With millions self-isolating around the world during the current global health crisis, it is startups that are leading the way when it comes to meeting the needs of users in the comfort (and quarantine) of their own homes. Whether for making deliveries of essential groceries, enabling continued access to government services or simply offering things to do, small firms with big ideas are firmly taking a front seat during the crisis.
Thanks to a business-friendly environment and agile ecosystem, Bahrain is supporting the success of many of these organisations, including online grocery service GetBaqala, pharmacy delivery app Weyak and education communication platform Springring. Alrawi – an Arabic audio marketplace which allows users to earn a living by recording voiceovers from anywhere – has surged in popularity among the Kingdom’s self-isolating population. And despite “testing times”, smart lifestyle platform Hayatech has witnessed a sharp rise in interest about wellness technologies. Meanwhile, mobile queuing system Skiplino has pledged to provide its contactless solution to all government agencies, hospitals and medical centres free of charge during the crisis.
Startups come to the Kingdom for our forward-thinking regulation (such as cloud-first policies and 100% foreign ownership rules), our strong government support and our emphasis on empowering businesses to scale across the GCC’s $1 trillion market. And at a time when businesses of all sizes are working their way through a crisis situation, this combination has never been more important. Here are some of the top firms to watch this year as they work to support users through a period of unprecedented challenge.
With many customers unable to physically visit grocery stores, delivery apps such as Get Baqala have experienced a major surge. The platform connects customers with the nearest stores in a convenient catalogue interface before delivering the products direct to the doorstep. The firm was founded in 2017 by Amjad Puliyali, who left a career in Dubai to build his idea in the Kingdom. According to Amjad, Bahrain offered an ideal testbed for the app – particularly Bahrain Development Bank’s Rowad program, which offers perks including credits for Amazon Web Services’ cloud offering.
Although there has been a substantial uptake in cloud-based solutions by Bahrain’s government entities, sometimes a physical visit by consumers is unavoidable – for example to a hospital or medical centre. This is where Skiplino comes in, offering a virtual system that allows users to book their place in the queue and turn up at the right time without waiting in close proximity to others. In response to the current crisis, the app is offering its contactless service free to all Bahrain government agencies and is soon set to launch a Virtual Branch offering that will help private firms continue serving their customers. It follows a range of successes, including a seven-figure series A funding round in 2018 and collaborations with several regional organisations on funding and commercial partnerships.
Another startup meeting the needs of consumers through delivery is Weyak, a digital pharmacy providing medications and other essentials. During the current situation, it’s particularly important that those with underlying health conditions stay safe, so getting prescriptions delivered directly helps to solve this problem. Weyak, which graduated from the C5 Accelerate program in 2017 and then Flat6Labs last year, recently launched a revamped platform and is more than equipped to handle the current increase in orders.
Countries around the world are closing schools during the current health crisis, meaning cloud-based services are essential in continuing classes for millions of students. One such platform enabling communication between students and teachers is Springring. The software brings everyone together on one system – including parents and administration workers – meaning that it’s easy to keep track of studies and progress. The platform was founded by full-time working parents Mohammed Ashoor and Jawad Sidiq, and is another successful graduate of the Flat6Labs program.
Bahrain’s Hayatech, which helps individuals and large companies to achieve a healthy lifestyle, has witnessed a rise in interest about wellness technologies during the “testing times”. Sandra Knight, the company’s chief operating officer and co-founder, has watched as the cloud-based app’s users shared health tips and exercise ideas compatible with the current social distancing guidelines. “Our platform has served as a great escape from the cheerless conversations associated with the current state of the world,” she said. Not only did Hayatech participate in 2019’s Brinc MENA accelerator program, but it also won first place in the Seedstars Manama competition and was selected by the MIT Pan Arab Federation and Tamkeen to exhibit in Silicon Valley last year.
This Arabic audio platform – which allows users to earn a living by recording voiceovers from anywhere – has surged in popularity among the Kingdom’s self-isolating population. It aims to “increase awareness and improve knowledge” by making cultural content more readily available to a wide audience. A large variety of book genres are available, while a unique feature allows users to filter speakers by country and accent. The startup, founded by Hala Sulaiman, Ameera Al Qubaiti and Mohamed Ebrahim, has won awards for innovation and continues to go from strength to strength including partnership agreements with Gulf Air and Emirates.
Of course, these five startups are just a small selection of the firms in Bahrain supporting customers throughout this challenging time, and we look forward to highlighting more stories in future blog posts. To find out about the Kingdom’s thriving ecosystem, and support for new businesses setting up here, visit StartUp Bahrain and the EDB Bahrain startup information page.