The Weekly Circuit
👋 Good Monday morning in the Middle East!
Welcome to the debut edition of The Weekly Circuit newsletter, covering the Middle East and North Africa through a business and cultural lens. Read on for the stories, deals and players driving the conversation.
The week opens with word that Kingdom Holding, the Saudi Arabian investment company controlled by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, sold a nearly 17 percent stake to the Public Investment Fund, the country’s sovereign wealth fund, a deal valued at $1.5 billion. In Israel, tech companies trading on the Nasdaq are hobbling through the global stock meltdown while Zim Integrated Shipping Lines is navigating the hopelessly clogged global supply chain and posting record profits.
In an interview with The Circuit, venture capitalist Elie Wurtman says Israel’s problems filling engineering and other tech jobs could be mitigated if companies established operations centers in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, drawing software talent from Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia to work in the business-friendly Gulf states. Meanwhile, the UAE’s climate change and environment minister, Mariam bint Mohammed AlMheiri, offers insight on how Israel can attract more Emirati business leaders to join its advanced tech eco-system.
Scroll down for our weekly rundown of major business deals across the region, people making news and a calendar of upcoming events.
We will be publishing this newsletter each week, coming out early Monday before Middle East markets open and appearing in the U.S. while it is still Sunday night. Shortly, we will go daily. Please read through it all and let us know at [email protected] what you like and what we can improve. Story tips are welcome.
Amid global slowdown, VC founder Elie Wurtman says Gulf can help in plugging Israel’s tech talent gap
Venture capitalist Elie Wurtman sees the Gulf Arab states as potential saviors for Israeli companies that can’t hire enough engineers. First, though, they’ve got to weather the global market crisis that threatens to dry up funding.
Time to be prudent: “I don’t think it’s doomsday across the board, but companies that require substantial capital may be challenged,” Wurtman, co-founder and managing partner of Jerusalem-based Pico Venture Partners, said in an interview with The Circuit’s Jonathan Ferziger. “This is a good time to be more prudent with expense management.”
Funding tight: As the Nasdaq stock index has fallen almost 30 percent this year, many of Israel’s biggest tech companies trading on the New York exchange have seen their market values plunge and the economy is getting hammered. In turn, investors in the country’s more than 6,000 start-up companies, which range from cybersecurity firms to telehealth services for pet cats and dogs, are cutting back.
Tax-free income: In the meantime, Wurtman is looking at Israel’s deepening ties in the Gulf to help solve the chronic shortage of software developers that plagues the burgeoning tech industry in a small country of 9.5 million. The pro-business policies in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, including tax-free income and liberal work visa policies to fuel their oil pumping, expat-driven economies, should draw Israeli companies to set up remote operations in the two Gulf nations that normalized ties with the Jewish state through the Abraham Accords in 2020, he said. “Within several years, you’ll have dozens, or even hundreds of Israeli companies with satellite development offices in the Gulf,” he said.
UAE climate minister says Israel offers Emiratis a model of collaborative, interconnected ecosystem’
When Mariam bint Mohammed AlMheiri landed in Tel Aviv last year, she didn’t know what to expect. A serial startup founder and environmentalist, AlMheiri is used to experimenting and exploring. But as the first United Arab Emirates minister to visit Israel after the Abraham Accords normalized ties between the countries in 2020, she was taking a leap of faith.
Stirring interest: Convincing Israeli entrepreneurs to come to the UAE is easy, but getting Emirati businesses interested in Israel is more challenging, AlMheiri, the UAE’s minister of climate change and the environment, told The Circuit’s Gabby Deutch at the Milken Institute Global Conference earlier this month in Los Angeles. “I’ve seen more interest in Israel working in the UAE, but I think that’s because they are further down the line in their business mindset,” she noted. “The UAE is still coming along to this idea of being also a kind of ‘startup nation’ as well.”
Dynamic hub: The Abraham Accords provided Israeli businesses with an unexpected and lucrative opportunity: access to one of the most dynamic business hubs in the world. And the new relationship gave the UAE a model of how to build a collaborative, interconnected tech ecosystem. What Emirati companies are looking for, AlMheiri said, is “technology partners more than looking at market access.”
Who You Gonna Call?: Saudi Arabia’s finance ministry has hired Rothschild & Co. to help oversee the restructuring of Saudi Binladin Group, the kingdom’s biggest builder, Bloomberg News reports.
High Seas: Israel’s Zim Integrated Shipping Lines nearly tripled first-quarter profit, generating $1.7 billion in net income as the breakdown in global supply chains has boosted prices for moving cargo.
Where’s Jared?: The New York Times raises questions about the speed with which former Trump Administration officials – Donald Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin – moved from brokering Middle East peace deals with Gulf leaders to courting those same figures for separate private investment funds.
Planting a seed: Masterschool, an Israeli educational start-up that trains students in such fields as software development and cybersecurity, has raised$100 million in a seed funding round.
Agent on Board: Talon Cyber Security, an Israeli company that makes a secure browser tailored to businesses, has appointed former U,S. National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers as chairman of its Board of Advisors.
Gaming in Riyadh: Saudi Arabia’s $500 billion Public Investment Fund has acquired a 5.01 percent stake in Japan’s Nintendo, deepening the kingdom’s foothold in the global gaming industry.
Gender Gains: Women in Saudi Arabia now account for 35 percent of the workforce, doubling their share from five years ago.
Property’s Jumping: Real estate transactions in Dubai rose to a 13-year record in April, generating $4.7 billion, a 67 percent increase over the same month in 2021.
Rebuilding in Florida: Hussain Sajwani, billionaire founder of Dubai’s DAMAC Properties, plans to buy the site of a Florida condominium that collapsed last year and killed 98 people.
Ready for IPO: ADNOC, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., and Australian chemicals producer Borealis AG plan to sell a 10 percent stake in their petrochemical joint venture called Borouge with an initial public offering that could raise some $2 billion, Arabian Business said.
Electric Cars: Lucid Group, a California maker of electric vehicles, will receive as much as $3.4 billion in financing and incentives over the next 15 years for its planned factory in Saudi Arabia, which will be able to make as many as 155,000 EVs annually.
Remote Team-building: Israel’s A.Team, which helps companies hire skilled workers who can work together from remote locations, has raised $55 million in a Series A financing round.
Opportunity Calls: Oracle’s Israeli-born CEO, Safra Catz, says she’s not getting too worked up about the decline in tech stocks on world markets. “This is not the end of the world,” she told Calcalist. “This is an opportunity.”
New Ventures: Abu Dhabi’s Alpha Dhabi Holding said it will commit $2.5 billion to a new fund, Alpha Wave Ventures II, for investing in growth-stage companies globally.
Cyber Startups: Israel’s CyberArk has joined with four partners to set up a$30 million fund, CyberArk Ventures, for investment in cybersecurity startups.
Cashew investment: Dubai’s Mashreq has invested $10 million in UAE-based fintech start-up Cashew. The company operates in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, with plans to launch soon in Egypt.
No Cows: Israel’s Imagindairy, which is developing animal-free proteins for imitation milk products, has raised $15 million in an extended seed round led by Target Global.
On the Circuit
Graham FitzGerald was hired as CEO by Al Masraf, the Abu Dhabi-based Arab Bank for Investment and Foreign Trade. FitzGerald was previously CEO of HSBC Philippines.
Shai Agassi, founder of the Israeli electric car venture Better Place that collapsed in 2013, is now executive chairperson of Makalu Optics, which develops LiDAR sensors used in autonomous vehicles.
Ran Guron, was appointed CEO by Israel’s Bezeq Telecommunications Co., replacing David Mizrahi, who stepped down after four years. Guron previously served as CEO of Bezeq subsidiaries Yes, Pelephone, and Bezeq International.
Ahead on the Circuit
May 23-26: Start-Up Nation Central’s Morocco-Israel Connect to Innovateconference will take place in Casablanca from May 23-26 and will be attended by ministers and senior government officials, businessmen, entrepreneurs and investors from Israel and Morocco.
May 24: Israel’s Histadrut labor union holds elections to pick its secretary-general and leadership board.
May 24-25:The World Conference on Pollution Control will gather researchers, industry leaders and government officials together in Dubai to discuss all aspects of environmental threats, from health science and education to disaster management. Panorama Hotel Bur Dubai.
Maroon 5 plays Tel Aviv, Cairo and Abu Dhabi
First time: American pop sensation Maroon 5’s two May concert dates in Tel Aviv marked the first time that promoters from Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt have cooperated on a major production, according to The Jerusalem Post. Before the performances in Israel, the Grammy-winning band, led by Adam Levine performed on May 3 at the Pyramids in Cairo before jetting off to Abu Dhabi for a show on May 6 at the Etihad Arena in shows promoted by the international giant, Live Nation. Other artists playing in Israel this summer include American rap icon 50 Cent, Canadian pop sensation Justin Bieber, US alternative rock veterans the Pixies and world-famous singer/songwriter Nick Cave.