UAE Based Startup Sphere Networks To Be Acquired By Major Taiwanese Manufacturer

| Sep 3, 2009 | comment 6 Comments

Sphere NetworksSphere Networks is currently in acquisition talks with a major Taiwanese manufacturer to sell off the majority of the company, including the intellectual property rights to its network management software technology, supporting research and development team.

Sphere Networks is a developer of enterprise-level network management solutions, that allow organizations to monitor and control thousands of nodes at any one time.

The name of the acquiring company hasn’t been disclosed, but Mohamed Hamedi, CEO and founder of Sphere Networks said that the potential buyer is “the largest OEM hardware manufacturer for networking equipment” in Taiwan. It produces switches, routers, access points and similar products mainly for other vendors, but now wants to start shifting to producing its own-brand products.

After the official announcement Sphere Networks will be fully folded into the acquiring company, including its IP, technology and supporting technical team of 20 employees. It is expected that staff working in sales and human resources will be cut as a result of the process though.

The company was launched in 2005 by Mohamed Hamedi, a Libyan national who moved from the US to Dubai to start the company and personally bankrolled it, until Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority invested in the startup in 2006, and then another investment by Intel Capital followed in 2008. The values of both of those investments were not disclosed.

As part of an earn out agreement, Hamedi should continue to work with Sphere Networks for up to 18 months following the deal.

[Source: ITP]

Google Launches Four New Arabic Editions Of Google News

| Sep 2, 2009 | comment 2 Comments

Google News EgyptGoogle just announced the launch of four new Arabic editions of Google News for Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Users in these countries can now access Google News editions specific to their country and get the latest headlines in topics such as Politics, Business, Sports, Entertainment and more.

This is part of Google’s ongoing push to provide local services and more relevant information and news for users, starting with these four countries that represent more than 24 million Arabic-speaking internet users.

Google News

Like all Google News editions, these computer-generated Arabic editions aggregate headlines from thousands of news outlets around the world, group similar stories together and link directly to the original sources that publish these stories. This enables users to search for topics they’re interested in, and read a wide variety of perspectives from different sources.

It seems there are plans by Google to continue rolling out more local editions for the rest of the Arab countries in the near future.

IMRG Capgemini: Online Shopping On The Rise In The Middle East

| Sep 2, 2009 | comment Leave a comment

imrgAccording to the IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index, online sales showed a significant increase this year across the Middle East.

Shoppers spent US$8.2 billion online in July 2009, 15.7% more than was spent in June 2009 and 16.8% more than July 2008.

The driving force for the increase appeared to be the clothing, footwear and accessories sector, which showed growth of 18% month on month and 17% year on year.

Retailers across Middle East are predicted to sell US$90 billion in goods and services online in 2010, up 37% from last year.

E-commerce is still a key growth market for the Middle East and has seems to have shifted more into focus for a number of retailers in the midst of the Global recession.

[Source: BI-ME]

What major obstacle did you face while looking to fund your project? [Poll]

| Aug 31, 2009 | comment 2 Comments

A new poll has gone live on StartUpArabia, you can find it on the sidebar on the right or vote straight from this post.

This poll is more targeted at startups and entrepreneurs who have sought funding for their project/business at one point or another, and tries to determine what kinds of obstacles they faced while doing that.

What major obstacle did you face while looking to fund your project?

Feel free to further expand on your response in the comments section of this post.

Twtlens: An Easy Way To Create Your Own Twitter Aggregator

| Aug 30, 2009 | comment 2 Comments

twtlensTwtlens is a new service that allows you to create your own twitter aggregator (or lens as they call it) around any group or community of users that have something in common (location, work, interests, passions, etc.), as a means to have direct access to the community pulse, and tap into what’s on their minds at any given moment.

twtlens is built on the same platform powering UAE Tweets, that was previously reviewed here, enabling you to create similar views of Twitter for your own groups and communities; customizing it with your own logo, color scheme and background image.

To create a lens of your own all you’ll have to do is have a twitter account that follows everyone within the community you want to aggregate tweets from, and then go through the quick sign up process on twtlens.

Each created lens will then aggregate all tweets from the community in one interface, make those tweets searchable, extract trending topics (words and #hashtags) from the tweets, extract the most popular shared links by the community, and list the new links that are being shared by them.
Search results and trends can be made available through RSS feeds too.

twtlens

Twtlens which was developed by Dubai-based CloudAppers, is still in Alpha (with limited testing slots open at this moment), and the team are working on adding more features in the form of widgets that twtlens creators can add or remove at will.

This service is currently available for free, but according to CloudAppers, a paid model is in the works and should be unveiled soon.

NaqaTube: A “Purified” Collection Of YouTube Videos

| Aug 27, 2009 | comment 6 Comments

NaqaTubeNaqaTube is a service that was launched a couple of months ago from Saudi Arabia, and that aims to offer a clean alternative to YouTube, preventing youth from watching profane or sexually explicit video clips online. (The word ‘Naqa’ means ‘pure’ in Arabic.)

The site features a collection of “clean” and edited clips from YouTube, cutting out all profanities or sexually explicit clips, as well as censoring videos that are deemed negative towards to the Kingdom’s government, scholars and citizens in general.

In keeping with strict religious guidelines, clips that have music are edited and their music removed, while images of women are banned. NaqaTube visitors are also able to edit their own clips through the site before uploading them online.

Much of the material on the site is religiously inclined and the site’s front page displays links to over 10 channels mainly featuring scholars, preachers, children and other Islamic-related material.

NaqaTube

According to one of the moderators of NaqaTube, the site has received nearly 5,000 to 6,000 visitors since its launch two months ago.

NaqaTube was created by Saudi web development company House.

Nokia’s Ramadan Applications Available On Ovi Store

| Aug 27, 2009 | comment Leave a comment

NokiaA couple of weeks ago, and in the lead up to the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan this year, Nokia launched a set of new and updated free Ramadan applications that can be downloaded through its Ovi Store on compatible mobile devices.

This comes after the success Nokia’s Ramadan applications saw last year, with well over 2.4 million downloads. So it was only natural for them to invest more in this and add some new applications as well as upgrades to the existing ones.

The applications this year also support a wider range of devices, to include both touch and non-touch Nokia devices.

Users can launch Ovi Store from the Download! folder on the main menu on their Nokia device or access nokia.com/Ramadan on the PC.

Nokia Ramadan Applications

This year’s Ramadan applications ate the following:

  • The Holy Quran: allows users to read, search, bookmark and listen to Quran recitation
  • Prayer Times: provides prayer timings and Qibla direction for 1000 cities in 200 countries, along with the ability to add, remove, update and edit any location using the GPS
  • Hadeeth: gives an easy and convenient way to read the Honorable Hadeeth from Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Riyad us-Saliheen, Holy Hadeeths and Arba’in An Nawawi
  • Zakah Calculator: helps Muslims calculate Zakah on different kinds of income
  • Hajj and Umrah: offers a mobile guide with multimedia content and the most famous places that people can visit during Hajj and Umrah
  • Mozzaker: allows mobile users to listen, search and translate a large collection of of daily Azkar and selected supplications. People can also download more Azkar and share via SMS and MMS with friends and family
  • Cards: helps users create their own Mobile Greeting Cards for different occasions and send them to family and friends via SMS or MMS

The Ramadan applications were developed by ASGATech, a Forum Nokia Premium Partner in the Middle East, with all content reviewed and approved by the Azhar.

The user interface for the applications is in English, Arabic, French and Urdu.

Jeeran Launches French Version Targeting Maghreb

| Aug 26, 2009 | comment 7 Comments

Jeeran

Jeeran, one of the Arab world’s leading user-generated content portals, have just launched a new French version of their portal.

This move aims to make Jeeran’s services more accessible for users in the Arab Maghreb region, where the French language is widely used offline and online, in an attempt to widen their reach and grow their target market.

This is most probably a first step from Jeeran to build more traffic and heighten their visibility in the region, with hopes to find ways to start generating some revenue from online advertising in the region.

Jeeran

A number of online businesses from the Middle East face the frustration of not being able to monetize all the traffic they’re getting from around the Arab world, especially from the North African countries, and they end up with their focus mainly being the more lucrative Gulf market. Several of these companies are trying to draw up strategies to enter the Maghreb market where they see a lot of opportunity and growth potential.

You can check out the new French version of Jeeran here: Jeeran en Français.

Jabbar Internet Group: The New Group & Its Companies

| Aug 25, 2009 | comment Leave a comment

JabbarIn the previous post about Yahoo! acquiring Maktoob, there was a brief paragraph about what will happen to the rest of the Maktoob Group. Here, we’ll get into more details about what’s next for the group and its companies.

A new group entity has been setup under the name ‘Jabbar Internet Group’, to group the remaining sister companies of Maktoob Group that weren’t part of the Yahoo! deal, which are: Souq.com, CashU, Tahadi, Ikoo and Araby. This group is owned by the current investors, including Tiger Capital (a hedge fund out of the United States), the founders and other investors.

Samih Toukan, one of the two original co-founders of Maktoob, will be heading the group as CEO and Chairman. He said that the group will be receiving a fresh capital injection of $20 million and will continue to expand aggressively.

As for the companies of Jabbar Internet Group, they are as follows:

Souq.comSouq.com: Headed by Ronaldo Mouchawar; Established in 2005, Souq.com has grown to become the largest e-commerce site in the Arab world covering Saudi Arabia, UAE, Jordan, with plans to expand to new markets.
Site: www.souq.com

cashUCashU: Headed by Martin Waldenstrom; Launched in July 2002, cashU is a prepaid Internet payment service, through which users can purchase products and services online through cashU’s merchant base. The company has seen a spurt of growth over the past couple of years as a result of the spread of online gaming.
Site: www.cashu.com

TahadiTahadi: Headed by Steve Tsao; Established end of 2008, Tahadi was established as a publisher of Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOG’s) targeting the Middle East and North Africa region. Their first game is Arabic Ragnarok Online (ARO).
Site: www.tahadi.com

ikooIkoo: Headed by Isam Bayazidi; After Maktoob Group’s acquisition last month of leading MENA advertising network E-Marketing MENA (a company founded by ex-Maktoobian Khaled Jabasini in 2005), it has merged it’s Kalimat Text Advertising product into the company, and re-branded the lot as Ikoo.
Site: www.ikoo.com

ArabyAraby: This is the group’s search engine offering, providing advanced Arabic-language search capabilities, and a lot of the technology actually used to power search in different channels on Maktoob.
Site: www.araby.com

Jabbar Internet Group and its companies should continue to cooperate closely with Yahoo! Maktoob through commercial partnership agreements.

Yahoo! Maktoob: It’s Official, Yahoo! Acquiring Largest Arab Community Maktoob

| Aug 25, 2009 | comment 14 Comments
Yahoo!
Maktoob

After months of rumors and speculation by many in the Arab internet industry, today the news is confirmed and made public officially: Yahoo! is acquiring Maktoob.com, making its big step into the Arab world by acquiring the biggest online Arab community.

A press conference was held at the Fairmont Hotel in Dubai to announce the deal with top executives from Maktoob and the Yahoo! Emerging Markets team.

The deal only involves the Maktoob.com portal and its sub-divisions (including Maktoob Research, Bentelhalal and others), that will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Yahoo!.

The other sister companies within the Maktoob Group which are: Souq.com, CashU, Tahadi, Araby and the newly acquired E-marketing MENA (which will be rebranded to Ikoo) are not part of the deal, and they will go on with business as usual under the group’s umbrella.
Following this deal, the group will be rebranding to Jabbar Internet Group (JIG), injected with a $20 million investment, and chaired by Samih Toukan.

The first steps after the deal closing in Q4, will be to work on introducing the Yahoo! Maktoob Arabic homepage, as well as Mail and Instant Messenger in Arabic; then to keep moving on to providing other Yahoo! services in Arabic, and enriching Arabic content online. Other local services for the region will also be considered and developed.

The financial details of the deal have not been made public, although many numbers have been floating around the internet over the past weeks and months, none of which have been confirmed by either companies.

This is the first time in the history of the internet in the Arab world that such a deal has taken place, and promises to take the internet industry in the region to a whole new level; hopefully in terms of quality, content, competition, awareness and investment opportunities.

When looking at other global players, Google chose to open small presences of its own, mainly in the UAE and Egypt, to work on some product concept development, marketing and sales in the region. Microsoft already have a wide existence in the Arab world, but mainly around their big software titles, only recently starting to look online in the Arab world.

Hopefully this deal, as well as Google and Microsoft’s moves in the region, will open the door for more international players to start seriously considering entering the online market in the Arab world, but even more importantly will show local investors the potential that exists in investing in sound internet startup ideas, and that with the region as an important emerging market, there are more exit strategies than they initially thought.

For more information on this, you can check out the story and the press release on Maktoob Business.

[Full Disclosure: I have been a Director of a Maktoob.com division ever since the beginning of 2009, and therefore haven't been able to report on this story any earlier.]

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