Startups in the region’s startup ecosystem raised a total of $3 billion in 2022. While Fintech attracted the most funding, Agritech, EnergyTech and TourismTech are a few of the industries coming up next. Here are the innovative entrepreneurs that we think you should know.
OBCIDO’s selection process is based on rigorous criteria that include a demonstrated track record, potential that has been recognized by industry experts, and our belief that these entrepreneurs are making the world a better place.
Ray Dargham is the co-founder and CEO of STEP, the Dubai-based media group behind Stepfeed.com, Yallafeed.com, STEP Music and the annual Step Conference, which has grown to become the region’s most important tech conference since it was created in 2012. Boosted by a $2 million investment from Wamda Capital, EquiTrust, Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority and the VC firm North Base Media in 2017, the STEP conference has cemented its role as a catalyst in the Arab World’s startup ecosystem. The company’s growing traffic and influence make it well-positioned to capture diverse streams of revenue, from ad dollars to event fees, to subscriptions and beyond.
Ray, a former student at the American University of Beirut who started out organizing small workshops on leadership and entrepreneurship in his free time, is the kingmaker in the wings you need to know.
Rafa Hojeij is the Founder of Potion Kitchen, a clean beauty brand made in Lebanon that uses renewable, Mediterranean ingredients extracted from freshly cut plants and zero toxic chemical products. The affordable brand is now being distributed by ABC Mall department stores in Beirut and Hojeijj has plans to export her products to West Africa, beginning with Ivory Coast and Senegal.
The industrial chemist and clean beauty innovator honed her craft over 10 years of experience in top management and R&D formulation. Backing the integrity of her products is a Master’s degree in industrial technology alongside a diploma in organic skincare formulation.
Jad Boustany is a 4th-year medical student at Saint Joseph University in Lebanon. He is also the creator of The Medical Campaign, an educational platform designed for children and young adults ages 4-16. The group allows medical students to teach a younger audience through a range of medical courses, allowing the instructors to raise money to pay for their tuition in the process. The Medical Campaigns team has quickly grown to 40 medical and paramedical students since its founding last year.
Providing education to the youth while giving fellow students a chance to pursue their dreams, Jad's passion makes him one entrepreneur to keep an eye on.
Shreya Rammohan is the co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Playbook. This fully female-founded startup is focused on supporting working women in the region in meeting their career aspirations via a subscription-based content platform and Master Classes on their app. Working alongside co-Founder Wafa Al-Obaidat, an award-winning serial entrepreneur and social media figure, Rammoman has helped drive Playbook’s growth by enlisting corporates like Watar partners, Zain Group, Investcorp and other notable organizations to onboard their female executives to the platform. Playbook received $700,000 of combined pre-seed funding in January 2022 and is part of a global EdTech market that is growing 30 percent year-on-year.
Rammohan boasts eight years of professional marketing and consulting and is keyed into the right networks: She has led research projects for the Telecom Industry in Bahrain and Oman, and National Public Interest projects for Tamkeen, an organization that supports economic growth in Bahrain.
Rabih El Chaar
Rabih El Chaar is the Lebanese-Canadian founder of Nadeera, a tech solution that is helping solve the trash crisis in the MENA, a region that has some catching up to do. This UAE-based startup won PepsiCo’s first Greenhouse Accelerator Program: Middle East North Africa (MENA) Sustainability Edition, receiving a US$100,000 grant in October 2022.
Nadeera works with municipalities to deploy cost-effective waste management solutions that optimize material and value recovery. Their main product is an app that tells users where its company-owned recycling bins are, making it easier for users to discard multiple kinds of packaging. Users are rewarded with money for their effort.
In his previous life, El Chaar has built three solar farms, promotional campaigns for solar power, and developed a study on jobs in the solar industry with the UNDP. He also received a grant for EUR4.5 Million to build a model solid waste management project in Lebanon that is ongoing.
Yadhushan Mahendran is the co-founder and CEO of The Concept , the company behind an in-flight smart meal tray that has been picked up by Ettihad Airways. Neos Fly+ features embedded IoT technology that enables airlines to data capture passenger consumption behavior to help reduce food waste. It’s also sustainable, anti-microbial, and weighs 80% less than your typical tray.
Mahendran has a Bachelor of Business Administration from the Emirates Aviation University and along with his two co-founders, is a ‘Forbes 30 Under 30 Middle East 2022’ honoree.
Abdulrahman Al Saati
Abdulrahman Al Saati is the founder and CEO of Destifind, an experiential tourism firm in Saudi Arabia that has been growing steadily since it was founded in 2017. The Kingdom’s increasing support towards small and medium enterprises or SMEs as part of the Vision 2030 blueprint has boosted Destifind but the company is also poised to benefit from the Kingdom’s eye-watering surge in tourism: in 2022, the country saw a 575.4 percent increase on the same period a year earlier.
Al Saati, a Master Scuba Diver trainer, pivoted from medical school training to launch his firm.
Gohar Said is helping solve the global supply crisis as co-founder and CEO of Suplyd, a procurement platform for hotels, restaurants, and catering (HoReCa) businesses in Egypt. The B2B raised $1.6 million in pre-seed funding in December, less than a year after it launched, a clear sign that the untapped Egyptian market is ripe for a tech solution. Egypt boasts over 400,000 restaurants and its people love to eat out. Beyond this, Said and his team plan to explore more growth opportunities in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region in the near future.
Said was a restaurateur for 12 years, which tells us he understands the assignment.
Omar Almheiri and his co-founder Hamaza Khan are the masterminds behind LetsWork, a Dubai-based subscription service and marketplace for on-demand workspaces, AKA a co-working space platform. Users can sign up for a Letswork Pass, a subscription that gives them access to a distributed network of workspaces at coworking spaces, hotels, and cafés. Users can also rent meeting rooms, private offices, and creative studios by the hour or day, giving these venues additional streams of revenue. The startup is now soft launching in Riyadh, bringing its total markets to five, along with Portugal, Spain, and Bahrain.
Almheiri was born and raised in Abu Dhabi UAE and studied Electrical Engineering in Boston, at Northeastern University.
Nuha Hashem is co-Founder of Zywa, a Dubai-based payments app and card for Gen Z in the Middle East and North Africa. It enables teens to spend, receive and manage money without the need for cash, and they can also get rewards and interact with their friends, all under the watchful supervision of their parents. Last August, the neobank raised $3 million in seed funding after being valued at over $30 million (110 million AED). The new funding follows the $1 million pre-seed backing it secured in February this year.
Hashem, who must surely have a clone, is simultaneously completing her Doctorate of Philosophy and a Ph.D. in Business Administration and Management at Louisiana State University.