Saudi Startups: an Ecosystem for the Future

With GDP per capita of around US$30,000, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the largest economy in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a regional political, economic, intergovernmental organization of six Arab nations. With the launch of Vision2030 in 2016, it has been in single-minded pursuit of a growth and diversification agenda, ostensibly to develop a non-oil economy – an eminently sensible goal of course, in a warming world. Building a sustainable economy on clean, renewable energy should be at the top of every nation’s agenda. But look closely at some of the other industries the Kingdom is nurturing and funding such as tourism, tech and entrepreneurship and a richer, bigger picture emerges.

By pouring funds, guidance and support into developing a startup and small business ecosystem, Saudi Arabia is priming its youthful nation for the responsibilities and challenges of the future while addressing its nurturing, training and employment needs today.

Saudi Arabia’s efforts to position itself as the go-to destination for founders, entrepreneurs, creators and innovators have yielded results beyond targets and expectations: SME’s were expected to contribute 35% to national GDP by 2030; this figure was at 30% as of year-end 2022. Women were to account for 30% of the workforce by 2030; that figure too crossed 33% during 2021 reaching 36% by the first of quarter of 2023 with overall unemployment at 5.1% – well below the 7% targeted for 2030.

It all makes sense. Saudi Arabia is a youthful nation. And all those young people – two out of three are under thirty years old – need to be educated, employed and entertained. Not only are technology, tourism, retail and entrepreneurship sectors well-suited to the skills, talents, energy and temperament of the young, but the knowledge, training and experience required to excel in these sectors can be telescoped into a relatively shorter period of time than working on an oil-rig say. To encourage startups and small businesses, the government has set up numerous services including consultations with the Ministry of Investment (MISA) and support from the Small and Medium Enterprises General Authority (Monshaat), a one-stop shop to ‘regulate, support, develop and sponsor the SME sector in the Kingdom in accordance with global best practices’ According to its website, Monsha’at is ‘mandated with developing, implementing, and supporting programs and projects that foster a culture of self-employment, entrepreneurship, and innovation.’

β€œThe unique combination of Vision 2030, the public sector’s role in creating a highly supportive business environment, and an evolving entrepreneurship culture that has inspired a community mindset is developing a landscape where the initial hardships of starting a business can be overcome,” says Saud Al-Sabhan, Deputy Governor for Entrepreneurship at Monshaat.

We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.

Photo credit: Β π™΄πš“πšŠ πš€πšŠπšœπšŽπš–Β onΒ Unsplash

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