The growing Middle Eastern startup scene can attribute much of its success to the dedication of the entrepreneurs who have spurred innovations in industries ranging from e-commerce to financial technology. Perhaps equally as important to this dynamic are the consumers who support this emerging scene by choosing to patronize regional startups instead of global enterprises. Many of these startups offer services that are similar to those of more prominent multinational companies, but they are unique in their regional focus.
Here are six Middle Eastern alternatives to international firms:
Based in Cairo, Egypt, Offerna is revolutionizing the group discount purchasing market in the Middle East. With a name meaning “our offers” in Arabic, the firm burst onto the startup scene in 2011 as a regional version of the popular Groupon. Offerna became the first Egyptian startup of its kind to offer a unique sales model that focuses on connecting customers with a wide array of activities and products at reduced prices.
The startup frequently works with local vendors to create one-of-a-kind deals in categories ranging from tourism to fitness. A minimum number of people must purchase a deal before Offerna activates it; then, buyers can redeem their purchase. If the minimum number is not reached, the coupon is not activated, and buyers can receive their money back or use it for a future purchase on the site. For each deal, buyers must act quickly, as Offerna only offers discounts for a short period of time and places a maximum limit on how many people can buy each one.
The founders of Jeeran initially sought to create a website that would enable Arabs to create and publish locally oriented content, but it has since transformed into a Yelp-like review platform. With a primary focus on Jordan and Saudi Arabia, the startup allows users to write and post reviews for businesses in their community. In addition to reviews, individuals can upload photos as well as other important information, such as contact details and maps for each business. This system both allows individuals to share their experiences at local businesses and helps them discover new places and activities. Since its inception, Jeeran has accumulated reviews for more than 400,000 businesses in categories such as public services, healthcare, and dining.
In an effort to curb the growing trend of music piracy in the Middle East, Anghami provides a fully legal way for people in the region to enjoy their favorite artists. Similar to the widely used Spotify, the startup allows its users to listen to an unlimited amount of songs from both the Arab World and beyond. With a library that includes millions of options, users are able to fully customize their listening experience. Anghami has uploaded a number of pre-made themed playlists, but users can also create radio stations that fit their own musical preferences. Though the startup is free to use on everything from desktop computers to Apple Watches, users can pay a small fee for Anghami Plus to gain additional features such as ad-free listening and song downloads.
Another popular media provider is Istikana, the Jordan-based startup that allows users to stream full-length Arabic films and television shows on nearly any Internet-connected device. Like the popular international companies Netflix and Hulu, Istikana allows its users to access a diverse library of on-demand programming. People can search for specific titles or simply browse through the site’s numerous categories, which include dramas, comedies, documentaries, religious programming, and talk shows. Though Istikana focuses on content from the Middle East, it also features a number of popular Indian programs. The startup adds several new videos each week, which ensures that users can find something that they will enjoy.
Sometimes referred to as “the Amazon of the Middle East,” Souq has celebrated remarkable success since its establishment in 2005—the company is the first startup in the Middle East to reach a $1 billion valuation. The startup originally served as part of the Maktoob Internet portal, but today it is a vast, independent online retailer. Although based in Dubai, Souq has become the most prominent player in the Middle East e-commerce sector. More than 45 million users flock to the company’s site each month, seeking products in categories including electronics, health and beauty, fashion, household goods, and more. In total, Souq hosts about 70,000 merchants on its platform.
A subsidiary of Souq, PayFort is one of the most popular payment portals in the Middle East. Like the international company Paypal, the startup enables merchants and retailers to accept payments online. Through partnerships with financial institutions such as the National Bank of Abu Dhabi and Doha Bank, PayFort has created a seller- and customer-friendly platform. Merchants who utilize the startup’s payment services also gain fraud risk management tools that can help protect them and their customers. Though it primarily serves Middle Eastern retailers, PayFort is not limited to the region. Those who take advantage of its services are able to accept payments from any credit card in more than 80 countries worldwide.