The Weekly Circuit
👋 Good Monday morning in the Middle East!
Under the harsh desert sun that only seems hotter during these late days of summer, entrepreneurial minds across the region are looking for new opportunities. This week, The Circuit looks at Dana, an Abu Dhabi-based firm cultivating startups that are actually energized by the heat. From developing technologies for conserving water and growing food in arid climates to expanding the use of solar power, the companies taking shape in Dana’s incubator are building their businesses by confronting the desert. What makes the venture platform even more notable is that its leaders, investors and the startup founders it mentors are nearly all women.
Among the more hopeful developments in the region that have taken place in recent years are efforts to encourage tolerance for religious minorities. In Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco and other Arab countries, governments are putting money into restoring neglected synagogues and reconnecting with lost Jewish communities. This week, The Circuit goes to Jerash, the magnificent Greco-Roman archeological park in Jordan, where excavations in a sixth-century church revealed the mosaic floor of a lost synagogue filled with depictions of creatures from Noah’s Ark.
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UAE business incubator prepares women-led startups to confront desert climates
When Ghita Bahmad, a Moroccan-born researcher in Canada who was working on innovative ways to grow fruits and vegetables in the desert, needed to raise funds for her vertical-farming startup last year, she went to the Dubai Expo.
Less water: Bearing the name The Food Engineer, Bahmad’s company uses a misting technique called “aeroponics” to grow walls of lettuce and herbs that require no soil and 95 percent less water than conventional farming. At an Expo networking event, Bahmad rubbed shoulders with a range of Middle East investors and emerged with backing from Dana, a business incubator launched two years ago that supports so-called “desert-tech” companies founded by women.
Three women: Dana is among the young Middle East firms that have cropped up amid growing cooperation between the Gulf states and Israel, which culminated with the Abraham Accords in 2020, Rebecca Anne Proctor reports for The Circuit. The three women who founded the business include an American, a Jewish Israeli and a Palestinian citizen of Israel. After a vetting process for early stage startups, the firm’s venture arm is prepared to invest between $350,000 and $1 million in the companies, in partnership with other funds and investors, co-founder Katie Wachsberger said. It expects to have about $25 million in capital and make its first investments in mid-2023, Wachsberger added.
Commercially viable: “At the end of the day, creating sustainable solutions for our region must be commercially viable,” said Wachsberger, 30, a native New Yorker who runs the Abu Dhabi headquarters as chief operating officer. “Otherwise, we can’t expect our economies to transform as they must toward carbon neutrality and food security.”
Israel and Gaza: Companies currently working with Dana include Israel’s BioCloud, which produces an herbal pesticide used in cultivating medical marijuana and other greenhouse crops: SunBox, a solar-energy startup from the Gaza Strip; and Eco-Bricks, a maker of bricks recycled from construction sludge, which is based in the West Bank city of Hebron. Businesses from the UAE and Saudi Arabia are also consulting with Dana, Wachsberger said.
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Noah’s Ark mosaic puts ancient Jordan synagogue on Mideast tourist map
When archeologists first excavated the remnants of a sixth-century church in the ancient city of Jerash in 1929, they uncovered a mosaic floor filled with images of gazelles, horses, birds, rabbits, snakes and other creatures that tell the biblical story of Noah’s Ark. Also revealed by the American-British research team were a seven-branched menorah, a ram’s horn, a palm frond and other Jewish icons that indicated the Byzantine church had been built on the foundations of what was once a synagogue.
Biblical connections: The “Synagogue-Church,” as it’s labeled on tourist maps, is located near the Temple of Artemis in the northwest quarter of Jordan’s vast Greco-Roman archeological park in Jerash, about 40 kilometers (28 miles) north of the capital city of Amman. It is one of several historical attractions in Jordan that are popular with Jewish and Christian visitors because of their biblical connections, as Saeb Rawashdeh reports for The Circuit. Others include the town of Madaba, with its mosaic map at St. George’s Church that depicts the Holy Land and ancient Jerusalem; and nearby Mount Nebo, revered as the place where Moses looked out over the land of Canaan before his death.
Tourism bridge: As Arab countries from Egypt and Morocco to Bahrain reconnect with their Jewish pasts, the subject is still very sensitive in Jordan, where more than half the population has Palestinian roots. Three decades since the Hashemite Kingdom made peace with Israel, efforts to normalize those relations in the style of the Abraham Accords, signed two years ago, are opposed by most Jordanians. Still, the Jordan-Israel peace treaty that was signed in 1994 has enabled hundreds of thousands of tourists to cross easily between the two countries and visit historical sites such as Jerash, once known as Gerasa. Amid the ruins, visitors can see the agglomeration of ethnicities, customs and faiths that have characterized the region throughout the centuries.
Big community: The combination of the synagogue and historical accounts of ancient Gerasa “shows that a big Jewish community dwelled in the city and was well-integrated,” Rubina Raja, a professor of classical archeology at Denmark’s Aarhus University, told The Circuit.
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Let it Rain: The UAE is seeding its clouds to produce rain in the desert Gulf state, and more countries in the region and around the world are following suit.
No Daylight?: Former Israeli and U.S. officials are seeking to downplay any tension between former President Donald Trump and Israel’s former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following the publication of a memoir by Trump’s son-in-law and former senior advisor, Jared Kushner.
Building Assets: BlackRock, the world’s biggest asset manager, increased its stake in Ormat Technologies, which makes geothermal heating systems, to 12.5%, becoming the Israeli company’s second biggest shareholder.
Health Investment: Burjeel Holdings, a UAE-based healthcare provider, plans to enter the Saudi market and invest up to $1 billion in the kingdom by 2030.
World Cup Safety: Qatari officials say they’ve made progress in addressing concerns about the safety of construction workers in building seven stadiums for the World Cup soccer tournament, which starts in November.
Weak Tiger: Israeli startups backed by Tiger Global are girding for cutbacks after the venture capital firm reported big losses in the first half of 2022.
Lawsuit Iced: A U.S. court stopped efforts by Ben & Jerry’s to block its corporate parent Unilever from continuing to sell its brand of ice cream in West Bank settlements through an Israeli subsidiary.
Cairo Contest: Egypt is seeking to encourage both technology startups and digital artists to address environmental concerns by sponsoring a competition before November’s global climate change conference in Sharm el-Sheikh.
Flights to Saudi: Hungary’s Wizz Air will fly 20 new routes from Europe to Saudi Arabia as the kingdom pushes to bring in more tourists.
Oil Cuts: Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said that OPEC may need to reduce its output in order to stabilize world energy markets because of extreme volatility and tight supplies.
Rising Rates: The deputy governor of the Bank of Israel said that Israel will continue hiking interest rates until inflation is under control.
Pakistan Calling: Qatar plans to invest $3 billion in Pakistan, eyeing hotel and transportation properties in the debt-strapped Southeast Asian nation.
Boardroom Battle: Shareholders in Israel’s Ceragon Networks, which makes wireless telecommunications equipment, fought off a bid by rival Aviat Networks to oust its board of directors.
Africa Expansion: Egypt’s ArabyAds raised $30 million from investors as the advertising tech firm tries to expand in North and sub-Saharan Africa.
Buyer Beware: Israel’s Drill raised $5 million from investors including Mobileye founder Amnon Shashua for its AI technology, which uses existing supermarket cameras to analyze shopper behavior.
Drone Delivery: Israeli retailer Rami Levy bought a 33% stake in Cando Drones, which is developing a fleet of aircraft to deliver groceries and other products.
Digital intelligence: CyberStarts, founded by Israel’s Gili Raanan, raised $60 million for a new fund to invest in early-stage cyber startups.
On the Circuit
Hassan Abdallah was named acting governor of Egypt’s central bank, replacing Tarek Amer, who resigned Aug. 17.
Shalev Hulio resigned as chief executive officer of NSO, the Israeli cyber company placed on a U.S. blacklist because of alleged misuse of its Pegasus spyware.
Chaya Soggot was appointed chief executive officer for Israeli operations of Practicum, one of the biggest U.S. boot camps teaching online tech skills.
Ahead on the Circuit
Sept. 6, Tel Aviv: Israel Institute of Certified Accountants. Israeli Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar joins senior accountants and bankers for annual conference. David Intercontinental Hotel.
Sept. 13, Jerusalem: Greentech. Gathering of leaders from government, industry, NGOs and academia to discuss environmental technologies. Ramada Hotel.
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.
More Saudi Golf: Another Saudi-backed golf tournament is coming to America and, once again, it has ties to former President Donald Trump. The New York Times reports that the women’s golf competition, part of the Aramco Team Series, has received government approval from New York City to hold a mid-October event at the Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point in the Bronx. The tournament is supported by Saudi Arabia’s $620 billion Public Investment Fund, which also backed the LIV Golf Series that poached players from the PGA Tour. One round of the LIV tournament was played at Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, N.J.
Back on the Silk Road: Artists in Turkey are reimagining the rigorous cultural interaction that characterized the ancient Silk Road in a show titled “Carved Conversations.” The exhibition, curated by New York artist SaraNoa Mark, is taking place in the central Anatolia city of Aksaray, housed in the castle-like surroundings of the Sultan Han Caravanserai. Featured are works by Alejandro Figueredo Díaz-Perera, Cara Megan Lewis, LÜTFÜ, Lara Ögel, Amina Ross, Busra Tunc and Nergiz Yesil. The show runs through Oct. 30.