Jordanian businessman receives Israeli check: ‘Jordan has almost no investment money’

Bara Wahba from Amman, Jordan, has completed her MA in Environmental Studies at Sde Boker College. Then he moved to running a family business in Izmir, Turkey. It was 2015, and Izmir was flooded with refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war. Wahba wanted to donate and volunteered to help refugee camps set up outside Izmir in translating and distributing medicines.

Wahba soon discovered an interesting, if not surprising, fact: in the refugee camps where tidy service facilities were built, the amount of medicine that he and other volunteers were required to distribute fell dramatically. He later traveled as a volunteer to Yemen during a chlorine epidemic in the country and also foresaw a shortage of sanitation solutions there. “In places where sewage tanks are used, you still need someone to empty their contents and treat the waste. This is a supply chain that often doesn’t exist,” says Wahba.

When he returned to Jordan, Wahba, 40, began working with partners to promote a cheap and cost-effective sanitation solution. The solution they have been working on for the past five years is mobile services that clean up human waste and turn it into compost that can then be sold to agriculture or the construction industry. As part of developing the solution, he built a lab in his basement and relied on his grandmother’s traditional recipe for killing bacteria.

His company, Kiss, has already carried out three pilot projects in Jordan and Turkey and is currently planning to start selling mobile services in Pakistan, a country with serious health problems. The annual cost for a family of five is expected to be $15-20.

So far, the company has received about $250,000 in grants and prizes, without funding from venture capital funds. “The entrepreneurial ecosystem in Jordan is very small and there are only two or three venture capital funds in the country. These funds are mainly looking for exciting areas like skimmers or want to invest in solutions that are already tested and the risks are low,” says Wehbe.

Wahab Wakis won second place in the final of the competition to select projects from two locations in the Middle East. The Tech for Humanity competition, held for the first time this year, was organized by Ziv Aviram Family Foundation, co-founder of Mobilai, Orcam and Forbes International. Yesterday (Tuesday) was held in Dubai the final match of the competition, in which the five contestants were selected from among 650 nominations.

Waba won a $100,000 grant, followed by Israeli startup Red-C Biotech, which is developing technology to produce global red blood cells based on stem cells. The startup wants to deal with a shortage of blood transfusions that causes about two million deaths worldwide each year.

Winner Ari Jarger with Zev Aviram / Photo: Forbes

According to Ari Garger, CEO and founder, the startup’s goal is to reach production of red blood cell transfusions at a cost of $50 per unit, regardless of volunteers and donations.

‘It’s hard to be a Deep Tech startup in Africa’

Sarah Penelve, 25, of Marrakech, Morocco, CEO and founder of startup BMTA&C, is also aware of the difficulty of raising funding from venture capital funds. “Because they have no solution to cooling, farmers in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Burkina Faso are losing up to 60% of their production and this is happening while 250 million people in Africa are starving.”

The contestant sang in Nilf from Morocco

The contestant sang in Nilf from Morocco

Benlef’s solution is a cost-effective, solar-powered refrigerator that requires no electrical connection. Each refrigerator can store six tons of fruit and vegetable crops at a temperature of 5 degrees. According to the BMTA&C model, farmers will pay for storage in the refrigerators that will be placed in the field.

So far, the company has received $280,000 in awards and grants, but it has also failed to raise funding from foundations. “If we were operating in another region we might have hired, but being a startup that deals with deep tech in Africa is difficult. Funds in Africa don’t understand what Deep Tech is, they are looking for investments in safer products like software.”

BMTA&C made it to the bottom five but didn’t win the top three. The company that took third place is Israeli startup Beewise, which is developing a robotic cell. The startup is fighting the collapse of bee colonies, with around 35% of the world’s bees dying each year as a result of global warming and the use of pesticides.

“The needs of bees are simple: to have food, medicine, the right temperature and prevent pests from entering the hive. All of this knows our robotic hive how to deliver at the right time,” said Sar Safra, CEO and founder of the company.

Contestant walked zero by Beewise / Photo: Forbes

Contestant walked zero by Beewise / Photo: Forbes

Beewise has raised about $40 million so far and employs about 100 people. They rent the automated hive to farmers and beekeepers, who pay a monthly fee.

“The standard had an impact on the world”

Another contender in the final was Israeli startup Biotic, which is developing a biodegradable polymer alternative to plastic called PGMV based on algae. The polymer can come in a rigid or flexible configuration. The startup, which was founded in June 2020, has raised half a million dollars as part of Safe, a loan that can be converted into equity, and is currently raising its initial lime round.

According to Aviram, founder and president of the Aviram Family Foundation, which was part of the judging panel, “it was the main criterion for choosing a startup that will have an impact on the world.” In the initial stages, in most cases it is impossible to know who is most likely to succeed. Our second goal in the entire project is to promote the Middle East and peace in the Middle East.”

Full disclosure: The author was a guest at the Aviram Foundation in Dubai

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