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TechCrunch Meetup In Dubai Uncovers A Vibrant Startup Hub For The Middle East

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When I was invited to speak at the Step conference in Dubai (a new-ish startup conference which brings in international speakers), I figured I would use the opportunity to get a taster of the kinds of startups that were being built out of the city by holding a TechCrunch Meetup. While Dubai — under the watchful gaze of its royal rulers of course — positioned itself an early proponent of the Internet by creating the Dubai Internet City a long time ago, it is the new wave of tech startups which have emerged from the co-working spaces and incubators which are now making the running in the city. The bulk of these are not ‘local’ in the normal sense, but in fact have been created by a swathe of internationals coming into the city. Whether they be European or others from the wider Arab region, Dubai’s international nature, and it’s relative freedom compared to most other Arab states, helps all that along.

What I found when we held the meetup was a very enthusiastic bunch of entrepreneurs. Held at The Cribb coworking space, we literally packed the place with startups. Almost 300 people turned up and we heard at least 15, fast 2 minute pitches (no slides). While almost all were very early stage, it was clear there was something going on in this town.

The majority of the pitches were of good quality. Clearly, people in this part of the world have been avidly watching Disrupt pitches for tips.

Out of almost 300 attending, over 100 had applied to pitch. We filtered that down to 50, and then went for a final 10. In the end, we actually had around 15 pitches.

Here are the winners, who get tickets to the next Disrupt conference in New York or London.

In 3rd place was Laundrybox.com, a laundry pick-up/delivery service that uses lockers in buildings where residents drop off their laundry. They pick up the clothes, clean them and then returned them back to the locker. Users pay via an app or a credit card machine built into the lockers. They have raised $5M in funding from the Middle East with the noted Fadi Ghandour of Wamda Capital as one investor. Cleverly, they have also realised that they actually own infrastructure, so now plan to launch Mybox, where the lockers could be used for any other kind of e-commerce deliveries.

In 2nd place was Melltoo, a Consumer-to-consumer classifieds app that lets you easily sell second-hand items. It’s similar to Wallapop, or Depop in Europe. But Melltoo will also pick up the item and deliver it to the buyer. This works well in the Middle east, where people tend not to like to meet strangers… Melltoo has raised $205K in funding so far.

In first place was BitOasis, which claims to be the Middle East’s first Bitcoin wallet which can also send coins via Facebook messenger. So far it is in invite-only mode. The pitch by co-founder Ola Doudin was slick and impressive. She won them a table at Startup Alley at TechCrunch Disrupt in NYC, if they want it.

The other startups to pitch included shopping search engine ShopShopMe.com, golf marketplace golfscape; street vendor app Vendedy; enterprise mobile chat platform Getmymessage; swapping marketplace Swappaholics; social shopping site MAYZ; telemedicine platform Alemhealth; and iBeacon startup Appyshopper.

As for the Step Conference, I’d have to say this was one of the best conferences I’ve been to. It was run bang on time, and featured a number of excellent sessions on startups in the Middle East. More on that later.