Saudi Arabia

Riyadh

MEMBERS:
Saudi Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (SVCPEA)

Driven by legislative transformation and youthful demographic, the Saudi ecosystem has seen transformational growth in VC-backed startups and is expecting a tenfold investment boom over the next five years, presenting unique entrepreneurial and investment opportunities.

Qusai A. Alsaif
CEO, Saudi Venture Capital & Private Equity Association
#4 MENA Ecosystem: Funding
#4 MENA Ecosystem: Talent & Experience
Top 5 MENA Ecosystem: Performance

Highlights

Saudi Arabia’s transformation from oil & gas powerhouse to an entrepreneurial hot spot for the MENA region is well underway. The government’s Saudi Vision 2030 sets out ambitious targets for the Kingdom’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, including increasing small businesses’ contribution to the GDP from 20% to 35% by 2030 and boosting foreign direct investment from 3.8% to 5.7% of GDP. Saudi startups will soon also be able to leverage the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA)’s DEEM, the largest government data cloud in MENA. The government has some high-profile international partners in these efforts. Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) partnered with Techstars to launch the Riyadh Techstars Accelerator in 2021 to help startups build and grow their business in the MENA region. Amazon recently announced a major expansion in Saudi Arabia that is set to create at least 1,500 new jobs in 2021. The online retail giant will increase its storage capacity in the Kingdom by 11%. The move speaks to the growing size and importance of E-commerce in Riyadh and the region. The ecosystem is further strengthened by local success stories and tech-focused events. A number of Riyadh-based companies saw an influx of funding even during the pandemic. In 2020, Nana, an online grocery platform, raised $18 million in a series B round in March, Morni, a roadside assistance platform, raised a Series B $9.1 million in December, and Jahez, a food delivery platform, raised $36.5 million in a Series A round in June 2020. Supported by MCIT and scheduled to take place in Riyadh in November, LEAP 21 aims to connect public and private organizations, drive female empowerment, and nurture the ecosystem’s tech startups. In early 2020 restaurant management platform Foodics raised a US$20 million Series B funding round led by Sanabil Investments.

Ecosystem by the numbers

TOTAL EARLY STAGE FUNDING
$146 m
GLOBAL AVG.
$548 m
ECOSYSTEM VALUE
$1 bn
GLOBAL AVG.
$13.68 bn
MEDIAN SEED ROUND
$300 k
GLOBAL AVG.
$480 k
MEDIAN SERIES A ROUND
$2.3 m
GLOBAL AVG.
$3 m
SOFT. ENGINEER SALARY
$36.6 k
GLOBAL AVG.
$44 k

Sub-sector Strengths

E-commerce

One of the most important drivers of growth in the country, E-commerce attracted 67% of overall funding for Saudi-based startups in the first half of 2020, more than any other sub-sector. Amazon’s recent expansion into Saudi and the unicorn status of regional E-commerce giant Souk.com speak to the growth of the sub-sector. On-demand delivery service Mrsool placed above Facebook and Uber in the country’s list of top Apple store downloads in 2019. B2B marketplace Sary raised a $30.5 million Series B round in May 2021.

Fintech

Digital payments, credit scoring technologies, and crowdfunding platforms, are a major strength of the Kingdom’s Fintech startups. Fintech boasted 155 startups in 2020 compared to 10 in 2018, and these startups raised approximately $168 million in the first half of 2021, a massive jump from $30 million in 2016. Buy-now-pay-later startup Tamara announced a $110 million Series A in April 2021, the largest investment ever raised by a Saudi startup. Digital secure wallet STC Pay has raised a total of $200 million in funding.

Reasons to move your startup to Riyadh

Access to Funding

In 2019, the Saudi government allocated US$19.2 billion in stimulus to support small and medium enterprises. Two government-backed funds of $1.1 billion and $750 million were also created to attract private sector participation in private equity funds and venture capital. Finally, The Ministry of Communications and the Ministry of Labor & Social Development have set aside US$2.66 million to support the tech sector. The Financial Technology Experimental Permit grants permission for the operation of equity crowdfunding platforms in the Kingdom.

Ease of Doing Business

The government’s Meras program provides the necessary services to set up a business in a single day. The recently established SME Authority plans to review regulations, remove obstacles, and facilitate access to funding for entrepreneurs.

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