BEIRUT: Artificial Intelligence (AI) is still showing its first glimmers in our day-to-day life, despite being heavily explored on the research and development level. In the MENA, AI is meekly starting to spread its roots and the numbers say it all.
According to Accenture's 2017 Digital Consumer Survey, 76 percent of the users in UAE are comfortable with AI customer service, while the global rate registers 62 percent. Moreover, 66 percent of users in KSA and 65 percent of users in Qatar favor AI customer service, based on another survey by PwC.
Today, the region is more open to AI than ever, despite all the questions that orbit around the technology. With Aramex launching Aramex Bot, an AI chatbot on Facebook, to offer details about the company, track shipments, and more, and Dubai developing a roadmap for AI, a lot of startups are emerging in MENA with AI as their focal technology.
Prominent MENA AI Startups
Established by Mohamed Nabil, WideBot is A Bot Framework Creator. It allows any person to create, modify, and execute automated command-based bots. The framework provides a wide array of intelligent services; it includes AI modules that allow the users to give their bots a unique personality, to smartly interact with the customers and maintain conversations through complex dialogs and interactions.
WideBot's first product is Menu Maker - a bot Builder for Restaurants. It's a dashboard that allows any restaurant to build its personal Facebook Chatbot without the need for any technical or coding-related experience. Menu Maker presents a full solution that simulates the food ordering process. The framework has a lot of features that help restaurants enhance their customer service and monitor their business.
WideBot came in first place in ArabNet Startup Battle Cairo. The startup’s current competitors are Otlob.com in Egypt and Talabat.com in Gulf. However, it differs from them by being the first to specialize in food industry, by developing a dashboard that builds a Facebook Chatbot for restaurants called Menu Maker. Moreover, Widebot was also named local winner in Seedtsars Egypt competition in October, and secured its seat in Seedstars World’s Summit in Switzerland.
Country: Egypt, Founded: 2016, Category: Chatbot .
Founded by Tarek Kabrit, Seez operates in both Lebanon and Dubai. The mobile app helps users who are looking to purchase a car in choosing the one that suits their needs and budget the best. It gives buyers a full reach to every car available in the market, and allows them to negotiate with sellers to land the best deal.
Seez aims to build a new type of search engine. It uses image recognition search to help users know the market value of a car. All they have to do is snap the picture of any car to get a full report of its specs and its fair market value, on the go. Seez also leverages AI predictive models that instantly check the fair price of any car.
Moreover, Seez comes equipped with an AI chatbot that connects buyers with sellers. Named Cesar, the bot will ask the buyers about the car they want and will look for it in the entire market. It will then contact the relevant sellers, negotiate with them to get the fairest price, and get back to the buyers with the fairest deal for both parties.
The startup has received $1.8M in seed funding from B&Y, Phoenician, and Wamda capital in 2017. Seez considers all other car search sites to be a competitor; however, being equipped with image recognition technology and an AI chatbot, they have an edge.
Country: Lebanon. Founded: 2015, Category: Cars .
Founded by Mohamed Aldhalaan, Noon Edu is a personalized online social learning platform that allows its users to accommodate the learning experience according to their own potential and needs, based on the cognitive or affective state of the student. The platform combines between game-ification and adaptive learning technologies to prepare students for the Qiyas test, which is a standardized exam for high schools in KSA.
In 2015, Noon Edu had launched Noon Game, a live online multiplayer game focusing on test preparations. The game offers an interactive environment for students to prepare for the test. By harnessing AI tools, the game helps students in understanding where they stand exactly in the learning process, and engages them with practice questions that suit their level.
Noon had participated in ArabNet Riyadh Ideathon Competition in 2013 and came in third place. It was awarded a prize amounting $1K. It also came in first place in ArabNet’s Riyadh Startup Battle in 2015. Furthermore, Noon Edu ranked 14 on Forbes' "50 most promising Saudi startups 2016" list.
Country: Saudi Arabia, Founded: 2013, Category: Education.
Co-founded by Guy Hood, Antonio Moratilla, Eugenio Fernandez, and David Llorente, Narrative uses AI techniques to mine big data and generate new stories for its clients' audience at a machine scale. In other words, Narrativa’s technology takes complex data sets and transforms them into human narratives.
Narrativa developed an AI product called GabrieleAI that allows companies to generate millions of narratives per day. It helps corporations in the media, e-commerce, and enterprise reporting space to exponentially increase the amount of content generated, significantly reduce costs, and develop new revenue streams.
Using Natural Language Generation, GabrieleAI explains its knowledge in real time. The startup works with contextual data to enrich narratives and news stories, help journalists focus on the real stories, and leave out the repetitive data-driven stories.
What separates Narrativa from the large mainstream news organization, such as the Associated Press, The Washington Post, and many others, is that they use rule-based methodologies, while Narrativa employs natural language-generation AI that has the advantage of being learning systems that allow customers to customize the technology.
In March 2016, Narrativa received a seed funding of $143K from Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi and the Next Media Accelerator, and another seed funding of an undisclosed amount in August 2017 from twofour54.
Country: Abu Dhabi, Founded: 2015, Category: Journalism.
Founded by Matt Suiche, Comae is a cyber-security startup. It provides the necessary tools for digital forensics examiners and incident responders, to successfully perform live system memory triage and analyze captured memory images to identify malware and threats.
Comea offers intelligent cyber security which is an essential technology, using multiple resources. Comae correlates and analyzes threat data, helping security teams identify risks that are relevant to their organization, enhancing vigilance through effective early detection and protection. Comae provides responsive capabilities to Law Enforcement and Enterprises, allowing them to investigate and respond to cyber incidents and attacks.
Comae Technologies and Dubai Police signed a partnership to focus on AI-based memory forensics analysis solutions in 2016. The agreement goes beyond the 12-week Dubai Future Accelerators' program.
Country: Dubai, Founded: 2016, Category: Cyber security.
Up & Coming Startups in Lebanon
Lebanon has witnessed an increased activity in the AI sector; several startups have emerged from different accelerator programs, and some did on their own. Here they are:
Co-founded by Ibrahim Ezzedine and Basel Jalaleddine, Cherpa is an online platform that teaches robotics and electronics to youth, from building and coding projects, all the way to interacting with virtual missions. Accompanied by an intelligent chatbot that acts as a virtual instructor and guides the learners throughout their entire journey, students begin by selecting one of the many available projects (Astronomy, medicine, agriculture, industrial, etc...)
Further to the selection, students are given an overview of the lesson with its learning objectives. The learning subjects will then build and code the physical circuit. Once the intelligent chatbot validates that the circuit is error free, students enter a virtual world with which the actual circuit interacts. For instance, if a student built a joystick, this production will be incorporated into a virtual space mission to Mars for NASA. Each completed mission unlocks a new lesson.
In 2017, Cherpa launched the coding section for Beta testing, and converted 70 of their 100 test users to paying customers. It was amongst the 9 startups that graduated from Speed@BDD accelerator program, and qualified as semi-finalists in MITEF’s Pan Arab Competition.
In March 2017, Cherpa received an undisclosed amount of seed funding round from Speed@BDD. Cherpa also came out as the top 2 startups in the fourth cycle, and was selected for the LebNet Ignite acceleration and mentorship program in Silicon Valley. Cherpa were also the first place winners of the Startup Battle at ArabNet Beirut.
Country: Lebanon, Founded: 2016, Category: Education.
Co-founded by Nehmat El Wazir and Majd Baltagi, Giftlivery plans to start in Lebanon and expand to the MENA. It’s a mobile application that allows users to choose a gift for their loved ones based on their lifestyle, personal preferences and interests, and delivers it to their recipient's exact location. The application allows retailers to publish and advertise their products (targeting more than 70% of the retailers in Beirut).
Giftlivery is equipped with an AI agent whose job is to help users in choosing the right gift. The agent harnesses Machine Learning algorithms to learn from the users' actions, decisions, and feedback.
During its first year of operating, Giftlivery will use metadata to help users pick the right gift through related keywords search. It will also leverage Facebook Graph API which will record the activities, interests, skills, education background, and more information related to their customers from their Facebook account, to then suggest the gift choice based upon this data.
Country: Lebanon, Founded: 2017, Category: e-commerce.
Founded by Samir El Zein in 2017, NEOTIC is a Beirut-based startup. A trading support platform, NEOTIC allows traders to test different trading strategies. By leveraging AI, it offers trading recommendations without writing any line of code. Its AI technology is based on a Machine Learning algorithm that incorporates corporate fundamentals, prices through history, and financial news.
The startup had closed a seed round of funding from 3 angel investors in March for an undisclosed amount. Furthermore, the startup was among the 9 startups that graduated from Speed@BDD accelerator program, and received an undisclosed amount of seed funding on its Demo Day. Neotic also was in the top 2 startups in the fourth cycle, and was selected for the LebNet Ignite acceleration and mentorship program in Silicon Valley.
Neotic has revamped its whole user experience to optimize the on-boarding of traders, and refined its trading algorithm to include long and short hedging techniques simultaneously. It’s still at its BETA version.
Country: Lebanon, Founded: 2017, Category: Trading
Co-founded by Elie Matta, Elie Nahas, and Paul Barakat Diab, Augmental uses adaptive learning to provide a complementary online tool to class curriculums. It offers educators access to their students' progress, and therefore, it enables them to personalize the learning process according to their students' cognitive and affective needs. The platform offers its services to digital native students.
Augmental leverages AI algorithms that rely on data to guide the learning path of the taught subject in real time. In addition to that, the startup increases courses interactivity by implementing the "study buddy" concept to the learning experience, which is a bot that maintains conversations with students and educators. The platform also harnesses Augmented Reality technologies and multilingual functionalities.
Augmental differs from competitors such as Knewton, Smart Sparrow, and Augment, by providing real-time recommendation, as it redirects students to a personalized path throughout the course on-demand.
Augmental is at MVP stage, and is currently working on its commercial version. The startup is testing its MVP at schools. Moreover, it has received sponsorship from the Antonine University and Multimedia Megastore, to support the testing phase, and has gotten a $15K grant from Kafalat ISME.
Country: Lebanon, Founded: 2016, Category: Education.
Founded by Rami Alame in 2017, Lexium is a Beirut-based startup. It is an online platform that enables users to get access to fast, easily accessible, and reliable legal answers. Lexium also connects its users with verified legal professionals. Using AI and natural language processing to enhance the accuracy of legal answers, the startup is also introducing natural language processing algorithms to simplify the link between questions and answers.
With its target market being MENA and GCC, Lexium differs from its competitors like Legal advice Me in Dubai, by offering the Arabic language and Sharia Law services.
The startup, which is still at seed stage, has not received any funding yet; however, it is launching its seed stage funding October 1, 2018.
Country: Lebanon, Founded: 2017, Category: Legal.
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