Startup businesses that are shaking up the Middle East

Startup businesses that are shaking up the Middle East
Beirut-based startup Kamkalima uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to help students from grades 4 to 12 improve their Arabic. (Supplied)
Updated 20 January 2019

Startup businesses that are shaking up the Middle East

Startup businesses that are shaking up the Middle East
  • Arab News has chosen six up-and-coming MENA businesses that are poised to make a big impact in 2019

BARCELONA: From transport to fintech, e-commerce to education, the Middle East and North Africa’s irrepressible young entrepreneurs are creating businesses that could remake entire industries.
Hundreds of MENA startups have been launched in the past few years and while most will fail (entrepreneurship is tough the world over), some will become “unicorns,” with businesses valued at more than $1 billion. Dubai-based ride-hailing firm Careem and e-commerce platform souq.com have already achieved that status.
Arab News has chosen six MENA startups poised to make a big impact in 2019.
Swvl, Egypt
Transport
Egypt’s cities are clogged with traffic, and public transportation is inadequate, but an innovative company founded by young Egyptians aims to both ease congestion and provide a cheap, convenient and reliable means to get around.
Swvl, which is similar in concept to Uber, is a mass transit system in which users can book rides on private buses and mini-vans via the company’s app — simply submit where you want to go, select the time and route, and book your trip. It currently operates more than 200 routes in Cairo and Alexandria.
With more than 500,000 downloads on Android, Swvl plans to expand across the Middle East, Africa and Asia, and last month secured “Series B” funding. The company declined to reveal the exact amount but told Forbes it was “tens of millions of dollars.” It raised $8 million in a previous funding round.
Wadi, Saudi Arabia

E-commerce
Saudi Arabia’s Wadi.com is a homegrown e-commerce site that could usurp Amazon-owned rival Souq.com as the region’s leading online marketplace.
Already serving more than 25 cities in Saudi and the United Arab Emirates, Wadi specializes in electronics, fashion, fragrances, and beauty and health, and is expanding into more product ranges.
Dubai-based retailer and mall operator Majid Al-Futtaim, which owns Mall of the Emirates and holds Carrefour’s Middle East franchise, led a $30 million investment in Wadi in October.
Carrefour will become the long-term partner for Wadi Grocer, which currently operates in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam, supplying food and other groceries. Through the partnership, customers can buy more than 12,000 products from the French supermarket chain. Promising delivery within two hours, Majid Al-Futtaim claims this will the first service of its kind in the Middle East with such a diverse product range.
Sarwa, UAE
Financial services
Sarwa is a robo-advisory that enables clients to invest in a variety of financial products via its simple-to-use app. With no commission and very low fees (a customer with $10,000 invested would pay around $7 per month), Sarwa promises to simplify and democratize investing.
Regulated by the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA) and insured by the US government up to $500,000 per client should Sarwa fold, the company raised a further $1.3 million in September, bringing its total funding to more than $1.5 million.
Co-founder Nadine Mezher told Arab News that in 2019, the company will increase its customer base in the UAE and expand to new markets, as well as focusing on business-to-business clients.
“With the lack of formal pension funds for expatriates here, Sarwa aims to work closely with the corporate sector to offer employees saving schemes plans and extend its offering from individuals to companies,” she said.
Kamkalima, Lebanon

Education
Siroun Shamigian quit a 20-year teaching career to launch this Beirut-based startup, which uses artificial intelligence and machine learning — via a web-based platform — to help students from grades 4 to 12 to improve their Arabic skills. While new, tech-based approaches have made it easier and more engaging for children to learn other languages, no such offerings existed for Shamigian’s mother tongue, spurring her to act.
Launched in late 2016, Kamkalima’s platform features a vast digital library with interactive lesson plans that teach reading, writing, listening, speaking and critical thinking. Lessons are automatically graded and can be self-taught by students or led by teachers.
Currently used by more than 20,300 students at 65 schools in Lebanon, UAE, Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, and Kuwait — and having received $1.5 million in funding in November, Kamkalima is poised to accelerate its expansion. “We want to expand the team, work on the product and more specifically, scale in our current markets and enter new ones,” Shamigian told Arab News.
WakeCap Technologies, UAE

Construction
Saudi engineer Hassan Albalawi is the creative genius behind this Dubai-based startup that uses proprietary location technology to connect workers, tools and equipment on construction sites to improve safety and productivity. By connecting workers’ helmets (without the need for WiFi or 4G, which can be unreliable on-site), contractors know exactly where their staff are, reducing the need for clocking in and out.
More importantly, the same helmet sensors keep workers safe, buzzing when they enter restricted zones and alerting them when a site evacuation is underway. Likewise, workers can call for help via an emergency button. WakeCap, which in November received $1.6 million in funding from investors, is running a pilot scheme at Dubai’s under-construction Opera Grand Tower. The product should launch commercially in early 2019.
Unifonic, Saudi Arabia

Communications
Founded by brothers Ahmed and Hassan Hamdan, Unifonic claims to be the Middle East’s leading cloud communications platform. Put more simply, the company’s technology enables businesses to instantly and simultaneously communicate with millions of customers via voice and text.
From sending a mass notification that a flight has been canceled to providing secure two-factor authentication to individual customers, Unifonic’s technology has multiple uses and has found an enthusiastic audience for its services across diverse sectors.
Its more than 5,000 clients include Aramex, Uber, Alinma Bank and Domino’s Pizza.
In October, STV — a Saudi Telecom-backed venture capital firm — led a $21 million investment round in Unifonic, which operates in five countries. The money will be used to expand into new markets and fund product development.


King Salman Energy Park signs anchor tenants

King Salman Energy Park signs anchor tenants
Updated 30 min 55 sec ago

King Salman Energy Park signs anchor tenants

King Salman Energy Park signs anchor tenants
  • President and CEO of SPARK Saif Al-Qahtani: SPARK is proud to welcome TAQA and AMCO as they take the first step toward launching their operations
  • By 2035, the park is expected to contribute more than SR22 billion to the Kingdom’s gross domestic product

RIYADH: King Salman Energy Park (SPARK), the Dammam-based project backed by Saudi Aramco, added two new anchor tenants on Thursday, the Abu Dhabi National Energy Company (TAQA) and AMCO.

President and CEO of SPARK Saif Al-Qahtani said: “SPARK is proud to welcome TAQA and AMCO as they take the first step toward launching their operations. SPARK sits at the heart of the energy market, offering a world-class ecosystem that facilitates the growth of our tenants’ businesses and brings sustained value to our wider communities. SPARK is set to be a fully integrated city, bringing together major national and international companies and fuelling economic growth and job creation.”

TAQA will expand its local operations with the TAQA Industrial Park at SPARK, including a new facility for oilfield services, a specialist unit for engineering and manufacturing, and a wireline and perforation center of excellence.

The facilities will be constructed in two phases starting in the second quarter of 2021, with the design and developmental planning stages having already commenced.

TAQA CEO Khalid Nouh said: “With our plans for future acquisitions focused on cutting-edge technology and innovative solutions, we further cement our alignment with Vision 2030 and the government’s drive to diversify and localize services and manufacturing in the Kingdom.”

AMCO is investing over SR260 million ($69.33 million) in a new center at SPARK. Its plans include the development of facilities to enable the manufacturing and production of steel pipes, valves, pumps, turbines, and machine and rotary equipment.

AMCO’s facilities will be developed in three phases, allowing for the gradual build-up of manufacturing capabilities and onboarding of local talent.

By 2035, the park is expected to contribute more than SR22 billion to the Kingdom’s gross domestic product, provide up to 100,000 direct and indirect jobs and localize more than 350 new industrial and service facilities.


Saudi Arabia to ship gas to South Korea and take CO2 back

Saudi Arabia to ship gas to South Korea and take CO2 back
Updated 34 min 35 sec ago

Saudi Arabia to ship gas to South Korea and take CO2 back

Saudi Arabia to ship gas to South Korea and take CO2 back
  • Hyundai to take LPG cargoes
  • CO2 sent back to use in oil fields

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia plans to ship gas to South Korea where it will be used to make hydrogen, and the carbon dioxide produced in the process will be transported straight back to the Kingdom, Asharq reported, citing Bloomberg.

Hyundai Oil Bank Co. will take liquefied petroleum gas cargoes from Saudi Aramco and convert them into hydrogen, to use for chemical and power solutions, the Korean energy company’s parent Hyundai Heavy Industries Holdings Company said.

Aramco and Hyundai OilBank Co. agreed in the deal signed on Wednesday, that the carbon dioxide emitted in the hydrogen-making process will be transported back to Aramco, to use it in its oil production facilities, according to a Hyundai Heavy spokesman.

“It seems the project will bank on the idea that shipping LPG to Korea and carbon dioxide back to Saudi Arabia will be cheaper than shipping hydrogen to Korea,” said Martin Tengler, BloombergNEF’s lead hydrogen analyst.

Saudi Aramco has huge quantities of natural gas, which it has identified as a key area of expansion for domestic supply and export in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

“We basically look at natural gas as an area for growth for the company,” Khalid Al-Dabbagh, Aramco’s chief financial officer, said in an investor call in the run-up to its successful IPO back in 2019.


GRAPHIC: From Beirut to Damascus currencies take a battering

GRAPHIC: From Beirut to Damascus currencies take a battering
Updated 04 March 2021

GRAPHIC: From Beirut to Damascus currencies take a battering

GRAPHIC: From Beirut to Damascus currencies take a battering

Lebanon’s president this week ordered the central bank governor to open an investigation into currency speculation, after the Lebanese pound plunged to record lows on the black market.
But the battered Lebanese pound is not alone among regional currencies that have been decimated by the impact of the pandemic and other factors.
The Syrian pound also fell to a record low on the black market this week, dragged down by its close commercial and banking ties with Lebanon.
“Businessmen and traders are fretting over fears of a free-fall in coming days and watching if unrest grows in Lebanon and its impact on dealings since Lebanon is our lifeline to the outside world,” said one Damascus-based trader told Reuters, who requested anonymity.


Oil prices rise after Saudi minister urges caution on market

Oil prices rise after Saudi minister urges caution on market
Updated 04 March 2021

Oil prices rise after Saudi minister urges caution on market

Oil prices rise after Saudi minister urges caution on market
  • OPEC and allies meet today
  • Oil price rises ahead of meeting

LONDON Oil prices rose more than $1 per barrel on Thursday after Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman urged caution and vigilance at the beginning of a meeting of OPEC ministers and their allies about the future of supply cut
Brent crude futures were up $1.11, or 1.7 percent, at $65.18 a barrel while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude rose $1.07, or 1.8 percent to $62.35.
Ministers from OPEC members and their allies started a meeting to discuss the future of an oil output cut at 1300 GMT.
Analysts and traders say a four-month price rally from below $40 a barrel is now out of step with demand and that physical sales are not expected to match supply until later in 2021.
In the United States, despite a record surge of more than 21 million barrels in crude oil stockpiles last week, gasoline stocks fell by the most in 30 years as refining plunged to a record low because of the Texas freeze.


Saudi energy minister: Recovery in oil demand related to speed of COVID-19 vaccine distribution

Saudi energy minister: Recovery in oil demand related to speed of COVID-19 vaccine distribution
Updated 47 min 46 sec ago

Saudi energy minister: Recovery in oil demand related to speed of COVID-19 vaccine distribution

Saudi energy minister: Recovery in oil demand related to speed of COVID-19 vaccine distribution

LONDON: The recovery in oil demand is related to the speed of COVID-19 vaccine distribution, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said on Thursday.

Speaking at the opening of a meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and its allies, a group known as OPEC+, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said that the Kingdom has “contingency and backup plans in case unforeseen things happen,” Al-Ekhbariya reported. 

He added that the situation in the oil market had improved but the outlook for a recovery in demand remained uncertain.

Ministers from OPEC members and their allies started a meeting to discuss the future of an oil output cut at 01:00 P.M. GMT.