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Neom investment fund backs US futuristic transport firms

Seagliders will connect key Neom destinations along 468 km of coastline, carrying both passengers and freight Neom
Seagliders will connect key Neom destinations along 468km of coastline, carrying both passengers and freight

The newly launched investment arm of Saudi Arabia’s $500 billion futuristic giga-project Neom has made its first commitments, backing two US-based transport companies.

The Neom Investment Fund (NIF) announced on Wednesday that it had made a $100 million investment in the global autonomous driving company Pony.ai.

A joint venture will be set up between the two entities to develop, manufacture and deliver autonomous driving services, advanced vehicles and smart vehicle infrastructure in Neom and across Mena. 

It will also include a local autonomous vehicle manufacturing and R&D facility to develop Pony.ai’s autonomous vehicle technology in the region.

NIF also announced an investment in Rhode Island-based Regent, as part of a multi-year partnership to establish regional seaglider passenger operations. 

The investment will make Neom the largest single investor in Regent’s Series A round. The value of the investment was not given.

“These innovative electric seagliders will contribute to our progress towards zero carbon operations,” said Majid Mufti, chief executive officer of NIF.

Seagliders will provide coastal transportation across Neom, both passenger and freight, connecting destinations along 468 km of coastline, added Terry Wong, executive director land mobility, Neom.

Research and development

As part of the agreement Regent will set up a Middle East research, development and training hub. The company will also conduct on-site testing to be ready for operational roll-out by “the mid part of the decade”.  

NIF was launched on Tuesday to invest and develop 14 knowledge economy sectors deemed critical to the giga-project.

The wholly-owned subsidiary will invest globally via mergers and acquisitions and venture capital in technology startups, focusing on pioneering growth companies and next-generation industries, according to a statement.

In addition, joint ventures and partnerships will be formed with multinationals, institutional investors and innovators.

Investment priorities

The 14 priority sectors are: manufacturing, water, technology and digital, entertainment and culture, education, research and innovation, design and construction, food, energy, sport, tourism, mobility, health, well-being and biotech, financial services and media, according to the NIF website.

NIF will assume the portfolio manager role for Neom’s sector assets and companies. 

As well as Pony.ai and Regent, the new entity has invested in several technology companies including Boom Technology, BlueNalu and Animoca. 

In addition, the subsidiary will focus on developing investment opportunities for the private sector. It will directly invest in technologies piloted and scaled up in Neom, which will be exported globally.

Earlier this week, Neom and Danish freight forwarder DSV entered into a $10 billion logistics joint venture to serve the giga-project in the kingdom’s northwest.

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