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


STC Solutions signs $53.66m NEOM data centre contracts

STC Solutions signs $53.66m NEOM data centre contracts
Social media
Updated 24 October 2021

STC Solutions signs $53.66m NEOM data centre contracts

STC Solutions signs $53.66m NEOM data centre contracts

RIYADH: The Arabian Internet and Communications Services Co. (Solutions by STC) on Sunday signed several contracts with the Saudi Telecom Company to build a modern data center in NEOM, according to a stock exchange filing.

The contracts, valued at SR201.3 million, will contribute to the establishment of the data center’s infrastructure, cloud platform and other applications.

The project aims to design and build digital solutions for NEOM Telco Park’s digital platform as well as data center support starting from the concept to project delivery. 

It also includes data center campus enablement, system integration, infrastructure services, and physical security solutions, digital platform enabling NEOM to provide private cloud services to its customers, solutions and technology maintenance and support.

The project delivery and implementation will be within one year starting from the contract signing date, involving support services for three years.


Bank shares lead 0.77% TASI fall: Market wrap

Bank shares lead 0.77% TASI fall: Market wrap
Updated 24 October 2021

Bank shares lead 0.77% TASI fall: Market wrap

Bank shares lead 0.77% TASI fall: Market wrap

RIYADH: Declining bank shares led a fall of the Tadawul All-Share Index, which was down 91 points on Sunday, or 0.77 percent, closing at 11,848,05 points.

221.4 million of shares changed hands in 323,000 deals.

Al Rajhi Bank fell 3 percent to SR137.80, amid trading of about four million shares, The bank’s net profit for Q3 2021 increased 43 percent year-on-year to SR3.794 billion.

Riyad Bank, Banque Saudi Fransi, Sulaiman Al Habib, Bank Albilad, Almarai, Maaden, Arab National Bank and Thob Al Aseel declined between 1 percent and 3 percent.

Dallah Health Services Company obtained a long term, Sharia-compliant 10-year bond financing from Al-Rajhi Bank, with a value of SR900 million to support the company's strategic plan for future acquisitions and expansions, according to a filing.

The parallel Nomu index decreased by 225.2 points, or 0.95 percent, to close at 23,505.27 points. The liquidity amounted to about SR18.4 million.

Yanbu Cement slumped 2 percent to SR38, The cement producer reported earlier a net profit of SAR 36.4 million in Q3 2021, a fall of 56 percent Year on year. 


Telecom Egypt to obtain $500 financing from 11 banks

Telecom Egypt to obtain $500 financing from 11 banks
Updated 24 October 2021

Telecom Egypt to obtain $500 financing from 11 banks

Telecom Egypt to obtain $500 financing from 11 banks
  • The banks involved in the transaction include First Abu Dhabi Bank, Mashreq Bank, Bank of Jordan, and the Arab Bank of Bahrain

Telecom Egypt has signed a financing agreement with 11 allied banks to obtain a $500 million medium-term syndicated loan. 

The banks involved in the transaction include First Abu Dhabi Bank, Mashreq Bank, Bank of Jordan, and the Arab Bank of Bahrain. 

“International Financial Institutions trusted us in the past three years, and it enabled Telecom Egypt to obtain a syndicated loan again estimated at EGP7.8 billion ($500 million),” Adel Hamed, director and chief executive officer of Telecom Egypt, said.

 


Italy has ‘high expectations’ for Saudi, Middle East green initiatives: Italian deputy foreign minister

Italy has ‘high expectations’ for Saudi, Middle East green initiatives: Italian deputy foreign minister
Updated 24 October 2021

Italy has ‘high expectations’ for Saudi, Middle East green initiatives: Italian deputy foreign minister

Italy has ‘high expectations’ for Saudi, Middle East green initiatives: Italian deputy foreign minister
  • Manlio Di Stefano calls for more EU funding of Middle Eastern green energy schemes

ROME: Italy had “high expectations” about the Saudi Green Initiative and Middle East Green Initiative events in Riyadh along with the Kingdom’s engagement in green energy production, a leading Italian MP has said.

Manlio Di Stefano will be representing his government at the Middle East Green Initiative Summit being held in the Saudi capital, and he told Arab News that his country attached “a lot of importance to this event.”

The 40-year-old Italian undersecretary (deputy minister) for foreign affairs and international cooperation is from the Five Star Movement, the populist party founded by comedian Beppe Grillo which has been central to the last three years of coalition government in Italy.

After graduating in computer engineering in Sicily, Di Stefano worked as an IT consultant for an American company and was a volunteer for an Italian NGO operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Guatemala working on sustainable development projects.

He said: “We believe this is the time where at a global level every country has to put some effort into engaging with climate change.”

The politician pointed out that promoting green energy was a “means to create a market, to create infrastructure, to create the storytelling about climate change, where it is taking place, and the solutions to tackle it.

“This event in Riyadh will be focused on how to tackle the situation with solutions and therefore we’re ready to support it,” he added.

Di Stefano noted that Italy was one of the leading European countries in terms of its energy production links with the Middle East and North Africa region and said the EU should provide more funding to Middle Eastern countries, such as Egypt, to help finance environmental protection schemes.

He added that Italy and Egypt had collaborated on a number of projects and that the strategic interconnection was important to his country.

“We have to work more with countries that can generate renewable energy in the future. We have a lot of projects going on in northern Africa and Middle Eastern countries for energy production.

“And we think that Italy could play a strategic role in that, because we can really bridge the MENA region with the northern part of Europe, where there may not be so many green energy capabilities.

“Saudi Arabia, and this has been stated very clearly by that government, is really pushing a lot on green energy production, and Italy is at the forefront with our own industries,” he said.

Di Stefano expected cooperation between Italy and Saudi Arabia, already strong through the G20 Troika, to develop further.

“I think we can do more because there is a huge complementarity among our countries which sometimes is undervalued. We are obviously really set on European values and market characteristics, and we ask for the same understanding when we deal with other countries. Nonetheless, this is a bilateral relationship that is fundamental for us.

“Saudi Arabia is one of the most important countries in the MENA region, and Italy already has good cases of cooperation, such as in the G20. When we come together at the table, we are talking the same language,” he added.


China aims to cut fossil energy use to below 20% by 2060

China aims to cut fossil energy use to below 20% by 2060
Updated 24 October 2021

China aims to cut fossil energy use to below 20% by 2060

China aims to cut fossil energy use to below 20% by 2060

BEIJING: China is targeting an ambitious clean energy goal of reducing fossil fuel use to under 20 percent by 2060, according to an official plan published by state media on Sunday.

The document follows a pledge by President Xi Jinping to wean the country off coal, with a target of peaking carbon emissions by 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality 30 years later.

But the country has been criticized for pushing ahead with opening dozens of new coal power plants.

Authorities have also been looking to ramp up production with coal prices surging and supplies running low in recent days, both factors behind power outages.

But on Sunday, China’s official Xinhua news agency laid out a host of targets in its path towards carbon neutrality.

Among them was the proportion of non-fossil fuel consumption reaching around 25 percent of total energy use by 2030 — when the nation targets peak emissions.

By then, carbon dioxide emissions per unit of gross domestic product would have dropped by more than 65 percent from 2005 levels, while the total installed capacity of wind and solar power is targeted to reach more than 1.2 billion kilowatts, Xinhua said.

The guidelines also reiterated an earlier aim for carbon emissions per unit of GDP to fall 18 percent in 2025, from 2020 standards.

China faces a struggle to wean itself off coal, which fuels nearly 60 percent of its energy-hungry economy.

Economic planners are nervous about slashing coal too quickly as it could cripple growth.

While China said in an earlier statement that President Xi intended to “strictly control” the growth of coal power plants, it also signaled a continued increase in the next few years, saying coal consumption would start to gradually reduce from 2026.