20 hot Arab startups you just have to know about
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Photo Credit: Luciano Mortula / Shutterstock

Geektime presents its list of the top 20 startups from the Arab world that we think you should know about.

From Egypt to Lebanon, Jordan to Saudi Arabia, healthy startup scenes are popping up all over the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region.

It may be surprising seeing as the Middle East is generally believed to be a region in constant turmoil. Indeed, a quick glance at the daily news cycle will inform you that a tumultuous characterization of MENA isin fact  far more of a reality than just belief. However, within the fog of popular Arab Spring like uprisings and sectarian strife, startups are finding ways to bloom like desert flowers in the sand.

And it makes sense. The old expression of necessity being the mother of invention epitomizes startup culture no matter what other culture it’s being superimposed upon. Take Israel for example (which is not included in this list). Startup nation has long attributed its startup success to having a talent pool living in a an environment of forced necessity and many individual entrepreneurs will point to the same conditions as drivers of their companies.

So while the World Bank is reporting a fragile recovery for much of the region fuled in part by European oil importers feeling less of a squeeze in Q1 of 2014, situations like the one in Syria and Iraq, and its spillover into neighboring countries, are weighing heavy on the traditional economic boosters of the energy sector – hence necessity being born.

Which brings us to the startup wave. Entrepreneurs in this region are not just disrupting the eCommerce and payment sectors, but also a whole range of fields, from education (i3zif.com and Rwaq) to fashion (Glanse) to photography (Sawerly and Dermandar) to online recruitment and job placements (WUZZUF) and to social media (Deehubs).

It’s getting to be like a Hamsin over there. Check out Geektime’s 20 hot Arabic / Middle Eastern startups – the byproducts of necessity. 

Jordan 

1) Alhodhud

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Founded – December 2010
Funding – Undisclosed
Founders – E.Mohammed Al-Bishtawi, E.Shaima Al-Bishtawi
Location – Jordan
Overview – Al-Hudhod is a leading arab company for development and promotion of creative content for young Muslim children, teaching the Arabic language alphabet in a creative and modern way. The company invests in highly customized applications in order to enrich the children’s learning process through a “game” play. Al-Hudhod strives to make the Arabic language, culture, and content available worldwide for children.
Why we chose them – Education and entertainment usually don’t work well together, but combining the two in one app proved to be successful in this case for Al-Hudhod.

 

2) Jamalon

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Founded – October 2010
Funding – Seed $30K, Angel $400K
Founders – Ala Alsallal
Location – Jordan
Overview – Jamalon is the largest online library in the Middle East, offering more than 10 million Arabic and English titles from 30,000 publishers to 22 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The company offers a fast home delivery and customized ‘on arrival’ payment method that suit the lack of credit cards in the Middle East region.
Why we chose them – It’s nice to see a local company that makes it possible for millions of Arabic titles to become available to readers in those 22 Arab countries where Amazon publishing services are not available. Furthermore, Jamalon enables thousands of publishers lacking available efficient distribution channels before, to now market their titles.

 

3) Sowt

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Founded – March 2012
Funding – Self funded
Founders – Hazem Zureiqat
Location – Jordan
Overview – Sowt, the Arabic word for ‘voice’, is an audio social networking platform, offering people the ability to share their thoughts and to interact using short audio posts.
The platform is available on the web, iOS, and Android, and it’s free to use. Users can post audio of up to 42 seconds in length, along with a text description, a picture and location mark. Users interact by liking, echoing (reposting), or commenting on their own, or on others posts.
Why we chose them – There are a few reasons why we chose Sowt: First – the company has around 20,000 users even though it hasn’t launched a single marketing campaign. Most of the users discovered the platform via word of mouth, which is a big sign of growth potential. Another reason is the competition. Sowt stands apart from its competition as no other target market platform incorporates voice and text together, thus giving users the option to express themselves in both of these mediums. Also, unlike the competitors, it seems that Sowt already has a business model, as the company introduced branded channels designed to offer celebrities, organizations, companies and TV and radio stations, a platform for connecting to their fans and customers with quick music clips and voice messaging.

 

4) Glanse

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Founded – April 2014
Funding – Seed $115K
Founders – Evelyn Zoubi
Location – Jordan
Overview – Glanse is an interactive, user-friendly service that allows users to create a wish-list and follow other users’ favorites items, as well as give and receive advice on various fashion choices. Glanse can also identify fashion items from photos on mobile phones, so users could buy it as soon as they see it.
Glanse has gained more than 8000 users since its launch, which makes it one of the leading fashion apps in the region. The company has incorporated more than 500 brands for its service, and aims to triple the number to over 1500 brands next year.
Why we chose them – Glanse is working on a cutting edge technology, using machine learning algorithms that can potentially change the way people discover and buy their products. And not only fashion items, but also virtually any item; from toasters, to jewelry, to artwork and beyond, as Glanse’s technology is a significant improvement from the ‘Q Reader’ method of item identification. Glanse has the potential to transform a walk down the street into a virtual shopping venture.

 

5) i3zif.com

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Founded – May 2012
Funding – Seed $430K
Founders – Bisher Abu Taleb and Ayham Abu Hammad
Location – Jordan
Overview – I3zif is the first online school for music in the Arab world. The service offers high definition video tutorials made by professional, award winning musicians. The video tutorials are complemented by graphics and visual aids that take into consideration common mistakes that students usually make. Besides the music lessons, I3zif is also the first service to offer music tutorials for traditional, oriental music instruments in English.
Besides the music lessons, I3zif provides a one stop shop experience for musicians: The i3zif musical instruments store, the i3zif blog, the i3zif club (with user generated content), and the i3zif Library of popular songs tutorials and sheet music.
Why we chose them – We loved the fact that i3zif.com helps to solve more than one problem: Besides private use, the company is integrating with the education sector, providing high quality music education in public schools, thus solving the need of more music graduates in order to cover the lack of teachers, as the culture does not encourage students to become professional musicians as a career.
Another problem is the lack of music schools in the region. In Saudi Arabia for example, the government does not allow the presence of offline music schools.I3zif solves this as all of the lessons are online and available anywhere.

Egypt 

6) Kngine

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Founded – 2008
Funding – Seed $500K
Founders – Haytham ElFadeel and Ashraf ElFadeel
Location – Egypt
Overview – Kngine is the world’s first engine for multi-language question answering. Unlike the regular search engines, Kngine understands what users are actually asking and provides them with meaningful answers instead of links to websites. And unlike Siri and Google’s voice search, Kngine doesn’t search Wolfram Alpha or Quora for answers, but tries to read the Web content, understand it, and represent the knowledge which is inside Kngine memory. The company developed a mobile app that showcases its search engine technology, and is available on both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. Currently, Kngine supports English, Arabic, German and Spanish.
Why we chose them – Kngine is a proof that although Google has become an international search giant, there are still new opportunities for online search companies. 

7) Crowd Analyzer

Photo Credit: PR

Photo Credit: PR

Founded – May 2013
Funding – $500K
Founders – Ahmed Saad, Bahaa Galal, Rooda AlNeama, and Mustafa Othman
Location – Egypt
Overview – Crowd Analyzer is a social web monitoring tool that helps companies measure, monitor and analyze the acceptance towards their brand and product by “listening to what people are talking” on social media. The company offers its tools for companies, SMEs, and individuals.
Why we chose them – Sentiment analysis technologies are widely available for other languages, but are very underdeveloped when it comes to Arabic, although the Arabic language is the fastest growing language on the web. Crowd Analyzer is the 1st fully automated social web monitoring platform that, besides English, support the Arabic language with all of it’s different dialects. It’s nice to see a company with tailored solutions for different business purposes in the MENA region. 

8) Instabug

Photo Credit: PR

Photo Credit: PR

Founded – February 2013
Funding – Seed $300K
Founders – Omar Gabr, Moataz Soliman
Location – Egypt
Overview – Instabug is a clever solution for mobile app developers that allows their testers to report bugs quickly and efficiently. Sending feedback is as simple as shaking the device, which automatically takes the user to a feedback form. Instabug will also automatically include a screenshot taken at the moment of the shake, along with details on the device: model, OS version, memory and storage usage, as well as carrier info and the user’s location. This makes it easier for the developer to understand the source of the bugs and fix it.
Why we chose them – We chose Instabug because we want our apps to run perfectly on our devices and without any bugs. By making it easier for the users to send feedback, the developers will get more bug reports which will make it easier for the devs to fix, and we end up with much better apps for it. Furthermore, the area of bug tracking saw no meaningful innovation for a long time so Instabug is a very refreshing development.

9) WUZZUF

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Founded – 2009 as Basharsoft
Funding – Undisclosed
Founders –  Ameer Sherif and Muhammad AlGarhy
Location – Egypt
Overview – WUZZUF is the leading online recruitment jobs site in Egypt, serving more than 200,000 job seekers each month. The company has more than 3,000 registered top employers and organizations which are actively posting jobs and searching for their needed talents. The list of those employers includes some multinational companies such as LG, Vodafone, Unilever, PepsiCo, among others. The company is now expanding to other markets in the Middle East  such as UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as well as into some other global markets.
Why we chose them – We chose Wuzzuf because this company is much more than just an online recruitment website. Unlike those other traditional recruitment sites, WUZZUF also provides high quality screening solutions that are capable of properly handling large numbers of candidates while maintaining accurate, and transparent results. The beneficiaries of this could be recruitment arms of organizations, universities screening new student candidate, or even embassies screening migration requests. 

10) QHat

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Founded – February 2013
Funding – Unknown
Founders – Ahmed Elasra
Location – Egypt
Overview – QHat developed a cloud-based platform for loyalty programs, allowing brands and businesses to improve their customers’ loyalty, retention, advocacy and lifetime value.
Every time a user purchases an item from one of the QHat partners, a proprietary smart code and a QR code will be printed on their receipt. Using either the QR code for the smartphone or the QHat smart code for the web access, the users can accumulate their loyalty points. Once a user collects enough points for a reward the system will notify them.
Why we chose them – We chose QHat because of their extremely easy to use platform, which, according to QHat, enables merchants from all over the world to register and launch their loyalty program in less than 60 minutes. 

11) Akhbarak.net

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Founded – 2013
Funding – Undisclosed
Founders – Osman Ahmed Osman
Location – Egypt
Overview – Akhbarak.net is an automated news aggregator that powers several properties with collective viewership of over 5M unique users per month. As one of the biggest websites in the Middle East, Akhbarak.net is driving tens of millions of page-views to other news websites across the MENA region.
The company was acquired by Vodafone Egypt in January 2013 for an undisclosed amount.
Why we chose them – As a news website ourselves, we thought there should be at least one news website on this list 🙂

United Arab Emirates 

12) Souq.com

Photo Credit: PR

Photo Credit: PR

Founded – 2005
Funding – $115 Million
Founders – Ronaldo Mouchawar
Location – Dubai – UAE
Overview –  Souq.com is the largest ecommerce site in the MENA region, with more than 400,000 products across various categories and over 23 million visits per month.
The company is constantly expanding and already opened offices in Egypt, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, along with a R&D center in Jordan.
Why we chose them – We chose Souq.com simply because it was the first online auction site in the region, though it quickly evolved to a fully integrated ecommerce site offering fixed prices options and online stores. 

13) Careem

Photo Credit: Mudassir Sheikha/Careem

Photo Credit: Mudassir Sheikha/Careem

Founded – July 2012
Funding – Seed $1.7 Million
Founders – Mudassir Sheikha and Magnus Olsson
Location – Dubai – UAE
Overview –  Often called “the Uber of the Middle East”, Careem is a private car booking service that upgrades the way people travel. Careem’s users can order a car online or using the mobile app, track their rides in real-time, pay with credit cards, and access receipts. The company also serves some large organizations and corporates. We recently covered the story of Careem here.
Why we chose them – Because of the company’s strong commitment to service and the ability to tailor their services to the local market, which can also help Careem maintain a strong foothold in its own saturated niche. 

14) Deehubs

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Founded – January 2014
Funding – $47K
Founders – Abhinav Saxena, Giorgi Gurgenidze, Bakar Maruashvili and Keti Kebuladze
Location – Dubai – UAE
Overview –  Deehubs, also known as “the social network for billboards”, is a social media platform that connects outdoor digital billboards with ordinary users and advertisers. Besides the social messages from regular users, brands and advertisers can place targeted ads on billboards and even reply to each and every single message from the users.
Why we chose them – With so many social networks popping up lately, Deehubs is the only social network that truly connects the online and the physical world. We chose Deehubs because it actually has a chance to revolutionize the outdoor digital billboard advertising world. Furthermore, Deehubs makes it a win/win situation for all sides: ordinary people will get an exciting new communication channels, advertisers will get more engaging media channels for distributing their ads, and the screens owners will maximize the profits from their billboards. 

15) Cary Motors

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Founded – 2013
Funding – Seed $100K
Founders – Mohammed Johmani and Rana Tarakji
Location – Dubai – UAE
Overview –  Cary Motors is the world’s first mobile app for buying, selling and trading cars, in a social style. Sellers can simply take a photo of their car and post it for sale. Buyers can search for their favorite vehicle with their mobile within minutes, and dealers can have their own virtual store within the app. Furthermore, Cary motors is also a community for motor enthusiasts, where people can share, comment and Like vehicles. So whether you’re a buyer, a seller or a dealer, the Cary Motors mobile app saves users lots of time & energy.
Why we chose them – For those of us who aren’t car salesmen and would prefer not to have to tour several car dealerships, the Cary Motors app is a great solution. Buying or selling a car shouldn’t be a difficult issue, and Cary Motors is a hassle free approach, all carried out with the convenience of our mobile.

Lebanon 

16) Band Industries

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Founded – January 2012
Funding – Seed $25K
Founders – Bassam Jalgha and Hassane Slaibi
Location – Lebanon
Overview –  Band Industries is developing the next-generation toolkits for musicians. The company aims to lower the barrier of entry to music-making through innovative hardware and creative software. The company’s main product is the Roadie Tuner, an automated robotic guitar tuner and the first device capable of tracking the quality of strings, informing the player when strings are about to snap and need replacing.
Why we chose them – As a musician and guitar player myself I had to include this brilliant startup. I know how hard it is to tune the guitar for beginners, and the Roadie Tuner is a perfect solution. I just wish I had one 15 years ago when I started to play 🙂 

17) Dermandar

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Founded – August 2010
Funding – Undisclosed
Founders – Elie-Grégoire Khoury and Elias Khoury
Location – Lebanon
Overview – Dermandar, often called “Youtube for Panoramas”, is a leader in the field of mobile photo technology. The company has released several apps such as the award-winning “DMD Panorama” and the recently launched “DMD Clone.” The team at Dermandar develops highly optimized image processing algorithms to deliver user-friendly and straight-forward mobile apps.
Why we chose them – We appreciate the ease of use. Users can create Panoramas for free in just 2 easy steps – shooting some photos using a normal camera with no need for professional equipment, and uploading them to Dermandar. Dermandar stitches them together, cleans them up, and presents the final image in a polished preview. From there users can download the image or share it on Dermandar. The entire process takes just a few moments. 

18) Cinemoz

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Founded – June 2011
Funding – Undisclosed
Founders – Karim Safieddine and Maroun Najm
Location – Lebanon
Overview –  Also known as the ‘Hulu’ of the Arab world, Cinemoz is the first “Video On Demand” service for the Arab world. Users can discover and watch the best of Arab films, TV Series and documentaries while interacting with the community through full integration of social media features. Cinemoz is a Seeqnce accelerated startup.
Why we chose them – Emerging markets usually represent tremendous opportunity for outside businesses to break in. But Cinemoz is looking to take advantage of the native cultural aspects of the Arab market by focusing on local content. This seems like a step in the right direction.

 Saudi Arabia 

19) Sawerly

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Founded – October 2013
Funding – Seed $200K
Founders – Mohammed Al-Zahrani, Hussein Attar and Bassam A. Saif
Location – Saudi Arabia
Overview –  Sawerly’s marketplace connects between photographers and people who need their services. With Sawerly, users can book photographers for any type of photography and for any event they may be having (wedding, conferences, products, personal, and more). Upon request, customers can get offers for their photo-shoot from a wide range of photographers and sort through them by price, quality, and user ratings.
Photographers can create profiles on Sawerly in order to show their experience, previous work, and services, which can also be rated by the customers on quality, attendance, delivery, etc. Photographers can also bid on photo-shoots, sell their photos, and even purchase cameras and accessories through Sawerly.
Why we chose them – With so many photography apps today, Sawerly is the first to translate the photography market into services and prices, thus helping customers to make a more rational and intelligent decisions when booking their photo shoots and helping photographers gain more clients. 

20) Rwaq

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Photo Credit: PR screenshot

Founded – September 2013
Funding – Undisclosed
Founders – Fouad Alfarhan and Sami Al hussayen
Location – Saudi Arabia
Overview –  Rwaq is an Arabic massive open online course (MOOC) platform that offers high quality academic courses in Arabic covering various fields such as art, psychology, engineering, medicine and more. All the courses are free and the material is generated by local professors and academics instructors. Classes are conducted using high quality video lectures and complemented by online assignments.
Why we chose them – The widespread use of technology is very visible in fields like ecommerce and media in the MENA region, but still largely missing from the education field. It’s nice to see a local startup trying to make a change through a free, fun and easy to use platform.

Featured Image Credit: Luciano Mortula / Shutterstock

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