Startup Wrap — regional funding continues to rise with a flurry of new deals

Startup Wrap — regional funding continues to rise with a flurry of new deals
Saudi Arabia-based food technology startup NOMU has successfully raised $5 million in a funding seed round from a range of investors, including DIV Capital, Shurfah, Core Vision, and Purity for Information Technology, as well as family offices such as Altoukhi Family Office and Bakr Family Office. (Supplied)
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Updated 09 July 2023
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Startup Wrap — regional funding continues to rise with a flurry of new deals

Startup Wrap — regional funding continues to rise with a flurry of new deals

CAIRO: Saudi Arabia-based food technology startup NOMU has successfully raised $5 million in a funding seed round from a range of investors, including DIV Capital, Shurfah, Core Vision, and Purity for Information Technology, as well as family offices such as Altoukhi Family Office and Bakr Family Office. 

The newly secured funds will be utilized by NOMU to expand its presence in the hotel, restaurant, and catering sector.  

Additionally, the company plans to develop a software as a service solution and an artificial intelligence-enabled procurement chatbot.  

Moreover, NOMU has plans to extend its operations to Pakistan and sub-Saharan Africa in the near future. 

 The company was established in late 2022 following a merger between commerce startups Saudi-based Jumlaty and Egypt’s Appetito.

The successful funding round demonstrates the investor confidence in NOMU’s business model and growth potential, according to a statement.

“We are thrilled with the overwhelming support we have received from our investors, both in terms of funding and strategic partnerships,” said Shehab Mokhtar, co-founder and CEO of NOMU Group. 

With the fresh capital infusion, the company is well-positioned to enhance its market presence, expand its product offerings, and capitalize on emerging opportunities in the food tech sector. 

“This seed round allows us to strengthen our business-to-business HORECA (hotel, restaurant, and catering) offering, invest in cutting-edge technology, and expand into new markets. NOMU is committed to revolutionizing the food tech supply chain, providing greater convenience and efficiency for businesses in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region,” Mokhtar added. 

The company operates in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco with plans to expand into 50 new cities by 2025. 

UAE’s HR technology firm alfii raises $2.5m in a pre-seed funding round 

The UAE-based human resources technology startup alfii has successfully raised $2.5 million in a pre-seed funding round led by Preface Ventures, a US-based venture capital firm, along with the participation of Kayan Ventures, Aditum Ventures, and Wayfinders. 

Founded in 2022 by Yousef Al-Barqawi, Becky Jefferies and Dina Mohammad-Laity, alfii aims to assist growing businesses in managing their HR workload and streamlining administrative tasks. 

With the newly secured funding, alfii plans to expand its team and further develop its HR automation platform, which is powered by financial technology solutions. 

“We’re looking to build the next generation of this product class, and we’re building it entirely in-house — which means we need to bring on world-class talent to grow our business and better serve our customers,” said Al-Barqawi, alfii’s CEO and co-founder.      

The investment will support the company’s growth strategy and enable it to better serve its clients by optimizing its HR processes and improving overall efficiency. 

Additionally, several local and regional angel investors contributed to the funding round. 

Morocco’s Chari raises $1.5m in funding 

Morocco-based business-to-business e-commerce and fintech startup Chari has successfully raised $1.5 million in funding from Verof-Kepple Africa Ventures.  

The investment will play a crucial role in enabling Chari to expand its operations across Africa and further develop its portfolio of financial services. 

Founded in 2020 by Ismael Belkhayat and Sophia Alj, Chari offers a platform that allows retailers to directly purchase large quantities of inventory items from suppliers.  

By facilitating efficient business-to-business transactions, Chari aims to streamline the procurement process for businesses. 

“We are thrilled to onboard VKAV as our partner as we establish a cutting-edge and fundamental financial services infrastructure for the mass market in our country,” Ismael Belkhayat, CEO and co-founder of Chari, said, adding: “With VKAV’s extensive network across Africa and profound connections with the Japanese corporate society, we believe they will consistently bring value to our endeavors.” 

In addition to the funding, Chari has appointed Ryosuke Yamawaki, a partner at VKAV, as a strategic advisor.  

“Chari is uniquely positioned to transform the informal retail sector and redefine the category of informal trade in Africa. We firmly believe that their innovative approach will benefit the local market and serve as a showcase to the rest of the world,” Yamawaki said in a statement. 

This strategic collaboration will provide valuable insights and guidance to support Chari’s growth and strategic decision-making. 

The recent funding round marks Chari’s third successful fundraising effort this year. 

In March, the company secured a seed round from Plug and Play and received $1 million in funding from Orange Ventures.  

MENA startups raise $35.6m in June 

Startups in the MENA region secured $35.6 million last month across 45 deals, closing the first half of the year at $1.6 billion. 

In terms of funding value, Saudi Arabia claimed the top position in June, securing $25 million across 12 rounds, followed by the UAE as a distant second, with its startups raising $6 million through 20 rounds. 

Egyptian startups ranked third in terms of capital received with $4.8 million, largely due to a $3.5 million funding round for Egypt’s trucking marketplace, Trella. 

Fintech emerged as the sector with the highest number of deals, as seven startups raised $3 million.  

However, it was the foodtech space that received the largest funding, with over $20 million raised across four startups, representing 56 percent of the total funds secured. Investor interest was also seen in other sectors such as logistics, esports and mobility.


Saudi Arabia’s new visa program part of efforts to boost education sector

Saudi Arabia’s new visa program part of efforts to boost education sector
Updated 11 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia’s new visa program part of efforts to boost education sector

Saudi Arabia’s new visa program part of efforts to boost education sector

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has announced a new educational visa program to attract students and academics to the Kingdom to boost its research and educational sectors.

The announcement coincided with the second day of the Human Capability Initiative currently underway in Riyadh during which a top official expressed hope that improving the education system will have a positive impact on the Kingdom’s gross domestic product.

Khaled Al-Sabti, chairman of the Education and Training Evaluation Commission, said improved educational performance will have a positive impact on the Kingdom’s economy and that Saudi Arabia is trying to elevate its system of education to match global standards.

“Currently, we are working with the World Bank closely to estimate the potential impact of improving quality of education on the economic growth. The initial findings are very impressive using the Saudi performance on international exams,” he added.

The official said the study estimates that “if we manage to bring the performance to the international level,” it will give a huge boost to GDP growth.

Al-Sabti discussed the significant impact of education on economic prosperity, highlighting findings from empirical research since the late 1960s.

He emphasized that each additional year of schooling contributes positively to economic prosperity, with a consistent monetary return of at least 9 percent, indicating a high return on investment.

“A recent analysis has shown that quality of education is more important than quantity,” Al-Sabti said.

The official continued: “Cognitive skills are more important than education qualification.”

Additionally, he underlined the establishment of an independent organization by the government with a focus on ensuring quality education and training.

“This organization, we call it the Education and Training Evaluation Commission. We aspire to build a globally pioneering high-impact Saudi quality model for education and training,” Al-Sabti stated.

Saudi Education Minister Yousef Al-Benyan highlighted the significant transformation of his ministry from a body focused on operational tasks like building schools and maintenance to becoming a regulator and facilitator.

“We focus on students, we focus on curriculum, we focus on schools, and how can we make our teachers skillful enough to meet the future requirements,” he said.

The minister added: “We should add digital skills as it is missing, and we do have at least a lot of reports that indicate there is a long way for us to meet our target.”

He further explained the multifaceted approach taken to enhance the education system. The minister laid emphasis on increasing investment in teachers’ training.

“Two, do we have the right mix in our curriculum that really focuses more on skills and values that are really needed,” Al-Benyan said.

He continued: “Third, we have very clear programs that started a few years back and we are emerging into even better positioning on early childhood (education).”

Qatari Minister of Education and Higher Education Buthaina Al-Nuaimi underscored the crucial role of education in his country’s national development strategy.

“We focused on re-aligning the curriculum with the continuously evolving demand of the labor market. We’re doing this in partnership with employers because it’s very important to align the personal needs of the learner as well as what the requirements are for the national development,” Al-Nuaimi commented.

 


International investors, including from Saudi Arabia, eye lithium mining in Argentina

International investors, including from Saudi Arabia, eye lithium mining in Argentina
Updated 18 min 7 sec ago
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International investors, including from Saudi Arabia, eye lithium mining in Argentina

International investors, including from Saudi Arabia, eye lithium mining in Argentina
  • Earlier this month, a delegation from the Kingdom visited Catamarca province to discuss lithium projects in the area
  • Lithium mining has become a central element in several countries’ strategy to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy

SAO PAULO: Lithium mining has become a central element in several countries’ strategy to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Saudi investors are aware of Argentina’s major role in this respect. Earlier this month, a delegation from the Saudi Energy Ministry visited the province of Catamarca, in the extreme north of Argentina, in order to discuss lithium projects in the area.

The Argentinian northwestern zone, along with parts of Chile and Bolivia, form the so-called Lithium Triangle, an area in the Andes where more than 50 percent of the world’s lithium deposits are located.

Chile has been leading lithium exploitation in the region, with the first projects beginning in the 1980s. Argentina started exploitation there in 1997.

“Argentina’s installed capacity today is lower than Chile’s. But the Argentinian exploitation model allows for the free entry of investors, while in Chile and Bolivia there are a few restrictions,” Victor Delbuono, a natural resources researcher at Argentinian think tank Fundar, told Arab News.

With the electromobility boom in the past decade, new lithium endeavors were implemented in Argentina, with an operation starting in 2015 and another in 2023, besides dozens of exploitation initiatives.

“There are now five mining projects under construction, funded by capital from several nations: France, South Korea, Australia, Canada, the US, Japan and China,” Delbuono said.

Chinese investors are taking part in a number of projects and, in the medium term, half of all running lithium endeavors will be under Chinese control.

Over the past decade, Argentina has concentrated most of the world’s expenditure in lithium exploitation, “so the country’s potential is rather well-known considering pre-feasible and feasible projects,” Delbuono said.

According to Diego Cons, executive director of the Argentine Chamber of Mining Suppliers, there are currently 39 projects in the country, some of them in very initial stages and five or six others ready to be launched in the next three years.

“Potential investors need to have access to reliable information on the ground in order to decide whether they want to invest in more advanced projects or new exploratory endeavors,” he told Arab News.

Delbuono estimates that there are 15 projects in the northwest of Argentina that have the necessary characteristics to be funded by Saudi investors.

“It’s possible for them to invest in joint operations with province-owned companies, for instance,” he said.

Jorge Pena, a consultant in energy transition at Lithron, told Arab News: “Catamarca’s lithium deposits have ideal geological characteristics to be exploited in the short term, but some projects in the region require subsoil exploration, which demands more capital — something Gulf nations could be interested in financing.”

He emphasized that opportunities are not restricted to lithium, given that other minerals are needed when it comes to electromobility.

“In that same region, there are consolidated endeavors to exploit copper, gold, silver and other minerals,” he said.

The growing lithium exploitation will also require the development of local infrastructure, Delbuono said, especially transmission lines and roads.

Pena said mining companies are the ones making the necessary investments in infrastructure, “but many things have to be done, including gas pipelines to provide fuel to such projects. The necessary development of the mining industry requires surrounding infrastructure, so investors are needed.”

The logistical infrastructure projects have been drawing the interest of groups from neighboring Brazil, analysts say.

With adequate modeling, investors can find juridical safety and fund such initiatives, Cons said, adding: “All that cycle generates direct and indirect jobs and boosts local development, something that creates more opportunities for companies that provide goods and services and are strategic partners of the foreign investors.”  

While there are several positive aspects for potential investors in lithium projects in Argentina, some elements still need to be tackled.

In recent months, Jujuy province has faced continuous protests by Indigenous groups, peasants and other social segments over the approval of a new provincial constitution that is seen as tailored to benefit lithium mining to the detriment of local residents.

The demonstrators fear that the scarce water in the region will be diverted to the lithium plants and will not be adequately available for them anymore.

“Each region has its own social and environmental reality. In provinces where mining is a traditional activity, there’s less resistance from residents,” Delbuono said, adding that sustainable development and operations properly accompanied by citizens must be the goal for all companies and investors.

“An institutional strengthening is needed, with governments adequately monitoring all operations and ensuring that the best practices are adopted.”

He said the governments of the three northwestern provinces of Argentina with the largest lithium deposits have been implementing measures to allow the operations to be adequately developed.

The country’s macroeconomic situation — which has been unstable over the past few years, with high inflation and debt — is also a challenge.

However, as financial hardships made access to credit more difficult and expensive, the entry of new foreign investors could represent a win-win situation.

All things considered, Argentina could become the center of the energy transition process. “All the development around lithium that there is in Chile is also possible on the other side of the border, in Argentina. And this is the right moment to pursue it,” Pena said.


Gender equality is the cornerstone for development, says Saudi economy minister

Gender equality is the cornerstone for development, says Saudi economy minister
Updated 53 min 41 sec ago
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Gender equality is the cornerstone for development, says Saudi economy minister

Gender equality is the cornerstone for development, says Saudi economy minister

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia seeks to increase female representation across various sectors as the country considers gender equality as a cornerstone for sustainable development, said the minister of economy and planning.

Speaking at the Human Capability Initiative in Riyadh on Thursday, Faisal Alibrahim said the Kingdom has been witnessing a significant rise in female participation in the private sector.

“Gender equality is a cornerstone of our commitment to sustainable development. Increasing female representation is a critical macro goal supported by a multitude of initiatives,” said Alibrahim.

He added: “Women now hold 20 percent of seats in the Saudi Shoura Council and key positions in ministries and government bodies. Twenty-nine percent of middle and senior private sector management positions are held by women, and 45 percent of SMEs in the Kingdom are female-led.”

The minister added that human capital investment is crucial for Saudi Arabia and the Kingdom, with various initiatives, is trying to ensure a better future for its citizens.

“We regard human capital investment as a critical part of the Kingdom’s transformation. The Ministry of Economy and Planning considers human capital at the heart of policymaking,” said Alibrahim.

According to Alibrahim, Saudi Arabia is a young country, and with a majority of the population at the working age, the Kingdom has all the potential to boost its economy.

“Saudi (Arabia) is a young country. (With) the median age of just 29, 73 percent of the people are working age, and only 3 percent are above the age of 64. This means we have a unique window and demographic opportunity, offering a potential economic boost. During this period, countries can experience higher productivity, increased savings, and investment potentials,” added the minister.

Talking about human capability initiatives in the Kingdom, he said the Kingdom’s Healthcare Transformation Program will help 88 percent of the population gain access to inclusive healthcare services by 2030.

The minister further noted that the national housing program has a goal to increase homeownership in the Kingdom to 70 percent.

“Saudi Arabia’s Healthcare Transformation Program uses a host of innovation and digital solutions to provide a more comprehensive, personalized, and integrated healthcare system. 88 percent of the population will have access to inclusive health care services by 2030, and 100 percent will be covered by a unified digital medical record system,” said Alibrahim.

The minister also highlighted the role of the private sector in elevating human capability. According to the minister, governments should encourage reforms that will increase private investments in human capital.

“We must provide the right framework for private and social investments in human capital; tax investments, and public-private partnerships, there are a multitude of ways that the government can encourage reforms and innovation,” added Alibrahim.

He also added that Saudi Arabia’s progress will not end after achieving the goals outlined in Vision 2030.

“I promise you this, progress does not stop in 2030. We are developing a culture of continuous learning and improvement. When the Kingdom reaches one goal, it is always just a step on the ladder to the next. To achieve the best outcomes, it is critical to harness the power and dynamism of the private sector,” said the official.

He added: “Saudi Arabia is open to ideas, open to investments, and open for international collaborations.”


Red Sea Global launches national academy to train and upskill Saudis, CEO reveals

Red Sea Global launches national academy to train and upskill Saudis, CEO reveals
Updated 29 February 2024
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Red Sea Global launches national academy to train and upskill Saudis, CEO reveals

Red Sea Global launches national academy to train and upskill Saudis, CEO reveals

RIYADH: Young Saudis will soon be further qualified in terms of technical specializations as the Red Sea National Academy launches, according to the group CEO. 

In an interview with Arab News on the sidelines of the Human Capability Initiative in Riyadh, John Pagano explained that as the entity advances tourism destinations in the Red Sea and Amaala, there will be a requirement for additional participants within the industry to meet the demands of the labor market. 

This aligns with the Saudi Vision 2030 goal of ensuring that the Kingdom’s citizens have the capabilities to compete globally by instilling values, developing basic and future skills, and enhancing knowledge. 

“The industry needs 1.2 million new participants to help deliver this new industry, this new, exciting and important industry from an economic point of view, from a diversification point of view,” Pagano said. 

“We’ve decided that we need to provide the opportunities to train and upskill these young Saudis in an environment that is relevant to where they’re going to ultimately work,” the CEO added. 

He went on to say that the initiative will work on training a couple of thousand students per year, all of whom will ultimately graduate and get jobs within the Red Sea and Amaala projects.

In terms of location, Pagano disclosed that the newly inaugurated academy will reside in Al-Wajh, which sits between the Red Sea and Amaala. 

“It’ll become a hub for not only our training but also as a community center, where we’re going to continue to provide English language courses for the local population to, again, give them opportunities to find new jobs within this new burgeoning industry,” the CEO said. 

He clarified that the group will often bring in specialist providers to conduct the training. In some cases, the group will be doing the training directly themselves. 

“Our preference and our priority would be to give local community residents, you know, a priority if they’re interested in are willing to take on, you know, that burden of going through the training. But ultimately, it’s open for all nationalities that will ultimately work within the destination,” Pagano noted. 

Speaking during a session titled “Developing Human Capabilities – The Power of Tourism,” the CEO explained how the entity plans to propel the local community further. 

“Our first class of vocational students, 430 of them, graduated last July. Almost 40 percent of them came from our local communities on the West Coast and that’s because we aim to benefit those communities where opportunities for advancement have historically been scarce,” he clarified. 

“Our program in airport services is the first of its kind in the nation. We’re also the first in the country to provide vocational training and tourism security. We already have 400 students enrolled and they’re on track to graduate next year, again in time for opening up our resorts,” he also underlined.

“In total, more than 1,300 talents are either studying in our programs or have already graduated from them. And these numbers will add up quickly. By 2030, we expect to have graduated 10,000 vocational students,” Pagano said in his speech.

With regards to the performance of the group in general, the CEO highlighted during the interview with Arab News that: “Last year and into the beginning of this year has been a pivotal, momentous period for us, a milestone.”

This comes as Red Sea has recently opened its first two resorts, including The Six Senses Southern Dunes and the Saint Regis Red Sea Resort. By the end of this year, the group intends to launch four additional resorts, he disclosed. 

“Meanwhile, we’re busy working on 19 other resorts, 11 at Red Sea and eight at Amaala, all of which are going to open next year,” Pagano revealed. 

In terms of operations, the CEO said: “We’re open for business today. The airport is running. So, we have eight flights a week in and out of the Red Sea direct.” 

That said, the destination is currently receiving guests regularly from the local and regional market, including Europeans as well, he added.

“So, we’re in that capacity-building mode where people are now starting to learn about the destination,” Pagano concluded. 

HCI is the first-ever global cooperative platform designed to unify international efforts and enrich the global dialogue on the challenges and opportunities for developing human capabilities. 

According to the HCI website, the two-day event will explore opportunities in various areas, including skill development, the future of work, education, talent, and technology.   

It will bring together policymakers, thought leaders, investors, and entrepreneurs to catalyze international collaboration. It also caters to participants who want to maximize resilience, explore opportunities, and promote innovative policy design and solutions.


Jordan set to receive investments of up to $100m annually from the EBRD

Jordan set to receive investments of up to $100m annually from the EBRD
Updated 29 February 2024
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Jordan set to receive investments of up to $100m annually from the EBRD

Jordan set to receive investments of up to $100m annually from the EBRD

RIYADH: Jordan’s energy and green economy sectors are set to receive over $100 million in investment annually, according to a top official.

The First Vice President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development Jurgen Rigterink revealed to the Jordan News Agency that the bank looks forward to expanding its activities and investments in the country to reach over $100 million annually, covering areas such as energy, water, clean energy, and the green economy.

Regarding the bank’s investments in the country, Rigterink mentioned that over the past 12 years, the bank has invested in 71 projects totaling an estimated €2.1 billion ($2.2 billion), with €268 million in concessional financing. 

He added that last year, the bank invested in five projects worth €62 million.

Rigterink affirmed that Jordan’s economy is performing well in the medium term and is moving at a stable pace despite the crises facing the region. He attributed the performance to successfully implementing the economic modernization vision and attracting foreign direct investment.

In an interview with the agency, also known as Petra, he highlighted the economic modernization vision launched by the government last year.

The vision includes developmental and strategic projects to increase economic growth, reduce unemployment rates, and issue laws and legislation supporting this vision, including investment regulations, public-private partnerships, and combating tax evasion.

The VP is visiting Amman to familiarize himself with the bank’s activities in Jordan and identify economic and investment opportunities in the country to determine potential areas for future bank support.

He reiterated the bank’s support for Jordan during this challenging time for the region and emphasized that discussions were held with Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Nasser Shraideh and Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Zeina Toukan regarding current and future investments to support the country’s economic growth and stimulate job creation.

Regarding the impact of the Gaza war on the country’s economy, Rigterink expected it to affect the local economy, which has shown resilience against challenges, stable growth, and low inflation rates due to the pegging of the dinar to the dollar.

He explained that the private sector would remain cautious about initiating new investments or expanding existing ones due to the uncertain situation.

Regarding the Green Star Venture programme, Rigterink affirmed its aim to enhance the competitiveness and growth of small, medium, and start-up companies in Jordan, contributing to the country’s green transformation.

He highlighted the role of small and medium-sized enterprises in achieving a greener economy by providing innovative eco-friendly products and services, noting that the bank has provided technical and advisory support to 500 SMEs, considering them as the backbone of economies and job providers.

The VP confirmed the bank’s support for SMEs by providing banking facilities via local financial institutions, mentioning the launch of green economy financing to boost green investments in Jordan’s private sector through partner local financial institutions.

He also emphasized the bank’s commitment to supporting Jordan’s transition to a comprehensive, competitive, and sustainable economy, mentioning several Aqaba Special Economic Zone projects, such as an eco-friendly electric bus initiative and a solid waste management undertaking.

Jordan joined the bank as a member in 2011, was granted recipient country status for aid in 2013, and has a permanent office to manage its operations in Jordan, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Lebanon.