2016 was very generous to MENA's startups #Wamda2016

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People on the internet aren’t too sad to let go of 2016. Memes surrounding the US presidential elections, comedy sketches on the presidential elections, and some more memes reminding us of the US presidential elections, are still flooding newsfeeds.

On our side of the world, we have also had our fair share of sad news. But, as it is always the case in MENA, pockets of flourishing positive movements lie at the backdrop of what seems like a hopeless situation.

Entrepreneurship in MENA has grown beyond what was once considered just hype and into a booming ecosystem with tangible economic benefits. Startups have created thousands of employment opportunities, and are slowly changing cultural expectations on what a successful career should be.  A handful of startups have even crossed the $500 million valuation mark, and rumors are that Souq.com and Careem are planning on going public.

Until that happens, governments, institutions, and entrepreneurship stakeholders will continue to support the larger ecosystem through investing money into events, mentorship, accelerators, incubators, and new venture funds.


So while netizens may shun the past year, 2016 was generous to MENA’s startup ecosystem. In our latest roundup series, we’ve been highlighting the most notable developments in the startup world.

Because you’ll most likely not read them all, we’ve prepared a roundup on the research roundups. Think of it as the SparkNotes of SparkNotes.

1.     Wamda Research Lab continues to fill the data gapWe’ll start with a shameless self promotion. In 2016, we published five reports diving into the health tech and clean tech industries, explored the strategies to scale that TA Telecom employed, the strategies and barriers to talent recruitment and retention, and a report that looks at the extent to which large corporations are strategically engaging with startups.

2.    15+ MENA accelerators were launched this year, bringing the total number of accelerators in MENA to 52. This is a big deal, especially because only eight new accelerators were launched the year prior. We’re also seeing international players, like Amazon and Barclays, taking note of local startups and supported the creation of two accelerators.

3.     Just one more event. In 2016, there were more than 200 events related to entrepreneurship, startups, technology, and innovation.  That’s an average of one event every two days, a 50 percent increase from 2015. The top three events in MENA in terms of attendee number were BDL Accelerate in Lebanon, Riseup Summit in Egypt and the Step Conference in UAE. Only two years ago the same three events were drawing crowds of 5,600 attendees. In 2016, they were able to gather almost 30,000 people.

4.     Entrepreneurship could be worth $700 billion for MENA. I wasn’t joking when I said startups are positively impacting the economy. The Global Entrepreneurship Index 2017 (GEI) puts it at dead center, and suggests that if the region made a 10 percent improvement in the conditions for entrepreneurship, the collective economic benefits would be worth $700 billion - a figure equivalent to the GDP of the region’s largest economy, Saudi Arabia.

5.     Almost a billion dollars was invested in MENA’s startups. Well, that number is a bit of a stretch. It’s more like $810 million. Appetite for venture investments has risen, and internal research conducted by the WRL shows a 40 percent year-on-year increase in investments (excluding the investment in Souq.com). A prominent feature of this year’s funds is that the majority are looking to provide funding past the seed stage (only 4 out of the 11 are solely seed-focused); coupled with the fact that 40 percent of investments made in 2016 were Series A/B/C.

Feature image via @ClintJCL on Flickr

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