The Weekly Circuit
👋 Good Monday morning in the Middle East!
From Detroit to Tel Aviv, electric vehicles are gaining momentum. After passage this month of the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act, America’s automobile manufacturers will get a raft of incentives to produce EVs and consumers will receive a $7,500 tax credit to buy them. In Israel where EV purchases are up 70% this year, The Circuit profiles investor Michael Granoff, who has funded 37 mobility startups through his venture capital firm in a career committed to weaning the world off the internal combustion engine. Most recently, he’s been putting money into early-stage businesses in the Gulf. Whether it’s producing components for self-driving cars or competing against Uber with a fleet of Tesla EVs, Granoff’s portfolio of companies is playing a growing role in charting the future of transportation.
As Israel looks for new partners in the region to join the two-year-old Abraham Accords, it managed last week to reach a reconciliation agreement with Turkey after a rocky relationship that lasted more than a decade. Even with the absence of ambassadors in each other’s countries over the past four years, the two countries have maintained a robust trade relationship, with Turkey exporting $4.2 billion in goods to Israel in the first seven months of 2022. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been eager to improve Turkey’s global standing amid an economic crisis at home and ahead of elections next year, spoke by phone last week with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid after the announcement of the restoration of full diplomatic ties.
In music news, Israelis bid a sad farewell to local rock icon Zvika Pik, who died on Aug. 14, at 72, after a career that took off in 1970 with his starring role in the Hebrew version of “Hair.” The United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, is getting ready for superstar rapper 50 Cent, who plays the Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai at the end of September, two months after performing in Tel Aviv. Two weeks later, Canada’s Justin Bieber is booked to appear on the same stage.
Welcome to The Weekly Circuit, where we cover the Middle East through a business and cultural lens. Read on for the stories, deals and players at the top of the news. Please send comments and story tips to [email protected].
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An electric vehicle pioneer drives growth of Mideast transportation startups
Michael Granoff, whose $160 million venture capital fund invests in companies that expand the way people get from one place to another, hates driving the family car to work. Granoff, founder and managing partner of Maniv Mobility, generally commutes to his Tel Aviv office from a northern suburb by train, bus, taxi or riding with a neighbor. For a meeting across town, he often hops on one of the motorized rental scooters clustered on city sidewalks. “I prefer anything than having to sit in traffic and not be productive and be frustrated and then having to park,” Granoff, 53, toldThe Circuit’s Jonathan Ferziger. “It actually doesn’t cost me more.”
Self-driving cars: Granoff is not just trying to save money. He’s an evangelist and battle-scarred veteran in the global revolution to widen vehicular choices. To date, Maniv has made investments in 37 companies spread across eight countries. The businesses range from designing sensors in Israel for self-driving cars and running a Tesla ride-sharing service in Manhattan to unleashing electric scooters on the United Arab Emirates.
Gulf ventures: It’s the Gulf that gets him jazzed these days. Just a week after the UAE and Bahrain signed the Abraham Accords with Israel at the White House on Sept. 15, 2020, Granoff jumped on a plane. He was soon introduced to the founders of Fenix, which runs the Emirati scooter fleet, and made his first investment — $3.8 million — in the company. “Dubai is becoming a bit of a technology magnet for the Arab world in a similar way that the [San Francisco] Bay Area is, and the government there is committed to nurturing the tech sector and entrepreneurship,” Granoff said. “I think there will be lots more opportunity over time.”
Better Place burns: Granoff grew up in New York City, the son of clothing maker and philanthropist Martin Granoff, who is also a champion horse breeder. Among the younger Granoff’s biggest investments was Better Place, an ambitious effort in Israel at building a charging network for electronic vehicles, or EVs. Founded by charismatic entrepreneur Shai Agassi, the company enchanted investors including Israel’s Idan Ofer, France’s Groupe Renault, HSBC and Morgan Stanley. Better Place burned through $1 billion in capital before going bankrupt in 2013.
Back in business: Around that time, Granoff moved to Israel with his wife and four children, where he established Maniv Mobility in an effort to find alternatives to gasoline-fueled engines. EV purchases have soared by 70% in Israel over the past year with more than 10,000 new vehicles on the road. Granoff’s resilience after Better Place’s demise has established him as an important investor today for early-stage mobility companies, said Brian Blum, author of Totaled: The Billion-Dollar Crash of the Startup that Took on Big Auto, Big Oil and The World. “It was a real blow to have this thing that he believed in so much fall apart,” Blum told The Circuit. “The thing is it didn’t stop him from continuing on his mission of investing in the future of mobility and technology. You know, he just jumped right back into it.”
Riyadh Makeover: High oil prices and relaxed social restrictions are creating a booming new economy in Saudi Arabia, where Bloomberg reports that women are buying designer apartments and the kingdom is trying to attract millions of expatriates.
Disruptive Investments: Group 42, the Abu Dhabi-based company focused on artificial intelligence and cloud computing, is launching a $10 billion fund that will invest in disruptive technologies in high-growth regions.
Send money: Israel’s Rewire was acquired by U.S. competitor Remitly for $80 million in cash and stock. Both companies help expat workers send money to their home countries.
VC Leader: Emirati companies raised $699 million during the first half of 2022, making it the leading Arab country for attracting venture capital. Saudi Arabia was second with $584 million, Egypt third with $307 million.
Climate Deal: Pledges by oil companies BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Equinor to reduce carbon use fall short of the goals set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement, a new study shows.
Looking Ahead: Dubai’s Museum of the Future will work with the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority to showcase technology related to renewable energy and sustainability.
Animal Farm: Abu Dhabi’s Hatch & Boost Ventures launched its first agrotech startup, called World of Farming, using hydroponic techniques to produce livestock feed.
Metaverse Accelerator: Emirates NBD will team up with Microsoft and the Dubai International Financial Centre’s FinTech Hive to launch an accelerator program to help financial startups operate in the metaverse.
Israeli Investing: Alex Sapir’s Sapir Corp. received an $88.6 million loan from Israeli backers for his NoMo SoHo hotel in New York.
Property Deal: Apollo Global Management has acquired an 11.1 percent stake in Abu Dhabi’s Aldar Investment Properties for $400 million.
HR Hub: Israel’s HiBob, a human resources management platform, raised $150 million in a funding round led by Bessemer Venture Partners and General Atlantic.
Cloud Funding: Israel’s DriveNets, which builds cloud-based telecom networks, raised $262 million in a financing round led by D2 Investments with participation from Bessemer, Pitango and Harel Insurance.
Stock Tips: Israel’s eToro social media investment platform received regulatory approval to buy New York-based competitor Gatsby for $50 million in cash and stock.
Room with a View: Israel’s Guesty, which helps hospitality businesses manage short-term rentals, raised $170 million in a round led by Apax Digital, MSD and Sixth Street Growth.
On the Circuit
Adam Neumann, the Israeli-American founder fired as CEO of WeWork, is starting a residential real estate rental venture called Flow, which raised $350 million from Andreessen Horowitz, one of Silicon Valley’s biggest investors in early-stage startups.
Tareq Amer, governor of Egypt’s central bank, submitted his resignation to President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi after seven years in the job.
Julian Wentzel was named HSBC’s head of global banking for the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, subject to regulatory approval.
Crown Prince Hussein of Jordan is engaged to Rajwa Al Saif, a Saudi citizen who studied architecture at New York’s Syracuse University.
Ahead on the Circuit
Sept. 14-15, New York. “Mind the Tech 2022” conference sponsored by the Israeli-based Calcalist financial news site and Bank Leumi, brings Israeli tech industry leaders and investors to New York. Apella Alexandria conference center.
Sept. 28-29, Dubai: World Green Economy Summit. Dubai Electricity and Water Authority hosts environmental conference with the World Green Economy Organization. Dubai World Trade Centre.
Oct. 10-13: Dubai: Gitex Global, Investors, technology leaders, corporate CEOs and government officials get together for premier Gulf technology event. Dubai World Trade Centre.
Oct. 25-27, Riyadh: Future Investment Initiative. Sixth edition of Saudi Arabia’s flagship conference drawing government and business leaders from around the world. King Abdulaziz International Conference Center.
So long, Zvika: Israeli music fans are mourning Zvika Pik, who died last week at 72. The Polish-born Israeli rocker, who starred in the Hebrew production of “Hair” in 1970, went on to become one of the country’s top hitmakers. More recently he was known as the cantankerous aging star of the TV reality show, “The Maestro,” and father-in-law of American filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, who married his daughter Daniella. Israeli President Isaac Herzog paid tribute to Pik as an “inseparable part of the Israeli soundtrack” and “deeply connected to the richness of Israeli traditional roots.”
Manama Festival: Bahrain’s The Avenues Carnival features international street theater performers from countries including Spain, Taiwan, Argentina, Italy and Australia. Runs through Aug. 27 at The Avenues waterfront shopping center.
Rapping in Dubai. 50 Cent Green Light Gang World Tour. American superstar rapper 50 Cent will perform at Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena for one show on Sept. 30.
Gallery-Hopping: The annual Art Abu Dhabi festival, which returns after being suspended during the pandemic, will feature some 45 Emirati art galleries. Manarat Al Saadiyat. Nov. 16-20.