By: Moslem Ali
Riyadh – Mubasher: ArabNet Riyadh will feature multiple tracks delving into discussions across a range of industries and topics on 10 & 11 December, bringing together more than 6,000 attendees.
The Founder and CEO of ArabNet, Omar Christidis, has taken Mubasher in an informative journey about the event, the company itself with all the challenges it faced, and the latest fields of technology ArabNet is interested in covering.
What is new in the 2019 edition of ArabNet Riyadh?
The eighth edition of Arabnet Riyadh on 10-11 December has moved to a new venue, the Riyadh International Convention and Exhibition Center, and will bring together over 6,000 attendees, 150+ investors, and 300+ exhibiting startups in the Kingdom's largest tech entrepreneurship showcase.
The event will bring together 250+ experts and speakers worldwide, with full tracks of programing covering a range of topics.
Walk our readers through the event’s main topics and initiatives?
The Inspire Saudi track will focus on startups and investing in tech companies, featuring top global investors from Silicon Valley, the UK, Singapore, Hong Kong, France, Austria, Mexico, and around the MENA region. Inspire Saudi will also feature inspirational Saudi leaders including HRH Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, President of the Saudi Arabian Federation for Electronic and Intellectual Sports (SAFEIS) and the Arab eSports Federation.
The Ad/Edge track will delve into digital media and advertising, with top speakers from MBC Group, Snap, Facebook, TikTok, Choueiri Group, Vice Media, Chalhoub Group, OMD, DMS, and Starzplay and others.
The Finverse track will tackle digital banking and fintech, with confirmed speakers including Rayan AlFayez, CEO and MD of Saudi Fransi Bank; Sami AlRuwiethy; Chief Digital Officer of SAMBA, Stephen Monaghan EVP - Digital Banking at Riyad Bank; and Andreas Skopal, Group Chief Digital Officer at Gulf International Bank.
Finally, the CIO Forum will dive into best practices for digital transformation across government and enterprise, and will feature top CTOs and CIOs from the National Water Company, Alamar Foods, Arab National Bank, as well as experts from IBM, Mastercard and others.
How does the event’s theme “Connecting the Kingdom” link with Saudi Vision 2030?
Arabnet Riyadh connects the dots between the stakeholders who are driving digital transformation forward. The event encompasses the private and public sector, entrepreneurs, innovators, digital experts, investors, and more.
It also connects businesses and investors from outside the Kingdom who are looking to enter the market, and helps them understand and navigate the local environment and access relevant opportunities.
Moreover, we have been supporting in building and growing the entrepreneurship ecosystem since we first entered Saudi Arabia in 2012. The government aims to raise the contribution of SMEs to the GDP from 20% to 35% by 2030.
This year’s event is packed with various initiatives and activations that support the growth of the entrepreneurial ecosystem through workshops for capacity building, connections startups with investors in 1-on-1 meetings, and shedding the light on inspirational regional and local role models.
With your digital and business development experience from Lebanon to MENA, how do you see the status of the region’s digital e-conomy, and ArabNet’s contribution to its development?
As technology proliferated over the past 10 years, the sector transformed, and technology went from the IT department to the boardroom, where innovation and digitization strategies became a priority.
There’s been a tenfold increase of VCs in many markets, there are over a dozen $100 million startups, there’s been an exit at over $1 billion which we would not have dreamed of before. Verticalization of the industry is another big trend that is transforming the sector.
Many governments across the region are also prioritizing programs focused on growing the sector, such as Circular 331 in Lebanon, the Kuwait National Fund, and the SME Authority in Saudi Arabia.
To keep up with the changing needs of the market, we launched our Insight Division and Innovation Programs Divisions and we’re focused on growing these two lines of business during our upcoming phase to support government and corporations in navigating digital disruption and fostering innovation to capture emerging opportunities.
Arabnet Insights is collaborating with clients to position them as thought leaders through publications and research. Our specialized content dives into disruptive technologies and startup trends, and provide guidance for decision-makers, with different tools.
Do you plan on collaborating with Fintech associations and initiatives in the region?
Arabnet is an open platform that collaborates with everyone in the ecosystem, and we work with all the fintech entities across the region.
We have engaged and partnered with Fintech Saudi, Fintech Bay, Fintech Hive, and many of them have spoken at our events and shared their insights on building a thriving MENA fintech ecosystem. For example, Arabnet Riyadh is part of the Fintech Tour that is being organized by Fintech Saudi.
What does ArabNet offer to digital startups to cope with new technologies, such as AI, IoT, and other Industry 4.0 developments?
In our upcoming event we have workshops on AI, fintech, and all the latest trends, provided by global experts, to keep our audience ahead of the curve.
Our reports also provide entrepreneurs with in-depth knowledge and analyses. For instance, we published a report in collaboration with OMD on best practices in e-commerce.
We’ve also published a report - in collaboration with StartAD (NYU Abu Dhabi) and DTEC (Dubai Silicon Oasis) - on AI adoption by corporates in the UAE - to help companies implement their own AI strategies more effectively.
Looking back at more than a decade of initiatives by ArabNet, which achievements by the company and its alumni are you most proud of?
On the occasion of the 10-year anniversary this year, we reached out to all our alumni who pitched at Arabnet and created an impact report - and we’re proud that our alumni have gone on to employ over 650 people.
Over 285 entrepreneurs have graduated from Arabnet’s Startup Battle, who have raised over $85 million, and their overall valuation today is $275 million.
We have so many inspirational stories to tell. Careem co-founder Dr. Abdulla Elyas met his Co-founder Mudassir and Magnus at Arabnet Dubai in 2013.
Hunger Station and Noon Academy, both pitched at the first Arabnet event in Riyadh, Hunger Station has grown to become the market leader in food delivery in Saudi Arabia and Noon Academy raised $8.6 million earlier this year in the largest ever funding round raised by an EdTech startup in MENA.
Behind the success of ArabNet event lies the challenging path Arabnet Company faced as a startup. Could you tell us more about the history, challenges, and turning points in your business?
One of the main challenges was when we started 10 years ago, we really had to work hard at raising the level of market awareness in the sector. The world of tech and startups was very small, and many people were not familiar with the concepts of startup pitches, venture capital investment, acceleration, etc.
We worked a lot with corporates (and government) to explain the importance of investing in tech/innovation, collaborating with startups/innovators, and engaging in events like ArabNet conferences.
Once we established ourselves in Lebanon, we expanded and localized our offerings to other markets in the region, such as KSA, Kuwait, and Dubai.
As we expanded to multiple markets, and started offering a more extensive list of offerings and services, we have had to restructure internally, and our team grew to over 30 members today.
Based on your exceptional journey, what do you tell Arab youth studying abroad aiming to return home and contribute to their countries’ development?
I would tell them that today is a transformative time in the future of the modern Middle East, and there’s a focus leapfrogging technology for the future, on being the smartest and most innovative nations globally.
Now is the time to be transforming our nations into the future - bring your skill sets and capture the opportunity. There’s much that needs to be done and we’re looking for digital natives who understand technology and can help catapult the nation forward.
Edited by: Ingy ElSafy