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Aramco venture capital arm boosts tech startup funding by $300m

Saudi's Wa’ed Ventures, which recently invested in Japan's Terra Drone Corporation, is increasing funding for the kingdom's own tech startups Terra Drone
Saudi's Wa’ed Ventures, which recently invested in Japan's Terra Drone Corporation, is increasing funding for the kingdom's own tech startups
  • Funding to invest in Saudi startups in areas such as the metaverse
  • Boost follows kingdom announcing further $9bn of tech investments
  • Giants including Microsoft see opportunities

Wa’ed Ventures, the venture capital arm of Saudi Arabian oil giant Aramco, has announced a $300 million increase in funding aimed at boosting the growth of tech startups in the country. 

The size of the fund grows to $500 million and will be directed towards local investments in mid and growth-stage startups, especially underserved areas such as the metaverse and quantum computing.

Wa’ed Ventures announced the increase on Tuesday during Leap 2023, Riyadh’s international technology conference, and followed the news that Saudi Arabia is to invest more than $9 billion in the sector.

“With an expanded fund size, Wa’ed Ventures aims to facilitate the cross-pollination of innovation between the global and local markets,” Amin Nasser, Aramco president and CEO, said.

Wa’ed Ventures last month invested $14 million in Japan’s Terra Drone Corporation, its first investment in an Asian startup.

Technology ranks as one of the key pillars of Saudi’s Vision 2030 strategy which seeks to diversify its economy away from oil.

According to the International Data Corporation, the kingdom is projected to spend $34.6 billion on information and communications technology in 2023 – more than any other country in the Middle East, Turkey and Africa. 

Saudi’s Impact46 also announced it was launching a SAR 500 million ($133 million) fund to invest in tech startups across the country and the wider Mena region. This will focus on fintech, e-commerce and software.

It is the third and largest fund launched by Impact46. To date it has invested in 33 tech startups in early and growth stages.

Saudi ranked as the Mena region’s second best-performing VC market by value in 2022 with $907 million raised across 153 deals – a 40 percent rise in investment value – according to data compiled by Wamda, the largest early-stage investment fund in the Middle East.

Credit facilities extended to micro, small and medium enterprises rose by 14 percent to SAR 228.03 billion in Q3 2022, from SAR 200.40 billion in Q3 2021, according to the Saudi Central Bank SAMA. 

“The reason why we’re seeing these big announcements is because the Saudi leadership is creating such a conducive environment,” Sid Bhatia, regional vice president and general manager for Middle East and Turkey at Dataiku, an artificial intelligence and machine learning company, said.

“When you have a clear focus, companies go ahead in upskilling the population, along with creating more job opportunities and working on advanced AI applications.” 

The boost to Saudi’s tech sector was announced during the Leap 2023 tech conference in Riyadh. Picture: Leap

Bhatia said Dataiku now has more than 50 customers in the region. “With more investments from these big vendors coming to the region, we see a lot of opportunity for us to expand in Saudi Arabia,” he added.  

The $9 billion investments announced on Monday are being led by a $2.1 billion commitment from Microsoft along with Oracle’s plans to invest $1.5 billion, as well as $400 million from China’s Huawei.

An additional $4.5 billion has also been invested in global and local assets across a number of technology sectors.

“Leap has been an amazing success this year,” said Mark Ackerman, area VP for Middle East and Africa at ServiceNow, which develops a cloud computing platform. 

“We’ve seen incredible support from the Saudi government with attendance from all levels of leadership,” he added.

“That sets a great platform for every one of the international organisations looking to build sustainable Saudi programmes and businesses.  

“The announcements we’ve seen from Microsoft, Oracle and Huawei will enable the kingdom to leverage the technology from these hyper-scalers so as to really advance their technologies and their economy as a whole.”

ServiceNow recently announced the opening of offices in Saudi Arabia to support public and private sector enterprises in advancing their business transformation agendas.

The Saudi Ministry of Communications and Information Technology aims to boost the technology sector’s labour force as part of its Future Skills campaign.

It is offering 38,000 training opportunities for 20,000 jobs in the industry. 

The kingdom employs more than 340,000 people in the digital, telecoms and information technology sectors, according to latest government data.

“It’s about time such activities and business deals take place,” said Siddiq Farid, co-founder of SmartCrowd, the Mena region’s first regulated real estate investments platform. 

“Saudi has a sizeable population, robust growing economy and a government with a clear vision to diversify. So the opportunity is there for the development of the tech sector within the kingdom. 

“Many startups are emerging and growing rapidly given the young demographics of the country coupled with high disposable incomes and proven capital markets.

“This provides visibility on liquidity and exits for startups – and comfort to institutional investors to plough more capital into the kingdom.”