Startup of the Week: Capturing a rising demand for conscious living through sustainable beauty:

Startup of the Week: Capturing a rising demand for conscious living through sustainable beauty:
In 2021, Secret Skin started shipping to Oman and Kuwait, and this year will start shipping to KSA, including the expansion of distribution for their exclusive brands. (Reuters)
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Updated 01 May 2022

Startup of the Week: Capturing a rising demand for conscious living through sustainable beauty:

Startup of the Week: Capturing a rising demand for conscious living through sustainable beauty:
  • Secret Skin is dedicated to body and earth-friendly products

DUBAI: When Anisha Oberoi received an aggressive breast cancer diagnosis ten years ago, it prompted her to reassess everything about her life. She received treatment, kept up a great job at Amazon and moved to Dubai. But this did not fulfill her ambition.

“I was put on hormone treatments after surgery and began to feel quite desperate at not being able to find clean, toxin-free alternatives to beauty products widely available to consumers,” said Oberoi, founder and CEO of Secret Skin.

“The more I learnt about hormone disruptors and carcinogens present in conventional mass-produced personal care, the more I realized how important it was to do something about this when I was ready, by creating a brand built on trust in the beauty and wellness space.”

This motivated her to set up a beauty e-commerce startup called Secret Skin. The award-winning startup was dedicated to sustainable, body and earth-friendly products.

For Oberoi, Secret Skin has become a personal story in many ways. 




Secret Skin was launched online in October 2020 as a discovery platform that connects mindful consumers to conscious beauty brands from around the world. (Supplied)

Secret Skin was launched online in October 2020 as a discovery platform that connects mindful consumers to conscious beauty brands from around the world but is built differently than a traditional beauty business model.

It is based on a triple-bottom line framework that focuses on social and environmental impact — not just profit.

Within six months of launching, Secret Skin won the Women in Tech 2021 Global Pitch competition hosted by Sharjah Research Technology & Innovation Park.

Not just skin deep

The e-commerce startup recorded a 66 percent month-on-month growth in customer base, with an average basket size of 2.2 items per order. A surprising 40 percent of customers were repeat users, with no cancelations or returns in six months of operation.

The plastic recycling program incentivized customers for pro-environment behavior, resulting in 60 percent user conversion at the first interaction (within two days).

“The market for clean or conscious beauty is not saturated, but nascent here in the Middle East, while it is past its prime in other markets like the US and UK where the movement started much earlier,” explained Oberoi.

“We are the fastest growing platform for clean brands with five new brands and categories added every month to address consumer needs. As an agile startup we are able to take quick decisions to pivot when the value proposition needs to be enhanced,” she explained.

Typically, the act of purchasing a clean beauty product was labor-intensive, cost-prohibitive and time-consuming.

Routinely, a customer had to wait three weeks to receive a product ordered from outside the UAE, paying between 55-80 percent overage in shipping and customs. There was no local customer care and the experience was severely impacted.

“I had to engage with brand founders over Instagram and LinkedIn, setting up zoom calls during the pandemic to convince them to be part of our mission, when I didn’t even have a site to show them,” admitted Oberoi.

“We launched with same-day delivery, locally fulfilled with legally registered brands from around the world that were competitively priced to build customer trust,” she added.

Secret Skin has now been operational for 17 months since its launch in October 2020. The startup has seen early wins in terms of customer acquisition and penetration for the brands brought to market.

The company’s repeat purchase rate is a healthy 48 percent on average, growing 28 percent quarter on quarter in terms of sales. Customers are spending an average of $126 on orders, which is on par with the most popular, well-established e-commerce platforms for beauty in the region, according to Oberoi.

“We see this as a sign that the customer behavior is changing toward a demand for more sustainable brands with organic or natural ingredients,” said Anisha.

Oberoi now started looking beyond the UAE’s borders to sell her products and eventually she did that.

Widening influence

In 2021, Secret Skin started shipping to Oman and Kuwait, and this year will start shipping to Saudi Arabia, including the expansion of physical distribution for their exclusive brands.

“South East Asia is on the roadmap for 2023, as well as a private label that we are currently working on,” said Oberoi.

“I’m most excited about our AI-enabled app and other tech interfaces that will enhance our value proposition to the customer. Capturing, analyzing and predicting user preferences through AI with qualified experts addressing efficacy, performance, and personalized recommendations is the future, and we are getting ready for it,” she said.

Her dedication to sustainability is resonating with conscious customers in the Middle East. The beauty industry generates up to 120 billion units of plastics globally per year, contributing to the loss of 18 million acres of forest annually — which is only one of the problems it faces (some others being carbon production, water waste and energy consumption).

“We need to increase visibility and diversity in the beauty community and address critical issues that may affect climate change, water scarcity, species extinction and deforestation if we have any hope of protecting our natural resources for future generations,” said Oberoi.

“On Secret Skin, with one single click, the customer can support small sustainable businesses, provide microeconomies to
indigenous tribes that wild-harvest the ingredients found in their products, and reduce their carbon footprint.”

In beauty and personal care, sustainability means recyclable packaging, decreased use of single-use plastics, consciously curated ingredients, safe-to-use components, and small-footprint production from start to finish. For example, companies are redesigning products to include less water in their composition and reducing synthetic ingredients to address specific issues, but these are small measures.

“We need to have scalable solutions that can be applied to larger global models,” said Oberoi. “We are now standing at the precipice between catastrophe and consciousness whilst we combat the pandemic, and are responsible for the way we conserve and protect the environment that we live in.”


Dual impact from oil and non-oil sectors ‘to propel Saudi GDP growth by 10 percent’

Dual impact from oil and non-oil sectors ‘to propel Saudi GDP growth by 10 percent’
Updated 21 May 2022

Dual impact from oil and non-oil sectors ‘to propel Saudi GDP growth by 10 percent’

Dual impact from oil and non-oil sectors ‘to propel Saudi GDP growth by 10 percent’
  • Capital Economics says it will be the highest annual growth rate in over a decade, if this happens

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product is expected to grow by 10 percent this year, driven by increased activities in the oil and non-oil sectors, according to a recent note from Capital Economics.

The London-based independent research firm said it will be the highest annual growth rate in over a decade, if this happens.

Capital Economics expects the Kingdom to achieve the projected 10-percent growth due to a  significant increase in oil output combined with an expected loosening of fiscal policy that is set to encourage growth in the non-oil sector.

This projection follows the flash estimate for the first quarter GDP released earlier this month which showed the economy grew 2.2 percent since the last quarter of 2021, and 9.6 percent year-on-year — the highest growth rate in 11 years.

In regards to performance on a quarter-on-quarter basis, the growth is attributed to a 2.9 percent rise in oil GDP due to increased output on the back of the OPEC+ deal and a 2.5 percent growth in non-oil activities.

The increase in energy prices, which has been the largest since the 1973 oil crisis, together with the war in Ukraine — which altered the global patterns on trade, production and consumption — have contributed to this record GDP growth.

SPEEDREAD

The projection by London-based Capital Economicsfollows the flash estimate for the first quarter GDP released earlier this month which showed the economy grew 2.2 percent since the last quarter of 2021, and 9.6 percent year-on-year — the highest growth rate in 11 years.

Though Saudi Arabia still hasn’t met its OPEC+ quota, it is one of the few members raising produc- tion significantly. With other member countries struggling to meet their quotas and an expected decline in Russian output, Capital Economics predicts the Kingdom will increase oil production faster than anticipated under the current OPEC+ agreement.

According to the World Bank, energy prices are expected to rise more than 50 percent in 2022, before easing in 2023 and 2024.

As oil prices remain elevated, policymakers are expected to relax fiscal policy to stimulate non-oil activities, with a reduction in the value-added tax a possibility, the note from Capital Economics pointed out.

The Kingdom’s non-oil sector has also expanded at the fastest rate in over four years, according to the Saudi Arabia PMI survey.

This has been due to new business and activity that boosted sharply as client demand recov- ered after COVID-19.

The increase in business also came in line with Vision 2030, a reform plan that aims to diversify the country’s economic resources.

The 10 percent figure projected by Capital Economics is much higher than recent projections from the IMF, which predicted the Saudi economy to grow by 7.6 percent in 2022, as mentioned in its World Economic Outlook released in April 2022.  


Flash Entertainment plans a KSA office as sector booms

Flash Entertainment plans a KSA office as sector booms
Updated 21 May 2022

Flash Entertainment plans a KSA office as sector booms

Flash Entertainment plans a KSA office as sector booms
  • The new office will be a stand-alone; it will create jobs for Saudi citizens: CEO

Flash Entertainment plans to open a stand-alone office in Saudi Arabia within 3 months as the Kingdom is becoming a hotspot for events and leisure.

The entertainment firm, based in the UAE, is one of the Middle East’s leading live entertainment companies known for organizing some of the biggest global events, including several Formula One Abu Dhabi Grands Prix, the FIFA Club World Cup, UAE National Day, the AFC Asian Cup — arguably the biggest event in the region prior to the upcoming Qatar World Cup — and even Pope Francis’s visit to the UAE in 2019, which saw over 180,000 people in attendance.

“The new office will be the Saudi headquarters, it’s a stand alone, it’s not a branch,” the company’s CEO John Lickrish told Arab News. “We have a branch office in Dubai but here we wanted to set up our own office.” The new office will create 25 jobs for Saudi citizens. Lickrish who was in Riyadh for the fourth edition of the Saudi Entertain- ment and Amusement Expo this week was attending the event to touch base with the local commu- nity in the sector.

“I’m here to touch base with the local community suppliers and decision makers and try to make people aware that we’re entering the market,” he said. “We have done events here but now that we’re establishing an office, we want to integrate the GCC into a network of reliable promoters and suppliers that we can count on, and that’s the real goal of this.”

HIGHLIGHTS

This year’s event brought together some of the leading products, services, and technology brands in the industry from more than 25 countries, as part of the Kingdom’s plans to become the entertainment and leisure hub of the Middle East.

The show offers a global platform for top manufacturers and suppliers of entertainment and leisure products and services to do business with investors, distributors, government officials and owners of malls, cinemas and family entertainment centers, as well as key procurement professionals involved in small and mega Saudi entertainment and leisure projects.

The SEA Expo, held at the Riyadh International Convention and Exhibition Center, is the first trade event dedicated to Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning entertainment and leisure industry, with sellers from around the world showcasing the latest and greatest advances in the sector.

This year’s event brought together some of the leading products, services, and technology brands in the industry from more than 25 countries, as part of the Kingdom’s plans to become the entertainment and leisure hub of the Middle East.

The show offers a global platform for top manufacturers and suppliers of entertainment and leisure products and services to do business with investors, distributors, government officials and owners of malls, cinemas and family entertainment centers, as well as key procurement professionals involved in small and mega Saudi entertainment and leisure projects.

“The office will mostly have people from KSA,” Lickrish said. “We are going to be training them in our systems and processes, but they need to be here on the ground. Right now, we’re looking at 25 (local hires) based on our business plan for the next three years. From there, the sky is the limit.”

Flash Entertainment covers everything from event ideation, event management, marketing and communications, ticketing and sales, talent procurement and full operational and production delivery, as well as managing a portfolio of assets, including the Etihad Park and the multi-purpose state-of-the-art Etihad Arena on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi.

A location for the office has yet to be decided, however, with Jeddah and Dammam as potential cities to set up the shop.

“This is a big populous, so for us, that’s interesting, and it’s an emerging market in the region as well.” Lickrish said. “I think what is important for us now is really setting the foundations, making sure that the country and the region is represented as not only capable but excelling in this field. And then we’ll go on to the regional talent and develop the local markets.” According to Lickrish, the company created the first citywide integrated enter- tainment program for Formula One in 2009 that has since been emulated with subsequent grands prix around the world. “So that was an innovation that we brought into the global market.”

Lickrish himself has been in the entertainment business for over 30 years and in the region for 14. He hopes to bring his exper- tise to Saudi Arabia that plans to invest $64 billion in the devel- opment of the entertainment industry over the next decade as part of Vision 2030.

“My goal is to see a self- sustaining, vibrant, regional business that has international recognition and ultimately a footprint globally,” he said. “We want to be giving them a unique experience, as well as a cultural and international experience.”


FII Institute unveils new inclusive ESG framework and scoring methodology

FII Institute unveils new inclusive ESG framework and scoring methodology
Updated 20 May 2022

FII Institute unveils new inclusive ESG framework and scoring methodology

FII Institute unveils new inclusive ESG framework and scoring methodology
  • The institute is investing $527,515 in Timbeter, a leading green tech company specializing in timber measurement
  • Timbeter provides an AI-driven photo-optics app that accurately determines quantities of logs in an area with precise length and diameter

LONDON: The Future Investment Initiative Institute hosted a summit in London about Environmental, Social and Governance in emerging markets, involving world leaders, global CEOs, international investors, thought leaders and heads of sustainability.

The event unveiled a new inclusive ESG framework and scoring methodology to inform and accelerate investments in emerging economies.

The new methodology aims to give unbiased ratings for companies in emerging markets who currently receive less than 10 percent of ESG flows, despite being home to nearly 90 percent of the world’s population and roughly half of global GDP.

ESG rating agencies are one of the main barriers to increasing investment in emerging markets. Currently, mainstream rating agencies employ key perfor- mance indicators not relevant to emerging markets. The existing frameworks focus too much on disclosure and ignore year-over- year performance improvement.

The new framework, developed with the support of Ernst & Young, values performance improvement over time more than breadth of disclosure, emphasizing sectoral challenges rather than country risks, to ensure fair competition between companies in both emerging markets and developed markets.

The FII Institute is investing €500,000 ($527,515) in Timbeter, a leading green tech company specializing in timber measurement. Timbeter provides an artificial intelligence-driven photo-optics application that accurately determines quantities of logs in an area with precise length and diameter.

Timbeter is a software as a service workflow management solution for the timber industry, founded in 2013 at the Nordic Hackathon by Anna-Greta Tsakhna, its CEO, and Martin Kambla, CTO.

Forestry continues to be an important and controversial issue, with world forests decreasing by a third in size over the last century due to reckless practices.

This technology is key to a more proactive management of forests and a more sustainable sector.

Meanwhile, the ESG white paper is designed to encourage greater ESG investment in emerging markets. It calls on investors to publicly commit to raising the portion of capital allocated to emerging markets from less than 10 percent today to a minimum of 30 percent of committed and invested capital by 2030. It also calls on governments to encourage emerging market-headquartered companies to become more proactive at disclosing relevant information through their normal reporting channels.

Richard Attias, CEO of the FII Institute, said: “Central to our work at FII Institute is to increase awareness about the weaknesses in current ESG standards and their impact on global sustainability prospects, and to advocate for an inclusive and equitable application of ESG through driving real action by key players globally.

“ESG has been one of the fastest-growing investment strategies over the past few years, accounting for one-third of all assets under management. But this growth is not even. Working with our partners at EY, we identified and removed the barriers to ESG investment in emerging markets, which are often overlooked,” he added.

“By launching the Inclusive ESG Framework and Scoring Methodology, investing in a global sustainable solutions company, and publishing our recent ESG white paper — we are making tangible actions to create a better future for humanity. And we are confident that our partners around the world will help us drive those actions further.”


Saudi sovereign wealth fund considers new hydrogen company; developing 70% of vision 2030 renewable target

Saudi sovereign wealth fund considers new hydrogen company; developing 70% of vision 2030 renewable target
Updated 20 May 2022

Saudi sovereign wealth fund considers new hydrogen company; developing 70% of vision 2030 renewable target

Saudi sovereign wealth fund considers new hydrogen company; developing 70% of vision 2030 renewable target

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund is now establishing a new hydrogen company and it will be like a mediator in many of the PIF’s initiatives.

Speaking in a regional forum on ESG organized by the Future Investment Initiative in London, the governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan said the sovereign wealth fund  plans to develop 70 percent of renewable energy targets under vision 2030.

The fund owns companies that are already developing hydrogen such as NEOM and Aramco. 

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PIF governor and BlackRock’s CEO leads discussions on ESG in emerging markets in FII’s first regional summit

PIF governor and BlackRock’s CEO leads discussions on ESG in emerging markets in FII’s first regional summit
Updated 20 May 2022

PIF governor and BlackRock’s CEO leads discussions on ESG in emerging markets in FII’s first regional summit

PIF governor and BlackRock’s CEO leads discussions on ESG in emerging markets in FII’s first regional summit

RIYADH: The Future Investment Initiative Foundation will host its first ever regional summit on Friday, in Rosewood London, England, entitled Inclusive Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance in Emerging Markets.

The most prominent participants in the event include the FII Chairman and Governor of the Public Investment Fund, Yasser Al-Rumayyan, Egypt’s Minister of Environment, Yasmine Fouad and Blackrock CEO Larry Fink.

The summit will bring together international investors, world leaders, thought leaders, policy makers, global CEOs, and chiefs of sustainability to discuss and shape the future of ESG, particularly in emerging markets.

“The planet has major problems with climate, with destruction of nature, peace and security. But we also have tremendous resources, including our common humanity,” Executive Director of the FII Institute, Richard Attias said.

“We believe that ESG is an important tool to bring us together and channel capital to meet these challenges,” he said.

Using ESG standards to make investment decisions is a global boom, with assets expected to reach $53 trillion, about a third of global assets under management, by 2025, a statement showed.

Still, the lack of a framework for the effective implementation of ESG in emerging economies represent a stumbling block for investors. 

The FII says it will finally have the tool needed to develop sustainable investment strategies in these markets, through its proprietary measurement framework, developed in collaboration with investors, global companies, and FII’s strategic partners.

The Foundation works to impact humanity across four focus areas: artificial intelligence, robotics, education, health care, and sustainability.

The event is part of a series of events hosted by the Foundation, which will culminate in the sixth edition of the annual FII Forum in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in October.

 

The PIF view

The PIF understands that being engaged in ESG is the right thing to do, Rania Nashar, head of compliance and governance at the fund, told the conference.

PIF companies are announcing emission reductions but it's not only about the destination, it is about the journey, she added.

“We approach the ESG through multiple aspects. Through creating platforms, sponsoring events and launching initiatives,” she said.