November 28, 2022

Unicorn Tech Start-Ups in the Middle East

You hear the word unicorn, and you might think of the mystical animal with one horn. Well, you would not be far from the truth. In the business and technology world, a unicorn describes a privately owned business valued at over $1 billion. In developed and developing economies, the presence of unicorn tech start-ups has gained more prominence in the last few years. These start-ups contribute immensely to economic growth through the creation of value. The framework and economic policies provided by the Middle East region have served to see increased growth of unicorn start-ups. Hence, it is no surprise that many of the world’s unicorn start-ups are found in the Middle East. With its technological capacities, the region has become a hub for a good number of unicorns. Some unicorn start-ups present in the region include:

  1. Careem: Although Uber purchased Careem in 2019 for $3.1 billion, the start-up served to shine the spotlight on other unicorn start-ups in the Middle East. Careem became the region’s second unicorn in 2016, four years after it was founded. Currently, Careem is a wholly-owned subsidiary operating under Uber.
  1. Swvl: An Egyptian technology start-up, Swvl became the first unicorn start-up from the Middle East to be listed on the NASDAQ. Valued at $1.5 billion, it is a transport company that provides buses on fixed routes and allows users to reserve and pay for them through its app. The headquarters of Swvl is in Dubai and it operates across 115 cities in 18 countries.
  1. Emerging Markets Property Group (EMPG): EMPG acquired the status of a unicorn in 2020 when it merged with OLX Group of the Netherlands to raise a funding of $150 million. The Dubai-based start-up was established in 2015 and runs property portals in global markets, which primarily covers MENA, South Asia, and Southeast Asia regions. It operates in 18 countries worldwide.
  1. Fawry: Fawry was founded in 2008, and by 2021, the start-up already surpassed $1.4 billion. With its headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, Fawry is a pioneering Electronic Payment Platform that allows users to conduct financial transactions through channels like ATMs, mobile wallets, retail points and even online. Fawry is the first Egyptian company to reach a market cap of $1 billion, and it intends to expand into other regions of the Middle East following its establishment in the UAE.
  1. Kitopi: Kitopi partners with kitchens to help them expand their delivery reach. A technology start-up that is the biggest managed cloud-kitchen company in the Middle East, Kitopi is valued at over $1 billion. Kitopi was ranked first among Forbes Middle East’s 2021 50 Most-Funded start-ups list. 
  1. Jamalon: Founded in 2010, and marketing itself as the largest online bookstore in this region, Jamelon aims to bridge the reading gap in the Middle East. It provides readers with literary content in Arabic and empowers MENA publishers, SMEs, and authors. Jamelon offers more than 10 million publications in both Arabic and English in a market valued at over $1.7 billion.
  1. K Health: K Health is an AI-powered telemedicine platform in Israel currently valued at $1.5 billion. It functions by using artificial intelligence to suggest possible diagnoses for consumers who enter symptoms and takes into account the user’s age, gender and medical history, at a free cost. 

Despite inflation and market volatility, the Middle East is bound to experience a progressive increase in unicorn tech start-ups in decades to come. The presence of encouraging structures, a viable market, sound investment bodies, and the way the region is designed to aid technological growth will aid in the increase of unicorns. Regardless of the rarity of the unicorn animal itself, tech unicorn start-ups are in no way rare, and their value is in no way little.

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