Saudi fund takes 5% stake in Uber for $3.5B

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A Saudi Arabia fund has bought a 5 percent stake in Uber for $3.5 billion.

The buy-in, by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), doesn’t change Uber’s $62.5 billion valuation but does represent the largest investment in the company from a single buyer to date. The money was part of a recent financing round, and Uber reportedly started talking to the fund in March when board member David Plouffe traveled to the region.

According to a statement from PIF this is one of their largest single international transactions to date. 

Calling them “an extraordinary company with an inspiring mission” the managing director of PIF, H.E. Yasir Al Rumayyan said in a statement that Uber had “improved urban mobility around the world and we’re looking forward to being part of that progress”.

Uber is the Middle East's dominant ride hailing app,
but it doesn't have a monopoly here. (Image via Econlife)

Saudi Arabia is one of the key Middle Eastern markets for Uber, with the company saying around 80 percent of its passengers in the country are women. In November last year it allocated $250 million for expansion in the wider region.

The country is not known for venture investing, but it is making efforts, such as the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and Vision 2030, to shift Saudi Arabia away from its dependency on oil and closer to a ‘knowledge economy’.

In the statement Al Rumayyan said that the investment was in support of the kingdom’s vision which looks to see a diversifying of the economy away from oil. “This ambitious and far-reaching plan presents a number of goals, including unlocking strategic sectors such as tourism and entertainment, boosting employment opportunities and women’s participation in the workforce, and encouraging entrepreneurship,” he said.

The PIF itself is expected to have $2 trillion under management once the state oil company Saudi Aramco becomes publicly listed. The fund’s Al Rumayyan will take a seat on the board.

Despite serving nine countries and 15 cities across MENA, Uber, for whom this is a Series G round, does not have the Middle East to itself, however. Careem is its major rival in this region, but others such as Ousta in Cairo, and My Cars in the UAE or even American University of Beirut competition winner ride-sharing app Tulos are appearing thick and fast.  

Uber itself entered a region where carpooling and ride hailing were not unknown: Pie Ride in Egypt, which has since folded, started in 2011 and Rocket Internet company Easy Taxi was already operating in the country, and Carmine, Carpooli and iTaxi already exist in Morocco.

In Saudi Arabia, Uber serves Riyadh, Jeddah, Mecca, Medina and the Eastern Province.

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