MENA’s Digital News, Week #14

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

This is probably the lightest round up yet, hopefully that means people are taking the time to wind down and be with their family, gearing up for a great 2019!

Investments & Acquisitions

VetCode, Egyptian pet-care startup, raises $450k in seed funding from PMaestro https://goo.gl/Dapbfk 

Sector News

Careem partnered with Dubai’s Roads & Transport Authority (RTA) to launch an eHail taxi joint venture https://goo.gl/RrrNmG 

Oyo, Indian budget hotel startup, that raised $1B from Softbank Vision Fund, expanded to UAE last April and has served more than 100,000 guests since https://goo.gl/kGzXR9 

Utopixar, Tunisian startup, receives funding from UNICEF’s Innovation Fund to solve global challenges using blockchain technology https://goo.gl/WCP1kf

AlRawi, Bahrain based audibooks platform, ​soon to be featured on Gulf Air flights https://goo.gl/XDVRp1

Emaar to partner with Tiktok to produce short-video content https://goo.gl/T5tL4c

Samsung bundles VOD services: MBC Shahid, Starz Play and Weyyak into new “SmartPack” offering – notably Netflix is excluded from the bundle https://goo.gl/tECX1M 

Egypt’s Meeza debit card holders will be able to use their cards for online purchases soon https://goo.gl/C9oeqJ

Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and IBM piloted a blockchain-based automated system for oil and gas production management https://goo.gl/bfekrx 

UAE to finalize initial coin offering (ICO) regulations in mid-2019 https://goo.gl/eCdLne 

Further Readings

The Emirates Foundation (Abu Dhabi) to grant Google $300k to expand the “Maharat min Google” Arabic language digital skills initiative across the country https://goo.gl/znNBM4 

Schengen Nationals can now travel to Saudi Arabia with an eVisa https://goo.gl/gmJ638

Long Reads

An academic perspective about refugee entrepreneurship in light of recent wars in MENA “Call Me a Business Owner, Not a Refugee!” Challenges of and Perspectives on Newcomer Entrepreneurship” https://goo.gl/HH47nx

What I expect we’ll be seeing in 2019:

  • As regional investors have raised and announced big funds this year, it’s likely that we see a healthy increase in deal sizes, and follow on funding
  • More interest from international investors in the region
  • More Chinese and Asian companies companies expanding into MENA
  • Lots of IPOs are coming up for global players (Uber and co), which will lead to even more aggressive competition as stock markets are becoming cut-throat and unforgiving. (There might be some valuation corrections there as well)
  • Expansion of global players into MENA will be a wake up call for many regional startups (or unicorns) to improve their services
  • This may be the year that P2P payments finally makes it to in MENA – mobile payments in almost there for some markets, and even countries like Egypt are working on improving online payments (finally)
  • A maturity in the crypto / blockchain hype cycle. A lot of people have and will lose a lot of money in the process, but at least we’ll have a guide on what NOT to do.
  • More global regulations on Crypto currency and assets
  • More content creators = more fragmentation of market = people will pirate more as the options to watch all the shows and movies become too cumbersome to deal with
  • A clear gap in the “favorite” social network space leaves the space open for unlikely new players.
  • Over valuations may kill a startup or two.

See you in 2019!

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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.