Israeli VC firm Maniv Mobility, a venture fund focused exclusively on mobility tech, has led a $3.8 million seed round investment in UAE-based startup Fenix, a micro-mobility provider focused on the Middle East, the firm announced on Wednesday.
This development marks the first investment by an Israeli VC in a UAE-based tech startup since Israel and the UAE normalized state relations this summer.
“We are delighted to be the first Israeli VC to invest in a UAE-based tech company,” said Maniv Mobility founder and managing partner, Michael Granoff.
The firm “sees huge potential in the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Countries] region as a new market for micro-mobility and we were incredibly impressed by the team at Fenix and their drive to change the mobility future across the region,” he said.
Fenix was founded by Jaideep Dhanoa and IQ Sayed, former co-founders of Circ, the Berlin-based e-scooter company acquired by Bird, and colleagues at Careem, a subsidiary of Uber. The pair expect to soon launch Fenix’s electric kick-scooter service operations in Abu Dhabi, followed by other Emirates and Gulf markets in the coming months.
Fenix is entering the market with the largest fleet of electric vehicles in the region, according to the announcement.
“We want to transform the way our cities move and ignite impactful commerce by making mobility easier, cheaper, and quite simply redesigned, so we can all reach our potential,” said Sayed in a statement.
“Increasing mobility connectivity creates a more productive and inclusive economy and facilitates local commerce in our communities. Our collaboration with Maniv Mobility and this historic seed investment provides the resources and expertise for Fenix to build technology innovations that best service the mobility needs of the people and city partners in our region,” he added.
“As a result of the new friendship that has emerged since normalization 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,” said Dhanoa, who serves as CEO.
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“It is no secret that Israeli mobility companies have enjoyed global success – Waze and Mobileye are just the tip of the iceberg. 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 that will greatly benefit the region and its people at large,” he said.
Following the investment, Granoff will join Fenix’s board. Granoff has been involved in transportation technology for nearly 20 years and serves on the board of Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE), a Washington-based policy and advocacy organization he helped establish in 2004. He was also a board member at the Israeli electric vehicle operator Better Place which raised nearly a billion dollars before shuttering in 2013.
Maniv Mobility was founded in 2015 and, last year, closed a $100 million fund with strategic investments by 12 leading automotive and transportation corporations including BMW, Aptiv, Hyundai, Lear Corp, Shell, LG Electronics, Valeo, and the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance.
The VC firm is invested in over two dozen top mobility-focused Israeli companies such as Arbe Robotics, Intuition Robotics, Otonomo, Phantom Auto, and Cognata.
The Israel-UAE budding relationship
Since Israel and the UAE announced a US-brokered normalization pact in August that establishes official ties between the two countries, followed closely by Bahrain and Sudan, there’s been a flurry of activity between agencies, companies, and academic institutions in the two countries.
Last month, the first Israeli high-tech delegation led by Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP) set off for Abu Dhabi to foster future collaboration and investment opportunities with local ministers and local entrepreneurs.
In September, Mobileye, the developer of driver assistance systems acquired by Intel Corporation for $15.3 billion in 2017, announced that it will begin setting up the infrastructure to test autonomous vehicles in Dubai, hoping to roll out a full Mobility-as-a-Service (Maas) offering, including self-driving taxis and smart city solutions, by 2023.
In October, Israel’s most active VC investor, OurCrowd, announced a partnership with Phoenix, an Emirati business development company, to increase business and tech ties between Israel and the UAE.