AstroLabs 600 Forward event banner which celebrated the Saudi Market entry of 600 companies in 5 years

600 Forward: Celebrating Milestones, Growing Impact

The Kingdom is increasingly viewed as a global go-to destination for businesses and professionals from all walks of life, changing the way industries operate and charting the Kingdom’s next chapter of growth. At AstroLabs, we recently celebrated a milestone of expanding 600 companies to the Saudi market over the past five years.

On this occasion, we hosted the “600 Forward” event at our Riyadh office earlier this month, with “Drivers of Saudi Arabia’s Sectoral Growth” as its main theme. During the event, we spoke to several key industry leaders as they shared their insights into the growing macroeconomy and its effect on businesses.

The speed at which companies are entering the Saudi market has increased dramatically, as evidenced by the recently launched 2023 Saudi Market Entry Report by AstroLabs. The report, drawing on insights from companies within its network as well as 230 businesses surveyed, stated that the timeframe for Saudi market entry saw a fourfold reduction, signaling a greater influx of companies looking at the country as its next leg of expansion. This feeds into the key objectives of the country’s ongoing economic diversification strategy, which aims to grow the private sector’s contribution to the GDP to 65% by 2030.

The “New Economy”

In his opening remarks, Roland Daher, chief executive officer (CEO) of AstroLabs, reflected on the ever-increasing demand from global companies to expand into the Saudi market, indicating that the number of companies expanded to Saudi Arabia through AstroLabs doubled in only a year. 

“As a business expansion platform, our mission is to help thousands of high-growth companies not just enter the Saudi market but settle in, operate, grow, and seamlessly connect to the fabric of the Saudi economy. We’re not just opening doors; we’re building bridges for international businesses to connect to the right opportunities with the right partners at the right time,” said Daher.

International companies’ rising interest in entering Saudi Arabia not only reflects its status as a global economic powerhouse but also translates to a potent market demand for innovative products and cutting-edge services. Odai Alsharif, Head of New Economy Engagements and Ventures at SAB shared that the event was a testament to the Kingdom’s growing appeal as an attractive market for global companies while also shining a light on the renewed digitalization efforts.

While spurring innovation in the financial technology space has naturally been a key area of focus for SAB, as Alsharif explained, the Bank is now directing its attention toward serving broader segments of the technology industry, aligning with its vision to realize “the new economy.”

A similar sentiment was echoed by Dana Damanhouri, an expert and consultant, who pointed out the role of technology as a fundamental pillar in achieving the inclusive growth of the economy. 

In that sense, she stated that ongoing economic transformation has brought new sectors into sharp focus while also upending the way of doing business in the key traditional sectors.

“Now, we have two groups of sectors: one is for completely new ones, and the other is for the traditional sectors that are now doing things differently. I envision the future of Saudi Arabia as an enhanced version of all its existing sectors and new emerging ones,” she noted.

A Platform for Knowledge Exchange

Taking part in the event were 300 participants from the public and private sectors, including representatives from ministries and governmental entities. 

For those in attendance, “600 Forward” served as a platform for stakeholders to exchange knowledge and expertise. Damanhouri further said that the “600 Forward” event represented an opportunity to connect with people from diverse backgrounds. 

“I think, in a nutshell, it was important to attend and network with participants from different sectors—Saudi or non-Saudi—and learn about the most pressing economic topics being discussed among industry leaders,” she said.

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Driving Sectoral Growth to New Heights

As part of Vision 2030 to reshape the country, the Kingdom’s digitalization push lies at the intersection of all traditional sectors, such as insurance. Michael Welsh, sales director at Democrance, underscored that the local insurance sector is ripe for innovation, boasting a lot of untapped growth prospects.

Sensing the opportunity, Democrance, an insurtech company with offices across the globe, expanded to the Saudi market last year, looking to uncover the white space for the opportunities lying ahead.

“We have quite a plan here for Saudi Arabia, an emerging market with a lot of opportunity, where we can shift traditional health insurance to the digital realm, making it easy for customers to open their phones and purchase insurance across a wide range of products,” he said.

Democrance was among 13 companies honored during the ceremony for their exceptional contribution to the development of respective industries, ultimately enabling the transformation of industrial growth globally. 

Others include Augustus Media and OQ Technology (Media and Telecommunications), Yellow Door Energy (Energy), Kitopi and Merit Incentives (Technology), Grankraft and Konn Technologies (Construction), Unipart (Logistics), (Financial Services), Starvania and Artisan Studio (Gaming), and Lenskart (Retail). These companies count as AstroLabs’ expansion network members.

Ramesh Iyengar, chief financial officer at Grankraft, made note of the growing appeal of the country as a business destination. “There is no end to the ideas coming out of the mega projects that reshape the country while also providing employer employment to various installers, which will contribute to increasing the GDP of the Saudi economy,” he remarked.

Empowering companies to actively be part of the Saudi economic growth story lies at the very core of our mission at AstroLabs. The “600 Forward” event was not only a measure of time but stood as a powerful testament to the ongoing socio-economic transformation of the Kingdom while reinforcing AstroLabs’s unwavering dedication to facilitating a smoother, more effective soft landing for industry-leading businesses.