A Saudi-based startup seeks to expand availability of AI solutions

For Noor Alnahhas, who co-founded nybl from Khobar in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, the sky is the limit in democratizing artificial intelligence (AI). (Supplied)
For Noor Alnahhas, who co-founded nybl from Khobar in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, the sky is the limit in democratizing artificial intelligence (AI). (Supplied)
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Updated 22 July 2021

A Saudi-based startup seeks to expand availability of AI solutions

For Noor Alnahhas, who co-founded nybl from Khobar in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, the sky is the limit in democratizing artificial intelligence (AI). (Supplied)
  • Nybl is a visual data mining and machine learning platform used in everything from oil and gas to healthcare
  • Co-founder and CEO Noor Alnahhas says the business culture in Saudi Arabia is turning in favor of startups

DUBAI: A Syrian-Lebanese entrepreneur wants to democratize artificial intelligence (AI) and the technology’s applications in everything from industry to public health. For Noor Alnahhas, who co-founded nybl from Khobar in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, the sky is the limit.

Nybl is a visual data mining and machine learning platform used across several different sectors, including oil and gas, healthcare, and security, in a number of GCC countries.

Alnahhas, Saudi national Mohammed Shono, and three others created nybl in 2019 to help public and private institutions across the region become more seamless and streamlined.

A serial entrepreneur, with almost 15 years of experience in the oil and gas industry, Alnahhas has a proven track record of building businesses and relationships in the GCC, and has served as an adviser to other startups in the Middle East and the US.




Noor Alnahhas, Saudi national Mohammed Shono, and three others created nybl in 2019. (Supplied)

After earning his bachelor’s degree in marketing and entrepreneurship from the University of Houston, he completed further leadership training at Wharton School of Business and at INSEAD, a graduate business school with campuses in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

The idea for nybl came about when Alnahhas decided he wanted to develop a tech company that would make AI more accessible and serve the common good.

“We wanted to centralize that vision around AI and machine learning,” the 37-year-old Alnahhas said. “We wanted to develop something not just profit-related, but that added value and left the world in a better place. So it is conscious capitalism.”

The team’s goal was to enable anybody to turn an idea into an AI solution without the barrier of needing to understand coding and data science.

By democratizing the technology, nybl has become a kind of “Shopify of AI,” says Alnahhas, referring to the Canadian e-commerce site, which offers merchants a unified platform to outsource all of their complicated online marketing, payments and shipping needs.




With a team of 32, headquartered in Khobar with offices in Kuwait, the UAE, North America and India, Nybl is now focused on building its team in Saudi Arabia, where Alnahhas has launched a pilot project with Saudi Aramco. (AFP/File Photo)

Nybl’s first year was dedicated to testing whether its business model actually worked.

“We wanted to prove that other companies would be willing to come to a third party on a platform not owned by them,” Alnahhas said.

Success soon came in the form of contracts with the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, the Dubai Health Authority, which is using nybl’s expertise to manage its inventory, and a Sharjah-based company, which is employing nybl’s AI technology to build one of the most advanced security systems in the world.

“By the end of the year, we will release ‘anything.ai’ and ‘cnshield at Gitex,’ which is AI for everybody to run data science without needing to know a single line of code,” Alnahhas said.

Nybl intends to optimize processes by moving systems beyond simply reporting failures after the fact to actually predicting them before they happen.

“Earlier, one of my companies was selling technology to the oil and gas sector, and I found it ridiculous that I was selling million-dollar software solutions, sometimes up to $20 million, to report a failure,” Alnahhas said.

“With the technology and data that we have today, you should at least be doing everything possible to avoid the failure, not just reporting it.”




Alnahhas says many big organizations are reluctant to work with small startups, so his team members have had to work hard to prove their worth. (AFP/File Photo)

He highlighted the example of the major gas leak at an underwater pipeline west of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula earlier this month, which caused flames to erupt from the sea.

“If they had the technology that could have predicted this was going to happen and taken countermeasures, what could have been prevented? What environmental impact could have been avoided?

“It is capitalistic, but there is a big underlying social responsibility we feel. We can value the world if we can prevent two million barrels of oil from leaking into the ocean. So, I saw a need.”

With a team of 32, headquartered in Khobar with offices in Kuwait, the UAE, North America and India, the company is now focused on building its team in Saudi Arabia, where Alnahhas has launched a pilot project with Saudi Aramco.

“We are working with a lot of industries here, including paper, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), and in steel manufacturing to optimize their supply chain,” he said. “We have got a lot of contracts for technology support and now we are shifting.”

Alnahhas says many big organizations are reluctant to work with small startups, so his team members have had to work hard to prove their worth. 

“We had support in the UAE, so now we are coming back because we have proven ourselves, and we want to do the same for Saudi Arabia,” he said.




Saudi Arabia’s embrace of AI technologies comes as part of its Vision 2030 agenda to diversify the nation’s economy away from oil, grow its private sector, and create jobs for the future. (AFP/File Photo)

Their timing is fortuitous. Last year, Saudi Arabia signed an array of partnership deals with international tech companies to explore the advantages of AI in line with the Kingdom’s National Strategy for Data and AI.

Saudi Arabia’s National Center for AI (NCAI) also announced a deal with China’s Huawei to enable strategic cooperation on the Kingdom’s National AI Capability Development Program, under which Saudi AI engineers are trained, while creating an AI capability platform to localize technology solutions.

As a result, tech startups like nybl are now seeing much more acceptance, with strong support from the public and private entities. “The major catalyst was the pandemic,” Alnahhas said.

“Companies must do a lot more with a lot fewer people while being profitable. How do you achieve that? Advancements in technology are also taking place, so we are seeing a huge uptake, even from old and big family conglomerates, which are changing to become more efficient and making money using AI.”

Saudi Arabia’s embrace of AI technologies comes as part of its Vision 2030 agenda to diversify the nation’s economy away from oil, grow its private sector, and create jobs for the future. Alnahhas says his company’s goals are well aligned with the Kingdom’s reform drive.

“It is very exciting to be in Saudi Arabia where there is an alignment and there is support,” he said. In particular, he is grateful for the opportunity to study abroad, giving him the skills to launch his business venture and give something back to the Kingdom.

“This is the effect of Saudi Arabia 10 years ago sending hundreds of thousands of students to get educated outside. King Abdullah started the whole government sponsorship of students in a huge way, up to half a million students in a short period, so we are reaping the benefits of this today,” he said.

As a result, Alnahhas says, it is easy to find talented researchers and developers in the Kingdom, both male and female. In fact, two of nybl’s top developers are Saudi women who hold master’s degrees in robotics and software development.




Nybl is a visual data mining and machine learning platform used across several different sectors, including oil and gas, healthcare, and security, in a number of GCC countries. (Supplied)

“This is something you would never have heard of three years ago. So, you are getting an increasing talent pool,” Alnahhas said.

“We have women fully covered working and others who are not, so we have created an environment that is very respectful and gets everybody to work together.”

However, employers in the Kingdom must offer these young workers far more by way of opportunities, else risk losing them to the brain drain, he warned.

“Someone has to break this cycle of talent from this part of the world going to work outside.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek


Global markets regulators team up to keep watch on SPACs

Global markets regulators team up to keep watch on SPACs
Updated 34 min 37 sec ago

Global markets regulators team up to keep watch on SPACs

Global markets regulators team up to keep watch on SPACs
  • SPACS may raise regulatory concerns, said the International Organization of Securities Commissions

LONDON: Global securities markets regulators said on Tuesday they have begun monitoring special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, due to potential regulatory concerns.
SPACs are shell companies that list themselves on the stock market and use the proceeds to buy other companies.
It is a form of investment that soared last year on Wall Street, gathered steam in Europe this year and is now spreading into emerging markets.
“While SPACs may offer alternative sources of funding and provide opportunities for investors, they may also raise regulatory concerns,” the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) said in a statement.
IOSCO, whose members include the US Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), the Financial Conduct Authority in Britain and regulators in the European Union, Asia, Latin America and Africa, said its new SPAC network met for the first time on Monday to share information.
“I am pleased that so many members of IOSCO have joined the SPACs network to exchange experiences on non-traditional IPOs via SPACs and discuss emerging issues related to investor protection and fair, orderly and efficient markets,” said Jean-Paul Servais, chairman of Belgium’s markets watchdog and Vice-Chair of IOSCO’s board.
The markets watchdogs which are members of IOSCO have the power to take action to protect investors in their jurisdictions.


Saudi Arabia suspends desalination and power plant privatization amid strategy review

Saudi Arabia suspends desalination and power plant privatization amid strategy review
Updated 54 min 14 sec ago

Saudi Arabia suspends desalination and power plant privatization amid strategy review

Saudi Arabia suspends desalination and power plant privatization amid strategy review
  • New strategy for Saline Water Conversion Corporation to be announced soon

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has suspended the privatization of Ras Al Khair Desalination and Power Plant as it reviews its strategy.
This decision was made to capitalize on knowledge and capacity built in the Kingdom as a result of many years of experience in the areas of water desalination, new technologies, R&D and supply chains, the Privatization Supervisory Committee for the Environment, Water and Agriculture said in a statement on Monday.
A new engagement strategy and plan for the Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC) assets such as Ras Al Khair plant will be announced shortly.
“It is either that the outcome was not aligned with the government spending efficiency goals or it’s not a top priority for the time being, as there is price control on water services in the country that doesn’t allow room for enough profits to the private operators, that the government may need to offer significant subsidies to make the PPP project attractive to the private sector, ” Razeen Capital CEO Mohamed Alsuwayed told Arab News.
The Privatization Committee said it will continue to engage investors in future PPP and privatization transactions in the water sector, and new greenfield investment opportunities will be launched in due course.
Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC) invited seven pre-qualified companies and strategic alliances to submit their bids (RFP) to participate in the Ras Al-Khair desalination and power plant’s privatization process, last January.
SWCC said in a statement that the winning consortium will own 60 percent of the project company, and will handle management, operation, and maintenance works. For now, SWCC will continue to manage it, according to the statement.


Kuwait loosens COVID restrictions for vaccinated, allows some direct flights

Kuwait loosens COVID restrictions for vaccinated, allows some direct flights
Updated 27 July 2021

Kuwait loosens COVID restrictions for vaccinated, allows some direct flights

Kuwait loosens COVID restrictions for vaccinated, allows some direct flights
  • 8 pm commercial curfew to end today
  • Unvaccinated only allowed to food markets, pharmacies, co-ops

KUWAIT CITY: The Kuwaiti cabinet cancelled its decision to close commercial activities at 8 pm, starting Tuesday, the state news agency KUNA reported on Monday.
All activities will be allowed except for large gatherings, such as conferences, weddings, and social events, starting from Sept. 1. Special activities for children will also be allowed.
Kuwait will allow only those who are vaccinated to take part in all activities, while the unvaccinated will be only allowed to pharmacies, consumer cooperative societies, and food and catering marketing outlets, starting from Aug. 1, the cabinet added.
Kuwait will also allow direct flights to Morocco and Maldives starting Aug. 1, the cabinet said in a statement.


Gulf rebound set as Saudi Arabia, UAE seen topping 4% growth in 2022 - Reuters poll

Gulf rebound set as Saudi Arabia, UAE seen topping 4% growth in 2022 - Reuters poll
Updated 27 July 2021

Gulf rebound set as Saudi Arabia, UAE seen topping 4% growth in 2022 - Reuters poll

Gulf rebound set as Saudi Arabia, UAE seen topping 4% growth in 2022 - Reuters poll
  • Saudi 2022 growth seen at 4.3 percent, 2023 at 3.3 percent
  • UAE expected to grow 4.2 percent next year and 3.4 percent in 2023

RIYADH: The six economies in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are set to rebound and grow 2 percent to nearly 3 percent this year while the region’s two largest economies, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are forecast to grow over 4 percent next year, a quarterly Reuters survey showed.
That outlook follows steep declines last year following an oil price crash and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, while analysts expected Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait to benefit from an OPEC+ deal to boost oil production.
“Our core assumption was that a longer-term deal would be secured, and we raise our 2022 forecasts on the back of the baseline adjustments, which will enable the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to raise oil output and their global market share from May 2022,” said Monica Malik, chief economist at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank.
Medians in the July 5-26 poll pegged Saudi Arabia’s growth at 2.3 percent this year, down slightly from a forecast of 2.4 percent in a similar poll three months ago.
In 2022, the Middle East’s largest economy and world’s largest oil exporter’s gross domestic product was seen growing 4.3 percent, an upward revision of 100 basis points (bps). Growth for 2023 was revised up 30 bps to 3.3 percent.
The UAE was expected to grow 2.3 percent this year, unchanged, and 4.2 percent next year and 3.4 percent in 2023, revised up 60 bps and 10 bps respectively.
Expectations for Kuwait’s 2021 GDP growth were lifted 60 bps to 2.4 percent, while growth next year was boosted 110 bps to 4.6 percent. Growth was seen 10 bps higher in 2023 at 3.0 percent.
Qatar’s 2021 growth forecast was scaled back 30 bps to 2.5 percent. The expectation for growth next year was unchanged at 3.6 percent and down 40 bps to 2.7 percent for 2023.
Oman was revised up 20 bps to 2.1 percent expected growth this year, up 10 bps to 3.3 percent next year and down 20 bps in 2023 to 2.2 percent. Bahrain’s outlook was unchanged for this year and next at 2.9 percent, while 2023 growth was seen 30 bps lower at 2.4 percent.
At least half of the GCC’s state revenues come from hydrocarbons, and diversification away from that will “likely take many years to achieve,” with fiscal diversification likely to follow with additional lag, Moody’s said in a report last month.
“The announced plans to boost hydrocarbon production capacity and government commitments to zero or very low taxes make it unlikely that this reliance will diminish significantly in the coming years, even with some progress in economic diversification, which we expect.”


Saudi resilient as emerging markets shares hit 7-month lows on China rout

Saudi resilient as emerging markets shares hit 7-month lows on China rout
Updated 27 July 2021

Saudi resilient as emerging markets shares hit 7-month lows on China rout

Saudi resilient as emerging markets shares hit 7-month lows on China rout
  • China blue-chip index drops 3.5 percent to 8-month low
  • Saudi Arabia's Tadawul rose 0.2 percent, while Abu Dhabi is up 0.5 percent

RIYADH: Emerging market stocks slid 2 percent to a seven-month low on Tuesday, extending heavy losses to a third session, as a sharp sell-off in Chinese stocks continued.
Saudi Arabia's Tadawul rose 0.2 percent, while the Dubai Financial Market Index was little changed and Abu Dhabi's Securities Exchange General Index was up 0.6 percent.
China’s blue-chip index dropped 3.5 percent to its lowest in nearly eight months as worries lingered about regulatory crackdowns in the education and property sectors.
Hong Kong’s benchmark sank almost 4.5 percent, with losses over the past three days pushing the index more than 8 percent into the red for the year.
The Chinese yuan hit its lowest since April, weakening 0.4 percent to trade at 6.504 to the dollar.
“The question for investors is whether the sell-off presents an attractive opportunity to bottom fish,” said analysts at BCA Research.
“We argue otherwise and expect further pressure from regulators to continue to weigh down on Chinese stocks over a six- to 12-month horizon,” they said, adding that the medical industry could be the next target.
Adding to worries around China, profit growth at industrial firms slowed for a fourth straight month in June, while a surge in the Delta variant COVID-19 cases centered on the eastern city of Nanjing.
MSCI’s index of Asia shares excluding Japan hit its lowest so far this year, as did a broader index of EM equities as China stocks have the biggest weightage on both. Western European bourses traded well in the red, while US stock indexes looked set to retreat from all-time highs.
South Africa’s main index lost 1.7 percent, moving sharply away from 1-1/2-month highs, while Turkey’s index extended losses to day four. Polish stocks led losses across eastern Europe.
Tunisian bonds stabilized after their worst slide in a month on Monday following the government’s ouster by President Kais Saied.
Saied extended existing COVID-19 restrictions on movement on Monday and vowed any violent opposition would be met with force.
In currency markets, the South African rand slid 0.7 percent against a strengthening dollar ahead of the US Federal Reserve’s policy decision on Wednesday.
Investors are hoping to get clues on the world’s largest economy’s standing, as well as any hints on the timeline for stimulus tapering and interest rate hikes.
Massive support from major central banks and ultra-loose monetary policy to stimulate economic activity and growth has helped inflows into riskier assets of emerging markets.
Turkey’s lira and Russia’s rouble were broadly flat. Hungary’s forint was steady against the euro, staying near three-month lows ahead of a central bank meeting. An extension of a hiking cycle with a 20 basis-point increase in its base rate to 1.1 percent is expected.