Riyadh Air partners with CellPoint Digital for enhanced payment experiences

Riyadh Air partners with CellPoint Digital for enhanced payment experiences
Kristian Gjerding, CEO of CellPoint Digital, says Riyadh Air is a ‘next-generation airline.’ Riyadh Air
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Updated 11 June 2024

Riyadh Air partners with CellPoint Digital for enhanced payment experiences

Riyadh Air partners with CellPoint Digital for enhanced payment experiences

RIYADH: Passengers traveling with Riyadh Air can expect smoother cross-border payment experiences, thanks to a recent agreement with CellPoint Digital.  

This new partnership aims to equip the airline with the latest payment technology, supporting its digital-first business strategy and setting it apart as it prepares to commence commercial operations in 2025, according to a press statement. 

Under the agreement, Riyadh Air will use CellPoint Digital’s Payment Orchestration platform to process local and cross-border transactions efficiently.  

Adam Boukadida, chief financial officer of Riyadh Air, said: “As a disruptor airline prioritizing our digital capabilities, we need a payments partner with first-hand, in-depth knowledge of air travel.”    

He added: “CellPoint Digital's Payment Orchestration platform enables us to offer travelers a fully digital and immersive experience onboard and a smoother booking experience.” 

Furthermore, Boukadida noted that this partnership will enhance the airline's global service and contribute to its goal of connecting Riyadh to over 100 destinations by 2030. 

This move aligns with the Public Investment Fund-owned carrier’s ambition to become the world’s most forward-thinking airline, embracing sustainability practices, and setting new standards for reliability, comfort, and hospitality. 

The partnership also aligns with Riyadh Air’s vision to disrupt the Saudi Arabian commercial aviation market, currently dominated by legacy players, by introducing innovative solutions.   

“While legacy airlines can be held back by legacy technology, a next-generation airline like Riyadh Air can start from a more advanced position by using tailored technology that’s built for now, not 20 years ago,” said Kristian Gjerding, CEO of CellPoint Digital. 

 “With our Payment Orchestration solution developed specifically for the unique challenges faced by global airlines, Riyadh Air can offer travelers their preferred payment options while gaining more control over its cash flow and costs,” he added. 

Based in Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport, the Kingdom’s newest airline is scheduled to commence commercial operations by mid-2025, serving the country’s vision to transform into a global aviation hub. 

With a projected investment of $30 billion, the airline aims to connect the country to 100 regional and international destinations by 2030, potentially creating over 200,000 jobs in the process.

Saudi Arabia’s digital lead in education opens up investment opportunities

Saudi Arabia’s digital lead in education opens up investment opportunities
Updated 13 July 2024

Saudi Arabia’s digital lead in education opens up investment opportunities

Saudi Arabia’s digital lead in education opens up investment opportunities
  • Kingdom’s edutech landscape offers numerous opportunities for both local and foreign investors

CAIRO: Saudi Arabia is making significant strides in education technology, with substantial investments aimed at transforming and enhancing the sector.

The Kingdom’s government is actively promoting initiatives in this field, also known as edutech, recognizing their potential to revolutionize the schooling system.

According to industry experts, the Kingdom’s edutech landscape offers numerous opportunities for both local and foreign investors.

Venture data platform MAGNiTT has revealed the edutech sector is now one of the top five most-funded fields in the Kingdom.

In 2023, the industry saw a total of $50 million raised by Saudi-based startups, a 6 percent growth from the year before.

Furthermore, the edutech sector in the Kingdom witnessed substantial growth in 2022, surging by 2,069 percent compared to the previous year.

Nasser Al-Shareef, senior adviser of investment and privatization at the Saudi Ministry of Education, reiterated the possibilities for the industry in an article for Arab News earlier this year.

“By investing in education technology, both local and international investors can tap into a rapidly growing market with a high demand for innovative educational solutions. Saudi Arabia’s large youth population, coupled with its strong focus on education and digital transformation, creates a fertile ground for edutech investments,” he said.

“The Saudi government is supporting the growth of the edutech sector through various initiatives, policies, and funding programs. This support includes financial incentives, regulatory reforms, and partnerships with educational institutions. These measures not only attract investment but also provide a conducive environment for edutech startups to flourish,” he added.

Al-Shareef further stated that investing in the Kingdom’s edutech field offers opportunities across various segments of the education ecosystem.

This includes online learning platforms, virtual classrooms, and adaptive learning technologies, as well as educational content development, teachers’ training, and more.

“The potential for scalability and market penetration is significant, considering the increasing adoption of technology in schools, universities, and lifelong learning programs,” he added.

A national vision

Investing in Saudi edutech aligns with the Kingdom’s vision of establishing a knowledge-based economy, according to Al-Shareef.

By supporting innovative edutech solutions, investors play a crucial role in shaping the future of education and providing Saudis with modern, accessible, and personalized learning experiences. 

The edtech industry is likely to make a significant contribution to the Saudi economy, especially after the privatization of the education sector.

Salem Ghanem, CEO of Faheem

The Vision 2030 initiative, which seeks to diversify the economy and reduce reliance on oil, is a significant driver behind the Kingdom’s investment in edutech.

The Saudi government has identified the development of a knowledge-based economy and the improvement of education quality as essential goals. Edutech is considered a key enabler in achieving these objectives.

Various government programs and initiatives have been launched to support the growth of edutech startups and companies in the country, Al-Shareef explained.

“For example, the Ministry of Investment has introduced initiatives to attract foreign investment in the edutech sector. These initiatives include offering incentives and streamlined processes for setting up edutech companies in the Kingdom,” he said.

An entrepreneurial spirit

Private investors have also shown increasing interest in the Saudi edutech sector. Venture capital firms and private equity holders are actively investing in edutech startups, recognizing the sector’s growth potential, Al-Shareef added.

Speaking to Arab News, Salem Ghanem – CEO of Saudi-based edutech startup Faheem – emphasized the critical role of digital tools in supporting the national vision.

“The edtech industry is likely to make a significant contribution to the Saudi economy, especially after the privatization of the education sector following the Kingdom’s Vision 2030,” Ghanem said.

He added: “The impact will be apparent in the created job opportunities and the decreasing unemployment rates, taking into consideration that the tutoring market could create an estimated 45,000 to 60,000 job opportunities.”

In an interview with Arab News, Mohamed Zohair, CEO and founder of Saudi-based YaSchools, emphasized the significant rise of the Kingdom’s edutech sector.

“The Saudi market, in general, is an excellent market, and the current period is more mature than before, especially with the unprecedented support in digital transformation, financial services, and accompanying legislation and regulations,” Zohair said.

Al-Shareef further emphasized Zohair’s point, stating that Saudi Arabia has witnessed a surge in venture capital investments in edutech startups, with three of the top 10 most-funded startups in the Middle East and North Africa region originating from the Kingdom.

“The increase in venture capital investments has had a significant impact on the sector in Saudi Arabia. It has provided a boost to the growth and development of edutech startups by injecting much-needed funding and resources into the sector,” Al-Shareef explained.

“With greater access to capital, these startups have been able to innovate, expand their operations, and enhance their technological solutions,” he added.

According to Al-Shareef, the influx of venture capital has drawn attention from both local and international investors, creating a favorable investment climate for the edutech sector in Saudi Arabia.

This increased investor interest has provided financial support and brought valuable expertise, mentorship, and networking opportunities to startups.

Furthermore, the availability of venture capital has enabled startups to attract and retain top talent by offering competitive salaries, benefits, and career growth opportunities.

This has helped build a skilled workforce in the edutech sector and drive innovation.

Overall, the rise in venture capital investments has fueled the growth and transformation of the edutech industry in Saudi Arabia, positioning it as a key player in the regional digital schooling landscape and contributing to the advancement of education and learning technologies in the Kingdom. 

Saudi MSMEs see 16% growth in credit offerings in 1st quarter

Saudi MSMEs see 16% growth in credit offerings in 1st quarter
Updated 13 July 2024

Saudi MSMEs see 16% growth in credit offerings in 1st quarter

Saudi MSMEs see 16% growth in credit offerings in 1st quarter
  • Saudi banks extended 94 percent of credit facilities, with the remaining 6 percent granted by finance companies

RIYADH: Credit facilities provided to micro, small, and medium enterprises in Saudi Arabia saw an annual rise of 16 percent in the first three months of 2024, according to recent data.

Figures from the Kingdom’s central bank, known as SAMA, indicated that borrowing lines allocated to this sector totaled SR293.43 billion ($78.25 billion), up from SR252.02 billion in the first quarter of 2023.

According to SAMA data, Saudi banks extended 94 percent of these credit facilities, with the remaining 6 percent granted by finance companies. 

Medium enterprises received the majority share of the sector’s total granted facilities at 55 percent, amounting to SR160.6 billion, with the most notable annual growth observed in small companies, which saw 32 percent increase to reach SR103.5 billion.

Credit extended to micro enterprises, constituting 10 percent of the overall share of MSME financing, increased by 30 percent during this period, reaching a total of SR29.4 billion.

Micro enterprises are characterized by revenues up to SR3 million and a workforce of no more than five full-time employees.

Small enterprises, on the other hand, exhibit earnings ranging from SR3 million to SR40 million, accompanied by up to 49 full-time workers.

In contrast, medium enterprises have revenues falling within the range of SR40 million to SR200 million, with employee numbers ranging from 50 to 249.

Saudi Arabia is heavily investing in its SMEs to diversify its economy away from oil and foster a competitive funding environment. 

Saudi Arabia is heavily investing in SMEs to diversify its economy away from oil and foster a competitive funding environment. (SPA)

Reforms have significantly simplified business investment and startup processes, boosting this sector’s share of GDP from 21 percent in 2013 with a Vision 2030 goal of reaching 35 percent.

The government is urging financial institutions to allocate 20 percent of their loan portfolios to this sector, demonstrating strong and ongoing support for these enterprises.

Currently, advances to MSMEs account for 8.6 percent of total credit from Saudi banks in what is an annual rise of 8.3 percent. Additionally, they represent 20 percent of advances from finance companies, a slight decrease from 22 percent.

Monsha’at key figures 

In the first quarter of 2024, the Small and Medium Enterprises General Authority, also known as Monsha’at, reported that 9,644 SMEs benefited from dedicated support centers, 15,766 trainees used the e-Academy,  and 1,558 accessed the Mazaya platform.

Some 719 also qualified for the Jadeer service, and 555 utilized the Commercial Innovation Portal.

Additionally, 463 SMEs joined the Tomoh program, facilitating Nomu market offerings.

The report highlighted that despite a regional dip in total Venture Capital funding this quarter, Saudi Arabia led MENA in capital deployed, securing 35 deals worth $240 million, according to Magnitt’s Q1 2024 KSA Venture Investment Report.

The Kingdom’s startup scene showed remarkable progress, highlighted by Salla app’s $130 million pre-initial public offering fundraiser, which was the region’s sole mega deal.

In this quarter, 65 percent of capital deployed in MENA went to Saudi-based firms. This investment, though significant, reflected a 70 percent quarterly drop from the fourth quarter of 2023 and a 42 percent year-on-year decline, mirroring broader regional trends.

Philip Bahoshy, founder and CEO of MAGNiTT, highlighted that despite Saudi Arabia maintaining its position as the leading investment destination in MENA, there is a noticeable downturn. 


Medium enterprises received the majority share of the sector’s total granted facilities at 55 percent, amounting to SR160.6 billion, with the most notable annual growth observed in small companies, which saw 32 percent increase to reach SR103.5 billion.

Notably, $33 million was allocated to six early-stage venture and Series A deals. In a comment in Monsha’at’s report, Bahoshy observed that despite the funding downturn, deal flow in Saudi Arabia experienced only a modest 13 percent decrease compared to the same quarter of 2023.

This suggests that the Kingdom’s entrepreneurial ecosystem remains attractive to investors. The smaller average ticket sizes reflect a recalibration rather than a retreat in investor sentiment.

Key enablers

The Kafalah Program is one of the many government initiatives designed to support this sector by mitigating risk through guarantees that can cover up to 95 percent of the loan amount.

Additionally, Monsha’at, a key enabler to Saudi Arabia’s ambitious Vision 2030, plays a pivotal role in the SME ecosystem by enhancing access to finance, promoting entrepreneurship, and providing crucial support for business development. 

The authority enhances funding to this sector through partnerships with financial institutions and initiatives like the Kafalah Program, which increases lending. It prioritizes up-skilling SMEs via training programs and advocates for regulatory reforms to improve the business environment.

The institution also promotes market expansion by linking SMEs to opportunities and encouraging collaboration through networking events and trade platforms. Additionally, it cultivates an entrepreneurial culture with mentorship and advisory services, aiming to bolster the capacity and resilience of Saudi SMEs.

Global trends boosting SME growth

In the first quarter of 2024, Monsha’at highlighted how new technologies are empowering Saudi SMEs to scale, expand their market presence, and compete effectively against larger firms.

The Kingdom’s rapid advancements in IT and digitalization are particularly beneficial, fostering trends such as hybrid work models that enhance flexibility and resilience.

Furthermore, a significant number of SMEs are embracing e-commerce to drive growth, with 75 percent planning to adopt online shopping globally, as reported by the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs study.

Saudi SMEs are strategically positioned to capitalize on international opportunities across several sectors due to the Kingdom’s expanding global influence. In renewables, they can leverage local expertise in solar and wind energy before venturing abroad.

The logistics sector also presents opportunities as Saudi Arabia aims to establish itself as a global hub. Leveraging the Kingdom’s rich fashion heritage, SMEs can explore growth prospects in the fashion industry, the report stated.

In Islamic finance and fintech, there are openings for SMEs to innovate and develop new products for regional markets. The healthcare and biotech sectors offer expansion opportunities through initiatives like the Health Sector Transformation Program.

The report also noted that regional investments in agri-tech support growth, while rising interest in e-learning and edtech, exemplified by successes like the iStoria app, indicates a promising sector for Saudi SMEs.

MAGRABi to expand with 36 new Doctor M stores this year

MAGRABi to expand with 36 new Doctor M stores this year
Updated 13 July 2024

MAGRABi to expand with 36 new Doctor M stores this year

MAGRABi to expand with 36 new Doctor M stores this year
  • Expansion plan driven by market potential and size of the targeted segment

RIYADH: Middle East eyewear retailer MAGRABi Retail Group is planning to open 36 new stores in 2024, expanding its footprint across the region and meeting increasing consumer demand for eyewear through its lifestyle brand, Doctor M.

In an interview with Arab News, Souha Hasan, vice president of Mainstream Business at the company, noted that expansion plan is driven by the market potential and size of the targeted segment.

Launched by the MAGRABi Retail Group in 2021 in Saudi Arabia, Doctor M now employs over 300 staff members across the Middle East region.

The company’s VP confirmed the firm is rolling out Doctor M stores across major cities in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and Egypt, with the goal of having 300 outlets across the MENA region by 2030.

Currently, the group has 65 Doctor M stores and are opening new branches every month. The goal is to increase the total number of stores to 80 by the end of 2024, with 50 of those stores located in Saudi Arabia.

In 2023, the group invested SR115 million ($30.66 million) in new store openings, refurbishments, and transformation projects, laying a foundation for future growth and scalability.

“Our selection criteria for new stores are based on demographic insights and understanding the target customers of each location to ensure it aligns with Doctor M’s target personas,” Hasan said.

She continued: “We conduct a deep-dive analysis of each location from a real estate perspective, considering factors such as format, footfall, accessibility, and adjacency, which impact our sales forecasts.”

Hasan underscored key consumer trends that have significantly influenced the company’s strategy include a rising demand for modern urban eyewear stores offering distinctive value propositions, like Doctor M.

“We also recognize the preference for convenience, which drives our expansion strategy and our presence in various retail formats to meet our customers and showcase our services and product offerings,” Hasan told Arab News.

Furthermore, Hasan outlined several key trends shaping the eyewear retail market in the Middle East such as digital transformation, where retailers and brands are enhancing their e-commerce and digital channel experiences and presence.

“The wellness trend has increased awareness of eye health, driving demand for quality eyewear. For instance, we see that brands are prioritizing the eye protection narrative,” Hasan said. 

Our selection criteria for new stores are based on demographic insights and understanding the target customers of each location to ensure it aligns with Doctor M’s target personas.

Souha Hasan, MAGRABi Retail Group VP of Mainstream Business

She added: “Furthermore, fashion and style play a significant role; eyewear is not just functional, it’s a fashion statement. We are expected to blend style, fashion, and functionality to attract different customer segments and personas.”

When asked on the expected financial impact of this expansion, she noted the firm is doubling its revenues in 2024 in line with the company’s three-year business plan.

In the past year, the brand has effectively implemented its growth strategy, doubling its store count and achieving an impressive 160 percent revenue increase in the first quarter of 2024 compared to the previous year.

Hasan further elaborated on the operational challenges anticipated during the rapid expansion of Doctor M.

These challenges include talent acquisition, focusing on recruiting personnel who align with the brand’s values and customer-focused approach.

“We address this challenge by anticipating the recruitment process ahead of time and targeting the appropriate staffing channels when hiring for specialty retail,” Hasan said.

She added: “For technical profiles, for instance, we collaborate closely with official institutes in each country to ensure the quality of optometry and deliver our promise to customers.”

Another challenge is maintaining consistency and standardization across all stores, addressed through the development of operational guidelines and maintaining close communication with store teams to monitor and respond to customer feedback effectively.

“Talent acquisition is one of our main priorities as we progress with the expansion plan. We work closely with our People & Culture teams across the region to ensure the fulfillment process,” she stressed.

Moreover, Hasan highlighted the importance placed on maintaining high-quality customer service and enhancing the overall shopping experience at all stores.

“We continuously work to meet customers’ expectations through our new retail concept stores, where the exploration of both vision correction and stylish frames is curated in line with our strategic positioning of lifestyle,” she said.

“This involves standardized and customized training models per country for our teams and consistent monitoring of customer feedback through our net promoter score and CRM channels.”

In addition to its physical footprint, the company has made significant strides in the digital sphere by using technology, such as advanced inventory systems and customer relationship management tools, to make operations more efficient.

These tools help track customer feedback and ensure that every interaction is consistent and personalized to meet their needs and preferences.

Looking ahead beyond 2024, Doctor M is committed to solidifying its position as a leader in the mainstream eyewear segment across the Middle East.

“The Group has continued to outperform the sector during challenging market conditions. Doctor M has contributed invaluably to our continued success, disrupting the category and becoming one of its leading players,” Yasser Taher, CEO of MAGRABi Retail Group told Arab News

In March, the company witnessed a 15 percent surge in total sales compared to the previous year, and a 30 percent increase in like-for-like transactions under its Doctor M banner, surpassing previous expectations.

The CEO attributed this growth to the expansion and development of the group’s property portfolio.

“We opened new stores for both our luxury banner Magrabi and the lifestyle banner Doctor M, including refurbishments, upgrades, and strategic store relocations,” Taher said.

This strategic expansion not only enhanced the group’s market presence but also contributed to higher average order values and increased foot traffic.

Federation of Saudi Chambers a catalyst for economic growth and international cooperation, experts agree

Federation of Saudi Chambers a catalyst for economic growth and international cooperation, experts agree
Updated 12 July 2024

Federation of Saudi Chambers a catalyst for economic growth and international cooperation, experts agree

Federation of Saudi Chambers a catalyst for economic growth and international cooperation, experts agree

RIYADH: Reestablishing a business council with Canada after a five-year hiatus is the latest example of the pivotal role the Federation of Saudi Chambers is playing in facilitating international trade, experts have insisted.

On July 7 it was announced that Mohammed bin Nasser Al-Duleim would be chairman of the Saudi-Canadian Business Council – six months after the two nations inked an agreement to restart the body.

The reestablishment of the council is the latest in a plan spearheaded by the Federation of Saudi Chambers to boost the Kingdom’s international trading relationships as part of the Vision 2030 economic diversification plan. 

In January, the federation’s president, Hassan Al-Huwaizi, announced that the number of Saudi foreign business councils had reached 70, including with major global economic players such as China, the US, Japan, and the UK, as well as South Korea, Bahrain, and the UAE.

Other countries with whom councils are established include Germany, Italy, and France.

In an interview with Arab News, economist Mahmoud Khairy said these organizations allow enhanced communication by providing a platform for continuous dialogue between participating nations, help facilitate a better understanding of each other’s economic policies and interests, and promote transparency and trust in trade relationships.

He added: “Through these platforms, countries can work together on various trade-related issues such as tariff reduction, standardization of regulations, and investment facilitation.

“Collaborating with various countries through these platforms can attract foreign investors looking to tap into the Saudi market, driving investment inflows and supporting the country’s economic development goals.”

Reflecting on the latest move involving Canada, Khairy said: “The Federation of Saudi Chambers plays a pivotal role in facilitating international trade and economic cooperation, particularly highlighted by the announcement to restart the business council with Canada.”

In 2022 Saudi Arabia was Canada’s leading two-way trading partner in the Middle East and North Africa region and ranked 23rd globally. 

The merchandise trade between the two countries totaled approximately $5.1 billion, with Canadian exports at $1.3 billion and imports from Saudi Arabia at $3.8 billion.

Established in 1980, the Federation of Saudi Chambers is the umbrella and only legitimate representative of the Saudi business community – and 28 chambers – in all its various groups, sectors and regions, according to its website.

It facilitates bilateral trade, business dialogues, and policy advocacy, promoting investment and collaboration in energy, technology, healthcare, and education to enhance economic ties and streamline processes for foreign investors..

The objectives of the international councils include enhancing awareness among Saudi and foreign private sectors about economic environments and investment opportunities across their respective countries. 

They aim to foster communication with stakeholders to enhance cooperation and address obstacles, facilitate amicable resolutions of commercial disputes, and emphasize training programs, technical transfers, and knowledge rights. 

The councils also focus on identifying tax laws, publishing annual investment climate reports, and promoting mutual business visits, conferences, exhibitions, and economic projects to strengthen bilateral economic relations.

Saudi-based economist Talat Hafiz echoed the sentiments of Khairy, saying that expanding the Kingdom’s businesses’ through councils will support its non-oil gross domestic product by improving exports.

He flagged potential problems to expanding business networks abroad that are common to any international growth plan, such as cost of export and imports and currency fluctuations.

“However, these challenges can be easily managed by examining the economic viability of any expansion to ensure its viability and success,” he concluded.

Hafiz emphasized that the FSC plays a crucial role in enhancing and taking the trading relationships between Saudi Arabia and other countries to the next level.

Saudi-Canada trade

The Saudi-Canadian Business Council will serve as a platform for business leaders from the countries to showcase and promote their activities. It will facilitate the establishment of trade partnerships, exploration of new areas of economic cooperation, and exchange of information on opportunities and markets in both countries, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

“Bilateral relations between Canada and Saudi Arabia include common interests on many peace and security issues, including energy security, humanitarian affairs, and counter-terrorism,” said Ahmed Samir Islam, president and executive director at Canada Saudi Business Council – a Toronto-based organization that operates in partnership with the Riyadh-located Saudi Canadian Business Council.

Islam emphasized that the Canadian society is “very proud of the contribution it is making to educate some of the future leaders of Saudi society, including its very talented group of Saudi physicians as well as exceptional students of other disciplines.”

Khairy flagged other areas where both countries can learn from each other, including digital healthcare, artificial intelligence, and energy, as well as venture capital, and consultancy.

The economist went on to note that while Saudi Arabia has become the second largest market for Canadian exports in the Middle East, there is “huge room for the economic and trading relationship to grow further in the future.”

Hafiz also highlighted specific areas of the economy that are set to benefit, citing the industrial, tourism, technologies, education, and health sectors.

“This in turn will over time reflect positively on the two countries’ economy and bilateral trade,” he added.

The trade relationship between the Kingdom and the northern American country included significant arms exports, with Saudi Arabia being the top non-US destination for Canadian military goods in 2022. These exports were primarily composed of light-armored vehicles equipped with machine guns and anti-tank cannons.

Startup Wrap – MENA venture activity sees funding, expansion, and collaborations 

Startup Wrap – MENA venture activity sees funding, expansion, and collaborations 
Updated 12 July 2024

Startup Wrap – MENA venture activity sees funding, expansion, and collaborations 

Startup Wrap – MENA venture activity sees funding, expansion, and collaborations 

CAIRO: From accelerator program graduations and fintech funding boosts to market entries and technology partnerships, the startup landscape in the Middle East and North Africa region is witnessing dynamic developments.

Impactful investments, strategic expansions, and collaborative initiatives are helping various sectors experience significant growth and innovation. 

Egypt’s Raya FutureTECH completes first accelerator program 

Some of the graduates of the accelerator program. Supplied

Egypt’s Raya FutureTECH, the innovation arm of Raya Holding, has successfully concluded its inaugural accelerator program in collaboration with GIZ.  

The Demo Day, held in Cairo, marked the graduation of the first cohort of 13 startups, including Arzaq Masr, Cultivaet, and Accounting Club, as well as Meta Egypt, BUS14, and Credify.

Jadeed, Wfrley, and PlanQ also completed the program, as did Tatbeek, the Holiday Homes Service Co., H.E Rental, and WhereApp.  

The winners will receive additional support and funding to further develop their solutions. 

Clara Samman, senior program officer at Raya FutureTECH, shared insights on the program’s objectives and achievements.  

“This program was designed to provide the founders with the resources, training, and mentorship they need to grow. Through one-on-one consultations with experts from Raya, workshops, and connections to our network, we’ve equipped them with the tools for success,” she said.  

UAE’s Maalexi secures $1 million venture debt from Stride Ventures 

UAE-based Maalexi, an agriculture-focused fintech, has raised $1 million in venture debt from Stride Ventures, according to a report by Abu Dhabi SME Hub.  

Founded in 2021 by Azam Pasha and Rohit Majhi, Maalexi facilitates direct cross-border trade access for small food and agri-businesses through its dynamic risk management platform.  

This investment aims to accelerate Maalexi’s growth plans and enhance its operational capabilities for more efficient procurement and distribution of food and agri-produce across the region. 

Pasha, the firm’s CEO, emphasized the impact of this funding on the company’s expansion.  

“This debt capital raise from Stride Ventures will significantly enhance our ability to acquire new users and scale our operations, further solidifying our position as a leading digital risk management platform for small and medium enterprises engaged in cross-border trade,” he said.

The executive added that the funds would be used to deploy “cutting-edge technology solutions” that streamline the movement of goods across the firm’s local and international warehouses and carriers.

Jordan’s ISSF invests $5 million in Global Ventures’ Fund III 

The Innovative Startups and SMEs Fund in Jordan has invested $5 million in Global Ventures’ Fund III.  

Founded in 2018 by Noor Sweid, Global Ventures is a series-A focused, emerging-market VC firm with $300 million in assets under management, investing in mission-driven founders across the MENA region.  

The ISSF, established in 2017 by the World Bank and the Central Bank of Jordan, supports Jordanian startups through direct investments and venture capital fund investments. 

Mohammed Al-Muhtaseb, ISSF CEO, expressed optimism about the collaboration, describing it as aligning with the company’s “vision” for Jordanian ecosystem that includes capitalizing on local talent. 

“We are happy to welcome Global Ventures Fund III to our portfolio of funds. They have demonstrated deep belief in the Jordanian ecosystem, having invested in several Jordanian companies from previous funds,” he added.

UAE’s Hala expands into Egyptian market with MwaslaTech partnership 

Khaled Nuseibeh, CEO at Hala, and Yasser Sedky, CEO at MwaslaTech, signing the agreement. Supplied

UAE-based mobility company Hala has announced its entry into the Egyptian market through a partnership with MwaslaTech.  

Hala, established in 2019 through a joint venture between Careem and Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority, has signed a memorandum of understanding with MwaslaTech, a provider of smart transport and shared mobility solutions.  

Hala aims to introduce an e-hailing taxi solution and leverage advanced technologies to enhance the travel experience in Egypt, particularly in new cities such as the New Administrative Capital. 

Khaled Nuseibeh, CEO at Hala, highlighted the strategic significance of this expansion.  

“This is a proud moment for all of us at Hala as we pursue new and exciting opportunities beyond the UAE for the first time and commence our ambitious expansion into the MENAT region,” Nuseibeh stated.  

“We are pleased to partner with a trusted industry leader, MwaslaTech, for this pivotal next step in our growth journey. Our experience and reputation for reliability in the UAE will enable us to deliver first-rate transportation solutions in Egypt,” he added. 

Qatar’s Startup Grind partners with Builder.ai to support local startups 

Qatar-based startup community Startup Grind Qatar has partnered with the UK’s Builder.ai, an AI-powered composable software platform, to digitally empower local businesses and entrepreneurs. 

Through this collaboration, Qatar-based startups will gain access to Builder.ai’s platform and expertise, enabling them to streamline their development processes, accelerate time-to-market, and efficiently scale their businesses. 

Varghese Cherian, chief revenue officer of Builder.ai, expressed enthusiasm about the partnership. 

“We are excited to join forces with Startup Grind Qatar to empower local startups with the tools and resources they need to succeed in today's competitive market,” Cherian said. 

“At Builder.ai, we are committed to supporting entrepreneurship and fostering innovation, and this partnership exemplifies our dedication to driving digital transformation and growth within the Qatar startup community,” he added. 

MENA VC landscape sees 33% increase in investors: MAGNiTT   

Investor numbers in the Middle East and North Africa’s venture capital ecosystem saw an annual increase of 33 percent in the first half of 2024, new data revealed.  

According to a report from venture data platform MAGNiTT, rising sentiment spurred a 130 percent increase in the number of funds launched in the MENA region during this period.   

Data revealed that despite the increase in investors, only $768 million in funding was poured into regional startups, a drop of 34 percent year on year.   

The total number of deals reached 211, an 18 percent decline in the first half of the year, while exits plummeted by 63 percent to just 10.     

E-commerce was the most funded sector with $244 million in funding, while fintech was the industry of choice in terms of deal count.     

The Public Investment Fund’s Sanabil Investments was the most active investor in the region with $57 million in capital deployed.    

Saudi startups garnered the most funding in the first half with $412 million, followed by the UAE with $225 million, and Egypt with $86 million. However, all these markets saw a drop of 7, 19, and 75 percent, respectively.     

Morocco and Kuwait joined the top five list with $17 million and $14 million, respectively.     

In terms of deal count, the UAE topped the list with 83 transactions, an 11 percent annual increase. Saudi Arabia followed with 63 deals, a 3 percent drop, Egypt with 28, a 15 percent decrease, and Morocco and Bahrain with 10 and 7, respectively.