The Evolution of Dubai Venture Funding: Dubai's Maturing Scaleups and Unicorns

The Evolution of Dubai Venture Funding: Dubai's Maturing Scaleups and Unicorns

By Ashok Raman, 12 July 2023

Unicorns and Soonicorns

More than 30% of the funding rounds are attributed to startups headquartered in Dubai, implying 87% of all funding rounds for UAE-based companies are for firms headquartered in the Emirate. What is more amazing though is that Dubai-based companies have raised nearly 60% of all MENA funding since 2012. Dubai is also home to the most unicorns in the region and aims to be home to 20 unicorns by 2031.

Graph: Cities Home to the Most Unicorns in MENA

Ride-hailing platform Careem became a unicorn in 2016 with its Series D round, when it raised US$350 million from a number of investors, including Saudi Telecom Company, Rakuten, Wamda Capital and BECO Capital, among others.

During the same year, Noon procured US$ 1 billion in funding. In 2017, Vista Global Holdings received a private equity round of US$ 200 million from Rhône Group, which gave it a US$2.5 billion valuation. In 2018, Telegram had a US$ 1.7 billion ICO. Emerging Markets Property Group, EMPG now renamed as Dubizzle Group, became the next unicorn in 2020 after raising US$150 million from OLX Group followed by Yalla’s listing in September 2020.

stc pay, the Saudi Arabia-based payment solutions provider, became a unicorn in November 2020, after raising US$ 200 million from Western Union.

Fawry, the Egypt-based e-payment platform was next when its share price increased its valuation to over US$1 billion in October 2020. Jahez, Zeta, Kitopi and Aleph Holding were next in 2021, followed by MNT-Halan, the latest unicorn in 2023.

Swvl gained unicorn status when it was listed on Nasdaq. However, its share price has since dropped more than 99% and is currently valued at under US$10 million.

It is not just VC money that Dubai-based startups are attracting, Dubai-based scale-ups also enjoy a lion’s share of Private Equity rounds, corporate rounds and “others,” which is categorised by fundraising vehicles such as debt financing, equity crowdfunding, grants and convertible notes.

Infographic: MENA Total Funding 2012-2022

Among Dubai-based companies, funding types have also seen an increase in funding values through the years, including venture funding rounds, private equity rounds and corporate rounds. Venture funding rounds, alone, has surpassed the US$1 billion mark in both 2021 ($1.71 billion) and 2022 ($1.74 billion).

Graph: Dubai-Based Startups Fundraising by Funding Type


Dubai’s Maturing Scaleups

In recent years, Dubai-based startups have received more later stage funding, as startups have matured. From 2012, when it reached 15 funding rounds at seed stage, pre-seed stage and angel rounds, the Emirate has consistently seen more than 100 funding rounds in the past two years.

Ranking: Round of Funding Evolution in Dubai

While Dubai has started receiving later stage funding, those are still in single digits. What’s encouraging is that growth stage funding, Series A and Series B, has consistently increased through the years, peaking in 2021 at 28 transactions. Early stage and growth cheques have also been up with average funding increasing at each stage of funding through the years.

Ranking: Average Funding Value in Dubai by Stage

Dubai-based startups have attracted investments from not only local investors but also regional ones. Some of the key investors who are based in Dubai are Wamda Capital, Middle East Venture Partners, BECO Capital, Global Ventures and VentureSouq, to name a few.

Those active in corporate rounds and based in Dubai include Emaar, MBC Ventures, EMPG and Kitopi. Among the institutional investors within the UAE, except for Dtec, DFDF and ICD, the remaining are based in Abu Dhabi.

Infographic: UAE Main Active Investors


To get the lay of the investor landscape across Dubai and MENA, and for insights provided by the investors backing the start-ups and scale-ups that are changing the face of entrepreneurship in the region, read the report by clicking here.


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Dubai's Venture Capital Ecosystem

There are 749 scale-ups that have raised over US $1 million in fundraising in the Middle East and North Africa region; collectively raising over US $19.5 billion, cumulatively, as of December 2022. Over 40% of these scale-ups call Dubai home.

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