9 startups to watch at Step Start 2018

Step Conference has undoubtedly become one of the biggest gatherings of startup community and geeks in MENA. The event that started as series of small meetups only a few years ago is now attracting crowd of thousands in Dubai every year. This year, Step is bringing four different conferences together in Dubai Internet City on March 28 & 29, three days from now. Step Start will be about startups, founders, venture capital; Step Digital will focus on digital, advertising, and content; Step X on future technologies including smart cities, IoT, artificial intelligence; and Step Money on blockchain, cryptocurrency, and payments.

More than 250 startups are expected to showcase the event from the region and beyond. We tried to go through the whole list to bring some of them here for you.

One of the problems, when you’re going through any such list of startups or even when you’re meeting them at Step or any such event, is that they’re not categorized properly. Even the web development or digital media agencies are listed among startups. If nothing, there should be at least two main categories that separate the startups from agencies to save everyone time. If our friends at Step are reading this, maybe they can consider this for the next edition of the conference.

Another issue that we faced when we were trying to build this list is that many startups don’t have enough information on their landing pages or the links are broken. For example, there’s this startup called SweepTEQ. What they’re trying to do sounds pretty cool and we wanted to include them in the list but because there was not enough information on their website about what stage their product is at or how it works (broken link to video), we decided not to. If you’re a startup and you’re spending your resources including time, workforce and money, to attend any such event, please make sure that your website or landing page lists down all the information that attendees including investors or potential customers could be looking for, before or after the event.

We tried to select all the startups that are headquartered in MENA, were recently founded (within last two years), have not raised a lot of money (less than $500,000), and already have a product/prototype and some sort of traction.

The startups are listed in alphabetical order.

Caramella from Saudi

A ‘modern, easy, and stylish’ blogging platform. Think of it as Canva for blogging. You drag and drop few widgets into some pre-made templates and the blog is ready. Currently, the platform supports more than twenty different types of widgets including text, quote, image, charts, price table, audio, and video. Caramella was in private beta until last month when they opened to public. The best part about it is that it supports Arabic natively and many from the startup community of Saudi have been using the platform since it was in private beta to share their thoughts on different things. Caramella was featured on Product Hunt few days ago and it went on to become Product of the Day with more than 1,000 votes, not an easy feat to achieve.

eMushrif from Oman

Muscat-based eMushrif uses IoT in school buses to turn them into smart school buses to ensure children safety. eMushrif’s technology enables schools and bus operators to mark attendance and a visual detection system to ensure that no child is left inside the bus. Their system also consists of mobile apps for school admins and parents using which they can track the bus and kids along with some other important notifications. The startup was a part of Oman Technology Fund Wadi Accelerator’s first cycle and recently graduated from the program.

Nester from UAE

Nester is a marketplace for ‘parking spaces’ in Dubai. For those who have never been to the city may find the idea a little crazy but parking is such a big problem for residents of Dubai that it makes total sense for startups like Nester to use technology to offer solutions around it. The marketplace through its mobile app allows people to search for Nester parking spaces in the area they’re planning to visit, review the availability, rates and ratings, book the space and pay using the credit or debit card. The users can then use their smartphone and the app to access the parking spaces.

RafiQ from Egypt

RafiQ is an Android-based virtual assistant that allows users to interact with their smartphones. RafiQ currently supports the Egyptian accent and aims to add more in the future. The assistant currently allows users to make phone calls, set alarms, use google search, translate text from Arabic to English, search for products in Souq, and book a Careem. RafiQ was the winner of one of the winners of a recently held startup competitions held at Unbound Bahrain.

ReportCard from UAE

ReportCard automates operations of educators of every size (schools, colleges, academies) through its student management and information system. The SaaS platform allows institutes to manage all their students from one simple dashboard, where they can schedule classes, share lesson plans, automate invoicing and follow-ups, and run staff payrolls. The schools can also use it to create different types of visual reports about students, staff, finance and facilities to make better and informed decisions. ReportCard uses freemium model, with a free plan for small institutions with up to 20 students and a paid plan for 5.5 dirhams (~$1.5) per student for bigger institutes.

WakeCap from UAE

Dubai-based WakeCap is an IoT-based solution that aims to improve the safety and productivity of construction sites. In their own words, they want to disrupt the construction industry without disrupting the work. The solution consists of IoT nodes that are placed all over the construction site to collect data and a hard hat to digitize the workforce of industrial sector. These solutions enable construction companies to have real-time field reporting by connecting & tracking materials, equipment, and workers at the construction sites.

WeAreVR from UAE

UAE-based WeAreVR is a platform that enables users to build VR and interactive 3D experiences without coding or any technical knowledge through WeAreVR’s canvas. The tool allows users to design complex Virtual Reality experiences through the drag and drop feature for objects, textures, animations, and environments. WeAreVR also has a marketplace (yet to be available publicly) where users can buy or sell VR and interactive 3D experiences including customizable templates and assets like 3D models, effects, or textures, 360 videos and sound effects.

Weytr from UAE

Dubai-based Weytr lets users place F&B orders at hotels, restaurants, and clubs through its mobile phone apps. So let’s say you’re in your hotel room and would like to order something to drink, you open the Weytr app on your phone that will use GPS to determine the venue you’re at, and then show you the menu, allowing you to place your order and pay right from the app. The startup aims to increase the spending by more than 20% and cut the time spent on orders by over 60%. They’re currently testing the app with some hotels. The biggest challenge for Weytr will be to get a decent amount of hotels, and restaurants onboard because if it ends up being an app with 13 hotels and 9 restaurants in a city like Dubai, no one’s going to use it.

WNNA from Bahrain

Bahraini startup WNNA is a personal recommendation engine that uses AI to offer recommendations about different things including places to eat, shop, or hangout, movies to watch or music to listen to. The startup makes these recommendations through their web and mobile apps and improves them with time on the basis of decisions users make using the application. WNNA has won different grants last year and was also one of the winners of Seedstars Gulf. The startup will be representing MENA among few other startups at Seedstars World competition next month.

There are many more startups that would be worth your time at the conference. Whoever you are, investor, corporate or a startup enthusiast, at the end of the day it depends on your interests. Before you go to the event, you should probably try to do your homework by going through the list here and select the startups you’d like to meet.


Zubair Naeem Paracha
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