Aramco VC Fund Turns to Global Investments in Saudi Startup Push

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Saudi Aramco’s venture capital arm is turning to international investments as part of the kingdom’s push to diversify its economy and attract global tech startups.

Wa’ed will invest about $100 million this year after spending around $50 million over the past nine years, Chief Executive Officer Fahad Alidi said in an interview. Its $200 million fund is planning 11 investments in the second half. On top of fintech and e-commerce, the firm will expand into sectors such as deep tech, space tech the metaverse and sustainability.

“We are deploying funds really fast,” Alidi said. “The pipeline is extremely rich locally and globally. In the very near future you might be hearing about two global investments that we hope to leverage for the benefit of Saudi Aramco.”

In its first global foray, Wa’ed has invested in 5G internet of things satellite operator OQ Technology as part of a 13 million euro ($13 million) series A funding round.

Attracting Talent

The plans reflect Saudi Arabia’s wider ambitions to invest internationally to diversify its economy and attract talent. The Gulf region currently has a dearth of so-called unicorns, or startups valued at $1 billion or more. But with oil prices rebounding and Saudi Arabia set to record its first budget surplus in nearly a decade, Alidi expects to see more opportunities.

“Many global start ups see the next expansion avenue in the region as funding is available in plenty and they can have an edge by potentially relocating into Saudi Arabia and the GCC,” he said. “We will attract firms from those sectors and position the kingdom as the center of gravity for these global ventures.”

To tap these opportunities, Wa’ed has increased the size of its typical investment to $20 million from $5 million, Alidi said.

Luxembourg-based OQ Technology set up a satellite operation center in Saudi Arabia and is aiming to hire more than 120 people locally, Alidi said. They will train Saudi engineers to build a full space tech ecosystem.

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