There has been a significant increase in the proportion of women entrepreneurs in Saudi Arabia in recent years, according to the 2016/17 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM).
“Women entrepreneurs are catching up really quickly in Saudi Arabia — almost 33 percent of the owners of established businesses are women,” said Ignacio de la Vega, director of Babson Global Center for Entrepreneurship Leadership (BGCEL).
The GEM study found that Saudi Arabia has the strongest global ranking in terms of people’s favorable perceptions about becoming entrepreneurs.
“(Saudis) quit their jobs, find their opportunities and make it happen within a few years. There is a lot of optimism, passion and entrepreneurial drive,” said Vega, who is also professor of entrepreneurship at Mohammed bin Salman College (MBSC), which will welcome its first class of graduate students in September 2017.
The GEM study is the largest study of entrepreneurship in the world, with over 1,000 indicators.
“We are interviewing 200,000 (people) every year. We have over 500 researchers, 200 sponsors, many governments involved, more (than) 250 academic institutions,” Vega said.
The GEM study found that the perception of Saudi Arabia’s population toward entrepreneurial activity is very positive.
There are many emerging businesses entering the market in Saudi Arabia.
“The ecosystem in Saudi Arabia is supporting these businesses; the good news is that Saudi Arabia is very well prepared in physical infrastructure, including government programs and support, and the Vision 2030 is also pushing this,” said Vega.
The entrepreneurship atmosphere is however still lacking in some areas, said Vega. Such areas include professional financial support, despite the fact that Saudi Arabia has one of the highest global levels of foreign investment.
Entrepreneurial education in the Kingdom is also a big issue and needs to be improved, Vega added.
“If Saudi Arabia started launching unrelated measures to foster entrepreneurial education, it is not going to work — we need a comprehensive state-wide plan, and this takes a while,” he said.
Vega shared some recommendations for Saudi entrepreneurs: get along with others; create and innovate; and get team members and investors from day one.
“Get financial support from former entrepreneurs or family members and friends until you get professional investors on board,” he advised. “It is much better to have a 20 percent of something big than 80 percent of something small.”
Vega also reassured aspiring Saudi entrepreneurs that there is nothing wrong with failure. Learning and failure are two amazing things everyone should experience, he added.
Alan Chinoda, chief executive and general manager of Lockheed Martin Saudi Arabia, also spoke to Arab News on the sidelines of an event to mark the release of the GEM report.
The global security company formed a partnership with MBSC some years ago. One important area for Lockheed Martin is attracting talent, Chinoda said.
“The new Saudi generation is highly interconnected,” he said. “You have a new smart, innovative generation that asks a lot of questions and wants to accomplish and bring a higher level… this lines up directly with the Saudi government’s goals.”
Commenting on the GEM report, which was released on Thursday at King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC), Chinoda said: “Today marks a significant day for all of us here in the Kingdom, as we launch one of the most comprehensive and ambitious reports of the state of entrepreneurship in Saudi Arabia.”