There could be more and more billionaire startups in the Middle East in the coming months, according to the CEO of ride-hailing company Careem.
It comes from a “magical combination” of top talent in the region who are choosing to build startups and investors who are realizing that funding these entrepreneurs is a great opportunity, Mudassir Sheikha told Hadley Gamble im Part of the virtual CNBC Evolve Global Summit.
The change was due to acquisitions by large U.S. corporations and a pandemic-fueled acceleration in digital adoption, he said.
The US e-commerce giant Amazon bought the United Arab Emirates-based online retailer Souq.com in 2017.
Meanwhile, Careem became the Middle East’s first unicorn – a start-up with a valuation of at least $ 1 billion – when Uber bought the company for $ 3.1 billion in 2019. As of April this year, there are 16 unicorns in the Middle East and North Africa, according to data from Statista.
We’re not far from having a few more unicorns in the region … the dynamism in the ecosystem is just amazing.
“All of a sudden you have top talent choosing to do entrepreneurship and you have investors who are realizing that this is a great opportunity to fund these entrepreneurs,” Sheikha said.
“It’s a magical combination,” he added.
“We’re not far from having a few more unicorns in the region,” he said. “The dynamics in the ecosystem are just incredible.”
In addition to funding and talent, another factor that could help produce “a lot more unicorns” in the coming months and years is that the Middle East has “no shortage” of opportunities, Sheikha said.
A Careem Networks FZ logo is on the outside of a driver support center at the ride-hailing company’s headquarters in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Christopher Pike | Bloomberg | Getty Images
“Even the services that we currently offer in (Careem’s) super-app like driving services, food delivery, grocery delivery … most of these services have single-digit percentage market acceptance across the board,” he said.
But there is also a gap in the last-mile logistics and payment platforms for companies, and Careem is focusing on this possibility with its Careem Express delivery service and the Careem Pay digital wallet.
Be an entrepreneur in the Middle East
Some aspects of entrepreneurship in the region have been facilitated, but scaling a business will still be difficult, Sheikha said.
“Fundraising is just getting easier, which is a huge blessing,” he said. “Finding top talent to develop these products and build these businesses is getting easier because top talent see the value in building these entrepreneurial ventures.”
Many people used to prefer working for multinational companies rather than starting their own companies, he said.
However, growing and expanding a business will still be difficult, Sheikha said. This includes entering new markets, gaining trust and loyalty from customers, and dealing with the “operational complexities” of running a technology company in the Middle East, he said.
“It’s not easy,” he said. “My feeling is that the funding will be solved, the first talents will be solved.”
But growing that talent pool and finding people who are able to grow the business will be “the next frontier,” he said.