10 MENA Startups to Put on Your Radar - Fall 2016

Lynn Bizri, Oct 17 2016

In every issue, we bring you a list of startups from the MENA region to keep an eye on. This summer, we have selected a diverse range of startups that include everything from FinTech to Travel to Pets.

1. Play My Way

Once a luxury enjoyed exclusively by adults, today’s smartphones and tablets serve as multi-functional tools for education, communication and playtime for younger generations.  While screen-time can be beneficial to a certain extent, most parents struggle with limiting the amount of time their children spend on smartphones, especially on addictive games and social media platforms.

Beirut-based developers at Scope, many of whom are parents with the same struggle, realized that the only solution to the problem was to find a compromise or a ‘win-win’ situation. Rather than create another educational app like so many other MENA entrepreneurs (knowing that games are not among investors’ priorities), they developed Play My Way, a mobile app that works on top of other apps, interrupting gameplay and any other running operations at parent-specified intervals to challenge children with educational questions.

Play My Way currently offers 3 subjects, 9 grade levels and over 25,000 questions (all of which can be controlled by parents) in addition to a detailed report that they can view. The first chapter of each subject is free, serving as a trial version for users. Parents can then buy each subject for 0.99$ to access all the chapters.

Country of origin: Lebanon
Date of Launch: February 2016
Category: Ed-Tech

 2. Sawab

In Islam, Sawab is an Arabic term meaning ‘reward’ and accumulates from the performance of good deeds and piety, one of which is the act of fully reading the holy book of the Quran also known as ‘Khatma’ or conclusion. A common Islamic tradition for Muslims is to meet and complete the readings of the Quran in groups, an activity often indulged in during the holy month of Ramadan.

Sawab, which is inspired from this tradition, is a simple and user-friendly application that facilitates the reading of the Quran through the formation of online groups. Circles of 30 users, identified only by a flag of their location, are added with the purpose of collectively and swiftly reading through all the 30 chapters or ‘Juz’ of the holy book. Once a user has completed his or her chapter, they move on to another until reaching Khatma. The app also features memory tests after the completion of every chapter, in addition to a performance/history log where users can check their memory strength, reading speed, weekly activity and the number of Juz or Khatma they have completed.

Sawab is also a bilingual app and users can choose to read their allocated part of the Quran text in Arabic, add a Latin character transliteration option or even listen to a streamed recording of a section. Today, the app has a 4+ rating in both the iOS and Android app stores, and has amassed up to 50,000 installs since launching.

Country of origin: Lebanon
Date of Launch: April 2016
Category: Religious

3. ReturnHound

Kavit Handa, CEO of UAE startup ReturnHound and a travel-savvy businessman, was motivated to found his startup when his six-year-old daughter was distraught over losing her cherished Minnie Mouse soft toy while holidaying in the Maldives. In a world where more than 250,000 belongings go missing every day in hotels, airports and on airplanes, ReturnHound has been redefining the meaning of ‘lost and found’.

The ReturnHound process is pretty simple and starts with staff first logging the lost items they discover. When customers realize they have lost an item, they contact the venue and are given a web link to an online form, where they enter information about the lost item and circumstances of its loss. Once a match is found, the hotel staff is alerted, customers are notified by email and the shipping process begins.

While a few ‘lost items locator’ apps do exist today, most work through social media platforms where users describe what they have lost and where, in hopes that someone might find the item and contact them. ReturnHound, on the other hand, is the only global, end-to-end and multilingual digital platform for retrieving lost items and makes use of a cloud-based system, meaning there are no software or hardware associations. The service works for everywhere people might lose things, however it has already proven highly valuable to the hotel industry. Hyatt hotels and resorts have already been user-testing the system in the UAE since early 2016 and formally rolled it out in June.  Moreover, the startup has also established a contract with international delivery provider, Aramex, from whom they have received investments.

Although ReturnHound is currently focused on Dubai and the UAE, Handa has plans to expand the platform globally over the next 12 months.

Country of origin: UAE
Date of Launch: April 2016
Category: Travel

4. Feloosy

In August 2015, Karim Beltaji, CEO of Feloosy, and his team created a Facebook page with the message ‘Coming Soon: The new way to effectively manage your money online.’ Beltaji, a serial entrepreneur, left his job as an investment banker in 2013, and moved to Berlin to learn about the German startup scene. After working with several startups and incubators, he returned to Egypt to work on FinTech concepts for the Egyptian market.

The concept of Feloosy (MyMoney) is similar to existing models in other markets, such as the acorns and wealthfront app, yet is specifically tailored to Egypt. The goal of Feloosy is to make saving and investing easier for young employed Egyptians, aged 25-30 years old, by providing them with a platform to deposit small amounts of money, which are then invested by the company’s financial partners in low and medium risk instruments like Money Market Funds and Exchange-Traded Funds. While Feloosy does take a percentage of profits, it does not charge transaction fees and as the website explains ‘Any money we make is directly linked to the growth of your wealth and you achieving your goal.’

Feloosy finalized a seed-funding round in May 2016, and is currently in its pilot stage. While the website is operational, deposits cannot yet be made.

Country of origin: Egypt
Date of Launch: January 2016
Category: FinTech

5. The List

Founded by Dubai-based European entrepreneur Andreas Skorski, The List (gothelist.com) is a global platform dedicated to rare and exclusive luxury products and offers a refined virtual shopping experience with round-the-clock access to the world’s most sought-after products.

In March 2016, The List launched its one-week ‘Referral Campaign’ where the full-fledged platform was revealed. The campaign included a strong social media presence and email campaigns, yet the highlight of the campaign was sharing the platform with friends and family using messaging applications such as Whatsapp with an immediate call to action and referral rewards that included a luxury yacht cruise on Riva Yacht’s latest model, the Floria 88. Needless to say, it was no surprise when the platform reached an impressive number of 20,000 subscribers on its landing page in just seven days.

Today, The List has a fully functioning website whose concept is based on being the world’s most exclusive online marketplace where users can sell and buy a range of rare and unique high-end luxury products. Although not unique in its concept, with competitors such as The Luxury Closet in Dubai and others abroad (worthy.com, jamesedition.com, luxify.com and more), the platform does offer a distinctive concierge service, where a dedicated team caters to clients’ unique requirements by identifying products that match their lifestyle and personality.

Country of origin: UAE
Date of Launch: March 2016
Category: Online Marketplace

6. Repzo

Established earlier this year in Jordan, Repzo is the region’s first Arabic driven mobile sales CRM (customer relationship management) application. The Repzo app combines several business productivity utilities into a single management center that allows busy professionals to track and manage their customer/client interactions, present and finalize forms and purchase orders with clients while in the field and access a database of customer locations with full GPS navigation.

Although founded in Jordan, Repzo is an international app and can be used by all companies with field employees to manage and track their teams. While most large corporations use expensive handhelds to manage their reps, Repzo is a subscription based application and only demands a small fee in comparison, starting at 20$/month/rep. To date, no other Arabic mobile CRM app exists in the market, and in addition to being bilingual (Arabic and English), Repzo also offers push notifications on all activities made by reps, a feature missing from other international mobile CRM applications.

With its seamless possibilities for connectivity, Repzo’s features made it a perfect fit to represent Jordan at the Mobile World Congress in Shanghai earlier this month. As it grows, Repzo aims to cater to a large spectrum of industries that include FMCG, Healthcare, Sales Teams, Merchandisers and Service Companies.

Country of origin: Jordan
Date of Launch: January 2016
Category: Customer Relationship Management

7. My Fatoorah

My Fatoorah is an innovative online payment solution that gives vendors and business owners the key to simple SMS invoicing, online payment collection, and connecting with customers. While very similar to Kuwaiti-based competitor Tap, My Fatoorah offers vendors the additional service of selling their products online by enabling them to build an online store via the app and integrate the payment gateway straight away.

Through My Fatoorah, vendors can create and send product links, allowing their customers to buy directly online using several different modes of payment. Vendors can also use the platform to create and send invoices to their clients via text or email, saving the time and resources that would normally be spent in that department. In terms of security, My Fatoorah’s extra layers of encryption make it easy for vendors to crack down on fraudulent transactions as well as collect and store their payment data securely. For vendors who do not want to set up an online shop, the sophisticated payment platform can also be easily integrated into any new or existing website, eliminating the need for any software. The streamlined payment processes, ease of use, and tools provided by My Fatoorah make it the ideal platform and obvious choice for any growing Kuwaiti business.

Today, My Fatoorah has more than 700 clients in Kuwait and abroad and hopes to reach more countries in the Gulf in 2016, with subsequent markets of interest being Bahrain, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. 

Country of origin: Kuwait
Date of Launch: August 2015
Category: Online Payment Solution

8. TowMyDrive

Owned and managed by Xpertogo Solutions DMCC, TowMyDrive is a free app that allows UAE drivers to directly request roadside assistance via GPS-enabled technology. While similar in nature to other apps such Morni KSA, TowMyDrive is the first and only road assistance app in the country. Due to the app’s proximity based dispatch that matches the closest roadside assistance unit with the driver, the app provides assistance faster than any traditional method, with stranded motorists being serviced within 15 minutes on average by the TowMyDrive support network.

All stranded drivers have to do is open the TowMyDrive app, tap the ‘GET HELP NOW’ button and enter their service request whether it be towing, replacing a flat tire, jumpstarting the car, a car wash or need for fuel. The GPS-enabled app then tracks their location and transmits the details to the nearest provider. Within seconds, the user will receive a confirmation and can track the progress of the driver as he approaches the location and even pay for the service with a credit car or cash once it has been completed.

TowMyDrive’s growing vehicle service network currently has more than 2,000 service partners across Dubai, assuring even faster service 24 hours a day, seven days a week and at affordable flat rates which users can even view online on the TowMyDrive website. 

Country of origin: UAE
Date of Launch: March 2016
Category: Roadside Assistance Mobile App

9. Petriotics

Petriotics is a monthly delivery service that brings pet food and supplies to animal owners in Lebanon, while helping local animal organizations at no extra cost. Nader Zaatari, the co-founder and director of the startup, having already established a social network for the animal community in 2013, wanted to connect animal rights organizations with more supporters.

With a seed funding of $25,000 from AltCity, Nader was able to explore the real needs of animal owners and conduct research to focus on developing a concept. Today, Petriotics website is up and running and offers pet parents the option of choosing between a variety of pet food brands or a premium pet box that includes treats, toys and accessories. Pet parents can schedule deliveries depending on how frequently their pet consumes his food and box, choose their favorite non-profit animal organization that they would like to support, and pay cash on delivery or online. While similar startups do exist in the region, such as DubaiPetFood.com, Petriotics go beyond being just a delivery service and offer 10% of their profits to animal welfare organizations in Lebanon.

In terms of future plans, Petriotics have already begun pushing to grow their customer base and are aiming to soon expand to the MENA region, especially to GCC countries with a special focus on the UAE.

Country of origin: Lebanon
Date of Launch: Early 2016
Category: Pets

10. PayME

In a region still unaccustomed to online payment, the PayME app marks the future of online payment methods, reducing the hassle of long bank procedures and hardware installation costs. PayME is a credit card acceptance tool that allows businesses to accept credit card payments, remotely or upon delivery without any hardware installation. The seller is simply provided with a QR code, which allows buyers to pay via scanning the QR code with their phones, fulfilling their transaction within seconds.

For customers, using the app makes paying for a good or service secure, easy, and free. All a customer has to do is link their card(s) to the app, scan the merchant’s QR code, enter the payment amount, confirm the payment and then wait for the success notification. For merchants, using the PayME app has several benefits: it drives more sales by adding diverse payment options for customers, it provides competitive pricing compared to other online payment platforms, all money is settled in the merchants bank account hassle free with no technical training required for employees.

Country of origin: Egypt
Date of Launch: January 2016
Category: Banking & Accounting

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