CAIRO: Entrepreneurship in the Middle East and North Africa region has been growing rapidly over the past decade, with a record $1 billion in funding pumped into local startups in 2020 alone, according to MAGiTT’s MENA Venture Investment Report.
This growth is creating opportunities for more niche ventures to flourish, particularly in the family and parenting spheres.
Five such startups share their insights, offering a glimpse into the reasons for their success.
As a PR professional, Shamim Kassibawi knows the value of market research. She did plenty of it and tested her concept before launching Play:Date in 2017. This app helps parents connect their children with like-minded friends.
“We’ve really taken the time to prove our concept,” Kassibawi said. “We’re three years old. The average startup at this point would be booming, but because we’ve been testing and perfecting it, we’re ready to use investment money the right way.”
Simona Agolini also relies on being customer and data-centric. She is the CEO and co-founder of QiDZ, an online marketplace for children’s activities in the UAE and Egypt.
“We speak with customers on a daily and weekly basis. We have data analytics, and we customize based on what customers are telling us,” Agolini said. “Some people fall in love with a concept, but it’s not validated.”
Agolini advises startups to test their ideas to make sure they are viable, not only for customers, but also for financial resilience.
Kidzapp, an online family guide for activities in the UAE and Egypt, had to find ways to stay relevant when the emirates went into lockdown last year.
“We knew that our core business was mostly going to have to be on hold for a while,” said Karim Beidas, CEO and founder of Kidzapp. “So, we thought about how we could help and engage parents, and also strengthen our relationship with our partners.”
As a result, the company decided to develop its digital content arm. “Because of the lockdown, we ended up building much stronger digital content capability in video, and we’re now heading in that direction,” Beidas said.
Jordanian interactive parenting platform 360 Moms is another startup that had to make lasting changes in its business.
“We turned our workshops into webinars,” said Dina Abdul Majeed, CEO and founder of 360 Moms. “Our webinars covered everything — from parenting to dealing with stress and marriage.”
To date, the company has organized 40 such events, making the format an integral part of its platform.
Sprout, a producer of ready-to-heat, nutritionally rich foods for children and families in the UAE, launched its website during lockdown, which forced the team to make changes quickly.
“We had to rethink our marketing in no time,” said Sprout co-founder Katerina Papatryfon. “We launched at a time when people were wary about ordering in, so we just had to jump at things that made sense to us as parents.”
Instead of using a third-party service, the founders decided to deliver the food themselves.
“We would be in the kitchen cooking all day, and then, on weekends, we would be going door to door to do the deliveries. It was exhausting, but it added an element of trust,” Papatryfon said.
This trust helped the company establish a solid relationship with its customers.
Attracting the right backers is essential for successfully expanding any startup. Play:Date recently secured funding from an investor providing financial support and expertise to help the business grow.
“This is absolutely amazing because they give you money and services, so they are going to be giving it their all,” Kassibawi said.
The timing of investments is equally important. While Beidas is ready for Kidzapp to enter Saudi Arabia, he is cautious about scaling up too soon.
“Many investors encourage startups to grow quickly, which is great, but if you grow too quickly and need the next round of funding and don’t get it, you die,” Beidas said, adding that growing sustainably is key.
“There are these two tensions, and you have to be somewhere in the middle,” he said.
- 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 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.