Saudi entrepreneurs building a bright future

14 September 2020
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Updated 14 September 2020

Saudi entrepreneurs building a bright future

Last week, Misk was proud to co-host an important milestone on the Entrepreneurship World Cup (EWC) journey — the Saudi National Finals — one of many similar international events to select startups to progress to the Global Finals at the Misk Global Forum next month.

While very much a world cup, the Saudi National Finals provide a good moment to reflect on the exciting sea change taking place on the entrepreneurship scene in the Kingdom.

In order for young people to meet the challenge of change, they must have an entrepreneurial mindset.

Misk’s CEO Dr. Badr Al-Badr, said: “We all need a mentality that’s adaptable, resilient and be able to reinvent themselves — an entrepreneurial mindset.”

While the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic had made the world “more volatile and chaotic,” he added, “with difficulty comes opportunity as well.”

The awesome Saudi pitchers showed this mindset in abundance. Shahzad Ghauri, the co-founder of Talon Dust Control, who came first in the National Finals, was a standard-bearer for the “ambition, fearlessness and passion” of all the Saudi entrepreneurs.

At Misk we try to maximize practical impact on young people’s lives, not through giving roadmaps but by providing platforms for them to develop their own solutions and gain the skills they need. The breadth of Saudi talent ranges across artificial intelligence (AI), food tech, healthcare, e-commerce, fintech, analytics, and education.

For example, Edama Organic Solutions has developed an organic waste recycling solution for desert climates, while BrightSign’s smart glove translates sign language into any language to help people with hearing and speech disabilities.

In the data space, Upskillable uses analytics to help make smarter recruitment and people-development decisions, while Peregrine Genomics leverages big data and AI to deliver personalized healthcare, and MIQYAS maximizes efficiency for e-commerce companies in the fashion industry.

Another lesson is that individuals can only flourish in a nurturing entrepreneurship ecosystem that provides a turbo boost to their startups.

The Kingdom’s strength here was reflected in our co-organizers King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, which hosts some of the startups, the Prince Mohammed bin Salman College of Business and Entrepreneurship, Global Entrepreneurship Network Saudi, and ecosystem partners the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, and Monshaat.

Panel discussions explored the positive evolution of the Saudi ecosystem.

It was inspiring to hear that a bright future is being heralded by higher levels of knowledge and experience, better mentorship, a wider variety of investors, improved government regulations, better exit options, collaboration between business-focused and tech-focused founders, as well as the immediate support helping startups cope during the pandemic.

The next generation of entrepreneurs competing in the EWC also benefited from the practical advice of those who have gone before them.

Careem’s co-founder, Dr. Abdulla Nadeem Elyas, said that it was important to be “super-fast” and “look after the new problems that are emerging.” He encouraged entrepreneurs to “unlearn what you learned at school about failing” and be “very local and authentic.”

Kais Al-Essa, from Vision Ventures, encouraged entrepreneurs to be optimistic despite the pandemic, and said: “Instead of saying ‘survive’ why not say ‘thrive?’”

Two Saudi startups who were Global Finalists last year spoke from experience about how this year’s participants could get the most out of the EWC.

Dr. Mark Tester, co-founder of Red Sea Farms, and Wael Kabli, co-founder of Cura, both highlighted the importance of meeting founders from around the world. This helped gain what Kabli described as the “international perspective” on foreign markets and global investors’ needs. Most profoundly, he mentioned that while “in some ways, we’re very much different, in some other ways we have lots of common challenges.”

In my opinion, an entrepreneurial spark in a single person or team spreads outward, strengthening the local community, providing local services, creating local jobs, and then beyond to national and international levels and back.

Each year, the EWC brings together innovators and entrepreneurs who are already successful, universities, business schools, corporations, incubators, accelerators, and other organizations to provide a community — an ecosystem — that nurtures the next generation of entrepreneurs. In turn, each new entrepreneur strengthens the ecosystem as their ventures grow.

Misk is proud to support the EWC, and the Global Finals will be a key component of the fifth annual Misk Global Forum gathering in October. Its theme will be “the Ripple Effect.”

The Saudi National Finals showed that we all have a role to play, at the individual, community, organization, or government level.

Abdulrahman Al-Suhaymi leads the EWC and the entrepreneurship programs at Misk.