Deals build Saudi Arabia’s digital economy

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Time: March 27, 2018

JEDDAH: The visit of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Boston saw the signing of several agreements between the Kingdom and prominent US universities such as MIT.
The two-and-a-half-week official tour of the US will focus on building Saudi-US ties and discussing investment opportunities, which include advancing the technology sector in the Kingdom.
The crown prince’s visit to Boston is one of many to meet philanthropists and leaders from tech industries, including Silicon Valley’s Apple and Google-parent Alphabet, to help build Saudi Arabia’s technology sector. Several agreements were signed by leading Saudi entities such as Saudi Aramco, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), the King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) and Saudi Basic Industries Corp. (SABIC).
In 2012, Saudi state oil company Saudi Aramco became a founding member of the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) and signed a five-year $25 million collaboration targeting new research and development.
Sophisticated digital infrastructure is integral to today’s advanced industrial activities and to attract investors. In partnering with the private sector, there is a focus on improving the telecommunications and information technology sectors.
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year that Alphabet discussed a joint venture with Saudi Aramco about potentially building several technology hubs and data centers in Saudi Arabia.
In Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, technology is a key driver of change with the aim of developing digital infrastructure, supporting associated economic entities and leading the digital economy. Local incubators have taken steps to ensure that digitization plays a central role in achieving the goals set out in the National Transformation Program (NTP).
Incubators accelerate the growth and success of entrepreneurial companies through a variety of business support resources and services.
In 2017, the Badir Program for Technology Incubators and Accelerators at the KACST signed a bilateral cooperation agreement with Amazon Web Services (AWS), a subsidiary of Amazon Global. The objective is to help Saudi Arabia’s emerging tech-based companies to improve performance using innovative cloud technologies and solutions provided by AWS’s on-demand computing platform.
“We at Badir aim to cooperate with value-added global companies to help emerging technology companies facilitate their businesses and deliver high added value to customers,” said Nawaf Al-Sahhaf, CEO of the Badir Program.
The same year, Arizona State University (ASU) launched a partnership with KAUST to share entrepreneurial expertise, advance sustainability research and commercialize research discoveries.
“The partnership will not only further advance entrepreneurialism, innovation, technology transfer, and economic development in Arizona and Saudi Arabia, but also bring together our world-class scientists to tackle grand challenges, such as water resource management, quality and conservation, through interdisciplinary research,” said Sethuraman Panchanathan, executive vice president of Knowledge Enterprise Development and chief research and innovation officer at ASU.
ASU and KAUST are to work together and share resources to assist KAUST with commercializing the Silicon Valley and the US and vice versa in the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia has set up tech incubators and established venture capital funds with headquarters in Riyadh and offices in California. Among them is Riyadh Taqnia Capital, which has committed to investing more than $100 million in local tech firms.
The crown prince’s tour of the US includes Washington, DC, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Seattle.

This article was first published in Arab News

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