Stakeholders in both countries had long been toying with the idea of a technology hub that would mobilize sources of capital and advice to facilitate the development of small- and medium-sized enterprises, and private-sector growth.
At a UK Saudi Smart Cities and Technology Forum held in London last year, Saudi and British public and private sector delegates had concurred in the perfectly timed opportunity for a joint collaboration in the tech arena between both countries under the auspices of the council and other stakeholders. Now, that dream has become a reality thanks to the FII Institute’s support.
In the first half of this year alone, London tech startups raised £7.9 billion ($10.8 billion) in venture capital funding. London is now behind only the San Francisco Bay Area, Beijing, and New York City when it comes to creating unicorns. The English capital now has 71 unicorns, significantly more than any other European capital. But it is not only about unicorns.
In 2020, London was home to more than 220,000 startups, at least 70 incubators and accelerators, and in excess of 156 co-working spaces. The city’s ecosystem received more than $5 billion in venture capital financing in 2017 and generated over £56 billion in digital revenue. London is ranked second for financial technology and fourth for the education technology industry globally.
Meanwhile, 4,000 miles southeast, Saudi Arabia’s nascent startup ecosystem is being strongly endorsed by the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan and the National Transformation Program. Fintech innovation, startups, and a knowledge-based economy are playing a key role in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s vision to transform the Saudi economy away from its traditional oil-based structure and rebalance it into a more technology driven modern global superpower.
In this context, the time had long been ripe for a UK Saudi tech-led collaboration that would leverage on the former’s undisputed success in a wide range of areas spanning from the financial services industry (financial, regulatory, and insurance technology) to the creative industries (fashion and creative technology).
The timing could not be better for the creation of the Saudi UK Tech Hub, an initiative that signals the UK’s commitment to support Vision 2030 implementation as a strategic partner.
Saudi Arabia faces a unique opportunity to support its emerging startup scene by becoming a leading partner to some of the UK’s most successful startup institutions and by adopting a homegrown version of some of Britain’s most effective initiatives, such as its Enterprise Investment Scheme, and Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme.
Therefore, the Saudi UK Tech Hub provides an appropriate umbrella organization for a joint collaboration between the two countries’ private and public sector participants by helping grow the Saudi local economy and connecting its startups to global markets.
The UK is home to some of the world’s most renowned startup incubators and accelerators, such as Level39. It is also a pioneer in government-backed initiatives that have proven to be a huge game-changer for both entrepreneurs and investors in small early-stage companies.
As a result, the Saudi UK Tech Hub is set to play a twofold role in providing soft-landing support for tech entrepreneurs in both countries: First, by connecting Saudi and UK startups with investors across global markets to raise funds and drive their success, and second, by providing a platform for knowledge sharing.
Initially, the tech hub, in partnership with some of the UK’s leading startup institutions, is set to create an ecosystem helping startups in both countries grow internationally. It will do so by running programs for businesses, partners, and universities to help teams build solutions and grow their business.
Furthermore, it will provide a deal-flow platform to match investors in one country with tech-sector opportunities in the other country and vice versa. By connecting industry, talent, and investment, it will provide introductions to potential partners and investors, thus increasing deal flow and joint-venture opportunities between both countries.
The Tech Hub will also promote knowledge exchange and act as a forum to define challenges and validate solutions. It will do so by assessing initiatives that have proven successful in the UK and promote the adoption of such initiatives adapted to the Saudi market.
Key among them is the role that regulation has played in promoting British entrepreneurship and establishing the UK as a global entrepreneurial hub. Britain’s ecosystem has largely benefitted from support by the UK’s financial services and markets regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority.
The tech collaboration between the UK and Saudi Arabia is built around four pillars: Deal flow, accelerator hub, partnerships, and research. The Saudi UK Tech Hub, supported as a founding partner by the FII Institute, will address those pillars by linking Saudi and UK tech entrepreneurs and innovation hubs with potential partners and investors through a virtual platform, joint events, and a business growth program.
It will therefore help connect Saudi and British startups and scaleups in key sectors, promote knowledge sharing, and increase deal flow by building a global partnership ecosystem including private-sector partnerships, academic institutions, incubators, successful entrepreneurs, public partnerships, and key angel investors.