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.

 


SABIC unit aims to ramp up investment support for industrial SMEs

SABIC unit aims to ramp up investment support for industrial SMEs
Faisal Al-Buhair
Updated 30 min 54 sec ago

SABIC unit aims to ramp up investment support for industrial SMEs

SABIC unit aims to ramp up investment support for industrial SMEs
  • Nusaned program has potential to create more than 2,000 jobs

JEDDAH: Nusaned Investment, the localization initiative from Saudi Basic Industries Corp (SABIC), was set up in 2018 as part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 plan to diversify the non-oil economy by encouraging the growth of local companies and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the industrial sector.

“We connect potential investors to the program,” Faisal Al-Buhair, vice president local content and business development and CEO of Nusaned, told Arab News. “Once they register with the Entema platform, which is the opportunity gate at Nusaned, we take them through the investor’s journey.”

Last year 106 Saudi entrepreneurs qualified for Nusaned’s program. The screening of proposed investments is an important step in ensuring that the program focuses on the right candidates and those with the ability to scale up and have national impact.

“An important criteria in our screening process is that the investment needs to support the National Industry Strategy sectors and thereby add value to Saudi Vision 2030,” Al-Buhair said. “In any case, an investor who shows a high level of commitment, knowledge, and readiness will have a higher chance of success.”

He was optimistic about the year ahead after the challenges the Kingdom had faced because of the pandemic in 2020.

Nusaned is aiming to increase its investments in companies that are considered to be strategic and critical industries for the Kingdom, such as automotive, aviation, food processing and pharmaceutical/medical manufacturing.

“We are keen on investments that offer differentiated solutions, specialized applications, and advanced technology to help the Kingdom enhance its competitiveness in local and export markets,” Al-Buhair said.

So far the program has more than 33 investments in the execution phase, of which 14 are already in operation. These investments have an expected annualized gross domestic impact of over $500 million and the potential to create more than 2,000 jobs.

This week Nusaned signed an investment agreement with the Saudi Pallet Manufacturing Company (SPMC) to promote the local production of plastic pallets. The funding will help SPMC to accelerate its product development, ramp up production, and expand its product reach regionally and globally.

“The partnership with SABIC will enable SPMC to serve the fast-moving consumer goods market by producing technologically advanced and patented multi-use plastic pallets from its manufacturing facility in Dammam,” Omar Al-Shawaf, SPMC CEO, said in a press statement.


Syrian government sacks central bank governor

Syrian government sacks central bank governor
Updated 13 April 2021

Syrian government sacks central bank governor

Syrian government sacks central bank governor
  • Analyst said governor didn’t live up to his role through implementing real interventions to salvage local currency
  • Syrian pound lost more than 98 percent of its value against the dollar over past decade

DAMASCUS: The Syrian government on Tuesday dismissed central bank governor Hazem Karfoul whose three-year tenure coincided with a severe economic crisis.
“President Bashar Assad issues a decree terminating the appointment of Hazem Karfoul,” the presidency said in a statement.
It did not give a reason or appoint a replacement.
Karfoul was named central bank governor in 2018, seven years into a conflict that has killed more than 388,000 people and displaced millions.
He oversaw an accelerating economic crisis sparked by civil war and compounded by sanctions, the coronavirus pandemic and a financial crunch in neighboring Lebanon.
An analyst in Damascus, asking not to be named over security concerns, said Karfoul “did not live up to his role through implementing real interventions” that could salvage the local currency.
Karfoul, he said, had been incapable of “quick and decisive decisions” at a time when the government was looking for “energetic new faces” to oversee a rescue phase.
The Syrian pound has lost more than 98 percent of its value against the dollar over the past decade.
Officially valued at 1,256 to the greenback, it sold for more than 3,000 on the black market on Tuesday, money exchangers told AFP.
Last month, it sold for 4,000 to the greenback, hitting an all-time low.
The government last month started enforcing a series of measures to stem a further drop in the pound’s value, according to pro-government newspaper Al-Watan.
They include new import bans and a state crackdown on unofficial money exchangers, it said.
Karfoul held several posts at the central bank, including deputy chief, before he was named governor.
The US treasury department sanctioned him in 2020 along with several other senior officials.
In its announcement, the treasury cited reports that Karfoul in September 2019 met with some of Syria’s wealthiest businessmen to press them to donate to state coffers.
He allegedly “identified the properties and other assets of the businessmen during the meeting and had suggested... their fortunes could be seized if they did not give a significant contribution.”


Egypt imposes measures to protect against aluminum dumping

Egypt imposes measures to protect against aluminum dumping
Updated 13 April 2021

Egypt imposes measures to protect against aluminum dumping

Egypt imposes measures to protect against aluminum dumping
  • It covers a number of aluminum products manufactured from the metal as well as cylinders and wire

DUBAI: Egypt has introduced measures to control aluminum imports for three years, the Ministry of Trade and Industry said in a filing.
It covers a number of aluminum products manufactured from the metal as well as cylinders and wire.
The ministry agreed to implement the measures in response to the large increase in aluminum products, said Ibrahim Al-Sigini, assistant minister of trade and industry for economic affairs.
The increase has hurt Egypt's domestic aluminum manufacturing sector, he said.
The country has informed the World Trade Organization (WTO) of its decision in line with international trade rules.


Dubai sovereign wealth fund skyscraper has double-decker lifts

Dubai sovereign wealth fund skyscraper has double-decker lifts
Updated 13 April 2021

Dubai sovereign wealth fund skyscraper has double-decker lifts

Dubai sovereign wealth fund skyscraper has double-decker lifts
  • Builder ALEC Engineering and Contracting has just completed the main structural construction work on Tower A

DUBAI: Dubai’s latest skyscraper that will be home to the emirate’s sovereign wealth fund comes with double-decker lifts.

Builder ALEC Engineering and Contracting has just finished the main construction works of Tower A on Ithra Dubai’s One Za’abeel project.

“One Za’abeel was designed as a floating gateway to Dubai’s financial district," said Fadi Jabri, executive officer at Nikken Sekkei, the lead architects and engineers on the project.

Standing 304 meters tall, it is connected to neighboring Tower B via a 225 meter sky bridge known as ‘The Link’.

Elevated at just over 100 meters above ground, ‘The Link’ will place the project in the record books as the world’s longest occupied building cantilever, the contractor said.

But perhaps an equally interesting feature for people working in the building will be its double-decker lifts serving two adjacent floors simultaneously.

Designing tall buildings with enough lift capacity has been a perennial problem for architects working on the emirate's famously tall buildings since the earliest days of the construction boom years.

Some of the city's buildings have gained a reputation for congestion during peak hours such as lunchtime when lobbies can quickly become crammed with workers.

That has put elevator technology at the center of many of Dubai's super-tall buildings, with designers adding increasingly intricate features designed to get more people up and down buildings more quickly, with mixed success.

The new Tower A building will have three lifts dedicated to serving the ground and first floors to the 24th and 25th and two lifts traveling from basement one and ground floor to the 61st and 62nd floors.

It will give passengers express access to ‘The Link’ and ICD offices respectively at a speed of eight meters per second, meaning a transit time of just forty seconds from the basement and ground floor to the top, ALEC said.


Jordan must tackle unemployment and electricity reforms, says IMF

Jordan must tackle unemployment and electricity reforms, says IMF
Updated 13 April 2021

Jordan must tackle unemployment and electricity reforms, says IMF

Jordan must tackle unemployment and electricity reforms, says IMF
  • The IMF staff and Jordan reached staff-level-agreement on the second review under the Extended Fund Facility, on March 30

RIYADH: Jordan must address high unemployment to deliver durable, jobs-rich and inclusive growth, said IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva.
The country also needs to advance electricity sector reforms, boost business competitiveness, and strengthen governance and transparency, she added.
Georgieva said that timely and targeted fiscal measures have helped protect jobs, while equitable tax reforms have helped maintain debt sustainability.
“The Fund is committed to helping the authorities in these efforts to contain the economic and financial impact of the pandemic and build a stronger and more resilient economy,” she said.
The IMF staff and Jordan reached staff-level-agreement on the second review under the Extended Fund Facility, on March 30.
This agreement includes supporting the authorities’ request for an additional $200 million , which would raise Jordan’s access to IMF resources to around $1.95 billion over 2020-24,  Georgieva explained.
At the same time, a sizable monetary stimulus has supported the recovery from the pandemic, while financial stability and adequate reserve buffers have been preserved, she added.