Update on Dubai (MENA) region startups and funding


Hello Folks, it’s been a while, since I took to blogging my thoughts. Dubai is one of the places I love to frequent, both as a traveler and as an investor. While experiencing Dubai is a mesmerizing trip in itself, getting a hang of its flourishing start-up environment is an altogether unique and refreshing experience for me as an investor.

The last time I was here, I gathered all the info I could and posted it in this article.

However, I couldn’t help but notice some major updates this time. I have been moving around, talking to local startups and investors and getting to know the startup scene in UAE especially up close. I am really impressed with a few local startups I have been following closely from last year.

The first one is https://twitter.com/wa9faat co-founded by a friend and an amazing technoprenuer Ahmed AbuSaad https://twitter.com/aabusaad1 – who is getting ready to launch his first startup in the MENA region – I won’t steal his thunder but for the folks in Dubai/MENA reading this please sign up and support Ahmed, you will be surprised J

The second one is http://www.vvip.co/ co-founded by another good friend & the guy who rubs shoulders with Royalty, VVIPs, and mere mortals like me and just gets things done – Saber Ghaith (https://twitter.com/VVIPTM) here is a (pic) at the Dubai Marina. Anyone looking to race a Bugatti Veyron on the streets of Dubai here is your guy https://twitter.com/VVIPTM?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw J

The UAE govt. has been very supportive with providing infrastructure, flexi offices, micro loans and kudos goes to His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum https://twitter.com/HHShkMohd vision in moving the region to a post oil economy and encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship.

The Startup scene in the MENA region, especially Dubai continues to be bullish across major sectors like e-commerce, healthcare, transportation and real estate.

Let’s look at the Major updates in the Dubai Startup Scene in the last 6 months


  • Based on a research conducted by Wealth Monitor, there is a consistent 15% growth in the total value of early-stage equity investments. It amounted to USD 30 Million in Dubai alone.
  • UAE stands at the top when it comes to investor attention. Other regions like Qatar and Oman have yet to see their fare share but most investors from US and Europe are instantly attracted to Dubai.





The Basic Stats:


Source: http://bit.ly/1tI5FMV



With Online retail being the most successful sector based on numerous forms of research and projections which clearly peg the revenues above USD 15 Billion in 2016. Most of the startups are active and operational under this sector.

Surprisingly, there is a sharp rise in startups offering core enterprise software both desktop and based on cloud solutions. E-commerce investments have also seen an upswing with some new entrants. We will look at them below.

The market for such kind of business frameworks is bound to rise as more Internet-based startups find the need for robust enterprise platforms to make their operations more effective and traceable.


Sector-wise break-up


Source: http://bit.ly/1tI5FMV


The following charts cover the major changes in the investment scene for MENA Startups in the last 6 months


Source: http://bit.ly/1tI5FMV


Let’s look at some startups that have risen in valuation in the past six months based on funding and operational revenues


Source: http://bit.ly/1tI5FMV


E-commerce has seen some major spikes with a new entrant Jugaad raising a significant amount and The Luxury Closet entering further rounds with higher and profitable valuations.


1.       Jugaad


  • Investment Raised: USD 100,000
  • Date: December 29, 2015
  • Investors: Unknown

Jugaad is an app aggregator where you can avail all kinds of core services on the same platform. Think of any thing you want and Jugaad has it. From food and grocery delivery to on call drivers and household help, it provides a one-stop platform to access all such services.


2.       The Luxury Closet


  • Investment Raised: USD 2.2 Million
  • Date: January 8, 2016
  • Investors: Wamda Capital

Designer fashion has Dubai on the roll as the demand for designer products on the online front keeps soaring. The Luxury Closet caters to the elitist market and has thus driven its sales so far by dealing in exclusive brand wear and accessories.


Wamda Capital that funded the company with USD 2.2 Million earlier this year noticed the rising tide and made sure it had a stake in it.

There has also been some movement on the B2B Front. Brndstr has risen in the enterprise software segment and roped in new investments.



3.       Brndstr


  • Investment Raised: USD 400,000
  • Date: November 1, 2015
  • Investors: Funsho Investments
  • Current Valuation: USD 9 Million


Talk about real-time marketing and the name Brndstr is already making waves across nations. This Dubai based startup founded by former Trump Towers executive Simon Hudson who has a keen interest in the Dubai startup scene and has been heavily active.

The company helps brands create campaigns that are based on in-the-moment real time events and timeframes. It allows brands to engage with their audience and fans using innovative solutions with genuine API technology. As an enterprise software solution company, Brndstr is using software powered by the cloud to amplify its reached and had consistently been backed by Funsho Investments.


“Just as China has its own local giants like Alibaba, MENA will start to breed its own equivalents of Western successes in earnest over the next few years. The appropriately named Souq.com is just one company that has that potential. Like Asian markets, the Middle East largely skipped the first generation of e-commerce and has jumped straight to mobile. Saudi Arabia is home to some of the world’s most voracious consumers of YouTube content.”

-Mic Wright, The Next Web

4.       Artscoops



  • Investment Raised: USD 130,000
  • Mode of Investment: Crowd investing through Eureeca


A niche fine-art based e-commerce platform, Artscoops has raised investment to cater to the business of fine arts creating an online auction feature, a mobile application, a design platform. Considering the uniqueness of the business model and the target customer base, bullish figures can be expected from this enterprise in the time to come.

You can read more about it here.


I will have to say that the E-commerce sector has to be taken very seriously as an impending opportunity in the MENA region. Valuations have risen sharply in the past year. Seasoned platforms like Souq.com have raised funding in excess of USD 200 Million and new entrants like Wadi.com have raised spectacular seed stage funding.


5.       Souq.com


Known as amazon of the Middle East, Souq.com is a seasoned player, which has entered into the big league with its recent round of funding


  • Investment raised: USD 275 Million
  • Investors: Tiger Global, Naspers, Standard Chartered Private Equity, IFC
  • Sector: E-commerce
  • Specifics: Online retail


6.       Wadi.com


  • Investment raised: USD 67 Million
  • Investors: Al Tayyar Travel Group Holdings, Middle East Internet Group
  • Sector: E-commerce
  • Specifics: Online Retail


Read more about these investments here.

The BVG Team & Rahul Rakesh





The BVG Team & Rahul Rakesh


However, performing sectors are consistently inviting new players as incubators, accelerators and investors who are taking a keen interest in the entire MENA startup landscape


One cannot deny that the startup landscape in the entire MENA region continues to rise. With established startups entering higher stages of growth and investment and a number of potential seed stage businesses on the rise, the projections do look promising.  However, I would like to see more Fintech in the region and also some innovation across the dormant sectors.


“Dubai is an entry point to the fast-developing markets of Asia, the Middle East and Africa. These are markets growing at double the rates of the developed world, and the hub for accessing these markets is Dubai”


– Mustafa Abdel-Wadood,

Chairman of the Management executive committee, Abraaj Group


To conclude, I will point towards an observation of mine. After interacting with numerous startups & investors in Dubai, Ras-Al-Khaima, Abu Dhabi one can clearly notice a variable, which is driving such growth. This ecosystem although still maturing is currently driven by growth and profitability rather than valuations and scalability, which is more than what I can say for other ecosystems. I guess, that is the underlying USP all startup ecosystems should aim at. What do you think? Please let me know @blackstonevg



Random Musings

As I caught my breath after a few weeks of hectic pace – for both BVG and me personally, I thought about penning in a summary of key events of 2015 and a brief look forward to 2016.

2015 – phew what a year it was! Whether it was the stock markets gyrating to Feds rate increases, or reacting to Oil prices downwards trajectory or to the Startups racing to become Unicorns & Pukicorns, (filing a trademark for this as we speak :) )example reflected below, courtesy of @RobinWigg detailing the downfall of $VRX shares.


VRX shares puking pony raghu vohra


It was also a memorable  year both for BVG, as a group, and I, as a professional. For BVG 2015’s area of focus for startups investments were INDIA and MENA regions. The earlier part of the year saw our investment  in  CapitalMind.in – (A new age Financial Analytics Firm based out B’lore, India) founded by @deepakshenoy.

The second part of the year we were very impressed by what Dipesh @dipesh008  co-founder of Truelancer.com (An On-demand Freelance Marketplace ) was trying to achieve and we couldn’t pass the opportunity :) to get on board. A side note here is that we connected with Dipesh @dipesh008 via twitter first – shows the power of @twitter as a powerful tool/medium for StartUps and Investors.

Our investments were talked in startup arena around the world, and some were highlighted in media at iamwire, CapitalMind,  PRweb, EconomicTimes  and at Medianama. Yours truly was interviewed by Simon Cocking @SimonCocking at Irish Tech News – here Chat with Simon

2015 has also been the year of change at various levels but the most obvious is the website redesign of BVG which is still WIP and yes, of course, I am using @Trulancer_services for getting it done.

I also wanted to give a shout out to Jared Broad @JaredBroad the founder of QuantConnect who was gracious in having me on his Advisory Board and for the tremendous work he has put in growing QuantConnect. For those interested in algorithmic automated trading, also – strongly recommend checking QuantConnect out. Let’s take a 30 sec summary as to why we decided to invest with both @CapitalMind_In and @Trulancer_.


Blackstone valley group investments

Major factors which endorse our decision to invest in Truelancer are:

  • Most freelancer jobs go to India i.e. 38% of the total jobs.
  • Highest youth population, 23.48 million, between the age group of 18-19 years.
  • India ranks 3rd in terms of internet users, 243 million, which is only 17% of its population.
  • Female freelancers, a hidden treasure, will act as watershed for Indian freelance  industry.



freelance jobs distribution country wise




Unemployment rate men and woman in Asia


Why CapitalMind?

  • High growth rate of per capita income will increase investments, in turn, financial analytics will increase.
  • Indian equity market is of around $1.7 Trillion, which is very alluring.
  • Balanced involvement of various sectors in the Indian market, makes this market much more stable.
  • Volumes in Derivatives have gone up more than 4x.
Growth in terms of avg per capita income USA India and Asia

Data extracted from http://data.worldbank.org/

Growth prediction of avg per capita income in coming years USA India and Asia

Indian Nift Index breaking Post 2013 Uptrend

As a part of the investments, Blackstone Valley Group will on board their operational expertise and network and I will join the Board of Directors for both CapitalMind and Truelancer.

2016 – Looking forward, on a personal note, I am very excited to start my new role as a VP-Client Engagement & Implementation at Brightscope ( @BrightScope ). I have tremendous respect for what Mike @mikealfred along with Ryan @ryanalfred  and rest of the team at Brightscope have achieved in the Retirement space using Technology to disrupt and bring transparency and change.  I look forward to adding strategic and tactical value to the Brightscope team  in my role by implementing key programs and initiatives that drive business outcome for BrightScope clients. Really excited to bring the change which is expected from me.

For BVG  2016, a few predictions from the “Tea Leaves” I see, Oil will rebound in the 2nd half of 2016, negative yields will spread more risk and outflows from the bond funds especially the Sovereign ones, a great opportunity for distressed corporate credit funds most of them are usually open to only institutions (yeah I heard about Third Avenue debacle), Millennials will focus more on retirement & bring more business to “RoboAdvisors” as they hate talking to people leading to demands for greater data quality & transparency from the legacy systems of broker-dealers – some of which ( @BrightScope ) is stewarding, & last but not the least to keep the focus on the MENA region there are a few startups that caught our attention are on our favorite list, so watch this space and twitter  for news as it happens.

And yes www.pukicorns.com is for real, just waiting for the some of the lofty valued Unicorns to bite the dust :)

Here is a link to a Linked-In post MENA Region Angel Investment,  I did a few weeks ago detailing the opportunity and state of the StartUp ecosystem in the MENA region.

A journey towards the summit has just begun and the year 2016 will mark the inception of this voyage. As usual comments/feedbacks welcome. Please do follow @BlackstoneVG, thanks for reading and your support.



Analysis of Angel Investment in the MENA Region

 Howdy?  Happy 2016 – I was fortunate to attend the @SWDubai15  in Dubai in late November’15  and was very impressed with the entrepreneurial energy and talent which was showcased there. I met amazing folks and in discussions with a few folks got inspired to collect data regarding the startup and angel community in the MENA region as we at BVG look at focusing on MENA region ourselves.

Analysis of Angel Investment in the MENA Region

In this post you will find the detailed gross wide funding comparison which gives an overview of investments across sectors. We will also see the popular startups and investors across different sectors who have successfully gained investments in excess of USD 25,000 in the past 3 years.

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