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Saudi startup competition attracts more than 500 applications, enters final stages

Published: Updated:

A startup competition in Saudi Arabia -- the MITEF Saudi Startup Competition -- which received more than 500 applications, is entering the final stages in the next two months.

The competition is in its fifth year and is organized by MITEF Saudi Arabia, a program of the global network of MIT Enterprise Forum, in collaboration with Bab Rizq Jameel, and is patronized by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT).

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MITEF informs, connects, and coaches Saudi entrepreneurs in Saudi Arabia, enabling them to rapidly transform ideas into world-changing companies.

Under the slogan ‘Innovate, Inspire, Connect,’ this year’s competition in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic attracted Saudi and non-Saudi entrepreneurs of all ages and economic sectors.

To qualify for the competition, applicants must present an innovative project that is scalable and capable of making a positive impact on their community. Registration opened on September 15, 2020, and was closed on December 15, 2020.

From the applicants, 15 semi-finalists each under the competition's three tracks -- Startups, Ideas, and Social Enterprises --- were selected by a 100-strong international jury comprising of business stalwarts and academic experts.

The total of 45 semi-finalists and their projects were scrutinized against the competition criteria, which are creativity, potential to expand, and the positive impact on community.

The second round of judging will be held on February 20, 2021, and the third round will be held on March 3, 2021.

Set up in 2003, Bab Rizq Jameel (BRJ) is an initiative of Community Jameel, a philanthropical organization based in Saudi Arabia and active worldwide, which directly implements programs and also collaborates with major international institutions and grassroots organizations.

BRJ has supported more than 35,000 entrepreneurs in the Kingdom, providing a comprehensive suite of business services designed to help SMEs, startups, and business owners to achieve their commercial ambitions.

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“Despite the hard times we have gone through this year due to the global coronavirus pandemic, entrepreneurs were able to overcome this challenge with a lot of creativity and innovation that contributed to curbing this pandemic, and we wish all the best for the participants and good luck to the semi-finalists,” said Bayan Alghamdi, Head – Entrepreneurship Programs & MITEF Saudi at Community Jameel, speaking to Al Arabiya English.

Alghamdi’s role is to manage and lead the MITEF Saudi Startup competition, heading a team that is dedicated to helping enrich the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Saudi Arabia through initiatives, projects, and accelerator programs for entrepreneurs.

Prize money and support for the nine winners

The competition offers cash prizes worth up to $86,500 (SR 325,000) and gives entrepreneurs access to guidance, workshops, and training by experts and across all commercial and social sectors.

According to Alghamdi, the semifinalists “will receive intensive mentoring and training” by specialists and experts in all commercial and social fields throughout the competition time and before the winners of the MITEF Saudi Startup Competition fifth edition are announced at the Start Smart Conference held on March 6, 2021.

At the one-day Start Smart Conference, entrepreneurs, angel investors, venture capitalist companies, students, business organizations, and top executives from private and government sectors will be able to meet and engage with each other.

In addition to that, the finalists get to participate in the Startup Investment Forum, a three-day exhibition aimed at providing startups and small businesses to attend workshops, meet investors, and for those participating from abroad, the opportunity to expand their businesses to the Saudi market.

The nine winning teams in the competition will also be invited to participate in the MITEF Arab Startup Competition seeking the best ideas, startups, and social enterprise concepts across the Arab world.

Alghamdi said that this year’s competition has been different in that it is “a fully digital version” that simulates a real event, and is being held in a challenging atmosphere in light of the global health crisis. “We are committed to continue supporting entrepreneurs in Saudi Arabia to overcome the current challenges, and promote the innovation process and the continuation of the entrepreneurship sector in the Kingdom,” she added.

According to her, the fifth edition of the competition saw remarkable progress in terms of the quality of entries in various categories and fields, including e-commerce, education technologies, consumer services, productivity applications, in addition to digital technologies and healthcare.

Since its launch in 2015, MITEF Saudi Startup Competition has succeeded in attracting more than 7,500 participants from all over Saudi, establishing more than 45 startup projects, training more than 260 entrepreneurs and creating more than 110 job opportunities through startups. The winners received a total of 1.6 million Saudi riyals in the form of investments.

“The competition is organized in line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 to support small and medium enterprises,” Alghamdi said.