10 MENA Startups to Put on Your Radar

Lynn Bizri, Jan 09 2017

In every issue, we bring you a list of startups from the MENA region to keep an eye on. This winter, we have selected a diverse range of startups that include everything from education to food delivery and assistive technology

Carriage is a food-delivery service in Kuwait that offers delivery from registered restaurants, many of which don’t usually deliver, with live-tracking of orders. Abdullah Al-Mutawa, owner of The Stack restaurant and founder of Carriage, came up with the business model after he wanted to start offering a delivery service for his restaurant and realized how hassling and expensive it would be to set up.  

Carriage’s process is straightforward. Customers select their area, choose from a list of over 50 restaurants, and place their order. The order is then seen instantly by both the restaurant and the nearest available driver, who then heads to the restaurant to pick up the order and deliver it to the client. In the meantime, customers can track their order and view the estimated time of arrival. Customers can pay cash on delivery or online via credit cards, and Carriage earns one KD per order regardless of location or the order size/value.

While Carriage is entering a very competitive market, which includes Carriage’s main competitor, Talabat.com, Carriage is unique in that it acts as a link between restaurants and clients, and takes care of all logistic services. Carriage also does not have a ‘minimum-order’ policy and is one of the fastest food delivery services in Kuwait, with the average delivery taking an average of 45 minutes. While preparing to launch Carriage in January, the team received a seed capital fund of $1.3 million to kick-start the project, and Kuwaiti investors increased the funding again in May.

Country: Kuwait
Launched: May 2016
Category: Food Delivery

Mintrics is a social video analytics tool that provides the science behind video content creation. The tool analyzes data and gives unique metrics, charts and benchmarks that explain how the video is doing, and then gives recommendations on how to improve. Tarek Nasr and Tarek Shalaby, who run a digital creative agency called ThePlanet in Cairo, founded the startup earlier this year after they couldn’t find a tool to measure how their creative video content on Facebook was performing, as Facebook Insights was too basic and did not dig deep into the metrics. Today, Mintrics is the only tool that analyzes compares and benchmarks videos across Facebook and YouTube using users’ tokens and not Facebook API.

To start getting their videos analyzed, users simply login to Facebook through the Mintrics website. The platform then collects all the videos from all the pages that the user manages and automatically provides color-coded metrics for each video, including total views, total read, shareability (how many shares for every 1000 views), engagement and retention. Once a user selects a video from the list, they are able to view far more detailed metrics, many of which are unique to Mintrics, and access an analysis that informs them how they can do better. Mintrics currently has three payment plans, each of which comes with a 15-day free trial, and users analyzing up to 10 videos can use Mintrics for free.

Brands and content creators that have used Mintrics to analyze their videos include the likes of Buzzfeed, GoPro, LG, Disney, AJ+, Facebook, American Idol and several others. Mintrics has been used to analyze 251,899 videos up to date, and has garnered 56,603,550,972 views so far. In addition to receiving an undisclosed seed fund in February, and an angel investment in June, Mintrics were also one of 72 applicants, out of 450 total, that were chosen to participate in a four-month Swiss program by Boston-based Accelerator program MassChallenge that ended in September.

Country: Egypt
Launched: February 2016
Category: Video Analytics

Tutorama is an online marketplace in Egypt connecting parents with top quality tutors. Founded in January, co-founders Mohamad Khodeir and Omar Khashaba have been working on a pilot and officially launched it to a select number of users in October. Born out of the realization that school is often not the complete solution to education, Tutorama is based on personalized education and the belief that children can achieve amazing things if they have the right support system.

Tutorama gives parents access to a database of tutors, all of whom are top academic performers and have undergone technical assessments. Through the platform, parents can schedule and pay for an online or offline tutoring session, and monitor their child’s progress. With a 150LE per hour rate, the platform allows for sessions at home or in public, and the startup charges a commission on each session booked.

Tutorama’s journey has been filled with success. This past April, Tutorama were the first place winner of the ‘Ideas Track’ at the MITEF Arab Startup Competition, winning $15,000. They then went on to win first place at the Seedstars Alexandria competition during the Techne Summit, and closed their first round of investment from A15 in October after which they launched the pilot to 100 users. The investment will enable Tutorama to scale, recruit more tutors and launch the platform in the rest of the MENA region by the end of the year.

While similar platforms exist worldwide, Tutorama currently has no competition in the area apart from the freelance tutoring industry.

Country: Egypt
Launched: January 2016
Category: Education

Skiplino is a free, cloud-based queue management system that allows businesses to handle customer queues at their facilities by monitoring real-time data and staff performance, collecting live customer feedback, and assessing valuable data to speed up processes and improve services. Skiplino is the first product to be launched by Level Z, a startup factory founded by Bahraini native Zaman AH Zaman.

The process starts with customers booking their queuing tickets in a company’s location. The app calculates the distance from the location, the traffic inside the service provider, and the average speed of service, before informing the customer when they should arrive. For walk-in customers not using the app, an on-site tablet app is available for customers to book or sign up. In addition, a TV app is used to display the called/booked tickets and information on-site.

In February, Skiplino joined Microsoft’s cloud-based program Bizspark Plus, with the aim of boosting Skiplino’s sales and audience reach. They are currently working on adding 18 languages in addition to Arabic and English and aim to have 5,000 partnering branches in the next three years. While the Skiplino team is not the first to come up with a queuing solution, it is the first of its kind in the region and only costs between $99 and $149 per month for companies compared to the higher rates of other solution providers. They are currently on-boarding 40 service providers from around the globe including banks, telecoms, and government agencies.

Country: Bahrain
Launched: January 2016
Category: Cloud-based Management System

Cura is a self-funded Saudi-based startup that offers patients ‘e-medical’ services through a smartphone application, allowing them to choose from a list of licensed doctors. Co-founded by Abdullah Alswaha, Wael Kableh, and Mohammad Zekrallah, Alswaha was inspired to create Cura after he found out how difficult it was to book a doctor’s appointment, especially for single complaints not requiring lengthy examinations.

Cura is not the only app that offers this type of service, and has several competitors in the Arab world including Altibbi (UAE), Vezeeta (Egypt), Meddy (Qatar), and Tebcare (Gaza). However, Cura differentiates itself in that it offers advanced instant communication between patients and doctors as well as an extensive directory of different medical specialties. For example, with Cura, patients’ consultations are entirely online: users communicate with their doctor via text, voice notes, and video, send images of their medical files and tests through a messaging system and doctors can also set up a clinic appointment with the patient if needed via the platform.

Cura is currently focused on the Saudi market, however plans to expand to the GCC and Egypt in the next three years. They also plan to add a wider range of medical services covering all aspects of the Saudi healthcare industry and partner with pharmacies/medical labs to digitize their services. While the application is currently free, Cura plans to adopt a subscription-based model that will give members access to an unlimited number of consultations, and incentivize doctors by giving them a percentage of revenues.

Country: Saudi Arabia
Launched: 2016
Category: Health

Mind Rockets Inc.
Established this year, Mind Rockets Inc. develops assistive technologies for the deaf community using animated avatars that translate real-time speech/text into sign language. The idea for the startup stemmed from the fact that offline assistive technology models are unable to bridge the persistent information gap, and according to Mind Rocket’s Business Development Executive Malek Zuaiter, there are no companies currently supporting Arabic Sign Language.

The company’s first application, Mimix, was an American Sign Language interpreter and has 32,000 users in the US and Canada, while the Arabic version, Turjaman, was launched mid-August, is available on both Android and iOS and has thousands of downloads on each. The application can be used by non-deaf people learning sign language, as well as by deaf people themselves, facilitating communication in the absence of a translator. Users simply input writing or record their speech, which is then translated live by the application into sign language.

In addition to the two applications, Mind Rockets Inc. are planning to release a video interpreter in which avatars will appear in the corner of a screen to interpret movies/videos and a free translation website that can translate any language to sign language. Mind Rockets Inc. was selected as the best startup in Jordan at Seedstars in September, winning the chance to attend the Seedstars Summit in Switzerland next year, and reached the 3rd stage in the K-startup Grand Challenge in August along with 40 others out of more than 2,400 startups from around the world.

Country: Jordan
Launched: October 2016
Category: Assistive Technologies

Boxit provides smart solutions for physical storage by connecting consumers with storage facilities and was started by CEO Premlal Pullisserry in Kuwait. Pullisserry came up with the idea as an answer to the problem of not wanting to throw away items when faced with modern-day space shortage and physical constrictions.

To order boxes, users use the app/website to select the number of boxes they need. The boxes are delivered to the user’s location at the scheduled time and date. The user can name the boxes and take photos of the items on the app, creating a visual catalogue, and when done, schedule a pickup. Users pay KD 3 per box per month, and the boxes are stored in secure partner warehouses. Though there are other self-storage companies in the region, Boxit asserts that its unique selling proposition is enabling customers to manage their things digitally, only pay for the space they use, and utilize the existing infrastructure of warehouses and delivery partners.

This May, the startup raised $600,000 in seed funding, led by Wamda Capital with contributions from Kuwait-based Arzan VC, Dubai-based investor Equitrust and others. Boxit also received almost US $100,000 in angel funding from active angel investor and tech enthusiast Sabah Al Bader. Boxit have also won several competitions including Startup MENA’s GCC Pitch Challenge 2015, the Kuwait edition of South Summit 2015, Smart City App Hack 2015 and were first runner-up at Seedstars Word’s Dubai 2015 round.

Boxit plan to spend the money on new hires, marketing, and launching new boxes. The startup recently expanded to the UAE market and plan to expand to Saudi Arabia and Egypt next. 

Country: Kuwait
Launched: March 2015
Category: Storage

SupLift is a platform that helps people who want to learn new hobbies and leisure skills find local experts to coach and mentor them. SupLift provides access to classes given by local experts that include everything from learning musical instruments and a new sport to foreign languages and art. SupLift was founded by Saudi entrepreneur Fadi Yahya, who wanted to offer people a chance to learn a leisure activity while making friends in their community.

To get started, users simply need to enter their city, select the skill or hobby they would like to learn and the date of availability. They can also scroll through a list of all currently available classes instead. After selecting an activity, users will have access to a description of the class, the class fee, the number of sessions and persons per class, the curriculum and the available starting dates. SupLift is also especially useful for the instructors themselves since logistic aspects such as payment, managing the courses and package are all taken care of.

Today, around twenty coaches are listed on the website, and about a hundred coaches are already waiting to be screened before going public. Although the startup is currently based in Jeddah, it plans to expand both regionally and globally. There are also plans to add more social features to the app as well as ratings for instructors’ profiles. While SupLift is not the first of its kind, it has no direct competition in the region.

Country: Saudi Arabia
Launched: 2016
Category: Leisure

Myki is a Beirut-based cyber-security startup, founded by Antoine Jebara and Priscilla Sharuk, who developed the first advanced password and online identity manager in the region providing smartphone users with secure access to online services without the need to type in their credentials every time they log into an account. Team administrators can also see when and where team members are accessing online accounts and set custom location, time and IP-based rules.

To use Myki, a person needs to add their accounts and associated login credentials to the mobile app and install a Google Chrome extension. Whenever the user tries to log into a website or email, the app sends a request to their phone. Once the user validates it, via fingerprint authentication or the provided pin, the app automatically sends the username and password to the site. Administrators can authorize a variety of services, whether traditional browser logins or complex enterprise software, for login through Myki.

Unlike most identity management solutions in the market, Myki stores data on mobile phones instead of the cloud, meaning hackers cannot crack users’ passwords unless they get hold of their phone, computer and fingerprint. While the app was offered three years ago in stealth to businesses willing to test and help build it, the company officially launched this September during Disrupt SF 2016 Startup Battlefield, which Myki was selected to participate in. Earlier this year, Myki also received a seed investment from BECO Capital which they plan to use to accelerate product development and take their company to the next level.

Country: Lebanon
Launched: September 2016
Category: Cyber-Security

Wing.ae is an on-demand marketplace application that allows customers to book transportation to move parcels of any size across the UAE.  The idea for Wing.ae was born after cofounders Muzaffar Karabaev and Sanjar Samiev discovered that there were very few tech solutions in the field of delivery and logistics.  Their aim is to use technology to enable carriers to make use of spare capacity, cut down on emissions and increase profitability while providing customers with a reliable service.

To make their order, users use Wing.ae’s website or the mobile application. After specifying the weight of the parcel, pick-up location, drop-off location and courier type, users can specify the pick-up/drop-off time and day, add parcel details, input sender and recipient contact information as well as view the estimated fee of delivery. Once the order has been accepted, users can track the delivery in real-time and are shown the distance to pick-up and drop-off. Users can also rate a driver and vice versa, which helps optimize inefficiencies in the market and elevates the level of service.

Just a few months in its launch, Wing.ae managed to raise an undisclosed amount of seed-funding from the region’s e-commerce giant Souq.com. Moving forward, Wing.ae aim to improve their order allocation algorithm for couriers and improve their API for merchants/customers. The team is also working on growing their network of courier services and adding new features such as international shipping, COD (cash on delivery), balance management, and promotions.

Country: UAE
Launched: 2016
Category: Transportation


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