MENA’s Digital News, Week #45

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

Hope you had a good summer and geared up to get back to the grind soon! I skipped the round-up last week; people were off, the media was off, it was nice. So, I’m merging last week’s news with this week’s round-up so you’re all caught up!

Investments (Regional & Related)

Chefaa, Egyptian e-health startup, closed “six-figure seed funding round” from Flat6Labs and 500 Startups http://bit.ly/2YYbTsU

Nana Direct, Saudi grocery platform, raises $6.6M in Series A co-led by MEVP and Impact46, and joined by Watar Partners, Saudi Venture Capital (SVC) Company, Wamda Capital and Alzamil family – this announcement was made in late February via twitter which we covered but the tweet has since been removed http://bit.ly/2Zb10rT

Startups from MENA in Y Combinator Cohort: 
* Lezzoo – Iraq on-demand delivery service in Iraq 
* Breadfast – Cairo breakfast delivery platform
* Trella – Cairo trucking marketplaces
https://tcrn.ch/2zdLNI0 & https://tcrn.ch/2KJqVi5

TechAdvance, Lagos-based payments infrastructure firm, secured $1M in funding from Bahrain’s Lamar Holding. The company has also received an approval for a payment solution service provider (PSSP) license from the Central Bank of Bahrain http://bit.ly/2YT2Nla 

QFPay, Hong Kong QR-based payment company, raises $20M from Sequoia Capital China, Matrix Partners, MDI Ventures, Rakuten Capital, and VentureSouq (Dubai) http://bit.ly/2YMxnh6 

Incorta, Egyptian founders – SF based, raises $30M in Series C led by Sorenson Capital, GV (Google Ventures), Kleiner Perkins, M12 (Microsoft Ventures), and Telstra Ventures, and expands offices to Chicago, Dubai and Bangalore (already has office in Egypt) http://bit.ly/2HclN41 

Knotel, US Based WeWork competitor, raises $400M in investment, valuing the company at $1B, led by Wafra, Sovereign Wealth Fund of Kuwait, Mori Trust, Itochu, Mercuria, Norwest Venture Partners, Newmark Knight Frank, Bloomberg Beta and Rocket Internet http://bit.ly/2P8zAPw 


RiseUp Summit, Cairo’s leading tech conference, acquires MENAbytes.com http://bit.ly/2Zg7iGw

Fawry, Egyptian Fintech, finally goes public on the Egyptian Exchange (EGX) with a market cap of $366M http://bit.ly/2To8uCg 

Sector News

Pushbots, Egypt, is added to Github’s Student Developer Pack program https://tcrn.ch/2ZjX7Rs 

New Venture Capital fund to launch in Dubai: Vuja De Capital http://bit.ly/2YXCqdH

Flat6Labs Tunis, Attijari Sicar, B@Labs and International Finance Corporation (IFC), collaborate to launch a training-academy for high net-worth individuals in hopes of developing an angel network in Tunisia (not be confused with the Carthage Business Angel Network). A Maghreb Angel Investor Network was also launched. http://bit.ly/31XEi4j

RuPay, Indian credit card company (competitor of Mastercard/Visa) to launch in the UAE http://bit.ly/2ZnHUyF

iPayLinks, Chinese cross-border payment operator, acquires license in UAE and Saudi http://bit.ly/33CZr5n

Egyptian Ministry of Finance is looking to impose taxes on eCommerce and Social Media advertising activities http://bit.ly/2ZldSYx

CBInsights publishes: “The Most Well-Funded Tech Startups In The UAE In One Infographic” http://bit.ly/2zfpkdv 

Thoughts on healthcare + technology

In a random conversation with a friend earlier in summer, he said “you know that most of the meds you’re taking are not even tested on female mice because their hormonal cycle creates variation in results“. I looked it up. It’s true. A large proportion of medication is tested on male mice and male volunteers for “consistency”.

The assumption is: women are just men with hormones, hormones are non-consequential… They clearly aren’t.

As big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning start to march their way into healthcare to support practitioners with diagnosis, monitoring and treatments, my fear is that we’ll discover that the data on female health is largely mis-represented, under reported and researched. It’s an opportunity, but a sad one to acknowledge nonetheless.

Why are we discussing this?

A docu-series, a book, and a youtube episode:

Diagnosis: a docu-series by The New York Times and Netflix
The Sentient Machine: The Coming Age of Artificial Intelligence
Last Week Tonight’s “Bias in Medicine” episode.
Yes, it’s an entertainment show, also yes, they do substantial research

In the Sentient Machine by Amir Husain he discusses the long-tail of unknown ailments that can plague an individual’s lives. Health problems that are simply not common enough for science to dedicate the time, effort and resources to research and find cures for. It’s eye-opening and terrifying to accept that much of the process of getting healthcare is getting the right diagnosis, and we still remain largely speculative about alot of it. Not to discount the phenomenal efforts and dedication of the healthcare society, but the way to go is still long ahead.

Our own biology is still a vast mystery, research is guided by the most pressing and widely acknowledged ailments in geographies that have the financing and systems to fund that research. It takes time and dedication and some times a full career to explore a single facet of a single ailment.

As Artificial Intelligence alarms rise to threaten more jobs, what should we be doing to encourage careers research and healthcare? How can we improve funding for research that promotes better living, than defense budgets that frankly, while they may improve the quality of our lives, don’t necessarily fix the vehicles of our life, our bodies.

Just food for thought.

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MENA’s Digital News, Week #11

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

Investments & Acquisitions

Halan, Egypt-based on-demand tuktuk & motorcycle service provider, raises Series A funding from Battery Road Digital Holdings and Algerba Ventures https://goo.gl/Kk4qSK 

Buseet, Egypt-based bus booking startup, raises funding from Vision Ventures https://goo.gl/UWHfyf 

Gathern, Saudi-based Airbnb for chalets, raises seed funding from Vision Ventures, Inspire Ventures, 500 Startups, Aquilaria Capital Management Fund, and Deyarat Trading Company https://goo.gl/2hiHbn

Meddy, Qatar-based doctor booking platform, raises money from Egypt’s Modus Capital https://goo.gl/QReTS9

ResMed acquires digital respiratory health company Propeller Health. While both companies are in the US, the investors of Propeller health include Hikma Ventures, Corporate VC for Jordan’s Hikma Pharmaceuticals https://goo.gl/tLZntA

Sector News

Abu Dhabi’s ASGC Construction partners with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Industrial Liaison Program (ILP) for smart city innovation https://goo.gl/wqegRB 

UNICEF is looking to partner with accelerator programs for open-source early stage startups in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Tunisia https://goo.gl/nLfeQM 

Altibbi, Digital Health Care platform, has partnered with Telecom Egypt (WE) to launch a nation wide telehealth initiative https://goo.gl/VUeWDH

Tunis issues new “Tunisian Startup Act” law to support startup growth in the country https://goo.gl/oHsiVL 

Hackers/Founders Sudan

First Hackers/Founders event took place in Sudan on December 1st https://goo.gl/TCqyV4

Now the fintech news:

Dubai has developed regulations for security token offerings (STOs) as is evident with Aelf’s (crypto-coin) local partnerships https://goo.gl/543Dth 

Qatar Financial Centre Partnering Up with Europe based B-Hive https://goo.gl/FWcJCt 

Bahrain Economic Development Board Signs MoU with Maharashtra Government (India) to Cooperate in FinTech https://goo.gl/w5cVnq 

African Fintech Ventures Map highlights companies in Morocco, Tunis, Egypt and Somalia https://goo.gl/GfKW1r

Landscape of Fintech Companies in Morocco https://goo.gl/CfwfBT

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round 

Did we reach a new battle frontier: king of the mass-commute sector? 

Let’s face it, taxi ride hailing is not for everyone. It’s expensive for the majority of populations to adopt on daily basis, especially in emerging markets. The opportunity is even more alluring when combined with the lack of (or deteriorating state) of public transport in these markets. 

But it all happened too fast: 

Targeting the same demographic: Halan (mentioned above) also just closed Series A round, to provide motorcycles and tuktuks on-demand. 

The shuttle services are of course not unique to MENA, Grab (Singapore) has shuttle service offerings since last December 2017 and recently expanded that service to include school and airport shuttles. Of course it’s truce with Uber in Singapore has helped focus it’s efforts on serving new segments instead of burning cash on competition

Mass commute is a space that ride-hailing companies have tried and failed to crack in the past, so it’ll be interesting to see who will acquire whom first. 

Further Readings

Softbank’s Vision Fund is hiring an investment team to be based in China’s Shanghai https://goo.gl/4oXeVS and has now raised $98.58B of it’s $100B goal from 14 investors, up from $93.15B from eight investors a year ago https://goo.gl/WJiY3i 

Ajman (UAE) Department of Finance case study using Salesforce https://goo.gl/Q1Gy8f – queue govtech startups that can provide services via API

Addis Ababa has overtaken Dubai as the world’s gateway into Africa, with Ethiopian Airlines now traveling to over 60 destinations on the continent https://goo.gl/HGA81e

Noon.com sponsors Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad Football team, the “biggest sponsorship deal in the history of the club” (AR) https://goo.gl/SkPLJo

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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.