Open Forum Riyadh to discuss digital currency, AI, and mental health

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: In Saudi Arabia, a dynamic transformation is unfolding within the entrepreneurial landscape, powered by the robust growth of venture capital, which achieved an impressive 86 percent compound annual growth rate from 2019 to 2023.   

This financial infusion has been a game-changer, propelling the Kingdom past the $1 billion mark in venture capital investment last year and igniting a wave of innovative thinking among Saudi entrepreneurs. 

Simply put, VC is a category of private market investment and financing. A VC firm raises capital from investors, referred to as Limited Partners, and uses that capital to fund promising startups they have determined as likely to have high growth potential in an emerging category. 

A vibrant scene   

“The rise of venture capital in Saudi Arabia is fueling a vibrant entrepreneurial scene,” said the founder of Saudi-based VC firm Nama Ventures.   

Offering a unique perspective on this financial phenomenon, Mohammed Al-Zubi shared his insights with Arab News about how venture capital is energizing the entrepreneurial scene in the Kingdom. 

Al-Zubi described this financial influx as a vital nutrient, fostering a fertile ground for innovation and growth within the Kingdom.  

Founder of Nama Ventures, Mohammed Al-Zubi. Supplied

Ripple effects   

“Startups get crucial funding, expert guidance, and exit pathways, attracting and retaining ambitious talent. This creates a ripple effect — successful ventures generate high-quality jobs, attracting more skilled professionals and expertise,” Al-Zubi told Arab News.  

However, he explained that challenges like limited seed funding and skill mismatch require more attention.   

“By fostering a diverse ecosystem and addressing these gaps, Saudi Arabia can harness the power of VC to build a thriving and sustainable entrepreneurial powerhouse,” Al-Zubi added.  

Echoing Al-Zubi’s remarks, Tariq bin Hendi, senior partner at Global Ventures, told Arab News that the Kingdom’s VC growth reflects its booming economy.  

“Saudi Arabia is a large market with compelling macroeconomics and significant funding, which in turn is re-shaping the regional startup landscape,” Hendi said.  

“Increased investment has helped start-ups to digitize, scale and accelerate their business operations — with many success stories: Tarabut, Zension, RedSea, Zid and Hakbah being among the most well-known,” Hendi added.  

An innovative economy 

Hendi emphasizes the crucial role of venture capital in the economic diversification of Saudi Arabia.   

He notes that sectors like agritech, fintech, and cleantech are attracting significant investments, aligning with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 goals.   

“The increase in investment saw Saudi Arabia secure MENA’s (Middle East and North Africa) highest VC funding in 2023, which is also aligned with the country’s Vision 2030 objectives,” he stated   

“Venture capital’s investment in nascent technologies and innovative ventures allows for early-stage experimentation and for new start-ups to respond to analogue-based problems previously difficult to navigate through digitalization,” Hendi added.  

According to him, this synergy between venture capital and startups not only drives technological progress but also offers insights into the regulatory landscape, promoting economic diversity and innovation within the region. 

He also highlights the broader impact of venture capital, noting how it enables local businesses to scale and address global challenges, creating job opportunities and demonstrating the Kingdom’s potential in leading sustainable startup growth.   

Moreover, Hendi points out that venture capital stimulates international collaboration, attracting global investors and reducing investment risks, further bolstering Saudi Arabia’s position as a dynamic hub for economic activity and innovation.  

Tariq bin Hendi, senior partner at Global Ventures. Supplied

Furthermore, in his article “Venture Capital Fundamentals: Why VC Is A Driving Force Of Innovation,” Mark Flickinger, general partner and chief operating officer at US-based BIP Ventures, describes VC as a critical factor for economic innovation.   

“VC is a rewarding form of private market investment that gives innovators a real chance to transform their ideas into businesses. It connects founders and investors, driving progress and successful outcomes for both,” Flickinger said.  

“And for everyone who is part of this virtuous cycle of funding, building, and scaling market-changing businesses, VC is a way to support the impact of the innovation economy – which is the economy today,” he added.  

The challenge  

Hendi underscores the significant transformation underway in Saudi Arabia, driven by the nation’s economic diversification and digitalization, which is fueling a burgeoning demand for talent and innovation.   

With a young, tech-savvy population, the Kingdom is ripe for entrepreneurial ventures, evidenced by success stories like Tabby, he explained.  

The growing ecosystem, supported by incubators and successful exits, showcases the country’s potential as a hotbed for technology-driven businesses catering to consumers, enterprises, and government sectors.  

The challenge now, according to him, is to further enhance this vibrant environment, making Saudi Arabia even more appealing for entrepreneurs.   

He advocates for continued deregulation and the creation of conditions that encourage innovation, enabling entrepreneurs to develop products and services that resonate with consumers and drive economic growth.   

The goal is to not only maintain the momentum but to elevate Saudi Arabia’s status as a premier destination for starting and scaling innovative ventures.  

How to utilize funding  

As VC growth continues to expand, startups are pressured to find efficient ways to use their funding to boost the overall ecosystem.  

Al-Zubi shares his advice stating: “Imagine your funding as rocket fuel – you have to blast off without burning it all at once, right?”  

“To fly long and far, focus on essentials. Build a stellar team, fuel growth with customer love, and lay a strong financial groundwork,” Al-Zubi added.  

“Track your rocket’s path with data, experiment with new maneuvers, and stay tuned to the space weather. Be open with your investors, listen to wise advisors, and don’t be afraid to adjust your trajectory if the wind changes. Remember, long-term success is a marathon, not a sprint. Spend smart, learn fast, and keep your eyes on the stars,” he added.    

Furthermore, Hendi advocates for meticulous planning in resource allocation, emphasizing the importance of understanding the market, timing for product launches, and strategic deployment of capital.   

According to Hendi, startups must have a clear grasp of their financial roadmap, with a detailed understanding of expected expenditures over set timelines, to ensure sustained growth and success in the evolving economic environment. 

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