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Saudi Arabia can become a unicorn hub. Here’s why
Misk is empowering youth in entrepreneurship to leverage the kingdom’s innovation landscape
The term startup conjures up names from the bustling Silicon Valley hub. However, as change continues to sweep the globe, the Middle East is gradually moving away from its fixation with Western counterparts and building its startup ecosystem.
Several promising startups have emerged from the region, with entrepreneurs utilizing technology to address societal challenges. These entrepreneurial success stories serve as a testament to the immense potential that the region holds.
Playing their parts, investors, business leaders, and policymakers have been nurturing, recognizing, and supporting these innovative firms.
Saudi Arabia’s startup industry has seen tremendous growth, with the country recording a 72% annual increase in venture capital funding to $987 million across 144 deals in 2022, according to Magnitt. “If investors see the kingdom as a bright spot in the global economy, then our booming entrepreneurial ecosystem is its nucleus,” says Nasser Almutairi, Director of Entrepreneurship at the Mohammed bin Salman Foundation (Misk).
STARTUPS TO SCALE-UPS
Misk encourages and invests in entrepreneurship, supporting over 800 entrepreneurs and 160 startups since its founding in 2011.
While funding is essential, Almutairi believes Saudi entrepreneurs can need support to build new networks, scale ideas, and gain access to venture capital finance from pre-seed and seed, Series A to Series E.
Misk offers several programs to help entrepreneurs at different stages of their journey. Citing an example of the Misk Startup School, he says it allows entrepreneurs to rub shoulders with icons such as Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary and Careem’s CEO and co-founder Mudassir Sheikha.
Other programs, such as the Misk Launchpad, a pre-accelerator program, equip Saudi startups to catapult their ideas into viable products. Then there is the Misk Accelerator, a seed-stage incubator that has turbocharged more than 150 startups, and the Saudi Unicorns program helping local companies go global.
THE FUTURE OF INNOVATION?
To assist startups’ growth, the non-profit is implementing various strategies. These include expanding educational resources such as online courses, workshops, and webinars.
Additionally, mentorship and coaching programs are being planned with experienced entrepreneurs and industry experts to provide one-on-one mentorship and group coaching programs.
Meanwhile, working on forging new funding routes with venture capitalists and enterprises to help entrepreneurs get the funding they need remains its priority.
Earlier this year, Misk partnered with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Communication and Information Technology and the National Technology Development Program to boost its Saudi Unicorns program, which aims to position the country as a top unicorn hub while attracting investment, enabling job creation, and increasing GDP contribution.
As the kingdom looks toward a post-carbon future, Almutairi says, “Saudi Arabia’s startup ecosystem will continue to grow rapidly.”
“The double-digit surge in investment activity last year is only the beginning of a major upward trend.”