JEDDAH: The landscape for women entrepreneurs is swiftly evolving in Saudi Arabia through positive economic trends, and despite there being a long way to go, with the right help, female entrepreneurs can rise high.
According to a Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report in 2020, about 36.6 percent of women’s entrepreneurial intentions were reported in the Middle East and North Africa region, with Saudi female entrepreneurs being highly involved in increasing the rate of workforce participation.
“Women-led businesses are among the leading ventures, but still struggle to survive the gender investment gap. Women entrepreneurs fear failing, especially if the people surrounding them are skeptical of their capability in business,” said Emon Shakoor, CEO and founder of Blossom Accelerator, Saudi Arabia’s first tech-inclusion and female-focused accelerator that provides founders with community, network and educational resources, as well as curated investment opportunities.
She added that when male venture capitalists or angel investors do make decisions, they are twice as likely to invest in similar founding teams rather than female businesses.
Among the different barriers, the paucity of women-owned businesses in the digital business sector is also puzzling. “During the pandemic, several businesses witnessed the emergence of online communities, an increase in the use of fintech technology and digitalization of several consumer products that made money even in the slow economy. This led female entrepreneurs to an eye-opening insight and encouraged them to a paradigm shift in technology,” Shakoor said.
Blossom has mentored more than 300 companies, of which 47 went on to receive investment, leading to about SR27 million ($7.2 million) in early-stage pre-seed and seed-stage funding.
“To better address women’s needs, we believe it’s important to support and empower them with tips and step-by-step guidance to help women entrepreneurs transform their business concepts into high-potential tech enterprises, and involve more women in running incubators or investment committees that instantly help in leveling the gender and cultural gap field.”
But despite these issues, women’s empowerment in the Kingdom is evident, as they constitute a vital part of the nation’s workforce and are nothing short of a portrait of success.
Women-led businesses are among the leading ventures, but still struggle to survive the gender investment gap. Women entrepreneurs fear failing, especially if the people surrounding them are skeptical of their capability in business.
Emon Shakoor, CEO, Blossom Accelerator
“Female entrepreneurship in startup ecosystems is now flourishing, with government, banks and institutions stepping up support. The government has already started several initiatives that are committed to driving gender equality in the business world and helping female entrepreneurs succeed in their businesses,” said Shahad Geoffrey, CEO of Taffi, a venture capital-backed startup that caters to online personal styling and shopping services by using algorithms to curate clothing items based on size, budget and style.
Sharing the same sentiment, Saria Alderhali, founder and CEO of Bondai, the first two-sided marketplace in Saudi Arabia that helps millennial travelers discover and book curated experiences, said: “There has been a dramatic rise in the number of accelerators, funds, incubators and other institutions in recent years, which has truly accelerated growth in the startup and venture capital ecosystem and in the Saudi economy as a whole. Still, there is a need for more female role models, more support for female founders, and more female-focused accelerators and funds.”
Bondai also supports travel companies online and helps them automate their processes and grow their businesses. The company empowers travel-related operators to better manage their trips and acquire more frequent and faster bookings, while also providing a variety of options for the experience-seeking customer.
Several investors and venture capitalists have weeded out institutional patterns by recognizing the great potential of ideas presented to them by women entrepreneurs. They look for businesses that will focus on fulfilling societal needs by providing increased numbers of jobs and a work culture that empowers career development and contributes to enhancing economic infrastructure.
One such well-valued active venture capital firm in the Saudi and MENA region, Hala Ventures, believes in funding companies that benefit society through investment and consultancy. The company empowers talented women-owned businesses, enabling them to reach their highest potential.
Ali Ahmed Abussaud, a founding managing partner of Hala Ventures, told Arab News: “About 60 percent of the team are women across investment, marketing and administration. On the company portfolio level (funded companies), one company has been fully founded by women, and the other two companies have been co-founded by female founders. “We at Hala Ventures are now looking into several companies that are co-founded by female founders, as we believe that women are the fastest-growing market segment. They start businesses and achieve sustainable revenue at a higher rate.”
Abussaud added: “Women entrepreneurs are essential, since it extends women’s financial freedom, increases income per family and develops the social wellbeing of society, which results in the improvement of the overall status of the economy.”