Start-up of the Week: 'Blossom' — Showing the way to women entrepreneurs

Updated 26 June 2018
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Start-up of the Week: 'Blossom' — Showing the way to women entrepreneurs

  • The accelerator gives early-stage startups the opportunity to participate in a boot camp and a demo day, while providing them with resources, knowledge, networking, and access to nearly 35 mentors in various business fields over a two-week program
  • Applicants are evaluated on the experience of the founding team, the product’s value, the business’s scalability and its current stage of operations

JEDDAH: Blossom, a Jeddah-based accelerator that focuses on female-led technology startups in Saudi Arabia, was launched in Dec. 2017.
It is the first and only accelerator that aims to empower and enable female-founded startups in Saudi Arabia.
A lack of resources to support growing women-led startups in the Kingdom prompted Eman Shakoor, the CEO, to establish Blossom to help other women to overcome the challenges she faced when she tried to build her own startup earlier in the same year.
Shakoor told Arab News: “I realized the growing potential and ambitions among Saudi women to start their own businesses. However, I also noticed the need to provide more access to resources and networking for them to really build up something amazing and sustainable.”
The accelerator gives early-stage startups the opportunity to participate in a boot camp and a demo day, while providing them with resources, knowledge, networking, and access to nearly 35 mentors in various business fields over a two-week program.
“A total of 28 applications were received during our first round earlier this year, shortlisted to 12 suitable applicants. From these, only four (Maison Glamour, Noorah Kareem, Passioneurs, and Ewahimprov) were selected to be part of Blossom’s first cohort,” the Blossom chief said.
Applicants are evaluated on the experience of the founding team, the product’s value, the business’s scalability and its current stage of operations.
Shakoor said: “We are looking for early-stage existing startups that have at least one female founder, an innovative tech-product that solves real problems and is backed up by market research, with a good understanding of competition, scalable future growth and, finally, the team’s experience and commitment to the business, and its product.”
As for the program’s objectives, the startups can expect guidance in refining their business models and improving their technical strength. During the two-week intensive program, participants are provided with 24/7 access to a co-working space, one-on-one sessions with expert mentors to help them in improve their businesses.
The entrepreneur said: “Startups get mentorship on everything from business models, introduction to entrepreneurship, lean principles, product design, marketing, accounting and financing, legalities, and pitching/presentation skills.
“We also organize public events and workshops focused on networking, idea-sharing, and inspiration throughout the year.”
She said: “Our main goal is to promote entrepreneurship and make it trendy among Saudi women by using Arabic names for our events.”
Since its launch, the accelerator has arranged three events: Techpreneurship Sprint (a one-day business plan competition targeting technology startup ideas); the SELLA Event (a technology entrepreneurship networking event focused on idea-sharing, inspiration, and networking); and the THIQAH Event (a female- empowerment event that teaches women how to become more confident, and to create the company they deserve).
“Going forward, and sponsored by SEDCO, Bin Dawood and other organizations, the accelerator is aiming to accept three to seven applicants in two rounds every year, for a three-month acceleration program that ends with the opportunity to pitch their ideas and products to well-known investors at the demo day,” Shakoor said.


KSA must become more resilient against cyberattacks

Updated 22 July 2018
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KSA must become more resilient against cyberattacks

  • Healthcare data is of particular interest to hackers because it can be used to blackmail people in positions of power
  • A trained security professional cannot win the battle against cybercrime with just a mere knowledge of IT security

DUBAI: Cybercrime attacks could double over the next two years and cost Saudi Arabia’s economy up to SR30 billion ($8 billion) by 2020, according to security experts who warn the Kingdom is the most targeted county in the GCC for online fraudsters.
While Saudi Arabia is stepping up the war against cybercrime, the Kingdom must invest in training its own security professionals, expand its pool of skilled workers and strengthen its cybersecurity regulation to become more resilient against emerging attacks.
“Based on our relationship with key Saudi clients, we see that cybercrime in Saudi is growing faster than in most of the countries in the world, with more than a 35 percent increase in the number of attacks during the past year,” said Simone Vernacchia, a partner in Digital, CyberSecurity, Resilience and Infrastructure for PWC Middle East.
“Based on our experience in the GCC, Saudi is being targeted more frequently, and the cost of cyberattacks is 6 to 8 percent higher than in the rest of the GCC countries. The Saudi economy provides a more appealing target for cyberattackers.”
Vernacchia said it can be difficult to measure the true direct and indirect cost on Saudi Arabia’s economy each year.
“This said, we would expect direct and indirect costs arising from cyberattacks to total $3 to $4 billion (SR11.25 billion to SR15 billion) for 2018,” said Vernacchia.
“Assuming the growth will not be affected by large-scale events, we expect the direct and indirect impact of cyberattacks to grow up to $6 to $8 billion (SR22.5 billion to SR30 billion) by 2020. Among the major external events that can affect this figure, uncertainties in the region can result in an even more aggressive surge of cyberattacks.”
Vernacchia said there was a lack of willpower in organizations to invest in security measures, and urged them to invest in the manpower and technology that will enable them to become more resilient in the face of growing attacks. While Saudi is “not completely unprepared,” most businesses in the Kingdom are investing in cybersecurity far less than the leading countries.
“We see the average investment in cybersecurity awareness and capability to be on average about 60 percent lower in Saudi Arabia than what is invested by organizations of the same size in leading countries.
“This is a result of limited regulatory requirements for private entities, as private companies are trading the immediate benefit of spending less on cybersecurity protection with the high cost of one — or more — potentially highly effective targeted cyberattacks.”
An increase in cybersecurity regulation could also strongly limit the growth of cyberattacks, Vernacchia said. “The limited amount of cybersecurity-related regulation is a key issue, as it’s having two key effects. On one hand, some businesses are underestimating their exposure, and thus not investing in cybersecurity as they should — de facto increasing their risk. Other businesses are waiting for regulation to be drafted before investing in cybersecurity, in fear that the organization, processes and solutions they would implement may not be in line with the regulatory requirements which are coming.”
Amir Kolahzadeh, CEO of cybersecurity firm ITSEC, said Saudi-based business are reluctant to invest in adequate cybersecurity measures as they fail to recognize the long-term value of the initial investment needed.
“The core issues that every business is looking at in cybersecurity is a line item expense instead of looking what the cost would be if there is a breach,” he said. “This is a worldwide epidemic at the moment. However, it is much more evident in the GCC due to lack of truly trained IT security professionals who can show the business acumen, foresight and the communication skills to demonstrate that potential losses are exponentially greater than the cost of securing the enterprise.”
David Michaux, of online security company Whispering Bell, said as Saudi Arabia forges ahead with its knowledge-based economy and becomes “more online,” the potential for attacks will grow.
With Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 of a “knowledge economy,” growth in the ICT will be fueled by digitization — including IT innovation, big data projects, smart city initiatives, and cloud-based services. In addition, Saudis are among the most active social media users in the world — and largest adopters of Twitter in the Arab region.
Mathivanan V., vice president of ManageEngine, said while Saudi Arabia has taken “significant steps” to achieve cyber-readiness, including the introduction of the National Authority of Cyber Security which aims to enhance the protection of networks, IT systems, and data through regulatory and operational tasks, he warned that sophisticated cyberthreats have evolved in the wake of digitization and urged companies to better employ sustainable IT practices and state-of-the-art cybersecurity tools.
“A trained security professional cannot win the battle against cybercrime with just a mere knowledge of IT security,” he said. “What he needs is the right weapon to master the art of cybersecurity.”
James Lyne, head of R&D at SANS Institute, which specializes in information security, said given Saudi Arabia’s visible agenda to lead the charge in smart cities, connected industry and to develop a knowledge economy, it is key that the Kingdom also has an equally ambitious cybersecurity skills strategy.
“A gap between the two will lead to substantial attacks and reputation damage for the region,” he said.
“Firstly, Saudi Arabia needs more cybersecurity practitioners overall — particularly with the ambitious development projects being undertaken as part of the Kingdom’s 2030 Vision. Secondly, existing cybersecurity practitioners also have to continue to sharpen their skills to increase the depth of their expertise.”
He urged companies not to ignore the fact that employee behavior is a weak link in cybersecurity and is becoming an increasing source of risk.
“Many of the breaches that occur still take advantage of basic cybersecurity failures and, as such, education has to be a huge part of the solution. Everyone in Saudi Arabia has a role to play in making sure that cybercriminals get fewer clicks on their nasty emails, documents and phishing links.”
He said it was difficult to truly grasp the overall financial figures associated with cybercrime.
“That said, even the tip of the iceberg that we do see is very substantial and it has already been demonstrated that Saudi Arabia is a major target. Given attackers have already had success compromising facilities, it is extremely likely other cybercriminals will follow.”