UAE e-scooter start-up backed by Israeli venture capitalist

Fenix co-founders Jaideep Dhanoa and IQ Sayed exited former company Circ after it was bought out by Bird in January

A new UAE-based micro-mobility business has landed $3.8 million in seed funding from an Israeli venture capitalist.

Fenix, founded by former directors of e-scooter firm Circ Jaideep Dhanoa and IQ Sayed, will soon begin operations in Abu Dhabi. It is being backed by Maniv Mobility in what is the first venture investment into a UAE company by an Israel-based VC.

“As a result of the new friendship that has emerged since normalisation between the UAE and Israel, we were grateful to meet the team at Maniv Mobility and now benefit from working with some of the most talented and experienced global investors and tech entrepreneurs in the mobility space," Mr Dhanoa said. "We hope this investment is just the start of a cross-pollination of talent, capital and innovation between the nations that can only be an accelerant in the development of a true Middle Eastern tech ecosystem.”

Mr Dhanoa and Mr Sayed first met while working at Dubai-based Careem, where Mr Sayed worked in engineering and Mr Dhanoa was part of its strategy team. Mr Dhanoa subsequently worked at Singapore-based mobility firm Grab and Mr Sayed at Lyft's Autonomous Driving team in Munich, but the pair reunited as co-founders at Circ – a Berlin-based e-scooter hire firm that also operated in the UAE. Circ was acquired by US-based competitor Bird in January.

The shared micro-mobility market – offering e-scooters and electric bikes for hire – is growing rapidly and is expected to be worth between $300 billion and $500bn across the US, Europe and China by 2030, according to CBInsights. Start-ups in the sector have attracted about $5.3bn in funding since 2015, the US-based research firm said in a recent report.

Bird's Circ, Careem and Lime have been offering e-scooters for hire in Abu Dhabi since last year. Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority banned the hire of electric scooters in March last year while it investigated how the rental market could be safely regulated but permitted trials in five areas last month.

Fenix said it would have the biggest fleet of e-scooters that have been "purpose-built for continuous shared use", but did not give an exact number. Scooters cost Dh1 per kilometre to ride, after a Dh3 'unlocking' fee.

Following its Abu Dhabi launch, the company said it will roll out to other emirates and Gulf countries "in the coming months".

"We are delighted to be the first Israeli VC to invest in a UAE-based tech company. Maniv Mobility sees huge potential in the GCC region as a new market for micro-mobility and we were incredibly impressed by the team at Fenix,” Michael Granoff, founder and managing partner of Maniv Mobility, said.

Fenix said micro-mobility is one of the safest methods of shared transport during the Covid-19 pandemic as users remain socially distanced and they reduce the load on crowded public transport systems. The company's scooters are fitted with hand sanitisation packs and it said it will sanitise scooters while they are being recharged or redeployed to other parts of a city.

“The birth of Fenix is conjoined with the rebirth of our cities, our societies, and our economies as we transition out of Covid-19 lockdowns. We believe micro-mobility has an important role to play in navigating an uncertain present to a better tomorrow," Mr Sayed said.