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Abu Dhabi crypto asset trading platform MidChains bags investment from Mubadala Ventures

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MidChains, an Abu Dhabi-based crypto asset trading platform which has recently gained the approval of Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) to operate a crypto asset exchange in the capital, raised an investment from the venture capital arm of Mubadala Investment Company, Mubadala Ventures.The investment shows that Mubadala Ventures understands the importance of cryptocurrency and the role it will play in the world economy few years from now.

“Given Mubadala’s reputation as a global investment company, this investment will provide us with a platform to scale up, including for retail and institutional clients,” said Basil Al-Askari, co-founder and chief executive of MidChains.

MidChains has been offering digital asset exchange and custodian services for two years now. Last month, the company gained in-principal approval from ADGM’s Financial Services Regulatory Authority to set up and run a global crypto-asset exchange and custodian service. After this investment, MidChains has become one of the first few digital asset firms in the Middle East to receive funding from Mubadala. Although, the sum of the investment has not been disclosed as of yet.

“We’re excited to be an early-stage investor in a company like MidChains which is both an Abu Dhabi-based company and one founded by two inspiring [UAE] nationals,” said Ibrahim Ajami, head of Mubadala Ventures. “This is in-line with our investment strategy to find and nurture home-grown start-ups,” he said. Based in the new Hub71 accelerator in Abu Dhabi Global Markets, MidChains plans to launch its platform by the end of 2019. However, all of their plans are subject to regulatory approval by Abu Dhabi and UAE regulatory authorities.

If all goes well, MidChains will be targeting both retail and institutional investors in digital assets. It is one of a number of crypto-asset exchanges to have received in-principal approval from ADGM’s regulatory body in recent months. Mubadala Ventures, set up in 2017, plans to grow its portfolio to $1 billion (Dh3.67bn) by 2021. It also oversees its parent company’s $15bn investment in Japan’s $100bn SoftBank Vision Fund, which puts Mubadala in the company of Apple, Qualcomm, and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund as investors.

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Business

How this multi-million dollar startup could make it easier to identify the next epidemic

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SOURCE: Forbes Middle East


If the virus that is now causing the COVID-19 epidemic had been detected before the first patient even showed symptoms, could the disease have been contained? Karius CEO and cofounder Mickey Kertesz hopes so. While traditional lab tests can take days and can only look for one specific disease at a time, his liquid biopsy startup is building technology to quickly detect known and emerging pathogens and, hopefully, prevent them from turning into outbreaks.

“The problem with infectious diseases is, obviously, its massive impact on humanity,” Kertesz says. Cancer is an extremely visible disease, and receives huge amounts of public and private funding. Yet illnesses spread by bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites are “actually the second leading cause of death worldwide,” Kertesz points out. “More people die of infectious diseases than all cancers combined.”

With $165 million from a fresh Series B funding round led by Softbank’s Vision Fund 2 and $255 million funding in total, Karius is the latest healthcare startup to benefit from venture capital’s growing interest in the emerging liquid biopsy space. Though most liquid biopsy companies focus on cancer screening, Karius can take a single blood sample and test for more than 1,400 pathogens, including viruses, bacteria and fungi.

Companies in the liquid biopsy field, such as Ally Bridge Group-backed unicorn GRAIL and newly public Guardant Health, look at free-circulating DNA in the bloodstream to detect illnesses. While those companies look for DNA from tumors, Karius focuses on microbe free-circulating DNA.

Launched in 2014, the Redwood City-based startup is built on Kertesz and cofounder Tim Blauwkamp’s discovery that the DNA of disease-causing microbes can be found in the blood of infected patients, even early on in the course of the disease. A simple blood draw is enough for them to distinguish between the patient’s own DNA and the microbe’s DNA. The two spent several years refining this technology, then built an AI-powered “search engine” that reviews microbial DNA and compares it to the over 1,400 pathogens it has in its database.

Liquid biopsy is still a relatively new concept. Its first use, for non-invasive prenatal testing, began in China in 2011. Since then, the field has exploded, and investors are becoming increasingly certain that it holds real potential in disease diagnostics. Karius’ tests have been clinically validated, and it currently partners with about 100 hospitals around the country.

Most other companies look at prenatal testing and early screening for cancer, says Vikram Bajaj, a managing director at Foresite Capital, because “the evidence there is better understood.” But using liquid biopsy technology on infectious diseases has multiple benefits, he says. Not only can you use the presence of DNA to diagnose a disease, you can also look at the genetic profile of a disease for clues on how to treat it.

After a clinical examination, a doctor normally has to guess what is wrong with a patient, then order multiple specific blood tests to confirm that diagnosis. With Karius, a doctor can send the patient for a single blood draw, and the next day find out if the patient is infected with a virus, bacteria or something else. The test can also determine if the patient is infected with a known disease, or something new. Kertesz says that Karius tests have already found novel pathogens in patients’ blood that have never been studied before.

This fast detection of unknown microbes based on DNA could be crucial in the next pandemic. Not only can fast detection help when it comes to setting up quarantines, says Anthony Fehr, an assistant professor at the University of Kansas, but at the early stages of disease, “there are probably better treatment options.”

While this current coronavirus outbreak was caught relatively quickly compared to past outbreaks like SARS, says Stanley Prelman, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Iowa, “This particular outbreak has gone so quickly, that if we had detected it even a few days earlier maybe we would have done things differently.”

Right now, Karius’ technology is limited to DNA, which means it can’t detect RNA-based viruses like the coronavirus causing the COVID-19 outbreak. This round of funding could change that, helping to expand the number of diseases its tests can detect.“The next time an outbreak occurs,” Kertesz says, “we can catch it quickly.”

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Apps

Lebanon’s Basma, the digital dental startup secures US$1.2M Seed funding

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Author: Basma

Basma, the Beirut-based digital dental startup, secures a Seed round of US$1.2M and opens up access to simple and affordable orthodontics in the MENA region.

This financing round was led by prominent Beirut-based VC firms, B&Y Venture Partners and Cedar Mundi Ventures, with the joint participation from iSME and various business angels.

Basma is a direct-to-consumer healthcare brand that wants to give customers straighter and brighter teeth. It’s a digital health company founded on the belief that affordable dental care should be accessible to everyone. 

According to their Founder and CEO, Dr. Cherif Massoud: “7 out of 10 people in the Arab world can benefit from straighter teeth. But we think that everyone deserves to smile confidently. Aligners are the best alternative to braces, by changing the distribution channel and putting everything online, Basma cuts the treatment cost by up to 65%. Patients are constantly connected to doctors on our advanced telemedicine platform and are able to receive the treatment kit that will have a series of clear custom fitted aligners, straight to their homes.”

“Basma understands the consumer desire to improve their smile discreetly and they have the tools to make it happen.” Their CEO adds: “Adults should not feel pressured to wear wired braces. They are looking for invisible braces that don’t affect their confidence and this is exactly what we can give them.”

Bassel Attieh, Chairman and Managing Partner of Cedar Mundi Ventures, says: “We see much appetite for HealthTech and cosmetics services in the Middle East, both from consumers and professionals. And the teeth aligner industry is only getting started here. We believe in Basma’s bright future, building on local entrepreneurial and tech talents, and leveraging internationally-acclaimed remote professional initiatives for and from the region.”

The funds will further push Basma’s tech base and fuel expansion in the MENA region.

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Insights

BLOM PMI in a renewed a Marked Deterioration in Business Conditions in December 2019

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BLOM Lebanon PMI Registered a Marked Deterioration in Business Conditions in December 2019, but the Rate of Decline Eased from Last Month

The below-zero growth persisted during December 2019 and continued to be driven by November 2019’s sharpest deterioration in the private sector’s health. With a PMI standing at lows of 37 points in November 2019, economic growth lagged behind to close the year 2019 at approximately -0.5%. In its turn, December’s PMI registered a recovery from November’s all-time low, to stand at 45.1 points. However, it is worthy to note that the average PMI in 2019 retreated to 45.9 points, down from last year’s average of 46.3 points. As such, output and new orders remained most afflicted, standing at the respective 41.3 and 41.1 points, up from last month’s all-time low of 25.3 points each. Nonetheless, these sub-components remain subdued, weakening the private sector’s health amid continued national and regional political uncertainty.

In fact, BDL issued a new circular beginning December 2019 in attempts to avert the severe financial crisis, triggering three credit agencies to downgrade Lebanon’s credit and its banks’ as a result. To begin, on December 04th BDL reduced interest rates on deposits and issued a circular that instructed banks to pay the interest on foreign deposits as follows: 50% in Lebanese pounds and 50% in US dollars. These measures are to remain in-place for 6 months. It followed that the central bank’s action triggered further downgrades by 3 rating agencies. Moody’s downgraded the Standalone Baseline Credit of Bank Audi, BLOM bank and Byblos bank from Caa2 to “Ca” on December 11th, explaining that its action is consistent with “[BDL’s recent Circular which] constitutes a deposit default based on the agency’s own definitions.” Moreover, Fitch Ratings downgraded Lebanon’s long-term foreign currency Issuer Default Rating (IDR) from CCC to “CC” by December 12th. The credit agency explained the mounting financial pressure on Lebanon as derived from the “ongoing political volatility […]; eroding confidence in the banking sector […]; BDL’s Circular which indicates the central bank is “failing to pay its obligations in full […] intensifying financial pressure[…]”, among other factors. It concluded, “a government debt restructuring or default is probable […]”. Lastly, S&P Downgraded Lebanon’s foreign and local-currency Issuer Credit Ratings to “Selective Default” on 3 Lebanese Banks (Audi, BLOM, BankMed) and Revised Lebanon’s BICRA Score Downwards on December 18th.

On the macroeconomic front, key parameters published over the period reflected a deepening recession.

The capital controls are still in place and continue to nurture a parallel market and rising inflation. The capital controls imposed by banks following the onset of civic protests in October 2019 are still in place, while average inflation reached 2.45% year-on-year (YOY) by October 2019. Even though inflation is still below October 2018’s 6.31%, it is expected to record upticks in the ensuing months of 2020, especially with capital controls staying in place.

Lebanon’s fiscal deficit narrowed by September 2019, yet gross public debt continued its uptrend. The cash-basis fiscal deficit decreased from $4.51B in Q3 2018 to $3.59B in 2019’s third quarter. The detailed data provided by the ministry of finance revealed an 8.3%YOY downtick in government spending which outweighed the 2.05% annual downtick in public revenues, to stand at $8.5B and $12.08B, respectively. On the counterpart, Lebanon’s gross public debt increased by 3.6%YOY to reach $87.09B by October 2019. In details, local currency debt (denominated in LBP) climbed by a yearly 12.2% to $54.57B. Correspondingly, domestic debt composed 62.66% of gross public debt, up from last year’s 57.88% of total, by October 2018. Meanwhile, total debt denominated in foreign currency fell by 8.11% year-in-year (YOY) to amount to $32.52B over the same period.

Key real sector parameters of the economy also reflected the significant uncertainty which was very apparent among this month’s PMI panel and respondents. The construction and real estate sectors were among the most afflicted by the financial and economic developments following October’s protests. As such, the total number of construction permits slumped by an annual 19.37% to 10,354 permits by November 2019 while the respective Construction Area Authorized by Permits also dropped by 32.06%YOY to 5.7Msqm. In tandem, the real estate (RE) sector performance remained weak, with the number and value of RE transactions recording annual slumps of 19.24% and 21.52% in the first eleven months of the year, to stand at 44,163 transactions worth $5.7B, down from 54,687 to stood at $7.3B by November last year, as per Cadastre.

In turn, auto importers continued to be substantially affected by the developments since October, given the people’s propensity to save rises in times of high uncertainty. The car market slumped remarkably, with the Association of Cars Importers (AIA) stating “The number of new cars registered during the month of November 2019 has dramatically dropped by 79% in comparison with the month of November 2018,” as it attributed the dramatic drop to recent procedures regarding capital controls. The total number of new registered cars hit an 11–year low at 22,528 cars. Despite a 12.1% annual drop in international average oil prices to $64.03/barrel, the number of total (passenger and commercial) registered new cars dipped by 31.5% year-on-year (YOY) by November 2019 which was 3.25 times the decrease recorded by November 2018 when the car market recorded the first decline since 2007.

November 2019 also witnessed a large Increase in the total number of Returned Checks. The latest statistics released by the Association of Banks (ABL) on cleared checks within the Lebanese financial system revealed a substantial increase in the month-on-month (MOM) and year-on-year (YOY) number of returned checks, attributed to the closure of banks from October 17th till Nov. 01st and the ensuing capital controls imposed, including ad hoc changes to clients’ overdrafts arrangements with their respective bank(s). As such, on a MOM basis, 81,782 checks worth $319.73M were returned in November 2019, composing 6.17% and 10.16% of the total value and number of returned checks, respectively. In comparison, returned checks in October 2019 totaled 16,427 checks worth $88.9M, thereby composing 2.87% and 3.08% of the total value and number of returned checks, respectively. Meanwhile, in November alone, the total value of cleared checks decreased by 3.5% to $5.2B, owing it partly to a 15.34% yearly downtick recorded in the value of cleared checks denominated in foreign currency to $2.9B. Meanwhile, the value of checks denominated in LP rose by a yearly 13.84% to settle at $2.2B in November 2019.


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Business

2019 is Record Year Investment for MENA countries; MAGNITT

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Another record year for total funding when excluding the investments of Souq & Careem

Main highlight of 2019

2019 saw an increase of 12% in total underlying funding; This reflects a 33% 5-year CAGR as the ecosystem grows and matures. Egypt ranks first by number of deals for the first time

  • Egypt accounted for 25% of all deals in MENA in 2019
  • Saudi Arabia’s share of total deals increased by 4%

MENA deal flow hit a record of 163 investments in Q3 2019

  • 2019 saw a higher number of deals in each quarter compared to 2018
  • Q1 2019 was a record quarter for MENA investments when exc. Careem’s $200M funding in Q4 2018

FinTech ranks first by number of deals for the second year in a row

  • FinTech accounted for 13% of all deals in 2019
  • Accelerators and governments play a key role in supporting FinTech startups

What would MAGNITT expects for 2020??

MORE THAN $1B TO BE INVESTED IN MENA-BASED STARTUPS
While this was predicted for 2019, the funding gap left by the Careem acquisition was too big to cover by other, earlier-stage startups.
Moving into 2020, we expect this gap to be filled, as more startups look to raise growth capital, and government initiatives such as
Funds of Funds and matching programs come into effect.

ANOTHER RECORD YEAR FOR EXITS IN 2020
Several industries in the region, including e-commerce and transport, are heavily fragmented, and investors and startups will look to
consolidate to gain a competitive edge. We will also see international interest in more established startups, as we have seen with the
likes of Careem, Souq, Harmonica, and others.

MORE VENTURE-BACKED INTERNATIONAL STARTUPS WILL SET UP SHOP IN MENA
International startups will capitalise on the increased government initiatives to support startups in the region. With the emergence
of flexible co-working spaces across MENA and initiatives to help reduce the cost of setting up and moving, the barriers to entry are
reducing, making the MENA region more accessible than ever.

MORE FAILURES OF VENTURE-BACKED STARTUPS
Bassel Idriss, founder of Generics, shared his 5 learning lessons from the failure of his startup with MAGNiTT. As the ecosystem
matures, it is statistically inevitable that a higher number of startups will fail. This is not a bad thing, as long as we collectively learn
from these experiences and encourage founders to become serial entrepreneurs.

MORE INTERNATIONAL INVESTORS AND ACQUIRERS OF MENA-BASED STARTUPS
The success story of Careem and the increased media attention for venture-backed companies is a positive. Consequently, many will
start looking to scale out of the region for continued growth – international startups and investors alike will look for opportunities as
they become more familiar with the MENA landscape and as they seek arbitrage opportunities. Look out for more Asian venture capital
and corporate investors with experience in South-East Asia and China to start developing an interest in the region.

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Apps

Egypt competition watchdog approves Uber acquisition of Careem with conditions

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SOURCE: Zawya


Uber bought Careem for $3.1bn in March in a deal expected to close in January.

Egyptian regulators have approved Uber’s $3.1 billion acquisition of regional rival Careem after agreeing to a set of commitments proposed by the U.S.-based ride-hailing service meant to reduce harm to competitors.

The Careem acquisition was announced in March after more than nine months of stop-start talks between the two companies, handing Uber a much-needed victory after a series of overseas divestments.

The deal is expected to close in January, depending on regulatory approval in various territories of which Egypt is among the most significant. Egypt, with a booming population seen swelling to 100 million, is the biggest in the Middle East for ridehailing services.

Careem will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Uber but will continue to operate as an independent brand with independent management.

“We welcome the decision by the Egyptian Competition Authority (ECA) to approve Uber’s pending acquisition of Careem,” a spokesman for Uber said. “Uber and Careem joining forces will deliver exceptional outcomes for riders, drivers, and cities across Egypt.”

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Digital marketing

Indoor digital platform Adzily raises $12.2 mln, expands to Saudi

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Cairo-based indoor advertising platform Adzily that claims to be the first of its kind in the Middle East & North Africa has raised $12.2 million from Al-Tharawat Private Investment Holding Company (Private Wealth Investments), a Saudi investment company, the startup told MENAbytes today. It is the first external investment round raised by Adzily and one of the largest-ever raised by an Egyptian startup.

Founded last year by Ahmed Ashoor, Mostafa Hendawy, Mostafa Kamshish, and Mohamed Ossman, Adzily is a network of digital ad screens spread across cafes, restaurants, and gyms, that runs ads.

Think of it as a form of (or somewhat similar to) the traditional Out-of-home (OOH) advertising on steroids; a hybrid of traditional and digital advertising allowing brands to reach audience using these display screens that are spread across malls, cafes, restaurants, gyms and other indoor places that have a high footfall.

OOH advertising that is also known as outdoor advertising, as an industry, has been struggling all around the world including the Middle East & North Africa largely because of brands spending a big part of their advertising money on Facebook and Google ads. According to information available on Statista (that they have apparently sourced from different online sources), the outdoor advertisement expenditure has decreased by over 65 percent from its peak of $1.53 billion in 2014 to $529 million last year.

The internet ad spend on the other hand has been increasing in the region and is expected to reach $1.31 billion by 2021.

What Adzily is trying to do is create a new category that brings the best of both worlds (digital and offline) together and that is its pitch to brands.

Ahmed Ashoor, co-founder and CEO of Adzily, who has co-founded and led different other startups as well, speaking to MENAbytes, said, “Adzily is something like Google Ads but instead of publishing the ads on websites, we publish them on screens located in different areas in Egypt & rest of MENA. So the brands don’t only reach the audience they want to target but also get some very useful insights.”

The targeting options available on Adzily allow brands to target consumers that are at a specific location (city, area, neighborhood) or at a specific chain (e.g. Pottery Cafe). The brands also have the option to choose a specific type of audience and time for their ads. The advertisers can also add call to action (CTA) to their ads in form of QR codes and few other things made using Adzily dashboard (for advertisers).

The startup told MENAbytes that it currently has 200 screens installed in different cafes and restaurants in Egypt including Cafe Supreme and Pottery Cafe (both of which have a large network of branches), and plans to add 1,000 more screens in the country in the next three months and add take the number of total screens to 5,000 in Egypt in 2020. More than half of these screens will be added in Cairo and the rest in other parts of Egypt.

The startup that is also expanding to Saudi with this investment, plans to install 5,000 screens in different cities of Saudi in 2020 and add another 5,000 in 2021. Unlike Egypt, Adzily will face stiff competition from giants like Al-Arabia that have their screens in some of the biggest malls in the country.

“In Saudi, we’re initially focusing on cafes, restaurants, and gyms – the places where there’s no competition before we go to malls and place our screens there,” said Ahmed speaking to MENAbytes.

Adzily that currently counts Apple, LG and Egypt’s government among its clients is only targeting multinational brands, for now, Ahmed told MENAbytes, “We receive a lot of requests every single day from businesses who have seen our screens and are interested to buy ads on it but we’re being selective about who we want as advertisers early on.”

Adzily plans to use most of their investment to fund the expansion of its network of screens across Egypt and Saudi.

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Investments

Investcorp leads $11.2 million investment in Bewakoof

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Global alternative asset manager Investcorp has led a $11.2 million investment in Mumbai-based Bewakoof.com. IndigoEdge was the advisor to Bewakoof.com for the deal.

Founded in 2011 by IIT alumni Prabhkiran Singh and Siddharth Munot, Bewakoof.com is a direct to consumer online apparel company focussed on providing creative and distinctive fashion at affordable prices for trendy and contemporary Indians. 

To read more click https://www.wamda.com/2019/10/investcorp-leads-112-million-investment-bewakoof

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eCommerce

Bulk Grocery E-Commerce Platform BulkWhiz Closes Series A Round To Invest In Their AI Tech

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BulkWhiz, an AI-powered bulk grocery e-commerce platform in the Middle East, has successfully closed its Series A funding round. The investment round was led by BECO Capital, along with 500 Startups and new investors China-based MSA Capital and Kuwait’s Capital Faith.

Founded in 2017 by Amira Rashad, with the idea to ease lives and reduce the task and cost of grocery shopping for families and small businesses by offering bulk grocery, BulkWhiz built its own proprietary AI that learns consumer behavior and personalize the experience to their needs. Since its launch, co-founder and CEO Rashad commends that their initial AI has “built the foundation for personalizing the customer experience, and for realizing efficiency across the value chain enabling us to own our entire supply chain at a fraction of the traditional cost.”

To read more click https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/340882

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Ecosystem of the MENA

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