Startup Wrap – Saudi Arabia’s venture landscape receives influx of expanding startups

Retailo’s growth strategy focuses on expanding both its supplier network and customer base. Photo/Supplied
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Updated 03 December 2023
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Startup Wrap – Saudi Arabia’s venture landscape receives influx of expanding startups

CAIRO: Saudi Arabia’s entrepreneurial space is getting bigger with more startups raising funding and others expanding into the Kingdom.

On the funding announcement front, Saudi-based business-to-business e-commerce startup Retailo has successfully raised $15 million in a new equity funding round, drawing the attention of both new and returning investors.  

The investor lineup includes Yusuf Bin Kanoo Group, Technology Group, and Majd Digital, alongside previous backers including Aujan Group Holdings, Shorooq Partners, Abercross Holdings, and Graphene Ventures, among others. 

Co-founded in 2020 by Talha Ansari, Wahaj Ahmed, and Mohammad Nowkhaiz, Retailo offers a next-day delivery service for retailers and restaurants, boasting a catalog of over 5,000 stock-keeping units.  

This recent capital infusion marks another significant milestone for the company, following its $36 million series A funding last year, which was a combination of equity and venture debt. 

Retailo’s growth strategy focuses on expanding both its supplier network and customer base. The fresh funds are earmarked to support this expansion within the Saudi market, reinforcing the company’s position as a key player in the region’s e-commerce landscape. 

Adding to its achievements, Retailo has also established several strategic partnerships, including a technology distribution collaboration with Dtonic, a South Korean data solution company.  

This alliance will empower Retailo’s technology by enhancing its service offerings and operational efficiency. 

UAE’s fintech Yabi raises $8m to boost Saudi expansion 

UAE-based fintech startup Yabi has secured an $8 million equity funding round, signifying a major step in its journey towards Saudi expansion and product development.  

The round saw the participation of Al Wafra Al Thanya, joining an array of existing investors in supporting Yabi’s growth. 

This milestone follows closely on the heels of Yabi’s recent foray into the Saudi market, marking an expansion beyond its UAE base.  

Since its launch in the middle of this year, Yabi has been aiming to enhance financial literacy across regional markets. It achieves this through strategic B2B partnerships, integrating its services into employee well-being programs offered by corporate clients. 

Founded by Ambareen Musa, Yabi has rapidly established a client portfolio including prominent entities like Al-Futtaim, Careem, Chalhoub, and Al Ghurair.  

The fresh injection of capital will be instrumental in fueling Yabi’s continued growth. It plans to invest significantly in product development, aiming to bring financial solutions to a broader audience. 

Additionally, the funds will bolster Yabi’s efforts in accelerating its expansion across the Middle East, as it seeks to establish a stronger foothold in key regional markets. 

Oman’s food technology firm KitchenomiKs raises $1.8m to enter Saudi market 

Oman-based food technology startup KitchenomiKs has successfully raised $1.8 million in a pre-series A funding round as it aims to expand its regional footprint. 

Founded by Aankush Bhatia, Aju Samuel, and Shrikanth Shenoy, KitchenomiKs operates as a cloud kitchen with a modern culinary model that steers away from traditional physical storefronts.  

The company currently holds a portfolio of 12 food brands, offering a scalable model for culinary ventures without the burdensome overheads associated with physical restaurant spaces. 

The latest round of funding represents a crucial step in KitchenomiKs’ ambitious growth strategy. A key focus of this strategic plan is the launch of operations in Saudi Arabia, slated for early 2024.  

This significant financial boost, contributed by Omani and regional investors, has elevated the company's total funding to an impressive $3.5 million since its inception in 2022. 

UAE-based Immensa raises $20m to boost product development 

UAE-based Immensa has successfully secured $20 million in its series B equity funding round led by Global Ventures. 

The funding round also saw participation from new investors such as Endeavor Catalyst Fund and EDGO, alongside continued support from Energy Capital Group, Shorooq Partners, and Green Coast Investments. 

Founded in 2016 by Fahmi Al-Shawwa, Immensa specializes in providing on-demand access to spare parts, eliminating the need for mass manufacturing in traditional hubs like Southeast Asia, China, or Latin America.  

This approach not only streamlines the production process but also significantly reduces the lead time and costs associated with traditional manufacturing methods. 

The latest round of funding is poised to turbocharge Immensa’s global growth ambitions. Part of the funds will be allocated to enhance its exclusive software, DIS RT, a critical component in Immensa’s operational toolkit.  

Moreover, the investment will also be channeled towards augmenting its artificial intelligence tools, further solidifying the company’s position in the manufacturing sector. 

UAE’s Flow48 raises $25m in pre-series A round 

Flow48, a UAE-based fintech startup, has successfully secured $25 million in pre-series A funding round in a blend of equity and debt. 

Key investors include Speedinvest, Daphni, and 212, as well as Blockchain Founders Fund, Unpopular Ventures, and Endeavor Catalyst.

Founded in 2022 by Idriss Al Rifai, Flow48 provides services to small and medium-sized enterprises by transforming future revenues of SMEs into immediate capital, offering flexible terms that are tailored to support the growth and scalability of these businesses.  

The freshly acquired funds are earmarked to propel Flow48’s ambitious expansion plans, with a specific focus on penetrating the South African market.  

Egyptian startups receive $10k grants from She’s Next competition 

Three Egyptian startups have emerged as top contenders in the second edition of the She’s Next competition, jointly hosted by Visa and Commercial International Bank. 

Each startup has been awarded $10,000 for their solutions in their respective fields. The winners include Green Fashion, a sustainable clothing brand, Reme-D, a health tech startup, and Fincart, an aggregator of shipping services.  

Alongside the monetary prize, the competition also offered mentorship opportunities provided by the US Agency for International Development to the top 20 contestants.  

Tunisia’s Winshot raises six-figure round from 216 capital 

The Tunisia-originated and France-based software-as-a-service startup Winshot has successfully secured a six-figure investment from 216 Capital.  

Established in 2022 by Walid Mzoughi, Alaa Mokrani, Amjed Bouhouch, and Hela Gabsi, Winshot specializes in providing B2B SaaS solutions for retail operations management.  

With this fresh infusion of capital, Winshot is set to bolster its teams in both France and Tunisia, laying a strong foundation for the expansion and growth of its business. 

Middle East Venture Capital Association signs partnerships with Singapore’s GPCA 

The Global Private Capital Association and the Middle East Venture Capital Association announced a significant strategic partnership during Abu Dhabi Finance Week 2023.  

This collaboration will enable GPCA, headquartered in New York and Singapore, to establish a permanent base in the Middle East. This move will be supported by MEVCA and the broader Abu Dhabi and regional ecosystem. 

Members of MEVCA will benefit from an enhanced membership experience, gaining access to GPCA’s extensive global network. 

The partnership focuses on collaboration, innovation, and investment to strengthen the region’s vibrant venture capital landscape through a range of targeted initiatives. 


Oman’s insurance sector expected have recorded 10% growth in 2023   

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Oman’s insurance sector expected have recorded 10% growth in 2023   

RIYADH: Oman’s insurance sector is expected to have achieved a 10 percent growth in 2023, paving the way for attracting additional regional investors, according to a top official. 

This comes as Oman recorded a growth rate of about 13 percent in insurance premiums in 2022, according to Mustafa Ahmed Salman, member of the board of directors of the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry.  

Salman, also serving as the chairman of the chamber’s Finance and Insurance Committee, emphasized that raising the capital of insurance companies will greatly enhance their ability to attract investors and facilitate business growth, as reported by the Oman News Agency. 

“The contribution of the insurance sector to the gross domestic product of the Sultanate of Oman currently amounts to 1.3 percent, which is a good percentage compared to Arab countries,” he said.  

This positive trend follows the insurance division emerging as one of the fastest-growing sectors in the Middle Eastern country. 

The chairman went on to explain that the volume of Arab insurance reached about $45 billion, constituting 1 percent of the volume of global insurance. 


Saudi Arabia further empowers tourism authority to help sector grow

Updated 15 min 3 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia further empowers tourism authority to help sector grow

RIYADH: The Saudi Cabinet recently approved regulations for the country’s tourism authority that will give a fresh impetus to the sector and contribute to its overall growth.

The Cabinet, chaired by King Salman, approved 24 regulations concerning the Saudi Tourism Authority with a focus on global promotion, international and regional collaboration and tourists targets.

The regulations will help the authority achieve tourism targets in line with Vision 2030 and empower the body to play a pivotal role in promoting the Kingdom as a tourist destination locally, regionally, and globally.

One of the approved regulations enables the tourism authority to establish marketing offices both domestically and internationally. The objective is to boost visitor arrivals and realize the vision of positioning the Kingdom as a top-tier tourist destination, according to Umm Al-Qura, the country’s official gazette.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb, who is also chairman of the STA, highlighted that the Cabinet’s approval of the authority’s regulations underscores the government’s commitment to supporting the tourism sector in achieving its objectives aligned with Vision 2030.

Among the key objectives is the collaboration with government bodies in the tourism sector to establish marketing offices for traveler destinations and oversee the strategies of these offices. Additionally, the regulations include setting visitation targets and allocating funds in a manner that enhances the involvement of the private sector in this endeavor.

As per the new regulation, the tourism authority is now mandated to undertake all measures essential for realizing its objectives, including formulating comprehensive plans and policies for tourism marketing within the Kingdom, domestically and internationally. 

Additionally, the regulation emphasizes the promotion and enhancement of destinations in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism, as well as the support and marketing of activities and events organized by governmental bodies and the private sector.

Moreover, the authority is required to establish and maintain an up-to-date database encompassing all sites, tourist destinations, resorts, and services in collaboration with pertinent authorities. 

Moreover, it is tasked with conducting activities associated with promoting Umrah packages, which includes overseeing the development and management of any designated platform in coordination with relevant agencies. 

Additionally, the authority is mandated to assess visitor experiences, devise essential standards, tools, and mechanisms, identify tourist priorities and challenges, and subsequently share the findings and performance reports with the ministry.

The Umm Al-Qura statement added that the body should propose the necessary designs, policies, and procedures to prepare the development of tourist sites and destinations that need rehabilitation or modernization and submit them to the Ministry of Tourism, in addition to working with distinguished local and international companies and institutions, to provide products and tools with professional content, and to benefit from its expertise in tourism marketing in the Kingdom.

The source further stated that the STA is required to conduct marketing campaigns domestically and internationally to promote travel sites and products. This includes developing trademarks, registering them, and securing any intellectual property rights associated with tourism marketing under the authority’s name. The source emphasized that the body should also undertake any necessary actions related to these tasks and leverage them in accordance with pertinent rules.

The new regulation assigns the authority to develop and execute media plans to promote tourism domestically and globally. This includes organizing forums, conferences, and local and global exhibitions. 

Additionally, the body will offer administrative and technical support to tourism product owners, facilitate small and medium enterprises, and implement training programs to enhance marketing efficiency.

Furthermore, with an independent annual budget, the STA is responsible for overseeing promotional campaigns, proposing investment opportunities, and coordinating with relevant entities to enhance the travel experience. It will also collaborate with the Ministry of Tourism, government bodies, and the private sector to formulate marketing policies and ensure alignment with the national tourism strategy.


Arab-Turkish economic ties flourish with $55bn intra-trade 

Updated 25 February 2024
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Arab-Turkish economic ties flourish with $55bn intra-trade 

RIYADH: Arab-Turkish economic relations are continuing to progress at all levels, with the volume of intra-trade standing at $55 billion, as stated by the secretary-general of the Union of Arab Chambers.  

Khaled Hanafi added that exports from the Turkish nation are increasing annually by about 10 percent, and the presence of direct and indirect Arab investments in Turkiye has grown significantly in recent years. 

The discussion took place during the fifth joint meeting of the Arab and Turkish Chambers, convened in Egypt. The event was attended by numerous heads of chambers of commerce and industry leaders from Arab nations and Turkiye. 

During the meeting, Sameer Abdulla Nass, president of the Union of Arab Chambers and president of the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce, stressed the significance of increasing the openness of Arab economies at both regional and international levels. 

He further underscored the importance of achieving optimal benefits from trade agreements concluded by Arab countries to boost their exports and enhance their capacity. 

The president explained that this step would help remove all challenges and restrictions on the movement of trade between countries and attract foreign capital to contribute to creating opportunities for partnerships that achieve the common interest of all parties. 

He also highlighted the importance of such meetings and conferences as opportunities to build strong relations between the Arab world and Turkiye. Especially noteworthy is the Arab-Turkish chamber, which, since its establishment, has played a significant role in raising the level of trade, economic, and investment exchange. 

For his part, the Minister of Trade and Industry of Egypt, Ahmed Samir, stressed the importance of the business community in the Arab countries and Turkiye benefiting from the political relations between their nations. This collaboration aims to develop economic cooperation in areas such as joint manufacturing, the enhancement of intra-trade, support for transportation and logistics, and ensuring food security. 

He urged the Arab and Turkish chambers to capitalize on the opportunities presented in the Arab Republic of Egypt, including those associated with the Suez Canal axis, the golden license, and the state ownership policy. 


QatarEnergy to further boost LNG production from North Field 

Updated 25 February 2024
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QatarEnergy to further boost LNG production from North Field 

DOHA: QatarEnergy chief Saad al-Kaabi announced on Sunday a new expansion of its liquefied natural gas production that will add a further 16 million tonnes per annum to existing expansion plans, bringing total capacity to 142 mtpa. 

With this added boost, the overall expansion of the North Field from 77 mtpa currently to 142 mtpa by 2030 represents an increase of 85 perecnt in production, Kaabi said at a press conference in Doha. 

Qatar is among the world’s top exporters of LNG, competition for which has ramped up since the beginning of the war in Ukraine in February 2022. 

This latest expansion may not be the last for the energy giant as Kaabi said appraisal of Qatari gas reservoirs would continue and production would be further expanded if there is a market need. 

State-owned QatarEnergy has already signed a string of supply deals with European and Asian partners in its massive North Field expansion project, which was expected — prior to Sunday's announcement — to produce 126 million mtpa of LNG per annum by 2027, from the current 77 mtpa. 

Exploration activities in the west of North Field prompted the company’s decision to expand further. 

Kaabi did not give a cost for the project but said it would be in the billions of dollars. 

“It is difficult to give you a number now for the cost of the expansion, but it is certainly in billions,” he said. 

“We will start preliminary engineering studies for the project and then at the right time we will announce how much is the cost when the project is settled.” 

In December, Kaabi told Reuters that QatarEnergy had been drilling wells to assess expansion opportunities beyond the North Field East and North Field South phases. 

This latest expansion will require the construction of two LNG trains, in addition to six already underway for the earlier expansions dubbed North Field East and North Field South. 

The North Field is part of the world’s largest gas field which Qatar shares with Iran, which calls its share South Pars. 

GAS MARKETS 

Kaabi said global markets still need more gas even after this further expansion saying that Asian market growth was driven by population growth and European markets would still need gas for a “long time” despite the energy transition. 

The Qatari announcement comes as US gas prices trade near an all-time low if adjusted to inflation after a decade of meteoric rise in output which made the US one of the top oil and gas exporters. 

Prices of gas in Europe also fell steeply despite a drop in Russia supplies after the US and Qatar helped replace lost volumes. 

Despite the price drop all major gas producers including the US, Australia and Russia want to further increase output betting on a further demand growth and worries that their gas might not be needed decades from now if energy transition makes green energy cheaper. 


Egypt’s GDP growth projected at 5.1% by 2026 despite challenges: OECD  

Updated 25 February 2024
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Egypt’s GDP growth projected at 5.1% by 2026 despite challenges: OECD  

RIYADH: Egypt’s gross domestic product is expected to gradually increase to 5.1 percent by 2025 and 2026, driven by growing consumption, according to a report.  

In a recent release by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Egypt’s economic growth is projected to face challenges amidst soaring inflation rates, necessitating urgent reform efforts to revitalize the private sector and attract investment. 

According to the OECD’s inaugural Economic Survey of Egypt, the country’s GDP growth is set to ease to 3.2 percent in fiscal year 2023-24 before increasing gradually to 5.1 percent by fiscal year 2025-26. 

“Growth is expected to be driven by growing consumption, provided inflation subsides and despite the gradual withdrawal of fiscal support,” the report stated. 

It added that the investment will stay weak as long as financing conditions remain tight in the continuing fight against inflation. At the same time, export growth is expected to increase if geopolitical tensions in the region recede. 

OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann underscored the urgency of controlling inflation to stimulate consumption and foster growth, saying: “Bringing inflation under control is now a key near-term priority to spur consumption and strengthen growth. Monetary policy needs to remain restrictive until inflation comes back to target.” 

He added: “A comprehensive consolidation strategy is needed to improve investor confidence in public finances and ease financing conditions. Stepping up structural reform efforts, building on previous reforms, to reinvigorate private sector activity and investment by removing administrative barriers, ensuring a level-playing field between private and state-owned companies and stepping up the fight against corruption will help boost productivity and long-term growth.” 

Despite initially weathering the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic and global food price hikes better than neighboring countries, Egypt has faced a setback, with domestic inflation soaring to record levels of 40.4 percent in September 2023, compared to 15.3 percent a year earlier.  

The analysis said that this surge in inflation has adversely affected consumption, weakened the domestic currency, and dampened investment, consequently leading to a slowdown in growth. 

Fiscal support measures, including targeted cash-transfer programs, have relieved the most vulnerable segments of society.  

However, businesses have been grappling with rising interest rates and limited access to foreign currency, hampering economic activity. While inflation has started to decline gradually, standing at 31.2 percent in January 2024, challenges persist in restoring stability. 

The report urged the government to address significant financing needs, indicating that despite targeting a 2.5 percent GDP primary budget surplus in the 2023-24 budget, the overall deficit will stand at -7.5 percent due to high-interest payments.  

International market funding has been limited since early 2022 when increased volatility in global financial markets led to strong capital outflows. “Restoring investor confidence in public finances is essential to attract international capital and bring down debt service costs,” the study added. 

Egypt’s vulnerability to climate change was also addressed in the report, with an urge to accelerate efforts toward mitigation and adaptation measures. Gradual reduction of untargeted energy subsidies was recommended to alleviate emissions and the budget deficit. 

The report emphasized the role of private investment and international support in advancing climate-related financing and facilitating the green transition. 

In conclusion, the OECD study underscored the need for concerted efforts to address Egypt’s economic challenges.  

By implementing comprehensive reforms and fostering a conducive environment for private sector growth, Egypt can navigate the current slowdown and pave the way for sustained economic prosperity.