Arabnet Riyadh may have just wrapped up, but the potential of the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Saudi Arabia is still buzzing. In its 8th edition, Arabnet Riyadh, held in Strategic Partnership with Monsha’at, brought together thousands of government officials, professionals, entrepreneurs and investors. The theme this year “Connecting the Kingdom”, managed to do just that.
Omar Christidis, Founder & CEO of Arabnet shed light on the potential of the Kingdom, being the MENA region’s largest economy. “If you’re looking for the emerging hub of digital innovation and entrepreneurship in the MENA region today, you’ll find it in Saudi Arabia,” he said in his opening speech.
To gauge just how much opportunity will be spurred in the Kingdom, BDD’s team sat with Omar (OC), to understand the market potential for Lebanese companies and what can ‘save’ Lebanon.
BDD: In one word, how do you see tomorrow?
OC: Tomorrow is anxious, because there is a lack of visibility. I would like to have more clarity of what to expect from 2020. And what makes a bad situation worse, is that we have no visibility for tomorrow, which makes it difficult to plan and for us to put together the right strategy for the business.
But I am optimistic, because as a business, we have a lot of business outside of Lebanon. We work regionally and are in the tech space. The tech space is still booming locally, even though many industries are struggling. I believe tech can be the savior of Lebanon’s economy moving forward and it’s one of the few industries that Lebanon can have a competitive advantage in. It could be a way out of the current economic crisis, if we do things right.
BDD: In light of the current challenges and lack of visibility, what quality helps you overcome these obstacles?
OC: Individually, but also more broadly, us as a company, we are resourceful. Now is the time to rethink what you are doing. People doing ‘business as usual’, will suffer. It’s a pivotal moment for the country, and for the region more generally. We should all reflect on what we were doing in the past and how we can do things differently in the future. We should not rely on any momentum that we have now.
I am confident that many opportunities will open up, to serve many new and different needs. Yes, many businesses will close, but that will free up talent for businesses that are hungry for top talent. People are no longer confident putting their money into banks, but more confident in putting their money in companies now. Think creatively and be resourceful.
BDD: For companies eyeing growth opportunities in KSA, what advice can you give?
OC: For companies looking towards Saudi, the country is opening up on multiple levels. They are looking for people who want to invest, and you can even have a foreign ownership company in Saudi Arabia through SAGIA. Startups should consider Saudi Arabia for their next growth opportunity.
The main advice I would give: Saudi Arabia today is going through a massive transformation driven by Vision 2030, and most allocated budgets are for achieving the vision. The biggest opportunities today for entrepreneurs is to be part of achieving Vision 2030 KPIs - so I advise entrepreneurs to read and understand the vision and different vision realization programs, and the relevant budgets and activities that they can be part of.
BDD: Back to Lebanon. Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?
OC: I am hoping to see a government to lead us out of this crisis that can instill trust within its citizens. It’s incredible to see so many Lebanese thrive outside of the country, but have a difficult time here.
But for all of us who are here, many of us have chosen to be here. This is because we believe in the country and want to see it succeed. We believe in the potential of Lebanon and it is now time for us to help write the future. Yes, we are in a tough patch, but it’s time for the government to act and put together a solution. Through action, trust amongst the international community will grow, and people will start to trust again.
We also need clear visibility for private sector, for us to operate, thrive and grow.