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New risk cover from UAE’s Etihad Credit Insurance aims to boost SME exports



‘SME Protect’ to provide local firms cost-effective alternative to traditional Letters of Credit and cash payment
Etihad Credit Insurance (ECI), the UAE Federal export credit company, has launched ‘SME Protect’, an online export credit solution designed for Small and Medium Enterprises (SME).

‘SME Protect’, which will be available to exporters and re-exporters in the UAE from September 1, 2019, aims to protect companies from the risk of non-payments by their buyers overseas, by providing guarantees for their accounts receivables.
According to Saed Alawadi, CEO of Dubai Export Development Corporation, Board Member and Chairman of the Executive Committee at ECI, development of the SME sector is a key focus area for the UAE government as part of its agenda for economic diversification through promotion on non-oil sectors.
“This one-of-a-kind solution… will provide the necessary protection for SME exporters to capitalize on opportunities across regional and global markets. We expect our solution can provide one of the tools to make UAE companies competitive globally.”

The UAE’s SME sector, which represents 95 percent of companies in the country and 86 percent of non-oil private employment, was under-penetrated in terms of insurance support, “a gap we felt we could fill,” ECI CEO Massimo Falcioni said.

ECI is targeting to insure approximately 100 SMEs between September 2019 and January 2020.
It took more than a year to develop SME Protect solution and the process involved setting up focus group discussions in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah to identify the main challenges and a country-wide survey that reached out to 140 entrepreneurs.

“The survey found that the mode of payment of SMEs is unique in the UAE with only three percent selling on open credit and most (60 percent) preferring cash or advance payment,” he said. Under open credit norms, the exporter ships the goods to the buyer and receives payment at a later date.
In terms of sectors, he continued, 82 percent of the SMEs in metal and related products sell on cash, and 18 percent sell on Letters of Credit (LC).

“In electrical equipment, 62 percent sell on cash and 30 percent LCs, and in chemical and chemical products, it is 58 percent cash and 42 percent LC; in both Food & Beverage and Machinery, it is 54 percent still on cash payment.”

Saed Alawadi, CEO of Dubai Export Development Corporation, Board Member and Chairman of the Executive Committee at ECI (3rd from left), Massimo Falcioni, CEO of ECI (2nd from left), Swarna Lata, Director of Commercial Underwriting of ECI (1st from left), Ali Saleh Al Ali, Director of IT & Operations (4th from left), at the SME Protect launch press conference
Falcioni explained that cash-based export contracts ensured immediate cash availability for SMEs but eroded their competitiveness. “When they try to go into international markets and expand their business, it is very challenging because there are other companies that offer more competitive open credit terms.”

He said private insurers, like banks, were not interested in providing export credit insurance business to SMEs due to the “too small” size of business. And where they did, they were quick to reduce the credit limit in order to reduce their exposure and protect their balance sheet, he noted.

“The survey also found that 43 percent had difficulties in payment collection, which affected their ability to penetrate high-growth market segments. So if you want to add competitiveness to the SMEs in the UAE, you need to give them an instrument like SME Protect which gives them chance to sell on open credit terms,” said the ECI chief.
ECI’s partner bank network for SME Protect includes First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB), Emirates NBDRAK Bank, Standard Chartered, Natixis and Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB). Islamic Corporation for the Insurance of Investment and Export Credit (ICIEC) is the reinsurance partner for SME Protect solution.
The contribution of the SME sector to the UAE’s GDP is forecasted to increase to 53 per cent in 2019 from about 49 per cent in 2018, according to the Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Authority. The UAE government aims to increase this rate to around 60 per cent by 2021.

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




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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2019 is Record Year Investment for MENA countries; MAGNITT



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??

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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MENA Women’s Congress: Empowering Women through Coding



The first MENA Women’s Congress is currently underway in Muscat, Sultanate of Oman, gathering high profile delegates from around the MENA region to discuss the empowerment of women through coding capabilities.

Organised by the Public Establishment for Industrial Estates – Madayn and in cooperation with the US-based CTEK Foundation, the congress aims to support women in the region. “The topic of the congress supports women through shaping coding related programmes that shall allow them to learn coding skills and thus create their businesses,” explains Malak Al Shaibani, the Director General of Marketing and Media at Madayn.

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Techne Summit Is Back In Alexandria With $1 Million Up For Grabs



Techne Summit, the Mediterranean’s leading startup event, is holding its fifth edition on September 28, 29 and 30, at the iconic Bibliotheca Alexandrina, in the coastal city of Alexandria. Organized by creative agency “Markade,” the summit this year is spreading its reach to other districts in Alexandria, with 5 days of satellite events. The event will kick off on September 28th, featuring some of the world’s most vivacious pioneers, entrepreneurs and investors. The summit will also witness the launch of MedAngels, the first Mediterranean-wide network of Angel Investors, which will gather multi-country Angel Investment Networks, as well as regional enablers, funds and diaspora investors.

The MedAngels network, which will be launched on September 30 at Bibliotheca Alexandrina, comprised of investors from France, Greece, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Slovenia, Croatia, among others. “This year, we are looking into turning Alexandria into an interactive hub that spreads across six days filled with activities. Aside from the launch of MedAngels, which is the highlight of the event, we’re engaging youth and entrepreneurs with exciting activities like Techne Bytes and Techne Nights,” says Tarek ElKady, founder and chairman or Techne Summit, Alexandria Business Angel Network (Alex Angels), and the Mediterranean Business Angel Investment Network.

From media moguls, to Techstars executives, prominent speakers will be taking to the stage, including Techstars’ VP of Innovation Chris Heivly, who will be telling attendees how to build the fort to start anything, Nina Ann Walters, founder and Managing Director of Berlin-based Expandise.Walid Mansour, Partner and Chief Investment Officer of MEVP, and Keith Wallace, Managing Partner at Hivos Impact Investments, will also be presenting at the 3-day event. Added to the talks, panels and workshops, Markade is adding Techne Bytes and Techne Nights, a series of activities engaging businesses and entrepreneurs from across Alexandria, the Mediterranean and beyond, to mingle, network and connect. The summit will also offer five startup competitions, including the Startup World Cup, a global startup competition that offers winners the chance to get a $1 million dollar investment and the opportunity to pitch in Silicon Valley. Other competitions include the “Edventures Competition,” “Techne & AXA for HealthTech,” “Future Technopreneurs,” in partnership with Egypt’s TIEC, and “Win a Trip to Stockholm!,” in partnership with the Swedish Embassy in Egypt.

Furthermore, satellite events will be taking place across over 10 co-working spaces across Alexandria and Egypt to bring a variety of events around the summit, from cyber-security, to branding, and even yoga.

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Dubai Expo economic activity to trigger SME insurance demand – AXA Gulf



Growth opportunities in the SME insurance market is a result of strong initiatives by both Dubai and Abu Dhabi Governments

The insurance market for small and medium enterprises (SME) in Dubai is likely to see significant growth in the first two quarters of 2020 owing to the positive sentiment around Expo 2020 and increased economic activity, a senior insurance executive said.

Shrinking profits of SMEs have curtailed the spending power of such businesses in the past 12 to 24 months resulting in slow growth for SME insurance market, said Carol Lee, Head of Direct Sales for Retail and SME at AXA Gulf.  Speaking to Zawya on the sidelines of Smart SME MENA conference in Dubai last Wednesday, Lee said the growth opportunities in the SME insurance market is a result of strong initiatives by both Dubai and Abu Dhabi Governments.

“I am confident that by end of 2019, the increase in our UAE business will be very positive and this will further accelerate in Q1 and Q2 of next year,” she said. She added that her firm has seen its SME insurance business growing in Oman and Bahrain too this year.AXA Gulf  has created a dedicated division to address specific needs of an SME to insure its business, she said. While AXA Gulf’s SME insurance does not cover bankruptcy protection it offers consultancy and an array of bundled products suited for the small and medium-sized businesses.As financial institutions are ramping up support for SMEs in the UAE resulting in expansion of businesses and an increase in revenues, the SME insurance market, especially in Free Zones where a majority of them are registered, will see a big boost, according to the AXA Gulf executive.

While every SME would have its own unique insurance requirements, the free zone authorities, the UAE regulators and financial institutions have identified essential SME insurance cover for public liability, workmen’s compensation and employer’s liability.

Lee said as SMEs could grow from basic coverage for two or three employees to up to 250 employees, AXA Gulf has created insurance products for every stage of their growth–from immature and fragile SMEs to mature and stable ones. Referring to the risk premiums, Lee said SME insurance products are very simple and pre-underwritten, and premiums generally depend on the type of SMEs and the sector they operate in.

“As the SME insurance services are bundled in simple products and risks are pretty straightforward, we are prioritizing to digitalize our SME services in the next few months like we have done in case of auto insurance. We are working with Fintech Hive to digitalize our SME services,” she added.

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UK and Lebanon Sign Trade Continuity Agreement



In a press release by the British Embassy in Beirut, it said: “Trade Policy Minister, the Rt Hon Conor Burns MP and the Lebanese Minister for Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, Gebran Bassil have signed today a UK-Lebanon trade agreement. It ensures British businesses and consumers will continue to benefit from preferential trading terms with Lebanon after we leave the European Union.

The signature of the UK-Lebanon Association Agreement at the UK-Lebanon Tech Forum in London will provide a framework for cooperation and development on political, economic, social and cultural links. The new UK-Lebanon Association Agreement provides, among other trade benefits, tariff-free trade of industrial products together with liberalisation of trade in agricultural, agri-food and fisheries products. Trading on these preferential terms delivers significant savings, helping to support British jobs and also providing a positive boost for Lebanon’s economy, which continues to be impacted by the Syrian crisis.

This agreement provides a platform for trade between the UK and Lebanon to grow, with total trade worth £603 million in 2018. It also provides the certainty for British and Lebanese consumers and businesses to continue trading following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. The agreement sends a strong signal that Britain is committed to a close bilateral relationship with Lebanon.

Minister of State for International Trade Conor Burns said:
“Our priority is to ensure businesses are fully prepared and have the tools they need to continue to trade by the 31 October. Today’s signing with Lebanon will help provide certainty and opportunities for businesses in both the UK and Lebanon.

“I hope that this Agreement will usher in a new phase of increased bilateral investment in each other’s economies, which is the basis for continued stable economic growth.” Minister for the Middle East and North Africa Dr Andrew Murrison said:
“I welcome the signing of the UK-Lebanon Association Agreement, which provides certainty and confidence to UK and Lebanese consumers and businesses as we leave the European Union.

The economic and trade relationship between our two countries holds much potential. I look forward to more British and Lebanese companies doing business with each other, investing and operating in the UK and Lebanon as a result of this Agreement.

“Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Lebanon Chris Rampling said: “The signing of the UK-Lebanon Association Agreement – our first bilateral trade agreement – marks the strength of the UK-Lebanon partnership and a new phase of increased bilateral investment in each other’s economies.

Lebanon represents un-tapped opportunities for UK companies, especially in new technologies, creative industries, infrastructure and energy, and as a gateway to the Middle East. This Agreement promotes our countries’ political, economic, security and cultural cooperation and will ensure continuity, lead to more liberalisation, and present opportunities to do more together.

The UK supports Lebanon’s economic reform programme, and recognises the potential opportunities for much deeper trade and investment ties between our two complementary economies and their global diasporas.”

This agreement will now be subject to the domestic internal procedures of both countries party to the agreement before it can be brought into force.

The UK will continue to be covered by the EU-Lebanon Association Agreement while it is a member of the EU. This agreement is designed to take effect when the EU-Lebanon agreement ceases to apply to the UK.

On the sidelines of this events, The Technical Forum team attended As International Financial Institutions for Lebanon’s Tech Industry. Lebanon-based companies MEVP, multiLane, Myki, Speed, and CME share their experiences on building global companies out of Beirut and the advantages and potential of Beirut as an outsourcing hub.

We got to see the amazing innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of Lebanese Startups at the LebUKTech2019! Congratulations to the finalists: Clean2O, Fineon, and Routable Ai, and to the winners of the startecheus competition: 1. Cherpa 2. Zima 3.CompostBaladi

CEO Maroun Edde moderated by Nina Dos Santos with topics such as AI, the future of financial markets, and working with millenials.
Murex is one of the biggest fintech success stories from Lebanon with offices

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Pearl Initiative launches unique digital platform for MSMEs in the Gulf region



The Pearl Initiative, a business-led nonprofit organisation that works on promoting corporate governance in the Gulf region’s private sector, recently released an online digital platform to help Micro, Small and the Middle Enterprises (MSMEs) build and improve their corporate governance practices.

The platform, called Corporate Governance Fundamentals, was introduced at a recent roundtable event, which hosted a panel discussion by the leaders of corporate governance and policy-making. Among other participants many MSME founders and financiers were also present. All key stakeholders sat down to discuss the existing methods of corporate governance and contributed to the future methodology of ensuring that MSMEs follow strict guidelines of corporate accountability.

Experts from Pearl Initiative introduced a digital package, featuring 16 toolkits and templates, graphics guides, and educational videos providing information to aid enterprises in managing their corporate lineup in more efficient and transparent ways. The Corporate Governance Fundamentals is a research hardened final product of Pearl Initiative that has been investing in building such a unique tool for essentially thousands of MSMEs in the region.

Yasmine Omari, Executive Director of the Pearl Initiative, positively noted that the tool signifies a significant step forward in concentrated efforts to create awareness on the need for corporate governance in MSMEs. The deal also acts as an interactive digital tool that simplifies the understanding of corporate accountability and conveniently accessible. The bespoke tool is free of charge and aims at guiding the enterprises in successfully adopting the right practices in accountability.

The event was joined by a wide variety of figures from corporate governance to policymaking and was moderated by Sheikh Fahim Al Qasimi, Chairman of Sharjah Department of Government Relations and Partner at  AQ&P. The discussions were led by Essam Disi, Director of Policy and Strategy, Dubai SME, Dr. Sassan Khatib-Shahidi, Founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors, German Imaging Technologies, Aman Merchant, Chief Executive Officer, and Co-Founder, Impact Hub, and Tushar Singhvi, Director – CE-Ventures.

Al Qasimi highlighted the importance of adhering to good accountability practices for the overall growth and sustainability of an organisation. He mentioned that corporate governance is as much about ‘function’ as it is about ‘structure’. He praised the efforts of the Pearl Initiative to introduce a wholesome package that introduced a staged approach at readying the MSMEs for efficient corporate accountability.

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Uber sells $1.2 billon of junk bonds to help fund its $3.1 billion acquisition of rival Careem



Ride-hailing company Uber sold an unexpectedly large amount of junk bonds worth $1.2 billion (Dh4.4bn), to facilitate its planned US$3.1bn acquisition of Middle Eastern competitor Careem. The bonds were given credit ratings in a CCC range after the company’s IPO in May.

Uber lost a quarter of its stock’s value since the IPO and the company also disclosed a $5bn net loss in the second quarter. According to some reports, the company is facing difficulties and challenges pertaining to regulatory matters. The inability of Uber to turn a profit recently is currently preventing some investors from investing in the company as they favor businesses which are potentially profiting. Nonetheless, the big name and recognition of Uber attracted a crowd of investors in the bond sale on Friday, September 13th.

The junk bonds were priced at a yield of 7.5% by Uber Technologies Inc. after receiving orders worth around $2bn. The bond sale was Uber’s first sale as a public company and second junk bond sale in its 10 years of history. The company had previously priced its junk bond debut in October 2018, issuing $2bn of debt.  

This time, Uber did not keep the bond sale private as it did with the previous debt offerings when the company shared only a select few details of the financial information. Moreover, Uber distributed the bonds through a group of eight banks led by Morgan Stanley, unlike last time when it marketed debt to the investors directly. 

S&P assigned a CCC+ rating to the bonds, whilst Moody’s Investors Services allocated a B3 rating, a step higher than S&P’s. Uber’s privately placed bonds had received the same ratings by S&P after its IPO in May. Uber is the second borrower to sell such low rated bonds since July, as the investors have been going for the higher-quality debt lately.

According to Uber, the Careem-deal transaction is expected to close in the first half of 2020. Uber will issue $1.7bn of convertible notes to help fund the deal, but in case the shareholders of Careem do not convert into Uber stock within 90 days of issuance at the cost of 

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Ecosystem of the MENA

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