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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 October 2018

Titans of tech gather in Dubai for Arabnet Digital Summit

Tech start-up funding as well as bitcoin will be on the agenda.
iMENA founder and managing director Khaldoon Tabaza. Christopher Pike / The National
iMENA founder and managing director Khaldoon Tabaza. Christopher Pike / The National

Bitcoin, e-retailing and greater funding for tech start-ups are on the agenda at the region’s biggest digital conference, kicking off in Dubai on Tuesday.

The Arabnet Digital Summit will involve the region’s leading tech venture capitalists and investors including Mona DeFrawi of IPOQuest Partners, Dany Farha of Beco Capital and Khaldoon Tabaza, the founder of Zad Capital gathering to discuss some of the leading issues facing the sector, including how to close the funding gap for start-ups.

Success stories such as the e-commerce site souq.com, which in March raised US$75 million in its latest round of funding, have encouraged investment in start-ups, which in turn has made it slightly easier for those seeking investment.

Yesterday, Saudi Arabia’s government and one of the country’s biggest banks said they plan to start a venture capital fund of as much as 1 billion riyals (Dh979.2m) to invest in new technology companies.

Riyad Capital, the investment banking arm of Riyad Bank, will manage the fund, while Saudi Technology Development and Investment, a subsidiary of the Public Investment Fund, will provide seed capital, according to Adel Al Ateeq, the head of asset management at Riyad Capital.

The venture, which may make its first investment before the end of the year, will target the advanced materials, sustainable energy, and information, communication and technology industries, Mr Al Ateeq told Bloomberg News.

“We’re going to invest in international companies that are relevant to Saudi” as well as in local businesses, Mr Al Ateeq said. “None of our competitors are looking into venture capital. It’s an ignored sector.”

Omar Christidis, the founder of Arabnet, the event organisers, told The National last month: “The landscape of VC is transforming. The last five years we had funds and deals worth $10m to 15m, versus today where there are a lot of funds that have been in the market for a while and are looking to invest $50m to $100m.”

Entrepreneurs from Silicon Oasis Founders, Dubai Silicon Oasis’s tech incubation centre, will also showcase their innovations at Arabnet.

“As entrepreneurship gains prominence in the region, we...seek to increasingly leverage such platforms to engage with the community. It will also articulate our ongoing commitment to partner in the digital revolution to facilitate better lives for our community,” said Juma Al Matrooshi, executive VP - commercial at Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority, which is currently building an entrepreneurship centre within the free zone.

Aramex will also release its latest report on e-retailing in the region and a panel discussion also on the opening day of the summit will focus on the controversial digital currency bitcoin.

Launched in 2009, bitcoin is a global online payment network that minimises the need to exchange money between international currencies.

Although the Middle East is one of the least integrated region’s into the global bitcoin network, advocates for the virtual currency say it is fertile ground because of its large, youthful population and high proportion of migrant labour.

However, recent scandals have dealt a blow to bitcoin’s credibility internationally. The most high-profile controversy related to the collapse this year of Mt Gox, a virtual-currency exchange, after the disappearance of about $340m in bitcoins.

business@thenational.ae

* With Bloomberg News

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