DUSTIN POH


Endeavor Catalyst, the $100M+ global co-investment funds of Endeavor, has made two new investments in the Middle East, joining Dubai-based e-commerce platform AWOK’s $30M Series A and Jordanian Arabic publishing platform Jamalon’s $10M+ Series B round.

These new investments mark the twentieth and twenty-first investments for Endeavor Catalyst in MENA companies, which now comprise about 20% of the Silicon Valley-based fund’s overall portfolio. Over the past two years, Endeavor Catalyst has doubled its portfolio in the MENA region, investing in some of its biggest success stories, including Vezeeta (Egypt), Propertyfinder (UAE), Unifonic (Saudi Arabia), and more — and earning recognition by Forbes as one of the most active international investors in the region in the process.

And, as the ecosystem continues to grow, that pace shows no signs of slowing.

Jamalon Founder Ala’ Alsallal | Photo by Kieran Kesner

“We are thrilled to be investing with Ala’ at Jamalon, and Ulugbek at AWOK,” Endeavor Co-Founder and CEO Linda Rottenberg said. “High-impact entrepreneurship is thriving in the MENA region, where founders are really starting to scale, and inspiring others to think big in terms of what they can build. We believe their success is indicative of more growth to come.”

ALL EYES ON MENA

Indeed, as more of these success stories emerge, international investors have increasingly turned to their attention to the region. Last year, 2018, saw a record amount of funding in MENA startups, amounting to $893M — a seven-fold increase from 2014. Of the over 155 institutions that invested in these companies in 2018, nearly half had not previously invested in the region.

Major exits such as Amazon’s $580M acquisition of UAE-based Souq in 2017, and the sale of Careem — which joined the Endeavor network in 2018 — to Uber, have also garnered excitement around the ecosystem’s maturation. The diversifying investor landscape and growing influx of capital are helping the highest-growth companies in the region reach their potential, and in turn galvanizing their founders to pay their success forward.

Careem Co-Founders Mudassir Sheikha, Abdulla Elyas, and Magnus Olsson | Photo by Kieran Kesner

Careem’s founders are already active investors in the region, and companies born of Careem alumni, such as Endeavor Egypt company SWVL, are scaling. The growing entrepreneurial and investment activity has even evoked comparisons to similar patterns of growth in Silicon Valley, where companies like Paypal, Apple and Google have facilitated an influx of venture capital and the launch of a multitude of tech companies.

FIRST-MOVERS POISED TO SCALE

Still, the growing flurry of international interest in the region’s entrepreneurial activity is relatively new. Many founders are first-movers in their industries and have had to be scrappy to scale.

An AWOK employee prepares goods in the company’s warehouse | Photo by Kieran Kesner

Until this year, AWOK founder, and Endeavor Entrepreneur, Ulugbek Yuldashev had not raised a round of funding. Yet, under Yuldashev’s leadership, AWOK was able to grow from just three employees and $30,000 of initial capital in 2013 to over 700 employees, and a platform featuring 200,000 products across 50 categories with millions of users today. Why? In part, the company addresses a need shared by a huge market: the lack of access to high-quality, inexpensive products by low income consumers — about 75% of the UAE’s population.

“What has been achieved by Ulugbek and his core team at AWOK with the resources they had is nothing short from outstanding,” said Yossef Haidar, founder and CEO of StonePine Capital Partners and Head of the StonePine ACE Fund, which led the Series A round.

AWOK Founder Ulugbek Yuldashev | Photo by Kieran Kesner

Now, Yuldashev looks to scale further. The new funds will be used primarily to expand into Saudi Arabia, build out the platform’s technological capabilities, and create 500 more jobs by the end of this year.

Jamalon founder Ala’ Alsallal has likewise set his sights on further scale. Another first-mover in the ecosystem, Jamalon was founded to fix the region’s fragmented publishing industry, with a platform that brings Arabic translations of books to the Middle East. Today, the bilingual platform offers more than 10 million publications in both Arabic and English, and has forged relationships with 3,000 Arabic publishers and 27,000 English-language publishers.

With this year’s Series B, led by previous investor Wamda Capital, followed by Aramex, and with new investments from Anova Investments, 500 Falcons and Endeavor Catalyst, Alsallal aims to bring Arabic books even further across the globe.

“Our new investors are going to add strategic value for Jamalon,” said Alsallal. “Anova Investments from Saudi will empower us to localize Jamalon in Saudi Arabia, Endeavor Catalyst and 500 Falcons will open up doors and opportunities for us in Silicon Valley… Our ability to service consumers globally via Jamalon’s five distribution hubs will grow even further, thanks to our data-driven approach that caters to our customers’ needs.”

Encouraged by the quality of entrepreneurs in the region, and the increasing quality of local co-investment partners, Endeavor Catalyst Managing Director Allen Taylor believes there will be much more growth to come, for both MENA founders and investors looking to them.

“From AWOK’s significant Series A to Careem’s acquisition, the MENA region’s mounting potential is clear,” said Taylor. “These founders are proving firsthand what we believe at Endeavor: that innovation and scale are not unique to the U.S. and China, and that the success of high-growth companies can have a truly exponential effect on an entrepreneurship ecosystem. When it comes to MENA, the Endeavor Catalyst pipeline is only growing.”

About Endeavor Catalyst

Endeavor Catalyst is the innovative co-investment fund of Endeavor, set up to invest exclusively in Endeavor Entrepreneur-led companies and to sustain Endeavor’s long-term operations in a mission-aligned way. Since launching in January 2012, Endeavor Catalyst has raised over $115M in philanthropically donated and invested capital, and invested into 100+ Endeavor companies in 20+ markets. To date, Endeavor Catalyst has co-invested alongside a number of leading venture capital and growth equity funds, including Accel Partners, General Atlantic, NEA, Sequoia Capital and Tiger Global. Investments include Globant (NYSE: GLOB) in Argentina, Yemeksepeti.com (acquired by Delivery Hero) in Turkey, and dr. consulta in Brazil. Learn more here.

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