The UAE tops the list of countries in the Middle East with the highest number of financial technology (fintech) start-ups, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.
The UAE with 67 was followed by Turkey at 44 and Jordan and Lebanon at 30 each, it said.
Overall, the number of fintech start-ups in the region is forecast to expand from 96 in 2019 to 465 by 2020, state news agency WAM reported.
An Accenture analysis based on CBI Insights data has predicted that investments in the fintech sector will jump to $2.28 billion by 2022 from $287 million in 2019.
The figures were made public ahead of this year’s AIM Startup taking place in Dubai in conjunction with the Annual Investment Meeting.
Flat6Labs Beirut Graduates 8 New Startups
Flat6Labs Beirut, Lebanon’s regional startup seed program and early stage fund, hosted its 3rd Demo Day at Music Hall in Beirut on the 17th of April. The Demo Day introduced 8 new startups from Flat6Labs Beirut’s seed program.
This event was designed to showcase the graduating startups, acting as a platform for founders to present their products and services to a select audience of potential investors, the media and the greater business community. It also provides the startup founders with business development, networking, and scaling opportunities.
Launched in 2017 in partnership with ArabNet and approved by Banque du Liban under Circular 331, Flat6Labs Beirut is set to support and invest in more than 100 Lebanese startups over the next 5 years through its $20M seed program and early-stage fund.
The 3rd Flat6Labs Beirut Seed Program cycle, which commenced on December 10th, 2018, welcomed 8 new startups tackling solutions across an array of industries including fintech, foodtech, greentech, IoT, SaaS, and on-demand platforms.
All startups have technology at their core and showcased their product to potential investors, the media, and the greater business community. Flat6Labs Beirut supports and invests in promising Lebanese startups with innovative and fresh ideas.
Each team goes through several stages before they are selected to become a fully developed startup. Once inducted into the program, each startup has unlimited access to Flat6Labs Beirut’s network of mentors, investors, consultants, and experts. They also have the privilege of using the Flat6Labs Beirut office space as their own, where they are surrounded with a network of mentors, consultants, investors, business workshops, training sessions and perks, amongst many others.
The graduation of the 3rd batch of startups represents the company’s aim to accelerate the growth rate of Lebanese startups and provide a steady pipeline to the rapidly-growing Lebanese venture capital ecosystem.
IFC Signs MOU with Ureed
IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, is joining forces with Ureed, a pioneering online platform providing linguistic services in the Middle East, to help increase economic and employment opportunities for women in Lebanon and Jordan.
IFC has signed a memorandum of understanding with Ureed, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region’s first dedicated online marketplace focusing on translation and content services. The sector employs a high proportion of women.
The partnership will see IFC’s advisory services analyzing data on Ureed.com’s current business model, including the behavior of online customers, and how registered translators, copywriters and other content providers can enhance their profiles to meet customers’ needs. The project aims to work with 1,000 women service providers from Jordan and Lebanon through training and other advisory support to increase their online work opportunities.
“Our partnership with IFC will strengthen our efforts to digitize the linguistic services we offer across the region,” said Nour Alhassan, CEO of Ureed. “New technologies can help create more job opportunities for the many educated women across MENA and also help meet the growing demand for affordable and high-quality linguistic services from start-ups and smaller businesses in the region.”
The project is also part of an IFC effort to build resilience in Jordan and Lebanon, each of which are home to more than 1 million refugees. Innovative, income-generating opportunities for women will be crucial to help foster host community resilience.
Mouayed Makhlouf, IFC Regional Director for MENA, said, “Our partnership with Ureed is a great example of how start-ups can help bring innovations and offer new solutions to long-standing challenges. This is an innovative, holistic business model that can help create much needed new job opportunities for women, ultimately strengthening both the host and refugee communities in Jordan and Lebanon.”
Sandbox, Agility & Trust: The Fintech Disruption in Lebanon
There has been a surge in fintech companies in Lebanon that are competing on a global scale. In fact, Lebanon has been ranked as the 3rd most advanced fintech startup ecosystem in the MENA region (according to IDAL’s Fintech Sector in Lebanon 2018 Handbook), and hosts 14% of the region’s fintech startups.
The report also indicates that the country is deemed the 4th most served market by fintech companies, and traditional banks are integrating more advanced systems to streamline customers’ financial transactions.
However, while stakeholders are quickly adapting to innovation in the realm of financial technology, many challenges are hindering growth prospects. To tackle these issues, key stakeholders in the fintech industry came together at the 1st Fintech meet-up event, organized by Beirut Digital District and Visa.
The roundtable discussions gathered professionals from the ICT Ministry, Venture Capital companies, incubators, accelerators, fintech players and banks, in an effort to strengthen the fintech ecosystem, encourage innovation and spur the growth of digital economy.
Experts agreed, without a doubt, that money is changing form, from physical to digital, and we will soon have a cashless society. However, the framework of the Lebanese fintech ecosystem needs improvement, as innovators are either too soon to market, or not getting the support they need to scale.
Around the table, the terms Sandbox, agility and trust dominated the discussion, and participants were keen to define their needs, based on their expertise.
The Good News for Fintechs
- Higher startup survival rate: Fintech companies in Lebanon have a higher survival rate, when compared to the overall startup ecosystem. From 2001, less than 30% of the total number of fintech startups have “died”.
- Unbanked population: There exists a large percentage of unbanked individuals, who pose a lucrative market segment to tap into.
- Governmental Ventures: The Lebanese ICT Ministry has formed a digital committee and is mapping the structure and governance for this sector.
- Low adoption of credit cards: There is still a low penetration of credit card and online payment habits in Lebanon, with vast room for growth.
Lebanon’s First Real Estate Investment Platform Legacy One
“Lebanon has once again shown its unrelenting stubbornness to overcome all these challenges,” says Wael El Zein, Chairman and General Manager of Lucid Investment Bank, talking about the Lebanese economy’s struggles, which include the negative effects of the outbreak of war in neighboring Syria since 2011, a slump in oil prices since 2014, as well as the country’s own governmental power vacuums, all over the last decade. This uncertainty has reportedly affected one business sector the most– real estate. The real estate sector in Lebanon reached its peak in 2008 when both the country’s diaspora and foreign buyers sought shelter from the global financial crisis by investing in luxury second homes in the country. However, the events of the following decade have caused real estate activity to slow down, leaving many luxury to mid-range properties to lie unsold, especially in Beirut’s waterfront and central district areas. Before long, the rumors of the real estate sector being on the brink of collapse started to spread.
However, Massaad Fares, Investment Committee Member at Legacy One and Chairman of Legacy Central, a Beirut-based investment management company, dismisses these as misguided beliefs. “Currently, this sector is going through difficult times, which serve as a reflection of the wider crisis Lebanon finds itself in, but there is a sale crisis in Lebanon which must be differentiated from the real estate crisis,” Fares explains. “It’s important to note that Lebanon has not witnessed the phenomenon of price collapse, and, if anything, we’ve seen stability in the price of land. The sale crisis is another issue, which must be handled by other means. In fact, we should be proud of the Lebanese real estate sector, and its steadfastness in the face of this slowdown. Had this slowdown occurred in any of the neighboring countries and lasted for eight years, they would have collapsed. It highlights the resilience of the Lebanese real estate sector, its strength and flexibility in adapting to the global situation.”
Today, Legacy One is a US$325 million real estate investment vehicle that offers $75 million in equity to Lebanese investors and $250 million in bonds, mainly targeted towards Lebanese commercial banks. The platform is one of the first public offerings approved by Lebanon’s Capital Markets Authority (CMA) under its Series 6000 for Offers of Securities. It is managed by Legacy Central, and administered by Lucid Investment Bank. Fares explains that the Lebanese diaspora, especially in North and Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East, have always had a strong appetite to own property in Lebanon, but have lacked confidence in developers and faced red tape and insufficient after-sales service.
These are some of the reasons why the demand in the country’s capital Beirut totaled 48% or 7,500 units of what is available for sale on the market, according to a study done by InfoPro Research, which also stated that the number of units being sold has been decreasing three years in a row. Legacy One aims to change that. It serves as a one-stop shop offering buyers a portfolio of a diversified range of apartments, in terms of sizes and quarters, at extremely attractive prices. “The properties acquired by the platform are completed or nearly completed with title deeds and/or are in the process of acquiring the deeds; therefore, we guarantee peace of mind and confidence in the products. Financial and administrative facilities are within our services, as well as concierge services and aftersales facility management.”
Augmental Takes the Lead in Arabnet’s Startup Battle Beirut 2019
On the 3rd of April, the 8 selected Startup Battle Beirut finalists made their way to Flat6Labs Beirut hoping to nail the perfect pitch and secure their spots in the Startup Championship taking place during Arabnet Beirut 2019, the event that marks Arabnet’s 10 years of setting the ground for digital business and entrepreneurship in the MENA region!
After delivering exciting pitches, the judges selected the top 3 winners: 1st place went to Augmental, the educational technology application; 2nd place Fallound, app and software for audio optimization; 3rd place BlocRecs, blockchain-based platform validating education and employment records.
The winning startups are now preparing to go against the previous Startup Battle winners from the other participating cities such as Kuwait, Riyadh, and Dubai with Cairo and Baghdad in line for the upcoming Arabnet Battles taking place respectively on the 24th and 28th of April.
Interested startups who wish to join the roster of Startup Battle winners can apply here.
Once the winners have had time to celebrate their wins, we asked the entrepreneurs to share with us the meaning of that win for them and their startups – And their words could not have been more earnest!
Lebanese packaging wins U.N. innovation prize
A Lebanese team has been awarded first prize in the “Innovate Green Competition,” organized by U.N. Environment’s West Asia Office under the slogan #SolveDifferent. The contest asked participants from across the Middle East to create “innovative solutions” to environmental challenges.
“This award has allowed us to reach an international level in terms of exposure, network and experience,” Mushtic co-founder Lama Antonios told The Daily Star.
In an attempt to help prevent a repeat of the 2015 garbage crisis, the team of young entrepreneurs has been using unconventional materials to create biodegradable packaging alternatives.
Using biotechnology, they created “Mushtic” from agricultural waste and mushroom roots, or mycelium, as a biodegradable alternative to traditional packing materials such as Styrofoam that contribute to Lebanon’s bulging landfills. The eco-friendly material offers the same shock absorbance, insulating properties and water resistance as the man-made products.
Team Mushtic, supported by agricultural entrepreneur program Agrytech, is made up of agricultural and food engineering specialists at the Holy Spirit University in Kaslik, where there laboratory is also based. The team was established last year as a response to Lebanon’s garbage crisis, Antonios said.
The Lebanese scientists are continuing their work in an attempt to develop standardized materials, in the hope of later working with the Agriculture Ministry to roll the product out nationwide and enable farmers to better handle their waste, Antonios said.
Lebanon approves second offshore gas licensing round
Lebanon’s government has approved a second offshore energy licensing round with bids to be submitted early next year, Energy Minister Nada Boustani said on Twitter on Thursday.
Offshore energy development has been a central ambition for successive governments in cash-strapped Lebanon, but political paralysis has caused years of delays and the country is in dispute with Israel over the maritime border along some exploration blocks.
Artificial Intelligence takes hold of Lebanese StartUps
With roughly the same population as the State of Missouri, Lebanon is a small country of six million people that borders Syria and Israel. Due to its location, the country has been subjected to a multitude of political and religious factions inhabiting the state. People frequently fight over whose invisible friend is better, and the country has faced long periods of instability including wars with Israel, civil wars and internal conflicts, and most recently some spillover from the Syrian war – which means lots of Syrians flying around on motorcycles. All of this turmoil has contributed to structural problems in the economy such as chronic fiscal deficits that have increased Lebanon’s debt-to-GDP ratio to the third highest in the world. Economic growth has slowed to 1-2% over the past decade which constrains government investments in necessary infrastructure improvements.
Notwithstanding these challenges, day to day life in Lebanon is pretty awesome. With its Mediterranean vibe, great cuisine, and people with a certain joie de vivre, Lebanon is a great place to visit. There are ancient cedar trees talked about in the Epic of Gilgamesh, and in the Baqa’a Valley lies one of the best preserved and grandest Roman temple ruins in the world. You’ll have the whole place to yourself, as it’s just shy of the Syrian border in a small town where you can buy Hezbollah t-shirts because, well, it’s Hezbollah controlled territory. While the economy remains challenged, it doesn’t curb the country’s tech ambitions. Lebanon doesn’t have an official artificial intelligence (AI) strategy, but the country has been working on regional AI events and the implementation of AI into education as well. According to former Minister of Economy Nasser Saidi, development of a national AI strategy is crucial in improving the economy and fighting corruption at the same time.
We toured the country, scoured Crunchbase, and spent some time talking to Sami Abou Saab, the CEO of a Beirut-based startup accelerator called Speed@BDD that invests cash in top-tier companies in the MENA region, to come up with a list of some AI startups in Lebanon for you to check out.
|Eqlim||Big Data||Beirut||425 000|
|Rational Pixels||Digital Ads||Barcelona and Beirut||30 000|
|dox||Electric Vehicle Battery Maintenance||Beirut||undisclosed|
|Hello Harold||Big Data||Leicester, UK and Beirut||undisclosed|
|NAR||Drone Inspections||Wilmington, Delaware, and Beirut||undisclosed|
Founded in 2013, Beirut startup Eqlim has raised $425,000 to develop a big data platform that provides real-time risk intelligence for global supply chains. The startup’s algorithms process data from more than 100,000 web and social media sources to come up with information on geopolitical, operational, and environmental risks in frontier markets. Location-based risk assessments include protests, attacks, smuggling, traffic disruptions, and war, all of which are complemented by crowdsourced information from people close to an incident location.
The platform can be used to enhance supply chain security in risky geographies and identify low-risk alternative routes for transportation. The service is also used by commodities traders to forecast the impact of geopolitics on commodity supply, and insurance companies to adjust “country at war” type risks. Eqlim has partnered with Clipper Data, a real-time crude oil and petroleum product cargo tracking company, to provide an alert service specifically for the oil and petroleum product market as well. The company’s Medium blog contains a handful of interesting case studies on countries like Nigeria, Iran, and Brazil. It would be super useful if they could repackage this as a subscription offering for civilians who enjoy traveling to more “exotic” locations.
Founded in 2017, Rational Pixels has raised a seed round of $30,000 from Speed@BDD to develop a non-interruptive digital ad format embedded into online videos. The startup has established locations both in Spain and Lebanon, but Mr. Saab assured us of their Lebanese roots. As online advertising is becoming increasingly saturated, consumers are irritated by the numerous pop-ups, banners, and full-on ads disrupting videos. Rational Pixels’ algorithms incorporate ads right into videos as if they were in the frames from the beginning, making ads native to the video. How cool is that?
Not only is this more user friendly, but ads cannot be blocked or skipped providing guaranteed views. Publishers of online videos can manage when and in what part of the frame their ads will appear through Rational Pixels’ online interface. These ads then change dynamically depending on their audience the same way Facebook and Google Ads do. The company targets both content publishers and digital ad agencies with its offering.
Visit Tripoli in north Lebanon and you just might see tanks rolling down the streets keeping everything secure. It’s the second biggest city in Lebanon and the home of Neotic, a startup that’s raised an undisclosed amount of funding to develop machine learning algorithms for equity traders. The startup’s platform allows users to create custom trading strategies for stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ, and run multi-year backtests on them. When a strategy is up and running, the platform provides ongoing stock forecasts and recommendations, and also executes trades on behalf of the user automatically. Neotic’s algorithms also recommend optimal investment allocations for investment funds.
The platform offers off-the-shelf short-term strategies with three years of backtesting for really lazy traders and claims its own model portfolios consistently provide positive returns and beat the market over the short-term. Neotic’s platform is also available white labeled for brokers who want to integrate it into their own trading system. Pricing for individual traders ranges from free to $420 a year based on utilization, and case-by-case pricing is available for investment and brokerage firms. Don’t get too excited though. As we discussed recently, it is increasingly difficult to generate alpha without having a very unique data set.
Founded in 2017, Beirut startup dox has raised undisclosed funding to develop a predictive maintenance platform for batteries in electric vehicles. Battery behavior is hard to predict because it’s related to usage habits and environmental factors. These irregularities can cause sudden battery failures or energy waste, increasing costs for fleet operators. Erring on the side of caution, operators will change batteries too frequently so as to avoid unscheduled system failures. This means a large part of a battery’s useful lifetime is being wasted.
dox’s platform provides customers with battery analytics, performance metrics, and replacement and maintenance forecasts so operators can save on their fleet’s inventory and service costs. The startup is present in Lebanon and Europe and is targeting battery and electric vehicle manufacturers and telecom companies.
Founded in 2017, Beirut startup Fig has raised an undisclosed amount of funding to develop an AI-powered custom chatbot plug-and-play solution that takes care of all the heavy lifting like conversational design, configuration, launch, and maintenance on behalf of its clients. The chatbot platform employs machine learning to get smarter over time, and provides analytics and insights about your customers. Some experts say that chatbots will save $65 billion annually in the US alone, as a significant percentage of human customer service and sales representatives become augmented by chatbot technology that handles 95% of call center volume. A “human in the loop” will handle exceptions while also serving as a trainer for the algorithms. Customers of Fig come from a wide variety of industries like travel, banking and insurance, retail, healthcare, and hospitality.
Founded in 2012, Beirut startup Yakshof has raised an undisclosed amount of money to perform some big data analytics on the news. The company’s algorithms monitor web and social media sources in all languages for information relevant to corporate clients, filter out the noise, and aggregate relevant content. The platform analyzes and indexes results using semantic analysis, network analysis, and facial recognition, to come up with concise executive summaries and visualizations for decision makers. The service allows customers to slice and dice real-time global media coverage to come up with actionable insights related to crisis management, PR, company communications, and security.
Founded in 2015, Beirut startup Cloudfish has raised an undisclosed amount of funding to develop sentiment analysis for the Arab-speaking world. The company’s Babel algorithm, specifically designed to understand Arab colloquial language, listens to social media and web interactions to analyze preferences of the 300 million Arab speakers over the world. Cloudfish also offers a tool for big data analytics specifically focused on the food and beverage industry, and a drag-and-drop report generator for intuitive business intelligence visualizations and presentations. Off the shelf products are complemented by custom big data consulting services for companies looking to develop their own algorithms, performance metrics, and business reporting.
Founded in 2017, Hello Harold is another startup that has established its presence outside of Lebanon. Located in Leicester, UK, Hello Harold is also backed by Speed@BDD with an undisclosed amount of funding that’s being used to develop a Facebook Messenger chatbot that helps buyers and sellers of used cars find the right price, ad platform, and timing for their transactions.
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