DUBAI: The next Steve Jobs could soon emerge in Saudi Arabia as young minds are being nurtured through an initiative aimed at fostering talent across the Kingdom.
Misk Innovation, which launched at GITEX Future Stars in Dubai last month, supports Saudi entrepreneurs to develop technical projects.
“It has been created because of all the inspiring talent that we have back home and the great opportunities,” said Deemah Al-Yahya, executive manager of Misk Innovation.
“Given the profound (impact) of digital and economic transformation the region is experiencing, the importance of innovation is growing. For the past 40 years or so, the region has achieved new levels of economic growth and modernization, transforming itself into one of the world’s dynamic economies.”
By focusing on innovation and collaboration, Al-Yahya said the region has become a technological advanced society with a highly motivated and educated workforce.
Misk Innovation was set up to help young Saudis to embrace the technological revolution. It aimed to provide a comprehensive framework to discover, develop and empower young Saudis.
“When you read about highly successful innovators such as Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, it’s easy to think that they have something the rest of us don’t have,” Al-Yahya said.
“They changed business, industries and the world itself. Each one of us can be one of them by learning some of these tactics, including not discounting any crazy idea — there were no thoughts of limitation based on age, experience, level or how the world operates but, as adults, many of us too quickly shut down our ideas.”
She explained such ideas are the root of the world’s most successful innovations. “The people who realize these revolutionary advancements let themselves believe that a crazy idea is always a reality,” she said.
She added that how you cope with fear is also key. “A lot of people believe that to be a leader in innovation, you have to be fearless,” she said. “In fact, successful innovators let their fear exist without letting it dictate their decision-making.
“Never think you know it all — even though we might think that successful people are truly the biggest experts in their fields, the ones that stay innovative never operate under that assumption.”
Entrepreneurs should surround themselves with heroes, she added, as successful innovators know that they cannot do it alone. “Innovation comes from hunger,” Al-Yahya said. “You can do something new that has never been done before or something that has, but in a new way.”
For Salem Alghanem, a near-failure proved to be a boon. Almost failing his first year at university led him to create Faheem, a platform connecting students with qualified tutors in the Kingdom. “The only way to get a tutor in Saudi is by word of mouth or by seeing posters around malls,” he said. “I faced this problem myself when I struggled in maths and that pushed me to create something that was needed.”
He launched the company last year, based in Riyadh. “The majority of our population is young and creating businesses gives them more experience and knowledge,” he said. “It will solve problems in the economy, while benefiting us and allowing us to shape our own future.”
Redwan Sulaimai, a 30-year-old data analyst from Jeddah, works at Lucidiya, which was created two years ago in Jeddah to help fill a gap in the field of social media. “It’s about social media analytics in the Arabic language,” he said. “There’s a lack of tools focusing on Arabic, which allow us to find public sentiment and the volume of interaction with certain topics in Saudi Arabia. We prepare reports for our clients or annual subscriptions.”
The company is a rare operator in this market. “Twitter is probably the most popular platform in Saudi Arabia and the easiest one for people to express their feelings on any topic,” Sulaimai said. “There’s a huge lack in this field. Data is the future of the region, and it’s one of the biggest motivations for me to dig deeper and explore more.”
3D printing led Omar Abuhabaya, from Jeddah, to create Shakl3d.com two years ago. The company provides printing services, converting ideas into physical products. “We do architectural models, spare part protection, characters and solutions,” said the 26-year-old mechanical engineer.
The startup allows designers to upload their 3D model, select the material and scale of their design, and receive instant pricing, production and shipment. Abuhabaya explained: “I bought the printer as a student and used it at home so every time I’d leave my house, I’d come back to a gift with products popping out of the machine. In this industrial revolution, technologies, such as the internet of things, 3D printing and artificial intelligence, are disrupting markets and economies and we should capitalize on this now. Small and medium-sized enterprises can make a difference in the region and startup communities can dictate the coming years.”
Noura Alzoman, a 27-year-old nutritionist, was a founder of ZadFresh, an online grocery shopping platform. “We’ve become the biggest company in Saudi Arabia for grocery shopping,” she said. “We want to help young Saudis’ lifestyle.”
Saleh AlMohsin created Marn Tech in 2016 to provide SMEs with their own cash register, integrated with banks and the tax authority in the Kingdom. “Saudi Arabia is starting with VAT this year so most shops don’t have a cash register,” said the 33-year-old. This is low-cost, easily accessible and digital.”
For Misk Innovation, providing challenges to the startups, linked to the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 and the United Nations’ Sustainability Goals, opens up a window to the youth to start coming up with ideas and problem-solving.
“Once they do, we support them in creating their ventures,” Al-Yahya said. “We’re moving from an oil-based to a diversified economy.”
Misk Innovation believes that looking at the whole value chain with startups is vital. “We provide the opportunity to incubate startups, bring great resources from the world, from experts and mentors to programs, to our Saudi start-ups to support and help them grow,” Al-Yahya added.
“We connect the dots and create a one-stop-shop. We (must) come together with absurd ideas and ‘what ifs,’ support and help each other, think together and believe that we can do it together. We have curious innovative minds, which will push us all to the edge of innovation where we can make a global leap of faith together.”