapidly

- Optimizing the localization budget


Who can benefit from this webinar:

- Marketing Managers and Directors

- Content Managers & Content Marketers

- Localization Managers and Directors

Register and tune in here. 

July 1st 2021, 11:38 am

Zeew raises $170,000 in funding



Egypt-based e-commerce enabler platform Zeew, has raised $170,000 from Sanabil 500 MENA Seed Accelerator, a joint initiative of Sanabil Investments and 500 startups. This brings the total raised by the startup to date to $400,000, according to its founder Mohamed Ghaith.

Zeew enables businesses of all sizes to set up their online stores. Currently, it caters to clients in multiple verticals, including F&B, pharmacy and last-mile delivery sectors.

"There are over 1 million businesses on Shopify today without a delivery system, and with our automated platform we have created a full ecosystem for businesses, in few clicks, the business ecommerce store is created and connected to its native client ordering apps, vendor apps, drivers apps, dispatcher, accounting system and more," said Ghaith.

The startup plans to use the investment to accelerate its global growth, acquire more customers and enter new related verticles. The app is currently used across more than 160 countries across the globe.

July 1st 2021, 11:38 am

Kitopi raises $415 million in Series C led by Softbank


Press release:

Kitopi, the world’s leading managed cloud kitchen platform, announced today the completion of its $415 million, Series C funding round. 

The round was led by Softbank Vision Fund 2, with participation from Chimera, DisruptAD, B. Riley, Dogus Group, Next Play Capital and Nordstar.

Kitopi will channel the new funding to fuel its continued expansion within the Middle East and support entry to new markets such as Southeast Asia, which has a highly attractive and fast growing online food delivery market. Kitopi will also continue to innovate and expand its tech stack, grow its strategic restaurant partnerships and build a best-in-class team across the organization. 

This round marks SoftBank Vision Fund 2’s first investment in a UAE-headquartered company.

Kitopi, which stands for Kitchen Utopia , was founded in January 2018 by Mohamad Ballout (CEO), Saman Darkan (Chief Technology Officer), Bader Ataya (Chief Growth Officer) and Andy Arenas (Chief Property Officer), with a mission to satisfy the world’s appetite. Headquartered in Dubai, UAE, Kitopi currently has over 2500 Kitopians (colleagues) in its 4 markets, in addition to Krakow, Poland where its engineering hub is located and its global CX center in Dubai.

Kitopi operates 60+ cloud kitchens across the UAE, KSA, Kuwait and more recently, Bahrain. It partners with restaurants and F&B brands, enabling them to expand their reach through its kitchens, in as little as 14 days. 

Kitopi takes care of the entire operations -  from supply chain, staff training,  food preparation, delivery to customer experience. It works with over 200+ F&B partners, including several globally recognised brands such as Papa Johns, Nathan’s Famous and iHOP. The cloud kitchen platform has also diversified its offerings by leveraging its supply chain to include subscription based meal plans and on-demand groceries delivery. 

A large part of its competitive advantage is its proprietary Smart Kitchen Operating System (“SKOS”). SKOS is a suite of applications that optimizes the performance of its cloud kitchen operations in real time. The solution focuses on delivering a great customer experience across multiple brands in a single kitchen by maximizing operational efficiency. Since launch, SKOS has enabled Kitopi to scale to 200+ brands in 60+ sites over just 3 years. 

In this period, its kitchens have been able to double the order volume while reducing kitchen preparation time by 40%. One application, for instance, uses data science to predict when drivers will arrive and how long a menu item would take to cook, then auto sequence which items are cooked first, to enhance speed. 

“These past 3 and a half years have taught us the importance of pursuing our vision with grit, focus, and building a high-performance culture,” Mohamad Ballout, CEO and Cofounder of Kitopi said. “We are humbled to work with world-class partners such as Softbank, Chimera, DisruptAD, and others. What this shows is not only a great commitment to our company but to the industry and the region. Our focus now is to expand our presence within the Middle East and to Southeast Asia while continuing to innovate and pioneer in the cloud kitchen space. We are excited to take what we do to other parts of the world.”

Faisal Rehman, Managing Partner for SoftBank Investment Advisers, said, “Constraints placed on the hospitality sector by the global pandemic have rapidly catalyzed the value proposition of cloud kitchens for customers and restaurant brands. We believe Kitopi’s proprietary technology is changing the unit economics of food delivery in providing more choice to more customers, in more places. Moreover we are delighted to welcome Kitopi as SoftBank’s first UAE-headquartered investment and are excited by the company’s growth prospects in the region and beyond.”

Dany Farha, Beco Capital, “Mohamad has assembled one of the highest quality leadership teams from the get-go and continues to build depth of talent across the organization. Coupling this with being one of the first in the world to innovate in the cloud kitchen space globally, makes for an incredibly exciting venture outcome to be borne out of Dubai - we are privileged to have the opportunity to work with Kitopi.”

Tushar Singhvi, Deputy CEO & Head of Investments, Crescent Enterprises, said: “We are proud to have been part of Kitopi’s spectacular growth journey since inception. At its heart, the company embodies path-breaking innovation, harnessing the power of technology to create significant value for its ecosystem partners. As a long-standing partner, CE-Ventures continues to support the company’s ambitious global expansion plans. Becoming the region’s fastest unicorn is just the beginning!”

July 1st 2021, 11:38 am

Floral marketplaces: Does the future look rosy?


The retail industry across the Middle East has undergone a sea of change, with online purchases becoming a central part of the shopping journey. E-commerce is increasingly being disrupted by startups aiming to digitise almost every aspect of this journey. 

The floral sector has therefore not been left immune from the digital boom. E-commerce adoption in the sector is happening, but at a slower pace. Abdulaziz Al Loughani, CEO of Floward, attributes this to the fact that the sector still remains by and large a fragmented sector.

“It is a brick-and-mortar industry at heart; traditional mom-and-pop shops still dominate," says Loughani. "We are slowly seeing the pickup of e-commerce penetration happen as part of the world and we are definitely causing that disruption to happen."

Amid the uncertainty triggered by the Covid-19 crisis, the company ramped up its expansion plans. Now, it is operational in Oman, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the UK, Cyprus, Central Europe, Russia, and North Africa. 

“Back in March 2020, we were in the middle of our expansion, in addition, we saw that e-commerce penetration in this part of the world and other parts were almost doubling. We felt that we really wanted to be ready for more, which led us to be more present physically, in terms of fulfillment centres in a wider geographic footprint," he adds.

Earlier this week, Floward announced it had raised a $27.5 million Series B round, looking to further fuel its expansion and bolster its growth. 

The company operates via an e-commerce marketplace working with 1500 small brands, procuring cut flowers from different parts of the world, which are then shipped to Floward's fulfillment centre. According to Loughani, Floward was founded with the aim to bridge the trust gap between the brand and customer.

"[We] found that people are actually not loyal to many brands when it comes to flowers, yet they are more loyal to the florist, to the quality of flowers, to how they are delivered, that’s why we chose to play pure e-commerce,” says Loughani. “Most of our competitors operate in the market as aggregators. But, in our case, we are looking to fill a huge gap and establish our own brand, and acquire all of the customer experience as much as possible."

Saudi as a sought-after destination 

The GCC market is worth around $1.5 billion according to Loughani, with much of the growth coming from the Saudi market. 

“Saudi Arabia constitutes 50 per cent of the GCC's gross domestic product (GDP). We believe that the digital transformation happening in Saudi led by the government will eventually have a triple, if not quadruple impact on the rest of the neighbouring countries in the region,” he surmises. 

Saudi Arabia is also home to the largest producer of flowers in the Middle East, Astra farms. Last week, Dubai-based B2B floral marketplace Floranow, acquired the distribution business of Saudi Arabia's Astra Farms, with the aim to digitise its flower distribution business. 

As per the deal, the company’s entire yield output will be sold online by the end of next month according to Charif Mazek, CEO of Floranow.

“Saudi Arabia is the biggest market in the region, and if you really want to scale your business, you need to have a presence there,” says Mazek.

By expanding to Saudi, Floranow looks to address the inefficiencies in the floral sector supply chain by leveraging technology.

"The first challenge we are facing in KSA is logistics. Luckily, we were able to deal with that in a short period of time, we worked with partners at Tesla, and redesigned the entire logistics network in a way that ensures a 24-hour delivery framework from farm to consumer,” he explains. 

E-commerce marketplaces enable increased visibility into the whole supply chain as well as giving retailers the opportunity to access a broader array of products from all over the world. In the case of floral marketplaces, digitising the sector's supply chain will also increase customer awareness about the different types of flowers to enable them to make better, more informed choices. 

"In our region, flowers are sold in general based on their colour. We want to ensure that everyone on the platform bases their own buying decision on specifications such as stem length, head size, etc. Clients started seeing the value of making a purchase decision based on certain specifications, variety and type rather than buying with a more general type of reference," says Mazek.

Last-mile delivery

Running a floral marketplace involves different unit economics than the ones usually associated with other marketplaces where food, grocery, and medicine or home appliances are sold. The fact that flowers are highly perishable products entails a very specific type of knowledge and experience in handling and transportation and deliveries.

“When we started the company, we came very quickly to the conclusion that we needed to build our last-mile delivery capacity,” says Mazek, arguing that the floral space offers opportunities for growth to third-party delivery companies if they perfect the last-mile delivery experience for flowers. 

However, for Hamed Eslamian, founder of UAE-based premium flower delivery platform Black and Blanc, last-mile delivery poses a significant challenge to his business. 

"We are really facing a big challenge in terms of getting the products to our customers at the right time," says Eslamian. “Since Covid-19, we have had at least 20 to 30 companies coming to us, new delivery companies and asking to work with us, and we have onboard all of them. However, it is still very challenging for us to be able to get to the customer at the right time. Everything is done online at this point in time, even though there are many different delivery companies available right now."

Where will growth come from? 

The key drivers of growth in this sector can fall under three categories; gifting, flowers for personal use and occasions.

"Gifting is growing, and I believe this [segment] will be the main driver of growth in the sector," explains Mazek. 

In light of the fact that most of the wedding parties as well as family gatherings came to a grinding halt due to pandemic, Mazek highlights that much of the growth in the sector last year was driven by the gifting side of the business. However, he asserts that the sector will not be able to achieve higher growth rates unless people start purchasing flowers for personal use.

"If we look at the sector, the growth is going to come from the ability of the sector to increase the share of flowers that are being bought for customer's own use,” he says.

Mirroring a similar outlook, Floward's Loughani explains that the self-consumption segment offers huge growth potential. 

"Most of our business consumption in the flower vertical is related to gifting. Whereas in more developed markets, more than 50-60 per cent of the market is actually the self-consumption market as buying flowers for [the] living room, for example, and paying subscriptions to replenish flowers on a weekly basis," he says.

June 30th 2021, 9:08 pm

Morocco’s fintech Yalla Xash raises $675,000


Press release:

Yalla Xash announces fundraising of MAD 6 million from Maroc Numeric Fund II.

Yalla Xash is a money transfer fintech startup operating between North America and Africa.

The technology and logistics developed by Yalla Xash aim to facilitate transfer operations, increase speed, guarantee confidentiality, ensure security and reduce costs.

Yalla Xash solution is centred on the two main actors, sender and receiver, at both ends of the transfer chain. On the sender side, the whole process is based on a smartphone application, available on AppStore and PlayStore avoiding several intermediaries to carry out the transfers. Yalla Xash’s offer is based on three services: App to Cash, App to Prepaid Card and App to Bank account.

Yalla Xash is currently operating on the North America – Morocco corridor, and intends to develop other corridors in the coming months. Making a money transfer a unique and completely renewed experience is the credo of Yalla Xash.

This is the fourth investment of Maroc Numeric Fund II and the 21st investment of its management team, taking into account the investments made by Maroc Numeric Fund I, which is now in the divestment phase.

Mrs Dounia Boumehdi, Managing Director of MITC Capital, the management company of Maroc Numeric Fund II, said: “We were impressed by the quality of Yalla Xash’s service, its proximity to its customers, as well as by the perspectives offered by this fintech which has been able to establish a reputation in a very short time in a global market of remittances estimated at more than $700 billion per year. Moreover, this solution has a significant societal impact as it allows this population of residents abroad to keep a connection with their loved ones and accompany them in their life projects, with a limited cost and an increased speed of transfer.”

Since 2010, Maroc Numeric Fund has been the reference investment fund in tech startups. The expertise accumulated by its management team has enabled the emergence of several Moroccan success stories. More than just a financial lever, Maroc Numeric Fund is a real catalyst for high-potential startups. It acts as an active shareholder by providing its portfolio companies with advice and monitoring of their management, in addition to the investment, while sitting on their boards.

June 30th 2021, 12:37 pm

IR4LAB secures $1.5 million from Aramco’s Wa’ed


Press release:

IR4LAB, a Saudi Arabia-based blockchain startup, has closed a $1.5 million investment round from Wa’ed, the entrepreneurship arm of Aramco.

Founded in 2017, IR4LAB's solutions are enabling corporations to root out the resume and professional certification fraud certification. Their DocCerts product enables professional and technical certification providers and training centres to issue digital, immutable and instantly verifiable certificates that companies such as Aramco can use to determine whether workers and job applicants possess valid training certificates.

Mr Abdullah O. Al-Baiz, Saudi Aramco Chief Digital Officer, commented “Saudi Aramco is systematically capitalising on digital technology breakthroughs that accelerate business creation, support local content, promote efficiency and bring a more sustainable future. Blockchain digital platforms such as IR4LAB give employers a greater degree of certainty that certification for a job candidate is legitimate, which can accelerate employment decision making. There are many other deployment opportunities for such technology.”

Wassim Basrawi, Wa’ed Managing Director, added “Wa’ed is pleased to support IR4LAB, one of Saudi Arabia’s emerging blockchain leaders. IR4LAB’s blockchain digital solution, which helps simplify and streamline business processes, is the kind of paradigm-changing innovation we support at Wa’ed.”

“Blockchain is a transformative digital technology and we are proud to help the Kingdom stay at the forefront of this change,” said Majd Al-Afifi, CEO and Co-founder of IR4LAB, who started IR4LAB with co-founder Mohamed El Kandri, who is IR4LAB’s chief technology officer. Adding: “Our goal is to bring home the benefits of blockchain digital solutions to Saudis across the Kingdom.”

IR4LAB plans to use the investment to increase its customer base, expand the breadth of its coverage to more professional certification societies and intensify an ongoing partnership with Aramco’s Digital Transformation Office.

June 30th 2021, 9:37 am

UAE’s Shorooq Partners acquires Bahrain’s Autarky Capital


Press release:

Abu Dhabi-based venture capital firm Shorooq Partners has acquired Bahrain headquartered Autarky Advisors’ finance arm Autarky Capital for an undisclosed sum.

As one of the emerging investment and advisory firms, Autarky Capital had been receiving significant interest, particularly from Saudi Arabian investors, including sovereign wealth funds. The acquisition of Autarky Capital bolsters Shorooq Partners’ venture capital and venture debt capabilities presence in the Gulf Cooperative Countries (GCC) as well as the Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan (MENAP) region.

“Today marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter and speaks volumes of Shorooq’s ability to move fast and creatively in order to put their portfolio companies on the best footing. We’ve been developing unique debt finance instruments for Mena and this acquisition represents a long view and commitment by all parties to the region,” said Samir Yamani, Founding Partner of Autarky Capital.

Since it was established in 2016, Shorooq Partners has been focusing on cementing its strength as the leading early-stage venture capital firm; now with the acquisition of Autarky, it has embarked on its long and ambitious journey to evolve to a fully-fledged investment powerhouse serving its portfolio companies across various asset classes. With Samir joining, Shorooq already has a team of investment professionals building the credit practice.

Most recently on June 8th, Korea Venture Investment Corporation (KVIC) a government-backed Fund-of-Funds announced that it has selected Shorooq Partners to receive funding from its Foreign VC Investment Fund. Out of a highly competitive due diligence and selection process, Shorooq was the only GP selected from a region KVIC had not invested in previously. In fact, Shorooq’s selection marks the first time KVIC has selected a GP from the Middle East since the Corporation’s inception in 2000, accentuating the growing interest in the region.

“It is my utmost privilege and excitement to share this news and partner with Autarky. Samir will join us to spearhead our venture debt practice, the first one locally and rooted from the region, an idea which we have been working on since 2018 and is essential for the region, for the best founders out there, for the current Shorooq portfolio companies. We want to offer this asset class – non-dilutive growth equity – to the best companies so that we can accelerate their growth and not be dependent on the insufficient growth equity out there” said Mahmoud Adi, Founding Partner of Shorooq Partners.

June 29th 2021, 12:06 pm

IoT startup iWire raises $34 million Series A round


Press release:

iWire, a UAE-based Internet of Things (IoT) startup, has raised a $34 million Series A funding round, led by Noor Capital, with participation from Bpifrance.

Launched in April 2018, iWire builds country-wide communications networks to power massive IoT solutions. The IoT network allows large scale businesses such as utility companies, smart cities, smart facilities and logistics service providers to deploy massive IoT solutions in a fast, cost-effective and highly scalable way.

Ahmed Fasih Akhtar, CEO of iWire, remarked “At iWire, we offer to our customers, an alternative to legacy connectivity solutions, which enables successful digital transformation at a lower cost of ownership. Our solutions contribute to our customers’ business efficiencies as well as their satisfaction. This investment is only the beginning of our journey and a great sign that we are on the right track. We are proud to have the trust of such an investor and we will continue expanding our network and our products to transform the digital infrastructure in the region.”

Jeremy Prince, CEO of Sigfox, added “Companies and organizations across the world are embracing IoT and 0G to transform the way they operate. We are thrilled to have a great company like iWire amongst our incredible community of Sigfox Operators. Our unique international network already allows customers to benefit from 0G in a seamless way in 72+ countries. The new markets iWire is adding offer tremendous potential and we look forward to a very successful collaboration.”

The funds will enable iWire to accelerate its development and enter new markets over the coming years, and expand its geographic presence across 12 countries, by building the digital communication infrastructure to power massive IoT.

June 29th 2021, 12:06 pm

Why Mumzworld is a unique story for the Arab region


The Mumzworld story is a triumph for e-commerce startups and the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Arab region. The journey of the two founders - Mona Ataya and Leena Khalil, has been an incredible one so far. Both women are exceptional entrepreneurs, who are also mothers building a business while raising a family. That is one unique and noteworthy mention and a very important one. 

Mumzworld has been around for more than 10 years now, and the founders have gone through every possible challenge a startup can face. From fundraising, to losing early co-founders, to building a cross-border e-commerce business way before it was fashionable with all its bureaucratic and regulatory challenges, and competing with the big behemoth e-commerce companies, like Amazon and Noon. 

The company’s decision to sell a majority stake to Saudi Arabia’s Tamer Group highlights an important move in the ecosystem - family businesses jumping into the fray by acquiring tech-led startups and digital companies in the region as a way for them to digitise and expand to the online markets, which helps them leapfrog their own internal development. 

The region is dominated by family businesses, they are the engine of economic activity, but they have yet to make their move in the digital landscape, although there are a few notable exceptions, like MAF, Al Tayer, Chalhoub, and now, Tamer Group. 

By engaging with startups and the digital space, family businesses have the power to transform the regional economies forever, but if they don’t, then they clearly have not learned the lessons of the pandemic. 

They now have the choice of either investing in technology to transform their business, investing in startups that are already in their space, or acquiring such companies, which will get them talent, technology, and market share/presence. There are plenty of startups in the region that have built their businesses over the years, amassed a loyal customer base, honed their technology and understanding of the market - these startups present fantastic acquisition and partnership opportunities. 

For the startups and the wider ecosystem in the Middle East, these types of investments or acquisitions led by family businesses help to keep the brands and companies in the region, to further develop the local ecosystem. For the entrepreneurs themselves, they can continue to build their businesses with very strong backing. Founders can benefit from family businesses’ longstanding experience and expertise as well as wider infrastructure. And it is important to mention, the startup ecosystem will continue to benefit from such founders whose experience can inspire and help other entrepreneurs. 

When Wamda invested in Mumzworld, we loved the team and their ability to build and grow the business in this niche market of mother and baby products. Our confidence continued to grow as we saw the founders build a team, stay the course and stay resilient and even thrive in the worst days of the pandemic. 

June 29th 2021, 12:06 pm

UAE’s Cashee raises $1 million pre-Seed


Press release:

Cashee, a UAE-based fintech and edtech startup has successfully raised a $1 million pre-Seed funding round.

Cashee provides a prepaid card and digital platform to kids and teens that gives their parents the ability to deposit money, manage gifts, pay allowances, manage chores and set flexible controls on how much kids can spend. The vision of the company is to improve financial literacy in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region whilst empowering the youth on the subject of money management in what is quickly becoming a cashless society.

Smeetha Ghosh, Cashee co-founder, commented "I would like to thank our investor community for their trust and support. We treat our investors as co-creators and brand ambassadors for Cashee. Together we are committed to building something very special for the Mena region."

Brad Whittfield, Cashee co-founder, added "In a relatively short period of time, Cashee has already built an incredible ecosystem which includes some impressive names like Visa and Microsoft. The fact that the company achieved over 150 per cent of their target raise is a very positive sign of the emphasis the local investor community is putting on our youth."

The investment will be used to drive the UAE roll out commencing July 2021 and the organisational set-up in KSA which is already underway.

June 29th 2021, 12:06 pm

Postpay secures $10 million investment from AP Ventures and Afterpay


Press release:

Dubai-based buy now pay later (BNPL) player Postpay is pleased to confirm it has secured a strategic equity investment from AP Ventures and global BNPL leader Afterpay. This equity investment represents an important milestone in the Middle Eastern fintech space and positions Postpay to best serve leading retail groups and brands across the GCC and the rest of the Mena region.

Postpay works with hundreds of leading global brands, including H&M, Footlocker, Dermalogica and regional merchants such as The Entertainer, Kcal and Squat Wolf.

Tariq Sheikh, founder and CEO of Postpay, said: "We are extremely grateful and excited to have Afterpay and AP Ventures as part of our investor-base. Afterpay is the pioneer of the zero cost-to-customer model, and we are honoured and privileged to work with them.

He added: “For Postpay, this strategic investment provides not only capital to enable us to accelerate our growth but also an opportunity to collaborate and bring new learnings from our new shareholders as we expand in the Mena region."

Anthony Eisen co-CEO and co-founder at Afterpay, said: "We are excited to support Postpay as they grow the buy now pay later market in the Middle East. We have seen first-hand the incredible uptake of BNPL globally and have no doubt that Postpay will deliver a best-in-class solution across the Middle East."

Hein Vogel, CEO at AP Ventures said "We believe that Postpay has an extremely strong team, product and partner-base to ensure market leadership in the region. We are proud to be a part of this journey in the Middle East - a region with such impressive growth. Our investment in Postpay fits well with our overall strategy and complements our other BNPL Investment in Asia as well."

In addition to the investment from Afterpay and AP Ventures (which is expected to complete in the coming days) APV will be nominating a director to join the Board of Directors of Postpay.

June 29th 2021, 12:06 pm

Saudi Arabia’s Tamer Group acquires majority stake in Mumzworld


Mumzworld, the largest mother, baby and child e-commerce platform in the Middle East, has signed a sales and purchase agreement with Saudi Arabia’s Tamer Group for a proposed acquisition of a majority stake in Mumzworld. Financial details of the acquisition were not disclosed. 

In a statement issued by the online retailer, the “choice to partner with a regional player is a deliberate one, as it allows the company to continue to grow in key regional markets and expand its digital footprint”. 

Founded in 2011 by Mona Ataya and Leena Khalil, Mumzworld was the first online retailer targeting mothers in the Middle East and claims to have achieved 10x growth over the past five years. 

“This is just the beginning for us,” said CEO Ataya. “We are better positioned than ever to accelerate growth, drive wider geographic expansion and continue to build a tech footprint serving customers better than ever. We will continue to own the supply chain for mother and child; both our customers and suppliers are at the forefront of this next exciting phase for Mumzworld.”

The company had until now raised $50 million in funding, counting Wamda among its investors. It has amassed a community of 2.5 million mothers in the region across 20 countries, counting both the UAE and Saudi Arabia among its biggest markets. Mumzworld currently offers more than 250,000 products from 5500 brands. 

“We are intent on digitising the regional ecosystem, particularly in Saudi Arabia. With Tamer Group’s scale, size, reputation and regional knowhow - our combined complementary entity will be transformative for the region,” added Ataya. 

The regional e-commerce sector has achieved substantial growth since the pandemic. Back in 2017, online shopping accounted for just 2 per cent of the retail market in the Middle East and North Africa, reaching a value of $8.3 billion.  By the end of 2020, the e-commerce sector had reached a value of $22 billion, with the bulk of this growth being driven by the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, which together account for 80 per cent of the region’s overall e-commerce market.

Competition among the online retail sector focused on mothers and children has intensified over the past few years with the emergence of Softbank-backed India-based as well as regional players like

For the Tamer Group, one of the largest regional healthcare distributors with an annual revenue of SAR9.2 billion, “e-commerce is no longer an option, but a necessity”, according to chairman Ayman Tamer. 

“We believe that e-commerce is the future for the GCC,” he said. “The world has shifted to a customer-centric model with consumer behaviours, trends and data having become the new gold. Players in the space need to understand their customers, and adapt to their changing needs. Mumzworld will be a steppingstone towards “Tamer Digital” - a very ambitious vertical we intend to build to serve the nation, working towards delivering on Saudi’s Vision 2030.” 

Both Ataya and Khalil “remain material shareholders” of Mumzworld and retain their position on the board.



June 28th 2021, 5:29 am

Jordan's Edunation raises $3 million


Press release:

Edunation, an all-in-one digital school and learning management system, recently locked in $3 million after their latest funding round with Rubix, a US-based investor.

Today, the startup is a proud partner to some of the Mena region’s top academic institutions. Their mission is to provide a fully functional remote campus, tailored to each client, from pre-schools to high schools, and even universities.

Edunation’s take on edtech is quite holistic in its approach, meaning they go beyond learning management systems to build a more comprehensive virtual school offering. The platform provides solutions that seamlessly tie together the functions of courses, exams, assessments and even finance. This way, clients are able to utilise such a variety of functions all in one place, rather than subscribing to a host of other different platforms. 

This comes through a highly customisable set of modules to help schools support their entire community, from students and their parents to teachers and management teams.

The startup’s latest capital infusion is expected to help propel its growth in existing markets across Jordan, Palestine, Qatar, Kuwait, KSA, and UAE, and drive further expansion into Egypt, Oman, Bahrain, and beyond. This marks a new and exciting stage of growth as Edunation sets on its way to becoming a leading edtech provider in the region.

“We have been following Edunation for the last couple of years,” said Rubix. “We were keen to invest, given the company’s strong standing and clear potential to be at the forefront of the Mena edtech scene.”

Founded in 2013 by Firas Jabbour, CEO, and Mahmud Gabareen, the CTO, with the aim of transforming the education sector through technology. Edunation showed promising signs of success from the beginning by securing their pre-seed investment in 2014 and another seed round in 2019, in both instances, from angel investor Dr. Abdul Malek Al Jaber.

More recently, the company witnessed an astonishing 1200 per cent growth of users on its platform over the past year, as the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic triggered an urgent need for schools to switch gears and adapt to an increasingly remote presence. Edunation’s response was swift and focused on helping clients make the transition of operating digitally, a feat achieved practically overnight.

This sudden increase in demand needed to be met with increased performance. The digital experience had to remain reliable for all its users, new and old. Edunation has been adopting the latest technologies to uphold the platform’s performance to ensure smooth operation, with virtually no downtime. The company also pursued cross platform integrations with various partners, providing virtual learning tools from some of the most advanced systems out there.

The road surely does not stop here. Edunation intends to utilise the funds in developing the platform even further and simultaneously growing its community. For that, Jabbour has emphasised the importance of attracting exceptional local talent as they set up a data-science division to lead the company’s move towards adopting AI, and developing on the beta version they released back in mid-2020. Founders believe this will be a game-changer for students, parents, schools, and teachers. Not only with how they interact with the platform, but also what they can gain from features, such as detailed insights and reports to identify trends, gaps, issues, and areas of improvement.

Edunation is one of those companies proving that edtech is indispensable in today’s age. A series of successes signals only the beginning, as the founders intend to keep up the momentum. All while making sure that the educational ecosystem is not only uninterrupted today, but also that it is thriving through digital transformation in the years to come.

June 27th 2021, 3:45 pm

Egypt’s Minly raises a $3.6 million Seed round


Press release:

Minly, a platform empowering stars to create authentic, personalised connections with their fans across the Mena region, has closed an oversubscribed $3.6 million seed round co-led by 4DX Ventures, B&Y Venture Partners, and Global Ventures. The round also included participation from other leading regional funds, and a cast of highly strategic angel investors including Scooter Braun (founder of SB Projects), WndrCo (Anthony Saleh and Jeffrey Katzenberg), Jason Finger (founder of Seamless / Grubhub), Arieh Mimran (Co-Founder and Chief Investment Officer of, and CIO of Groupe Mimran), and Tamim Jabr (Executive Director for International Investments at Kingdom Holding Co).

“Minly is fundamentally changing the relationship between celebrities and fans in the Mena region, and has an enormous opportunity for growth,” says Peter Orth, Co-Founder & General Partner at 4DX Ventures, who will be joining the board. “The team has both the ambition and the expertise to build a full-stack digital interaction platform that could change the way digital content is created and consumed in the region. We’re thrilled to partner with Minly and to help them reach their full potential.”

The company has experienced rapid organic growth since launching in late 2020, and already has more than 50,000 registered users on the platform, along with an impressive list of tier A regional celebrities. Through Minly, users can buy personalised video messages and shoutouts from their favourite celebrities, getting unprecedented access to the talent they admire most, and celebrities in turn get to connect with their fans on a deeper level. Minly has assembled a diverse roster of hundreds of talented celebrities that not only includes traditional cinema and television stars but also athletes, musicians, and internet influencers. Minly has been able to attract some of the top talents in the region to the platform, including Tamer Hosny, Fifi Abdou, Assala Nasri, Dorra Zarrouk, Hazem Imam, and Mahmoud Trezeguet. The global pandemic has helped boost interest in the platform – in-person events have all but disappeared, and Minly is offering celebrities an authentic and personal way to continue to interact with their top fans.

One such top star on the platform is acclaimed singer, actor, and director Tamer Hosny, with more than 50 million followers across social media. “I’m very excited to be on Minly, connecting with my fans around the world,” he says. "I'm also super happy with the social impact that we’re making on Minly, as a portion of the proceeds goes to charities to help the less fortunate”.

Minly has broader ambitions to extend its products and services to become a full-stack passion economy platform that empowers content creators to deliver meaningful experiences across multiple mediums to their fans. “With this new funding and the incredible group of partners that joined us, we are ready to scale across the region and introduce an exciting suite of new products,” says Mohamed El-Shinnawy, co-founder at Minly. “The creator economy is in its infancy and growing at lightning speed. We have the opportunity to build this category’s first unicorn in Mena”. 

Minly allows users to browse public shoutouts on the platform and gives them a chance to record their reactions creating unique and authentic moments. An example of the heartfelt Minly Moments created on the platform is when Tamer Hosny popped up unexpectedly in Haidy and Abanoub’s engagement party surprising everyone and creating an unforgettable moment for the happy couple. Another Minly Moment that was captured on the platform was for Assala’s biggest fans, the Al-Ghazzawi family. Mohamad was caught off guard when his wife Insaf gifted him a personalised video from Assala on Father’s Day celebrating their precious daughter Sham. “As a mission-driven team, it’s all about spreading this positivity and empowering stars and content creators to engage with communities from all walks of life. We’re also very proud of our collaboration with NGOs that create real on-the-ground social impact, such as the Magdi Yacoub Heart Foundation.” adds Shinnawy.

Shinnawy brings more than 15 years of media and technology experience to the table. He sold his first company Emerge Technology to a media and entertainment company based in Los Angeles, and managed a team of 85 engineers that delivered work for Hollywood’s top studios, such as Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal, Disney, Fox, and Warner Brothers. Shinnawy also played an instrumental role in Apple TV+, Disney+, and Netflix’s global expansion to reach hundreds of millions of users worldwide.

Co-founded and led by Mohamed El-Shinnawy, Tarek Hosny, and Bassel El-Toukhy, with industry partners such as Tarek ElGanainy and Ahmed Abbas, Minly’s team brings together decades of experience from top firms in technology and entertainment, including Uber, Careem, MBC’s Shahid, Emerge Technology, Microsoft, Disney, Apple, Netflix, IBM, Amazon, and Vodafone.

June 27th 2021, 3:45 pm

eyewa closes $21 million Series B


Press release

eyewa, the largest online eyewear retailer in the Middle East, today announced its latest Series B funding round of $21 million. The round, which was co-led by Kingsway and Nuwa Capital, with participation from French Partners, Endeavor Catalyst, Derayah, Palm Drive, and Hardy Capital, will support the company with its ambitious expansion plans, further investment in top-tier technology and product teams, as well as best in class retail and omnichannel technology.

Created with the vision of becoming the largest tech-enabled eyewear company in the Middle East, eyewa is now embarking on a journey to enter the retail sector. With many brands in the past year going from offline to online, eyewa is heading in a different direction and exploring opportunities with bricks and mortar stores in key locations, taking customer experiences to the next level.

Mehdi Oudghiri, co-founder of eyewa comments, “We have built eyewa with customers in mind in every part of our journey. After building a truly disruptive online offering with best-in-class customer experience, we are very excited to embark on an omnichannel journey that will allow our customers to explore eyewa’s differentiated experience in both the physical and digital world. Our stores are built on the basis of what made our success online, with a vibrant look and feel in line with our times, leveraging technology in every aspect of customers’ interaction and exclusive products at accessible prices.”

Since its launch in 2017, the homegrown Middle East brand has cemented itself as a leader in the eyewear e-commerce market and has built a trusted and reliable reputation in the UAE, KSA, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain. Not only does it stock and sell contact lenses and eyewear from all the major brands, eyewa has also invested heavily into building its house brands which fulfil untapped wants and needs of the local market. eyewa has designed and developed three unique ranges spanning different price points; including the lifestyle eyewear brand 30Sundays, the fast fashion collection called Blackout, as well as a natural colour contact lenses range, Layala. The homegrown brand has specifically created these for the modern Middle Eastern consumer.

Anass Boumediene, co-founder of eyewa, comments, “This fundraise will boost our expansion plans and will enable us to offer a better customer experience in the eyewear vertical, both online and offline. The customer response since our launch four years ago has been formidable and we count on keeping our promise of offering the best products at the best price across the region. While we have focused our first few years in our home markets of UAE and KSA, we are now expanding beyond to the rest of MENA and will bring our successful formula of affordable eyewear and amazing customer experience to a wider audience.”    

This $21 million series B funding round brings the total funding to date of eyewa to $30 million, after eyewa had raised a $1.1 million seed round in 2018 led by EQ2 Ventures and a $7.5 million series A funding round in 2019 led by Wamda Capital.

Khaled Talhouni, Managing Partner of Nuwa Capital comments, "We’ve been working with Anass and Mehdi since the beginning of their journey and it is such a privilege to have a front row seat to the development of a company as remarkable as eyewa. A big part of our thesis at Nuwa Capital is to focus on the next evolution of retail. The confluence of offline, online and private label-driven commerce is at the heart of this thesis, and we would be hard-pressed to find a team that has executed as well as eyewa has on this concept in the region. Joining this latest round of financing is a testament to our strong belief in the company and the team to deliver on building a unique regional champion for direct-to-consumer commerce."


June 27th 2021, 3:45 pm

Tips to bear in mind if you’re expanding to the Middle East


Firas Marafie is the senior partnerships lead at what3words

The Middle East: the quick buck, the pot of gold, or is it?

With venture investment increasing over the past couple of years, and with 2020 culminating in a record $654 million pouring into startups, the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) ecosystem is showing signs of promise.  

And while watching from afar, the temptation to just “jump in” is there, it’s wise to first do the right homework.

For those looking to enter or expand to the Mena region, what are the things you want to consider when planning your market entry?

Ticket sizes vs. volumes

Companies can make this mistake when they’re planning out their Mena strategy.  Their interest is anchored by the general perception of availability of wealth and “large deals”.  And because of this, the Mena newcomer might also expect a highly active merger and acquisition market.

So what are some of the misconceptions that could arise here?  Many of these “large deals” might have originated by a disproportionately small number of groups.  Therefore, if you aren’t able to break into such networks, then your Mena motivation risks being misguided.

What any company will want to look for as a market entry strategy is a local base of potential users, businesses, and partners.  The promising news is that we are seeing this emerge in the larger volumes in markets such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, with more of the same expected to occur, especially in North Africa, where population sizes are larger.

Time to set up

A fundamental question to consider when entering any market is how to enter; more importantly, what is the most effective way to enter?

The basic questions you might ask are:

How might you explore this?  Although strict requirements around local ownership laws are softening in some markets, you might want to test the waters before you jump in. If you’re a software business, you have the advantage of being able to provide your product without the need for physical consultation or inventory.

Otherwise, you can look to licence your product or intellectual property.  This opens up several forms of opportunity such as a partnership with a local player that is already plugged into the industry and infrastructure.  The local partner might benefit from your product or technology, making it valuable for them to act as your distributor or enabler. 

For you, this is a way to test the appetite for your product on a local business platform, minimising your risk and cost while benefiting from set-up speed, and an ability to execute more quickly.  It’s also a quick way to learn and get local feedback on your product. Though some complications can arise if sales and training are not adequate, having a partner who understands how to communicate and implement your product is key.

Where to enter

Going back to an earlier point, does your business need volumes or select clients? This will impact the countries you might start in or pursue at all.

If you’re in enterprise sales, your main goal might be to sell to governments and the largest corporations.  And therefore, with fewer prospects, trying to nail the exact market might not matter as much as breaking into one to establish your foothold.  This type of targeting is very different from a business offering a consumer product that requires volumes (large population) to succeed. For the latter, you might choose to target Saudi Arabia or Egypt specifically. 

Alongside this, you’ll also want to consider the subcultures and behaviours that exist in each market.  Mena is bucketed together as one region with a common language, but tech literacy, demographics, cultural behaviours, stages of market development, and even colloquial language (due to dialect) can vary greatly.  Markets have their own idiosyncrasies. 

Lastly, obtaining accurate and up-to-date information has traditionally been a challenge in the region.  Though this is improving a lot as the nature of interacting and transacting shifts to digital and online products, making data more transparent and accessible.  Also, the emergence of platforms such as Wamda and MAGNiTT has helped map the landscape of markets, investors, and startups, bringing detail and insights that were not easily available before. 

Approaching your customer

If you’re a consumer tech business, you have the luxury of testing receptivity from overseas; the digital nature of marketing and product usage makes this simple.  This can help you gather local and qualitative feedback that might not be apparent when you’re doing your research and putting together a standard business case.

As for your bigger ticket Enterprise Sales, these might take more time and require your physical presence, given the more traditional nature of clients in this sector. 

For corporate prospects, many companies might be branches or subsidiaries of foreign multinationals, meaning the decision making does not actually happen in the Mena office.  You’ll definitely want to know ahead of time if this is the case in your segment; do this research before you attempt to expand (and save yourself a lot of time!).

Truly understand the local customer; they might have different needs and expectations from your product.  And if you don’t serve those needs, you won’t succeed.

This goes back to understanding your barriers to entry.  A key lesson that new entrants sometimes underestimate: what made you successful in other markets might not make you successful across Mena. That’s why it’s crucial to listen and adjust to the feedback you get.  

It’s also important to know what forms of local substitutes to your product exist. This might not always be as easy to discover beforehand, but qualitative research and surveying can come in handy.  These may be products and services that work as substitutes in the mind of the local consumer, or because of the local infrastructure.  You must try to understand how the local consumer thinks and how they are inclined to behave rather than trying to force-fit your product onto them.

What are the questions a user asks when they are going through your solution, and what are the other interconnected problems that your product might not be solving? 

Navigating the landscape

In a market where access and authority are still quite centralised, it’s useful to know who you can partner with and who you’re competing with.  For example, if you are competing with a government product, this can be risky as it may restrict your prospects or prevent you from entering that space at all.

Though there is another side to this coin.  Many governments run generous programmes to attract companies and talent with innovative technologies and ideas, much of this is to develop an ecosystem and healthy competition.  This presents opportunities to plug in: innovation mandates, accelerator programmes, and corporate partnerships. 

Investment may also be part of your plan.  While many spend a lot of time thinking and strategising around the sovereign wealth funds, there is an investor ecosystem of development banks, corporate innovation arms, and family offices looking to deploy capital. 

With a gross domestic product (GDP) contribution of 60 per cent and a workforce contribution of 80 per cent, family offices can be great partners, especially if you are seen as a strategic fit for their operations.

The catch here is that these opportunities and relationships take time to build.  And this ties back to the important question of your commitment and time horizon for being in the market; you will get tested on this from all angles. 

The culture in Mena is very relationship oriented. The approach to business is not transactional, and generally speaking, there is little urgency.  People want to get to know you, and with so much growth and novelty hitting the market, there are many options to choose from.

Survival and continuity 

Surviving means that you need to be in it for the long term as things will take time.  There can be a perception of false promise, but we think this comes from a culture of “not saying no”, and so the savvy entrant will develop a sense for which opportunities are real and which are not.

Lastly: understand and localise.  As mentioned, despite being in a geographic cluster, each market has its own idiosyncrasies.  And while this point may seem obvious, the key message is that success in one market does not guarantee success in another.  For example, you might succeed in Dubai with a product that is not localised for Arabic; whereas you may not be able to do the same in Saudi Arabia, if you plan to go mass.

So, you’re expanding to the Middle East you say?

June 27th 2021, 1:58 am

Floward raises $27.5 million in Series B


Press release

Floward, the go-to online flowers and gifts delivery destination in the MENA region announced today it has raised USD 27.5 million in Series B funding round led by STV with participation from Impact46.

Established in 2017 by Founder and CEO Abdulaziz B. Al Loughani, Floward is a full-fledged e-commerce solution that offers prime fresh-cut flowers coupled with gifts and products from local and international brands with same day delivery. This fragmented sector has traditionally been largely dominated by brick and mortar shops with almost no presence online, giving Floward the opportunity to become the market leader in the MENA region.

“Since our launch four years ago, we have been on a clear and rapid growth path that was further accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic as e-commerce penetration saw a huge surge during the past year. These circumstances presented to us clear opportunities and accelerated our growth plans in the MENA region and beyond, specifically into London, UK – our first expansion outside the region,” CEO Abdulaziz Al Loughani said.

Floward has earned a leading market position in the flowers vertical, making in the largest flowers business in the whole MENA region in just under four years, as it now operates in 20 cities across seven countries with a team of over 450 members and counting.

Al Loughani added, “Floward has seen over 10x growth in 2020, in the first 100 days of 2021 our revenues have surpassed those of the entire year of 2020. We have a clear expansion strategy that follows our own set playbook allowing us to swiftly and seamlessly expand to new markets with the aim to become a major global player in the flowers and gifts industry, with a clear path to positive unit economics and profitability.”

“Today marks an important milestone of our journey at Floward. We want to partner with like-minded deep-rooted entrepreneurs, creative, determined and bold movers that are willing to change the status quo. We are proud to announce our partnership with STV joined with Impact46 and are confident that this partnership along with Floward’s team will help in marking ourselves as a global player in the flowers and gifts industry”, Al Loughani concluded.

Ahmad Al Naimi, Partner at STV said: “We’re excited to join Floward on their mission to master consumer gifting. They have shown impressive understanding of consumer trends, coupled with perfect execution of the customer experience and supply chain. We’re happy to partner with them as they expand their footprint to new markets and new products.”

June 27th 2021, 1:58 am

zVendo, PayTabs Egypt, valU collaborate to launch Baraka Group's first online shopping platform


Press release

zVendo, PayTabs Egypt, and valU have announced a collaboration to launch Baraka Group’s first online shopping portal ‘SWISH’. The dynamic online platform went live in the republic on 17 June to deliver seamless shopping experiences to online shoppers while offering them multiple payment options. SWISH features Baraka Group’s popular brands including New Balance, Baraka Optics, Beverly Hills Polo Club, and more.

“We took our time to enter the e-commerce space as we wanted to ensure that we have the right partners and structure in place. With zVendo, PayTabs, and valU, we feel that Baraka Group will be able to offer a comprehensive online shopping experience,” said Ahmed Ragab, CEO of Baraka Group. “We can confidently promise our partners that SWISH by Baraka Group is not just a marketplace but an entire immersive experience.”

“It is an honor to partner with a leading retailer in the market like Baraka Group to deliver a strong and comprehensive e-commerce platform that directly serves consumers, and we are equally thrilled to having contributed to the Group’s first venture into the digital space by unveiling SWISH” said Tarek Bakry, CEO at zVendo. “The platform was built with zVendo’s technology where zVendo acts as the sole e-commerce provider and end-to-end services arm that can ensure a hassle-free and secure shopping journey for its users.” added Bakry.

PayTabs Egypt, a joint-venture between EFG Hermes and PayTabs Global, will help facilitate e-payments on Baraka Group’s new platform by offering consumers various payment options and effortless transactions with its state-of-the-art-technology. In addition, valU the leading Buy-Now Pay-Later (BNPL) platform by EFG Hermes will offer consumer financing facilities to users with convenient payment plans that extend up to 60 months, enabling shoppers to spread their payments and make their purchases affordably.

Commenting on the partnership, Hany Soliman, General Manager, PayTabs Egypt said, “Encouraging and shifting large entities towards having online presence is our goal; we are all excited to be part of this strong collaboration that witnesses Baraka Group’s expansion into the digital space with the launch of SWISH.”

“We are thrilled to partner with zVendo, Baraka Group and our sister company PayTabs Egypt to bring to consumers an innovative platform that features all of Baraka Group’s brands. As Egypt’s leading BNPL fintech platform, valU is committed to offering consumers more flexible and intuitive payment services catering to their needs.” concluded Walid Hassouna CEO of valU and the NBFI platform at EFG Hermes.

June 24th 2021, 3:29 pm

MNT enters share swap deal with super app Halan


Press release

MNT BV, a Netherlands corporation, announced today that it has entered into a share swap agreement with Halan Inc. (“Halan”), a Delaware corporation and Egypt’s super app. This follows the recent consolidation of 100% of the shares of Raseedy, the first independent and interoperable digital wallet in Egypt licensed by the Central Bank of Egypt. This transaction will serve to accelerate the digitization of the lending and payments industries in Egypt and its surrounding region.

The terms of both transactions were not disclosed. Commenting on the transaction, Mounir Nakhla, Founder and CEO said, “This transaction acts as a catalyst in digitizing lending, payments, e-commerce, consumer finance (buy now pay later) and logistics for millions of underserved and unbanked customers. Our digital platform will enable them to seamlessly access all of their financial and commercial needs. This is a turning point in our history.” Nakhla is also an Endeavor entrepreneur.

Halan Co-Founder and CTO Ahmed Mohsen added, “I am pleased to see everything come together. We are experiencing exceptional growth and our infrastructure is built to scale. All the digital solutions are developed in-house, including the core banking system, consumer facing platforms, payment solutions, merchant application, and all the required integrations. As the momentum continues, we look forward to expanding outside of Egypt.” 

June 24th 2021, 10:28 am

EIB backs Palestinian startups with a $50 million grant to Bank of Palestine


Press release:

The European Investment Bank (EIB) and Bank of Palestine join forces to support the resilience of the  Palestinian private sector with a $50 million line of credit made available to Bank of Palestine to be on-lent to local private businesses with a focus on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). 

The operation is a part of Team Europe’s overall response to the Covid-19 crisis, which aims to support  sustainable social and economic recovery of the region. It also falls under the EU-EIB Economic Resilience Initiative (ERI), which amongst its primary objectives, intends to promote private sector development through the support to SMEs as key players for generating economic growth and employment opportunities in Palestine. 

Flavia Palanza, Director of the Neighbouring Countries Department, commented on the signature of the new financing agreement, “Our new line of credit comes at a time when SMEs need strong support to overcome the challenges and the shortfall of liquidity created by the Covid-19 pandemic. SMEs are most vulnerable to the impact of this global crisis. We are proud of our partnership with the Bank of  Palestine and the tangible impact that our project will have on people’s lives in the country. ” 

The EIB funding is made available as part of a package, including a comprehensive technical assistance programme and a risk-sharing instrument supporting a portfolio of € 50 million of loans to SMEs, to be provided under the EU’s European Fund for Sustainable Development (EFSD). These instruments aim to promote access to finance for SMEs in general and financial inclusion of underserved and vulnerable groups of the economy, including SMEs impacted by the Covid-19 crisis, startups, women and youth-owned businesses. 

The European Union Representative, Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff said: “Six months after the first meeting of the EU-Palestine Investment Platform, I am very pleased to witness today a historic signature ceremony dedicating support to the Palestinian private sector with an unprecedented amount of finance and through innovative instruments. This support comes in a period when Palestine is going through a difficult time, and it demonstrates that in spite of the many challenges, Palestine does offer viable business opportunities worth investing in. This package of financing will contribute to strengthening the Palestinian economy, contributing to economic independence, prosperity and welfare“.  

Mahmoud Shawa, CEO of Bank of Palestine, said: “As leaders in SME lending, Bank of Palestine is proud to be working with Team Europe and the EIB in providing additional liquidity to the SME sector in Palestine. This additional liquidity coupled with technical assistance and risk-sharing components comes at an important time to help this important sector recover and regain economic resilience. We are appreciative of the efforts of the European Union and the partnership with EIB during this particular time. With this loan, we shall service all our SME sectors focusing on the most impacted due to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

June 24th 2021, 6:25 am

Navigating a post-pandemic edtech market


The inescapable need for online learning last year provided a boom for the education technology (edtech) sector that many expect to be long-lasting. Globally, $16.1 billion was invested in edtech startups last year, up from $7 billion in 2019 according to Holon IQ. There are now 26 edtech unicorns worldwide, among them US-based Kajabi, a business-focused coaching platform which raised $550 million last year and China-based Zuoybang, a Softbank-backed startup that offers schoolchildren online courses and live lessons, which raised $1.6 billion in a Series E round. 

In the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region, enthusiasm for edtech was correspondingly crystallising. Investors began to take notice, with $30 million invested in Mena’s edtech startups in 2020 according to a report from Global Ventures, up from $21 million in 2019. So far this year, edtech startups in Mena have attracted $14.7 million in venture capital across 12 startups, as well as one exit - that of Lebanon-born Ostaz, formerly known as Synkers

While this level of investment seems promising, ticket sizes are still small in this sector, with just three startups attracting cheques above $1 million. 

Now that schools and universities have reopened, and amid surrounding fears of a market shrinkage, edtech startups are aiming to personalise a pandemic-led market to sustain its growth post-lockdown. Localising software solutions, developing integrable B2B models, and branching out of school-age academics and into adult-oriented upskilling are leading the region’s rising ecosystem.

Back to school

Mohammed Alashmawi, co-founder of the US-headquartered learning management solution (LMS), Classera believes Mena’s edtech wave is just starting. 

“When you digitise, you are not expecting things to go back to normal, or back 10 years backwards just because schools reopen,” he says. “We will see a change in the industry, schools and ministries will use digitised learning as mandatory and essential, and not as a luxury feature.”

Launched in 2012 in both the US and Saudi Arabia, Classera quickly became a market leader in 2015 after its “One Nation Initiative'' to virtually onboard Saudi schools in the south impacted by the war in Yemen. The initiative created the “largest fully virtual school in the Middle East with around 100,000 students”, as Alashmawi explains. During the pandemic, Classera became the software of choice for both ministries and schools in 30 countries with its “two-hour” onboarding tool.

With an emerging edtech market supported by both ministries and fund managers, regional startup founders are betting on the population’s accelerated tech adoption to pave the way for a growing movement. But edtech startups are still confronting cultural perceptions around the credibility of online learning.

"One of the challenges for edtech startups is changing the mindset of parents,” says Hamdi Tabbaa, the co-founder and CEO of Jordan-based edtech Abwaab that raised a $5.1 million Seed round last March.

“Parents want their children to learn the same way they were taught, in person and with a one size fits all approach. Students of this age change behaviour fast, yet for parents to understand the value of tech, adaptive learning, and AI; it is a challenge and will take time to become mainstream,” he explains.

Where parents do tend to feel comfortable is online tutoring, a market worth billions worldwide that startups like the Lebanon-based peer-to-peer (P2P) platform AlGooru hope to capitalise on.

“The tutoring industry in Saudi is highly overpriced, the average expenditure for a single household in Saudi for tutoring is SAR6,500, and annually it’s around SAR40,000,” says Khalid Abu Kassim, founder and CEO of AlGooru, which describes its platform as a “one-stop tutoring shop”.

Launched in 2017, AlGooru offers 230 subjects for Lebanese and Saudi users who can access more than 150 tutors. It won last year’s TAQADAM4 accelerator programme, and is currently planning to expand into eight additional countries in the region, backed by Saudi angel investors in a pre-Seed round it plans to close soon. 

The new S curve 

For Mounira Jamjoom, co-founder and CEO of Saudi Arabia-based online professional development (PD) platform Aanaab, the edtech market is still taking shape as founders try to determine which business model could sustain a post-pandemic world. There are several approaches, from freemium models to subscription or paying only for certificates, the “right” monetisation model for the region is yet to be determined. 

“There’s an era that just ended, the S curve is done and we need to start a new one,” she says. “It’s hard to monetise edtech and I think a lot of companies are looking at different models. Those who really understand what schooling and education will look like in the future will make the cut. If you are able to nail that and get the right product-market fit, I think it’s upwards from there.”

For many startups, an integration into the B2B sector, a market projected to reach $20.9 trillion globally by 2027, presents a strong opportunity to situate their growth.

“A lot [of founders] are going B2C but a lot of the successful edtech companies are B2B. If you look at Coursera, it’s B2B,” says Jamjoom, referring to the US-based professional development platform Coursera which raised $130 million in a series F round last year, bringing its total funding to $443.1 million. The startup filed for an IPO in the New York stock exchange last March with a market capitalisation of $5.9 billion. 

Aanaab launched its new B2B model in January amid a plan for a pre-series A round, joining Classera’s mission to join the movement with its eight new B2B and B2C products. These include an enterprise resource planning (ERP) product to cover corporate HR and inventory services, a fintech product called C-pay to facilitate school tuition payments and student in-school spending, and a new “B2B2C” product called C-spaces to allow “schools [to] start selling courses to students not officially enrolled with them”, says Alashmawi, who likens the product to the US-based edtech Udemy.

Lifelong learning

These regional startups operate within a global movement where worldwide, emerging edtech unicorns are setting three defining features: they provide life-long upskilling platforms for adults, they feature “famous” teachers, and they are highly integrable as a B2B model. The success behind the US-based MasterClass offering video courses by Gordon Ramsay, Alicia Keys, Serena Williams and other celebrities and athletes is an example of a potential rise of high quality, celebrity-taught, exclusive content platforms. MasterClass raised $225 million in its series F last May from 18 US and global investors, bringing its total funding to $461.4 million during the course of its nine years in operation. 

With flexible and remote working gradually rising on a global scale, adult-focused upskilling and professional development services like those from MasterClass present a reassuring market opportunity. As the alternative credentials market grows, life-long learning and corporate training programmes are expected to make up 15% of the total education expenditure of $10 trillion in 2030. 

This is a segment that UAE-based almentor is targeting with its Arabic video e-learning platform. The startup, which raised $6.5 million from Partech in May this year, offers both a B2C and B2B solution. For the one million registered users on its platform, almentor offers courses for $20-30, with plans to introduce a subscription model to offer users access to all of its 12,000 video content. For businesses, almentor tailors its training videos for employees and has since 2016 worked with 78 different companies to offer these training courses. 

While there is definitely a demand and need for more educational content in Arabic, for Saudi-Arabia based test preparation app Baleegh, specificity to language is a challenge for edtechs in the region. 

“When we started exploring the market with Baleegh, we looked into the adult training and certification programmes, but we knew the language would be an issue because we would be localising things like coding and computer programming to offer Arabic content and it wouldn’t make sense, the users will eventually use English in their actual daily practice,” says Rawan Al-Matham, co-founder and CEO of Saudi-based test prep app and platform Baleegh.


Particular to the edtech space is strong governmental participation that, even at a global level and in thriving Chinese and Indian edtech markets, heightens the competition for private-led e-learning startups.

Government universities are also entering the space in Saudi Arabia as King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) signs a new partnership with US-based open-source edtech Edx to provide its first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).

This leaves local edtechs, prompted by the country’s push for nationalisation in the education sector, with a need to work alongside government entities for the time being.

“As the first platform in Saudi with accredited PD professional development hours, the regulation for Aanaab was a hurdle, but if you are to innovate, you need to work closely with regulatory bodies to make sure they understand your business model,” says Jamjoom, “It’s working in collaboration with governments that is behind our success.” 

There is however, much to be done when it comes to edtech regulations, as Jamjoom points out “everybody is learning”, but the sentiments among edtech founders tends to be positive. 

“The biggest challenge is already over, which is to convince schools that digital education is something mandatory,” says Alashmawi, “The pandemic happened to speed up digital education and now [after schools reopened], ministries, educators, and school owners will not risk it again and won't be cancelling their agreements with online learning platforms. They know now that it is a mandatory thing to have digital learning.”


June 23rd 2021, 9:12 pm

Alma Health receives investment from Oryx Fund


Press release:

Alma Health, an Abu Dhabi-based healthcare startup has announced it has received funding from the Hambro Perks' Oryx Fund, a dedicated venture fund backing early-stage startups across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), with a particular focus on healthtech, fintech, and edtech. Strategic angels from Saudi and the UAE have joined the round as well.

Alma Health was founded in late 2020 by Khaldoon Bushnaq, former Head of Strategy for Careem, and Tariq Seksek, former Head of Product for Dubizzle, to build a patient-centric healthcare system for the estimated 20 million GCC residents that have at least one form of a chronic condition. Alma Health offers an end-to-end healthcare experience from doctor consultation, to delivery of prescribed medication, to ongoing care to patients from the comfort of their home and at no extra cost. Additionally, Alma Health’s sophisticated technology has the ability to improve health outcomes for members through at-home monitoring systems that support their healthcare journeys.

Based in Hub71, Alma Health is currently available in Abu Dhabi and is fully licensed by the Emirate’s Department of Health and is accredited by major health insurance networks.

Khaldoon Bushnaq, the co-founder of Alma Health, mentioned “We are pleased to be partnering with the Oryx Fund to support our expansion and growth.  In addition to being dedicated regional investors, the team has a wealth of experience in digital healthcare, having previously backed leading international businesses in this sector.  We are on a clear mission to become the leading digital platform for chronic condition management by harnessing technology to transform lives in our region.  This investment will enable us to achieve these goals sooner.”

Ali Qaiser, Partner at Oryx Fund, added “Alma Health is a great example of a locally-founded business with global potential.  We are impressed by Khaldoon and Tariq and their team, who combine business expertise with total dedication.  The Oryx Fund team will bring additional experience and contacts, to help the business realise its ambitions.  Through our previous investments in healthtech businesses such as Echo and Peppy, we have seen first-hand the potential of innovative technology to significantly transform the lives and health outcomes for millions of people, and we are excited to be a part of Alma Health’s growth.”

The investment by Oryx Fund will help support the continued growth of the service in other parts of the world, including expansion into Saudi Arabia planned for later this year.

June 23rd 2021, 12:10 pm

Egypt-based autotech app “Oddigo” expands to UAE


Press release:

Car service specialist, Odiggo, has launched in Dubai with the intention of becoming the leading autotech company in the Middle East and Africa (Mena). The automotive tech app that has seen success in Egypt and KSA since its inception in 2019 is spearheaded by two young homegrown entrepreneurs, Ahmed Omar and Ahmed Nasser.

Odiggo is set to tap into the auto parts and accessories manufacturing industry that is one of the top 10 industries in the world and valued at $2 trillion with an estimated $61 billion market in the Middle East and Africa alone, according to a statement from Odiggo. The company specifically looks at autonomous software, driving data, fleet telematics and vehicle-to-vehicle communication in order to find the best quality car parts with the lowest prices possible. The business as a whole has experienced over ten times growth in the last year and this trend is set to continue in Dubai.

Odiggo provides a one-stop shop for everything car-related. Their easy to use online platform conveniently links car owners to dealerships to present the customer with options and the best prices in the market. This allows customers to access quick, easy and affordable service at the touch of a button. Odiggo launches in UAE with not only its existing platform but with a new piece of technology that is set to be a gamechanger when it comes to car repairs and maintenance with their deep-tech dashboard product.

“We’re changing lives (and cars) through technology,” said Ahmed Omar, CEO and Co-founder of Odiggo. “The innovative new Deep Tech dashboard software will link the vehicle to the marketplace and provide frequent updates of the vehicle’s condition so the user can be informed if the tyres are low, the oil needs changing or if a service is required.”

Odiggo is run by a talented global team who have worked with some of the biggest companies in the world, including FIFA, Hyundai, Jumia,Reckitt Benckiser, EY, Deloitte and Mckinsey.

Finding a car part has never been so straightforward. Odiggo’s services are expected to make a huge impact on the UAE market and their plan for the coming years is to scale the convenience experience all around the world.

June 22nd 2021, 6:10 pm

NearMotion receives follow-on investment from Wa’ed


Press release:

NearMotion, a Saudi Arabia-based digital mapping and indoor navigation startup has received a follow-on investment from Wa’ed, the entrepreneurship arm of Aramco, to drive the company’s global expansion.

Founded in 2016 by Faisal Alferdos, NearMotion provides mobile navigation tools that allow airports, hospitals, shopping malls, museums, theme parks and event stadiums to interact with thousands of visitors on the go, providing real-time information and services.

Faisal Alferdos, NearMotion Founder and CEO, remarked "This second vote of confidence from Wa’ed is very welcome and comes at a good time for NearMotion. We are seeing growing demand for our services regionally and this will help us take our business global.”

Wassim Basrawi, Wa’ed managing director, added “We initially invested in NearMotion because its technology was unique and game-changing, and its success in the GCC has shown this,” Basrawi said. “With this second investment, we aim to help globalize this exciting Saudi success story.”

With the investment, NearMotion can provide its technology platform to more clients in the Gulf, and transport its regional success to the global stage.

June 22nd 2021, 6:10 pm

Teachers, technology and tortoises


Nafez Dakkak is the managing director and CEO of the Queen Rania Foundation for Education and Development. 

It all seems so obvious now.

It almost always is in hindsight. To paraphrase Steve Jobs, you can only connect the dots looking backwards

The Middle East and North Africa's (Mena) edtech moment is here. 

Whether it’s the now regular announcements of edtech startups raising new rounds, or the growing adoption across the region, the momentum is unmistakable. 

Not so long ago though, talking about the future of edtech or education technology in the Arab world put you in a somewhat of an awkward position. Investors and philanthropists would pitifully smile, shake their heads, and either wish me well or openly suggest that I dedicate my efforts to something with “real potential.” 

Though everyone believed education was important of course, no one believed that the marriage of education and technology would yield fruit across the Mena region - and not for a lack of glaring problems to solve. Even when Edraak launched in 2014, the most frequent question we would get was whether “Arabs were ready to learn online”. Over 4.5 million learners later, that’s no longer the right question to ask. 

The Mena region is edtech’s sleeping giant; that giant is starting to wake up. As the pioneers behind the region’s efforts chart their journeys, the right questions for policymakers and investors to ask them are about their experiences, the lessons they learned along the way, their biggest challenges, and their future plans. The momentum is exciting, but it by no way guarantees progress. We need to understand the powers at play, to continue guiding the momentum in the right direction. Edtech has had many false dawns before.

Working with Sowt, an Arabic podcasting company, I interviewed education pioneers across the Mena region to try to better answer these questions. The entrepreneurs we spoke to came from different walks of life and worked to solve problems around different educational pain points from poor teacher training, low-quality classroom education, and a focus on rote learning. It is hard to distil rich conversations into a few lessons learned, but there are key points that I will continue to dwell on for some time. 

Connecting the classroom to the boardroom to find the right exam questions 

Good founders build their startups around a deep understanding of a problem - not an obsession with a certain solution (especially a technology). This has been a particular problem in education, where a focus on shiny new tech continues to cloud the specifics of which problems to solve. In education, many of those with the closest understanding of the problem are teachers. As such, it is a logical conclusion that educational startups should look to recruit from within the classroom. 

One of our podcast guests, Dr. Mounira Jamjoom, a former teacher herself, and the founder of, goes even further. She argues that several of the skills required to be a good teacher lend themselves quite well to the realm of entrepreneurship. It was encouraging to see that in fact many of the entrepreneurs we spoke to transpired to be former teachers themselves. It was clear that their past experiences gave them a uniquely close understanding of the problem and the ability to better empathise with relevant stakeholders (especially other teachers and students). 

We still have a long way to go in creating more pathways from the classroom to the boardroom, but the region has come a long way since an investor told teacher-turned-entrepreneur, Siroun Shamigian of KamKalima that instead of launching her company, she should “leave education entrepreneurship to people with a business background”. I’m sure her users (and current investors) are glad that she persevered. 

Pedagogy, over technology 

The lack of deep pedagogical expertise among many entrepreneurs and policymakers across the Mena region has been a problem for some time. It became more starkly apparent in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

According to education technology expert, Nidal Khalifeh, the different actors across the education systems of the region showed that talk of “innovative pedagogies” focused on deep learning was primarily lip service. As the pandemic broke out, startups and governments across the region deepened their reliance on didactic pedagogy focused on rote learning. This manifested in asking young learners to sit behind screens for hours on end. In the background, ministries flouted “viewerships” to measure progress as opposed to educational outcomes. As Khalifeh puts it, “you are not Netflix or Disney+, you should be measuring learning not the number of views on your channel”. 

Covid-19: A double-edged sword 

Digging deeper, the pandemic appears to have had a mixed effect on the adoption of edtech across Mena - especially within K-12. On one hand, the pandemic has made it clear that technology is no longer a luxury. When it comes to the adoption of technology in education, “Covid-19 has been the employee of the year” - as Dr. Aziz Al Saeed, co-founder of Noon Academy puts it. The ability to deliver remote instruction is an essential capability that parents will come to expect from every school (public or private). 

On the other hand, because the transition has happened in response to a pandemic, adoption has been haphazard, piecemeal, and often lacking on the most essential element of any reform effort: capacity building. Many educators were thrown into the deep end of a quick shift online without the needed training, support, and scaffolding to make the transition successfully. The hope is that this will be remedied now with better training, and a clearer delineation of functions and areas of expertise. 

Ambitious tortoises and butterflies ahead

To be clear, these are all still very promising signs of a rapidly maturing ecosystem. The depth and thoughtfulness of the debate around education and education technology bode well for the long term. The path of educational progress “more closely resembles the flight of a butterfly than the flight of a bullet”. Serious change, at a scale that matters, is a long, and slow process. We will only move forward through deliberate and careful trial and error. 

As Dr. Mounira put it in our discussion, “when it comes to education technology, slow and steady wins the race. I’d rather be a tortoise than a hare”. The instruction to “move fast and break things” might be a great motto for e-commerce, but it’s not what we want for our children’s education. We also shouldn’t mistake moving deliberately and carefully for a lack of ambition. These are pioneers with global aspirations. As Dr. Aziz puts it, “we aim to be the number one social learning platform in the world”. 

This article was originally published on Nafez Dakkak's Substack and has been reproduced by Wamda with some edits

June 22nd 2021, 6:10 pm

Saudi fintech Tweeq closes funding round led by STV, Raed Ventures


June 22nd 2021, 6:10 pm

Beehive receives Dh30 million in grant from EDB to finance UAE SMEs


Press release:

Emirates Development Bank [EDB], a key financial enabler of the UAE’s economic diversification and industrial transformation agenda, today announced that it has signed an agreement with Beehive, the UAE’s first Peer-to-Peer (P2P) lending platform, to expand funding options for the Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs). 

The announcement follows EDB’s strategic pledge to lend up to AED30bn to SMEs, startups and large corporates across five priority sectors including manufacturing, healthcare, infrastructure, food security and technology over the next five years. 

As an institutional investor, EDB has initially assigned AED 30 million funding via the Beehive platform to qualifying businesses. For its part, Beehive will facilitate business loans to creditworthy SMEs looking to expand operations or improve working capital.

The funds disbursed through this partnership have the potential to support hundreds of SMEs in the region, reinforcing EDB’s new strategy to increase financial accessibility to Emirati and UAE resident-owned SMEs and businesses. The EDB strategy aims to help SMEs to access finance and grow their business, which should boost their contribution to UAE’s non-oil GDP to over 70 per cent by 2021, besides enhancing in-country value, productivity and employment. 

Commenting on the partnership, Ahmed Mohamed Al Naqbi, Chief Executive Officer of EDB, said “The collaboration with Beehive is part of our mission to bridge the funding gap by offering SMEs greater and easier access to financial sources. Through our combined efforts, we look forward to strengthening the SME ecosystem and supporting the UAE’s goals to build a robust knowledge-based economy.”

He added: “This agreement is in line with our new strategy to provide financial and non-financial solutions to SMEs and startups in the UAE, particularly in key priority industrial sectors, and enable a sustainable ecosystem that supports the country’s economic diversification efforts.”

For his part, Craig Moore, Founder and CEO of Beehive, said “The addition of institutional investors to Beehive will give SMEs more secure financing and better liquidity on the platform, which means that funding can be received faster too.”

He added: “We’re really happy to have EDB on board, the finance they’ve assigned will go a long way to supporting SME growth in the UAE. We look forward to a long and prosperous partnership with a mutual drive for inclusive economic prosperity.”

The Beehive platform uses crowdfunding technology to connect SMEs looking for finance with a crowd of investors who can support their finance request, whilst earning attractive returns. In addition to its network of retail investors, Beehive has adapted its business model to include institutional investors in order to increase liquidity and the speed of funding for its businesses. 

To apply, please visit

June 22nd 2021, 6:10 pm

Localized raises $2.2 million Seed round


Press release

Localized, a career tech platform that connects top talent from emerging markets with industry experts to guide them and employers to hire them, has closed a Series Seed round of funding. Its backers include high-profile, seasoned global investors in the education, recruiting, impact, and tech sectors.

The New Normal: Online learning and contactless recruiting have accelerated dramatically as a result of COVID19. From Boston to Beirut to Beijing, universities now recognize the need to offer virtual employer and career services to their students and alumni as companies become increasingly remote, distributed and global. 150 million students enroll in post-secondary education globally, with two-thirds in emerging markets, but that number is slated to reach nearly 1B by 2050.[1]

The Company: Localized unlocks educated talent for global companies. On Localized, employers recruit from schools without having to attend in-person career fairs, and students get industry insights from top professionals who share their language and roots.

Localized began serving top universities and talent hubs across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) market, though schools and organizations in locales ranging from New York to Singapore are joining. The platform hosts students from over 100 countries.

“As companies look for diverse, world-class talent, Localized fills a critical need. We led this funding round after hearing from satisfied customers and seeing the traction firsthand over the last 2 years. We are strong believers in Ronit and the team that she has assembled and the opportunity that was accelerated by COVID.” – Heather Henyon, Next Wave Impact

Investors: Seasoned investors in the career-tech, ed-tech and social impact space have joined this round, including:

·       Trend Forward Capital

·       One Planet VC

·       Angel Ventures in Mexico

·       Esther Dyson, angel investor (including 23andMe, Flickr, Square, Meetup, Jump and geometric Intelligence (both sold to Uber), Yandex, SWVL)

·       Next Wave Impact

·       Bisk Ventures

·       Joshua Mailman

·       US News Digital Ventures

Team: Localized’s team has extensive experience in tech, emerging markets, education, business, media and career services. Localized advisors are part of the Young President’s Organization, Entrepreneur Organization and the Young Global Leaders network of the World Economic Forum. 

While Localized is headquartered in Washington, DC, its team members work from Ramallah, Cairo, Amman, Prague, Lagos, SF and Dubai.

“No one would disagree that the current process for students to find their dream job is broken.  We believe Ronit and the amazing team she’s assembled have exactly what it takes to disrupt the career industry globally.” Jonathan Chang, Trend Forward Capital

What Users Say About Localized

“I learned more about various subjects using Localized than any other site/tool. I had a great experience using Localized, and the webinars, articles etc. are great materials to steer people in the right direction." – Chanelle McKenzie, mathematics & computer science major @ SUNY Purchase

“This is better than LinkedIn!” – Reem Khouri, CEO of Whyise 

“I joined Localized and found more useful information about breaking into the tech industry as a non-engineer than any of the resources I’ve seen at my school’s career center.” —Veer Parikh, Georgetown University graduate

Investor and Advisor Amit Sevak, who has built and invested in EdTech companies globally, remarked: “Localized is cracking the code on linking university students to global jobs.”


June 22nd 2021, 6:10 pm

Egypt's Trella raises $42 million in debt and equity


Press release:

Trella, a Cairo-based digital freight marketplace in the Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan (Menap), has closed a successful $42 million funding round, comprising $30 million new equity and $12 million debt facilities.

The equity element was led by Maersk Growth and Raed Ventures. Other participating investors include Algebra Ventures, Vision Ventures, Next Billion Ventures, Venture Souq, Foundation Ventures and Flexport. The debt facilities are being provided by Lendable - the next generation lending platform and other local financial institutions.

Founded in 2018, Trella is a technology platform ‘reinventing trucking’ across emerging markets, and has a current market presence in three countries; its home market - Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Its four co-founders include Omar Hagrass, Ali El Atrash, Pierre Saad and Muhammad El Garem.

Omar Hagrass, Chief Executive Officer of Trella, commented “This $42 million funding round is a huge endorsement of Trella’s capabilities, business model and market opportunity. We have a strong diversity of investors and we thank all participants for their support. It is great to have Maersk, as a shipper customer that uses Trella, invested in our future growth. The Menap freight market is a significant one and urgently needs the transparency, reliability and efficiency that Trella and its technology platform provides. We are trusted and used by some of the world’s most recognisable brands, and look forward to working with our partners to scale across Menap.”

Omar Almajdouie, Founding Partner of Raed VC, added “Our unwavering belief in the founders coupled with the booming freight sector made the opportunity to lead Trella’s investment round very exciting. Trella’s product innovation has enabled them to grow significantly in the past year despite the tough operating environment. This is a testament to their resilient business model and strong team. We are excited to support the team in their growth journey.”

Jeppe Hoier, Partner at Maersk Growth, mentioned “We are currently experiencing a rapid development in trucking, as transportation of goods has become accessible to even the smallest companies due to new digital solutions. Trella’s platform is an excellent example of this democratisation of the logistics sector. Trella is at the same time our first investment on the African continent founded by a team with significant experience from the startup scene.”

June 22nd 2021, 6:10 pm

Watheeq launches $26.7 million proptech fund


Source: The National News

Watheeq Financial Services, a Saudi Arabia-based investment management and financial advisory company, is launching a venture capital fund worth 100 million Saudi riyals ($26.7m) that will invest in property technology start-ups in the kingdom and in the region.

The Watheeq PropTech VC Fund is a closed-ended venture capital fund and is Sharia-compliant, the company said in a statement on Sunday.

The Saudi Arabia Capital Market Authority-licensed fund is expected to reach its initial close in the third quarter of this year.

“We are investing in rapidly-growing start-ups … potential market leaders who are disrupting the traditional real estate markets and stimulating eco-friendly lifestyles,” Khaled Zaidan, managing partner of the fund and head of alternative investments at Watheeq, said.

“Venture capitalists are jumping into PropTech and we are thrilled to be pioneering this transformation from Saudi Arabia to the region.”

Investors have increasingly invested in PropTech after the coronavirus pandemic forced companies, including those in the real estate sector, to digitise to ensure business continuity. Last month, Aldar Properties, Abu Dhabi's biggest property developer, said it is partnering with US venture capital firm Fifth Wall to invest in a fund focused on supporting PropTech start-ups in Europe. The Abu Dhabi company also launched an accelerator in May to support PropTech start-ups in the region.

The Watheeq PropTech VC fund will pick companies that are using technology to solve pain points in the real estate sector, while adhering to Sharia compliant investment standards. It will help bridge the gap between the Middle East and North Africa markets and the rest of the world by opening up new market opportunities.

At least 50 per cent of the portfolio companies chosen by the fund for investment operate in Saudi Arabia, the biggest Arab economy, the company said.

Smart cities, smart buildings, real estate analytics, blockchain and online viewing technology are some of the focus areas for PropTech companies that are looking to disrupt the traditional market through digital solutions for the entire real estate value chain.

In addition to the pandemic, climate concerns and a rapid rise in population have all contributed in accelerating technology adoption in the real estate and construction sectors and their related industries.

“However, real estate hasn’t met its tech-potential yet. Even though the real estate sector is the largest investment asset class in the world … it still under-utilises technology,” Mr Zaidan said.

June 22nd 2021, 6:10 pm

tabby raises $50 million in debt financing from Partners for Growth


Press release:

tabby, the Middle East’s leading buy now, pay later provider, has secured $50 million in debt financing from Partners for Growth (PFG), the largest such facility raised by a fintech company in the Mena region. The financing represents a significant milestone in the region’s startup ecosystem and demonstrates the growing maturity of the fintech landscape in the region.

Partners for Growth’s investment will bolster tabby’s capitalisation to expand lending capacity and support the company’s growth as its roster of impressive partners continues to grow. The vision is to grow the size of the facility as tabby’s underlying sales scales over time.

Speaking on the announcement Hosam Arab, CEO of tabby comments, “We’re delighted to partner with a globally reputed private debt institution like PFG. As our transaction volumes and merchant numbers have continued to surpass all our expectations, it was essential for us to partner with an organisation that would support our current and long-term growth.”

Commenting on the partnership Max Penel, Investment Director at PFG said: “tabby is one of the fastest growing companies in the Mena region and they have an attractive market opportunity ahead. We are excited to support the tabby team and provide financing that can enable tabby to scale the platform, harnessing the continuous growth of the buy now pay later sector both regionally and globally.”

The Middle East’s leading buy now, pay later provider, tabby co-founded in 2019 by Hosam Arab, previously Co-founder and CEO of online retail site Namshi, helps retailers boost their sales by offering their customers flexible payment options that let them get what they want now and pay over time, interest-free.

Partners for Growth (PFG) is a leading specialty lending firm focused on emerging growth companies. The PFG team has decades of experience working together to structure debt facilities tailored to support the growth and expansion, working capital, and acquisition financing needs for the most innovative and rapidly growing businesses globally. 


June 22nd 2021, 6:10 pm

Swvl expands to Saudi Arabia


Press release:

Swvl, an international Dubai-based tech startup extends its Mass Transit solutions for businesses to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, serving the corporate and business sector as a Saudi limited company. The Kingdom would be Swvl’s sixth market after its success across nine major cities in the MENAP, Egypt, Kenya, Pakistan, Jordan, and the UAE, since its establishment back in 2017.

Through this service, Swvl provides the best means of daily mass employee transportation, by customising routes and destinations per different company requirements, to over 100 companies ranging from food and beverages, construction, oil & gas, textile, and education, to consumer electronics manufacturing, accounting, telecom, and mobile network operators alongside others.

Alexandre Epure, Swvl's Regional Sales Director, stated that the company is excited to enter the Saudi market to provide safe, quality transportation services powered by its state-of-the-art technology to organisations. Swvl, on its journey to solve the issues plaguing mass transit, optimises the whole mass transit operation at the highest level, allowing organisations and corporations to lower costs and increase revenues significantly. Swvl's technology cuts transportation costs by up to 25 per cent by reducing the number of vehicles, kilometres, overhead, and optimising routes through a unique network planning AI engine. On top of that, Swvl maintains efficiency in fleet utilisation and thus cost savings. Most importantly, Swvl can do all of this while providing an outstanding ride experience on both driver and passenger levels.

Alexandre Epure also added that the company helped to move millions of riders globally during the pandemic year of 2020 providing a fast and safe transport service with the direction of going green. Less traffic & less pollution which is in line with the latest international designs and specifications to digitise the transportation experience for companies. Swvl offers 100 per cent data-based transportation solutions which are in alignment with Saudi’s government initiatives and 2030 vision.

June 22nd 2021, 6:10 pm

Derq raises $500,000 from Wadi Makkah Ventures


Press release

DERQ, a Detroit- and Dubai-based start-up, has finalized a $500,000 investment from Wadi Makkah Ventures as part of a pre-Series A round that included several other leading global tech investors. The investment, made in December 2020, brings the total funds raised by the company to nearly $6 million to date. Derq is an MIT-spinoff and the leading AI company for video analytics powering the future of roads for the safe and efficient movement of road users and autonomous vehicles.

Derq has built an award-winning platform powered by patented AI technologies and predictive analytics helping eliminate crashes, save lives, and create safer and smarter roadways. Derq has live deployments in the USA, Europe, and the UAE, with forward thinking cities and states, including Michigan, Ohio, Nevada and Dubai. They have also partnered with, and are trusted by, global mobility leaders including Qualcomm, Kapsch, Motional and DENSO, and have best-in-class IP with a strong patent portfolio.

Wadi Makkah Ventures invests in local and international start-ups that provide services and technologies to improve and develop the quality of the services in the Hajj and Umrah sector. Wadi Makkah Ventures is thrilled to be a partner with Derq, a leading AI company, to help address key challenges and opportunities that will positively impact both the safety and mobility of vehicles and pedestrians across the Kingdom. 

This partnership also connects Derq with a strong network of regional investors that have extensive experience backing AI technology companies. Wadi Makkah is an ideal go-to-market partner for Derq in the Saudi market through both the Wadi Makkah Knowledge and Wadi Makkah Real Estate Company branches of the company.

“Led by the Vision 2030, the Saudi market is gearing up for an unprecedented growth centered around transforming its regions into some of the top-most livable cities in the world,” said Dr. Georges Aoude, CEO of Derq, “We are excited to be contributing through our cutting-edge AI solutions to improve road safety and mobility in the region of Makkah and across the Kingdom. We also look forward to bringing our smart infrastructure solutions to smart cities across the Kingdom and enabling safe autonomous vehicle deployments at scale.”

Wadi Makkah Ventures has discussed the possibility of applying the Derq technology to certain areas in the Holy Capital.

“With a planned target of 30M Umrah pilgrims and a population of 2.5M residents in Makkah city in-like with Vision 2030, the need for smart mobility solutions is critical to optimizing the capacity of the existing infrastructure in addition to streamlining traffic flows,” says Eng. Khaled Abdel-Ghani Suleimani, Chairman of the Board of Directors & The Investment Committee of Wadi Makkah Ventures. “Derq’s revolutionary technology is tackling the issues of road safety and traffic congestion in the Holy Capital. Investing in smart technologies like this will transform mobility between the holy cities – making it safer for all residents.”

May 14th 2021, 12:51 am

MyBenefits raises $780,000 Seed round


UAE-based employee benefit platform MyBenefits, has raised a $780,000 seed round from EdgeGlobal, with participation from individual investors; Musaab Al Hakami, Turki AlJeaid.

Founded by Sherif Zaki, MyBenefits offers a SaaS platform that enables companies to streamline and standardise their staff discounts, rewards and benefits.

MyBenefits started out as a business-to-business (B2B) marketplace for SMEs to help them get access to corporate rates on a wide variety of social services, such as health care. The company launched its prototype for its employee discount and benefits platform back in 2019 and started rolling it out officially in February last year.

"Our motto is to make work better by helping people save on day-to-day expenses. This can really go a long way," said Zaki.

Besides the UAE, the startup is accessed by users in eight other countries across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region; namely Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Oman, and Qatar. It currently has over 300 companies listed on its platform, servicing around 15,000 employees. 

The startup claims to have registered an annual growth rate of 30 per cent, and doubled its customer base in the first quarter of 2021. It plans to use the fresh funds to expand into the GCC and for talent acquisition. 

May 14th 2021, 12:51 am

Crescent Enterprises to double investments in startups to $272 million by 2022


Press release:

CE-Ventures, the corporate venture capital platform of UAE-based Crescent Enterprises, has announced that it is doubling its venture capital investments in start-ups to reach AED 1 billion ($272 million) by 2022. Since its inception in 2017, CE-Ventures has already invested over AED 500 million ($136 million) in 32 start-ups and VC funds across the Middle East & North Africa (Mena), the US, India, and Southeast Asia.

Crescent Enterprises is a multinational company headquartered in the United Arab Emirates. It operates under four platforms: CE-Operates, CE-Invests, CE-Ventures, and CE-Creates, which span diverse sectors including ports and logistics, power and engineering, food & beverage, and green transport, and across verticals such as private equity, venture capital, and business incubation. Crescent Enterprises currently employs over 2,600 people in 15 countries.

Commenting on the investment milestone, Badr Jafar, CEO of Crescent Enterprises, said: “When we launched CE-Ventures a few years ago, we outlined our vision to invest in transformational, purpose-driven entrepreneurs and their businesses. Our commitment to double down on new funds available for venture investment is testament to our conviction in the major social and economic impact of certain high-growth, tech-enabled businesses.”

“In furtherance of Crescent Enterprises’ digitization strategy, we will strive to continue to partner with brilliant entrepreneurs across the Mena region and elsewhere, especially where we can leverage our operational experience and global market presence to help them scale and thrive, creating jobs and opportunities for others to put their passions and skills into,” Jafar added.

CE-Ventures adopts a market-driven investment strategy leveraging the high-growth potential across various tech subsectors including FinTech, EnergyTech, FoodTech, and Enterprise SaaS companies. In the past few months alone, CE-Ventures invested in five FinTech start-ups in the Gulf region and globally, namely Tarabut Gateway, Hippo Insurance, China Union Pay, Nerdwallet, and Turtlemint. According to PwC, 82% of traditional financial companies plan to boost collaboration with FinTechs in the next three to five years, underscoring the strong consumer appetite for digital banking globally.

In Q1 2021, global venture investments reached AED 450 billion, achieving a 50% increase quarter over quarter and 94% increase year over year, according to Crunchbase data.

Tushar Singhvi, Deputy CEO & Head of Investments, Crescent Enterprises, said: “With COVID-19 making healthcare a top priority for all, scientific advances present growing investment opportunities in subsectors such as BioTech and DeepTech, which have recently come to the fore as new focus areas for CE-Ventures. We are committed to investing in these emerging tech subsectors to support the rise of latest transformative technologies that we can bring to the MENA region, while helping regional entrepreneurs scale up their businesses.”

Unlike institutional venture capital vehicles that raise external financing to make investments, CE-Ventures is a long-term partner for start-ups and entrepreneurs globally, investing its own capital across various stages of growth with a focus on early to growth stages. CE-Ventures extends its support beyond funding, helping international start-ups expand into the MENA region, and likewise helps local start-ups expand into global markets. Investee companies under CE-Ventures have so far raised more than AED 3.6 billion ($1 billion) of follow-on funding from top-tier venture funds globally.

“Despite the pandemic and ensuing economic slowdown, investee companies under CE-Ventures have continued to thrive. These companies also continue to make significant social and environmental contributions such as direct and indirect employment generation across their supply chains, skilling of employees, and empowering other local businesses through their innovative products and services,” Singhvi concluded.

CE-Ventures focuses on wide-ranging emerging technologies increasingly pervasive across industry sectors such as artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of things (IoT), and robotics. The platform’s tech investments includes Vicarious, a developer of AI software that ‘thinks and learns like a human’ powering intelligent robots for the next era of manufacturing; Cohesity, the industry’s first comprehensive multi-cloud platform that radically simplifies how organisations manage their data; Trifacta, the global leader in data preparation technology used by more than 50,000 Data Wranglers that handle data cleaning and transformation across 12,000 companies; and Anomali, a threat intelligence platform for early detection and identification of cyber threats in enterprise networks, amongst others.

Other CE-Ventures’ investments in the Mena region include Kitopi, a state-of-the-art cloud kitchen platform; Transcorp International, an integrated cold chain logistics company providing last mile, temperature-controlled deliveries; and Vezeeta, a global booking powerhouse that serves and empowers patients in every step of their healthcare journey by tapping into the power of data.

May 14th 2021, 12:51 am

nybl acquires Mexico-based machine learning startup Nubila


Press release

nybl, the science-based artificial intelligence (AI) pioneer, today announced its acquisition of Nubila, a visual data mining and machine learning (ML) platform in a deal that will see Nubila’s founder, Marlon de Jesús González, join nybl’s R&D team and focus on the company’s growth.

The acquisition marks the latest development in nybl’s democratization of AI by building a comprehensive end-to-end AI ecosystem that enables anyone to connect to and analyse vast data sets in real-time without writing any code or relying on historical training data.

Speaking of the acquisition, nybl CEO Noor Alnahhas, said: “The technology we are acquiring with Nubila is the next generation of machine learning. It will help turbocharge our ambitions to fully democratise AI in the region and beyond; we are delighted to be bringing it to market.”

Alnahhas added: “The world has reached a critical phase of AI development. Much of what we consider as artificial intelligence today is simply the building blocks for the development of the future of AI.

“It’s essential to distinguish between the fundamentals we have had at our disposal for decades from the advanced AI that can affect a quantum leap for the way we live and work. With Nubila at our side we are setting out to achieve an ecosystem that eliminates the need for any training in coding or historical data to deploy AI applications.”

nybl’s unique science-based AI solutions are already at the forefront of deep technology across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region. The platform is currently used across various sectors such as Oil & Gas (O&G), healthcare and security in a growing list of countries including the UAE, Kuwait, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, India, and The United States of America.

For his part, Nubila Founder, Marlon de Jesús González, said: “The integration of Nubila's technology into nybl’s platform will allow anyone to analyse enormous data sets, in real-time and without the need for a data science background or deep knowledge of coding.

“We share nybl’s aim to democratise and simplify the world of AI for all, and I’m excited about joining the nybl team to help realize its ambitions.”

Initially developed to optimise workflows, Nubila solves complex analytical problems without the need to introduce coding. The acquisition will allow nybl to automate its processes and enable users to manage the entire AI development journey from analysis to deployment.

May 14th 2021, 12:51 am

Mythical to meteoric: The rise of tech unicorns


Ammar Al Malik is the managing director of Dubai Internet City

The boom in tech firms either floating on stock markets or achieving unicorn status is extraordinary. Despite the global economic pressures caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, last year was one of America’s best on record for initial public offerings. This should give regional startups optimism and confidence because the message is clear: with increased competition fuelling innovation, more companies are going public or raising funds to accelerate growth and deliver value for investors and customers.

Last year exposed the fragility of global markets, but the rise of tech unicorns, hitherto a statistical rarity, continued unabated. While there are sectors that will see long-term damage, tech companies with promising solutions are entering an era of opportunity that could chart a path for economic expansion.

Just look at Telegram. The encrypted messaging app headquartered in Dubai Internet City raised $1 billion through bond sales to investors last month. Its founder also met His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum recently, highlighting the importance of the emirate’s entrepreneurial ecosystem to the UAE’s leaders. Dubai-based Telegram is valued at over $20 billion and its success underscores the acceleration of tech-based innovation.

The combined value of the world’s 326 unicorn companies (firms with a valuation of over $1 billion) is estimated to be approximately $1.1 trillion, according to the World Economic Forum. This represents the immense value and potential when you fuse innovative ideas with scalable technology, digital talent and capital.

Another aspect to consider is the pace of mergers, acquisitions, and initial public offerings in the tech space, driven largely by the US, which is home to nearly half of the world’s unicorns. PwC data shows that Q3 2020 was a record-breaking period for IPOs, raising $58.1 billion from 152 companies – one of the highest figures since 2016. Not only that, but the average IPO last year returned 46 per cent of the stock value to the business, which is more than double the amount returned during the same quarter a year earlier. There has also been immense interest and growth in special-purpose acquisition companies (SPACs), which have been around for decades, but really took world by storm recently. Dubai Internet City and in5 veterans Anghami are among those to have used SPACs to raise capital recently.

With this in mind I believe 2021 will be pivotal for UAE startups: as the ecosystem matures and companies reap the benefits of business-friendly policies, entrepreneurs will continue to attract capital for everything from last-mile logistics and fintech to education and e-commerce. More than $396 million was raised in the first quarter 2021 by startups in the Middle East and North Africa last year, and the UAE remained the strongest market by some distance.

The UAE is also home to several unicorns, and some started in Dubai Internet City. In September 2020, voice-centric social platform Yalla Group became the first Dubai-based tech unicorn to list on the New York Stock Exchange and became the latest homegrown company to achieve unicorn status. The parent companies of Bayut and dubizzle - Emerging Markets Property Group and OLX Group – also merged last year to create a $1 billion property listings empire that can trace its roots to Dubai.

These are hardly isolated cases and represent a growing cohort of homegrown companies that have  achieved unicorn status. They follow in the path of companies such as Careem, which was acquired by Uber for $3.1 billion and became the first-ever unicorn created in Dubai Internet City. Other homegrown success stories such as Souq, Maktoob, Property Finder and Media.Net also started here and completed large investment deals.

Tech has proven to be a sound investment. In the Middle East, the number of digital- companies going public or reaching unicorn status underscores three points: the strength and viability of technology-driven firms; the resilience of the region’s startup ecosystem; and the presence of opportunity.

This will create more value and encourage innovation. As companies continue to see the importance of big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation, digital talent is critical to all sectors – from farming and finance to education, healthcare and logistics. The UAE’s directive to create a pathway to citizenship for highly-skilled professionals and offer long-term visas to artificial intelligence and big data degree holders will certainly help. Last year’s launch of the Nasdaq Dubai Growth Market will also encourage entrepreneurs that Dubai is the best place to scale up.  What this means is that we expect to see more tech unicorns made with greater speed.

As the vaccine-driven global recovery continues, we are seeing a shimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Recent months may have impacted the path to prosperity, but the success of local tech companies floating on stock markets or archiving billion-dollar status has made a route for others to follow. We expect to be home to at least 10 tech unicorns within the next decade. They may have been a statistical anomaly when Aileen Lee coined the phrase back in 2013, but unicorns are becoming less mythical and more meteoric every year.

May 14th 2021, 12:51 am

Clean disruption: The rise of clean beauty marketplaces in Mena


It was personal need that pushed Amina Grimen and Ayat Toufeeq to launch an e-commerce site dedicated to skincare. The pair were struggling to solve their own skincare problems and had no access in Dubai to the clean beauty products that were becoming popular around the world. And so they launched in 2018, becoming the first company to provide the GCC region with “clean” skincare and makeup products.

Since then, several brands have emerged in the Middle East focusing on clean beauty, as consumers in the region become more aware of the ingredients that go into these products.

There is no regulated definition for what can be classified as “clean”, but generally they are products void of toxins, sometimes created and packaged with sustainability and environmental ethics in mind.

“We define it as nontoxic. Skincare and beauty products that are free of ingredients that are essentially not good for you,” says Grimen. “Consumers are concerned about what they are putting on their bodies and skin and this making them comfortable in their own skin – it is no longer about concealing but rather enhancing your natural beauty.”

The global cosmetics industry is projected to reach $463.5 billion by 2027 according to Allied Market Research and within that, skincare and clean beauty is among the fastest growing segments. In the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region, the cosmetics skincare market was valued at $4.67 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow to $5.05 billion by the end of this year, before surpassing $6 billion in 2024 according to Statista.

Traditionally, most cosmetics products were purchased offline from legacy brands like L’Oreal, Mac and Lancôme. But the rise of social media gave birth to new, online-led brands, some a result of collaborations with celebrities and influencers and these legacy brands, others entirely new cosmetics companies founded and led by celebrities. These include wildly successful brands like makeup artist Huda Kattan’s Huda Beauty, singer Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty and reality TV star Kylie Jenner’s Kylie Cosmetics, all of which adopted an online first, direct-to-consumer approach.

Prior to the pandemic, 40 per cent of Gen Z and 42 per cent of millennials purchased cosmetics online, now, after the pandemic, online sales of cosmetics have increased and the industry is being disrupted once again – this time, with the rise in demand for clean products and skincare. Makeup brands have shifted their focus onto skincare, even Huda Beauty, Fenty and Kylie Cosmetics have launched their own skincare lines. For Powder, competition has intensified as several clean beauty e-commerce sites have emerged including Glow Getters, Hoiisa, Balmessence, Beautiful Brands, Aspire Beauty Co, Secret Skin and Miss Pallettable, all of which are based in the UAE, the country with the highest spend per capita on cosmetics in the region.

“We are seeing that many legacy brands are hopping on board the 'clean beauty' movement, but niche or indie brands are winning the race with consumers. We believe this is because consumers are more confident with brands that have sustainability at their core which have a culture of transparency which consumers are after. They also offer more choice to the educated and digitally savvy consumers in the region and globally,” says Grimen.

While the trend for clean beauty began several years ago in the US, it is ultimately due to the pandemic that growth has rocketed.  As work from home became the norm and the mandatory need to wear face masks was implemented around the world, makeup sales declined, especially offline. Coupled with the messaging around self-care and wellbeing during this time and taking care of one’s immunity, focus shifted to ‘goodness from within’.

“Just as people are eating healthier, exercising more, and taking care of their bodies, they are now looking after their skin. Skincare has really become a frontrunner in the beauty space following Covid,” says Grimen. “It was already on the rise in the past couple of years, but the pandemic with the rise of self-care has fast-tracked the industry. As a result, wellness and selfcare is becoming a lifestyle affecting all facets of life rather than being an occasional observance.”

The focus on wellbeing has permeated other sectors too, including food and fitness.

“They overlap and intertwine,” says Sarah Al Shaalan, research analyst for lifestyle and behaviour at Mintel. “It extends beyond clean eating to clean living and there is much more awareness when it comes to that. Middle East consumers are tech savvy when it comes to bloggers and Instagram and audiences engage well with marketing strategies that have clean products, those with no chemicals or additives and include ingredients that are not harmful on the skin.”

But, there is still a need for more education and understanding of what we are putting in and on our bodies. Secret Skin founder Anisha Oberoi is looking to target young girls to raise awareness of ingredients used in the beauty industry.

“I want to go to schools and talk to young girls before they start using beauty products, we want to enable the women in this region to own and manage their own health,” says Oberoi. “In this region the impetus on recycling is building, sales of organic groceries have gone up, every beauty brand is trying to clean up their act. The customer is a lot more intelligence, they’re turning the box and looking at the preservatives that are in the product.”

While the clean beauty sector is growing in the region, the likes of Powder, Secret Skin and others are facing challenges that other e-commerce startups currently face coupled with a male-dominated investment market that is only just realising the investment opportunity in this space.

“For a small but growing startup such as ours, raising awareness in an expensive digital market that is crowded has been challenging,” says Grimen. “Additionally, as we continue to grow, finding and attracting the right talent on a budget has also been difficult when it comes to matching salary expectations. The talent is here but finding someone with skills who is ready to play the long game takes time.”


May 14th 2021, 12:51 am

What is data democratisation and why is it necessary?


Jadd Elliot Dib is the founder and CEO of UAE-based Pangaea X, an online network and talent acquisition platform for data analysts

It is about time to reveal that the financial truth of any organisation today is in data. Companies use data analytics to help improve business performance, plan better, deliver an enhanced customer service experience and make better decisions, although data analytics can still be very overwhelming for non-technical employees in organisations.

First, it’s important to discuss data democratisation. This is when data is available and accessible to everyone across a business. The objective is to make data available for everyone, so they can make better and more expedited decisions leading to more business prospects.

Why is it beneficial to have data democratised?

Data democratisation makes it easier to process big data for people who do not have technical skills, yet want to use data in order to achieve better results and make everyday life easier. One way to do this is by using data virtualisation software, which retrieves and manipulates data without knowing its technicality. This can help individuals read data without cleaning up any data inconsistencies. The other common way is through cloud storage which provides encrypted security that prevents any security threat to the data. Another way is to use self-service business intelligence applications that are designed to retrieve, analyse, transform and report data for business intelligence, making data analysis easier for non-technical people.

What are the different steps to consider when getting started with  data democratisation?

Every organisation should be aware of their business and where data mining can happen. Before any further steps, it is crucial to have a clear understanding of the goals and how to achieve them. Companies must be aware of each department’s strengths and weaknesses. Then the performance of every team and individual can be tracked. When data is made available to employees, they are better equipped to identify any leaks, challenges, or room for improvement in their respective tasks.

The objective of data democratisation is that it should be easily understood by everyone. If the data is not organised clearly, then the whole purpose is defeated. Unclear information will lead to misleading analysis and ultimately to poor decision making. Thus organisations need to clean the data and fix structural errors before connecting it with analytics.

Before access is granted to utilising the data, companies need to make sure that the importance and the processes are well understood. Hence it is crucial to invest in training for individuals to interpret data accurately.

We are witnessing  some rapid advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), which makes analysing data easier than ever. ML is a group of techologies that allow computers to learn from data. A great example is Airbnb – they made use of data science and ML in their technology. In 2017 its data science team consisted of nearly 100 people. The company’s core belief is that everyone should be empowered to use data when making a decision and very smartly split up its efforts into data education, data access, and data tools. There are several more great examples, like Kaggle, a machine learning competition company owned by Google that offers free-to-enter ML competitions, where people can find all the code and data for their data science work.

But if data is democratised across the board, there must certainly be implications around it. Any company who decides to make data accessible to everyone should be backed up by strong governance, so data is managed carefully. Obviously data democratisation cannot be applicable across all entities, for example governments cannot democratise data to all employees as it would have serious repercussions  on classified information.

Companies are still concerned about the misinterpretation of data by non-technical people that may lead to poor decisions. In addition, the increased number of users can lead to increased data security risk, potentially resulting in security breaches. However, more and more companies believe in data liberalisation to enable and ensure better data-driven decisions.

It is still however too early to know the full impact of data democratisation across all entities, but it will definitely change the way we make business decisions allowing and empowering employees to have full visibility on the data their companies collect and gain insights into areas where they could not before.

May 14th 2021, 12:51 am

Retailo raises $6.7 million seed round


Press release

Retailo, a Saudi Arabia-based B2B marketplace has successfully closed a $6.7M Seed investment round, co-led by Shorooq Partners and Abercross Holdings, with participation from AgFunder and Arzan Venture Capital.

Headquartered in Riyadh, Retailo was founded in 2020 by former Careem leaders Talha Ansari, Muhammad Nowkhaiz and Wahaj Ahmed, and the startup's senior leadership comprises of a diverse mix of people with experience from Careem, McKinsey, Rocket Internet, Amazon, Ebay, Dubizzle, Daraz, and Foodpanda.

In just a few months, the company has already expanded to two key markets in the MENAP region and is set to become a major regional player in the B2B E-commerce space. Today, Retailo serves tens of thousands of retailers, has thousands of SKUs in its portfolio and a growing team of over 400.

Retailo’s founding team have always been keen on partnering with strategic investors that can add value beyond capital and support their ambitious journey. Shorooq Partners, lead for both rounds, as part of their early-stage MENA focused mandate, are strongly committed to the team and their B2B services platform investment thesis. Along with UK’s Abercross Holdings, which is backed by Saudi family offices, Silicon Valley’s AgFunder, and Middle East-based Arzan Venture Capital, Retailo’s seed round brings together a strong investor base with deep regional roots and a strong global reach. Along with institutional investors, key individual investors also include Junaid Iqbal, former MD of Careem Saudi Arabia and Pakistan who also serves as an advisor to the Retailo Team.

Issam Hamid, Managing Partner of Abercross Holdings commented “Abercross is pleased to partner with the Retailo team in building a modern, efficient, technology led supply chain across the Middle East and Pakistan region which will bring real benefits to hundreds of thousands of consumers and small retailers''.

Michael Dean, Founding Partner, AgFunder was equally excited about investing in Retailo "Informal retail is an extremely large market that is the backbone of employment and consumer spending in the MENAP region. We were impressed by the Retailo team's blend of experience and domain expertise and their ability to leverage technology to build a compelling and fast-growing B2B Ecommerce Marketplace to service these markets."

Retailo co-founder Talha Ansari remarked, “With this investment, Retailo is geared for hyper-growth to rapidly build on what we have already achieved in a short time. The current round of $6.7 million will not only help us expand our existing verticals across MENAP but also build new, much-needed technology products for the highly underserved SME market and bring us closer to achieving our grand vision of unlocking the earning potential of 10 million SMEs.

The startup will utilise the investment to expand reach in existing markets, keep growing its team, and further improve upon its products.

May 14th 2021, 12:51 am

MHD invests in


Source: Times of Oman

Mohsin Haider Darwish, one of the largest and pioneering business houses in the Sultanate of Oman, has signed an agreement to become a significant shareholder in the unique innovative global online marketplace –

The investment will help accelerate the platform’s user-focused mission to become one of the largest cross-border e-commerce marketplaces in the region, as well as underscores MHD’s commitment towards expanding its market reach within the GCC region, and beyond.

The signing ceremony took place on May 6, at MHD HD head office in Muscat. Representing at the signing was its founder and chairman, Nabeel Jawad Sultan, while Mohammed Abdallah Al Kharusi, the Chief Investment Officer of MHD-ITICS, signed on behalf of MHD. Also in attendance at the event were other members of the executive and senior management of both companies., a pioneering initiative by Nabeel Jawad Sultan, is a unique and innovative global online e-commerce marketplace offering. The platform offers three core services from a single platform for consumers and businesses around the world – both on web and mobile apps – termed as its three pillars – a one of its kind online mall ‘The Nabay Mall’, a community exchange engine ‘The Barter Exchange’, and a unique concept for an existing website to plug into the platform ‘The Plugged In’.

The first of these pillars, and the one that is at the very heart of the platform, ‘The Nabay Mall’ has been designed to offer businesses and sellers the freedom to open their personalised store, complete with their own brand identity, within a dynamic and diverse global online mall.

In addition to the independent store, businesses are also presented with the full gamut of e-fulfilment services expected of a platform of this calibre, including payment gateways, end-to-end logistics store administration, and analytics. This, together with its uncomplicated pricing model, makes it extremely easy for practically anyone to take their business online, or even altogether establish an all-new online business and that too within days and at a fraction of the cost.

The ‘The Barter Exchange’, on the other hand, allows users to swap items with one another. It is an exchange engagement that can be done publicly or within the confines of private groups or special interest groups. And lastly, the ‘The Plugged In’ pillar completes the trio by allowing website owners to plug their existing websites directly into; thereby expanding their opportunities with a greater level of global exposure and direct access to consumers.

“As we step into the next stage of our growth, though available globally, we are looking forward to focusing our marketing efforts into the Middle East, starting with the UAE. From here we will look towards establishing a strong foothold in KSA and eventually the rest of the Middle East,” said Nabeel Sultan. “We are delighted to be backed by a group as renowned as MHD. Their investment will no doubt provide us with an enhanced strategic and competitive advantage in our endeavours. I am confident that with them beside us, it will only be a matter of time before we realise our full potential as the preeminent eCommerce platform in the region.”

Commenting on the new investment, Mohammed Al Kharusi said, “While eCommerce is still a relatively small part of retail in the Middle East, it is poised for exponential growth in the coming years. As an innovative platform with an already strengthening online presence, is primed to win significant market share in the Middle East. This makes it an ideal partner for the next phase of our journey. Moreover, since its launch in mid-2020, has established itself as a prominent player with a strong, entrepreneurial leadership team whose ideals perfectly align with that of ours at MHD. This investment is in line with our strategy and goal to diversify our business, deepen our connections within the market, as well as create the next wave of retail innovation in the region.”

Mohammed Al Kharusi added, “With this move, and backed by an ever-evolving tech-savvy customer base, incomparable brand equity, and long-standing relationships with top brands and retailers across the Middle East, we will work closely with to advance and redefine the online shopping ecosystem in the region. We are confident that the team’s expertise, combined with their user experience-focused approach, will provide customers with an unmatched shopping experience and set it on a path for unprecedented growth in the near future.”

May 14th 2021, 12:51 am

Sary raises $30.5 million Series B


Press release

Sary, the Saudi-based B2B marketplace that connects small businesses with a network of wholesalers and manufacturing brands via mobile and web applications, has raised a $30.5 million Series B round led by VentureSouq (VSQ), which is backed by Fund of Funds – Jada, Al Waha Fund of Funds (Bahrain) and other institutional investors and sovereign wealth funds in the MENA region, with the participation of new investors a Silicon Valley-based fund, STV, and current shareholders Ra’ed Ventures, MSA Capital, and Derayah VC.

Sary was founded in April 2018 by ex-Careem GM Mohammed Aldossary and his co-founder Khaled Alsiari. The company has disrupted the grocery market’s procurement experience in Saudi, leveraging technology to cut the friction in the country’s retail supply chain through connecting micro and small-sized retail businesses and FMCG wholesale market players. Since its inception, the company’s apps were installed by over 100,000 users, and during the pandemic alone, Sary was able to serve over 30,000 verified retail businesses, moving 4 million tons of goods across 3 main Saudi cities: Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam.

“Covid-19 was a catalyst for digital transformation, and Sary was strongly positioned to provide the Supply Chain 2.0 that gives wholesalers, manufacturers, and retailers instant accessibility and better visibility to buy and sell goods via a single platform. Our focus has been on the FMCG categories, but we believe it is just a stepping stone to reinvent the supply chain of the Saudi retail market that’s worth $165 billion,” said Aldossary.

This new round of funding will help Sary grow its geographical footprint, expand its suite of products and services, and move into new categories. It puts the company in a good position to own the wholesale and distribution value chain in Saudi. By eventually integrating third-party financial services on the Sary platform, marketplaces will be empowered to provide a superior user experience, allowing them to break into major industries that currently have low-tech penetration. Additionally, Sary is developing native and integrating third-party FinTech products to create an overarching FinTech list of offerings to serve more needs of its clients as well as diversify the revenue away from its marketplace towards FinTech streams.

 “Core to VentureSouq’s overall FinTech thesis is the emerging trend of embedded financial services. In Sary’s case, we see this move into credit as directly contributing to top-line growth, diversifying revenue streams, and improving unit economics for a strong, proven vertical-specific technology company. We’ve seen similar business models win in other emerging markets, and we believe that the MENA market as a whole represents a similarly interesting opportunity.” VSQ Co-Founder and General Partner Suneel Gokhale explained.

VSQ General Partner Maan Eshgi added, “Sary is a great example of how tech startups in the Kingdom are leading innovation, creating more jobs for Saudis and contributing to the GDP growth, and has proven to be a critical solution particularly during these times. Most importantly, we believe this team along with its stakeholder base have the capabilities, resources and sufficient moat in place to be in a unique position to scale this business across the region.”

May 14th 2021, 12:51 am

Ola Doudin: The Middle East is having its crypto moment


Development in crypto regulations in the Middle East will help digital assets grow according to Ola Doudin, co-founder of UAE-based cryptocurrency exchange BitOasis, who says that the region is now “having its crypto moment”.

Interest in cryptocurrencies has spiked over this past year, thanks to Bitcoin’s soaring valuation, which peaked in April to over $64,000. On BitOasis’ own platform, user sign up rose by 400 per cent in the first quarter of this year, compared to Q4 in 2020. Transaction volumes in Q1 2021 have already surpassed the full volume of 2020.

“It’s adoption we’ve never seen before,” says Doudin who expects further growth in volumes after securing a licence from the Financial Services Regulatory Authority (FSRA) in Abu Dhabi, becoming the first licensed cryptocurrency exchange in the country. The startup is now authorised to allow buying and selling of virtual assets with local currencies and will relocate to the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) before the end of the year.

“We’re taking the steps to migrate and launch our ADGM-regulated entity by the end of 2021,” says Doudin. “Our biggest market right now is in the UAE, it made sense for us to get the licence here and we’re seeing this industry grow more and more. Essentially [this licence] is a vote of confidence for customers and for the wider industry. Crypto is here to stay and regulators are really embracing it.”

ADGM now joins Bahrain in offering a regulatory framework for cryptocurrency exchanges. Other financial regulators in the region have expressed intentions to develop regulations around crypto, token offerings and other digital assets like NFTs.

Up until now, BitOasis has been self-regulated and has since its launch in 2015, worked with regulators in the region to share its own experiences and learnings to contribute to the development of regulations.

“Regulation provides trust,” says Doudin. “This licence provides us with more trust, more growth and the ability to work with other regulated financial services companies. That helps integrate this new asset class into the wider financial services space. It is a better set up for us to service institutional interest and adoption.”

Currently, most of the interest in cryptocurrencies in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) comes from “the retail space as well as capital from family offices as opposed to bigger funds”, says Doudin.

As the best performing asset over this past year, Bitcoin has driven further interest in cryptocurrencies overall. We have seen a rise in the number of institutional investors buy into Bitcoin and Ethereum with more financial institutions accepting crypto as a form of payment. According to data from CoinMarketCap, the overall market capitalisation of 9541 different cryptocurrencies currently exceeds $2.3 trillion. It is estimated that Mena’s contribution to this is around 2.5 per cent.

“Post pandemic, with the macro-economic outlook and the trend among institutional investors chasing investment opportunities, they’re trying to hedge against hyperinflation, that has been driving adoption in the crypto space, which helps to appreciate the price,” says Doudin.

May 3rd 2021, 10:50 pm

Quix raises $800,000 for its drone-based delivery platform


Saudi Arabia-based logistics and on-demand delivery platform Quix, has raised SAR 3 million ($800,000) pre-launch from over 559 investors via crowdfunding platform Scooper. This brings the company’s total post-valuation to SAR 10.1 million ($2.7 million), according to the company’s profile on Scooper.

The startup, founded by Majed AlHazmi, offers on-demand delivery solutions to its clients utilising drone technology. The startup’s business clientele includes restaurants, pharmacies, caterers, laundry and dry-cleaning facilities, as well as car cleaning services providers. It also enables the delivery of handmade goods produced by Saudi families.

Quix will officially launch in KSA later in May 2021.


May 3rd 2021, 1:21 pm

Dubai launches Food Tech Valley


Source: The National

Dubai has launched a major new food technology hub set to act as a "global destination" for enterprising businesses and a key driver of the emirate's economy.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, unveiled the forward-thinking Food Tech Valley on Saturday. He said the "city" would help further develop vertical farming and other advanced agriculture technologies and bolster the UAE's food security. The state-of-the-art centre aims to triple the UAE's food production and make the country more self-sustainable. It was developed through a partnership between the Ministry of Food and Water Security and Wasl Properties.

"We launched the first phase of Food Tech Valley, a new modern and vibrant city that will serve as a global destination for start-ups and industry experts in the food ecosystem," Sheikh Mohammed said.

"It will host R&D [research and development] facilities, an innovation centre, a smart food logistics hub and areas for vertical farming.


"The UAE's food trade exceeds Dh100 billion ($27.2) annually. Our country is a global food logistics hub, and we will work to create a nurturing environment for agribusinesses to develop new farming technologies and enhance our future food security.


“Food Tech Valley is part of a series of projects that aim to sustain the UAE’s food, water and agricultural systems in line with the National Food Security Strategy.


"Food and medicine represent strategic sectors that help us ensure a prosperous and sustainable future for the next generation.”


Sheikh Mohammed was joined at the launch by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, and Minister of State for Food Security, Mariam Al Mheiri.


Ms Al Mheri said the Food Tech Valley was critical to the goal of achieving self-sufficiency and conserving essential resources.


"The Food Tech Valley project represents an instrumental stride towards enhancing food security and will serve as a global destination for expertise in the entire food ecosystem," she said.


"It will also be an economic zone, which is particularly significant considering that the size of the AgTech market is projected to grow from $13.5 billion to $22 billion over the next four years.


“The project features a food innovation centre that has been designed to resemble a head of wheat and will incorporate laboratories, research centres and prototype agricultural systems.


"Strategically located close to universities and academic institutions, it will support the R&D ecosystem and explore and deliver sustainable solutions around food.


“We seek to adopt and develop the latest methods for smart agriculture and food production, rationalise water use, accelerate basic food self-sufficiency, and share our successful experiences with countries around the world. This will help us achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and safeguard the future of forthcoming generations.”


The food hub will be made up of four main clusters; agricultural technology and engineering, a food innovation centre, R&D facilities, and an advanced smart food logistics hub.


Continue reading this story

May 3rd 2021, 8:18 am

Algebra Intelligence raises $310,000 pre-Seed funding


Press release

Algebra Intelligence, a Jordanian AI-driven energy monitoring solutions startup has announced the closing of a $310K Pre-Seed funding round, led by Oasis500.

Founded in 2020 by serial entrepreneur Mr. Ahmad Altawafsheh and his partner Dr. Ala’a Alghwiri, Algebra Intelligence is introducing a unique solution to the energy sector through their first product, TaQTaK.

TaQTaK is an all-encompassing, energy smart solution providing several new features, such as real-time plant monitoring, pro-active notifications, predictive maintenance, as well as ticketing and reporting solutions. TaQTaK was built to ensure every single plant is making the most of the energy generated by optimising the plant performance, sustaining the optimal generation possible, and reducing the operation cost.

Algebra plans to use the investment to develop a data-based platform that utilises cutting-edge AI and ML techniques to create most of the energy resources. The plan is to get the Algebra platform commercially ready to serve valued customers as a mobile application (both Android and iOS) for portability, and as a web application for more functionality.

Moreover, the startup is also eyeing entry to the Jordanian market and is work on future plans to expand to the Mena region.



May 3rd 2021, 8:18 am

GIZ launches €100 million funding programme for first-time fund managers


GIZ Egypt, in partnership with Egyptian Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency (MSMEDA), Endure Capital and Changelabs, has launched a €100 million ($120 million) funding programme “VC University”, targeting first-time venture capital (VC) funds.

The year-long programme will offer prospective fund managers mentorship as well as access to different LPs from across the world. For its part, MSMEDA will be providing technical assistance to selected fund managers.

"Besides cash, the programme is designed to educate early-stage fund managers on how they can raise capital or deal with challenges that might surface up down the road," said Ali Saleh, head of young enterprise finance at GIZ Egypt.

Lack of access to early-stage financing remains one of the key challenges facing startups in Egypt as well as in the wider Middle East and North Africa region (Mena) region. The initiative, according to Saleh, is aimed at boosting cash flow into the risk capital ecosystem, and thus increasing cash injection in Egyptian startups, especially those at their earliest stages.

Much like early-stage startups, early stage VC funds also face challenges when it comes to raising capital and are found to be largely underserved. This is where the newly launched initiative attempts to bridge the gap. 

"There's a lot of programmes out there that are aimed at startups, yet the VC funds are left behind. We have seen that there's a gap there that needs to be filled,” said Saleh.

The VC University programme targets both Egypt-based funds or those located elsewhere across Mena – as long as they have a clear mandate to invest in Egyptian startups. It looks to onboard three to four fund managers, who will receive €25-30 million each.

May 3rd 2021, 8:18 am

The importance, potential and impact of the circular economy


Earlier this year, the UAE established a federal circular economy council to generate new economic opportunities, reduce the use of natural resources and protect the environment. In this piece, Nour Sleiman, co-founder and chief marketing officer at UAE-based Cartlow, a re-commerce website explains the impact and importance of the circular economy.

Transitioning into a circular economy is not solely aimed at minimising the negative impact of a linear economy, but also on the overall health system of the economic activity. Shifting from a 'take, make, use, dispose' to a 'make, use, return, re-use' model would require the dedicated contribution of organisations, individuals, and businesses together - large and small - to work effectively at all scales. This model shift will generate new business and create economic opportunities while contributing positively to the environment as a whole. 

Nowadays, the earth's raw materials are increasingly consumed at a large scale to generate the products that we use on a daily basis. According to a report by the OECD, approximately 50 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions are generated through this process. Furthermore, GCC countries generate about nine million tonnes of scrap metal per year, with plastic and metal waste rising at far faster rates than the global average according to Strategy&. We have seen many global initiatives shift towards a circular economy. A prime example is the UAE, where it recently adopted the Circular Economic Policy to regulate the use of natural resources and its approach to achieve sustainable governance. 

Beyond the environmental benefits, where economies can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 10 to 12 million tonnes per year, resulting in significant environmental benefits, a circular economy presents a large potential for economic growth. According to a McKinsey report, businesses can witness an increase in revenues through adopting circular activities, such as dissembling already functional product parts and re-using them to make new products; which can increase gross domestic product (GDP). It is also vital to note that as the world population grows, the demand for raw materials grows along with it, and unlike a linear economy, a circular economy's need for materials is lower, therefore, it is likely to save up to 70 per cent of raw materials. 

Through development, regulation, and organisational contribution, the potential for new job creation increases with a circular economy model. If GCC businesses prioritise recycling at 40 per cent, it is estimated that 50,000 new jobs and 15 per cent higher operating margins can be achieved, especially through specific value chains  according to Strategy&. Although the UAE is widely known as an innovation and startup hub, adopting a circular economy mindset will further encourage new businesses to discover and invent new ideas, methods and processes that will reduce costs (operationally) and increase revenues (for products). As new businesses open to the prospect of supporting a circular process, a new strategy will have to be implemented. That is, a new process involving re-using, repairing, refurbishing, and remanufacturing practices, requiring employment of new manpower with various skill sets. 

Beyond recycling 

The circular economy model does not only rely on recycling. It is important to note that today, due to the exponential population growth, there are billions of tonnes of waste which are generated every year, and it is starting to surpass the global recycling industry's capacity. Recycling products involve transporting, sorting and recycling, all of which exert immense pressure on the environment’s sustainability. Vast amounts of energy are consumed throughout the process which create a carbon footprint. Moreover, a large amount of waste ends up in landfills and is not recycled, further contributing to environmental pollution. On the other hand, a circular economy promotes a longer life cycle for products through efficient re-using, repairing, and refurbishing processes. If the aforementioned is not possible, then the product parts will be harvested and remanufactured, after which, whatever is remaining, will move to be recycled with the aim of diverting the waste away from landfills. Through this sustainable process, no waste is dumped and less energy is consumed.

There is a massive potential for adopting a circular economy model in the long-run, where we should look at generating capital from our waste rather than focusing on reducing it. By rethinking and reproducing the products and components of everyday consumer needs, we can create safe and helpful materials to replenish the earth's raw materials. When it comes to electronics, the metals do not biodegrade over time, as such we ought to find a way to recycle valuable metals and alloys to maintain their quality, and make them more useful beyond the products’ shelf life. 


However, a circular economy has its own set of challenges as well, since consumers have become very accustomed to a linear economy nowadays, it can be challenging to switch to a circular economy. To tackle this issue, businesses and organisations can conduct initiatives to encourage consumers to participate in various circular-based activities, which include purchasing used products and materials. 

Alongside promoting a change in consumer behavior, another challenge lies within this region's ecosystem gap. Many companies lack the processing capabilities to commit to reselling an already sold item, and as such, they will have to implement new processes and commit to taking extra measures to enhance the overall cycle and prospect of bridging this gap. Cartlow was launched with the aim to empower a circular economy through a full reverse logistics solution that will bridge this market gap within the region. Through various programmes and channels, it is set to tackle the challenges arising for retailers, distributors and leading e-commerce players while benefiting consumers and the environment. Cartlow is partnering with retailers and leading e-commerce players to manage their returns, helping them maximise their retrieval rates while diverting waste away from landfills and leaving a positive impact on the planet.

Today's goods can become the resources of tomorrow. Instead of discarding products, we should adopt to return, renew, refurbish, regenerate and resell them. The UAE government has started taking measures to divert 75 per cent of municipal solid waste away from landfills by 2021, which is outlined in the National Agenda of UAE’s Vision 2021. It may seem as if the most significant commitments to achieve these goals lie within governments and big corporations; however, there is also an opportunity for every individual and business to contribute to the shift towards a circular economy. It is all about reconceptualising the operating model by uniting companies that set up our economy and foundational infrastructure to envision a new roadmap for a circular economy.


May 2nd 2021, 2:19 pm

Expensya raises $20 million


Press release

Expensya, an automated spend management solution for businesses, concludes its $20 million

fundraising campaign in the midst of a health crisis. Two new funds, MAIF Avenir and Silicon Badia, have invested in the development of the fintech company, joining ISAI and Seventure, the two other funds that were raised in the previous round.

Expensya continues to pave its way to success with a $20 million round of funding. Following a 100% growth during the pandemic and the announcement of its new 360° spend management strategic positioning, the fintech company is writing a new chapter in its history. Its vitality, attractiveness and strong development potential have drawn in two new investors: MAIF Avenir and Silicon Badia. This is the promise of great things to come for the Franco-Tunisian company founded in 2014, Expensya, the business spend digitisation solution, enters a new phase.

In this first quarter of 2021, Expensya carried out a new highly successful fundraising campaign. Two new investment funds are now on board: MAIF Avenir and Silicon Badia. With this, the fintech company’s ambition is set: to provide the most comprehensive payment and expense management experience involving the employee (expense reports, general expenses, online purchases, daily commute, employee benefits). Thanks to its integrated offer and its in-depth knowledge of the market.

Expensya offers a complete service to its users to manage all their business expenses from A to Z. Its software solution allows companies to free themselves from low value-added tasks, making them more agile and resilient. Expensya intends to capitalize on its strengths and demonstrate its ability to meet new business practices through its technological expertise. This round of financing will allow the company to accelerate its R&D and international growth.

Expensya’s goal is to accelerate its international expansion and its deployment across mainland Europe, and ultimately become the leader for business expense management solutions. The Expensya team is growing and strengthening to meet the challenges of tomorrow. A few days ago, Karim Jouini, CEO and co-founder of Expensya announced the arrival of Stéphanie Rogeau-Barré as Administrative and Financial Director, and Fabrice Clauzon as Director of Partnerships.

Nicolas Deswarte, Marketing Director, and Mario Roche, VP Sales, were also recruited at the beginning of the year. AnhTho Chuong Degroote, Growth Marketing expert, has also joined the Expensya board. These new talents further strengthen Expensya's ability to assist its clients in their digital transformation (dematerialization). This fundraising will allow Expensya to recruit, over the next three years, more than 100 new employees in addition to the 140 current employees.

Karim Jouini, CEO of the Franco-Tunisian company, is committed to developing a responsible business model that creates value over the long term, first and foremost for its employees.

Fintech players are key partners in the transformation of future companies and are accompanying the transformation of the professional environment. Expensya is one of these leading players, offering a revolutionary employee expense management solution, whose mission is to optimize processes.

“This fundraising is a testament to Expensya’s performance and reflects its ambition to be THE leader in 360° expense management. It is a powerful accelerator for the business expense automation market, offering the most comprehensive solution coupled with an optimized experience”, states Karim Jouini, CEO and Co-Founder of Expensya.

"We are very pleased and proud to be supporting the growth of Expensya, whose solution accompanies the transformation of the professional environment and strengthens organizations to make them more sustainable. We have been impressed by the company's progress and performance since its founding and share the vision of its leader who is committed to corporate citizenship.” Milène Gréhan, head of the MAIF Avenir fund.

“After evaluating several opportunities in the general space, we were very excited to find a company that has the foresight to understand what the market needs and where the industry is heading globally in terms of moving from pure expense management 1.0 tools into next generation spend management and payments solutions. Karim, Jihed and the team at Expensya have done an amazing job building an API-first collaborative platform and are in a great position to scale moving forward.” Namek Zu’bi, Managing Partner of Silicon Badia.

April 29th 2021, 10:18 am

SkipCash raises $2 million seed round


 Press release

Qatar's mobile payment company, SkipCash, announced closing QAR 7 million (USD 1.92mn) seed round funding from private Qatari investors. SkipCash is on track to become the most used mobile payment application in the peninsula.

The funding secured represents the second round of investments SkipCash received, following an awarded product development fund of QAR 700,000 in July 2020 from Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP), in recognition of its offerings that addresses a key market need in the local economy.

The new capital will be deployed to expand SkipCash's data infrastructure and services across Qatar. Since its launch in 2018, the fintech startup has proven its position within the local fintech sector as a licensed firm by the Qatar Financial Centre (QFC) and regulated by the Qatar Central Bank (QCB).

"We are providing a service that is lacking in the local market, one that will enable and support the digital transformation underway. We are extremely excited to be welcoming a number of highly strategic local investors as we scale our operations. The opportunities to collaborate and grow together are significant, and we are now in a strong position to continue to build and scale in the local market", said  Mohammed Abdulaziz AlDelaimi, Founder & Managing Director of SkipCash.

SkipCash is a mobile payment app that provides consumers and merchants with a convenient and enjoyable payment experience. Using QR codes, the app facilitates secure digital payment by eliminating cash, physical cards, and point-of-sale (POS) devices.

Users can securely add their credit card to the app, monitor their spending via visual spending reports, organise their payment receipts, and enable virtual accounts for their children and other family members. It also gives them access to vouchers and coupons from different merchants.

April 29th 2021, 10:18 am

UAE's Vy Capital participates in India-based Urban Company's $188 million funding round


Source: VCCircle 

On-demand home services marketplace Urban Company has raised $188 million (Rs 1,410 crore) in a growth funding round led by Prosus, the Euronext listed entity that holds South African conglomerate Naspers’ international internet assets.

Dubai-based Vy Capital, alternative investments firms Steadview Capital and Tiger Global Management, DF International Partners, and Boston-based Wellington Management participated in the round, regulatory filings from Urban Company parent UrbanClap Technologies showed.

Prosus committed $62.2 million to the round. Vy Capital put in $30 million, Steadview contributed $10.3 million, Tiger Global invested 14.8 million, Wellington put in $33.3 million, and DF International infused a total of $37 million through its two funds. 

Urban Company was valued at close to $1 billion in August 2019 when it raised $75 million in a round led by Tiger Global. The firm is also backed by investors such as Bessemer Venture Partners, Trifecta Capital, Accel, and Eight Road Ventures India.

Urban Company was founded in 2014 by Abhiraj Singh Bhal, Varun Khaitan and Raghav Chandra. The online marketplace provides a range of services from personal care to plumbing to home repairs. 

Earlier in 2020, it rebranded from UrbanClap to Urban Company and converted its verticals into sub-brands, with the aim of becoming a horizontal services marketplace with a global footprint across categories.   

The company reported a 99% growth in consolidated revenues for the financial year ended March 2020. Its total revenues rose to Rs 263.1 crore, from Rs 132.1 crore a year earlier. Total expenses increased to Rs 418.3 crore, from Rs 210.5 crore year-on-year -- as a result of which losses in the reporting period widened to Rs 155.8 crore. 

Continue reading this story

April 29th 2021, 8:49 am

E-commerce's next wave of growth is in B2B


When Sultan Alasmi co-founded Zid, an e-commerce enablement platform based in Saudi Arabia back in 2017, he was repeatedly met with rejections. Few retailers in the country at the time were interested in selling online and Alasmi’s offering was, to them, uneccessary. He and his co-founder Mazen AlDarrab launched Zid with just six companies, setting up their online stores and integrating them with payment, warehousing and delivery providers.

But now after a year of lockdowns, a pandemic and a fundamental shift in consumer shopping habits, the company is grappling with a waiting list of more than 50 companies, keen to go online and make use of its platform.

“We had a very hard time explaining the obvious,” says Alasmi. “Back in 2017 online payment wasn’t welcomed, everyone preferred cash on delivery and payment gateways were difficult to get. In 2019, only 4 per cent of retail businesses were online (in Saudi Arabia) and 96 per cent of retail transactions were conducted offline.”

Thanks to the pandemic and the subsequent boom in e-commerce, the situation for Zid has changed dramatically. The startup recently raised a $7 million Series A round and is now expanding outside of Saudi Arabia.

“The pandemic helped raise awareness, we see the demand in the region, people are calling us and emailing us to operate in other countries,” he says.

Demand for online shopping has rocketed across the Middle East and North Africa and is expected to grow a further 30 per cent this year to reach $30 billion according to RedSeer Consulting. The ripple effect has so far been vast, impacting the logistics and delivery sector, as well as fintech. But amid this surge, the pandemic unearthed the woes of a largely unorganised retail sector, forcing businesses of all sizes to digitise, improve their business cycles and become resilient in the face of uncertainty. This is when the ripple effect touched business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce space. Whether they sell services and goods directly to businesses, offer solutions to automate the entire fulfilment process, address last-mile logistics bottlenecks, or help retailers build their own online stores and adapt to e-commerce and online selling, B2B tech continues to shape up as an important segment of the overall e-commerce sector and attractive space for investors.

A recent whitepaper from international courier firm DHL suggests the global B2B e-commerce market size will grow by 70 per cent to reach $20.9 trillion by 2027, up from $12.2 trillion in 2019. By 2025, 80 per cent of all B2B sales interactions between suppliers and business buyers will take place online.

So far this year, e-commerce startups in the B2B space in Mena have raised $30 million across 13 deals. Most of this investment has gone to startups in Saudi Arabia (six) and Egypt (four), reflecting both market’s growing online retail sector. Saudi Arabia-based Azom raised the largest ticket with $9.5 million in its Series A.

Much of this growth was pushed by the fast-moving consumer products (FMCG) sector. When the lockdown came into force in early March last year, the online demand for consumer goods rose considerably, adding more pressure on all stakeholders across the entire supply chain.

"Suddenly organisations - irrespective of their size - were looking for a digital solution. Everybody now realises the benefits of having an e-commerce platform,” says Adnan Zubairi, CEO and founder of UAE-based DXBUY, an online platform connecting small businesses in the food and beverage, grocery and retail sectors with manufacturers, distributors and wholesalers.

During its beta phase, the DXBUY was accessed by 2000 users, a few months after its launch in May 2020, it managed to onboard 5000 clients.

According to Zubari, the B2B e-commerce space presents numerous opportunities for growth and profitability - unlike the B2C tech scene which has become saturated and played out.

“The reason why we went after the [B2B] market is that the B2C e-commerce market in the Middle East, particularly in the UAE has reached its years of maturity with so many big players being in it, but the space for B2B still small with no single player focusing specifically on consumers,” says Zubari. “While in other parts of the world it was already a successful business model which is doing very well. In fact, it's doing better than the B2C e-commerce marketplaces.”

Sensing the opportunity, Saudi Arabia-based supply chain digitisation startup Sary pivoted to become a B2B marketplace after operating initially as a B2C platform. According to Mohammed Aldossary, Sary’s co-founder and CEO, the B2B sector heralds more growth in the long run, especially with the ever-growing demand for tech-enabled solutions in the e-commerce and online selling space.

“The B2B sector offers a slim profit margin yet a high average selling price,” he said during a webinar hosted by Saudi Arabia-based platform Jawla in December to discuss challenges faced by B2B businesses. According to Aldossary, the startup’s customer base has grown 27x as a result of the pandemic.

Another UAE-based B2B e-commerce platform posting substantial growth is Tradeling, founded and backed by the Dubai government’s DAFZA free zone.

Launched in April last year, Tradeling pitted itself as the “Alibaba of the Middle East”, providing businesses in the region with products directly from manufacturers. Today, the company claims to be onboarding hundreds of sellers a week from more than 25 countries with its gross merchandising value increasing 60 per cent month-on-month. It offers products across 13 categories including F&B, health and wellness and garden and furniture. Tradeling recently signed a partnership agreement with China’s to offer Mena business buyers access to China’s e-commerce market.

“The Covid-19 crisis has fundamentally altered how business will be done in the future,” says Marius Ciavola, CEO of Tradeling. “The unprecedented challenges brought on by the global pandemic has necessitates the drive to a new model of retail, one that is driven online. Demand from Asia, in particular from China, will increasingly move to the digital space. We believe that B2B e-commerce is one of the upcoming megatrends, and, Tradeling is a concept that has launched at the right time in a highly underserved region.”

Cutting out the middlemen

In an attempt to increase the supply chain efficiency, B2B marketplaces cut out the third-party intermediaries, middlemen from business transactions. This turn democratises cross-border trade; thereby helping small businesses access new global markets, according to Haisam Jamal, CEO and co-founder of Distichain, a UAE-based SaaS e-commerce solution provider for SMEs.

“There's a huge amount of the value chain in global trade that is eaten up by middlemen, by brokers, middlemen, or people that are just connecting the dots. And by using technology, you democratise trade - which means moving goods seamlessly across countries irrespective of geography or size," he says.

Amr Sharqawy, founder and CEO of e-commerce enablement platform ExpandCart further expects the future of retail is going to be predominantly digital. "Digital marketplaces will be the dominant business form for retailers in the next 10 years, while offline retail will be limited to hangouts and other social gatherings, but not for shopping for essentials."

Fatura’s Hossam Ali argues that tech adoption will accelerate the exit of middlemen who "don't provide value across the entire supply chain. The role of the middlemen is going to be rethought. They will either adjust and adapt to being in the marketplace or become a marketplace themselves”.

But large retailers and the manufacturing and logistics sector are known to be slow moving. While Covid-19 crisis served as a wake-up call for businesses of all types to accelerate their shift to the digital realm, up until recently, the B2B tech marketplaces were met with huge resistance from retailers. 

Zubairi explains that the company faced difficulties convincing retailers to switch over from the traditional purchase model of having to deal with salesmen or a third party to ordering through a mobile app.

"We've seen that the bigger the size of the organisation, the more difficult it was to go and convince them to come on board with this,” says Zubairi. "The shift is still happening. Things will eventually get better as we move forward."

Sharqawy faced a similar issue, adding that the company had to conduct door-to-door visits to retailers, trying to acquire them.

"It was a near-impossible mission to onboard retailers - especially big ones," he says. Now, they have become keener to try out solutions like ours and adopt them faster than anyone else," he says.

Meanwhile, Distichain’s Jamal argues that the reason why B2B has not taken a strong foothold in the past was the fact that B2B space was still in its infancy, which made it difficult for retailers to trust these solutions let alone adopt them, especially when it comes to payments. The B2B e-commerce startup sector is still nascent and has not yet matured. Investment ticket sizes are still on the smaller side.

“Investors need to see major startup success stories in this space that could be used as their benchmark to measure the success of other startups,” says Aldossary.

But given the continued growth of e-commerce, investor sentiment and outlook for B2B startups in this space is positive.

"The B2B startups are less risky than B2C, if they survive the first two years of operations with the good revenues and a good number of customers, so they will likely live longer,” says Massimo Cannizzo, CEO and co-founder of GELLIFY Middle East, a B2B-focused innovation platform and investor.  

For Cannizzo, B2B startups that sit in a specific niche and develop a complete and holistic understanding of its nuances are the ones that are likely to catch investor interest, unlike the horizontal B2B marketplaces.

April 28th 2021, 9:02 pm

Nama Ventures launches $27 million fund to invest in Mena startups


Source: Arabian Business

The nearly $27 million fund will be raised from high-net-worth-individuals, family offices, and institutional investors and will support pre-seed and seed-stage start-ups in the Middle East and North Africa, with a focus on those in Saudi Arabia

Nama Ventures, a Saudi Arabia-focused venture capital firm, is set to raise SAR100 million ($26.7 million) to beef up its investment fund, as the pandemic has created a spike in tech start-ups in the country.

The fund will be raised from a host of high net worth individuals (HNIs), family offices, and institutional investors.

“The fund, which is already launched, is expected to be closed soon,” Abdullah Alaraj, managing partner of Nama Ventures, told Arabian Business in an exclusive interview.

“Besides HNIs and family offices, we are also talking to sovereign funds in the region [for participation in this fund],” Alaraj revealed.

Nama Ventures, a backer of two unicorns, is set to invest in pre-seed and seed-stage start-ups in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, with a focus on Saudi Arabia.

“Part of the fund will also be invested in some of the Silicon Valley based ventures, where we enjoy great syndication partners and proprietary access,” said Alaraj, who has an impressive track record of investing in more than 20 start-ups across the US, the UK, South America, India and Saudi Arabia.

Alaraj, an academic-turned-investor, and his partner in Nama Ventures, Mohammed Alzubi, an engineer-turned-investor, are both Silicon Valley veterans and have seeded start-ups themselves in the past.

Alaraj said Nama Ventures so far has been very successful because of its philosophy of startup investments based on certain differentiators.

“For instance, we invest in teams and do not back solo [run] start-ups. It's our most important criteria,” Alaraj, who is also a co-founder and chairman of Riyadh Angel Investors, a Riyadh-based angel network.

“Nama Ventures prides itself on being an investment fund committed to nurturing ideas that guide founders to create exceptional companies.

“We also want to lead start-ups, along with their founders, helping the ventures to grow from a seed to a forest, rolling up our sleeves and pruning them to realize and reach their full growth potential,” said Alaraj, who holds a Ph.D. in computer sciences and is a member of the UK Business Angel Association.

“Our fund is focused on fuelling technology innovation in MENA, particularly in KSA,” Alaraj said.

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April 28th 2021, 11:00 am

Dubai SME launches incubator for healthtech startups


Source: WAM

Dubai SME, the agency of Dubai Economy mandated to develop the small and medium enterprise (SME) sector, has announced the launch of a new business incubator ‘Ztartup,’ in Dubai Healthcare City.

The new incubator, located in Wafi Residences, is dedicated to healthcare technology, including digital media and Augmented & Virtual Reality used in healthcare; digital emergency and safety technology. The Centre will also help the entrepreneurs developing and improving smart phone applications for the healthcare, and fintech sectors.

The incubator provides two specialised programmes – one for Business Incubation and the other, for Business Accelerators. The Incubator will evaluate the enterprises and the skill of the entrepreneurs and help them choose the best programme for them to start and launch their businesses. It also offers several other services, including connecting entrepreneurs to a network of specialists and mentors to help develop their products and services as well as varied courses, training, workspaces, business start-up packages required in each phase of the project, and a number of specialised laboratories that help entrepreneurs to design prototypes for their projects Abdul Baset Al Janahi, CEO of Dubai SME, lauded the role of specialised business Incubators in supporting the economy and developing a new system tailored to the needs of the future. He stressed the importance of the private sector supporting entrepreneurs in line with its role as the engines of economic activity, as well as the need to adopt necessary policies to maintain enterprise growth and economic development.

"There should be balanced support from the public as well as private sectors to enhance the role of small and medium enterprises, create new market opportunities start-ups, open diverse financing channels for entrepreneurs with innovative ideas, and formulate systems and laws for crowdfunding. The private sector plays a major role in supporting start-ups through its community initiatives, which contributes to accelerating economic growth rate," Al Janahi said.

Al Janahi also emphasised the role of start-ups in generating wealth and employment in the UAE. "Start-ups in Dubai have won global attention due to the significant acquisitions that took place in recent years, furthering the role of Dubai as a knowledge centre and innovation hub in the region."

Mohamed Shafi, CEO and Founder of Ztartup, said, "Our aim is to develop a new ecosystem that supports tech entrepreneurs. The impact of this new system will be seen on future businesses, technical skills of entrepreneurs and overall economic growth in the UAE. Ztartup seeks to incorporate entrepreneurial initiatives into incubation programmes and business accelerators to ensure their success and sustainability. Ztartup will also connect them to experts who can assist them to advance their tech innovations."

Ztartup brings the number of business incubators certified by Dubai SME to 13. Dubai SME has also established a Business Incubator Network (DBIN) of accredited business incubators and accelerators, which will act as a reference and catalyst for business incubation programmes in the country. The certified incubators offer a package of services, events and work spaces that support entrepreneurs in launching innovative projects and competing in the local as well as global markets. The accreditation programme is also aimed to motivate and support the private sector to invest in business incubators and accelerators.

April 28th 2021, 8:01 am

Aramco’s Wa’ed signs agreement with Falak Investment Hub to increase Saudi startup funding



Press release:

Wa’ed, the entrepreneurship arm of Aramco, agreed to collaborate with Falak Investment Hub, a start-up investor led by one of Saudi Arabia’s most influential women entrepreneurs, to drive venture capital investment in the Kingdom.

A memorandum of understanding was signed at Wa’ed’s headquarters in Dhahran by Adwa Aldakheel, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Falak, Hassan Ikram, Falak Co-founder and Chief Investment Officer, Wassim Basrawi, the Managing Director of Wa’ed, and Salman T. Jaffrey, the Chief Investment Officer of Wa’ed Ventures.

The agreement with Falak is the fifth alliance announced by Wa’ed since December as it widens its search for promising Saudi start-ups. The Aramco venture has signed cooperations with Oqal, Saudi’s largest angel investor network, the Royal Commission for Jubail & Yanbu, and two economic development agencies in Madinah, Taibah Valley Company and Namaa Almunawara.

Falak is a unique hybrid of co-working spaces, VC investments, angel investor network and an investment-backed accelerator program for MENA-based tech start-ups with a focus on Saudi Arabia. So far, the start-ups in Falak’s portfolio have generated combined revenues of more than 550 million SAR.

Falak was founded in 2018 by Ms. AlDakheel, a 29-year-old Jeddah native who as pilot, musician, poet and entrepreneur has gained more than 1 million followers on social media for her work to advance the entrepreneurial culture in the Kingdom.

Both organisations expressed confidence that the new collaboration would exploit synergies that increase the likelihood of success for early-stage and growth-stage start-ups through services, training programs, market access, and mentorship. 

“With the robust platforms and complimentary resources our organisations bring to the table, I am confident this cooperation will enable us to fund more entrepreneurs and innovators that will add value to the Kingdom’s venture capital ecosystem,” said Wassim Basrawi, the Wa’ed Managing Director.

“The Saudi entrepreneurial ecosystem grows through cooperations and alliances and this collaboration with Wa’ed will leverage the synergies between our companies to benefit entrepreneurs across the Kingdom,” said Ms. AlDakheel, Falak Investment Hub’s Founder & CEO. 

Hassan Ikram, Falak’s Co-founder & CIO, said Falak’s group of 17 start-ups – 15 are currently in Falak’s investment-backed acceleration program – are a good compliment to Wa’ed’s own end-to-end offering, which includes venture capital, loans and an incubation and mentoring program. Wa’ed will also leverage Falak’s acceleration programs, angel network, virtual bootcamps and mentors. 

"The collaboration with Falak Investment Hub is very exciting," said Salman T. Jaffrey, the Chief Investment Officer of Wa'ed Ventures, the venture capital arm of Wa'ed. "It gives us the opportunity to invest in Saudi companies that have a degree of traction because they have gone through accelerator programs and raised angel investments."

Through its venture capital arm, Wa’ed Ventures, Wa’ed is the largest and most active VC investor dedicated to Saudi-based start-ups and, through its loan financing arm, the Kingdom’s only no-collateral lender to start-ups. 

Since its founding in 2011, Wa’ed has deployed more than SAR 375 million in loans and venture capital investments into Saudi-based start-ups.

Wa’ed Ventures has committed more than $50 million across 30+ portfolio companies, which include FalconViz, a maker of industrial drones, Golden Scent, a leading Saudi beauty e-commerce platform, and Ynmo, the Middle East’s first Arabic-language instructional software for children with autism and other special educational needs.

Falak launched the first angel-backed acceleration program in Saudi Arabia, and offers local entrepreneurship podcasts, incubation and acceleration programs for government entities, virtual bootcamps across MENA and an angel network partnered with Saudi Venture Capital in a co-matching program. Falak has graduated two batches of start-ups from its Flagship Acceleration Program and applications for a third batch close at the end of May. 

Through partners such as Amazon and HubSpot, and freelancers that offer expertise in recruitment, bookkeeping, cloud hosting and analytical tools, Falak has built its own mini ecosystem of support services to Saudi start-ups.

April 28th 2021, 8:01 am

Advice for startups: Key accounting KPIs to monitor


Rayhan Aleem is the founder and managing partner at Alpha Pro Partners

Running a small business means juggling many different things on a daily basis and accounting can be one of the hardest aspects to manage. Having a suitable accounting system and outsourcing the task to an accountant will help you to keep track of invoicing, payments and cashflow, but making sure you get the right information from them is crucial.

Without keeping track of key performance indicators (KPI), you will not be informed enough to make strategic decisions about the future or deal with inevitable challenges that arise.

When the pandemic hit, crisis planning became the new buzzword. However, reacting after a problem occurs is too late. Planning ahead is a must, and when you are developing a business continuity plan, you will need comprehensive financial data to hand. While some metrics might depend on your industry, business size, and growth plans, there are several fundamental financial KPIs to measure on a regular basis. 

Gross Profit Margin – of all the elements that will affect your business, it is profit. Gross profit is the difference between the revenue generated by a product or service and the cost of producing it. If you are consistently spending more on suppliers than you are generating in revenue then it is time to go back and revisit your business model. The gross profit margin shows how profits are performing as a percentage, based on gross profit divided by revenue. Seeing the margin decrease is a sign that your strategy needs re-evaluating and/or outgoings need to be reduced. 

Average Accounts Receivable days – one of the main reasons why startups and small businesses fail is a lack of cashflow. It is impossible to gain a clear financial picture without building a cashflow forecast and for that, you’ll need an understanding of your average collection period i.e. how long it takes clients to pay. If the number of days starts to increase, immediate action must be taken to push for speedier payments. Generally, a figure of 25 per cent more than the standard terms allowed represents an opportunity for improvement. It is to be expected that tougher market conditions may lead to delays, which should be part of your business preparedness strategy. Think in advance about what steps you could take to mitigate the effects of late payments without compromising your service levels.

Cash Burn RateKnowing your company’s burn rate is critical to sustainability and growth. Usually measured on a monthly basis, the burn rate reveals how many months your current cash reserves will last to keep the business afloat. The gross burn rate reflects the total operating expenses, whereas net burn rate shows how much money is being lost. For startups looking to secure additional investment, this is one of the main things that will come under scrutiny. It is worth remembering that your burn rate is likely to change at different stages of development. Being aware of your burn rate will provide you with better knowledge around what risks to take, where to focus internally, and when urgent action is required.

Employee to Revenue Ratio - If you are selling a service rather than a product, gross profit margin may not be the best indicator for you. In this scenario, your main commodity is your employees’ time, and your largest expense is likely to be their salaries. As such, aiming for a higher employee to revenue ratio should increase productivity and profitability. It is also a valuable tool for resource planning. To calculate revenue per employee, divide the total revenue by your current number of employees. You will also need to do some research to benchmark the value against similar companies in the same industry. This will help you to derive a reasonable range, keep an eye on efficiency, and avoid hiring new staff before it is necessary.  

Net Profit Margin - Once the above KPIs and metrics are under control, you should work towards optimising your net profit margin if it is not being done already. Unlike gross profit, net profit is the amount left after all other business expenses have been paid. Your net profit margin is the percentage of net profit generated by your company’s revenue and a good reflection of your overall financial health. A healthy net profit margin should always be at least 10 per cent, with the aim to increase this margin steadily over time. 

April 27th 2021, 3:16 pm

Trade Capital raises Series A funding round


 Press release:

UAE-based FinTech startup, Trade Capital Partners (TCP) has closed its Series-A fundraise, led by Modus Capital, with participation from the Eldaba Family Office and local FinTech angel investors.

TCP provides working capital to regional importers, exporters, traders, distributors, wholesalers, and SMEs who are seeking collateral-free cash using invoices or inventory. Businesses looking for access to cash as oxygen for their growth will come to TCP for the speedy approval process and simplified transactions. These are made possible by TCP's proprietary AI-driven approval process, future blockchain network, and deep analysis of more than 120 data indicators that are part of TCP’s algorithms and data models.

TCP was founded by serial entrepreneurs who have built and led many startups across the world. The founders and executive team includes Troels Andersen CEO (former BlackRock and Rocket Internet), Bill Crawley COO (former IBM and iSON Technologies) and Mo Shahin CTO (former Siemens and D+H).

“TCP’s technology and proprietary processes are both highly scalable and a game-changer for many companies” says Troels Andersen.

“Our mission is to bring startups closer to the trade finance channels and capital they need to grow and scale.” Due to current banking regulations, the vast majority of SMEs and startups in emerging economies lack access to financing, which often restricts and slows growth. Access to working capital is a problem we have experienced first-hand, and it continues to be a hurdle for the majority of founders and investors in the region,” mentions Bill Crawley.

“TCP’s mission is to provide innovative financing solutions to help small businesses succeed. We have developed proprietary credit-scoring and AI-driven decisioning tools to integrate with state-of-the-art KYC tech ; the result is a robust and proven base platform which will enable decision making within minutes for onboarded partners” comments Mo Shahin.

The opportunity TCP has presented to the market has been attractive to both institutional and individual investors. “Beyond our investment, Modus Capital is excited to work with the TCP team to support them as they scale,” comments Kareem Elsirafy, Managing Partner at Modus Capital. “We are passionate about working with experienced entrepreneurs with relevant domain expertise, who are looking to solve big problems and have strong impact. Solving the problem of startup and SME trade-financing is one that will have a direct and significant impact on elevating national economies across the region and, when it scales, it is one that will improve the experience of founders in all emerging economies.”


April 27th 2021, 3:16 pm

Alpha Wave invests $100 million in India-based Stanza Living


Source: BW Disrupt

Alpha Wave Incubation (AWI), a VC fund managed by Falcon Edge, has been investing at a steady pace. It has now invested well over $100 million in Stanza Living through its two subsidiaries. 

The Delhi-based company has approved the issue of 8,430 Series D CCPS and10 equity shares, at an issue price of INR 9,11,440 per share to INR 769 crore/ $102 million. Stanza Living was valued at $300 million as of 2019 during its previous financing round led by Falcon Edge and was in talks to raise around $120 million in its Series D round.

Falcon Edge has invested $100 million/ INR 739.3 crore in the new round while the rest has come from Stanza Living’s other existing backers Sequoia Capital and Matrix Partners.

Stanza Living’s founders Sandeep Dalmia and Anindya Dutta now hold a minority stake of 26.2% combined. Falcon Edge has now emerged as the largest stakeholder holding a 27.8% stake after the last round of investment.

Stanza Living provides affordable accommodation facilities to students and migrating people which includes housekeeping, food, security, and other day-to-day amenities. Currently, the company has a presence in 15 cities including Delhi, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Pune, Indore, and Ahmedabad. 

The fresh funding in Stanza Living has come at a time when the hospitality and accommodation sector is facing major challenges due to the spread of Covid 19. The sector is set to experience even more disruption with the second pandemic.

April 27th 2021, 3:16 pm

Maison Duffor raises $400,000


Press release

Maison Duffour, a UAE-based gourmet food E-commerce platform specialized in home delivery, has announced a $400K fundraise from French and local business angels, including Aurélien de Meaux (Cheerz founder and CEO of Electra), Frédéric Gastaldo (Photoweb founder), Timothée Désormeaux and Edouard Daou (Acquisit) and Benjamin Grolimund (Bloomberg).

The startup was founded at the end of 2016 by international French couple Alix and Rodolphe Duffour, who have backgrounds in F&B and E-commerce. The couple saw a serious gap in the affordable luxury segment while also noticing a lack of offering in the online food store landscape. Maison Duffour has recorded significant growth since its inception, and with a team of 12 employees, the startup has moved to its own warehouse to accommodate its increasing volume of orders and further drive its progress.

Rodolphe shared his thoughts on the news “We started this adventure with 5 products and 1 van. Seeing where we were and where we are now makes me super proud, although I remain extremely pragmatic as we still have many more chapters to write with the team. We definitely are attracted by a more local offer and we love the local community of entrepreneurs. Since COVID-19 started, the UAE is buzzing with new food projects and a new scene of entrepreneurs. These days are exciting for anyone in the food business.”

Frederic, one of Maison Duffour's investors and first raclette kit users commented: “The team at MD was always humble and working harder than anyone else I know to land where they are now. I can only say I really look forward to writing this new chapter with them as it’s looking more positive than ever.”

In the short run, the startup plans on using the investment to accelerate its growth and consolidate its presence in the regional gourmet food landscape. This will be achieved primarily by expanding their product range on the website in order to address a variety of audiences seeking gourmet food from their respective home countries.

On the subject, Alix mentioned “We naturally started with French products as this is where we come from. It’s easier to source the best products when you know the products. Now, we feel that we are armed to source products outside France with the same motto: real food with real taste at the right price.”


April 27th 2021, 3:16 pm
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