Start-ups that could become the Middle East’s next big ventures

Start-ups that could become the Middle East’s next big ventures
Growth potential: Dubai-based FloraNow, launched by Charif Mzayek, allows regional retailers to shop directly for floral products from around the globe. (Supplied)
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Updated 22 February 2020

Start-ups that could become the Middle East’s next big ventures

Start-ups that could become the Middle East’s next big ventures
  • Entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa have been getting funds to scale up their businesses
  • The MENA region received $471 million in investments during the first half of 2019

CAIRO: Following initial news of the $3.1 billion deal in March 2019, US ride-hailing firm Uber completed its acquisition of Dubai-based vehicle-for-hire company Careem at the beginning of January 2020.

Middle East and North Africa (MENA) startups have been getting much-needed funds to scale up their businesses, and 2019 seems to have set the bar high.

During the first half of last year, startups in the region received $471 million in investments, up 66 percent from the $283 million invested over the same period in 2018.

Given the steadily growing number of MENA startups, it remains extremely difficult to spot the next local unicorn.

Nevertheless, here is a list of new ventures with definite growth potential in 2020.

 

Ekar

This pay-as-you-go car-sharing service from Dubai predicts having a fleet of more than 10,000 cars and at least 1 million registered users by 2021.

Founded in 2016 by Ravi Bhusari and Vilhelm Hedberg, ekar secured $17 million in funding in November 2019 to help with its regional expansion, starting with the Saudi market.

The company will launch its service in Riyadh, capitalizing on more than 70,000 first-time female drivers, for whom rentals might be a reasonable alternative to car ownership.

FASTFACT

$ 471 m

During the first half of last year startups in the region received $471 million in investments.

Trukker

Founded by Gaurav Biswas in 2016, Abu Dhabi-based TruKKer starts 2020 with an expansion into the Egyptian market and a $23 million funding round intended to support the company as it branches into Jordan and the rest of the MENA region.

In November 2019, the moving and packing company hired Sherif Mohsen, former CEO of Egyptian inland logistics startup Naqla, as its regional director for Levant and North Africa to capitalize on the country’s central location and position itself to conquer an industry valued at $66 billion.

 

Maxab

The Egyptian business-to-business (B2B) supply-chain consolidation marketplace, founded by Belal El-Megharbel in 2018, enables grocery stores to order shipments directly from manufacturers via a mobile app, eliminating all intermediaries in the supply chain.

Valued at $45 billion, Egyptian food retail is a highly lucrative market for MaxAB to disrupt.

The company claimed the MENA region’s largest seed funding round in history by raising a total of $6.2 million in September 2019.

 

Carzaty

Being a small market, Oman is an unlikely place of origin for booming startups. However, certified pre-owned car e-retailer Carzaty has the potential to change that. Founded in 2017 by Hassan Jaffar and Marwan Chaar, the company offers heavily discounted vehicles by operating exclusively through a virtual showroom, selling reconditioned cars covered by a one-year warranty and delivering them to customers.

After securing $4 million in funding, Carzaty launched operations in the UAE in December 2019, entering a country whose used-car market was valued at more than 11 billion Emirati dirhams ($3 billion).

 

 FloraNow

Since its launch in Dubai in 2016 by Charif Mzayek, FloraNow has disrupted the cut flower retail market in the UAE.

It has done so by enabling local retailers to shop directly for floral products from suppliers and farmers around the globe, including Colombia, Thailand and the Netherlands. Fueled by a funding round of $3 million in December 2019, FloraNow starts 2020 by expanding into the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region’s imported-flowers market, which has an estimated value of $124 million.

 

Cofe

Launched in Kuwait in 2018 by Ali Al-Ebrahim, this app displays a list of nearby retailers and coffee shops. Customers can place orders for coffee and have their beverages delivered or order coffee supplies.

In February 2019, COFE secured $3.2 million in funding to support a global expansion plan which starts with London in April this year.

 

Dokkan Afkar

Founded in 2013 by Ammar Waganah, Jeddah-based online store Dokkan Afkar offers a variety of creative and conceptual products.

In December 2019, the company secured $5 million in a second round of funding. The first one, which took place in 2017, helped Dokkan Afkar expand across the GCC market.

The next growth phase for the firm will see it focus on promoting homegrown Saudi brands and selling globally.

 

Invygo

With $1 million in seed funding, Invygo is a long-term car-rental startup that operates a subscription model allowing customers to swap their rented vehicle after each rental term.

Founded in 2018 by Eslam Hussein and Pulkit Ganjoo, the company will use its seed capital to expand into Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the rest of the GCC countries.

 

Noon Academy

Saudi-based Noon Academy is an educational online social platform launched in 2013 by Mohammed Al-Dhalaan and Dr. Abdul Aziz Al-Saeed.

In June 2019, the company raised $8.6 million in funding, which it is using to transform into an open platform for teachers to start their own premium virtual private educational groups.

 

Halan

Following a $4.3 million funding round in December 2018, Egyptian ride-sharing startup Halan is currently conducting a second fund-raising bid as it prepares to launch operations in more African markets.

Founded in 2017 by Mounir Nakhla and Ahmed Mohsen, the Cairo-based company offers rickshaw and motorcycle ride-sharing in Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.

 

• This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.

 


Emirates to operate 70% of pre-pandemic capacity by year-end

Emirates to operate 70% of pre-pandemic capacity by year-end
Updated 16 min 42 sec ago

Emirates to operate 70% of pre-pandemic capacity by year-end

Emirates to operate 70% of pre-pandemic capacity by year-end
  • The Dubai flag carrier may obtain further financial support from the Dubai government and could also issue bonds

RIYADH: Emirates Airline will operate 70 percent of its pre-pandemic power by the end of this year, Chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum revealed.
He said the company maintained strong financial solvency despite the devastating impact of the pandemic on the global aviation sector, Bloomberg reported.
The Dubai flag carrier may obtain further financial support from the Dubai government and could also issue bonds, he said.
“We are dealing with an emergency situation that changes on a weekly or even daily basis,” he said. “We are working on long and short trips. We currently have 151 Boeing 777 planes, and about 20 Airbus A380s in service, and we are awaiting the opening of markets and destinations to gradually return them,” he said.
Emirates Airline and flydubai were working to improve cooperation and develop further partnerships, he said.


Egypt to prioritize vaccination of tourism workers

Egypt to prioritize vaccination of tourism workers
Updated 30 min 26 sec ago

Egypt to prioritize vaccination of tourism workers

Egypt to prioritize vaccination of tourism workers
  • About 65 percent of tourists in Egypt head to those coastal destinations

DUBAI: Egypt is prioritizing the vaccination of tourism workers to support the sector’s recovery and is on track to announce full inoculation of two resort areas this month, its tourism minister said.
While Egypt’s tourism industry is still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, the sector has picked up in recent months, with more visitors heading to resorts along the Red Sea and Mediterranean coasts.
“We will prioritize workers in the tourism industry, which is an essential sector for Egypt’s economy,” Tourism and Antiquities Minister Khaled Al-Enani told AFP.
“In May, I will announce, along with the minister of health, the complete vaccination of Egyptian workers in hotels, resorts, businesses and restaurants in South Sinai and the Red Sea,” he said on the sidelines of a travel industry conference in Dubai.
About 65 percent of tourists in Egypt head to those coastal destinations, he said.
Enani said other tourist spots will follow, such as Luxor, Aswan and the capital Cairo, home of the Giza pyramids and major museums.
Egypt, which has a population of approximately 100 million, has administered some one million doses, according to authorities.
About two million people work in the tourism industry or organizations linked to it.
Along with its pyramids and pharaonic temples, Egypt is also known for its seaside resorts.
After experiencing “significant and continuous loss” since the coronavirus outbreak, the sector has picked up, said Enani.
He said Egypt welcomed 500,000 tourists in April, more than double the number in January and up from just 200,000 tourists a month in the second half of last year.
“The important thing is there is an upward curve,” Enani said.
“We hope the numbers will increase again in the near future with the opening of some countries and the easing of restrictions, including in Arab countries, Europe and Russia,” he said.
“The return of tourism in Egypt does not only depend on us, but remains linked to other countries.”
Cairo has announced several major new archaeological discoveries in recent months, hoping to revive a sector which was battered by a 2011 uprising, political unrest and jihadist attacks.
While the industry recorded a rebound of nearly $13 billion in revenues for 2018-2019, tourism was hit hard again by the  pandemic.
Official figures show a drop of more than 20 percent in revenues for mid-2019 to mid-2020.
Egypt reopened to foreign tourists in July last year after having closed its borders in March. Visitors only need to produce a negative PCR test.
Russia earlier this year resumed flights to Egypt’s Red Sea resorts after the lifting of a flight ban.
Moscow banned direct flights to Egypt after the 2015 bombing of a Russian airliner shortly after it took off from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, killing all 224 people on board.
 


Saudi sovereign fund PIF boosts US equities exposure to over $15 billion

Saudi sovereign fund PIF boosts US equities exposure to over $15 billion
Updated 18 May 2021

Saudi sovereign fund PIF boosts US equities exposure to over $15 billion

Saudi sovereign fund PIF boosts US equities exposure to over $15 billion
  • Fund increased its US stock holdings to $15.4 billion in the first quarter

DUBAI : Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund has increased its US stock holdings to $15.4 billion in the first quarter from nearly $12.8 billion at the end of 2020, according to a US regulatory filing on Monday.
The Public Investment Fund (PIF) bought 2.9 million class A shares in SoftBank Group Corp-backed Coupang Inc, equivalent to $141 million, and dissolved its share stake in Suncor Energy, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
It more than doubled its position in Activision Blizzard to 33.4 million shares from 15 million shares at the end of the fourth quarter, which led it to a $3.1 billion exposure from $1.4 billion.
The fund increased its shares in Electronic Arts Inc. to 14.2 million, equivalent to $1.9 billion, from a $1.1 billion position at the end of the previous quarter.
PIF, which did not immediately respond to a comment request on the filing, is at the center of Saudi Arabia’s plans to transform the economy by creating new sectors and diversifying revenues away from oil.
The $400 billion fund is expected to inject at least $40 billion annually in the local economy until 2025, and increase its assets to $1 trillion by that date, which would make it one of the world’s biggest sovereign wealth funds.
“PIF would have wanted to take advantage of the bullish sentiment in equity markets in Q1 to make opportunistic investments and add to its portfolio,” said Rachna Uppal, director of research at Azure Strategy.
“In line with domestic efforts to achieve the objectives of Vision 2030, the Saudis also appear to be favoring investments into sectors such as technology, mobility, and especially future mobility, tourism and entertainment,” she said.
At the start of last year PIF piled up minority stakes in companies worldwide, taking advantage of market weakness caused by the coronavirus crisis.
Monday’s filing showed the value of its biggest US stock holding, Uber Technologies, rose to nearly $4 billion in the first quarter, from $3.7 billion as of Dec. 31, as the ride-hailing company’s shares gained value during the period.
PIF was an early investor in Uber, taking a $3.5 billion stake in 2016, three years before its listing in 2019.


Qatar Investment Authority to take $740m chunk of US renewables firm Avangrid

Qatar Investment Authority to take $740m chunk of US renewables firm Avangrid
Updated 18 May 2021

Qatar Investment Authority to take $740m chunk of US renewables firm Avangrid

Qatar Investment Authority to take $740m chunk of US renewables firm Avangrid
  • QIA will buy shares worth $740 million and Iberdorla, the largest shareholder in Avangrid

RIYADH: Renewable energy provider Avangrid said it would sell shares worth a total of $4 billion to both the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) and Spanish Iberdrola Group for $ 51.40 a share.
QIA will buy shares worth $740 million and Iberdorla, the largest shareholder in Avangrid (based in Orange County, Connecticut, US), will purchase approximately $3.26 billion of stock, Asharq Business reported.
The deal is expected to close on Tuesday.
The Qatar Investment Authority last March also acquired 16 percent of the 53 million shares offered by Siemens Healthineers, through a private placement of $2.8 billion.
The fund is targeting deals in Asia, in an attempt to diversify its investment portfolio, which has a great focus and weight in America. Northern and Europe, Chairman Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said in a previous interview with Bloomberg.

 


Egyptian neobank Telda raises $5m in Sequoia-led pre-seed round

Egyptian neobank Telda raises $5m in Sequoia-led pre-seed round
Updated 18 May 2021

Egyptian neobank Telda raises $5m in Sequoia-led pre-seed round

Egyptian neobank Telda raises $5m in Sequoia-led pre-seed round
  • It was the first investment for the American venture capital firm in the Middle East and North Africa

DUBAI: Telda, a Cairo-based digital banking application, has raised $5 million during its pre-seed funding round organized by US firm Sequoia Capital.
It was the first investment for the American venture capital firm in the Middle East and North Africa.
Global Founders capital and Class 5 Global also participated in the round.
The app recently announced it has received license from Egypt’s central bank to issue cards and on-board customers to its platform.
It has received 30,000 sign ups since it started its operations, it said.
The funding comes as digital-only banks rise in popularity across the region, where 60 percent of the population is estimated to be under the age of 25.
“Egypt boasts of a large, young, talented and tech savvy population with a strong appetite to innovate,” Sequoia partner George Robson said.
Egypt is among the top 10 countries most reliant on cash and with the highest rate of unbanked people, according to Merchant Machine.
“Today’s funding milestone promotes the digital transformation of the Egyptian economy and allows Telda to provide everyone with access to important financial services so they can fully participate in the economy,” Telda chief technology officer Youssef Sholqamy said.
Sholqamy, who was a former senior engineer in Uber’s infrastructure team, co-founded the startup with Ahmed Sabbah, who also founded the Egyptian bus-hailing service Swvl.