Fintech firms dominate Saudi startup scene, attracting venture capitalists

Fintech firms dominate Saudi startup scene, attracting venture capitalists
fintech startups closed 12 deals during H1, 20201, accounting for 24 percent of the 54 deals across the startup ecosystem in the Kingdom. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 11 August 2021

Fintech firms dominate Saudi startup scene, attracting venture capitalists

Fintech firms dominate Saudi startup scene, attracting venture capitalists
  • Saudi fintech startups raised a record $150 million in the first half of 2021

RIYADH: Saudi start ups in the financial technology sector emerged as the most funded in the Kingdom, and more private investors and venture capitalists are rushing to invest in these firms at early stages of their business life-cycle. The number of deals closed recently hit a record with over $150 million in the first half of 2021.

This represents a 1,738 percent year-on-year growth, topping other industries including food and beverage, as well as e-commerce, which was a star sector during the pandemic.

According to a report from Magnitt, fintech startups closed 12 deals during the said period, accounting for 24 percent of the 54 deals across the startup ecosystem in the Kingdom.

“The venture capital (VC) industry is essential in supporting the growth of the Saudi fintech industry,” Nejoud Saleh AlMulaik, director of Fintech Saudi, said in the report.

But this was not only the case in Saudi Arabia, the fintech industry also led the way with a total investment of $222 million across the Middle East and North Africa, Pakistan, and Turkey.

“Investor appetite has shifted toward bigger opportunities in the financial services space, which put fintech ahead of other industries,” Magnitt chief Philip Bahoshy said.

“I think by end of year, you’ll see many records breaking. We’ve already seen capital deployment breaking. I think you’ll see a record number of investments. I think you will see the return of accelerator programs in Q4,” he told the Arab News.

The Magnitt CEO predicted a strong merger and acquisition activities in the region’s startup scene, as startups seek for synergies post-pandemic.

Overall, the startup industry in the region has seen a 64 percent year-on-year growth in VC investments, attracting more than $1.2 billion local and international investors.

Saudi Arabia placed second with $168 million in venture funding, only after the UAE which raked in a total of $755 million. Egypt came in third at $166 million.

The report also showed a more equitable distribution of funds, as funding was not concentrated in the Kingdom’s top five deals during the period.

E-commerce startup Sary closed the largest funding round at $31 million. Startups in agriculture, IT and food and beverage were also among the top five deals in the Kingdom.

Despite the stellar performance of the region’s startup industry, Bahoshy said fewer deals were made in the last six months as investors only deployed capital in more mature startups.

“Accelerator programs which are big feeders of early-stage investments have basically reduced considerably compared to last year,” he said, adding the usually offline programs were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“So when those programs are taken out of the equation, there’s a gap of early stage investments that need to be filled,” Bahoshy explained.

He also said angel investors turned to alternative assets, such as real estate or deposits, as opposed to “riskier startups.”

Bahoshy said it would be interesting to see if this investment activity continues toward the end of the year.


US body seeks to explore more ‘green’ opportunities in KSA

US body seeks to explore more ‘green’ opportunities in KSA
Updated 31 min 20 sec ago

US body seeks to explore more ‘green’ opportunities in KSA

US body seeks to explore more ‘green’ opportunities in KSA
  • US Green Building Council plans collaboration with Saudi institutions to reduce carbon emissions

JEDDAH: The US Green Building Council plans to support the Saudi Green Initiative in terms of its goals in reduction of carbon emission, global warming, and carbon footprint, and achieving carbon neutrality by 2060. 

The USGBC certifies projects in Saudi Arabia under the LEED operating system (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), an internationally recognized certification system that certifies buildings that achieve innovation in sustainability and energy efficiency, water efficiency and better indoor environment quality and better quality of life.

The system also recognizes best-in-class buildings, cities and communities “to reduce carbon emissions through the built environment, which contributes to climate change especially in carbon emissions by almost 40 percent,” Mohammed Al-Surf, regional manager of the USGBC in the Kingdom, told Arab News.

FASTFACTS

• The USGBC certifies projects in Saudi Arabia under the LEED operating system.

• The system also recognizes best-in-class buildings, cities and communities to reduce carbon emissions.

• The council is also looking toward collaborating with different institutions such as financial institutions to establish green bonds.

“Our goal is to collaborate with the SGI through different platforms and different projects like the giga-projects to help minimize their emissions and mitigate climate change,” he added.

He said the council is also looking toward collaborating with different institutions such as financial institutions to establish green bonds and green loans to stimulate the economy as well. “These green projects will have investors investing in these projects to make the environment more sustainable,” he said.

The council’s collaboration with the SGI is on a project scale; individual projects, city projects or community plan phases, as well as in terms of education and awareness and capacity-building, he said.

“We’re going to see reports from different projects on how they have achieved the objectives of the SGI through LEED certification which is the main aim of the collaboration with the USGBC,” he added.

The council has certified over 1,500 projects in the Kingdom, including well-known ones such as King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz Airport in Madinah, Princess Noura University campus, King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center, Ithra museum and the masterplan for the Red Sea Development project.


Saudi Arabia prioritizes tourism sector net zero target

Saudi Arabia prioritizes tourism sector net zero target
Updated 58 min 19 sec ago

Saudi Arabia prioritizes tourism sector net zero target

Saudi Arabia prioritizes tourism sector net zero target
  • With the global travel and tourism sector responsible for 8 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions, Saudi Arabia is giving priority to achieving net-zero emissions in the sector

RIYADH: The Sustainable Tourism Global Center launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Saudi Green Initiative Forum on Saturday aims to modernize the sector with a focus on preserving nature and fighting climate change.

With the global travel and tourism sector responsible for 8 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions, Saudi Arabia is giving priority to achieving net-zero emissions in the sector.

Referring to the global emissions at the SGI event, Saudi Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb said: “This is expected to grow if we do not act now.”  

“Tourism is also a highly fragmented sector. Eighty percent of the tourism businesses are small and medium-sized enterprises that rely on guidance and support from sector leadership. The sector must be part of the solution,” he said.

Sustainable Tourism Global CenterThe center will support travelers, governments, and the private sector to ensure that tourism enables growth and creates jobs, while playing its part to achieve the climate goals laid out in the Paris Agreement, including contributing to keeping the global temperature rise to under 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The facility aims to be the “north star” for the tourism sector as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic and transitions toward a sustainable future.

Globally, tourism supports more than 330 million livelihoods – and pre-pandemic, it was responsible for creating one in four new jobs globally.

Al-Khateeb said: “Saudi Arabia, following the vision of the Crown Prince, is answering this vital call by working with partners to create a multi-country, multi-stakeholder coalition, that will lead, accelerate, and track the tourism industry’s transition to net-zero emissions.”

Details of the center and its functions will be  unveiled at the COP26 in Glasgow.

Gloria Guevara, the chief special adviser to the tourism minister, said: “For years and years, multiple players across the tourism sector have been working on different initiatives to accelerate the race to zero (emissions) — but we have been working in silos. The impact of the global pandemic on the tourism sector highlighted the vital importance of multi-country, multi-stakeholder collaboration. And now, Saudi Arabia is stepping up to bring stakeholders together to make tourism part of the solution to climate change.”


Saudi startup joins in national efforts promote green building

Saudi startup joins in national efforts promote green building
Updated 25 October 2021

Saudi startup joins in national efforts promote green building

Saudi startup joins in national efforts promote green building
  • Large number of people in the Kingdom are moving toward sustainable solutions

LONDON: As global leaders converge at the Middle East Green Initiative Summit on Oct. 25, the focus will be on new ideas and proposals to replace the wasteful and polluting ways in favor of environmentally-friendly methods. 

Meanwhile, there are set to be profound changes at the grass-roots level, in terms of sustainable living environments. A number of “green” startups have emerged in the Kingdom in recent years, offering products and services that aim to reduce carbon emissions while improving the quality of life for ordinary citizens.

One such company is Riyadh-based EIA Energy. Founded in 2020 with support from Monsha’at, the General Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises, EIA Energy is a 12-employee firm with a turnover of SR1.2 million and projected growth up to SR7.5 million by Q4 2022.

“EIA Energy was founded as an energy services company (ESCO) and has developed into a provider of end-to-end energy management services and solutions to reduce energy consumption and increase energy efficiency in client facilities,” CEO Abdullah Al-Othman told Arab News. 

As a certified ESCO, EIA Energy provides three kinds of service: First, energy consulting and energy monitoring in order to reduce costs; second is the obtaining of “green certification” for facility owners and managers; and third is guidance regarding green building techniques in terms of architecture, efficient water use, landscaping and eco-friendly transport solutions. 

EIA Energy describes its energy efficiency strategy as the “SMARRT Approach” – an acronym for Surveying, Monitoring, Analyzing, Reducing, Reviewing and Targeting.  

There will be a growing demand for this kind of consultancy in Saudi Arabia as builders and developers conform to new green regulations while satisfying the demand of modern families for a healthier and better way of life. 

“This is a good time for ESCOs right now,” says Al-Othman, “because we’re catching the beginning of the whole transformation that’s taking place, the cultural shift. There are a lot of government initiatives – Vision 2030, SGI, Green Riyadh — which stimulate the entire market and create a lot of opportunities.”

In the 1960s and 70s Riyadh and other cities in the Kingdom became the so-called “supergrids” of intersecting highways, filled in with buildings and concrete surfacing with only a small allowance for green spaces. Concrete absorbs and radiates heat in the summer months, while preventing ground absorption of rainwater during the winter — causing severe and sometimes fatal flooding. 

“We say no to concrete,” says EIA Energy GM Hamza Khan. “We prefer gravel because there has to be porous ground that allows rainwater to go back into the earth and replenish the groundwater sources.”

Builders, developers and facility operators have no choice but to move from words to action. “We are getting a lot of inquiries from apartment and compound owners, supermarkets, retail outlets and restaurants,” says Khan. “They all want to reduce their costs and their emissions – to offer something more sustainable and to stand apart from the competition.” 

Much of EIA Energy’s efforts are dedicated to enabling LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certification from the US Green Building Council. This certification promotes a higher quality of life for building occupants in terms of energy and water efficiency and improvement of the living environment. It follows the principle of the triple bottom line of the 3Ps: People, planet and profit. This certification can be applied to any built-up area: residential facilities, office buildings, educational institutions and hospitals.

EIA Energy relies on hardware and software supplied by its UK partner Best Energy. “But it is clear that the technologies we bring to Saudi Arabia should be manufactured or at least assembled here,” says Al-Othman. “And that would solve a major issue that we are facing now with the destruction of the global supply chain due to COVID-19 and other factors.” The company also has ambitions to develop its own proprietary solutions as it grows and expands. 

“Saudi Arabia is going green and is moving towards energy efficiency and reducing its carbon emissions,” says Al-Othman. “Green tech startups and ESCOs have a major part in this. We are benefiting from new government initiatives, and we just want to keep improving and introducing more services — in line with Vision 2030, which says that SMEs should play a key role in the future Saudi economy.”


MGI: Charting a regional road map for sustainable living

MGI: Charting a regional road map for sustainable living
Updated 25 October 2021

MGI: Charting a regional road map for sustainable living

MGI: Charting a regional road map for sustainable living
  • Saudi initiatives demonstrate Kingdom’s willingness to address environmental challenges

JEDDAH: The final event of the Saudi Green Initiative, the Middle East Green Initiative, is taking place today to create a sustainable road map for the region and highlight green transition, green policy solutions, the finance sector’s contribution to the goals of the SGI as well as insight from an international perspective.

It will be attended by several heads of state, with key speakers including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, UN Deputy Secretary Amina Mohammed,  BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, HSBC Group Chief Executive Noel Quinn, and André Esteves, senior partner, BTG Pactual, Brazil.

Earlier this year, the crown prince highlighted that the Saudi and the Middle East green initiatives are a continuation of the environmental efforts in the Kingdom over the past few years in line with Saudi Vision 2030.

The two initiatives demonstrate the Kingdom’s strong willingness to address the environmental challenges it has faced, from increase in temperatures and dust waves to low levels of rain and desertification.

The SGI and MGI are also aiming to collectively plant 50 billion trees as well as propel the Middle East region toward achieving more than 10 percent of global carbon emissions reduction targets.

The SGI aims to reach net zero emissions of greenhouse gases, mostly produced by burning fossil fuels, by 2060.

Saudi Arabia said the transition to net zero carbon emissions “will be delivered in a manner that preserves the Kingdom’s leading role in enhancing the security and stability of global energy markets.”

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Announcing a plan to reach “net zero” in carbon by 2060, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Saturday said the move was in line with the Kingdom’s development plans, “while preserving and reinforcing its leading role in the security and stability of global energy markets.”

The Kingdom has pledged to double the amount of carbon it will cut in its domestic economy, removing 278 million tons of the pollutant per year by 2030.

“As a region, we have always had to live with harsh climate conditions and we will have to continue to innovate in both mitigation and adaptation,” said Dr. Sultan bin Ahmed Al-Jaber, at a forum on COP26 in Riyadh.

“The UAE highly commends the leadership and the people of Saudi Arabia, particularly the youth, for such a landmark, bold and long-term strategic initiative. It represents a paradigm shift in ambition for this region,” the minister said.

The SGI aims to raise vegetation cover, reduce carbon emissions, combat pollution and land degradation, and preserve marine ecosystems.


Lebanon’s negotiations with IMF likely to start in November: minister

Lebanon’s negotiations with IMF likely to start in November: minister
Updated 24 October 2021

Lebanon’s negotiations with IMF likely to start in November: minister

Lebanon’s negotiations with IMF likely to start in November: minister
  • Foreign Minister Bou Habib also spoke about the maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s foreign minister said on Sunday negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) were likely to start in November, Lebanon’s Al Jadeed TV reported.
Economy Minister Amin Salam had said on Friday, in an interview with Reuters, that the new government aimed to make progress toward starting full negotiations for an IMF deal by the end of this year or early next, but was not expecting funds to be dispersed before elections in March.
Foreign Minister Bou Habib also spoke about the maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel, telling Al Jadeed that he was “optimistic about reaching an agreement.”
Lebanon and Israel are in dispute over the delineation of their territorial waters and negotiations between the old foes could lead to Lebanon being able to unlock valuable gas reserves amid its worst-ever financial crisis.
The two countries have been holding on-off US mediated talks since October to try to resolve the issue.