10 Fintech Startups to Keep on Your Radar

Lynn Bizri, Mar 20 2017

Every quarter, we bring you a list of startups from the MENA region to keep an eye on. This time, we have selected a diverse range of fintech startups that include everything from alternative payment and peer-to-peer lending to crowdfunding platforms.

ReAble
Based in Lebanon and founded by Paul Safi and Emile Sawaya, ReAble is a startup that develops and builds applications and tools for people with special needs. Their first product, the ReAble Wallet, is a financial management tool that allows users with cognitive challenges to conduct transactions in a simple manner, and monitor their purchasing habits. The wallet keeps parents or guardians informed of all transactions taking place and how well the money is being managed. In addition, the ReAble Wallet can be used as an educational tool to teach concepts of financial literacy that can be applied to real life situations.

To start using the ReAble Wallet, users input the bank notes they are carrying into the app via the intuitive interface which supports multiple currencies. Once a purchase is made, users take a picture of the receipt, and the ReAble Wallet is able to detect the purchase total and decide which bills the user should use from their wallet to pay. The application also comes with built in text-to-speech which makes it easy for anyone to pick up and start using the app. The ReAble Wallet also facilitates budgeting, giving users the ability to set a categorical budget and follow the budget, by using prompts/status updates when the user to about to go over a threshold and uses visual representations to show them their current financial status.

In late 2015, ReAble received 1000$ in Hyundai’s Startup Competition and then went on to beat 21 competitors and win $10,000 at BDL Accelerate’s Early Stage Startup Competition in Dec 2015. In 2016, ReAble was the 3rd place winner of the Startup Demo at ArabNet Beirut 2016 and was also one of 10 companies selected from 400 applications to join Techstars 13 week accelerator program in Cape Town. This month, supported by a US $50,000 loan from Barclays, Safi and Sawaya will release their ReAble Pay platform, which will allow users to finally try their financial app for the first time. ReAble’s potential market currently is comprised of 200 million people that fit a target market of mid to high cognitive functioning.

Country: Lebanon
Launched: 2015
Category: Personal Finance Management

BitOasis
Launched in late 2014 by Ola Doudin, a Jordanian entrepreneur, BitOasis is the first digital currency wallet and exchange service in the Middle East that enables users to buy, sell and secure their bitcoins. It is also a founding member of the Dubai-based Global Blockchain Council, a 32-member organization exploring the impact of blockchain technology and digital currencies in the region. Doudin decided to launch the startup after she had difficulty buying bitcoins in the region and her aim is to build the largest digital currency exchange and payments infrastructure platform in the MENA region.

To create a bitcoin wallet and an exchange account, users must create an online wallet on the BitOasis platform. After creating their account, users can immediately start sending and receiving bitcoins from around the world. BitOasis uses multi-signature technology to secure users bitcoins and customers are prompted to enter a multi-digit authentication code anytime they login or attempt to send bitcoins. To buy bitcoins, users start by buying a voucher with the AED amount they choose. After selecting the voucher amount, users must send a wire transfer with the AED amount or pay in cash via a bank cash deposit. After the payment has been received, users can immediately convert their AED credits to bitcoins at the exchange rate available.

In May of last year, BitOasis raised an undisclosed amount in a seed round from 4 investors, led by venture capital firm Wamda Capital, which will allow BitOasis to expand its presence in MENA territories and add additional staff. The platform currently works in five nations: UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and KSA, yet the mobile wallet is accessible to clients in North Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Country: UAE
Launched: 2014
Category: Cryptocurrency

CashBasha
CashBasha was established in Jordan in 2015 by entrepreneurs Fouad Jeryes and Sinan Taifour, and is a regional commerce technology company. The startup facilitates ecommerce by shifting the Cash on Delivery (COD) model into a Cash before Delivery model, meaning money gets collected by the courier and is transferred to the merchant before the product is delivered. Moreover, the model serves as a medium between Arab consumers and foreign sites that do not accept local cards or cash and do not ship to the region. Currently, CashBasha serves customers looking to shop from Amazon.com’s entire US catalog and have the products delivered to them in Jordan or Saudi Arabia.

To shop on Amazon through CashBasha, customers need to simply go on the website and enter the name of the item they’d like to order in the homepage search box. The customer is then transferred to the Amazon website with CashBasha’s top bar, and can search and shop for all the items they would like to purchase. Once done and on the Checkout page, customers can select their cash payment method, view other order related details, and place their orders. Upon completing their order, customers then receive an email or SMS confirmation and are contacted by CashBasha’s customer service representatives to arrange for an appropriate cash pickup appointment. For items shipped from within the United States, the average delivery time via the selected courier is about 9-14 business days from the time of payment.

In 2016, CashBasha were selected as one of the top-notch startups to represent Jordan at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Shanghai. They also went on to win the Startup Istanbul 2016 Challenge and came in first place out of 2,700 startup companies who applied to the challenge from around the world. The company currently receives around 8,000 orders per month, and monetizes through a $5 fee added to each order, in addition to the discounts it receives from the shipping company. The company is already making profit and has secured strategic investments from Aramex Ventures and 500 startups. With that funding, CashBasha has expanded its operations to Saudi Arabia and are seeing an average of 23% month-on-month growth and over 15% customer conversion rate.

Country: Jordan
Launched: 2015
Category: E-Commerce

Ajar Online
Talal Alyaseen and Shaheen Alkhudhari founded Ajar Online in Kuwait after Alkhudhari found it a hassle to constantly withdraw rent money from the bank and wait for his landlord to collect it. After suggesting the idea of the service to Alyaseen, now CTO of Ajar Online, they studied the real estate market and the problems landlords face in collecting rent and based on their findings, developed a cloud service that offers quick and efficient online rent collection via SMS and email. 

To use Ajar Online for online rent payment, landlords first add the details of their tenants and properties to Ajar’s platform. Tenants then receive a monthly automatic payment notification via SMS or email, and can instantly pay their rent online using K-net. In order to generate revenue, the company charges transaction fees on rent payments.  For landlords, the benefits of Ajar Online include a higher percentage of on-time rent payment, less administrative work, and landlords can view live updates of their tenants’ payments, statuses, histories and collection reports. For tenants, Ajar Online means fewer trips to the bank, automatic reminders on when rent is due, and tenants can pay their rent wherever and whenever they want.

In November 2015, Ajar Online won the first-ever KIPCO Tmkeen Award for Young  Entrepreneurs and $100,000 worth of services from the KIPCO Group, including financial, strategic, and operational consultation sessions, market studies, insurance coverage, and advertising services. The startup was also among the finalists of the MIT Enterprise Arab Startup Competition. In early 2016, the company signed a partnership with Warba Bank who are now running Ajar Online’s back office financial operations and promoting Ajar Online’s services to their corporate clients. This has allowed the company to lower their transaction fees and facilitate their penetration into the market.

Country: Kuwait
Launched: 2015
Category: Retail Financial Services

Card Switch
Card Switch SAL is a fintech company with a mission to eliminate card fraud, combat cash transactions, and enhance customers’ trust and experience as well as help drive banks’ card income.  Founded early last year by Roger Abboud and Mobile Technology Tomorrow, Card Switch’s flagship product is an application that connects all payment cards (credit, debit or prepaid) with the user’s smartphone allowing users to ‘Switch On or Off’ their cards and decide when, where and how transactions should be authorized.

The Card Switch application has several different ‘switches’: the Control Switch, the Alert Switch, the Statement Switch and the Analytics Switch. The Control Switch allows users to switch on or off their card(s), channels (ATM, POS, E-commerce), merchant categories (supermarket, gas station restaurant), locations and their spending limit. The Statement Switch allows them to tag their transactions as business or personal, add notes, and take photos of receipts. The Alert Switch allows users to switch on or off alerts by channels, card settlement, or card limit reached and more. Finally, the Analytics Switch allows users to compare their spending by channel, merchant, category or period.

In 2016, Card Switch were shortlisted as a finalist for the ‘Best Technological Innovation’ award at the Seamless event in Dubai, were selected to pitch for the SLUSH GIA Competition, and were selected as one of 12 startups to present their idea in front of an international jury at Seedstars Beirut.

Country: Lebanon
Launched: 2015
Category: Digital Banking

Democrance
Founded in 2015 by Michele Grosso, Democrance’s mission is to democratize insurance by making it available to a wider population through a mobile application. Millions of people in MENA do not have access to insurance so Democrance aims to work with insurers, mobile operators and other industries to help both tap into new customer segments and product opportunities to maximize their revenue streams while increasing customer loyalty to the brands. Democrance also conducts in-depth customer research and help insurers shift existing products to fit the unanswered needs, then use their mobile technology platform and partnerships with telecom companies to offer and sell these micro insurance products at scale.

Democrance is planning to disrupt the insurance market by partnering with insurance companies and mobile operators to offer insurance to the underserved micro-insurance market in the MENA region. The startup provides a fintech solution that makes insurance affordable and accessible to the people who need it most. It’s affordable, because it distributes, administers and services insurance policies only through the mobile phone, which results in considerable cost savings when compared to the traditional insurance model, and is accessible as insurance premiums are also collected through mobile payment channels instead of traditional banking ones, which the low-income population do not normally have access to. The platform aims to reach 350 million under-insured low-income earners in the Middle East over mobile phones, with premiums as low as Dh1-Dh2 a week.

Michele Grosso invested $150,000 of his own savings and borrowed money to get the platform up and running, however, the DMCC-licensed company has had enough early successes to recently state a seed round of funding. After winning the Seedstars GCC competition last September, Democrance will be participating at the Seedstars Summit in Switzerland and will pitch on the final day in front of an audience of over 1000 attendees with a chance to win 500K USD in prizes and equity investment. Over the next five years, Grosso expects to offer even more products through an increased roster of distribution partners and wants to expand beyond the MENA region.

Country: UAE
Launched: 2015
Category: Retail Financial Services

AFKARMENA
Based in Jordan and founded in 2014, AFKARMENA is a crowd funding reward-based online platform in the MENA region for all creative ideas ranging from game development and music albums to supporting a cause through an NGO. The platform helps creative entrepreneurs and NGOs showcase and pitch their ideas to the public and earn contributions in return for rewards. Moreover, creators retain full ownership over their work.

To start crowd funding a project, entrepreneurs must first fill out a form for their pitch and upload a short video selling their idea. Once the idea has been reviewed and approved by the AFKARMENA team, creators can begin promoting their idea and raising funds. To be approved, the project must follow specific guidelines such as having a defined deadline, fall within the accepted categories, and offer realistic and appropriate rewards. Every entrepreneur is given 30-90 days to raise the funds needed and if the project does not reach its funding goal, all funds made to the project are cancelled. In the case of a failure to raise sufficient funds, AFKARMENA helps the entrepreneur update and relaunch their project again, and in the case of NGO/NPO projects, they have the opportunity to keep any money raised regardless of whether they have reached their funding goal or not.

AFKARMENA charges project creators a fee of 5% and NGO/NPOs a fee of 4%. To date, a number of projects have been successfully funded through AFKARMENA with several more in the pipeline. A co-funding program was also launched last year in partnership with Women Access to Entrepreneurship Development and Training (WAEDAT) that aims to help women, in both urban and rural areas across Jordan and the region, to overcome social norms, restrictions and challenges, as well as secure funding required to launch, promote and grow their entrepreneurial projects.

Country: Jordan
Launched: 2014
Category: Crowdfunding

Trriple
Trriple, a UAE-based digital payments startup, launched as a company at GITEX in 2015, and plans to usher in the country’s cashless society by delivering an inclusive payments ecosystem that is available to both the unbanked using cash, and the banked using cards. The startup offers a first-of-its-kind mobile wallet that enables secure and convenient payments saving consumers and businesses time and money, while meeting the regulatory environment of UAE.

For merchants, Trriple’s platform enables the merchant to charge and accept payments from the consumer using NFC, QR code or an ID number, and also enables the merchant to fund the consumer’s mobile money wallet with cash in at the merchant. For consumers, the platform allows them to pay digitally for purchases, online and in-store, transfer and send money fast and securely, credit recharge any mobile number, and much more. Consumers can fund, or ‘top up’ their accounts in several ways: cash-in at merchant locations; credit or debit cards; ATM machine; and through salary transfers using the Wages Protections System (WPS) mandated by the Central Bank of UAE and Ministry of Labor. Tripple has also partnered with major UAE banks to facilitate digital payments on its platform.

Early last year, Ericsson teamed up with Trriple to provide managed mobile solutions for the UAE banking and smart city sectors. Ericsson Wallet Platform enhances Trriple services by integrating and managing an open platform that allows users to store, transfer and withdraw money using a mobile device. The solution will initially be available to 500,000 unbanked mobile subscribers with plans to ultimately serve the whole population of UAE. The multi-year collaboration supports the country’s Smart Government initiative, which aims to make more than 2,000 government services available via smart platforms such as mobile devices. 

Country: UAE
Launched: 2014
Category: Payments

Cotizi
Cotizi is a free to use Moroccan crowdfunding platform dedicated to the collection of money or funds for events (such as weddings, birthdays, housewarming, etc.) as well as the collection of donations on behalf of associations. Recently, the website also added a platform dedicated to the creation and launch of online petitions for Moroccan associations. Focusing on social projects for economic, social and environmental development, Cotizi aims to channel the voices of field activism as well as citizen cyberactivism in Morocco and the MENA region.

To collect money on Cotizi, users simply need to create a free ‘Cotizi pool’, determine the amount they want to collect (between 50 and 200,000 dirhams), and then invite participants to contribute via email, Facebook or Twitter. Once the contributions are received, the amount can be collected directly on mescadeaux.ma, used as gift vouchers in partner stores, or transferred to a bank account. A Cotizi service fee is charged when a contribution is made (2.6%) or a request for money transfer is made (4.7%), and help Cotizi to cover the costs of online transactions as well as manage and operate costs on the site. As for creating a petition, the user simply needs to fill in an application, explain the reason and goal behind the petition, as well as person or institution they are targeting before circulating the petition to friends and on social media. 

Today, Cotizi.com is very successful in Morocco and represents a cross-border model for Africa and the MENA region. At the ninth edition of the Morocco Web Awards early last year, Cotizi.com, which was known for having successfully funded a campaign of solidarity for the flood victims in southern Morocco via the hashtag #100dhpouraider, came first in the ‘Startup of the Year’ category.

Country: Morocco
Launched: 2015
Category: Crowdfunding

Yalla Nsadar
Established in Egypt in 2016, Yalla Nsadar is a B2B marketplace that connects global wholesalers with Arab countries in an effort to increase commerce on both sides. The website aims to open new markets and stimulate the movement of traded products, export Arab products and increase competitiveness, facilitate everything from the sale and delivery of products to customer operations and support small and medium enterprises. In addition to connecting companies and businesses together, the website also hosts a comprehensive and easy-to-navigate database for both small and well-established businesses alike, accommodating all companies, their industries, subcategories, and products.

Therefore, Yalla Nsadar greatly facilitates the search and acquisition of needed goods by any company (or the promotion of them) whilst also aiming to overcome cross-border trade challenges between both buyers and sellers. In turn, this enables the smart, efficient, and successful expansion of all businesses and companies and their product/customer base both locally and abroad. By registering their own company on Yalla Nsadar website (either as a buyer needing products/produce or as a seller), each company massively increases its visibility online.

So whether a business or company is based in the Middle East or abroad, Yalla Nsadar provides it with all the means to buy and sell easily, to a much wider audience while increasing its visibility to tens of thousands of relevant importers, exporters and wholesalers. Moreover, it does not take commissions on successful transactions between buyers and sellers, saving the companies costs on middle men and logistics, and allowing savings to be redirected and distributed to other areas within the business. Yalla Nsadar was one of 8 startups to graduate from Flat6Lab’s ‘1864 Accelerator’ program last year.

Country: Egypt
Launched: 2016
Category: E-Commerce

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