The emergence of an innovation Kingdom through a surge of venture funding in Saudi Arabia

4160The digital startup ecosystem is flourishing in Saudi Arabia, with funds being raised in sizes unheard of before. The Saudi Arabia government in collaboration with Riyad Bank is planning on securing 1 billion riyals in venture funds for new technology companies through the Saudi Technology Development and Investment Co., a subsidiary of the Public Investment Fund. The recent spur of interest in early-stage tech companies comes with the increasing need for investors to access innovation and to stay relevant to today’s market. The government plans to establish 20 tech incubators by 2015 in collaboration with King Abdullah City for Science and technology (KACST), a first step in shifting the Saudi economy to become more innovation-led and knowledge driven. At the 3rd edition of ArabNet Riyadh, investors and innovative technology startups will connect at the largest gathering for digital business and entrepreneurship in Saudi Arabia, taking place on November 11-13.

Numerous initiatives are being launched in Saudi Arabia to fuel the steadfast growth of early-stage tech ventures. Startup accelerators have been gaining traction, including Flat6Labs, which launched in Jeddah last year and has already graduated 11 companies. Badir, Saudi Arabia’s national incubators network, has partnered with the Jordan-based Oasis500 accelerator to bring its program to Saudi Arabia. As well as other platforms that are supporting early stage innovation includes Verso, an education-focused accelerator; and Aramco’s FabLab, a recently launched laboratory to support the creation of innovative hardware and smart devices.

Telecom companies in Saudi Arabia are actively investing as well in local startups to boost their digital offerings and revenues. Mobily launched their venture capital fund last month to provide technology startups with funding ranging from $300,000 to $3 million. It already invested in Lebanon-based Anghami, a music streaming service, who has more than 600,000 active users in Saudi Arabia; and $2 million in Easy Taxi, a leading taxi booking application. Similarly, Saudi Telecom has invested in numerous companies through their STC Ventures fund, including Careem, a private driver service, and Acadox, a learning management system. They are also tapping into early stage innovation through the establishment of Afkar.me, an accelerator with offices in Riyadh and Dubai.

ArabNet Riyadh 2013 helped launch the Saudi-based social app Feelit into Silicon Valley, after winning 1st place of ArabNet’s Startup Demo. ArabNet Riyadh 2014 will convene a large number of investors, startups and over 800 digital professionals and 80 regional and international speakers, to discuss the latest trends shaping the digital sector in the MENA region, with a focus on Saudi Arabia. For the first time this year, ArabNet Riyadh will include a Design+Code Day – a full day of workshops and networking activities to help build skills in design, coding, and product development and will also feature its signature entrepreneur competitions, the Ideathon, the Startup Demo, and the Battle of the Games.






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