Investors believe Internet services for the roughly 400 million Arabic speakers is one of the last green-field opportunities. Trouble is, up to now the local start-ups best placed to serve that population have had limited access to capital or mentorship.
That looks set to change, thanks in part to a recently-announced collaboration between Amman-based Oasis500, an accelerator program backed by King Abdullah of Jordan and France-based mobile network operator Orange.
“Orange represents a door to a global market that is very challenging and difficult for start-ups in Amman to access,” says Oasis500 CEO Yousef Hamidaddin.
Oasis500 was started in 2010 by the King Abdullah II Fund for Development to identify young people from Jordan and the region with ideas for start-ups who typically don’t have access to seed-stage funding.
Until Oasis500 was formed the only local fundraising option was from private families in the region, who typically take 60% to 80% of a company’s equity in return for investment, Hamidaddin says.
The Latest Fab Program Will Be Launched In Amman
Oasis500, which invests up to $30,000 in each start-up, began by taking 20% stakes and has since dropped that to 10%. Some 5,000 would-be entrepreneurs applied and 1,550 have passed through the three-month accelerator program, says Hamidaddin. The majority of the companies come from Jordan with the rest from Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Eight-eight companies received funding from Oasis500. And through its connection with angels in the region Oasis500 says it has helped these companies raise a total of $18 million.
An agreement between Orange and Deutsche Telekom allows selected start-ups from Orange’s Fab and the German operator’s hub:raum accelerator programs anywhere in the world to be connected to the innovation teams and business units of both operators to distribute a start-up’s products to the operators’ customers in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Combined, the two operators reach a potential 500 million people. “For a start-up that is ripe in terms of opportunity,” says Hamidaddin.
The latest Fab program will be launched in Amman as part of a pilot phase and will be expanded into other MENA markets, deepening Orange’s interactions with start-ups throughout the Middle East, says Jacky Abitbol, Orange’s vice-president of corporate development in charge of relations with the investment community and international alliances.
Helping Expansion Into Asia
Fab Jordan (along with Orange Fabs in France, Silicon Valley, Poland, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Israel and the Ivory Coast) uses a range of criteria to determine which companies get selected, including whether it is a product fit for Orange, product readiness, team background and ease of integration into the Orange business/infrastructure. Those that make the cut get free office space for three months and mentoring. Orange has the option of investing up to $20,000 in a start-up or becoming a shareholder if the company raises outside capital.
But perhaps the biggest advantage of the Fab program is the possibility of leveraging the operator’s customer base to expand into geographies where it has a presence. Four of the seven start-ups in Fab’s first cohort in France have been able to do just that, says Pascal Latouche, Director of Orange Fab France.
Orange is helping two start-ups in the cohort to expand into Asia, by involving them in demo days in the region and helping them get exposure in the local press, says Latouche.
Hamidaddin says he is hopeful that the presence of Orange Fab programs in different regions will also help MENA companies go global. “People always go west to the U.S. but there are plenty of opportunities in Europe and Asian markets. Orange will help our companies think in a different context and better frame their solutions,” he says.