6 Saudi teams scale heights as Canadians win Entrepreneurship World Cup

The Entrepreneurship World Cup global finalists at the Misk Global Forum represent the cream of international startup talent. Of the 100 global finalists, six were from Saudi Arabia: Sadeem, Faheem, Cura, Dhad, Red Sea Farms and UnitX. (AN photo by Ziyad Al-Arfaj)
Updated 15 November 2019

6 Saudi teams scale heights as Canadians win Entrepreneurship World Cup

  • Third-ranked Saudi startup Red Sea Farms receives thunderous applause from audience
  • The EWC is the world’s largest startup competition, with over 100,000 applicants

RIYADH: Canadian firm NERv Technology Inc. emerged victorious at the Entrepreneurship World Cup (EWC) at the Misk Global Forum (MGF) 2019 in Riyadh on Thursday, with Saudi startup Red Sea Farms coming third.

NERv Technology Inc. was handed a $500,000 prize and the winning trophy, while second-ranked team Koniku Inc. from the US won $250,000.

Red Sea Farms received $150,000, and fourth and fifth-ranked Sumato-ID (of Argentina) and SUN Mobility (India) were handed $50,000 each.

Speaking to Arab News, NERv Technology’s Amr Abdelgawad said: “It’s been a fantastic experience going through the event here over the past few days.

“We have been working really hard for almost five years to make sure we have a device that can actually have an impact on people’s lives and I think we are getting one step closer to that.  

“It was a great experience in terms of the people we met, the people we engaged with, being able to be in the same place with like-minded individuals who understand how difficult it is to start our own business. We helped each other and have great respect for all the finalists, the grand prize to us is just a small part of winning, to be in the final was great.”     

On coming to Riyadh to participate in the EWC, he said: “It was really nice being here, I was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, so it is great to come back and see this country the way it is right now, and it is absolutely fantastic to win the EWC here.”




Third-ranked team Red Sea Farms (Saudi Arabia) received a $150,000 cheque. (AN photo by Ziyad Al-Arfaj)

Mark Tester, CEO and founder of Red Sea Farms, told Arab News: “It is a fantastic feeling to come third, to be in this event is fantastic to be honest, I am really proud of representing Saudi Arabia.”

He commended the role played by the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) describing it as a “fabulous organization” to work with.

“This is real affirmation of our efforts to build companies and deliver research back to Saudi Arabia,” added Tester. 

Speaking at the final ceremony of the MGF, Commerce and Investment Minister Dr. Majid Al-Qasabi praised the startups at the EWC finals and described the MGF as a “hope forum,” saying it provided a platform for making the Kingdom a land of opportunity.

Shaima Hamidaddin, executive manager of the MGF, thanked all the participants and EWC contestants for “really amazing sessions”.

She also gave a sneak peak of MGF 2020, saying it would be historically important because of the Kingdom hosting G20 Summit next year.

“The EWC global finalists represent the cream of international startup talent. We’re looking forward to seeing the entrepreneurs reach even greater heights thanks to the bootcamp ahead of the finals at the MGF. Our partnership with KAUST is part of our commitment to working with top international leaders in innovation, training, and development to achieve our global mission of empowering young people to thrive in the knowledge economy.”




Dr. Majid Al-Qasabi, commerce and investment minister, left, and Bader Al-Asaker, chairman of MISK initiative center, right, with coo and cofounder of Nerv Technology that emerged victorious at the entrepreneurship World cup under the Misk Global Forum 2019 in Riyadh on Nov. 14, 2019. (AN photo/Ziyad Al-Arfaj)

Red Sea Farms received thunderous applause from the audience as it placed third, with all the successful teams well-received.

Notably, of the 100 global finalists, six were from Saudi Arabia: Sadeem, Faheem, Cura, Dhad, Red Sea Farms and UnitX. All were founded by graduates of KAUST’s entrepreneurship programs.

The contest’s 10 semifinalists were: Bambrew (India), CiDi (China), Corumat Inc. (US), DRD Biotech (Russia), Koniku Inc. (US), NERv Technology Inc. (Canada), Red Sea Farms (Saudi Arabia), SUN Mobility (India), Sumato-ID (Argentina), and Tensortec (China).

Judges at the event included Kevin O’Leary, chairman of O’Shares Investments, Abdulrahman Tarabzouni, CEO and managing director of STV, Christine Tsai, CEO of 500 Startups and Aneel Ranadive, managing partner at Soma Capital.

Earlier over the course of the forum, the 100 startups drawn from national and regional finals around the world were whittled down to a final top 10.

KAUST hosted the EWC finalists between Nov. 8 and Nov. 11 at its entrepreneurship bootcamp in partnership with the MGF, at its campus in Thuwal near Jeddah.

The EWC is the world’s largest startup competition, with over 100,000 applicants.

Saudi Arabia presents an extraordinary opportunity for startups interested in accessing the MENA market and tapping into KAUST’s unique ecosystem, focused on finding solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges in food, water, energy and the environment.

The KAUST-Misk partnership aims to advance Saudi Arabia’s ambitious economic transformation goals by attracting cutting-edge, impactful startups and top entrepreneurial talent to the Kingdom.

The EWC was conducted by the MGF in partnership with the Global Entrepreneurship Network, alongside local and regional partners.


Tearing down the wall: Saudi restaurants adjust to the abolishment of gender segregation

Updated 3 min 48 sec ago

Tearing down the wall: Saudi restaurants adjust to the abolishment of gender segregation

  • New law urges restaurants to remove segregation in entrance and separate seating arrangements
  • Many restaurants have already begun to implement the law, but others stubbornly refuse

RIYADH: Saudi diners are still chewing over the Kingdom’s move to end the long-standing legal requirement for restaurants to have separate entrances for males and families.

As a result of reforms — involving 103 rules and regulations, manuals, models, and standards aimed at making life easier for citizens and visitors — men and women no longer have to enter restaurants through separate doors.

Naif Al-Otaibi, general manager of public relations and media at the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs, said gender-segregation was now a matter of choice.

“It’s optional. We did not specify the number of entry points, so the investor is free to have multiple entry points and segregate (males from females) in their restaurant,” he told Arab News.

Many restaurants and cafes in Saudi Arabia, including American coffee chain Starbucks, typically have separate sections for families (women on their own or accompanied by men) and males.

The AlShaya Group, operator of Starbucks, The Cheesecake Factory and P.F. Chang’s among others, has said it will end gender segregation in stores and eateries that were opened before the new rule came into effect.

“We at Alshaya are planning to transform the old stores’ designs following the new desegregation law, but that will take place over the course of the next two years,” the company told Arab News.

An employee at one of Starbucks’ gender-segregated outlets said maintenance contractors had recently conducted an inspection of the site with a view to commencing remodeling work. “They will take out the wall that separates the male area from the families section,” the staff member told Arab News.

“They will also remove the signs at the entry points that say, ‘families’ and ‘males’ and merge the two separate sections.”

Just a few years ago all of this was unthinkable in a very different Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom had a strict policy of not allowing women to dine in a restaurant without a mahram (male guardian). They would be turned away if they did not comply with the rule.

Recalling an incident that happened 20 years ago, “D.K.,” a 37-year-old Saudi woman who wished to remain anonymous, said she found herself inside one of the white vehicles belonging to the religious police whose official job description was the “prevention of vice and promotion of virtue.”

She had been dining with her friends at a McDonald’s restaurant without a mahram.

But D.K. is amazed by the changes that have taken place since, and said the ending of gender segregation in restaurants was a huge step forward for the Kingdom.

She praised King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for advancing women’s empowerment by increasing their employment opportunities, enhancing the quality of their social life and expanding their personal freedoms.

While these steps might seem unimpressive to the average person in the West, cumulatively they were opening up the Kingdom in a big way, D.K. told Arab News, though she admitted that some conservative sections of Saudi society still wished to see the continuation of gender segregation in restaurants.

However, most restaurant owners were eager to move with the changing times.

Al-Amin Mahmoud, a 35-year-old father-of-four from Madinah, takes his family every weekend to a different restaurant. While in Jeddah on a short vacation, he faced a problem when he discovered that some restaurants did not have separate sections for males and families.

“I respect that decision, but I did not feel comfortable. I knew that the decision had been implemented. However, for me, having grown up in a conservative family and society, it does not suit me,” he told Arab News.

Father-of-three Habib Saleh, 41, said that businesses had the option to accept or reject the gender-desegregation decision.

“This is akin to the decision to ban sheesha from restaurants. Many people objected, saying smoking sheesha was the main reason they frequented the restaurants in the first place. Some restaurants who implemented the rule naturally lost regular customers, which affected their revenue,” he added.

Saleh pointed out that when considering applying the new rules, some business owners faced the same dilemma of having to be prepared to lose some customers.

“It will take time before people get used to it. Of course, people will either reject it or be suspicious about it at first. And we have to keep in mind that some of the people who are objecting to this decision do not mind eating in mixed restaurants when they are abroad. So, there is some amount of contradiction. 

“We have to remember that the segregation rule was in force for more than 30 years, so don’t think that people will accept it quickly,” he said.

For his part, Abdulrahman Al-Harbi, an architect, believes implementing the desegregation law will improve the bottom lines of restaurants in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Harbi said not only would managing a restaurant become easier but construction bills would also shrink. “I prefer open spaces. A good designer can provide clever privacy solutions to customers in different ways. 

“If we want to call ourselves a civilized society, we must get used to a mixed-gender environment,” he added.

Abdul Aziz Al-Qahtani, the owner of Bicicleta Coffee Shop in Riyadh, said that since opening a new branch in the capital’s U Walk, only one cashier counter was required.

“We had customers coming in and asking for separate sections, but we have to keep pace with development,” he said. “This change in the law has reduced costs in many areas for us. Now we don’t need two cashiers to serve a family section and a male section.

“We also don’t have to have large spaces any more to be able to divide it up into two sections.”