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Market overview

Review of the market and key statistics

VC List

The table of 60+ VCs, their investment focuses and contacts

Taxes & incorporation

Information on how to launch a startup in the Saudi Arabia

128%
Year-on-year increase of venture capital funding in 2023
74%
Of total venture capital deployed in the MENA region – 2023
$2.56 bn
Raised by startups in Saudi Arabia in 2023
51%
Of total funding falls on e-com ($368 mln across 11 deals)

Introduction

This report is a go-to guide for international startups and investors that are keen on exploring Saudi Arabian market, as it answers several questions frequently asked by entrepreneurs. Additionally, the report includes the list of VC funds and business angels ready to invest into startups in different spheres.

Saudi Arabia's venture ecosystem has witnessed remarkable growth and transformation in recent years, positioning itself as a significant player in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

Saudi Arabia finished 2023 with an all-time high in funding, amassing $2.56 billion. This spike was primarily driven by two major deals, each exceeding $100 million, in February. Such significant funding, even amid macroeconomic challenges, underscores the continued investor interest in the Saudi startup ecosystem

The entrepreneurial scene in Saudi Arabia has seen an 87% annual growth in the number of startups from 2017 to 2023. This growth is partly attributed to the Vision 2030 objectives, which aim to boost local employment and upskill talent, particularly in future-oriented industries like AI and digital skills. Substantial investments, including USD 1.4 billion earmarked for promoting entrepreneurship and digital content, have bolstered this growth. Furthermore, government-led initiatives, such as training 100,000 Saudi nationals in AI, programming, cybersecurity, and gaming, demonstrate a commitment to nurturing local tech capabilities.

Saudi Arabia's strategic location makes it a hub for businesses to access the vast MENA market. The country boasts over 1,600 startups, supported by more than 140 programs and a network of venture capital firms. Its diverse founder base from various backgrounds fosters innovation. In the first half of 2023, Saudi Arabia ranked first in venture capital activities in the MENA region, capturing 42% of all investment in the region.

Considering the Saudi ecosystem’s robust performance in a turbulent economic climate, there’s a strong indication that 2024 could mirror, if not exceed, the success of 2023.

Market overview

$138 bn
Total funding
7x
Growth since 2020
331
Total VC exits
3
Unicorns (see below)

Top-5 trends for startups in the region:

1. Record-Breaking Growth in Venture Capital. This growth trajectory is expected to continue, with investments in 2024 likely to surpass those of 2023. In 2022, Saudi startups secured a total of $987 million across 144 deals, representing a 72% increase in funding volume compared to 2021.

2. Fintech as a Leading Sector. The FinTech sector has seen a substantial boost, leading the charts for funding and total deal number. It accounted for 24% of all Saudi Arabia startup funding in 2022, with a total of $239 million raised across 28 deals. This sum represents a 167% increase compared to 2021. Mega-rounds of $100 million and over have been closed by startups like Foodics and Tamara, reflecting the sector's robust growth.

3. Government Initiatives and Regulatory Support. Various initiatives by the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA) and the Capital Market Authority have further boosted fintech development. These include the Open Banking Framework and the Open Banking Lab, which facilitate data sharing and provide a technical testing environment for open banking services. SAMA licensed 12 fintech companies in 2023, in addition to permitting ten fintech ventures to join its regulatory sandbox.

4. Diversified Sector Growth and Investment Focus. While e-commerce and logistics are expected to continue expanding, there is a significant surge in other sectors like fintech. This diversification is indicative of a broad growth pattern across various industries. The first half of 2023 saw e-commerce/retail as the highest sector in terms of funding and number of deals, accounting for 83% of total funding with $368 million across 11 deals.

5. Rising Talent and International Influx. The growth in venture capital investment has not only enhanced Saudi Arabia's economic stature but also cultivated its talent pool. There's an organic growth in the local talent pool, further enhanced by the influx of international talent. This trend is fueled by the expansion and relocation of more companies to the Kingdom, attracting diverse skills and expertise

2023 marked a milestone year for Saudi Arabia's venture ecosystem, as it ascended to the forefront of venture capital financing in the MENA region, achieving the top position for the first time.

Accelerator and incubator programs like TAQADAM, Misk Launchpad & Accelerator, and the Garage, as well as the entry of international operators such as Techstars and 500 Startups, play a crucial role in nurturing startups. The Misk Foundation, MCIT, and the National Technology Development Program have introduced the Saudi Unicorn program, aimed at supporting early-stage startups to achieve unicorn status

Editor's opinion on market characteristics

Technical talent (IT, engineering, hardware)

Marketing talent (PR, ads, branding)

Management talent (operations, HR, management)

Pros & Cons of launching a startup in Saudi Arabia

Growing Venture Capital Ecosystem

Unlike the rest of the world, Saudi Arabia demonstrates significant growth in venture capital funding, indicating strong investor interest in the region

Dependency on Government Initiatives

While government support is a strength, over-reliance on it could pose risks if policies or economic conditions change. Some aspects of Saudi Arabia's regulatory environment can still be complex and time-consuming to navigate

Strategic Location

Saudi Arabia's strategic position makes it a hub for accessing the broader Middle East and North Africa (MENA) market

Cultural and Market Specifics

Navigating the unique cultural and market dynamics of Saudi Arabia can be challenging, especially for those unfamiliar with the local business environment

Regulatory Reforms

Progressive regulatory reforms make it easier to start and operate a business, with streamlined processes for registration and licensing

Limited Sector Development

Saudi Arabia has developed FinTech and E-com industries, although other sectors may have limited financing and acceleration opportunities

Over 60 venture funds and angels are gathered in the list – start to explore and send your pitch!

Unicorns in the Saudi Arabian Market

FinTech
Tamara

Tamara

Tamara, a buy now, pay later platform for consumers in Saudi Arabia and the wider GCC region, has raised $340 million in a financing round that values the fintech at $1 billion.

Company's website
Fintech
Tabby

Tabby

BNPL (buy now pay later) platform that raised $200 million in equity funding, bringing the company's valuation to more than $1.5 billion

Company's website
FINTECH
STC PAY

STC PAY

First licensed fintech company in Kingdom by SAMA, the largest digital wallet in the MENA, and the first Saudi fintech unicorn startup.

Company's website

Incorporation

9 steps to incorporate
your business in Saudi Arabia

Incorporating a startup in Saudi Arabia involves several steps that may vary depending on the chosen jurisdiction and company type. Here is a general overview of the steps involved:

1. Application for Investment License

Non-GCC foreign investors must apply for an Investment License from the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA). This involves submitting a detailed report outlining the nature and size of the investment activity and key financial information about the company's operation.

2. Articles of Association

Prepare and submit the Articles of Association to the Ministry of Commerce and Investment. Once approved, the document must be signed in front of a notary public to register for a Commercial Registration (CR) certificate.

3. Registering Company’s Name

Reserve the company name with the Unified Centre and obtain approval before submitting other incorporation forms, such as articles of association and deed of establishment.

4. Registering with MERAS

Register your company online with the Ministry of Commerce through the MERAS program. Obtain a CR, which is an operating license, and a tax number. The application must include details like company type, trade name, activity, capital, and managerial information.

5. Issuance of SAGIA Foreign Business License

Submit all necessary documents (CR, tax registration, municipality license, bank’s share capital deposit letter) to SAGIA for review and approval. SAGIA will then issue the foreign business investment license, allowing the company to operate legally in Saudi Arabia.

6. Creation of Company Seal

Create a company seal with the CR number and company name. This seal is required for various official purposes, including attestations at the Chamber of Commerce, registration with the General Organization for Social Insurance, and for company invoices.

7. Registration at the Chamber of Commerce

Submit the Certificate of Membership from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI) within 30 days of the CR registration.

8. Bank Account Opening

Open a local bank account within 90 days of the issuance of the commercial certificate. The process includes opening a capital account for depositing the required paid-up share capital, which is later converted into an operating business account.

9. Staying Compliant

Ensure compliance with local accounting and tax regulations. This involves preparing financial statements, corporate tax returns, and bookkeeping. For foreign employees, obtaining a Saudi Employment visa (Iqama) is necessary for them to be signatories to a Saudi corporate bank account.

The report is supported by these amazing companies:

The review is created by:​

Kirill Sosnin

Kirill Sosnin

Founder at Blank.

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