The first Global Business Entrepreneurship Forum (GEF) was held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia today to bring together top business and startup leaders to the Ritz Carlton Hotel near the Diplomatic Quarter in the Saudi capital.
Organized by the Centennial Fund, the GEF’s first event in Riyadh was a chance for entrepreneurs and others in the business community to engage in discussions on key topics. At the event, which was co-hosted by TedXAlmaiwiyah, organizers presented the Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah International Prize for Entrepreneurship.
Winners of the Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah International Prize for Entrepreneurship.
Arab News featured an excellent rundown of the day’s discussions. The paper noted that, in response to a question on entrepreneurship among young women, Saudi businesswoman Lama Sulaiman responded that “women are as capable as men as entrepreneurs.”
The Forum is an important initiative for the Saudi economy, which is dominated by large-scale corporations and conglomerates as well as partially state-owned enterprises. Leaders in the Saudi government as well as analysts have long stressed the need for the Kingdom to foster growth of SMEs and new businesses in order to create private sector jobs for Saudis, as well as to compete internationally on technology and other industries.
Wamda, a leading online publication focusing on the startup culture and entrepreneurship in the region, featured an excellent interview today with Lebanese “seasoned entrepreneur-turned-venture capitalist” Khaled Nasr who discussed the need for greater investment in new businesses in the region. Nasr, himself an investor in both the Arab world and in Silicon Valley companies, lamented that the focus for VC firms is not on the Arab world, but rather on “the Bay Area first, California second, and the rest of the US after that. Most US VCs don’t have a presence or much awareness outside North America. When you’re investing, one of the most important things is the market; so other than very big markets such as China, India or Brazil, there is not much interest or appetite.”
The World Bank’s 2015 Ease of Doing Business Report’s overall rank for Saudi Arabia was 49 out of 189 economies. However, in the sub-category of Starting a Business, Saudi Arabia sunk 11 places this year from 98th overall to 109th.