Saudi Arabia’s tech landscape flourishes with innovative initiatives 

Saudi Arabia’s strides in technological innovation has placed it 48 among 132 featured economies on the Global Innovation Index 2023. Shutterstock
Short Url
Updated 12 April 2024
Follow

Saudi Arabia’s tech landscape flourishes with innovative initiatives 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s strategic location, thriving economy, and strong government support have attracted a diverse range of funding partners keen on assisting startups and entrepreneurs.

The Kingdom, according to Houssem Jemili, partner at management consulting firm Bain and Co., has one of the highest technology spends in the Middle East and North Africa, approximately 2.5 times that of the next country, and is growing year-on-year. 

Speaking to Arab News, Jemili said: “Saudi Arabia has a mature and diverse set of funding partners — government entities and programs (e.g., Monsha’at), large investment funds, and venture capitalists that provide access to both direct and indirect funding to startups and entrepreneurs.”  

Highlighting the Kingdom’s emergence as a dynamic tech hub in the region, he added: “KSA has a large domestic captive audience (the largest in MENA) that demands technology products and services.”   

Talat Zaki Hafiz, a Saudi-based economist, told Arab News that the Kingdom’s rise as a tech hub in MENA was greatly influenced by its status as the largest economy in the region, accounting for over 30 percent of the its gross domestic product, and ranking 16th among the G20 countries. 

“The technology strategy of Saudi Arabia includes ambitious targets and action plans based on attracting leading international companies mainly specialized in advanced and emerging technologies to enable the Kingdom to develop mega tech projects,” he said. 

Global Innovation Index  




Global Innovation Index 2023 Launch Event. WIPO/Violaine

Saudi Arabia’s strides in technological innovation are underscored by its position on the Global Innovation Index 2023, where it ranks 48th among 132 featured economies. 

“It (Saudi Arabia) has certainly made improvements, from 51st and 66th (position) in 2022 and 2021 respectively,” Jemili explained. 

He went on to say that the Kingdom recognizes that innovation is a “key driver of economic development,” and efforts will result in significant improvements across innovation input sub-indices like human capital and infrastructure, as well as output sub-indices such as knowledge and technology outputs, and creative outputs of the Global Innovation Index. 

Within the high-income group economies, Saudi Arabia ranks 41st, further solidifying its status as a burgeoning tech hub in the region.  

Moreover, the Kingdom’s ranking fifth among the 18 economies in North Africa and West Asia highlights its growing influence as a beacon of innovation in the Middle East.  

Hafiz believes that since the launch of Vision 2030 in 2016, Saudi Arabia has been focusing on tech-related industries in general and the digital economy in particular.  

“Since the digital economy is becoming the new trend in the 21st century, especially in Saudi Arabia, where over 60 percent of its citizens are youth less than 35 years old, they heavily use the internet to purchase goods and services,” he said.  

The economist explained that statistics revealed the Kingdom is witnessing a significant increase in the size of e-commerce, with expectations to reach $15 billion in 2025 and online sales projected to reach 66 percent.  

Saudi Arabia’s increasing prominence in technological advancement and innovation localization was showcased at the LEAP conference held in Riyadh. The event, which concluded in early March with great success, included agreements worth over $12 billion.  

“LEAP has made a tremendous effort to act as a node of the technology and innovation ecosystem in KSA — a node that connects the ecosystem and brings all the players together, through building a community,” Jemili said. 

Strategic investments 

Saudi Arabia’s emergence as a digital powerhouse can be attributed to its strategic investments in research and development, supportive policies, and a thriving startup ecosystem.   

With initiatives such as Vision 2030 and the establishment of the Digital Government Authority, the Kingdom is laying the groundwork for a technologically advanced future.  




Houssem Jemili, Partner at Bain & Co. Supplied

According to Jemili, the presence of global technology giants in Saudi Arabia is a testimony to the growth of the technology and innovation landscape in the Kingdom.  

“Such players provide the necessary minimum infrastructure that startups and entrepreneurs need to succeed,” he added.  

Jemili further elaborated: “They provide a world-class physical and digital infrastructure, like software labs and production studios, and even cloud credits to enable innovation at scale. Such advanced offering helps startups accelerate their ideas from early-stage to large-scale commercialization.”  

Global tech giants are investing billions in Saudi Arabia, highlighting its attractiveness as an investment destination, with Microsoft investing $2.1 billion in a global super-scaler cloud and Oracle committing $1.5 billion to build a new cloud region in Riyadh, as earlier revealed by Minister of Communication and Information Technology Abdullah Al-Swaha. 

Hafiz emphasized that the integration of technology in the Saudi traditional economy “is going so well.”  

“The Kingdom’s Vision 2030 is built on making significant changes in the Saudi economy not only to diversify its sector base but also to push for transformation to technology,” he added. 

Regulatory framework 

Saudi Arabia’s efforts to foster innovation extend to the regulatory realm, where the government has introduced initiatives such as regulatory sandboxes and fintech hubs.  

These initiatives provide a platform for startups and tech companies to test innovative products and services in a controlled environment, thereby facilitating compliance with regulatory requirements while fostering innovation.  

“Flow of and access to incentives is a big dimension that has helped Saudi Arabia drive its innovation landscape,” according to Jemili.  

He highlighted that the Kingdom has a rapidly evolving business environment that requires a structured regulatory system that is mature, growth-driven, and easy to navigate.  

“In addition, it is critical to enact clear and predictable regulations that enhance innovation, bring ease of doing business, and continue to build the trust of both the business community and investors,” he added.  

Jemili emphasized the importance of having a “phygital center of gravity” for the startup community, highlighting its critical role in providing firsthand ecosystem orientation and guidance to new entrepreneurs and foreign startups in the Kingdom.  

Phygital refers to a combined physical and digital center that serves as a pivotal hub for the startup community, offering both in-person and online resources, guidance, and orientation to new entrepreneurs and foreign startups.

With a diverse pool of founders and over 1,600 startups supported by a network of venture capital firms, Saudi Arabia is poised to become a global leader in technological innovation.   

Hafiz continued, emphasizing, “It is important to note that Saudi Arabia is the third worldwide and very advanced in digital industries, leader and ranked the first regionally according to the data of GOVTECH Maturity Index for 2022 issued by the World Bank Group.”   

He noted the government’s backing of advanced technologies in Saudi Arabia, which has driven significant progress toward Vision 2030’s goals by delivering high-quality digital services that bolster the national economy.  

Startup ecosystem  

Within the vibrant startup scene in Saudi Arabia, several companies have emerged as pioneers in innovation.  

Notable among them are startups enrolled in the Saudi Unicorns Program, exemplifying the Kingdom’s commitment to nurturing homegrown talent and fostering entrepreneurship.   

“Saudi Unicorns Program is a one-stop-shop solution to support and enable high-growth technology companies to reach the unicorn stage by providing an integrated set of services and offerings,” Jemili noted.   

The program provides unparalleled solutions to start-ups and entrepreneurs by providing access to connect with different stakeholders — international customers, talent, investors, and private sector, and experts for mentorship and guidance.   

He added that the objective of the program is in line with the overall Vision 2030, as it strives to increase the number of unicorns and create both direct and indirect impacts on the local GDP.  

“A differentiating aspect of Saudi Unicorns Program is its differentiated offerings based on the degree of readiness of the startups,” Jemili explained.  

Lean Tech, Mrsool, Quant, and Mozn are just a few examples of startups making waves in Saudi Arabia’s tech ecosystem.  

These companies represent the Kingdom’s vibrant culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, actively shaping its dynamic business landscape.  

With strategic investments, supportive policies, and a thriving startup ecosystem, the Kingdom is poised to lead the charge toward a digitally empowered future.  

By fostering collaboration, nurturing homegrown talent, and embracing emerging technologies, Saudi Arabia’s current momentum is promising for technology and innovation.   

Jemili cited the Magnitt report, stating that the Kingdom has emerged as the leading market for venture capital funding in the MENA region, attracting over $1.38 billion in investments in 2023. 

“This was the second year in a row that KSA has recorded a billion-dollar-plus figure in VC funding,” he said.  

Jemili gave examples of mega-rounds witnessed by Saudi-based platforms like Tabby and Tamara, which helped both companies secure unicorn status. “With continued efforts to improve livability aspects, improvements in ease of doing business, and continued growth and maturity of the funding institutions, KSA is on track for continued success.” 

As more of these elements come to life, the maturity of the ecosystems in cities like Riyadh and Jeddah can move from an early activation stage to a globalized stage.  

Hafiz concluded: “I don’t believe that the Kingdom is facing any pressing economic challenges to establish a tech ecosystem, simply because it is blessed with encouraging leadership.” 

He emphasized the encouragement to use technology at a large scale, which he believes has helped to “create an excellent ecosystem, especially when considering that more than 60 percent of the Saudi population are young, below 35 years old, and we are among the highest users of the internet in the Arab world and globally.” 


Closing bell: Saudi main index slips to close at 11,850 

Updated 26 May 2024
Follow

Closing bell: Saudi main index slips to close at 11,850 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index slipped on Sunday, losing 145.35 points, or 1.21 percent, to close at 11,850.64.    

The total trading turnover of the benchmark index was SR4.37 billion ($1.16 billion) as 55 of the stocks advanced, while 166 retreated.   

Similarly, the Kingdom’s parallel market Nomu slipped 41.38 points, or 0.16 percent, to close at 26,638.19. This comes as 26 of the listed stocks advanced while 33 retreated.   

Meanwhile, the MSCI Tadawul Index slipped 20.47 points, or 1.37 percent, to close at 1,473.08. 

The best-performing stock of the day was Bupa Arabia for Cooperative Insurance Co. The firm’s share price surged 4.79 percent to SR240.80.  

Other top performers include Saudi Fisheries Co. as well as National Medical Care Co. 

The worst performer was Al-Baha Investment and Development Co. whose share price dropped by 7.14 percent to SR0.13. 

Other worst performers were Electrical Industries Co. as well as Saudi Arabian Mining Co. 

On the announcements front, East Pipes Integrated Co. has announced its annual financial results for the period ending on March 31.  

According to a Tadawul statement, the company’s net profit hit SR267 million in the year ending in March 2024, reflecting a 167 percent surge when compared to the corresponding period a year earlier.   

The increase is mainly due to a sustained rise in average sales prices as well as a decrease in the cost of production per tonne. 

Moreover, Saudi Ground Services Co. has announced that the board of directors has approved establishing a 100 percent owned new subsidiary as a limited liability company in Saudi Arabia under the name “Ground Service Co. for Travel and Tourism Services.”  

A bourse filing revealed that the new subsidiary will have a share capital of SR500,000. 

This decision comes after meeting the requirements set by the relevant authorities and regulations for operating travel agency services and air transport procedures, which are in line with the National Economic Activities Classification Guide, following the necessary approvals from the authorities. 

This step aligns with the strategic direction of Saudi Ground Services Co., aiming for growth, business development, and diversification of its revenues. 

Furthermore, MBC FZ-LLC, a subsidiary wholly owned by MBC Group, has announced the signing of a production contract worth SR65 million with MedYapim Middle East Audiovisual Media Production Co., a related party, for the production of a television series. 

The contract is expected to be completed by February 2025, in accordance with the terms and conditions of the agreement and is projected to have a positive impact on the firm’s financial statements of 2025. 


DP World, Mawani launch $250m logistics park project at Jeddah Islamic Port

Updated 26 May 2024
Follow

DP World, Mawani launch $250m logistics park project at Jeddah Islamic Port

RIYADH: The Saudi logistics sector is poised for growth with DP World’s investment of SR900 million ($250 million) to build a distribution center at the Jeddah Islamic Port.

With this strategic move, the UAE multinational logistics company will also enhance its operational capabilities, providing more efficient and comprehensive services to its clients.

 Sunday’s announcement signals the start of construction on the quarter-billion-dollar project, which will be developed in two phases and is scheduled to open in the second quarter of 2025.

The park offers an in-land container depot with a handling capacity of 250,000 twenty-foot equivalent units and warehouse space of 100,000 sq. meters, said a press release.

Integrated with the recently awarded 30-year concession for the South Container Terminal, the state-of-the-art facility will bolster trade to enable Saudi Arabia’s strategy to become an economic powerhouse by 2030.

In June 2022, DP World and the Saudi Ports Authority, known as Mawani, signed a 30-year agreement, with an investment exceeding SR500 million, to construct a cutting-edge, port-centric logistics park in Jeddah.

The deal aims to develop the park, covering 415,000 sq. meters, featuring an in-land container depot capable of accommodating around 250,000 TEU and warehousing storage space totaling 100,000 sq. meters. Potential expansions could raise the storage capacity to 200,000 sq. meters.

The agreement was signed under the patronage of Saudi Minister of Transport and Logistic Services Saleh Al-Jasser, who is also chairman of the board of Saudi Ports Authority,

According to a statement from the Dubai government’s media office, the 415,000 sq. meter greenfield facility will include 185,000 sq. meters of warehousing space and a vast multi-purpose storage yard, establishing it as the largest integrated logistics park in the Kingdom.

The statement further mentioned that the park will accommodate over 390,000 pallet positions, providing customers with an efficient platform for the smooth movement of goods to and from Jeddah.

The collaboration between Mawani and DP World also includes the management of the South Container Terminal through a separate 30-year concession signed in 2020, the media office said in its release.

It added that the terminal is currently in the final phase of a comprehensive modernization project, scheduled for completion in the last quarter of 2024. This project will ramp up the handling capacity to 5 million TEU. 

“Saudi Arabia has always been a deeply important market for DP World, and this milestone represents our ongoing commitment to the Kingdom,” Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, chairman and CEO of DP World, said.

He added that Jeddah Logistics Park, strategically located on the vital Asia-Europe shipping route, will provide world-class multimodal connectivity and market access for customers while supporting the ambitious aims of Saudi Vision 2030.

“This investment marks a significant step as we mark 25 years of operations in Jeddah and underscores our enduring commitment to facilitating the flow of trade,” Sulayem added.

On the other hand, Mawani President Omar bin Talal Hariri highlighted that this new logistics area will be connected to DP World’s South Container Terminal at Jeddah Islamic Port, facilitating growth and increasing the number of containers handled at the terminal.

“The project is part of Mawani’s broader efforts to expand the number of logistics centers in Saudi ports, in partnership with major national and international companies, and in line with the objectives of the National Transport and Logistics Strategy and Vision 2030,” Hariri said.


King Khalid International tops Saudi airport rankings with 82% compliance rate: GACA report

Updated 26 May 2024
Follow

King Khalid International tops Saudi airport rankings with 82% compliance rate: GACA report

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Khalid International Airport emerges as one of the top three performing terminals in the Kingdom, according to official data. 

The Riyadh-based aviation facility topped the category for international terminals with over 15 million passengers annually, achieving an 82 percent compliance rate with the General Authority of Civil Aviation’s standards. 

In its monthly report for April, GAC outlined the performance of the country’s airports, highlighting King Fahd International Airport and Abha International Airport as premier travel hubs. 

Based on 11 key criteria, the evaluation aims to improve service quality and enhance the passenger experience.  

King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah came second with the same commitment rate but was outperformed by King Khalid International in meeting the criteria. 

King Fahd International Airport led the category for international airports with 5 to 15 million passengers annually, also with a 91 percent commitment rate. Prince Mohammad bin Abdulaziz International Airport in Madinah, which had the same commitment rate, was second. 

In the category of international airports with 2 to 5 million passengers annually, Abha International Airport secured the top spot with a 100 percent commitment rate, outperforming King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Airport in Jazan, which also had a 100 percent commitment rate but lagged in meeting the criteria. 

Al-Qaisumah International Airport ranked first among international terminals with fewer than 2 million passengers annually, with a 100 percent commitment rate, excelling in average waiting times for departure and arrival flights. 

Arar Airport achieved the highest performance among domestic terminals, with a 100 percent commitment rate, leading in average waiting times for departure and arrival flights. 

GACA’s performance evaluation is based on essential criteria such as passenger waiting times, time spent at baggage claim, and passport and customs areas, alongside standards related to accessibility for persons with disabilities and other global best practices. 

In an additional report released earlier in April, GACA revealed that the volume of air cargo handled by airports in the Kingdom saw an annual rise of 7 percent in 2023 to reach 918,000 tonnes.  

The analysis stated that the Kingdom’s aviation sector strongly rebounded in 2023, with airports witnessing a 26 percent rise in passenger transportation compared to 2022. 

GACA said that flight facilities in Saudi Arabia transported 112 million passengers last year, an 8 percent increase compared to 2019.  

The report revealed that the number of flights through the Kingdom’s airports in 2023 reached about 815,000, an increase of 16 percent compared to 2022. 

In 2023, airports in Saudi Arabia handled 394,000 international and 421,000 domestic journeys, the authority added. 


SME financing in Saudi Arabia surges 20.4% in Q4 of 2023

Updated 26 May 2024
Follow

SME financing in Saudi Arabia surges 20.4% in Q4 of 2023

RIYADH: Financing provided to small and medium enterprises in Saudi Arabia surged by 20.4 percent year on year to $73.5 billion in the fourth quarter of 2023, official data showed. 

In its latest quarterly report, the Kingdom’s Small and Medium Enterprises General Authority said that credit facilities provided to micro and SMEs amounted to $6.7 billion and $24.6 billion, respectively, in the last three months of 2023. 

On the other hand, medium enterprises in the Kingdom secured finance worth $42.2 billion in the last quarter of the previous year. 

The authority, also known as Monsha’at revealed that banks in Saudi Arabia provided credit facilities worth $68.9 billion in the fourth quarter of 2023, representing a rise of 21.1 percent compared to the same period of the previous year. 

On the other hand, finance companies in the Kingdom provided loans amounting to $4.6 billion in the last three months of 2023, marking a year-on-year rise of 9.3 percent. 

Developing the SME sector is crucial for Saudi Arabia as the Kingdom is currently on a path of economic diversification, as it steadily reduces its dependency on oil. 

The report revealed that 9,644 SMEs were benefitted from Monsha’at support centers in the first quarter of this year. 

Moreover, three SMEs had their initial public offering on the parallel market Nomu through the Tomoh program in the first quarter of 2024. 

Monsha’at also revealed that Saudi Arabia led venture capital funding in the Middle East and North Africa region with $240 million deployed across 35 deals in the first quarter of this year. 

“With $240 million deployed across 35 deals to Saudi-based companies, the Kingdom accounted for a remarkable 65 percent of all VC funding in the region,” said the authority. 

The report attributed 54 percent of this VC funding to the $130 million pre-initial public offering secured by Salla in March. 

“While the $240 million invested in the first quarter maintains the Kingdom’s dominance, it did reflect a considerable quarterly drop of 70 percent from the fourth quarter of 2023, along with a 42 percent year-on-year drop. This downturn mirrors the broader trend across the MENA landscape,” said Philip Bahoshy, founder and CEO of venture capital data platform MAGNiTT. 

He added: “Digging deeper, it becomes evident that while the overall funding has diminished, the Kingdom’s entrepreneurial ecosystem continues to attract investors.” 


Oman’s banking sector sees 2.9% rise in credit to $80bn by end of March

Updated 26 May 2024
Follow

Oman’s banking sector sees 2.9% rise in credit to $80bn by end of March

RIYADH: Oman’s banking sector experienced a 2.9 percent rise in total credit, reaching 30.8 billion Omani rials ($80 billion) by the end of March, official data showed. 

In its monthly review of banking and monetary developments, the Central Bank of Oman disclosed that credit to the private sector rose by 3.6 percent year-on-year, reaching 25.9 billion rials by the end of March. 

Non-financial corporations held the largest share of the total private sector credit, accounting for approximately 45.4 percent by the end of March, followed closely by households at 45 percent. 

Financial corporations constituted 5.8 percent of the total, while the remaining 3.8 percent was allocated to other sectors. 

Total deposits held with other depository corporations witnessed a significant year-on-year growth of 11.7 percent, reaching 30.3 billion rials at the end of March, while total private sector deposits grew by 13.7 percent to 20.2 billion rials. 

The increase in private sector credit and deposits reflects robust economic activity and confidence in the financial system. 

Regarding the sector-wise composition of private sector deposits, household holdings contributed the most at 49.8 percent, followed by non-financial corporations at 30.9 percent, financial corporations at 16.5 percent, and other sectors at 2.8 percent. 

The combined balance sheet of conventional banks showed a year-on-year growth of 0.8 percent in total outstanding credit as of the end of March. 

Credit to the private sector increased by 1.6 percent, reaching 20.3 billion rials, while overall investments in securities surged by 28.0 percent to 5.7 billion rials. 

Investment in government development bonds decreased by 17.1 percent to 1.8 billion rials, while investments in foreign securities saw a dramatic increase of 139.0 percent to 2.3 billion rials. 

Moreover, aggregate deposits in conventional banks experienced significant growth, while government deposits declined. Public enterprise holdings increased substantially, and private sector deposits rose. 

Simultaneously, Islamic banks and windows witnessed notable growth in total assets, financing, and deposits, underscoring their expanding role within the banking system. 

The report further highlighted that the nation’s nominal gross domestic product declined by 2.8 percent at the end of the fourth quarter of 2023, primarily due to a significant drop in the hydrocarbon sector despite growth in the non-hydrocarbon sector. 

However, real GDP increased by 1.3 percent during the same period. Both the average oil price and daily production saw decreases, while inflation remained minimal.