Startup Wrap – Saudi Arabia’s venture landscape receives influx of expanding startups

Startup Wrap – Saudi Arabia’s venture landscape receives influx of expanding startups
Retailo’s growth strategy focuses on expanding both its supplier network and customer base. Photo/Supplied
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Updated 03 December 2023

Startup Wrap – Saudi Arabia’s venture landscape receives influx of expanding startups

Startup Wrap – Saudi Arabia’s venture landscape receives influx of expanding startups

CAIRO: Saudi Arabia’s entrepreneurial space is getting bigger with more startups raising funding and others expanding into the Kingdom.

On the funding announcement front, Saudi-based business-to-business e-commerce startup Retailo has successfully raised $15 million in a new equity funding round, drawing the attention of both new and returning investors.  

The investor lineup includes Yusuf Bin Kanoo Group, Technology Group, and Majd Digital, alongside previous backers including Aujan Group Holdings, Shorooq Partners, Abercross Holdings, and Graphene Ventures, among others. 

Co-founded in 2020 by Talha Ansari, Wahaj Ahmed, and Mohammad Nowkhaiz, Retailo offers a next-day delivery service for retailers and restaurants, boasting a catalog of over 5,000 stock-keeping units.  

This recent capital infusion marks another significant milestone for the company, following its $36 million series A funding last year, which was a combination of equity and venture debt. 

Retailo’s growth strategy focuses on expanding both its supplier network and customer base. The fresh funds are earmarked to support this expansion within the Saudi market, reinforcing the company’s position as a key player in the region’s e-commerce landscape. 

Adding to its achievements, Retailo has also established several strategic partnerships, including a technology distribution collaboration with Dtonic, a South Korean data solution company.  

This alliance will empower Retailo’s technology by enhancing its service offerings and operational efficiency. 

UAE’s fintech Yabi raises $8m to boost Saudi expansion 

UAE-based fintech startup Yabi has secured an $8 million equity funding round, signifying a major step in its journey towards Saudi expansion and product development.  

The round saw the participation of Al Wafra Al Thanya, joining an array of existing investors in supporting Yabi’s growth. 

This milestone follows closely on the heels of Yabi’s recent foray into the Saudi market, marking an expansion beyond its UAE base.  

Since its launch in the middle of this year, Yabi has been aiming to enhance financial literacy across regional markets. It achieves this through strategic B2B partnerships, integrating its services into employee well-being programs offered by corporate clients. 

Founded by Ambareen Musa, Yabi has rapidly established a client portfolio including prominent entities like Al-Futtaim, Careem, Chalhoub, and Al Ghurair.  

The fresh injection of capital will be instrumental in fueling Yabi’s continued growth. It plans to invest significantly in product development, aiming to bring financial solutions to a broader audience. 

Additionally, the funds will bolster Yabi’s efforts in accelerating its expansion across the Middle East, as it seeks to establish a stronger foothold in key regional markets. 

Oman’s food technology firm KitchenomiKs raises $1.8m to enter Saudi market 

Oman-based food technology startup KitchenomiKs has successfully raised $1.8 million in a pre-series A funding round as it aims to expand its regional footprint. 

Founded by Aankush Bhatia, Aju Samuel, and Shrikanth Shenoy, KitchenomiKs operates as a cloud kitchen with a modern culinary model that steers away from traditional physical storefronts.  

The company currently holds a portfolio of 12 food brands, offering a scalable model for culinary ventures without the burdensome overheads associated with physical restaurant spaces. 

The latest round of funding represents a crucial step in KitchenomiKs’ ambitious growth strategy. A key focus of this strategic plan is the launch of operations in Saudi Arabia, slated for early 2024.  

This significant financial boost, contributed by Omani and regional investors, has elevated the company's total funding to an impressive $3.5 million since its inception in 2022. 

UAE-based Immensa raises $20m to boost product development 

UAE-based Immensa has successfully secured $20 million in its series B equity funding round led by Global Ventures. 

The funding round also saw participation from new investors such as Endeavor Catalyst Fund and EDGO, alongside continued support from Energy Capital Group, Shorooq Partners, and Green Coast Investments. 

Founded in 2016 by Fahmi Al-Shawwa, Immensa specializes in providing on-demand access to spare parts, eliminating the need for mass manufacturing in traditional hubs like Southeast Asia, China, or Latin America.  

This approach not only streamlines the production process but also significantly reduces the lead time and costs associated with traditional manufacturing methods. 

The latest round of funding is poised to turbocharge Immensa’s global growth ambitions. Part of the funds will be allocated to enhance its exclusive software, DIS RT, a critical component in Immensa’s operational toolkit.  

Moreover, the investment will also be channeled towards augmenting its artificial intelligence tools, further solidifying the company’s position in the manufacturing sector. 

UAE’s Flow48 raises $25m in pre-series A round 

Flow48, a UAE-based fintech startup, has successfully secured $25 million in pre-series A funding round in a blend of equity and debt. 

Key investors include Speedinvest, Daphni, and 212, as well as Blockchain Founders Fund, Unpopular Ventures, and Endeavor Catalyst.

Founded in 2022 by Idriss Al Rifai, Flow48 provides services to small and medium-sized enterprises by transforming future revenues of SMEs into immediate capital, offering flexible terms that are tailored to support the growth and scalability of these businesses.  

The freshly acquired funds are earmarked to propel Flow48’s ambitious expansion plans, with a specific focus on penetrating the South African market.  

Egyptian startups receive $10k grants from She’s Next competition 

Three Egyptian startups have emerged as top contenders in the second edition of the She’s Next competition, jointly hosted by Visa and Commercial International Bank. 

Each startup has been awarded $10,000 for their solutions in their respective fields. The winners include Green Fashion, a sustainable clothing brand, Reme-D, a health tech startup, and Fincart, an aggregator of shipping services.  

Alongside the monetary prize, the competition also offered mentorship opportunities provided by the US Agency for International Development to the top 20 contestants.  

Tunisia’s Winshot raises six-figure round from 216 capital 

The Tunisia-originated and France-based software-as-a-service startup Winshot has successfully secured a six-figure investment from 216 Capital.  

Established in 2022 by Walid Mzoughi, Alaa Mokrani, Amjed Bouhouch, and Hela Gabsi, Winshot specializes in providing B2B SaaS solutions for retail operations management.  

With this fresh infusion of capital, Winshot is set to bolster its teams in both France and Tunisia, laying a strong foundation for the expansion and growth of its business. 

Middle East Venture Capital Association signs partnerships with Singapore’s GPCA 

The Global Private Capital Association and the Middle East Venture Capital Association announced a significant strategic partnership during Abu Dhabi Finance Week 2023.  

This collaboration will enable GPCA, headquartered in New York and Singapore, to establish a permanent base in the Middle East. This move will be supported by MEVCA and the broader Abu Dhabi and regional ecosystem. 

Members of MEVCA will benefit from an enhanced membership experience, gaining access to GPCA’s extensive global network. 

The partnership focuses on collaboration, innovation, and investment to strengthen the region’s vibrant venture capital landscape through a range of targeted initiatives. 

Closing Bell: Saudi main index rebounds to close at 12,602

Closing Bell: Saudi main index rebounds to close at 12,602
Updated 24 sec ago

Closing Bell: Saudi main index rebounds to close at 12,602

Closing Bell: Saudi main index rebounds to close at 12,602

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index bounced back on Tuesday after recording declines on two days.

The benchmark index gained 69.79 points to close at 12,601.55 with an overall trading value of SR7.31 billion ($1.95 billion), with 169 stocks advancing and 52 declining. 

The Kingdom’s parallel market, Nomu, also gained 661.67 points to close at 26,254.28 and the MSCI Tadawul Index also edged up by 0.68 percent to 1,627.71. 

The best-performing stock of the day was Middle East Pharmaceutical Industries Co., also known as Avalon Pharma, which debuted on the main market on Tuesday. The company’s share price soared by 30 percent to SR106.60. 

Other top performers were Saudi Steel Pipe Co. and Batic Investments and Logistics Co., whose share prices surged by 9.93 percent and 9.87 percent, respectively. 

The worst performer of the day was Saudi Arabian Amiantit Co., as its share price slipped by 5.24 percent to SR29.85. 

On the announcements front, Arabian Centers Co., also known as Cenomi Centers, said that its board of directors approved issuing dollar-denominated sukuk under its international sukuk program. 

In a Tadawul statement, Cenomi Centers revealed that the amount and the terms of offerings will be announced later, depending on the market conditions. 

The lifestyle center operator added that the sukuk issuance is subject to the approval of the relevant regulatory authorities. 

Meanwhile, National Medical Care Co. revealed that it witnessed a net profit rise of 42 percent in 2023 to SR240.9 million compared to the previous year. 

The medical service provider said the rise in net profit was driven by higher revenue, gross profit, and interest income, along with lower sales costs and zakat charges. 

National Medical Care Co. added that the net profit for the fourth quarter of 2023 also witnessed a surge of 15 percent to SR63.5 million compared to the same period in 2022. 

Aramco signs procurement agreements worth $6bn to enhance local supply chain

Aramco signs procurement agreements worth $6bn to enhance local supply chain
Updated 58 min 52 sec ago

Aramco signs procurement agreements worth $6bn to enhance local supply chain

Aramco signs procurement agreements worth $6bn to enhance local supply chain

RIYADH: Saudi Aramco’s domestic supply chain is poised for further improvement as it signed procurement agreements worth $6 billion with suppliers in the Kingdom. 

According to a press statement, these 40 procurement agreements were inked as a part of the company’s strategic localization program and are expected to strengthen the firm’s supply chain ecosystem and contribute to the development of the energy services sector in Saudi Arabia. 

The deals will also provide suppliers with long-term demand visibility, enabling them to capture future growth and advance localization efforts.

Wail Al-Jaafari, executive vice president of technical services at Saudi Aramco, said: “The 40 new agreements signed today are expected to contribute to the domestic value chain and further enhance the ecosystem that Aramco is helping to build.” 

Moreover, these procurement agreements will also contribute to achieving the objectives of Aramco’s iktva program, an initiative to drive the growth of a vibrant economy in the Kingdom and create new opportunities for Saudi nationals.

These new corporate deals span the supply of a range of products comprising strategic commodities, such as instrumentation and electrical and drilling equipment. 

“These agreements move us toward a more prosperous, diverse and resilient supply chain, which will help ensure business continuity. They also represent a key milestone on our iktva journey and provide our partners an opportunity to benefit from a dynamic and increasingly diversified operating environment,” added Al-Jaafari. 

Additionally, Saudi Aramco signed two memorandum of understanding with its strategic partners to collaborate on localization and supply chain development. 

Earlier in February, speaking at the International Petroleum Technology Conference in Dhahran, Amin Nasser, CEO of Saudi Aramco, said that the company is very active in its localization efforts. 

“We hired more than 5,000 people, mostly Saudis, but also from 60 nationalities,” said Nasser.

He also added that Aramco has the full capability to grow in any sector to create profitable companies.

In January, a report released by strategic consulting firm Brand Finance revealed that Saudi Aramco has retained its position as the most valuable company in the Middle East region, with a value amounting to $41.6 billion.

Saudi investment firm acquires startup platform VeFund  

Saudi investment firm acquires startup platform VeFund  
Updated 27 February 2024

Saudi investment firm acquires startup platform VeFund  

Saudi investment firm acquires startup platform VeFund  

RIYADH: The Saudi startup ecosystem is set to expand further with the investment fund CoreVision acquiring VeFund, infusing artificial intelligence technologies for enhanced venture evaluation, innovation, and strategic growth. 

The acquisition of VeFund, a regional platform for venture evaluation and investor connections, represents a significant step in CoreVision’s strategic growth, enhancing its portfolio with advanced AI-driven technologies. 

The Saudi investment firm plans to use VeFund’s AI technology to support startups in navigating competitive environments.  

Following the acquisition, CoreVision CEO Faisal Al-Abdulsalam will lead VeFund as its chief executive. 

Al-Abdulsalam’s extensive experience and portfolio of over 80 investments in various sectors are set to bring a new strategy of leadership and vision to VeFund, the company said.   

“We at CoreVision are not just investors, we see ourselves as ecosystem builders. As such, our vision is to transform VeFund into a secondary market for startups, offering a platform for investors to trade safe notes, which is essential in contributing to the vibrancy of the startup community here in Saudi Arabia,” said Al-Abdulsalam.   

Launched in 2023 by Mohamed Gaber, an AI specialist and serial entrepreneur, along with his co-founder Ahmed Magdy, VeFund’s intelligent evaluator provides a suite of tools, including an AI Survivability Index, valuation calculators, and extensive portfolio management solutions. 

“I am excited about the future of VeFund and believe strongly that this transition will drive VeFund’s mission forward, fostering an environment of innovation and success for startups across the Middle East,” Gaber said.  

VeFund currently has over 1,400 startups registered on its platform and has a database of more than 400 angel investors and investments funds spanning across Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Pakistan. 

Saudi Arabia exceeds Vision 2030 target 7 years early by attracting 100m tourists in 2023 

Saudi Arabia exceeds Vision 2030 target 7 years early by attracting 100m tourists in 2023 
Updated 27 February 2024

Saudi Arabia exceeds Vision 2030 target 7 years early by attracting 100m tourists in 2023 

Saudi Arabia exceeds Vision 2030 target 7 years early by attracting 100m tourists in 2023 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has exceeded its Vision 2030 tourism target seven years ahead of schedule after welcoming over 100 million visitors in 2023.  

The Ministry of Tourism disclosed that the Kingdom played host to 27.5 million international tourists in 2023, marking a notable 65 percent increase compared to 2022. 

Likewise, the count of domestic tourists rose by 2 percent year-on-year, reaching 79.3 million in 2023.  

Collectively, both international and domestic tourists spent more than SR250 billion ($67 billion), constituting over 4 percent of the Kingdom’s total gross domestic product and 7 percent of non-oil GDP, the Saudi Press Agency reported. 

“This achievement underscores the dedicated efforts of the Saudi tourism ecosystem in developing the tourism sector in Saudi,” said the ministry in an X post.  

Saudi Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb attributed this achievement to the wise leadership of the Kingdom’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who aims to enhance the country’s position on the global travel map. 

This saw Saudi Arabia being congratulated by both the UN World Tourism Organization and the World Travel and Tourism Council for surpassing its tourism goal ahead of schedule.  

UNWTO also suggested that the Kingdom could soon achieve its upgraded target of attracting 150 million visitors by 2030. 

“Saudi Arabia’s achievement of welcoming over 100 million tourists in 2023 is a beacon of what is possible through collaboration, innovation, and a clear vision for the future,” stated UNWTO in a statement.  

“As Saudi Arabia continues to drive toward its goal of 150 million tourists by 2030, UN Tourism looks forward to supporting its journey, celebrating its successes, and promoting a more resilient, sustainable, and inclusive future for global tourism,” it added. 

Saudi Arabia’s accomplishments align with the National Tourism Strategy, striving to establish the Kingdom as a global tourist destination and increase the sector’s contribution to the country’s GDP by 10 percent.  

According to the UNWTO statement, Saudi Arabia has generated over 925,500 jobs in the tourism sector as of 2023, positioning the Kingdom on track to make tourism the second-largest employer by the end of this decade. 

Riyadh event seeks to unify global efforts to develop human capabilities

Riyadh event seeks to unify global efforts to develop human capabilities
Updated 31 min 42 sec ago

Riyadh event seeks to unify global efforts to develop human capabilities

Riyadh event seeks to unify global efforts to develop human capabilities

RIYADH: The Saudi capital is set to host the first edition of the Human Capability Initiative on Feb. 28 and 29, an event seeking to empower and uplift capabilities for all. 

Touted to be the first-ever global cooperative platform designed to unify international efforts and enrich the global dialogue on the challenges and opportunities for developing human capabilities, HCI is being held under the patronage of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

According to the HCI website, the event will explore opportunities in various areas including skill development, the future of work, education, talent, and technology. 

It will also bring together policymakers, thought leaders, investors, and entrepreneurs to catalyze international collaboration and maximize resilience, explore opportunities, and promote innovative policy design and solutions.

Global approach

The event will be held under the theme “Future Readiness,” and it will bring together 6,000 experts and decision-makers from around the world and more than 150 speakers from government, private, and nonprofit entities and national and international think tanks.

Speaking to Arab News, Anton Stepanenk, partner and associate director in Education, Employment, and Welfare for the Boston Consulting Group, said that forums like HCI will act as a cornerstone for identifying and scaling solutions for the benefit of Saudi Arabia and globally. 

“As all nations and all education businesses around the world are now working their way to come to terms with a new reality — extract all the value but avoid the pitfalls of using technology, global conferences such as HCI targeting global and national cooperation become an absolute cornerstone in identifying and scaling solutions for the benefit of Saudi Arabia and all learners in the world,” said Stepanenk. 

He added that HCI will witness various strategies being adopted to maximize international collaboration and engagement among policymakers. 

“On top of tools, old best practices exchange, and collective reflections on trends, risks, and opportunities, a few particular ways to collaborate with the comprehensive engagement of all stakeholders stand out — collective foresight into the future of the economy, work, and learning, design sessions to generate collaborative projects and initiatives, the launch of more permanent vehicles such as think tanks, global memorandums to name a few,” said Stepanenk. 

Prominent speakers

Some of the prominent speakers at the event are Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih, and Minister of Human Resources and Social Development Ahmad bin Sulaiman Al-Rajhi. 

Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Industry and Mineral Resources Bandar Alkhorayef and Minister of Economy and Planning Faisal Alibrahim will also speak at the event. 

Other prominent speakers at the event include Minister of Education Yousef Al-Benyan, who chairs the executive committee of the Human Capability Development Program, Princess Haifa bint Mohammed Al-Saud, the Kingdom’s vice minister of tourism, and Princess Nouf bint Mohammed, CEO of the King Khalid Foundation. 

The event will also feature several noted personalities from diverse sectors who will spearhead dynamic discussions centered around human capability development to prepare individuals for the challenges and opportunities of the future.

“HCI reflects Saudi Arabia’s vital role as a global convener to unleash human capabilities potential to drive progress and prosperity, not just within our borders, but across the globe. We are honored to welcome the world’s leading minds to HCI, bringing together the expertise and ingenuity we need today to drive future readiness,” said Anas Al-Mudaifer, CEO of the HCDP. 

He added: “HCI’s speaker lineup showcases the collective impetus across sectors to contribute to a sustainable global agenda that pioneers solutions for human capability development. Through collaborative dialogue, the insights and collaborations born here will ripple outwards, leaving a lasting impact and helping create a better tomorrow for all.” 

In January, HCI, in a press statement, revealed the names of insight partners for the event. 

According to the statement, some of the noted insight partners for the event are Bain & Co., IE Business School, KPMG, Kearney, LinkedIn, Oliver Wyman, and PwC. 

Talking about the theme of the forum “Future Readiness,” Stepanenk said: “Governments tend to be cautious in implementing innovations in the education space, and for a good reason. The best way forward would be to design and test innovative policies in neutral waters, such as global initiatives and projects.” 

He added: “The outcomes of these initiatives will then be appropriately measured, and results will be made available to the HCI stakeholders and participants as potentially recommended courses of action or future international guidelines.” 

Vision 2030 goals 

Organizing an event like HCI is a part of Saudi Arabia’s broader strategy outlined in Vision 2030 to empower the people of the Kingdom with sufficient opportunities for the future. 

The HCDP is one of the Saudi Vision 2030 realization programs dedicated to empowering Saudi citizens and elevating their global competitiveness.

“At the heart of Vision 2030 is a commitment to the nation’s most valuable asset: the people. Recognizing their potential and aspirations, Vision 2030 is dedicated to fostering an environment that nurtures talent, facilitates growth, and empowers everyone,” according to the HCI website. 

Stepanenk noted that forums like HCI will effectively address the intersectionality of skills, future work trends, education systems, talent development, and technology advancements to foster human capability development. 

“A fundamental way to address intersectionality is to involve stakeholders in co-creation sessions — foresight, workshops, and hackathons- and ensure the continuity of initiatives and ideas after the conference. This can be achieved by creating and advancing a global framework of the Future of the Workforce that the Human Capability Initiative can be a launch pad for,” said Stepanenk. 

It was in November 2023 that the Kingdom’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the launch of HCI. 

Following the launch, Al-Benyan said that the event is expected to act as a global cooperative platform that will catalyze international collaboration, enrich global dialogue in human capability development, and contribute to the development of human skills and a prosperous global economy. 

“The conference will discuss challenges facing human capabilities development in light of global changes and the most important skills required in the future global labor market, in addition to the impact of rapid developments in the digital and economic fields on human capabilities,” said Al-Benyan. 

He also added that HCI will address several crucial topics that will help drive new conversations on shaping policy, elevating private-public-third sector partnerships, and catalyzing investments at a global level in developing human capabilities.