Startup Wrap – UAE firms lead this week’s venture activity

Maintaining its position as a dominant force in the MENA region, fintech captured a significant 36 percent of all funding and accounted for 23 percent of the total deal count in the first three quarters of 2023. (Reuters)
Maintaining its position as a dominant force in the MENA region, fintech captured a significant 36 percent of all funding and accounted for 23 percent of the total deal count in the first three quarters of 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 25 November 2023
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Startup Wrap – UAE firms lead this week’s venture activity

Startup Wrap – UAE firms lead this week’s venture activity
  • Wamda Capital takes part in a $4.7 million seed funding round for Turkiye-based health tech startup Salu

CAIRO: A flurry of investment deals flourished throughout the Middle East region, with UAE-based venture capitals landing a handful of transactions across multiple sectors.

In a significant move underscoring the growing interest in health technology, Dubai- headquartered Wamda Capital has participated in a $4.7 million seed funding round for the Turkey-based health tech startup Salus.  

This round marks a milestone for the firm, gathering notable investors in its mission to revolutionize corporate mental health services.




Operating in over 45 countries including Saudi Arabia, HotDesk will aim to support XSPACE’s debut in Riyadh via a technical integration partnership. (Supplied)

Northzone led the investment round, with contributions from 500 Emerging Europe, Pitchdrive, and Is Bank’s CVC arm, Collective Spark.  

The round also saw participation from a line-up of angel investors, including Fırat Ileri of Hummingbird Ventures, Adam Anders from Anterra Capital, and Inanc Balci of Crestone VC and Lazada.  

Additional investors include Egem Eraslan of Midas, Can Yucaoglu of MAP Investment, Kivanc Semen of Dataguard, and Mehmet Yilmaz and Joshua Cornelius of Freeletics and Zavvy.

Founded in 2022 by Alperen Adikti and Dincer Karaduman, Salus offers an array of services, including therapy and coaching sessions, along with self-care content, tailored to meet the needs of the corporate environment.




Alperen Adikti, Salus cofounder and CEO

“Closing one of the largest seed rounds ever raised by a Turkish startup just 16 months post-founding, amidst a challenging macroeconomic climate, is not just a milestone – it’s a testament to the urgent need and belief in Salus’ mission. We are excited and ready to propel forward with the support of our exceptional investors and partners,” Adikti said.

The newly acquired capital is earmarked for three areas of expansion. Salus plans to broaden its clinical network significantly, allowing for more extensive and varied mental health support.  

Closing one of the largest seed rounds ever raised by a Turkish startup is a testament to the urgent need and belief in Salus’ mission. We are excited and ready to propel forward with the support of our exceptional investors and partners.

Alperen Adikti, Salus cofounder and CEO

A focus will also be placed on enhancing the user experience, as well as scaling its business-to-business operations, aiming to establish itself as a leader in corporate mental health solutions.

UAE’s Your Compass joins investors in Fork N Knife’s $800k seed round

UAE-based investment firm Your Compass has joined a cohort of Middle Eastern and global investors in Turkey-headquartered cloud kitchen operator Fork N Knife’s recent seed funding round, which successfully raised $800,000.




Established in 2022 by Nasr Aldin and Mohamed Haroun, Fork N Knife specializes in assisting restaurants in enhancing their delivery services while minimizing investment costs.

Founded in 2022 by Yassir Nasr-Aldin, Fork N Knife promotes a cooking-as-a-service model, which enables restaurants and food enthusiasts to launch and expand their own businesses with zero initial capital.  

This model not only reduces entry barriers for aspiring food entrepreneurs but also paves the way for creative culinary concepts to flourish without the typical financial constraints of starting a food business.

“Throughout my eight-year journey in cloud kitchens, witnessing the evolving stages of the industry, it became evident that the cloud kitchen business domain needed a unique model to solve the real challenges faced by restaurant owners. Instead of reducing fixed costs, as is common in cloud kitchens, we completely eliminated them,” Nasr-Aldin said.




The growth of the startups in our VBs is a testament to the collaborative efforts between our founders and venture building experts, says Awad Makkawi, Director of Venture Building at Modus

With the fresh infusion of capital, Fork N Knife has ambitious plans to broaden its geographical footprint. The startup is eyeing strategic entry into the African and European markets, aiming to capitalize on the opportunities in these regions for cloud kitchen services.  

This expansion is expected to significantly amplify Fork N Knife’s impact on the global food service landscape.

Modus Capital launches 8 startups with $2.8m investment

In a significant boost to the startup ecosystem, UAE-based Modus Capital has unveiled the launch of eight new startups, marking a substantial $2.8 million investment across these ventures.  

This initiative is part of Modus Capital’s ambitious venture builder program, which is set to foster innovation and entrepreneurship in the region.

The startups making their debut under this program include JamaliBox, MDBX, and Monet, as well as Oscar, Seva, Sindbad.

Stornest and Your Social Smile are the other two companies involved.

Each venture, with its unique business model and market approach, is poised to make a significant impact in their respective industries.

Modus Capital operates a comprehensive network of venture builders, underpinned by a $50 million Venture Builder Fund.  

“The growth of the startups in our VBs is a testament to the collaborative efforts between our founders and venture building experts. With the foundation set, I’m confident that their missions and products will resonate with customers and potential investors, paving the way for further success and funding,” Awad Makkawi, director of Venture Building at Modus, said.

This network spans across key regional hubs including Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, and Cairo, reflecting Modus Capital’s commitment to nurturing startups in diverse markets.

The venture-building approach of Modus Capital involves an intensive nine-month program designed to empower both established and emerging founders.  

This program goes beyond financial support, encompassing a spectrum of non-financial offerings such as mentorship, access to critical networking opportunities, and other valuable resources.

UAE’s proptech HotDesk partners with XSPACE

UAE’s flexible workspace solution HotDesk announced a partnership with Saudi Arabia’s XSPACE in an effort to boost the Kingdom’s market.

Operating in over 45 countries including Saudi Arabia, HotDesk will aim to support XSPACE’s debut in Riyadh via a technical integration partnership.  

The strategic cooperation will see XSPACE’s locations being built on top of HotDesk’s tech stack, including HotDeskOS for efficient coworking management, HotDesk marketplace for client reach, and integrations with its corporate offerings.

Founded in 2020 by Mohamed Khaled, Hotdesk creates an opportunity for businesses with underutilized workspaces to generate additional revenue by subletting their vacant office space as on-demand workspaces.

MENA fintech sector shows resilience amid a venture slowdown

In the face of a general venture capital slowdown in 2023, the Middle East and North Africa’s fintech sector has demonstrated remarkable resilience, according to MAGNiTT’s latest report.

The analysis shows the sector raised $484 million across 66 deals within the first nine months of the year.

Maintaining its position as a dominant force in the MENA region, fintech captured a significant 36 percent of all funding and accounted for 23 percent of the total deal count in the first three quarters of 2023.  

Despite prevailing economic headwinds, series A valuations in the sector have remained somewhat sustainable, witnessing a slight 2 percent decrease from the highs of 2022.  

However, seed-stage valuations have experienced a more pronounced year-on-year decline of 20 percent.

Additionally, the fintech sector in the MENA region saw a notable increase in merger and acquisition activities, with a 29 percent year-on-year rise in exits recorded by September 2023. The UAE has emerged as a key player, leading the region in these activities.

Egypt’s sports marketplace WayUp Sports raises seed round

Egypt-based sports marketplace WayUp Sports raised a seed funding round for an undisclosed amount led by Beltone Venture Capital and Index Sports Fund.

Launched in 2021, WayUp has over 70 local and international brands on its platform.  

The company aims to utilize the capital to expedite the launch of its private brand, fuel regional expansion, and enhance user experience.

 


Aramco signs procurement agreements worth $6bn to enhance local supply chain

Aramco signs procurement agreements worth $6bn to enhance local supply chain
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Aramco signs procurement agreements worth $6bn to enhance local supply chain

Aramco signs procurement agreements worth $6bn to enhance local supply chain

RIYADH: Saudi Aramco’s domestic supply chain is poised for further improvement as it signed procurement agreements worth $6 billion with suppliers in the Kingdom. 

According to a press statement, these 40 procurement agreements were inked as a part of the company’s strategic localization program and are expected to strengthen the firm’s supply chain ecosystem and contribute to the development of the energy services sector in Saudi Arabia. 

The deals will also provide suppliers with long-term demand visibility, enabling them to capture future growth and advance localization efforts.

Wail Al-Jaafari, executive vice president of technical services at Saudi Aramco, said: “The 40 new agreements signed today are expected to contribute to the domestic value chain and further enhance the ecosystem that Aramco is helping to build.” 

Moreover, these procurement agreements will also contribute to achieving the objectives of Aramco’s iktva program, an initiative to drive the growth of a vibrant economy in the Kingdom and create new opportunities for Saudi nationals.

These new corporate deals span the supply of a range of products comprising strategic commodities, such as instrumentation and electrical and drilling equipment. 

“These agreements move us toward a more prosperous, diverse and resilient supply chain, which will help ensure business continuity. They also represent a key milestone on our iktva journey and provide our partners an opportunity to benefit from a dynamic and increasingly diversified operating environment,” added Al-Jaafari. 

Additionally, Saudi Aramco signed two memorandum of understanding with its strategic partners to collaborate on localization and supply chain development. 

Earlier in February, speaking at the International Petroleum Technology Conference in Dhahran, Amin Nasser, CEO of Saudi Aramco, said that the company is very active in its localization efforts. 

“We hired more than 5,000 people, mostly Saudis, but also from 60 nationalities,” said Nasser.

He also added that Aramco has the full capability to grow in any sector to create profitable companies.

In January, a report released by strategic consulting firm Brand Finance revealed that Saudi Aramco has retained its position as the most valuable company in the Middle East region, with a value amounting to $41.6 billion.


Saudi investment firm acquires startup platform VeFund  

Saudi investment firm acquires startup platform VeFund  
Updated 2 min 30 sec ago
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Saudi investment firm acquires startup platform VeFund  

Saudi investment firm acquires startup platform VeFund  

RIYADH: The Saudi startup ecosystem is set to expand further with the investment fund CoreVision acquiring VeFund, infusing artificial intelligence technologies for enhanced venture evaluation, innovation, and strategic growth. 

The acquisition of VeFund, a regional platform for venture evaluation and investor connections, represents a significant step in CoreVision’s strategic growth, enhancing its portfolio with advanced AI-driven technologies. 

The Saudi investment firm plans to use VeFund’s AI technology to support startups in navigating competitive environments.  

Following the acquisition, CoreVision CEO Faisal Al-Abdulsalam will lead VeFund as its chief executive. 

Al-Abdulsalam’s extensive experience and portfolio of over 80 investments in various sectors are set to bring a new strategy of leadership and vision to VeFund, the company said.   

“We at CoreVision are not just investors, we see ourselves as ecosystem builders. As such, our vision is to transform VeFund into a secondary market for startups, offering a platform for investors to trade safe notes, which is essential in contributing to the vibrancy of the startup community here in Saudi Arabia,” said Al-Abdulsalam.   

Launched in 2023 by Mohamed Gaber, an AI specialist and serial entrepreneur, along with his co-founder Ahmed Magdy, VeFund’s intelligent evaluator provides a suite of tools, including an AI Survivability Index, valuation calculators, and extensive portfolio management solutions. 

“I am excited about the future of VeFund and believe strongly that this transition will drive VeFund’s mission forward, fostering an environment of innovation and success for startups across the Middle East,” Gaber said.  

VeFund currently has over 1,400 startups registered on its platform and has a database of more than 400 angel investors and investments funds spanning across Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Pakistan. 


Saudi Arabia exceeds Vision 2030 target 7 years early by attracting 100m tourists in 2023 

Saudi Arabia exceeds Vision 2030 target 7 years early by attracting 100m tourists in 2023 
Updated 29 min 41 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia exceeds Vision 2030 target 7 years early by attracting 100m tourists in 2023 

Saudi Arabia exceeds Vision 2030 target 7 years early by attracting 100m tourists in 2023 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has exceeded its Vision 2030 tourism target seven years ahead of schedule after welcoming over 100 million visitors in 2023.  

The Ministry of Tourism disclosed that the Kingdom played host to 27.5 million international tourists in 2023, marking a notable 65 percent increase compared to 2022. 

Likewise, the count of domestic tourists rose by 2 percent year-on-year, reaching 79.3 million in 2023.  

Collectively, both international and domestic tourists spent more than SR250 billion ($67 billion), constituting over 4 percent of the Kingdom’s total gross domestic product and 7 percent of non-oil GDP, the Saudi Press Agency reported. 

“This achievement underscores the dedicated efforts of the Saudi tourism ecosystem in developing the tourism sector in Saudi,” said the ministry in an X post.  

Saudi Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb attributed this achievement to the wise leadership of the Kingdom’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who aims to enhance the country’s position on the global travel map. 

This saw Saudi Arabia being congratulated by both the UN World Tourism Organization and the World Travel and Tourism Council for surpassing its tourism goal ahead of schedule.  

UNWTO also suggested that the Kingdom could soon achieve its upgraded target of attracting 150 million visitors by 2030. 

“Saudi Arabia’s achievement of welcoming over 100 million tourists in 2023 is a beacon of what is possible through collaboration, innovation, and a clear vision for the future,” stated UNWTO in a statement.  

“As Saudi Arabia continues to drive toward its goal of 150 million tourists by 2030, UN Tourism looks forward to supporting its journey, celebrating its successes, and promoting a more resilient, sustainable, and inclusive future for global tourism,” it added. 

Saudi Arabia’s accomplishments align with the National Tourism Strategy, striving to establish the Kingdom as a global tourist destination and increase the sector’s contribution to the country’s GDP by 10 percent.  

According to the UNWTO statement, Saudi Arabia has generated over 925,500 jobs in the tourism sector as of 2023, positioning the Kingdom on track to make tourism the second-largest employer by the end of this decade. 


Riyadh event aims to unify global efforts to develop human capabilities

Riyadh event aims to unify global efforts to develop human capabilities
Updated 35 min 57 sec ago
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Riyadh event aims to unify global efforts to develop human capabilities

Riyadh event aims to unify global efforts to develop human capabilities

RIYADH: The Saudi capital is set to host the first edition of the Human Capability Initiative on Feb. 28 and 29, an event aimed at empowering and uplifting capabilities for all. 

Touted to be 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, HCI is being held under the patronage of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

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

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

Global approach

The event will be held under the theme “Future Readiness,” and it will bring together 6,000 experts and decision-makers from around the world and more than 150 speakers from government, private, and nonprofit entities and national and international think tanks.

Speaking to Arab News, Anton Stepanenk, partner and associate director in Education, Employment, and Welfare for the Boston Consulting Group, said that forums like HCI will act as a cornerstone for identifying and scaling solutions for the benefit of Saudi Arabia and globally. 

“As all nations and all education businesses around the world are now working their way to come to terms with a new reality — extract all the value but avoid the pitfalls of using technology, global conferences such as HCI targeting global and national cooperation become an absolute cornerstone in identifying and scaling solutions for the benefit of Saudi Arabia and all learners in the world,” said Stepanenk. 

He added that HCI will witness various strategies being adopted to maximize international collaboration and engagement among policymakers. 

“On top of tools, old best practices exchange, and collective reflections on trends, risks, and opportunities, a few particular ways to collaborate with the comprehensive engagement of all stakeholders stand out — collective foresight into the future of the economy, work, and learning, design sessions to generate collaborative projects and initiatives, the launch of more permanent vehicles such as think tanks, global memorandums to name a few,” said Stepanenk. 

Prominent speakers

Some of the prominent speakers at the event are Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih, and Minister of Human Resources and Social Development Ahmad bin Sulaiman Al-Rajhi. 

Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Industry and Mineral Resources Bandar Alkhorayef and Minister of Economy and Planning Faisal Alibrahim will also speak at the event. 

Other prominent speakers at the event include Minister of Education Yousef Al-Benyan, who chairs the executive committee of the Human Capability Development Program, Princess Haifa bint Mohammed Al-Saud, the Kingdom’s vice minister of tourism, and Princess Nouf bint Mohammed, CEO of the King Khalid Foundation. 

The event will also feature several noted personalities from diverse sectors who will spearhead dynamic discussions centered around human capability development to prepare individuals for the challenges and opportunities of the future.

“HCI reflects Saudi Arabia’s vital role as a global convener to unleash human capabilities potential to drive progress and prosperity, not just within our borders, but across the globe. We are honored to welcome the world’s leading minds to HCI, bringing together the expertise and ingenuity we need today to drive future readiness,” said Anas Al-Mudaifer, CEO of the HCDP. 

He added: “HCI’s speaker line-up showcases the collective impetus across sectors to contribute to a sustainable global agenda that pioneers solutions for human capability development. Through collaborative dialogue, the insights and collaborations born here will ripple outwards, leaving a lasting impact and helping create a better tomorrow for all.” 

In January, HCI, in a press statement, revealed the names of insight partners for the event. 

According to the statement, some of the noted insight partners for the event are Bain & Co., IE Business School, KPMG, Kearney, LinkedIn, Oliver Wyman, and PwC. 

Talking about the theme of the forum “Future Readiness,” Stepanenk said: “Governments tend to be cautious in implementing innovations in the education space, and for a good reason. The best way forward would be to design and test innovative policies in neutral waters,’ such as global initiatives and projects.” 

He added: “The outcomes of these initiatives will then be appropriately measured, and results will be made available to the HCI stakeholders and participants as potentially recommended courses of action or future international guidelines.” 

Vision 2030 goals 

Organizing an event like HCI is a part of Saudi Arabia’s broader strategy outlined in Vision 2030 to empower the people of the Kingdom with sufficient opportunities for the future. 

The HCDP is one of the Saudi Vision 2030 realization programs dedicated to empowering Saudi citizens and elevating their global competitiveness.

“At the heart of Vision 2030 is a commitment to the nation’s most valuable asset: the people. Recognizing their potential and aspirations, Vision 2030 is dedicated to fostering an environment that nurtures talent, facilitates growth, and empowers everyone,” according to the HCI website. 

Stepanenk noted that forums like HCI will effectively address the intersectionality of skills, future work trends, education systems, talent development, and technology advancements to foster human capability development. 

“A fundamental way to address intersectionality is to involve stakeholders in co-creation sessions — foresight, workshops, and hackathons- and ensure the continuity of initiatives and ideas after the conference. This can be achieved by creating and advancing a global framework of the Future of the Workforce that the Human Capability Initiative can be a launch pad for,” said Stepanenk. 

It was in November 2023 that the Kingdom’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the launch of HCI. 

Following the launch, Al-Benyan said that the event is expected to act as a global cooperative platform that will catalyze international collaboration, enrich global dialogue in human capability development, and contribute to the development of human skills and a prosperous global economy. 

“The conference will discuss challenges facing human capabilities development in light of global changes and the most important skills required in the future global labor market, in addition to the impact of rapid developments in the digital and economic fields on human capabilities,” said Al-Benyan. 

He also added that HCI will address several crucial topics that will help drive new conversations on shaping policy, elevating private-public-third sector partnerships, and catalyzing investments at a global level in developing human capabilities.


Saudi restaurant sales surge over 13% to $24bn in 2023: SAMA report

Saudi restaurant sales surge over 13% to $24bn in 2023: SAMA report
Updated 42 min 4 sec ago
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Saudi restaurant sales surge over 13% to $24bn in 2023: SAMA report

Saudi restaurant sales surge over 13% to $24bn in 2023: SAMA report

RIYADH: Saudi restaurant sales surged by 13.66 percent to SR89.3 billion ($23.8 billion) in 2023, up from SR78.6 billion in 2022.

According to the Saudi Central Bank’s monthly bulletin, the total sales made in cafes and restaurants in the last month of 2023 reached SR8 billion, compared to only SR7.3 billion in the same period in 2022.

The number of e-commerce transactions using Mada cards in December 2023 reached 81 million transactions amounting to SR13.6 billion, marking a 14.9 percent sales increase compared to the corresponding period in 2022.

However, the average transaction per operation witnessed a 10 percent decline, falling from SR38 in 2022 to SR35 in 2023, the data from the central bank, also known as SAMA, showed.

The noticeable decline in the profits of the restaurant sector is attributed to several factors, including increased competition, oversupply in certain areas, and evolving consumer preferences for diversity, as reported by AlEkhbariya.  

Additional factors contributing to the decline include challenges in customer satisfaction and the increasing impact of non-food quality aspects on restaurant visits. This encompasses factors like the restaurant’s marketing proficiency and content creation across various platforms. 

Data released by the institution revealed that cafes and restaurants visited by Saudis played a role in a 13.35 percent annual spending increase across the Kingdom in November 2023.

Commercial rental prices, particularly in major cities, have seen a notable surge, coupled with a sharp uptick in operational expenses for restaurants. Moreover, restaurants are increasingly dependent on delivery apps, which can deduct up to 30 percent of the meal’s value. 

The restaurant and cafe sector is integral to the “Quality of Life” program and Vision 2030 goals, serving as a key element in shaping the program. The 2018 document outlines an objective to double the current figures, aiming for 3,000 restaurants and over a thousand cafes per million people by 2030. 

The restaurant market in Saudi Arabia currently surpasses SR95 billion and is projected to expand further to over SR150 billion. In 2023, the combined market size of restaurants, cafes, and food reached SR95 billion, with expectations to surpass SR166 billion by 2030.