Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia unveiled Vision 2030, its plan to diversify away from oil. Important players in that shift will be entrepreneurs.
Although some big investors showed no sign of activity in 2016, notably the corporate venture arms of Saudi Telecom and Mobily, others, such as Saudi Aramco’s Wa’ed and Qotuf AlRiyadah/Flat6Labs Jeddah, are spending time and money developing a startup ecosystem. Tuba Terekli, who heads Qotuf AlRiyadah/Flat6Labs Jeddah, has invested in 38 companies so far, including mobile game developer Ayah Studios, which has nearly two million downloads, and Maharah, a provider of on-demand home maintenance services, which now employs 450 people.
Startups are also getting a boost from universities. King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) runs KAUST Innovation Fund that has made investments in NOMADD, a manufacturer of automated solar panel cleaning technology, and Sadeem, which makes sensors. King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals' Dhahran Techno Valley also incubates startups and provides seed investment; they include Telaa, which developed anti-corrosion material for pipelines that is supposed to be more effective and environmentally friendly than existing technology, and ConCure which uses less water in making concrete.
We narrowed the list this year to 50, down from 100, and came up with stronger candidates. Twenty-four are new, including C3 Films, Cura and Rwaq. E-commerce still dominates, but startups are becoming savvier at using technology to collect and analyze data from transactions. Examples include OrderMe and Morni. Out of the 50 startups, 16 are still bootstrapping.
Methodology: We looked at more than 250 startups, and ranked them according to the amount of equity raised (startups whose sole funding came from loans were excluded), and source of funding. We also took into consideration business models and the potential size of the market. The majority of entrepreneurs were forthcoming and transparent about their funding, but a few asked us to publicly withhold that information. Startups are maximum six years old.
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