Rocket Internet Partners With African Telecom Operator MTN To Invest $410M in Middle East Startups

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MTN Group and Rocket Internet announced that they have formed a new joint venture to invest in startups in the Middle East, with a focus on e-commerce. The two companies will each hold a 50% stake in Middle East Internet Holding (MEIH).

The announcement follows another partnership, concluded earlier this week, between MTN, Rocket Internet and Millicom International Cellular, to develop startups in Africa through Africa Internet Holding (AIH). MTN expects to pour 300 million euro (about USD$400 million) into AIH and MEIH, subject to regulatory approval, by the first and second quarter of 2014, respectively.

Based in Johannesburg, MTN is one of Africa’s largest telecom operators. Rocket Internet can potentially leverage MTN’s footprint as it seeks to tap into the continent’s fastest growing Internet markets, including Kenya and Nigeria.

Its agreement with MTN follows several other key partnerships cemented by Rocket Internet. For example, earlier this month Rocket Internet and U.K. retail giant Tesco, the world’s second-largest retailer by revenues after Wal-mart, announced a strategic investment partnership that began with a $250 million lead investment in Lazada. The online marketplace, in which Rocket Internet has invested $486 million so far, operates in Southeast Asian countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Back in July, Rocket Internet also said it had raised an additional $500 million from two regular investors, Kinnevik and Access, to fund new and existing ventures with a focus on Latin America and Asia.

Africa and the Middle East are two key emerging markets in Berlin-based Rocket Internet’s global expansion strategy, which is especially important for Rocket Internet because Europe’s e-commerce market is already saturated.

Rocket’s investments in the Middle East include mobile app Easytaxi, real-estate listings site Lamudi, fashion retailer Namshi and delivery service Hellofood.

In a statement, MTN Group president and CTO Sifiso Dabengway said “The agreement with Rocket marks yet another important milestone in our journey of pursuing digital business adjacencies as one of our key strategic priorities, to drive growth and value for our customers.”

Rocket Internet co-founder Oliver Samwer added “I am very confident that the strategic partnership between MTN and Rocket Internet is going to accelerate the online shift in the Middle East. With joint forces, Middle East Internet Holding will develop its already existing ventures even better and will launch new companies even faster and more successfully.”