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Saudi Arabia increases market access for Nigerians with startup passport

By Adeyemi Adepetun, Riyadh, S’Arabia
03 February 2022   |   4:21 am
Nigeria’s startup ecosystem is expected to benefit immensely from the newly unveiled Startup Passport Initiative unveiled by Digital Cooperation Organisation (DCO), a Saudi Arabian-based multinational organisation.

DCO Secretary-General, Deema Al-Yahya

Nigeria’s startup ecosystem is expected to benefit immensely from the newly unveiled Startup Passport Initiative unveiled by Digital Cooperation Organisation (DCO), a Saudi Arabian-based multinational organisation.

The Startup Passport makes it quicker, easier and less expensive for startups to do business across borders, opening up potentially lucrative markets with a combined population of more than half a billion people.

Making the announcement in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, yesterday, at the maiden edition of LEAP, a technology conference and exhibition organised by the Ministry of Communications and Technology, Saudi Arabia, DCO Secretary-General, Deema Al-Yahya, explained that the Startup Passport provides expedited entry and support in the markets of eight DCO countries, adding that the initiative would be rolled out initially in Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.

Founding member nations of DCO are Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Representing the digital aspirations of 478 million people – 270 million of whom are under the age of 25 – and leveraging 6,300 digital start-ups and 46 million small and medium sized enterprises across three regions, DCO is focused on accelerating social welfare and economic prosperity by empowering women, youth and entrepreneurs to shape an inclusive digital future.

The DCO is focused on 10 areas, which are access to connectivity, cross-border data flows, ethical use of technology, digital identity management, data pooling and user privacy, mobility of skilled ICT labour, accelerating start-ups and SMEs, adoption of emerging technologies, alignment on digital taxation and cooperation on R&D and innovation.

Al-Yahya said the initiative reduces administrative and financial burdens and accelerates corporate registration and other processes for entrepreneurs.

“Through this passport, they will be able to enter the markets of other DCO member states. This will further our mission of coordinating efforts and sharing expertise to grow the digital economy for the benefit of all nations,” she stated.

She disclosed that during LEAP 22, the DCO also endorsed Elevate50, an initiative launched to support 50,000 small to medium-sized enterprises over the next three years to sell their products online, adding, “supported by the Jordanian ecommerce platform MakanE, Elevate50 is projected to generate 5,000 jobs and specifically target businesses run by women and young people.”

The DCO Secretary-General noted that this inaugural LEAP is set to become the world’s largest debut technology platform, spotlighting the entire innovation ecosystem, connecting pioneers and disruptors with business and government leaders, entrepreneurs, investors and more to experience and learn about the technologies of the future.

At the event, some 10 Nigerian startups are billed to pitch with others from other regions for the $600, 000 startup support grant.

Leading the Nigerian delegation at the event, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Pantami, said the DCO has been very supportive to Nigeria, stressing that they gave the country slot, pavilion and others for free at the event.

Most importantly, Pantami said the DCO is also supporting Nigerian startups, “as some many of them would pitch against their global counterparts here at the conference, and thereafter provide networking support.”

MEANWHILE, Aramco Ventures, the venture capital arm of Saudi Aramco, announced the formal launch of its $1 billion diversified growth fund, Prosperity7.

The fund backs exceptional entrepreneurs, across the globe, including Nigeria to build transformative companies and solve some of the world’s toughest problems. Prosperity7 provides its portfolio companies with the funding and connections they need to scale and enter new markets to attain global reach.

President and CEO of Saudi Aramco, Amin Nasser, said: “Prosperity7 will connect the dots through big ideas, top talents and disruptive technologies from around the world as we look beyond the energy value chain to areas like healthcare, education and blockchain, for viable solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.”

With Saudi Arabia’s technology sector said to worth more than $40 billion, the new investments announced at LEAP22 are part of the Kingdom’s ongoing plans to transform into an innovation-based economy, which have already seen the country become one of the fastest-growing new markets for Fintech and digital content in the region.

Commenting, Saudi Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Abdullah Alswaha, who said the world is changing very fast and that no country should play behind, noted that the “investments and initiatives area manifestation of the Kingdom’s push toward the growth of the digital economy for the greater good of people, the planet and the prosperity of the MENA region. They mark the next level of growth for the digital economy in Saudi Arabia, the MENA region’s largest technology and digital market.”

Alswaha noted that Saudi Arabia is the regional leader for technology talent, with over 318,000 jobs in the technology sector in the Kingdom, and with a rate of participation of women in the ICT workforce that has jumped to 28 per cent in recent years.