Is Saudi, home of ‘Davos in the Desert’, the next Silicon Valley?

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December 8, 2017

If you are a startup and you’re looking for a place to launch and support your idea, Saudi Arabia is definitely the place to be.

The number of startup support organizations – accelerators, incubators, funds, – in Saudi Arabia significantly increased over the last few years, according to Gitex future Stars,  the region’s fundraising and business development networking event.

These organizations and companies are proving funding, incubation, training, coaching, mentoring and access to market.

Saudi Arabia is aiming at creating a robust local startup scene hoping that one of the supported ideas would become a unicorn in a region where only two unicorns exist today.

Not just that.

The Kingdom has also allocated $45 billion to investing in technology ideas from all over the world.

The kingdom is also the first country to grant citizenship to Sophia, a robot, in a historic breakthrough to tell the world: Technology is here.

Could Saudi Arabia be your ‘Big idea’ destination?

Business licenses

Startup, a platform dedicated to startup topics, reveals that the Saudi Arabian government has recently announced it would help facilitate obtaining business licenses by foreign entrepreneurs to launch start-ups in the country, as part of a drive to encourage growth in the non-oil sector.

“Reference for the fast track licenses will be given to those bringing patents, innovative services or a new business idea to the country. The entrepreneur licenses will be issued by Saudi Arabia’s General Investment Authority or any one of several economic zones, which offer huge incentives such as free rent and transportation and subsidised housing,” it said.

Ghassan Al Sulaiman, Governor of the kingdom’s Small and Medium Enterprise Authority said: “We hope that one of them, or more, will become a unicorn and reach a billion dollar evaluation. They are the Apples, Amazons and Googles of this world.”

Investment funds

Saudi Arabia wants to transform its Public Investment Fund (PIF) – one of the world’s biggest sovereign wealth funds – into a major player in the tech space.

“The plans already gained traction when, in October last year, the PIF announced that it will be partnering with Japanese tech giant SoftBank Group to create a technology investment fund worth $100 billion (AED367.3 bn),” according to CNBC.

Also, Bloomberg reported recently that Softbank Group plans to invest as much as $25 bn in Saudi Arabia over the next three to four years.

The statement said that $15 billion will go to a new city called Neom, a city from scratch that will be bigger than Dubai and have more robots than humans.

Incubators and accelerators

Saudi Arabia is also home to a good number of incubators and accelerators.

According to the Entrepreneur, a platform aimed at supporting entrepreneurs, Badir is one of the most important initiatives with five incubators spread across the cities of Riyadh, Jeddah and Taif- and that number is only set to increase in the future.

“The program –which aims to promote and enhance the culture of innovation and independent business amongst Saudi youth- has served more than 200 startups since it launched, with Badir CEO Nawaf Al Sahhaf noting that the program has incubated 127 technical projects, and just 34 of these have generated a market value of $88m,” it said.

Another incubator is KAUST which announced the launching of Hikma, a new Accelerator Program to help identify, develop and speed up the Intellectual Property-Based Startups.

Hikma is designed for students, postdocs and academics who wish to pursue a startup potential of their technology.

Other incubators include WadiMakkah and Flat6Labs and many more.

Saudi women entrepreneurs

Saudi Arabia has started working recently to increase women’s social and economic role in the society by making very important decisions such as removing the ban on women’s right to drive which will be put into effect in June 2018.

This will encourage Saudi women who account for 39 percent of the total number of entrepreneurs in the Kingdom to be more involved in the business scene in the kingdom by coming up with ideas that may turn into big success.

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