Get it on Google Play تحميل تطبيق نبأ للآندرويد مجانا

A look at the cleantech startups in Iraq


Azza Yahia is part of the investment team at Five One Labs, an incubator based in Iraq

Cleantech is a term initially coined in the 1990s by the venture capital community and popularised in 2002. In many instances, greentech and cleantech have been used interchangeably. But what do both terms mean? Cleantech is the umbrella term referring to any technology deploying sustainable products or services. A leading VC fund, Clean Energy Ventures, defines cleantech as “any new business model or technology that increases the performance, productivity and/or efficiency of production while minimising negative impacts on the environment.” Globally, cleantech is predicted to grow at an annual growth rate of 24 per cent (2020-2027). Greentech, a subset of cleantech, refers to environmentally friendly energy production promoting sustainability while creating efficiencies. In 2019, the value of global investments in the green energy sector hit a whopping $302 billion

In Iraq, forward-thinking startup founders witnessed the move to green energy and sustainable technologies through grassroots initiatives. Three enterprising Iraqi startups steering the sector include Green Shaov, Mosul Solar, and KESK.


Until recently, few companies in Iraq had ventured into the cleantech space, so finding employment in the sector was near-impossible. Upon separately encountering this reality, three Five One Labs graduates in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region in the north, have transformed their skills and passion into sustainable businesses. Due to the longstanding dire economic and energy situation facing businesses and residents, there was a need for radical solutions. Enter Green Shaov, Mosul Solar, and KESK. Green Shaov focuses on resolving farmers’ crop concerns using artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Mosul Solar and KESK provide green energy solutions to both B2C and B2B clients. Although these startups' strategies vary, the end goal remains the same: creating clean and sustainable efficiencies for long-term gains. 

When it comes to greentech, the opportunities are massive in Iraq. Faced with 18 to 22 hours of electrical grid blackouts per day, soaring oil prices, and price hikes in generator-supplied electricity, people are desperate for sustainable energy solutions. The average personal income is $600 per month, and generator power charges range between $200 to $600 for 10 Amperes of power. So, substituting generator-fueled energy with solar-power makes financial sense. The benefits include decreasing end-user costs while providing a cost-efficient alternative supply of power. Basima Abdulrahman, the founder of KESK, explains: “We need to change to energy saving, and this way renewable energy can come as a solution to support the main (electricity) grid.” 

Opportunities seized

The crops farmed in Kurdistan have historically been mainly wheat and barley. Green Shaov, a Kurdish phrase referring to germinating land, offers smart greenhouses and can transform and modernise traditional greenhouses through the use of AI technology with the aim of increasing crop variety. 

Basil Allawi, an engineering and information technology (IT) graduate focusing on AI, founded Green Shaov in June 2020 after realising early in his career that he should apply his skills for the greater good. A chance meeting with an agricultural engineer as he was graduating from university planted the idea for Green Shaov: improve farmers' circumstances by increasing production outputs and profits through climate-adjusting AI technology. By increasing crop variety, Green Shaov can help farmers address the market demand for a larger assortment of produce, simultaneously generating additional income for farmers and lessening Iraq’s dependence on agricultural imports. 

Mosul Solar, a greentech startup, provides and installs solar cells for residential and commercial units. Mohamad Al Qatan was inspired to launch his greentech business in early 2020 when Mosul was experiencing electricity cuts of up to 22 hours a day. Faced with the struggle of finding permanent employment within the private sector and the hiring freeze in the public sector, Mohamad was doubly motivated to set up Mosul Solar. He views his company as a chance for him to give back to his city and generate income and create jobs. 

Founded in 2018, KESK (“green” in Kurdish), another greentech startup, offers green engineering and design consultancy. Founder Basima Abdulrahman dedicated her youth to raising awareness on environmental and climate change issues. With essentially no opportunities for a career in the green energy space in Iraq, Basima embarked upon setting up her own green business. Basima built her company to combat the extreme energy shortage in Iraq while also working within a sector about which she is highly passionate. KESK recently expanded its product line to include branded solar-powered AC units.     

The creative process 

Establishing a business in a new space can be intimidating. These cleantech startups' concerns revolve around combatting cultural misconceptions of clean solutions, alleviating customer cost concerns, and increasing market visibility. These factors serve as motivators to produce innovative, practical solutions with which consumers and users are comfortable.

Technological adoption

These ambitious cleantech startups unveil creative solutions that challenge the prevalent socio-cultural mindset. Allawi explains: “When it comes to tech adoption, farmers were not interested. They fear that technology is difficult to use.”

The team noted that the farmers were happy using basic feature phones; whereas, Green Shaov’s solution requires a smartphone. When farmers complained of the complicated user interface, the team modified it even further.

“We stayed away from text because many farmers do not read. The mobile app was based on iconography," adds Allawi.

The team continued to develop a proprietary in-house solution placing the user experience and user interface at the core of product design. Through consultative discussions with the farmers, the team was able to identify pain points and ultimately developed a prototype that was iterated six times. 

Empowering the customer

The startups were resourceful enough to encourage and increase adoption with financing solutions to alleviate end-users’ cost concerns. KESK adopted a consumer durable financing scheme in which customers buy consumer products upfront and pay in installments over a period. Mosul Solar adopted a similar strategy and formed an installment payment scheme with Al-Tadhamun, an NGO offering micro-loans. As organisations such as Relief International have noted in the past, microfinance is a new and uncommon business model in Iraq. It is tough to find financial institutions willing to offer loans to individuals or SMEs without extensive collateral. Thus, the financing solutions of KESK and Mosul Solar are quite a big deal. 

Establishing a name in the market

Competing for clients with well-established players is a daunting affair. Six months into establishing Mosul Solar, Al Qatan was still running cash flow negative. He was having trouble gaining traction even though he had already approached 70 engineering companies, 50 retail stores, and 30 organisations. He continued attending entrepreneurship support programmes while networking with corporates and business professionals. 

“We (Iraqis) are a communal society. If one person tries out this alternative solution and finds it successful, everyone else will follow suit. So, we just need one advocate,” says Al Qatan.

Finally, his hard work paid off. Although private and public sector entities prefer to offer contracts to more “recognised” businesses, Triangle Génération Humanitaire (TGH) contracted Mosul Solar to build solar-powered irrigation gutters for farms. Although Al Qatan offered the company’s services at below market rates, this opportunity meant working with an international player, exploring an unfamiliar sector, and opening doors to the farmers, a potentially new segment of clients.

Positive outlook

Cleantech startups face an additional layer of complexity related to the lack of funding available in the market. Investors in Iraq’s growth-stage companies have historically focused their energy (and dollars) on specific industries, such as e-commerce. However, one sign that this might be changing is KESK’s recent six-figure investment round raised from Euphrates Venture Capital Fund. Also, Mosul Solar inked a grant deal with Kapita, a private sector development company in Baghdad which provides consulting and support services to startups, in which it will receive advertising and promotional assistance, social media marketing, and a new logo design. 

Abdulrahman insists that investors need to realise that Iraq is a massive market with unlimited opportunities.

“The investors need to be adventurous. If a solution is meaningful and if the team is strong, then don’t think twice," she says. 

December 1st 2021, 9:23 pm

beXel raises six-figure funding round for expansion


Press release

Cairo-based cloud based Inspection Management Software (beXel) has raised six-figure (USD) in an investment round led by JH Investments Ltd, as well as follow-on funding from Flat6Labs, UI Investments and Saudi Angel Investors.

Founded in early 2019 by Ayman Abou Regeila, Ahmed Hussein and Mahmoud Latif, beXel is a SaaS digital cloud-based inspection management software that focuses on industrial services such as Energy, Oil & Gas and Construction industries which helps service providers in digitally transforming their entire end to end process, going paperless, practicing social distancing and dropping their team inspection time to more than 60%. has been widely used in 14 different countries across the world, getting acknowledged by Saudi Aramco in Saudi Arabia, it has been widely used by big international players such as TUV Rheinland (German Based Company), TUV SUD,and Applus Velosi (Spain Based Company).

"Flat6Labs has been a true believer in beXel’s team and product from day one. The solution beXel is offering to multiple global industries is unique and offers scalability and efficiency metrics not previously attainable. We are very proud of the team’s achievements to date, particularly the trust they’ve built with Global clients and we are confident that this is only the start. We look forward to the product's scalability and enhancement and we are confident that beXel will continue to dominate the equipment inspection industry for years to come. commented Marie Therese Fam, Managing Partner of Flat6Labs Egypt. 

Tarek Roushdy, Managing Partner of UI Investments said “ Joining beXel’s journey was an easy decision to take considering its strong team, the traction it made so far, its global exposure, its huge growth potential and finally being a startup that brings digitalization to the oil & gas sector, which I belonged to .. beXel is a journey of success that I am glad being part of it ..  “

Ayman Abouregeila, co-founder and CEO of beXel Inspection for Software, commenting on the investment, said, “As the 1st cloud based inspection management software in the MENA Region, we are proud to have built such a solution which are proven and used through worldwide clients. Our entire application can be easily customized to each buyer’s needs, addressing their entire operational cycle and covering their end to end challenges. 

With the latest funds, the Egyptian startup is now expanding to Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries. Its co-founder and CEO Ayman Abouregeila said, “We’re well-placed to scale to Saudi Arabia while expanding our team to support our customers on ground” 


December 1st 2021, 9:23 pm

OptimizeApp acquires Panda Media for undisclosed amount


Press release:

Kuwait-based OptimizeApp, a platform that helps marketers intuitively launch, manage and track all their social media campaigns in one app, today announced it has fully acquired Panda Media, a Kuwait-based online education company focused on entrepreneurs.

The company’s new offering will provide local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and entrepreneurs with exclusive educational marketing courses and materials that focus on e-commerce growth and digital advertising. The courses and materials will be available on multiple platforms, including YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and podcasts, in addition to its native platform, ‘OptimizeApp’, available on the App Store and Google Play Store.

CEO and Founder of OptimizeApp, Bader Alkazemi, said: "It's challenging for local businesses, especially those in the Mena region, to find locally relevant and accessible expertise to leverage the power of digital and social media marketing. We believe adding Panda Media’s unique and locally-relevant content-creation model and capabilities to our existing offering creates a solution that overcomes this challenge and enables businesses to grow faster and retain that knowledge within their markets. We welcome Panda Media to our family and look forward to our people working together as one team to help local entrepreneurs realize their dreams.” 

As a result of the acquisition, Panda Media will now operate entirely under the OptimizeApp name. OptimizeApp has retained Panda Media’s existing team and services, while its founder, Eid Almujaibel, will now serve as OptimizeApp’s new Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer. 

Newly-appointed CMO and Co-Founder of OptimizeApp, Eid Almujaibel, said: "We’re very excited about the potential growth of digital marketing in the region and we found the right partner in OptimizeApp. Making our courses accessible to everyone has been the cornerstone of Panda Media's growth strategy since inception, and our acquisition by OptimizeApp accomplishes just that. With a similar target audience and an overlapping user base, joining forces seemed like a natural fit. We are confident that our move under the OptimizeApp umbrella will add value to our users and strengthen the digital landscape in the Gulf and the wider region." 

Optimise Advertising & Marketing Company WLL (OptimizeApp) is a platform that enables brands and entrepreneurs to intuitively launch, manage and track all their social media campaigns in one place without requiring technical know-how. The company is headquartered in Kuwait and currently serves customers across six markets: Kuwait, UAE, KSA, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman. 

December 1st 2021, 1:38 pm

Lamaa secures $5.5 million Seed round co-led by Wa’ed


Press release:

Lamaa, a Riyadh-based fintech startup that provides invoice financing solutions for SMEs, has announced one of the largest seed rounds in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The $5.5 million seed round of Lamaa is being led by Raed Ventures and Saudi Aramco’s entrepreneurship arm Wa’ed. Lamaa provides financing solutions such as Supply Chain Finance & B2B Buy Now Pay Later for SMEs with the aim to create more efficient working capital management for suppliers and maximise return on the treasury for corporate, in line with Vision 2030 to enable and digitalise SMEs and raise their contribution to 35 per cent of GDP by 2030.

“Since our initial launch in March 2021, Lamaa has gathered significant traction with over 100 corporate clients in the pipeline and a projection of over $1 billion dollars worth of invoices to be soon launched in Lamaa’s marketplace,” Sumeet Khutale, founder and CEO of Lamaa said. “In addition to supply chain finance, we will soon start offering B2B Buy Now Pay Later which would be the first of its kind offering in the region. We also plan to expand in Egypt, UAE and Qatar in the next few months.”

Established in early 2021 by Sumeet Khutale, who has recently relocated from London to Riyadh and who has extensive experience in Investment Banking Technology and Cloud banking with Global consulting companies such as Barclays Capital and JP Morgan, Lamaa seeks to address available funding gaps for SMEs whose size presents a challenge in obtaining credit risk ratings, having a direct impact on their cashflow.

"What excites us about Lamaa is that it’s a great platform to empower SMEs in Saudi Arabia, and it's managed by a well-experienced team led by Sumeet," founding partner at Raed Ventures Omar Almajdouie stated. "For Lamaa, creating tremendous value from already-available cash will generate a win-win scenario in almost every transaction."

Lamaa’s market potential in MENA is huge; the region’s GDP is $3 trillion, 30 per cent of which at least is attributed to SMEs. In parallel, 22 per cent of Saudi’s current GDP ($700 billion) comes from SMEs.

December 1st 2021, 1:38 pm

Dallali secures first investment round


Press release

Riyadh-based property management platform Dallali has raised its first investment round led by AlRamz Real Estate Company and local angel investors, the deal closed in October 2021 with undisclosed amounts. This investment marks the first deal between the established real estate company and the technology start-up company which aims to serve the real estate sector with technology solutions.

Dallali, an integrated platform designed for property owners, offers online services such as listing, viewing, leasing, e-payments, maintenance requests and service tracking. Dallali follows a SaaS business model, where users subscribe to the platform with a monthly or an annual package to access the web app, as well as other useful features which allows the user to set their properties on auto-pilot management. Dallali will remind, collect, credit, and debit each payment. Owners, managers, and tenants all have access to the online portals to track their properties, contracts, and financials in real-time.

The real estate sector in Saudi Arabia is the largest and deepest asset class; however, the technology adoption (PropTech) is still in its early stage. The market needs online tools to empower consumers with access to comparable accurate information to help make informed decisions regarding real estate transactions. Without the right metrics and accessibility, it is difficult to have a proactive property management. Since most of the real estate transactions are redundant, automating these tasks will allow stakeholders to easily focus on improving their asset value.

Abdulrahman AlBeteri and Mohammed AlFayez founded Dallali in late 2020 as a lease management tool for owners and tenants. The platform later developed to offer property listings and a service marketplace through the mobile app, with a goal to integrate all real estate related needs into one platform. The team comes from regulatory and investment backgrounds, and with AlRamz as a partner, they aim to unlock the potential of the local and regional market in alignment with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030. 


December 1st 2021, 8:22 am

Jahez plans IPO on Nmou


Press release

Jahez International Company for Information Systems Technology (“Jahez” or the “Group” or the “Company”), Saudi Arabia’s leading online food delivery platform, announced today its intention to proceed with an initial public offering (“IPO” or the “Offering”) and listing of its ordinary shares (“Shares”) on the Saudi Exchange’s Parallel Market (Nomu).

The Capital Market Authority (“CMA”) approved on the 29th of September 2021 the Group’s application for the initial public offering of 1,363,934 Shares (“Offer Shares”), representing 13% of the Group’s share capital post-listing. The Offer Shares consist of a secondary offering of 4.5% of total share capital by way of a pro-rata selldown by the shareholders of Jahez (“Selling Shareholders”) and a primary offering of 8.5% of the total share capital by way of the issuance of new Shares in addition to an allocation of up to 15% of the Offer Shares as an over-allotment to implement the price stabilization mechanism. The Offer Shares will be offered for subscription to qualified institutional and qualified individual investors. The final offer price for the Offer Shares will be announced at the end of the book-building period.

Jahez is a homegrown Saudi business that utilizes disruptive technology to connect over 1.3 million active users with its platform’s network that includes over 12,000 merchant branches and more than 34,000 delivery partners in 47 cities across Saudi Arabia as of 31 March 2021. The Group experienced tremendous growth since the launch of the Jahez platform in 2016 and captured a significant market share to become a leading delivery platform in the Kingdom. In almost 5 years since its launch, the orders delivered through Jahez exceeded 68 million, with 36 million orders in the first 9 months of 2021 alone totalling SAR3.2bn of Adjusted Gross Merchandise Value (Adjusted GMV) including VAT and delivery fees.  

Ghassab Al Mandeel, Chief Executive Officer at Jahez International Company, commented: “With 1.3 million active users across 47 cities in the Kingdom by the end of the first quarter this year, we continue to expand our successful food delivery platform to tap into new growth opportunities offered by rapid changes in consumer behaviour while investing in our proprietary technology and new business verticals, including cloud kitchens, quick commerce and last mile logistics, to capture future growth. We remain agile, taking advantage of the economies of scale and the network effect to meet the needs of customers, in line with our vision of becoming the most loved lifestyle platform with the largest presence in the Middle East.”


The Group provides on-demand services, q-commerce and last mile delivery through its cutting-edge technology platforms, connecting customers, merchants and delivery partners across 47 cities in the Kingdom. Launched in 2016, the Jahez platform was one of the leading forces behind the disruptive shift to online food delivery in the Kingdom, supported by the growing adoption of online delivery as well as the proliferation of mobile devices adoption and delivery culture over the past few years.

As of Q1 2021, the Group had a network of more than 12,000 merchant branches, 1.3 million active users, and 34,000 delivery partners. In pursuing its goal of expanding its customer and merchant base, Jahez developed a number of service offerings and currently provides a wide array of delivery and logistical services, through its five main business streams:

December 1st 2021, 8:22 am

Raseedi raises $850,000 in pre-Series A


Source: WAYA

Raseedi, the mobile with over 10 million monthly visits and calls made through its dialer app, announced that it has raised $850,000 in a Pre-series A round from Samurai incubate, a European investor and with participation from all existing investors (500 Global, EFG-EV and Falak Startups).

Raseedi is taking a very unique approach towards onboarding millions of underbanked masses to the fintech boom in Egypt. In a segment where community and savings are key, the App’s entry point was helping users make cheaper calls and providing them with data driven saving tips. With an average of 120 visits per user per month for the normal user and over a 1,000 visits per user per month for the top users, introducing customers to payments and hassle free advance credit wasn’t a challenge. With only organic App communication and upselling, payments volume grew 5 times in just one month and almost 5,000 advance credit balances were given in just a few months, on the spot and fully relying on a smart inhouse scoring algorithm based on the collected telecom data.

After 3 years since their App launched, Ahmed Atalla co-founder and CEO of Raseedi notes, “Since our inception, we have focused on the masses offering them a better way to communicate cheaper. So, once an app becomes the user’s daily trusted dialer, it becomes so much more; the network or circle they trust for how they connect to their community of contacts, friends and family. Users are now calling cheaper, paying telecom/ utility bills and taking advance telecom credit but imagine if later people can communicate for FREE within this community, pay peers/ contacts and borrow from peers or even get guaranteed by members of their community to receive cash loans. Maybe sooner than later, stay tuned”

Commenting on the investment, Samuel Samy, Raseedi’s co-founder and COO and head of product notes, “We’ve always been a super lean tech startup, we only spend on people and tech never on assets or operations that’s why our goal is to create this daily product that relies completely on technology with zero dependency on any onground operation. From communication to payments to receiving instant advance credit, everything is done through an app. It’s been going great for us with 13,000 reviews of 4.3 stars on the playstore, yet the bigger challenge comes with our next scaling milestone, 100 million monthly visits from 1m monthly active users”.

Samurai Incubate said in a statement, “We strongly believe that Raseedi’s unique approach of providing the app to the unbanked in Egypt will not only allow them to use their phone easier and more affordable, but also open a gate to access to credit. The company is led by three experienced founders who have a great conviction to solve the pain points of services provided by existing telcos, and already built a talented team to execute their mission. We are happy to be on board of their journey to improve African people’s accessibility to the internet.”

November 30th 2021, 12:50 pm

Egypt's fintech KlickIt raises first round of funding


Source: Afrikan Heores

KlickIt, a FinTech and digital fees management platform based in Cairo, has raised its first round of funding with the help of EFG Finance and Camel Ventures, the venture capital arm of dfin Holding.

“We’re very proud to be backed by substantial entities like EFG Finance and dfin’s Camel Ventures, and we thank our investors for their continued support and trust in us,” said Saeed Talaat, Co-founder and CEO of KlickIt. “With this investment round, we look forward to solidifying our tech stack and scaling our services. Our partnerships over the last year with GEMS, Banque Misr, and most recently the Egyptian Ministry of Education, have been essential to our growth, and we plan on leveraging these experiences to spearhead the next chapter in our journey.”

Saeed Talaat, Co-founder and CEO of KlickIt: "KlickIt is an Egyptian payment management and digital collection platform that was founded in 2017 under the name Q-Less and is based on the plug-and-play philosophy. With its integrated solutions that digitize and streamline end-to-end payment processes, KlickIt serves as a digital payments transformation partner to public and private educational entities in Egypt and throughout the world, including education ministries."

Under the Ministry of Education, KlickIt presently serves over 55,000 Egyptian public schools, with over 25 million pupils. This is on top of a portfolio of 230 educational enterprises of various sizes held by a private entity.

Since its debut in 2017, KlickIt has processed more than EGP 500 million in various types of payment transactions for educational entities, and is backed by collaborations with key market leaders such as Banque Misr and e-finance, with more in the pipeline. Adding my two cents to this market-validating investment EFG Finance’s CEO, Walid Hassouna, emphasized

“We’re proud to be investing in KlickIt and backing its team. They have been proving their determination, grit, and ability to overcome challenges and to crack a highly lucrative market. We believe the future of availing financing through valU on Klickit will provide superb and accessible services to their customer base and help catalyze the growth of the company,” Walid Hassouna, CEO at EFG Finance said. 

The Egypt-based FinTech will use the cash to expand and improve its technology stack, as well as develop and implement value-added features to cross-sell additional services to the company’s wide network of schools and institutions and quickly rising customer base.

November 30th 2021, 10:18 am

CARS24 raises $20 million debt funding from CBD


Press release:

CARS24, the leading e-commerce platform for pre-owned vehicles has announced that it has raised Dh75 million ($20 million) in local debt funding from the Commercial Bank of Dubai (CBD), one of the leading banks in the UAE. This debt facility further strengthens CARS24’s commitment to the UAE market and provides significant funding flexibility and room to grow its inventory. In addition, it is a testament to CBD's focus on backing its customer’s ambitions and supporting new-age lending in the UAE digital ecosystem.

The agreement was signed between Dr Bernd van Linder, CEO of CBD, and Vikram Chopra, co-founder and global CEO of CARS24. The company, valued at $1.8 billion, is one of the most valuable privately held pre-owned car startups globally. This debt funding follows the company’s global $450 million funding round in September this year.

Dr Bernd van Linder, Chief Executive Officer of Commercial Bank of Dubai said, “CBD has always been keen to enhance the overall business environment in the UAE and support startups as they are a vital contributor to the growth of the country’s economy. Since last year, there has been a huge increase in the number of online2offline businesses, partially due to the recent global pandemic, and we see a clear need to back these businesses and provide them with the funds they require to scale up and expand.”

After signing this agreement, Vikram stated that “UAE is a very important and strategic market for us. Raising these funds from CBD at this juncture will further consolidate our leadership position and as a brand, we are delighted that the bank has supported our business model.”

CARS24 commenced operations in the UAE in May 2021, and since then the company has sold over 2,000 cars and all of these transactions were conducted entirely online. In September this year, CARS24 had announced that it would be investing another Dh367 million ($23 million) in the UAE and other GCC countries to further expand its presence.

CARS24 is currently backed by marquee investors like Sequoia, SoftBank, Falcon Edge, DST Global and Kingsway Capital. In addition, CARS24 enjoys the sponsorship of Cricketing great M.S. Dhoni as both an investor and brand ambassador. As a result of the company’s growth-oriented business model, it has received funding to the tune of $1 billion since it launched operations in 2015.

“UAE market has great potential and we want to set the stage for 2022 with a strong 4th quarter this year. The economic indicators have rapidly become encouraging and positive after the World EXPO 2020, and as a result, we have already seen a significant impact on our sales,” concluded Vikram.

All vehicles on the CARS24 platform undergo a 150+ points inspection check and are refurbished thoroughly. Furthermore, these cars are put through a stringent RTA test before being listed online. Every car bought from CARS24 comes with a 7 days return policy and 2 years warranty.

November 30th 2021, 8:50 am

Cashfree pumps $15 million equity investment into UAE’s Telr


Press release: 

Leading payments and API banking solutions company, Cashfree Payments (Cashfree) announced an equity investment of $15 million in Telr, a leading Payment Service Provider (PSP) in UAE and Saudi Arabia. With this investment, Cashfree becomes one of the largest shareholders in the company. 

Cashfree has already established itself as one of the leaders in the payment solutions space in India, with successful operationalisation and scaleups of industry-first solutions. Moreover, this strategic investment in Telr, will enable the company to launch its distinctive offerings in the Mena region, utilising Telr’s strong presence and payment infrastructure. In addition, Cashfree and Telr aim to develop a unified cross-border payments platform that would help Indian merchants accept payments from customers in the Mena region and vice-versa, via a single integration. 

Telr, the UAE-based award-winning payment gateway solutions provider, offers a unique platform that enables handling payments in over 120 currencies and 30 languages with the highest level of security. Through a single integration, Telr grants access to every payment method it offers, including Visa, Mastercard, American Express, UnionPay, Apple Pay, PayPal, SADAD, Mada and STCPay.  

With its one-stop mindset, Telr extended its services even further, offering a complete solution for the e-commerce world, covering a wide range of financial and business services including, social commerce, QR Codes, digital invoicing, Telr Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) in collaboration with Tabby, Telr Finance in collaboration with LNNDO, a merchant financing programme, and Telr Shops the easy-to-use tool for creating an online store in minutes.  

The investment is highly significant for Cashfree, as the Mena region offers a large, attractive and growing online market, with payments representing the highly developed sub-sector within the region’s fintech space. The Mena region is witnessing a continuous transition towards cashless transactions, with traditional brick-and-mortar businesses moving towards expanding online offerings. The e-commerce businesses are also witnessing a drastic shift from high street to online shopping and this trend is expected to grow even more. 

Akash Sinha, CEO and co-founder, Cashfree Payments said, “We are elated the strategic investment in Telr, which aligns well with our aspiration to be the leader in the rapidly evolving digital payments space in the Mena region and overall global expansion goals. Telr’s trusted presence and significant operations in the Mena region provides us with an exciting opportunity. We are grateful to our key institutional investor Apis for helping us source and execute this strategic investment. We look forward to nurturing our partnership with Telr by leveraging our learnings and experience from the Indian market and enhancing our reach in the Mena region by introducing novel offerings.” 

Khalil Alami, CEO and founder, Telr said, “We are excited about this new investment into Telr. Joining forces with Cashfree Payments will further enable us to continue on our innovation and growth journey. Our offerings and partnerships aim to assist in reaching an integrated e-commerce ecosystem supporting the UAE in its transition into a cashless economy; and contributing to the KSA vision 2030. In short, this combined effort will translate into greater benefits for our customers and the markets we operate in.” 

Khaldoon Tabaza, founder and managing director of investment, iMENA said, ”We invested in Telr and saw a natural winner and now with the Cashfree Payments partnership, a new payments super-hero is born to conquer new horizons.” 

Raef Elhassan, co-founder of Codify said: “We are thrilled to have Cashfree Payments as our new partner in Telr. This partnership will enable Telr to enhance their offerings and provide Cashfree access to opportunities in new markets.” 

With over 50 per cent market share among payment processors, Cashfree today leads the way in bulk disbursals in India with Cashfree Payouts. Recently, India’s largest lender, SBI invested in Cashfree, underscoring the company’s role in building a robust payments ecosystem. Cashfree works closely with all leading banks to build the core payments and banking infrastructure that powers the company’s products and is also integrated with major platforms such as Shopify, Wix, Paypal, Amazon Pay, Paytm and Google Pay. Apart from India, Cashfree products are used in eight other countries including the USA, Canada and UAE.

November 30th 2021, 8:05 am

Dubai's iMile raises $40 million to connect Chinese sellers to emerging markets


Source: PR Newswire

Dubai-based delivery company iMile founder and CEO Rita Huang, formerly of Alibaba and Huawei, today announced a $40 Million Series A financing round at a 350 million US dollar valuation. This is the largest series A round by a woman in the region and a key step forward in meeting her vision to transform the logistics chain between Chinese sellers and the rest of the world.

iMile has 100 engineers in China and this round will help iMile to expand its proprietary technology further, globally expand and develop its consumer technology app dedicated to disrupting traditional shipping in emerging markets: iMile was born as a solution for last-mile delivery services, the key logistics challenge in the Middle East - the 'no-address problem'. iMile's propriety tech developments now play a pivotal role in supporting e-commerce in the region: its positioning, predictive, and machine learning technologies are equipped to meet the transport and shipping demands of the next generation of delivery.

Going forward, iMile not only seeks to improve performance for its partners but also support the growth of smaller e-commerce businesses by digitalizing their onboarding process. iMile's customer-to-customer services will also develop with the launch of iMile's Delivery App allowing users to track, schedule and book orders. This service enables iMile to support local businesses that have no centralized access to first and last-mile services by offering them agile logistics solutions. The app is available on Play Store, Apple Store, and AppGallery.

Already a trusted vendor partner to top e-commerce players in the Middle East, iMile will further extend its services to other sectors such as Telecomm and Banking.

CEO and Founder of iMile, Rita Huang commented: "This is truly an exciting time for iMile as we continue to expand across the region and around the world. We have a very strong presence in the Middle East and we plan on expanding into Africa, and Latin American markets.

"Our latest funding round is a proud moment for us and we intend to further invest in our technology, whilst improving the performance and excellence of our services. The investment will also help us accelerate our growth in many more markets to come. We are one of the largest shippers from China and we have a real vision to connect Chinese sellers to the world through exceptional service."

November 30th 2021, 7:02 am

UAE accedes to Madrid Protocol: What does this mean for founders in the UAE?


Bianca Gracias is a partner at ICLO, a UAE-based legal services firm

The Madrid System is a convenient and cost-effective solution for registering and managing registration of trademarks in several countries around the world. The Madrid Union currently has 109 members, covering 125 countries, and the Madrid Protocol adopted in 1989, facilitates this filing process with the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).

What does this mean (in clear English) for you as a business owner in the UAE?

(i) you file one trademark application with the WIPO (an international organisation) and potentially get protection in 125 countries which is great for 'global branding' of your trade or service mark.

(ii) you save costs and time of registering your trademark in multiple jurisdictions.

(iii) you receive protection in every member state that subsequently joins (subject to their non-objection of course).

After 28 December 2021, if you have either applied for a trademark registration or hold a valid registered trademark in UAE, you can file an "international trademark application" with the Trademarks Directorate in the UAE Ministry of Economy. Once verified, this is forwarded to WIPO where WIPO checks whether the basic filing requirements have been fulfilled, following which the trademark is entered in the international register granting international registration and forwards this information to the Trademarks Directorates in 125 designated member countries. Each member country has 18 months to file objections and if no objections are received, your trademark is then automatically registered in all the member countries.

When an International Registration Application is received by the Trademark Directorate of a member country, it will typically undertake this process:

Examine the trademark application and either accept or reject it. The trademark application may be rejected on the following grounds:

Conflicts with existing rights of a third party,

The trademark lacks distinctiveness,

The trademark is descriptive or generic in nature, or

The trademark is likely to cause confusion.

Call for a hearing if more details or explanation are deemed necessary.

Publish the trademark in its official gazette for third party objection; and

Proceed to grant registration if no objection is received within the time frame provided.

From 28 December 2021, the UAE Ministry of Economy's role will be streamlined to verify international trademark applications and forwarding the applications to WIPO.

What you should be mindful of:

(a) not all the Arab states have acceded to the Madrid Protocol which means you still have to be mindful of protecting your trademark separately in these non-member states.

(b) member states have 18 months from filing at WIPO to object to the registration of a trademark.

(c) Assignment or transfer of ownership of a trademark to a person or entity of a non-member country is prohibited under the rules of the Madrid Protocol.

If this heralds good news for your business and you are ready to learn of costs and processes, here is the direct link with details directly from the WIPO website:

After you have seen the costs, you will agree this comes as a relief especially in terms of cost for all the founders of UAE businesses who have long striven to protect their brands and marks in multiple jurisdictions. Here is a live list of all the member countries who have acceded to the Madrid Protocol:

Happy trademarking!


November 29th 2021, 9:50 pm

UAE Splashlight Studios raises $1 million Seed round from Eagle Ventures


Press release:

Splashlight Studios, a young e-commerce digital solutions provider has raised Seed funding of $1 million from Eagle Ventures, a Dubai-based fund managed by Adit Mehta and Hitesh Ajmera. Backbay Advisors was the financial advisor to Splashlight Studios on the transaction. 

"The Seed fund is a great vote of confidence for Splashlight Studios and highlights the progress achieved since its launch in 2020. These funds will fuel our entry into KSA, which is a huge and exciting market for us after UAE. We've seen hockey-stick growth in e-commerce accelerated by COVID. The e-commerce revenue in the UAE alone is projected to touch $12 billion by 2025. Fashion as a segment sits in the middle of this growth. As more and more new and legacy brands go online in the Mena region, Splashlight Studios has a huge untapped market to expand into," said Kartik Jobanputra, Founder and CEO of Splashlight Studios LLC. 

"Due to COVID, demand for e-commerce offerings has witnessed substantial growth globally, especially in the past few months. Splashlight Studios is well-placed to cater to the demand originating in the Middle East as the e-commerce market matures in that region. We trust the business potential and plans to expand across borders," said Ashok Mittal, Partner, Backbay Advisors. 

November 28th 2021, 10:43 am

Egypt’s Homzmart expands to Saudi Arabia


Press release:

Homzmart, the Middle East’s leading furniture & home goods marketplace platform, announces the expansion of its operations into the Kingdom of Saudi  Arabia (“KSA”), in the coming week. 

Homzmart has been growing rapidly in 2021, with its Egyptian operations having tripled between  January to October inclusive.  

The company’s KSA platform will be working with many leading international brands and the whole KSA ecosystem - including brands such as Al Rugaib Furniture and Al-Motlaq Furniture - plus local artisans and workshops. 

General e-commerce in KSA is growing extremely fast - 35 per cent a year - one of the fastest growth rates in the Arab world. Homzmart will be accessing a $15 billion market, which is growing at 10 per cent CAGR  per annum, and has several million households – many of whom demand easy online access to furniture, textiles and domestic appliances. KSA also has a major pipeline of new houses to be built as part of it national housing development programme. 

The market entry to KSA complements Homzmart’s existing operations in Egypt and opens up a  huge new market opportunity – as household expenditure in KSA is significant. 

The expansion is driven by Homzmart reacting to clear and tangible demand from KSA consumers who want a hassle-free, one-stop-shop shopping experience for furniture and home goods. KSA  consumers also want access to tens of thousands of products from a huge choice of brands and merchants, plus flexible financing options – all of which Homzmart provides. 

Homzmart’s CEO and co-founder, Mahmoud Ibrahim, said, “This exciting news about our entry to the $15 billion Saudi Arabian market shows we are executing our stated strategy to expand regionally. We have always said how the market opportunity in the region is significant, and how Homzmart’s business model is perfectly set up for it. 

“We have been growing hugely in the last ten months, with operations having tripled in size as we keep up with consumer demand. The new normal is that convenience wins and furniture is one of the last sectors in the Kingdom to digitise. KSA consumers and SMEs want this convenience now, and  we are delighted to offer it to them.” 

Given the market opportunity, Homzmart’s KSA management team is made up of significant experience, with individuals having held senior roles at McKinsey & Company, Uber, Amazon,  MAF, Justlife and Jollychic.

Homzmart’s easy-to-navigate platform incorporates Artificial Intelligence to optimise furniture sellers’ content, with intelligent tools helping customers with purchasing decisions. Core to  Homzmart’s philosophy is also empowering SMEs and helping them bring products to market, via  Homzmart’s platform. 

The company’s rapid growth follows its successful $15 million Series A funding round, completed in May, the largest round in this sector in the Mena region to date. The raise was led by MSA  Capital, a global investment firm with over $1.5 billion in assets under management, and Nuwa  Capital. Other participating investors included Rise Capital, Impact46, EQ2 Ventures, and Outliers  Ventures.

November 28th 2021, 10:43 am

Egypt’s Bosta to expand to KSA, UAE in 2022


Egypt-based logistics and last mile delivery startup Bosta has unveiled plans to launch in KSA and the UAE in 2022, as part of its expansion drive targeting the GCC market. It comes on the back of the startup's recent $6.7 million Series A round led by Silicon Badia, with participation from 4DX, Plug and Play Ventures, Wealthwell VC and Khawarizmi VC from KSA along with other regional and global investors.

The news was shared during a press conference, where Bosta announced a new partnership with mobility and transportation firm Family Corporation, whereby Bosta will be able to expand its own fleet of vehicles to enable faster deliveries for its clients throughout Egypt.

Co-founded by Mohamed Ezat and Ahmed Gaber in 2017, Bosta looks to plug existing gaps in the retail supply chain through its end-to-end last-mile logistics solution aimed at e-commerce businesses. 

Currently, the company delivers an average of 20,000 daily shipments and seeks to fulfil as many as 100,000 deliveries per day in 2022. It said that it is on track to deliver 15 million parcels by the end of next year. 

The local e-commerce market has been growing massively thanks to the pandemic-led demand in online shopping. However, e-commerce only makes up 2.5 per cent of total retail spend in the Middle East and North Africa according to research from RedSeer.


November 28th 2021, 10:43 am

RiseUp Summit concludes ninth edition by the Pyramids


It was an event intended to connect Egypt's innovative past with its thriving startup ecosystem, a bustling return to in-person events, but this year’s RiseUp, held in its new home at the Pyramids pavilion, took things back into the past a bit too much where connectivity was concerned. Attracting thousands of participants, including 150 startups and more than 250 speakers, the only form of communication was face to face, with no WiFi and poor mobile network coverage, resulting in attendees text messaging one another to meet and communicate.

Yet, this edition of RiseUp, held under the banner of “Timeless Innovation”, still proved to be an exciting and uplifting event, marking a return to normality for Egypt’s startup ecosystem. The logistical difficulties that many attendees faced at the event is a reflection of the unique challenges that startups in the country endure - bureaucracy, old and failing infrastructure and ongoing corruption (ranking 117th globally in the Corruption Perceptions Index) - but still manage to overcome. Egypt’s startups are adept at operating in a logistically tough market, putting them in for international expansion. Increasingly, we are seeing Egypt-based startups expanding outside of their home market to the wider Middle East region and increasingly, Asia and Africa. 

“It was not in our DNA [to expand to Asia and Africa], it was whether to expand to [the] UAE, Saudi Arabia or Egypt, however, Swvl has made it possible and encourages other startups to do the same,” said Mahmoud Ibrahim, co-founder of Homzmart, an online marketplace for furniture which recently expanded to Saudi Arabia. 

RiseUp is also treading the same path by launching a Saudi Arabia edition, another vibrant and rapidly growing ecosystem. 


The ninth edition of RiseUp focused heavily on the growth of blockchain technologies and cryptocurrency trading in the region, as well as the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on logistics in the light of the growing digitisation of the retail market and the steady adoption of fintech. The Egyptian startups operating in logistics and focused on B2B supply chain digitisation significantly attracted the largest amounts of funding when compared to their counterparts across other industries, highlighting the growing demand for a digitally, interconnected supply chain in retail, with Maxab and Capiter being a case in point, both raised $40 million and $33 million respectively this year. 

During a panel discussion titled “The world of MAAS: Mobility as a service,” Amir Allam, CEO and founder of food ordering app elmenus spoke about the growing food tech market and the challenges they face when it comes to onboarding small restaurants. 

“In a market where you still have 90 per cent of the orders and the deliveries placed offline, the restaurants basically have a list of challenges that they face on a daily basis; this goes beyond the delivery problem, and how can they outsource that to certain companies. It extends to how they can get access to financing and grow their business through access to good and well-structured loans that cater to their different needs. So, having that kind of focus for us as a company is super important,” said Allam.

Among the startups that were most talked-about included mobility startup Swvl, which announced its plans to list on the Nasdaq via a SPAC and declaring its status as a unicorn. The Egyptian-born Swvl relocated its headquarters to Dubai, yet despite the move, many at RiseUp were hopeful that Egypt has the right environment to produce more unicorns.  

In a panel discussion titled “Unicorns vs. Unicamels”, Homzmart’s Ibrahim highlighted the journey to becoming a billion-dollar company has never been easy, that it takes dedication from all the elements of the process, starting from the founders, the operating team, investors, but the most important element, is the attractiveness of the company in terms of product-market fit, unit economics, the market size and the team’s capabilities.

Egyptian startups have raised in excess of $375 million in the nine months to September across 95 deals, accounting for 24 per cent of the total number of deals across the Middle East and North Africa region (Mena).

“Egypt of today is the absolute hottest market in the region,” said Amir Barsoum, founder and CEO of Vezeeta. “This is a very hot country growing at a spectacular speed, the infrastructure is changing at lightspeed. This is not a 10-years-ago Egypt, and I think that you will see many unicorns coming out of this part of the world.”

November 28th 2021, 10:43 am

Algeria’s Yassir raises $30 million in Series A


Logistics and last mile delivery startups focused on facilitating streamlined online sales and e-commerce continue to pique the interest of investors; Algeria-based super app Yassir has raised $30 million for its Series A round led by WndrCo, DN Capital, Kismet Capital, Spike Ventures, and Quiet Capital. Endeavor Catalyst, FJ Labs, VentureSouq, Nellore Capital, Moving Capital (the Uber alumni investment club). Notable angel investors include Cleo Sham, former director of operations at Uber in Europe and China, Thomas Layton, chairman of Upwork and founder of Opentable and Metaweb, Rohan Monga, former COO of Gojek and Hannes Graah, former VP of Spotify and Revolut. Most existing investors also participated. The latest round comes only three months after Yassir raised $13 million in its Seed round. 

Founded in 2016 by Amel Delli, El Mahdi Yettou, Mustapha Baha, Noureddine Tayebi, Yassir offers ride-hailing and parcel delivery and on-demand delivery services covering multiple verticals such as grocery, food, appliances, and cosmetics among others. Over the past couple of years, Yassir has been heavily focusing on its delivery segment; especially after its ride-hailing business was severely impacted by the Covid-19 crisis. At the onset of the crisis, Yassir extended its delivery services to 16 cities across its three key markets; Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia within the span of a month.

Yassir currently caters to three million users across its existing markets, with plans to expand to sub-Saharan markets at the beginning of next year. The ultimate goal for the Yassir platform is to offer payment services to all sides of the marketplace, in a region where a large majority of people and merchants remain unbanked and/or seldomly use payment services.

“When we first started, on-demand services that we all know about, like ride hailing, last mile delivery, home services, were pretty much virgin in those countries, and some of the countries that we want to target, when it comes to such services, they remain [untapped]," said Taybi.

Besides expansion, Yassir is also planning to hire more local tech talent. For Yassir, fostering a global mindset while continuously building a local team to address local market challenges is at the core of its business strategy and societal impact.

"We're 100 per cent a local champion, and what I mean by that is that the whole team is from the region, including the tech team, it was actually part of our mission. We want to empower the local talent and most of the technical talents," he added. 

November 28th 2021, 6:13 am

Raseed closes $1.1 million investment round led by Impact46


Press release:

Raseed, the investment platform for GCC residents enabling access to stock trading in the US market, has raised a $1.1 million (SAR 4.1 million) Pre-Seed round led by Impact46 with participation from Oqal Angel Investors and leading family offices in the region.

Founded in early 2020, Raseed, the go-to platform for Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain investors, facilitates the process of buying and selling stocks on the US stock markets with its commission-free application. Through Raseed's seamless registration process, users can join the platform in minutes with no minimum investment requirement. Raseed forged a series of partnerships with leading brokers and verification platforms, to provide secure access to US financial markets and serve as a launchpad towards new investment opportunities.

“Investing should be accessible to everyone, and we at Raseed are committed to making this possible and fun for all users in our region. Through best-in-class technologies and partnerships, we have simplified the customer onboarding process, reduced onboarding time to minutes, and eliminated the high barriers to buying and owning stocks” - added Abdel Sallam Qatshan, the founder of Raseed.

Upon receiving licenses from regulatory authorities in the GCC, the platform went live and has launched its application to users in the GCC. Raseed is licensed by the Dubai Financial Service Authority (DFSA), the financial regulator in the UAE, and has a sandbox license from the Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB).

Raseed is set to break down the barriers to building wealth, with a focus on inclusivity and simplicity which extends to the trading experience. The platform is geared towards both beginners and expert traders, enabling users to manage & track their portfolio with features such as instant fractional shares trading, premium stock analysis tools, unique market insights and news, and educational resources to promote financial literacy within the user community.

Raseed team, led by Abdel Sallam Qatshan, have a wealth of experience in both the financial and technology sectors that fits Raseed’s mission to enable and create wealth for its users. Throughout our interactions with the team, we also see a great entrepreneurial spirit that we believe is essential to navigate the GCC markets and beyond.” Added Mohamed Alnasyan, Senior Analyst from Impact46

Raseed has been fueled by leading regional accelerators and has successfully graduated from Startupbootcamp FinTech in Dubai, UAE, and Flat6Labs in Bahrain. 

The fund will be used to support product development, the rollout of new features, scaling to new markets, and increasing Raseed’s user base by offering innovative and advanced investment opportunities.

November 28th 2021, 6:13 am

Hekouky closes pre-Seed round from ​Nama Ventures​


Press release:

Hekouky, the Legaltech platform that incorporates companies and registers trademarks for entrepreneurs and business owners, announces that it has raised an undisclosed amount in a pre-seed funding round by ​Nama Ventures.

Getting legal transactions sorted as a business person can be complex, costly and waste a lot of time. Hekouky fixes that by giving a one-stop-shop and easy to use platform that will make the process hassle-free. 

Hekouky was founded by three co-founders with diverse backgrounds and experiences:  Hala Riad, Mayy Abdelbary and Fatima Khalil. Mayy Abdelbary is the former CTO of Paynas, with 15 years of experience, 9 of which were in legal software development she has decided to take the legal space by storm. Hala Riad is a lawyer with experience in arbitration and corporate law. Fatima Khalil is an accountant and the founder of three companies previously. 

What unites these women, is a passion, a dedication and a vision: making the law accessible to all, making legal transactions easier, quicker and traceable for entrepreneurs. 

“Our mission is to make entrepreneurs feel safe to follow their dreams, in Egypt and in the Mena region. Entrepreneurship is a test of wills, one that we will make easier by taking the legal burden off your shoulders,” said Hala Riad, Hekouky co-founder. 

“We firmly believe that the regtech space in Mena is ripe for disruption,” said Mohammed Alzubi, Managing Partner at Nama Ventures. “There are tremendous inefficacies in the legal space that technology can help bridge. What we saw in Hala, Mayy, and Fatima is a team that has a very good command on what it takes to build a great regtech startup.”

November 25th 2021, 7:48 am

How did one Dubai startup scale to 24 markets with less than $10 million?


A “real coup” is how Arrow Labs founder Rami Darwish describes the partnership he has signed with BMB, a multinational IT solutions provider with more than 3000 customers, including Coca-Cola, Maersk and Nestle. Under the agreement forged last month, Arrow Labs’ software is now jointly being deployed with BMB’s, giving the UAE-based startup access to a legion of global customers.

When Darwish founded his software company in Dubai back in 2011, there was no telling that he would scale to 24 countries, work with 40 different clients and attract investment from Tim Draper, the US-based tech investor whose portfolio includes Skype, Tesla, Twitter and AngelList.

The startup ecosystem in the UAE at the time was in its infancy, software development in the country was practically unheard of and embarking on a journey to compete with Silicon Valley’s finest seemed like a far-fetched idea. But Arrow Labs has managed this, all with just $8 million worth in VC investment, so how did Darwish and his team do it?

Darwish, who has worked for global tech firms like EMC, Hewlett Packard and Daon in both technical and sales roles including the design and architecture of city-wide surveillance solutions and airport and maritime security management systems, thought of the idea for Arrow Labs while working on several big projects in the public sector.

His daily workflow on these projects was inhibited by the lack of synergy between the different technologies available to the front and back offices.

“In the back office we had tonnes of digital solutions and tools to solve a lot of problems, but the information was lost, the accuracy was gone and instructions to what happens out in the field becomes difficult to relay information. It drove me crazy,” he says.

Tech solutions are typically bought and recommend by a firm’s IT department rather than the workers who actually end up using the software, leading to an experience gap of sorts. The problem Darwish also noticed was the difference in the technologies offered to the back office and frontline workers and the lack of communication between the two.

“The frontline and back office have to be on the same playing field to make it easier to make information flow. That was the point in time I decided to do something about this,” he says.

Dubai is not famed for its software development capabilities. In fact, many startups in the UAE will have their engineering teams and back offices based in Egypt, Jordan, or farther afield in Pakistan, India or Eastern Europe. Hiring a team of engineers in the emirate is costly, particularly when tech talent is scarce. But Darwish chose to remain in Dubai and set up Arrow Labs in the emirate as it is “well known for adopting new technology, for being open and trying out new innovations,” he says.

“Getting the right initial talent was super key, we weren’t building small for day one, we were building something big,” he adds. “We created a space here that didn’t exist in our region. There was really nothing that looked at this problem from a core perspective. There were some solutions out there, but they were built more like an afterthought to existing stuff.”

The team took its time to develop the software. Darwish describes the process as “purposely designed to solve a problem. Enterprise software solutions need to be robust enough for very large enterprises”.

He spent the initial few months researching his potential clients, spending time with different teams in various sectors to better understand their challenges and what they needed for a potential software solution. This research highlighted common problems across the board – teams were still operating manually most of the time, using paper, clipboards and walkie talkies on site.

“People are not reading from the same book, you have access to real-time information, to productivity tools in the backend, but on the front line, people are left with the legacy way of doing things – communicating over walkie talkies, there are lots of phone calls which is really unproductive for the front line. It adds a burden rather than focusing on the work they need to be doing whether it is repair work, installing infrastructure, collecting important field data – they’re spending time instead on admin work,” says Darwish.

Arrow Labs started its own research and development (R&D) centre in 2013, when it was building its first iterations of its software called MIMs, a SaaS platform that connects front line workers to machines and facilities via a mobile app and wearables to improve and optimise automation, performance and workflow management. The company continued building and developing the software in tandem with its first adopters, releasing different iterations with their feedback. Today, Arrow Labs claims MIMS can reduce operating costs by 20 per cent, increase staff productivity by 30 per cent, business efficiency by 40 per cent.

“From 2014 to 2017, we technically had a product that was available to customers, but I consider them R&D years,” says Darwish.

Through his work in the public sector in Dubai, Darwish was able to sign on both Dubai Ports and DP World as his first customers.

He describes DP World as “very innovative and open minded as an organisation and doesn’t shy away from bringing innovation. We had a very interesting concept for them when they were also looking at how they could digitise their entire value chain and get rid of paper”.

DP World wanted to give its employees, whether they sat behind a desk or were out in the field at the ports, to have equal access to technology according to Darwish.

“They were looking for something and we came up with something,” he says, simply.

But while the first initial clients were high-profile, acquiring customers was no easy feat in the early years.

“There were regulatory challenges at the time, the ecosystem was super nascent, access to clients was a lot more difficult and finding clients that have the mentality of supporting up and coming and new entpreneuers when they usually expect a big blue chip tech company was challenging,” says Darwish.

To ease the transition for clients, Arrow Labs built MIMS as a flexible, plug and play product, working with existing technologies that companies had in place.


The company bootstrapped for several years before considering raising external investment. Part of this was due to the lack of venture capital firms in the region when Darwish first started Arrow Labs.

“There was only one VC, there was no ecosystem then and it was very challenging. There was no access to capital and you had to build in an old-fashioned way, by bootstrapping. In a sense, I started out to build a company and a business, not a startup, that was the thinking at the time,” he says.

The lack of capital had its merits according to Darwish, enabling him to prioritise how he spent the money he did have. Once he felt the company had reached a level of maturity and the right product fit, Arrow Labs began pitching to VCs to help fuel its expansion.

The company raised a Seed round of $3 million led by Global Ventures in 2018. This cheque helped Arrow Labs scale to 24 countries and establish hubs in the US and Southeast Asia. The startup most recently raised a $5 million Series A round led by US-based VC fund Draper Associates, founded by Tim Draper.

“We wanted to reach a point from 2018 to 2021 where we scaled the company where growth is starting to become exponential,” says Darwish. “It was the right time to create another round especially in the US and Europe where we have needs and gaps to cover. So we wanted to fundraise from a group of investors who believe in what we’re doing, and the problem we are solving.”

Having Draper on board has opened a lot of doors says Darwish and has helped Arrow Labs land several clients in the US and now with this BMB partnership, Arrow Labs is building an “ecosystem around the product”.

BMB’s strength lies in the internet of things (IoT), which will be combined with the Arrow Labs’ platform to better connect all the devices used by front line workers.

“You need great tech partners who have reach, they [BMB] have the tech skills to be able to take our product to their customers and be able to implement our solutions,” says Darwish. “When you look at where the next big transformation will be, it’s in the deskless work. Operations are already digitally transformed, so when everybody talks about digital transformation, it’s about that entire space that hasn’t yet been digitalised – which is that deskless, out of the office space.”

November 24th 2021, 10:32 pm

Kuwait's Bnchr+ raises Seed round


Press release:

Upon graduation from the 6th edition of the accelerator programme Zain Great Idea, the Kuwait-based Tech startup and automotive maintenance platform Bnchr+ has successfully raised its Seed round. The fundraise was backed by ZGI partner Brilliant Labs in partnership with Rasameel Investment Company through their joint Brilliant Starts fund. 

Founded in 2018, The Kuwait-based startup set forth to disrupt automotive after-sale servicing by introducing their on-the-go geolocalised servicing platform. Users can choose from a wide range of car care services from changing parts and refilling fluids, to fine-tuning, checking, and programming and instantly book it to their location. 

As observed in our Q3 2021 EVM Transport & Logistics Venture Investment Report, the T&L sector in MENA has raised 30% more funds by Q3 2021 than in the full year 2020. Driving this growth was UAE-based T&L startups in the lead of capital deployed, where Lyve Global, Trukkin, Fenix, and Udrive had raised more than 40 per cent of total capital deployed in Mena by the third quarter of the year. Most remarkably, however, was a solid base of Early-Stage deals (<$500,000) where early-stage transactions recorded 35 per cent of all T&L deals closed across Mena. Amongst these deals, where certain investor interests in the automotive subsector, backing technologies in car service, rental, and purchase. In 2021 YTD, at least 10 rounds backed the automotive industry in Mena with major rounds closed by car marketplace Seez and car care platform Odiggo, both based in the UAE. Other early-stage rounds were close by on-demand car servicing platforms including Garaji and MySyara, and p2p car rental platform ESARCar.

BNCHR+ was one of the very first startups amongst its ZGI cohort to raise funds, where this latest investment comes as a market validation after they raised programme partner interest which translated into their Seed round. Founded by Ali Alhaddad and co-founder Faisal Alibrahim the round puts the startup at a post-money valuation of $3 million+. 

It is worth noting that BNCHR+ played a very important role during Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, by providing on-the-spot car services in Kuwait. It offered its clients a very special home service after acquiring a permit to do so during the lockdown by the Ministry of Interior. BNCHR+ employees and technicians have succeeded in providing excellent maintenance service to car owners throughout Kuwait, and that was one of the main pillars of success for the company.

Being a prominent participant in this year’s ZGI edition, the Kuwait-based tech startup secured investment from people who believed in their vision of delivering high-level, forward-looking insights on hundreds of thousands of car owners across Kuwait. The startup will be using its newly acquired funds to further develop its platform and support its scaling operations as it services the Kuwait market. 

November 24th 2021, 10:32 pm

Egypt’s Hollydesk raises $325,000 pre-Seed round


Press release:

Hollydesk, a Cairo-based financial technology company, announced that it has closed a $325,000 pre-seed investment round.

The investment round was led by the angel investor Faisal Abdel Salam and other investors, thus making Hollydesk the first financial technology company in the field of managing SMEs expenses and accounts in Egypt to get funded.

Hollydesk was founded in June of 2021, and it provides technology solutions to help small and medium-sized businesses monitor and control company's daily expenses anywhere in real-time, where employees can request all petty cash and custody through the Hollydesk application, which connects all members of the system within the company "stores - financial management - human resources - managers".

The application allows the speed of communication between the members of the system for instant approval, and the finance team approves in a few minutes the settlement operations through simple clicks through the application.

Employees can get their money through all banks, digital wallets, and PoS machines for electronic payment companies such as Fawry, and also employees can easily register suppliers, attach invoices, get approvals and pay the supplier from within the application.

Mahmoud Moussa, CEO of Hollydesk, expressed his happiness at the company’s new investment and that it will help Hollydesk grow and continue the horizontal expansion of its services.”

Mahmoud Moussa said, "We seek to use the new funding to develop technologies for our solutions, assign new competencies within the team, and launch other services that will be announced soon with major Egyptian banks, which is in line with the Egyptian government's plans to achieve financial inclusion, especially for workers within small and medium companies."

He added that the company plans to expand its services and solutions in new markets in the region.

Mahmoud Moussa said, "We see a great opportunity in the field of digitising the part of following up on companies' expenses, and this is only the beginning, and we aspire to what is greater than that by providing other solutions such as financing and other solutions to help these companies achieve greater growth for this sector."

For his part, Faisal Abdul Salam, the main investor in the latest investment round collected by Hollydesk, we are very happy to participate in driving the growth of the company, especially as it provides digital solutions that fill a gap that many companies in the Middle East and North Africa suffer from, especially small and medium-sized companies.”

Hollydesk solutions help companies better manage their resources efficiently and shorten the cache cycle.

Abdul Salam added, "One of the most important reasons for the success of startups is the extent of harmony and integration of the work team, as well as the strength of their belief in the idea of ​​their project, which we felt from the Hollydesk team, and encouraged us to invest and support them."

Moussa says that the company has been able to expand its solutions and services during the last period to include more than 3000 clients from companies in different sectors such as building, construction, and delivery, as well as startups and some NGOs.

November 23rd 2021, 11:46 am

OQAL launches Shari’ah-compliant OQAL Note to fund early-stage startups


Press release:

OQAL, the Angel Investors Network in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, today announces a trailblazing new financial product called the OQAL Note; an innovative new structure that can revolutionise early-stage funding in the Mena region.

The OQAL Note is the first standardised Shari’ah-compliant financing mechanism modelled on startup funding instruments, such as the 500 Startups KISS and YCombinator SAFE, in which an initial investment is structured as a debt before being converted into equity at a future point. The three key advantages of the OQAL Note are i) its compatibility with Islamic Shari’ah principles, (ii) its availability in both Arabic and English languages, and (iii) its conformity under both the Saudi and English legislative systems.

OQAL Angel Investors Network, the sponsor of the initiative in collaboration with the Saudi Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (VCPEA) "As an early-stage investor, we have noticed that founders and investors are becoming more comfortable with financing on such financial instruments,” Faris AlRashed, founder and chairman of OQAL Network commented. “However, we are always faced with questions or concerns with regards to its Shari’ah compatibility. With the OQAL Note, OQAL Network and our partners aim to induce further comfort and convenience in using such instruments. Another critical benefit of the OQAL Note is that the document is provided in both Arabic and English, so it is accessible for international investors."

Aspects of conventional convertible debt and equity instruments ran afoul of Shari’ah and arguably have limited enforceability in Saudi Arabia. Shari'ah-compliant investors and startups had faced challenges structuring their financing rounds in a Shariah-compliant manner, something the OQAL Note complied with.

“OQAL Note will be a game-changer for Shariah-compliant startups in Saudi Arabia and the wider region, who have historically been hindered by complexities, costs, and a lack of standardised contracts when raising early-stage capital on a Shari’ah-compliant basis,” continued James Stull, Partner at King & Spalding, which was Legal Counsel on the establishment of the product. “The OQAL Note offers investors and startups alike a genuine solution to streamline and simplify financing rounds while transacting on a compliant basis. The OQAL Note is a unique solution where the financing will be converted into future equity (similar to existing convertible instruments such as the SAFE or a KISS), but underpinned by first-of-a-kind, Shariah-compliant standardised documentation.”

“We are delighted to announce our participation in the launch of the Shari'ah-compliant OQAL Note, which can open a new horizon for investment in entrepreneurial companies. The Note provides 3 advantages: (i) its compatibility with Islamic Sharia principles, (ii) its availability in both Arabic and English languages, and (iii) its conformity under both the Saudi and English legislative systems. We aim for the OQAL Note to be adopted by a great number of investors and entrepreneurs as it has been prepared in a manner that intends to preserve the rights of all parties involved in the investment,” said Qusai AlSaif, CEO of the Saudi VCPEA. “Having such an instrument, drafted for the benefit of all parties involved, will standardise the terms of investment in the note future issuances in the region, speed up the process of closing investment rounds, and significantly raise the efficiency in the VC sector.”

“We believe the OQAL Note by OQAL Network is an exciting solution for realising successful, Shariah-compliant startup funding,” concluded Mohammed AlAmmar, Managing Partner of the Law Office of Mohammed AlAmmar (in association with King & Spalding LLP). “It is a straightforward investment document that offers a blend of risk and reward that incentivises both investors and entrepreneurs, ultimately opening the door to future funding and investment. The Note will allow ambitious startups in the region to really think big while remaining comfortable that their transactions are consistent with local regulations and Shari’ah.”

The OQAL Note has been reviewed and endorsed by an initial group of venture capitalists, angel investors, law firms, and the Shari’ah Review Bureau. Access and further information on the OQAL Note can be found on OQAL’s website.

King & Spalding served as legal counsel to OQAL Network on the establishment of the OQAL Note. Along with advisors from the Saudi VCPEA, Shari’a Review Bureau, angel investors, and founders.

November 23rd 2021, 11:46 am

YallaMarket’s $2.3 million pre-Seed and the rapid rise of quick commerce


Motorbikes emblazoned with the logo of a food, grocery or last mile delivery company can be seen on almost every street in the UAE. Such has been the proliferation of e-commerce, that the number of delivery vehicles in the world’s top 100 cities is expected to rise by 36 per cent until 2030 according to the World Economic Forum.

Amid this rise in e-commerce, it is the e-grocery segment that has witnessed the greatest growth, especially in the Middle East. According to research from RedSeer, the e-grocery market quadrupled last year and is expected to be worth close to $21 billion by 2024. Rising competition in this space has led to an influx of quick commerce (q-commerce) startups who offer instant delivery in under two hours. This segment of e-commerce according to RedSeer will be worth $20 billion by 2024.

One UAE-based e-grocery startup that has managed to cut its delivery times to a mere 15 minutes is YallaMarket, launched in April 2021 by Leo Dovbenko and Stanislav Seleznev.

Currently operational in Dubai, in the JLT, Business Bay and JVC areas of the city, YallaMarket relies on an infrastructure of dark stores and warehouses that are strategically located in densely populated areas in order to offer such a speedy service. Its dark stores cater to smaller areas compared to other q-commerce operators and relies on pedestrianised routes for delivery, using e-scooters and bicycles instead of motorbikes. 

“Over the past few years, it has become clear that the dark-store model is supposed to replace classic convenience stores. It's a new retail revolution,” says CEO Dovbenko. “Quick commerce is the new way of serving customers, it’s much more convenient for customers to press three buttons and get their order delivered in 10 minutes, [rather] than standing in line.”

While other q-commerce startups around the world are experimenting with robots and technology to enable faster delivery, YallaMarket’s model relies mostly on the set up of its warehouses and a “special way of storing goods” that enables high picking speed. Its pickers can collect the items for an order in just three minutes, each item taking roughly 15 seconds. Pickers can fulfil up to 20 orders per hour.

YallaMarket has raised $2.3 million in a pre-Seed round co-led by Wamda and Dubai Angel Investors, with participation from some Mena-focused angel investors. The investment will be used to continue YallaMarket’s growth in the UAE with plans to open 100 new dark stores in Dubai and Abu Dhabi as well as expand to Qatar next year.

“We plan to use the majority of our newly secured funding to boost our growth. The Mena region is actively developing: Expo is taking place in the Emirates this year, and Qatar is hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2022. Our goal is to cover as much territory by on-demand fast delivery as possible,” says Dovbenko. 

Globally, quick-commerce has boomed since the pandemic, with the likes of Turkey’s Getir, Germany’s Gorillas and US’ goPuff attracting billions in investment and scaling outside of their home markets. Yet, despite their growth, the model has been called out for being unsustainable, especially since many charge little or sometimes nothing for delivery, the costliest part of the chain.

But Dovbenko is confident that the model can turn a profit in the Middle East, given the comparatively low cost of labour and the use of data to predict customer behaviour.

“It can’t be profitable in Europe because the cost of the delivery people is more expensive than scientists in Dubai,” he says. “To be profitable in quick commerce, you need customers to be there, they need to make orders several times per day, that’s how you build a sustainable business. For customers to hand over their budget, you need to have particular items that this family needs every day and be able to fulfil it.”

YallaMarket offers 3000 SKUs which are updated weekly according to customer purchasing trends. These products are purchased directly from brands or through distributors, enabling YallaMarket to make a margin on each item. The average order is worth Dh50, typically with nine items and the top-selling categories are fruits, dairy and drinks. The quicker a picker can put an order together, the more orders he can fulfil in a day. The same goes for the courier, who delivers several orders per ride. Instead of relying on third party logistics, YallaMarket has its own team of delivery couriers, some on bicycles, some on e-scooters and some on foot – another way the company keeps its costs down and ensures speedy delivery.

Across the Middle East, several players have moved into q-commerce, including Talabat, Noon and Kitopi. In Egypt, Breadfast, Rabbit and Appetito who together raised $39 million this month, all offer instant delivery. By 2024, 8 per cent of e-commerce in Mena will be fulfilled through the q-commerce model, a “massive jump as in 2018, this number was around 1 per cent,” according to Sandeep Ganediwalla, managing partner at RedSeer.

While Dovbenko believes convenience stores might one day be replaced by hyperlocal e-grocery, in the short term, he plans to partner with the small grocery retailers, known locally as baqalas.

“We’re looking for partnerships with suppliers, food producers and other grocery owners,” he says. “We can franchise retail shop into YallaMarket dark stores.”

The startup also plans to launch its own line of ready-to-eat meals, which users will be able to order on the app.

November 23rd 2021, 4:17 am

UAE fintech LNDDO raises $3 million Seed round


Press release:

UAE-based fintech and ingenious digital lending platform LNDDO has successfully raised $3 million in its Seed round backed by a network of key investors led by H.H Sheikh Tahnoon Bin Shakhboot Al Nahayan. 

Officially authorised and regulated by the Financial Services Regulatory Authority (FSRA) under Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) jurisdiction, LNDDO is a unique credit service designed to empower SMEs and encourage them to realise their full potential, nurture their creativity and achieve their goals. LNDDO is revolutionising the SME lending space and offering a ten-time faster turnaround time versus the norm.

As recorded in our Q3 2021 EVM FinTech Venture Investment Report it seems that fintech ecosystems in Emerging Venture Markets have been attempting on disrupting the banking sector, or rather create alternatives for a new form of Banking. A quick scan of FinTech startups in MENA which closed 15 per cent more deals and raised 150 per cent more funds by October 2021 than full-year 2020, we can spot innovations in digital wallets, micro-lending, digital transfer, and peer-to-peer banking. Fintechs across Emerging Venture Markets also following suit, where startups in markets like Egypt and Pakistan have been able to capitalise on a widely unbanked demographic, while fintechs in more established markets like the UAE or Turkey have been tapping into instant accessibility through tech optimisation. While we can spot a difference in maturity and investor focus between ecosystems in EVMs, where the median size of Seed rounds was highest in nascent fintech ecosystems like Pakistan ($2 million), major rounds were closed in favour of neo banking and micro-lending platforms across MENAPT. Major rounds this year included Egypt-based Kashat and CreditFins, Qatar-based Spendwisor, Turkey-based Colendi, and Pakistan-based Abhi Finance. 

In standard cases, applying for a small business loan in the UAE was a lengthy and complicated process, taking six to eight weeks and reams of documentation. But, thanks to LNDDO’s new and approved application process and investment in technology, SMEs can now receive a credit decision in just a matter of minutes, and much-needed working capital funds can be disbursed and made accessible to small businesses within just a few days. Ashraf Ghazaly, founder and CEO of LNDDO highlighted “Since launching in the region, I’m absolutely thrilled to announce that our services have been received tremendously well. Now, thanks to H.H. Sheikh Tahnoon Bin Shakhboot Al Nahayan we are able to assist and uplift even more small and medium-sized businesses and entrepreneurs.”

Providing easy repayment options, the loans are suitable for digitally forward SMEs in various sectors, provided they have been operating for a minimum of 12 months. The visionary firm also plans to expand to Egypt and Saudi Arabia as early as next year. Alongside this latest investment, LNDDO has also worked on optimising and improving the efficiency of its application and loan approval processes. This translates into quicker working capital for SMEs which they can use for productive purposes such as adding new inventory, hiring new staff, marketing campaigns. Founder and CEO  Ashraf Ghazaly concluded “This is fabulous news for the UAE’s hardworking business owners who can now spend time more time on running their business versus running around for funding. The SME sector in the UAE is on the cusp of a recovery from the aftereffects of the pandemic and is set to ride the growth wave boosted by the EXPO 2020 and various other government efforts. Quick access to funding will help accelerate a speedy revival for the sector.”

November 22nd 2021, 8:47 am

What are the most in-demand skills among startups in Mena?


Talent remains one of the biggest challenges facing startups in the Middle East. Good talent is difficult to find and can be very costly. Convincing someone to forgo the comfort and attractive compensations of the corporate world to build something with a young startup can turn out to be a headache at best, and a nightmare at worst.

“Every single person [working for a startup] is like a unicorn,” says Roland Daher, chief executive officer a AstroLabs. “You work very hard to find them and then you work very hard to keep them and grow them. This is a problem that is common across startups.”

Last year, AstroLabs, the UAE-based incubator and co-working space launched its recruitment platform, to help startups in the region find and recruit talent.

“There is scarcity of talent in general. A startup, whatever phase it’s in – pre-product market fit phase, or they’re in early traction or full growth, need a type of people – the people who show up from day one and get to work while you still have a big debt and figuring out your processes and helping people make sense of things,” says Daher. “So you need people who can embrace ambiguity and discovery and experimenting and failing and at the same time, get less than they would at another place and stay.”

So far, AstroLabs Talent, which is headed up by Danielle Blizzard, has placed 50 candidates at startups and tech companies like Fresha, Rain and Careem.

“A lot of the skills in demand are around sales, operations, strategy, data and marketing, growth marketing is huge,” says Blizzard. “We’re also working with a lot of fintechs so compliance and regulations skills, there’s a huge need in that area and what we’re finding is the talent pool is so small in this region because they’re mainly from corporates whereas to have that startup mentality, we’re having to get them from outside the region.”

A lot of the startups that AstroLabs has recruited for are in the growth stages according to Daher, who describes the lack of growth resources in the region as “mindblowing”.

“We thought [demand for] data talent would be big this year, but the companies in the region are not fully ready yet, it’s not the wave we were expecting. Some of the hottest positions are the growth positions. It was mindblowing to see how scarce these resources are like VP of growth, chief growth officer,” he says.

A Wamda Research Lab report titled Access to Talent for Mena’s Entrepreneurs which surveyed 963 entrepreneurs and 1697 workers a few years ago, found that startups often struggle to find employees with the right technical and soft skills. Entrepreneurs have difficulty finding hires with sales (28 per cent), business development (27 per cent), and management (24 per cent) skills. Technical talent in particular can be expensive and there is an overall gap between salary expectations and salaries offered. Just over 50 per cent of entrepreneurs in Mena offer salaries ranging from $250 to $1000 per month, but only 13 per cent of the workforce is willing to work for less than $1000 per month. Just 12 per cent of the workforce said they would like to work for a startup.

The low salaries and lack of career development has led to a technical exodus according to Leen Ashqar, who leads value creation at Jordan-based VC Propeller.

“The relatively slow rate of employee development in the Middle East compared to that in Europe and the US, leaves senior tech talent in the region inferior to their corresponding counterparts abroad,” she says. “When we speak of employee development, we do not mean progressing up the corporate ladder to claim more senior titles, but rather the actual investment in developing employee skills, knowledge and capabilities.”

Few companies in the region have built a culture around career development and employee progression according to Ashqar.

“With the lack of a continuous-learning environment and a clear path to advancement, very often employees are left unchallenged, demotivated and hence become stagnant,” she says. “Every hire at a startup is crucial to the success of the company, and so founders cannot do with subpar team members. As a result, they are often left with no other option but to seek higher-calibre talent from abroad.”



November 21st 2021, 10:03 pm

VentureSouq launches $50 million fund


Press release:

GCC-based venture capital firm VentureSouq (VSQ) announced the launch of its Mena FinTech Fund I, the region’s first sector-specific fund focused on fintech across the Middle East & North Africa and Pakistan region (Menap).  

The $50 million VentureSouq fund invests in early-stage fintech and SaaS companies and focuses on key subsectors including payments infrastructure, alternative credit, digital banking,  PropTech, InsurTech and personal financial management, working closely with innovative regional entrepreneurs that are disrupting financial services. 

VentureSouq General Partner Suneel Gokhale commented on the new fund: “Prior to the  Mena fintech fund, we were early investors alongside some of the biggest global VCs in a number of fintech companies, including high-profile ones such as Jeeves, Khatabook, Belvo, FamPay, Vouch, Point, Atomic and Fondeadora. In 2020, we started to reflect on what fintech adoption in the Mena region was going to look like and we dove right in. Based on what we have seen in other emerging markets that we have invested in, we believe it is still early days in  terms of the fintech ecosystem in the Mena region and we are really excited about the overall  opportunity set.”

VentureSouq Mena fintech I is backed by regional powerhouses including Jada Fund of Funds programme and Saudi Venture Capital Company (SVC), Bahrain’s Al Waha Fund of Funds, UAE’s  DisruptAD, ADQ’s venture platform, and Mubadala Investment Company, as well as multinational conglomerates such as OFC, the Middle East investment arm of The Olayan  Group. 

VentureSouq General Partner Maan Eshgi added: “As the first vertical venture fund in Mena, it was critical to assemble the right LP base. We needed partners that would both understand where the region currently sits on the evolutionary curve, and also that could help our portfolio companies navigate the challenging regulatory and funding terrain in Mena. For us to get the outcomes we need, our portfolio companies need to access not just a single market, but the entire Mena region. We believe we have the right stakeholders to help make access to that  broader market a reality.”

The Fund has been actively deploying capital into startups across Mena and Pakistan, including regional ‘buy now pay later’ Tabby, Saudi-based B2B marketplace Sary and PropTech platform  Huspy. UAE-based investments include Baraka, Flexxpay, FinTech infrastructure company  NymCard and digital bank Verity and in Pakistan, digital ledger platform Creditbook, e-commerce financing platform PostEx and salary advance startup Abhi Finance. The fund also invested in Egypt-based transportation platform Trella, gig economy financial platform Dayra and North Africa-based super-app Yassir, along with a number of other promising companies, which will be announced in the coming months.  

Jad Antoun, CEO and co-founder of Huspy, shared: “The VSQ team have been true partners to  Huspy. We share the same belief that people and talent are the foundation of building a  healthy organization and on fundraising, they constantly support us through their network of  top global funds across the US and Europe.” 

Mohammed Aldossary, CEO and co-founder of Sary added: “VentureSouq‘s presence,  conviction, understanding of the daily challenges of a startup, and massive belief in the potential of us as a management team has been extremely important to us. Thanks to their  great experience and proven global track record, they were able to support us in attracting  multinational VCs and close multiple investments in less than eight months; a truly agile and  pro-founders VC that can take startups to new levels.” 

Established in 2016, VentureSouq has operations in the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia and has invested in over 200 companies worldwide. VentureSouq Partners Suneel Gokhale, Maan Eshgi,  Sonia Gokhale, Tammer Qaddumi and Sonia Weymuller all take an active value-add approach to investment. 

November 21st 2021, 10:16 am

Saudi NFT platform Nuqtah closes pre-Seed


Press release:

Nuqtah, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s first and leading NFT marketplace, has closed its pre-Seed round led by Shorooq Partners and joined by strategic angel investors. The Company founded by Salwa Radwi plans to become the de-facto platform for the Saudi and Mena digital creative economy.

NFTs represent a major transformation for artists to safely register and trace any of their productions, with full details available on a public ledger that cannot be manipulated. The ability to trace original creators, and future line of owners, create a solution for the artist and talents to generate royalty payments for each time the asset changes ownership.

As a local first platform, Nuqtah enables local creatives to publish and sell their work seamlessly and will serve as a global platform for buyers keen on acquiring the latest NFTs by renowned and emerging Mena artists. Nuqtah plans to build on the thriving NFTs space, and utilise the underlying blockchain technology to spearhead innovation in other verticals such as media and entertainment.

Shane Shin, Founding Partner at Shorooq Partners, said, “Ever since moving to Saudi, I have witnessed first hand the tremendous evolution of the creative and cultural landscape, led by passionate young Saudis. The Kingdom is on an ambitious digital transformation journey, and the creative economy is one of the core pillars of the nation's long term vision. As we continue to back daring founders and support them in building enduring and sector-leading companies, we are privileged to join Nuqtah as the Kingdoms first NFT platform. We believe in the Nuqtah team’s vision, and are humbled to work with them to take Nuqtah to the global NFT arena, representing the region’s vibrant and rich creative depth.”

The NFT global market has witnessed tremendous growth between 2020 – 2021. In 2020 the NFT market was valued at just over $250 million and reached $2 billion in Q1 of 2021. According to Dapp Radar, as of Q3 2021, the total sales volume reached $10.7 billion. Other NFT global platforms include OpenSea, which as of July was valued at $1.5 billion. Now other centralised crypto exchanges are jumping on board, with Coinbase and FTX.US launching their own NFT marketplaces as well.

Amal Dokhan, Partner at 500 Global said, “We are ecstatic to have Nuqtah be a part of our second cohort at Sanabil 500 Mena seed accelerator. Seeing more female founders take lead in Saudi is truly refreshing and more so in such an exciting intersection between the arts & blockchain in an Arabic enabled NFT platform, we believe in Nuqtah's founding team and are surely privileged to support their journey towards Growth.”

“Our goal is to create the ultimate environment for creators in the Kingdom, where they can sell their masterpieces at the value they deserve safely and securely. The Nuqtah founding team are from the core of the creative community in the region, hence, they truly understand what it means to be creative in the kingdom. We are here to transform the industry,” says Salwa Radwi the CEO at Nuqtah.

November 21st 2021, 6:32 am

UAE-based neighbourhood app Hayi raises $325,000 Seed round


Press release:

The UAE’s neighbourhood app, Hayi, has successfully raised $325,000 in its latest funding round. The seed round was led by Sarya Holdings and Falak Startups, with the participation of key angel investors.

Founded in 2020, by Chris Darnell and Rene Morgan, Hayi is a hyperlocal social network that digitises UAE neighbourhoods by connecting all neighbours, local businesses, and community managers to create stronger and more connected communities.

The community-based startup is committed to creating a safe and exclusive platform that can help bring communities together both online and offline. Chris Darnell, CEO of Hayi commented “Residents are looking to connect with each other now more than ever. A stronger and more connected neighbourhood can introduce a wealth of benefits to an individual’s day-to-day life, as well as tackling an array of issues which have become inflated these past two years with the pandemic.”

The startup also plans on using its recent investment to accelerate its growth across the country before looking to make strategic entrances into various new markets with the goal of becoming the largest hyperlocal social network in the MENA region. Rene Morgan, COO, added that “The fundraising round will really help us develop the product further for all end-users and create an exclusive space for them to connect, without irrelevant noise from outside their community.”

As part of its freemium model, Hayi looks to partner with all Community Management and Property Development firms across the region and has seen a sharp increase in interest from these firms in using the free app to better connect with their residents as well as create a stronger and more connected community. 

“We are beyond excited to start our journey with Hayi’s outstanding team and become part of the immense growth of the first of its kind neighbourhood management solution. Hayi presents a great opportunity for us to learn about community behaviour as well as a powerful platform to integrate with many other solutions.” – Falak Startups

On behalf of in5, Dubai's leading business incubator that has three centres covering media, tech and design, Majed Alsuwaidi, Managing Director of Dubai Media City, said: “We’re delighted to see that Hayi reached a new milestone. The start-up’s focus on local and hyperlocal communities is timely, with the past 18 months have highlighted the importance of bringing communities together both online and offline. Hayi joins a growing list of start-ups that are thriving after coming through in5’s ecosystem which is designed to help entrepreneurs transform ideas into commercially viable ventures. Success stories such as Hayi’s also bolster Dubai’s reputation as a leading destination for talent and entrepreneurs”.

November 21st 2021, 6:32 am

Cryptocurrency trading platform HAYVN closes Series A round


Press release:

The UAE is poised to be a global hub for the emerging asset class that is a digital currency and a flurry of activity in this ecosystem has seen the sector grow rapidly.

HAYVN, a global institutional digital currencies platform based in Abu Dhabi have clear goals of their own, and today announced that it has closed its Series A funding round led by Red Acre Ventures and Hilbert Group. 

As part of the transaction, Red Acre Ventures has joined the HAYVN Board of Directors. With a strong technology background, Red Acre Ventures will allow HAYVN to deliver enhanced technology solutions for its product offerings.

“We are building HAYVN into the largest institutional digital currency platform globally and we are continuing to strive to be just that, the closing of our Series A funding is another milestone in our journey,” says Christopher Flinos, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer at HAYVN.

“With the closing of our Series A funding, we are able to continue to improve on our core products and expand our offerings beyond OTC trading and custody. Leveraging off the Asset Management strength of our new shareholder Hilbert Group, we will shortly begin providing our clients with secure access to digital currency through a series of bespoke, diversified investment products. The HAYVN Payments ecosystem is also a priority for the business,” he added.  

The HAYVN platform is built on unprecedented levels of transparency, regulatory compliance, and security, with a leading OTC desk and a regulated custody offering allowing their clients to buy, sell, and custody large amounts of digital currency both easily and securely.

Christopher Flinos stated that this round of funding will help the organisation to enhance its strategic journey to become the largest global institutional digital currencies platform, to instil trust within the digital asset world, focus on strategic hires within the organisation, to become the leading institutional gateway into the cryptocurrency ecosystem.

November 21st 2021, 6:32 am

Dubai-based HyperSpace raises $11 million Seed round


Press release:

HyperSpace, a company building the world’s first blockchain-enabled and Extended Reality (XR) native physical attractions, has raised $11 million in equity and development seed funding, a statement revealed.

The aim is to use the investment to create immersive entertainment attractions for a social media and metaverse generation, the company said.

Led by Introsight and Dubai financier Mohammed Afkhami, the funding is one of the largest seed rounds ever seen in the Middle East region, according to the statement.

GoPuff founder and CEOs Yakir Gola and Rafael Ilishayev, Bolur Capital, Farbro Group, and Scott Ross of HillPath Capital Partners participated in the round.

The funding will be used to develop proprietary-owned technologies that will create transparent blockchain integration, real-time asset creation, and a living augmented reality (AR) layer over physical space within an entertainment park – bringing the virtual, to reality.

Headquartered in Dubai, HyperSpace is developing a physical front end to the metaverse, purpose-built physical environments with real-time connectivity to digital worlds and lifestyles. 

HyperSpace's funding will support the development of the interconnected software platform and real-world locations to create a bridge to the metaverse, founder and CEO, Alexander Heller, said.

The metaverse is a natural progression of our digital and physical lives converging.  

HyperSpace plans to open two entertainment parks in Dubai in the second half of 2022 – House of Hype in Dubai Mall across 100,000 sq. ft, and AYA at Wafi City across 40,000 sq. ft.

November 18th 2021, 9:28 pm

Chari: The next step in digitising the baqala


At almost every corner or block in a Middle East and North Africa (Mena) city stands a baqala, or small grocer, typically independent, offering the neighbourhood a basic array of fruits and vegetables and household products. These baqalas constitute the backbone of fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) retail in the region, outnumbering hypermarkets and large supermarket chains. But despite their prominence, the product sourcing process is a logistical nightmare for these small sellers given the fragmented supply chain and underserved infrastructure. This lack of infrastructure also creates problems for the FMCG suppliers and manufacturers, who struggle to distribute their goods to these baqalas as a result. 

The first wave of innovation and disruption in the grocery space came in the form of e-grocery. Startups like GetBaqala in Bahrain and elgrocer in the UAE gave these baqalas a chance to establish an online presence, aggregating them on one platform to allow consumers to purchase goods through an app or website. Now, a second wave of innovation is spreading in e-grocery - digitising the procurement and distribution process for the baqala. 

One startup looking to digitise this phase of the grocery journey is Morocco-based Chari, which aims to streamline the distribution and product buying process by connecting baqalas and other small retailers with their suppliers on one platform. Co-founded by Ismael Belkhayat and Sophia Alj in 2020, Chari offers these small retailers a one-stop-shop, where they can find and purchase everything they need and have it delivered in less than 24 hours thanks to a string of warehouses that it has built in close proximity to the retailers. 

Other startups operating similar models in the region include Egypt’s Capiter and Maxab, Saudi’s Sary and Retailo and the UAE’s DXBUY and Spylr Global. This segment of B2B e-commerce startups focused on procurement for small retailers has so far this year raised in excess of $141.5 million across 18 deals (eight of which were based in Egypt). Accounting for almost 40 per cent of this amount is Egypt’s MaxAb which has raised $55 million this year and acquired Moroccan competitor Waystocap

Logistical nightmare

Last month, Chari raised $5 million after completing US-based Y Combinator’s accelerator programme and has set about offering the 200,000 or so baqalas in Morocco its services while also enabling suppliers and distributors easier access to them. 

“[Suppliers] live in a nightmare to distribute their products to all these small shops,” says Belkhayat. “They have to go through a lot of middlemen that we call wholesalers [who] are also scattered.”

There are about 10,000 of these small wholesalers, individuals with a car, who buy the products and distribute them to their 20 or so clients, effectively operating like “a mobile supermarket” according to Belkhayat. Their methods of selling have not changed much over the years. Prices vary from one to another, there is no advertising on their part and their logistics can be haphazard. Invoicing is also rare. 

Chari’s solution cuts out these wholesalers and tries to ease the challenges that all the parties in the process face. For the retailers, they can gain access to stock with an invoice and the ability to track their deliveries. For the FMCG suppliers, they are given actional insights into their customer’s purchasing patterns - what they’re buying, which day of the week and in which neighbourhoods.  It currently serves more than 6,000 small retailers and works with 50 suppliers.

By using technologies like route optimisation and warehousing management software, the startup helps drive down logistics costs. "A normal distributor usually charges up to 20 per cent margin because their logistics costs up to 15 per cent which is huge. They have to pay for the cars and the drivers since the routing is not really optimised, they do a few drops per day [and] cover 10 to 15 clients per day. In our case, our logistics costs less than 5 per cent," says Belkhayat.

As demand for warehousing and fulfilment services rises, Chari’s current struggle is keeping up with this demand. 

“We have 10,000 stores on the waiting list, and we are currently working to expand our warehouses to cover bigger regions," he says. 

Yet despite this rapid pace of growth, and the digitising that is taking place in this sector, retailer habits are difficult to change. 

“Many of our users use the app as a catalogue. They see the prices on the catalogue and they decide what they want to buy and instead of buying on the app, they open WhatsApp, and they send us a voice message explaining to us what they want,” says Belkhayat.

Chari employs 60 people whose job is to listen to these Whatsapp voice notes and calls and make the orders on the app on behalf of the baqalas. The company also regularly dispatches on-ground sales representatives with the sole purpose of educating small sellers on how to use the app. This particular challenge is a lot less common in Tunisia, where Chari also operates and where there is greater digital awareness of similar tech solutions.

Easing fintech adoption

Another major challenge for Chari is the ongoing prevalence of cash on delivery among the small retailers and so encouraging greater adoption of fintech remains a large part of Chari’s core focus, according to Belkhayat.

"Early on, we started with cash on delivery and then we thought maybe we could let these clients use digital wallets and give them an additional 1 per cent discount every time they use it," he says. But topping up the digital wallets still required Chari to send a representative to collect the cash in order to top up the wallet so while retailers took advantage of the wallet and the discount, Chari was still handling cash - just a step earlier in the purchasing process. 

So in July this year, Chari acquired its compatriot fintech and credit app Karni, which enables shop owners to take stock of their finances instead of using a notebook. Karni currently serves 40,000 retailers in Morocco and through its technology and network, Chari is looking to facilitate micro-lending for retailers by enabling a buy now pay later (BNPL) feature. 


The Moroccan startup landscape has witnessed encouraging signs of progress with investors increasingly becoming interested in backing startups. So far in 2021, startups in the North African country have raised more than $16 million across 18 deals. Chari, which has closed three rounds so far this year, plans to raise as much as $20 million for its upcoming Series A. 

For Chari, raising funding was a process fraught with pitfalls. Belkhayat explains that it was difficult for them at the early stages of Chari's founding to convince both local and international VCs to invest in Chari, attributing this to the fact the B2B sector in Morocco has not gained much popularity among the tech community prior to Covid-19.

"As the size of the market grows, so do we,” he says. “VCs who came in at the beginning of our journey have had their investment in less than a year multiplied by 10. They haven't done an exit or anything but at least in their books, the value of the investment went up 15 times in 18 months.”

November 18th 2021, 9:28 pm

Foodlink raises $8 million in Series B funding round


Press release:

Foodlink, the market leader of the luxury catering and banqueting space in India and UAE, has raised $8 million in its Series B funding round led by Arpit Khandelwal, 

Managing Partner, Plutus Wealth Management LLP. It will use these funds to expand its flagship business of luxury catering across newer geographies overseas, to take its luxury banquet brand called JADE Luxury Banquets to newer destinations, and to scale its casual dining restaurant business through its brands India Bistro, China Bistro & Art of Dum in UAE and India. 

The company has so far raised $23 million including the current round. It received $15 million as part of its Series A round from OAKS Asset Management in 2017.

Foodlink Banqueting and Catering provides exclusively crafted culinary experiences from all around the world through curating F&B experiences at weddings, corporate events and everything in between including destination events in exotic locations in Europe, the Middle East, the USA, and the Asia Pacific. It is patronised by some of the wealthiest and most respected families and business houses in India and overseas. 

While a lot of players have shut down operations during the pandemic, Foodlink has strategically used this time to fortify its presence in the UAE during FY21. The company has started 8 new restaurant/cloud kitchen units in Dubai & Sharjah in 2021. Foodlink has also entered into alliances with Dubai World Trade Centre and various other luxury hotels in the UAE. By 2025, Foodlink aims to be the market leader in India and Dubai across banqueting, catering and restaurant businesses.  

The company has set up a state of the art infrastructure for providing banqueting and catering services in Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, and UAE with plans to expand in Delhi, Jaipur, Abu Dhabi, Al-Ain and other prominent cities in India as well as UAE, by partnering with real estate owners and partners who want the Foodlink brand to manage and run their banqueting facilities. Through its experienced in-house talent pool and strong alliances with top culinary talent from across the world, Foodlink offers authentic and unique experiences for its patrons. They also provide consultancy services and turnkey solutions to luxury hotels for grand events. 

Foodlink has invested heavily in world-class infrastructure with over 50000 sq.ft of kitchen space and over 35000 sq.ft of warehouse space. Foodlink is poised to leverage its relationships with some of India’s most powerful business families to gain a stronger foothold in the market. The experience from Covid-19 has necessitated higher food quality, hygiene and service standards, helping organised brands grab further market share.

Announcing the funding round, Mr Sanjay Vazirani, founder of Foodlink said, “Our current revenue run rate for FY22 is INR 100 crore and we expect it to be around INR 300 crore by the end of FY23-24. Foodlink plans to leverage technology in a big way to support its growth across geographies. We have come a long way in organising an otherwise fragmented industry, and we plan to take our management of sales pipeline, quality audits, infrastructure management & resource allocation to the next level of maturity post this round of funding. We are delighted to have Plutus on board and backing us for this next exciting phase of the Foodlink journey along with OAKS Asset Management who has been a valuable partner over the last few years.”

Mr Arpit Khandelwal, Managing Partner at Plutus Wealth Management said, “Foodlink is an exceptional business that offers a unique way to invest in the uber-luxury Indian wedding market. Weddings in India are a recession-proof business and the increased focus on high quality, hygienic food and formally organised vendors will strengthen Foodlink immensely.”

The Indian food services market was about $60 billion in FY19 and is expected to reach $85 billion by FY24. India witnesses 10-12 million wedding ceremonies (on average) a year which drives the wedding market (around $42 billion). Of this, banqueting and catering constitute 65 per cent of total spending (nearly $26 billion). In addition, the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences & Exhibitions) market adds another $3.5 billion in size. 

The Indian restaurant industry was also around $60 billion in size in FY20. 90 per cent of these restaurants cater to casual diners in the mass market. In addition, nearly 5,000 cloud kitchens ($400 million cumulative revenue) are now serving customers through thriving food-tech platforms and delivery solutions. Foodlink operates entirely in the casual dining and cloud kitchen space in India and UAE.

The UAE foodservice market is forecasted to grow at a CAGR of 5.22 per cent by 2026 due to increasing disposable income, rising tourist arrivals, increasing urban lifestyles, and evolving consumer preferences. 

November 18th 2021, 9:28 pm

Etisalat acquires UAE-based elgrocer


Press release:

Emirates Telecommunications Group Company PJSC “Etisalat Group” signed an agreement with elgrocer Ltd to acquire 100 percent of elgrocer DMCC, to support its digital ambitions by enriching its services bringing it closer to the daily lives of the consumers and unlocking synergies that drive a diversified and integrated product portfolio.

With UAE ranked as one of the highest globally in terms of smart device penetration and rated as one of the most advanced countries for online shopping and eCommerce market in MENA, this acquisition will contribute to the growing digital economy in the country.

Khaled ElKhouly, Chief Consumer Officer of Etisalat UAE said: “Online shopping has redefined retail in the last decade with an increasing number of consumers moving to online transactions. Considering Etisalat’s leadership role in the acceleration of UAE’s digital transformation, we have been continuously working on new, innovative digital services and this acquisition is in line with our strategy to empower consumers, enhance engagement through our digital marketplace platform and drive diversification of our business.”

elGrocer’s strong online presence in the country will complement Etisalat UAE’s existing marketplace services under the brand ‘Smiles’ including online food delivery, lifestyle offers and the ability to earn and redeem points at more than 7,000 outlets across the UAE.

Raed Hafez CEO of elGrocer said: “We are excited to join forces with Etisalat team giving us the opportunity to tap into their digital capabilities, advanced network and services to accelerate our strategic expansion plans. Combining our strengths backed by Etisalat’s strong base will give us full strength to capture the market opportunities ahead.”

Nader Amiri, Founder & COO of elGrocer added: “We started the elGrocer journey to bring a new & superb grocery shopping experience to people in the UAE, and we are proud of what we have achieved so far. Now, we start a new chapter combining what we have built with Etisalat’s innovative services & Smiles’s powerful offering, as we look forward to providing customers with even more delightful experiences and benefits.”

Founded in 2015, elGrocer is a leading online marketplace for groceries operating in all seven Emirates of the UAE. It brings together major retailers and specialty stores on a single platform with more than 500+ outlets and 120K products listed. In addition, elGrocer has strategic partnerships with major global and local FMCG companies for collaborations and innovative strategies to drive exposure of their brands.

November 18th 2021, 9:28 pm

UAE’s Swvl expands into Latin America by acquiring Argentina's Viapool


Source: The National

Swvl, the Dubai-based mass transit and shared mobility services provider, acquired a controlling interest in Argentina's Viapool in a deal expected to help its expansion within Latin America.

The acquisition will grant the Dubai company access to Argentina and Chile markets and will serve as an entry point to Brazil and Mexico. However, the terms of the deal, expected to take place in 2022, were not disclosed.

Viapool deal is Swvl's second acquisition since it announced plans in July to list on the Nasdaq through a merger with Queen’s Gambit Growth Capital, a blank cheque company. In August, it agreed to buy Barcelona-based Shotl, a bus and van service similar to Uber that is also in Brazil.

"Latin America represents a compelling opportunity for Swvl to continue its global expansion, all the while capitalising on unmet commuting needs for hundreds of millions of individuals living within urban megacities," Mostafa Kandil, founder and chief executive of Swvl, said on Wednesday.

"Viapool shares our vision of transforming public transportation by making daily commuting more accessible, convenient and sustainable, and has demonstrated impressive growth, unit economics and customer traction. By adding Viapool to the Swvl platform, we will be ideally positioned to scale [up] our operations to additional cities within the region."

Swvl, which started in Cairo, began with a $500,000 seed round in 2017, led by Mr Kandil’s former team at Careem. It raised $8 million the following year in a Series A funding round led by several key investors in the Mena region.

In 2019, the startup raised $42m in a Series C round from veteran venture capital firms such as Dubai’s Beco Capital, US-based Endeavour Catalyst, China's MSA, Egypt's Sawari Ventures and Michael Lahyani, chief executive of UAE real estate portal Property Finder, among others.

In August, it raised $35.5m in growth financing, with strategic and financial investors, including Kuwait’s Agility and Chimera Abu Dhabi, funding a significant portion of a $100 million private investment in a public entity (Pipe) deal.

The Swvl-Queen's Gambit merger would make it the second Arab company to list on the Nasdaq, but the first with a $1.5 billion valuation and the only technology-enabled mass transit solutions company to list on any stock exchange. The listing is expected to happen this quarter.

Aramex, the Middle East's biggest provider of logistics and transport solutions, was the first company from the Arab world to list on the Nasdaq in 1997. It was later delisted in 2002 and went public again in 2005 on the Dubai Financial Market.

The Viapool acquisition will enable Swvl to tap into a combined population of more than 65 million. The deal would add more than $5 million in annual revenue from 130 vehicles serving about 175 routes.

Viapool has more than 80 institutional clients, including Nestle, Unilever, Carrefour, SAP, Mondelez, Bayer and Siemens. It said revenue grew rapidly in October at about four times pre-coronavirus levels.

"Daily commuting needs to be reinvented and, together with Swvl, we believe that one plus one can be much more than two. In these times, emerging markets around the world have much more in common than ever," said Alejandro Taubas, co-founder of Viapool.

November 18th 2021, 9:28 pm

SDF to pour $150 million into local, international VC investments


Source: Wam

The Strategic Development Fund (SDF), the investment arm of Tawazun Holding, has announced an allocation of $150 million (DH551.2 million) for Venture Capital investments into early-stage companies in the UAE and internationally operating in defence and security, aerospace technologies amongst other frontier and emerging technologies.

Tareq Abdulraheem Al Hosani, Chairman of the Board of Directors of SDF and Chief Executive Officer of Tawazun Economic Council Venture Capitalised said that this initiative is in line with the strategy to deploy funds with attractive financial returns and participating in the development of modern technologies related to their strategic interests while building partnerships that provide opportunities to contribute to building a sustainable high tech and industrial ecosystem.

Abdulla Naser Al Jaabari, SDF Managing Director and CEO, said, "We are targeting emerging companies in specific strategic sectors that have high growth potential and global scalability, especially in the markets of the UAE, the Middle East, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and other potential markets."

He added that the SDF targets specific sectors, including defence and security, aviation and aerospace, urban mobility, autonomous systems, robotics, and energy and powering technologies.

He revealed that around 85 per cent to 90 per cent of the Venture Capital allocation would be invested directly into companies, with the remainder earmarked for indirect investments that would support our diversification and access to co-investment opportunities.

"SDF has already closed four deals worth estimated around $30 million (DH110 million), including three direct and one indirect investment."

The recent investments include HawkEye 360, which specialises in space-based radio frequency (RF) data and geospatial analytics, Hisky, a leader in low-cost satellite communications and TriEye, which provides ground-breaking CMOS-based Short-Wave Infrared (SWIR) sensing technology. The current portfolio of investments ranges from the United States to Israel.

The fund is expected to close two additional investments by the end of this year, bringing the total Venture Capital investments to six with an expectation to deploy the remainder over the next 18 to 30 months.

SDF plays a vital role in supporting the private sector to meet the strategic needs of the UAE, encourage creativity and innovation among local companies and enable them to participate in building a diversified national economy.

November 17th 2021, 3:11 pm

Rasan raises $24 million for its Tameeni insurance platform


Press release:

Rasan, the technology company powering Tameeni – the first insurtech platform in Saudi Arabia – closes an investment of 90 million SAR led by venture capitalist firm Impact46. This financing round marks the first growth stage insurtech deal in the Kingdom.

Rasan, as a tech company, simplifies user experiences and drives operational digitalisation, value-chain transformation and collaboration across the Saudi and regional markets. The company provides technical solutions to insurance brokerage and financial services sector, under which comes the recent teaming up with major Saudi banks whereby Rasan’s Treza platform will support bank’s lease-to-own team for vehicles.

Tameeni, which is powered by Rasan, established in 2017 the Saudi’s first platform to tackle the insurtech space. The platform offers instant policy through its ability to collaborate in real-time across insurance and financial interactions. Through an automated & easy 3-step process: Register, Compare, & Purchase, Tameeni allows users to receive their insurance policies online within seconds. 

Tameeni works with over 20 insurance partners as an aggregator, the platform allows consumers and SMEs to compare quotes and purchase insurance coverage. Overall, Tameeni has approx. eight million users and serves close to 25,000 leads daily. 

Moayad Alfallaj, Chief Executive Officer of Rasan, said: "Saudi’s Vision 2030 heralds an unprecedented period of economic transformation and prosperity. Rasan is poised to support that by advancing the digitalisation of the insurance and financial sectors. This investment from Impact46 is a major milestone on our growth journey, signalling confidence in our research and innovation, and further strengthening our capabilities to build and scale multi-sided platforms as well as improving the customer experience and expanding into new geographical regions."

This infusion of capital will support the development of new technology and products, increase differentiation for Rasan’s insurtech portfolio including Tameeni Motor, Tameeni SME Health and Treza, boost scale opportunities and unlock the value of whitespaces across the insurTech sector as a whole.

Abdulaziz Alomran, Managing Partner at Impact46, said: "We see a tidal wave of opportunities building up in this space and the platform is the best equipped company to ride this wave in our region. The next phase of growth will likely entail more sophisticated product development activities catering for different types of insurance policies. Insurance companies have Zettabytes of data that are ripe for algorithms to gobble. I can’t think of a better business to benefit from AI more than insurance.''

November 17th 2021, 3:11 pm

BLOMINVEST partners with Flat6Labs to fund Saudi startups


Press release:

Leading KSA-based Asset Manager BLOMINVEST has announced a new partnership with Flat6Labs, one of the Mena region’s largest Seed-stage VC firms, to launch funds targeting early-stage startups in the Saudi market. Flat6Labs runs some of the region’s most notable startup programmes and invests in 100 tech startups a year. Its Seed-stage VC funds and programmes support startups during their initial operations, through a highly diversified and structured investment process that aims to reduce the challenges and costs typically faced by early-stage startups.

Abdullah Al-Rashoud, CEO of BLOMINVEST, added: “This partnership came in light of the recent structural reforms in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which has positioned the country as major contender for establishing and operating regional startups, supported by the significant increase in venture capital funds and the increase in merger and acquisition activity targeting emerging companies in the Saudi market. We expect greater market depth to come as more international companies look to launch their regional businesses from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to serve the rest of the Middle East and North Africa region.”

Eyad Albayouk, General Manager of Flat6Labs KSA, also explained that “We are excited about our partnership with BlomInvest and look forward to being an active contributor to the KSA ecosystem. Flat6Labs sees KSA as one of the very few markets in MENA that combine key elements for startup success – namely: size, political stability, growth, and a relatively well-structured and digitized business environment. It comes as no surprise that KSA has recently experienced a 6-fold increase in VC funding since 2016, in light of these structural reforms.”

November 17th 2021, 3:11 pm

Kitopi invests in five virtual restaurant groups in GCC


Press release:

Kitopi, the world’s leading managed cloud kitchen platform, announced today that it has invested in multiple regional F&B groups as part of its next phase of growth.

Following its $415 million Series C funding round, the next phase of Kitopi’s growth strategy will involve growing a network of the best local, regional and international brands that have synergy with Kitopi’s operating platform. Kitopi has begun its initial investment in five major F&B groups namely: Cloud Restaurants (famous for Go! Greek and Go! Healthy), Leap Nation (famous for Tawook Nation and Luca), Right Bite, Under500, and Ichiban, a sushi delicacies chain.

The new strategy will allow brands to leverage Kitopi’s proprietary technology and infrastructure to grow at an accelerated pace while preserving the customer experience. 

Commenting on the new direction, Kitopi co-founder and CEO Mohamad Ballout shared: “As part of our ongoing mission to satisfy the world’s appetite, Kitopi strives to not only expand our customer reach but provide access to the best brands. Over the past 3.5 years, we have had the privilege to partner with some of the best international, regional and local brands in the F&B space, and working with them has made us see tremendous untapped growth potential. As such, we have decided to invest in such brands as it allows us to help them maximise their potential while supporting the F&B ecosystem with our state-of-the-art tech-powered kitchens.”

The decision to invest in brands has come following our conviction that in a post-pandemic world, operating, growing, and scaling brands have become increasingly complex. With Kitopi’s proprietary technology and infrastructure built for scale, Kitopi has become a natural solution for many brand owners. Following Kitopi’s investment, founders of the groups have joined Kitopi to continue growing their respective brands, and Kitopi sees this continued partnership as the best way to accelerate and grow together. With their skills, industry experience, and in-depth understanding of the brands, brand founders and their teams will play an integral role in taking the brands to the next level with Kitopi.

Founded in Dubai, UAE in January 2018, Kitopi is known for its ability to help restaurants and F&B brands scale and expand their reach. With over 3000 employees, Kitopi currently operates 75+ cloud kitchens across the UAE, KSA, Kuwait and Bahrain, and runs its engineering hub in Krakow, Poland and its global customer experience centre in Dubai, UAE.

In the next 24 months, Kitopi will invest up to $1 billion in the best food brands that have synergy with its operating platform. While this marks a key strategy in its next phase of growth, Kitopi will continue to support all brands alongside its portfolio of invested brands.

November 17th 2021, 3:11 pm

Fintech KIWE closes first financing round led by dfin Holding


Press release

KIWE has closed its first investment round, led by dfin Holding with participation from EFG Hermes, Marakez for Development, and notable angel investors.

Through this strategic consortium of investors, we target to catapult the growth of KIWE by deploying dfins’ tech-based financial services portfolio, utilising EFGs’ Valu as a key payment method, and rolling out across Marakez’s portfolio of commercial and residential projects – a perfect fit to help drive our mission towards a stronger E-payments future, alongside current investor EFG EV Fintech.

KIWI is on a quest to create a cashless ecosystem through a comprehensive merchants network, providing customers with the safest, simplest, and most fun payment experience. We are strong believers of empowering freelancers and business owners by helping them identify their targets, level up their customer experience and accept online/offline payments. Our vision is for KIWE to become a verb interchangeable with any word that speaks payments. We strive to have our customers reach out to their phones instinctively whenever a receipt is printed, a check arrives to the table, or a friend’s pay-back is due.

All sectors included, we strive for our economy to be a contactless-cashless pioneer in the payments industry while adhering to the Central Bank of Egypt’s (CBE) regulations and the state's digital transformation policies. CBE’s efforts to boost E-payments are unprecedented, enabling startups, supporting the overall fintech infrastructure, and facilitating communication with key financial institutions. At Kiwe, we believe it's time for Gen X and Z to manage their finances in a more easy, fast, and social way. We cannot wait to show you what's coming next. And we promise, the best is yet to unfold.

Digital Finance Holding (dfin) is a tech-based financial services platform. EFG Hermes is one of Mena's largest financial services companies. Marakez is a leading mixed-used developer in Egypt, with a growing portfolio of commercial and residential projects.

November 16th 2021, 8:12 am

Tarjama raises investment from Amethis to fuel global expansion


Press release:

Amethis, through its newly launched fund, Amethis MENA Fund II (AMF2), has completed its second transaction, acquiring a minority stake in Tarjama.

Founded in 2008 by Jordanian entrepreneur Nour Al Hassan, Tarjama is the leading language technology & services provider in the MENA region, meeting the language and localisation needs of a wide roster of corporates across the region’s largest markets. The company has developed proprietary language technology products including a best-in-class Arabic-focused machine translation engine as well as Cleverso, its high-performing translation management system. With a growing presence in the MENA region, Tarjama which is woman-led enjoys gender parity and is a dynamic employer of youth across the region.

Amethis’ investment in Tarjama will support the company in realising its AI technology roadmap and in executing an ambitious organic and inorganic growth strategy across the region’s main markets.  

Nour Al Hassan, Tarjama Founder & CEO, stated: “This investment by Amethis creates an exceptional opportunity for us to build up our technological capabilities and securely position Tarjama as the leader in language AI across the region. We’re eager for this next phase of growth where we’ll significantly develop our current product portfolio, create new customer-focused products, and expand our presence to global markets.”

Toufic Khoueiry who led the transaction for Amethis commented: “Our investment in Tarjama exemplifies our strategy of backing exceptional and growth-focused entrepreneurs operating successfully in fast-growing sectors. We are excited to support Nour Al Hassan and the Tarjama team as the company embarks on its next chapter.”

Laurent Demey, Amethis Founding Partner, added: “By investing in Tarjama, Amethis is proud to be backing not only a market leader in the attractive Mena localisation market but also a high-growth woman-led SME that has already achieved gender parity. “

Dechert LLP acted as legal advisor to Nour Al Hassan & Tarjama while Hourani & Partners acted as legal advisor to Amethis. PwC and Slator were also retained by Amethis for financial, tax, and commercial due diligence.

November 16th 2021, 8:12 am

Dubai launches Dh1 billion Future District Fund


Press release:

Under the directives of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Chairman of the Dubai Securities and Exchange Higher Committee, today launched the Dubai Future District Fund, with an initial purse of AED1 billion, along with the Fund’s website, The move is part of the Dubai Future District’s (DFD) ongoing efforts to support startups in the field of technology and encourage them to list in the Dubai Financial Markets and stock exchange.

The Fund, an initiative of the Dubai Securities and Exchange Higher Committee, will focus on supporting efforts to implement the directives of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum to establish 1,000 tech companies in the country within five years and increase startup investments from AED1.5 billion to AED4 billion.

His Highness Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed said: "Under the directives of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum to support the digital economic sector, we launched today the AED1 billion Dubai Future District Fund to invest in startups."

He added: "The Fund aims to realise the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum to establish 1,000 tech companies in the next five years, by supporting Dubai’s digital economy and companies that adopt future technologies and develop new economic sectors of the future."

His Highness Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed stressed that the Dubai Future District Fund supports national efforts and strategies aimed at enabling entrepreneurs to reach new horizons, realise Dubai’s aspirations for the new economy, and contribute to enhancing the emirate’s status as a preferred destination for global talent that offers an integrated investment environment and exceptional facilities.

His Highness Sheikh Maktoum also approved the appointment of Sharif El-Badawi as CEO of the Dubai Future District Fund. In this role, the new CEO will drive efforts to support Dubai’s development into a destination for regional and global technology startups and boost its position as a hub for talent and game-changing ideas.

As an enabler of Dubai Future District’s other initiatives, the Fund seeks to fill a funding gap in the MENA venture capital (VC) market by investing in technology startups in the early stages of growth. It aims to invest in local and regional funds, as well as attract leading international VC funds to establish a presence in Dubai.

The Dubai Future District Fund seeks to build an innovation-driven startup ecosystem to enhance the global competitiveness of Dubai’s future economy. As part of its mandate, it will invest in a range of key initiatives, including Dubai Future Accelerators, DIFC FinTech Hive and Venture Builder Studios.

The Fund is ideally positioned to attract startups from the MENA region and beyond that can develop innovative solutions for future local, regional and global challenges. It will also support the scale-up of top-performing startups through growth capital and follow-on rounds of investment and attract VC firms to Dubai through a fund of funds programme.

To achieve its objectives, the Fund will leverage emerging technologies, such as AI, cybersecurity, blockchain, data analytics, software-as-a-service (SaaS)/platform-as-a-service (PaaS), cloud solutions, 5G, IoT, augmented reality and robotics.

The Dubai Future District Fund has named Sharif El-Badawi as its CEO, who will play a pivotal role in quickly ramping up the team and executing the Fund’s strategy of contributing to the economy of the future. He will oversee the provision of financing for DFD’s innovation ecosystem, support promising projects and build partnerships with investment capital funds from around the world, in addition to supervising the implementation of the short- and long-term strategic objectives of the Fund. These include developing Dubai’s startup ecosystem, catalysing its growth by direct investment in startups, and encouraging local, regional and global funds to invest in the ecosystem.

Sharif El-Badawi was a founding Managing Partner of Plus Venture Capital (+VC), one of the leading seed stage investment firms in the Middle East and North Africa region. Previously, he co-founded and managed the first US-based venture capital firm with a dedicated fund for the MENA region. In his role, he managed the startup MENA fund, 500 Falcons, which has invested in over 180 startups across 15 countries.

In addition, Sharif serves on the board of San Francisco Bay Area-based non-profit firm TechWadi, where he was the chairman of the board from 2015 to 2019, helping to build meaningful bridges between MENA startups and Silicon Valley. He also serves on several advisory boards for startups, organisations and governments in the MENA region and Silicon Valley.

Prior to his career in investing, Sharif was the Partner Lead to VCs and startups at Google where he worked with top tier VCs and their most promising startups on strategies that bring Google’s capabilities to their businesses. Sharif earned his Master of Business Administration from University of California, Irvine, Merage School of Business and his Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Omar bin Sultan Al Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy and Remote Work Applications, noted that the launch of the Dubai Future District Fund constitutes a new step in consolidating the UAE’s leadership in digital economy while boosting Dubai’s attractiveness as a global destination for innovators and startups specialised in future technology. It also contributed to the success of many VCs and tech-driven startups such as: Careem, Mumzworld, Souq and others.

He added that investing in the development of the entrepreneurial ecosystem is a major pillar of national efforts to diversify the economy, support local talent and attract global expertise. He also highlighted the importance of providing appropriate financing options for emerging companies to develop and implement their ideas and expand their businesses.

Essa Kazim, Governor of DIFC, said: "Innovation has always been a cornerstone of DIFC’s strategy, delivering on the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai."

He added: "DIFC continues to be the business destination of choice in the region for businesses focused on innovation and the new economy. They will benefit from the Dubai Future District Fund and in turn contribute to Dubai’s economic growth. The fund and other key initiatives emanating from the Dubai Future District will allow us to continue elevating Dubai’s status as one of the world’s most advanced cities and leading financial centres."

Helal Saeed Al Marri, Director General of Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism, said: "The formation of the Dubai Future District Fund is a significant milestone in the emirate’s journey to become a global entrepreneurship hub, fast-tracking our new economy development agenda ahead of most other nations in today’s new normal. Providing capital for startups and scale-ups across the innovation and technology ecosystem positions Dubai as a magnet not only for top talent but also for the international investor community. Reflecting the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Fund testifies to our commitment to delivering the most conducive value proposition for sector-agnostic business growth."

Khalfan Belhoul, CEO of DFF, said that His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum's vision for the future of Dubai resulted in the development of a unique ecosystem to design the future through testing and adoption of the latest innovative technologies. He also highlighted the importance of public-private partnerships in achieving this vision.

He added: "The Dubai Future District Fund will help accelerate Dubai's journey towards the future, as well as the positive outcomes of investing in the tech sector to support fields such as health, education, finance and government services, and the practical implementation of specialised projects in the economy of the future."

Khalfan Belhoul noted that the Fund provides an interactive platform that brings together government and investment agencies with innovators, startups and entrepreneurs with the aim of enabling them to leverage the Fund’s facilities, initiatives and financing options to enhance their contribution to developing the most promising emerging sectors.

Arif Amiri, CEO of DIFC Authority, said: "DIFC is playing a crucial role in helping Dubai become a leading global start-up hub and developing its innovation proposition. We have already built the largest and most comprehensive FinTech and innovation ecosystem in the region which has resulted in over 60 per cent of start-ups in the GCC making the DIFC Innovation Hub their home. We will work with these start-ups to leverage the Dubai Future District Fund whilst applying our expertise to drive both the future of finance and future economies more broadly. In turn, we will be supporting efforts to realise Dubai’s ambitions for the digital era."


November 16th 2021, 8:12 am

Nomod raises $3.4 million seed round at $50m valuation to accelerate growth


Press release:

Nomod, a platform that makes it beautifully easy for merchants around the world to accept card payments on their phone with no extra hardware, has raised a $3.4 million seed round to accelerate growth. 

Nomod was part of Y Combinator’s Summer 2021 batch, and investors in its seed round include Global Founders Capital, Kingsway Capital, Goodwater Capital, together with leading angels including one of the founders of Careem, an early employee from Dropbox, and a partner at DST Global.

Nomod launched in March 2021 and has gained traction across multiple markets, including the US, UK, and the UAE, has acquired over 4700 merchants, and total processed volume has grown 11x since launch.

Nomod was founded in late 2019 by Omar Kassim, a serial startup founder, together with a globally remote team of world class product, engineers and operations specialists. Omar’s previous startup JadoPado, was acquired by Noon, Amazon’s largest competitor in the Mena region. 

November 16th 2021, 8:12 am

Dubai-based Zofeur raises $500,000 Seed round


Press Release 

Introducing Zofeur, the world’s first on-demand pay-per-minute chauffeur services platform with no minimum usage commitment – be it 10 minutes, 10 hours or 10 days, users can instantly hire personal chauffeurs through their mobile app. The Dubai-based tech startup successfully raised seed funding of $500,000 in May 2021. The round was predominantly led by Zofeur’s customers turning as Angel investors. The startup plans to expand across the region by 2022. 

Zofeur was founded in July 2020, by two entrepreneurial friends, Bunty Monani and Ishrath Hasmin, who bootstrapped the company while working full-time jobs. Zofeur now has over 50,000 users in Dubai alone and is offering a unique pay per minute payment model. The app has undergone a revamp in November 2021, as a result of taking on board customer feedback to offer the best user experience. 

“Safe driver is a very old school term, but Zofeur is much more than that. We are a lifestyle service for anyone who does not want to compromise time, money, and comfort. Along with safe driver services, you can now hire chauffeurs to drop and pick up cars from service, send your car for annual vehicle inspection, take you for a meeting and many more use cases. All under one mobile app,” says Bunty, Founder and CEO of Zofeur.

Commenting further, Ishrath, co-founder and COO says, “we visualise a world where everyone can have a personal chauffeur with one tap on your mobile. During our first year of business, we really focused on creating the best product for our customers, and now we have revamped the application. As a result, a large portion of our investment came from existing users and customers. We believe there is huge potential for Zofeur across the region and internationally. Our aim is to make chauffeur services, luxury service today, a daily necessity.” 

Zofeur is set for international expansion in Q2 of 2022, starting with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. 

November 16th 2021, 8:12 am

Jordan’s Abwaab raises $20 million Series A round


Press release:

The Jordan-based EdTech and online learning platform Abwaab has successfully raised $20M in its latest funding round. The Series A funding round was led by existing investor BECO Capital (UAE) and joined by 4DX Ventures (US), GSV Ventures (US), Watar Partners (KSA) and others.

Founded in late 2019, by Hamdi Tabbaa, Sabri Hakim, and Hussein AlSarabi, Abwaab positions its platform at secondary school students, offering content tailored to local curricula to fill the gaps in educational resources available online. Through Web and native apps, students participate in lessons, get feedback, and join discussion boards making alternative education highly accessible while tackling the region’s high dependence on offline tutoring.

Since its launch, the Jordan-based edtech has expanded from Jordan into Egypt and Pakistan, and following a $5 million seed round in March of this year, this investment puts Abwaab as one of the most-funded regional edtech startups across MENAP, a region that encompasses 160 million students. Abwaab has experienced strong growth during the pandemic-halted lockdown where children were unable to attend normal schooling. 

Hamdi Tabbaa, Abwaab’s Co-founder & CEO highlighted  “Our mission since inception has been to make learning more accessible, affordable, and fun, by building a comprehensive ecosystem that changes the way students learn, while also equipping them with the tools needed to get ahead in life.” 

Peter Orth, Managing Partner at 4DX Ventures added “We believe very much in Abwaab’s mission to make high quality, outcome-driven education more affordable and accessible, and we believe that they are poised to become dominant in the MENAP region.”

In Jordan, where it has an active freemium subscription model, students are paying a one-off subscription to unlock access to the platform for the whole academic year. Abwaab stated that it has grown by 10x in the number of active users throughout the 2020/21 academic year. 

With the acquisition of Pakistani edtech startup Edmatrix, Abwaab is competing on a regional level offering micro-lessons that match every country’s national curriculum in bite-sized content, test preps, and assessment, and extremely affordable annual subscriptions. The Jordan-based edtech plans on channelling its newly acquired funds to continue its expansion into new markets. 

BECO Capital’s Abdulaziz Shikh Al Sagha concluded “Abwaab is on a clear path to establishing themselves as market leaders within the region and we are proud to have had the chance to further deepen our partnership with Hamdi, Sabri, Hussein, and the whole Abwaab team.”

November 15th 2021, 9:14 pm

How open banking is changing the payments landscape in Mena


Abdulla Almoayed is the founder and CEO of open banking platform Tarabut Gateway, which recently closed a $12 million pre-Series A round led by Tiger Global.

The Middle East’s open banking frontier is evolving, and is changing the very nature of banking and banking institutions.

Rapid change is being brought about by new government and regulatory measures, as well as the introduction of new platforms and payment methods launched in the region. Digital transactions have continued to grow at a strong pace, where Mena's online payments penetration reached 76 per cent and it is expected to keep on growing. 

Local GCC banks appear well positioned to capitalise on a strong internet banking trend, based on a number of fundamental indicators including changing consumer demographics, a shift in online behaviour, and an increased e-adoption rate. 

Open banking regulations are pushing banks to open up their systems, reinvent their payments business models, and build a platform showcasing a mix of in-demand products and services that go beyond customers’ traditional financial needs.

Banks in the region have shown an appetite for open banking, as they realise that Innovation is imperative. Banks now face high cost pressures, intense competition and demanding customer expectations. Banks are rising up to these challenges, with open banking as the gateway to do just that.

The Mena region has done this by fostering a thriving fintech and startup environment. Among the leaders is Bahrain, who started the open banking journey in 2018, and established the Bahrain Open Banking framework in 2020. Tarabut Gateway is a key player in driving this transformation, and is Mena’s first and largest regulated open banking platform that connects a regional network of banks and fintechs via a universal applications programming interface (API).

Other countries in the GCC such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia have also launched their own open banking directives. 

The Saudi Central Bank has announced the launch of an open banking framework expected to go live in 2022. In the UAE, the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA) granted specific licences in April 2020 commencing their involvement within the open banking scene.

To go further, with open banking APIs, consumers can use online banking payments to pay merchants. These payments are authenticated directly between consumers and their banks which offers a range of benefits. Payments can be made more conveniently, securely, and faster than traditional methods. There are no hassles, no middlemen and high transaction fees.

Future solutions 

Open banking brings in a lot of features to enhance the payment experience. On the consumer side, open banking enables direct payments without sharing sensitive information at check-out. There won’t be a need to manually enter your card details or trust a website to store those details for you. Instead, it will be automated, mobile first and a seamless experience. 

This not only grants consumers more options for payments, but businesses as well, which enables them to cut costs and avoid paying high transaction processing fees for payment networks. 

High fraud and chargebacks were highlighted by 36 per cent of merchants as their top two pain points, according to the Open Banking Expo. With open banking, there is an additional layer of security by eliminating card details from the payment process.  Consumers can authenticate payments on their mobile device using facial recognition or their fingerprint to log into their applications. Additionally, there is a reduced risk of fraud due to the lack of chargeback fees within payment transactions.

Open banking is an essential strategy for financial firms to compete and flourish. Even more importantly, open banking will enable the development of previously unimaginable new products and services. Banks and fintechs can combine efforts to offer services as features across new distribution channels, develop unique value propositions, and differentiate through tailored digital experiences. Such collaboration could build revenue, accelerate digital transformation, attract mobile-first consumers, and even experiment with new business models.

The beginning

We are now at the beginning of the open banking payments journey, and exciting times are ahead, unlocking opportunities for all generations when it comes to payments. Whereas banking institutions formerly faced commoditisation as providers of financial infrastructure to third-party providers, open banking is today viewed as a possible source of new income and a foundation for creativity. 

Open banking solutions can turn things around for banks, and unlock even more opportunities for them to lead. This will bring greater transparency and diversity to the industry.

With more data available than ever before, business leaders can use time-saving, value-added open banking technologies to improve their operations and consumer experiences.


November 15th 2021, 9:14 pm

Wamda participates in Verity's $800,000 pre-Seed round


Press release:

Verity, a UAE-based fintech startup headquartered in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), has closed a $800,000 pre-Seed round, preparing for the launch of its fully-integrated family banking and financial literacy app built for the Middle East. The latest capital raise was backed by regional venture capital firms, including VentureSouq, Wamda, and Beyond Capital, with contributions from prominent angel investors. With experiential learning at its core, the Verity app provides kids and teens with the tools they need to earn, save, give, and spend responsibly while giving parents the ability to observe and guide their money management. 

Targeting its UAE launch in the fourth quarter of 2021, with the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) expansion slated for 2022, the Verity app takes a creative and holistic approach to teach kids and teens between the ages of eight and 18 personal finance in a real-life environment.  Through subscription-based family plans, parents can create sub-accounts for their children, which they can monitor and control as primary account holders.  

Omar Al Sharif, co-founder of Verity, with over 15 years of strategy and marketing experience in the regional entrepreneurship ecosystem, commented: “When Dina, Kamal and I came together to form Verity, our mission was very clear from day one – to make the next generation more financially conscious and financially independent. Verity is built in the region and for the region, so it was important for us to create an app that encompassed our Middle Eastern culture and values, in addition to global citizenship. We wanted parents to know we were on the same page as them when it came to what and how their children were taught. Everything about the Verity app is highly personalised in that respect, from the user journey to the language options, starting with Arabic and English.”     

Parents will be able to top up the accounts, set parameters and spending limits, and initiate a reward system, where kids can earn additional funds after completing specific chores and tasks. Kids then have the options of saving their money, contributing it to a cause of their choice, and spending it using a personalised pre-paid debit card which can be used to make purchases online and in stores. Parents will be notified of all transactions, allowing them to monitor and adjust parameters as needed.  

Dina Shoman, co-founder of Verity, international banking veteran, and serial financial literacy entrepreneur, said: “Financial literacy is a basic life skill which, unfortunately, we aren’t ‘taught’ early on, if ever. According to S&P Global’s Financial Literacy Survey, approximately 66 per cent of adults are financially illiterate. However, it’s been proven that kids can grasp simple financial concepts from a very young age, and that one of the most effective ways for them to learn is by doing. We’ve combined experiential learning with fun and engaging tools to create a safe space that gives kids the freedom to choose what they do with their money, without compromising their parents’ peace of mind or peace of wallet.” 

Kamal Al-Samarrai, former investment banker, serial entrepreneur, and now co-founder of Verity commented, “Although Verity’s journey is just beginning, we’ve had a really positive response from key members of the investment and tech communities who share our vision.  We truly believe that by encouraging and helping children to manage their money responsibly today, they won’t repeat the mistakes we made when we were younger, ensuring they are better placed to enjoy a more financially stable and secure future. We are honored and thankful to have prominent regional investors partnering with us as we bring this vision to life.” 

Tammer Qadoumi, General Partner of the VentureSouq Mena Fintech Fund, commented on investing in Verity, "The transition to a digital-first economy is driven first and foremost by young people, and their influence on how the world lives and works will only get stronger. So the products and services that are most likely to succeed tomorrow are being designed to speak to and relate to that audience. That audience cares a lot about purpose. We believe strongly in the importance of Verity's mission of disseminating financial literacy, in and of itself. But we also believe that by actually caring about financial literacy, Verity's products will resonate more with its target market, and this will drive its growth." 

November 15th 2021, 8:58 am

EdVentures invests $200,000 in Career 180 platform


Press release:

In an effort to empower youth and connect them to employment opportunities; EdVentures announced a $200,000 investment in Career 180 with the aim of developing a new employment platform and merging it with the Freelance Yard to create an integrated platform that provides employment and qualifying services to youth covering all job types.

Career 180 also plans to further enhance its career advising services and increase its training programmes; reaching a greater number of users, as it seeks to train one million trainees and assist 300,000 users in finding suitable job opportunities.

Since its establishment, Career 180 has worked to provide a variety of professional counselling services through its platform that is aimed at preparing youth for the labour market.

Career 180 offers career counselling videos on its website and a variety of additional services, such as workshops and theoretical or practical training programmes for young people in their various specialities. 

Through the one-day activity, Career 180 holds career guidance sessions and meetings to gather youth and connect them with senior experts in different specialisations and professions.

The company organises the Egypt Career Summit every year, which is one of the largest events attended by thousands of youth, numerous multinationals, local companies and startups, and hundreds of experts in various business sectors in Egypt. It is full of lectures, interactive panel discussions and workshops that aim to elevate career awareness and prepare more qualified highly demanded calibres.

“We constantly aim at empowering youth, and that’s why we were excited to do a new round of investment in Career 180. Their new platform will enable youth to find job opportunities while helping them develop their skills and capabilities through the various training programmes offered by this platform,” said Dalia Ibrahim, the founder & CEO of EdVentures.

The founders of Career 180 stated: “We aim to create a comprehensive online platform that qualifies youth to the job market and facilitates their hiring at multinational, local companies and startups, through offering hundreds of online courses and programmes, in addition to offering thousands of jobs at Career 180 and Freelance Yard.”

EdVentures supports and invests in startups specialising in education, culture and innovative learning solutions in Seed and pre-Series A rounds focusing on Egypt, Africa, and the Arab World. The VC firm was launched in 2017 by Nahdet Misr Publishing House. It provides technical and financial support to startups to ensure success and continuity in the market by providing investment according to each company’s needs and maturity level. 

EdVentures is always open to expanding its portfolio. Interested startups can apply for investment through EdVentures website:

November 15th 2021, 8:58 am

Oman’s Phaze Ventures launches $30 million fund to support early-stage startups


Press release:

Oman-based Phaze Ventures has announced the launch and initial close of its $30 million venture capital fund, targeting early-stage startups in Mena, Europe and North America.

Established in 2018, Phaze Ventures is the first private venture capital firm in the Sultanate, founded to fund early-stage disruptive technology companies from around the globe and accelerate the transformation of the region’s economies. 

“We founded Phaze Ventures at the start of 2018, since then we have invested in and scaled several businesses across Mena, Europe and North America, as well as created an incredible platform with our accelerator programme and industry partnerships,” says Abdullah Al-Shaksy, co-founder and CEO at Phaze Ventures.

The firm’s existing investments include eMushrif, Carzaty and Voyager, and is headed by it’s three co-founders: Abdullah Al-Shaksy, co-founder and CEO, Mohammed Al-Wahaibi, co-founder and partner, and Masoud Al-Rawahi, co-founder and partner. The team is also supported by a diverse group of advisors with leadership experience at global technology firms including Amazon, Siri and Spotify.

“Our ability to support high-potential founders is backed by our world class advisory board and deeply collaborative platform of strategic industry and ecosystem partnerships. With the launch of our fund, we believe our value proposition to the ecosystem has come full circle.”

“We are extremely interested in disruptive technologies in traditionally undisrupted markets, with the ability to create a significant and sustainable impact on a global scale.”

The fund launches with commitments from the country’s largest investors, including Oman Information and Communications Technology Group (part of the sovereign fund of Oman), Ominvest and several prominent family offices.


November 15th 2021, 8:58 am

Egypt's edtech Tryo acquires Nafham


Press release

Tyro, EduTech platform connecting students with qualified instructors through one-to-one and group sessions, is acquiring Nafham, Egyptian social startup that offers free crowdsourced educational content, under a share-swap agreement. The agreement entails Tyro’s leadership taking over Nafham’s management and operations to enhance the customer experience of Nafham’s 6 million users. Tyro will be the overall holding company and it will continue to deliver live tutoring services as well as extending technology capabilities to the group. Tyro has also secured a kickoff fund for the new entity from several investors including Flat6Labs, and NXL Partners.

“Both companies joining forces will technically make us the largest Edutech platform in the MENA region providing both, live online tutoring as well as recorded educational video content,” says Mokhtar Osman, Tyro CEO. “It is crucial to capitalize on both the technology capabilities, and a solid customer base,  to be successful. With this merger, we are well-positioned to take the platform to the next level.”

“This deal has put an end to the on-going debate of which is the better and more efficient service offering: live tutoring vs. pre-recorded sessions,” says Ahmed El Alfi, Nafham Co-founder. “This way, we are able to deliver both services on top of innovative technology that makes for a seamless and immersive educational experience through providing this hybrid model.

Nafham is one of the largest online educational platforms in the Middle East with 6 million annual users and over 150 million views garnered on their video content. Nafham’s content is focused on school curricula of Egypt, KSA, and UAE  for k-12. “Nafham has a very strong & established brand presence within the MENA region which is why we'll be focusing on further strengthening the Nafham brand,”  says Mokhtar Osman.

Tyro is an online tutoring platform helping thousands of students prepare for their exams & learn a new language. Since the company’s inception in 2017, Tyro has completed over 50,000 paid sessions, has been scaling with double digit growth rates, and is financially self-sustaining.

“Online education is here to stay and its adoption has only been significantly accelerated due to the pandemic. It is now considered a permanent source of knowledge and content generation,” says Amir Sabry, Tyro Co-founder. “This acquisition also confirms our commitment to delivering Edutech products and services for years to come, and our impregnable belief in our model.”

November 15th 2021, 8:58 am

n.go raises $1.8 million in first funding round


Press release:

n.go, the company that specialises in providing virtual service to customers in cars, announced the closing of its first investment round with a value of SAR7 million ($1.8 million), led by angel investors.

n.go, which was established in mid-2021, had entered the food and beverage sector service by providing a pioneering experience to customers that allows them to choose products and pay through the application, and then receive the order from the chosen store upon arrival without the need to get out of the car. The platform also allows customers to shorten waiting time and avoid long periods of standing to buy and pay. In addition, n.go helps its partners from restaurants and cafes to increase their revenues, receive more customers and learn their client’s preferences to improve services and raise customer loyalty.

n.go operates in Riyadh, Jeddah, and Sharqiya in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and has been able to include a number of reputable stores in the food and beverage sector in a short period of time to work on the platform.

Commenting on the investment, the founders of the application said: “We aim at improving the user experience and provide all means of convenience to n.go users, as well as help merchants in the food and beverage sector to keep pace with the digital transformation witnessed in the Kingdom, and to open new digital channels. We aspire in the coming period to add many more services in the application and access to other markets in the Middle East, the first of which is the United Arab Emirates.

November 14th 2021, 1:57 pm

Saudi edtech AlGooru raises $600,000 pre-Seed funding


Press release:

Saudi edtech startup, AlGooru, has raised $600,000 pre-Seed funding from Nawa Co, Oqal Angel Network, and Techstars.

Who is AlGooru?

Ever since its foundation in 2018, AlGooru worked towards building an online platform that seamlessly connects students with qualified on-demand private tutors.

Students can book online or in-person sessions with vetted and specialised tutors through a variety of academic and non-academic subjects with 3 easy clicks.

AlGooru has been highly active in the ecosystem, participating in multiple local and regional programmes including Taqadam, Plug & Play by MiSK, Unifonic X, Monsha’at, and got most recently accepted into the Riyadh Techstars Accelerator, the accelerator’s first-ever Saudi Arabian programme in partnership with Raed VC.

AlGooru’s app is currently available on both the Play Store and the App Store.

A Word from the Funders  

Sami AlHusayyen, from Nawa Co, said, “The edtech industry is promising to solve challenges existing in our region’s education by providing quality teaching materials to everyone regardless of their geographical location or financial capabilities. It also provides the solution to lifelong learning in a fast-changing work environment. Nawa is happy to support AlGooru in developing its innovative solution to connect students with qualified tutors, serving a growing market and demand in digital transformation that is accelerating very fast nowadays.”

Abdullah Shamma, an angel investor from Oqal, said, “I'm confident with the passion and the know-how AlGooru team has, they will contribute heavily to the educational ecosystem in the region and the success of AlGooru will impact millions of students in the region by bridging the gap between what students have and what they want and deserve.”

Where to Next

AlGooru strives to continue delivering state-of-the-art learning and teaching experiences to its users. The startup will be utilising the funds to improve its technology, market its product, and intensively recruit tutors from various fields and backgrounds, all of which fall under the company’s vision to offer a holistic one-stop solution for private tutoring in the GCC in the coming years.

“We want to make it seamless for qualified tutors to be found and, more importantly, assure reliable tutoring is delivered in our region. We’ve hired pioneers from the edtech ecosystem following our investment round to help us build an impactful business, and we’re just getting started,” said Khalid Abou Kassem, founder of AlGooru.

November 14th 2021, 1:57 pm

Why tech and sustainability in Asian markets are set for investment windfall


Trade and investment between the Middle East and both India and China have been steadily rising over the past few years. This has become increasingly evident in the number of Indian and Chinese startups and companies scaling to the region. Institutional investors from the Middle East are also realising the opportunities these two markets have to offer. Neelam Verma, vice president and head of investments at Continental Group, an insurance intermediary and financial services solutions provider in the GCC region, explains why these two markets are so attractive to investors.

The “great reset” that is currently underway is particularly apparent in the investment ecosystem. There are two patterns: Investors are increasingly turning towards the Asia-Pacific, and they are making thematic investments. Furthermore, India and China are the hotbeds for these investments, with Indian startups raising $16.9 billion VC funding thus far in 2021, next only to China. What are the implications of these developments? And how will they shape up in the long term?

Let’s look at the money trail. The UAE and India aim to double trade to $100 billion in the next five years. Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund Mubadala, invested $1.2 billion in India’s telecommunications provider Jio Platforms in June 2020, while Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund PIF, has applied for a qualified foreign institutional investor licence in China.

All investments are anchored in technology

In today’s globalised world, technology is ubiquitous. With digitisation now touching all facets of life, it is only understandable that all investment activities are inexorably tied to technology. However, what is driving these investments specifically to India and China? Investors are seemingly encouraged by the aggregate demand for digital businesses, rising internet penetration, and most notably, the youth population in both India and China. Despite accounting for a mammoth share of global internet consumerism, both economies boast high demographic dividends; which is the measure of working people in the total population. To put this into perspective, over 650 million people in India are under the age of 25. And in the last couple of years, owing to increased digitisation and financial awareness, the youth population is entering the investment ecosystem in large numbers.

India’s IPO boom since the pandemic outbreak underscores the rationale. Food startup Zomato recently raised $1.26 billion in its IPO. Before the IPO was announced, institutional investors had mixed opinions on Zomato’s prospects. However, after the announcement, the shares were subscribed over 40 times. And, as expected, it made stellar listing day gains and has continued to stay buoyant since. First-time investors, particularly millennials, were the highest subscribers in the retail category.

Likewise, CarTrade IPO was another such instance that generated a lot of investor interest. In any case, technology is the common attribute of all the companies heading for IPOs. But the Chinese companies are currently facing uncertainties, following the government’s crackdown on tech IPOs. This move could work in favour of companies registered in India, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore.

ESG is coming of age

Among the thematic drivers, environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) has broken new ground in the past couple of years. VCs are reserving substantial exposure to ESG-related funds and equities. And this development has had a direct bearing on the modus operandi of companies in India and China. Take Zomato IPO, for instance — Zomato had a dedicated segment for ESG in its presentations and the offer document or draft red herring prospectus (DRHP), hoping to tap into investors’ ESG focus. Meanwhile, financial institutions like HDFC are offering “green deposits” to customers willing to invest in ESG-compliant companies.

Yet, by one estimate, both India and China have relatively low ESG disclosure scores, compared to global standards. The ESG disclosure scores of India and China are 19.4 and 21.6, respectively, which are less than half of France’s (46.9). These disparities could see both the economies take policy-led actions. For its part, China has already tabled a policy of compulsory ESG disclosure, which could result in instant changes given the centrally-controlled implementation model.

India, on the other hand, could rely on structural tailwinds to ESG adoption. India’s large youth population, which is relatively more versed in ESG than preceding generations, is integral to this shift. Also noteworthy is the self-initiative from leading domestic companies to align with the global ESG upswing. For instance, Mahindra & Mahindra has a $600-million valued green product portfolio across its electric mobility, green buildings, and waste-to-energy initiatives.

Going forward, both China and India will, in their own ways, create ample opportunities at the intersection of ESG and technology, making a compelling case for global dry powder deployments.

November 14th 2021, 4:56 am

Zain Ventures invests in Switzerland-based BNPL ZoodPay's $38 million Series B round


Press release

The “Buy Now Pay Later” (BNPL) Super App ZoodPay has successfully raised $38M in its latest funding round. The Series B fundraising observed participation from leading global investors including London-based VC Sturgeon Capital, Zain Group’s venture capital arm ‘Zain Ventures’, and other key strategic global investors.

Headquartered in Switzerland, the ZoodPay & ZoodMall app has already more than 8 million users and ten offices across the Middle East and Central Asia. The business commits to delivering a "Swiss quality" shopping experience and cross-border services to merchants and shoppers across fast-growing fintech and e-commerce emerging markets such as Uzbekistan, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Kazakhstan. 

The third quarter of the year proved consistent with the stellar year of FinTech across MENA, Turkey, and Pakistan. Observing a 55% Quarter-on-Quarter growth of funds backing FinTech across MENAPT, the industry observed yet another quarterly record as most recently recorded in Q3 2021. Most remarkably, online payment solutions and financial structuring services have been a hot target for VC investors across MENAPT as observed in FinTech Funding Rounds 2021 YTD. Of which, startups like BPL platforms Tabby (UAE) and Colendi (Turkey) raising major rounds this year. In parallel to setting the payment infrastructures that push forward with cashless and flexible payment processes, FinTechs like BitOasis, Sarwa, and most recently Fintech Galaxy, and Tarabut Gateway have raised rounds this year to explore the worlds of Cryptocurrency, Open Banking, and Digital Investment. 

ZoodPay offers two products, ZoodPay BNPL, a 4-installments plan with 0% interest, and ZoodPay Credit, an extended BNPL product (up to 12 months) with interest in certain markets. The company’s BNPL is available through multiple distribution channels: ZoodMall, its own marketplace with 7 million products, as well as across thousands of online and offline shops in its core geographies. ZoodPay’s Buy Now, Pay Later ecosystem includes the ZoodMall marketplace, and the logistics local and cross-border system, ZoodShip. This ecosystem empowers and incentivizes merchants in the Middle East, Central Asia, China, Europe, Russia, and Turkey to open their storefronts to local, low-penetrated, and fast-growing markets without additional set-up costs or fees.

ZoodPay is showing strong growth momentum in Central Asia and the Middle East and is already the number one Super App in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Uzbekistan. This momentum will continue over the coming years, as the fintech company broadens its scope of activity in existing markets and enters new ones. Michael Khoi, Group CEO of OrientSwiss, the parent company of ZoodPay and ZoodMall commented, “This new funding will be value-accretive to all our stakeholders, as we expand across the Middle East and Central Asia. We’re improving people's lives by offering digital-savvy shoppers and the underbanked population the most convenient instant online and offline installment payment solutions for their shopping experience. We would like to thank our investors for their trust and confidence, and we look forward to taking the ZoodPay Super App ecosystem to new heights.” 

ZoodPay will utilize the Series B funding to accelerate its growth and expansion across the Middle East and Central Asia, stimulating local and cross-border e-commerce transactions through its marketplace (ZoodMall) and ‘Buy Now Pay Later’ solutions. The company is contributing to socio-economic development, creating jobs across its market footprint and beyond. 

November 11th 2021, 7:30 pm

Nigeria-based Helium Health acquires Qatar’s Meddy


Source: TechCrunch

Nigeria-based health tech startup Helium Health has acquired Meddy, a Qatar-headquartered and UAE-based doctor booking platform for an undisclosed amount.

The acquisition, termed “a great deal” by Helium Health CEO Adegoke Olubusi on a call, is unusual in the sense that it overlaps two regions that rarely do in tech: Africa and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Meddy CEO Haris Aghadi and COO Abed Alkarim Khattab will join Helium’s leadership team as part of the deal. They will “play integral roles in Helium’s execution of its GCC strategy and operations.”

Helium Health’s acquisition of Meddy is a major expansion play. The company, founded by Olubisi, Dimeji Sofowora and Tito Ovia in 2016, is well-known for its core electronic medical records (EMR) and hospital management solutions in Africa. But it has since evolved to offer other services under its platform, including HeliumPay, a billing and payments solution; a collateral-free loan product, HeliumCredit; patient-provider and revenue cycle management service HeliumDoc; and data analytics services.

With a presence in six African countries — Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Liberia, Kenya and Uganda — Helium Health has signed more than 500 healthcare facilities. Over 7,000 medical professionals from these facilities now provide care to more than 300,000 patients monthly.

Typically, an enterprise client needs various services on one platform — from electronic medical record and management information systems to revenue cycle management, consolidated analytics and telemedicine services.

However, most platforms in the GCC have use cases that are more vertical than horizontal. For instance, Vezeeta and Okadoc help users book appointments, access teleconsultation services and order medications; Bayzat offers an online platform for HR administration, payroll management and health insurance; and Clinicy runs digital healthcare management system. So, for enterprise clients to get a holistic EMR experience, they will need to stack these different products on top of each other.

Though the SF-based Helium Health has a wide range of B2B offerings, it lacks in these other areas especially in telemedicine and appointment bookings, which are more consumer-facing products. The company could have built out these services but acquiring Meddy presented a better option due to its expansion play. Apart from providing a doctor booking platform and telemedicine product to manage bookings and patient reviews, Meddy offers marketing solutions for hospitals to improve their online presence and attract new patients.

With Meddy, the Y Combinator and Tencent-backed Helium Health can now cover a broader range of services health groups need. Meddy will merge with Helium Health’s patient-provider and revenue cycle management platform under the name Helium Doc.

“You don’t have a lot of people who can provide a suite like ours in the GCC. If they do, they’re doing it at a price point that’s so high that they’ve already priced out the market in that sense,” Olubusi said to TechCrunch.

“But we can provide a full suite where you can do your appointments booking, marketing solution, EMR, hospital management information system, and have everything in a one-stop-shop. It saves you a lot of stress in the process from trying to consolidate many different systems.”

Aghadi adds that the partnership gives interoperability to its clients, an absent feature in other EMRs and siloed individual platforms.

Many legacy and new products do not have open APIs and that makes it difficult for data to move between them. Healthcare providers feel the brunt of this missing interoperability when they use such platforms to make uninformed health decisions.

“Interoperability is a very big challenge in the region, and having this one-stop place like ours solves that,” Aghadi remarked.

While two obvious factors — exploiting what other healthcare platforms lack and taking advantage of a growing opportunity in the GCC region (where investment in digital infrastructure will account for 30 per cent of healthcare investment between 2023 to 2030) — drove this acquisition and partnership, there is a third, more subtle factor Olubisi and Aghadi point out: the teams.

According to both founders, the Helium Health and Meddy teams are identical in operations, technology execution, culture and market price points. These similarities made it easy for both companies to sign off the deal in less than four months.

“Beyond the actual product and market opportunity, what made this possible was really the composition of the team, how well they executed the fact that they share a DNA and culture that’s very similar to ours,” said Olubusi.

Meddy currently serves more than 150 private clients within the UAE and Qatar. The company, backed with just $1.8 million in VC funding, has facilitated over 200,000 doctor appointments while enabling healthcare providers to generate approximately $130 million in billings.

As both companies come together, Olubusi says the next plan is to figure out how better to serve the GCC market with its complete EMR solutions and, at the same time, roll out telemedicine and doctor booking services for its clients in Africa.

“Over the next few months, a lot of what we’re doing is being able to better roll out these consolidated product suites in our markets and serve them more,” he said. “I mean, we want to double, triple the growth of our client base over the next two to three years and extend our reach even further to make sure that Helium Health is the top health tech provider in the GCC region just as it is in Africa.”

November 11th 2021, 7:30 pm

BlinkApp raises six-figure pre-Seed


Press release:

Cairo-based mobility risk assistance startup, BlinkApp has raised a six-figure pre-Seed round, led by investors located in UAE and KSA.

BlinkApp aspires to have its technology installed on smartphones with the main vision of achieving better general driving behaviour, faster roadside assistance and safer roads for everyone.

Wael Noufal, the co-founder and CEO of BlinkApp, said the real edge of BlinkApp is that it’s a full platform that can work as stand-alone or integrate with other apps. Not only that but also most of the processing is based on edge computing, not cloud computing, which saves a lot of time and money for BlinkApp customers. In addition, BlinkApp offers customers very competitive subscription fees while enjoying high quality and performance. 

Mr Noufal said they have already contracted with one of the biggest insurance companies in Egypt, gig-Egypt, which makes it the first Egyptian insurance company to utilise smartphone and AI technology. They are eagerly anticipating announcing the campaign together within weeks.

By 2025, BlinkApp aims to onboard six million users and reach $5 million GMV transactions from B2C & B2B sectors excluding individuals, insurance companies and fleet owners. BlinkApp expects revenue of $19.8 million in 2025.

Founded in 2017 by Mr Noufal and Prof. Ahmed El-Mahdy, BlinkApp brought science, technology, and business together to bring a cutting-edge mobile solution to life. Based on artificial intelligence, BlinkApp saves people’s lives and minimises the driving behaviour risk impact on vehicles and accidents. Whether the customers are an insurance company, a fleet owner or simply an individual who wants to be safe on the road, BlinkApp will support them. BlinkApp captures and analyses thousands of miles of data, using smartphone’s sensors and AI technology, to monitor drivers’ behaviour, detect collisions, and generate insightful reports to guide and assist customers.

In 2017, BlinkApp was selected as a first-place winner among the 79 finalists who competed for the ideas track in the MIT-Pan Arab competition that was held in Manamah, Bahrain, where it was awarded $15,000.

The story started when Mr Noufal had a car accident in Egypt by the end of 2013. At that critical moment, he couldn’t find his mobile and even when he did, he didn’t remember any emergency numbers to ask for help. That’s when it all started. Mr Noufal initiated discussions with his partner Prof. Ahmed El-Mahdy about how to protect others from living this fearful experience. Triggered by the motivation to help others, Mr Noufal started his research that resulted in BlinkApp. Through ITIDA’s (Information Technology Industry Development Agency) research fund and with the help of a highly skilled team, BlinkApp came to light. The team succeeded in developing a new methodology for accident and driver behaviour detection using smartphones – a technology that can literally save lives!

BlinkApp already raised two zero-equity grants before, with around $210,000, from ITIDA through the ITAC programme to develop research incorporation with Egypt Japan University for science and technology (EJUST). BlinkApp and EJUST registered and filed two patents.

November 11th 2021, 7:30 pm

UAE aims to host 20 unicorns by 2031


Source: The National

The UAE aims to become home to 20 unicorns, or start-ups valued at more than $1 billion, by 2031 as part of a programme it launched on Wednesday to attract and expand small-and-medium enterprises. 

The Entrepreneurial Nation initiative aims to offer support through a series of public-private partnerships that help entrepreneurs set up in the UAE, expand their businesses, export their products and tap into online sales, Ahmad Al Falasi, Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and SMEs, said during a conference in Dubai.

The UAE will also set up a Dh1bn ($272 million) private equity fund for lending to SMEs based in the country and operating in strategic sectors, which will be released from the first quarter of 2022 and over the next five years, he said.

“Our aim today is to transform from a regional to a global entrepreneurship hub,” the minister said.

SMEs are the backbone of the UAE economy, with the government introducing economic support packages to help business owners weather the Covid-19 pandemic. It has also taken measures to create a more attractive environment for foreign investment by easing visa rules, liberating company ownership rules and updating laws.

“The UAE, federally and locally, is amending laws because this is the most important factor in attracting capital and also talent,” the minister told reporters on the sidelines of the conference.

The programmes under the UAE's Entrepreneurial Nation initiative will start this month, according to the ministry’s presentation.

The Entrepreneurial Nation, a unified destination for start-ups from inception to growth, encompasses three stages or tracks.

The Skill-Up Academy is intended to equip participants with entrepreneurial skills and to be suited to a variety of participants, including students, recent graduates, employees, retirees, homemakers and jobseekers.

Its Start-Up track will target entrepreneurs who are seeking to establish a business and will offer incentives, products and services to support start-ups and innovative companies in the country. This includes a partnership with Emirates Development Bank to open bank accounts as quickly as within 48 hours.

The Scale-Up programme will back fast-growing, revenue-earning companies that are more than three years old to expand and eventually become unicorns.

The various tracks will offer services from facilitating access to funding, offering a network of experts for mentorship, exporting to international markets, digitalisation and sourcing talent, according to the presentation.

Entrepreneurial Nation has partnerships with global companies such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Cisco, Huawei and UPS, as well as local entities such as Etihad Credit Insurance and Khalifa Fund For Enterprise Development to support entrepreneurs.

“The Entrepreneurial Nation is a partnership and scalable platform with the private sector,” Mr Al Falasi told The National.

The ministry is still considering whether the new Dh1bn fund for start-ups and SMEs will be for early stage or late-stage businesses, he said.

“We will only intervene when there is a gap,” Mr Al Falasi said.

“So when we release the fund, we size it in a way without overwhelming the market … at the same time, I don’t want to cannibalise and overstep on VCs. So we’re taking our time in understanding what's the best way in complementing the sector.”


November 11th 2021, 7:30 pm

Startups in Mena raised $150 million in October 2021


Startups in Mena raised more than $150 million in October across 42 deals, a 55.5 per cent month-on-month decline in terms of value, but a staggering increase of more than 200 per cent when compared to the same period last year. 

Three quarters of the total amount raised went to startups in the UAE, with agritech Pure Harvest raising the largest round at $64.5 million, followed by UAE's crypto exchange BitOasis which raised $30 million in a Series B round. These two deals alone also pushed their respective sectors to the top ranks in terms of deal value. 

Much of the funding activity in October was driven by early-stage funding rounds ranging from pre-Seed to Seed with an uptick in pre-Series A rounds. 

While the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt continue to dominate the investment space, last month also saw Sudan-based classifieds marketplace AlSoug raising $5 million from Egypt’s Fawry in the first institutional funding round ever raised by a Sudanese startup. 

E-commerce and logistics continue to dominate investor interest, a sign of the ongoing rise of online shopping in the region. In healthtech, three fitness and wellbeing startups and three telemedicine startups together raised $10.3 million while sectors like construction, gaming and AI/deeptech also attracted investment. 

Startups operating in logistics and e-commerce attracted the largest chunk of overseas investment. US investors were the most active overseas investors in Mena, leading the pack with 11 deals, followed by Germany (five) and France (three). Regionally, it was Saudi Arabian investors who took the lead, investing in 16 deals, while Egyptian investors participated in 10 and UAE investors participated in seven deals. 

Of the 42 startups that raised investment last month, nine were founded by women who together raised $9.5 million, accounting for 6 per cent of the total value, a stark improvement month-on-month, but still a disappointingly low amount. Mixed teams also fared better in October raising almost $38 million across six deals, although this was primarily down to BitOasis’ $30 million round. 

Last month, five startups did not disclose the amount they raised. These include Lamma, Menuhat, Kuzlo, Nuwah Scientific and Faceki. We have assigned them a conservative estimate of $100,000 each for their rounds.

These monthly reports are a collaboration between Wamda and Digital Digest


November 11th 2021, 6:41 am

Egypt's Educately raises $1 million pre-Seed round


Press release:

EdTech platform Educatly announces that it closed Pre-seed funding for $1M with contributions from Enterprise Ireland, the Falak Startups and other Angel Investors. This pre-Seed round follows the launch of the platform in late 2020. 

Educatly is a platform that allows students to search, compare and apply to over 120,000 live and up-to-date higher education opportunities globally. Since that launch, the user base has grown to over 100,000 users from 190 countries worldwide and around half a million programs viewed.

Mohammed El Sonbaty, CEO & Founder of Educatly, expands on the challenges facing the education ecosystem "the challenge Educatly addresses affects millions of students and educators globally. In the last few decades, the world has seen an incredible speed in digital transformation across every sector, however, some of those sectors are lacking behind this speed, and we are concerned about education as the global education ecosystems is fragmented and largely dependent on infrastructure we built ages ago which no longer fits the way we operate today and that has a lot of negative implications in how transparent but also efficient people access their lifelong learnings." 

Educatly is on a mission to digitally map and integrate the world education ecosystems to make it simple. It is building for education what LinkedIn has built for jobs. Educatly aspires to build the world's most comprehensive educational network to showcase all schools/colleges, programs as well as scholarships, language courses, professors, students, and alumni. Educatly leverages the power of technology to connect all educational stakeholders in a digital environment. 

“COVID-19 has put universities at the same time under huge pressure to digitize not just their educational programs, but also the way they present their programs and interact with interested students. Student recruitment is already a very costly challenge for universities globally, where many universities rely on external support through local agencies to recruit students to fill their classes. 60% of Universities in the US rely on agencies to reach their recruitment goals, however, what is mostly unknown is that universities are paying between 10 and 30% of students fee as commission per enrollment to these agencies who at most time funnel students to their partners despite student potential and interest" says Joan Manuel, Co-Founder, and CCO. 

Since the launch of Educatly, the startup was relying on bootstrapping until they closed this pre-Seed Round. During this period, Educatly had impressive traction, they have onboarded 450+ schools to work with around the globe, in addition, to over 45,000 student profiles on the platform. Eductaly will build on this growth by using the investment to develop their product, bring core team members, and scale their marketing and sales operations.

“Students want to have transparent access to all relevant opportunities out there while getting as personalized support as possible to reach the best possible decision. At, users can browse through the largest up-to-date database globally with more than 120.000 higher education opportunities worldwide and filter according to their profile and preferences to find the programs most relevant for them. We leverage the latest technologies to narrow down the most relevant programs to support the decision-making process for them and offer personalized support through our network of consultants and ambassadors” - says Abdelrahman Ayman, Co-Founder, and COO.

With the support of Falak Startups and Enterprise Ireland, Educatly will achieve its growth plans faster by integrating new technologies like AI and Blockchain that will lead to maximizing the value they offer to their customers. Educatly aspires to give every student transparent access and guidance to what the world of education has to offer, and their vision is to be able to tap into the entire student educational journey and help through technology to facilitate their experience in the best way possible.

November 11th 2021, 6:41 am

Car rental platform Telgani closes $2.5 million pre-Series A led by Impact46


Press release:

Riyadh-based car rental & mobility solution, Telgani has successfully raised $2.5M (9.37M SAR) in its latest funding round. The Pre-Series A round led by Impact46 with participation from Nomw Capital “private equity” and value-added investors. 

Founded in 2018, Telgani provides access for individuals to a wide range of car rental agencies across the kingdom, handling the cycle of renting a car through a streamlined experience. Since the launch of the platform, Telgani has an agreements and partnerships with more than 50 local and international car rental companies with +500 branches across the kingdom, covering more than 44 cities and 13 airports in Saudi, and partnering with leading car rentals companies such as Budget, Theeb, Hertz, Sixt, and Key Car Rental.

Telgani is in a constant state of scaling its offerings. Being the first in the region to offer car delivery services in 12 cities around the Kingdom. Along with the domestic tourism movement, Telgani introduced a drop-off between cities enabling clients to enjoy different destinations in Saudi while being able to drop off their rental car at their last destination. While Telgani is playing a key role within the industry, and with its recent expansion, the platform has +230,000 active users and more than 350,000 rental days on the platform since 2018. 

“Telgani has been fueling the mobility industry with an accessible yet easy approach of renting cars in KSA. Along with governmental and institution support, Telgani is making their mark in the mobility sector with their initiatives. In the last year, Telgani has launched multiple projects including “Telgani Quick”, the first self-service device for rental cars allowing users to rent cars with 3 steps, furthermore Telgani is working on its upcoming exceptional projects,” added Ali Alfehaid, co-founder of Telgani.

The platform offers a wide variety of mobility solutions, with the flexibility of renting cars on a daily/monthly/yearly basis. Although the mobility sector has been hit hard by Covid-19 in early 2020, Telgani has managed to tailor its offering by supporting the shift of individual needs. This has reflected the incredible growth of sales by more than 4X in 2020 compared to 2019. Almikanzy, Founder of Telgani highlighted “With the recent fund and as the platform seeks to keep pace with Saudi Arabia 2030 Vision. Telgani is on the go to enhance its technology, further develop digital solutions, and introduce new products accommodating the market needs and eyeing for expansion.” 

The startup will channel its newly acquired funds to support its platform and expand its go-to market to cover the wider geographical areas within the region. In light of this platform-scaling investment Abdulrahman Al-Modaimeegh Managing partner at Impact46 concluded “Telgani team agility has demonstrated strong performance over the last years. We’re delighted to further support an innovative and forward-facing platform. Ensuring an unrivaled customer experience, car rentals & travelers can now avail of the local most extensive application for car rental solution.”


November 11th 2021, 6:41 am

Qreeb raises $506,600 Seed round


Press release

Wa’ed, the entrepreneurship arm of Aramco, has announced a SAR 1.9 million venture capital investment in Dammam-based Qreeb, a digital B2B e-procurement and facility management platform aiming to streamline supply chain processes by connecting service providers with clients through a unified traceable communication platform. 

The investment in Qreeb will enable the startup to improve its software and management solution, double the volume of vendor transactions made through its website, and expand its operations across the kingdom. 

The ISO-certified startup that possesses both ISO-9001 (Quality Assurance Management) and ISO-14001 (Environmental management) certifications, was founded in 2018 by Abdulaziz Al Abdulkader, Hassan Ikram, and Abdulrahman AlOmair to address the lack of systemized workflow infrastructures that would allow a company’s management to trace and track their procurement orders with vendors.

Qreeb enables buyers to access and select the services of three pre-qualified service providers for facility management, and 125 vendors for the e-procurement or supply chain needs, on its customizable platform, optimizing workflow efficiency by reducing procurement risks, operational expenses, and time wasted communicating with each vendor independently. It does so using three solutions: a facility management solution offering ticketing and subscription services, an enterprise asset management solution to better structure work orders and asset registrations, and a procurement management solution that provides e-catalogues and quotation auto-comparisons for clients.  

“Qreeb aims to develop a more accurate and collaborative facility management and procurement sector where clients can identify the exact causes behind performance shortages. We look at Wa’ed as a strong strategic investor that can help us to expand our presence and client base and modernize the deeply traditional facility management and procurement sector within the kingdom,” said Abdulrahman AlOmair, Cofounder and CEO at Qreeb.

“Qreeb showed immense promise looking at the quantified results brought about by process efficiencies and cost cutting for its users after graduating from Falak’s acceleration program. Qreeb has also received the backing of prominent groups like Tamimi Holding Group, Falak Investment Hub and now Wa’ed which validates the problem we are solving for and the need for Qreeb’s solution,” said Hassan Ikram, Cofounder and Chairman at Qreeb, and Cofounder and Chief Investment Officer at Falak Investment Hub.

By integrating its platform to the finance departments of its client companies, Qreeb is able to instantly notify vendors of any purchase orders once the departments send their approvals, as well as open the opportunity for clients to make direct purchases online. 

Having an accessible database and integrable solution, the startup is also able to calculate price quotas and order quantities as accurately as possible and allow clients to request and accept videos uploaded by warehouse technicians to ensure their order requests are processed efficiently. 

“Empowering startups such as Qreeb to digitize sectors that are heavily-dependent on offline operations like procurement has the potential to revolutionize the internal processes of all parties involved within each single transaction, allowing them to take previously-calculated data-driven decisions in a simplified process,” said Fahad Alidi, Managing Director at Wa’ed.

While last year’s covid-19 regulations presented numerous challenges for supply chain companies as service providers were suspended from accessing warehouses, which prevented some from resuming work contracts, Qreeb was still able to enroll clients with a high-potential transaction value to join its digital platform. The startup became the official digitization arm or platform for Al-Tamimi Holding Group, a multi-conglomerate with over 28 subsidiaries across the kingdom, which are in the process to use Qreeb’s platform to streamline over 1800 vendors directly linked to the company and its subsidiaries.


November 11th 2021, 6:41 am

HealTec raises $1.2 million Seed round


Press release

Saudi-based B2B HealthTech and medical rehabilitation manufacturing startup HealTec, has successfully raised $1.2M  in its inaugural funding round. The seed round was led by Nour Nouf Ventures (NNV), a Saudi-based family office, and facilitated by Chrome Advisory, a leading Saudi venture capital advisory firm advising on structuring and arrangement.

Co-founded in 2020 by Dr. Hashim AlZain and Eng. Ayman Noori, HealTec is a dedicated B2B healthcare rehabilitation manufacturing facility that enables the local production of medical prosthetics and other devices to serve Long-Term Care and rehabilitation patients. Filling the gap in KSA’s facilities of manufacturing prosthetics and other medical devices locally, the Saudi-based HealthTech is serving the swift rehabilitation of patients ridding them of long waiting periods and prohibitive costs as a result of overseas manufacturing.

The Healthcare industry in MENA was one of the few industries to observe an instant impact from the global pandemic, reaching an all-time high in VC funding in 2020 growing 4x compared to the year before. While virtual consultation platforms across MENA like Cura, AI-driven Doctori, Estshara, and Sihaty raised the lion’s share of funds by the third quarter of the year as recorded in our Q3 2021 EVM Healthcare Investment Report, Aesthetic and Cosmetic focused startups like Smileneo and Selfologi also closed market positioning rounds.  Q4 2021 has also emerged with a peeking global and regional investor interest for local HealthTec manufactures, where Jordan-based Eon Dental and now KSA-based HealTec have raised one of the larger funds in their respective Series B and Seed funding rounds. 

The HealTec team has designed the latest manufacturing technologies for rehabilitation devices, building on the founders’ immense collective experience in the field of manufacturing and health. Dr. Hashim Alzain, a serial entrepreneur previously co-founded DarTec Engineering in 2012, a company that specialized in localizing the manufacturing of spare parts using reverse engineering to serve the industrial sector; such as energy, desalination, petrochemical, and defense and backed by Sabic’s Nusaned Investment.   In light of this platform launching investment, Al Zain highlighted the startup’s core focus “Over the past 4-years, we have been receiving inquiries from the healthcare industry in rehabilitation and patent development and we’ve decided to give the healthcare industry our undivided attention. HealTec intends to become the first company in the market to offer a unique service to the healthcare industry by bridging the gap between where the Kingdom is currently at and where it aspires to be in terms of locally produced healthcare parts and devices ” says Dr. AlZain “it wasn’t until a serendipitous meeting with the NNV team that I felt right about meeting the right partner to scale-up the company’s operation and extend its outreach”, he further adds.  

The SEED funding round added strategic partners that provide both capital growth and extensive network opportunities for the Saudi-based HealthTech. NourNouf Ventures is a family office focused on impact-driven investments with a focus on both Healthcare and Education sectors. Round facilitator Chrome Advisory, based in Saudi Arabia and serving clients across the MENA region, works closely with VC funds, family offices, corporates, and angel investors to scale growth-stage startups. This stellar funding round puts HealTec on the right path to scale, channeling the funds into further developing their ingenious products as well as their R&D efforts. Eng. Reda Isalm, CEO of NNV concluded with a firm determination for this investment “Investing in HealTec seemed a right fit for our impact investing strategy.  Not only will we help localize a sector that has been heavily relying on imports, but we will also help rehabilitation patients and amputees get better quality products faster” says.

November 11th 2021, 6:41 am

Moroccan B2B e-commerce startup Sle3ti raises $1.3 million Seed round


Source: Afrikan Heroes

Sle3ti, a Casablanca-based B2B marketplace that allows retailers to order directly from suppliers and distributors of consumer goods (FMCG), has raised 12 million DH ($1.3 million) from the investment fund of the Richbond Group. 

Sle3ti will be able to expedite its rollout across Morocco’s regions and provide high added value services to merchants and its FMCG partners as a result of this investment.

“I am excited and honoured to announce that Sle3ti has just completed the largest seed round fundraising for a Moroccan business with Moroccan investors. This 12MDH investment from the Richbond group’s investment fund demonstrates the enthusiasm and great interest that the Sle3ti model and growth have sparked among several Moroccan and foreign investors, but it is also a vote of confidence on the part of a reference Moroccan group that strongly believes in our growth and capacity to contribute decisively to Morocco’s digital transformation of trade and distribution,” Sle3ti’s CEO and co-founder Ayoub Harij said.

This is not the first investment in a startup in Morocco by the Moroccan industrial group, Richmond Group. Last year, the group bought a 40 per cent stake in Moroccan fintech company Cash Plus from the private equity firm Mediterrania Capital Partners.

The Moroccan economy is partly dominated by Groupe Richbond. The company employs over 3,000 people and has 12 industrial suites as well as a distribution network with almost 2,000 points of sale. Apart from its real estate division that includes real estate development, hotel layout, logistics, rental property, and, more recently, hotels, the group is also active in the industrial sector, targeting mostly home consumer goods in Morocco and across Africa. 

November 10th 2021, 6:40 pm

Egypt’s e-grocery Rabbit raises $11 million pre-seed round


Press release:

Today, Rabbit is proud to announce a new round of pre-seed funding of $11 million—a record high for the Middle East & Africa regions. Participants from the international investor base include Global Founders Capital, Foundation Ventures, Raed Ventures, MSA Capital and Goodwater Capital.

Promising you “groceries and more in under 20 minutes”, Rabbit is setting sail to transform the future of retail. Running on tech-enabled, hyper-local fulfilment centres, we are able to give our consumers peace of mind, knowing what they order will never be out-of-stock and guaranteeing it arrives in under 20 minutes.

Consumer expectations have evolved significantly over the past two decades. On-demand has taken over the music, media and transportation industries and we believe that on-demand retail is next. We are building a business with speed as a core part of the DNA, which is evident in how we operate and work. We measure things by seconds because ultimately, we are not in the business of retail or convenience, we are in the business of time. We work hard to ensure we save you time to do more with your day.

Our investor group are energised by Rabbit’s enormous growth potential.  

“The Rabbit team is setting a totally new standard for the grocery industry in Egypt and the broader region. They offer a totally new experience to customers compared to traditional grocers and local stores.” Lorenzo Franzi, an investor at Global Founders Capital, said. “We have been following their progress since the very beginning and are very excited to be supporting their journey.”

“At Raed, we always look for world-class founders who have the capacity to be leaders in their industry,”  Talal Alasmari, founding partner of Raed Ventures, said. “We believe that the founders of Rabbit, with their ambitious vision and extensive experience, possess the ability to lead in the Ultra-fast delivery domain, not only in Egypt but in the region as a whole.”

While delivering in 20 minutes in the busy streets of Cairo seem like magic, it is only made possible through the proprietary tech built by Rabbit.

“With Rabbit, you can buy a product in seconds, and get it in minutes. The simplicity of the promise is made possible through our industry-leading tech that powers live inventory management, blazing-fast pick and pack operations and optimised point to point delivery that comes together to ensure your order arrives on time, every time,” explains Walid Shabana, Rabbit’s Chief Technology Officer.

It took us just 130 days from idea to first order. We have been live since mid-October. We know that our customers absolutely love to get their everyday shopping done in 20 minutes. Our relentless focus on creating an unprecedented magical customer experience is what brings every Rabbit to work every day.

Rabbit is currently serving four locations in central Cairo: Mohandeseen, Zamalek, Maadi and Nasr City, with plans to expand areas of coverage soon. Rabbit plans to cover several major cities in the next 12 months, and expects to be processing hundreds of thousands of orders per month.

Today, I am incredibly proud to share this key milestone with our customers, alongside my co-founders: Walid Shabana, Ismail Hafez, and Tarek El Geresy. We are committed to delivering on our promise to get you what you need, in 20 minutes or less.

November 10th 2021, 6:40 pm

Jordan's Eon Dental raises $26 million in Series B


Press release 

Eon Dental, a leading dental technology company that is focused on high-quality clear aligner solutions, today announced that it has completed a $26million Series B financing with a premier group of investors, led by a large international MedTech fund together with Arab Palestinian Investment Company, otf Jasoor Ventures, Endeavor Catalyst, Spartech Ventures, and Bank al Etihad. They were joined by existing investors Hummingbird Ventures, and Silicon Badia in the financing. Funding will be used to power Eon’s next chapter - further advancing its manufacturing automation and clinical services capabilities, investing and innovating in its enterprise and clinical software solutions,and strengthening its commercialization and distribution.

Founded in 2011, Eon Dental is a full-service clear aligner company with a worldwide distribution network and reputation for exceptional clear aligner products. Eon combines high-quality manufacturing services with a comprehensive, clinician-centric software solution, enabling their customers to offer high-quality clear aligners, a great user experience,and fast turnaround times - all under the customer’s own brand.

As a leading clear aligner provider to dentists and orthodontists in the MENA region, Eon has also established a foothold in the clear aligner market under the Eon Aligner brand. This clinical insight and technological advancement is paving the way for one of the best white-label solutions for customers around the globe.“Since founding the company, we have been mission-driven to provide quality orthodontic solutions to our customers so that everyone has access to a beautiful smile,” said Qais Sabri, Co-Founder and CEO, Eon Dental. “We are excited to partner with this well-regarded group of investors and we appreciate their support in advancing our mission to impact the lives of as many people as possible.” The OEM market is extremely underserved and Eon Dental has developed a flexible enterprise solution that offers compelling value,” said Eon’s lead investor. “Eon’s world-class innovations in rapid manufacturing of clear aligners and integrated clinical care solutions deliver a better experience for customers at a lower total cost. We’re excited to support this industry-leading team through the next phase of growth.”

The Kingdom of Jordan is committed to supporting digital entrepreneurship, as it is a key driver for employment and economic growth. “It is exciting to see a Jordanian startup mature an organization and make the transition to become a global player,” said Ahmad Hanandeh, Jordanian Minister of Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship. “Eon receiving regional and international investor recognition reaffirms what Jordan has to offer in terms of talent, capabilities and entrepreneurial spirit.”


November 10th 2021, 6:40 pm

Bahrain’s CoinMena secures $9.5 million Seed round


Source: Khaleej Times

Bahrain-headquartered CoinMena has secured $9.5 million in its first seed funding round, from top regional and international investors in the crypto and venture space, in a move to further dominate the Mena market.

Investors in the round included Beco Capital, Kenetic, Arab Bank Switzerland, Bunat Ventures, Alameda Research, Rua Growth Fund and Girnas Capital alongside a number of select global angel investors.

“CoinMena’s fundraise will mainly fund the further development of the platform and product, user acquisition and retention as well as international expansion. The region has lagged in terms of crypto adoption, so I'm expecting a huge increase in the percentage of Mena residents that make their first crypto investment,” said Talal Tabbaa, co-founder, CoinMena.

“Crypto is a unique asset class that takes many shapes including a store of value, medium of payment, financial instruments, NFTs and others. The most popular for payments is stablecoins (crypto-assets that are pegged to a traditional currency) as they give users the speed and efficiency of crypto, but are pegged to the USD, which is what is used to price most goods and services today. Making a payment in a stablecoin like USDC is much more efficient (faster and cheaper) than a credit card payment.”

Launched in early 2021 by Dina Saman, Talal Tabbaa, and Yazan Barghuthi, CoinMena was built primarily to address a market gap that existed for easy and safe access to crypto investing.

Today, as a fully regulated, onshore crypto exchange licensed by the Central Bank of Bahrain, CoinMena has not only successfully bridged the gap but also become the go-to exchange, known for its prompt transactions, a wide variety of assets, excellent customer service, and easy-to-use mobile app. Recently, CoinMena entered into an agreement with the Dubai World Trade Centre to build the next blockchain and crypto hub in the UAE.

CoinMena’s investor Beco Capital is a technology-focused venture capital whose well-known investments include Mena’s three unicorns: Swvl, Kitopi, and Careem. Hong Kong’s Kenetic is known for its investment into BlockFi, a leading crypto lending platform, and Securitize, a leading digital asset securities firm.

Dany Farha, co-founder and managing partner of Beco Capital, said: “We had been searching for a while for the combination of the strength of the team and depth of vision that the team at CoinMena set out to build. We are very excited to partner with this stellar team in delivering financial inclusion, investing, and saving in a crypto native manner, in a hyper-local manner, all whilst being regulated and adhering to the highest levels of governance and compliance for all stakeholders.”

Arab Bank (Switzerland) Ltd., the sister company of Arab Bank plc, is a recognized Swiss Bank offering Digital Assets services since 2019. Bunat Ventures is a venture builder and VC firm focused on incubating and investing in promising regional startups. Alameda Research, owned by crypto billionaire Sam-Bankman Fried, is a quantitative cryptocurrency trading firm that provides liquidity in cryptocurrency and digital assets markets.

Rani Jabban, Managing Director at Arab Bank (Switzerland) Ltd. commented, “As a pioneering bank in Digital Assets with a strong foothold in the Middle East, we believe that our strategic partnership with CoinMena will pave the way forward for greater adoption in the region."

Jehan Chu, Founder of Kenetic, said, “CoinMena is positioned for explosive growth, and Kenetic is excited to lend our extensive experience and deep network to support them as they provide superior crypto liquidity and user experience in a new era of digital finance throughout the Mena region.”

CoinMena’s sign-up process takes less than a minute and can be performed on its simple, seamless, and highly intuitive mobile app, which is designed for both beginners and professional traders. The exchange’s services are currently available to residents of Bahrain, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Oman, with a view to expanding to other countries in the Mena region.

November 10th 2021, 6:40 pm

Merit Incentives announces $5 million Series A round led by Impact46


Press release:

Merit Incentives, a leading developer of innovative customer and employee engagement solutions announced a $5 Million Series A investment round, led by Riyadh-based venture capital fund Impact46 along with Tech Invest Com, Arzan VC, Hambro Perks Oryx and several regional angel investors. 

What started as a B2C gifting solution has expanded to become one of the most engaging technology and consulting firms specialized in developing the latest B2B engagement tools and technologies. Currently, Merit offers its B2B2C services to a diverse portfolio of large enterprises, including Riyad Bank, Vodafone, Mubadala, Adidas and Amazon.

Merit Incentives’ products include Rewardsby, a Software as a service (SaaS) loyalty and rewards marketplace made up of nine distinctive engaging redemption modules, and GiftCardsby - the most advanced SaaS digital gift card platform on the market, enabling instant sales and redemptions from retailers.

Julie Barbier-Leblan, CEO and Founder of Merit Incentives said: “We are thrilled to have received strong support from such prominent investment firms. While we had the option of securing international investors our ambition has always been to raise funds from within the region, as this is where our business first launched. We believe in the Middle East’s fast-growing market which allows us to serve our international clients’ needs with agility and efficiency.” 

The engagement startup operates its own rewards network of 5,000 partner brands across 100+ countries, with 500+ retailers and merchants in the GCC alone, making it a firm that delivers on its promise of ‘thinking globally, acting locally’. In a sign of Merit Incentives’ bright future ahead, it recently surpassed a landmark milestone of 20 million end-users globally

“We are amid a new era where users require unique yet meaningful experiences with companies they like and trust. It has now become imperative for businesses to engage directly with their customers, and internally with their employees, to create a constant dialogue and emotional bond at every touch point. We believe that the key to success is for leaders and managers to be able to align customer and employee engagement to support their vision, using SaaS technologies, and strong digital content, and Merit Incentives is uniquely positioned to accomplish just that,” Barbier-Leblan continued. 

“With the team led by Julie and talented individuals from various backgrounds in tech, banking, & retail. Merit is set to tackle a great opportunity within the business engagement technology sector. The company has been able to expand within the GCC with a global mindset while maintaining a good grasp of the local enterprise and SME market.” said Basmah Al Sinaidi, partner at Impact46.

Merit Incentives plans to use this funding for the growth of their team into new territories, and further investment in technology, building on the existing artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities of its solutions. 

In addition to its headquarters in Dubai, the company has offices in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan and UK, along with a technology lab and development team located in Pakistan. With a strong focus on in-house development, Merit expects to triple its research and development resources across offices by the end of 2022.

November 9th 2021, 12:40 pm

Jordan’s Muyawama raises $35,300 in pre-Seed


Jordan-based Muyawama, a marketplace for professional services,  has raised a JOD 25,000 pre-Seed round from a group of angel investors.

Launched in November 2021 by Ahmed Zireeni, Muyawama connects service providers directly to service seekers, offering a wide selection of services including home maintenance, beauty and hair care, car cleaning, advertising, legal consultancy, and translation, among others.

“Our mission is to empower local professional service providers by enabling them to have a sustainable source of income while allowing users to get reliable, quality services at affordable prices,” says Ahmed Zireeni, CEO and co-founder of Muyawama.

The startup plans to use the funding to finetune its market product fit ( MVP), scale marketing and finalise its industrial licensing. 

November 9th 2021, 12:40 pm

Benya Group, Openner launch $50 million fund to invest in Arab and African startups


Press release

Within the framework of Benya Group's strategy to support the capabilities of young calibres as the driving force in the field of digital innovation, Benya Group has signed a memorandum of understanding with international VC firm, Openner, to launch a $50 million venture capital fund. The fund is set to provide capital investments and support entrepreneurs and startups in Egypt, as well as the Arab and African markets.

Through this agreement, Benya Group and Openner will form consultational and investment committees to select eligible startups and provide them with support and various resources.

“We are optimistic about our involvement in an investment fund focused on digital transformation in multiple sectors, especially that Openner will launch this fund with Benya Group, which has a proven track record of making a significant impact in the digital transformation in various sectors in Africa and the Middle East,” said Ashraf Rofail, General Partner and Founder of Openner. “We believe that the combination of capital and market access will drive startups to grow faster.”

"Benya Group believes in the innovative ideas and efforts provided by young calibres, so the group is interested in investing and supporting them through the implementation of a series of partnerships,” said Eng. Ahmed Mekki, Chairman and CEO of Benya Group. “We are pleased to commence this partnership with Openner launching a fund that supports innovative ideas and helps speed up the implementation of the plans to develop the field of technology and digital transformation in all sectors in Egypt and the Arab and African markets.”

Openner invests in pre-seed and seed funding stages, and focuses on investing in local technology-based startups. The VC firm was founded by Dr. Ashraf Rofail, who is an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University, and has 6 published books, as well as several patents in artificial intelligence. Since its inception in 2016, Openner invested in a $25 million fund with over 100 companies in the United States, the total valuation of these direct as well through funds investments has exceeded  $9.2 billion USD. Openner aims to further invest in 50 Egyptian startups over the coming two years.

Benya Group is a leading organization in designing and implementing integrated solutions and products in the field of telecommunications infrastructure and digital transformation in Egypt, the Middle East and the African continent. The group offers a rich range of digital products, services and solutions covering the technological value chain, upon which developed countries and institutions depend. This includes technical communication services and solutions related to information security, massive data and information platforms, design and implementation of integrated technological systems and proactive technical solutions.

November 9th 2021, 12:40 pm

Edtech OTO receives $400,000 investment from EdVentures


Press release:

In an attempt to enhance distance learning methods and support startups in Egypt and the Arab world; EdVentures announced that it has invested $400,000 in cash and in-kind services in OTO. The goal of this investment is to develop the company's platform and further expand its services to include a larger segment of users, especially middle and secondary school students by delivering educational programmes in a variety of areas/subjects. This, in turn, will reflect on the educational experience that the students get.

Founded in 2015 by Ahmed Badr and Tarek Nour, OTO aims to bridge the gap between traditional education and what the market needs by providing distant educational services through its electronic platform. This gives the learners great flexibility to choose the session dates that suit them, with the opportunity to communicate directly with the lecturers.

OTO started its activity by offering English language courses and, since its launch, it delivered 350,000 hours online to more than 15,000 learners, and has more than 150 teachers/lecturers. 

“We are delighted to continue our support for OTO, which has proven its success over the years. Its founders have succeeded in regularly upgrading the platform in order to improve the effectiveness of its services. Our investment comes today to assist OTO in extending the provision of high-quality distance learning services to thousands of learners.” said Dalia Ibrahim, CEO and Founder of EdVentures, regarding this investment.

The co-founder and CEO of OTO Courses, Tarek Nour El-Din, said: “We, at OTO, seek to be a leading platform for online learning in Egypt and the Middle East, and to provide high quality services and avail them to everyone.”

According to Ahmed Badr, the co-founder and CCO of OTO, the company aspires to play a key role in educating children and youth in the Arab world through the provision of the latest edtech. “We will continue offering high quality services at the most affordable rates to our users so all segments can benefit from our platform,” Badr added.

EdVentures supports and invests in startups specialising in education, culture and innovative learning solutions in Seed and pre-Series A rounds focusing on Egypt, Africa, and the Arab World. The corporate VC was launched in 2017 by Nahdet Misr Publishing House. It provides technical and financial support to startups in order to ensure success and continuity in the market by providing investment according to the needs and maturity level of each company. 

November 9th 2021, 12:40 pm

3D printing startup Immensa raises $7 million Series A round


Source: SME10x

Saudi-based additive manufacturer, Immensa, has closed a Series A round worth $7 million to expand the firm’s capabilities in the Kingdom with a view to using it as a launchpad to target international markets.

This investment is the first in the Middle East region into additive manufacturing and related solutions and services and a breakthrough for the Saudi market, as the Kingdom is aiming to become a global leader in smart manufacturing and advanced technologies. The sector’s size is projected to reach around $52 billion by 2026 from $15 billion in 2020.

Additive manufacturing is expected to add a minimum of $4.95 billion to the KSA economy within three years. Immensa is also tapping into the Saudi workforce, with over 70 per cent of the company’s engineers being young Saudi nationals. Its workforce is expected to quadruple in size over the coming 18 months.

In 2021, Immensa inaugurated its third and largest facility in the region, which is based in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, and is on track to significantly grow its footprint and capabilities in the Kingdom over the next 12 months.

The investment was structured by Gate Capital, and led by Energy Capital Group, Al Turki Ventures, and other prominent investors including Shorooq Partners, Venture Souq, and Green Coast Investments.

Immensa is the first global company to provide a turnkey digital inventory solution for the energy and utility sector by leveraging machine learning, data digitisation, and industrial 3D printing. It is aiming to capitalise on Saudi Arabia’s efforts to enhance the competitiveness of its industrial sector as part of its economic diversification strategy.

Fahmi Al Shawwa, Founder and CEO of Immensa, said: “Over $65 billion of spare parts in the energy and utility sectors will be sourced annually via digital supply chain by 2030. That is an opportunity we are grasping early on, and investors are seeing the value of partnering with a leader in this underserved market. Immensa will grow its business while also helping to create a new range of industries and forge new career paths for Saudi nationals.”

Over the past year, more than $5 billion in funding went into additive manufacturing and digitising solutions globally. The adoption of additive manufacturing has grown annually by 20 per cent during the past decade and is forecasted by experts to increase even further. Historically, the region has lagged behind in the adoption of additive manufacturing solutions, however that started changing in 2020, and today the growth of additive manufacturing in the GCC is exceeding 300 per cent per year.

Immensa, which was founded in 2016 and has operations in KSA and UAE while serving clients across the GCC and internationally, has built a name for itself on an international level. Immensa’s team includes over 47 specialised engineers and experts in the energy tech and infra-tech sectors.

November 9th 2021, 12:40 pm

The startup fighting for open finance in Mena


Mirna Sleiman is on a mission to revolutionise the Middle East’s banking and financial sector. Having spent more than eight years working as a financial reporter, she witnessed the evolution of the industry, from the dominance of legacy institutions to the rise of financial technology (fintech) startups. Amid the disruption caused by fintech, a chasm emerged between the two parties, stagnating innovation. For Sleiman, the only solution to enable the finance industry to develop was to bring the two sides together and so she launched Fintech Galaxy in 2017 to do just that.

Today, UAE-based Fintech Galaxy has developed from a networking platform connecting banks and startups to an “open finance” platform with an open application programming interface (API) infrastructure that provides integration between fintechs and financial institutions.

“The banks have been resisting change for as long as they can survive. A lot of statements were made pre-Covid about banks transforming, when Covid hit, you realised none of the banks were ready to operate remotely, let alone digitally,” she says. “We wanted to bridge the gap between financial institutions and the fintechs, that kind of collaboration is the only way banks can move into the future and keep up with the change in customer behaviour and cope with the international trends of giving customers back their own data and financial footprint.”

Historically, banks have owned customer data and according to Sleiman, did a “lousy job of coping with the sophistication of customer expectations and that’s why banks have not changed”.

In the absence of innovation among the banks, open banking platforms emerged around the world, enabling third-party developers to access the bank customer’s data related to their account and payment information to develop services like payment platforms and neobanks. Across Mena, there are only a handful of open banking platforms – Egypt-based Underlie, UAE-based UAE-based Dapi, Tarabut Gateway, which was founded in Bahrain and relocated its headquarters to Dubai, and Saudi Arabia’s Lean Technologies. The sector is still nascent but has been attracting investor interest as of late with Tarabut Gateway securing $12 million in a pre-Series A round led by Tiger Global.

Open finance is effectively the next step in the open banking journey.

“Open banking is about payment initiation on behalf of the end consumer and account information services,” says Sleiman. “Open finance is a new use case that shows the financial footprint of a customer beyond banking.”

In open finance, financial data like mortgages, savings, pensions, insurance and consumer credit can be opened up to third party APIs. By reducing the control banks have over this type of customer data, it can encourage greater competition and innovation. Open finance, according to US research firm Forrester, is a trend towards “open data and data portability and will enable wider integration across nonfinancial industries, including sectors like healthcare, retail and government”, which will broaden the range of third parties who can intermediate financial relationships.

Fintech Galaxy’s open finance platform will provide access to customer data from partner banks through its APIs and allow developers to build new apps and services for the bank’s customers. The startup recently raised $2 million in a Seed round led by Jordan-based Ahli Bank’s fintech accelerator, Ahli Fintech to finance this.

“We are building on this platform to provide open finance services to institutions, banks, regulators, asset managers, capital markets players with innovators on the other side. Today, we have a platform that works closely with a lot of institutions in the region, in KSA, Jordan, Egypt, UAE and we have in our marketplace more than 500 fintechs – they use our sandbox, they test their prototypes and test their proof of concept. Now, we’re going to go through a live environment,” she says.

But Fintech Galaxy is facing a tough road ahead. While 80 per cent of bank executives in the Mena region believe partnerships are critical to the success of their strategies according to a recent report from Oliver Wyman, they “still fail to make partnerships work, leading to value destruction and bad partner experience”. Just 6 per cent of banks partnering with fintechs have achieved their desired return on investment according to the report.

“The majority of banking partnerships do not meet anyone’s expectations, be it the banks’ or their partners,” says Pierre Romagny, financial services partner at Oliver Wyman. “Banking industry partnerships have often been opportunistic or experimental, with banks lacking a clear framework of a two-way value creation.”

Fintech Galaxy is also the only open finance platform in the region and there are currently no open finance regulations in place. Most of the region is only just coming to terms with open banking with Bahrain currently the only country in the Middle East with a full open banking policy and framework. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are in the process of developing their own open banking regulations, while the UAE has some open finance activities in the Abu Dhabi General Market (ADGM) and Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA), but the country lags behind its neighbours since it effectively has four different financial regulators – the Central Bank, ADGM, DFSA and the Securities and Commodities Authority (SCA).

“The UAE is home to the largest number of fintechs in the region, but that might change and they might lose that leadership position if they don’t act fast and bring all the regulators under one umbrella,” says Sleiman. “The moment KSA has its own regulations, you will see a lot of fintechs going there. The UAE doesn’t have a choice but to move much faster.”

There are however, some indications that the sector is progressing. The pandemic was a wake up call for the banks that had hesitated to embrace technology, but there is “actual work happening on the ground” now according to Sleiman.

“There is a movement towards adopting digital innovation, we are seeing banks transforming from legacy banks to digital banks to challenger banks. This is the real shift that is happening, and the other thing happening is regulators forcing banks to transform,” she says.

According to research from US-based Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) an extra $7 billion in revenues could be realised if financial institutions collaborated more with fintechs in the UAE, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan and Lebanon, while the Arab Monetary Fund has identified open banking and open finance as a powerful tool to will enable financial inclusion in a region where just 50 per cent have a bank account.  

“The products and services offered to consumers will expand to anybody that has a mobile [phone]. It will increase competition in the market, reduce barriers to entry and it allows for better customer experience through faster and agile innovation,” says Sleiman.




November 8th 2021, 10:57 pm

Raed Ventures announces Wael Nafee as new partner


Press release:

Raed Ventures is proud to announce that Wael Nafee has been named a new partner for their fund.

“Wael has an excellent track record that every VC wants its partners to have,” said Omar Almajdouie, Founding Partner of Raed. “He comes from a strong background of building world-class products combined with a strategic perspective on evaluating and scaling different business models. Founders want to work with someone who knows the type of challenges they face and can speak their language. We couldn’t be more excited.“

Wael joins Raed after having served Careem as VP of Product and, later, VP of the Super App Platform Business unit. Wael is an entrepreneur who has founded startups both in the US and the Mena region, one of which was the first-ever Mena startup to join Y Combinator’s accelerator programme. As an early joiner of Careem, he experienced its scaling journey from an operator’s lens until Uber’s acquisition, and thus brings a unique perspective that many founders in the ecosystem find invaluable to work with.

“I’m very excited to be part of the Raed family. Working with great founders energises me and I want to work closely with Raed’s portfolio companies to help them grow,” Wael explains. “The region has so much potential and we’re just scratching the surface of what founders in this region are able to achieve. Raed’s relationship and collaboration with founders are special and I feel blessed to be part of it.”

In addition to being an angel investor, Wael has led numerous deals for Raed and sits on some boards. “It’s such a pleasure to have Wael and Raed with us on our journey at Taager. His support and insight are extremely valuable. It’s great to have a value-added investor who understands what we’re going through and gives us hands-on, unfiltered advice that we need to hear,” said Mohamed El Horishy, co-founder and CEO of Taager, a leading social commerce startup based in Egypt.

At Raed, Wael joins an established early-stage fund that partners with exceptional founders building transformative tech companies in the Mena region. 

November 8th 2021, 7:11 am

US' REEF acquires UAE cloud kitchen operator iKcon


Press release:

REEF Technology Inc. (“REEF”), the largest operator of delivery kitchens, logistics, and proximity hubs in North America, today announced its entrance to the Middle East and North Africa region through the full acquisition of iKcon Restaurant LLC (Innovative Kitchen Concepts). The acquisition of iKcon marks REEF’s first major transaction in the MENA market and is part of its broader strategy toward global expansion. 

“We are excited to welcome iKcon and its team members to REEF’s global proximity platform,” said Tommy Rosen, Head of Development at REEF. “The Middle East and North Africa are crucial markets in the rapidly evolving F&B and retail industries, and our acquisition of iKcon will position REEF to become a leader in the region.” 

With a network of innovative kitchens in prime locations and over 800 employees, iKcon utilizes its modern facilities, smart technology solutions and highly qualified chefs and customer service teams to extend the reach of their portfolio of +100 well-known local, regional and international restaurant partners such as Just Salad, YO Sushi, Dunkin’, California Pizza Kitchen, German Doner Kebab and local hero brands such as PINZA, and Pizza Di Rocco.

“Since its inception, iKcon has consistently focused on operational excellence and building a unique customer-centric business model,” said Khalid Baareh, Co-Founder and CEO at iKcon. “The past three years have taught us the importance of pursuing our vision with commitment and passion, driven by a world-class team. Today, we are thrilled to join the REEF team and to continue our journey of bringing innovation to neighborhoods everywhere. REEF’s leadership in proximity will play a great role in accelerating our regional expansion plans. We are fully committed to driving the development of REEF in MENA.”

REEF, backed by a group of investors including Mubadala Capital, the asset management subsidiary of Mubadala Investment Company, SoftBank Vision Fund 1, funds managed by Oaktree Capital Management, L.P., UBS Asset Management and Target Global, focuses on transforming urban spaces into proximity hubs that create jobs and bring new goods, services, and experiences to neighborhoods across the globe. 

REEF has already established a presence in Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), the international financial center of Abu Dhabi, with plans to continue growing throughout the region.


November 7th 2021, 8:26 am

Family businesses need to support startups in Palestine


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

In recent years, we have witnessed greater attention being paid by family businesses across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region to the entrepreneurship sector. Generally speaking, an increased appetite by family businesses for investing in and partnering with entrepreneurial ventures can lead to new prospects for economic growth where disruption and legacy merge together to create the transformative opportunities of the future. In fact, we are constantly hearing about huge investment rounds into Mena-based startups being led by well-known family offices and endowments, especially by family-owned businesses from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – where family businesses contribute around 60 per cent to the gross domestic product (GDP) of GCC economies and employ over 80 per cent of the labour force.

Inspiring examples of this increased role of family businesses in supporting entrepreneurship include the recent acquisition of Mumzworld by Saudi Arabia’s Tamer Group and the lead investment of Egypt’s Sawiris family office in Egyptian proptech startup Nawy. However, the role of family businesses does not stop at allocating financial capital, they can play a far bigger and more influential role – by providing their expertise, networks, sophisticated supply chains and deep technologies – in nurturing and incubating startups at the earliest of stages. One such successful model is being developed by UAE-based Crescent Enterprises (CE) through its CE-Creates platform which aims to turn concept-stage ventures into socially relevant and economically viable businesses that can complement CE’s operations and generate positive sustainable impact.

Mena-based family businesses which built wealth through investing in traditional legacy industries - such as energy, trade, logistics, tourism and real estate – are now recognising the crucial role of technology in today’s world and the enormous opportunities that can be unlocked through diversification of their investment portfolios. In addition to economic opportunities, these family businesses are playing a critical role in nurturing the development of their local entrepreneurial ecosystems by providing much needed mentorship, credibility, market insight, resources and capital to startups. Importantly, they view startups and entrepreneurial ventures as opportunities rather than threats, and therefore, they are more likely to engage with them in ‘win-win’ partnerships that deliver robust growth opportunities for both parties and for the overall economy.

Palestinian family businesses: a missing piece in the puzzle?

Similar to the situation in other Arab countries, in Palestine, family-owned businesses - from micro, small to medium and large sizes – represent the backbone of the national economy and massively contribute to job creation and productive value-added activities. Unfortunately, there is a lack of sufficient data on the exact number of Palestinian family-owned businesses and their contribution to the country’s economy. However, according to research conducted by Middle East Business Magazine, family-owned companies constitute around 85 per cent of total enterprises that operate in Palestine.

These pioneering Palestinian family-owned businesses have managed not only to build viable and resilient business models through different generations, they have also been giving back to society through their effective corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies and philanthropic activities. For example, Bank of Palestine (BoP), one of the most impactful and future-looking corporations in the country, was established by members of the Shawa Family in Gaza in the early 1960s. Despite being a publicly listed company on the Palestinian Stock Exchange, BoP has managed to maintain the deep roots of its founding family and play a significant role in empowering the Palestinian economy through its commitment to financial inclusion and cutting-edge innovative financial practices. Similar impactful roles can be seen across multiple sectors as well - such as the role of Nassar Group in the stone and marble sector, Masrouji Group in the pharmaceuticals sector and Sinokrot Holding in the food and beverage (F&B) sector. Indeed, the successful examples are limitless and could be realised across different social and economic dimensions.

Yet, while it’s known that family-owned businesses in Palestine lack the huge financial and technical resources of their counterparts in Egypt or the GCC countries, they can still be considered as an enormous untapped resource that will be largely needed for the development of Palestine’s nascent entrepreneurial ecosystem going forward. Palestinian families have traditionally succeeded in overcoming the unique challenges that face most businesses in Palestine while also managing to build globally integrated and viable companies with solid commercial and social foundations. Accordingly, their experience in the nuances of the Palestinian market as well as their connections to regional and international markets are exactly the experiences that Palestinian founders desperately need in support of their entrepreneurial journeys. On the other hand, the economy-wide implications of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) requires family businesses to keep innovating and exploring new ways of doing things in order to stay relevant in the rapidly changing age of digital disruption. Hence, the relationship between traditional family businesses and early-stage startups should not be seen as a zero-sum game (where the gain of one implies the loss of another) but rather as a form of strategic partnership where mutually beneficial cooperation benefits all parties involved.

More importantly, understanding the essential role that family businesses play in the structure of the Palestinian economy can certainly lead to the realisation of many untapped opportunities that can be unlocked through greater involvement of the entrepreneurship sector from this underutilised, and sometimes overlooked resource. Strictly speaking, more active engagement from family businesses in the Palestinian entrepreneurship scene can provide additional layers of business acumen, innovation and complementary offerings. The added value from engaging with family businesses can also help to address challenges and fill several gaps that cannot be filled by the government or donor-funded entrepreneurship support projects alone. In essence, this added value could be realised in the following areas:

In spite of the challenges associated with doing business in Palestine, family businesses are changing, and they are embracing a more collaborative and futuristic approach. Specifically, this change has been driven by the rise of second and third generation business leaders who recognise the importance of innovation and digital disruption for the sustainable viability of their companies. Besides, their investment theses have also changed and are taking a more diversified long-term view. One such example is being developed in the city of Hebron where a group of wealthy Palestinian families came together to establish Izdehar “Prosperity” fund – a private equity fund with a committed capital of $100 million. Although most of the fund’s investments will be allocated to infrastructure projects, there will be sufficient capital to invest in the technology sector and partner with emerging Palestinian startups. Ultimately, we will start seeing more active engagement from Palestinian family businesses across the country in the entrepreneurship sector where the combination of legacy and disruption helps unlock new opportunities for prosperity and sustainable impact in the Palestinian economy.


November 7th 2021, 1:41 am

Capiter opens new office in Dubai


Press release 

Capiter, a Cairo-based B2B e-commerce marketplace that brings together Manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers on one platform, announced the opening of its new office in Dubai, UAE. 

The announcement marks the first step in the company’s plan for regional expansion and penetration of Arab markets, and a few weeks after raising an investment of $33 million in its first funding round which was led by a number of major companies and investors, namely Capital Quona, MSA Capital, Savola; in addition to Shorooq Partners, Foundation Ventures, Accion Venture Lab, and Derayah Ventures.

Mahmoud Nouh, founder and CEO of Capiter commented on the announcement saying, “Capitalizing on our proven successful model developed and refined in Egypt, which is one of the largest retail markets in the region, Capiter is embarking on its regional and international expansion plans starting with the Dubai office. The new opening will positively impact the company’s position and presence in the startup ecosystem both regionally and globally, providing our employees with the opportunity to work and interact with different markets and attract strong investments and new financing.”

The company’s presence within the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) zone allows it to be at the center of the region’s financial leaders and investors. The new office has already been up and running for 6 weeks, today, and already has 30 employees operating on its premises.

 “Our plans for regional expansion goes in parallel with our local growth perspective as we gear up to open a new office in Cairo soon. Our teams will be fully onboard across all offices to ensure smooth operations for all our stakeholders,” Mahmoud added.

According to the CEO of the Information Technology Industry Development Agency (ITIDA), Egyptian start-ups have attracted investments valued at $400 million during 2021, reflecting investors' increasing confidence in Egyptian entrepreneurs and their technological innovations. Egypt has been witnessing unprecedented growth in fintech solutions in line with the nation-wide strategy to transform Egypt into a digital society.

Capiter provides micro, small, medium and enterprise (SME) businesses with a single platform that allows retailers to order a wide range of inventory, obtain delivery, and access an embedded BNPL solution all from a single platform. Using cutting edge technology and machine learning, the Capiter solution also helps brands and manufacturers to gain critical insights into the markets they serve, enabling them to access real data to refine their distribution strategies and increase efficiencies.

At a growth rate of 11 times on a year-over-year basis, Capiter provides its services in Egypt through a well-trained team of more than 1500 employees with a network of more than 50,000 merchants and more than a thousand of global and local manufacturers, as well as a fleet of more than 500 trucks that offer more than 7,000 products through its platform.

Within only one year of launching its business, Capiter was able to secure a distinctive position on the map of the most prominent startups in the Egyptian scene; expanded its business in five Egyptian governorates, namely Cairo, Giza, Alexandria, Qalyubia and Beheira; and is currently preparing to expand in five other governorates within the coming period aiming to cover all of Egypt's governorates by the end of next year.


November 4th 2021, 3:20 pm

Eight startups graduate from Flat6Labs Ignite programme in Abu Dhabi


Press release:

On Wednesday, November 3rd 2021 the first Demo Day took place to commemorate the 4-month journey that the 8 participating startups have been on with Flat6Labs since the beginning of this cycle. 

Each startup has received a seed investment ranging from $150,000 to $250,000 in cash funding in exchange for an equity stake in the company. They are given access to a network of 500+ mentors, innovation-based bootcamps and workshops and hands-on business development support. 

The Demo Day gave the startups the opportunity to showcase their growth to a variety of potential stakeholders including, venture capitalists, high net worth individuals, customers, corporates and more, who will be willing to further support the scalability of the businesses. 

Flat6Labs, Mena’s leading seed stage investor and manager of the most renowned startup programmes in the region, launched the Flat6Labs Ignite programme in March 2021 in partnership with ADQ’s DisruptAD. The specialised seed programme will support up to 60 startups in Abu Dhabi over the next three years across six cycles.

Flat6Labs Ignite Programme in Abu Dhabi was launched in March 2021 in partnership with ADQ’s DistruptAD with this first cycle having started on June 27th 2021. The eight startup teams have been working over the past three months on growing their customer base, refining their offerings, expanding to new markets and building strategic partnerships. 

This cycle brings together the following startups:

Dharma - The first travel-brand-as-a-service; we enable influencers and brands to monetise their online community through travel. 

Zumvie - A software for better developer onboarding, 1:1 management and developer reviews. 

Marefa Digital - EdTech company launching Edactik that provides Arab professionals with eLearning tools and content to create, publish and learn in Arabic. 

RemotePass - RemotePass is a dashboard that makes it easy to hire, onboard & pay your global team in full compliance, giving you everything you need to support them. 

Pablu - A new live-video first marketplace allowing SMBs retailers to connect, buy and sell. Ability to build personal and intimate relationships with your audience.

The Concept - Developing sustainable solutions for our clients using a combination of hardware and technology innovation. 

Valorafutbol - Valora aims to allow all the sports stakeholders to get into Big Data and Fan Engagement in a very accessible and simple way with their plug and play solution. 

Fleetroot - White label platform to provide fleet management and last-mile delivery for e-commerce (retail, pharmacy, restaurants, electronics, etc.) 

For more information on Flat6Labs: 

November 4th 2021, 3:20 pm

A15 invests in Egypt-based fintech Sympl


Press release:

A15, a leading venture capital firm supporting entrepreneurs in the Mena region, has announced it is the first investor in one of Egypt’s latest startups to successfully launch, Sympl – which is set to disrupt the country’s consumer payments sector.  

Focused on tech startups and with a long track record in generating value for fintech, A15 is a key partner both in capital investment but also knowledge and experience. A15 invests in its portfolio companies at an early stage, working closely with the founders to generate value across different channels. As well as providing an invaluable support network for founders, A15 also supports startups operationally, through product development or technology integrations, and preparing for future funding rounds and exit strategies. 

A15’s partnership with Sympl - whose co-founders' experience includes co-creating leading consumer finance company ValU and B2B commerce platform Capiter – ideally positions both companies. With  A15’s early investment in the startup, the venture capital firm was able to support the development of the Sympl checkout platform and successfully help to bring it to launch. Together, both companies will continue to drive innovation in Egypt’s payments sector and contribute to Egypt’s ongoing commitment to a transition to a cashless society.  

Karim Beshara, General Partner at A15, commented: 

“At A15, we are committed to partnering with strong founding teams in the very early stages of their ventures, where we can work closely together to unlock value. We pride ourselves on the close relationships we maintain with the founders and their teams, supporting them from the beginning as part of the A15 family. We are excited to have backed Sympl from day one and are proud of the early positive signs from their launch. We look forward to continued close collaboration and scaling the  business.” 

Mohamed Elfeky, Chief Executive Officer of Sympl, said: 

“A15 has been a crucial partner in the early stages of our growth. Their support in product development initiatives, tech integrations and connections to their startups’ ecosystem have been important in our early success. We look forward to continuing our partnership with them to drive  innovation, provide new solutions for merchants and consumers, and contribute to the transition to a  cashless society in Egypt.” 

With over 30 investments in the Mena region to date, A15 is a leading promoter of entrepreneurship and innovation. In September 2018, A15 announced it had successfully sold a 76 per cent stake in its fintech portfolio company, TPAY, to leading African private equity firm Helios Investment Partners, making it the first fund to create a ‘Dragon’ - an exit that returns the value of the entire fund through the realised proceeds from a single investment - in the MENA region. 

With the support of A15, Sympl’s “Save your money pay later” checkout platform successfully launched in October via an exclusive partnership with leading Apple reseller, Tradeline - on the release of the new iPhone 13. Other partnerships have been established with key retailers in the electronics and appliances sector (2B), jewellery (Al-Mawardy Jewelry, Damas, and Jawhara), auto parts (Your Parts), hypermarket (Hyperone) sectors, and covering merchants in an array of other categories such as furniture, fashion, travel and medical services. Since the launch, Sympl has reported a lot of traction from customers using Sympl technology on the platforms of existing merchants, as well as a long pipeline of merchants who want to partner to embed Sympl to enhance their customer checkout experience.

November 4th 2021, 3:20 pm

ISSF invests $150,000 in Jordan’s NEXT Renewable Energy


Press release:

Jordan-based Innovative Startups and SMEs Fund (ISSF) has announced its $150,000 investment in Jordan-based alternative energy provider NEXT Renewable Energy Company. The funding round came as a business sustainer for the Jordan-based startup, as operations struggle with the pressures of the pandemic, and is aligned within a greater vision of sustainable and impactful investment by ISSF.

Founded in 2002, Jordan-based NEXT Renewable Energy Company provides specialized solar thermal (ST) and photovoltaic (PV) solutions. NEXT extends solar-dependent designs, fuel-saving solutions, desalination systems, and heavy fuel oil (HFO) tank heating for both commercial and industrial clients across the hotel, hospital, textile, and food industries. 

Amidst a general deal drop in Emerging Venture Markets across Mena, a drop in early-stage deals (<$500,000) has been a rather significant shift in deal flow dynamics. Early-stage funding rounds in MENA recorded 30 per cent less share of total deals by Q3 2021, a 38 per cent drop compared to Mena’s record of 78 per cent in 2018. Despite this red flag for future deal flow recorded in our Q3 2021 MENA Venture Investment Report, this year observed a record investor participation, of which, regional and global investors like the ISSF, Flat6Labs, MEVP, Wa’ed, Oasis500, ShamalStart, 500 Global, and Y-combinator have been keeping a steady influx in early-stage deals in 2021. 

The investment aligns with the Innovative Future Initiative, which the ISSF launched to support startups and SMEs affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in Jordan. Organised in coordination with the World Bank, the initiative has allocated $7.5 million to empower these companies to overcome the challenges imposed by the global health crisis. “Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been placing added focus on direct investments so as to enable startups and SMEs to not only endure, but also prosper. Through this investment, the ISSF is helping NEXT to recover and reach its full technical and operational potentials, consequently contributing to the revival of the local entrepreneurial ecosystem and positively impacting the national economy as a whole,” commented ISSF CEO, Laith Al Qasem. 

Since the beginning of the year, the ISSF has been spotting promising innovations that can elevate the ecosystem in Jordan and the region, backing startups of different sizes including Jordan-based fintech and microloan platform Solfeh, POSRocket the digital point of sale solution provider, and Martix, Jordan’s 3-year-old e-commerce aggregator. However, this investment in NEXT Renewable Energy comes at a time where expansion and platform support is needed as NEXT Chairman, Hani Rabie concluded “The ISSF was very prompt and steadfast in responding to our pressing business needs. Following a standstill of over 14 months, we were awarded our first project since the onset of the pandemic. This investment came at an opportune time, enabling us to mobilise our resources and cover the expenses required for closing several pending projects throughout the region.”

November 4th 2021, 2:51 am

How is impact measured?


Most organisations around the world want to create “impact”, but what does this impact look like and what is the best way to measure it?

Reem Khouri, co-founder of Jordan-based Whyise, believes the software solution she has developed can help companies and organisations track and measure the change they wish to bring.

In this podcast we discuss the importance of tracking data and how to use it to create impact, both within an organisation and in the wider society. 

November 4th 2021, 2:51 am

Egypt’s Breadfast closes $26 million Series A round


Source: Egyptian Streets

Breadfast, Egypt’s leading grocery delivery platform, announced on Wednesday that it had secured $26 million in a Series A round co-led by Vostok New Ventures and Endure Capital.

The round, which also saw participation from JAM Fund, YC Continuity Fund, Shorooq Partners, 4FX Ventures and Flexport, is one of the largest of its kind in the region in 2021 and brings Breadfast’s total investment to date to more than $33 million since its launch in 2017.

Founded by Mostafa Amin, Muhammad Habib and Abdallah Nofal, Breadfast offers scheduled and on-demand delivery of groceries and other household essentials, having initially started its business with a focus on baked goods.

Deliveries are currently offered in under 60 minutes across Cairo, Giza and Mansoura with the startup planning on bringing that down to 20 minutes by utilising a portion of the new funding to grow its web of dark stores. Breadfast will be launching deliveries in Alexandria in early November 2021.

Breadfast will also use the new funding to expand into eight new cities across Egypt and across Sub-Saharan Africa and scale the technology behind its iOS and Android-enabled app.

“We started out baking and delivering fresh bread, and today we are able to give Egyptians access to thousands of items of their basic supermarket supplies at the click of a button,” said Amin, co-founder and CEO of Breadfast, in a statement following the announcement of the Series A round.

“Our mission is to change how people consume their daily essentials in Africa and the Middle East and, through our dynamic technology and deep understanding of the end-to-end supply chain process in the region, we are growing a simple idea into a product we believe can benefit millions of people across the Mena and Sub-Saharan regions.”

JAM Fund’s Justin Mateen, who is also the co-founder of Tinder, noted in a statement that Breadfast is set to become a leader in the market.

“Breadfast is defining how consumers in emerging markets plan and carry out their grocery shopping. The Breadfast team has managed to build a complex operation, that offers a seamless experience for customers,” said Mateen in a press release.

“Supported by a massive demographic and favourable operating expenses in emerging markets, Breadfast is poised to become a leader in the grocery q-commerce market. I am excited about supporting this team in their future plans.”

November 4th 2021, 2:51 am

Egyptian healthtech Bypa-ss raises $1 million in pre-Seed


Press release

Bypa-ss, the startup behind the health tech product, HealthTag, has announced the closure of a 1 million USD round from Egyptian and foreign Investors, with participation from Magic Fund, Acuity Ventures, Launch Africa, Plug and Play, and other regional and international VCs. “We are beyond excited to invest in Bypa-ss! We are confident that Andrew and his team will build the future of health information infrastructure in Egypt, and we are glad to be part of it." – Plug and Play.

Founded in 2019, Bypa-ss introduced HealthTag, a platform for Health Information Exchange (HIE), offering physicians a free cloud-based clinic management solution. Through linking with a cloud database, HealthTag securely stores medical records collected from different healthcare providers and gives them to their rightful owner, the user. The user is also able to receive up to 70% discounts when paying out-ofpocket from the top healthcare providers in Egypt.

Bypa-ss originated in Shebin El Kom, Menofia, and is now servicing its members all across Egypt. Having been accelerated and backed by Falak Startups’ investment, Bypa-ss was able to gain momentum and collect further angel funds that enabled it to spread in 5 cities in one year. Offering patients ownership of their health records, while giving doctors and healthcare providers visibility on patients’ full history.

Bypa-ss is currently eyeing expansion in its customer base and healthcare network, coming promptly after their recent rebranding ( Andrew Saad, CEO of Bypa-ss says: “With this investment coming in, we will be able to avail more features to our customers while maintaining our service level and growth momentum. Additionally, the company intends to use the funds to fuel expansion, perfect a highend tech mobile app for patients to engulf and facilitate the information exchange between the stakeholders from different levels and sizes and capitalize on the company’s rapid growth.”

November 3rd 2021, 8:17 am

US-based TachyHealth raises seven-figure Seed from regional investors


Press release:

TachyHealth, a healthcare technology startup providing intelligent solutions for value-driven healthcare, has managed to secure a 7 figure USD number for its Seed investment in an over-subscribed round with participation from high profile Mena region venture capital and angel investors led by Propeller Inc. along with Oman Technology Fund- Wadi (OTF Wadi), Jordinvest, and a leading insurance company out of Saudi Arabia. This is a set milestone in the growing startup’s journey following an angel round previously raised by the company in the pre-seed stage.

The fund will be utilised to accelerate the development of deep technology solutions as well as to fuel the growth in the Mena region. This will go along with the aim of intelligently automating the traditional healthcare processes that tie up a vast number of resources, people, time, and money.

TachyHealth is a Delaware based healthcare technology company with a presence in four countries, US, UAE, KSA and Egypt. Founded in 2018, the company has developed solutions for re-inventing the interaction between healthcare providers and payers by leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and data science with the aim of removing waste, saving money, and improving the patient journey for value-based healthcare. The interconnected intelligent solutions offered include AiGuide for medical doctors, AiCode for medical coders, AiClaim for claim management, and AiReview for claims review and auditing by the payers. The startup has seen tremendous growth especially following the COVID-19 pandemic where the transformation of healthcare became a priority for healthcare systems across the region through enhanced revenue cycle management, medical coding and claims management focusing on outcome and value rather than quantities and activities.

In a short time, TachyHealth has managed to grow rapidly with a current team of 40 members, including top-notch engineers, doctors and developers, managed by an executive team from healthcare and technology backgrounds with +100 years of collective experience. This forms a team that is thrilled to utilize the latest technology to disrupt the healthcare market and transform traditional care, as seen and experienced by an extensive client list including multinational corporates, hospitals, Third Party Administrators, and insurance companies.

November 3rd 2021, 8:17 am

CleverTrip raises $750,000 pre-Seed round


UAE-based travel tech CleverTrip has raised a $750,000 pre-Seed round from an undisclosed angel investor.

Founded in 2017, CleverTrip is an online travel agency platform that aggregates travel agencies, hotels and aviation companies while serving as a one-stop-shop offering a myriad of travel-related services. CleverTrip also caters to the corporate segment by offering them customised packages.

As the travel industry still grapples with the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact, according to its co-founder Ibrahim Shaker, CleverTrip looks to empower traditional travel agencies by helping them establish an online presence. 

“Offline travel agencies have had spent a great deal of time thinking how to improve their way of work and how to prepare for the next phase. This is where CleverTrip comes in. We help travel agencies get out of the situation, giving them access to technology, content, curated packages, and promotions using our white label solution,” Shaker explained.

With the fresh funds, the company aims to improve its marketing efforts and boost its client base.  


November 3rd 2021, 5:19 am

What is next for direct-to-consumer commerce in Mena?


“Swipe up”, an Instagram term that has become so synonymous with online shopping that it is hardly considered an instruction or directive anymore. This ability to redirect consumers from a social media platform and directly onto a merchant’s website has become one of the subtle ways that online shopping has shifted over the past few years, empowering smaller brands and fueling the growth of direct-to-consumer (D2C) commerce.

D2C companies manufacture and ship their products directly to buyers without going through the middlemen of online marketplaces or traditional stores, enabling them to sell their products at a lower cost. Combined with platforms like Alibaba, Shopify and third-party logistics, this ecosystem of social media, e-commerce and fintech has enabled digitally native brands to easily identify suppliers and manufacturers, build a platform to sell, and target specific sets of consumers via digital ads.  

Globally, the D2C model was pioneered by the likes of Warby Parker, an online retailer of glasses and sunglasses and Casper mattresses, who shunned brick and mortar retail and offered consumers niche products online, selling directly to customers who were acquired via social media platforms.

It is a model that worked tremendously well. D2C brands fast became unicorns, Casper managed to IPO, and large corporations provided a lucrative exit route with the likes of Unilever acquiring the Dollar Shave Club for $1 billion and Proctor & Gamble acquiring Native deodorants for $100 million, less than three years after it launched.

Rise of online shopping

In the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), D2C is still in the earlier stages of its development, one fueled by the rise in e-commerce. In a recent report published by UK-based fintech, 53 per cent of consumers in the region said they are doing more of their shopping online compared to pre-Covid levels, a rise of 8 per cent when compared to consumer responses in 2020.

“Consumer behaviour has shifted dramatically towards an online-centric one. Customers who used to shop offline now went online,” says Mo Ali Yusuf, regional manager at “We have also seen a massive shift in traditional retailers who have also gone online. Around March and April [2020], we had an influx in demand, we had over 1,000 merchants reaching out, many of them were traditional retailers who said they really had to have online presence and a digital offering. From fashion to general retailers, makeup and grocery, everybody wanted to go D2C.”

This demand for online shopping shows no signs of waning. The region’s e-commerce sector is one of the fastest growing in the world and is set to be worth $48.6 billion by 2022 according to Visa. Social media is set to play an evermore important role in this growth with 20 per cent of Mena consumers saying they shop online within a social media app, compared with 8 per cent in China and 3 per cent in Singapore according to the report. Most social media companies have integrated online shopping onto their platforms, whether it is directing users to a brand’s website or purchasing directly on the platform. Most recently, TikTok partnered with Shopify in Mena, to allow its users to “swipe up” and buy the products they see in the videos.

“It connects users with brands in the region, making it easier for merchants to run campaigns directly on TikTok,” says Aref Yahia, head of retail and e-commerce at TikTok Global Business Solutions, who describes the partnership as part of TikTok’s “community commerce” approach, which helps to build up trust among consumers.

For Maria Eduarda Becker Pavani, founder of Tres Marias, social media platforms are vital for her coffee roastery business. The company was founded just before the pandemic, with the intention of it being a B2B coffee supplier.

“When the pandemic started, we started a Shopify account and started pushing on Instagram,” says Pavani. “In the first month, we understood the potential of e-commerce of coffee. In the Middle East, social media is important, you have to be consistent in posting, you have to be creative, it would have been much harder and taken us longer to reach customers without Instagram and Shopify.”

The use of social media not only increases brand awareness and customer acquisition to build an online community, it also establishes a clear line of communication between company and customer.

“The main advantages of D2C is that you have direct access to customers, make improvement on your product based on customer feedback, and importantly, own your customer data. When you are dealing through a marketplace, you do not know who the final customer is, so you cannot use this information to refine your product. D2C allows you to do a better job and ensure the customer is happy,” says Anass Boumediene, co-founder of UAE-based eyewa, an online retailer for contact lenses and glasses.

Global caution

While D2C is still booming in the region, elsewhere, the landscape is tainted with difficulty. Casper’s IPO has been described as a “nightmare” with its stock trading at $4 today, down from its debut of $12. US-based Brandless, a Softbank-backed platform which raised $290 million closed down in February last year citing increased competition and an unsustainable business model before being acquired by a Clarke Capital Partners and the platform’s new CEO, Ryan Treft. Analysts have also accused Procter and Gamble, which has acquired several D2C brands of downplaying the importance of D2C in investor calls.

Part of the reason is the rise in competition – more and more of these D2C have emerged across the world, taking advantage of globalised supply chains to offer shoppers greater choice. Even bigger brands like Nike and Coca Cola have shifted to D2C, proving to be a hefty competitor with strong brand recognition and deep marketing pockets.

“Building a D2C firm became so easy, it made the space extremely competitive. If you come up with a product idea and start selling it, suddenly 10 other brands appear selling the same thing, they even go for your same manufacturer and out-advertise you on Facebook, so it becomes a race. The only companies that benefit are the platforms,” says Imad El Fay, partner at HB Investments.  

This has led to a substantial rise in customer acquisition costs (CAC) across the board. The CAC for e-commerce brands in clothing, shoes and accessories space is currently $129 according to Shopify and $462 for furniture brands. Recent changes in Apple’s iOS 14 privacy agreements makes it difficult to target consumers with specific ads, effectively severing a crucial aspect of the D2C social media strategy. Meanwhile, VCs have generally become less willing to fund companies that prioritise growth over profitability, especially in such competitive consumer markets.

“To sell a product to consumers, you need to convince them. Initially they need to be aware of your product, then consider buying it or replace their current preference with it, then they need to buy it. Generally, it is not easy. You need to reach them through a combination of channels, including digital ads, influencer partnerships and other forms of advertising. This requires a behaviour change,” says El Fay.

The economics of the e-commerce model are difficult, especially for smaller brands who also face cashflow issues.

“Most of D2C’s biggest challenge is supply sourcing. Being a small brand, you are not able to go to a good manufacturer and ask for a small quantity with good quality,” says Shady Mokhtar, co-founder of Egypt-based clothing brand Opio. “Scalability and growth are other issues as well.”

Most manufacturers expect 50 per cent payment upfront before they start manufacturing a product and the rest is paid upon delivery, so brands have to pay the entire shipment before they sell anything, putting “a big cash strain at the beginning, even if the business is profitable,” says El Fay.

“Between paying for suppliers, freight companies, branding agencies, marketing and fulfilment. A lot of money gets lost in the journey, and these businesses face an economic issue, their models are much more optimistic than they realise. They do not have a lot of expertise in finance and management,” he adds.

The omnichannel approach

There is however, a way to make D2C work according to El Fay.

“Bootstrapping is much more effective than raising outside money, which has proven to force companies to go and spend it uneconomically to get consumers. If you look at companies that bootstrap early on, they manage to grow slowly by focusing on unit economic or cashflow, they are making sure that in every stage they are making money,” he says.

Listing on marketplaces can also work to serve digitally native brands and expand their reach, while the rise of e-commerce buyers like Opontia can also offer an exit route for D2C brands.  

“D2C is not a strategy per say, it is a channel. A lot of brands realise that the likes of Amazon and Noon can be a great way to acquire customers, because customers trust them, and a lot of customers go first to them if they are looking for a product,” says El Fay.

Globally, D2C brands are beginning to adopt an omnichannel approach by traversing into brick and mortar stores, a strategy that could suit regional players as regulations for cross-border trade in Mena can present challenges for market access and scaling for e-commerce brands.  

The process of expansion in Mena is “complicated” according to Boumediene who highlights differences in regulation, currency, VAT and customs across the region.  

“From a macro level, if we want businesses to do better and facilitate intercountry commerce and shipping, it would be great to have a more uniform relations across the GCC towards e-commerce. This is the main advantage of Europe and the US, that you have a very easy access to large populations. We have a large population here across Mena, we have common language, but we have different regulations, laws and customs. This slows down the expansion of companies,” he says.

For eyewa, establishing a physical presence in Saudi Arabia was one way to circumvent the challenges in expanding as an e-commerce platform. The company launched its first physical store in Dahran last year and opened another three in the country as well as one in Dubai with plans to open 100 outlets across Mena by 2023.

 “We realise a lot of customers still prefer to shop offline, and if we remain only online we will not get access to them,” says Boumediene.

While e-commerce will continue to boom, online sales only account for about 20 per cent of total retail sales globally, and for brands to truly scale and expand, an omnichannel approach may still be necessary.

Wamda is an investor in eyewa

November 3rd 2021, 5:19 am

Appetito raises $2 million in pre-Series A


Egypt-based warehousing and last-mile delivery startup Appetito has raised $2 million in pre-Series A round, led by Jedar Capital, with participation from Golden Palm investments, DFS Lab and a cluster of regional angel investors and family offices.

Launched in 2020, Appetito sources products directly from FMCG manufacturers, stores them in its warehouses and dark stores and then delivers them to household customers in less than 60 minutes. The startup works with brands like Procter and Gamble, Henkel, Coca-Cola, among others.

"Through our technology, we are able to cut the middlemen who take out a decent margin of sold products and provide not only a convenient experience to our customers but also an affordable one as we compete on prices because we buy in bulk and sell at retail prices,” said Shehab Mokhtar, CEO and co-founder of Appetito.

According to Mokhtar, the FMCG retail market is estimated to be worth around $60 billion, of which 80 per cent is traditional, while modern trade led by e-commerce-enabled large supermarket chains and hypermarkets account for the remaining 20 per cent. 

“The grocery market is very fragmented and there is a huge inefficiency in the supply chain itself. In order for any company to deliver its products to the consumer, they have to go through a network of wholesalers, distributors until the product reaches the retailers and then the final end-user in each chain. This inevitably results in an increase in the product prices, we look to change that,” says Mokhtar.

Appetito plans to use the funds to improve its product features and tech stack and expand its network of dark stores. It currently has seven dark stores, with plans to double that by the end of 2022. It also plans to expand internationally.


November 3rd 2021, 5:19 am

Illegal data collection, financial data theft are major concerns for GCC consumers, GPI study shows


Press release:

Ding, the fastest way to send international mobile top-up, today launched the second Ding Global Prepaid Index (GPI) in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Consumers in the GCC are among the world’s most avid users of social media but concerns over data use and misuse of platforms remain high according to the Ding GPI.  

This bi-annual global study commissioned by Ding, the world’s largest mobile top-up service, examines the views of 6,250 respondents across the KSA, UAE, Nigeria,  Indonesia, Germany, India, Mexico, Brazil, and the Philippines, regarding their engagement in the prepaid market and their attitudes towards the economy. The study found that GCC is one of the largest users of prepaid products with 89 per cent (KSA) and 86 per cent  (UAE) of those surveyed claiming to operate in this economy.  

Trust in Data Collection and Social Media Platforms  

Almost half (46 per cent) of respondents in the UAE cited data collection as a major worry,  followed by 45 per cent concerned about financial data theft. The results were similar in KSA at  39 per cent and 47 per cent respectively, showing issues of data protection weigh heavily on these  Middle East populations in spite of major social media penetration and phone use in both markets. 

Comparatively, the Philippines showed the highest fear of illegal data collection (63 per cent)  and Germany the least (32 per cent). Conversely, Nigeria showed the biggest fears of financial data being stolen (60 per cent) and India the least (38 per cent). 

UAE respondents expressed the least trust in social media, coming 8th in the survey while Indonesia was first, with 88 per cent confidence in platforms versus 75 per cent in the UAE and 78 per cent in KSA. The UAE is least trusting in social media when compared to other markets but only  25 per cent don’t trust the social media they use. 

Negative experiences on social media platforms 

Misuse or online abuse appears across platforms though there are variations from country to country as to consumer concerns. Respondents in the UAE witness or experience more misuse on TikTok (25 per cent) than most other markets and on LinkedIn, the level is double the average seen in other markets (12 per cent). 

In Saudi Arabia, respondents cited more misuse on Twitter (26 per cent) and Snapchat (20 per cent) than any other market. However, it was found that respondents felt there is less misuse on Facebook (30 per cent) than most other markets – 12 per cent lower than the average. 

This Saudi confidence is reflected in the uptake of Facebook-owned apps such as  WhatsApp (63 per cent) and Instagram (54 per cent) compared to lower numbers found in the UAE where figures were just 58 per cent and 47 per cent respectively. In fact, the UAE has one of the lowest numbers of Instagram (47 per cent) and FB/Messenger (43 per cent) users compared to other markets. 

“The GPI findings across the board are very insightful as they show that even if the UAE  and KSA share many market similarities, the experience consumers have online, directly impacts their trust,” said Mark Roden, founder & chief executive of Ding. “While the  UAE and Saudi Arabia have some of the Index’s best results for online safety, the issue has  become a global concern and with the recent issues we have seen across social media and spyware revelations, these fluctuations in the trust are very much in line with a global  trend.”  

Economic Confidence 

With regard to current economic confidence, the UAE is 15 per cent above the all-markets average. Interestingly, when comparing the confidence levels from GPI 2 to the original Global Prepaid Index launched in early 2021, confidence levels are down 3 per cent on average. Saudi confidence levels are 10 per cent above the all-markets average.  

When looking at the economy over the next 6 months, the UAE is the most confident (at  72 per cent) of all countries surveyed. This may be due to the excitement generated by the launch of Dubai Expo 2020. The Saudi respondents came third in the rankings at 65 per cent.

November 2nd 2021, 10:48 am

Farmin, Kanari AI win GITEX Supernova Challenge


Press release: 

The Mohammed Bin Rashid Innovation Fund (MBRIF), an initiative launched by the UAE Ministry of Finance to support innovation in the UAE, today announced that two of its members; Farmin and Kanari AI were crowned winners of the 2021 GITEX Future Stars’ Supernova Challenge. 

Farmin, an Artificial Intelligence-powered platform that delivers critical insight for smart cities, won the award for Best Emirati. Meanwhile, Kanari AI was named the Best AI innovator for its cutting-edge Arabic speech and voice technology solutions. The winners were announced by an expert panel after three rounds of pitching, with the final taking place on-ground at Gitex Future Stars, Dubai World Trade Centre on 20th October 2021.

Speaking of the wins, Fatima Al Naqbi, Chief Innovation Officer at the Ministry of Finance said: “We are incredibly proud of Farmin and Kanari AI for winning the GITEX Supernova Challenge. Both innovators have developed incredible technology and have demonstrated their winning talent and dynamism during the course of this competition. 

She added: “At MBRIF, we support promising entrepreneurs and innovators by providing them with access to tailored mentorship, networking, market access and affordable funding to achieve sustainable growth and impact. Both Farmin and Kanari AI were selected as winners because of their huge positive impact on society, solving real-world problems.” 

Dr Ali AlHammadi, CEO and founder of Farmin, said: “Winning this challenge is another recognition of the achievements of Emirati innovators and a testimony on our advanced technology and its great potential in servicing the UAE and supporting the local innovation ecosystem.”

Ryan Carmichael, CEO and founder of Kanari AI said: “By winning best AI startup at the Gitex Future Stars Supernova Challenge, Kanari AI was recognised not only for having the leading Dialectal Arabic speech technologies, but also for the tremendous potential that exists for this technology in the region.”

Farmin and Kanari AI made their way to the top from over 700 entries that were received this year. The entrepreneurs hailed from diverse sectors AI, fintech, blockchain, e-commerce, education, healthcare, environmental & social impact, immersive tech, smart cities/IoT, software, tourism & hospitality, space tech, sports tech & creative economy. 


Since its inception, MBRIF seeks to empower innovative businesses through its two key programmes; the Innovation Accelerator programme and the Gaurantee Scheme.

November 2nd 2021, 10:48 am

Tarabut Gateway raises $12 million pre-Series A led by Tiger Global


Press release:

Tarabut Gateway, the Dubai-headquartered Open Banking platform, has concluded a seed round of $13 million and pre-series-A funding round of $12 million led by Tiger Global in the last eight months. Tarabut Gateway’s solutions allow financial institutions and fintechs to leverage Open Banking to scale their businesses across the region. Tarabut Gateway welcomes new investors including the Dubai International Fintech Fund, the Investment Vehicle of Dubai’s International Financial Center (DIFC).

The investment follows Tiger Global’s most recent investment in other Open Banking Players across the globe including Truelayer in the UK and Mono in Africa. Since its inception in 2001, Tiger Global has made investments into 30 countries around the globe in key startup regions such as India, Asia and further afield.

As the first licensed Account Information Service Provider (AISP) and Payment Initiation Service Provider (PISP) in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region, Tarabut Gateway is fulfilling its mission to facilitate the creation and distribution of personalised financial services for banks and fintechs, as well as their end-users.

John Curtius, Partner at Tiger Global Management said; “People are increasingly sophisticated in how they utilise their money, and in a marketplace rife with such exciting growth such as the MENA region, we worked hard to find a company on the ground that shared our vision. With its understanding of the different markets in the region and a proven track record of innovation, we are delighted to have had the opportunity to invest in Tarabut Gateway. We have followed Abdulla and his team for some time and are excited about the opportunity and potential that Open Banking presents in the MENA region.”

Abdulla Almoayed, Tarabut Gateway’s founder and CEO highlighted; “The MENA region is a complex web of countries and regulations. This makes it a challenging area to serve with any single overarching financial product whilst remaining compliant in a highly developed landscape with many differing markets. I’m glad to say this round is living proof that Tarabut Gateway is successfully pioneering in developing a cutting-edge solution for banks and fintechs in the region.”

In February 2021, Tarabut Gateway raised $13 million in seed investment, the largest seed round in the MENA region for a fintech company. This pre–Series A doubles down on the company's credentials, spurring it forward to serve millions more potential customers in this diverse region.


November 2nd 2021, 4:35 am

Iraq Venture Partners, new venture fund launches to support Iraqi startups


Press release:

Plans for a new Iraq venture fund have been announced by some of the Iraq ecosystem’s pioneers, Omar  Al-Handal (The Station), Bassam Falah (Innovest ME, Ruwwad Al Iraq), and Mohammed Khudairi (Iraq  Tech Ventures), who will serve as the fund’s General Partners.  

The partnership is called Iraq Venture Partners (IVP), and it plans to invest in early-stage startups, from seed stage to series A. The fund will focus on the innovation and knowledge economy in Iraq, across several industries. Investments will be shared between new startups and follow-on investments.  

“As some of the first investors in the Iraq ecosystem, we are excited that the timing is right for a fund.  There are many talented Iraqi entrepreneurs in need of capital, with few sources of funding available to them,” says Mohammed Khudairi of Iraq Tech Ventures.  

Bassam Falah, CEO of Innovest Middle East adds, “Synergy has always been at the core of Innovest’s DNA. We believe the value-add that each of the IVP partners brings to the equation will form a unique  proposition that will cater to current critical needs of the Iraqi startup ecosystem.” 

“We are confident in the potential of Iraqi startups. The fund will be a backbone for all the upcoming entrepreneurship opportunities in Iraq. We hope to shed more light on the distinctive startups that Iraq has to offer for potential investors,” says Omar Al-Handal, co-founder of The Station.  

The IVP General Partners boast some of the leading names in the Iraq startup ecosystem, having participated in Iraq’s largest fundraising deals to date. They also have been integral in using their organisations to help establish deal flow and cultivate talent.

November 1st 2021, 7:33 am

Tech hegemony: Friend or foe?


Salwa F. Darraj is a senior consultant at Ernst and Young (EY), where she is the Women’s Network Champion. Darraj is a Member of the Board of Trustees of the American University of Beirut (AUB), the Alumni Advisory Board of Imperial College London where she was previously a guest lecturer and a startup mentor. 

Everywhere we look, we seem to encounter some form of technology. We grab our morning coffee and pay the local vendor through the point of sale (POS) system. We order our ride through an app to get to work, where we use multiple software platfoms from several companies. We get bored, and what better than social media, games, and esports to keep us entertained. In the globalised world that we live in, we are bound to work abroad at least once in our life; with many things to do and so little time, we end up relying on a prop-tech app to scan through listed properties. The day is coming to an end, so we order a list of groceries online, including hydroponically grown vegetables. Thanks to big data and analytics, our preferences are already recorded and fintech lets us pay through our mobile. Finally, we are home, tired and not feeling well, so we check our vital signals through our digital wristband. We are then eager to take a hot water shower heated by solar panels. Now it’s time to order dinner from our favourite restaurant through a food delivery app. Our meal will be delivered in 40 minutes or less, so to make the best use of time, why not check that online Spanish 101 course we registered for. Food is here. We choose a rom-com from our on-demand watchlist and enjoy our meal after a long, tech-intensive day. All ready for bed, but before we dive into a world of dreams, we must not forget to set our morning alarm, sleeping monitor, and go-to-sleep music. Good night and sweet dreams. 

If I described such a day to my grandmother fifteen years ago, her answer would have been: I am not a fan of sci-fi stories…let’s watch The Devil Wears Prada instead. 

There is no doubt that technology has empowered us, but the question remains: are we getting too greedy for technology? Are we using and abusing this electronic giant to crush old school models? 

Hercules vs. Iron Man 

Technology-induced disruptions to every sector and operational business model cannot be denied. I am always fascinated by the complete operational transitions that some businesses go through, where the new models look great and make perfect sense, but only in hindsight. Nonetheless, I cannot help but feel that sometimes this is getting overdone, where a whole package of different technologies is integrated into a traditional business model, irrespective of whether it fits or not. When done right, technological integration equips businesses with new powers to outperform the conventional players, regardless of their size and historic strength. A clear example of this is what Netflix did to Blockbuster. A twenty-first century battle between Hercules and Iron Man (even the colours match), where digital technology beats the traditional, unpolished strength.   

Digital rat race

Companies, especially startups, are sometimes racing to adopt advanced technologies that are beyond their needs and capabilities in an attempt to create a mysterious, sexy facade around their business model. The focus of investors on technology is exacerbating this “tech-rush”, where at times valuation is being predominantly tied to digital savviness. Technology adoption is a necessary element of the survival kit, but the key for every entrepreneur is to choose the right fit for their operational model and strategic goal. 

Disruption taken to new levels: Adapt or be left behind

According to Google, disruption is defined as a “radical change to an existing industry or market due to technological innovation”. Over the past decade, we have seen how innovation through technology was an enabler of holistic operational model transformation in several sectors. Technology improved quality, efficiency, decreased long-term business expenses, and at times lowered the price tag for the end-user. Technology amplified the scale and effect of operational improvements and altered market expectations. 

Despite the above, disruption has a dark side that is often overlooked. Businesses that challenged the existential necessity for development and pushed back when it was time to adapt were left behind. Their fall was expedited by the rising market need for technology adoption. It is always sentimental to see classic icons fade into the abyss……but at the end of the day, disruptors gotta disrupt.

Advanced digital solutions generally require a hefty capital investment upfront to develop state-of-the-art technology and a solid infrastructure to uphold the system together. Businesses that do not have the means to access the necessary funds are generally doomed to cater solely to the market segments that the disruptors are uninterested in. The only way around this sealed fate is to systematically and gradually integrate a tailored technology solution that is strategically justifiable. 

Change, in all of its different forms, is difficult to embrace. Businesses operating in a cut-throat market are forced to get in the driver’s seat and take charge of their success, otherwise, they will be paving the way to their doom. 

According to research data analysed by Wamda Research Lab, the first half of 2021 witnessed almost one billion USD investment in Mena-based tech startups. Investors' emphasis on technology as a means rather than just an end is sometimes misread by fresh entrepreneurs. This misalignment of perspectives is exacerbating the issue. Investors should keep the “tech-rush” under control to preserve the long-term sustainability of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Entrepreneurs’ key focus should be to have innovations empowered and facilitated by technological advancements rather than a tech-hype. 

Digitisation is key for the relevant existence of businesses. Any business that does not assess the integration of the right technology to its operations will be left behind. An understanding of the continuously evolving digital ecosystem is necessary to evolve and prosper. The question is not whether or not technology should be part of any business, but what technology and for which business. A systematic assessment of the business needs, capabilities, market shifts, and anticipation of customer preferences is essential to correctly choosing the right type and dosage of technology intake. 

The views in this article are solely the author’s own. 


November 1st 2021, 12:19 am

Shipblu raises $2.4 million Seed round to back expansion


Source: Techcrunch

African e-commerce fulfilment startups backed by Y Combinator seem to be piquing investors’ interest this year for their niche e-commerce play.

Summer batch graduate ShipBlu is the latest on that list and confirmed to TechCrunch that it has raised $2.4 million in seed funding.

The company, founded by Ali Nasser, Ahmed ElKawass, Abdelrahman Hosny in 2020, operates a delivery and fulfilment model. It delivers packages of all kinds for merchants and retailers — ranging from mom and pop stores and social media to fashion retailers who make thousands of shipments and international brands — to customers in Egypt.

On the fulfilment side, ShipBlu stores merchants’ products in warehouses it leases. Then it connects with merchants’ online stores and monitors orders via a dashboard, so when they come in, ShipBlu picks and packs the orders from the warehouse and sends them to the customers.

ShipBlu charges its customers per package, depending on two standard sizes, destination and shipping speed.

While these three factors are common in e-commerce and fulfilment, CEO Nasser said shipping speed is not prioritized the same way as the other two in Egypt.

According to him, ShipBlu is one of the few e-commerce fulfilment companies that offers that service to customers in the country.

“We let the merchant decide: Do they need to get that product to their customer overnight, and therefore, pay or charge the customer for overnight fees?” Nasser said to TechCrunch in an interview.

“Or are they willing to for a more budget-friendly option and would like to ship that package in three to five days? We offer that option to merchants, who in turn can decide to offer that to customers. So it could be the customer’s choice or the merchants’ choice.”

ShipBlu only fully launched this August. Per its YC profile, ShipBlu signed on more than 40 merchants during its first month. And since then, the company has managed to double its clientele while tripling revenues in the same period, said Nasser without stating hard numbers.

Within the next couple of months, Nasser says he wants ShipBlu’s network and infrastructure to reach 99% of Egypt’s population.

“Whether you’re living in a small village or a large town or a large city, we want to be able to get to you and have the infrastructure in place to get to your delivery to you,” the CEO remarked.

The idea behind such a daring move — which appears to be a bit of a stretch considering the timeline — comes from the founders’ ambition to change an industry that has lagged behind other regions in the wider GCC, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, in terms of e-commerce penetration.

Over 100 million people live in the North African country compared to Saudi Arabia’s 30 million+ people, yet the e-commerce market in Egypt is a third of Saudi Arabia’s.

A significant reason this gap has always existed is that the infrastructure needed to facilitate the process of e-commerce in Egypt is abysmal. It runs deep even on an elementary level where zip codes are barely accurate or non-existent, presenting many challenges to last mile or delivery providers.

The zip codes were one of the issues Nasser observed from Egypt’s fragmented e-commerce and fulfilment market during his return from the US to the country months before the pandemic broke out.

As online payments boomed globally and in Egypt and upon finding out via research that the market size for last-mile delivery in MENA stands at over $3.1 billion annually, Nasser and his co-founders ElKawass, Abdelrahman Hosny got together to start ShipBlu.

“It was that period that it hit us and we realized how much more can be done for delivery services in the standard of service and the features that are available today. Compared to Europe and the US and other parts of the world, there was just so much more that we could bring to the market.”

But Egypt is an entirely different market compared to these developed regions. For instance, 40% of deliveries fail in the country, while the global benchmark for the latter is about 8%. The high rate of delivery failure makes the operating costs for over 150 providers in Egypt generally high. ShipBlu, differentiating itself from the market, says it has developed AI and ML algorithms to “reduce costs, meet delivery constraints, and refine its operating assumptions.”

The CEO says ShipBlu’s end goal is to make customers choose a three-hour delivery window for their packages and know what date to expect them, which contrasts how most traditional e-commerce fulfilment companies function.

“Roughly 56% of the time when someone in Egypt places an order online, they don’t even have a delivery date. After you place your order and you get an email confirmation, it’s complete silence until, on a random day, you’re going to get a call from the agent who’s on your on their way to you asking if you are available to pick up the package. We’re changing that,” he said.

ShipBlu has competition with the likes of Flextock and Bosta in Egypt. And following the completion of its seed round, the company now has a mutual investor with Flextock in Flexport, the billion-dollar freight and logistics company YC backed in 2014. The unicorn also invested in Nigerian e-commerce fulfilment startup Sendbox this year.

MENA-focused venture capital firm Nama Ventures led ShipBlu’s seed round with participation from 1984 Ventures; Orange Ventures, the venture capital arm of Orange Telecom; Starling Ventures and other VC funds and angel investors. The company says the investment will help grow its service offering and coverage across Egypt.

October 31st 2021, 2:35 pm

Fero raises $1.1 million in pre-Series A


Press release: 

Fero, a cloud-based robotic process automation (RPA) and enterprise resource planning (ERP)-products company that has created TiA, the World’s 1st Intelligent Virtual Assistant for Supply Chain, is announcing the successful closure of the fundraising of $1.1 million from a boutique institutional investor and various prominent angel investors. 

Fero provides an ecosystem of Transport ERPs and TiA - Transport Interactive Assistant, a software to free logistics employees from mundane tasks. TiA listens, understands, talks, & messages over various messaging platforms, just like Alexa built for Logistics enterprises.

“The raise is a great validation of the current success and future potential of Fero products and the team,” Carolin-Carmen Neubauer, Fero’s co-founder and COO says. 

Fero, part of the Microsoft Growth X programme and its novel B2B innovation, is already being adopted and in use by marquee clients such as DSV, Gulftainer and Emirates Logistics with customers in GCC, India and the UK, helping operations employees to automate everyday tasks such booking loads, collecting shipment documents and checking on the status of drivers and be left with only having to manage exceptions. “Imagine the scale of orders and new customers you can suddenly handle with a skeleton of a team with zero errors!” Carolin-Carmen remarks adding “the Fero customer acquisition growth figures of above 20% month-on-month speak for themselves.“  

The Fero's ecosystem includes SaaS for First, Last and Mid-Mile Transport Management, Delivery Management and the unique SaaS product of a “Plug-and-Play Uberization" for Road-Freight, called FAST (Freight Aggregation Software for Trucking), all of them come with TiA as well as TiA works on with any other Freight ERP in the market. 

By applying TiA, to the existing Freight ERPs of our clients, we have helped clients, from sectors including distribution, retail and logistics, automate over 2,000,000 interactions – including emails and calls, related to 100,000 automated truck trips end to end from rate exploration until invoicing resulting in combined savings of an estimated $18 MM for Fero clients. 

“Visibility and communication between internal and external parties are critical albeit very difficult as shippers, transporters and freight forwarders use various transport management and delivery management systems. Everyone is tired of new apps so we rely on existing communication tools such as WhatsApp, plus we know that in a fragmented market such as the road freight market where e.g. the top six carriers hold less than 5 per cent market share of a €105 billion market, there will never be unity in the systems in use,” Carolin-Carmen comments. 

The power of the Fero software is the improved optimisation through enhancement of asset allocation with the help of applying machine learning based on a complex set of variables such as driver constraints, vehicle constraints, route constraints, all combined with customer behaviour when allocating and receiving the shipment.  

With its new infusion of capital, the company looks to add tech engineers to its team to continue growing its product capabilities, increase its presence in Europe and further work on additional integrations with Freight ERPs.   

Fero’s  Series A  is targeted for starting to raise in  Q4 2021 / Q1 2022.

October 31st 2021, 7:03 am

Kuzlo closes pre-Seed round by Nama Ventures


Press release: 

Kuzlo, a B2B marketplace that connects FMCG small retailers with wholesalers available in their area providing full transparency on product availability and prices, announced that it has raised an undisclosed amount in the pre-Seed funding round by Nama Ventures.

FMCG market is changing due to the high competition from the mega stores and chains that are creating high pressure on the traditional supermarkets and groceries. KUZLO provides FMCG players with a better supply network to ensure business success using technology.

Kuzlo was established in March 2021 by 4 co-founders Ayman, Tarek, Bassem & Gebril with the main focus of operations in Alexandria providing its customers with better customer service and gaining their trust in delivery times.

“Digitalisation is becoming the main driver for the transformation of many industrial sectors and the B2B marketplace in Egypt has just started its journey towards a digital future. Kuzlo is helping small retailers shift into the new future challenges and support them to strengthen their business value using new digital trends of e-commerce and e-finance in the near future,” said Ayman Elgarem, co-founder and CEO of Kuzlo

“Part of our investment thesis at Nama is to look for great teams that are disrupting traditional businesses leveraging technology. This had become most evident in the supply chain in the grocery space in Mena. Ayman, Mohammed Gebril, Bassem, and their great advisor Tarek are true examples of a complementary team with deep knowledge in the industry, technology expertise, and operational excellence to take a shot at this space in Alexandria. We have no doubt that this team is on to something special and we are honoured and privileged to be this sole pre-seed investor and backer,” said Mohammed Alzubi, founder and managing partner of Nama Ventures.

October 29th 2021, 6:16 am

Organon, Flat6Labs launch accelerator to support female-focused healthtech in Mena


Press release:

A global healthcare company with the vision of creating a better and healthier every day for every woman around the world, Organon, in partnership with Flat6Labs, the Mena region’s leading seed and early-stage venture capital firm, launched the Femtech Accelerator Programme to support female-led startups operating in the digital healthcare space in Mena. The partnership was signed in the Expo 2020, USA Pavilion, marking the launch of Organon in the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey. The partnership is the kickoff of the company’s vision to work closely with partners in the region to empower innovative women’s healthcare programmes.   

Commenting on the programme, Susanne Fiedler, Chief Commercial Officer of Organon, said, “As a new regional healthcare entity with a commitment to advancing the health of women in this region, we are very excited to launch this programme supporting female entrepreneurs. We know that investing in women has far-reaching benefits, reaping dividends for families, local and national communities, and economies.   We will continue to listen to women’s needs to better understand the gaps and identify the right solutions for a better and healthier every day for her.”   

Ramy Koussa, Associate Vice President at Organon Menat, added: “COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation across industries, including healthcare. Due to restrictions on our movements and the strain on healthcare services globally, digital transformation has served as an important tool to enable both management of the coronavirus, as well as maintaining essential healthcare services. The future of healthcare is digital, and this accelerator programme has been created to help facilitate that transformation in our region by delivering new and innovative digital tools to improve women’s healthcare. Organon is committed to building a company based on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles and today’s announcement represents an important milestone in our commitment to working in partnership with key stakeholders across Menat to advance women’s health.”

Dina El-Shenoufy, Chief Investment Officer at Flat6labs, added, “Globally, both the current startup landscape as well as the healthcare industry are male-dominated spaces. If we are to achieve greater gender equity, while supporting economic development across Mena, we need to do more to support female entrepreneurs and advance women’s healthcare. Our newly launched Femtech accelerator will meet this need and that of greater digital innovation in the healthcare space while demonstrating the importance of cross-industry collaboration to further the goals of female economic empowerment.”

Those startups selected to participate in the accelerator programme will be female-founded and demonstrate that they can address unmet women’s needs in line with Organon’s mission to advance women’s health. Ten of the best startups will be invited to join the two-month intensive accelerator program following a selection process and receive support in turning their idea into a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and securing venture funding.

Flat6labs will provide business and technical training and access to their local and regional partner networks. Participating startups will be connected to businesses, local and international experts, and access big data and new opportunities. Organon, meanwhile, will mentor participants, connect them with global industry experts, and provide access to their entire business network, including internal teams and external partners.

October 29th 2021, 6:16 am

Shoutout platforms and the growing personalisation of celebrities


Social media platforms proved to be a powerful tool for celebrities across the world to engage directly with their fans, dictate their own narrative and establish themselves as brands. Over the past few years a new layer of social media has emerged, enabling these celebrities and influencers to monetise their engagement with their fans by selling personalised video messages. 

Known as celebrity shoutout platforms, they operate like a marketplace for the famous, where fans can book a celebrity for either personal or business use and request a personalised video message from them. The model initially appeared in the US with the launch of Cameo in 2017, which raised $100 million in its Series C round in March this year, taking its total amount raised to $165 million. Closer to the Middle East, several similar platforms have emerged including Starzly, and Halahi in the UAE, Nejmo, and Minly in Egypt, Lebanon’s Oulu and UK-based Yela as well as Sweden’s which are also targeting the Middle East region. 

“In the past couple of years more creators and stars have adopted the digital and online presence,  not only to supplement their presence in the media, but also as a cornerstone of their personal brand online and monetising their online presence,” says Mohamed El-Shinnawy, founder and CEO of Minly which raised $3.6 million Seed funding in June

Key to the success of this model is personalisation. Personalisation has, over the past decade, featured as a core strategy for brands across the world. From the likes of Ferrero enabling customers to print their own names on a jar of Nutella to Nike allowing the customisation of its trainers, personalisation has become a key marketing tool for 89 per cent of digital businesses and brands. Social media has enabled famous individuals to operate more like a brand rather than a celebrity and these shoutout platforms are a way to personalise their “product” or engagement. 

And it is a model that seems to work. Cameo sold $100 million worth of personalised videos in 2020, and welcomed more than 10,000 new celebrities to its platform last year, who set their own price for the videos or live personal video calls. Prices can range from as little as $1 for lesser known celebrities to several hundred dollars. Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef is listed on Cameo for $50, while the most expensive on Cameo is heavyweight boxer Floyd Mayweather who sells his shoutouts for $15,000. According to Cameo CEO and co-founder Steven Galanis, some celebrities earn at least $100,000 every month on the platform. 

New influencer marketing

Most users will purchase these videos as gifts to send to others, but all of these platforms also allow businesses to also engage with the celebrities. Typically, the prices are higher for business engagements and provides the companies a piece of intellectual property that is usually licensed for a month and can be disseminated across multiple social media platforms, rather than paying for a single post on Instagram for example. 

“It provides both influencers and advertisers with the proper platform for offers and requests,” says Badr Kachibal, co-founder and CEO of Starzly. “It’s like an online mall that displays many services with various prices, if you find out that a specific product is out of your budget, you will definitely find an alternative within your budget, hence, shoutout platforms are better than normal social media outlets; since they gather all the influencers in one place.”

These platforms claim to offer businesses content that is more engaging and of course, personalised.

“Users are sick of the normal social media where they get bombarded by advertisements left and right, which dilutes their experience, unlike the genuine and exciting experience they get when they use our platform,” says El-Shinnawy. 

But whether they will change the current dynamics of influencer marketing is unlikely according to El-Shinnawy

“I don't foresee that they are going to change the current dynamic of the normal social media market. However, these platforms are in a very good place to add a new element for the content creators to monetise their reach and engagement with their audiences,” he says. 

Potential competition

Last July, the Chinese social media giant TikTok, which surpasses a billion users this year, piloted its own shoutout feature allowing its users to request and pay for personalised videos from their favourite creators, using an in-app currency. So far, the feature appears to be available in only a few countries.

When asked if there are plans to activate the new feature in the Mena region, TikTok declined to comment, saying if there is, this plan will not be in the foreseeable future.

Having TikTok in the market will definitely affect the existing shoutout platforms given its huge reach around the world, but founders downplayed the effect of the competition. 

“That would be a positive change,” says Badr. “At least they will spend more cash on the awareness side, which means more audience for all the industry. We are looking forward to what they will bring to the market.”

Minly’s El-Shinnawy also thinks TikTok’s presence in the shoutout market will represent an added advantage.

“Having TikTok as a player in the shoutout market isn’t a threat, the Mena market can absorb a lot of players, it is a nascent industry and having a new competitor will heat up the challenge,” he says.

For now, the main competition for the region’s players is themselves and the global platforms that are extending their reach to the Middle East. Cameo, which counts several Middle East-based stars on its platform, announced plans to acquire Represent, a marketing and merchandise company for celebrities who can set up their own online store fronts. The acquisition will enable Cameo to offer merchandising alongside the shoutout videos in a move that will provide the platform and its celebrities more revenue streams.  

“We have a very young, active, engaged social media population and they are passionate to interact with their favourite stars, this is definitely all poised to push the growth of shoutout platforms. There's a lot of appetite for this kind of genuine and authentic experience that really connects the fans with their favourite celebrities,” says El-Shinnawy.

October 28th 2021, 12:44 am

Pure Harvest raises $64.5 million from Korea's IMM Investment, enters JV with PlanTFarm


Press release:

Pure Harvest Smart Farms (the “Company”), a leading sustainable technology-enabled agribusiness, today announced that it has secured US $64.5 million in growth capital to accelerate the Company’s expansion and technology development efforts. This latest financing round was led by Korea’s leading private investment firm IMM Investment Corp. (“IMM”), together with existing investors and management.

Sky Kurtz, Founder and Chief Executive, commenting on the announcement, said: “We are delighted to welcome IMM as the latest global institutional investor to fund our mission. This is a landmark financing for Pure Harvest two reasons: first, IMM is one of Asia’s most respected and successful alternative investors, signaling the strength of our investment case; and second, the firm has been a longstanding investor in controlled-environment agriculture (CEA) through serial investments in Farm8 and PlanTFarm, leading Korean agribusiness and vertical farming ventures.  They understand the market opportunity and the merits of our solutions, and IMM will bring tremendous value supporting our expansion into Asia.  Most importantly, we share the same values and vision for building a more resilient and sustainable food system for the world, tackling food security challenges and localising food production anywhere – even in the harshest climate environments.  We are proud to partner with IMM and would like to welcome IMM’s Partner, Hyun-Chan Cho, the former director of Infrastructure & Natural Resources, Asia Pacific, at International Finance Corporation (a member of the World Bank Group) to our board of directors.”

Today Pure Harvest operates three (3) farms in the UAE with the Company’s fourth and fifth projects under development in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, respectively. The Company currently produces a variety of crops including tomatoes, leafy greens and strawberries, and is gaining widespread recognition as the trusted fresh produce brand, recognized as the GCC’s homegrown CEA champion. Upon final completion of the beforementioned in-progress projects, the Company will operate over 18 hectares of production capacity across numerous crops and will employ over 300 people.

Commenting for IMM, Hyun-Chan Cho, Partner of IMM said: “We are impressed with Pure Harvest’s journey, their compelling business case, and their ability to reliably produce in one of the most challenging environments in the world. This year underlined just how vulnerable global supply chains are, and we believe Pure Harvest is one of the game-changing companies that — through pioneering CEA in harsh climates — will deliver a sustainable source of food to the MENASA region. We highly value the caliber and pedigree of the management team, the strong sense of mission, and the high-performance culture at the Company. As a leading investor in Ag-tech in Asia, we look forward to working closely to support Pure Harvest’s expansion further into Asia.”

Tariq Sanad, Chief Financial Officer at Pure Harvest commented: “This investment by IMM underscores the strength of the institutional investors’ appetite for CEA investments in MENASA. We will use the proceeds to fund our existing GCC projects, to drive R&D initiatives, and to expand our team, while at the same time seeding a beachhead in Asia. IMM now joins the ranks of existing institutional investors which include Franklin Templeton, Wafra International Investment Company, SHUAA Capital, Sancta Capital, Archer Private Investments, 2040 Fund, and many others. Early-stage Angel investors and existing management also invested over USD 7 million in the round, evidencing the strength of insiders’ conviction in the Company’s prospects.”

The funding announcement accompanies Pure Harvest’s joint venture partnership with PlanTFarm, one of the world’s largest and most innovative vertical farming solutions providers, whereby the partners will jointly design, build and operate indoor vertical farms, deploying PlanTFarm’s cost-efficient proprietary vertical farming systems. The joint venture was motivated by IMM Investment, the largest shareholder in PlanTFarm.

This first-of-its-kind smart farming technology union enables Pure Harvest Smart Farms to serve as an “omnibus” controlled-environment solutions provider, adding new CEA growing systems to its existing portfolio (ranging from retailer-integrated in-store farms to large-scale, warehouse-style indoor vertical farms), and adds 100+ commercially proven crops, including [to confirm list of most exciting, commercially relevant crops that are proven in PF’s systems]. This gives rise to the broadest technology suite and resulting fresh produce product range of any smart farming solutions provider anywhere in the world.

Mahmoud Adi, Founding Partner, Shorooq Partners said: “We are proud to have backed Pure Harvest from the beginning and are encouraged that our original investment is securing significant interest from global financial investors. Our goal is to back founders who have a strong sense of purpose and Pure Harvest is building the right solution for a world in which we will have less water and more extreme climate conditions. Pure Harvest is not just a regional champion, but a pioneer that will take its solutions to scale internationally.”

Citigroup Global Markets acted as financial advisor and placement agent on the transaction.

October 27th 2021, 8:57 am

Algerian Startup Financing Fund raises $7.2 million to support local startups


Source: Afrikan Heroes

The Algerian Startup Financing Fund, which was officially launched at the National Conference of Startups “Algeria Disrupt 2020”, and has been operating for a year, has raised one DA1 billion ($7.2 million) to fund innovative startups.

“The fund will be increased upwards according to needs and requests,” said Yacine El Mahdi Walid, Minister Delegate to the Prime Minister in Charge of the Knowledge Economy and Startups, on the sidelines of the National Conference on Startups held in Constantine, the commercial nerve centre of Algeria’ eastern region. 

Walid also stated that further financing for “prototyping activities” is expected soon.

“The funding is aimed at founders who have not yet created their startups,” Walid said, adding that “the Algerian state, through various support measures dedicated to the promotion of startups, aims to develop financial inclusion for a better mobilisation of financial resources.” 

“Building a knowledge economy necessitates the transfer of a material economy to an intangible economy,” the Minister Delegate emphasised, noting, however, that the fund “does not” follow the traditional approach of employment assistance schemes, but instead goes to startups by way of equity investments.

According to Walid, easing access to funding for innovative startups will allow these businesses to take advantage of financing options other than the usual ones.

He, while referring to “co-financing (funds and banks) as a method of supporting innovative enterprises,” added that “facilities have been offered in partnership with the Central Bank for the export of startup services, notably in the sector of the digital economy.”

Concerned about competition, the Minister Delegate emphasised the critical significance of an organised legal and regulatory framework in ensuring that each company has an equal opportunity to grow and flourish. Accordingly, he highlighted that it is critical for startups to obtain “their label”, a mechanism that would assist them to compete with established incumbents. 

“624 startups have obtained their national startup labels(i.e. 63 per cent of total requests). Also, 6,657 people registered on the national official startups’ website, out of which 2,000 have applied for the label,” the Minister Delegate said.

October 27th 2021, 8:57 am

Getbee raises $1.8 million pre-Series A


Press release:

Getbee announced today that it has raised $1.8 million in first round, pre-series A, funding. The funding round was significantly oversubscribed and represents a unique mix of major technology investors such as Altitude Capital, B & Y Venture Partners, and +VC, as well as several strategic angels, including Magnus Olsson, who recently had an exit from Uber for $3.3 billion.

Today, customers do not get the same level of service online as compared to offline.

“Throughout history, commerce has always been about people buying from people. With Getbee, we are bringing back this experience to the digital era. Our vision is to transform the way billions of people buy and sell online.” explains Getbee’s founder and CEO, Thea Myhrvold.

Getbee empowers sales experts to engage directly with consumers online, the way they would in a physical store, sharing product recommendations and completing a purchase via video. This new approach to online retail is showing unprecedented results on sales conversion rate, average basket size, and customer lifetime value. “We are building a new market standard by combining the simplicity of a call and the power of e-commerce.” continues Martial Dahan, Getbee’s Head of Product.

Getbee works with clients like Dolce & Gabanna, Lancôme, and Dermalogica. The software is ideally suited for segments that have a consultative sales process, such as luxury, furniture, mobility, wellness, and much more. “Think about the last time you bought something online. Any purchase where the “customer gets” to talk to a real person is where we create value for brands, and it’s exciting to see how this creates value across segments and verticals, “says Izabella Naessa, Head of Sales.

Any purchase where the “customer gets” to talk to a real person is where we create value for brands, and it is exciting to see how this can work across segments.

Getbee will leverage this round of funding to accelerate its market adoption with leading retail brands. “The trillion-dollar e-commerce and retail industries need to find new ways to connect, engage, and convert their customers, while consumers are looking for a different kind of shopping experience that is both virtual and more personalized,” said Gaith Yafi, Founder and Managing Partner of B & Y Venture Partners. “With Getbee, we are backing a high caliber team, led by an exceptional and passionate founder, that is ideally positioned to capitalize on these growing trends.”

“We are excited to work with such sophisticated investors that align with our vision and values. It’s especially interesting to note that less than 2% of venture capital goes to female founders, and we are proud to be a part of this change,” says Myhrvold.

October 27th 2021, 8:57 am

Shorooq Partners launches The Nahda Fund 1 to support Mena startups


Source: The National

Abu Dhabi venture capital firm Shorooq Partners unveiled a new venture debt fund in partnership with South Korea’s IMM Investment Global.

The Nahda Fund 1 will invest in startups based in the Mena region, a company spokeswoman told The National on Monday.

“The fund has already committed a majority of its capital including its investment into Pure Harvest, an agritech company revolutionising the region’s agriculture with climate-controlled smart farms,” Shorooq Partners said.

“The overwhelming amount of interest shown by founders towards the fund proves venture debt has been a long time in coming to the region.”

Venture lending in the region comes amid a rise in startups across the Mena region.

The total funding secured by startups in the Mena region rose 64 per cent to $1.2 billion in the first half of the year, according to the latest report from data platform Magnitt.

This was more than the $1.09 billion raised last year as investors actively sought out technology-enabled businesses that could aid the post-coronavirus recovery.

Venture lending or venture debt complements traditional venture equity financing and provides founders with a “non-dilutive” means of financing that requires little to no equity stakes to raise funds, according to the company.

A long-standing form of venture investment in the US and Europe, venture debt has recently surged in emerging markets such as India, China and South-East Asia but has yet to be properly utilised in the Mena region, the company said.

“Once a startup reaches a certain stage, it becomes very expensive to solely rely on equity financing for continued growth,” said Shorooq’s partner Samir Yamani.

“With a relatively stable cash flow, utilising debt for routine expenditures such as working capital leads to a more optimal capital structure.”

The fund also attracted interest from international investors, with more than half of the subscriptions coming from investors based outside the Mena region, the company said.

“This is IMM’s first foray into the Middle East and we are proud to have partnered with Shorooq to provide our investor base the chance to connect with top-tier opportunities outside of Korea,” said Youngjoon Lee, chief executive of IMM Investment Global.

Apart from Pure Harvest, Shorooq’s portfolio consists of robo-advisory platform Sarwa, digital freight company TruKKer, Lean, Capiter and Retailo.

Last year, the Abu Dhabi Investment Office, which oversees foreign direct investment and private sector development in the emirate, invested $5 million in the Bedaya fund operated by Shorooq Partners to help develop the startup ecosystem in the emirate.

October 26th 2021, 1:41 pm
Get it on Google Play تحميل تطبيق نبأ للآندرويد مجانا