RIYADH: Supporting Saudi entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is a core goal of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 program, with the government aiming to increase the contribution that SMEs make to the gross domestic product (GDP) to 35 percent by 2030, up from 20 percent in 2016.
One of the organizations helping to achieve this target is the Saudi Aramco Entrepreneurship Center (Wa’ed), which is a subsidiary of the world’s largest oil company.
Established in 2011, Wa’ed has so far helped over 100 companies with loans and venture capital investments. It aims to double that number by 2023, with around 20 deals forecast during 2021.
Last year, amid the pandemic, Wa’ed tripled the amount of money loaned to startups in the Kingdom as part of its bid to support the SME sector.
Wa’ed regularly invests in companies which identify a gap in the local market. Some of its recent investments have included funding for a digital mapping startup, a sports and fitness app, a language software platform for teachers of students with disabilities, a farming technology company, an AI-powered traffic management system, and a drone operator. The company’s preference is for business ideas that had the potential to scale up.
Wa’ed has had a high success rate among the companies it has invested in, currently around 83 percent, and it is aiming to maintain this rate going forward.
The wider ecosystem has seen positive advances. According to this year’s Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report, total entrepreneurial activity in Saudi Arabia increased in 2020 by 24 percent compared to 2019.
It also showed that more than 90 percent of adults saw entrepreneurship as a favorable career choice, while a third of Saudis surveyed said they were keen on launching a business within the next three years.
Wa’ed last month launched its first roadshow event to find and fund the next generation of Saudi entrepreneurs with up to SR100 million ($27 million), including loans and venture capital investments, to support game-changing ideas through a series of events in six Saudi cities from September to December.
One of the challenges often cited by SMEs for their lack of success is funding. As part of Vision 2030, the government wants to increase the amount of funding that financial institutions allocate to SMEs to 20 percent by 2030, up from just 5 percent. Wa’ed believes the advances in financial technology in the Kingdom have already begun to address this, with new sources and forms of funding, such as crowdfunding.
This article was updated on July 19 to remove quotes from Wassim Basrawi, Wa’ed’s former managing director, who has now left the company at the time when the story was published.'