What to expect at Arabnet Riyadh 2016

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Arabnet Riyadh has proven to be one of the biggest forums in Saudi Arabia: in 2015 it gathered more than a 1,000 participants from all over the world.

Over December 12-14 they are returning to concentrate on the interesting opportunities that have arisen from the government's Vision 2030 policy and the country’s fast growing digital economy.

“The Saudi market has changed,” said Racha Ghamlouch, entrepreneurship manager at Arabnet. “Despite the tough economic situation in Saudi Arabia, there’s a lot of enthusiasm to move toward a digital economy especially with the support of the government.”

The forum will be held at King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) and will cover three main tracks (last year they had two): national innovation, digital media and marketing, and investment. There will also be a fourth track specific to banks and the financial sector, to discuss challenges and how financial online services can be improved.

The Riyadh event will host several competitions, one of which will be, for the first time, with SmartCamp IBM. Specializing in early stage startups in Saudi, the winner of this will get a trip to San Francisco to present their company at the Launch Festival forum.

Towards a digital economy  

One of the most important topics to be discussed at Arabnet will be the government’s plan to move the kingdom away from dependence on oil and focus on the growth of the innovation/knowledge economy, following steps provided by the likes of Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Program (NTP).  

With a budget of 268 billion Saudi riyals (US$71 billion), this transformation program aims to create more than 450,000 jobs in non-governmental sectors by 2020, and raise the private sector’s contribution to the GDP to 65 percent.The ‘national innovation track’ will gather government, private sector representatives and entrepreneurs to discuss the impact of these new policies, the entrepreneurial and digital ecosystem, and the future of knowledge economy in the kingdom.

This track would cover ecommerce, fintech and the latest trends in IoT, smart cities, e-government, and the transformation the business world was going through, Ghamlouch said.

In 2015, Arabnet mentioned in a video that online advertising in Saudi Arabia wass valued at $152 million. As a result this year the media sector will also be up for discussion.

During this track, participants would discuss what was new in this sector - advertising, data and content management technologies; user behavior changes and how brands are adapting to these new trends, Ghamlouch said.

According to an Arabnet report, Saudi Arabia showed the highest rates of mobile banking adoption in the region, at 60 percent. As such the fourth bonus track will be ‘banking innovation’. They’ll take a look at the biggest trends in the field, in addition to challenges and how can electronic banking services be improved.

This fourth track however will not be open for everyone but those who wish to participate can send a request to do so.

The special sessions that were launched last year, like the women mentoring women sessions will continue. The forum will also host several workshops and other activities like the Tech Fair and Design+Code Day for helping developers, coders and entrepreneurs.

As for the Matchup meetings, also launched last year, they will  continue to enable participants to meet the biggest investors and CEOs in a series of quick meetings.

For more details, click here.

Feature image, Arabnet Riyadh 2015 via Arabnet.

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