Sudanese startups either pivot or migrate as fighting rages on
On the third day of the civil war in Sudan, the team at research and data platform DataQ, launched Neda’a, which translates to "call for help", a platform where people can post their requests for whatever they need be it sustenance, money, or a ride to help them relocate to other cities outside the capital, Khartoum, where the clashes between the military and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) erupted.
The platform aims to connect those in need with those who can afford to help.
"After everything that is happening, we held a brainstorming session on how we can use our skills to best help with the current situation," says Samer Mohamed, founder of DataQ, who left Khartoum. “We had more than 100 professionals registered to offer support and volunteer.”
The DataQ's team is currently working on interpreting a number of features that ease the work of service workers to help respond to the needs of the Sudanese people.
Also, Tirhal, a VC-backed ride-hailing startup, reduced the commissions on all its services to zero, allowing drivers to make additional money and react quickly to allow people to move around safely and transport them to other cities. To further facilitate the drivers work, the startup has been utilising an interactive map of the safe routes, the resources hubs and main bus stops developed recently by Sudanese scientists.
By doing so, it enabled the evacuation of thousands of people seeking to flee the country.
DatasQ and Tirhal join a growing list of startups that jolted into action to help people navigate the current turbulent situation; DataSQ had to put a hold on its primary business until the situation became clearer, as did many other startups and tech companies in Sudan.
Founder of the ride-hailing and smart shared mobility app Soogny Maak, Mohamed Al-Fadl says that he is exploring the possibility of relocating his startup to Egypt after the startup's operations were made to stop at the onset of the war.
"We launched operations as part of a trial phase six months ago, but we had to stop immediately, the roads are becoming dangerous and to move from one city to another is a precarious job. Overnight, the city turned into a ghost city," Fadl adds. "Plus, it’s hard to get gas, and if found, the price is too high."
A dire security situation, increased restrictions on movement and a cession of internal and international money transfers as well as slow or cut in internet connectivity have all made it impossible for companies to operate. The population is having difficulties taking money out of banks and everyone, in one way or another, is financially affected. To help locals stay connected to the outside world, Airalo, a global e-sim provider has recently allowed the Sudanese diaspora to buy e-sims on behalf of people in Sudan, who can send the information later to fully set them up on their phone.
Awab Habiballa, the founder of the fleet management system, Tolivery, says his business was affected by the internet outage, which put its SaaS product in a disadvantaged position.
“The whole pricing mechanism of the economy is completely out of whack. You cannot price a product right now. So these are pillars of business that are just completely non-existent. As of now everyone's priorities are shifted, I don't think it's possible to conduct a startup right now. Everyone is trying to survive. It might feel like an eternity. It's been like 10 or 11 days [at the time this interview was conducted], but it's still less than two weeks, from what I would think, and what we plan to do," says Habiballa, who also has plans to leave the country in the coming few days.
The war has decimated a startup ecosystem that was slowly gaining traction. Several startups raised investment last year, most notably Bloom fintech leading the fundraise with a $6 million round raised from international investors such as US-based Y Combinator, Global Founders Capital and Goodwater Capital and UAE-based VentureSouq. Trucking platform Tareegi had secured VC commitment for its pre-Seed round, received approvals and licences from the government to operate and had a team in place to launch in two months. But the startup is now effectively non-existent in Sudan. Founder Randa Elbarbary is hoping to relocate to Dubai and launch the platform from there.
“It was very difficult setting up, I had to do the impossible. I wanted to be one of those startups that attracts [foreign] investment to Sudan and we were getting there, we were very optimistics,” she says.
Ultimately, Sudan is set to face a major brain drain, therefore the startup ecosystem in the country will be severely affected, despite the sense of resilience and optimism among some of the founders that Wamda spoke with.
“I think in a month, services will return as they were. People still need to do business. That's when we plan to step back in, hopefully, with the support of a foreign investor and consider Sudan as more or more of an extra location rather than our main headquarters just simply due to volatility,” says Habiballa. “The Sudanese landscape is full of inefficiencies and pain, which is the core of a solution. People have lost everything, so it's a virgin market at best, so acquiring that market share is very possible.”