Intel Invests in Jordan and Lebanon

Via Fast Company, a report on Intel’s latest cash infusion to three Middle Eastern firms.  As the article notes:

At last week’s World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Marrakech, one interesting announcement largely flew over Western heads: Intel Capital has made large-scale investments in three Jordanian and Lebanese companies.

Lebanese VoIP firm Nymgo received their first infusion of Intel cash, while Jordanian social networking site Jeeran and entertainment portal ShooFeeTV got their second rounds of Intel funding in two years. Intel Capital is the microchip giant’s investing arm, with a self-proclaimed mission of “mak[ing] and manag[ing] financially attractive investments in support of Intel’s strategic objectives.”

The exact amounts of the investments were not disclosed. Local tech site Startup Arabia sardonically noticed that this was “as always for the region,” but that the investments came out of a $50 million Middle East and Turkey fund set up by Intel Capital.

Intel Capital’s interest in the Middle East region coincides with WEF meetings in the area–a 2009 conference in Jordan was marked by a similar round of investment. The mere fact that Intel is exclusively going after internet portals and communication facilitators will have an effect on the shape of the local start-up scene: Newly minted investors and techies will naturally want to go where the money is.

According to Intel Capital Middle East and Africa Director Feroz Sanaulla, “We trust in local talent and believe that Arabic providers should be fully equipped to supply regional content. By investing in such companies that inspire, create or deliver local content, we are on the right path toward a positive future in the Middle East.”

While this is Intel Capital’s first major Middle East investment push in 2010, an educated guess on the cash involved can be made by looking at the firm’s two other recent region-specific investments. In October, Intel invested $17 million into Chinese e-commerce firm along with $23 million in investment in three Indian firms in March. However, Intel Capital’s India Technology Fund has over $250 million in funding compared to the $50 million allotted for the Middle East.
Intel Capital’s Middle East and Turkey Fund currently handles eight regional startups. Apart from the most recent funding recipients, other interesting fundees include animation firm Vertex Studios and hotel automation service provider Pulse. Both are based in Dubai.

The fund’s prior investments in both Jeeran and ShooFeeTV were both previously announced at a WEF conference. Funding for both was provided in 2009 at a conference in Jordan. Intel’s World Ahead program is also active in Jordan, where they work on a variety of infrastructure and training projects.

ShooFeeTV’s setup is the most interesting out of the three cash recipients. They intend to offer interactive program listings for satellite television throughout the entire Arab world, including diaspora communities in North America and Europe.

Due to government censorship in much of the Middle East of broadcast programming, satellite television is wildly popular among all economic classes region-wide. ShooFeeTV’s twist is to offer highly customized television listings for all users–regardless of national borders — along with large doses of online-viewable programming.

Nymgo, a Lebanese-British firm, plans to use Intel’s funding to accelerate infrastructure development, enhance functionality and to subsidize advertising and promotions. A scrappy newcomer to the VoIP field, Nymgo has made a name for themselves recently through cut-rate calls to Indian mobile phones and land lines. In comparison to larger competitors such as Skype, Nymgo has instead opted for a low-functionality model that offers cheap calls in exchange for a lack of video and computer-to-computer dialing.

Jeeran is one of the Arab world’s largest social networking-only sites. They offered some of the region’s first web hosting services and, with their 2000 start-up date, are relative old-timers in the Middle Eastern internet scene. As of 2010, they have more than 1.5 million members, 650,000 active websites and 150,000 active blogs. However, their user base is currently centered on Jordan and the Persian Gulf with relatively little penetration elsewhere. Jeeran has announced their intent to launch a series of city portals across the Middle East.

The biggest challenge for smaller regional specialist sites such as ShooFeeTV and Jeeran are the multi-use portals. Middle Eastern web users largely opt for all-in-one portals such as Yahoo’s Maktoob and various local sites in national markets like Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Intel’s investment in the region is interesting–and their choice of investing exclusively in internet media providers is even more interesting.

This entry was posted on Monday, November 8th, 2010 at 9:02 am and is filed under Uncategorized.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

Comments are closed.

Wildcats & Black Sheep is a personal interest blog dedicated to the identification and evaluation of maverick investment opportunities arising in frontier - and, what some may consider to be, “rogue” or “black sheep” - markets around the world.

Focusing primarily on The New Seven Sisters - the largely state owned petroleum companies from the emerging world that have become key players in the oil & gas industry as identified by Carola Hoyos, Chief Energy Correspondent for The Financial Times - but spanning other nascent opportunities around the globe that may hold potential in the years ahead, Wildcats & Black Sheep is a place for the adventurous to contemplate & evaluate the emerging markets of tomorrow.