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The Future Is Saudi

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Visualize this scenario: You have been residing in Saudi Arabia, becoming deeply familiar with its way of life, up until April 25, 2016. In a historic announcement, the government unveils a grand plan that promises to transform the country permanently. Edge of seat style moment. Saudi Vision 2030 is explained to the world, a bold, very ambitious plan to unlock The Kingdom's full potential and become a creative, innovative world-leading nation… we all know what happens next!

Fast forward to 2023 and it seems that Saudi is keeping its promise to the world and then some! On a weekly basis, we find ourselves talking about the progressive changes in Saudi Arabia. Just when you think that they couldn’t possibly think of something else boom, flying volocopters arrive on the scene. Even whilst writing this post an email popped up stating that Saudi has just been ranked one of the best countries for ex-pats to live in. From start-ups to incubators, AI projects to women’s rights movements, I must admit, it's exciting to watch the progression of Saudi Arabia.

 Aim: The Saudi vision: to unlock opportunities across a wealth of sectors and communities in support of a better tomorrow.

The mission: to be the most technologically advanced country in the world.

Saudi is quickly becoming a global powerhouse. An impressive $24.7 billion has been allocated for government spending on technology by 2025 – (the highest assignment in the world). This commitment was reinforced at the recent LEAP conference; the largest tech event in the country, where the government announced over $6.4 billion of investments in future technologies and entrepreneurship.

 It's no secret just how significant technology will be in achieving Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, with digital transformation projects at the front and centre of everything. In fact, 92% of the Saudi government's decision-makers noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has actually accelerated their digital transformation efforts over the past year.

In addition to investing in cutting-edge technologies, Saudi Arabia is also investing in its own people. The government has allocated $1.2 billion to support 100,000 Saudi youths in developing skills in cybersecurity, programming and AI roles. The ultimate goal is for Saudi Arabia to become a world leader, launching smart city programs, redefining citizen services and inventing business models powered by artificial intelligence.

Start-ups and entrepreneurship

Despite it only being a few years in, the Saudi start-up scene is becoming something quite iconic. Hundreds of start-ups have been founded there recently, many of which have had incredible success; fintech platform Tamara, B2B platform Sary, delivery app Hunger Station and customer interaction tool Unifonic to name just a few of the most thriving ones to date.

One of the most notable developments in the Saudi Arabian startup scene is the launch of the Public Investment Fund's (PIF) $1.07 billion fund, which aims to support the growth of the country's startups and attract international investment.

Some of the key areas of focus for startups in Saudi Arabia include e-commerce, fintech, health tech, and education technology, not to mention (again) the heavily invested digital infrastructure initiatives such as the National Transformation Program 2020 and of course, the Vision 2030 plan.

The Saudi Unicorn Program is a government-backed initiative launched by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Investment to support the growth of startups and technology companies in the country. The program's ultimate goal is to help create more unicorns, which are privately held startup companies with a valuation of over $1 billion.

 Restrictions of foreign investment and a more simplified process for business registration has also been implemented to help ease businesses in.

 Incubators and accelerators

 Saudi Arabia has established a number of incubators and accelerators to support startups and entrepreneurs, helping them on their journey with gaining exposure, making connections and being more productive overall.

Some of the current, best accelerators include the KAUST Innovation Fund, an early-stage firm finance organization, BIAC for set-up and admin, Taqadam a business accelerator providing mentorship and training in MENA, Misk Innovation incubator for Saudi youth opportunities and the Badir Program for supporting technology businesses.

 Artificial intelligence

 It feels like the efforts to develop AI in Saudi Arabia do not stop. The country is committed to becoming a global leader in AI, investing heavily in research, development and innovation. This bold initiative is not only creating opportunities for local startups and entrepreneurs but also positioning Saudi Arabia at the forefront of the digital revolution- exactly where they want to be.

 Riyadh announced in 2021 that it aims to establish 400 companies in the AI field and contribute to attracting investments during the next 10 years. Saudi currently ranks second globally in society's awareness of AI.


Women in tech

 What a change for the women in Saudi. There has been a huge commitment made to female empowerment, as the women’s rights reform continues to develop across the country. Female workers in Saudi rose to 37% in 2022 and the rate is set to keep on growing. There has been a lot of drive from female leaders in the kingdom, helping to reshape the economy and empower women to follow their dreams and be as ambitious as ever. So far, the government have selected five Saudi women to represent the Kingdom as ambassadors to countries around the world.

 Saudi Arabia is also working to increase the number of women in the tech industry, with initiatives such as the Women Empowerment Principles and the Geek Girls Saudi Arabia community. In Q3 of 2021, the participation of women in the tech sector in The Kingdom was recorded at 28% - 10% more than the European average rate. Go on Saudi ladies!


Investment and partnerships

Saudi Arabia is currently experiencing a flurry of new deals and partnerships, with an impressive $9 billion in investments recently announced at LEAP23. Among the exciting developments are the launch of a state-of-the-art data centre and two academies dedicated to developing technical skills and nurturing homegrown talent, which together represents an investment of $580 million.

 Notably, one of the most significant announcements came from Ignite, a program under Saudi's Digital Content Council, which unveiled a host of initiatives worth a total of $170 million.

 Venture capital funding for start-ups in Saudi grew by 72% annually to $987 million, from 144 deals in 2022.

 Furthermore, Saudi Arabia has been making strategic moves to collaborate with some of the world's top tech companies, including SoftBank and Uber, cementing its position at the top.


Over to you

There has never been a more exciting time to be in Saudi.

The country is currently experiencing an era of exceptional growth and opportunity. The Vision 2030 initiative is driving this forward, creating the perfect environment for business, investment and creativity to flourish. In particular, significant investments are being made in the research, development and innovation sector, which are expected to boost the nation's GDP by a whopping $16 billion by the end of the decade.

With an immense amount of time, energy and resources being dedicated to Saudi Arabia, it's no surprise that it's fast becoming the ultimate destination to live, work and thrive in.