Health, transport and social media: Top 15 innovative startups in the Middle East

Special Health, transport and social media: Top 15 innovative startups in the Middle East
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Updated 26 April 2022

Health, transport and social media: Top 15 innovative startups in the Middle East

Health, transport and social media: Top 15 innovative startups in the Middle East

These are exciting times for startups in the Middle East as venture capital firms and tech investors are increasingly seeking out novel ideas that can be turned into reality. To coincide with World Creativity and Innovation Day on April 21, Arab News has compiled a definitive list of the top 15 startups in the region.

From the UAE to Egypt to Saudi Arabia, a new business landscape is emerging in the Middle East’s startup ecosystem that is changing in the face of entrepreneurship in the region. There are many interesting startup developments that provide home-grown tech solutions as entrepreneurs mix successful startup ideas from other parts of the world with the unique religious and cultural values of the region.

Given that there are tens of new startups launching every day and grabbing the attention and resources of investors, it was no easy task to filter out the top 15 startups. However, we zeroed in on startups that have not only managed to successfully turn things around for their business but have also made a difference in the lives of consumers, thanks to their innovative solutions.

Arab News’s list of 15 most innovative startups includes a new wave of startups that have raised millions of dollars of funding and covers a wide range of sectors including finance, delivery, health, transport and the media. By all accounts, 2021 was a record-breaking year for startups in the region and it seems very likely that things will only accelerate in 2022, powered by many of the startups that have been listed below.

Playbook

(Social media platform for professional women)

Founder: Wafa Al-Obaidat

Funding: $700,000

Investors: Sanabil Investments, 500 Global, Faith Capital, WomenSpark and Strategic Angel Investors

The online social media platform, Playbook, designed specifically for female professionals and entrepreneurs, currently has 12,000 members. It is an edutainment platform that helps women with their career progression and mentorship from female leaders across different industries and walks of life.

The platform leverages shared experiences to prepare women to grow through masterclasses in both English and Arabic. It allows users to create customized profiles, highlighting their skills and professional goals. They can take multiple classes based on their interests, network with other members, find solutions to problems via crowdsourcing and track their progress through games.

Nitros 

(Online shipping and logistics management)

Founder: Awsim Asmi

Funding: $300,000

Investors: 500 Global and OQM Investments

Nitros is a shipping and logistics solution provider for online sellers that offers technical integration from e-store to customer delivery, allowing retailers to compare shipping rates, create labels, generate international customs documents, track shipments and transfer money.

It is the Gulf equivalent of online shipping business Shippo in the US, SendCloud in Europe and ShipRocket in India, which allow small merchants to automate their shipping operations.

ekar

(Personal mobility systems)

Founder: Vilhelm Hedberg

Funding: $34 million

Investors: Polymath Ventures and others

ekar claims to be the Middle East's first and largest self-drive mobility platform, providing users on-demand access to a network of thousands of carshare and subscription leasing vehicles within its 'Self-Drive Super App', in addition to contactless peer-to-peer car share which just launched in Saudi Arabia. 

The startup operates across seven cities, with a fleet of 2,300 vehicles and 250,000 users in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. It ventured into Thailand in January 2022 and plans to expand into Malaysia, Turkey and Egypt later this year.

Sarwa

(Fintech platform)

Founders: Mark Chahwan, Nadine Mezher, Jad Sayegh

Funding: $25 million

Investors: Mubadala Investment Co., 500 Startups, Kuwait Projects Co., Shorooq Partners, ADQ, Middle East Venture Partners

Sarwa is a fintech startup with over 50,000 registered users. The trading platform offers a hybrid model of AI-backed smart trading and on-demand customer support. They recently launched Sarwa Trade, a zero-commission platform that lets customers trade more than 4,000 publicly traded stocks and ETFs on leading US exchanges.

AlTibbi

(AI-backed healthcare company)

Founder: Jalil Allabadi

Funding: $50 million

Investors: Foundation Holdings, Hikma Ventures, Global Ventures and DASH Ventures.

Altibbi is a digital health platform in the Middle East and North Africa. The platform aims to present reliable, up-to-date and simplified medical information to users in the region. What started as an Arabic version of WebMD has grown into a subscription-based telehealth company with 2.4 million consultations per year, nearly ten times the in-person visits to the hospital visits. They are expanding heavily in Saudi.

Tamara

(Fintech)

Founders: Abdulmajeed Alsukhan, Turki Bin Zarah, Abdulmohsen Albabtain

Funding: $116 million

Investor: Checkout.com

Saudi startup Tamara raised $116 million in seven months of operation. The ‘buy now, pay later’ company offers online and in-store customers the ability to pay in installments or split payments in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait. Collaborating with over 2,000 merchants, Tamara has more than two million shoppers on its platform, with transactions totaling nearly $266 million last year alone.

CAFU

(Oil & gas) 

Founder: Rashid Al Ghurair

CAFU is one of the leading fuel delivery and vehicle services platforms. It offers fuel at the same price as charged by petrol stations. They specialize in on-time delivery and offer the service overnight. The platform uses fuel that is certified by Emirates Authority for Standardization and Metrology. In other words, it’s of the same quality as the one that you use to fill up your vehicle from ENOC, Eppco, Emarat and other petrol stations across the stations in the UAE.

NOMADD

(Desert solar technology)

Founders: Cliff Barrett and Georg Eitelhuber

Funding: $7.8 million

Investors: KAUST and CEPCO

The NOMADD is a fully autonomous waterless robotic cleaning solution designed, developed and tested in Saudi Arabia’s severe desert conditions. It has raised a total of $7.8 million in funding over 4 rounds.

SWVL 

(Transportation)

Founder: Mostafa Kandil

Funding: $175 million

SWVL is an Egypt-based transportation service that operates on a global scale. It is currently a unicorn and listed on US Nasdaq. This bus-hailing service enables users to make intra-state journeys by booking seats on buses running a fixed route.

Pylon

(Sustainability)

Founders: Ahmed Ashour and Omar Radi

Funding: $19 million

Investors: Y-Combinator and others

Pylon is a water and electricity management infrastructure startup that is backed by leading VC firm Y-Combinator. The company caters to all the utility’s needs in the region by providing a comprehensive platform that addresses all aspects of the utility distribution process

Rology 

(Health tech)

Founders: Amr Abodraia, Moaz Hossam, Bassam Khallaf, Mahmoud elDefrawy

Funding: $1 million

The platform was launched to plug the lack of radiologists and high latency in medical reports by enhancing scan image quality and matching cases from hospitals and radiology centers according to sub-specialization and expertise. It delivers reports for cold cases within 12 hours and emergency cases in just 60 minutes. The platform is fully equipped to supply hospitals with unique solutions across a diverse spectrum of subspecialties including breast imaging, cardiovascular radiology, chest radiology, gastrointestinal radiology, musculoskeletal radiology and more.

Dawarha 

(Sustainability) 

Founder: Mohamed Kabil

Funding: $1.9 million

Dawarha develops and manufactures reverse vending machines that use artificial intelligence to reward consumers for depositing empty single-use plastic bottles or cans. The startup also offers an app that directs users to the nearest RVM.

Red Sea Farms 

Founders: Ryan Lefers and Mark Tester

Funding: $16 million

Investors: Wa’ed, AppHarvest and Bonaventure Capital, KAUST Innovation Fund, and Research Products Development Company (RPDC).

A pro in saltwater farming, Red Sea Farms invented a technology that grows crops without using freshwater in humidity-controlled greenhouses. 

The firm uses saltwater to cool greenhouses and irrigate crops, such as tomatoes, that it, or its partner farms, sell into the market. It also provides technical advice to other firms on how to grow crops in arid climates.

BitOasis

Founders: Ola Doudin and Daniel Robenek

Funding: $30 million

Investors: Jump Capital and Wamda

BitOasis is a cryptocurrency trading platform offering a digital asset wallet and exchange to buy, sell and trade in 36 tokens. The platform has also been working with UAE government bodies such as the Dubai Police to educate investors and traders about crypto fraud, especially at a time when then the government is promoting blockchain technology and rolling out initiatives to make it easier for crypto players to transact. 

Foodics

Founder: Ahmad Al-Zaini and Mosab Al-Othmani

Funding: $170 million

Investors: Prosus, Sanabil Investments, Sequoia Capital India and others

Foodics is a leading cloud-based restaurant management and fintech ecosystem that empowers food and beverage owners to run their operations efficiently. Formally licensed as a fintech company by the Saudi Central Bank, it caters to every segment of the F&B sector from traditional dine-in restaurants, cafes, quick service restaurants, bakeries and food trucks to the cloud kitchens.


Saudi-Uzbek trade exceeds $95m in the first half of 2022

Saudi-Uzbek trade exceeds $95m in the first half of 2022
Updated 17 August 2022

Saudi-Uzbek trade exceeds $95m in the first half of 2022

Saudi-Uzbek trade exceeds $95m in the first half of 2022
  • The two countries will bolster ties further with the signing of 12 new deals this week

RIYADH: The mutual trade between Saudi Arabia and the Republic of Uzbekistan reached $95 million in the first half of 2022, a substantial increase considering that bilateral trade barely exceeded $17 million last year.

According to a joint news statement, the value is expected to grow rapidly by the end of 2022. The numbers assume significance in the aftermath of the pandemic.

In fact, the number of Uzbek companies running on Saudi funds increased from about nine to 38 in the last five years. Of the 38, 19 are sole proprietors, and the rest are joint ventures.

The two nations will bolster the ties further by signing 12 new agreements on Wednesday and Thursday when Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev visits the Kingdom.

According to an Uzbek state agency, high-level talks will take place in Jeddah, where the two nations will discuss opportunities to enhance multilateral cooperation further.

The discussion will focus on the green economy, technology and digitalization, innovations, small business and entrepreneurship. 

Following the meeting, new agreements are expected to be signed in the energy, telecommunications, agriculture, chemical and petrochemical industries, besides encouraging ties in culture, sports and education.

The Kingdom has become one of the largest foreign investors in energy infrastructure and one of Uzbekistan’s most significant developers of green energy projects.

ACWA Power’s Uzbek interests

Recently, the Ministry of Energy of Uzbekistan and Saudi energy company ACWA Power signed several investment agreements for about $3 billion.

ACWA Power will develop and operate a wind energy project with a production capacity of 1,500 MW in the Karakalpakstan region of Uzbekistan.

When commissioned, the plant will become the largest of its kind in Central Asia and one of the largest wind power plants in the world. 

FASTFACTS

• The number of Uzbek companies running on Saudi funds increased from about nine to 38 in the last five years.

• Recently, the Ministry of Energy of Uzbekistan and Saudi energy company ACWA Power signed several investment agreements for about $3 billion.

• The Saudi Fund for Development has contributed to the implementation of many projects in Uzbekistan, including funding the Samarkand-Gozar Road project, with a total value of $30 million.

ACWA Power also signed an agreement to establish the 100MW Nokus wind farm project, the first renewable energy project to be implemented in partnership with Uzbekistan’s public and private sectors.

The power generating company also won a $108 million wind contract after proposing a tariff of 2.56 cents per kilowatt-hour, the lowest in Uzbekistan.

Additionally, the Ministry of Energy of Uzbekistan signed a 25-year power purchase agreement with ACWA Power to establish a combined-cycle gas turbine power plant in Shirin, located in Syrdarya, Uzbekistan. The deal amounts to $1.2 billion.

According to the statement, these projects will contribute to achieving Uzbekistan’s national goal of raising the total renewable energy generation capacity to 30 percent by 2030.

Saudi Fund for Development

Moreover, the Saudi Fund for Development has contributed to the implementation of many projects in Uzbekistan, including funding the Samarkand-Gozar Road project, with a total value of $30 million.

The fund also contributed to 20 projects in the republic, including building pumping stations and other projects involving sewage, chemicals, mining, building materials, water and agriculture.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture of Uzbekistan, the Saudi and Uzbek delegations have discussed issues of cooperation in agriculture, including the prospects for enhancing mutual trade in agricultural products.

Both parties will likely sign memorandums of cooperation in agriculture, veterinary medicine and livestock development at the meeting.

They also agreed to deepen cooperation in the agricultural sector to enhance trade in farming, livestock and other products between the countries.

After signing the memoranda, action plans will be prepared, including specific measures and areas for developing cooperation and joint projects.

The Saudi side invited the Uzbekistan delegation to attend its most prominent exhibition of the agro-industrial complex, which will be held at the end of October in Riyadh.


American Airlines bets on supersonic travel with Boom jet deal

American Airlines bets on supersonic travel with Boom jet deal
Updated 16 August 2022

American Airlines bets on supersonic travel with Boom jet deal

American Airlines bets on supersonic travel with Boom jet deal

CHICAGO: American Airlines Group Inc. on Tuesday agreed to buy up to 20 jets from aircraft maker Boom Supersonic, becoming the second major US airline to bet on ultra-fast passenger travel in the last two years.

The deal brings Boom’s order book to 130 airplanes, including options, valued at about $26 billion, Boom Chief Executive Blake Scholl said in an interview.

The return of interest in supersonic jets comes nearly two decades after Concorde, flown by Air France and British Airways, was retired following a deadly crash and high costs of fuel and maintenance.

Last year, United Airlines Holdings Inc agreed to buy 15 Boom Overture aircraft provided they meet certain safety, operating and sustainability requirements. A similar condition was part of the American Airlines agreement as well.

American also has an option to purchase 40 more of the jets, each of which can carry 65 to 80 passengers, the companies said.

The four-engine Overture jet can fly from Miami to London in just under five hours, cutting the nearly nine-hour flight time between the cities by about half.

American Airlines spokesperson Matt Miller said it was too early to discuss ticket prices, given the aircraft isn't expected to carry its first passengers until 2029.

Supersonic jets have come under criticism from environmentalists for burning more fuel per passenger than comparable subsonic planes.

The Overture jet, being designed to run fully on sustainable aviation fuel or a blend, will be rolled out of Boom’s Greensboro, North Carolina factory in 2025, followed by test flights in 2026.

Third Bridge senior analyst Christopher Raite sounded a word of caution on Boom’s delivery target, saying the delay in conducting test flights for Boom’s other jet, the XB-1, signaled that delivery of the Overture will be delayed.


87,467 families benefit from Saudi housing program in 2022

87,467 families benefit from Saudi housing program in 2022
Updated 16 August 2022

87,467 families benefit from Saudi housing program in 2022

87,467 families benefit from Saudi housing program in 2022

RIYADH: The number of families benefiting from Saudi Arabia’s Sakani housing options and financing solutions has reached 87,467 since the beginning of the year until the end of July. 

Some 104,492 families also received possession of their first homes during that period, the Saudi Press Agency reported. 

The program seeks to raise the proportion of housing ownership for Saudi families to 70 percent by 2030.

The Ministry of Housing and the Real Estate Development Fund formed Sakani in 2017 to facilitate homeownership in the Kingdom through the creation of new housing stock, allocating plots and homes to nationals, and financing their purchase.

Earlier this year, Sakani program announced that it aims to enable 180,000 new families to benefit from the program’s housing options and solutions during 2022. 


Oil prices drop over 1% on potential global recession concerns

Oil prices drop over 1% on potential global recession concerns
Updated 16 August 2022

Oil prices drop over 1% on potential global recession concerns

Oil prices drop over 1% on potential global recession concerns

NEW YORK: Oil prices fell over 1 percent on Tuesday in volatile trading as economic data spurred concerns about a potential global recession, while the market awaited clarity on talks to revive a deal that could allow more Iranian oil exports.

Brent crude futures fell $1.41, or 1.5 percent, to $93.69 a barrel, after hitting a session high of $95.95. West Texas Intermediate crude decreased $1.33, or 1.5 percent, to $88.08 a barrel, after rising to $90.65.

The contracts fell about 3 percent in their previous sessions.

The EU is assessing Iran’s response to what the bloc has called its “final” proposal to save a 2015 nuclear deal, and consulting with the US, an EU spokesperson said on Tuesday.

Iran responded to the proposal late on Monday but neither Tehran nor the EU provided any details on the content of the reply.

“It is still unclear what Iran has told the EU last night, so some tricky items might impact the outcome of the nuclear deal,” UBS analyst Giovanni Staunovo said.

Weak economic indicators weighed on prices.

US homebuilding fell to the lowest level in nearly 1-1/2 years in July, weighed down by higher mortgage rates and prices for construction materials, suggesting the housing market could contract further in the third quarter.

“Oil traders reacted because of concerns about an economic slowdown and housing uses energy,” said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Price Futures group. “That caught us by surprise.”

China’s central bank cut lending rates to try to revive demand as the nation’s economy slowed unexpectedly in July after Beijing’s zero-COVID policy and a property crisis slowed factory and retail activity.

State media quoted Premier Li Keqiang as saying that China will reasonably step up macro policy support for the economy.

Barclays lowered its Brent price forecasts by $8 per barrel for this year and next, as it expects a large surplus of crude oil over the near-term due to “resilient” Russian supplies.


Saudi Cabinet authorizes transport minister to discuss MoUs with Bahrain

Saudi Cabinet authorizes transport minister to discuss MoUs with Bahrain
Updated 16 August 2022

Saudi Cabinet authorizes transport minister to discuss MoUs with Bahrain

Saudi Cabinet authorizes transport minister to discuss MoUs with Bahrain

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Cabinet on Tuesday authorized the minister of transport and logistic services to discuss with Bahrain two draft agreements to boost cooperation in the fields of road safety and maintenance. 

During the meeting, the council of ministers also authorized the chairman of Education and Training Evaluation Commission to discuss with the UAE a draft initial agreement to cooperate in the development of assessment, measurement and accreditation tools.

The ministers also approved two agreements in the fields of employment and domestic workers with Burundi, the Saudi Press Agency reported. 

The Cabinet has also authorized the health minister to discuss a draft memorandum of understanding with the Uzbek side for cooperation in the field. 

It also approved the rules governing the competency and contractor program.