Silkroad Images raises seed round

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Silkroad Images, a stock photography and audio-video content library from Jordan, has secured a seed round of investment from Abu Dhabi’s twofour54.

The investment, which also included 500 Startups, has not been disclosed.

Formerly named Gallery Alsharq (‘gallery of the east’ in Arabic) the Jordanian startup was previously sent to Silicon Valley with 500 Startups, in 2014.

Riham Mahafzah is building an image library
Silkroad Images' Riham Mahafzah, on a quest to build a
Middle Eastern library of images. (Image via Silkroad Images)

For Riham Mahafzah, Silkroad Images’ founder and CEO, the investment is perfect timing. She told Wamda they would be heading now officially to the Turkish market, building up on their lifestyle content. They would also be focusing on the UAE and will shortly have full teams in both countries, with a technical team in Jordan.

The need for authentic and high-quality photography and audio-video content for the region was Mahafzah’s starting point when she began work on Silkroad Images back in 2011.

As an architect by trade, and then years spent as a creative director, Mahafzah was well aware of the dearth of images representative of the Middle East, from the generic to the specific. She has since been steadily building up the archive. “My aim was to build a proper library,” Mahafzah told Wamda.

Growth of the company has been “organic” and now it’s likely, she said, to grow three to four-fold, in Turkey and UAE. The Turkish market itself, according to the founder, is as almost as big as the Arab market put together.

“They spend good money on advertising and they find it hard to find the images,” she told Wamda. “It’s the same for all emerging markets, go even to China, there is no representative lifestyle content from the big platforms [like Getty Images].”

While an image platform such as ArabianEye may be able to provide some images, Mahafzah doesn’t thnk that what’s on offer is as exhaustive as it could be. In Lebanon the recent launch of a crowdsourcing form of image archiving is now available from Wylgo.

Prior to this round Silkroad Images had raised $450,000.

In 2014 she won the MIT Arab Startup Competition, got incubation from Google for Entrepreneurs and TechWadi, and had raised several small angel rounds from friends and family.

In 2014, again, when the photo archive was still called Gallery Alsharq, they went to Silicon Valley with 500 Startups. It was here that they did some rebranding and became Silkroad Images.

To date they have about 85,000 images and 400 photographers across MENAT.

International archive Corbis recently sold their image and licensing division to China’s biggest archive platform, Visual China Group. Silkroad Images works closely with Corbis who are encouraging of her future plans, and now, with the Asian connection, Mahafzah’s road map towards the Asian market is panning out.

“This seed round will probably last us around two years,” said Mahafzah. “At the end of 2016 we’ll be looking though for a partner to take us beyond the Middle East.”

Twofour54’s track record of investing in media-related startups is proven with their current portfolio which currently includes Tahadi Games, Falafel Games, Jawaker, PopArabia, T-Break Media, Akhtaboot, Nibras, Istikana, and The Luxury Closet, and as of this week, Mumzworld.

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