Saudi Arabia is making the transition to a more diversified economy, after being reliant upon oil for much of the past century — a trend sparked by Vision 2030 as well as commitments made at the COP26 Summit last month.
While corporate giants such as Aramco and Sabic continue to dominate the economy, a culture of enterprise is taking hold as more and more young people start their own companies.
And contrary to international perceptions, it is Saudi women who are playing a major part in this new era.
No less than 17.7 percent of Saudi women either started or ran a business in 2020, according to a report last month from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, a London-based data group that tracks startups across the world. This is considerably higher than the global average of 11 percent of females who go into business.
The report also noted that over 30 percent of Saudi women intended to launch a business in the next three years; and that, compared to men, women were “more likely to act on these intentions.”
GEM says these moves are backed by “recent government policies and interventions to support female entrepreneurs in the Kingdom.”
Nouf Al-Qahtani, the owner of the NSHQ chain of perfumeries, is a case in point. Al-Qahtani first went into business in 2005, repackaging and reselling her perfume collection.
Her startup took her from the souqs of Kuwait to the essential oil dealers of France and Italy, and a SR300,000 ($80,000) loan from the Prince Sultan Fund allowed her to launch her first shop in Alkhobar in 2015.
Today, she runs three perfume boutiques in Alkhobar and Riyadh with a staff of 14, while a fourth outlet is on the way.
“It is easier for Saudi women to go into business now,” Al-Qahtani told Arab News.
She adds: “Many businessmen in Saudi Arabia did not even want to talk to a single woman when I started my company. They would say, ‘Come back with your father or your brother and we will talk to him.’
“But now Saudi women are more powerful. They encourage each other, and even the mentality of Saudi men has changed. If they start any business, they want a female partner. You know why? Because she will work harder, she will do her best to prove herself and she will be more organized.”
Al-Qahtani credits this cultural shift to the reforms introduced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
She says: “I love the way he makes Saudi citizens, and especially women, believe in themselves and their national identity. Saudi consumers used to want only imported products — now they are really interested in local producers like myself.”
Abeer Al-Hashim, the owner of the Nine Soft Serve chain of ice-cream outlets, is another woman who started more or less from scratch and went on to greater things.
Beginning with a single Alkhobar-based mobile unit in the Kingdom’s Eastern Province in 2018, Al-Hashim now operates six retail outlets — four in Riyadh and two in Alkhobar.
Al-Hashim agrees that circumstances have rapidly improved for female entrepreneurs in Saudi Arabia.
She says: “Even five years ago it was very tough for women to have an independent life and to run an independent company.”
“The entire commercial process is easier now, especially in terms of tech applications – it’s so simple to communicate with the government online, and as a woman you no longer need a man to speak on your behalf.”
Al-Hashim was recently approached by Monsha’at — the General Authority of Small for Medium Enterprises — which told her that her product was ideal for franchising. It went on to provide Al-Hashim with guidance and resources to expand her operation locally and internationally, including putting her in touch with a franchising consultancy.
This is an example of the proactive new approach of the Saudi government — a sea change from the cumbersome red tape and excessive delays that used to await anybody doing business in the Kingdom.
“We get such a lot of official support,” says Al-Qahtani, “and that’s something that I’m very proud of.”
Language & Learning Stimulation Center, Jeddah: Established by Rana Mirza in 2012 to assist children with language disabilities
Rana Mirza, who faced successive hurdles when establishing her Jeddah-based Language & Listening Stimulation Center for children with learning disabilities in 2012, wishes she had enjoyed the benefits that female startup founders now take for granted in Saudi Arabia.
Mirza said: “I had to pay a man to follow up on all the paperwork in the various government offices, but now I can do it all myself. And the government e-services save a huge amount of time and energy, because you don’t have to visit a physical office anymore. It’s all online.”
This is an important factor for Mirza, whose 40-employee center requires numerous official licenses to provide a range of linguistic and psychological therapies.
These businesswomen have their own clear message for other women considering a new startup.
“I would advise her to believe in herself,” says Al-Qahtani. “If she believes in herself, others will believe in her too.”
Al-Hashim said: “You cannot start something without a sense of passion. If you don’t have passion for what you’re doing, you’re wasting your time.”
Mirza’s advice is more hands-on: “Try to have knowledge of management, quality control, finance and customer service — before you start your business. I learned that the hard way. It’s not just about your passion — it’s about the know-how.”
All three of these entrepreneurs are testament to the fact that significant opportunities exist for anybody, male or female, who takes advantage of the emerging culture of enterprise in Saudi Arabia.
RIYADH: US investment bank Moelis & Co. plans to open an office in the Saudi capital Riyadh and will soon begin hiring staff in the Kingdom, Bloomberg reported.
The New York-based company sees the Kingdom attracting more foreign investors and benefiting from an “energy supercycle,” Vice Chairman Eric Cantor said in an interview.
The boutique financial adviser, founded by Wall Street veteran Ken Moelis, wants to do more deals in the region as the world’s biggest oil exporter prepares for as many as 160 privatizations in 2022, as well as a flood of initial public offerings to the Kingdom’s stock market.
“We are waiting for a final stamp on our license,” Cantor said. “It’s forthcoming and part of that is hiring Saudis,” he said, without saying how many people the bank wants to employ.
Moelis has its main office for the Middle East in Dubai. The move to open one in Riyadh comes as Saudi Arabia pushes international firms to relocate their regional headquarters there.
RIYADH: Oil demand will return to 2019 levels by the end of 2022, despite some delays in projects due to repercussions from the pandemic, Baker Hughes CEO Lorenzo Simonelli told Al-Arabiya.
National oil companies in the Middle East have been preparing for the increased demand, while international oil companies, especially those in North America, have been maintaining financial discipline in returning funds to shareholders, he said.
However, some independent oil companies have already begun to increase their capital spending, he said.
Currently, Baker Hughes sees an improvement in oil and gas services activity, not only in North America, but also in international basins with low costs, he said.
When it comes to developing its products, Baker Hughes always takes into account carbon emissions and the Texas-based energy services company is trying to shift its sources in its manufacturing operations to renewables and has contracted with suppliers, Simonelli said.
The company pledged to reduce carbon emissions of the first and second scope by 50 percent by 2030, and to zero by 2050, Simonelli said. The company is now concerned with dealing with third scope emissions, he said.
RIYADH: Venture capital impact investment in Saudi Arabia reached a new high in 2021 in both total number of transactions and capital deployed, according to a report produced by MAGNiTT and Saudi Aramco.
Impact investments are those aimed at generating a measurable social and environmental benefit alongside a financial return.
Impact funding in the Kingdom up to the third quarter of 2021 was 130 percent higher than in 2020 in terms of funding, and 21 percent higher in transactions.
Some $444 million were invested through 403 deals with impact-driven startups across the Middle East and North Africa between 2016 and the third quarter of 2021, according to the report.
Of those deals, 20 percent involved Saudi-based firms.
Flat6Labs was the leading impact investor in startups based in the MENA region with 45 transactions between 2016 and the third quarter of this year to date.
The Saudi Aramco Entrepreneurship Center, 500 Startups, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology Innovation Fund, Oasis 500 and Falak Startups invested in 12 or more funding rounds raised by impact-driven startups in MENA.
The education and healthcare technology sectors accounted for the highest share in total impact VC deals, collectively registering 40 percent of all transactions in MENA from 2016 to the third quarter of this year to date.
The energy sector played a key role in impact investments across MENA, with 95 percent of all funding going to startups within the impact ecosystem.
Bitcoin led a rout in cryptocurrencies on Friday as investors fled assets considered riskier, including stocks and commodities, and headed for the refuge of government bonds, the Japanese yen and the US dollar.
Concerns over a new COVID-19 variant that may evade vaccines and spread more quickly than previous mutations were seen as responsible for the movements.
Bitcoin, the largest digital currency, fell as much as 9.2 percent to $53,551, its lowest since Oct. 10. That would be Bitcoin’s biggest one-day decline since Sept. 20, leaving it more than one-fifth lower since hitting a record high of nearly $70,000 earlier in November.
The second-largest cryptocurrency, Ether, fell over 13 percent to its lowest in a month, trading at $3,924, down almost 20 percent from its record high, hit on Nov. 10.
A number of European and Asian nations have suspended travel to and from southern Africa after a potentially more deadly COVID-19 variant emerged in Botswana and South Africa. The variant has so many mutations that current vaccines may not be effective against it, according to scientists.
“The spread of (the variant), especially to other countries, could wither investor appetite further,” said Yuya Hasegawa at Tokyo-based exchange Bitbank. “BTC’s upside will likely be limited and the market should brace for further loss.”
While cryptocurrencies wobbled, a plot of land in Axie Infinity, an animated, metaverse pet-training game, sold for $2.5 million on Thursday, according to a tweet on the game’s Twitter account.
The sale, for 550 ether, was the highest for a single plot of virtual land, according to the tweet. The transaction was for a section of Genesis land, one of several types available in the game.
A larger sale of virtual real estate took place on Monday in Decentraland. In that transaction, 618,000 MANA, worth about $3.2 million at the time, bought 116 land parcels, according to Tokens.com, whose Metaverse Group subsidiary made the purchase.
Interest in the metaverse has surged in recent months, spurred by Facebook, which changed its name to Meta in October in a sign of its increasing focus on the sector.
Revenue from virtual gaming worlds could grow to $400 billion in 2025, from $180 billion in 2020, Grayscale Investments said on Thursday. The overwhelming majority of that $400 billion will be in-game spending, compared to spending on premium games, the company said.
Grayscale defined the metaverse as “interconnected, experiential, 3D virtual worlds where people located anywhere can socialize in real-time to form a persistent, user-owned, internet economy spanning the digital and physical worlds.”
RIYADH: Lebanon’s Anghami, known as the Spotify of the Arab world, will not postpone its merger with the blank-check company Vistas Media in a potential $90 million deal, according to the firm’s CEO.
Eddie Maroun said the agreement had suffered a delay due to the procedures of the Securities and Exchange Commission in the US, but the deal will still go ahead.
The process is currently in its final stages, and the implementation will be announced very soon, he told Al-Arabiya on Thursday.
Maroun said the company’s priority is growth not profitability as it seeks to increase its market share from 6 percent.
He expects Anghami to achieve profitability within three years, he added.
Subscriptions represent 80 percent of the company’s revenue with the rest coming from advertising, Maround said.
Founded in 2012 in Lebanon, Anghami is the first legal music streaming platform in the Middle East and North Africa region.