Two Arab ecosystems, three industries to watch – SME10X

Sharjah and Bahrain offer the best ecosystems in the Middle East for startups in the areas of financial technology, education technology and digital media, according to Startup Genome, a policy advisory and research organisation. The two cities ranked in the top five fastest-growing activation phase startup ecosystems globally, meaning that founders can “build on local economic strengths and develop focused programmes to accelerate ecosystem growth and develop pockets of success leading to sizable exits.”

The Global Startup Ecosystem Report – which tracked more than 1.27 million companies from over 250 ecosystems – recognised the support for startups offered by these two ecosystems in the wake of the coronavirus; both Bahrain and Sharjah launched stimulus programmes for SMEs, either by way of equity-free grants or by way of exemptions on a number of fees.


Thanks to its standards on crowdfunding and open banking, Bahrain leads the MENA region as a fintech ecosystem. The regulatory sandbox operated by the Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB) allows players to test new concepts before they go public – perhaps an indicator of why the island is host to 90 active and diverse startups.

As Ebrahim Janahi, chief executive of labour fund Tamkeen says: “Bahrain has established itself as an innovative fintech hub, home to regulations designed to enable and encourage entrepreneurship.”

A recent success is Fasset, a CBB sandbox company that offers global investors digital tokens for fractional investment in sustainable infrastructure. Currently in beta-stage trials, its Fasset Exchange (FEX) aims to handle tokens – essentially digital coins – that are backed by virtual currencies such as bitcoin and Ethereum, as well as real world assets such as gold.

“To date, accessing digital assets – whether cryptocurrencies or real asset-backed tokens – in the MENASA region has been an onerous

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