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AI and scaling startup ecosystem take center stage at Web Summit Qatar

Technologists, entrepreneurs, and investors at Web Summit Qatar tackled whether the MENA region was ready for a tech-forward future

AI and scaling startup ecosystem take center stage at Web Summit Qatar
[Source photo: Web Summit Qatar ]

On Tuesday, the atmosphere at the Web Summit Qatar was charged with excitement as attendees worldwide flocked to the venue for an action-packed day. Themes such as AI’s impact, scaling MENA’s startup ecosystem, and attracting global talent to the region were discussed at the tech conference.

“With AI, there is massive information asymmetry. Everyone is now an ‘expert’ for some reason, and they talk about language models… What that does, unfortunately, is there is a lot of hysteria, and the use-case isn’t clear,” said Sachin Dev, Founder of Builder.ai, speaking at the AI Moment panel discussion.

At the same panel exploring the impact of AI on retail, Ronaldo Mouchawar, VP of Amazon Middle East and North Africa, said AI is transforming the shopping experience by offering personalized recommendations, streamlining search processes, and providing real-time assistance. “The shopping journey will look drastically different in the next two or three years. AI recommendations based on context rather than descriptors will guide consumer experience.”


Despite funding slowing year-on-year since 2021 globally, the same cannot be said of funding from the Middle East – particularly from the GCC. A panel discussed the role and future of Middle East funds in the global economy. “The region stands at 0.2% of GDP that goes into venture capital, that compares to 0.6% in the US, so it’s not that we’re a fraction of it by a quarter, we’re a fraction by multiples. So, to ensure founders in the region have the opportunity to build companies as great in the region as anywhere else, we have a duty as a VC and sovereign wealth fund community to find the strategic capital to fund and give them a level playing field,” said Noor Sweid, founder and managing partner at Global Ventures. 

Another discussion explored the main challenges of scaling startups in 2024. When asked if BNPL players Tabby and Tamara could marry each other, Hosam Arab, co-founder & CEO at Tabby, said, “Three or four years ago, I could say let me outsmart my competition, and I will win. I don’t think that something like that needs to happen today. There are only two BNPL players in the Middle East, so there’s a lot of room for us to grow rather than look at consolidation at this stage.” 

A host of other talks took place across stages, featuring speakers such as Julie Bogaert, Head of Talent Partnerships for EMEA Snap; Rabea Ataya, founder and CEO, Bayt.com; Fadi Ghandour, managing partner, Wamda Capital; Ragy Thomas, founder, Sprinklr, Sara Sabry, founder, CEO and Astronaut, Deep Space Initiative, and more.


Several companies announced product drops, new initiatives, and forward-looking plans for 2030. Shell announced it would be bringing the next chapter of the Shell Eco-marathon to Qatar. The global academic program tests student teams to design and manufacture energy-efficient vehicles that can travel the farthest with the least fuel.

Skillkeepr unveiled its tech-enabled platform that aims to redefine the hiring processes with features like an AI talent suggestion engine, NLP-enhanced skill alignment’ and more. 

Meanwhile, Brinc, a global venture capital and accelerator firm, announced its official partnership with Web Summit Qatar, demonstrating its commitment to fostering innovation in the thriving environment of the MENA region.

Sand Technologies, a global AI and technology consulting company, announced the launch of Sand Labs to boost the competitive edge of startups worldwide. This division brings the company’s AI and software development expertise to startups and scaleups worldwide. 

In a panel discussion at the summit, Warner Music Group announced it had inked a deal with Bollywood actress and singer Nora Fatehi, her first agreement with a major global record company. 

“The MENA region is definitely an upcoming market that will take over in the music industry,” said Fatehi, who was at the Centre Stage at the summit with CEO of Warner Music Group, Robert Kyncl.

The day ended on a high note with closing remarks by Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan, who raised a clarion call for a ceasefire in the Gaza war. “Beyond the comfort zone of the familiar lies the opportunity to understand, connect, and grow,” she said, highlighting the role of technology in understanding stories of the millions battling the ravages of war. 

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