Canadian firm NERv Technology Inc. emerged victorious at the Entrepreneurship World Cup (EWC) at the Misk Global Forum (MGF) 2019 in Riyadh on Thursday, with Saudi startup Red Sea Farms coming third.
NERv Technology Inc. was handed a $500,000 prize and the winning trophy, while second-ranked team Koniku Inc. from the US won $250,000.
Red Sea Farms received $150,000, and fourth and fifth-ranked Sumato-ID (of Argentina) and SUN Mobility (India) were handed $50,000 each.
"It’s been a fantastic experience going through the event here over the past few days. We have been working really hard for almost five years to make sure we have a device that can actually have an impact on people’s lives and I think we are getting one step closer to that. It was a great experience in terms of the people we met, the people we engaged with, being able to be in the same place with like-minded individuals who understand how difficult it is to start our own business. We helped each other and have great respect for all the finalists, the grand prize to us is just a small part of winning, to be in the final was great. I was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, so it is great to come back and see this country the way it is right now, and it is absolutely fantastic to win the EWC here.
- NERv Technology’s Amr Abdelgawad
Mark Tester, CEO and founder of Red Sea Farms, told Arab News: “It is a fantastic feeling to come third, to be in this event is fantastic to be honest, I am really proud of representing Saudi Arabia.”
He commended the role played by the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) describing it as a “fabulous organization” to work with.“This is real affirmation of our efforts to build companies and deliver research back to Saudi Arabia,” added Tester. Speaking at the final ceremony of the MGF, Commerce and Investment Minister Dr. Majid Al-Qasabi praised the startups at the EWC finals and described the MGF as a “hope forum,” saying it provided a platform for making the Kingdom a land of opportunity.
Shaima Hamidaddin, executive manager of the MGF, thanked all the participants and EWC contestants for “really amazing sessions”.
She also gave a sneak peak of MGF 2020, saying it would be historically important because of the Kingdom hosting G20 Summit next year. “The EWC global finalists represent the cream of international startup talent. We’re looking forward to seeing the entrepreneurs reach even greater heights thanks to the boot camp ahead of the finals at the MGF. Our partnership with KAUST is part of our commitment to working with top international leaders in innovation, training, and development to achieve our global mission of empowering young people to thrive in the knowledge economy.”
The contest’s 10 semifinalists were: Bambrew (India), CiDi (China), Corumat Inc. (US), DRD Biotech (Russia), Koniku Inc. (US), NERv Technology Inc. (Canada), Red Sea Farms (Saudi Arabia), SUN Mobility (India), Sumato-ID (Argentina), and Tensortec (China). Judges at the event included Kevin O’Leary, chairman of O’Shares Investments, Abdulrahman Tarabzouni, CEO and managing director of STV, Christine Tsai, CEO of 500 Startups and Aneel Ranadive, managing partner at Soma Capital. Earlier over the course of the forum, the 100 startups drawn from national and regional finals around the world were whittled down to a final top 10. The EWC is the world’s largest startup competition, with over 100,000 applicants. Saudi Arabia presents an extraordinary opportunity for startups interested in accessing the MENA market and tapping into KAUST’s unique ecosystem, focused on finding solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges in food, water, energy and the environment. The KAUST-Misk partnership aims to advance Saudi Arabia’s ambitious economic transformation goals by attracting cutting-edge, impactful startups and top entrepreneurial talent to the Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia is the world’s most misunderstood country, Kevin O’Leary, chairman of O’Shares ETF Canada and star of the TV show Shark Tank, told Arab News at the Misk Global Forum in Riyadh on Thursday. “This is the best conference I’ve been to in terms of deal flow,” he added. O’Leary said that his message to those who do not know anything about the country was to come and see it for themselves. “You have to come here, put your feet on the ground, meet the people, eat the food, walk outside at night, and you will leave completely with a new mindset,” he said. “If more investors come to Saudi Arabia and spend just three days here, there is going to be a tremendous amount of capital flowing into this region. This is really quite an eye-opener,
Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal, founder and CEO of KBW Ventures, discussed the future of investment in Saudi Arabia. He said that his No. 1 investment in the Kingdom is entertainment. “Entertainment has been one of the lacking sectors here, sadly, but now obviously everything’s opening up. You see the desire from all the population to be entertained. So entertainment would be number one for me,” he said. He also said that esports is a good investment and agrees with O’Leary that real estate is a “must” in Saudi Arabia.
“I would definitely do pharmaceuticals and health care, number one. No. 2, I love real estate. No.. 3, entertainment. Those are my three. I’ll put money into those three,” said O’Leary when asked which Saudi sectors he would choose to invest in. The businessman was surprised by the Kingdom’s youthful population and believes health care and pharmaceuticals both have great potential. “I didn’t realize that the demographic was so interesting until I got here.” He said real estate is his second investment option. “There are not enough hotels here. There needs to be more hotels, there needs to be more development around recreation. Clearly for decades Saudi people would go to Dubai or Bahrain for the weekend. Well, why leave home? Why not just develop?” O’Leary said. “Where I went last night was a lot of fun. The ‘Boulevard’ was fantastic experience to walk at 11:30 at night, meet all these people. Everybody was having a great time and it was the middle of the week. If investors create experiences where people can enjoy themselves, why would they leave Saudi?” he added.
The two judges of the Entrepreneur World Cup (EWC) at Misk Global Forum both said it will be a huge challenge to decide who wins the award. “It’s a huge responsibility to think of which company is going to walk away the winner. I’m definitely doing my homework. I’ve read about the companies a few times. I listened to the pitches obviously a few times. It’s a tough position to be in, but I’m honored to be here,” said Prince Khaled. O’Leary is used to judging entrepreneurial contests around the world “but they tend to be regional in nature,” he said.
O’Leary was impressed with the quality of the deals in EWC competition, saying he listened to the pitches and was amazed. Prince Khaled pointed out the investment in youth where Saudi Arabia has almost 70 percent of the population under the age of 30. “The important thing to notice is that the penetration of technology; mobile phones here are absolutely enormous.” He said that Saudi Arabia is the number one user of Snapchat in the world. Moreover, the Kingdom is one of the top five users of Twitter. And YouTube is one of the biggest social media platforms for Saudis who use it “to educate people on what Saudi is, who they are and different types of businesses that they’re doing. So, Saudi is very tech Saudi,” he said. “We’re blessed to have forward-thinking leaders that are really putting a lot of their bidding on the youth with all sorts of programs, from Munshaat, SBC, and different types of government programs to enable entrepreneurship here in the region,” he added.