Global VC Antler puts Saudi Arabia as stepping stone for MENAP entry

One of Antler’s success stories, Airalo, has expanded to the MENAP region after initial incubation in Singapore. (Supplied)
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Updated 20 August 2023
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Global VC Antler puts Saudi Arabia as stepping stone for MENAP entry

  • Singapore-based firm eyes regional expansion with launch of $60 million fund

CAIRO: With Saudi Arabia as a cornerstone for its regional expansion, Singapore-based venture capital firm Antler is broadening its horizons into the Middle East North Africa and Pakistan region with the launch of $60 million fund.

Entering the region with a Riyadh cohort that is set to debut in September 2023, Antler is currently sifting through thousands of applications to pick around 60 founders to guid them from a nascent stage to a scalable business model.

Under the leadership of Jonathan Doerr and Romain Assuncao, the firm’s core strategy is to reinforce the regional entrepreneurial framework by offering support such as co-founder matchmaking, specialized coaching, and an expansive network of global founders and advisors.

With a track record of supporting over 6,000 founders worldwide, Antler has garnered a reputation as a formidable early-stage investor.

Upon program completion, Antler commits a $180,000 investment in exchange for an 11 percent equity stake in standout ventures, a decision based on rigorous interaction over the 3-month duration. 

The firm’s prowess extends to offering post-launch expansion support and potential subsequent investments, with partnerships including venture capital giants Andreessen Horowitz and Northzone.

“As an entrepreneur that has exited 3 companies and built businesses in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, I would have highly valued a program like Antler that not only puts me in a room of high-caliber potential co-founders but also supports me tangibly on my first steps and introduces me to relevant people within the ecosystem,” Doerr said.  

One of Antler’s success stories, Airalo, has expanded its reach to the MENAP region after initial incubation in Singapore. This eSIM provider recently secured a hefty $60 million in funding from worldwide investors.

With a future-focused approach, Antler envisions fostering economic growth, innovation, and resilience in the MENAP region, aligning with strategic blueprints like Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 and Dubai Economic Agenda 2033 Vision.

PIF and stc’s iot squared fully acquires Saudi Arabia’s Machinestalk

In recognition of a robust startup landscape, Saudi Arabia recently witnessed a major acquisition in the digital transformation space.

Highlighting this trend, iot squared, a joint venture between the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund and stc Group, has finalized a binding agreement to acquire Machinestalk, a frontrunner in the Saudi internet of things sector.
 




A joint venture between the Public Investment Fund and stc Group, iot squared, finalized an agreement to acquire Machinestalk. (Supplied)

Established in 2022, iot squared specializes in smart solutions for industries such as manufacturing, logistics, and urban development, aiming to centralize IoT solutions.

Iot squared aims to utilize the acquisition to solidify its market presence in Saudi Arabia while further enriching its expertise within the IoT sector.

“We are pleased to announce signing a binding agreement to acquire 100 percent of Machinestalk, which steers to an exciting new chapter in our growth story,” Othman Al-Dahash, CEO of iot squared said.

“As we continue to strengthen our position as the national IoT champion, in line with our BOLD strategy, we are eager to play a pivotal role in supporting Saudi Arabia’s ambitions to lead the region’s digital transformation and adoption of emerging technologies,” Al-Dahash added.

With a focus on customer needs, iot squared’s strategy promotes regional expansion, introducing added market value. 

Additionally, Machinestalk’s proficiency in smart city development, Industry 4.0, and innovative mobility and logistics aligns seamlessly with iot squared’s vision of making Saudi Arabia a regional IoT epicenter.

Reiterating the company’s commitment, Al-Dahash stated, “By fully realizing the potential of IoT and unlocking the value of connected things, we are committed to enabling a ‘connected Kingdom’ and turning the knowledge-based economy from a concept into reality,"

Machinestalk, established in 2015, boasts a vast portfolio, serving over 2,000 clients across both public and private sectors.

UAE AI firm closes its first round of funding

UAE’s Lumi AI, an artificial intelligence startup, closed its first funding round from New York-based Forum Ventures and Emirati Annex Investments. The amount remains undisclosed.

Founded in April 2023, Lumi AI focuses on democratizing access to data, insights, and predictive analytics, targeting businesses with physical supply chains.
 

With the secured funding, Lumi AI aims to expedite its next development phase, enhancing its platform and expanding its go-to-market team in preparation for a comprehensive platform launch in the fall.  

Since its inception, Lumi AI has already showcased its value proposition. The startup successfully launched a beta product, secured five UAE-based clients, and helped a user identify a $1.5 million inventory discrepancy, as per the press release.

“Lumi AI is born out of an understanding that SQL and Python skills should not be a barrier to data-driven decision making. We’ve engineered Lumi to seamlessly convert plain language into invaluable business insights, democratizing access to data and enabling a future where everyone can make informed, strategic decisions,” Ibrahim Ashqar, CEO of Lumi AI, stated.

Lumi AI's core technology comprises proprietary algorithms and workflows capable of understanding enterprise operational systems and transforming vague user prompts into high-quality, AI-friendly instructions.

“There is a lack of data talent resulting in data backlogs that slow the speed of great decision making. Lumi helps teams get the data they need instantaneously,” Maia Benson, Managing Director at Forum Ventures, commented.

 

Peleset Angels launched an investment network to support Palestinian startups

A network of Palestinian and regional angel investors have come together to launch Peleset Angels, an early-stage angel investment network to support the country’s startup ecosystem.

Peleset Angels aims to fill the critical funding gap in Palestine and empower founders by providing them with pre-seed investments and guiding them to build their minimum viable products.

One of Peleset Angels’ key initiatives lies in its commitment to supporting female founders, promoting inclusivity and diversity within the Palestinian entrepreneurial landscape.


Saudi Arabia’s AI adoption ignites technological advancement and economic growth

Updated 19 April 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s AI adoption ignites technological advancement and economic growth

  • Adoption of AI will help foster a knowledge-based economy and equip Saudi youth with skills for the digital age
  • Key initiatives, include the National Strategy for Data and AI, aim to establish Saudi Arabia as a global AI leader by 2030

RIYADH: As artificial intelligence gains global attention and becomes a buzzword, Saudi Arabia is positioned for accelerated adoption to enhance efficiency across its industries.

Over the years, AI has evolved into a transformative technology revolutionizing numerous industries and domains. Its development and adoption across sectors have spurred significant advancements, already reshaping how people live and work globally.

According to a recent report by the professional services firm PwC, the projected economic impact of AI in the Middle East by 2030 is $320 billion, with an estimated $135.2 billion attributed to Saudi Arabia.

The report also highlights an annual growth rate in AI contribution ranging between 20 percent and 34 percent across the region, with the UAE experiencing the fastest growth, followed by Saudi Arabia.

“Such growth and demand for AI demonstrated that the impact on industries can be substantial and wide-ranging both in Saudi Arabia and the wider region,” said Slava Bogdan, CEO & co-founder at Flowwow, to Arab News.

Flowwow, a global gifting marketplace, simplifies gift-giving and connects local brands with customers. It hosts over 14,000 local brands from 1,000 cities and operates in over 30 countries, including the UAE, Spain, the UK, and Brazil.

“Whether it’s hospitality, manufacturing, telecommunication, or business technologies, where Flowwow sits, I could say that AI solutions, firstly, could automate repetitive tasks, allowing employees to focus on more strategic and creative work, especially in data analysis, customer service, and marketing,” Bogdan said.

The CEO further explained how the firm’s marketers frequently utilize AI to target audiences, enhance creatives, or conduct competitive analysis, particularly in global markets like the Middle East and North Africa. This reduces decision-making time and allows for more strategic tasks that necessitate a tailored approach.

“Moreover, AI algorithms can analyze large amounts of data to identify patterns and trends, helping businesses make more informed decisions,” Bogdan explained.

“This attribute can lead to better forecasting, resource allocation, and risk management, especially in the financial sector, having had 25 percent of all regional AI investments,” he added.

Speaking to Arab News, Brahim Laaidi, partner at Bain & Co., emphasized that AI adoption in sectors like energy and healthcare aids “the Kingdom’s economic diversification and fosters a knowledge-based economy, enhancing efficiency and driving growth.”

Moreover, AI is recognized for enhancing customer experience and reducing costs for firms in various ways.

DID YOU KNOW?

• Saudi Arabia was one of the first nations to utilize data and artificial intelligence technologies to achieve its Vision 2030 goals.

• There are five prominent types of AI: machine learning, natural language processing, computer vision, speech recognition and robots.

• The Saudi Data and AI Authority has created AI ethics principles in accordance with the Kingdom’s commitment to human rights.

• SDAIA estimates SR412.5 billion ($109.96 billion) in global spending on AI by 2024 end.

“AI chatbots and virtual assistants provide 24/7 customer support, reducing costs. Multiple Saudi firms and banks use chatbots for customer service,” highlighted Laaidi.

He also illustrated how AI analyzes customer behavior to create personalized experiences, citing examples like Netflix and Spotify, which utilize AI to tailor content based on user preferences and listening habits.

Laaidi also highlighted how “AI facilitates segmentation based on behavior and profitability for targeted marketing. Coca-Cola utilizes AI for consumer segmentation.”

“In a nutshell, for most enterprises, the focus remains on leveraging narrow or vertical AI solutions to enhance specific business processes, improve customer experiences, or optimize operations,” he added.

According to Jad Haddad, head of Digital IMEA at management consulting firm Oliver Wyman, AI essentially democratizes access to intelligence, making it cheaper and more widely available.

This can generate significant efficiencies by augmenting employee capabilities, enabling them to complete tasks faster, and automating certain processes without human intervention.

Oliver Wyman estimates that up to 35 percent of tasks globally may be augmented or automated by AI in the next three years.

“In Saudi Arabia, considering the current economic structure, Oliver Wyman estimates that up to 17 percent of tasks may be affected within that time frame,” Haddad told Arab News.

AI projects and employment

It is evident that the Kingdom has been significantly investing in AI in recent years.

Key initiatives, according to Laaidi, include the National Strategy for Data and AI, aiming to establish Saudi Arabia as a global AI leader by 2030. Additionally, Neom, a planned smart city, is poised to leverage AI in urban planning and environmental management.

“The Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority was established in 2020 to regulate AI development, and Tonomous collaborates with global tech leaders to enhance the city’s projects,” he added.

Laaidi continued by stating that AI and Robotics Centers, formed through partnerships with universities and international entities, are advancing AI in the Kingdom. From a technology industry perspective, it offers diverse applications and significant benefits.

According to Cristina Carranza, global head of business development at GGTech Entertainment, AI stands as a powerful tool with vast potential to enhance operational efficiency across various domains.

“We use AI selectively, focusing on specific areas where it can augment human skills and improve processes,” Carranza told Arab News.

She gives examples of how AI algorithms are utilized to analyze player data and preferences, enabling them to tailor game experiences and enhance player engagement. “In addition, AI-driven predictive analytics help us anticipate market trends and make informed decisions.”

However, Carranza emphasized the importance of acknowledging that while AI is embraced as a tool for progress, there is a recognition of the necessity of human oversight and control.

“We believe in a symbiotic relationship between humans and AI, where the technology enhances our capabilities but is always subject to human direction and control,” she added,

New dimensions

From GGTech Entertainment’s perspective, AI opens up exciting new dimensions in gaming and entertainment.

Carranza revealed that one significant area involves the optimization of game design processes, where AI algorithms analyze player feedback and behavior data to inform the creation of more engaging and immersive gaming experiences.

“Additionally, AI-powered tools enhance player interaction through personalized recommendations and real-time assistance, fostering deeper engagement and loyalty,” she explained.

The global head further addressed how AI-driven analytics offer valuable insights into player behavior and market trends, empowering GGTech to make data-driven decisions and maintain a competitive edge in the industry.

Bridging skill gaps

The Kingdom’s journey to become an AI leader involves challenges encompassing ethical and legal aspects, data availability and quality, as well as skill gaps, infrastructure requirements, public trust, and the need for international collaborations.

“To navigate these dilemmas, the SDAIA and the National Data Management Office have been established to construct ethical guidelines and improve data governance,” Laaidi explained.

Similarly, the National Cybersecurity Authority continues to safeguard Saudi Arabia's digital infrastructure, including AI systems.

Laaidi emphasized Saudi Arabia’s prioritization of STEM education and training to bridge skill gaps, citing initiatives like the Prince Mohammed bin Salman College of Cyber Security aimed at fostering local talent in AI-related fields.

He highlighted the importance of focusing on STEM disciplines for developing a workforce equipped with the necessary skills for an AI-driven future.

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“Substantial investments are being made in infrastructure, with emphasis on high-performance computing and cloud computing capabilities to support AI development and deployment. Building public trust is also a key venture for the Kingdom,” the partner stressed.

In addition, the Kingdom seeks international collaborations with leading AI research entities worldwide to expedite AI capabilities. “By addressing these challenges strategically, Saudi Arabia aims to create a conducive environment for AI development and adoption,” he emphasized.

From a technological perspective, the adoption of AI can present challenges in navigating ethical considerations and ensuring human control.

“At GGTech, we recognize the importance of maintaining human oversight and ethical standards while leveraging AI technologies. To address this challenge, we prioritize transparency and accountability in our AI algorithms and processes, ensuring they are aligned with our values and ethical guidelines,” Carranza described.

She further added that they invest in ongoing training and education for team members to enhance their understanding of AI and its implications, enabling them to make informed decisions and mitigate potential risks.

Reskilling Saudi workforce    

Undoubtedly, marketers and creative leaders should prepare for the changes in their professional field resulting from AI adoption.

Bogdan explained that one of the crucial skills is the ability to ask AI the right questions and write clear prompts. He emphasized that it is necessary to understand, at least at a basic level, how AI algorithms work.

“At Flowwow, we acquaint employees with the different instruments to make AI a helpful assistant that allows us to analyze competitors’ websites, fact-check and edit texts, test tasks, and answers,” he continued.

The CEO highlighted that as the Kingdom invests resources to integrate AI into every sector, it creates more opportunities for entrepreneurs to establish their businesses and startups equipped with AI tools.

“Hence, apps and services developed with AI solutions will be on the edge. In this case, product managers and programmers should gain a thorough understanding of machine learning to create up-to-date apps,” Bogdan highlighted.

The CEO stressed that it will mostly be up to companies to invest in continuous learning and upskilling through educational short courses for their workers. “This investment is crucial to ensure that the workforce remains competitive and competent in leveraging advancements in AI effectively.”

Saudi Vision 2030  

AI is a driving force behind Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, fueling economic diversification, smart cities, and public service transformation.

According to Laaidi, “AI boosts innovation across non-oil sectors, enables intelligent urban planning in projects like NEOM, and promotes Industry 4.0 through automation and predictive maintenance.”

“AI also improves government services via chatbots, automation, and analytics. In healthcare, AI enhances medical imaging, drug discovery, and personalized medicine,” he highlighted.

On top of that, Laaidi emphasized how AI educational tools prepare the workforce and optimize resource allocation, while support for clean energy promotes sustainability.

“Vision 2030 powered by AI seamlessly connects economic domains, accelerating progress and innovation across the Kingdom,” he affirmed.

On another note, GGTech Entertainment's use of AI aligns with the goals of Saudi Vision 2030 by driving innovation, promoting economic diversification, and empowering Saudi youth with advanced skills and capabilities, according to the firm's global head.

“One way AI contributes to this vision is by enhancing gaming experiences and promoting the Kingdom as a global hub for entertainment and technology,” said Carranza.

By utilizing AI-powered tools for game design, player interaction, and analytics, GGTech Entertainment is delivering cutting-edge gaming experiences that showcase Saudi Arabia’s technological prowess and creativity to a global audience, she emphasized.

“In addition, the use of AI creates opportunities for job creation and economic growth in the Kingdom. As GGTech expands its AI capabilities, it is investing in the development of a skilled workforce with expertise in AI technologies and data analytics,” the company’s global head said.

She concluded by highlighting how this not only aligns with the goals of Saudi Vision 2030 to foster a knowledge-based economy but also equips Saudi youth with the skills they need to thrive in the digital age.


ACWA Power, IRENA join hands to accelerate global renewable energy transition

Updated 18 April 2024
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ACWA Power, IRENA join hands to accelerate global renewable energy transition

RIYADH: In a bid to add impetus to the adoption of clean energy sources worldwide, Saudi utility firm ACWA Power has signed a deal with the International Renewable Energy Agency, said a press release issued on Thursday.

The Saudi-listed firm said that the partnership aligns with its mission to provide sustainable energy solutions and seeks to accelerate the adoption and sustainable use of renewable energy across the globe. 

ACWA Power will work closely with IRENA to share crucial insights on infrastructure investment in renewable energy, green hydrogen advancement, solar energy, smart grids, and the intersection of energy and water, the press release said. 

The Saudi-listed company also announced its participation in various IRENA initiatives, such as Green Hydrogen, Collaborative Frameworks, Project Facilitation, the Alliance for Industry Decarbonization, the Utilities for Net-Zero Alliance, and the Coalition for Action.

As per the deal, ACWA Power and IRENA will investigate avenues to mobilize finance and investment for renewable energy projects, while also supporting infrastructure for the development, storage, distribution, transmission, and consumption of renewables. 

Moreover, collaborative workshops and seminars will be arranged to exchange best practices, enhance skills, and promote awareness of the energy transition among youth, professionals, and the public using IRENA’s platforms and programs. 

ACWA Power CEO Marco Arcelli said the partnership with IRENA marks a significant milestone in his company’s journey toward a sustainable energy future.

“By combining our strengths and resources, we are prepared to drive meaningful change and accelerate the transition to renewable energy on a global scale,” he said.

The CEO added that through collaborative partnerships and innovative solutions, ACWA Power remains committed to advancing the widespread adoption and sustainable use of renewable energy, shaping a brighter and more sustainable future for generations to come.

IRENA Director General Francesco La Camera commented: “We have less than a decade left to secure a fighting chance for a 1.5°C world. Accelerating the renewable-based energy transition needs industry leaders and this deal between IRENA and ACWA Power stands for the growing commitment of global industry to act on decarbonization.”

He added: “We need to act together to accelerate the sustainable use of renewables and green hydrogen across the globe.”


Closing Bell: TASI ends the week in green with trading turnover at $2.18bn

Updated 18 April 2024
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Closing Bell: TASI ends the week in green with trading turnover at $2.18bn

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index rose on Thursday, gaining 36.37 points, or 0.29 percent, to close at 12,502.35.

The total trading turnover of the benchmark index was SR8.19 billion ($2.18 billion) as 130 stocks advanced, while 90 retreated. 

The MSCI Tadawul Index also increased by 5.98 points, or 0.38 percent, to close at 1,575.11.

The Kingdom’s parallel market, Nomu, followed suit and gained 305.77 points, or 1.16 percent, to close at 26,418.75. This comes as 33 stocks advanced, while as many as 27 retreated.

The best-performing stock on the main index was Saudi Arabian Amiantit Co., as its share price rose by 7.69 percent to SR30.80.

Allianz Saudi Fransi Cooperative Insurance Co. also performed well as its share price saw a 6.79 percent increase to close at SR20.16.

This comes as Abu Dhabi National Insurance Co. completed a strategic acquisition of a 51 percent stake in Allianz, according to the Emirates News Agency, WAM.

ADNIC Chairman Mohamed Al- Nahyan told WAM: “The connection between the UAE and Saudi Arabia is deep, mutually beneficial and ever-growing. At ADNIC, we see Saudi Arabia as a high-potential market which perfectly aligns with our overall growth strategy, and we are looking forward to unlocking new possibilities for growth and success.”

Other top performers include United Cooperative Assurance Co. and Saudi Pharmaceutical Industries and Medical Appliances Corp. whose share prices soared by 5.68 percent and 5.51 percent, to stand at SR11.16 and SR14.16 respectively.

The worst performer was Alkhaleej Training and Education Co., whose share price dropped by 5.27 percent to SR33.25.

On the announcements front, Saudi mining giant and Public Investment Fund subsidiary, Saudi Arabian Mining Co., known as Ma’aden, announced the launch of single stock options in a statement on Tadawul. 

SSOs will enable local and international investors to effectively hedge and manage portfolio risks as well as diversify products available for trading in the market. 


Saudi minister calls for ‘decisive financial policies’ to counter global economic uncertainties

Updated 18 April 2024
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Saudi minister calls for ‘decisive financial policies’ to counter global economic uncertainties

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s finance minister on Thursday stressed the need for “decisive financial policies” across the world to navigate through uncertain economic conditions.

Speaking during the Spring Meetings 2024 of the IMF held in Washington, D.C, Mohammed Al-Jadaan noted that such a decisive approach would bolster resilience and sustainability amid the ongoing uncertainties.

He was attending a meeting of finance ministers and governors of the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan region with IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva.

“I also participated in the Global Sovereign Debt Roundtable, where I highlighted the importance of enhancing Comparability of Treatment by establishing a clear and fair framework that ensures equitable treatment among all creditors,” Al-Jadaan said in a post on X.

Additionally, the minister participated in the second G20 finance ministers and central bank governors’ meeting held under the Brazilian presidency in Sao Paulo. He emphasized that effective climate action required a holistic approach.

He said that can be achieved “by integrating diverse sectors acknowledging the diversity of solutions to address climate challenges, including using innovative technologies to manage emissions.”

Al-Jadaan also met with Jose Vinals, chairman of Standard Chartered Bank, to discuss the regional and global economic outlook.

He also met with Spanish Minister of Economy, Trade, and Business, Carlos Cuerpo to discuss ways to enhance relations between the two countries.

Moreover, Al-Jadaan held talks with Jean Lemierre, chairman of Bank BNP Paribas, the global head of Official Institutions Coverage, Laurent Leveque, and the head of Debt Capital Markets, Alexis Taffin.

They discussed progress made in Saudi Arabia, as well as issues related to attracting investment and alternative financing.


Magrabi opens new complex in Makkah

Updated 18 April 2024
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Magrabi opens new complex in Makkah

RIYADH: With a new branch in Makkah, Magrabi Hospitals and Centers are expanding to more Saudi cities to meet the growing demand for specialized ophthalmological and dentistry care.

Minister of Health Fahad Al-Jalajel inaugurated the medical complex and one-day surgery center in the holy city, accompanied by Magrabi Hospitals and Centers CEO Mutasim Alireza, the Group’s Deputy CEO and Cheif Operating Officer Abdulrahman Barzangi, and several officials and dignitaries.

Al-Jalajel underscored that the opening reflects the Kingdom’s commitment to enhancing the quality of its healthcare services and transitioning toward a more comprehensive and integrated medical system.

He further stated that this initiative is a vital component of the Health Transformation Program, a foundational aspect of Saudi Vision 2030, which has achieved significant milestones and advancements in the medical sector under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Following the official inauguration, the minister toured the complex’s facilities, noting its significance as a notable project and a valuable contribution to the Kingdom.

Alireza said: “This specialized medical complex underscores our commitment to being at the forefront of healthcare for ophthalmology and dental services and continuing our mission to offer specialized medical services that meet community needs with the utmost quality and safety.” 

In March, Magrabi Ophthalmology and Dentistry Hospital Dammam officially opened its doors in Al-Shaala, marking an achievement for medical care in Saudi Arabia.

The Magrabi Dammam health facility is the largest specialized center in the region and provides sub-specialized services, meeting the highest quality standards and leveraging the latest global technologies.