The past few years have brought a rising tide of success to the startup ecosystem in the Middle East. With many successful exits and even a few bonafide “unicorns,” several successful businesses have made headlines across the region. In 2019, it’s important to keep an eye on the latest startups that are making a name for themselves in the MENA business world.
From those that are fresh out of funding rounds to those that are just beginning to attract attention, here are a few of the Middle East startups you should be watching closely in 2019 and beyond:
Established in 2016 and headquartered in Dubai, Clearly has revolutionized the financial technology (fintech) industry in the UAE with its innovative digital banking services. Users can conduct all their banking activities online, which gives them better control of their finances. Whether they need to transfer money to family members abroad or pay bills, users can manage their finances from their smartphone.
In addition, Clearly helps users save money by allowing them to track expenditures against their monthly income. Users who deposit funds into a Clearly savings account also receive more interest than that offered by traditional banks. And the more money they divert to their savings, the more interest they earn.
Borrowing and investing are also easy with Clearly, which provides users with an intuitive interface through which they can manage loans and investments. Users also have access to robo-advisors for guidance.
Clearly’s unique services have elicited $4.7 million in funding across two angel rounds, which has made the company a quickly rising player in the UAE financial services industry.
Lebanon’s Kamkalima was created after founder Siroun Shamigian left her career as a teacher to develop a platform for young students struggling to learn Arabic. Designed for students in grades 4 through 12, this startup is one of the first digital platforms of its kind to offer fun educational content focused on the Arabic language.
Since its launch in 2016, Kamkalima has built a diverse library of lesson plans for students of all skill levels. These lessons focus on speaking, writing, and reading Arabic, as well as related skills like critical thinking. Teachers who use Kamkalima in their classrooms can adjust the site’s lesson plans to meet the needs of their students. They can also upload writing assignments to the online library for use as in-class activities or test questions, which encourages more active participation from students.
The UAE-based Seez has been helping people buy and sell cars with less stress since 2015. The startup, which has received $2.8 million in funding, collects information about new and used vehicles for sale online in the UAE, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. In doing so, Seez provides users with the most accurate information about the cars they’re trying to buy or sell, including the fair market value. The site has also built a partner network that allows it to provide listings for dealer-certified vehicles.
Most notably, Seez leverages an artificial intelligence-powered chatbot called Cesar to recognize the make, model, and value of a car with only a photo of the vehicle. Cesar is also capable of handling 13 percent of negotiations with sellers without any human assistance, and its abilities improve as it interacts with more users.
Halan, which completed a Series A round of funding worth millions of dollars in December 2018, is one of Cairo’s biggest up-and-coming startups. Entrepreneurs Mounir Nakhla and Ahmed Mohsen established the company to provide more affordable ride-sharing options to underserved communities, which did not have access to other digital transportation platforms. Nakhla leveraged his own experience in tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw) sales to turn Halan into a ride-booking app for these vehicles. Users can also request motorcycle rides.
To ensure passengers’ safety, Halan thoroughly vets its drivers and ensures that they complete a training program for their given vehicle. Passengers can book a ride with one of these “captains” through the startup’s app, which tells them the name of their driver and the cost of their trip. Halan also offers delivery services for both individuals and businesses.
One of the latest additions to the UAE startup scene, Boksha is an e-commerce marketplace that highlights the work of up-and-coming, independent designers from across the Middle East. Founders Yahya Mohamed and Faisal Falaknaz named their website after the fabric carrier that Arab street merchants once used to bring their wares to the marketplace. Taking inspiration from this tradition, Boksha allows brands to showcase their products to the world and provides them with the business tools they need to grow their online boutiques. Meanwhile, shoppers can find women’s apparel, accessories, perfume, bags, and “mommy and me” matching women’s and girl’s fashions from these local brands. Shoppers can also request custom designs or alterations.