For the first time, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology KAUST Innovation and Monsha’at, a Small and Medium Enterprises Authority (SMEA), hosted Mix N’ Mentor, Wamda’s flagship event, yesterday at KAUST’s Entrepreneurship Center.
As the focus in Saudi Arabia shifts towards entrepreneurship and private sector growth, support for startup culture – in the form of funding, coworking spaces, incubators and accelerators – has grown threefold since 2011, according to the recent report published by Wamda: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: Status of the entrepreneurship ecosystem.
“The momentum I saw today is what will change our economy. Especially that changes are happening on all levels and those guys will lead the new economy,” said Basil Al Dossary, the founder and CEO of web and mobile development company Takamul.
Organizations like Monsha’at, the newly created Small and Medium Enterprise Authority, and KAUST are working to bridge some of these gaps in the KSA entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Over two sessions, participants rotated through different mentor groups asking their most challenging questions.
“Challenges are very similar. Peer learning between entrepreneurs was amazing. The Saudi ecosystem is at a tipping point, things will pick up very soon” said Hattan Ahmed, Entrepreneurship Collaboration Manager at KAUST Entrepreneurship Center to Wamda.
Over 20 mentors and 70 entrepreneurs came together at #MixNMentor for a day of networking and peer-to-peer learning. Mentors included Nabil Nazer, chief investment officer at Al Sulaiman Group, Saleh Basalamah, cofounder at Tawseel, Amal Dokhan, managing director at Babson Global Center of Entrepreneurial Leadership, Nitin Reen, director and head of value creation at Wamda Capital and Ahmed Basingab, accelerator manager at Flat6Labs Jeddah.
#MixNMentor brought together promising entrepreneurs with global and regional experts and investors to discuss their startup challenges.
“The ecosystem in KSA is very unique, we are already seeing things happening that would have never happened in Saudi previously,” said Maan Bajnaid, project manager at Ranam, a game-like application that teaches users how to play any song with Oud.
The most common conversations focused on the early stages of startup development – identifying a target audience, clarifying their problem and defining the solution.
Unsurprisingly, another question was on almost every entrepreneur’s mind: how to scale up?
“Focus, focus, focus. Don’t start in 10 cities and fail. Start in one and scale,” Nabil Nazer from Al Sulaiman Group told entrepreneurs.
Unique to this event at KAUST were speed networking sessions, where participants connected with technical web developers and entrepreneurs.
Additionally, participants could choose from a series of workshops about fundraising stages, digital marketing and legal advice.
“We’re here to network, meet investors, potential collaborators and partners. And also, to understand the current climate of the startup culture in general,” said Mustafa Mousa, cofounder of Sadeem.