For many, the Middle East hardly seems the locale for a burgeoning entrepreneurial scene. But over the last decade, the region has witnessed strong advances made by young minds to improve civil society across the region.
The proliferation of start-up incubators across the region has played a large role in enabling young firms to flourish by offering microfinance loans to jump start businesses and solve social problems. This wave of entrepreneurship and its focus on building and overcoming the myriad of political, economic, security and social challenges facing the region is helping to shape a new narrative of the Middle East from Tunis to Beirut to Abu Dhabi.
GRI presents 10 Middle East start-ups to keep an eye on in 2016:
Ilboursa.com (Tunis, Tunisia)
Ilboursa.com is one of Tunisia’s first stock exchange news website and is one of the most visited online sites in the country, averaging 80,000 visitors a month. Young entrepreneur Ismail Ben Sassi founded the company in 2012 with the intention of offering data to help investors in Tunisia make better financial decisions.
Digikala.com (Tehran, Iran)
Digikala is an online Iranian e-commerce site similar to Amazon. It has been hugely successful, ranked as the sixth most visited website in Iran, and is the biggest of its kind in the Middle East. With around 750,000 visitors per day and more than 2.3 million subscribers, 85-90% of Iran’s e-commerce takes place on Digikala. Experts say the company is likely to more greatly benefit from sanctions relief this year and better exposure to Western markets.
Refugee Open Ware (Amman, Jordan)
Founded in 2015, Refugee Open Ware (ROW) that uses advanced technology such as 3D printing, robotics, the internet of things, brain-computer interface and virtual/augmented reality to alleviate the humanitarian struggles faced by Syrian refugees. The concept is to bring popup FabLabs to active war and refugee zones and teach locals to ‘hack’ what supplies and materials they have on hand and turn them into the materials and tools that they need.
Gaza Sky Geeks (Gaza, Palestine)
Founded in 2011, Gaza Sky Geeks is fueling an entrepreneur network in the Gaza Strip, advising young talent in how to pursue their business ideas and launch their first companies. The group has expanded rapidly over the last several years, hosting over 100 competitions and trainings that have reached more than 1,500 youth. In an area where unemployment is at 43% among youths, the highest in the world, Gaza Sky Geeks is driving a startup movement to last.
NOMADD Desert Solar Solutions (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
The NOMADD is The NO-water Mechanical Automated Dusting Device, a smart and ecological desert solar panel cleaning system that manages waste build-up from solar energy production. The device is ideal for solar panels placed in desert conditions, where high amounts of dust can affect solar energy production. The startup has so far raised $200,000 and is likely to expand as demand for solar energy grows. The Saudi Oil Minister announced in 2014 the launch of a $100 billion solar program for Saudi Arabia. Other markets like the UAE, Jordan, Egypt and India are also hot for solar energy.
JFrog (Netanya, Israel)
JFrog is a development operations firms founded in 2008 and offers infrastructure for software management and distribution. Its estimated revenue in 2015 was around $25 million and in the start of 2016 the group announced it raised $50 million from investors to push their products this year.
The Blue House (Taghazout, Morocco)
The Blue House both a start-up and a start-up retreat. Started in early 2015, the Blue House hosts “start-ups in residence,” offer room and board for young entrepreneurs looking for a quiet, relaxing space to think, organize, and develop their ideas. It also offers collaborative activities to encourage quick thinking and interpersonal skills. Still in its early stages, the Blue House is likely to continue expanding and catch the attention of entrepreneurs from Europe and Silicon Valley for its cross-cultural networking opportunities.
Anghami (Beirut, Lebanon)
Anghami is the first music streaming platform in the MENA region, offering unlimited music similar to Spotify. Since its inception in 2012, the site now has over 11 million users with offices in both Beirut and Dubai. As the region continues to see a growth in the middle class and mobile technology expands, Anghami is projected to grow substantially in the coming years.
RecycloBekia (Cairo, Egypt)
RecycloBekia is an electronic waste recycling company based in Egypt and serving the Middle East and North Africa region. It is the first company in the Arab world offering green recycling of electronic waste and safe data destruction services. Since its initial launch two years ago, Recyclobekia has succeeded in building an e-waste collection network serving more than 25 big companies in Egypt and across the region.
Fetchr (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Fetchr developed an app that uses a customer’s GPS location to deliver merchandise. It currently ships in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. In 2015, the group raised $11 million in a series A round led by New Enterprise Associates in June, making it the first early stage investment in an Arab startup by a top U.S. venture capital firm.