RIYADH: Amal Dokhan, who was one of the Kingdom’s first female venture capitalists (VCs) and recently joined Californian venture capital firm 500 Startups as a partner, is confident that the Saudi market will continue to grow in 2021.
A seasoned professional with experience in startup investments, corporate innovation and consulting in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, Dokhan was in upbeat mood when she spoke to Arab News.
“What we are seeing now in 2021, the numbers will definitely increase when it comes to Saudi Arabia and the region as well. The reason is that last year, when it was not expected for things to increase, they actually turned out to be a positive year for many companies and startups, especially in fintech (financial technology),” she said.
“The year has started with a positive sign for startups and VCs. Lots of international investors are looking into the Saudi market, so lots of prosperity I think is coming on this year and we are going to witness a good number of the deals as well,” she said.
The Saudi VC market has matured and now it a good time for startups as the investment appetite is high. The VC environment in the Kingdom has changed, Dokhan believes. At the moment, there are 47 VCs, and the number is growing. The increased demand is due to the coronavirus, as companies across the Kingdom have been forced to embrace online work and e-commerce has surged, creating more opportunities for startups and VCs.
About $152 million was invested in Saudi-based companies in 2020, she said. 500 Startups itself had also invested in many companies during this time, she said. The Californian firm has run more than 50 accelerator programs in Silicon Valley and around the world, and invested in more than 2,500 companies worldwide, including more than 180 companies in the MENA region.
New startups will be be selected from Saudi Arabia and the wider MENA region, and 500 Startup’s global network of mentors will help the businesses to scale-up and build regional and global connections, she said.
Sanabil Investments, a Riyadh-based investment firm wholly owned by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), has entered into partnership with 500 Startups to launch an early-stage accelerator program for Saudi startups.
The Sanabil 500 MENA Seed Accelerator Program will consist of six programs run by 500 Startups over three years for a group of pre-seed and seed stage startups from across the MENA region.
Dokhan is involved in the program, which will invest up to $100,000 in new startups. There are about 15 mentors who support the program from around the world, who have vast experience in nurturing startups. The program has already begun and is currently in its second week.
“Our program Sanabil 500 MENA Seed Accelerator Program is actually present here with a fund of $15 million . . . and Saudi Arabia will be very well represented in the program. When we launched this program, we were very happy with the number of startups that applied from Saudi Arabia and the region and applications exceeded 500 applications in a very short time,” she said.