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

  • 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.



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.


$ 471 m

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


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.



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.



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).



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.



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.



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.



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.


G20 ministers agree to keep markets open, tackle pandemic supply disruptions

Updated 31 March 2020

G20 ministers agree to keep markets open, tackle pandemic supply disruptions

  • G20 leaders pledged last week to inject over $5 trillion into the global economy to limit job and income losses from the coronavirus outbreak
  • The coronavirus has infected nearly 738,500 people worldwide and killed some 35,000

RIYADH/WASHINGTON: Trade ministers from the Group of 20 major economies agreed on Monday to keep their markets open and ensure the continued flow of vital medical supplies, equipment and other essential goods as the world battles the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
G20 leaders pledged last week to inject over $5 trillion into the global economy to limit job and income losses from the coronavirus outbreak, while working to ease supply disruptions caused by border closures by national governments anxious to limit transmission of the virus.
In a joint statement issued after a videoconference, the trade ministers pledged to take “immediate necessary measures” to facilitate trade, incentivize additional production of equipment and drugs, and minimize supply chain disruptions.
They agreed that all emergency measures should be “targeted, proportionate, transparent, and temporary,” while sticking to World Trade Organization (WTO) rules and not creating “unnecessary barriers” to trade.
They also vowed to work to prevent profiteering and unjustified price increases, and keep supplies flowing on an affordable and equitable basis.
“As we fight the pandemic both individually and collectively and seek to mitigate its impacts on international trade and investment, we will continue to work together to deliver a free, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable and stable trade and investment environment, and to keep our markets open,” the ministers said.
They agreed to notify the WTO about any trade-related measures taken to keep global supply chains running and said they would convene again as necessary.
The ministers, however, stopped short of explicitly calling for an end to export bans that many countries, including G20 members France, Germany and India, have enacted on drugs and medical supplies. A key adviser to US President Donald Trump is working on new rules to expand “Buy America” mandates to the medical equipment and pharmaceutical sectors, something that dozens of business groups said could worsen shortages.
The joint statement included the phrase “consistent with national requirements” already used by G20 leaders, which experts say could provide a loophole for protectionist barriers.
Lack of protective medical gear is putting doctors and nurses at risk. Many countries rely on China, the source of the outbreak, for drug ingredients and are struggling to avoid shortages after lockdown measures prompted by the epidemic held up supplies and delayed shipments.
Supply chains are backing up as air freight capacity plunges and companies struggle to find truck drivers and shipping crews. Europe and the United States are short of tens of thousands of freight containers. Shippers struggle with crew shortages and quarantines at ports. Agriculture is also being disrupted.
The ministerial video conference was attended by representatives from the WTO, World Health Organization and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
A senior World Bank official urged G20 members to agree to refrain from imposing new export restrictions on critical medical supplies, food or other key products, and to eliminate or reduce tariffs on imports of key products.
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told the ministers during the meeting that the pandemic had revealed vulnerabilities in the US economy caused by over-dependence on cheap medical supplies from other countries. He did not reference the “Buy America” rule specifically, but said Washington was encouraging diversification and wanted to promote more domestic manufacturing to produce more suppliers for the United States and others.
G20 finance ministers and central bankers will also meet virtually, on Tuesday, for the second time in just over a week to continue coordinating their response, the Saudi G20 secretariat said, as worries grow about the debt crisis looming over poorer countries.
Japanese Trade Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama told counterparts that both the public and private sectors should try to avoid shutting supply networks to enable an early resumption of economic activities.
The coronavirus has infected nearly 738,500 people worldwide and killed some 35,000, and has plunged the world into a global recession, according to International Monetary Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva.