Aura Finance addressing the financing needs of SMEs

Aura Finance addressing the financing needs of SMEs

Shahrukh Ghazali, co-founder of Aura Finance, talks about their unique SME financing solutions, winning the Fintech Startup Innovator award, overcoming early challenges, and future plans for growth and product development.

Congratulations on winning first place and the Fintech Startup Innovator award at Eureka! GCC. How does it feel to receive this recognition?
Winning at Eureka! GCC validated our novel approach to solving the problem of SME financing. It was great to be recognized as an innovator in the fintech space, particularly by key players in the financial services industry who are familiar with our problem and the ecosystem we’re part of.

What do you think were the key factors that contributed to Aura Finance winning this award?
Problem, product & team. We’re tackling a massive problem, which if solved, has the potential to uplift economies across our region. We’ve built a best-in-class product providing the fastest fully automated credit risk assessment for SMEs in the region and a seamless user experience which we demo-ed during our pitch. Our team brings relevant expertise in tech and financial services, having most recently led key functions in Careem Pay, the fintech vertical of the region’s largest unicorn, Careem.

Can you share the story behind the founding of Aura Finance and what inspired you to enter the fintech space?
Me and my co-founder Samer El Mardini, we met at Careem Pay while being part of the leadership team building a suite of fintech products. We heard about the challenges of working in the region from business owners in our network, and after digging, found a gap in the SME financing space that was poised to be addressed given the latest developments in the ecosystem. Like others who’ve left Careem to do the same, we felt we had the tools we needed to build a great business to solve this problem.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in the early days of Aura Finance, and how did you overcome them?
While we’re still in the early days of Aura, our biggest challenge initially was just getting started. No amount of research or planning matches putting a product in customer’s hands. We built a prototype ourselves in a couple of weeks and started running test transactions. The market demand for it gave us the conviction we needed to hire a team and start building the product you see today.

How do you perceive the current state of the fintech ecosystem in the Middle East?
The fintech ecosystem has come a long way in the middle east. This is largely driven by the shift from a fintech’s vs incumbents mindset, to a partnership-driven approach. We are now seeing incumbent financial institutions, both banks and financing companies, adopting fintech enablement as a key strategic pillar, with some even hiring dedicated resources for this purpose. This forward thinking approach is shared by governments, who are creating new regulatory regimes, accelerators and other initiatives to promote fintech.

What unique opportunities and challenges do you see for fintech startups in this region?
The biggest opportunity, especially in the SME financing space, is that the market is largely unserved, with the SME credit gap in the GCC alone standing at $250 Bn . This is also the biggest challenge, as while attitudes are beginning to shift in the ecosystem, the practical applications have yet to mature.

How has your funding journey been so far?
Fundraising is something that was completely new to us until we started Aura. Additionally, Aura was started in the most challenging fundraising environment in the last few years. However, we’ve been fortunate to find strong early believers as angel investors, some of which are prominent names in the ecosystem, who’ve helped us get to this point. We recently closed our oversubscribed angel round and are focused on growing the business before seeking additional funding.

What sets Aura Finance apart from other fintech startups in the region, and what is your unique value proposition?
For starters, we’re not just building a digital front-end on top of a manual back-office. We’re building an end-to-end digital experience, with the fastest automated credit risk assessment in the region. We’re customer centric, offering them the earliest stage pre-approval in the market, and collection support. We’re also building tailored features for specific industries, where we will integrate with the tools they use everyday to provide a seamless experience.

What are the primary goals and focus areas for Aura Finance over the next 1-2 years?
Our focus areas at the moment are one to increase our lending capital, to serve the $16,000,000 annual financing need of our pipeline customers, secondly improve our product, both in terms of user experience and credit risk assessment capabilities and thirdly to bring new use cases to market to address the SME financing gap in novel ways

Can you share any upcoming innovations or new features that Aura Finance plans to introduce to the market?
We’re currently building integrations with popular accounting tools in order to pull information more seamlessly into Aura, allowing our customers to create transactions for financing in seconds rather than minutes. We’re also building a few additional use cases that are confidential at the moment, but will allow SMEs to improve their working capital positions in other ways.


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