UAE drive regional growth for startup sector

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UAE drive regional growth for startup sector

03 Apr 2021

The UAE and Saudi Arabia are seeing the startup sectors booming in the region as young entrepreneurs navigate for futuristic and innovative platforms.

“The UAE has emerged as tech startup nation in Mena region — in terms of total capital investment by value and by no of deals — and also a magnet for attracting talent globally with its well-developed ecosystem, leading in innovation hub for accelerators and incubators in the region,” said Vijay Tirathrai, managing director of Techstars, on the sidelines of the launch of the Riyadh Techstars Accelerator.

“Similarly, Saudi Arabia is a budding ecosystem for innovation and venture capital. Recent reforms by opening up its economy provide massive opportunities to bring in disruptive technology applications. Further, the  youthful demographics offer a sizeable marketplace for technology adoption. Saudi offers a ready pool of tech talent to address homegrown opportunities.”

Techstars, the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology of Saudi Arabia and Raed Ventures, a Mena-focused early-stage venture capital firm, announced a partnership to launch the Riyadh Techstars Accelerator.

“Empowering founders is the way for us to create a growing economy and achieve Vision 2030," said Talal Alasmari, founding partner, Raed Venture.

"We see this programme as a catalyst for a new wave of regional entrepreneurs. With Techstars’ network effect we can introduce regional founders to global experiences and create a new cycle of emerging startups,” added Alasmari.

Accelerators like Techstars are playing a pivotal role with tech hubs like Hub71 to facilitate innovation and investment in new startups.

The accelerator will focus on attracting startups to Mena and paving the way for future innovation in the region’s digital economy. While the accelerator will be Techstars’ first in Saudi Arabia, the organisation has been active in the region for years through more than 700 Techstars Startup Weekend events, the Techstars Dubai Accelerator and the Techstars Hub71 Accelerator in Abu Dhabi.

The accelerator is an extension of earlier cooperation between the Ministry and Techstars last July through the Techstars Startup Weekend Covid-19 KSA, where more than 550 Saudi entrepreneurs, of which two-thirds were female, attended virtual panels, workshops, and networking events to address challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“With entrepreneurship on the rise in Saudi Arabia, and the unwavering community committed to developing a strong startup ecosystem in the region, putting down roots in Riyadh is something we’ve been looking forward to,” said Gagan Bhatia, Techstars general manager.

“At Techstars, we believe that great ideas can come from anywhere. We look forward to making entrepreneurship more accessible and bringing more opportunities to more entrepreneurs in Mena through this partnership.”

The Riyadh Techstars Accelerator will begin accepting applications on May 10 for a 13-week programme that will take place from November through February 2022. A Techstars managing director will lead the accelerator with support from a Techstars programme manager, along with leadership and mentors from MCIT. Participants in the three-month program will receive funding, hands-on mentorship from the Techstars and MCIT networks, access to curated workshops and resources, and access to the Techstars global network for life.

“Technology and innovation-based entrepreneurship is a key enabler to driving the achievement of Vision 2030, our nation’s blueprint for social transformation and economic diversification. We have a young population, 70 per cent of whom are youth. These are our digital natives and we want to leverage their energy and curiosity to leapfrog with innovation,” said Dr Ahmed Altheneyan, Deputy Minister for Future Skills and Digital Entrepreneurship.

“The ministry and Techstars will come together to scale the impact of their combined resources and capabilities to truly accelerate digital entrepreneurship, across the kingdom, where we are already witnessing the growth of a vibrant venture capital investment community, rapid technology adoption, and how digital transformation is allowing companies to re-imagine themselves to become more competitive.”

Meanwhile, venture capital firm Global Ventures announced a strategic partnership with Accenture. This will be the first of a number of new collaboration partnerships Accenture will establish to drive greater innovation in the region.

Alexis Lecanuet, regional managing director for Accenture in the Middle East, said: “This synergy will enable Accenture to further drive innovation in the region’s venture capital space through supporting entrepreneurs with the company’s in-depth insights and research and providing unmatched industry expertise and counsel. We look forward to working with Global Ventures’ portfolio of growth-stage startups and exploring potential collaboration.”

Noor Sweid, founder and general partner of Global Ventures, said: “By combining our regional venture capital expertise and thought leadership with Accenture’s pioneering insights and global presence, we are confident we will grow the regional venture capital ecosystem together.”

Overall spending on information and communications technology in Saudi Arabia is set to reach $32.9 billion this year, up 1.5 per cent on 2020, according to International Data Corporation. Hamza Naqshbandi, the IDC’s regional director for Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, announced that spending on IT in Saudi Arabia will reach $11.1 billion in 2021, with services and devices accounting for more than half of the market.

He said that IT spending in the country — including mobile devices, storage, hardware, systems and software — will grow 4.2 per cent year on year, with the government, finance and communications sectors spending in excess of $3.6 billion on IT in 2021.

“IDC expects that emerging technologies will continue to play a critical role in the post-pandemic digital economy as business and IT leaders in Saudi Arabia look ahead to 2021 and the new normal,” said Naqshbandi. “Saudi Arabia’s vision for a smart economy relies heavily on digital transformation initiatives, an area the government has always focused on and heavily invested in long before Covid-19. The ongoing pandemic has validated the country’s strategic direction, acting as a catalyst to spur the adoption of emerging technologies.”

“Saudi Arabia unlike any other economy is noticeably clear on its agenda, which is to reach its vision 2030 smoothly, which means following the National transformation plan objectives and initiatives, expedite the digital transformation drives, creating employment opportunities for the youth, setting up the stage for a cashless society, attracting foreign players to invest and partner. All these would be possible if you have a good IT infra since the products and apps needed for such use cases needs extreme low latency and massive dataset management to work with, hence the rising spending on IT.

This will also enable Saudi Arabia to be the Hub for entrepreneurs, open doors for innovation, and be the world leader when it comes to a quality life, state of an art education, and health care facilities,” said Saudi-based Taha Sajid, a blockchain consultant.

Source: Khaleej Times