10 MENA Startups to Put on Your Radar - Spring 2015

Wael Nabbout, Feb 26 2015

While entrepreneurs keep springing up across the Arab region, it’s been hard to keep up with the latest and greatest startups around. To keep you up to date on the most innovative minds and their newborn endeavors, we have compiled a list of 10 recent startups that you should keep an eye on.

 

RedTroops

An in-app advertising platform with potential to disrupt the industry, RedTroops was designed to remove the need for a middleman between app developers and advertisers. Through the platform, advertisers create their own ads using a simple drag and drop ad builder and interact directly with developers on the RedTroops MarketPlace. Building the ads requires zero knowledge of code, and the service promises better terms and tangibility for both the advertisers and app owners. Red Troops recently secured $100,000 in seed funding from MENA Ventures Investments and a few other individual investors and plans for a bigger round soon.

Country of origin: Jordan
Date of launch: July 2014
Category: Advertising

 

mrUsta

mrUsta is an online marketplace that links residents with different service providers in the UAE; a web 2.0 yellow pages service. It lists builders, plumbers, mechanics and the likes and provides people with a space to read and write reviews. Usta is the Turkish word for master, and there are currently 2900 such individuals available on the platform, spread over 200 categories. The site currently attracts over 17 thousand page views per month and has witnessed a 32% increase from Q2 to Q3 of 2014.

Right now the service doesn’t cost ustas anything, but plans to charge a fee starting April: 2 to 3 AEDs for every call they receive. To do so, the company will work directly with local telecom providers which would deduct the fee directly from their phone bills.

Country of origin: UAE
Date of launch: January 2014
Category: Online marketplace

 

Kotobna

Kotobna is a web and mobile publishing platform that aims to help young Arab authors publish and monetize their work, all while offering readers with affordable e-books and easy payment methods. Similar to RedTroops, Kotobna is cutting off the middleman, who in this instance happens to be traditional, picky, and expensive publishing houses. Authors upload their content in pdf format; Kotobna says that it handles promoting the work. The service employs a rather peculiar pricing scheme; the first 25 downloads are free, the next 100 would cost 5 Egyptian pounds (EGP) after which the price settles on 10 EGPs. They have no investments announced yet.

Country of origin: Egypt
Date of launch: June 2014
Category: Web publishing

 

Locname

Short for ‘location’ and ‘name’, Locname is a web and mobile service that creates a name and a corresponding URL such as ‘www.locname.com/name,’ for addresses. Just like Enwani and Makani, Locname aims to mitigate the pains of giving directions in the Arab region. Visiting the URL reveals the address, an embedded Google map, a description, and contact information. In addition to the URL, users can use a generated QR code to share that info. The service can also give out directions to a specific destination, or conversely, guide others to a user if he or she so desires. 

The idea is to simplify typing out long, complicated addresses, which are particularly frustrating when they are spelled in a foreign language. E-commerce is an area of interest for the creators; the company offers an API that companies could use in their delivery and shipping operations. Mourad Alashry, Locname's CEO, claims that 8% of commerce is lost because of inaccurate information on location. API use will remain free for the first year. The service has already been featured on Gizmag and Wired. The company received seed funding from Flat6Labs and gathered 1400 users in its first month of activity.

Country of origin: Egypt
Date of launch: February 2014
Category: Utility

 

Aodle

Our pick for most ambitious is Aodle, a language agnostic social network. The idea is to break down language barriers and enable users from different parts of the world to communicate with one another. When you type in your message in your native tongue, or any language for that matter, the system automatically translates it for the person reading it. The service also supports voice recognition, which makes communicating easier and more engaging. The service claims that is has more than 600,000 users worldwide.

Country of origin: Yemen
Date of launch: June 2014
Category: Social network

 

Elymu

Targeting another niche marketplace, Elymu is a platform for anyone looking to hire coaches or mentors. Elymu is a Swahili word that originates from the Arabic word ‘علم’. The company, founded by Lebanese entrepreneur Layla El Zein, develops tailored content and tools targeting individuals, coaches, and corporates, to help make coaching and mentoring more efficient and effective. Like mrUsta, Elymu is part of an ever growing pack of online marketplaces dedicated to a specific service or group of services. The most popular and successful of the bunch has been online doctor-patient interaction platforms, which hold great appeal for investors that lust over their data. Others are not as lucky and are inherently weaker in this aspect. Elymu, on the other hand, could generate valuable data from its clients, notably corporates.

Country of origin: Lebanon
Date of launch: February 2015
Category: Online marketplace

 

Nazamly

Nazamly is an online financial management tools suite dedicated to SMEs. The company, founded by Mohamed Zaki, offers online POS and data security solutions, features automated accounting and inventory, delivers ready-made and customizable Chart of Accounts with real time sales, and can generate sales and warehouse reports. The system is also able to control sales and inventory from multiple branches. It differentiates itself in the market by adopting the RemedyERP solution that the team has been working on since 2006. The solution has been stable and tested since 2013, and has more than 180 users and over 3 million rows of data. As of 2014, they have packaged the solution as a POS with integrated accounting and inventory to make it ready for use to the public.

Country of origin: Egypt
Date of launch: July 2014
Category: Financial management

 

B8ak

B8ak is an online services marketplace aimed at homeowners and landlords in Saudi Arabia and provides access to handymen and service providers. This type of service seems to be gaining increasing popularity among entrepreneurs. The Arab region already features several similar services, each targeting a specific country, such as the Lebanese-based M3allem.com, the Moroccan M3alem.com, and the UAE-based mrUsta. B8ak tries to differentiate itself by not automating all human relationships. Once a request is placed for a specific service, a B8ak representative contacts the user and handles the request. The service also includes customer care, which is unusual for online services platforms, in addition to a maintenance scheduler. Furthermore, the company claims that it can help users with smart automatics maintenance, and energy and water conservation recommendations based on their service data history. It is set to officially launch soon this year.

Country of origin: Saudi Arabia
Date of launch: Coming soon
Category: Online marketplace

 

Maqtoob

Maqtoob is a treasure trove for entrepreneurs looking to get their businesses up and running quickly and inexpensively. Co-founded by Adil Gherib, Maqtoob is an online directory and discovery platform for business tools available on the web. It has over 1000 tools so far in its database, all hand-picked by the Maqtoob team. The startup was featured on Forbes as best new startup to help entrepreneurs and SMEs. It is currently in the final weeks of the Oxygen Incubator program and has been in “beta” launch for the past three months.

Country of origin: Singapore / England
Date of launch: 2014
Category: Application discovery platform

 

El Wafeyat

Our list ends with El Wafeyat, an online obituary page. A normal obituary in the newspapers can cost up to $1500 and yet lasts for only one day. El Wafeyat charges a measly $50 for an online equivalent. So far, the service has had about 200,000 customers use it, with a 30% month over month growth. Although the platform is similar to Khoolood.com, the company managed to steal the spotlight away from competitors by attracting a number of renowned investors, including Dave McClure. It was incubated by Flat6labs in Egypt, received funding by Cairo Angels and Fawaz Al Gosaibi Holdings, then later joined 500 Startups where it received an additional $100,000 in cash.

Country of origin: Egypt
Date of launch: 2014
Category: Online obituaries and condolences

 

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