MENA Investors' Forecasts for 2018: twofour54's Asma Al Qaseer and Dana Horska

MENA Investors' Forecasts for 2018: twofour54's Asma Al Qaseer and Dana Horska
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We picked the brains of investors looking at the Arab world for their expectations of the MENA entrepreneurial landscape in 2018, and their thoughts on sectors that we should keep an eye on next year. Here’s what Asma Al Qaseer, Investment Analyst, twofour54, and Dana Horska, Associate Manager - Investments, twofour54, told us.

“Our expectations for 2018 revolve around four main trends that we predict will pick up in the MENA region. This is based on our analysis of the market and the type of startups that are approaching us for funding at twofour54. Those are:

Video content
We are seeing more original video content production that has an immersive and interactive format. As people already know, the video content consumption in the region is on the rise, mainly on mobile vs linear TV. We predict broadcasters to partner with startups that will co-produce content, have the right tools and digital channels to help with distribution. Startups that will tap into this space will try to focus on re-defining the long format content into short and snackable videos. More niche verticals with specialized and targeted content will emerge along with tools and tech that will eventually take out the middleman from the supply chain and consequently make distribution more efficient and streamlined.

Conversational commerce
Although we are not seeing any startups tapping into this space, our prediction is that conversational commerce will be a trend in 2018 that several entrepreneurs will start to dabble with. E-commerce in the region has never been so mature. With the exit of Souq to Amazon and the large funding rounds of other e-commerce players, we believe that startups will look at integrating with them and building tools that will enable personalized and engaging experiences. This also applies to retailers that are still offline and are looking at means of entering the digital space. It is a new marketing era that helps brands drive more traffic, awareness, help with customer conversions and eventually increase online and offline transactions.

AI and machine learning
We at twofour54 this year invested in Narrativa, an AI company that turns data into content in several languages. There are a few companies in our pipeline that use AI technology to enhance, curate or transform content into different formats. However, there is one thing to note here, we will see several companies emerging on the market stating that they use AI technology, but only a few actually develop this without using already existing AI tools from Google, IBM, Microsoft or others.

VR and AR
There is ample hardware on the market but not enough content developed for it yet. We will start to see a rise in content development for VR and AR and believe that the initial entry to market will be more on the B2B side than B2C. Our prediction is that the initial industries that would adopt this technology would be real estate developers, education sector, training providers, entertainment and e-commerce. Consumer adoption will most likely catch up by 2020 in the region. The current funding landscape has been supporting and funding industries, like marketplaces, e-commerce and transportation, that does not necessarily have a content creation angle.

The region lacks original content, specifically Arabic content. We will see international companies attempting to enter this region to fulfil this market gap. There is also a big focus on investing into startups that are originating from the region, however, we are seeing more and more startups that are based in the US, Asia and Europe that cater to the MENA market- having their client/user base here and looking to expand with the right partners/investors, but are being overlooked. There is huge potential for knowledge transfer from international markets, attracting top talent and opening doors to potential M&As.”

Related: MENA Investors' Forecasts for 2018: Walid Mansour, Partner and CIO, MEVP

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