Saudi Arabia’s acceleration into a high-tech future is a direct reflection of the Kingdom’s vision and the endorsement of government entities extended to start-up communities and tech entrepreneurs. Having a vision of driving the country into a high-tech future is an ambitious plan that requires heavy investment in technology infrastructure, education and innovation. In this regard, the government has introduced various initiatives and programmes to support the growth of the technology sector. And the early results of these initiatives are showing a substantial increase in the number of start-ups.
In addition, a high-tech future is about talent and its readiness. Today in Saudi Arabia, more than 340,000 people currently work in the digital, telecommunications and information technology sectors, with female participation now standing at 32.5 per cent – a higher rate than both the EU and Silicon Valley. The mere fact that Saudis by nature are a tech-savvy population helps the inflow of technology-related foreign investment into local tech start-ups and establishes the Kingdom as a hub for the region.
When addressing the public at the opening speech for the LEAP technology conference in Riyadh, Abdullah Alswaha, the Minister of Communication and Information Technology of Saudi Arabia announced that the Kingdom has received US$9 billion in investments to support future technologies, digital entrepreneurship, tech start-ups, and enhance the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s position as the largest digital market in the Middle East and North Africa.
A high-tech future coupled with the initiatives and the investment that the Government is making will create an eco-system that breeds more entrepreneurship mentality, opportunities for growth and a competitive sector. It is having the right policy, ease of doing business and collaboration of private and public sector that can accelerate this growth. Saudi Arabia will be the right example that will be replicated in different parts of the world.
With these ambitious goals we wanted to explore how the high-tech future of Saudi will be shaped from a variety of angles such as company culture, talent, and their readiness to shape the future, and how further fuelling the tech start-up community will accelerate this vision.
Whether in the Kingdom or elsewhere, at the heart of a high-tech future lies a company culture that drives innovation and novelty. It is in fact one of the toughest challenges that tech start-ups face amid the need to keep new ideas flowing in a fast-paced and highly competitive tech sector. This has been well demonstrated in the Kingdom by the success of home-grown tech companies that were either acquired by an international counterpart or have seen an influx of M&A activity to keep up the competitiveness of the sector. Rightly so, Saudi tech companies have crossed that barrier into creating a culture that shows eagerness, drive and relentlessly chasing innovation to stay ahead.
It is a known fact that the Kingdom is and eventually will be the largest technology market in the region, with a volume exceeding $40 billion. To achieve those figures skilling the youth to high-tech industries is an urgent priority. Big data, AI and digital transformation specialists are in high demand in Saudi Arabia today and will be more so in the years to come. In line with the Crown Prince’s plans, tech companies should share the responsibility of developing talent and upskilling talent through structured initiatives that can benefit the wider tech economy and achieve the vision of becoming the tech hub for the region.
As a result of the continuous effort by the government’s vision and the venture capitalist culture, the Kingdom has moved the needle significantly with disruptive tech innovations such as MRSOOL, Tamara, Trukker, Foodics and others. According to the Harvard Business Review, the country’s fastest-growing sectors include tech, fintech, and e-commerce which are predicted to surpass $13 billion by 2025.
Nurturing the start-up ecosystem and providing an infrastructure for growth will attract more venture capital firms to come in to support the development of ideas and focus on early-stage investments in tech, fintech and other innovative sectors. The acceleration into a high-tech future is a vision that we see happening. Technology moves at a lightning speed and taking your foot off the pedal is not an option. Therefore, whether it’s the government support, the venture capital community or innovation entrepreneurs – everyone needs to work together to make Riyadh the technology hub for MENA.
By Razmik Kalaidjian, Managing Director at Boopin KSA