AstroLabs Celebrates Merit, One of the Earliest Female Founded Companies in Saudi

Merit, a member of the AstroLabs expansion network, has announced a significant milestone of raising a $12 million pre-Series B in an oversubscribed round, surpassing its initial target of $5 million, a testament to its strong position in the technology industry globally and in Saudi Arabia. The achievement comes shortly after the relocation of its headquarters to Riyadh after participating in the RELOCATE program last year.

The company’s latest financing round was led by Alistithmar Capital i-Cap, the investment arm of Saudi Investment Bank, and drew substantial participation from returning investors such as Tech Invest Com and Hambro Perks Oryx Fund, who invested in Merit’s Series A round back in 2021, in which the company raised $5 million in total funding.

The fundraise follows a period of record growth for the company, in which it has seen a CAGR growth rate of 60% and an 80% increase in its user base as well as the launch of 100 instances across an additional 20 countries.

Merit offers a suite of employee and customer engagement tools and technologies designed to enable businesses to implement effective retention strategies, respond to changing client preferences, and increase conversion rates.

The company is led by CEO and co-founder Julie Barbier-Leblan, who was recently recognized by Forbes as one of the world’s Top 20 Women in Tech in 2022 and 2023. As the founder of a female-led company, Barbier-Leblan highlighted Saudi Arabia’s emergence as an attractive destination for female founders and entrepreneurs, aligning with the Vision 2030 program’s strong focus on empowering women and increasing their participation in the workforce and entrepreneurship.

As an expansion partner, AstroLabs was instrumental in accelerating Merit’s growth story in the Kingdom, said Barbier-Leblan, adding: “Their deep understanding of the Saudi and UAE markets, coupled with their relentless support, has been pivotal in our successful market expansion. With AstroLabs by our side, we have been able to tap into new opportunities, forge strategic partnerships, and elevate the standard of engagement solutions in the region.”

Merit has gained immense traction over the past year, having distributed over a million rewards and gifts in the Kingdom in 2023 alone, cementing its status as a leader in the engagement technology market and setting a new benchmark for innovation. Building on that success, Merit looks to double down on expanding its reach and uptake in the Saudi market by enhancing this tally threefold in 2024.

“Being one of the first female foreign investors in the country and one of the first companies part of the RELOCATE program under NTDP, I can confirm that being a woman leader nowadays in Saudi Arabia is supported by the ambition of Saudi Arabia to transform and leverage women leaders’ skills and capabilities in the future,” she noted.

Barbier-Leblan, along with Thrishan Padayachi, Merit’s co-founder, were two of the first entrepreneurs to benefit from the Saudi Premium Residency Entrepreneurship Program, which allows foreign nationals to live, work, and own businesses and property in the Kingdom without a sponsor.

The flagship program was launched in response to Saudi Arabia’s growing stature as a tech haven and the ideal environment for innovative businesses to set up and scale their businesses.

Merit’s clients in the Kingdom cut across diverse sectors, including e-commerce, direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands, IT and financial services, and airlines. Notable examples include large enterprises like Standard Chartered, Adidas, HSBC, Amazon, and Riyad Bank.

“Merit has long been renowned for significant contributions to its clients’ growth and success across the countries where it operates. Building on that foundation, Merit’s recent footprint expansion in Saudi Arabia will cement its position as a market leader by driving the growth of large-scale businesses in the Kingdom’s thriving digital economy, supporting the Vision 2030 goals for an inclusive, diversified economy,” commented Alex Nicholls, director of expansion at AstroLabs.

To highlight the impact they have created across the Kingdom, AstroLabs recognized Merit’s successful journey during their celebration of expanding 600 high-growth companies to Saudi Arabia, this January.

Saudi Arabia has emerged as a global technology powerhouse owing to its powerful digital infrastructure, an increasingly digitized population, and the rapid uptake of technologies in the public sector as mandated by Vision 2030. According to recent figures, the digital market in Saudi Arabia is the largest in the region, estimated to have been worth $123 billion in 2023, up from $111 billion in 2021.

Leveraging a workforce made up of nationalities and their diverse talent, a robust tech stack, and multiple tie-ups with industry-leading partners in Saudi Arabia, Merit is set to bring transformative changes to the business landscape in the Kingdom, rapidly evolving to be a leading innovation hub under Vision 2030.  

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