In the latest edition of Marketplace Middle East, CNN’s Eleni Giokos and Jomana Karadsheh meet tech startups in UAE and Turkey that are leading in innovation and hear what helps them thrive. 

In Abu Dhabi, Giokos visits Hub 71 which is home to ed-tech, fin-tech and ecommerce companies. Badr al Olama, acting CEO, tells CNN how startups are diversifying the economy in UAE and why that’s important, “ Startups are a core component… you need the startups to come and reinforce the competitive edge… what’s great is that it starts getting the private sector involved. The private sector wants to invest in these startups, family offices.. they want to be part of this new wave of technology.”  

Hub 71 has seen exciting innovations since its inception,  Badr al Olama says, “We’ve fast tracked the process of actually building up this community… We have over 170 startups. 80% of them came to our programs, 20% were just attracted by the power of Hub 71 that we’ve been able to bring in over 50 Blue Chip, corporate companies and investors to be part of this ecosystem.”

The tech industry in MENA grew during the pandemic and attracted international investors such as Sequoia Capital India which invested over $50 million in the shop now, pay later platform, Tabby. Hosam Arab, CEO and Co-founder Tabby tells CNN about the business and what the funding means, “Plans are to expand into a couple of additional markets. So we’re not going to go very broad on market expansion. But what we will invest in is product expansion and just giving our customers more reasons to use.” 

On the potential for growth Arab says, “This is a region of over 60 million people just within the GCC, very, very young, tech savvy and active customer. We see the potential is significantly bigger than where we are today. There’s a lot of opportunities for tapping into where the customer shops more broadly. As I mentioned, we are only tapping into the online purchase today, which today is around five to 10% of overall retail. There’s still another 90-95% of retail that we haven’t tapped into. And that’s a major opportunity for us.”

In Istanbul, Jomana Karadsheh meets Ahmet Berkman, Founder of U Live, a digital fitness platform. Berkman explains how the business pivoted due to Covid-19, “We literally transformed our entire business model to a digital version. And today now we have over 50,000 active users on digital platform which is larger than our physical experience which we’ve built in the last five years.”

With users in more than a dozen countries, plans for global expansion are now underway as Berkman says, “We just closed our seed round for a million bucks at a seven million [dollars] post valuation which is a pretty big number for Turkish startups. With this financing. We’re going to grow our team grow our marketing grow our global presence. We just acquired a studio in Los Angeles and along with the KPIs that we have set for ourselves by the end of the year. The goal is to make another round for three million [dollars] at a three million [dollars] valuation.