Gulf states are diversifying their economies and betting big on tech.
In late August, Google signed a partnership with The Garage, a Saudi Arabia tech hub backed by the Ministry of Communications, to support more than 100 international startup companies and convince them to set up headquarters in the kingdom.
“The market here is promising; there are lots of great ideas and ambitious entrepreneurs,” says Maryam Alhuthayfi, a mentor with Google for Startups who was present at the launch.
The first cohort of entrepreneurs will receive grants of up to 100,000 riyals ($26,600) as well as funding and mentorship opportunities.
This strategic partnership is part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, the kingdom’s development road map. Spearheaded by tech-savvy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, economic diversification plans include large investments in the digital economy. In 2018, MBS traveled to Silicon Valley in California to meet with prominent blue-chip company executives, invite them to invest in Saudi Arabia and help turn Riyadh into a regional tech hub.
Over the years, the Saudi Public Investment Fund, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world, also acquired minority shares in major US tech firms, including Google, Amazon, Meta, Microsoft, Paypal and Uber. Like Google, some of these companies have set foot in Saudi Arabia, chasing opportunities in the kingdom and the region.
In the neighboring United Arab Emirates, the talk of the town is now the metaverse—a 3D virtual world where users can create avatars, socialize and transact. In August, Emirates NBD, Dubai’s largest bank, partnered with the Dubai International Financial Center and Microsoft to launch a global accelerator program specialized in metaverse companies.
“With our entry into the metaverse, we seek to reimagine financial services using extended reality and create compelling new propositions for our customers in the new metaverse economy,” Marwan Hadi, executive vice president and head of retail banking at Emirates NBD, said in a prepared statement.
Dubai aims to become one of the world’s top 10 metaverse economies, creating $4 billion in extra revenue and 40,000 jobs by 2030.