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Mapping the Agri-Food Ecosystem in the MENA Region

An Introduction To Food, Agriculture and Water Ecosystem in The Middle East and North Africa

Part III – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

In 2020, we worked and shared several maps to understand the Turkish food and agriculture ecosystem. This year we expand our research area and look for the ecosystem actors in the MENA Region. The Region has a high potential for entrepreneurship. Magnitt reports that MENA-based start-ups have been growing since 2016. Government support, increased funding and international interests played a vital role in this growth (1). We started our mapping journey in MENA Region with Bahrain. Then we dived into Qatar; now, we are looking for the Saudi Arabia agri-food ecosystem. Globally, Saudi Arabia is ranked seventh in social media engagement, with an average of seven accounts per individual (2). According to Magnitt Saudi Arabia Venture Capital Report 2020, despite the backdrop of COVID-19, the Saudi Arabia start-up ecosystem reached a $152M investment in 2020 (3). 

In the Middle East region, major limiting factors in agriculture production are land and water, and Saudi Arabia has no exception.  Thus, the Saudi government has encouraged farmers to participate in alternative agricultural methods such as a greenhouse, advanced irrigation technologies, etc.(4). There are many governmental organizations, incubators, accelerators, academic institutions, and start-ups that work for better agriculture and food system in Saudi Arabia. We searched for and put them on our map.

Do ecosystems have complex networks?

An agri-food entrepreneurship ecosystem is formed by people, governmental/public organizations, research/academic institutes, support organizations, accelerators, incubators, companies, and funding organizations. This list can be further divided into many more categories. Each organization focuses on different parts of the entrepreneurial journey, but they interact as a system and work together. With so many stakeholders in it, ecosystems are complex networks. With this map, we focus on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s agri-food ecosystem and hope to draw a clear picture of it.

Building The Map

Governmental & Public Organizations

Saudi Arabia has an estimated 15% of the world’s proven oil reserves and is the largest economy in the MENA region (5). Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 intends to shift the country from an oil-dependent economy to a knowledge-based economy (6). Under the vision 2030, the Kingdom aims to increase the SMEs’ contribution to the GDP to 35% by easing access to funding. To achieve this vision, Monshaat (the Small to Medium Enterprises Authority) focuses on reviewing regulations, removing any challenges to accessing finance, and helping start-ups and SMEs’ by marketing their ideas, products, and services. The authority also focuses on expanding support facilities such as incubators, training centers, and venture capital funds (7). For ease of access to finance, the Public Investment Fund, a leading economic player in KSA, one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds,  launched  Jada, Funds of Funds to invest in start-ups and SMEs (8). 

Other governmental and public entities also engaged in the entrepreneurship ecosystem. Capital Market Authority is one of them. The authority, regulate and develop the Saudi Arabian Capital Market. Its objectives are to create an appropriate investment environment, boost confidence and reinforce transparency(9). Ministry of Commerce works to achieve a pioneering position for the commerce sector in Saudi Arabia within a fair and stimulating environment. Misk Foundation, a non-profit foundation, aims to cultivate and encourage learning and leadership in young generations for a better Saudi Arabia future. They organize workshops, talks, global forums to flourish the entrepreneurship ecosystem. Moreover, TAQNIA Saudi Technology Development and Investment Company mandated investing and commercializing the R&D output from various institutions locally and globally. You will find more stakeholders from governmental and public organizations on our map.

Start-up: A Mighty Ecosystem

As Kök Projekt, we are an agri-food start-up accelerator. We follow start-ups from all over the world. 

To create our map, we used our database and searched for developments in KSA’s start-up world. With its 2030 vision KSA supports the success of start-ups. Many of them work, especially in the food and delivery sector. Due to COVID-19 online food and delivery start-ups are under the spotlight of investors. Magnitt latest report on Saudi Arabia reports that, In Saudi Arabia, Jahez, a food delivery start-up,  and Nana, a grocery delivery start-up, raised $36,5M and  $18M respectively in 2020 (10). One of the prominent start-ups in the ag-tech sector is Red Sea Farms, focusing on water scarcity and working on salt-water-based agriculture systems, committed to supporting global food security through sustainable cultivation. You can see a list of agri-food start-ups in the Kingdom of  Saudi Arabia on our map. 

Corporates: Engaging In Entrepreneurship

As Kök Projekt, we are an innovation partner for the food, agriculture, and water sector companies. In recent years, changing market forces are pressuring companies to innovate in response to global competition. Start-ups give corporates a new way of thinking, creativity, and use of new technologies. Start-ups benefit from the experience and maturity of corporates. Corporates can also support the entrepreneurship journey through acceleration programs, centers, and co-working spaces. In the Saudi Arabia ecosystem, one of the prominent centers for entrepreneurship is Wa’ed, established by leading energy company Saudi Aramco. Wa’ed assists entrepreneurs by providing finance along with guidance. You can find many more companies from different sectors on our map.

Investors

Getting the business funded is one of the main concerns that start-ups face and have to tackle, to continue their business. According to Magnitt’s latest KSA report, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the KSA start-up ecosystem reached $152 M investment in 2020. The government or private sector backs many investment funds. Merak Capital, Raed Ventures, HALA Ventures, Riyadh Angel Investors are active players in the KSA ecosystem. PIF, a leading economic player in KSA, one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds,  launched  Jada, Funds of Funds, to invest in start-ups and SMEs.

Research Centres & Academic Institutes: Nurturing Start-up Ecosystem

Research centers and academic institutes play a pivotal role in cultivating the entrepreneurial culture and supporting the start-up journey. In Saudi Arabia, research and educational institutes have an essential place in the entrepreneurship ecosystem’s blooming.. Many universities have entrepreneurship, technology institutes. King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) strives to create new-knowledge-based technologies and create a strong entrepreneurship culture. King Saud University also has an entrepreneurship institute. There are many more research centers and academic institutes that contribute to Saudi Arabia’s entrepreneurship ecosystem. You can find them on our map.

Incubators & Accelerators & Support Organizations

Entrepreneurship is at the heart of sustainable growth for many countries in the MENA region. Incubators and accelerators catalyze the entrepreneurial journey. Thus, many national and international incubators, accelerators, and entrepreneurship support organizations in the Saudi Arabia ecosystem. Blossom has a unique space among accelerators as it is Saudi Arabia’s first female-focused and inclusivity accelerator. GEN Saudi is part of the Global Entrepreneurship Network that operates in 180 countries to make business easier. A government initiative, Business Incubators and Accelerators Company (BIAC) manages many incubation and acceleration programs such as Badir. Moreover, there are many digital hubs for entrepreneurship support. One of them is Engage, which is a digital hub created by Islamic Development Bank. You will find many other programs, hubs, and support organizations on our map.

Quick Disclaimer

This is not a full-scale map of the Saudi Arabia Agri-Food Ecosystem.

You can reach our 2021 Saudi Arabia Agri-Food Ecosystem Map here.

Sources

  1. https://magnitt.com/research/2021-mena-industry-venture-report-50743?utm_source=cta&utm_medium=website&utm_campaign=DataArticle
  2. https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/McKinsey/Featured%20Insights/Middle%20East%20and%20Africa/How%20investors%20can%20support%20entrepreneurship%20in%20the%20Middle%20East%20and%20North%20Africa/MENA%20entrepreneurship%20article-final%20version-for%20viewing%20(003).ashx
  3. https://magnitt.com/research/2020-saudi-arabia-venture-capital-snapshot-50738
  4. https://www.mordorintelligence.com/industry-reports/agriculture-in-the-kingdom-of-saudi-arabia-industry
  5. https://oxfordbusinessgroup.com/saudi-arabia-2020/country-profile
  6. https://www.arabnet.me/ContentFiles/4195PDFFile1.pdf, p.3
  7. https://www.arabnet.me/ContentFiles/4195PDFFile1.pdf, p.3
  8. https://www.menabytes.com/pif-jada/
  9. https://cma.org.sa/en/AboutCMA/Pages/AboutCMA.aspx
  10. https://magnitt.com/research/2020-saudi-arabia-venture-capital-snapshot-50738

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