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LONDON: The big and the good in the global tech sector will converge in Riyadh next week for the inaugural LEAP conference.
Dubbed the “Digital Davos,” LEAP will involve more than 350 speakers from 80 countries and is expected to attract nearly 1,000 startups from around the world and 40,000 visitors, making it one of the biggest tech events in the world.
LEAP, which takes place under the aegis of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and the Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones, follows last year’s government launch program, which unveiled a range of initiatives worth $1.2 billion, aimed at rapidly developing the digital skills of young Saudis.
Launch has laid the groundwork to achieve a series of ambitious goals for the Kingdom’s tech sector, including training 1 in 100 Saudis to become programmers and creating 25,000 jobs in data science and AI over the course of the year. of the next eight years.
On the heels of the launch program, LEAP aims to accelerate Saudi Arabia’s ambitions to expand its digital economy by 50% and increase its contribution to the wider economy by $13 billion.
The development of successful startups, as well as the expansion of digital infrastructure across the country, is part of a dual approach to increasing private enterprise and public services in the sector.
LEAP’s extensive program will cover fintech, healthtech, robotics, satellites and smart cities. It will also examine future energy technologies capable of improving productivity in the region’s oil and gas sectors, as well as the role of technology in renewable energy sources.
Above all, the conference will bring some of the best entrepreneurs and venture capitalists in the technology sector face to face with more than 700 start-ups, many of which will be local companies.
LEAP attendees include Raghu Raghuram, CEO of California cloud computing giant VMware; Börje Ekholm, Chairman and CEO of Ericsson; and Carlo Ratti, founding partner of MIT’s Senseable City Laboratory, which studies the impact of digital technology on city life.
But perhaps most important for the hundreds of start-ups traveling to Riyadh will be LEAP’s Investor Program, which will connect them with local and international investors through a series of investment events. that will allow them to present their ideas directly to venture capital. companies and other funders.
More than 30 venture capitalists will be present at LEAP, including startup investor Speedinvest, which manages nearly $700 million in assets, London-based Hoxton Ventures, Anthemis Capital and Toronto-based investor Raiven Capital.
Emerging tech companies will also be able to compete for a share of a $600,000 prize in the Rocket Fuel Startup Pitch competition, which will take place on the sidelines of the larger conference.
Along with substantial government funding for the sector, another attraction for these investors is that Saudi Arabia, where more than two-thirds of the population is under the age of 35, is widely seen as a young and rapidly developing market for technology companies.
Digital wallet service STC Pay, a subsidiary of Saudi Telecom, became the Kingdom’s first fintech unicorn last year after Western Union invested up to $200 million in the company for a 15% stake.
STV, the venture capital arm of Saudi Telecom founded by former Google executive Abdulrahman Tarabzouni, is reportedly seeking to raise at least $1 billion for its second Middle East tech investment fund, making it the biggest large fund of this type in the Region.
The Kingdom has also secured the first Apple Developer Academy in the Middle East, which will be located in Riyadh. The academy will primarily focus on training female programmers and developers.
Saudi Minister of Communications and Information Technology Abdullah Al-Swaha is expected to deliver a keynote speech at LEAP, highlighting the role of the digital economy as key to the implementation of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 program , aimed at diversifying the Kingdom’s oil industry. economy.
Manar Al-Moneef, regional CEO of GE Renewable Energy and chief investment officer for NEOM, will also speak at LEAP, alongside Ghinwa Baradhi, chief information officer for HSBC in the Middle East and North Africa.
Other speakers include soccer legends Luis Figo and Roberto Carlos, who recently partnered with SportsIcon in one of the sport’s first non-fungible token schemes, and Michel Salgado, who now manages Dubai grassroots club Fursan Hispania.
LEAP takes place from February 1 to 3 at the Riyadh Front Exhibition Center.