by Cristina Lago

Here’s how Middle East startups are bringing innovation to blockchain

Dec 21, 2019
Blockchain IT Leadership Startups

Innovative blockchain startups are paving the way to applications for a variety of industrial sectors and vertical markets including insurance, finance, digital content, gaming and more.

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Credit: JustSuper / Getty

When blockchain came on the scene in 2008 as the public transaction ledger of the cryptocurrency bitcoin, the tech world was abuzz about how the technology would revolutionize the financial world. As blockchain development progresses, many young entrepreneurs in the Middle East are testing the technology’s limits, and exploring blockchain-supported opportunities that go far beyond fintech. 

Here is a selection of some of the most innovative blockchain startups paving the way to applications for a variety of industrial sectors and vertical markets in the region.

Addenda (UAE)

Addenda, a blockchain startup incubated in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), aims to leverage a distributed ledger network to streamline insurance claims. Addenda provides a user-friendly interface to report tasks in real-time, and these tasks are then timestamped on the blockchain, keeping claims both verifiable to parties that need to be privy to the information, and encrypted to keep out potential bad actors.

According to Addenda’s website, once an insurance company joins the Addenda network, their existing systems will connect at specified data points. Then, the data is validated and logged on the blockchain. As in other blockchain systems, each block contains a timestamp and a cryptographic hash of the previous block, creating a chain of records that is distributed to all stakeholders. Finally, the data is analyzed and authenticated.

Having recently signed five clients in the GCC – Aman Insurance, Al Wathba Insurance, National Takaful Company, Noor Takaful and Oriental Insurance – Addenda claims that, using their Hyperledger Fabric Framework, companies can expect to significantly reduce human work time, shorten document turnaround time, and reduce claim response time from days to mere minutes. 

“By using a common ledger, insurance companies will be able to minimize the back-and-forth interaction needed to confirm the authenticity of recovery documentation, thereby reducing the time needed for claim resolution,” said CEO Walid Daniel Dib in an interview with earlier this year.

Ghoorcom (Jordan)

Jordan’s Ghoorcom is shaking up the agricultural sector in the Middle East. The company is leveraging technology to cut out the oftentimes numerous middlemen between Jordan’s farmers, and fruit and vegetable retailers. 

Pairing farmers directly with grocery stores, restaurants and hotels puts more control and profit into the hands of the farmers themselves and cuts out unnecessary transportation routes that can often lead to food spoilage and waste.

Farming in the Middle East is anything but easy, and often farmers in Jordan have to take out micro-loans with high interest rates to make ends meet through the growing season. Ghoorcom matches farmers with retailers directly so that farmers can keep more of their profit, reducing the need for money lending and high-interest borrowing. 

Ghoorcom has seen 200 farmers sign up for the program, but finding buyers can be more challenging. To reassure buyers know exactly what they are getting, Ghoorcom uses blockchain to ensure transparency between parties. 

The company is developing a blockchain system that adds a code to every box of fruit and vegetables that is produced by its farmers. The code tracks a number of stats, including soil type, where the produce was grown and the seeds that were used. While Ghoorcom is not the first startup to use blockchain to track produce’s journey from food-to-fork, it is the first of its kind in the Middle East. 

Ghoorcom only currently serves the Amman and Irbid municipalities in Jordan, however, the company aims to expand the agricultural platform across the Middle East.

IslamiChain (UAE)

The traditional Islamic philanthropic mandates of Zakat, Sadaqa and Waqf generated approximately US$1.8 trillion in 2015 and is set to surpass US$3 trillion by 2020 according to the UNDP. Zakat alone requires that every eligible Muslim give 2.5 percent of their accumulated wealth to charitable causes and with 1.8 billion Muslims in the world today, the potential for philanthropic giving is staggering.

Though Zakat is a mandatory gesture, donors still want to ensure that their giving is managed properly and gets to the people that need it most. A poll of over one thousand muslims in 2016 revealed that 24 percent would give more if there were more clarity on how and where money is spent. IslamiChain, a new startup hailing from the UAE, is using blockchain to track Islamic giving donations to do just that. 

IslamiChain is using decentralised digital identity to track Zakat, Sadaqa and Waqf donations to ensure their transparency and effectiveness while keeping Islamic traditions and principles in mind.  

IslamiChain is a fairly new startup and was selected as a finalist in DIFC FinTech Hive’s 2019 accelerator program. The program will give the startup a chance to participate in a three month long curriculum of mentorship and support.

EduChain (UAE)

Dubai-based EduChain is using blockchain to authenticate sensitive documents. While the startup’s flagship solution is geared toward official academic credentials for universities, EduChain claims that its technology can be applied to governments, corporations and other institutions as well. 

In 2018, EduChain launched what has been reported to be the largest pilot of blockchain technology in the field of education. The project, which will affect some 400,000 students  across all levels of education, allows students to request secure digital records. 

The records are sent to the individual student’s “Academic Passport” which gives them full control over the documents. Students can use the platform to send their authenticated documents securely to other academic institutions, job applications and more.

EduChain’s suite of blockchain tools allows institutions to issue documents that are both verifiable and tamper-proof while cutting-down on waiting periods that students frequently experience when requesting documents such as diplomas and transcripts.

Participating institutions in EduChain’s pilot program include University of Dubai, the American University in Dubai, Zayed University, Academia Management Solutions International, Amity University Dubai, MENA College of Management, and Horizon English School.

Seafood Souq (UAE)

This ecommerce platform allows United Arab Emirates (UAE) businesses to purchase and track their seafood produce, all the way from where it’s fished to their shops.

Seafood Souq was founded in 2018 by three friends who grew up in the UAE, Sean Dennis, Ramie Murray and Sheikh Fahim al Qasimi. Drawing from his experience founding the region’s only oyster farm, ‘Dibba Bay’, Murray learned of the market opportunities that an ecommerce platform and a fully transparent supply chain could bring to the fishing industry.

Dennis, in turn, appreciating the opportunities that blockchain could offer, wanted to explore the possibilities of supply chain traceability on blockchain.

“Having a background in technology and blockchain, and as a founding member of the Global Blockchain Business Council, I am well aware of the obvious use case for its application within our chosen industry of focus at Seafood Souq,” Dennis told CIO Middle East.

“As a B2B ecommerce marketplace for seafood, we are looking to provide full traceability through the supply chain to ensure quality and buyer satisfaction.”

In 2018 alone, one in every five samples of seafood tested worldwide were mislabelled, according to the startup. Blockchain, say the company founders, can address this issue by bringing transparency to the seafood distribution chain.

“Supply chain traceability has been looked at through a number of pilots and live iterations by groups including IBM and, in particular for seafood, WWF [World Wildlife Fund],” continued Dennis

The main difference with Seafood Souq, explained Dennis, is that it also has access to the entire range of seafood-related logistics, including last-mile processes. As the startup grows and includes more partners, he and his team are exploring how the different data points can be connected and used through blockchain.

During its initial, angel investment round, Seafood Souq raised AED2.5 million (US$ 680,600).

Q8E Coin (Kuwait)

Founded by father and son Ahmaad and Ali Ahmad Ghareeb in 2016, Q8E Coin offers a wide range of blockchain services, including education courses, web development, digital finance and cryptocurrency.

The startup claims that it gives “the best guaranteed professional cryptocurrency services and digital safety courses Kuwait and [the] world has to offer.”

Q8E Coin teaches students about cryptocurrencies, how to be safe using them for online transactions, and how to stay away from online scams. The educational courses, aimed at both novice and experienced users, are also designed for  companies or entrepreneurs interested in implementing blockchain technology in their businesses.

Using the startup’s platform, registered users can connect their Kuwaiti or any other international bank accounts to the Q8E wallet system to exchange digital coins for Kuwaiti Dinars or any other currency within a few hours after the start of a banking transfer.

RadMule Labs (Turkey)

Based in Istanbul, this gamers’ studio aims to bring blockchain to the game industry. By “trying weird, different game concepts,” RadMule Labs gamers aim to create the games they would like to play. 

Now in its experimentation phase, the startup hopes to create a shared token economy for games. This will allow users to use their in-app purchases across different games. The role of blockchain is to let users own any digital asset they purchase, removing the need for a game studio to manage assets.

Ulas Bilgenoglu, co-founder and CEO of the startup, says that Radmule Labs has partnered with OST Platform as the underlying blockchain technology in order to provide the distributed ledger structure and token exchange system for multiple games.

Tokens can be used for upgrades and purchases on items to be used in game play, and users will be able to buy, trade, and sell assets among themselves, according to the company.

“In a game economy, everything is usually transacted in the economy inside the game, but with blockchain and digital assets, users can transact outside of the game economy,” explains Bilgenoglu.

This kind of intergame exchange mechanism, says Bilgenoglu, allows players to move monetary value among games.

“For example, when the players buy an in-game item, like a sword, the monetary value of this item is locked in that particular game. With a shared token economy between games, the same sword can be sold in game currency, and that currency can be changed into another game’s currency with an exchange rate.”

 Since even the game items can be stored in the ledger as non-fungible tokens, the ownership of these items and their monetary value can be tracked and verified. Game tournaments can also be audited and verified on the blockchain.

RedCab (Egypt)

RedCab is a ride-hailing service that aims to become ‘the Uber of Egypt‘.

RedCab allows transactions between drivers and customers to be carried out through digital tokens.

“We launched in 2017 as peer-to-peer transportation, but we asked ourselves: how can we provide something new to the market?” Walid El Gendy, RedCab’s Chief Business Officer, told blockchain news platform Unlock.

“We studied the market for a year and saw huge potential in the blockchain. First, it hasn’t been penetrated yet; there is no transportation startup that actually entered into the blockchain field. The question was how we can tailor a business model that suits the blockchain, make the community grow, create a community and get profitability.”

Two years on from its foundation, the startup is planning to expand to the Gulf countries, where it sees an attractive market due to the high use on hail-riding services despite the low population density.

Proof Work (Israel)

Israeli startup Proof Work uses blockchain to put patients’ data on a decentralised platform and ledger for personal ownership so patients can share it with their doctor, hospital, caregivers, insurers or family.

Proof Work’s platform is desiggned to help the healthcare and life sciences industries by connecting information from different sources for easier access. This helps doctors and healthcare providers to better treat and medicate patients by accessing historical data that can be relevant for diagnosis.

Proof Work creates smart contracts to facilitate autonomously governed data, assign distribution ownership rights, accept payments, and confirm contractual obligations such as value-based care.

The company’s enterprise solution distributes data without any need for middlemen or infrastructure changes. The startup claims its distributed applications (Daaps) allow patients to share data with healthcare providers in a secure, private manner. Patients, for example, can grant permission for each party on the blockchain to see only the data they need, according to the company.

ArabianChain (UAE)

ArabianChain has developed a public blockchain platform for smart contracts to be used in the Middle East. The system is designed to give businesses, government entities and individuals the ability to use ArabianChain’s languages and tools to build contracts and transactions on the platform.

The company says its goal is “to revolutionise the way governments, businesses and individuals perceive and deal with economy, e-services and digital transformation by leading the way in entrepreneurial thinking and innovation in blockchain technology.”

The startup wants to achieve this by drawing on its staff’s experience in international firms such as Microsoft, Dell, Ericsson and Oracle, in addition to their knowledge in different industries, including banking, healthcare and the public sector.

The company is offering one of the first public and decentralised blockchain systems in the region, providing what it says are two unique features. The first is DBIX, a version of the cryptocurrency DubaiCoin that provides a “secure, agile, and economical way” for users to transfer money and payments, according to ArabianChain. The second is Thuraya, which is a soon-to-be-released smart contracts programming language in Arabic. Both features have been developed by the startup.

Although still in its pre-revenue phase, ArabianChain is already operational and has worked with many major firms including Dell-EMC, Ericsson, Microsoft, and Oracle. It also has thousands of traders using the platform and DBIX in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. 

The startup also plans to launch a blockchain-based digital asset trading platform, with a long-term goal of ensuring more efficient processes for government services and Islamic banking solutions.

Wemark (Israel)

Wemark is a marketplace for digital content such as photos. Using a blockchain-powered platform, the startup has created an Ethereum blockchain-based platform for digital photographers to have a greater control of their work. Professionals can license their photos directly to consumers without the need of third parties.

According to Crypto News Bites, photographers can earn up to 85% of the revenue as royalty using Wemark’s system. They can set their own fares and follow the whole transaction process thanks to the transparency furnished by blockchain.

Transactions between consumers and photographers are done using WMK, Wemark’s own token. Royalty rates are secured through smart contracts and can’t be changed by the photographers or Wemark.

As of March 2019, Wemark had over 300,000 photos by over 3,000 photographers. Last year it signed partnerships with stock photo providers Caia Image and Cavan Images.

The company raised US$1 million over one funding round in 2017 and conducted its Initial Coin Offering (ICO) in July 2018. 

(Additional reporting by Annie Bricker in Dubai.)