The MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Startup Competition, one of the biggest startup events in the Middle East, will announce its winner on Thursday evening at an event in Cairo. Here’s the five startups that caught the Wall Street Journal’s eye from the shortlisted semi-finalists.
Elwafeyat.com: The concept of Cairo-based Elwafeyat.com is dead easy to understand. The website is an online platform to honor deceased family members and friends through obituary announcements and condolences pages. The team will even organize the funeral planning. Think of it as a cross between a social network for the dead, an obituaries column in a newspaper and a funeral parlour.
Accelerated by Flat6Labs last year, the team is led by young Egyptians Yousef El Sammaa and Nesma El Far. And crucially, the website has one of Egypt’s most well-known entrepreneurs involved, Cornelius O’Donnell, or Con as he is known. Irishman Mr. O’Donnell has lived in Egypt more than 20 years, speaks fluent Arabic and is a regular face on the startup circuit in Cairo, having launched a number of media businesses. In Arabic, Elwafeyat means ‘deaths’ and ‘obituaries’. The website is launching in Egypt but wants to eventually scale to the rest of the region.
eMashq.com: The team at eMashq.com believes that with development of Arabic letters from Roman-writing software systems, the art of Arabic calligraphy was lost in the digital age. Tunisia-based eMashq.com is now trying to bridge that gap by developing highly sophisticated Arabic writing styles for graphic designers.
The business development is being driven by Kamel Gaddas, who in 1985 co-founded France-based Winsoft, which has helped Arabize software systems. His daughter, Sihem Gaddas is chief executive of eMashq. Together they see a market of more than one million Arabic creative developers in the region. The team is seeking an investment of $270,000 that they want to predominantly come from a partner that can drive sales in the Middle East.
Sowt: If you’ve ever sent a voice message over Whatsapp to your friends, then Sowt could be for you. The app, which means ‘Voice’ in Arabic, is an audio-based social network that aggregates a feed of different audio clips less than 42 seconds long. Jordan-based founder Hazem Zureiqat thought clips between 30 seconds and one minute would be the appropriate length, so he chose 42 seconds because fans of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy will know that 42 is the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.
Just like video never truly killed the radio star, Sowt is aimed at social media lovers that want to post audio clips, rather than video or text. Mr. Zureiqat is a engineering graduate from MIT and he and his family have so far funded the app’s development.
Codly: Another Flat6Labs graduate, Codly is trying to democratize – a buzzword in tech – the development of apps. It tries to automate the process of app design and the back-end development and purpose of the app. Its reminiscent of last year’s MIT competition winner Instabug, which easily highlighted bugs in apps.
The Egyptian Codly team are already masters in branding, rarely being seen in clothing other than Codly T-shirts. The team consists of Mohamed Shaban, chief executive, Haitham Abdel Moniem, commercial officer, Abd-Allah Zidan, head of tech and Ahmed Kamal Abdel Moeen, software developer. It is seeking $200,000 in funding to scale across the globe.
Crowd Analyzer: Dubai-based Crowd Analyzer has had a whirlwind few months. After coming up with their idea for social media analysis late last year, the team of young Egyptians has since been accelerated, brought their product to market, raised $500,000 in follow-on funding and bagged their first major client. The startup analyses how a brand is perceived on social media in Arabic, an attractive product to companies in a region where penetration of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube is among the highest in the world. The product analyses different dialects, the sentiment of words, as well as the meaning of words that can be interpreted differently.
Crowd Analyzer was one of the first to be accelerated under Dubai ports operator DP World’s scheme in Dubai. Its first client is Souq.com, the region’s biggest e-commerce site, and the team is in talks with telcos around the Middle East. The company was founded by Chief Executive Ahmed Saad, Chief Tech Officer Bahaa Galal, Chief Communications Officer Rooda AlNeama and Chief Marketing Officer Mustafa Othman.
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(via WSJ Blogs)