MENA’s Digital News, Week #3

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

Investments & Acquisitions

Smart Crowd, Dubai’s real-estate crowdfunding platform, has raised $600k in seed funding from Shorooq Investments, Abaxx Technologies and 500Startups https://goo.gl/trmPFX 

AnaMehani, an online services marketplace, raises a third investment round from V.P.F Limited and moves it’s operations to Cairo (EN) https://goo.gl/YSuig6 (AR) https://goo.gl/3M8gMd 

Kitopi, Foodtech, raises a seed round from CE Ventures and BECO Capital https://goo.gl/K97dSz 

Skiplino Raises Series A Round from KISP Ventures https://goo.gl/ynM2Fy

Training Calendar, skill-development marketplace, raises $1M in seed funding https://goo.gl/tXbNvu 

BeyondCapital invests in Tickitto, AI powered digital concierge (on Linkedin) https://goo.gl/nr6CHL

Qordoba Announces $11.5M Series B Funding https://goo.gl/1fELPx

Samara, Saudi car-rental company, acquires CarSpa, mobile on-demand car services startup (on Linkedin) https://goo.gl/2qj1d3

Qwikly Dubai

Sector News

Jordan’s Arab Bank announces plans to launch a $30M fintech fund and incubator before end of October https://goo.gl/9ftPVN 

Bahrain’s Economic Development Board announces plans to raise a $100M Fintech fund outside the existing $100M AlWafa fund of funds announced earlier in the year https://goo.gl/i1qqgt 

Saudi British Bank (SABB) to Acquire Alawwal Bank for $5B https://goo.gl/wvNDSq

Dubai Airports signs 10-year extension with leading outdoor advertising company JCDecaux https://goo.gl/1MkXnF

Islamic Finance company embarks on launching Digital Sukuk in the age of cryptocurrency, followed by an Ethereum blockchain asset in 2019 https://goo.gl/h1TaEq

Shared electric scooters to hit Dubai pavements soon https://goo.gl/n4mSyV 

Egypt is producing smartphones and expanding it into Africa https://goo.gl/F9qhbn

Further Readings

ArabNet’s Kuwait Innovation Economy Tech Startups 2018 Report: “88% of Kuwaiti startups mention referral marketing as a key challenge to attracting new business.” https://goo.gl/XuoXMb 

CBInsight’s “How Saudi Arabia Is Hedging Against An Oil-Less Future” https://goo.gl/1wGfqk

NEOM announces it’s global advisory board including prominent names such as: YCombinator’s Sam Altman; Az16’s Marc Andreessen; Uber’s Travis Kalanick; and ofcourse Softbank’s Masayoshi Son https://goo.gl/GdYTQr

SoftBank Vision Fund in talks for a majority stake investment in WeWork totaling ~$15B; it already owns 20% after committing $4.4B last year https://goo.gl/CwrWko

MIT and Qatar Computing Research Institute are working on a training computers to detect fake news sites https://goo.gl/MtCGrJ 

The rise of the data monster

What’s framing the discussion about data within your organization or personal consumption today? For me it’s the following:

  • GDPR leading to a decrease in trackbacks on websites in the EU and an increase in trackbacks on US based sites [here]
  • IBM’s latest Cost of Data Breach report, that shows the MENA is the second most expensive geography to endure a data breach by public and private sector [here]
  • Tim Berners-Lee’s (Director of the World Wide Web) latest venture for increased data-ownership protocols by the consumer vs platforms [here]
  • Endless breaches: from AppleID’s used in China [here], to Facebook’s latest breach [here] and final coffin of Google+ security loophole [here]
  • Bloomberg’s disputed article on China’s spying espionage which was widely denied by everyone 

I have also recently read and reviewed Unscaled by Hemant Taneja which focuses on the rise of decentralization and its long term impact on the business world as we know it. Which evoked me to think: “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)” 

From an individuals perspective: Maybe a decentralized data future would be a replacement for that “important documents” folder you have lying around in the back of your closet with everything from birth certificates to contracts, into an encrypted folder that can be accessed or authorized partially as needed. 

From a business perspective: To get better at security we need far more (cyber)security engineers and researchers. Are you training some or investing in getting more on your team?
Also what checks and balances do you have in place to secure your supply chain regardless where your manufacturing is done. Do you have security auditors in-house or outsourced? How to you take responsibility for your service or product?

Food for thought. 

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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. 

“To Err Is Human” but definitely not AI

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With the rise of voice controlled AI assistants, many videos and articles mock the technologies ability to answer questions, dialects and more. The technology is getting there slowly (comparative to our current perception of time) but surely…

Ben Evans, Andreessen Horowitz — Mobile is Eating the World, Dec 2016

What cause me to “err” on the topic under a new light while reading “OK, House. Get Smart: Make the Most of Your AI Home Minion” on Wired was this:

Think before you speak
In conversation, sometimes, um, people, you know, hem and haw and sort of, like, meander. But smart speakers are about as forgiving as your high school debate coach. Rudnicky’s advice: no trailing off, no stopping and starting.

Don’t be ambiguous
Humans are masters at using context to parse ambiguity. Machines? Not so much. “People often say things like ‘What about the other one?’ without specifying what the other one is,” says Vlad Sejnoha, CTO of voice systems outfit Nuance Communications. Say exactly what you want, without any room for misunderstanding — it will stave off your bot rage.

With children around such devices almost from infancy how will this affect language and verbal communication for upcoming generations. Standardizing commands and conversations to meet AI understanding is scary. Language, culture and heritage, tone of voice, facial expressions and body language all contribute to our understanding of any spoken word.

How much impact would this have on the future of verbal arts, communication, emotional intelligence, and things we haven’t even realized yet?

In no way is this a call to end-all-AI, the future is inevitable, but a careful awareness to how our surroundings are shifting and priorities re-aligning may be good to consider.

This post originally appeared on Medium on Jun 21, 2017