It has been an exciting few years for startups in Iraq. Despite the challenges of Covid and now, a gloomy outlook on the worldwide economy, Iraq’s economy is set to grow over 5% over the next few years. For startups, investors have been paying more attention recently. An estimated $26 million+ has been invested into 16 Iraqi startups since 2019. The number of investments in Iraqi startups grew during the pandemic and included regional and international VCs. Let’s see what has been happening…
Year by Year Breakdown
In 2019, it was only Miswag that was raising money among local and regional investors. As far as the startup sector goes, up until 2019, Miswag was the only company single-handedly putting Iraq on the map. As the first home-grown tech startup in the country, Miswag has been operational for around eight years now and boasts a locally-led team of experts.
2020 saw more investors enter the market due to the growth of tech-based startups during the pandemic. Startups including Lezzoo, Tabib, Teami and Alsaree3 raised seed funding to expand their footprint. Lezzoo in particular had broken a record and raised a seven-figure investment from international VCs, whilst going down in history as the first Iraqi startup backed by Y Combinator. This was also the year Lezzoo acquired Erbil Delivery for an undisclosed amount in order to be the leading grocery delivery in North Iraq.
For Baghdad-based startups, 2021 was a year for further expansion. Food delivery app Alsaree3 raised two bridge rounds, along with Hi-Express, and Miswag-competitor Orisdi raising seed and bridge rounds from INNOVEST and Al Sharqiya TV.
European startups also had their eyes set on growing their presence in Iraq when ZoodPay raised $38 Million from Sturgeon Capital, Zain Ventures, and French Partners.
This year has opened up investments for other startups operating in agritech, delivery, and edtech.
Online learning platform IoT Kids raised $20,000 seed funding by Earthlink Telecoms, which was matched by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH via its project “ICT for Youth in Iraq”.
Alsaree3 raised its second bridge round of $3.5 million, whilst Orderii received pre-seed funding from Iraq Venture Partners. Alongside this, Euphrates Ventures invested six-figures into agritech startup Nakhla.
Q-commerce startup TipTop entered the market in North Iraq in 2020 and raised $5 million from Korek Telecoms.
Orisdi raised their pre-series A round again with Sharqiya TV and other angel investors.
And not to forget Baly who raised a whopping $10.5 million from Kingsway Capital, MSA Capital, Global Founders Capital, Vostok Ventures, Majid Al Futtaim and March Holding.
The year ends with another acquisition by Lezzoo of B2B marketplace Saydo in its effort to become a leading B2B e-commerce company in emerging markets.
The majority of the funding has come from family offices and angel investors consisting of Iraqi diaspora, corporates and businessmen, and investments heightened after 2020. The pandemic has provided more opportunities for tech startups to scale across the country given the change in consumer behaviour and reduced suspicion of buying online.
However, there is still a long way to go. Only one out of the 20 investments that have taken place in the last three years was for a woman-led startup. Similarly, women investors are nowhere to be found and funding for Series A and above is extremely difficult as no funds tackle this round of growth. There is an opportunity here for investors to support scaling companies at an early stage and reap the benefits within the next five years.
From the investor side, challenges stem from founders not having the proper documentation to record their financials, a lack of understanding on how to prepare a pitch deck, and a lack of knowledge on how VC funding in general works. Investor readiness programs can help fill this gap by working closely with the investors mentioned above to understand these challenges in detail and then provide training and insight to startups.
Another challenge is that not enough startups are looking to expand outside of Iraq, yet. Most investors are not only interested in growing businesses in Iraq. They are looking for business models that can expand beyond and compete with regional players. For regional leaders in the delivery, e-commerce and ride-hailing space that are looking to expand to Iraq, there is potential to acquire existing businesses with large market share rather than starting from scratch. We are yet to see a large-scale acquisition, though hopefully that changes in 2023.
There is a huge opportunity here for regional VCs to include Iraqi startups in their portfolio, especially as many regional startups want to expand to Iraq. Careem, Feel 22 and ZenHR are already seeing the potential – for Careem, Iraq is one of its fastest growing markets. So, where is everyone else?
We hope 2023 will be the year where there are more investments in Iraqi startups from some fresh blood. If not, investment groups already focused on Iraq will either run out of money or startups. Regional and international VCs need to pay more attention to the opportunities available before they miss the boat entirely because Iraqi founders will not continue to be overlooked and underestimated.