Ten years back, when I started my career journey in Jeddah, the second-largest city of Saudi Arabia, I could hardly see any activities, conferences or exhibitions, that focused on entrepreneurship or startups. I used to see the young people in the city were mostly spending their time at eateries, playing games online or driving out to the desert.
Coffee shops were just a place to drink coffee or spend some time chilling out. This scenario is slowly changing. A new group of young adults are emerging in Jeddah who loves music, art, fashion, as well as creating their startups. During a local startup exhibition last year, I observed that almost 60% of the founders of the new businesses/ideas were women, and they are intelligent and not afraid to come forward to lead initiatives.
As the 4th Industrial Revolution takes shape swiftly, many local universities in Jeddah have moved into offering entrepreneurship coaching via centres, accelerators labs, business clubs etc. The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) has a developed, and well-organized entrepreneurship centre that offers mentoring, lab facilities as well as organises startup weekends, STEM competitions etc.
Startup Grind Jeddah chapter contains monthly knowledge sharing session with promising startup founders. Some of the veterans in the startup ecosystem includes Flat6Labs Jeddah founded by Qotuf AlRiyadah, is the first Saudi private sector-led, non-profit entrepreneurship foundation established in late 2012. Other incubators include Badir Jeddah Incubator, based with Qotuf, Blossom Mena, which is a recent entry into this industry, targeting Saudi women startups.
SEA Ventures (Serial Entrepreneurs Accelerator) is an accelerator that runs courses in Service Design/Design Thinking. Astrolabs is another new edition in the market that helps foreigners to open 100% owned company in Saudi Arabia. They also offer multiple entrepreneurship-related courses to build capacities of the local youth.
Along with the accelerators and university entrepreneurship centres, a group of highly motivated and energetic Saudis have set up several co-working spaces in the city, creating a new culture of working together, in teams, with fresh ideas, and diverse partners. These co-working spaces are becoming very popular among young, educated Saudis and residences to work and mingle with like-minded peers.
Humming Tree Community in Jeddah is such a cosy co-working space that focuses on creativity and well being—founded by Mariam Hamidaddin, an explorer and adventurer in her early 30s. Humming Tree was created to create a community feeling among its members and aims to bring together dreamers & doers- Entrepreneurs, adventure seekers, experimentalists, musicians, artists, doodlers, writers, coaches, chefs, yogis, art healers, designers, environmentalists, etc.
Vibes Office in Jeddah One of my favourite coworking spaces in Jeddah is Vibes – a place that resembles (design-wise), a Silicon Valley incubator. They offer desk space for startups as well as organises regular events and workshops. The area has its coffee shop that spreads the incredible aroma of coffee everywhere.
Kham Space is a unique concept, which provides an outlet for people to design, experiment and launch new ideas, ventures, project and artworks all under one roof. Noura Al-Mallouh Founder of Kham Space is a Saudi woman in her mid-20s who established this co-working space in 2017. Along with standard working desks, Kham also has a library and a makers lab- where people can use various tools and machinery for prototyping their ideas. When asked, what was the aspirations behind Kham Space, Noura replied, “Kham Space is a social-minded corporation which opens doors to new possibilities. We turn the concepts into reality. We work in collaboration with diverse fields. Kham Space is a place to grow, develop and to relax. It is our mission to build a diverse and supportive community where goals and talents can flourish”. According to Noura, Kham Space aims is to become the topmost co-working space in Jeddah with an expansion of creating a store that meets the needs of all diverse customers.
Other co-working spaces include White Space (elegant with excellent sea view), The Spot (small and to the point ), Kayan Space (necessary and straightforward). The growth of the coworking spaces is promising in Jeddah, though compare to Istanbul or Jakarta, the number is still low. Several meetup groups are organising talks, workshops, forums in Jeddah.
6/7 years back, it was almost hard to find one such talk/workshop open to the public.
My observation is that many of the prospective entrepreneurs are focusing on the service industry- i.e. developing mobile apps/platforms to connect buyers with sellers. I do not see many activities in the area of technology innovation or leveraging on disruptive technology like the AI, IoT, and Big Data.
Lucidya is one of the few AI-based Data Analytics firms based in Jeddah. KAUST is also emphasising a lot on technological innovation, and there are some success stories, like, FalconViz (using drones for Arial mapping), Quantum Solutions (high-quality quantum dots and materials), Sadeem (smart city monitoring solutions for flood, traffic, weather).
The entertainment industry in Saudi Arabia is growing super fast, and we will see a wave of new startups targeting fashion design, digital media, content packing and platforms to share resources. This whole new approach of job creation articulated in the Vision 2030 of Saudi Arabia has already created positive vibes among the youth. Many foreign-educated Saudis, especially women, are now willing to start a company; they are smart, English speaking and ready to take up any challenge.
The Government has also created several initiatives/funds to support them; one of them is the MiSK Foundation and the ambitious plan to build World’s Smartest city- NEOM.
Rapid transformation is going on in Saudi Arabia, and who knows one day, the world might see the emergence of a new Silicon Valley-based at the heart of a desert!