Maersk's venture arm co-leads $42m funding round in Egypt's start-up Trella

The digital platform, which connects truckers with freight loads, raised $30m in new equity and $12m in debt facilities

This picture taken on May 26, 2021 from the Cairo Citadel overlooking the Egyptian capital shows a view of the new National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC), which currently houses a collection of mummies dating to the New Kingdom period of Ancient Egyptian history.  / AFP / Amir MAKAR
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Egyptian start-up Trella, a digital freight platform that connects shippers to truckers, raised $42 million in a funding round led by international investors including Danish shipping titan Maersk's venture capital arm.

The Series A funding round consists of $30m in equity and $12m in debt to help scale growth across the Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan, the Cairo-based freight start-up said in a statement on Monday.

Maersk Growth and Saudi Arabian VC Raed Ventures together led the equity segment of the funding round, while the debt facilities were provided by Lendable and other local financial institutions.

"We're looking at 300 to 400 per cent growth in 2021," Omar Hagrass, co-founder and chief executive of Trella, told The National. "We're holding back from growing further, it's important to get the tech infrastructure right and in place so that once we're ready to grow 1000 per cent year-on year, we have the tech foundation."

Trella, which was founded in 2019, has operations across Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The company has more than 350 shippers on its mobile app— including Coca-Cola, Maersk, Mondi, Henkel, Orascom and Cemex— as well as more than 15,000 truckers.

Through the Trella app, shippers can directly book the transportation of freight loads and track these in real-time.

The company will use the $42m to invest in technology, product development, hiring more employees and expanding into Africa in the long term, Mr Hagrass, also a former Uber executive, said.

In the next six to nine months, Trella will focus on deepening its presence in its existing markets, serving them better with expansion into select "satellite" markets in North Africa, the Gulf and Levant, he said.

The start-up also plans to launch two new products over the next 18 months.

"We want to be looked at as a logistics solution, not just a trucking marketplace, which comes with add-ons on what we offer," Mr Hagrass said, citing FinTech and warehousing as examples.

He declined to provide a valuation for the company following the funding round, but said it is one of the most valuable tech start-ups in Egypt, growing 400 to 500 per cent annually.

Trukker, a similar UAE start-up that provides an Uber-like service for trucks, raised $10m in 2020 and was considering a potential listing to raise fresh funds to drive regional growth, its founder and chief executive Gaurav Biswas said in December.

Trella will seek additional funding rounds within the next two to three years, as it aims for "breakthroughs" in its technology and product development to disrupt the market, Mr Hagrass said.

It is "too early" to decide if Trella would go public, but the co-founders want to build a "mega-company" in the region and a listing may be a possible outcome of that expansion, he said.

Jeppe Hoier, partner at Maersk Growth, said Trella's platform is an example of the "democratisation" of the logistics sector as even the smallest companies are gaining access to the industry due to new digital solutions.

"Trella is at the same time our first investment on the African continent founded by a team with significant experience from the start-up scene," Mr Hoier said.

Besides Mr Hagrass, Trella's four co-founders include chief operating officer and ex-Uber executive Ali El Atrash. Its chief technology officer Pierre Saad was a former software architect at Egyptian healthcare start-up Vezeeta. Trella's head of launch Muhammad El Garem was a former business development manager at OLX.

Omar Almajdouie, founding partner of Raed VC, said Trella's resilient business model and strong team contributed to its growth during the challenges of 2020.

"Trella’s product innovation has enabled them to grow significantly in the past year, despite the tough operating environment," Mr Almajdouie said.

The word "trella" refers to a truck in colloquial Egyptian.

Egypt's start-up scene is thriving. Start-ups in North Africa's largest economy received a record $190m in funding last year, accounting for more than one-fifth of every venture capital deal in the broader Mena region, according to data platform Magnitt.

Access to sufficient funding is essential for SMEs to unlock growth, but still remains a "common pain point" in emerging and even developed markets with more support needed, Mr Hagrass said.