Saudi Arabia startup ecosystem raises $1.38bn in 2023

Saudi Arabia startup ecosystem raises $1.38bn in 2023
The Kingdom’s share of the total venture capital funding in the MENA region saw a substantial rise, leaping from 30 percent in 2022 to 52 percent in 2023. File
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Updated 14 January 2024

Saudi Arabia startup ecosystem raises $1.38bn in 2023

Saudi Arabia startup ecosystem raises $1.38bn in 2023
  • VC funding sees 33 percent increase from $987 million in 2022

CAIRO: Saudi Arabia’s startup ecosystem ranked first in regional venture funding activities in 2023, amassing an unprecedented $1.38 billion in capital.  

This achievement positioned the Kingdom at the forefront of venture capital funding in the Middle East and North Africa, surpassing the $1 billion mark for the first time, as reported by MAGNiTT in their Saudi Arabia FY2023 report.

During the year, the funding for Saudi Arabia’s startup ecosystem experienced a 33 percent increase from the $987 million raised in 2022, indicating a robust growth trajectory.  

Furthermore, the Kingdom’s share of the total venture capital funding in the MENA region also witnessed a substantial rise, leaping from 30 percent in 2022 to 52 percent in 2023.

MAGNiTT’s report underscores the consistent growth of Saudi Arabia’s venture capital sector since 2019, achieving a compound annual growth rate of 86 percent in 2023.  

Notably, the Kingdom attracted $879 million in mega rounds — individual funding deals surpassing $100 million — reflecting a strong investor interest in the region’s startup scene.

Sectoral breakdown

Saudi Arabia experienced a remarkable growth in its fintech sector in 2023, securing $704 million, marking a 181 percent increase from the previous year.  

This surge was largely propelled by the emergence of two Saudi-based “unicorns”, Tabby and Tamara, each receiving substantial funding rounds that elevated their valuations to over $1 billion.

Tabby, a prominent “buy now, pay later” platform in the MENA region, achieved the milestone of becoming the first fintech firm in the region to gain unicorn status.  

This was realized following a series D funding round in November, which brought in $200 million, catapulting the company’s valuation to $1.5 billion.  

Tabby, initially founded in the UAE, has recently relocated its headquarters to Saudi Arabia, aligning with its plans for an initial public offering in the Kingdom.

In addition, Tamara, another significant player in the BNPL sector, was the first Saudi-born fintech startup to reach a $1 billion valuation.  

This achievement came after securing $340 million in its series C funding round in December.  

These two major funding events played a crucial role in bolstering Saudi Arabia’s position in the fintech funding landscape, representing the top two investment rounds of the year.

The e-commerce sector also witnessed robust performance in 2023, with $428 million raised, a growth of 153 percent compared to the previous year. 

Saudi Arabia saw a remarkable growth in its fintech sector in 2023, securing $704 million, marking a 181 percent increase from the previous year. File

This highlights the Kingdom’s rapidly evolving digital commerce landscape, alongside its growing fintech ecosystem.

The e-commerce sector in Saudi Arabia saw substantial growth in 2023, with major contributions from online flower marketplace Floward and digital supermarket Nana.

Floward, a Saudi-based online platform for flowers and gifts, commenced the year with a significant capital boost of $156 million through its series C pre-IPO rounds.  

This funding was secured in February during the company’s participation in LEAP, a startup and technology conference held in Riyadh.

Following suit, the grocery delivery startup Nana announced a substantial $133 million series C funding round in the same month. These investments underscore the ongoing investor interest and potential in the online retail market.

Additionally, Sary, a business-to-business e-commerce marketplace in Saudi Arabia, successfully raised $50 million over the year. The combined impact of these three funding rounds has been instrumental in enhancing the growth and appeal of the Kingdom’s e-commerce sector.

Investment deals analysis

Saudi Arabia experienced a notable surge in funding in 2023, yet there was a 20 percent decrease in the number of deals compared to the previous year.  

Despite this, the Kingdom accounted for 26 percent of all transactions within the MENA region, an increase from 22 percent in 2022.

Early-stage startups dominated the transaction landscape in Saudi Arabia, comprising 81 percent of all deals. This was followed by series A funding at 11 percent, while Series B and later stages each contributed 4 percent.

The number of exits in Saudi Arabia remained relatively stable in 2023, with 9 acquisitions recorded during the year, just one less than in the previous 12 months.  

In terms of mergers and acquisitions across the MENA region, Saudi Arabia accounted for 21 percent of these transactions, ranking second after the UAE.

Venture highlights

Beyond funding, 2023 also marked significant progress in the Kingdom’s venture capital and startup environment through various initiatives.  

Notably, the Makken Fintech program was launched by the Saudi Central Bank, the Capital Market Authority, and Fintech Saudi.  

This program is designed to support the growth of 150 startups in the financial services sector over a three-year period.

In addition, the Saudi Venture Capital and Private Equity Association, in collaboration with SVC, introduced three programs aimed at developing the sector.  

These programs focused on enhancing the management of venture capital and private equity funds to stimulate industry growth.

The Public Investment Fund’s Jada also contributed to these advancements by launching the fourth edition of its Emerging Fund Manager program, further bolstering the support for venture capitalists in the region.

A regional glimpse

The MENA region’s overall funding landscape experienced a 23 percent year-on-year decrease, primarily due to cautious investor sentiment, according to MAGNiTT’s FY23 MENA report.  

The total funding in the region amounted to $2.6 billion in 2023, a noticeable decline from $3.4 billion in 2022. Additionally, investment deals fell to 477, down from 718 the previous year.

The fourth quarter of 2023 emerged as the most significant period for funding, with $1.19 billion raised, largely thanks to substantial funding rounds by Tabby and Tamara. The first quarter witnessed the highest number of deals, totaling 141.

In terms of country-specific funding, the UAE ranked second with $691 million, experiencing a 45 percent year-on-year decrease. This marked the first time that Saudi Arabia surpassed the UAE in this regard.  

Despite this, the UAE recorded the highest number of deals in the MENA region, with a total of 158 transactions throughout the year.

Egypt observed a reduction in its capital deployment, with Egyptian startups raising $378 million in 2023, a 30 percent drop from the previous year.  

Meanwhile, Morocco made notable strides, entering the top five with $81 million raised, marking a 193 percent increase compared to 2022.

Fintech and e-commerce continued to be the most sought-after sectors regionally, securing $1.27 billion and $502 million in funding, respectively.

When it comes to venture capital firms, Egypt’s Flat6Labs, the US’ 500 Global, and UAE’s Shorooq Partners led the region in terms of the number of deals.  

In capital deployment, the UAE-based Chimera Capital topped the list with $260 million allocated, followed by Saudi Arabia’s STV with $128 million, and Shorooq Partners with $98 million.

Half of Saudi Arabia’s World Defense Show 2026 floorspace already snapped up by exhibitors

Half of Saudi Arabia’s World Defense Show 2026 floorspace already snapped up by exhibitors
Updated 6 sec ago

Half of Saudi Arabia’s World Defense Show 2026 floorspace already snapped up by exhibitors

Half of Saudi Arabia’s World Defense Show 2026 floorspace already snapped up by exhibitors

RIYADH: International exhibitors have already secured half of the space at the World Defense Show set to be held in Riyadh in 206, demonstrating strong early interest in the biennial event.

The defense and security exhibition, scheduled for Feb 8-12 and covering an area of 800,000 sq. m., follows the successful conclusion of its second edition in February. The event attracted a record number of 773 exhibitors, all aiming to capitalize on the Kingdom’s status as one of the largest defense spenders worldwide. 

In the state budget announced in December 2023, the Saudi Arabia allocated SR269 billion ($71.70 billion) for the military sector this year, reflecting an 8.5 percent increase from the 2023 estimates.  

Andrew Pearcey, CEO of the World Defense Show, said: “The demand has been phenomenal. Just four months after the second edition of the show closed, to global industry approbation, we have already sold 50 percent of the floorspace for the third edition.”  

He added: “Many of the industry’s leading multi-domain businesses booked their stands for 2026 during the 2024 event. I am in no doubt that World Defense Show 2026, will be an essential event for global companies across the defense supply chain.” 

The CEO highlighted that the third edition of the event further solidifies the entity’s position as the emerging global hub for the defense industry. 

The early bookings for the event are in line with the show’s vision to serve as a platform where the global defense industry can convene, connect, and gain valuable insights into the latest innovation-driven defense and security solutions. 

The event also aims to foster integration across air, land, sea, space, and security domains to accelerate advancements in defense technologies.  

‘Central Bank Digital Currencies’ can boost Middle East’s financial inclusion: IMF

‘Central Bank Digital Currencies’ can boost Middle East’s financial inclusion: IMF
Updated 49 min 5 sec ago

‘Central Bank Digital Currencies’ can boost Middle East’s financial inclusion: IMF

‘Central Bank Digital Currencies’ can boost Middle East’s financial inclusion: IMF

RIYADH: Digital currencies are gaining traction in the Middle East and Central Asia, with countries increasingly considering central bank-issued options to enhance financial inclusion, an analysis said. 

In a blog, the International Monetary Fund noted that economies in these regions are also moving toward digital currencies to improve the efficiency of cross-border payments. 

CBDCs are a form of digital money issued by a central bank, distinct from cryptocurrencies. 

The analysis showed that 19 countries in the Middle East and Central Asia are currently in the research stage of developing nationally-issued digital currencies. 

“Bahrain, Georgia, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE have moved to the more advanced ‘proof-of-concept’ stage. Kazakhstan is the most advanced after two pilot programs for the digital tenge,” said IMF. 

Earlier in June, Saudi Arabia joined a China-dominated Central Bank Digital Currency cross-border trial, according to the Bank for International Settlements.

The trial will see the Saudi Central Bank becoming a “full participant” in Project mBridge, a collaboration launched in 2021 between the central banks of China, Hong Kong, Thailand, and the UAE. 

Project mBridge, overseen by BIS, is a multi-CBDC platform developed to support real-time, cross-border payments and foreign exchange transactions. 

On June 2, the Qatar Central Bank announced the completion of the infrastructure development for its CBDC project.  

In a press statement, QCB said that the move aligns with global advancements in digital currency, aiming to enhance Qatar’s financial sector. 

The apex bank noted that it will start testing and developing selected applications of the CBDC for settling large payments with local and international banks. 

As of March, central banks in 134 countries, accounting for 98 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, were in various stages of evaluating the launch of a national digital currency, according to the Atlantic Council.  

The US think tank also revealed that the Bahamas, Jamaica, and Nigeria have already fully launched a CBDC. 

IMF said that adopting a CBDC, however, requires careful consideration. “Countries across these regions, spanning a diverse group of economies stretching from Morocco and Egypt to Pakistan and Kazakhstan, each must weigh their own unique set of circumstances.” 

Cross-border payments 

According to the IMF, CBDCs can potentially enhance the efficiency of cross-border payment services, which is crucial for oil-exporting countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council region, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar, as well as Bahrain, and Kuwait. 

“That’s because cross-border payments tend to have frictions like varying data formats and operating rules across regions and complex compliance checks. CBDCs that address these inefficiencies could significantly cut transaction costs,” said the international financial institution.  

The report added that CBDCs can also promote financial inclusion by fostering competition in the payments market and enabling more direct transactions with less intermediation.  

Moreover, central banks can help keep costs lower as they are not profit-driven like commercial banks. 

“Increased competition in the payments market from a CBDC could also encourage upgrading technology platforms and the efficiency of payment services, helping financial services reach more people,” said IMF.  

Countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia, Middle East and North Africa oil importers, and low-income countries are particularly interested in this potential benefit. 

The IMF further pointed out that designing CBDCs to work offline could promote financial inclusion in areas with unreliable mobile services, such as low-income and conflict-affected regions.  

Additionally, using national digital currencies for cross-border transfers could reduce remittance costs and speed up transfer times. 

Impacts on commercial banks 

The analysis indicated that deposits constitute a significant portion of bank funding in the region, around 83 percent. A CBDC could compete with bank deposits, potentially impacting bank profits and lending, and posing implications for financial stability, the IMF noted. 

However, the report added that financial institutions in the region generally possess adequate capital levels, profit margins, and liquidity buffers, which could mitigate strains on deposits. 

CBDCs could enhance the pass-through into deposit rates by increasing competition among financial institutions, and they could also strengthen the bank lending channel of monetary policy. “However, the impact would likely be country-specific and is difficult to estimate due to limited CBDC uptake so far,” the IMF stated. 

The report emphasized that policymakers play a crucial role in addressing potential risks posed by national digital currencies. It added, “While there are no clear prerequisites for adopting CBDCs, a healthy banking system, a sound legal system, and strong supervisory and regulatory capacity are essential for reducing risks.” 

The IMF suggested that national digital currencies should be carefully calibrated to avoid competition with commercial bank deposits. “Design features are a crucial consideration. Our survey shows that selecting appropriate features for CBDC implementation is a key challenge for regional policymakers,” the report highlighted. 

Introducing national digital currencies will be a long and complex process, and central banks should approach it with care. 

The IMF also urged policymakers to determine if a CBDC serves their country’s objectives and whether the expected benefits outweigh the potential costs and risks to the financial system.  

Saudi Arabia advances preparations for Riyadh Expo as it gives progress report in Paris

Saudi Arabia advances preparations for Riyadh Expo as it gives progress report in Paris
Updated 19 June 2024

Saudi Arabia advances preparations for Riyadh Expo as it gives progress report in Paris

Saudi Arabia advances preparations for Riyadh Expo as it gives progress report in Paris

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Expo 2030 will be “by the world, for the world,” the team behind the event have said during the first progress report since Riyadh was elected as host city.

Speaking at the 174th General Assembly of the Bureau International des Expositions in Paris, Abdulaziz Alghannam, director general of the Riyadh Expo 2030 office at the Royal Commission for Riyadh City, emphasized ongoing efforts for Expo registration and preparation for creating the legal framework to enable international participation in the event.

According to a post by Riyadh Expo on X, the delegation also included representatives from the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund.

Saudi Arabia was elected as host for the 2030 event on Nov. 28, 2023, during the 173rd General Assembly of the BIE, and the Expo is set to take place from Oct. 1, 2030, to March 31, 2031.

It aims to host 197 countries and 29 international organizations.

The theme – “The Era of Change: Together for a Foresighted Tomorrow” – encapsulates Saudi Arabia’s commitment to using the Expo to accelerate progress toward the planned sustainable development goals. The event will focus on harnessing science and innovation for a better future, structured around three inclusive sub-themes.

Since the Kingdom was elected host, preparations have been underway at the highest levels, including infrastructure development and drafting the registration dossier. 

This document will detail the Expo’s legislative and financial measures, the master plan for the Expo site, and legacy plans. 

Once submitted and reviewed, the BIE General Assembly will formally register Expo 2030 Riyadh, allowing Saudi Arabia to invite international participants and advance preparations.

In early May, BIE Secretary-General Dimitri Kerkentzes completed a technical visit to Riyadh, marking the first such trip since Saudi Arabia’s election as host. 

The four-day visit included technical meetings and discussions on the Expo’s plans and the preparation of the registration dossier. 

Kerkentzes met with key Saudi officials, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and ministers involved in the project.

The BIE official praised Saudi Arabia’s commitment and expressed eagerness to see the project gain momentum as the registration dossier is completed.

The most recent event, Expo 2020 Dubai, saw over 24 million visits. The next World Expo, Expo 2025 Osaka Kansai, will run from April 13 to Oct. 13, 2025, under the theme “Designing Future Society for Our Lives.”

Oil Updates – prices slip amid war jitters, surprise build in US crude stocks

Oil Updates – prices slip amid war jitters, surprise build in US crude stocks
Updated 19 June 2024

Oil Updates – prices slip amid war jitters, surprise build in US crude stocks

Oil Updates – prices slip amid war jitters, surprise build in US crude stocks

SINGAPORE: Oil prices eased slightly during trade on Wednesday but held near their highest levels in seven weeks, as the market weighed concerns over escalating conflicts against demand worries following an unexpected build in US crude inventories, according to Reuters.

Brent crude futures eased 17 cents to $85.16 a barrel by 9:35 a.m. Saudi time, while US West Texas Intermediate crude was down 22 cents to $81.35 per barrel.

Both benchmarks gained more than $1 in the previous session after a Ukrainian drone strike led to an oil terminal fire at a major Russian port, according to Russian officials and a Ukrainian intelligence source.

In the Middle East, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz warned of a nearing “all out war” with Lebanon’s Hezbollah, even as the US attempted to avoid a broader conflict between Israel and Iran-backed Hezbollah.

An escalating war in the region raises the prospect crude supply from key producers could be disrupted.

Oil prices had recovered quite strongly in the last two weeks, amid potential disruption risks “in the event of a wider conflict, as geopolitical tensions are brought to a new front between Israel and Hezbollah,” said Yeap Jun Rong, a market strategist at IG in Singapore.

“Any cooling off between both parties seems difficult in the near term, which may keep oil prices well-supported as market participants shrug off pockets of weakness on the economic front, from weaker-than-expected US retail sales to mixed sets of data out of China this week.”

China data this week showed May industrial output lagged expectations, but retail sales, a gauge of consumption, marked their quickest growth since February.

Analysts in an ANZ Research report on Wednesday said a broader risk-on tone across global markets supported crude oil prices. Mixed US economic data for May has boosted bets the Federal Reserve will cut rates sooner rather than later, the analysts added, referring to strong industrial production and retail sales that barely rose.

Fed officials are looking for further confirmation that inflation is cooling and for any warning signs from a still-strong labor market as they steer cautiously toward what most expect to be an interest rate cut or two by the end of this year.

Interest rate cuts could reduce borrowing costs, spurring economic activity and lifting oil consumption.

Capping oil prices however, US crude stocks rose by 2.264 million barrels in the week ended June 14, according to market sources citing American Petroleum Institute figures on Tuesday.

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected a 2.2 million barrel draw in crude stocks.

Gasoline inventories, however, fell by 1.077 million barrels, while distillates rose by 538,000 barrels, the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Official US stocks data from the Energy Information Administration are due at 6.00 p.m. Saudi time.  

Patchi founder and chocolate industry titan Nizar Choucair dies

Patchi founder and chocolate industry titan Nizar Choucair dies
Updated 18 June 2024

Patchi founder and chocolate industry titan Nizar Choucair dies

Patchi founder and chocolate industry titan Nizar Choucair dies

RIYADH: Founder of the globally recognized Lebanese chocolate brand Patchi, Nizar Choucair, has died, leaving behind a legacy in the industry.

Choucair transformed his childhood love for chocolate into a global brand, boasting more than 200 branches worldwide.

In a message on social media, Patchi announced Choucair’s death, posting: “It is with deep sorrow that we announce the passing of Mr. Nizar Choucair, our beloved founder. Mr. Choucair was a man whose warmth and generosity touched everyone who knew him.”

Patchi added: “His visionary approach transformed chocolate into an art that evokes emotions and creates cherished memories. His legacy lives on through Patchi, a brand that has reached hearts across cultures and celebrations. We honor his memory and the extraordinary heritage he built.” 

Choucair was renowned for saying: “In every piece of chocolate, there is a story to be told and a memory to be made.”

The brand’s story began in 1974 when Choucair, driven by his passion for chocolate since the age of 11, introduced the concept of chocolate gifting.

This approach elevated the food to new dimensions, enhancing customer engagement and brand loyalty.

Born in Beirut, Choucair moved to Kuwait at 18, initially working for a gas manufacturing company before returning to Lebanon to launch Patchi.

Patchi employs more than 5,000 people. Shutterstock

In 1990, he received a significant boost when Banque Du Liban gave him an interest-free loan, enabling him to modernize his factory with new machinery.

Starting with a single shop in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, Choucair’s vision and entrepreneurial spirit saw Patchi expand worldwide.

Patchi, now a household name in luxury chocolates, has 203 stores globally, with a strong presence in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain, as well as Qatar, the UAE, and the UK.

The brand entered the EU market in 1995 with boutiques in Paris and London. By 1999, the company expanded to Africa with a boutique in the Ivory Coast and opened a store in the US in 2000. 

Recognized by Forbes in 2005 as the top luxury brand in the Middle East and the 15th top brand in the region, Patchi continued to grow. 

In 2008, Patchi Silver boutique at Harrods in London was launched, featuring a box of chocolates wrapped in genuine leather and silk, selling for £5,000.

The brand, boasting as many as 62 branches in Saudi Arabia, is celebrated for its premium ingredients and distinctive packaging, all produced in-house. 

In a 2009 interview with The National, Choucair reflected on Patchi’s accessibility: “Our chocolates are not expensive at all. We sell to people who want more expensive, elaborate boxes, but we also sell to the chauffeur who comes to pick it up.”

This inclusive approach helped Patchi become a beloved brand across various demographics, according to Choucair.

The founder’s journey was marked by resilience and adaptability, navigating the challenges of the Lebanese civil war by relocating his family and operations multiple times. Despite these hurdles, his commitment to his brand never wavered. The chocolateries’ expansion continued, with Choucair personally overseeing the opening of new stores worldwide.

Under his leadership, Patchi grew to employ more than 5,000 people, maintaining a family-oriented business ethos. His five children have played active roles in the company, with three of them working alongside him..

Oussama Choucair is currently the CEO of Patchi in the UAE and sits on the board of the company’s conglomerate, which his father founded in Beirut during the 1970s.

Nizar Choucair’s passion for premium chocolate gifting has been passed down to his son, who oversees operations in the crucial UAE market. 

One of Oussama Choucair’s key projects is the construction of a new factory in Dubai Industrial Park, which will become Patchi’s largest manufacturing plant worldwide.

The family remains dedicated to expanding the business into new markets by forming strategic alliances with Armenia, Azerbaijan and Brunei as well as Egypt, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, and East Asia.

In 2012, Patchi launched a new brand identity to refresh its profile and reaffirm its commitment to the values that have made it the top choice for premium chocolate lovers.

The new brand identity was presented in a creative and modern style, reflecting the distinctive and fine quality that Patchi offers through its network of boutiques across Saudi Arabia.

The unveiling event occurred at the Patchi Boutique in Jeddah, attended by Zahid Nuri, then-general manager and co-founder of Patchi in Saudi Arabia.

Nuri stated: “The launch of Patchi’s new identity embodies the company’s dedication to its customers in Saudi Arabia and highlights our commitment to providing the best services, highest quality, and a variety of the most exquisite and finest chocolate gifts. This new identity marks a breakthrough that aligns with Patchi’s significant international expansion, solidifying its position as one of the largest global brands in the chocolate industry.”