Uber’s Middle Eastern rival Careem raises $350M at a $1B valuation

2016 is almost out but there’s just time to anoint one more ride-sharing unicorn. Careem, one of Uber’s lower profile rivals in emerging markets, has taken a step into the global limelight today after it announced that it has raised $350 million led by Japanese e-commerce firm Rakuten and Saudi Telecom Company (STC).

The investment gives Dubai-headquartered Careem a valuation of $1 billion. That’s according to a filing from STC, which reveals that it has acquired 10 percent of the company for $100 million.

Four-year-old Careem in present in 47 cities across 11 countries predominantly in the Middle East but also Turkey, Pakistan and parts of North Africa. Across those territories, it claims 150,000 drivers — which it calls “captains” — and some six million users. The firm had previously raised $72 million, according to Crunchbase, so this new round — which is its Series D — is a major step up financially.

The money looks like going towards market expansions primarily. Careem recently entered Turkey and it revealed plans to reach 15 new cities across Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt in December alone. It said it is aiming to create one million jobs by expanding its driver pool and it also pledged to put some of the funds into R&D. Back in the summer, Careem announced a $100 million research strategy to “accelerate innovation in transportation-related technology infrastructure” in the Middle East.

“We are inspired and humbled to work with world class strategic partners like Rakuten and STC” said Mudassir Sheikha, co-founder and CEO of Careem, said in a statement. “They not only bring significant institutional backing for Careem’s new horizons, but also global technology leadership and deep local experience bringing us closer to achieving our mission of improving the lives of everyone in the region.”

That’s not quite all, there is more money coming. Careem said that this $350 million allocation is the first tranche of a larger $500 million round that it is currently working on. The company’s didn’t provide a timeframe for when the entire raise will be completed.

Beyond Rakuten, which is already an investor in Uber rivals Lyft and South America-based Cabify, and STC, which is the largest telecom operator in the Middle East, other investors in the round include Abraaj Group, Al Tayyar Group, Beco Capital, El Sewedy Investments, Endure Capital, Lumia Capital, SQM Frontier and Wamda Capital.

STC already has Careem equity through a previous investment made by STC Ventures, an independently controlled investment firm that counts the telco as its key LP, but now it is making its own deal as part of a “strategy to invest in the innovative digital world.”

Uber is present in more than 400 cities worldwide, including the Middle East, and it has financial ties in the region. The U.S. ride-sharing giant announced in June that it had taken a $3.5 billion investment from Public Investment Fund (PIF), Saudi Arabia’s main investment fund, at a valuation of just over $62 billion. Back then, Uber said that it had 395,000 active riders in the Middle East region. In Saudi Arabia, where women are not permitted to drive, it said that 80 percent of its passengers are female.