A Look at Some of This Year’s Promising Middle East Startups

The Middle East has recently experienced a massive surge in the technology sector as highly educated young adults continue to move to the region. Also driving innovation are the increasing numbers of women and youth who are embracing technology. As a result of these developments, several exciting Middle Eastern startups have stepped onto the global stage this year.

Project X from Amman, Jordan

Inspired by the conflict in neighboring Syria, Sami Yabroudi and Ahmad Sadeddin conceived of a mobile application that facilitates three-dimensional printing of prosthetics. Their company, Project X, won the Challenge Cup at renowned startup incubator 1776. The flagship Project X product is Anaken, a smartphone application that allows individuals to scan the residual and remaining limbs of a person who has undergone amputation to correctly size a prosthesis. Project X has also created Zori, a consumer-focused app that allows people to scan their feet with their smartphone to obtain an accurate measurement to use when ordering shoes online.

Project X focuses on scanning and manipulating three-dimensional space for the creation of new, useful products. By implementing this technology on smartphones and tablets, the company aims to democratize three-dimensional technology for use in the global market.

Dokkan Afkar in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Taking advantage of the Middle East’s relatively unpopulated e-commerce sector, Dokkan Afkar offers young, creative professionals unique, quirky, and handmade products in a variety of departments, from men and women’s clothing to housewares. Strategy & Consulting in collaboration with twofour54, the Abu Dhabi Media Zone Authority, recently conducted a study that predicted the company would boast earnings in excess of $4 million by 2022.

Genesis International in Muscat, Oman

Historically, Oman has proven a notoriously difficult place for entrepreneurs. However, one of the nation’s most successful businessmen, Qais Al Khonji, is challenging the status quo with Genesis International, a multisector startup with interests ranging from education to energy. As the company’s name implies, it hopes to become the genesis of a new era of technology development in the sultanate.

At present, Genesis International focuses on four primary areas: solar energy, education, automatic meter reading, and engineered products. Envisioning a future that has no reliance on hydrocarbons for fuel, its solar energy initiative aims to use renewable resources to create alternative forms of energy for use on a national scale. Genesis International’s engineered products division works to construct items that meet consumer needs while conserving energy. The company also seeks to implement automatic electricity meter reading as a means of reducing energy loss. In its education project, the company searches out ways to encourage entrepreneurship through learning opportunities.

Apstrata in Beirut, Lebanon

Lebanon has become a prime Middle East destination for entrepreneurs since the nation’s Central Bank Proposal 331 allocated $400 million to area startups. Adding to this pro-business atmosphere is Lebanon’s healthy venture capital industry. Apstrata, founded by Rabih Nassar, offers technology innovators a back-end-as-service option through several application programming interface (API) solutions. Developers can use the company’s tools to access server-side scripts and build effective mobile and HTML5 applications. Apstrata is also working closely with the Lebanese telecom industry to create novel business models as part of a Telco 2.0 Initiative. Last year, the company gained a great deal of attention at the Telco 2.0 OnFuture EMEA conference that took placed in London.

Apstrata is a subsidiary of element^n, a company that develops custom applications and other technology solutions for global enterprise customers.

ElWafeyat.com in Cairo, Egypt

Created as an Arabic-language social media site, ElWafeyat.com has become a popular way of memorializing loved ones after they pass away. The website celebrates community and offers a powerful healing tool for individuals dealing with loss. While the network has gained popularity in Egypt, its founders recognize the potential of expanding the website throughout the Middle East and recently secured a sizeable investment from 500Startups to fuel this initiative.

Digikala in Tehran, Iran

Tehran is becoming a popular startup destination due to the presence of small business accelerators like DMOND Group, AvaTech, and MAPS. At the same time, Iran is largely devoid of ecommerce options. Digikala has emerged as the leading ecommerce website with earnings around $150 million. So far, the company has maintained a 200-percent annual growth rate and is now preparing to expand into Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and Iraq. Digikala offers a wide range of products from personal health and beauty supplies to new technology like phones and tablets.

Skateistan Champions Female Empowerment and Education

Skateistan Champions pic A unique nonprofit organization based in Afghanistan, Skateistan uses skateboarding to empower the country’s young girls. When founder Oliver Percovich relocated to Afghanistan with his wife, he didn’t realize that he was one of the first skateboarders the nation had seen. He quickly earned the attention of Kabul’s young female population, which cannot ride bikes due to cultural customs. Because many of the sports played in Afghanistan are reserved for boys, girls quickly grew intrigued by the strange board with four wheels.

Because skateboarding was new to the country, no cultural prohibition against it existed. Thus, girls have been free to engage in the sport throughout the streets of Kabul. As Percovich developed Skateistan, he came to see the organization as a way of connecting Afghan girls to opportunities for education.

Percovich ensures that he follows Afghan customs as much as possible. He only allows female instructors to teach girls and keeps their classes separate from those for boys. Through Skateistan’s Back to School program, he reaches about 800 students each week between 5 and 17 years of age. In the course of 12 months, the program covers about three years’ worth of education. The nonprofit also has a leadership program and ultimately hopes to train local students to take over responsibility for its facilities.

AACC Elects Five New Board Members at 13th Annual General Assembly

Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce pic Established in 2002, the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce (AACC) works to facilitate business, investment, and trade relationships between the United States and Afghanistan. On March 28, 2015, the organization held its 13th Annual General Assembly Meeting, providing an opportunity for members to review its activities of the previous year and draft plans for 2015. Members gathered at the Westfields Marriott Washington Dulles hotel in Chantilly, Virginia, joined by AACC friends and sponsors, as well as representatives from federal agencies and financial institutions. Following Afghanistan’s democratic election in 2014, AACC’s membership looked forward to strong economic growth and reform in the coming year.

In addition to providing opportunities for planning and networking, the General Assembly Meeting serves as a forum for AACC members to nominate and elect new board leadership. Before choosing from six nominees to fill five board seats, attendees heard short remarks from each candidate. They also had the opportunity to network with the nominees during lunch. Following the election, AWCC Chairman of the Board Sulaiman Lutfi announced the organization’s newest board members. The new leadership includes Mr. Nadim Amin, who serves as founding CEO of Afghan Resources Group; H. E. Noorullah Delawari, chairman of Economic Development for Peace; and Ms. Lida Nadery Hedayat, deputy chief of party-technical for the Leadership Development Task Order of the USAID Promote program. Rounding out the board are Ms. Leslie M. Schweitzer, chair and president of Friends of American University of Afghanistan; and Mr. Assad Mattin, president and CEO of OXUS Consulting Group.

2015 ATN Awards Celebrate Afghan Art and Culture

2015 ATN Awards pic Recently, Afghan artists and entertainers from across the globe gathered at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s Istana Budaya, which translates to “Palace of Culture,” for a star-studded event celebrating the community’s contributions to Afghan culture. Ariana Television Network hosted its 9th Annual ATN Awards ceremony on February 23, 2015, welcoming over 800 guests to the Malaysian cultural center and drawing an additional 45 million viewers via television and Internet broadcasts. Established by Ehsan Bayat in 2005, Ariana Television Network and Radio Ariana 93.5 serve as Afghanistan’s most expansive private media networks, broadcasting to more than 20 million Afghans in nearly every province.

In addition to honoring leaders in Afghan music and entertainment, the yearly event celebrates the country’s cultural heritage. Promoting unity among Afghans the world over, the ATN Awards strive to preserve and enhance Afghan culture by honoring those who have made significant contributions to it over the past year.

ATN accepted nominations until late December 2014 and received over 1,000 applications from Afghan performers around the world. In January, the network announced its finalists on both its website and its viewer’s choice show, allowing fans to vote for their favorite nominees. The 9th Annual ATN Awards featured male finalists such as Sediq Shubab, Valy Hedjasi, and Shafiq Mureed, as well as female entertainers including Naghma, Ghezaal Enayat, and Mozhdah Jamalzadah. Additionally, popular Afghan singer Asad Badie officiated as master of ceremonies for the fourth consecutive year. Awards presented included the Sitara-e-Hunar, Mardumi, and Lifetime Achievement Awards. ATN also introduced a new honor at the 2015 ceremony, the Jawedana Hai Moseqi Award, which recognizes a performer’s legacy of contribution to the Afghan arts community.

A Brief Primer on Starting a Classic Car Collection

Classic Car Collection pic While there may be more remunerative investment strategies or easier hobbies, collecting classic cars can be incredibly satisfying, from hunting down a good deal or an obscure part to showing off your finds to friends, whether in your garage or at a major classic car show. Getting started with car collecting requires understanding the automobile market; following the automotive press and reading car-focused blogs and news sources will help you get a sense of how car prices rise and fall over time. While the definition of “classic car” generally means a car built between 1925 and 1948, many car collectors focus on classics from other eras. These are generally American and European vehicles, though many believe the next wave of investment-quality cars will be focused on Japanese manufacturers.

For the most part, car collectors focus on sourcing cars and parts from classified ads, Internet auctions, and local or regional collector meet-ups. Those looking to turn their collection into an investment asset should act with extreme care. The appreciation in value for cars is dependent on many factors, from care and maintenance to popularity, and while antique cars can make a good investment, it is crucial to factor in the price of restoration when purchasing a car for your collection, ideally by hiring an independent expert. Furthermore, the cost of storing and maintaining a car collection must be factored into your decision-making process.

Ariana Covers Calls for Increased Security, Better Narcotics Policy

Ariana Radio and Television Network logo pic September 2014 brought calls from members of Afghanistan’s government for better security and an improved policy for dealing with narcotics, according to coverage by Ariana News, a project of Ehsan Bayat’s Ariana Radio and Television Network. On September 21, Ariana News reported on concerns expressed by Afghanistan’s Ministry of Counter Narcotics (MoCN). Six days later, it covered calls from parliament members for a security agreement.

MoCN, after a two-day workshop involving several governors, expressed concern over increasing narcotics cultivation, particularly in Helmand Province. The governors of Helmand and several other provinces have been cooperating to eradicate poppy cultivation, but they say that insecurity in their areas has made the task difficult. The ministry went on to criticize the Afghan government and the international community for offering insufficient support for counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan.

The following week, Ariana reported on remarks made by members of the Afghan parliament seeking a security agreement with the United States. The members asked the new unity government to move forward with the agreement, stating that forces controlled by Afghanistan alone were insufficient to the task of securing the country. They hoped their call would move officials to swift action.

AUAF Women’s Center Hosts Professional Networking Event

Networking pic In 2013, the American University of Afghanistan launched the International Center for Afghan Women’s Economic Development (ICAWED) on its campus in Kabul. Offering resources such as a library, a business incubator, and computer labs, the center works to organize and support groups that share the goal of women’s empowerment.

On June 25, 2014, ICAWED collaborated with the U.S. Embassy and Afghan Chamber of Commerce to provide a valuable professional networking opportunity for local businesswomen. Titled “National Business to Business,” the event hosted representatives from a number of Afghanistan’s most prominent corporations. These professionals represented a wide range of industries, including communications and logistics. Companies from commodity sectors, including mining and manufacturing, were also present.

The business networking event aimed to connect leading firms with female business owners to facilitate ongoing partnerships. It served as an opportunity for both large corporations and small businesses to share their operational goals while exploring possibilities for future working relationships.

National Business to Business is just one example of ICAWED’s commitment to women’s professional empowerment. In February 2014, it hosted the Afghan Women’s Economic Forum, and in March, it welcomed more than 500 guests to a celebration commemorating International Women’s Day.