Start-ups crucial to the future of Saudi Arabia: Officials

SOURCE: Gulf News

Time: 13 April, 2018

Dubai: Saudi Arabia’s economic transformation will be fuelled by start-ups, according to UAE Ministry of Economy officials speaking at last week’s Annual Investment Meeting (AIM) event in Dubai.

As the country moves from an economy largely based on hydrocarbons to one more based on knowledge, the kingdom’s economic Vision 2030 is being driven by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.

Mohammad Bin Salman recently concluded a visit to Silicon Valley where he urged the global tech companies to invest in Saudi Arabia and help its economic transformation.

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), has been mulling investments in a number of global start-ups in recent years.

Juma Al Kait, assistant undersecretary at the UAE Ministry of Economy, opened the AIM start-up conference on April 11 by introducing Nabeel Koshak, dean at MBSC, Saudi Arabia, as the chief guest.

Koshak, who accompanied the Saudi crown prince on his recent tour around the United States, talked about the transformation of Saudi Arabia’s national economy, and how it was affecting start-ups.

According to a statement, Koshak said that Saudi Arabia cannot afford to be slow as the world changes around them.

He added that start-ups in Saudi Arabia had massive support from Mohammad Bin Salman, as the country attempted to diversify its economy, by giving more importance to small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups.

Alongside Nabeel Koshak was Kevin Cullen, vice-president of innovation and economic development at KAUST in Saudi Arabia.

Cullen said that he sees massive potential in Saudi Arabian students, talking about the social, economic and cultural changes in today’s youth.

Educational institutions in Saudi Arabia are now teaching bachelors and masters students how to pursue a career as an entrepreneur.

“So, failure is part of the learning process. If we are not failing, that means we are not trying,” Cullen said.

Jeddah duo wins $30k in Boston contest

SOURCE: Arab News

Time: April 10, 2018

Trochet, the brainchild of Diana Rayyan and Reem Bakheet from Jeddah for a start-up project on environmental issues, bagged the first place worth $30,000 at the recent Harvard Arab Weekend start-up pitch challenge, 2013, in Boston.
Team Trochet and nine other finalists were given training on how to pitch their ideas for two days before the final event. All the contestants, after the training, modified their presentations for the final round. Each start-up was given five minutes to pitch for their ideas before a panel of judges, besides having to face five minutes of questioning by the panelists on their ideas.
Diana and Reem, founders of Trochet, came up trumps in the finals and were awarded the $30,000 sponsored by Hekma Pharmaceuticals, Jordan.


A new tech hub in Saudi?

SOURCE: Startup Bahrain

Time: 3 April, 2018

Saudi Aramco is reportedly in talks with Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc, to build a new technology hub in Saudi Arabia.

The joint venture could see Alphabet lending a helping hand to the state-owned oil giant for building high capacity data centers all around the Kingdom.

There is no confirmation on whose data the centers would house or who would control them. Also, the size of the venture, if it happens at all, is still a mystery. However, it is certain that it will be big enough to be listed in Saudi Arabia’s stock exchange.

Needless to say, the partnership will help Saudi Arabia to move in the right direction and fulfill the government’s vision. Saudi’s Vision 2030 is heavily focused on the strategic development of digital infrastructure that will add to the ongoing economic diversification process.

Meanwhile, Saudi is not the only country in the region aiming for ties with large tech companies to boost domestic digital infrastructure. In September 2017, Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced on launching data centers in Bahrain by early 2019.

As seen, countries across the region are looking to innovate in order to grow their economies, and pursue their vision plans, such as Saudi Vision 2030, UAE Vision 2021, and Bahrain Vision 2030, and cloud technology plays a huge role in achieving that.



Saudi Arabia’s booming entrepreneurial ecosystem was at the centerstage at the Wharton MENA Conference 2018

SOURCE: Startup Bahrain

Time: 3 April, 2018

The King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), represented by Badir Program for Technology Incubators and Accelerators was on a roll last Friday at the the 7th Annual Wharton MENA Conference. Held at Downtown Manhattan, New York, the event saw the Saudi delegation drawing the global community’s attention to all the positive changes that have transpired in the Kingdom’s entrepreneurial ecosystem over the past few years.

The delegation also demonstrated the various steps the government and private sector have undertaken to turn Saudi into a hotbed for entrepreneurial success.

The Wharton MENA Conference is one of the most significant events that see business leaders, investors, entrepreneurs and government agencies from across the Middle East and North Africa get together to network and discuss the various opportunities and challenges that await the region’s business. The 2018 edition of the conference was held under the theme “Inflection Point: Finance and Technology in a Re-emerging MENA.”

Just like in the past, the conference this year consisted of several different sessions with different subject matter including:

  • The Emergence of VC as a Tool for Innovation and Sustainable Growth.
  • Chasing an Arabian Unicorn: Is the MENA Region the Next Place to Look for $1B Companies?
  • Setting the Stage for a New Way to Do Business? A Discussion on the Economic & Legal Reforms Needed to Drive the Future of Entrepreneurship, Tech, and Finance in the Region.

While speaking at the Technology and Entrepreneurship session, CEO of Badir Program Nawaf Al-Sahhaf, highlighted the newly rolled out government legislations and initiatives that have so far played an instrumental role in creating an entrepreneurship-friendly environment in Saudi Arabia.


In pictures: Arabian Business StartUp Academy

SOURCE: Arabian Business

Time: April 01, 2018

A hub for conversation about the latest business opportunities, start-up disruptions, funding deals, legal and regulatory steps to follow, and much more.


ArabNet Launches KSA Innovation Report

SOURCE: Arabnet

01 04 2018

Today at Arabnet Riyadh, we are excited to share with you the launch of the “KSA Innovation Economy – Tech Startups 2017″ Report. The report is designed for anyone interested in investing in the Saudi Arabian tech startup scene, interested in supporting or launching an incubator, accelerator, or mentorship program, and interested in the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Saudi Arabia in general.


An Entrepreneurship Ecosystem
Daniel Isenberg, a Professor of Entrepreneurship Practice and founding executive director of the Babson Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Project, is the main creator of what is known as Babson Global Domains of the Entrepreneurship Ecosystem. Isenberg refers to this model as an ‘entrepreneurship ecosystem strategy for economic development.’

Inspired by Babson Global Domains of the Entrepreneurship Ecosystem, the research analyzes Saudi Arabian tech startups through the lens of the model’s six pillars. These pillars include the following: ease of access to funding, type of support received from the ecosystem, ease of access to talent and tech skills, type of infrastructure available, ease of access to markets and customers, and finally type of regulatory framework challenges.


This research focuses on measuring perceptions of Saudi Arabian tech startups on the challenges facing the entrepreneurial ecosystem. The study aims to highlight the gaps and strengths of the ecosystem. The results of the report will help vested stakeholders make informed decisions in their investments, programs, and projects. 

The research targets owners of technology and digital startups based and registered in Saudi Arabia, including both equity and non-equity based startups. The sample is comprised of respondents who are startup founders, co-founders, partners, and employees with equity.

Respondent profiles reveal that majority of the surveyed are dominated by male participants (80%). Half of all surveyed are mainly in the more mature age bracket of 31 years to 40 years old (49%) suggesting that the sample constitutes serious entrepreneurs. More than half of the surveyed respondents (58%) are the founders of the startups.   

The Distribution of Respondent Profiles


A quick look at this figure highlights the two biggest impediments that roughly five of every seven tech startups face: access to funding (71%) and difficulties in locating local Saudi Arabian talent (71%). Half of the startups surveyed claim technological infrastructure (48%) as a positive aspect of the ecosystem, while a quarter of the startups identify attracting new business (26%) as a strength.  

Ranking Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Domains


Aside from angel networks, tech startups in Saudi Arabia remain mainly dependent on non-equity funding, whereas over half depend on personal savings (56%). Saudi Arabian tech startups are not leveraging their access to equity funding and approximately one out of every ten startups are dependent on non-equity sources, such as competitions (11%) and bank loans (11%).

When it comes to equity funding, one fourth are angel networks, which is by far the most popular venue for financing (24%). Meanwhile, one out of every ten startups access accelerators (11%) as a source of equity funding.  These findings reflect, first, the challenge of raising equity in Saudi Arabia and, second, a possible cultural aspect of being accustomed and more familiar with non-equity sources. This is a clear market opportunity for both accelerators and venture capital funds. 

Source of Tech Startup Funding


In line with the findings of the access to funding figures, more than half of both equity and non-equity financing (55%) are the services with the biggest gap in the ecosystem. The next set of support services that display a gap – of around one third – include mentorship support (such as legal and accounting advice (36%), networking with potential clients (35%), and go-to-market strategy (29%)) and hard skills support (such as product development/prototyping (29%) and technical assistance (29%)). 

The services with the least amount of ecosystem gaps – around one third – include essential, yet basic, services such as business skills’ mentorship and training (33%) and the availability workspace (31%). The gap analysis of support services highlights clear opportunities for funds, mentorship programs, and hard skills training initiatives.

Type of Support Services Available to Tech Startups


The most available skill sets – approximately one half – are the more traditional business skills. Marketing, media, and communication skills rank as the most available at 55%. As skills begin to require more technical based knowledge they begin to display a lower prevalence, such as development and coding (11%), product design (7%), data and analytics (2%). 

Availability of Skill Sets


Approximately two fifths of surveyed startups state the need for support of pull marketing, such as influencer reviews (47%) and word-of-mouth/referral communication (34%), to play a key role in acquiring new business.

Financial considerations reflect two fifths of the support needed to attract new business, such as marketing and sales budgets (43%). Although investors promoting tech startups’ products/services (13%) scores low on the support needed scale; corporate willingness and openness to use startups’ services ranks high at 40%. 

Support needed to Attract Business


Saudi Arabia puts buzz back into Mideast startup scene

SOURCE: Arab News


LONDON: A maturing investment ecosystem is bolstering startups across the MENA region, according to a new report, with a notable increase in activity from Saudi investment institutions over the past year.
Since 2005, the top 200 funded startups in the MENA region have attracted more than $2 billion in capital, according to a report issued by MAGNiTT, which tracks the development of startups across the region.
To date, the majority of top funded startups in the region were established in the UAE, and the primary financial backers have also tended to be UAE-based.
But a recent uptick in funding from Saudi investment firms points to a developing ecosystem for startups in the Kingdom, according to MAGNiTT founder Philip Bahoshy.
“The Crown Prince has made it part of his Vision 2030 to try to push for further entrepreneurship in the region. While previously it was just an idea, now it is becoming a strong reality,” Bahoshy told Arab News.
As the Kingdom and governments across the Middle East diversify national portfolios away from natural resources and heavy industry, waves of startups providing everything from financial services to digital football fan clubs have burst onto the scene.
Following a number of success stories — including the high-profile acquisition of UAE-based Souq by the American e-commerce giant Amazon — the investment culture supporting startups has developed apace.
In August, Saudi Aramco Ventures, a unit of the Kingdom’s national oil company, invested more than $20 million in the payments startup PayTabs.
The momentum continued this fall when the Saudi-based restaurant management startup Foodics raised $4 million, with inputs from local funds Raed Ventures and Riyad Taqnia Fund (RTF).
The movement in Saudi Arabia follows a broader regional trend, Bahoshy said, where investors are beginning to see meaningful returns on startups established between 2012 and 2015.
Investors across the region have shown a preference for early-stage funding, according to the report, pouring more than $400 million into Series A funding rounds since 2005.
Still, increasing investment at the earliest stages of the startup cycle remains a challenge. On average, regional startups require over three years to close Series A funding but raise just $1.5 million in the Seed and pre-Seed stages.
Citing the lack of a transparent angel investing community in the region, Bahoshy said that governments and international financial institutions such as the World Bank should help incubate startups in their nascent stages and support local entrepreneurs.
“As more startups enter the ecosystem, you need to continue to fuel the base of that pyramid so (the companies) continue to grow,” Bahoshy explained.
According to the report, Middle East Venture Partners, 500 Startups and Wamda Capital are the most active investors in the region, contributing significant capital to the sector.
E-commerce startups have attracted the most funding to date, generating some $700 million since 2005. But of late, investors have shown a preference for startups providing financial technology products, like remittance payments and peer-to-peer lending.
Bahoshy said that startups providing solutions for broader regional challenges such as sticky logistics and cross-border banking frictions stand the best chance of attracting meaningful investment.
More than half of the top-funded startups in the MENA region were founded in the past five years, suggesting a momentum around financing entrepreneurship that has not seen previously been seen.
Broadly speaking, Bahoshy said the outlook for startup funding across the region was one of cautious optimism.
“The general trend is positive. We’re beginning to see new entrances into the space (including) Saudi venture capitalists and international investors,” he said.



Women’s Economic Forum KSA 2018 starts today under the theme “Let’s Talk About Tomorrow”

SOURCE: Startup Bahrain

Monday, 19 March 2018

As the Women’s Economic Forum KSA 2018 kicks off in Riyadh on March 19, the event will see business leaders, investors, government officials, entrepreneurs, and artists getting together to discuss various issues pertaining to Saudi Arabia’s economic transformation.

This year, the forum will be hosted under the theme “Let’s Talk About Tomorrow.” Supported by Saudi Aramco, the forum focuses on expediting the ongoing process of women empowerment, while simultaneously facilitating discussions on a diverse range of topics and fostering cross-sector collaborations. It also provides a platform for business in the KSA to join forces and explore different avenues for diversification and investment opportunities.

When it comes to women empowerment, the forum conducts multiple sessions to explore new opportunities for women in different sectors and niches. The ultimate objective of these sessions is to debate, discuss, and brainstorm to enable greater participation of women and youth in Saudi’s economy.

Overall, there are five key pillars that collectively form the essence of the Women Economic Forum KSA:

  1. Economic Empowerment
  2. Innovation,
  3. Saudization,
  4. Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) and
  5. Entrepreneurship

And yes, the forum is also headline-grabbing given that it brings together a pool of really high-profile business leaders and public figures.

The number of women-owned tech startups in Saudi is steadily on the rise

SOURCE: Startup Bahrain

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

New data released by Badir Program for Technology Incubators and Accelerators revealed that the number of women-owned tech startups in Saudi is steadily on the rise. This is evident from the fact that the number of such businesses incubated in the Program during 2017 increased by a whopping 144%.

The Program, which represents the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), further added that 44 of these newly incubated startups are active in the fields of software, communications, smart device applications, and e-commerce.

Badir also predicted a further rise in the establishment of Saudi startups in the tech niche, which is likely to be accompanied by innovations and developments in these companies. Among other factors, this accelerated growth can be attributed to growing emphasis by the government to establish the tech and communication sectors as the backbone of the country’s economy in the foreseeable future.

It is worth mentioning here that the number of projects incubated and completed since the launch of the Badir Program until the end of 2017 stands at a staggering 239. The companies incubated by the program has so far generated more than 1,600 jobs for Saudi youth — including both part and full-time jobs. Meanwhile, the total number of registered product/service providers delivering their solutions using smart apps has gone all the way up to 202,827.

Badir wants to encourage even more women to take the entrepreneurship route by organizing dedicated training programs, workshops, and other activities for aspiring women business leaders.

Women-owned tech startups make waves in Saudi Arabia

SOURCE: Taha Wultech

King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology (KACST)’s Badir Program has announced that the number of women’s businesses incubated by the programme grew by 144 percent in 2017.

King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology (KACST)’s Badir Program has announced that the number of women’s businesses incubated by the programme grew by 144 percent in startups

Launched in 2007, the Badir Program, is a national programme aimed at accelerating the growth of emerging technology based businesses in Saudi Arabia.

Out of the number, 44 companies are active in the fields of communications, software, e-commerce and smart device applications, said CEO Nawaf Al-Sahhaf in a report by Arab News.

The Kingdom is encouraging innovation and technical development in startups, and expects the sector to play a vital role in the economy.

Al-Sahhaf said the programme is supporting the ambitions and initiatives of Saudi female entrepreneurs, helping them participate in local and regional conferences, and providing them with women-only offices to conduct workshops that prepare them to efficiently manage their businesses.

In a statement, Badir forecasted an increase in the establishment of Saudi startups and a promotion of technical innovation and development in these companies as the government sees a prominent role of this sector in the future economy.

Al Sahhaf described the growth rate of women’s projects incubated by the programme as “good” compared to the past five years, stressing that the programme has contributed to supporting the ambitious and innovative initiatives and ideas of Saudi women entrepreneurs and providing them with an appropriate work environment through the offices specialised in the preparation, habilitation, training and workshops, enabling them to run their businesses efficiently and effectively and helping them to participate in local and regional conferences.

Al Sahhaf further said that Badir Program seeks to raise awareness of Saudi women in technical entrepreneurship and promote the entrepreneurial culture through the organisation of workshops, training programmes and various meetings for female university students, as well as participating in events and activities of universities to raise awareness on the importance of technical projects.

He also encouraged Saudi women entrepreneurs who wish to turn their technical ideas into successful investment projects, to communicate with the programme, which in turn will provide the logistics for their projects, provided that the ideas are innovative in order to obtain the technical and advisory support.

The programme will then provide the project’s premises, grant access to modern and sophisticated facilities and factories and create the right environment.

Badir has incubated 239 technology projects since its establishment until the end of 2017. Those projects have created some 1,615 full-time and part-time jobs for Saudi youths.