JEDDAH – Today is the perfect time to invest in the private sector market and venture into an entrepreneurship, announced Governor of the Saudi Arabia General Investment Authority (SAGIA) Abdullatif Al-Othman at the MIT Enterprise Forum Saudi Arabia held here on Saturday.
Apart from the traditional sectors in oil and gas and petrochemical industries and real estate, he said other sectors are in need of further investment at a time during which “Saudi Arabia is committed to diversify its economy.”
With its first branch launched in Saudi Arabia, MITEF is a global organization of professionals serving the entrepreneurial needs in the US and global markets, affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) through MIT Technology Review.
“Investment in Saudi is one of the most advancing (and) we continue to review laws and regulations,” Al-Othman addressed a crowd of attendees at the one-day forum held in Dar Hussein Jameel.
Experts and entrepreneurs discussed key issues and challenges in Saudi entrepreneurship.
Dr. Saleh Basalamah, deputy director at KACST GIS Technology and CEO of NaviBees, a newly launched smart navigation guide used in closed buildings, said attracting Saudi talent was one of the first challenges he faced, voicing the concern of many other startup founders at the forum.
The market response, he added, generally has little trust in newly introduced innovations. With three sizeable clients currently in hand, NaviBees aims to increase its popularity by offering more accurate features lacking in Google Maps and other similar navigation tools to visitors in areas where people need a handy guide such as shopping malls, university campuses, and the Holy Mosque in Makkah.
On empowering innovators, experts agreed on the need to encourage more risk-takers and lift the fear among Saudi youth in venturing into entrepreneurships.
More awareness and education on entrepreneurship is needed among Saudis entering the job market, experts stressed.
“Some of the best entrepreneurs are fragmented,” said Mudassir Sheikha, founder of Careem, the widely used service car app. Despite the abundance in creativity, energy, and talent, many entrepreneurs tend to create small projects instead of focusing on one and allow it to grow into a large business.
“Our region needs more successes,” he added.
In a panel discussion called ‘Saudi Valley’, young entrepreneurs confessed that perseverance in front of negative criticism is a must. With a chance of failing in a brand new technology, many entrepreneurs need a push to not give up on their projects.
When considering opportunities, CEO and cofounder of TaM-Projects Inc. Abdullah Al-Yousef said those with good ideas should not hesitate to put them into action and not view all problems as the governments’ responsibility to solve.
Despite over 700,000 commercial licenses are actively operating in an economy considered to be the largest in the region and the third fastest growing in the G20, many startups are still in need of endorsement and support in Saudi Arabia where it was only recently that the creation of a committee such as the Higher Authority for SMEs was approved in late October.
“We have to give freedom to those starting up,” said Tuba Terekli CEO of Qotuf AlRiyadah, the first private entrepreneurship foundation in Saudi Arabia, and called for more Saudi youth to aim big in their enterprises and turn worldwide.
The forum concluded with the announcement of winners at the third round of the Startup Competition.
The competition offered contestants to join the startup and ideas track to get a chance to receive mentorship and participate at the upcoming 9th MITEF Arab Startup Competition in April in partnership with Community Jameel and Zain Group.
On its final round, six groups of Saudi-based entrepreneurs were announced as the winners for cash prizes worth up to SR220,000 with B8tak.com and Every Drop Counts (EDC) winning first place.
“The experience has been very beneficial especially since I didn’t have a background in business or entrepreneurship but I have a passion toward saving water and to be more sustainable,” Lara Khouly, project manager of EDC, told Saudi Gazette.
“We went through a long and gradual process since September,” said Lulwa Alsoudairy, CEO and cofounder of Artistia.com, and second place winner. “After learning so much and understanding the Saudi market, we changed our model accordingly. We were then able to learn what steps to take to reach the global market. Our experience with the program was well-rounded.”
Technology opens a world of opportunities, according to president of MIT Technology Review and MITEF Kathleen Kennedy, referring to cases of innovative technologies applied in different areas of everyday life in transport, Internet, healthcare, water, finance, food, and more.
She added “technology can solve big problems, inspire people, give people economic opportunities, disrupt businesses and build new ones, and improve the world.”