Saudi Arabia to hold national finals of world's biggest start-up pitch competition

Entrepreneurship World Cup 2020 has attracted more than 174,000 applications from 200 countries

The Kingdom Tower, operated by Kingdom Holding Co., left, stands alongside the King Fahd highway, illuminated by the light trails of passing traffic, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016. Saudi Arabian stocks led Gulf Arab markets lower after oil extended its slump from the lowest close since 2004. Photographer: Waseem Obaidi/Bloomberg

Start-ups from Saudi Arabia will this week compete in the national finals of the Entrepreneurship World Cup (EWC) 2020, the world's biggest pitch competition for entrepreneurs, as they vie to win six cash prizes of $50,000 (Dh183,625) and a place in the Misk Global Forum finals.

The event, which will be held virtually on September 7 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, will see 15 of the kingdom's most promising start-ups give three-minute pitches, followed by two minutes of judges’ questions.

EWC 2020 has attracted more than 174,000 applications from 200 countries this year, with national finals taking place around the world. The global finals will take place at the Misk Global Forum annual gathering from October 18 to 20, when entrepreneurs will compete for $1 million (Dh3.67m) in cash prizes.

"It will encourage existing entrepreneurs to launch their ideas and take their companies to global audiences, while also engaging aspiring entrepreneurs to consider new career paths," organisers say on the competition website.

Saudi Arabia is focusing on developing small-and-medium businesses as part of its Vision 2030 programme, which aims to diversify the economy, reduce dependence on hydrocarbons, nurture local industries, attract foreign investment and create jobs for nationals.

The national finals will feature three live panel discussions by entrepreneurship experts, who will explore the theme of how new businesses can overcome challenges to become successful. Another panel, titled "Where are they now?" will include videos and testimonials highlighting the success of the Saudi Arabian start-ups that made the finals for EWC 2019.

The event will wrap up with an awards ceremony, including interviews with winners and judges’ feedback.

The co-organisers of the event are King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Prince Mohammad Bin Salman College of Business and Entrepreneurship, and the Global Entrepreneurship Network. Monsha’at (General Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises) and the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology are partners for the event.

Global finalists from the Middle East include the UAE's education technology start-up Awecademy, founded by Raya Bidshahri, Egypt's foodtech start-up Baramoda, founded by Mustafa Elnaby, and Palestine's big data start-up Amal, founded by Rowan Alawi, according to the EWC website.

Saudi Arabia's start-ups secured a record amount of funding in the first half of 2020 as investors targeted later-stage businesses, while the number of deals done also hit new highs as venture capitalists focused on industries positively affected by the pandemic, according to data platform Magnitt.

Start-ups in the kindgom secured $95 million (Dh348.8m) in funding during the first six months of 2020, more than doubling the amount raised in the first half of 2019 and surpassing the full-year amount, Magnitt said in its Saudi Arabia Venture Capital Snapshot report. The number of deals rose 29 per cent to 45 transactions.

Saudi Arabia ranks third in the Middle East and North Africa by number of deals done and total funding, behind Egypt and the UAE.