LEAP 2023 attracts funds worth $2.43bn for tech startups as investment continues to flow on day four of event

The new funding announced on Wednesday will support the growth of emerging technology companies in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)
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Updated 08 February 2023

LEAP 2023 attracts funds worth $2.43bn for tech startups as investment continues to flow on day four of event

RIYADH: Investment programs worth $2.43 billion were announced on the third day of the Saudi tech event LEAP 2023, following on from the $9 billion in deals revealed on the event's first day.   

The new funding announced on Wednesday will support the growth of emerging technology companies in Saudi Arabia. This is in addition to eight other investment funds worth $646 million launched during the event to stimulate innovation and digital entrepreneurship.   

Organizations providing the $2.43 billion funding include Saudi Arabia’s Riyad Bank, which announced the launch of $1 billion in financing for telecommunications and information technology enterprises. The National Technology Development Program also started six new initiatives and attracted a corpus of $430 million from global technology companies.  

Banque Saudi Fransi is another Saudi bank that signed off on a finance portfolio, this one worth $1 billion to finance and grow companies in the information and communication sector.  

According to the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, the funding included one from STV worth $150 million, which is its first fund for alternative financing that is compatible with Islamic law.  

Additionally, Riyadh-based IMPACT46 also announced the launch of a $133 million fund, which targets emerging technology companies in the Kingdom and the Middle East.  

The list also includes Merak Capital which launched Merak Fund for direct financing, valued at $53 million, for nurturing technology companies in the Kingdom, even as the Saudi Investment Bank earmarked $40 million for an innovation incubator in the field of financial technology.  

The announcements included Rakeza’s venture capital fund backed by a global business accelerator in Riyadh valued at $25 million and the launch of BIM Ventures, a business development company worth $100 million in partnership with Al-Sulaiman Group to spot innovative and financially sustainable technology companies.  

On Wednesday, Shorooq Partners launched a financial fund to accelerate electronic games estimated to be $115 million, while Planetary Capital floated the first Saudi-Canadian corpus to invest in emerging space technology companies, both local and global, amounting to $30 million.  

The event also bolstered the Saudi-Chinese relationship as Camel Lab partnered with Hong Kong-based Android developer Weo Technology to launch an application called Ha, the latest and most competitive social platform ever. 

The investment flow continued on day four of LEAP, with a further $580 million announced.

One of the most prominent announcements was revealed by Ignite – a programme under Saudi’s Digital Content Council – which launched several initiatives, a package of financing programmes, and pioneering private sector partnerships amounting to $170 million. 

Technology consulting services company Wipro revealed investments of $110 million to expand its cloud studio service, develop digital healthcare solutions, and support the development of local talent.

Unity, the global games development platform, also announced the establishment of its first regional academy and a center for developing electronic games - in partnership with the MCIT - to create and foster technical talents.

Zoho, a leading IT, software development, and cloud computing company, outlined plans to expand its presence in the Kingdom with new office openings and the establishment of a cloud area for its services. Zoho also confirmed an allocation of $300 million over the next 10 years as a portfolio balance to support Saudi startups aiding the country’s digital transformation.

Having entered the data center arena in 2021, DAMAC Group announced the expansion of investments in large data centers in the Kingdom with a total capacity of more than 55 megawatts.

Day four of the event also saw digital enabler stc Group reveal a collaboration with Oracle to modernize its database technologies and accelerate its transition to the cloud. 

Yazeed Alfaris, vice president of applications at stc, said: “Oracle Exadata Cloud@Customer provides us with the flexibility we need to build a robust, extensive cloud platform in our own data centers, that offers both security and scalability to meet the changing requirements of our business and our customers.”

COP28: Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea economy shifts to regeneration

Updated 35 sec ago

COP28: Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea economy shifts to regeneration

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s push toward sustainability has evolved as large corporations aim for regeneration in the Red Sea, according to the person in charge of one of the Kingdom’s giga-projects.

During a panel discussion at the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai, John Pagano, CEO of Red Sea Global, highlighted how the company has shifted from sustaining its natural landscape to healing and recovering what has been damaged.  

“When we started our journey six years ago, we talked about setting new standards in sustainability and we came to realize fairly quickly that sustainability is no longer enough, and we coined the term regeneration,” Pagano said.  

He further underscored that maintaining the status quo is no longer adequate, stating: “We are on a terrible trajectory.”  

Moreover, Pagano urged global leaders to take action and “change course,” emphasizing the current bleak outlook of the future.

Accompanying Pagano, Carlos Duarte, professor and marine scientist at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, supported the call for action.  

“We have a commitment to our youth not to hand over a planet that is crippled, but a planet with oceans and a Red Sea that can support generations to come,” Duarte said.  

“The bold decision that we are taking globally is that we are no longer content with conservation; we need to go into regeneration,” he added.

Both speakers highlighted the concept of “natural capital” and how this will be used as a global metric for investors to measure a country’s economic performance. Natural capital refers to the stock of renewable and non-renewable natural resources that aid citizens. The term highlights the importance of maintaining and managing ecosystems and their services for the long-term benefit of society.

“The private sector is key to the future of biodiversity and the future of climate and without the involvement from the private sector, we will not meet our goals. That is where concepts like natural capital are very important. Now, natural capital is the new real estate,” Duarte said.

Pagano further added that aside from a country’s gross domestic product, investors will use natural capital as a measure for investment analysis.

RSG has become one of Saudi Arabia’s leading sustainable tourism developments with projects that bring together luxury and clean energy.

“We’ve delivered on the promises that we made dating back to six years ago but we’re doing it sustainably. Six Senses Southern Dunes is totally renewable energy-powered, 24 hours a day, completely off-grid,” Pagano said during the panel discussion.

“We are able to literally push the boundaries of what is possible today,” he added.

Not enough renewable energy to meet global demand: Aramco chief

Updated 13 min 20 sec ago

Not enough renewable energy to meet global demand: Aramco chief

RIYADH: The amount of renewable energy coming to the international market falls short of fulfilling the rising demand, according to Saudi Arabian Oil Co.’s CEO. 

Speaking on a panel at the Saudi Green Initiative Forum on the sidelines of the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference, Amin Nasser highlighted that more investments are needed in the oil and gas sector to ensure a smooth energy transition.

“Even with all the renewable coming to the market, it is still not enough to handle the additional demand we are seeing,” said Nasser. 

He added: “If you compare the investments in the energy sector, it was around $740 billion. Right now, we are doing 40 percent below that at around $500 billion. Considering the higher demand we are anticipating in the future, I think we need more investments.”

Patrick Pouyanné, CEO of TotalEnergies, who was also present on the panel, said that investments in the energy sector are rising, but the industry should learn how to split investments between renewables and hydrocarbons. 

“Investments in the energy sector are growing. The question is, how do we split these investments? Because we want to triple renewables, and at the same time, we need to maintain the production of oil and gas, which is the energy of today. Let us do more investments in the energy sector, but in an orderly manner,” said Pouyanné. 

During the talk, Nasser highlighted that the demand for clean energies like green hydrogen remains low due to its high associated costs.

Regarding the world’s energy divide based on socio-economic characteristics, Nasser said: “Today, 60 percent of what we produce goes to the global south, and 40 percent goes to the global north. By 2050, almost 70 percent will go to the Global South, and in hydrocarbons, 80 percent will be going to the Global South.” 

Nasser added: “We need to take care of all stakeholders in terms of making sure that we provide affordable, sustainable, and secure energy for the whole world.” 

The Aramco chief further noted that Saudi Aramco is one of the energy companies in the world that has made significant strides in ensuring sustainability in its operations. 

“Today, we have the lowest methane and CO2 emissions globally at Saudi Aramco. We will continue to drive it down. We have made the commitment to zero methane by 2030. We are building the carbon capture and storage. We are getting into e-fuels.” said Nasser.

Last year, Saudi Aramco partnered with the Kingdom’s Ministry of Energy to establish a carbon capture and storage hub in the region. 

Following the launch, Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said the hub will have a storage capacity of up to 9 million tons of carbon dioxide annually by 2027. 

Riyadh aims to transform into global sustainability hub by 2030 with $92bn Expo investment 

Updated 39 min 59 sec ago

Riyadh aims to transform into global sustainability hub by 2030 with $92bn Expo investment 

DUBAI: Riyadh is poised to transform into one of the world’s most sustainable cities by the end of the decade, thanks to substantial investments earmarked to prepare the Saudi capital for the upcoming Expo 2030.  

Saudi Vice Minister of Tourism Princess Haifa bint Muhammad Al-Saud announced a $92 billion investment for the global showpiece event at the third Saudi Green Initiative Forum on the sidelines of the UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai.  

Riyadh has secured the hosting rights for the 2030 World Expo, scheduled to take place between Oct. 1, 2030, and March 31, 2031.

The SGI Forum kicked off on Dec. 4 as COP28 continues to mobilize world leaders toward serious action against climate change. 

Addressing the event, Princess Haifa set the tone by emphasizing the projected growth in international arrivals, expected to reach 1.8 billion by 2030.  

She underscored the collective responsibility, stating: “Those are the types of commitments that we need to start proactively doing, and it starts from a role as individuals, all the way to the roles of the communities, to the roles of government and the roles of the private sector.” 

Beyond Riyadh, Saudi Arabia is spearheading a significant push toward sustainable tourism, with the NEOM giga-project taking center stage.  

Nadhmi Al-Nasr, CEO of NEOM, outlined the ambitious vision for this new urban project, which starts from scratch. He detailed the plan to designate 95 percent of the region as an untouched nature reserve, with only 5 percent allocated for the city, envisioned to accommodate 9 to 10 million people.  

Al-Nasr said: “We are starting from zero. We have no legacy. We have nothing to undo. And that's a blessing, but that’s a big responsibility.”  

He added: “We said look, first we want the nature reserve to govern how NEOM will be done. Immediately we decided to make 95 percent of this whole region untouched nature reserve.”  

Furthermore, Al-Nasr emphasized the commitment to renewable energy, stating: “We said we need to build the city or this NEOM by having it all energized by renewable energy. Renewable energy is the base of NEOM.” 

Mohammad Al-Tayyar, the program director of Saudi Arabia’s Oil Sustainability Program — an initiative aimed at developing new and environmentally and economically advantageous applications for hydrocarbons — shared insights into effective climate action. 

He stated, “So if you focus on the four R’s — reduce, reuse, recycle, and remove — you can really achieve a lot of your mitigation and abatement activities.” 

Speaking at the same forum, Governor of Public Investment Fund Yasir Al-Rumayyan highlighted Saudi Arabia’s economic successes and unveiled plans for a net-zero transition by the first quarter of the following year.  

He discussed the transformation of the sovereign wealth fund to the seventh rank globally and its potential role in the India-Saudi-Europe corridor, with a focus on green hydrogen and renewable energy.  

“We are doing our part, and I hope the rest of the world will do theirs,” said Al-Rumayyan.  

Saudi Minister of Economy and Planning Faisal Al-Ibrahim emphasized the significance of Vision 2030 in diversifying the country’s economy and empowering the youth.  

He acknowledged the experimental nature of their approach, stating: “We’re very experimental. We’re very humble about learning from others’ experiences, including our own experiences.”  

The minister stressed the importance of stable and growing economies in achieving effective climate action and shared their commitment to building institutional capabilities, and said: “I think, from our point of view, the thing that we don’t regret doing is building institutional capabilities, educating people.”  

He continued: “We have the cleanest oil in the world being produced in Saudi Arabia. And we still want to be a large, and the most reliable and cleanest conventional, hydrocarbon energy producer.” 

President of the New Development Bank Dilma Rousseff remarked on the challenges faced by developing nations, stating: “There is a problem in the Global South countries. The burden of public debt. The public debt is rising too much and too fast.” 

The leaders collectively emphasized Saudi Arabia’s commitment to sustainable practices, renewable energy, and nature conservation.  

The announcements made at the third SGI Forum reflect the Kingdom’s determination to lead the charge in addressing the global climate crisis and fostering a more sustainable future for generations to come. 

Saudi Arabia to plant 200m mangrove trees by 2030

Updated 47 min 8 sec ago

Saudi Arabia to plant 200m mangrove trees by 2030

DUBAI: Recognizing mangroves as an essential barrier to protect biodiversity in the coastal areas and prevent erosion, the National Center for Vegetation Cover Development and Combating Desertification is implementing an ambitious project to plant over 200 million mangrove trees, said the CEO of the government organization mandated to protect and restore green cover all over Saudi Arabia. 

Speaking to Arab News during the Saudi Green Initiative Forum held at Expo City on the sidelines of COP28 in Dubai, Khaled bin Abdullah Al-Abdul Qadir said that mangroves were distributed widely in the Gulf region and also in the Red Sea areas of Saudi Arabia and that a massive effort was underway to not only preserve the existing mangroves, but also restore others.
“There is a big effort from society, from the government, from companies to blend it, to do the plantation project in the mangrove and that is started more than 30 years ago,” he explained.
Qadir added: “Nowadays we have big projects in mangrove restoration, mangrove protection and mangrove plantation, and we have it in the Red Sea. We have it in the Gulf. Now we have almost more than 10 million mangrove trees already planted.”
He went to say that his organization was in the process of making national parks in the mangrove areas in order to enhance ecotourism in the Kingdom and also provide income for the local society around the mangrove areas. 

Qadir emphasized that the country was taking care to use only native species not only in mangroves, but also in other reafforestation efforts.
“This is very important for us and this is also very important factor for survival of mangrove and being tried in many locations around the world to try different species in different location and the the result was not that successful. But as we are only using native species, we have very successful in mangrove growth in these locations,’’ he informed. 

Rangeland restoration is another key initiative of NCVCDCR, Qadir said, adding that as over 70 percent of the Kingdom areas were already considered rangeland and his organization already had programs to first of all protect these important areas.
‘‘We also have a program to strengthen the protection of these rangeland areas and to convert grazing from unorganized to organized. We will start off the first stage of that in 8 million hectares that are the first phase of organizing the grazing,’’ he said. 

As part of this project, the Kingdom has just finished a study to plant 10 billion trees and the implementation plan for this has already been finalized, the official explained. 

The other area of intervention for the organization lies in the oases, especially agricultural oases that are very important economically. The official said that they were protected by proper regulation. He added that there was a project to protect at least 100 non-agriculture oases.  

Saudi Green Initiative forum showcases Saudi Arabia on the road to net zero

Updated 04 December 2023

Saudi Green Initiative forum showcases Saudi Arabia on the road to net zero

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia has quadrupled its renewable connected capacity in the last two years as part of its acceleration toward reaching net zero by 2060, according to the minister of energy. 

During the inauguration of the third edition of the Saudi Green Initiative Forum, held on the sidelines of the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman highlighted that the Kingdom witnessed a surge in renewable energy from 700 megawatts of capacity to 2 GW in the past two years, with more than 8 GW of renewables under construction and around 13 GW in various development stages.

According to the minister, the region is on track to achieving its goal of reducing carbon emissions by 278 million tons per annum by 2030, with a plan to tender an additional 20 GW by 2024.

The minister said: “Today in the UAE, in tandem with the COP28, we show our concrete action in progress toward this ambitious on renewable.”

He added: “Our actions are examples of solutions or technologies which are consistent with the Paris Agreement and its bottom-up approach. We will be working together to develop technology-based initiatives to advance the implementation of effective climate action on advancing international collaboration.” 

In its attempts to encourage international cooperation in emission reduction, the minister highlighted the economic corridor connecting India, the US, and Europe, deeming it a “key enabler” for energy exports. 

The corridor will include electricity transmission lines and hydrogen pipelines, supplying clean energy at scale reliably and affordably, as outlined by Prince Abdulaziz. 

Speaking on a panel during the SGI Forum, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of the Public Investment Fund, further addressed the implications of the economic corridor, saying: “When we have a corridor from India, through Saudi all the way to Europe, one of the things that we get to have in the corridor, in addition to the railways and the communication lines is green hydrogen and renewable energy.”

The role of funding within the energy transition was further underscored by Khalid Al-Falih, the Kingdom’s minister of investment, who noted that the intersection of environmental and economic sustainability succeeds through strategic investments.

The Saudi government consistently ranks among the top three in every metric that promotes the highest levels of efficiency and minimal emissions for both industries and consumers, emphasizing that investment and consumerism are not independent of the ongoing green efforts, adding that the Ministry of Energy is “keeping Aramco on its trajectory of being the world’s lowest emitting oil company.”

“My key point about sustainability is economic sustainability, and that’s where I think investment comes in ... the future is about responsible climate action in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We have global policies, and we’re at COP. This is where global policies are being written and architected,” Al-Falih said.

Saudi Arabia’s growth toward net zero emissions is not linear, the Minister of State and Saudi Climate Envoy, Adel Al-Jubeir, said during his address at the forum, adding that it entails the intersection of varying means of accelerated climate goals.

The minister added that the region has launched more than 80 programs and committed almost $200 billion to climate initiatives while still exploring new areas of development.

He said: “I would say that the approach that we have used in Saudi Arabia is a ‘whole of government, all of society’ approach. We don’t believe that you can segment different areas. We have to work, so to speak, on all cylinders.

"I believe our approach has to be comprehensive, not just in specific areas, there is room for reducing waste, there is room for increasing efficiencies there is room for planting trees. There is room for combating desertification, there is room for combating plastics, there is room for carbon capture and sequestration.”

Emphasizing this notion in his address, the minister of energy outlined that this year, the Kingdom is commissioning four “highly efficient” gas-fired power plants with a total capacity of 5.6 GW that simultaneously have carbon capture readiness while also building additional gas powerplants with a capacity of approximately 8.4 GW.

It also intends to become a “hub” for “clean green hydrogen” with the launch of the $8.4 billion green hydrogen plant in NEOM, poised to claim the title of the world’s largest facility of its kind. 

Several bilateral agreements have been signed with international counterparts throughout 2023, aiming to produce and export clean, environmentally safe hydrogen, the minister noted.

Speaking to Arab News on the sidelines of the forum, the CEO of NEOM Green Hydrogen Co., David Edmondson, said: “It’s a pretty exciting time. It ties in perfectly with what the region are trying to do with Vision 2030. I mean, the Kingdom has aspirations to export 4 million tonnes of low-carbon hydrogen by 2030. When our plant comes on stream in 2026, we’ll be exporting about 250,000 tonnes. So it’s a step in the right direction.”

The comprehensive strategy implemented since the inception of SGI has resulted in the planting of 43.9 million trees and shrubs, along with the rehabilitation of over 94,000 hectares of degraded land across the Kingdom, contributing to the target of growing 10 billion trees in Saudi Arabia over the coming decades, the CEO of the National Center for Vegetation Cover Development and Combating Desertification, Khaled Abdullah Al-Abdul Qadir, told Arab News on the sidelines of the forum.

According to the CEO, over 40 initiatives are already underway, directly supporting progress toward the interim target of planting  of over 600 million trees and rehabilitating 8 million hectares of land by 2030.

Speaking to Arab News on the sidelines of the forum, the Kingdom’s Minister of Industry and Mineral Resources, Bandar Al-Khorayef, said that these fulfilled benchmarks and ongoing initiatives are indicative of Saudi Arabia setting an example for the world of how many undertakings can be achieved at once.

He said: “We are a great believer of transition and we put our beliefs into action. We really have great also at teams that are working. Young Saudis very excited to find the right way to help. And I think it’s great to celebrate also the results but also be mindful of the responsibility that we have. So I’m really happy that we are able to see great results, some of which can be scalable ideas which will not only help Saudi, but I think it would be also helping the global community in general.”