MENA’s Digital News, Week #39

A weekly round up of the top headlines from the digital sector in MENA, covering startups, corporate and the public sector.

In this week’s edition, I have added our first ever mention of an accelerator cohort. I have had mixed feelings about including acceleration news, but eventually (~40 weeks in) decided when startups enroll through equity based accelerators their companies have technically raised a small investment round, so there they’ll live.

Investments & Acquisitions

Widebot, Cairo based Arabic chat bot makers, raise “six figure” pre-series A investment http://bit.ly/2JeWRJq 

FlexxPay, UAE based financial solutions for SMEs platform, raises undisclosed investment round from undisclosed investors http://bit.ly/2xm05VY

Dhad, Saudi based Arabic Audio-book, raises undisclosed seed investment from Vision Ventures, 500 Startups, SVC, and angel investors from Oqal http://bit.ly/2Xfk6rv 

Faylasof, Jordan based online bookstore, raises $500k in pre-series A from Wise Ventures http://bit.ly/2YpvIJX 

Ecomz, Lebanon’s eCommerce website builder, raises $4M in series A led by Cedar Mundi, joined by iSME Lebanon and BLC Bank http://bit.ly/2FObBOf 

Boutiqaat, Kuwait based eCommerce platform, raises investment at $500M valuation, amount & GCC investor undisclosed. The announcement was made via twitter: http://bit.ly/2xrKgx6, sale disclosure on Kuwait Bourse http://bit.ly/2XhtcnX (lost of speculation and cloudiness around this doubling in valuation in under 6 month)

Flat6Labs Bahrain inaugurates cycle 3 with 6 startups http://bit.ly/2XNjlKA

Jabbar Group founders join Series J round into India’s Ola http://bit.ly/2RR8b28 

Tara.ai (originally Gradberry) raises $10M led by Aspect Ventures with participation from Slack Fund. The founders are graduates from the American University in Sharjah and later moved their business to SF to tap into AI talent https://tcrn.ch/301jGqA

Ola spun off its Electric Mobility unit to independent, Ola Electric Mobility, for which it raised $250M from Softbank Vision Fund at $1B valuation http://bit.ly/324ePXr

Sector News

Halan, Cairo’s tuktuk & motorcycle ride-hailing, launched Halan Ads to power advertising on its vehicles http://bit.ly/2NjjBwT 

Amazon.ae’s Payfort signs agreement Ajman Municipality, UAE, to power a unified payment gateway for the emirate: AjmanPay http://bit.ly/2LvJkjp (AR) http://bit.ly/2ROXayc 

Standard Chartered Bank in the UAE has announced its support of Womena’s Womentum program as part of their “diversity and inclusion agenda” http://bit.ly/2YwjejG

Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P), with the support of OCP Group & MassChallenge, launches an accelerator aimed at agri-tech, biotech, nanotech and mining tech: Impulse http://bit.ly/2YuFp9Z

Princess Sumaya University, Jordan, launches a Bachelor in Data Science & Artificial Intelligence (AR) http://bit.ly/2FHv834

Bahrain & UK selected by World Economic Forum to “pilot new guidelines for the procurement of Artificial Intelligence in the public sector” http://bit.ly/30aYvm0

Further Readings

The UAE Cabinet has approved 122 economic activities across 13 sectors eligible for up to 100% foreign ownership in the UAE, which include “transport and storage, which allows investors to own projects in the field of e-commerce transport, supply chain, logistics” among others http://bit.ly/2XpKpQY they also announced 10 incentives to attract investors (AR) http://bit.ly/2XpjgNQ (english not yet available)

Al Maktoum Center for Middle Eastern Studies to open at Dublin’s Trinity College in partnership with Al Maktoum College of Higher Education http://bit.ly/2xxnaot

Dubai Ports acquires Topaz, major oil and gas marine logistics provider for ~$1.1B from the Oman-listed Renaissance Services. Topaz operates 117 vessels https://wapo.st/2FLYhtO

Long Reads

Snapchat launches “The Friendship Report” that highlights relationships across Australia, France, Germany, India, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the UK, and the US broken down by generations http://bit.ly/31ZO46u 

World Bank “Mashreq 2.0: Digital Transformation for Inclusive Growth and Jobs” Report http://bit.ly/2KPp3FK (AR) http://bit.ly/301ewLn 


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MENA’s Digital News, Week #7

A weekly round up of the top headlines from the digital sector in MENA, covering startups, corporate and public sector news.

Investments & Acquisitions

Load ME, UAE based freight exchange startup, raises $1M https://goo.gl/jn9awz 

Kamkalima, Lebanon based edtech, raises $1.5M in Series A from Phoenician Fund and iSME https://goo.gl/wBKEbf

Webjet acquires Dubai travel firm Destinations of the World for $173M https://goo.gl/oA1qPt 

Sector News

Uber and Careem may start paying 22.5% corporate tax in Egypt https://goo.gl/d77W9w 

Chalhoub Group launches Dubai based co-working space and accelerator: Greenhouse, and announces first cohort startups https://goo.gl/EJ7WA6

Chalhoub Greenhouse Photo Credit to MENABytes

Saudi’s Badir Incubator launches in 4 new locations in the kingdom: Madina, Abha, Qassim and Dammam (AR) https://goo.gl/giojN5

Modus Capital, New York based venture capital firm, plans to expand into Egypt with incubation, seed and series A investment, and co-working space https://goo.gl/vZtyYs

Deutsche’s DWS to buy 15% stake in Dubai-based digital investment firm, Neo Technologies https://goo.gl/wtzzqn

Emirates NBD publicly launches their API sandbox https://goo.gl/cXJLTR 

Dubai’s Fintech sandbox announces it’s first licensed graduate Sarwa https://goo.gl/WyHoh9 

UAE announces the list of entities not allowed 100% foreign ownership (in follow up to law announced in August) https://goo.gl/UpwUgQ 

Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange (ADX) to Create Infrastructure for Cryptocurrency Assets https://goo.gl/XdAugm 

UAE’s Al Zarooni Group and US’s Crypto Bulls trading house to open the first official crypto-currency exchange to be registered in the UAE https://goo.gl/CXEmp5

Further Readings

Twitter launches very insightful data on users in Saudi Arabia, from influence to level of education, even behavior: 64% of users perceive a piece of news not as significant if it was not shared or discussed on Twitter (AR) https://goo.gl/sn6tgk 

Norton research shows that Saudi children are among the youngest in EMEA that receive smartphone, at approximately 7 years of age (AR) https://goo.gl/b1mFDC

Digital Gurus release a survey of average salaries of data engineers, scientists and analysts in the UAE https://goo.gl/krkRDk

Facebook releases it’s Egyptian market penetration numbers: 24M daily users and 37M monthly mobile users (more) https://goo.gl/Xgv2wS

According to Gartner, 787,000 bitcoins were mined in the first half of 2018 through illicit targeted crypto-mining in MEA https://goo.gl/L9PTQa 

Long Reads

Faith Capital release a MENA Venture Capital Regulatory Framework white paper https://goo.gl/MjxcZD

So Much Fintech, Not Enough Time

Robo-advisors seem to be have taken center stage in the last 2 weeks, a continuation on the global (Fintech is the most funded tech sector) and regional trend. 

WeInvest, Singapore based robo-advisor, raises $12.2M and targets Dubai office launch. The company is not new to the region as it has been part of the Fintech Hive Cycle in 2017, however the capital injection would help it compete aggressively as more robo-advisors enter the market at the same time. https://goo.gl/Ye89at

Image copyright to Investor Junkie

In the recent spotlight, Wahed, sharia compliant robo-advisor, that recently raised $7.75M from BECO Capital and Cue Ball Capital in late October. The company is a SEC registered Investment Advisory headquartered in New York and expanding to MENA as well

Meanwhile, Sarwa, also robo-advisor, was just granted license to operate in Dubai post DFSA sandbox incubation 

You can check out the international leaders in the space here

The financial management and payment landscape is changing rapidly and maybe a tad too fast for consumers to keep up, but significantly improving the regions financial infrastructure for future generations. From banks launching API’s (EmiratesNBD, and earlier this year Arab Bank) to crypto-exchanges. Bright days ahead! 


To get your daily dose subscribe to the Tech In MENA telegram channel here: https://t.me/technologyinmena

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Personally news: I have moved (back) to Dubai! After 7 years in Beirut (and on airplanes across MENA), I have resettled in the country I spent most of my life in: the UAE, and in Dubai (I grew up between Al Ain and Sharjah)

Reach out, let’s catchup over some tea or karak! 

Book Review: Unscaled

Unscaled: How AI and a New Generation of Upstarts Are Creating the Economy of the Future Book cover
Unscaled: How AI and a New Generation of Upstarts Are Creating the Economy of the Future
“In a regulated industry companies are too often motivated to serve the regulators, not the customers, and the economics of a regulated company give the company little incentive to innovate” — Hemant Taneja, Unscaled: How AI and a New Generation of Upstarts Are Creating the Economy of the Future

This book gets a 3/5, for it’s hyperbole unrestrained devotion to AI, both an admirable and not-so-much aspect.

Hemant Taneja is the General Manager of General Catalyst in Palo Alto California, and an investor in Stripe, Snapchat, (among others) as well as a board member in Khan Academy, TuneIn and more. It is great to get a glimpse into the mind of some of the tech sectors’ successful investors and supporters and I appreciate the books breakdown by verticals, that coverL Energy, Healthcare, Education, Finance, Media & Consumer Products.

While I agree with the general premise of the book, I personally find that the true power of artificial intelligence (or mere analytics and algorithmic learning) remains in data. We have yet to figure out to how harness, un-bais and standardize data at an efficient enough rate to get to AI – but that’s not our discussion.

The book explored the power of “AI” across sectors, the existing players and possibilities that could shape our future. However, I had a hard time going through one sector of the book: Healthcare.

The book argues that with enough genetic data we can personalize drugs to a persons condition allowing pharmaceuticals to surpass years of approvals and tests to ensure a generic drug can be made available to a mass market full. This will allow for even health insurance to be more tailored (albeit discriminately and controversially as the author highlights) to the genetic predispositions for disease.

But how realistic is it? A startup mentioned a few times in the chapter Crispr, a genome editing technology, is under scrutiny as EU rules that food modified with their technology needs to be labelled as such, similar to GMO produce, as the long term affect of the process are yet-to-be-realized. While advocates are excited, the potential of such a technology is alarming and the research on genetic modification in plants and labs alone has not been around long enough to measure it’s impact, let alone on humans. From an ethical point-of-view, and given the level of human-greed and denouncement of scientific research (e.g. the rise anti-vaxxers leading to resurgence in measles), oh and lets not forgot the new-age of racism, I’m not too confident we need to add more tools to the shack.

On medicine modified to an individual’s unique genetic composition, while I love the idea and I’m entranced by it’s potential: almost like 3D printing customized, no-waste, concussions. I don’t see research (there may be some in labs, but a quick search online didn’t show market-confident) that signals we could be close to even risk such a venture en masse. We do not yet know enough about the complexity of our genetic composition to assume that one strand may be independently linked or tackled to adjust for curing an illness without affecting other parts of the functioning organism. While Crispr, 23andme and other such technologies may have helped identify pre-dispositions for certain diseases, that doesn’t mean they can identify a “cure” or that “snipping” those genes is the right way forward. We don’t have enough research that matches the long term effect of drugs on the unique genetic composition of individuals to able to pin point the data needed to come up with is. Which makes me wonder, if medicine is eventually tailored to one, can medical research labs justify research for one? Is research in need of disruption. 

This topic is of course not new in the healthcare field, but I hope researchers are as confident as marketers are with results. Worth checking out: a magazine dedicated to the topic: Genome.

Another fear is health insurance, echoes by the author. Tailoring health insurance and premiums based on genetic dispositions can create a form of social discrimination & “untouchables” that could affect people’s livelihood based on genetic predisposition that may or may not actually surface in this individual’s life time. In emerging and advanced markets alike, skin and eye pigmentation, birthmarks and other physical traits already plague individuals livelihood, imagine adding the unseen layer of perceived “negative” genetic traits to the mix. I don’t know if humanity has the maturity to embrace the differences that make the human race beautiful at it’s current superficial state, let alone one that can be spun with so much “alternative-facts”

One part that got me thinking, is the author’s emphasis on historical health records and data ownership. Something I’d sign up for: an encrypted lifetime health record that can only be accessed with a biometric password or a physical encryption key, were only the patient owns their data and can “lease” or give access to their data to doctors and health care providers as needed (or to pharma and researchers). With all the data breaches affecting healthcare institutes (NHS in the UK, SingHealth in Singapore) protecting ones data with such measures may not be outstretched.

As we embark on this journey of lives daily impacted data-driven technology, ethical problems are rising. I keep remembering the video of Jane Elliot lashing out on AlJazeera a few years back: “The is no race but the human race”

Maybe the reason the healthcare section irked me, is that I felt that the author showed the same level of enthusiasm for the potential of AI across sectors, which, while applaudable, over-simplified the complexities of a biological human being in my humble opinion.

My favorite chapter: Media. 

With the “war” on news and media happening today across the globe, and the “accidental” discovery of social platforms for their innate power of impacting politics (though the western world didn’t seem to complain during the Arab Spring). It’s a critical time for innovators to reflect on the ethics of their work, global ramifications of their actions and responsibility such reach and power sets upon us as a race.

Recommended read: Yes
Did it irk me: Yes, but that made me think and research to learn more. Always a win. It also inspired the last short post “Is Lebanon Ready for a Smart Electricity Grid? 
Take away: Scale has come to an infliction point. Scale itself is being disrupted.