Meet the 3 Winners of the 2016 MITEF Startups Track

Mohamad Salhab, May 02 2016

Looking into the top three winners of the Startups Track, part of the ninth Arab Startup Competition, organized by the MIT Economic Forum (MITEF), we see creative, informative, and entertaining offerings. These companies prevailed in a sea of about 6,000 individual applicants from 21 Arab countries.

Below is a glimpse of these excelling companies, and what they have in store for MENA’s future tech and digital services.

1st Prize: Ghinwa Setting the Stage!

Ghinwa(Arabic for song), earned $50,000 participating in the Arab Startup Competition, the first and only competition it has taken part in.

The app allows everyone who likes Karaoke to further explore their talents and share their performances on social media. Arabic music lovers can vocalize their favorite songs that will be licensed from copyright owners.

“It is the stage for every musical talent, as close as possible to an artistic experience,” as co-founder and CEO Mohammad Almunaikh puts it. “Every song can be followed, shared, saved, and promoted across different social media platforms.”

A team of 3 Kuwaiti and 2 Spanish specialists in music, design, programming, and investment, had been working on the app for a year. They are a few weeks away from launching the Beta version of Ghinwa, which they consider a response to MENA’s gap in the Karaoke genre.  

“Many people among us would like to become singers, or just even have the ability to practice singing whether in solo or as group activity. This kind of pastime is not available to the Arabic speaker, or at least not in enjoyable quality,” added Almunaikh.

Ghinwa received an angel round of investment in 2015 when it was part of Sirdab Lab boot camp in Kuwait. It was later accepted by In5 incubator, and moved its headquarters to Dubai.

It is the aim of the company to generate enough traction and test different business models like freemium and advertisement. “There’s no specific price for good music, but we are hoping to unleash Umm Kulthum and Mohammed Abdu levels of talent among MENA’s 350 million people,” said Almunaikh.

2nd Prize: Zamen, Towards Relevant Arabic News

Zamen was the recipient of the second prize, worth $15,000. It isan app that offers real-time news feeds, filtered to display only the topics that are relevant to users. Its Cairo makers compare Zamen to Flipboard, while stressing that there has been “no successful global competitor in MENA.”

This is due to the lack in technology that transforms Arabic content from websites into an experience that MENA smartphone users can relate to. “Zamen relies on big data analytics to be unique. It is the only available Arabic option that understands the users’ reading patterns, showing them articles that they are interested in,” said CEO Tarek Mansour.

Zamen fills a gap between international and Arabic news apps, which Mansour considers to be “slow” and “drown users with plenty of articles that do not interest them.” The app displays full articles and includes a new, soon-to-be-patented technology called “Fast Articles”, making it 10 times faster to load news articles than from their original websites.

In addition, Zamen, which is available on Apple Store, can display full articles, with images on smart watches. 

Since February 2016, the app has had 150,000 active users, who viewed articles more than 60 million times, and read articles 5 million times. There are currently 7 members onboard, with a branch in Cairo and another in the technology incubator Dubai Silicon Oasis.

Zamen has never received an investment nor been a part of an accelerator program. It has user premium subscriptions, and made partnerships with 37 MENA publishers such as Wamda, ArabHardware, and Apple World. The plan is to make publishers pay yearly fees for extra features in Zamen. It has already published advertising and sponsored content, making campaigns for Careem, Gameloft, and Sygic, among others.

3rd Prize: B8ak, Maintenance like Never Before

In third place, B8akearned $10,000. It is an app-based, centralized platform that facilitates ordering home maintenance and repair works via a network of professional providers. It offers over 20 services that include plumbing, electricity, air conditioning, IT, and energy saving recommendations.

According to Managing Director Khalid Alhmili, the Saudi-based B8ak has two main objectives. The first is to enable customers to order home maintenance services in less than a minute from qualified local service providers in each Saudi city. The second is to create more than 30,000 jobs for Saudi technicians by registering them in the application.

“Expect a major evolution in the home maintenance market in KSA and GCC. B8ak is unique by providing a user-friendly app and quality service – we also offer a one-month warranty on jobs as part of our ‘Customer Happiness Center’,” added Alhmili.

B8ak grew from a two-person team when launched in November 2015, to 9 current members. It has more than 15,000 users today and won several awards including 3rd place in the Startup Demo competition at ArabNet Riyadh 2015, 1st place in Ideathon competition at ArabNet Riyadh 2014, and 1st place in the startup competition at MITEF Enterprise Forum Saudi Arabia in 2014.

B8ak is self-funded by the co-founders and family members. It takes a commission fee from the verified service providers for each order received via the app, and completed by one of these providers.

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