The first quarter of 2017 has been hectic, but a rewarding time for UAE-based startup Ekar, a pay-as-you-drive hourly and daily car rental service. While Ekar kickstarted operations with 100 car-share vehicles in Dubai in January 2017, partnering with Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), the startup has now managed to raise an undisclosed amount of funding from Dubai-based investment firm Audacia Capital that secures a 25% ownership stake in Ekar. Not just that, Ekar in a statement on the fundraising says that, “a Series B raise is scheduled to take place within the next 18 months.” Commenting on the investment, Ekar CEO Vilhelm Hedberg says that the funding boost will provide the startup the financial capacity needed to expand its current operations (tie-ups with RTA, Emirates Airlines, and Etihad Airways), as well as add new car-share programs for the city. “We aim to have over 1,000 Ekars over the next three years across the GCC including Saudi Arabia,” adds Hedberg.
Ekar aims to provide UAE residents the freedom of getting around in a car without ownership hassles, and strives to promote sustainability- a mission in line with the RTA’s objectives to support “bespoke alternative transit means for public transport riders in Dubai,” and offer access to the global best practices of car-sharing to residents. According to the company’s website, Ekar’s fleet of cars are available for booking from convenient public locations such as metro stations and other central spots, discoverable via the Ekar app. Unlocking the assigned vehicle using the app, the user needs to return the car to the same area, from where it was booked. Users can book the service by 15 minute, one hour, daily, weekly, or monthly rentals (depending on member groups), both for instant use and for “Later” options. Speaking about the adoption of the service in the UAE, Hedberg says, “The ekar Book Now, Book Later option is ideal for tourists looking to plan ahead for their trips, and is also gaining increasing popularity with public and private companies looking to optimize its own car fleet.” He notes that further to the startup’s partnerships with large corporate such as Etihad Airways and Emirates Airlines, they are now looking at other international airports too.
In a statement on the investment, Emad Mansour, CEO, Audacia Capital says that the investment firm found Ekar’s business model to be unique, “working in alignment with the UAE government’s vision to promote sustainability, and economic growth, and [that] car-sharing will serve to be very beneficial for this purpose in the long run.” Audacia Capital launched its Dubai operations in 2015, encouraged by global trends in deal activity and “the MENA region’s investment opportunities.” Engaged in direct investments (through a Sharia-compliant private equity business model), and providing investment banking advisory services, Audacia Capital marked its presence in UAE investors ecosystem by acquiring a 30% stake in Al Safadi, a popular Lebanese food chain, in 2015.