Saudi entrepreneurs gear up for a high-tech future

Saudi entrepreneurs gear up for a high-tech future
The Kingdom has set up public and private entities, including Monshaat, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology and MISK Academy, which offer events and funding to promote technology. (AN photo by Ziyad Alarfaj)
Updated 01 December 2019

Saudi entrepreneurs gear up for a high-tech future

Saudi entrepreneurs gear up for a high-tech future
  • Saudi Arabia is pushing for a growing role for technology in the SME sector
  • The Kingdom is aiming to reduce its unemployment rate to 7 percent by 2030

DUBAI: Silicon Valley, a cluster of cities in the southern part of the San Francisco Bay Area in California, is synonymous with technology startups and businesses that have changed the world.

Apple, for instance, posted a net income of $55.26 billion in 2019, compared with $3.5 billion in 2007 when it first released its iPhone 1, according to a report by Statista, a leading provider of market and consumer data.

This manifold jump in income in a span of just 22 years makes Apple a major contributor to US economic growth. A 2018 report by Apple predicted that the company would contribute $350 billion to the US economy over the next five years.

Today, Saudi Arabia, which was responsible for 16.1 percent of global oil exports in 2018, is pushing for a growing role for technology in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with a view to positioning itself as a regional center of high technology and innovation.

Vision 2030, a reform program aimed at diversifying Saudi Arabia away from oil dependency and creating new-economy jobs for a young population, has made it possible to imagine such a transition.

A new set of objectives have been given to captains of the SME sector aimed at making it a vital contributor to the country’s economy by lifting its contribution to the GDP from 20 percent to 35 percent by 2030.

TECHFACTS

  • Saudi Arabia aims to become a regional center of hi-tech and innovation by 2030.
  • A number of public and private entities are offering funds, loans and investments to tech SMEs.
  • Second quarter of 2019 showed unemployment rate of 12.3 percent (General Authority for Statistics).
  • Edu-tech startup Noon Academy raised $8.6 million in Series A investment round this year.

One way for Saudi Arabia to achieve this target is by using technology in small businesses, entrepreneurs say, adding that not only does technology help to attract investors, but it also increases job opportunities and raises competitiveness between SMEs and corporations.

“Tech investments — major and minor — have come out of Saudi Arabia since Silicon Valley was in its early days. It is actually one of the longest-standing investor-investee relationships,” said Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal Al-Saud, founder of KBW Investments and KBW Ventures and co-founder of the property developer Arada.

The Kingdom has established a number of public and private entities — Monshaat, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology and MISK Academy, to name just three — that offer funds, loans and investments.

Speaking to Arab News on the sidelines of the recent Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival, Prince Khaled said that it is not always possible to get an angel investor or an entity to invest in a business as investors look for unique ideas and business viability.

One way for an entrepreneur to attract the attention of investors is by establishing a business that responds to clients faster than other tech companies.




Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal Al-Saud, founder of KBW Investments and KBW Ventures and co-founder of the property developer Arada. (Supplied)

Another element that helps entrepreneurs create partnerships with investors is transparency.

“I think consistent communication not only improves relationships,” he said. “It also prevents any misunderstanding that could arise.”

Fadi Al-Awami, an SMEs and entrepreneurship consultant, said that investors are interested in technologies that offer solutions to existing problems and have the potential for geographical expansion into other markets.

“Also, the return on investment should be very attractive. There should be a clear exit strategy or at least a strategy for making high profit,” he said in an interview at the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival.

Investing in SMEs allows companies to expand, thus creating job opportunities.

SMEs make up about 90 percent of enterprises and account for more than 50 percent of employment worldwide, according to a World Bank report. The fact that “600 million jobs will be needed by 2030 to absorb the growing global workforce makes nurturing an SME ecosystem a priority for governments around the world.”

According to the Saudi government’s General Authority for Statistics, the second quarter of 2019 showed an unemployment rate of 12.3 percent. The aim by 2030 is to lower the unemployment rate to 7 percent, according to a Vision 2030 report.

Prince Khaled gave an example of how tech SMEs can help to generate jobs. He said that if an entrepreneur decides to create a line of wooden toys and sells them on Instagram, he or she will need supplies to create the products, such as wood, tools and so on.

“That wood is collected by someone, potentially refined down to sellable stock by another, and maybe delivered by yet another,” he said.




Fadi Al-Awami, SMEs and entrepreneurship consultant, below: Investors are interested in technologies that have the potential for geographical expansion into other markets. (Supplied)

Imagine now that the entrepreneur decides to get help with Instagram ad buying. This may require an arrangement with another freelancer. They might even get busy and big enough to engage a small social media agency and, later, a web developer for e-commerce, said Prince Khaled.

Al-Awami said that Saudi entrepreneurs are already using technology in their businesses. He pointed to a number of tech-business success stories inside the Kingdom: “Ten Saudi startups have been chosen among the most promising Arab startups at the World Economic Forum for this year.”

Tech Pills, Foodics, HalalaH, Lucidya, Mrsool, HungerStation, Morni and Noon Academy are examples of recent entrants to the nascent Saudi tech-business field.

Al-Awami cites Noon Academy as an example of an educational platform that is considered one of the fastest growing on-demand ed-tech startups in the Middle East, with more than two million registered students.

The company raised $8.6 million in a Series A investment round this year and was chosen as one of the most promising startups in the Arab world at the World Economic Forum, according to Al-Awami.

Prince Khaled said that women and men in Saudi Arabia are ready to break ground in emerging technologies as many of the startups employ intelligent and imaginative Saudis.

“This is how the entrepreneurs of our country can increase everything from community engagement and employment rates to inclusion.”

Although Saudi Arabia is steadily becoming more entrepreneur-friendly, SMEs still have to put up with slow and cumbersome administrative processes, according to a Vision 2030 report.

The good news is that the Kingdom has begun to address these challenges and, according to Prince Khaled, there is burgeoning government support for the SME ecosystem.

“You can get mentorship, incubation, acceleration, partnerships, grants, investments — literally everything you may need to jumpstart your venture,” he said.

Entrepreneurs who establish tech enterprises that can help to develop or secure the Kingdom’s main source of income are likely to succeed. Al-Awami said that entrepreneurs should focus on technology in the oil and gas sector.

“I think there are still great opportunities to support this sector by providing innovative solutions involving the use of technology,” he said, underscoring opportunities for cybersecurity companies in a country where the oil and gas sector accounts for about 50 percent of its GDP and about 70 percent of its export earnings.

Investors and entrepreneurs say small businesses contribute to any local economy, and that Saudi Arabia is no exception. They help to stimulate economic growth by offering job opportunities to individuals who are not selected by larger corporations.

Al-Awami said that he advises aspiring entrepreneurs to be committed and passionate about what they are doing. They should offer solutions, not just a product or service, and they must always think how to improve their customers’ experience.

 


Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots

Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots
Updated 21 April 2021

Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots

Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots
  • Room is fitted with strategically placed sensors that allow the machines to move about and take food to customers

MAKKAH: We’ve all been there … you order a meal in a restaurant, and the waiter arrives with a pasta salad instead of a chicken biryani.
There are no such issues at Restaurant Robot in Jazan. As the name suggests, the waiters are not fallible human beings, but robots powered by sophisticated artificial intelligence.
Six robot assistants are operating in the city center restaurant to deliver trays of Asian dishes to patrons. The system was originally set up as a precaution to reduce human contact during the coronavirus pandemic, but it has proved a hit with visitors.
In a system designed by young Saudi engineer Reham Omar, the restaurant interior has been fitted with strategically placed sensors that allow the robots to move about and take food to customers.
“Thanks to the sensors, the robots can sense anything standing near them, allowing them to stop walking or change their routes accordingly,” she told Arab News
“Each robot has had a map of the restaurant interior and the location of each table programmed into their memory. When the robot gets to the targeted table, customers can pick up their food and order the robot to leave.”
Omar said the idea had been developed by drawing on the experiences of other countries, and with support from the Saudi government for the food industry.
“We are proud of our project, as small as it is,” she said. “Customers are loving the robots and are impressed with the idea.
“Cultures are changing, and people are now eager to discover new technologies that can improve their quality of life.”


Saudi Arabia re-elected to Chemical Weapons watchdog’s Executive Council

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties in The Hague, Netherlands. (Twitter/@OPCW)
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties in The Hague, Netherlands. (Twitter/@OPCW)
Updated 21 April 2021

Saudi Arabia re-elected to Chemical Weapons watchdog’s Executive Council

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties in The Hague, Netherlands. (Twitter/@OPCW)
  • OPCW oversees the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention
  • The Kingdom has been a member of the council since 1997

LONDON: Saudi Arabia has been re-elected as a member of the Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), in the Asia section, until 2023.
It happened at The Hague, in the Netherlands, on Tuesday during the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties, which oversees the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
Ziyad Al-Attiyah, the Saudi ambassador to the Netherlands and the Kingdom’s permanent representative to the OPCW, thanked the nations that supported the re-election of his country, and said that it is a reflection of Saudi Arabia’s status under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 
The Kingdom looks forward to working with the rest of the council’s members to enhance the implementation of the CWC, he added.
Al-Attiyah affirmed his country’s desire to strengthen cooperation as part of the efforts to prohibit weapons of mass destruction and prevent their proliferation, and to ensure the Middle East becomes a region free of such weapons to enhance international peace and security.
He added that the Kingdom’s chemical industries sector is one of the largest in the region and growing steadily, which makes it one of the leading countries in this field among the membership of Executive Council.
Saudi Arabia has been a member of the council — the main body of the OPCW — since its inception in 1997. It’s membership is made up of 41 countries, representing five geographic areas, that are elected for terms of two years at a time.


Saudi Arabia calls for Iran to engage in talks, avoid escalation

Saudi Arabia calls for Iran to engage in talks, avoid escalation
Updated 21 April 2021

Saudi Arabia calls for Iran to engage in talks, avoid escalation

Saudi Arabia calls for Iran to engage in talks, avoid escalation

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia renewed its call for Iran to engage in ongoing negotiations in Vienna, avoid escalation and not expose the region to more tension.
This came following a council of ministers meeting, chaired by King Salman on Tuesday.
The cabinet also urged the international community to reach an agreement with stronger and longer determinants that are implemented through monitoring and control measures to prevent the Iranian regime from obtaining nuclear weapons and developing the necessary capabilities.

 


Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000

Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000
The authority reiterated that it was continuously monitoring the safety of the vaccines available in Saudi Arabia by studying cases of side effects. (SPA)
Updated 21 April 2021

Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000

Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000
  • The ministry said 940 people recovered from the virus over the past 24 hours, meaning 390,538 people have made full recoveries

JEDDAH: The Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) on Tuesday confirmed 34 cases of blood clots or thrombosis and low platelet count among people who received the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
“The authority suggests the existence of seven possible cases of thrombosis that are related to the vaccine, due to the absence of other reasons for the appearance of clots in them,” the SFDA said in a statement.
However, the authority also said that thrombocytopenia and blood-clotting immune response associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine is yet to be confirmed in these cases.
It said based on the local reports received, the rate of occurrence of these symptoms in conjunction with the administration of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in the Kingdom is “very rare.”
The SFDA said that all approved vaccines for the coronavirus (COVID-19) being used in the Kingdom are safe. It stressed that the desired benefits of the vaccine in question outweigh the potential risks.
The authority reiterated that it was continuously monitoring the safety of the vaccines available in Saudi Arabia by studying cases of side effects along with the local and international scientific evidence and data available.

FASTFACTS

• The Kingdom reports a 55 percent increase in the number of cases among women.

• 1,070 new infections were reported on Tuesday.

The SFDA advised recipients of the vaccine to consult a doctor or go to the nearest health center if any of the following symptoms appear or continue for more than three days after receiving a vaccine: Dizziness, severe and persistent headache, nausea or vomiting, issues with vision, shortness of breath, severe pain in the chest or abdomen or coldness in the extremities, swelling of the legs, small blood spots under the skin other than the injection site.
Dr. Abdullah Asiri, an infectious diseases consultant at the Saudi Ministry of Health, allayed public fears following the reports.
“How can a wrong conclusion deduced from a generalization become the most circulated news?” he wrote on Twitter. “In short, not every blood clotting after vaccinations is due to vaccinations. Thanks to vaccines, lives are saved every day. We have not yet had confirmed cases of platelet deficiency and blood clotting immune responses associated ‘hypothetically’ with COVID-19 vaccines.”
Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly, a Ministry of Health spokesman, said: “We are still monitoring an increase in the number of COVID-19 infections, which is the highest since the beginning of this year. There has also been an increase in cases among females by 55 percent.”
The Ministry of Health reported 1,070 new confirmed cases in the Kingdom over the past 24 hours, meaning 407,010 people have now contracted the virus. Of the 9,626 active cases, 1,105 were in critical condition. There were 12 fatalities, which brought the national death toll to 6,846.
The ministry said 940 people recovered from the virus over the past 24 hours, meaning 390,538 people have made full recoveries.


Experts say Ramadan is the best time to shape up and gain fitness

Experts say Ramadan is the best time to shape up and gain fitness
The Saudi Sports for All Federation launched a campaign encouraging people to walk or run 20 kilometers for 20 days during Ramadan. (SPA)
Updated 20 April 2021

Experts say Ramadan is the best time to shape up and gain fitness

Experts say Ramadan is the best time to shape up and gain fitness
  • The Saudi Sports for All Federation launched ‘Step Together’ campaign to help people stay active during the holy month

JEDDAH: While consuming excessive food during the month of Ramadan goes against the purpose of the holy month, for many Saudis and people of the region, it is a time to indulge in special foods, which often leads to overeating.

For years, Saudis have been facing problems with obesity, with unhealthy diets leading to a variety of poor health conditions. While numerous campaigns have been launched to combat this issue, including by the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA), their advice seems to fall on deaf ears during Ramadan.
Arab News spoke to experts — nutritionists and fitness trainers — who discussed their tips to help curb hunger and maintain a healthy weight.
Saudi fitness trainer Nouf Hamadallah, 37, explained that there is no best time to exercise during Ramadan; rather, the time and intensity of the workout can vary from person to person.
“Exercising during Ramadan depends on the flexibility of one’s schedule. There’s no specific time to work out. Most people who believe this are misinformed by what they read,” she told Arab News.

FASTFACTS

• A nationwide cross-sectional survey conducted over phone interviews across 13 regions of the Kingdom in June 2020 showed that the national weighted prevalence of obesity was 24.7 percent.

• It highlighted that obesity was significantly associated with Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension, among other diseases.

“One common bit of advice in popular articles says that if people work out before iftar, they will burn calories and lose weight. But this depends on their goals and calorie
intake. Some people cannot work out while fasting because they feel sick and nauseous, and their blood sugar drops. Then they become discouraged from exercising, not knowing that all they have to do is change the timing and nature of their workout. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.”
She added that it is easy to lose muscle mass if people do not choose the right foods for iftar and sahoor, also stressing that it is essential to hydrate during breakfast. Should one choose to work out right before iftar, a protein shake and a nutrient-dense meal with few carbs are advised in breaking fast.

If anyone wants to adopt healthy habits or break bad ones, Ramadan is an excellent chance to do so.

Arwa Bajkhaif, Dietician

“What you eat for sahoor will determine your energy levels for the next day, too. It should be a meal with a good amount of protein and vegetables,” said Hamadallah. “When your body is depleted of energy, the first thing you look for is sugar, and that’s what we want to avoid.”
Digestive problems such as acid reflux also occur due to poor eating habits in Ramadan, she added, and people with such digestive issues need to take note of the specific foods that irritate their stomachs.
She recommended that they avoid these foods if they are planning to exercise and instead have a few dates, soup and maybe a cup of coffee before beginning their workout, saving a full meal for afterward.
Iftar and sahoor also need to be divided into portions to avoid digestive problems, she added.
Saudi clinical and sports dietitian Arwa Bajkhaif, 29, said Ramadan is a “golden opportunity” to fast and practice self-control. If anyone wants to adopt healthy habits or break bad ones, Ramadan is an excellent chance to do so.

What you eat for sahoor will determine your energy levels for the next day.

Nouf Hamadallah, Fitness trainer

“People should know their dietary requirements and follow a suitable diet for their particular health situation during the holy month of Ramadan,” Bajkaif told Arab News
“For individuals with chronic diseases such as diabetes, I recommend seeing an endocrinologist for insulin and medication adjustments and a clinical dietitian for follow-ups to adjust the amount and type of carbohydrates accordingly.”
As for changing one’s eating habits, she suggested that people should not adopt more than three easy and healthy habits. “Being realistic and specific is key to achieving health goals.”
Saudi dietitian Alaa Gotah advised people to drink plenty of water between iftar and sahoor, avoid sugary drinks especially during iftar to maintain insulin levels, and eat plenty of hydrating food such as salads while limiting the intake of carbohydrates and sweets.
She stressed that fasting cleanses the body of toxins and forces cells into processes that are not usually stimulated when a steady stream of fuel from food is always present.
“Sahoor should include a healthy amount of fiber, which stays for a long time in the intestines. To reduce the feeling of thirst and hunger, it’s recommended to eat fruits that contain dietary fiber and magnesium, such as bananas, dates and watermelon,” Gotah told Arab News.  
A nationwide cross-sectional survey conducted over phone interviews across 13 regions in June 2020 titled “Obesity in Saudi Arabia in 2020: Prevalence, Distribution, and its Current Association with Various Health Conditions” showed that the national weighted prevalence of obesity was 24.7 percent.
The study highlighted that obesity was significantly associated with type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension, among other diseases.
The Saudi Sports for All Federation launched a campaign to help people stay active during the holy month, presenting the Ramadan edition of “Step Together,” where people are encouraged to walk or run 20 kilometers for 20 days during Ramadan.