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The 100 Arab Start-ups Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution

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The World Economic Forum and the Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB) have selected the 100 most promising Arab start-ups of 2019. This initiative aims to further integrate the Arab world’s most promising start-up entrepreneurs into a national and regional dialogue on pressing challenges. Selected entrepreneurs will participate in the official programme of the upcoming World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa where they will engage with industry and government leaders to discuss the future of their industries and how to add value to society.

“The Arab world will need its private sector to address youth unemployment, the current skills gap for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the inclusion of women in the workforce. Start-ups, and the entrepreneurs building them, are key to a strategic public-private dialogue on these issues and to creating corresponding new opportunities in society,” said Mirek Dusek, Deputy Head of the Centre for Geopolitical and Regional Affairs, Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum.

Among the selected start-ups are: the world’s first halal investment platform (Wahed, UAE); a biotech company that uses camel milk to develop antibodies (MonoJo, Jordan); a company that uses augmented reality for surgeons to contribute remotely to clinical procedures (Proximie, Lebanon); an app that reinvents public transport with fixed fares and booking (Swvl, Egypt); a platform to meet fellow football players and book pitches (Malaem, Bahrain); a production company shaping its country’s cultural landscape (Akkasa, Oman); a bracelet that detects epilepsy seizures and sends alerts to care-givers (Epilert, Tunisia); the first coding booth camps for the Arab world (Coded, Kuwait); an app for civic engagement (Clean City M3kod, Morocco); and a company conducting a range of mapping including that of cultural heritage sites with autonomous drones (FalconViz, Saudi Arabia).

“Across the Middle East, entrepreneurs are devising increasingly innovative ways to tackle the evolving societal challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution with novel applications of technology. These efforts need to be encouraged, recognized and supported by investors, business leaders and policy-makers. The 100 Arab start-ups initiative is not just a platform for recognizing promise but a way to bring great minds together to discuss the limitless possibilities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the next breakthroughs that the regional ecosystem can deliver. The Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB) is proud to partner with the World Economic Forum on the search for the 100 Arab start-ups shaping the future,” said Khalid Al Rumaihi, Chief Executive of the EDB.

The initiative welcomed back start-ups selected in 2017, including: Elves (Egypt), an AI concierge service; Daraty (Syria), a toolkit for children to learn electronics; and Careem (UAE), the Arab world’s first unicorn company recently sold for $3.1 billion.

With a 31% increase in investments compared to 2017, a new record was reached for regional start-up funding last year, according to data from Magnitt, a company twice selected among the 100 Arab start-ups initiative. Foreign investment remained stable in 2018 with 30% from outside the Arab world, while fintech took over e-commerce as the top industry as a result of an 8% increase in deals since 2017.

Selection committee

A selection committee of experts on the start-ups ecosystem in the region worked with the World Economic Forum and the EDB to screen and select the 100 start-ups.

· Abdulrahman Tarabzouni, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Saudi Technology Ventures (STV)

· Ahmed El Alfi, Founder and Chairman, Sawari Ventures

· Amir Farha, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Beco Capital

· Areije Al Shakar, Director and Fund Manager, Al Waha Venture Capital Fund; Senior Vice-President, Bahrain Development Bank

· Hala Fadel, Founder and Managing Partner, Leap Ventures

· Khaled Talhouni, Managing Partner, Wamda Capital

· Mirek Dusek, Deputy Head of the Centre for Geopolitical and Regional Affairs, Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum

About the meeting

With the full support and presence of Their Majesties King Abdullah II and Queen Rania Al Abdullah, the meeting will convene over 1,000 key leaders from government, business and civil society, as well as leaders from Gulf Cooperation Council countries, the Levant and North Africa, and key international stakeholders from East Africa, Europe and the United States. Building on the Forum’s Annual Meeting in January in Davos-Klosters and its theme of Globalization 4.0, the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa will take place under the theme, Building Platforms of Cooperation.

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EU plans to invest €9.2 billion in key digital technologies

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The Digital Europe Programme is a new €9.2 billion funding programme whose goal is to ensure that all Europeans have the skills and the infrastructure needed to meet a full range of digital challenges.

It is part of a strategy to further develop the digital single market, which could help to create four million jobs and boost the EU’s economy with €415 billion every year while increasing the EU’s international competitiveness.

“For too many years, Europe’s tech sector has lagged behind third countries such as the US and China. We need a coherent Union-wide approach and an ambitious investment to secure a solution to the chronic mismatch between the growing demand for the latest technology and the available supply in Europe,” said Austrian ALDE member Angelika Mlinar, one of the MEPs repsonsible for steering the plans through Parliament.

A part of the budget  would be allocated to encourage small and medium-sized enterprises and public administrations to use technology more often and better, while other parts will cover strategically important fields such as supercomputers, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity.

“We can count on European excellence when it comes to research and innovation, but our businesses, especially SMEs, still found it difficult to access and take advantage of new solutions,” said Milnar. “This programme has been crucially designed to tackle the low take-up of existing testing technologies. We are on track to deliver one of the most promising and necessary funds for Europe’s future.”

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UNIDO and Iran to develop ICT value chain

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The Director General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), LI Yong, today met with Javad Azari Jahromi, Minister of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) of the Islamic Republic of Iran, who announced a self-funded project to be implemented by UNIDO within the framework of its 2017-2021 Country Programme.

The US$1 million project will seek to boost the Iranian ICT value chain with the aim of creating local employment opportunities as well as to promote the regional economic integration of Iranian start-ups and SMEs. The project was designed to support the country’s sixth 5-year development programme that places a strategic focus on ICT.

“The partnership between Iran and UNIDO builds on the Organization’s track record in boosting the performance of private sector producers through the promotion of industrial linkages and diversification, including by creating a favourable investment climate and a conducive environment for start-ups and fast-growing organizations,” said Director General LI Yong.

Minister Azari Jahromi added: “Taking into account the rapid progress achieved by the Islamic Republic of Iran in different aspects of ICT during the recent years as well as swelling number of very talented and well-educated specialized Iranian young generation in this field, it is due time to boost our regional cooperation with neighbouring countries. To that end, we intend to develop an effective partnership with UNIDO as the UN agency with the primary mandate to enhance industrial development. I trust that UNIDO’s vast technical expertise and capacities and policy advisory services will ensure the effectiveness and sustainability of the aforementioned programme, which at the end will be beneficial for our whole region.”

The current UNIDO-Iran Country Programme covers a range of cooperation areas to promote inclusive and sustainable industrial development in the country, including business development and sustainable job creation, the integration of local industries in global production networks and investment promotion, the development of agricultural and industrial value chains and support to meeting commitments under the Montreal Protocol as well as other international agreements for safeguarding the environment.

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Harnessing the potential of Industry 4.0 tech to improve e-commerce

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photo: UNIDO

“Cutting-edge technologies and institutions can empower manufacturers to customize their products and services to their customers’ needs; as ‘smart’ ecosystems are being established, e-commerce connects smart factories with smart societies,” said Frank van Rompaey, Representative of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in Geneva, at a thematic session on “Industry 4.0 and E-commerce” held during UNCTAD’s eCommerce Week 2019.

Organized by UNIDO, the thematic session explored how Industry 4.0 can enhance e-commerce services and benefits. The panelists touched upon the potential economic and social transformations arising from the Fourth Industrial Revolution; identified applications of Industry 4.0 technologies in e-commerce; and shared best practices, experiences and solutions to enhance consumer experience when engaging with e-commerce.

“E-commerce will be a key driver for both the Fourth Industrial Revolution and seizing the opportunities of the African Free Trade Area,” said Alastair Tempest, CEO at Ecommerce Forum Africa. “The union of e-commerce with Industry 4.0 technologies can address the logistical flow of goods in Africa, promote financial technology solutions, enhance customer service and facilitate the growth of digital businesses.”

Taking the example of Brazil, the CEO of ENEXT Gabriel Lima, said: “Only 2 per cent of Brazil’s industrial sector is prepared for Industry 4.0, but this sector is gaining traction,” pointing to the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on the iFood platform to provide customers with customized restaurant recommendations and increase the efficiency of order approvals. “E-commerce is asset light and cheap, and therefore a very good starting point to drive Industry 4.0 development in Brazil as well as globally,” added Lima.

Speaking from a consumer’s perspective, Julien Grollier from CUTS International discussed the risks brought by the Internet of Things for consumers related to personal data protection, digital rights management, competition effects, and liability and responsibility chains. “Consumers must play an active role in policy dialogue formulation, increase awareness of their rights; improve their digital literacy,” said Grollier.

Experiences and lessons learned from the private sector relevant to standardization, digital manufacturing, transparent logistics and information interconnection were also discussed during the session.

The Vice President of Sinopec Europa GmbH, Suoyu Zhang, presented the example of China: “Early adoption of e-commerce has now resulted in inclusive development in most sectors within the country. E-commerce has supported the digitization of enterprises and consumers and led to the implementation of efficient and effective digital supply chains.”

Under the theme “From Digitalization to Development”, UNCTAD’s eCommerce Week emphasized the necessity to break down silos among institutions, government representatives and policy makers for an effective contribution of e-commerce towards sustainable development.

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