Saudi Arabia unveiled more than $6.4 billion worth of investments in future technologies and entrepreneurship to accelerate the kingdom's digital transformation and boost its digital economy.
The deals were announced on Tuesday as part of the three-day technology conference Leap in Riyadh, which runs until Thursday.
The initiatives include the official launch of Saudi Aramco Venture’s $1bn Prosperity7 fund and a $1bn investment from Neom Tech and Digital Company in future technologies.
Aramco’s venture capital fund, operational for more than a year now, was launched by Aramco chief technology officer Ahmad Al Khowaiter. It intends to develop next-generation technologies and business models.
“Through the breadth of the Saudi Aramco ecosystem, its vast resources and its far-reaching footprint across geographies and sectors, Prosperity7 can present unparalleled opportunities for scalability and impact,” Mr Al Khowaiter said.
“This potential would be instrumental in creating stronger foundations for success for its portfolio companies.”
As part of its investment, Neom announced the launch of the world’s first cognitive metaverse, XVRS that will serve residents and visitors of the smart giga-project, and M3LD, a personal data management platform that gives back control of data to the user.
“The future will be defined by cognitive meta cities … it is a vision focused on experiences rather than scale,” Joseph Bradley, chief executive of Neom Tech and Digital Company, said.
“XVRS puts human needs at its core, it is designed to give people more time, space and enhanced safety. M3LD, meanwhile, will place data ownership back in the hands of users and restore trust in the data economy.”
Saudi Telecom Company, the biggest telecoms operator in the kingdom by market value, announced Mena Hub, a $1bn investment in regional connectivity and infrastructure.
It seeks to support the kingdom’s rapidly expanding digital and cloud sector, the operator said.
“These investments and initiatives are a manifestation of the kingdom’s push towards the growth of the digital economy for the greater good of people, the planet and the prosperity of the Mena [Middle East and North Africa] region,” Abdullah Alswaha, Saudi Minister of Communications and Information Technology, said.
“They mark the next level of growth for the digital economy in Saudi Arabia, the Mena region’s largest technology and digital market,” he said.
The kingdom's technology market is estimated at more than $40bn, according to official data. New investments are part of the country’s plans to become an innovation-based economy.
Saudi Arabia is the regional leader for technology talent, with more than 318,000 jobs in the technology sector in the kingdom, Mr Alswaha said.
The Arab world’s largest economy is also home to some of the largest investments in cloud technology, with leading hyperscale cloud providers including Google, Alibaba, Oracle and SAP investing more than $2.5bn in cloud in the kingdom.
The technology conference included the launch of Garage, a platform for start-ups, investment and entrepreneurship by King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology.
It aims to create a full-service environment for local and international start-ups to help them grow to become leading technology companies.
“The Garage is inspired by the humble beginnings of some of the biggest companies in technology today, and aims to provide everything that start-ups need to grow their ideas, to become the next global technology giants,” said Munir Eldesouki, president of KACST and head of the Research, Development and Innovation Authority foundation team.
Singapore-based logistics and supply chain company J&T Express Group announced an investment of $2bn with venture capital fund eWTP Arabia Capital and other partners.
The investment will allow J&T to establish its Mena headquarters in Riyadh, and set up an network of smart logistics and distribution facilities that will extend the kingdom’s reach as the regional centre for advanced logistics.
“The logistics infrastructure and facilities that will be established through this partnership will not only accelerate the growth of distribution and cargo in Saudi Arabia but also make the kingdom a leading centre for advanced logistics services, president of the kingdom’s General Authority of Civil Aviation Abdulaziz Al Duailej said.
“In the next 10 years, together with eWTP Arabia Capital and other strategic partners, J&T will invest in the most advanced hardware and software equipment … train the most outstanding professional team, build the largest intelligent logistics industrial park … serve the entire regional market and promote the comprehensive development of the local technology-driven industrial economy,” said Jet Lee, founder and chairman of J&T Express Group.