A vehicle-sharing app moves Saudi entrepreneurship into high gear

A vehicle-sharing app moves Saudi entrepreneurship into high gear
Established by Mohammed Khashoggi, Ejaro aims to soup up the Saudi vehicle rental market and revolutionize the industry across the region. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 14 October 2020

A vehicle-sharing app moves Saudi entrepreneurship into high gear

A vehicle-sharing app moves Saudi entrepreneurship into high gear
  • Founded by Mohammed Khashoggi, Ejaro aims to popularize vehicle renting and revolutionize the industry
  • App has already proven popular with Saudis, with 2,500 users and 130 vehicles in its beta phase alone

DUBAI: Young Saudi entrepreneurs have not let the coronavirus pandemic slow them down, judging by the countless fresh ideas that have continued to power ahead.

One of them is Ejaro, the first licensed peer-to-peer vehicle-sharing community in the Arab world.

Established by Mohammed Khashoggi, Ejaro aims to soup up the Saudi vehicle rental market and revolutionize the industry across the region.

“We’re similar to AirBnb, but for cars. It’s a great way for a person to generate an additional source of income,” Khashoggi, 31, told Arab News.

As a vehicle owner himself, who regularly hires cars while traveling in Europe for business, Jeddah-born Khashoggi came up with the idea when he saw a similar venture in the UK.

INNUMBERS

Entrepreneurial investment

 

* $67m Investment in KSA starts in 2019.

* 10 KSA startups in WEF’s 100 ‘most promising’ list.

* 42% Petroleum sector’s share of KSA GDP.

“I thought it was an amazing idea. I did my research and looked for similar ideas in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). There were a couple that were meant to launch in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) and didn’t,” he said.

“Licensing is the most important element, and we’re the first ones to be licensed by the Transport General Authority in the Kingdom.”

Growing up in Saudi Arabia, Khashoggi moved to the UK to pursue a bachelor’s degree in architecture. Three years later, he entered the world of business.

“I was in real estate with the family business. I was into that for a good five years,” he said. “My partner from university and I started a … company called the Continental Group in the UK, and from there we created a real estate company, which transacted over SR400 million ($100 million), bridging the gap between Saudi investors and the UK property market.”




Jeddah-born Mohammed Khashoggi came up with the idea for Ejaro when he saw a similar venture in the UK. (Supplied)

During a weekend aboard a luxury yacht in Monaco to watch the Formula 1, Khashoggi struck upon the idea for another venture — C’s 500 Business Club — selling “weekend hospitality packages” to guest members to join a chartered yacht platform during the Abu Dhabi Formula 1.

His endeavors earned him valuable networking opportunities with influential people. “It gave us a great platform to gain more networking for our business,” Khashoggi said.

 

“From there we got into the tech world, and I started my first venture jointly with a German company, which did social trading. That’s where I got into the whole tech business.”

After living in the UK for 13 years, Khashoggi moved back to Saudi Arabia in April 2019. Shortly afterward, Ejaro featured as part of Riyadh Season, receiving special endorsements from Turki Al-Shaikh, a Saudi adviser at the Royal Court and current chairman of the General Authority for Entertainment.

“We’ve done almost zero marketing because being part of Riyadh Season gave us great brand positioning,” Khashoggi said. “Word of mouth also helped, and we’ve seen that people want this kind of service.”

Once users download the app and register, they simply search for a vehicle and book. The owner then accepts or declines, allowing direct communication between both parties to coordinate vehicle pick-up or delivery.

A five-minute check-in process, followed by a vehicle inspection, a few photos and fuel and mileage readings, allows customers to drive off with no worries.

Rigorous background and criminal-record checks are also performed to ensure safety and peace of mind.

A VISION FOR INNOVATION

The Saudi economy is undergoing a massive economic development reformation, spearheaded by the transformation strategy Vision 2030. But for entrepreneurship to thrive, current and future generations in Saudi Arabia will need a stimulating environment. The Kingdom is boosting its startup ecosystem with supportive regulatory frameworks and local venture funds.

Various institutions and initiatives are working toward this end, including the Mohammed bin Salman College, the Saudi Aramco Entrepreneurship Center (Waed), the Public Investment Fund (PIF) Academy, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology’s innovation and economic development department, and the MiSK Foundation. Various government agencies and companies are also supporting the Kingdom’s efforts in this regard, such as the Business Incubators and Accelerators Co., a unit of the Saudi Technology Development and Investment Co. (TAQNIA), in turn owned by the PIF. A number of programs are also working to promote future talent.

The Saudi Young Leaders Exchange Programs (SYLEP) is a three-week program in the US for undergraduate Saudi students or recently graduated university students aged 21-26. The aim of SYLEP 2020 is to “build leadership skills, civic responsibility, appreciation for cultural diversity, and community engagement and volunteerism among Saudi university students.”

The theme of this year’s program is STEAM — science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics. Beyond prioritizing technology and innovation, Saudi Arabia has made it easier for international entrepreneurs to obtain licenses to launch startups, as part of an initiative to drive the private sector to 65 percent of gross domestic product from its current 40 percent.

This will involve a blend of growth from foreign direct investment and Saudi-grown entrepreneurship and innovation. Despite the current challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, much of the foundation for future youth entrepreneurship has already been set. Throughout the Kingdom, the effects of this spirit of innovation will be felt for many years to come. Richie Santosdiaz

So far Ejaro has proven popular among Saudis, with 2,500 registered users in the Kingdom and up to 130 vehicles in the beta phase alone.

Owners receive up to 80 percent in their wallet while Ejaro banks 20 percent for its connecting platform.

The team plans to initially focus on the Saudi market before expanding to the GCC and across the MENA region.

 

“Everyone wants an additional source of income. With Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, and tourism and travel opening up, there will be more demand for vehicle rental among tourists and locals,” Khashoggi said.

“We have a really fast and more efficient way to supply that demand through existing vehicles on the road, and in that sense we don’t add more congestion to the roads.”




Khashoggi moved back to Saudi Arabia in April 2019. Shortly afterward, Ejaro featured as part of Riyadh Season, receiving special endorsements from Turki Al-Shaikh, a Saudi adviser at the Royal Court and current chairman of the General Authority for Entertainment. (AFP/File Photo)

Although the app is currently in its beta stage, a full launch is planned in the coming weeks. “The pandemic slightly affected us because we’re an early-stage company and because the travel, tourism and transportation industries came to a complete halt,” he said.

“But it gave us a chance to dig deep into our product, enhance it and completely change the user experience, making it much easier and seamless. The lockdown period had its blessings in disguise.”

It also allowed the team to integrate with several government systems to make it more secure and give users further peace of mind.

Khashoggi is optimistic about the road ahead for Saudi entrepreneurs. “I’m in this ecosystem, and there are definitely amazing things going on in the startup ecosystem in Saudi Arabia,” he said.

“We’ll be in the leading countries in the GCC, and hopefully in the world soon, thanks to the Vision 2030 of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the agility and support from the government for SMEs (small and medium enterprises) and entrepreneurs. It will continue to grow and take its place very soon.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek


Saudis divided between electronic, traditional Eidiya

Saudis divided between electronic, traditional Eidiya
Updated 14 May 2021

Saudis divided between electronic, traditional Eidiya

Saudis divided between electronic, traditional Eidiya
  • Due to the ongoing pandemic, many Saudis turn to electronic payments to give out Eidiyas this year as opposed to cash in hand

JEDDAH: As Muslims around the world are celebrating Eid Al-Fitr in their own unique ways, children in every nation tend to always steal the spotlight with their tireless demands for Eidiya money.

Similar to Halloween in the west, children wait eagerly for this time of the year so they can dress up, visit one household to the next, and receive as much Eidiya money (and chocolates) as possible.

However, due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many Saudis turned to electronic payments to give out Eidiyas this year. Still, others prefer the old-fashioned way of handing out Eidiyas in cash while also taking COVID-19 health precautions into consideration.

Saudi dentist Jameela Al-Ghamdi, 29, said being deprived of family gatherings for Eid Al-Fitr last year was frustrating. 

“It was so strange to go through,” she told Arab News. “We never skipped visiting our families on such special occasions.”

She is now relieved because people in her family susceptible to the virus have received the vaccine jab and these special occasions can happen again. 

“I am so happy to dress up with my sisters and also visit family members I have not seen in an unfairly long time,” Al-Ghamdi said.

Her family, although mostly vaccinated, prefers to give out Eidiyas electronically, as Al-Ghamdi says she is a fan of technology. 

“We tried giving out Eidiyas through STC Pay last year and it was very quick, simple and convenient. No need to break down SR100 at minimarkets anymore,” she said.

Ali Mansour, a 33-year-old Saudi industrial engineer at Saudia airline, said the best part of Eid is visiting family. He also added the occasion is not the same without gatherings. Mansour’s family started giving out Eidiyas electronically long before the pandemic because of its convenience.

HIGHLIGHTS

•Similar to Halloween in the west, children wait eagerly for this time of the year so they can dress up, visit one household to the next, and receive as much Eidiya money (and chocolates) as possible. •However, due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many Saudis turned to electronic payments to give out Eidiyas this year. Still, others prefer the old-fashioned way of handing out Eidiyas in cash while also taking COVID-19 health precautions into consideration.

“Way before the pandemic and the creations of such platforms like STC Pay, we gave out Eidiyas through bank transfers,” he told Arab News. “Electronic payments are not something new to us. My dad would always transfer the Eidiya into my account, never in cash.” He added that the last time he received Eidiya in cash was probably back in high school.

Young children are the most significant part of the Eid celebration, said Mansour, as they will receive Eidiyas in cash since they cannot use devices.

Saudi Lujain Al-Jehani, 27, said Eid Al-Fitr is extra special this year because people were deprived of the holiday gatherings last year.

“Due to the pandemic, we did not have the opportunity to celebrate together,” she told Arab News. “We are so excited and thrilled. We are going to prepare cakes and activities that we were deprived of last year.”

Al-Jehani’s family prefers to give out Eidiyas in person: “The experience is different, holding cash in your hand,” she said.

Al-Jehani added that most of the elderly in her family do not know how to use electronic payment platforms.

Saudi medical student Renad Bajodah, 25, said Eid celebrations are important experiences and will have a lasting impact on a child’s memory.

“Eid means joy to me. It means coming together and honoring the days of our lives, and celebrating after the completion of the holy month of Ramadan,” Bajodah told Arab News. 

“The excitement of Eid’s eve is what is most beautiful to me, seeing kids wearing their new pajamas all happy on the night of Eid. It also teaches parents how to give to their children. To give them the best experience and beautiful childhood memories.” 

While Bajodah’s family still prefers Eidiyas in cash, they sanitize them thoroughly before delivering in carefully closed envelopes. They like the “traditional old school style,” he said.

Saudi Yara Ahmad, 27, who works in the market research industry, said Eid Al-Fitr means a lot to her. The whole experience from new clothes, delicious food and candy, family gatherings and Eidiya money is something adults and children alike look forward to every year.

Electronic Eidiya did not bode well for her family which continues to distribute cash to children while keeping in mind the sanitization part and necessary precautions.

Saudi Salman Al-Otaibi, 32, who prefers the old-fashioned way of giving out Eidiyas while following hygienic measures, said a new voting poll for Eidiyas that has been circulating a week before Eid Al-Fitr takes away a special element.

“The idea has nothing to do with the purpose of Eidiyas and bringing a smile on children and adults’ faces,” he told Arab News. 

“Because it has become a contest and everyone is running after people in groups and social media sites to vote. I think it is far from what Eidiya is supposed to mean.”


Taif rose oil a ‘treasure to be discovered’, says French envoy

Taif rose oil a ‘treasure to  be discovered’, says French envoy
Updated 14 May 2021

Taif rose oil a ‘treasure to be discovered’, says French envoy

Taif rose oil a ‘treasure to  be discovered’, says French envoy
  • Taif roses have, throughout history, expressed the cultural identity of Taif city, says Mayor Ahmed Al-Qathami

TAIF: “Treasure to be discovered,” were the words used by the French ambassador to the Kingdom describing the rose oil industry in Taif, after his recent visit to the 14th Taif Rose Festival held at Al-Radf Park and organized by the Taif Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Ludovic Pouille toured the old town of Taif at night with representatives from the province and the Ministry of Culture, expressing his happiness to discover the vital market on the eve of the celebrations of Eid Al-Fitr, and to drink traditional coffee in the historic neighborhood of the capital of roses.

He also discovered the traditional professions in the old city of Taif, discussing with the mayor the tourist capacity of the city and opportunities to cooperate with France.

Mesmerized by the fragrance and the pink scenery around him, the envoy walked the roses’ stairway in the festival covered in roses from both sides, describing it as a “stairway to heaven.”

French Ambassador Ludovic Pouille

Dr. Ahmed Al-Qathami, mayor of Taif Province, said that the visit of the French envoy reflects the importance and reputation of Taif roses across borders, “one of the most important tools in promoting the Kingdom’s tourism, culture and economy.”

Al-Qathami told Arab News that Taif roses have, throughout history, expressed the cultural identity of Taif city, symbolizing its beauty thanks to their odor and perfume.

“Taif roses are a source of cultural inspiration to all Saudis for whom the roses are a way of life and a cultural destination that attracted dignitaries and important figures throughout history,” he added.

He added that the visit of the French ambassador indicates the depth of friendship and love he has for Saudi Arabia. “This visit reflects his knowledge and appreciation for the efforts made to sustain the Taif rose industry, and develop its products and promote them at local and global levels.”

Al-Qathami pointed out that Taif roses were, and still are, an “honorable image” for Taif province, and all the celebrations and festivals held in the past and the accompanying exhibitions contributed in shaping its identity as a cultural hub that helped in strengthening the
ties of communication between the city and those who love and admire it.

Adel Al-Nimri, a rose factory owner in Al-Hada, Taif, said that the prominent and important figures who visit Taif and admire the great efforts “give us the impetus to continue and improve the product to reach the highest standards of
production, and export them abroad after gaining widespread fame.”

He stressed the importance of caring for the Taif rose industry and teaching people about it for future generations, adding that Taif roses are known for their purity and fragrance.


Saudi interior minister greets security personnel for Umrah success

Saudi interior minister greets security personnel for Umrah success
Updated 13 May 2021

Saudi interior minister greets security personnel for Umrah success

Saudi interior minister greets security personnel for Umrah success

RIYADH: Saudi Interior Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Saud bin Naif on Thursday conveyed the congratulations of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the personnel of the Ministry of Interior and security sectors on the success of security plans for the Umrah season and the advent of Eid Al-Fitr.

Prince Abdul Aziz, who is also the chairman of the Umrah Supreme Committee, expressed thanks to the leadership for the support that enabled the security sectors to perform their duties in this year’s exceptional Umrah season, expressing his pride in the efforts made by security men in the service of Umrah performers and visitors.

Muslims performed Eid Al-Fitr prayer throughout Saudi Arabia on Thursday.

In Makkah, the prayer was performed at the Grand Mosque and led by the Imam of the Grand Mosque Sheikh Saleh bin Abdullah bin Humaid. The prayer was attended by Makkah Gov. Prince Khalid Al-Faisal and a number of princes.

In Madinah, the prayer was performed at the Prophet’s Mosque. The prayer was attended by Madinah Gov. Prince Faisal bin Salman.

The prayer was also performed in various regions and attended by regional governors and senior officials.

The imams who led the prayer congratulated Muslims on Eid Al-Fitr, praying to Allah to accept their fasting, prayers, charity and good deeds.


Iraqi PM thanks King Salman for hospital donation

Iraqi PM thanks King Salman for hospital donation
Updated 14 May 2021

Iraqi PM thanks King Salman for hospital donation

Iraqi PM thanks King Salman for hospital donation
  • The king ordered Wednesday that the hospital, designated for COVID-19 cases, which was gutted by fire in April be rebuilt
  • Saudi Arabia will take on critical cases to provide them with medical care at the king’s expense

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi on Thursday expressed his country’s gratitude to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, who ordered that a Baghdad hospital that was destroyed by fire, be reconstructed.
On Wednesday, King Salman ordered that the Ibn Al-Khatib hospital, which was gutted by fire on April 24 in the Iraqi capital, be rebuilt.
Al-Kadhimi conveyed his appreciation and thanked King Salman for his initiative and for the hospital donation.
Nearly 110 victims were injured and at least 82 people killed after a fire broke out at the hospital that was designated for COVID-19 patients.
The king’s directives were announced by Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Iraq that said “based on the ties of brotherhood, good neighborliness, and the historical relations between the two countries and peoples,” according to SPA.
The embassy said the gesture was King Salman’s gift to the Iraqi people and to support them following the fire incident.
Saudi Arabia also said it will take on critical cases to provide them with medical care in the Kingdom’s hospitals at the king’s expense.


Who’s Who: Dr. Mohammed Al-Nuwairan, CEO of Saudi National Center for Palms and Dates

Who’s Who: Dr. Mohammed Al-Nuwairan, CEO of Saudi National Center for Palms and Dates
Updated 13 May 2021

Who’s Who: Dr. Mohammed Al-Nuwairan, CEO of Saudi National Center for Palms and Dates

Who’s Who: Dr. Mohammed Al-Nuwairan, CEO of Saudi National Center for Palms and Dates

Dr. Mohammed Al-Nuwairan has been the chief executive officer of the Saudi National Center for Palms and Dates (NCPD) since April 2016.

He heads a number of initiatives aimed at improving the management and efficiency of the sector’s supply chains, from farms to local and international consumers, and is involved in highlighting palm and date-related investment opportunities in areas such as services, technology, and bi-products.

Al-Nuwairan and his NCPD team have been working to transform the sector’s digital offering with the launch of electronic platforms covering aspects of the business including e-marketing, quality marks, government support, and subsidies.

Under his stewardship, the center has established strategic partnerships with companies such as Saudi Basic Industries Corp. (SABIC), Takamol Holding, and Taibah Valley along with other major international firms.

He sits on several government committees with sector interests and has participated in numerous international industry conferences and workshops.

Al-Nuwairan helped set up the Kingdom’s annual international dates conference, along with the International Council for Dates, the Saudi Dates Mark certification scheme, and a dates exhibition in Riyadh.

From July 2003 until joining the NCPD, he was an assistant professor at King Faisal University’s business school.

He gained a Ph.D. from the University of Manchester’s business school, specializing in supply chain management, a master’s degree in manufacturing management from Canada’s University of Windsor, and a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management from King Faisal University, in Al-Ahsa.