Farming is the new kid on the block (or the oldest?)

Farming is the new kid on the block (or the oldest?)

How many of you have ever considered investing in agritech? Let’s be honest—it’s definitely not that appealing compared to other sectors, partly because it’s too capital-intensive. Just recall the seed round of Pure Harvest, one of the best known agritech co’s in the region, which brought together 31 investors. Times have changed ever since.

Food security has become the region’s top priority and there hasn’t been a better time to look into the region’s agritech and its potential. Get your shovels ready 👨‍🌾

Farming is the new kid on the block (or the oldest?)


Globally, agritech funding has so far reached $4.1 billion in 2020 and it is poised to reach a new volume high. Agriculture is our future and it should be among the top funded sectors because its sustainability dictates our survival. The pandemic only further highlighted the region’s food insecurity and over-reliance on food imports. Why shouldn’t we be able to source the tomatoes for tonight’s fattouch from a farm few kilometers away rather than from another continent?


While the region possesses only 1% of the world’s fresh water, agritech offers a wide pallet of solutions to tackle to local climate and conditions. Many institutions around the region have already recognized that securing domestic food production is a must: UAE created a post of the Minister of State for Food Security back in 2017, Kuwait’s KFAS is welcoming farm-to-table digital solutions, Bahrain wants to boost their hydroponic farming… Qatar’s local production of fruits and veggies reached almost 30% (up from 10% three years ago). Lebanon operates an agri-innovation hub Agrytech, Jordan has its HASSAD and Morocco recently launched Green Generation 2020-30 strategy. The region is getting pretty busy.


2020 saw the largest ever investment in an agritech company in the Middle East: Wafra’s $100 million commitment to Pure Harvest. The latter also recently secured a $35 million deal with Kuwait’s The Sultan Center to build a high-tech farm in Kuwait.


But Pure Harvest is only a seed in the MENA’s agritech field. Scroll down for an overview of our major agritech startups. They fall under diverse verticals, including controlled environment agriculture (CEA), organic fertilizers, drone planting and workforce management.



Egypt and UAE are currently the largest agritech markets of the region. UAE’s Madar Farms is set to build the world’s first commercial-scale indoor tomato farm using only LED lights. Falcon Eyes Drones Services (FEDS) has successfully demonstrated large-scale drone planting. 


In Egypt, Bea Mahsolk offers a platform for farmers to sell their produce. Schaduf is specialized in urban farming and green solutions. Baramoda helps farmers to maximize the efficiency of agricultural waste.


On the other shore of the Red Sea, Jordan’s Nestrom aids digitization of farm operations. Turtleponics designs aquaponic systems for homes. And Mushroom Box, as its name indicates, provides smart incubators for growing mushrooms with self-control. 


In Saudi Arabia, Desert Agriculture and Green Mast have the answer to the region’s climate and limited water resources: hydroponic farming tech. Red Sea Farms attempts to reduce the carbon and water footprint of the local food sector.


Tunisia’s MooMe collects data on dairy cows. Smart Bee has solutions for hive monitoring and so does Lebanon’s TheBeeHouse. LUXEED Robotics endeavors to develop a robot that would kill weeds in onion and lettuce lands.


In Bahrain, Nakheel tackles palm tree infestation with IoT. Qatar’s Agrico has developed sophisticated hydroponics systems. In Palestine, Agriotec offers precision farming systems and chemical-free production for small farmers..



TL;DR (too long; didn’t read)


Food insecurity and over-reliance on exports have prompted the region to look for home-grown agritech solutions that tackle the local conditions while delivering high quality produce at fair prices. Agritech is certainly becoming a popular investment. Most of the region remains underdeveloped and there is an immense potential in boosting the local-for-local food production.


Family Postcard


$2 million
Cartlow secured $2 million Pre-Series A Funding from Arzan VC, Vision Ventures and other investors. The company also launched a B2B model VASCART for retailers, brands and distributors.



Starring in Forbes again
Swvl, Trukker, Ikcon and Crowd Analyzer were listed in the Forbes’ 50 most funded startups of the Middle East. And Ikcon landed the cover of October 2020 issue.



Snap released a case study on Tamatem’s efficient growth and LTV.


5 years
Mejuri’s Noura Sakkijha reflects on the five years in, future and brand loyalty.


12 interns
Read about Gameball’s Summer Internship 2020, in which 12 undergrad students took part.

Latest Jobs @ArzanVC Family

  • HR Director at  iKcon (Saudi Arabia)
  • Global Market Launcher at Swvl (Dubai)
  • Senior R&D Engineer I at Swvl (Cairo)
  • Customer Success Manager at Crowd Analyzer (Riyadh, Cairo)
  • Software Engineer at POSRocket (Amman)




We can only wish.








2020 -MENA’s first super app

2020 -MENA’s first super app

 Is it June or July already? It’s getting harder to keep track of time…


Corona, go… and from this line until the end of the newsletter, we are going to discuss the business as usual. It’s not ignorance, it’s overcoming the present moment. Even more; it’s imagining the future. Our team put their heads together to share with you MENA’s M&A of tomorrow and the day after—maybe realistic, maybe not. If you can dream it…

 Will 2020 give MENA its first super app?


Having a dry-powder in your hands is definitely a wildcard in the current times. And while some valuations are dropping, this is a unique chance for some swift M&A deals for those who spot the right opportunity out there. So, perhaps, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the tech M&A activity reached the highest levels since 2015. We are not even halfway into 2020 and the ‘Big Five’ (i.e. Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft) has already announced 19 M&A deals, out of which 5 belong to Apple alone. The competition in the tech sector is definitely weighty.


 Where does ArzanVC’s Team see the biggest potential for M&A? Remember that we don’t attempt to imply here that companies within the below sectors need some sort of saving. After all, 2020 is already poised for M&A and we see it as a good tool in general.


While we are witnessing more vertical M&A in MENA, Eyad argues it’s yet too early for such moves. He thinks that it still makes more sense to have horizontal rather than vertical deals. The first step could be an in-country M&A that would gradually consolidate smaller players into one bigger platform. Many MENA startups—no matter how big—do need more global scale to make themselves attractive enough to international investors. Laith, on the other hand, suggests that this may be the right time for ride-hailing companies to enter new verticals. And Hasan thinks that COVID-19 made startups realize their weak points, hence M&A activity might be used to elevate those weak points and emerge stronger. 



1. food delivery/e-commerce – food delivery platforms are the no1 place to go to right now. While some well-established food delivery players may be offering a wide variety of food delivery services, they may want to focus on specific outlets to increase the scope of their offering.

2. ride-hailing –ride-hailing companies may consider entering new verticals, out of which logistics (delivery, parcel delivery) or even food delivery appear as plausible options to increase the startups’ growth potential. While ride-hailing may have been paused for a moment, these new segments can provide the companies with a better balance and a new impetus in general while making use of the existing assets and brand name.


3. fintech/payment processing – many POS SaaS platforms can be ready for a merger in order to consolidate their footprints. We see the potential especially in the Gulf area.




4. health tech – given the boom in online mental health services, general health platforms could consider acquiring specific platforms with a niche focus on certain areas such as online therapies.


5. copy-paste startups – many of the startups we have in MENA are basically concepts that were initiated in developed markets and regional entrepreneurs simply copied them. Sectors like grocery delivery, e-commerce or fintech are a playground for a lot of startups that practically do the same thing but each in their own respective country, which represents, in global terms, a very small market. By forming one regional player, they would not only increase their loyal customer bases but also unite into a fairly massive regional platform. Sounds good enough, right?


There is another concept that Hassan El-Keyi pointed out: the possibility of the first super app in MENA. There already exist few semi-super apps, which are apps offering various services in different segments such as transport, food delivery and, for example, a mobile wallet.


And how does he envision the first MENA super app coming to life? Well, most probably a well-established international super app like the Chinese WeChat or possibly a US counterpart would enter the MENA market through mobile carriers, mobile wallets and semi-super apps in general. In the East-West dilemma, China appears to have more experience in building super apps (e.g. combining e-commerce/messaging with mobile payments) than the US. Exciting least to say.


Imagine a well-established telecom operator or ride-hailing business acquiring a digital payments startup. Or a regional retail giant acquiring a retail tech startup. Or an offline hypermarket consolidating the digital grocery market. Or a major pharmaceutical company getting their hands on a health tech startup…


P.S. If you have a minute, tell us your personal M&A dreams.


The word of the COVID-19 crisis is adaptability. Business areas such as groceries delivery, online ed-tech, streaming and online comm platforms are at low risk, while ride-hailing, essential e-commerce and logistics are at medium. High risk zone entails of travel e-commerce, booking apps and non-essential e-commerce. But we must not forget that the survival of each and every business depends on how flexible it is to adapt and withstand the crisis. 

 Family Postcard



Forbes published a feature on Mejuri’s mastership of disrupting the jewelry industry. Read CEO Noura Sakkijhas’ insights here. 


🍕🌮🍜+🤍 = voucher
PointCheckout has launched initiative in partnership with food tech partners to support UAE restaurants. Pick your fav restaurant, buy a gift voucher and spend it when they reopen.

State of social media in 2020
Crowd Analyzer released its famous State of Social Media Report for 2020. Want to know the latest industry insights, social media trends and how to better connect with your audience? Download a free copy 


🚛 TruKKer+Saferoad

TruKKer and Saferoad Information Technology signed in a new partnership agreement to provide joint services and make Saudi road freight even more efficient and safe.


Latest Jobs @ArzanVC Family

  • Senior Software Developer at Cartlow (Dubai, UAE)
  • VP of Engineering at POSRocket (Jordan)
  • Digital Growth Hacker at Repzo (Jordan)
  • Global PR Manager at Swvl (Dubai, UAE)
  • Graphic Designer at Swvl (Egypt)  




Don’t stop dreaming.








MENA startups vs. black swan

MENA startups vs. black swan

No Fool’s day this year.

If you’re reading this on your phone, at least we took you away from your laptop cameras and back-to-back online meetings.

We decided to have a look at the endurance of businesses during these tough times. There are numerous businesses that are doing pretty well right now, to the point that they can’t meet the demand. (And we are not referring to the producers of toilet paper.)

We will also bring you some good news from ArzanVC’s Family. Because what the world needs right now is more good news.

 Black swan is a test of adaptability 

You heard it. We are living through the biggest global crisis since 1945. It will set the tone for the years to come. And maybe even decades. Some say that the crisis may lead to a new way of economic thinking. It most probably will. And to new (or enhanced) and more flexible business models.

 The word of this crisis (and any crisis in fact)—whether for us citizens who have to abide by the rules and restrictions of our governments or for the companies and businesses in our local and international environments—is adaptability.

 And who can adapt best? The businesses that are flexible. We have entered a work-at-home economy, which favors companies that can come up with solutions no matter if the life moved out from offices to our dining tables and living rooms.

 We are noticing uniquely innovative and collaborative actions, with many businesses shifting their modus operandi to adapt to the market demands. This black swan event definitely favors businesses that possess strong organizational agility and alignment. And above all, online players clearly have a top leverage right now.

 In the diagram below, we have included a few examples of local companies (MENA) next to their sectors.

 Disclosure: Some of the companies belonging to the high risk zone of the diagram might not really be affected negatively if they are able to adapt.

 We placed the restaurants delivery platforms into the low-to-medium risk zone. These companies would be expected to do great right now, but the curfew that is set by some governments puts a restriction on when the orders can be made. Customers may also think twice of the extra expenses (cooking at home may be cheaper), and the issue of hygiene during food preparation could also be of concern given the pandemic. 

 Why is ride-hailing at medium risk? Passenger rides are down (for example, they equal 0 in Kuwait). However, if the business model is flexible, the companies can wait things out. Plus, IntiGo (Tunis) is now providing grocery delivery and concierge services, and Lyft and Uber are also considering the same and medical supply. 

Essential e-commerce at medium risk while non-essential e-commerce is at high risk because the consumer choices have been primarily redirected to necessities like staple goods. Yet shopping for home gym equipment, books, toys and games may make a good impact.

We also think that social media may be little squeezed due to decline in advertising spending. Though the current user’s usage is massive.

On the contrary, communication & teleconferencing tools (vs. in-class teaching, office meetings etc.) are booming. WFH is safe and it reduces employers’ costs. Many Gulf countries lifted bans on Zoom, Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams and others. Slack shares jumped up by 26% this year, while Microsoft Teams’ DAUs reached 44 million (vs. 20 million in November). And despite the rising demand, Zoom’s call quality has not degraded!

As we are now embracing e-baskets over regular trolleys, online grocery delivery platforms face a doubled or tripled surge in online orders. Additional onboarding of thousands of shoppers and support staff is a new trend as well as safer and contactless delivery procedures. The increase in demand is unprecedented yet definitely a “good” problem to have right now!

And we cannot forget the crucial role of online streaming platforms – movies, series and podcasts alike – that are giving us and our kids a huge helping hand during these quarantine and self-isolation times. In fact, there is so much streaming that the providers had to reduce the quality to SD (primarily in Europe) and ask people to be more data-spending conscious. By the way, Disney+ launched in Europe in the best time possible!

Although this unprecedented growth of new customers and service users may cease once the crisis is behind us, we believe that it will ultimately change certain consumer habits. Just notice the growth of the online grocery stores: many of them gained the trust of their customers only thanks to COVID-19. And that trust won’t be temporary!

Is this the new normal? Will we see more online conferences, bigger online grocery orders and cloud kitchens rivaling the conventional cooking outlets? (Hopefully; we made a recent investment in one cloud kitchen start-up.)

The truth is, many of us desire to have 24/7 goods and services, and the crisis has only pointed out that our day-to-day actions and transactions do not necessarily require in-person, physical presence.

📣Call-out to founders: Share with us how you are adapting your business to the crisis. We would like to include your stories in our next newsletter.

TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) 
The word of the COVID-19 crisis is adaptability. Business areas such as groceries delivery, online ed-tech, streaming and online comm platforms are at low risk, while ride-hailing, essential e-commerce and logistics are at medium. High risk zone entails of travel e-commerce, booking apps and non-essential e-commerce. But we must not forget that the survival of each and every business depends on how flexible it is to adapt and withstand the crisis.

 Family Postcard

Flexxed up

Flexxpay has raised another pre-series A investment.


 Cartlow has secured a six-digit USD figure in its first round of funding from Arzan VC, Vision Ventures and a group of angel investors.

And Lunch:on now provides free & contactless home delivery of its 25AED lunches from 200+ restaurants.


Latest Jobs @ArzanVC Family

 Corona Essentials

  • If they can survive 1 year in the space… notes on self-isolation.
  • Feeling anxious? Snapchat launched a Here for you tool.
  • Once you’re done with Zooming and Slacking for today, throw a Netflix party!

    Black swan, it’s about time you fly away!
    And the rest of us—let’s try to do WFH and social distancing for a little longer. 



Open the gates

Open the gates

Here’s the thing – entrepreneurship is the hot topic in the region and thankfully, governments and institutions have caught on. Whereas small business lending was the primary method of involvement from governments in the past, today we are seeing much more in terms of training programs, the introduction of new licenses and structures, as well as funding efforts. Having said that, in order to encourage growth in the sector, there needs to be a favorable environment for venture capitalists to operate. There are positive initiatives being announced in an effort to create such an environment. For example, Bahrain Development Bank has recently announced a $100m venture fund of funds. In the UAE, a new venture capital regulatory framework has been put in place to guarantee a standard of governance for the asset class, thereby increasing its competitiveness and attractiveness. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, is exploring different platforms to invest in VCs and attract them to the market. But where do we stand and why is this really important?

Government funding programs vs. VC funding – what difference does it make?

While most government funding programs are created because of social and political reasons, VC’s are founded with the aim to generate high returns to their Limited Partners. Due to this critical difference, we conduct our business in very different ways. VC’s are crucial for the success and development of every entrepreneurial ecosystem. Like any other industry, if competition is there, the venture capitalist will be pushed to develop and innovate in order to differentiate themselves from other players. Startups will ultimately receive a better “service,” and will see that the financial support is secondary to the added value provided by VC’s. Moreover, founders will be able to shop between VC’s and choose the right partner. Over time, VC’s will start to narrow down their segment focus to achieve expertise and will recruit high caliber team members and experts to ensure competitiveness. With that in hand, strong VCs will be able to intelligently filter and invest in top startups with solid teams and products. At this stage, great entrepreneurs have been funded while VC’s are continuously upping their game. This environment will attract more high-potential entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams and the ecosystem will flourish. Going back to our topic, If governments want to take on the VC role, who will they compete with? With the absence of LP’s, how will their performance be evaluated? Their teams probably would not have a carry incentive scheme, so how can we gauge commitment? Would fixed salaries of team members push them to select the best startups or focus merely on the value deployed and the number of companies funded? How will procedures, layers, and bureaucracy affect responsiveness?

Alright, so what can be done?

All of us ecosystem participants (VC’s, founders, governments, etc) have the same ultimate objective of building a thriving ecosystem, but each one of us has a different driving force. We need to work towards meeting our individual goals to collectively benefit the overarching goal for the government: job creation, economic development, and progress. In order to achieve that, I believe we need to see the following: 1. Define roles: there are many players in the ecosystem and everyone’s role is very important, however, we fall into the trespassing problem. This problem will only be solved if we can define each player’s role and be disciplined about it. If everyone is dedicated to their roles, an ecosystem can flourish efficiently with fewer obstacles ahead.  Government roles can include ensuring proper legal structures and protection are in place as well as reforming taxation and labor policies. 2. Say no to direct funding: I am a strong believer that governments should not fund startups directly. They should act as enablers and regulators. Why? Simply, they do not have the required DNA which can match that of a specialized investor. In addition, government officials are influenced by politics and many other social aspects all which influence their decisions and vision. 3. Collaborate: GCC governments are working in silos when it comes to solving VC’s and entrepreneurs’ challenges. Collaborations between governments will speed up the process,  allow better knowledge sharing and bring all countries up to the same level.  I take part in many of these discussions and there is a significant difference between where each country stands. Will we see the day where entrepreneurs are allowed to expand cross-border and operate in the region more easily, allowing them to grow their businesses and attract foreign investment? We sure hope so.  

TL;DR (too long; didn’t read)

Supporting the booming entrepreneurial ecosystem means also creating a favorable environment for VCs. Regional governments can get on board with this by focusing on empowering entrepreneurs, leaving funding to investors, and collaborating with each other to create a thriving ecosystem.
  Read the whole ArzanVC July newsletter here
It’s been a while

It’s been a while


Hey folks,

It’s been a loooong time since we sent an email to this list, but we thought it was time for something fresh.  If you never want to hear from us again, you can unsubscribe at the bottom. We won’t be offended.

Spring at AVC has been full of action. We were at the STEP Conference earlier this month, and saw cool startups, talks and speakers.  It’s always great to see familiar faces and feel the jolt of energy at the event.  We’ve also been hopping around the GCC presenting our upcoming fund which we’re excited about.

MENA Payment Solution Providers

Who is going to survive?
How can they differentiate?
Join the discussion at #arzanVCchats

On the radar

While I was doing my MBA, I worked with an intellectual group (Marco Di Mare, Alex Pham, Guillaume Pigot, Huang Yaping) on an extensive research project titled “Blockchain and it’s effect on the Financial Sector.” Of course, I won’t try to fit all that in this newsletter, but I’d like to share some interesting bits as well as our analysis at ArzanVC.

BlockchainBlockchain is a technology to run distributed ledgers that can reduce counterparty risk while boosting transparency and consistency.  Using an analogy:

(Sideways Dictionary)
The first application of Blockchain was Bitcoins. Innovations in the technology enabled potential applications in the financial sector that bear promises of disruptive potential.
 Long story short
Based on a World Economic Forum survey, many bankers believe that by 2025 Blockchain can reshape finance and banking. According to experts in Santander, banks will have $15bn to $20bn in annual savings in bank infrastructure costs from distributed ledgers. Hence, retail banks have started to experiment through VC investments and pilot projects.

Foreign Retail banks are dipping their feet

The impact is gonna be YUUUGE
These are the four major areas in which the technology has been used and is impacting financial services, firms and institutions. The most relevant applications and the players pioneering them are highlighted:


And what about MENA?
A few banks based out of Dubai, such as Emirates NBD, are partnering with other larger banks to launch the first pilot Blockchain network.  Small MENA banks should consider testing and partially implementing Blockchain applications in their operations. This will create a competitive edge and will give small banks the first mover advantage by allowing them to engage with large international banks via the Blockchain network. We’re keeping an eye out to see how things evolve.

4 things you’ll want to read

If you haven’t read Jeff Bezos’ Annual letter yet
Venture capital did not start in Silicon Valley
Who rallies your team?
Entrepreneurs: 3 tips for getting a sale unstuck

Family postcard

Is it lunch time yet?
Lunchon is solving the ordeal of ordering lunch at work with options from 100s of restaurants in Dubai, and they are killin it! Where do you think they should operate next Tweet @lunchon_UAE

If you’re thinking of supercharging your voice calls…
Bellgram launched its integrated app to the public in February, after successfully beta testing with 5 customers. Our productive friends at Onfleet and Lyft have joined too.

And speaking of productivity…
Forget deciphering through your meeting scribbles notes, Wrappup, the meeting based productivity app, had its big reveal in March

Welcome to the fam

We’d like to introduce you to Armada, our latest investment and member of the AVC family.  Led by CEO & Founder, Ahmed Al Obaid, Armada is is a marketplace for last mile delivery services that utilizes a crowd-sourced fleet of private cars and freelance drivers.

Say hi to Ahmed


Yes, we realize that the delivery industry is really crowded. However, it’s crowded with many delivery companies who own their fleets.  Furthermore, from about 250 granted licenses in Kuwait, only around 50 companies are active. This is due to their inability to scale and the high capex requirements involved.  Here is where we see untapped value.  Armada’s marketplace offers a solution to the delivery companies’ problem, since idle fleets will be optimized and new “business/income” is granted within Armada’s marketplace.

But it doesn’t stop there…

Armada’s marketplace will not only be focused on food, but also can cater to pharmacies, groceries, retail stores and more.

Here’s Laith and I after a long day of fundraising meetings in Saudi this week. Good times!

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