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RIYADH: Startups in Saudi Arabia saw massive growth during the last decade raking in $3.3 billion in venture capital funding, according to a report issued by MAGNiTT.

The data platform, in its “10 Years Saudi Arabia Founders Report” sponsored by Saudi Venture Capital Co., provides an in-depth analysis of the backgrounds, experiences, and expertise of founders. 

“MAGNiTT initially published a report on founders in the MENA VC ecosystem in 2018, focusing on uncovering the DNA of successful entrepreneurs in the region. Today, in partnership with the Saudi Venture Capital Co., we present a comprehensive report on the founders of the top 200 funded startups in the Kingdom over the last ten years,” said Philip Bahoshy, CEO and founder of the platform. 

“By shedding light on founders’ experiences in the Saudi ecosystem, we aim to dispel myths around founders, empower aspiring entrepreneurs looking to establish their ventures in the Kingdom, guide government decision-makers in shaping policies conducive to innovation, and provide invaluable intelligence to investors seeking opportunities in the region,” he added. 

SVC CEO Nabeel Koshak emphasized the remarkable growth and dynamism in the Saudi startup landscape. 

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Forty-four percent of these startups were launched by teams with two founding members, who together secured 53 percent of the total funds. 

Startups founded by a single individual accounted for 30 percent of the funded startups but only captured 15 percent of the funding in the last decade. 

Thirty-six percent of the 400 founders analyzed had at least 10 years of work experience before launching their respective startups.  

Fifty-nine percent of founders had technical education backgrounds, highlighting science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. 

Thirty-nine percent of founders held degrees in business, contrasting with the global average of 19 percent, according to an Endeavor Insight study. 

“The Kingdom’s strategic initiatives, driven by the Saudi Vision 2030, have laid a solid foundation for innovation, entrepreneurship, and investment. As a result, we have seen a surge in startup activity, with a growing number of ambitious founders seizing opportunities and driving innovation across various sectors,” he said. 

“The goal of the report is to provide policymakers, government officials, and investors with insights and data to inform strategic decisions and policies to further nurture the startup ecosystem for the next 10 years,” Koshak added. 

A decade of funding 

Compiling data from the 200 Saudi-based startups, which collectively raised a total of $3.3 billion from 2014 to 2023, the report highlighted that 44 percent of these startups were launched by teams with two founding members, who together secured 53 percent of the total funds. 

He further stated that with the significant support for innovation, the Kingdom is set to witness the emergence of more unicorns. 

In contrast, startups founded by a single individual accounted for 30 percent of the funded startups but only captured 15 percent of the funding in the last decade. 

Notably, 36 percent of the 400 founders analyzed had at least 10 years of work experience before launching their respective startups.  

The report also indicated a trend toward entrepreneurship among less experienced founders, with 66 percent being first-time startup founders and only 30 percent with previous regional startup experience. 

It revealed a significant gender disparity in the VC landscape within Saudi Arabia, with male founders comprising 94 percent of the total 400 individuals, while female founders accounted for only 6 percent.  

This gender gap is considerably wider than the global norms, where, according to research by Startup Genome conducted between 2016 and 2022, the average proportion of female founders in an ecosystem was 15 percent. 

Additionally, only 7 percent of solo founders were female, and there were no recorded startups with two or more female founders only.  

However, as the number of founders per startup increased, so did gender diversity, albeit slightly. In startups with three founders, 18 percent were of mixed gender, while in startups with four or more founders, the figure was 12 percent. 

Furthermore, 91 percent of male-only founded startups claimed 98 percent of total funding. Conversely, 3 percent of female-only founded startups accounted for 0.4 percent of the total funding. 

Founders’ education 

The report further delved into the education qualification of founders revealing that 55 percent in the Kingdom had attained at least a bachelor’s degree.  

In terms of technical development, 59 percent of founders had technical education backgrounds, highlighting science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. 

Thirty-nine percent of founders held degrees in business, contrasting with the global average of 19 percent, according to an Endeavor Insight study. 

Over half of the 400 founders obtained their degrees internationally, while 22 percent held both international and local degrees. 

King Saud University, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, and King AbdulAziz University were among the most common institutions for startup founders. 

Seven of the top 10 universities of Saudi founders that raised funding were public institutions.

The top international schools of Saudi founders had Stanford and Harvard among the top choices, mirroring global trends. 

Professional experience 

Despite fintech being the most funded sector, only 7 percent of founders had experience in finance, and 18 percent in banking, which is lower compared to the 48 percent with backgrounds in information technology.  

Additionally, even fewer founders, only 12 percent, had experience in e-commerce, despite this industry accounting for the highest share of deals, 20 percent, closed by the top 200 Saudi startups. 

The report also revealed that 36 percent of the founders in Saudi Arabia are skilled professionals with over 10 years of experience before starting their businesses.  

Notably, Saudi Aramco was the most common previous employer among the funded founders, with 7 percent having worked there before launching their startups. 

Furthermore, McKinsey and Microsoft were among the top 10 companies where the 400 founders covered in this report had previously been employed.  

The majority of these founders held significant leadership roles, with 31 percent having served as a founder, co-founder, or board member. Only 4 percent originated from entry-level positions. 

The report also pointed out: “While Saudi Arabia has witnessed several serial entrepreneurs, 66 percent of founders in the last decade were first-time founders,” indicating a vibrant and growing entrepreneurial ecosystem. 

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