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Middle East and North African countries head to Oman for MENA Innovation Summit

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The representatives of different nations across the region will be gathering in Oman to attend the MENA Innovation Summit 2019. Almost 15 regional ministers from Education, Higher Education and Information and Communication Technology hailing from Oman, Middle East and much of North Africa are due to meet for the summit. The panels at the conference will engage in debates and dialogue over various critical issues that are faced by public and private sectors in matters of ICT and Education.

The summit is due to be held under the patronage of the Omani Minister of Higher Education, HE Dr. Rawya Saud Albusaidi and the Minister of Heritage and Culture HH Sayyed Haitham bin Tariq Al Said. The members of the summit come from the industrial landscapes of the MENA region and the summit’s agenda will revolve around discussions on the digitalization of the education industry. Oman’s government has put all its weight behind the conference, whose membership is broad and diverse and will include ministerial participation from the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Higher Education, Ministry of Communications and multiple government stakeholders.

The state-level meeting will bring together stakeholders from governments, universities and technical industries of various countries part of the Middle East and North Africa to discuss the possibilities of broadening opportunities for the younger generation from around the region to excel in skills and technologies essential for success in creativity and economic upheaval in this age of digitalized educational infrastructure.

Furthermore, the centerpiece of MENA Innovation 2019 will be the pre-scheduled meetings for industry partners to book in advance, for their preferred ministries, countries and organisations to interact with customers and maximise return on time spent participating at the summit.

This event is particularly beneficial for members of the public-private sector who wish to broaden their partnerships with other members of the same sectors. The summit is an ideal platform to engage with new partners and existing clients in a face to face business manner.

Last year’s summit was held in Cairo in July and was attended by 19 regional ministers. 170 government officials engaged with over 250 education and Information and Communication Technology industry leaders at the inaugural event. The three-day summit in Muscat will be held on September 15th, with members of the summit hoping to replicate the success of last year’s events.

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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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Innovation

The Hub Digital Center Launched to Support Youth

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Source: the961

GMA CGM is a French transport and logistics group founded by the Lebanese Jacques Saadé who emigrated to France in 1978 due to the civil war. It is a world leader in shipping and logistics, with 200 shipping routes in more than 100 countries. Since 2017, his son Rodolphe Saadé leads the company as its Chairman and CEO.

One of the company’s great visions includes paving the way for digitalization, standardization, and interoperability. This new project shows the commitment of the company and its leadership to aiding the development of the digital ecosystem in Lebanon.

This initiative will be now supporting the Lebanese youth through providing jobs, which will in turn limit immigration, especially during the intense crisis Lebanon is going through. Preserving the Lebanese human capital during this time is very crucial for the future of Lebanon.

 @beirutdigitaldembedded via 

During his visit to Lebanon this week, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Rodolphe Saadé installed the digital center The Hub through Beirut Digital District (BDD), which is a community dedicated to the digital and creative industries in Lebanon. 

Located in the heart of Beirut City, BBD started in 2012 and has now around 5000 employees. It is an all-inclusive professional urban development with rich networking opportunities, offering a superior business environment as it fosters the growth of digital startups and encourages entrepreneurship.

 @beirutdigitaldembedded via 

The mission of The Hub Digital Center will allow the creation of a unifying digital vision while aiming at rethinking and designing products and processes for the digital age. This new initiative has recruited 20 digital specialists, including API specialists and Cybersecurity experts among many others.

The CMA CGM company of the Saadé family has already undertaken other initiatives of support to Lebanon. Just recently, they launched a “Support Lebanon” operation that distributed to Lebanese NGOs 35 tons of foods and 2 cubic meters of medicine, all purchased locally from Lebanese producers to support the economy.

Via CMA CGM Group

It’s worth pointing out that our people in the diaspora have not forgotten their homeland and its urgent need for them during this critical time. Rodolphe Saadé’s support to his country of origin via his family company and as per its capabilities is a striking example that many of those who left do care still and significantly. 

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Entrepreneurship

500 Startups company invested in 37 Egyptian startups, making 30% of its MENA portfolio: venture partner

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SOURCE: Daily News Egypt


Currently, most of the youth globally, and in Egypt specifically, are pursuing entrepreneurship rather than finding a fixed job. And subsequently, they look for funding or investors for their startups. Accordingly, some companies have made it their mission to help youth around the world succeed in their startups by funding them, and among these companies is ‘500 Startups.’

Meanwhile, there are many summits all over the world that help connect both stakeholders and startups, providing startup owners with exposure, resources. and advice. Among these events is the Rise Up Summit that is held annually in Egypt and will be held this year from 5 to 7 December, which means that there is only a day left for the beginning of the summit which is considered one of the more major summits in the Middle East for entrepreneurship.

On this occasion, Daily News Egypt interviewed Hasan Haider, venture partner at 500 Startups- MENA region, to learn more about his company’s participation in the coming Rise Up summit, the amount of his company’s investments in the Egyptian startups, his company’s selection criteria for the startups that it funds, as well as the company’s five year strategy.

First of all, can you tell us more about 500 Startups?

500 Startups is a venture capital firm on a mission to discover and support the world’s most talented entrepreneurs, help them create successful companies at scale, and build thriving global ecosystems. It is one of the most active venture capital firms in the world.

500 Startups in the MENA region:

Silicon-Valley based 500 Startups is one of the most active early-stage venture capital funds in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Since its first investment in the region in 2012, 500 Startups has committed to investments in over 160 startups across the MENA region.

500 Falcons, a MENA-focused fund, that is a part of the global 500 Startups network, was launched in 2017. To-date, the company has invested in over 150 startups and plans to invest in another 50 companies, in addition to follow-on investments into the top performing companies.
Earlier this year, the oversubscribed MENA-focused 500 Falcons fund was closed at $33m.

Up until now, how many Egyptian startup companies has 500 Startups funded? And what’s the amount of investments?

To-date, 500 startups has invested in 37 Egyptian startups in our portfolio, which is around 30% of our total investments in the MENA region. We typically invest an average of $100,000 as an initial investment and can go as high as $500,000, which is the case of our top 20-30%.


At what stage will 500 Startups prefer to fund the start up? And what is the selection criteria for start-ups to receive funding from 500 Startups?

As a firm, we typically invest at the seed stage of a start-up’s development. How that is defined varies, but on average we are looking for startups that have launched a product and have been generating revenues of at least $5,000 a month, for the last three-six months, growing at least 20% month over month. Startups at this stage are generally raising between $300,000 – $500,000 in total to scale their customer acquisition, traction, and metrics.

We’re looking for balanced founding teams, with a bias towards execution, going after a large market with few to no competitors, and a product that users want.

As we are only a day away for the Rise Up summit, what is your opinion about it?

Rise up Summit is one of the best startup events in the MENA region. We actively look forward to it every year. I believe the key advantage that Rise up Summit has is that it genuinely feels authentic. The startups and community come together to make something grassroots, organic, and real. It’s not a series of government speakers in a ballroom in some hotel, but a real festival and celebration of entrepreneurship, founders, and startups.


How many times have you participated in the Ruse Up summit?

Almost every year.

What’s your expectations for your participation in the coming edition?

I’m looking forward to interacting with amazing startups from Egypt and all over the MENA region again, catching up with the other investors that will be there, and hopefully providing some useful insights to as many founders as we can through our speaking engagements.

How many startups have you funded through Rise Up summit and with how much in investments?

We’ve invested in many startups that we’ve met with during Rise Up and hope to continue doing so.

In your opinion, what distinguishes Egypt in terms of entrepreneurship than other countries in the Middle East? And what are the challenges?

In my opinion, Egypt is one of the fastest growing startup ecosystems in the MENA region. We love investing in Egyptian startups – the founders are passionate, driven, motivated to succeed with an amazing technical talent base. Combining that talent, motivation, and the large market size that exists – Egypt really is the main market to be investing in. Egyptian founders do face challenges, like recruiting talent related to growth, and the low spending power of users, but we’ve generally seen them succeed against all odds.

What are the promising sectors in Egypt that you would like to invest in?

There is a massive untapped opportunity in Egypt in fintech – finding ways to provide financial services to the mass unbanked market is an attractive option, and we’ve seen successes in other markets which leapfrogged the banking system to mobile based wallets. In addition, there are a lot of logistical and transport-based opportunities within Egypt, as well as on-demand products and services. We’ve been actively investing in all these sectors, but more broadly we’re interested in backing starts that can scale both within and outside Egypt.
 
The government is adopting a digital transformation strategy, in your opinion what are the challenges that Egypt faces in terms of mobile technology and e-commerce? What are the opportunities?

Every challenge and obstacle is just an opportunity to solve in the right hands. I believe that the largest challenge, particularly for e-commerce startups, is the availability of online payment options other than cash on delivery. Additionally, connectivity – making sure the majority of the population can afford data and access to the internet is an infrastructural obstacle. Combined with logistics, these three points are the main obstacles for growth in the tech industry. Having said that, I believe Egyptian founders have overcome these issues and have been thriving with their startups, and Egypt has passed the tipping point to enable success stories in the market.

Finally, what is the company’s five year plan in Egypt?

We’re going to continue to actively invest in the Egyptian market as we have been, and I believe the market will just get bigger and better. We’ll also start to see more and more exits there. Egypt is one of our key markets and will likely be for the foreseeable future.

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Entrepreneurship

StartUps to keep on your radar

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Middle East innovation: These 4 startups are making their mark

Author: MAGNiTT Staff

SOURCE: ZDNet


“The Middle East was late to the first, second, and third industrial revolutions. This time, it must be ahead of the curve,” Khalid Al Rumaihi, chief executive of the Bahrain Economic Development Board argued earlier this year. 

“It’s time for our region’s countries to push harder on their path from carbon economies to knowledge economies. Startups are key to the journey,” he said in an article for the World Economic Forum.

Although launching a startup in the Middle East and North Africa is not without its challenges, the number of these ventures is growing despite the region’s upheavals and political instabilities, driven by its young population and increasing interest from investors and governments. 

Here are four startups that caught our eye. They come from very different sectors, e-commerce, transport, energy and medicine/digital health, but all have information and communications technology at their heart.  

MISWAG: IRAQ’S OLDEST E-COMMERCE PLATFORM

“With an inventory of over 15,000 products, the startup has a strong focus on great quality products and delivers all over the country,” notes Zahra Shah, country manager of Iraq Re:Coded, a non-profit working to create “the future tech leaders of Iraq, Turkey and Yemen”.

Founded in 2014, Miswag delivers everything from clothing to books, food and groceries, as well as health and beauty products anywhere in Iraq in between one and six working days. Nearly a quarter of a million people follow them on Facebook.

With products paid for via cash-on-delivery, the company boasted 700,000 registered customers within a few years of opening, and offers a range of international products, such as Tate & Lyle Sugar and Quaker Soups, as well as more local fare.   

SWVL: EGYPT’S APP-BASED BUS BOOKING SERVICE 

Egypt had the fastest-growing startup ecosystem in the Middle East and North Africa in 2018, reports MAGNiTT, an online community for Middle East startups.

Of the 83 funding rounds taking place in the country, Swvl led the pack securing series A and B investments that valued the service at about $100m.

Through its app, which has been downloaded more than a million times, users can book fixed-rate affordable bus rides on more than 600 routes in Cairo and Alexandria.

Swvl also began piloting its service in Nairobi earlier this year and recently announced a deal with Ford for the Transit minibus to be its vehicle of choice.

The startup, which was founded in March 2017, started from the premise that there were “too many cars on the streets, wasting our limited resources: time, space, and money”. 

“Rush hours, traffic, terrible driving habits and unavailability of parking spots,” are just some of the issues the app seeks to resolve, through “a technology-based alternative to public transportation”. 

E24: ENERGY STORAGE FOR AREAS WITH VARIABLE SUPPLY

Power outages can be a fact of life in some developing countries, including across the Middle East. For some, private generators offer a workaround to this. But they’re often expensive and not necessarily environmentally friendly.

E24, which began life in Lebanon and now has additional offices in Quebec, Bulgaria, and London, aims to provide reliable and affordable energy using solar generation and battery systems. 

As Forbes noted in a 2017 profile with co-founder Antoine Saab: “It’s a difficult field to grow in developing countries, because electricity is unstable. It’s not as simple as creating a unit to store energy – he [Saab] had to factor in fluctuating utility voltage and frequency.” 

Catering for home, office, and factory environments, the company focuses on energy storage and energy generation products. Its goal is to ensure that customers have energy 24 hours a day, hence its name, E24. 

E24 offers IoT and web-monitoring services so customers can track all their energy data from their PC, laptop or smartphone. The company’s IoT products, enable users to “take actions such as starting or stopping certain equipment, modifying settings or other actions…remotely from any internet device”.

HEALTHY.IO: CLINICAL URINALYSIS VIA YOUR SMARTPHONE

The Tel Aviv-based company, which uses disposable strips and cups in conjunction with a smartphone camera to read and interpret urinalysis, raised $18m in series B funding in February this year.

Founder and CEO Yonatan Adiri was the first chief technology officer to an Israeli president, Shimon Peres, at the age of 26 and was named one of Time Magazine’s 50 Most Influential People in Healthcare in 2018.

Led by the VC firm Aleph, other investors in this funding round included Samsung NEXT, reflecting growing interest from the mobile company in ‘the medical selfie’.

Funding will help scale the company’s home testing service in the US, a market where one in three adults are at risk of kidney disease. Early detection through the app may help patients and ease pressure on the Medicare budget. In 2018, Medicare spending on kidney disease was in excess of $114bn.

“Even though we had never thought to invest in digital health or medical technology, Healthy.io ticked many of our boxes,” Michael Eisenberg, partner at Aleph, explained in a blogpost. “It was using machine vision, had a unique big-data sample of urine and unique, automated, smartphone testing methodologies.”

As Healthy.io’s website acknowledges: “Many different smartphone cameras and infinite lighting conditions make accurate dipstick reading highly challenging. However, our computer-vision algorithms and unique calibration method make accurate testing as easy as taking a selfie.”

The funding round for the company follows in the footsteps of recent FDA clearance for its products, as well as a global partnership with international market leader Siemens Healthineers. 

Meanwhile, in the UK, Healthy.io has been working with Boots, a subsidiary of Walgreens Boots Alliance, to trial a new cystitis test and treat service in 37 stores. 

Through a “urine self-testing kit and an app, which turns a smartphone camera into a clinical-grade analyzer,” the product will “help customers to quickly test for indication of infection from the comfort of their own homes”.READ FULL ARTICLE

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Innovation

Misk Innovation & 500 Startups Reveal Joining Accelerator Program

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The Misk 500 Accelerator program – a collaboration between early-stage venture fund and seed accelerator 500 Startups and Misk Innovation, the Saudi non-profit foundation devoted to developing Saudi youths – have recently revealed the 20 participating companies in the program’s second cohort.

Currently underway in Riyadh, the program’s ‘Batch 2’ comprises a diverse group of startups that span the MENA region, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Jordan. Those startups are building technologies and products that impact B2B, B2C, E-Commerce, FinTech, EdTech, HealthTech, IoT, robotics, artificial intelligence, SaaS, and messaging services.

To read more click https://www.arabnet.me/english/editorials/entrepreneurship/startups/misk-innovation–500-startups-reveal-second-batch-of-20-startups-joining-misk-500-accelerator-program

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Funding

temtem has raised Algeria’s largest Series A funding with $4M

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temtem, the Algiers-based ride-hailing and transportation company, has raised Algeria’s largest Series A funding with 4M$ from Tell Venture Automotive and private investors.

temtem will use the capital to accelerate growth and launch new products and services starting in 2019. A year after its seed round, temtem proves once again that it is able to convince investors and chose Tell Venture Automotive and private investors.

Today, temtem has all cards in hand to become the market leader in the Algerian mobility sector.

This new fundraising round confirms temtem’s competitive position, the relevance of its strategy, and investor confidence in its strong growth potential.

With this new capital, temtem, whose services cater to both consumers and corporates, will lunch two new innovative services centered around improving the daily lives of Algerians.

Since its inception in 2018, more than 200,000 clients have used temtem with a loyalty that demonstrates the quality of the client experience.

A few hundred corporate clients have also trusted temtem with improving the transportation experience of their employees to which temtem provides a full range of product such as private chauffeurs, delivery services, motorcycle ride-hailing, etc.

“We are going to first and foremost focus on increasing growth by diversifying our products, scaling up our marketing campaigns, in particular with the help of a major telecom company, and recruiting top talents. The goal is clear: to become the market leader” emphasized Kamel Haddar, temtem’s founder and Chief Executive Officer.

From now on, having meticulously analyzed its customers and partners’ expectations, and having contained its growth in order to control its development, the temtem team is ready to serve the ambitious vision of the company by entering a decisive phase of exponential growth.

Thus, to ensure the expected growth, a driver partner procurement mobile application (developed internally in Algeria) will be launched by the end of the month. temtem will then be able to ensure the rigorous selection of thousands of skillful partners, whose common goal – and this since the first recruit – is the safety of passengers and the quality of the delivered service.

Driver-partners’ status is a major concern for temtem, whose aim is to provide the best working environment possible for them: exclusive discounts on temtem, car insurance, after-sale service with car manufacturers, various benefits for their families, etc.

“Our drivers are the backbone of our business. It is essential to value them and give them concrete perspectives in their daily lives. This is also why our partners and their families will soon be able to subscribe to a dedicated health insurance,” says Kamel Haddar.

temtem’s data science team specifically focuses on modeling the use of its users with the goal of ever-improving the customer experience and to more precisely pinpoint market needs in order to better match them by the end of the year.

At the same time, temtem will strengthen its collaboration with strategic partners in the telecommunications and audiovisual industry. The goal is to democratize a unique service, already acclaimed by customers looking for a daily service with the best quality and at the best price.

temtem, an Algerian root, an African vision

temtem is also aware of the continent’s demographic stakes: the African urban population will double in the next 20 years, to reach the billion inhabitants in the cities in 2040.

According to the World Economic Forum, 25 to 45 percent of urban Africans walk to work because of the lack of affordable transportation.

Thus, the Algerian start-up plans to respond to this crying need for mobility by deploying its innovative services in other African countries.

“Algeria and Africa represent great opportunities of growth for temtem. We are delighted to team up with temtem to support its growth and help improve customer mobility” states Yacine Maireche, General Manager of Tell Venture Automotive. 

A new round of fundraising is already initiated by Tell Venture Automotive to support growth in Algeria as well as in the African continent during the year 2020.

“International expansion has always been in temtem’s mid-term development outlook, once Algerian market’s impulses has been confirmed. temtem wants to respond concretely to urban public issues, such as the decongestion of cities in Africa, “says Kamel Haddar.

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Entrepreneurs

Egypt – Women as Engines of Economic Growth

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The Arab International Women’s Forum (AIWF) and the American University in Cairo (AUC), jointly held a major conference on Tuesday as part of the AUC’s centennial celebration dubbed ‘Women as Engines of Economic Growth.’ The conference focused on empowering women innovators, entrepreneurs, executives, and educators toward the fulfilment of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region. The conference brought into focus the vital contributions of women leaders in economic growth across the MENA states, and the importance of supporting their development in key positions in public institutions and companies, which is a key national priority in Egypt. It concluded with key reflections on the future of work challenges and opportunities in the MENA region and globally. The AIWF is a non-profit development organisation focused on women’s development and youth empowerment headquartered in London and founded in 2001 by Haifa Fahoum Al Kaylani.

Gender equality= sustainable economic growth The Founder and Chairperson of the AIWF, Haifa Fahoum Al Kaylani, began her speech by asserting that sustainable and inclusive economic growth is a clear priority for the MENA states, noting that it will only be achieved with the full engagement of young people and the rightful participation and valuable contributions of women who make up half of the Arab population.

Agreeing with Al Kaylani, the Minister of Planning and Administrative Reform, Hala Al-Saeed, asserted that gender equality is at the heart of sustainable development in any country, noting that it is an issue at the core of the UN’s SDGs.

Leveraging Women’s Successes in MENA region Al Kaylani stated that it is always important to acknowledge what has been achieved in order to build on it for the future, noting that throughout the MENA region, women are increasingly taking on high-level leadership positions in business, public service, the judiciary, and legislature. She noted that women are rapidly advancing in professions previously dominated by men, including finance, aviation, business, technology, academia, research, and STEM careers, challenging gender bias in nearly every sector and sphere.

She added that Arab women are commanding a greater presence in corporate boards, in senior executive leadership positions, and in top jobs at multinational and family-owned businesses. Al Kaylani pointed out that in most Arab countries, women are also successfully assuming positions of leadership in public service and international relations, and are increasingly being elected and appointed to political, diplomatic, and development roles, giving women a greater voice in legislative reform throughout the region.

“The overall rate of parliamentary participation of women in Arab States is, as of April 2019, 18.1% (up from 13% in 2012 and 9% in 2010, according to data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union),” she revealed.

Al Kaylani showed that in Tunisia and Algeria, Electoral Law in both countries now includes a quota that women should comprise half of the candidates on political party lists. “Last year, Jordanian women also celebrated a record number of female ministers, with seven women appointed to cabinet seats out of 29 cabinet seats in the new government,” according to Al Kaylani.

“Morocco also has some of the most gender progressive laws in the region and one of the largest percentages of women in parliament – around 20.5% in 2018, surpassing the quota that mandates 15% of parliamentary seats for women,” she added. She mentioned that this is in addition to senior cabinet positions, noting that more Arab women than ever before are serving as governors, ambassadors, and leading diplomatic figures, and are also levelling the playing field in law and politics, breaking new ground at the highest levels of the judiciary.

Adding to what Al Kaylani said, Al-Saeed mentioned that over the past decade, the MENA region has taken great steps in health, education, and in all issues related to gender equality.

She asserted that these are just a few cases of the strong actions taken by governments in the MENA region on the political front, which are significantly reflected in the rising percentage of women’s participation in all fields.

Leveraging women’s success in Egypt Talking about women`s achievements in Egypt, President of the National Council for Women(NCW), Maya Morsi, stated that the NCW prepared in 2017 the national strategy for Egyptian women’s empowerment 2030, which emanates from the vision of Egypt 2030, in cooperation with a large number of bodies, ministries, national councils, and civil society organisations. Morsi pointed out that for the first time, women represent 25% of Egypt’s Cabinet. In June 2018, for the first time in Egyptian history and under the inspired leadership of the President of the republic, the Egyptian Cabinet announced the appointments of eight female ministers.

She stated that the presence of women in various decision-making positions contributes to changing the mindset of people, changing the negative social perception of the limited roles that women can play in society and their contribution in all fields. In that context, Al-Saeed said that the representation of women in Egypt’s Cabinet is higher than America and Portugal.

“It’s not a matter of increasing the numbers of female ministries in the cabinet, but what really matters is that these female ministries are running one of the key ministries in the country,” Morsi said proudly.

For her part, Al Kaylani described this achievement as a landmark for Egyptian women leaders in political and public life.

Al-Saeed also mentioned the increase in the number of female representatives in Egypt’s Parliament, which currently sits at 15%, up from only 2% in 2012.

‘Women’s economic empowerment is at the heart of Egypt’s vision, which aims to provide equal participation with men in all fields,’ she asserted. Al-Saeed declared that Egypt aims to increase women’s engagement in the workforce from below 25% to 35%, while dropping the unemployment rate among females.

In that context, she mentioned that the female unemployment rate has dropped from 24% between 2011-2017, to 19% in 2018.

“To date, significant progress has been made in the implementation of Egypt’s 2030 Sustainable Development Strategy, which has set gender targets to reduce female unemployment and increase female formal labour participation, ” Al Kaylani asserted.

Notably, the President of Egypt and the President of the NCW had declared 2017 the Year of Egyptian Women. Al Kaylani also stated that Egypt is further making excellent progress on financial inclusion, having adopted the Maya Declaration which champions financial inclusion and contributes to SDG 1 on the elimination of poverty.

Regarding financial inclusion, Al-Saeed revealed that the percentage of women that experience financial inclusion in Egypt has increased to 27% in 2018, up from only 9% in 2012.

Addressing challenges to women’s economic empowerment in the MENA region Arab and international business communities are taking note of women’s remarkable progress, their energy, and their aptitude for meaningfully contributing to the economic prosperity of the region. Leveraging these valuable achievements is key to addressing the empowerment challenges that remain for many women throughout the region. For her part, Al-Saeed stated that despite of all the progress witnessed in the Arab world, women still face barriers keeping them from achieving their potential.

“The region faces considerable and highly unique demographic, economic, and resource-driven challenges,” Al Kaylani explained.

She mentioned that as a result of these challenges, many Arab governments have prioritised their national economic development agenda parameters, including sustainable economic diversification and development in order to meet core SDGs on poverty, water and food security, and humanitarian obligations toward refugees and the internally displaced, in addition to addressing youth unemployment in the region, all while improving the low rates of women’s participation in the economy and in parliament. Al Kaylani mentioned that the conference sessions addressed key development challenges in the region.

“We need to bring to light challenges and opportunities for women’s leadership and gender diversity on corporate boards and in family businesses. We also need to address women’s inclusion and participation in the MENA economy, with emphasis on women’s entrepreneurship and SMEs development, as well as women in the rural or agricultural sectors and women in the informal economy,” she said.

“There is great importance to assert women’s critical role in public service and policymaking to advance legislative reform and societal progress, in order to effectively address the issue of women’s under-participation in this sphere,” she continued. Meanwhile, Al-Saeed stated that there is an urgent need in the Arab world in general, and in Egypt specifically, to focus on improving the quality of education, which has proven to impact women’s self- esteem and desire to achieve decision-making positions. She explained that there is a positive correlation between the mothers who received a higher-level education and the daughter’s chances to access education. In addition, women are found to have benefited more than men from higher education to apply in the labour market.

According to Al-Saeed, ‘Supporting women’s organisations is a necessity that can transform women’s access to paid work and, in turn, empower women and allow them to be more active citizens. This includes entrepreneurship policies that bring better access to finance, and a variety of other non-financial services.’

She also mentioned the necessity of encouraging more women to use information and communication technology, describing it as a promising field for improving women’s engagement in the labour market and as a tool to empower agency in the fourth industry revolution. Meanwhile, Morsi referred to the importance of legislative reform to ensure the rights of women and girls in various fields, and to provide equal opportunities for them.

She asserted that many laws have been issued for preserving women’s rights and participation in the economic, social, and political life, such as Investment Laws and laws against sexual harassment, in addition to the Inheritance Law. Morsi also pointed out that Labour Laws that give women in the government sector more rights, in addition to adopting the policies by the ministry of social solidarity, may increase the participation of women in the labour market. She also suggested cooperation between the NCW and the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) to raise awareness among women on financial inclusion.

Morsi also confirmed that the NCW seeks to increase women’s participation in the field of entrepreneurship and to eliminate economic illiteracy among women. Finally, the president called on the private sector to adopt more policies that would grant increased rights to women in order to strenthen their participation in the sector, noting that strong women are determined to play a role in society and bring about change. She called on women and girls to believe in their power, and to create the engine of their future that will break glass barriers and obstacles standing in their way.

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Ecosystem of the MENA

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