INVESTMENT CALLING

Saudi Arabia 2017 | TELECOMS & IT | FOCUS: TECHNOLOGY INVESTMENTS

A technological revolution is underway in the Kingdom. Already one of the most tech-savvy nations in the Middle East, the Saudi market has long sought a thriving domestic technology and innovation scene. And with Vision 2030, it is on course to deliver just that.

Outlined in Vision 2030's blueprint lies an ambition to “increase investments [in technology] and lead the digital economy," and more importantly a mechanism and clear direction for how these investments will take shape.

Enter Saudi's Public Investment Fund (PIF), which is set to become the world's biggest sovereign fund, growing from SAR600 billion (USD160 billion) to SAR7 trillion (USD1.9 trillion) in asset size between now and 2030, largely due to the proceeds expected from Saudi Aramco's public listing. These funds will be deployed to “maximize our investment capabilities by participating in large international companies and emerging technologies from around the world." In other words, PIF has its eyes set on the future, and technology is its prime target.

In the months leading up to the launch of Vision 2030, PIF set about on its long journey by taking a strategic stake in car-hailing giant Uber Technologies Inc. In early 2016, while the San Francisco-based app was still struggling to penetrate the Middle Eastern market, PIF's USD3.5 billion investment for a 5% share was considered bold. It represented the largest single investment ever made in a private company, at a time when the start-up was testing its ability to enter eastern emerging markets. By November of 2016, PIF's investment strategy was firmly focused on extending its technological arm to another sector at the crossroad of unprecedented transformation: retail. Enter noon.com, a joint venture between PIF and Dubai-based entrepreneur Mohammed Alabbar, which is set to revolutionize online retail and e-commerce across the Middle East. Expected to launch throughout 2017 with over 20 million items, Noon will be headquartered in Riyadh, operating from a warehouse the size of 60 football pitches and revolutionizing the local market for retailers and consumers alike. And no PIF venture speaks as much as its backing for the Softbank Vision Fund, which was founded by CEO of Tokyo-based Softbank, Masayoshi Son, who became known for his visionary, strategic investments in tech giants such as Yahoo and Alibaba. Son called upon investors around the world to create the largest-ever technology investment fund to explore the future of robotics, microchips, and other transformative technologies. In May 2017, Softbank closed the first round of funding at USD93 billion, with PIF contributing about half, or USD45 billion.