Who is entrepreneurship for? Who does it benefit? Is it just about the entrepreneur’s personal success?
There are certainly many entrepreneurs who have become incredibly successful in their own right: Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, or Saudi Arabia’s Abdul Aziz Al-Jouf, CEO and founder of the payment processing company PayTabs. These individuals are testament to the personal success that an entrepreneur can achieve.
But the true impact of entrepreneurship goes beyond one person. While success may come from that entrepreneurial spark in a single person or small team, the benefits reach much wider into communities and countries.
Within a community the benefits of entrepreneurship and the startups they create emanate outward in ripples to provide local services, create local jobs, support local products and produce, and strengthen communities.
At a national level a thriving startup ecosystem will drive innovation, improve overall economic performance, and also encourage entrepreneurs, creating a virtuous circle of positive benefits. In short, entrepreneurialism can benefit us all and it’s to all our advantage to see that entrepreneurialism is supported.
This thought struck me particularly hard while watching startups in the Misk 500 Accelerator Program as they delivered virtual pitches.
There were 16 startups from across the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, that presented their business startups to potential investors. These young innovators and future business leaders had ideas for a range of sectors – banking, tourism, fashion, maintenance services, mobility, health and fitness – and it revealed the breadth of talent and creativity that exists among young entrepreneurs in our country and across our region.
One thing in particular jumped out at me across all these companies and ideas. They were talking to an international audience to attract investment into Saudi Arabia and their own countries – Egypt, Jordan, and the UAE. Not only that, many of their services and products were targeted at their home countries and communities. I encourage anyone who hasn’t watched the pitches to take the opportunity to watch and hear just how many of the entrepreneurs talked about the lack of a particular service or the existence of a specific opportunity within their country or community and how their idea met that need.
Why is that exciting? Because it shows that innovation and opportunities are everywhere.
That’s something we’ve been arguing for a while at Misk. We’re doing it through the Misk 500 Accelerator Program and we’re doing it through the Entrepreneurship World Cup (EWC), which is now in its second year. We’re giving young entrepreneurs in Saudi Arabia and around the world the opportunities, tools, skills, networks, and encouragement they need to become successful and to share that success around.
It speaks to our philosophy at Misk: Not to offer handouts but hand-ups, not to lecture but to listen, to empower young people not because they are a problem to be solved, but because they are the greatest problem-solvers in the world.
Speaking personally and doing this as a Saudi entity, albeit one with a global focus (it’s in our name, after all), gives me enormous pride because it means we can play a real part in contributing to the Vision 2030 reform plan and the wider transformation of our Kingdom.
Fundamentally, that vision is about realizing our nation as an internationally looking economy, and one that has empowered us – its own citizens – to make the most of the skills, opportunities, and ambitions within us. Entrepreneurship is a clear road to achieving those Vision 2030 goals.
Saudi Arabia is already making strides. Last year Saudi startups saw a record $67 million in investment. The World Economic Forum listed 10 Saudi startups in its list of the 100 most promising startups in the world. Indeed one of these – Ajeer – pitched in the Misk 500 demo day I mentioned; and Red Sea Farms, another Saudi startup, placed second in the EWC global finals.
This growth in startups and innovation is already helping us, Saudi Arabia, prepare for the fourth industrial revolution with new skills and get more young people and women working with new opportunities.
Ultimately, we’re about building bridges and opening doors to success. Not for ourselves and not just for the entrepreneurs. But for the wider society we’re all a part of – whether it’s a town, a province, this whole Kingdom or beyond.
Shaima Hamidaddin is executive manager of the Misk Global Forum.