10 MENA Startups to Put on Your Radar - Summer 2017
Every quarter, we bring you our list of startups from the MENA region to put on your radar. In this edition, we have picked a wide range of startups from smart sensors, to on-demand platforms to machine learning.
1. Blink My Car
Blink My Car is an on-demand car care platform that connects car owners with car care shops who have a mobile unit, including washes, detailers, mechanics and insurances. The founders, Rami Hallal and Ralph Choueiri, conceived the idea while in line at the gas station to wash their cars. Today, Blink My Car is the only car-care platform in Lebanon that allows users to get a car washed or maintained while it’s parked idly at other locations. It’s also an environmental initiative. Blink My Car’s partner specialists use waterless products and as little as one glass of water per car wash.
To use the services, users can download the app, pick a service, share their location, and select a time. Specialists will then locate the care and take care of the rest. The user gets notified and pays once the service is completed. In addition, in February 2017, during ArabNet Beirut, Blink My Car launched Blink the Bot, giving potential costumers easier access to car services through Facebook Messenger, without downloading the app.
The startup has raised $350k so far from Al Amir Lebanese Holding, a family business in Lebanon. The app, which currently only operates within the Greater Beirut area has already reached 5,000 users and is growing. To extend their reach of users, Blink My Car is also running a referral program, where users can share Blink My Car directly from the app to people who don't have the app yet, giving both people involved free services up to $12. Blink My Car is now working to close their second round of funding in order to expand into the GCC, with currently 2 shortlisted cities. Blink My Car’s regional competitors are Ghaseel (Kuwait), Morni (KSA) and Greensteam (Dubai). Blink My Car competed at ArabNet Beirut 2016’s startup competition, where they were selected as finalists, and recently attended and pitched at the ArabNet Summit in Dubai as part of the Startup Championship.
Category: Car Care Platform
Sqwirl is an on demand local delivery service founded by Karl Abou Zeid and Ziad Jureidini. It is targeted mainly towards small businesses, online start-ups, and individuals. The concept of Sqwirl started in October 2015, when co-founder Karl Abouzeid saw a problem with the domestic courier.
Through the Sqwirl app, users can request a carrier to pick up and deliver anything: Documents, prototypes, food, clothes, and even larger bulky items. When an order is placed, there’s an estimated 15 minute timespan before it’s picked up. The app also enables real-time tracking until drop off.
In January 2016, Sqwirl raised $10K and released the first website blueprints. In April, Sqwirl got accepted to join the Speed@BDD program, and raised another round of $30K. Later on in June, Sqwirl got their first MVP, hired their first driver and launched their app. In its early days, Sqwirl competed with local post offices who often deliver the next day by offering same day delivery.
After completing 4000 deliveries, Sqwirl raised additional funding in March, to transition into a software solution company targeting courier and logistics companies rather than small businesses and individuals. With this recent expansion, Sqwirl moved from operating motorcycles and cars to overseeing cargo trucks and other vehicles. Sqwirl is now the only one of its kind in Lebanon offering companies transparent and trackable cargo services.
Category: Courier Service
Elves is a personal helper app that pairs users with real-life assistants they can chat with. The assistants help users to search, book, buy, and deliver tailored gifts and items. While real people help and assist, an AI machine learns and replicates. Elves was founded by Karim Elsahy, Abeer Elsisy, Kareem Diaa, Khaled Gomma and AbdelRahman Zohiery. It started off as an experiment the team built during the Christmas break in 2015, and later on developed to become a concierge service.
According to co-founder Elashy, the strongest value proposition of Elves is that it offers real human service for free to its users. Users can either download the elves app, or go on Facebook Messenger to start chatting with a real assistant. Bots generate messages that the human assistants review and edit before sending them to the user. Payment for Elves services is made by credit card online through a secure check-out on the application, or through a link sent via Facebook chat. There is also the option of the Elves Wallet, which can be topped up using Elves cards. Elves get their revenue by taking a percentage from the service provider for each user that comes through the Elves app or through its Facebook messaging service.
Elves has raised $400k from the Kauffman Fellows Syndicate, a family office in Texas, Cairo Angels, and a few local angels including Con O'Donnel. The Elves app, which was launched in early 2016, has around 15k monthly active users. The top 10% of its users use Elves almost daily and 80% repeat purchase within a 28 day period. Elves, being an innovative three way conversation between the user, the bot and the assistant, has no known competitors in the MENA region.
Masbagti is an on-demand laundry app. Brothers Athbi Alenzi and Nouri Alenezi founded Masbagti after moving to Kuwait from the UK and struggling with late pick-ups and vague pricing when dealing with local laundry shops. Masbagti connects laundry shops to customers, offering fast and transparent laundry services.
Through the app, users can search for nearby laundry services, request service from one of the 22 listed laundry shops in Kuwait, and select a pickup time and day and checkout. Payment is either via Knet upon checkout, or cash on delivery. The average time for delivery is 24 hours, but Masbagti also offers fast service as quick as 4 hours. Customers then can track their laundry until delivery. For each transaction, Masbagti takes a service charge.
Masbagti were selected as a finalist in the Startup Demo competition at ArabNet Kuwait 2016, and pitched at the ArabNet Summit earlier this month as part of the Startup Championship. Masbagti faces competiton from UAE-based Washmen, GetLaundry and Washplus, and competes by offering discounts and benefits to its customers. Last week, Masbagti were acquired by Faith Capital Holding, a Kuwait-based venture capital fund that focuses on young e-commerce businesses in the GCC.
Category: On-Demand Laundry
Mumm is an online home-made food market that allows users to buy home-cooked meals and dessert near them. It also provides a market for talented cooks to generate income. Founder Waleed Abd El Rahman was inspired by the variety of home-cooked meals prepared by mothers and decided to build a platform that helps entrepreneurial endeavors expand and deliver healthy, affordable food to many consumers.
To get started, users go to the Mumm.com website, sign up and select their location. They can add filters on category, food pricing and others to facilitate the search. After choosing from available dishes and paying, the food gets delivered in 90 minutes. Mumm’s competitors are the Egypt-based Akla-baity, which offer 8 to 24 hour delivery, as well as Saudi Arabia’s Akil Bayt. As for food safety regulations, Mumm have a crucial process by which they ensure food is safe. During the induction, they inspect the kitchen and continue to do so every two weeks with spot checks throughout. They also give the cooks simple instructions and tips on how to ensure high food quality and safety standards.
Today, Mumm provides a solution for regional financial issues, enabling unemployed women to make $ 330 a month. In 2016, Mumm partnered with Fard, a refugee nonprofit to involve Syrian, Iraqi and Sudanese women into the food industry. Mumm also partnered with leading technology investor A15, to merge with A15’s startup DishDino, which follows a similar model, and raise seed investment by A15. Mumm were selected as a finalist in the Startup Demo competition in Cairo, and were one of the top 5 finalists at the Startup Championship in Dubai.
Category: Homemade Food
JustMop is a cleaner booking app where users can book a housemaid. Founders Kerem Kuyucu and Ali Cagatay Ozcan decided to build an online marketplace for cleaning companies after co-founder Ozcan moved to Dubai with his wife and found the cleaning industry to be fragmented with problems in transparency of quality, availability and pricing. The aim of the marketplace was to establish a filtering system for cleaners. Justmop is currently operating in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar, where it provides users with pre-screened and well-trained maid services.
Users can book services through the website and mobile applications, and once a cleaning company completes a session, they pay JustMop a commission, and are additionally charged a fee for JustMop’s software. So far, Justmop have served tens of thousands of customers, have made over a million dollars in gross revenue and are in the process of due diligence analysis for other potential markets, with two more countries in the pipeline. Striving to become the go-to marketplace for all cleaning services all around GCC, Justmop have no known regional competitors supplying reliable cleaners, same day availability and 24/7 customer support.
As for investment, the self-funded startup recently closed a round with an undisclosed amount in December last year led by Nevzat Aydin, the founding CEO of Yemeksepeti, and with the new capital, they plan to attract top talent, build proprietary tech and international growth.
Founded by Abdullah Asiri, Hatem Kameli, Mohammed Milyani and Dr. Mazen Melibari, Lucidya is a Jeddah-based startup that provides social media analytics and monitoring tools to help businesses make strategic decisions using big data and machine learning. With a Software-As-A-Service (SAAS) commercial model, Lucidya analyzes content in over 30 languages, including Arabic, based on algorithms.
In December 2016, Lucidya partnered up with Twitter to work on a Twitter analyzer with the capacity to archive 8 million tweets a day, and is looking to expand its data sources to Facebook and Instagram. In January 2017, Lycidya received a $133,000 grant from Microsoft to develop and expand its infrastructure. While Lucidya is not unique in its business model, what sets it apart from regional competitors such as Egypt-based Badr IT and Crowd Analyzer is that it offers tailored monitoring and analysis based on the local market.
Country: Saudi Arabia
Category: Social Media Analytics
8. Sadeem Wireless Sensing Systems
Sadeem provides flood information through sensors to concerned entities, like city planners, municipality representatives and emergency responders to enable efficient allocation of available resources. Ahmad Dehwah, Mustafa Mousa, Esteban Canepa and Christian Claudel founded the startup to cut economic losses caused by floods and build a safer environment. The idea of monitoring the progression of flash floods came after the catastrophic Jeddah floods in 2009, which caused more than a hundred casualties. Casualties in such instances are often due to the lack of a real-time monitoring system broadcasting accurate flood data, maps and forecasts to the public and emergency responders.
After five years of research, development and testing at both the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and the University of Texas Austin, Sadeem was developed. Sadeem enables officials to warn the public via messages or smartphone applications, or even control the traffic through traffic sensors. The data generated by the sensors is available in real time to the city operators and to the public, in the form of flood propagation maps and short term forecasts. These maps can be visualized on mobile devices and onboard vehicles. Sadeem also provides data and advice to support important decisions such as evacuation.
In addition to winning a $30K prize as the best technology-based startup of KAUST, Sadeem is currently negotiating with investors for their series A round of investment. Being an international business in nature, Sadeem intends to export its technology worldwide.
Country: Saudi Arabia
Category: Smart sensors
Bookr is a beauty salon and spa booking app. It was founded by Zaina Al Bader after she moved to Kuwait and saw high interest in beauty treatments in the country. Through the booker app, users can search for beauty salons and directly book an appointment. After choosing the preferred time for booking, users can either pay through the app or in-store when they go to their appointment.
Bookr is currently looking at Lebanon and Egypt as areas of expansion, as well as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Dubai and Bahrain. Regional Competitors of Bookr are Spoilee in Saudi Arabia and Vaniday and BEEM in the UAE. Self-funded Bookr is planning on facing this competition by using a different revenue model in the future such as subscription fees with vendors or a transaction fees from payments.
Kanakol is an app to view menus of AI suggested restaurants and pre-order food for dine-in and takeaway. Founded by Hamza Laalj, it provides one platform for the entire dining experience. The app aims to minimize time wasted on looking and waiting for food. Users can browse what and where to eat, and pre-order, allowing them to spend more time enjoying the food and less time waiting.
To use Kanakol, people can download the app available on both Apple and Play stores. Next, they are suggested selected restaurants and can browse menus with photos and prices of dishes. Once they add preferred items to their cart, they can choose the time they’re going to the restaurant and pre-order. Kanakol is currently only operating in Morocco, but is planning to expand to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Casablanca, Rabat, Marrakech and Tangier in the near future.
Kanakol is self-funded with $10,000 from family and friends. So far, it supports 25 restaurants, and is adding new ones every two weeks. It currently has 6000 users, all from Tangier, Morocco, where the app is operating. Kanakol’s regional competitor is the food app Zomato. However, while Zomato allows users to browse menus and rate, Kanakol has an added feature which allows users to pre-order meals before going into a restaurant. Another feature that sets Kanakol apart from its competitors is that it provides a direct photo for every item in the menu, so users can see exactly what their order will look like.
Category: Food Pre-Order