PIF’s Sanabil Investments to launch Saudi startup program

PIF’s Sanabil Investments to launch Saudi startup program
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Updated 23 February 2021

PIF’s Sanabil Investments to launch Saudi startup program

PIF’s Sanabil Investments to launch Saudi startup program
  • The decision aims to incentivize foreign companies that deal with the Saudi government to base themselves in the Kingdom

RIYADH: Sanabil Investments, a Riyadh-based investment firm wholly owned by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), has entered into partnership with Californian venture capital firm 500 Startups to launch an early stage accelerator program for Saudi startups looking to expand across the Middle East and beyond.

The Sanabil 500 MENA Seed Accelerator Program will be based in Riyadh and follows the recent announcement that 500 Startups is planning to establish its Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regional headquarters in the Saudi capital.

Saudi Arabia last week announced it will stop signing contracts with foreign companies from 2024 unless their regional headquarters are based in the Kingdom.

The decision aims to incentivize foreign companies that deal with the Saudi government to base themselves in the Kingdom, and will also create jobs, increase spending efficiency, and guarantee that the main goods and services purchased by government agencies are from the Kingdom.

The Sanabil 500 MENA Seed Accelerator Program will consist of six programs run by 500 Startups over three years for a group of pre-seed and seed stage startups from across the MENA region.

Up to 100 startups taking part in the program are expected to receive investment of up to $100,000.

Bedy Yang, managing partner at 500 Startups and general partner of the Sanabil 500 MENA Seed Accelerator Fund, said: “We are thrilled to back the best startups in MENA. The region’s ecosystem has evolved significantly since 500 first started investing in the region nearly 10 years ago, and we will continue providing seed-stage founders with the best support possible.”

500 Startups has run more than 50 accelerator programs in Silicon Valley and around the world, and invested in over 2,500 companies worldwide, including more than 180 companies in the MENA region. Applications for the first batch of the Sanabil 500 MENA Seed Accelerator kicked off on Feb. 22, 2021. The deadline for applicants is March 7, 2021.

Startups will be selected from Saudi Arabia and the wider MENA region, and 500 Startup’s global network of mentors will deliver the program to help the businesses scale and build regional and global connections.

Founders will join a 12-week program which begins with a two-week session on foundations of growth — a deep dive into the fundamentals of business expansion — followed by seven weeks of guided coaching and an additional three weeks of classes on fundraising and pitch prep.

The Saudi Arabian Council of Ministers approved the establishment of the Saudi Arabian Investment Company (Sanabil Investments) in 2008. A closed joint stock company with a paid-up capital of SR20 billion ($5.33 billion), it is owned by PIF and is a crucial part of the government’s Vision 2030 program.


Cure for cancer the next target for Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine inventor Ugur Sahin

Cure for cancer the next target for Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine inventor Ugur Sahin
Updated 08 March 2021

Cure for cancer the next target for Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine inventor Ugur Sahin

Cure for cancer the next target for Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine inventor Ugur Sahin
  • Turkish-German scientist and entrepreneur envisions use of techniques developed for COVID-19 fight in successful cancer treatment
  • Sahin says a new vaccine version would be more easily transportable and more effective against new COVID-19 variants

DUBAI: The man who invented the first vaccine against the deadly coronavirus is prioritizing a cure for cancer as his post-pandemic target.

Ugur Sahin, the co-founder and chief executive of BioNTech, the firm which developed the earliest authorized vaccine in partnership with Pfizer, told Arab News that successful cancer treatment, using similar techniques he developed in the fight against COVID-19, was his next goal.

Sahin, who developed the vaccine along with his wife Ozlem Tureci, who is BioNTech’s chief medical officer, was appearing in the latest episode of Frankly Speaking, the series of video interviews with leading global policy-makers and business people.

“Definitely. The success now with our COVID-19 vaccine is of course transformative for the company, and we see that as a great opportunity,” he said

 

Sahin also spoke of the “next generation” of COVID vaccine his company is developing, the need for a fairer system of global distribution of the existing vaccine, and the possibility that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could be manufactured in the Middle East.

BioNTech began life as a company focused on using revolutionary mRNA technology to develop new medical weapons in the fight against cancer, and Sahin said that was his next goal once the pandemic had been defeated. The success of the COVID-19 vaccine has proved a vindication of his methods, and given BioNTech the financial resources to pursue the cancer treatment.

“We see that as a great opportunity, and also an obligation to think in an even bigger fashion about our vision, and how we could accelerate our cancer program and make it more available,” he said.

Sahin, who is the son of Turkish immigrants to Germany, where BioNTech is based, revealed that a new version of the COVID-19 vaccine could be ready soon, one that is more easily transportable and which could deal more effectively with the more deadly variants of the disease that are appearing in different parts of the world.

“We started to manufacture our vaccine and it came at the beginning with a challenge. We have a vaccine which has to be kept at minus 70 degrees. It’s not yet suitable for supply to all regions on the planet,” he said.

“But we are working on better conditions. We have, most recently, published that we can also start at minus 20 and we will continue to work on that and our aim is really to make our vaccine available — 2 billion doses and maybe even more in 2021 — including not only developed countries but also developing countries.” 

 

The “next generation” of the vaccine could be stored and transported at temperatures as high as minus 2 to minus 8 degrees, he said.

Sahin said that the existing vaccine was also expected to be effective against the South African variant of the virus, which is more transmissible and leads to higher fatality rates, but he added that there was still more testing to be done and data analyzed on the new variants.

Distributing the vaccine more fairly is a challenge, he admitted. “Fairness is always a question of logistics and also accessibility. Our goal when we started to develop this vaccine — and this is in the center of our hearts — is to make our vaccine available worldwide to everyone who needs it,” he said.

He also believes that a more innovative and entrepreneurial approach is needed to solve the problems of distribution of the vaccine to poorer parts of the world.

“We should really ask the question: How can we work together to make that possible?” Sahin said. “That's for some of the future goals, to really understand what are the limitations. For example, for the vaccine supply now, I really want to understand what is the limitation to make our vaccine available to people everywhere,” he said.

One of the key questions in the minds of economic and medical policymakers is when the increasing level of vaccination will begin to bring economic life back to normal after the damaging lockdowns of the past year. “it indeed depends on the rollout. We have this magic number of about 60 to 70 percent of people being vaccinated to start to see a herd immunity, but we are already starting to see the first effects of the vaccinations, with countries starting to vaccinate elderly people.

 

“So the first effect is that the hospitalizations are dropping in the vaccinated people and that's the first very important aspect — to get the reduction of hospitalization and mortality, and later on get also a better control of infections,” Sahin said.

On the problem of persuading people reluctant to have the vaccine, he said: “We have to continue to communicate the benefits we are seeing. This could help convince people.”

BioNTech partnered with US pharmaceuticals group Pfizer when the potential of its vaccine was in the early stages, optimizing the Americans’ global network for clinical trials, supply and regulatory know-how.

“So, we combined our skills and we are working together, driven by science. At the end of the day, we all want to accomplish the same: We want to develop the vaccine as soon as possible, we want to produce as much as possible, and of course we want to have a safe and effective vaccine,” he said.

Outside the US, the vaccine is manufactured at BioNTech facilities in Europe and transported internationally. A new facility in the German town of Marburg is being prepared to manufacture the vaccine in greater numbers, but Sahin explained the long and complex work required in setting up facilities overseas.

 

“It will take us about eight months until we will get out the first vaccines from Marburg. So, this is really the minimal time that would be required. It does not help in the early phase of the pandemic to set up new factories somewhere else. Every factory that we are now starting to consider will help us only in mid-2022,” he said.

The vaccine has been authorized and delivered early in Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Middle East, and two countries in the region — Israel and the UAE — top the world tables for the highest proportion of their populations already vaccinated.

Sahin said that the region could be the location of future manufacturing facilities, for the COVID-19 vaccine or for other, potentially more devastating viruses.

“What this pandemic taught us is very clear. It was somehow expected by experts, since more than 20 years, that this could happen. It happened and we were not well prepared, the world was not well prepared. This is a bad pandemic, but it's not the worst possible pandemic,” he said.

 

Sahin declined to comment on the qualities of rival vaccines available. “This is not a race. If it is a race, it’s against the virus, and I'm really happy about that,” he said.

“I had predicted that we will need multiple vaccine developers to participate and to ensure that everyone on the planet is able to get a vaccine, and this is happening.

“It is wonderful to see that all kinds of international collaborations have come up not only with one vaccine, but there are multiple vaccines.”

Sahin and Ozlem, who were named “People of the Year 2020” for their breakthrough in developing the first authorized vaccine, also joined the ranks of the world’s billionaires as the value of the company soared on news of the vaccine.

The founders of BioNTech have strong views on the value of philanthropy in the fight against life-threatening diseases, as rich and successful entrepreneurs increasingly donate a large proportion of their wealth to medical research.

“It is extremely important. We have to understand everyone can do something, and the way we would like to position our company is to become a useful company with a philanthropic vision. At the end of the day the question is: How can we ensure that the things we do are done for the benefit of humanity,” Sahin said.

“I don't see a clear reason why, for example, people living in Africa should not benefit from modern cancer treatments.”

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Twitter: @frankkanedubai

 

 

 

 

 

 


BNP Paribas appoints female Saudi country chief

BNP Paribas appoints female Saudi country chief
Updated 07 March 2021

BNP Paribas appoints female Saudi country chief

BNP Paribas appoints female Saudi country chief
  • Al-Asmari will oversee the bank’s national commercial strategy
  • She will also be responsible for expanding the bank’s product and service work in all CIB segments, including sustainable finance

JEDDAH: BNP Paribas has appointed Reema Al-Asmari as head of territory for Saudi Arabia, bolstering the French bank’s corporate and investment banking (CIB) presence in the Kingdom.
She will oversee the bank’s national commercial strategy, with a focus on strengthening relationships with strategic clients, multinational corporations and government-related entities.
She will also be responsible for expanding the bank’s product and service work in all CIB segments, including sustainable finance.
Amine Bel Hadj Soulami — head of BNP Paribas Middle East and Africa (MEA), and a member of the BNP Paribas MEA Executive Committee — said: “We are pleased to have Reema on board, strengthening our team with her in-depth knowledge of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
Soulami added: “BNP Paribas has long recognized the Kingdom’s vital role in the overall development of the region, since the bank became operational there in 2005.”
Al-Asmari joins BNP Paribas from Natixis, where she was CEO for Saudi Arabia. She previously worked for JPMorgan Chase & Co. in the Kingdom for nine years, where she worked as treasury services country head.
Her appointment comes as a report by ratings agency Moody’s found that rising female participation in the labor force has the potential to boost Saudi Arabia’s non-oil growth and improve average household incomes.
The Kingdom published its latest labor market survey in February and showed that Saudi women’s workforce participation rose to 31.3 percent in the third quarter of 2020, up from 26 percent at the end of 2019. The figure is almost double what it was in 2016.
Under the Vision 2030 reform plan, Saudi Arabia aims for female participation in the labor force to be at 30 percent by 2030, a target it has now achieved ahead of schedule.
The elimination of the decades-old ban on women driving was the first big step. The government also created a subsidy program to help women with work-related commuting and childcare expenses.


Saudi central bank extends deferred payment, guaranteed financing programs

Saudi central bank extends deferred payment, guaranteed financing programs
Updated 07 March 2021

Saudi central bank extends deferred payment, guaranteed financing programs

Saudi central bank extends deferred payment, guaranteed financing programs
  • Three month extension for deferred payment program
  • Part of package to support private sector

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s central bank (SAMA) said on Sunday that it had extended a deferred payment program to support private sector financing for an additional three months until June 30 as part of measures to stem the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the economy.
SAMA said that the decision aims “to empower the financial sector to play its role in supporting the micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) sector, and contribute to supporting economic growth and preserving employment in the private sector.”
A statement published on the central bank website also said a guaranteed financing program had been extended for an additional year until March 14, 2022 to support small and medium enterprises.
SAMA said the extensions are also aimed at enhancing the central bank’s contribution in supporting MSMEs, and enabling them to overcome the challenges that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic and the precautionary measures adopted to confront them.
The decision is in line with the central bank’s role in “maintaining monetary stability, supporting the stability of the financial sector, enhancing confidence, supporting economic growth, and mitigating the financial and economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic on various economic activities.”
SAMA said around 99,000 contracts have benefited from the deferred payment program since March 14, 2020, amounting to SR124 billion ($33.04 billion).
It also said that over 5,000 contracts benefited from the guaranteed financing program, valuing over SR8 billion.

(With Reuters)


Saudi Arabia’s rising female labor force defies global pandemic trend

Saudi Arabia’s rising female labor force defies global pandemic trend
Updated 07 March 2021

Saudi Arabia’s rising female labor force defies global pandemic trend

Saudi Arabia’s rising female labor force defies global pandemic trend
  • The Kingdom’s latest labor market survey in February showed that women’s participation rose to 31.3 percent in the third quarter of 2020
  • The figure is almost double what it was in 2016

JEDDAH: Rising female participation in Saudi Arabia’s labor force could boost non-oil growth and improve average household incomes in the country, according to a report by Moody’s rating agency.
The Kingdom’s latest labor market survey in February showed that women’s participation rose to 31.3 percent in the third quarter of 2020, up from 26 percent at the end of 2019. While the number is still one of the lowest in the world, the Kingdom is making progress as the figure is almost double what it was in 2016.
Last year’s increase came as a surprise given the pandemic, which has resulted in a decrease in female labor force participation in most parts of the world, with large numbers of women facing increased childcare responsibilities as a result of lockdowns and school closures.
This shows that the increase in female labor force participation in Saudi Arabia is likely to continue, the Moody’s report said.
Under the Vision 2030 goals, Saudi Arabia aims for female participation in the labor force to be at 30 percent by 2030, a target it has achieved ahead of schedule.
The elimination of the decades-old ban on women driving was the first big step, but the government also created a subsidy program to help women with work-related commuting and childcare expenses.
At the same time, global consultancy firm KPMG’s Female Leaders Outlook 2020 was published for the first time in the Kingdom. The survey, conducted in 2020, includes 675 female leaders from 52 countries, including Saudi Arabia.
Kholoud Mousa, partner and head of inclusion and diversity at KPMG in the Kingdom, said: “COVID-19 is an accelerator for digitalization and has ignited change in many areas, so it could be seen as a catalyst for gender diversity, especially in the mid to long term,” she added.
Forty-seven percent of Saudi female leaders in the survey said they do not expect the pandemic to slow progress on diversity and inclusion, and 23 percent of Saudi female leaders said introducing workplace quotas for women was a positive move — more than double the global average.
Looking to the future, 66 percent of female leaders in Saudi Arabia said they were confident about their company’s growth prospects over the next three years.


Eastern Province Cement shrugs off pandemic with bumper dividend payout

Eastern Province Cement shrugs off pandemic with bumper dividend payout
Updated 07 March 2021

Eastern Province Cement shrugs off pandemic with bumper dividend payout

Eastern Province Cement shrugs off pandemic with bumper dividend payout
  • Cement sector benefits from mega projects
  • Shares rise as company agrees dividend

DUBAI: Eastern Province Cement shareholders are set to receive an SR215 million ($57.2 million) dividend payout after full-year profits jumped by a fifth last year.
Sales edged 1.8 percent higher in 2020 to SR742 million compared to a year earlier, the Dammam-based company said in a Tadawul stock exchange filing on Sunday. Net profit rose 19.9 percent to SR217 million.
It said that higher sales and lower expenses helped to drive earnings higher.
Cement producers across the Kingdom are benefiting from rising demand from the construction sector where a number of mega-projects linked to the emerging tourism sector have started to take shape.
The shares rose 1.24 percent on Sunday.