ArabNet Riyadh: Innovation & Entrepreneurship Driving KSA’s Economic Development
Over 1,400 digital leaders gathered at the ArabNet Riyadh conference to discuss the latest in digital innovation and entrepreneurship, following the launch of Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Program (NTP). The event was held under the patronage of the General Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEA), and hosted by King Abdulaziz City of Science and Technology (KACST) and the Badir Program for Technology Incubators, and with the sponsorship of Digital Media Services (DMS), STC, InspireU, Riyad Bank, Thiqah, Al-Khaleejiah, Al Ahli NCB, Saudi Aramco, Al Arabia, Smaat, OMD, Nabd, Payfort, IBM, Dubai Internet City (DIC), Jathwa, Riyali, Saudi Marketers, Startup Bahrain, Jeeltech and PayPal. TRACCS was the PR Partner.
The highly awaited fifth edition of ArabNet Riyadh was launched on December 13th, in the presence of H.H. Prince Dr. Turki Bin Saud Al Saud, President of KACST, H.E. Dr. Mohammed Al-Suwaiyel, Minister of Communications and Information Technology, and H.E. Dr. Ghassan AlSulaiman, Governor of SMEA. The conference was preceded by the Design+Code Day on December 12th, a pre-conference set of workshops designed to train developers, designers and entrepreneurs on building great web and mobile products.
The opening ceremony featured an interactive speech between Badir CEO, Mr. Nawaf Bin Attaf Alsahhaf, and ArabNet CEO, Mr. Omar Christidis; both sharing their mission of helping grow the knowledge economy in Saudi Arabia. Mr. Christidis spoke of ArabNet Riyadh’s importance over the past years in providing a platform for the effective launch of emerging Saudi projects, and securing a hub for networking and learning among young people, professionals and businessmen and women in the digital sector. Mr. Christidis went on to say that the conference highlights the latest trends and opportunities in the Saudi market, in line with the Kingdom's Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Program 2020, that focus on digital innovation and entrepreneurship as a means to pave the way for development and transformation of the kingdom's economy into a knowledge-based economy, driven by innovation and creativity.
Mr. Alsahhaf spoke of Badir’s successful initiation over the years of various innovative companies. The program has accepted over 8,000 applications, embraced over 200 emerging Saudi companies and provided 946 jobs. Graduated companies have initiated over 241 million riyals as of mid-2016, in line with the Kingdom's Vision 2030 objectives that include the support of entrepreneurship and small and medium-sized enterprises, contributing to the Saudi GDP. In order to achieve the goal of King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) to support 600 emerging technology companies and generate 3,600 jobs by 2020, the city is seeking to promote incubators and accelerators, and expand activities into nine regions.
The opening ceremony was followed by a panel that delved into the impact of the NTP on the digital and entrepreneurship ecosystems in the Kingdom. The panel, part of the National Innovation Track, was moderated by Mr. Mansour Alobaid, CEO of Future Technologies Pioneers Consulting Office, and featured prominent public and private leaders such as Eng. Ali Bin Saleh Al-Soma, Advisor to the Minister of Communications and IT; Mr. Mazen Aldawood, Deputy Governor of SMEA; Dr. Khaled AlGhoneim, Founder & CEO of Hawaz and former CEO of STC Group; and Ms. Maha Taibah, Managing Partner at Eradah. Other speakers taking part in the National Innovation Track included Mr. Fahd Hamidaddin, Chief Commercial Officer at King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC); Mr. Akram Al Haddad, CEO at Creative Telecom Company (CTC); Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, General Manager for Saudi Arabia at Dell EMC; Mr. Abdullah Alswaha, Managing Director - Saudi Arabia at Cisco; and Mr. Mohamed Karime, Digital Regional Commercial Director at GE.
Beyond the focus on the Kingdom’s transformation, the ArabNet Riyadh forum featured three full tracks of rich content: a Digital Media and Marketing Track, an Investment Track, as well as a eBusiness Track, featuring the expertise of 90 high-caliber international and regional speakers, such as: Mr. Issa Aghabi, Investment Officer Venture Capital at International Finance Corporation (IFC); Mr. Scott Amyx, CEO at Amyx+; Ms. Sarah Al Ayed, Co-founder and Partner at TRACCS; Mr. Sumeet Jain, General Partner at LUMA Capital Partners; Mr. Mohammad Hamad Alhajeri, Chief Investment Officer at Impulse International; Mr. Ashraf AlHassan, Digital Marketing Director at National Agricultural Development Company (NADEC); Mr. Olivier Cohen, Regional Manager - Middle East at Hootsuite; and Mr. Walid Hadid, Head of Analytics - UAE at OMD. Top investors from around the region joined the event, including 500 Startups, Flat6Labs, Impulse / NTEC, Middle East Venture Partners, and VentureSouq.
On the occasion of the conference, ArabNet and OMD released the Arabic version of their “E-commerce Insights and Best Practices 2016” research report to help brands develop their e-commerce strategies. The report interviews the region’s top e-commerce companies about the key factors for their success, and presents a guide to support businesses who are looking to incorporate e-commerce into their activities.
ArabNet Riyadh continues for another day, with more than 20 sessions to go, and an exclusive and invitation-only Banking Innovation Track that gathers top executives and CEOs from the banking industry, and tackles the way digital is affecting the sector, aiming to create a brighter future for it. Forum day 2 also features 1-on-1 interviews with top private sector executives leading digital transformation across sectors, including Mr. AbdulRahman Aljadhai, CEO at Elm and Mr. Abdelmalik Al Sheikh, CEO at Sadad.