10 MENA Fin­tech Star­tups to Keep on Your Radar

Arabnet - The Quarterly - - Content - By Lynn El Bizri | @lnlne

In ev­ery is­sue, we bring you a list of star­tups from the MENA re­gion to keep an eye on. This time, we have se­lected a di­verse range of fin­tech star­tups that spe­cial­ize in ev­ery­thing from al­ter­na­tive pay­ment and peer-topeer lend­ing to crowd­fund­ing plat­forms, and are chang­ing the way money and in­di­vid­u­als, busi­nesses and cor­po­rates han­dle fi­nan­cial ser­vices. Based in Le­banon and founded by Paul Safi and Emile Sawaya, Re­able is a startup that builds ap­pli­ca­tions and tools for peo­ple with spe­cial needs. Their first prod­uct, the Re­able Wal­let, is a fi­nan­cial man­age­ment tool that al­lows users with cog­ni­tive chal­lenges to con­duct transactions in a sim­ple man­ner, and mon­i­tor their pur­chas­ing habits. The wal­let keeps par­ents or guardians in­formed of all transactions tak­ing place and how well the money is be­ing man­aged. In ad­di­tion, the Re­able Wal­let can be used as an ed­u­ca­tional tool to teach con­cepts of fi­nan­cial lit­er­acy that can be ap­plied to real life sit­u­a­tions.

To start us­ing the Re­able Wal­let, users in­put the bank notes they are car­ry­ing into the app via the in­tu­itive in­ter­face which sup­ports mul­ti­ple cur­ren­cies. Once a pur­chase is made, users take a pic­ture of the re­ceipt, and the Re­able Wal­let is able to de­tect the pur­chase to­tal and de­cide which bills the user should use from their wal­let to pay. The ap­pli­ca­tion also comes with built in text-to-speech which makes it easy for any­one to pick up and start us­ing the app. The Re­able Wal­let also fa­cil­i­tates bud­get­ing, giv­ing users the abil­ity to set a cat­e­gor­i­cal bud­get and fol­low the bud­get, by us­ing prompts/sta­tus up­dates when the user to about to go over a thresh­old and uses vis­ual rep­re­sen­ta­tions to show them their cur­rent fi­nan­cial sta­tus.

In late 2015, Re­able re­ceived 1000$ in Hyundai’s Startup Com­pe­ti­tion and then went on to beat 21 com­peti­tors and win $10,000 at BDL Ac­cel­er­ate’s Early Stage Startup Com­pe­ti­tion in Dec 2015. In 2016, Re­able was the 3rd place win­ner of the Startup Demo at Arab­net Beirut 2016 and was also one of 10 com­pa­nies se­lected from 400 ap­pli­ca­tions to join Tech­stars 13 week ac­cel­er­a­tor pro­gram in Cape Town. This Fe­bru­ary, sup­ported by a US $50,000 loan from Bar­clays, Safi and Sawaya will re­lease their Re­able Pay plat­form, which will al­low users to fi­nally try their fi­nan­cial app for the first time. Re­able’s po­ten­tial mar­ket cur­rently is com­prised of 35 mil­lion peo­ple that fit a tar­get mar­ket of mid to high cog­ni­tive func­tion­ing.

Coun­try: Le­banon Launched: 2015 Cat­e­gory: Per­sonal Fi­nance Man­age­ment Cash­basha was estab­lished in Jor­dan in 2015 by entrepreneurs Fouad Jeryes and Si­nan Taifour, and is a re­gional com­merce tech­nol­ogy com­pany. The startup fa­cil­i­tates ecom­merce by shift­ing the Cash on De­liv­ery (COD) model into a Cash be­fore De­liv­ery model, mean­ing money gets col­lected by the courier and is trans­ferred to the mer­chant be­fore the prod­uct is de­liv­ered. More­over, the model serves as a medium be­tween Arab con­sumers and for­eign sites that do not ac­cept lo­cal cards or cash and do not ship to the re­gion. Cur­rently, Cash­basha serves cus­tomers look­ing to shop from Ama­zon.com’s en­tire US cat­a­log and have the prod­ucts de­liv­ered to them in Jor­dan or Saudi Ara­bia.

To shop on Ama­zon through Cash­basha, cus­tomers need to sim­ply go on the web­site and en­ter the name of the item they’d like to or­der in the home­page search box. The cus­tomer is then trans­ferred to the Ama­zon web­site with Cash­basha’s top bar, and can search and shop for all the items they would like to pur­chase. Once done and on the Check­out page, cus­tomers can se­lect their cash pay­ment method, view other or­der re­lated de­tails, and place their or­ders. Upon com­plet­ing their or­der, cus­tomers then re­ceive an email or SMS con­fir­ma­tion and are con­tacted by Cash­basha’s cus­tomer ser­vice rep­re­sen­ta­tives to ar­range for an ap­pro­pri­ate cash pickup ap­point­ment. For items shipped from within the United States, the av­er­age de­liv­ery time via the se­lected courier is about 9-14 busi­ness days from the time of pay­ment.

In 2016, Cash­basha were se­lected as one of the top-notch star­tups to rep­re­sent Jor­dan at the Mo­bile World Congress (MWC) in Shang­hai. They also went on to win the Startup Is­tan­bul 2016 Challenge and came in first place out of 2,700 startup com­pa­nies who ap­plied to the challenge from around the world. The com­pany cur­rently re­ceives around 8,000 or­ders per month, and mon­e­tizes through a $5 fee added to each or­der, in ad­di­tion to the dis­counts it re­ceives from the ship­ping com­pany. The com­pany is al­ready mak­ing profit and has se­cured strate­gic in­vest­ments from Aramex Ven­tures and 500 star­tups. With that fund­ing, Cash­basha has ex­panded its op­er­a­tions to Saudi Ara­bia and are see­ing an av­er­age of 23% month-on­month growth and over 15% cus­tomer con­ver­sion rate.

Coun­try: Jor­dan Launched: 2015 Cat­e­gory: Pay­ments Card Switch SAL is a fin­tech com­pany with a mis­sion to elim­i­nate card fraud, com­bat cash transactions, and en­hance cus­tomers’ trust and ex­pe­ri­ence as well as

help drive banks’ card in­come. Founded early last year by Roger Ab­boud and Mo­bile Tech­nol­ogy To­mor­row, Card Switch’s flag­ship prod­uct is an ap­pli­ca­tion that con­nects all pay­ment cards (credit, debit or pre­paid) with the user’s smart­phone al­low­ing users to ‘Switch On or Off ’ their cards and de­cide when, where and how transactions should be au­tho­rized.

The Card Switch ap­pli­ca­tion has sev­eral dif­fer­ent ‘switches’: the Control Switch, the Alert Switch, the State­ment Switch and the An­a­lyt­ics Switch. The Control Switch al­lows users to switch on or off their card(s), chan­nels (ATM, POS, E-com­merce), mer­chant cat­e­gories (su­per­mar­ket, gas sta­tion restau­rant), lo­ca­tions and their spend­ing limit. The State­ment Switch al­lows them to tag their transactions as busi­ness or per­sonal, add notes, and take pho­tos of re­ceipts. The Alert Switch al­lows users to switch on or off alerts by chan­nels, card set­tle­ment, or card limit reached and more. Fi­nally, the An­a­lyt­ics Switch al­lows users to com­pare their spend­ing by chan­nel, mer­chant, cat­e­gory or pe­riod.

In 2016, Card Switch were short­listed as a fi­nal­ist for the ‘Best Tech­no­log­i­cal In­no­va­tion’ award at the Seam­less event in Dubai, were se­lected to pitch for the SLUSH GIA Com­pe­ti­tion, and were se­lected as one of 12 star­tups to present their idea in front of an in­ter­na­tional jury at Seed­stars Beirut.

Coun­try: Le­banon Launched: 2015 Cat­e­gory: Dig­i­tal Bank­ing Launched in late 2014 by Ola Doudin, a Jor­da­nian en­trepreneur, Bi­toa­sis is the first dig­i­tal cur­rency wal­let and ex­change ser­vice in the Mid­dle East that en­ables users to buy, sell and se­cure their bit­coins. It is also a found­ing mem­ber of the Dubai-based Global Blockchain Coun­cil, a 32-mem­ber or­ga­ni­za­tion exploring the im­pact of blockchain tech­nol­ogy and dig­i­tal cur­ren­cies in the re­gion. Doudin de­cided to launch the startup af­ter she had dif­fi­culty buy­ing bit­coins in the re­gion and her aim is to build the largest dig­i­tal cur­rency ex­change and pay­ments in­fra­struc­ture plat­form in the MENA re­gion.

To cre­ate a bit­coin wal­let and an ex­change ac­count, users must cre­ate an on­line wal­let on the Bi­toa­sis plat­form. Af­ter cre­at­ing their ac­count, users can im­me­di­ately start send­ing and re­ceiv­ing bit­coins from around the world. Bi­toa­sis uses multi-sig­na­ture tech­nol­ogy to se­cure users bit­coins and cus­tomers are prompted to en­ter a multi-digit au­then­ti­ca­tion code any­time they lo­gin or at­tempt to send bit­coins. To buy bit­coins, users start by buy­ing a voucher with the AED amount they choose. Af­ter se­lect­ing the voucher amount, users must send a wire trans­fer with the AED amount or pay in cash via a bank cash de­posit. Af­ter the pay­ment has been re­ceived, users can im­me­di­ately con­vert their AED cred­its to bit­coins at the ex­change rate avail­able.

In May of last year, Bi­toa­sis raised an undis­closed amount in a seed round from 4 in­vestors, led by ven­ture cap­i­tal firm Wamda Cap­i­tal, which will al­low Bi­toa­sis to ex­pand its pres­ence in MENA ter­ri­to­ries and add ad­di­tional staff. The plat­form cur­rently works in five na­tions: UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and KSA, yet the mo­bile wal­let is ac­ces­si­ble to clients in North Africa, the Mid­dle East and Asia.

Coun­try: UAE Launched: 2015 Cat­e­gory: Cryp­tocur­rency Founded in 2015 by Michele Grosso, Democrance’s mis­sion is to de­moc­ra­tize in­sur­ance by mak­ing it avail­able to a wider pop­u­la­tion through a mo­bile ap­pli­ca­tion. Mil­lions of peo­ple in MENA do not have ac­cess to in­sur­ance so Democrance aims to work with in­sur­ers, mo­bile op­er­a­tors and other in­dus­tries to help both tap into new cus­tomer seg­ments and prod­uct op­por­tu­ni­ties to max­i­mize their rev­enue streams while in­creas­ing cus­tomer loy­alty to the brands. Democrance also con­ducts in-depth cus­tomer re­search and help in­sur­ers shift ex­ist­ing prod­ucts to fit the unan­swered needs, then use their mo­bile tech­nol­ogy plat­form and part­ner­ships with tele­com com­pa­nies to of­fer and sell these mi­cro in­sur­ance prod­ucts at scale.

Democrance is plan­ning to dis­rupt the in­sur­ance mar­ket by part­ner­ing with in­sur­ance com­pa­nies and mo­bile op­er­a­tors to of­fer in­sur­ance to the un­der­served mi­cro-in­sur­ance mar­ket in the MENA re­gion. The startup pro­vides a fin­tech so­lu­tion that makes in­sur­ance af­ford­able and ac­ces­si­ble to the peo­ple who need it most. It’s af­ford­able, be­cause it dis­trib­utes, ad­min­is­ters and ser­vices in­sur­ance poli­cies only through the mo­bile phone, which re­sults in con­sid­er­able cost sav­ings when com­pared to the tra­di­tional in­sur­ance model, and is ac­ces­si­ble as in­sur­ance pre­mi­ums are also col­lected through mo­bile pay­ment chan­nels in­stead of tra­di­tional bank­ing ones, which the low-in­come pop­u­la­tion do not nor­mally have ac­cess to. The plat­form aims to reach 350 mil­lion un­der­in­sured low-in­come earn­ers in the Mid­dle East over mo­bile phones, with pre­mi­ums as low as Dh1-dh2 a week.

Michele Grosso in­vested $150,000 of his own sav­ings and bor­rowed money to get the plat­form up and run­ning, how­ever, the Dmcc-li­censed com­pany has had enough early suc­cesses to re­cently start a seed round of fund­ing. Af­ter win­ning the Seed­stars GCC com­pe­ti­tion last Septem­ber, Democrance will be par­tic­i­pat­ing at the Seed­stars Sum­mit in Switzer­land and will pitch on the fi­nal day in front of an au­di­ence of over 1000 at­ten­dees with a chance to win 500K USD in prizes and eq­uity in­vest­ment. Over the next five years, Grosso ex­pects to of­fer even more prod­ucts through an in­creased ros­ter of dis­tri­bu­tion part­ners and wants to ex­pand be­yond the MENA re­gion.

Coun­try: UAE Launched: 2015 Cat­e­gory: Re­tail Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices Talal Alyaseen and Sha­heen Alkhud­hari founded Ajar On­line in Kuwait af­ter Alkhud­hari found it a has­sle to con­stantly with­draw rent money from the bank and wait for his land­lord to col­lect it. Af­ter sug­gest­ing the idea of the ser­vice to Alyaseen, now CTO of Ajar On­line, they stud­ied the real es­tate mar­ket and the prob­lems land­lords face in col­lect­ing rent and based on their find­ings, de­vel­oped a cloud ser­vice that of­fers quick and ef­fi­cient on­line rent col­lec­tion via SMS and email.

To use Ajar On­line for on­line rent pay­ment, land­lords first add the de­tails of their tenants and prop­er­ties to Ajar’s plat­form. Tenants then re­ceive a monthly au­to­matic pay­ment no­ti­fi­ca­tion via SMS or email, and can in­stantly pay their rent on­line us­ing K-net. In or­der to gen­er­ate rev­enue, the com­pany charges trans­ac­tion fees on rent pay­ments. For land­lords, the ben­e­fits of Ajar On­line in­clude a higher per­cent­age of on-time rent pay­ment, less ad­min­is­tra­tive work, and land­lords can view live up­dates of their tenants’ pay­ments, sta­tuses, his­to­ries and col­lec­tion re­ports. For tenants, Ajar On­line means fewer trips to the bank, au­to­matic re­minders on when rent is due, and tenants can pay their rent wher­ever and when­ever they want.

In Novem­ber 2015, Ajar On­line won the first-ever KIPCO Tm­keen Award for Young Entrepreneurs and $100,000 worth of ser­vices from the KIPCO Group, in­clud­ing fi­nan­cial, strate­gic, and op­er­a­tional con­sul­ta­tion ses­sions, mar­ket stud­ies, in­sur­ance cov­er­age, and ad­ver­tis­ing ser­vices. The startup was also among the fi­nal­ists of the MIT En­ter­prise Arab Startup Com­pe­ti­tion. In early 2016, the com­pany signed a part­ner­ship with Warba Bank who are now run­ning Ajar On­line’s back of­fice fi­nan­cial op­er­a­tions and pro­mot­ing Ajar On­line’s ser­vices to their cor­po­rate clients. This has al­lowed the com­pany to lower their trans­ac­tion fees and fa­cil­i­tate their pen­e­tra­tion into the mar­ket.

Coun­try: Kuwait Launched: 2015 Cat­e­gory: Re­tail Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices Based in Jor­dan and founded in 2014, AFKARMENA is a crowd fund­ing re­ward-based on­line plat­form in the MENA re­gion for all cre­ative ideas rang­ing from game devel­op­ment and mu­sic al­bums to sup­port­ing a cause through an NGO. The plat­form helps cre­ative entrepreneurs and NGOS show­case and pitch their ideas to the public and earn con­tri­bu­tions in re­turn for re­wards. More­over, cre­ators re­tain full own­er­ship over their work.

To start crowd fund­ing a project, entrepreneurs must first fill out a form for their pitch and up­load a short video sell­ing their idea. Once the idea has been re­viewed and ap­proved by the AFKARMENA team, cre­ators can be­gin pro­mot­ing their idea and rais­ing funds. To be ap­proved, the project must fol­low spe­cific guide­lines such as hav­ing a de­fined dead­line, fall within the ac­cepted cat­e­gories, and of­fer re­al­is­tic and ap­pro­pri­ate re­wards. Ev­ery en­trepreneur is given 30-90 days to raise the funds needed and if the project does not reach its fund­ing goal, all funds made to the project are can­celled. In the case of a fail­ure to raise suf­fi­cient funds, AFKARMENA helps the en­trepreneur up­date and re­launch their project again, and in the case of NGO/NPO projects, they have the op­por­tu­nity to keep any money raised re­gard­less of whether they have reached their fund­ing goal or not.

AFKARMENA charges project cre­ators a fee of 5% and NGO/NPOS a fee of 4%. To date, a num­ber of projects have been suc­cess­fully funded through AFKARMENA with sev­eral more in the pipe­line. A co-fund­ing pro­gram was also launched last year in part­ner­ship with Women Ac­cess to En­trepreneur­ship Devel­op­ment and Train­ing ( WAEDAT) that aims to help women, in both ur­ban and ru­ral ar­eas across Jor­dan and the re­gion, to over­come so­cial norms, re­stric­tions and chal­lenges, as well as se­cure fund­ing re­quired to launch, pro­mote and grow their en­tre­pre­neur­ial projects.

Coun­try: Jor­dan Launched: 2014 Cat­e­gory: Crowd­fund­ing Tr­riple, a Uae-based dig­i­tal pay­ments startup, launched as a com­pany at GITEX in 2015, and plans to usher in the coun­try’s cash­less so­ci­ety by de­liv­er­ing an in­clu­sive pay­ments ecosys­tem that is avail­able to both the un­banked us­ing cash, and the banked us­ing cards. The startup of­fers a first-of-its-kind mo­bile wal­let that en­ables se­cure and con­ve­nient pay­ments sav­ing con­sumers and busi­nesses time and money, while meet­ing the reg­u­la­tory en­vi­ron­ment of UAE.

For mer­chants, Tr­riple’s plat­form en­ables the mer­chant to charge and ac­cept pay­ments from the con­sumer us­ing NFC, QR code or an ID num­ber, and also en­ables the mer­chant to fund the con­sumer’s mo­bile money wal­let with cash in at the mer­chant. For con­sumers, the plat­form al­lows them to pay dig­i­tally for pur­chases, on­line and in-store, trans­fer and send money fast and se­curely, credit recharge any mo­bile num­ber, and much more. Con­sumers can fund, or ‘top up’

their ac­counts in sev­eral ways: cash-in at mer­chants lo­ca­tions; credit or debit cards; ATM ma­chine; and through salary trans­fers us­ing the Wages Pro­tec­tions Sys­tem ( WPS) man­dated by the Cen­tral Bank of UAE and Min­istry of La­bor. Trip­ple has also part­nered with ma­jor UAE banks to fa­cil­i­tate dig­i­tal pay­ments on its plat­form.

Early last year, Eric­s­son teamed up with Tr­riple to pro­vide man­aged mo­bile so­lu­tions for the UAE bank­ing and smart city sec­tors. Eric­s­son Wal­let Plat­form en­hances Tr­riple ser­vices by in­te­grat­ing and man­ag­ing an open plat­form that al­lows users to store, trans­fer and with­draw money us­ing a mo­bile de­vice. The so­lu­tion will ini­tially be avail­able to 500,000 un­banked mo­bile sub­scribers with plans to ul­ti­mately serve the whole pop­u­la­tion of UAE. The multi-year col­lab­o­ra­tion sup­ports the coun­try’s Smart Gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tive, which aims to make more than 2,000 gov­ern­ment ser­vices avail­able via smart plat­forms such as mo­bile de­vices.

Coun­try: UAE Launched: 2015 Cat­e­gory: Pay­ments

Co­tizi is a free to use Moroc­can crowd­fund­ing plat­form ded­i­cated to the col­lec­tion of money or funds for events (such as wed­dings, birth­days, house­warm­ing, etc.) as well as the col­lec­tion of do­na­tions on be­half of as­so­ci­a­tions. Re­cently, the web­site also added a plat­form ded­i­cated to the cre­ation and launch of on­line pe­ti­tions for Moroc­can as­so­ci­a­tions. Fo­cus­ing on so­cial projects for eco­nomic, so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal devel­op­ment, Co­tizi aims to chan­nel the voices of field ac­tivism as well as cit­i­zen cy­ber­ac­tivism in Morocco and the MENA re­gion.

To col­lect money on Co­tizi, users

sim­ply need to cre­ate a free'Co­tizi pool' de­ter­mine the amount they want to col­lect (be­tween 50 and 200,000 dirhams), and then in­vite par­tic­i­pants to con­trib­ute via email, Face­book or Twit­ter. Once the con­tri­bu­tions are re­ceived, the amount can be col­lected di­rectly on mescadeaux.ma, used as gift vouch­ers in part­ner stores, or trans­ferred to a bank ac­count. A Co­tizi ser­vice fee is charged when a con­tri­bu­tion is made (2.6%) or a re­quest for money trans­fer is made (4.7%), and help Co­tizi to cover the costs of on­line transactions as well as man­age and op­er­ate costs on the site. As for cre­at­ing a pe­ti­tion, the user sim­ply needs to fill in an ap­pli­ca­tion, ex­plain the rea­son and goal be­hind the pe­ti­tion, as well as per­son or in­sti­tu­tion they are tar­get­ing be­fore cir­cu­lat­ing the pe­ti­tion to friends and on so­cial me­dia.

To­day, Co­tizi.com is very suc­cess­ful in Morocco and rep­re­sents a cross-bor­der model for Africa and the MENA re­gion. At the ninth edi­tion of the Morocco Web Awards early last year, Co­tizi.com, which was known for hav­ing suc­cess­fully funded a cam­paign of sol­i­dar­ity for the flood vic­tims in southern Morocco via the hash­tag #100dh­pouraider, came first in the ‘Startup of the Year’ cat­e­gory.

Coun­try: Morocco Launched: 2015 Cat­e­gory: Crowd­fund­ing

Founded in Egypt by Ahmed Wadi and Ad­ham Badr in 2014, Moneyfel­lows is a web and mo­bile-based plat­form that gives in­di­vid­u­als ac­cess to in­ter­est free credit and bet­ter sav­ing achieve­ments, all fully pow­ered by their so­cial net­work and not their credit score. Moneyfel­lows achieves this by dig­i­tiz­ing the tra­di­tional offline ROSCA (Ro­tat­ing Sav­ing and Credit As­so­ci­a­tion) model.

To start us­ing Moneyfel­lows, fam­i­lies, friends and com­mu­ni­ties join to­gether in a 'money cir­cle' to con­trib­ute a fixed monthly in­stall­ment into a com­mon pot. Ev­ery month, one of the mem­bers re­ceives the to­tal amount in the com­mon pot as a pay­out, and when each par­tic­i­pant has re­ceived a pay­out from the com­mon pot, the cir­cle closes. De­pend­ing on the wishes of the mem­ber, the group can re­new the cir­cle again or start a new one. Money Fel­lows takes 1.5% to 2.5% on ev­ery pay­out. Ac­cord­ing to a user’s his­tory in pre­vi­ous money cir­cles, he/she can climb the Moneyfel­lows credit lad­der to un­lock fea­tures like join­ing cir­cles with other 3rd de­gree con­nec­tion users from Moneyfel­lows’ trusted net­work, join cir­cles with higher pay­outs, lower fees, and get higher dis­counts on prod­ucts they pur­chase from Moneyfel­lows’ net­work of com­mer­cial part­ners which in­clude Ama­zon, Ebay, Ap­ple, and more.

In 2015, Moneyfel­lows were se­lected as one of 10 com­pa­nies to at­tend the Star­tup­boot­camp Fin­tech Ac­cel­er­a­tor pro­gram in Lon­don, where they re­ceived $16.25k and 3 months of free of­fice space. In April 2016, they were also se­lected as one of 12 fi­nal­ists at #UBERPITCHME, win­ning a spon­sor­ship at Arab­net’s Dig­i­tal Show­case in Dubai. Fi­nally, Moneyfel­lows of­fi­cially launched in Cairo last June and were se­lected to take part in the first round of the 1864 Ac­cel­er­a­tor Pro­gram, which they grad­u­ated from in De­cem­ber.

Coun­try: Egypt Launched: 2014 Cat­e­gory: Wealth Man­age­ment

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