When West meets East at Misk Global Forum

A general view of the opening session of the Misk Global Forum on innovation and technology held in the Saudi capital Riyadh. (AFP / FAYEZ NURELDINE)
Updated 15 November 2019

When West meets East at Misk Global Forum

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is the world’s most misunderstood country, Kevin O’Leary, chairman of O’Shares ETF Canada and star of the TV show “Shark Tank,” told Arab News at the Misk Global Forum in Riyadh on Thursday.

“This is the best conference I’ve been to in terms of deal flow,” he added.

O’Leary said that his message to those who do not know anything about the country was to come and see it for themselves.

“You have to come here, put your feet on the ground, meet the people, eat the food, walk outside at night, and you will leave completely with a new mindset,” he said.

“If more investors come to Saudi Arabia and spend just three days here, there is going to be a tremendous amount of capital flowing into this region. This is really quite an eye-opener,” O’Leary said.

In an exclusive interview, both O’Leary and Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal, founder and CEO of KBW Ventures, discussed the future of investment in Saudi Arabia.

Prince Khaled said that his No. 1 investment in the Kingdom is entertainment.

“Entertainment has been one of the lacking sectors here, sadly, but now obviously everything’s opening up. You see the desire from all the population to be entertained. So entertainment would be number one for me,” he said. 

He also said that esports is a good investment and agrees with O’Leary that real estate is a “must” in Saudi Arabia.

“I would definitely do pharmaceuticals and health care, number one. No. 2, I love real estate. No.. 3, entertainment. Those are my three. I’ll put money into those three,” said O’Leary when asked which Saudi sectors he would choose to invest in.

The businessman was surprised by the Kingdom’s youthful population and believes health care and pharmaceuticals both have great potential. 

This is the best conference I’ve been to in terms of deal flow. Kevin O’Leary

Kevin O’Leary, chairman of O’Shares ETF Canada

“I didn’t realize that the demographic was so interesting until I got here.”

He said real estate is his second investment option. “There are not enough hotels here. There needs to be more hotels, there needs to be more development around recreation. Clearly for decades Saudi people would go to Dubai or Bahrain for the weekend. Well, why leave home? Why not just develop?” O’Leary said.

“Where I went last night was a lot of fun. The ‘Boulevard’ was fantastic experience to walk at 11:30 at night, meet all these people. Everybody was having a great time and it was the middle of the week. If investors create experiences where people can enjoy themselves, why would they leave Saudi?” he added.

The two judges of the Entrepreneur World Cup (EWC) at Misk Global Forum both said it will be a huge challenge to decide who wins the award.

“It’s a huge responsibility to think of which company is going to walk away the winner. I’m definitely doing my homework. I’ve read about the companies a few times. I listened to the pitches obviously a few times. It’s a tough position to be in, but I’m honored to be here,” said Prince Khaled.

O’Leary is used to judging entrepreneurial contests around the world “but they tend to be regional in nature,” he said.

“I have never seen a global platform like this before … to have a hundred thousand plus applications from over 127 countries, no one’s ever done that. I was immediately attracted to it,” O’Leary added.

He believes that there is a potential for EWC to become a global annual event. “It could be something that people flock to,” he said.

O’Leary was impressed with the quality of the deals in EWC competition, saying he listened to the pitches and was amazed.

Prince Khaled pointed out the investment in youth where Saudi Arabia has almost 70 percent of the population under the age of 30. “The important thing to notice is that the penetration of technology; mobile phones here are absolutely enormous.”

He said that Saudi Arabia is the number one user of Snapchat in the world. Moreover, the Kingdom is one of the top five users of Twitter. And YouTube is one of the biggest social media platforms for Saudis who use it “to educate people on what Saudi is, who they are and different types of businesses that they’re doing. So, Saudi is very tech Saudi,” he said.

“We’re blessed to have forward-thinking leaders that are really putting a lot of their bidding on the youth with all sorts of programs, from Munshaat, SBC, and different types of government programs to enable entrepreneurship here in the region,” he added.

O’Leary said that one reason for his success was his knowledge of other cultures and societies: “Half Lebanese, half Irish, I think it’s the right combination for Saudi Arabia.”

He said that as an investor he was not scared to invest in Cambodia in real estate after the French left because he understood the value of tourism that would happen in some of those locations since he lived there before.

“That has been one of my greatest investments because if you understand that culture and understand the people, then you can make risk-adjusted investments on a knowledge base that others don’t have because you’re not going to know that unless you go there,” he said.


Saudi showjumpers ride for places in Tokyo Olympics team

Updated 16 December 2019

Saudi showjumpers ride for places in Tokyo Olympics team

  • International exposure key to Saudi riders’ success: Equestrian federation chief
  • Visitors enjoyed a fun and exciting atmosphere as riders gave their best performances on the field

RIYADH: Saudi showjumpers at this month’s Diriyah Equestrian Festival aren’t just riding to win — they are battling for places at next year’s Tokyo Olympics, the country’s equestrian chief said on Sunday.

“Saudi riders’ participation in international championships is very important,” said Prince Abdullah bin Fahd bin Abdullah, president of the Saudi Equestrian Federation.

“Coming in contact with international riders will provide them with what they need to achieve their ambitions, which we all know are very big. That is why Saudi riders always have remarkable presence on the international level — hard competitors to beat, like the young rider Waleed Al-Ghamdi, who came second in the first stage of the competition.

“We are waiting for the results of this championship to draft the program for the Tokyo Olympics. We have a good chance at winning but, in this sport one can never be sure until the end of the stage. We will always be sure of the self-confidence our riders have, which will be felt as they represent the Kingdom in any competition,” he added.

Prince Abdullah expressed his happiness at the start of the first stage of the International Show Jumping Championship as part of the Diriyah Equestrian Festival

“The success is due to God, the support the sport has from the wise leadership of Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, chairman of the General Sports Authority (GSA)," he said

The festival — which concludes next weekend, Dec. 19-21 — is taking place at Al-Duhami Farm, the equestrian arena built by Saudi Olympic legend Ramzy Al-Duhami and his wife Sara Baban.

In addition to showjumping, the attractions include art and photography exhibitions, cultural activities and a range of cafes and restaurants.

Visitors enjoyed a fun and exciting atmosphere as riders gave their best performances on the field, showcasing their skills and talents.

Diriyah has always been a symbol of authenticity and culture, while entertainment came with its international sports activities characterized by their sophistication, strength and diversity.

Mohammed Al-Mudayfar, owner of the artistic incubator “Resin Art” taking part in the activities, said: “The exhibition aims at highlighting the Kingdom’s identity in line with the festival’s. By participating, I seek to revive the Kingdom’s culture and introduce it to the visitors.

'Resin Art' exhibition is part of the activities lined up during the two-week Diriyah Equestrian Festival. (Photo/Supplied)

“The exhibition includes 60 Saudi artworks. They received huge support so they can showcase them in a suitable manner, in line with this year’s fun and exciting activities,” he added, noting: “Featured handicrafts, paintings and sculptures are all up for sale.  

“We provide the necessary space and materials for any artist that wishes to showcase his work. Supporting young Saudis and talented ones in particular is a national duty that society should sense its importance especially when it is related to our heritage and traditions.”

The activities area had a part dedicated to kids that has educational and entertainment activities such as painting horse heads made of cork.

Another exhibition called “Objectives” managed by 24-year-old Lama Al-Thubaiti offered visitors a variety of jewelry and accessories that could be modified according to their requests. Al-Thubaiti works as a doctor for people with hearing disabilities and has been working to develop her brand for five years now.

“We are very happy with the visitors’ reaction and our presence here is remarkable as we get ready to open our headquarters soon,” she said.  

The activities area also featured a wide range of restaurants, Saudi and international cafes, a photography corner and cultural facilities such as Arabian and historic horse exhibition, engraving, henna and local artists.

Diriyah Equestrian Festival is taking place for the second year in a row to bring the international event to the Kingdom, reflect the traditional values of equestrianism according to European standards. The event will run for two weeks, providing participants with the chance to qualify to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the World Championship.