Top-10 AI Startups in the United Arab Emirates

May 30. 2019. 8 mins read

Even the Americans can be excused for not knowing much about the United Arab Emirates, or the UAE as it’s often called. It’s a country in the Middle East which is probably best known for a city called Dubai, with its luxury yacht cruises, Bugatti police cars, and excessive bling. Dubai is the most famous of the UAE’s seven city-states, and one of the two most influential cities of the union, the other being the capital Abu Dhabi. The country has managed to diversify its economy away from oil and towards services in the past three decades and has become one of the main business hubs of the Middle Eastern region. Small and medium enterprises now contribute 30% to the national GDP, on par with the oil and gas sector. As record startup investments are flowing into the Middle East, the UAE is well positioned to act as a launchpad for new ventures.

There are still some challenges to overcome though. Incredibly, 88% of the UAE’s population of 10 million people are expatriates, and more than 80% of Emirati youth are employed in the public sector, all of which translates to a private sector that relies heavily on foreign skills. The UAE was the first country in the region to create a national AI strategy and the first in the world to establish a Ministry of Artificial Intelligence. The strategy focuses on using AI to enhance the performance and efficiency of the public sector and to attract investments into AI in multiple other sectors including transportation, healthcare, renewable energy, and education. We queried Crunchbase to find the top-10 AI startups in the UAE based on disclosed funding.

Name Application City Funding (USD millions)
Seez Automotive Dubai           2.8
Training Calendar Education Dubai           2.1
Searchie Recruitment Dubai           2.0
Sarwa.co FinTech Dubai           1.5
Derq Automotive Dubai           1.5
Votek Speech Recognition Dubai           1.0
Narrativa Content Generation Abu Dhabi           0.9
Cognitev Digital Marketing Dubai         0.75
LZine Personal Assistant Dubai         0.65
SocialDice Recruitment Dubai         0.60


FoundeClick for company websited in 2017, Seez has raised $2.8 million to develop an intelligent car-buying platform. The app’s algorithms recognize the car make and model from a smartphone photo, calculate fair price and depreciation for that exact model, and search used car websites for live advertisements of similar cars. The app’s chatbot autonomously contacts sellers and negotiates on behalf of the buyer, giving them 10X the reach and decreasing the time it takes to find the right car from 17 hours to a few seconds, according to founder Tarek Kabrit. The startup is currently active in the UAE, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, and plans on expanding into three new countries every year starting with Turkey, South Africa, and Oman. Seez is headquartered in Dubai and has offices in Beirut, Copenhagen, and Paris. Based on their growth so far, the company expects to be profitable next year.

Training Calendar

Click for company websiteFounded in 2016, Training Calendar has raised $2.1 million to develop a marketplace for online and offline education and skill training. Three use cases for the platform are as follows:

  • Corporations can use the platform to identify skill gaps and training needs for their employees, create a development plan for the entire organization, and allocate personalized courses to each employee with the help of AI algorithms.
  • Recruiters can find talent with the right skill set through automated shortlisting algorithms.
  • Students and professionals are able to find their own skill gaps based on global benchmarks for different job positions, enroll in the best courses to fill these gaps, and find jobs that match their skill set.

Training Calendar has over 75,000 online courses available by providers like Coursera and Udemy, 6,500 classroom courses in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and India, and 40 executive courses provided by leading business schools.


Click for company websiteFounded in 2018, Searchie raised $2 million in seed funding last month to develop a recruitment platform that uses an AI personality assessment to find the most suitable candidates for any position. When an employer opens a position on the Searchie platform, freelance recruiters start sourcing candidates who are then video interviewed by an AI assistant that looks at behavioral traits, skills, and cultural fit using the five-factor model of personality traits.

Searchie's AI recruiter looks at behavioral traits, skills, and cultural fit during the video interview
Credit: Searchie

The startup then presents a shortlist of the five best candidates to the employer for further internal interviews making the entire recruitment process more efficient. Employers are charged $25-$50 per interview instead of the usual recruiter success fee of around 20% on the annual salary. After the first version of the platform was released in May 2018, Searchie has quickly signed up clients from 10 countries and is looking to expand to 28 shortly. No mention is being made of how happy recruiters are about having their fees cut so dramatically. (We think recruiting is going the way of the dodo, so who cares really.)


Click for company websiteJoining the melee of robo-advisors out there, Sarwa raised $1.5 million to develop their own take on cheap algorithmic investing. Founded in 2016, the firm invests client funds in a portfolio of low-cost ETFs based on the results of a preliminary questionnaire about investment goals, timeline, and risk-taking preferences. Algorithms take care of asset diversification and actual investment while live financial advisers are available to explain the investment process and help set financial goals. Deposits start at $500, and Sarwa charges an advisory fee of 0.85% and an ETF fee of 0.25% for the lowest band of investments per year – pretty steep compared to the largest robo-advisors on the market. Sarwa prides itself with its superior performance compared to ARC Private Client Indices, a composite index of discretionary private portfolio performance of over 70 investment houses.

Sarwa's model portfolios outperform the ARC private client indices of discretionary portfolio performance, but underperform cheap S&P500 vehicles
Sarwa’s model portfolios outperform the ARC private client indices, but underperform cheap S&P500 vehicles – Credit: Sarwa

Our thoughts? The ARC index may be an inappropriate benchmark as it includes all kinds of direct and indirect, active and passive investments. The fact is that the iShares S&P 500 ETF outperformed Sarwa’s equity-centered growth offering by 25% over the period May 2014-August 2018 for an expense ratio of 0.04% (the reporting period is the longest possible overlap between available history for iShares Sarwa). While Betterment is a much better option for U.S. residents, Sarwa is a similar offering for people in the Middle East and has a higher price point due to the industry landscape in the region.


Click for company websiteFounded in 2016, Derq has raised $1.5 million to develop a system that predicts and prevents road accidents using AI and vehicle-to everything communications technology. The system uses cameras on the road to detect dangerous driver behavior, predict potential accidents, and alerts other drivers in the vicinity two seconds before an accident happens using a device that’s fitted into each car on the road – ideally.

Derq prevents accidents by predicting them using road cameras, then notifying drivers close by
Credit: menabytes.com

Derq’s proof of concept is already in use in Dubai’s Silicon Oasis neighborhood, and the company is looking for fleet operators and equipment manufacturers to partner with following a successful trial. The startup has opened a second office in Detroit where they hope to avoid being killed by stray bullets while trying to peddle their technology to various car manufacturers.


Click for company websiteFounded in 2014, Votek has raised $1 million to develop speech recognition technology for the various dialects of Arabic. The speech recognition algorithms provide 95% accuracy and can be trained to recognize specific accents as well. The startup has customized its engine for three domains: smart government apps, a virtual assistant for mobile apps and customer service, and smart toys for children. A key benefit of Votek’s technology is that it can be used offline and doesn’t need to send requests to a server during operation. The company’s customer service offering is currently used by Dubai’s governmental housing establishment while the smartphone-connected toy is on sale in the UAE. Founder Lojain Jibawi plans to develop the toy’s educational content and create a version geared towards autistic children as well in the future.


Click for company websiteFounded in 2015, Narrativa, the only Abu Dhabi startup in our list, has raised $924,000 to develop an automated content generation platform. Narrativa’s algorithms can generate customized reports for the financial services industry, product descriptions for e-commerce, healthcare documents with specific terminology, and media content, all autonomously using natural language. The proprietary platform called Gabriele runs comprehensive data analytics to create narratives in specific fields without human oversight, practically translating big data into easily digestible text. One of the company’s clients is MSN, the Microsoft web portal and internet services company.


Founded in 2015, Cognitev has raised $750,000 to develop tools for digital advertising and web traffic acquisition. The startup’s AI algorithms create different types of advertisements including search ads, banners, social ads, and native ads by scraping a client’s website for text and pictures, then putting it all together in the form of an ad campaign. The algorithms then test different versions of the campaign on multiple platforms like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon, and choose the most efficient advertising mix.

Cognitev creates different online ad formats by simply going through a customer website
Alternatives to different online ad formats created by Cognitev algorithms – Credit: Cognitev

Cognitev’s solution can be used to advertise products and services or generate web traffic through ads. While both goals require the same workflow, the difference is in pricing. In the case of web traffic generation, clients pay the advertising budget and a pre-set cost per visitor. For the automation of product or service ads, the startup offers subscription packages starting at $150 per month.


Click for company websiteFounded in 2016, Dubai startup LZine has raised $650,000 to develop an AI assistant for business and personal use. The assistant called Zine is accessible through mobile, tablet, and computer and integrates into corporate IT systems like Salesforce, Oracle, Microsoft Dynamics, and Google. Zine takes care of many business processes including corporate travel, expenses, payroll, purchasing, document management, and payment transactions. The startup has partnered with local service providers in Dubai and its assistant can also help individual users with rental registration, bill payment, travel services, and bookings as needed. The AI algorithm learns to predict user behavior over time and proactively makes suggestions about calendar entries, activities, and tasks as well.


Founded in 2013, Dubai startup SocialDice has raised $600,000 to develop a recruitment app that cuts recruiters’ administrative work by 70% through automating a large part of the hiring process. Starting with job posting, SocialDice takes care of the full hiring workflow – applicant management, communications with candidates, performance measurement, and employer brand building. The app uses semantic algorithms to automatically filter and rank candidates based on how closely they match a particular job description and can move candidates between openings if it finds a better fit. Access to SocialDice is subscription-based and packages are priced based on the number of open positions inside the client organization.


If you’ve spent some time in Dubai, you might leave with the impression that it’s a boring place stifled by excessive consumerism, where the cost of a night out exceeds the monthly salary for half of your household’s servants – and you’d be right. It’s also home to nine out of ten startups in our list. While startup funding levels are not on par with global tech hubs of a similar size – like Hong Kong – the UAE’s long-term development plan and AI ministry should get the ball rolling. The country’s government has a reputation for getting things done, and with access to the third largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, there should be plenty of funding to go around.


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