Gamechangers in the Middle East … Anghami to Careem, Jamalon to Modist … Who are the most innovative companies?

November 7, 2019

“Hello Tomorrow” proclaimed the bold advertising of Emirates. Indeed the airline has soared ahead of its global challengers in recent years, focusing on a strategy not just to compete, but to change the world of travel.

Arabic businesses and brands are on the rise. They now have the ambition and resources to be the best in the world. Al Jazzeera gives the world a different view of what’s happening, Emaar astounds the world with the scale of its constructions, and Etisalat is building a global network of partners.  Jumeirah extends its hospitality to new destinations, Zain recognises that technology has the power to do more than connect people, whilst Savola extends its food brands in response to changing culture and taste.

Next year’s World Expo 2020 is a fabulous opportunity to showcase for the most creative Middle Eastern brands and businesses, the ideas and innovations of a region on the rise.

I have worked extensively across the Middle East from Egypt and Lebanon to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and most often in the UAE – and in many different businesses – food and banking, telecoms and tech, retail and travel, start-ups and stock exchanges. Over the last decade I have seen a huge change in both capability and action. Projects have included developing new insights and business strategies, brand extensions and marketing communications, embedding creativity and accelerating innovation, designing new products and business models, rethinking pricing and channels, and inspiring business leaders to go further and faster.

The world keeps moving forward. Change is relentless, accelerated by technology and globalisation, with new experiences and expectations. In the last 25 years, the Arabic marketplace has changed dramatically. Local businesses face challenges from new start-ups and new competitors, new technologies and new business models. However the best  ideas to compete and innovate are already out there – banking learning from hospitality, pharma from food, airlines from gaming – and from the new entrepreneurial hubs of Hyderabad, Schenzen, or even Nairobi.

“Gamechangers” are the new breed of businesses who play a different game. They don’t believe that success is achieved through heritage and scale, they imagine new possibilities through creativity and partnerships. They are uninhibited by the old conventions of business, and have little respect for the established boundaries of markets and nations. They embrace digital, fused with physical, to explore new ways of working, of engaging customers, and driving growth – embracing social networks, collaboration and customisation, franchising and syndication, advocacy and branded movements.  They win through imagination and ideas, by out-thinking the competition.

“Gamechangers” can be big or small, start-ups or established giants, with the attitude and confidence to win in this incredibly exciting new business world. The opportunity is to think bigger, see further, and shape the future in your own vision.

Let’s take a look at some of the Middle East’s most innovative companies right now:

Anghami

Anghami is the biggest music streaming platform in the Middle East and North Africa. The service licenses music from big Arabic labels such as Platinum Records, Mazzika, and Melody, which it features alongside international hits. Its catalog comprises more than 30 million songs available for over 70 million users. The company also serves as a social network in a region where few concerts are held, experimenting with ways for fans to share music with each other and discover artists as a community.

Careem

Ride-sharing company Careem operates in over 120 cities from Morocco to Pakistan in the Middle East. The company became the region’s first ever unicorn by treating ride hailing as a highly local enterprise, adding features like extra security measures for women and a different compensation system for women drivers as well as giving customers the option of paying in cash to accommodate the fact that the Middle East is one of the least banked regions in the world, and few people have credit cards. Month-over-month growth has been as high as 30%. In March 2019, Uber acquired Careem for $3.1 Billion.

ECOncrete

Econcrete partners with cement makers to produce modified concrete whose composition, texture and design fosters the growth of native plants and animals. This year, the company worked with the Rotterdam Authority to build 16 tide pools on the Calandkanaal, turning them into miniature ecosystems. The Israeli company has also worked on projects in New York, Georgia, Florida, and London.

Fetchr

Dubai-based international courier service Fetchr taps into the GPS location on your phone and uses cutting-edge tracking and delivery systems to deliver parcels directly to you, wherever you are. The company provides a solution to a problem particularly prevalent in the Middle East: Many people live in places where there are no street names or house numbers.

Innoviz Technologies

Innoviz Technologies makes high-performance, low-cost 3D sensors that let autonomous cars see their surroundings with the goal of enabling the mass commercialization of autonomous vehicles.  Their silicon-based design is made up of three easily assembled chips, and their technological breakthrough means that the chips cost a few hundred dollars instead of tens of thousands per device. The company has formed partnerships with Tier 1 solution providers including Magna International, Aptiv, Samsung, and HiRain Technologies.

Jamalon

Amman-based Jamalon is the largest online bookseller in the Middle East. Readers in the region often find it difficult to obtain books, and many are forced to wait for yearly book fairs to purchase them directly from publishers. In addition to making it easier for Middle Easterners to find Arab books they want to read, the company introduced a print-on-demand service for Arabic authors who cannot find a publisher.

The Modist

The Modist is a luxury e-commerce platform devoted to the kind of clothes that founder Ghizlan Guenez and the women in her family like to wear: high fashion, just with “long sleeves, long hems, no high slits, not too much lace,” she says. Her e-commerce site showcases everything from floral silk dresses to fitted sequin jumpsuits from more than 100 designers and has already attracted shoppers in 65 countries. It reflects the concerns of a growing group of women who, for reasons both cultural and personal, want full-coverage clothing that doesn’t forgo style. Muslim shoppers, the largest demographic active in the modest fashion space, are expected to spend $368 billion on apparel by 2021, according to the recent State of the Global Islamic Economy Report from Thomson Reuters. This year, The Modist entered into a partnership with global fashion retailer Farfetch.

Sight Diagnostics

Sight Diagnostics developed an AI-driven platform for blood analysis and infectious disease diagnostics. In 2018, the company launched OLO, an AI-based blood diagnostics platform that offers lab-quality Complete Blood Count tests from finger-prick samples at the point-of-care, currently undergoing clinical trials in the U.S. Sight’s technology was first deployed in 2014 to detect malaria using AI and digital fluorescent microscopy. Sight’s malaria system currently diagnoses malaria accurately and consistently in 25 countries, with over 600,000 tests sold.

Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways is one of the Middle East’s largest network airlines, operating an extensive network of international services to 140 destinations in the Middle East, Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America and North America. The carrier’s investments include a 49% stake in Meridiana, 20% stake in the International Airlines Group (IAG), 10% stake in LATAM, and 10% stake in Cathay Pacific. Qatar Airways is also a member of oneworld. It is now bringing a private jet experience to their business-class passengers. The “Qsuite” experience provides restaurant-style food ordering and lets passengers create a cabin-within-a-cabin for extra privacy.

Vayyar

Vayyar produces low-cost 3D imaging technology used across a wide variety of industries, including automotive, smart home, agriculture, robotics, medicine, and more. Their sensors can see through materials, differentiate between objects and people, and map any environment in real-time.