50 MENA startups made it to Forbes Middle East, 8 Women-led startups

50 MENA startups made it to Forbes Middle East, 8 Women-led startups
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Featured image credits: Forbes; Content source: Forbes


Here’s to the proud moment for the MENA startup ecosystem, Forbes has issued its latest edition of Forbes Middle East magazine “The Middle East’s 50 Most-Funded Startups 2020“. The renowned American business magazine qualified startups in accordance with the following criteria:

  • Startups lesser than 7-years-old
  • Have raised at least $5 million in total funding from external investors, excluding founders’ shares and loans.
  • The cut off for funding: September 25, 2020

The magazine on its official page of The Middle East’s 50 Most-Funded Startups came up with some cornerstone analysis relating to the startup investments happening across the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region – backing the growth in startup funding deals happened in the region.

According to Forbes, 29 startups were able to surpass the challenges posed by the pandemic and raise funding in 2020. These startups altogether secured over $425 million in funding this year. And the figure is expected to increase by the end of the year, as many startups are currently in the middle of closing funding rounds.

Top 10 most funded startups in the Middle East – 2020

Out of 50 startups, 33 are based in the UAE – making UAE the most active startup ecosystem in the MENA region, followed by Saudi Arabia with 7 most funded startups; Egypt with 4 startups; Jordan with 3 startups; Lebanon with 2, and Kuwait with 1. Out 50, here are the top 10 most funded startups of the MENA region according to Forbes:

#1 – Pure Harvest Smart Farms

Founded in 2016 by Sky Kurtz, Mahmoud Adi, and Robert Kupstas, UAE-based Pure Harvest uses controlled environment agriculture technology to produce fresh fruits and vegetables in high-tech greenhouse facilities. According to the company, it currently produces over 20 varieties of tomatoes and six varieties of strawberries, among other things. Co-founders Robert Kupstas and Sky Kurtz met through the Stanford University alumni network in 2016 – Mahmoud Adi joined the team in the same year. The company received seed funding in 2017, and in March 2018 it began constructing its first high-tech greenhouse in Abu Dhabi. In April 2020, Pure Harvest announced a Series A funding round of $110 million led by Wafra International Investment Company. It now has plans to expand to Kuwait.

#2 – Swvl

Founded in 2016 by Mostafa Kandil and Ahmed Sabbah, UAE-based bushailing app Swvl has built a network of over 600 lines in Cairo and Alexandria, and recently launched in Kenya and Pakistan. Swvl enables riders heading in the same direction to share fixed-route bus trips for a flat fare up to 70% cheaper than other ride-hailing apps. In 2019, the company secured one of the largest Series B rounds in the region, with $42 million raised. The company plans to use the funding to expand its global position and bring the service to more markets that suffer from an inadequate public transportation infrastructure.

#3 – Kitopi

Founded in 2018 by Mohamad Ballout, Saman Darkan, Bader Ataya and Andres Arenas, UAE-based Kitopi operates 30 kitchens across the U.S., Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., U.K. and Kuwait, and partners with more than 120 restaurants. Some of its clients include Operation Falafel, Pizza Express, Right Bite and UNDER500. In 2020, the startup raised $60 million from investors including US-Based Lumia Capital, which previously invested in Careem. Kitopi says it will use this funding to open 50 more locations in the U.S. and 100 globally by the end of 2020. Co-founder Mohamad Ballout also co-founded confectionery business BMB, while Saman Darkan was the Digital Transformation Director of Dubai-based architectural and engineering consultancy ARC International.

#4 – SellAnyCar.com

Founded in 2013 by Saygin Yalcin, UAE’s SellAnyCar.com raised $35 million in 2020, bringing its total funding to $50 million, according to the company. It plans to use the new capital to accelerate growth throughout the GCC, including opening 100 branches in Saudi Arabia, which could employ more than 300 Saudi nationals. Yalcin previously founded online private shopping club, Sukar.com, which was later sold to Amazon’s Souq.com.

#5 – Traveasy Group

Founded in 2013 by Geet Bhalla, Mohammed Bin Mahfouz, and Digvijay Pratap, Dubai, UAE-based Traveazy Group offers Umrah and leisure packages with Muslim-friendly attributes to their B2C and B2B customers through its two brands “HolidayMe” and “UmrahMe.” UmrahMe, launched in 2018, has become one of only three companies authorized by the Ministry of Hajj & Umrah to sell Umrah products to global travel agents, capturing 70% of Traveazy’s revenue shares. The group services more than two million travelers annually with a presence across more than 75 countries and offices in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, India and Singapore, according to the company.

#6 – Bayzat

Founded in 2013 by Talal Bayaa and Brian Habibi, Bayzat provides automated human resource services for businesses, including payroll, employee benefits, and insurance benefits. In October 2019, it announced a Series B funding round of $16 million led by Point72 Ventures and Mubadala. The company has raised a total of $31 million to date, with plans to invest the proceeds into technology and customer experience. Last year, the company released additional features including free payroll processing, EarlyPay, Attendance, and Doctor Bookings.

#7 – TruKKer

Founded in 2016 by Gaurav Biswas, and Pradeep Mallavarapu , UAE’s TruKKer operates road freight in four countries in the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia representing its largest market, according to the company. Today it has more than 22,000 trucks in its network and services more than 350 businesses across the region. In 2019, TruKKer secured $23 million in a Series A funding round from investors including STV and the World Bank, according to the company. Co-founder Gaurav Biswas previously served as director of AECOM, which delivered projects such as Yas Mall and the Warner Bros theme park in Abu Dhabi.

#8 – Nana

Founded in 2016 by Sami Alhelwah, Abdulmajeed Alsukhan, Bakr Elsherif, and Ahmed Alsamani, Saudi Arabia’s Nana has established itself as a leading e-grocery marketplace in Saudi Arabia, serving 14 cities across the kingdom. According to the company, it has tripled its turnover over the past year, as well as partnered with major supermarkets such as Carrefour, Panda, Spar, Farm Superstores and Manuel. In 2020, Nana raised $18 million to further expand across Saudi Arabia and internationally. It aims to deliver 100,000 orders every month to Saudi-based buyers by the end of 2020. Co-founder Sami Alhelwah previously co-founded Sadeem, a cloud management solutions company.

#9 – PayTabs

Founded in 2014 by Abdulaziz Al Jouf, Saudi Arabia’s PayTabs specializes in B2B payments solutions, and has so far processed transactions in 168 currencies across 49 industries, according to the company. Having secured a funding round of $20 million in 2017, PayTabs has focused on expanding across the MENA region, Southeast Asia, and several countries within Africa and Europe. It has offices in the U.A.E. and a presence in India, the Philippines and Bahrain. In 2019, the company set up operations in Egypt for the first time. It plans to launch its third product, PayTabs Switch, this year.

#10 – Halan

Founded in 2017 by Mounir Nakhla, Ahmed Mohsen, and Mohamed Aboulnaga, Egypt-based Halan operates its two and three-wheeler ride-hailing app in Egypt and Sudan, with plans to expand to Ethiopia. In 2020, it raised $14 million, bringing its total amount of funding to $23.5 million. In Egypt, the Halan app has also launched new verticals, including fast-food delivery, an e-payment solution for bills, an e-commerce platform, and peer-to-peer delivery. CEO Mounir Nakhla previously co-founded micro-financing firms Mashroey and Tasaheel. CCO Mohamed Aboulnaga is a former regional director at Careem, and CTO Ahmed Mohsen previously founded MusicQ and CircleTie. Uber’s founding CTO, Oscar Salazar, is a board member.


Women Entrepreneurs in sync

There is no denying to the fact that the MENA region is witnessing a rapid boom in its women-led startup ecosystem as a direct effort from the government putting women forward. Among the 50 startups, 8 were co-founded by women. The list of startups founded by women among Forbes’s list of Middle East’s 50 Most-Funded Startups are listed below:

#11 – Sehteq

Founded in 2017 by Saif AlJaibeji, and Noor AlKamil, hitting rank 11 in the list, UAE’s Sehteq offers low-cost health insurance plans to individuals and SMEs in the U.A.E. The company was founded in 2017, and has since amassed around 650,000 consumers and created a network of more than 2,200 providers, according to the company. Co-founder Saif AlJaibeji is an experienced physician and executive, who acted as regional CEO for U.S.-based healthcare company UnitedHealth Group. Co-founder Noor AlKamil is also a physician and holds a master’s degree in microbiology and immunology from Harvard University. Sehteq raised $23 million from U.A.E.-based 971 Capital this year.

#17 – Sprii

Founded in 2015 by Sarah Jones, UAE’s Sprii offers a wide selection of everything a parent might need, including clothing, accessories, toys and appliances. It was founded in 2015 by British entrepreneur Sarah Jones who previously worked as an assistant manager at Deloitte Middle East. Sprii has raised three funding rounds, amounting to $15 million, with its last round of $8.5 million in 2019. It plans to expand in MENA, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, and Bahrain.

#24 – iMile

Founded in 2017 by Rita Huang, Naveen Joseph, and Gao Wenli, with headquarters in the UAE, KSA, and China, iMile’s delivery services include cash on delivery, last mile delivery, international transport, and warehouse facilities. It was first launched in the U.A.E. and China in June 2017 and expanded to Saudi Arabia in 2018. Before starting iMile, CEO Rita Huang was previously the CTO of Alibaba Joint Venture in Dubai and a country manager for Huawei. Co-founder Naveen Joseph was formerly a manager at Amazon. In March 2020, the company raised $10 million in a pre-Series A funding round, led by a China-based venture capital firm. The proceeds will help the startup roll-out its services to Egypt, Kuwait and Morocco in a push for regional expansion.

#28 – Sarwa

Founded in 2017 by Mark Chahwan, Nadine Mezher, and Jad Sayegh, UAE’s Sarwa is a fully-digitized financial advisory platform. The firm was founded in 2017 after being accepted into the Fintech Hive at DIFC and has since registered over 10,000 users as of January 2020. Earlier this year, the startup secured $8.4 million in funding from investors including KIPCO and 500 Falcons by 500 Startups in California, bringing its total funding since its launch to $9.9 million. The company’s investment committee is composed of experts with experience from Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs.

#34 – ServiceMarket

Founded in 2013 by Bana Shomali and Wim Torfs, UAE’s ServiceMarket, previously launched in 2013 as MoveSouq, provides quotes and online bookings for moving, home services, and insurance through a network of more than 200 partners. The company offers home services in the U.A.E, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and Bahrain. In 2018, ServiceMarket secured $4 million in a Series B funding round, which it used to expand its offering in cleaning, car insurance, painting, maintenance and babysitting services. Co-founders Bana Shomali and Wim Torfs were both previously Mckinsey & Company consultants.

#37 – LoadMe

Founded in 2016 by Sebastian Stefan, Sebastian Morar, and Claudia Pacurar, UAE’s LoadMe is a transport management system on a cloud-based platform that connects cargo owners with available trucks in real time across the GCC, Levant countries and North Africa, and provides local and cross-border trucking services. Companies like Unilever, P&G and Kuhne+Nagel are among its clients. LoadME has secured $7.6 million in total funding, with $6.3 million raised in 2020 alone.

#39 – Medicus AI

Founded in 2016 by Baher Al Hakim, Nadine Nehme, and Makram Saleh, with headquarters in the UAE, and Austria, Medicus AI is an AI-based platform that is used by diagnostic labs and health insurance companies to provide patient-friendly health reports, as well as continuous and personalized wellbeing coaching. The company currently has operations in Vienna, Dubai, Paris, and Beirut.

#47 – MYKI

Founded in 2015 by Priscilla Elora Sharuk, and Antoine Vincent Jebara, Lebanon-based MYKI is a password management and authentication company that today has 40 employees and serves more than 700,000 customers across 172 countries. Global companies such as Barracuda, ConnectWise, and CB Insight are among its clients. The company is currently in the midst of another funding round, according to the co-founders.

Editor’s Note

When it comes to entrepreneurship and startup ecosystem, nothing influences me more than the passionate women and youth who are making a mark and setting examples and inspiration for the aspiring ones. For me, the two startups from the Lebanese startup ecosystem, Toters, and MYKI are the most impressive ones for earning their position in Forbes Middle East’s 50 Most-Funded Startups 2020 list, despite COVID-19 and the ongoing crisis in the country.


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About the author

Pradeep Singh

Co-founder & CTO of LAFFAZ. A full-stack developer, possessing 6+ years of experience in working closely with tech startups in India and UAE.

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