MENA’s Digital News, Week #49

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

Investments & Acquisitions

Teacherly, UAE-based edtech platform, raises funding from Shorooq Partners

UPayments, Kuwait-based epayment provider, raises seed funding from Angel Investors

Wahed Invest (Wahed), raises a “multi-million dollar investment” from Dubai Cultiv8 Investments Limited, a subsidiary of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Fund for SME (an integrated division of the Department of Economic Development)

Investcorp, Bahrain, to acquire Italy-HQ ticketing platform Vivaticket which has more than “2,100 clients across 50 countries including Walt Disney World, Musee du Louvre and FC Barcelona”

Etisalat, UAE, to acquire full ownership of cybersecurity firm Help AG’s businesses in the UAE & Saudi

Sector News

Swvl expands into two new cities in Pakistan and launches engineering office in Karachi

Halan, Egyptian tuk-tuk startup, to expand to Ethiopia

Dubizzle, UAE-based Olx subsidiary, launches a new portal for listing off-line projects in the UAE

Ipsos shares stats on Subscription video on demand (SVoD) in Saudi Arabia for 2018


DIFC FinTech Hive’s 2019 Accelerator Program accepts 31 Startups for their upcoming cycle. DIFC provides support for three month but no direct equity based investment

National Bank of Fujairah (NBF) joins trade finance blockchain network Marco Polo, which has 22 members including Mastercard, BNP Paribas, ING & Standard Chartered

Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB) launches blockchain-based trade finance

EmiratesNBD, UAE, to launch audio banking capabilities through Amazon Alexa

Further Reading (Policy & Economy)

Egypt to start work on $2.4B telecom network for first phase of a new capital city

University of Bahrain (UOB) announced the launch of a new cloud computing degree program in collaboration with AWS Educate Cloud Degree initiative

Egypt Cabinet approves Ride-Hailing Apps Act, which will require companies and drivers to pay, registration, licensing, taxes and social insurance Official Gazette (AR)

Central Banks of UAE and Saudi lower interest rates after US Fed cut

Rand Merchant Bank, South Africa, 2020 investment report says Egypt is still the most attractive country to invest in in Africa, followed by Morocco, then South Africa (full report will be available in Jan 2020 for non-RMB clients)

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MENA’s Digital News, Week #22

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

Investments & Acquisitions

Mile, Dubai-based delivery and logistics management platform, raised seed funding (amount undisclosed) in round led by Riyad Taqnia Fund 

Feel22, Lebanon’s beauty eCommerce platform, raises series A funding by Equitrust, Choueiri Group’s investment arm 

Golden Scent, Saudi perfume and scents ecommerce, raises an undisclosed funding round from existing investors

Nalbes, Kuwait’s local online fashion-centric, raises $2M in series B

LUNCH:ON, Dubai-based lunch subscription, closes $3M series A round, led by Wamda Capital, EATventure, Arzan VC and Abu Nayyan Holding (for expansion in UAE + to Saudi) 

GoodsMart, Egypt-based grocery startup, secures funding from Algebra Ventures in pre-series B 

Mad’a Investment Company, Saudi-based private equity & venture capital firm, invests in Dubai based Family Souk Ventures and its online retail subsidiary 

SEED Group, The Private Office of Sheikh bin Ahmed Al Maktoum, names INVAO as “exclusive” intl. blockchain investments partner (this marks the second foray in crypto-assets publicized by SEED Group, scroll to last Wednesday for the first)

Haute Hijab, NY-based eCommerce startup co-founded by ex-MarkaVIP’s Ahmed Zedan, raises $2.3M in seed funding led by Cue Ball Capital with Ludlow Ventures, Sinai Ventures, Maveron, Muse Capital, AngelList and The Helm 

Sector News (sectioned)

Aramex sells India unit to logistics startup Delhivery

OSN officially launches low-cost Saudi offering El Farq 

DMS announces the launch of its new digital ad performance product “DMS Perform 


Skiplino, Bahraini digital queue service, expands into Kuwait 

Deliveroo launches in Kuwait with 900 restaurants 

Hepsiburada, Turkey’s, launches it’s first foray into global markets with it’s first Arabic and English website editions

If you lose me you know where to find me!

LEGO opens offices in Dubai to support expansion 

All Egypt

Noon confirms expansion to Egypt

TBWA expands to Egypt through partnership with AB Group

Uber agrees to pay VAT in Egypt 

Financial Technology and Blockchain

Apple activates Apple Pay services in Saudi Arabia ahead of official launch 

STC Pay launches international remittance service in partnership with Western Union 

Dubai Caesars Bluewaters will start using Lucid Pay blockchain wallet technology (already in use by Atlantis Hotel and Resort) 

TradeAssets, the blockchain-powered e-marketplace for trade finance assets, is now live with 25 banks 

Further Reading

Flexport, a software-focused freight forwarder, raises $1B in funding led by Softbank Vision Fund

Mubadala to launch a $400M fund for EU tech investments with Softbank as an investor 

Dubai Ports World extends acquisition of P&O, the British freight firm, to include subsidiaries: P&O Ferries and P&O Ferrymasters

The re-birth of blockchain

I have along anticipated that the hype over blockchain would die off and we’ll get a more mature applicable understanding of how the technology can be used to simply make transactional, verification or contractual ledgers work more seamlessly.

Well it seems we’re finally getting there. Less over-hype and more business-as-usual.

From hotels using crypto-based wallets for on-premise transactions (above), blockhain powered trading (also above), cross border remittances powered by Ripple and custom clearance at ports (Week#15), as far as even developing a single use crypto-coin to settle cross border trade (Week#12), blockchain powered POS systems (Week #4), Islamic Digital Sukuk (Week#3), and all of Week#13‘s crypto-section.

While popular coins like Bitcoin and Ethereum, and Ripple have slipped in market valuation, that’s not a indication of it’s practical value as a technology.

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The Future of the crypto and blockchain (2/2)

3 minutes
Stop trying to explain bitcoins and blockchain to my Grandma/pa. Pretty please, just stop.

First lets agree on a few basics, the blockchain is not only a means for logging financial transfers of a cryptocoin; some examples of broader uses here.

Crypto coins are currency, stock and asset, with their value controlled by demand and supply (free market). Stocks, assets and currency in real life are heavily regulated, controlled and monitored.

That being said, it’s rare that you see the world so intent on explaining stock exchanges, asset classes and reserves or the world order behind currencies and their exchange to grandmas, so why bitcoins? It gets even more complex, a blockchain is also a technology that requires a degree of technical knowledge that the average user is not familiar with, almost like explaining javascript to your grandma/pa, why would try to explain blockchain?

In 2010 the hype was about SoLoMo, and it was difficult explaining to your elders or anyone outside the tech circle why you needed to check-in to foursquare and tell the world where you’ve been. In 2012 the hype kicked off on AR/VR, people were getting dizzy, virtual game worlds got super popular and your grandpa had no idea why you can’t just go out to talk to normal people instead.

…and the list goes on.

The common factor to all these technologies: the hyped calmed down and got to business. Location based technology has come a long way with billboards now able to collect real-time data and serve targeted ads. Augmented reality (and virtual reality) have gone beyond gimmicky advertising to medical surgeries and immersive audience experiences.

Does your grandpa ask about how all these things are served? No. Some basics should be universal, as everyone has the right to know what the future may look like, and on what principals it will operate. But let’s cut the technical jargon from mass media please.

Blockchain vs Bitcoin

Did you know, that a blockchain can do much more than record bitcoin (and others) movements?

In 2013, the conversation around bitcoins started to take center stage for many of us “geeks”. I clearly remember a night hosted at Dubai International Financial Center hosted by The Online Project (shout-out to Ola Doudin, David El Achkar and Zafer Younis), where global bitcoin leaders came to discuss the future impact of the technology with bankers, brokers and financial consultants. It sounded like the apocalypse to everyone in the field, lots of skepticism on this “coin” and who’s behind toppling the world order. However the real message was: The coin is not the key, the blockchain is.

In my humble opinion, there are two futures for the cryptocoins:

Fundraising (ICO):

I don’t think ICOs are going away, but they will become more structured and targeted. Startups and companies will never miss an opportunity to raise funds. However ICOs will not replace traditional venture capital (smart money), as what you get from them is far from just money in the bank, but also the experience, support and network.

Over the next few 18–24 month we’ll see some big public offerings burst (and ponzi schemes revealed), more accountability and demand for insurances in raising capital. We will probably also see more traditional investors (VCs) utilizing ICOs to raise funds for their own investments.


Most people will pay for your service or product in their respective currency, your system will token-ize that value and run the service as needed (Yes, no one is buying a coin just to use your service). The average consumer will not need to know how, where and why. Your system will need to be optimized for the customer’s most seamless experience and your products best productivity. In this case the coin / token is a verification component that helps the founder optimize their product.

The future is for the practical

The future is seamless and secure (hopefully). When the hype calms, the conversation will return to developers and product developers to discuss the importance of distributed ledger technologies (blockchain) in improving their products. Whether securing their verification systems, payments and unified access, or coming up with creative new adaptations. It will die down from the media and move to the drawing broad. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

No offense to all the grandparents that are trading, mining and investing in crypto currency. Regardless of your age spectrum, chances are you’re the plugged in minority.