The 2023 Wrap-Up: Saudi Leads Innovation in the Gulf

Looking back at 2023, we sum up some of the major announcements that served as opportunities for transforming economies and sectors in the Gulf. 

The year resonated with unparalleled strides, fostering a narrative of thriving innovation and accelerated growth within the region, especially in Saudi. At AstroLabs, our focus remained steadfast on fostering an environment ripe for innovation and growth, navigating the ever-evolving landscape with determination and adaptability.

Today, we encapsulate some of the top themes and stories of 2023 across Saudi and the UAE, that are not just reflections but guiding signposts as we navigate the horizon of the new year.

Regional celebration of growth across Saudi and Dubai

We kicked off the year by celebrating a decade of pursuing opportunities, enabling seamless market expansion to the Gulf, and developing key sectors in the region, at our offices in Riyadh and Dubai. 

Spanning across two events, the celebration witnessed the gathering of key pioneers in Saudi Arabia and the UAE including, Nabeel Koshak – CEO at Saudi Venture Capital, Mudassir Sheikha – co-founder and CEO at Careem, Tarek Bayaa – co-founder and CEO at Bayzat, and Ambareen Musa – CEO and founder at, among many others. Read more about our key takeaways from our Riyadh event and our Dubai event

Saudi gaming shares the spotlight  

We launched our 2023 Saudi Gaming Market Outlook Report, a first-of-its-kind report that provides a comprehensive outlook on the Saudi electronic gaming potential directly from the market, gauging sentiments from 130 gamers and game developers in Saudi Arabia. The survey found that 81% of gamers and game developers in Saudi Arabia are highly optimistic about the growth of the gaming industry in the upcoming year. 

On the other hand, our CEO, Roland Daher, sat down with the Saudi MCIT CODE’s General Manager, Abdullah AlShamrani, to look back at one of our most successful collaborations, Game Changers. The conversation reflected on the impact the program created, resulting in graduating 10 gaming studios – doubling the total number of gaming studios from 10 to 20 at that time. 

In October, we gathered the gaming industry’s leaders at CODE’s Headquarters in Riyadh, for our “Future of Saudi: Gaming Levels Up” event in partnership with CODE. The evening entailed distinguished industry experts converging for a panel discussion that offered insights into the future of gaming within the Kingdom. 

Innovation leaps across strategic sectors 

Our key sectoral development collaborations through programs with leading corporates and government entities saw a wave of transformative change across key industries. 

We partnered with Majid Al Futtaim again for their second chapter of the Launchpad Accelerator Programme, integrating 7 high-growth companies into the conglomerate’s portfolio – new for the 2023 programme was the introduction of a climate tech category, identified as a focus area. Two winners, SeaB Energy and Partanna, were selected in this category. The winning businesses address sustainability challenges including food waste management and decarbonisation. 

In e-commerce and fintech, local players in Saudi Arabia took the lead in developing these sectors and driving the Kingdom’s digital-first vision forward. Partnering with PepsiCo, we enabled the transformation of 100 local businesses into the next generation of e-commerce leaders with global reach. Aligned with Saudi Vision 2030’s goal of increasing fintech companies, our collaboration with The Financial Academy fast-tracked the influx of scalable financial solutions to drive the growth of this sector. 

Our second initiative in driving sustainability across the Gulf, marked our second partnership with PepsiCo this year, where we launched the Mega Green Accelerator on the heels of COP28. The collaboration is a strategic step in accelerating innovation within the GCC, with a strong focus on sustainability. With the influx of international sustainable and climate-conscious companies, the region is rising as a global testbed for innovation – along with our partners, we will double down on creating an environment where these businesses can scale into the local markets.

Saudi dominates major headlines 

In a year that echoed the resonance of groundbreaking decisions, Saudi Arabia emerged as the beacon of innovation and global prowess. The Kingdom’s remarkable ascent to securing both the Riyadh Expo 2030 and the hosting rights for the FIFA World Cup 2034 signifies a transformative period in its trajectory. Riyadh, with its resounding victory to host the Expo, not only claimed a historic win but also etched its name in the annals of global connectivity. Garnering an impressive majority vote from the Bureau International des Expositions, the Kingdom unveiled its vision for the future, inviting the world to witness an Expo that promises unparalleled connectivity, setting the stage for an era of unprecedented global engagement.

Simultaneously, Saudi Arabia’s announcement as the host for the FIFA World Cup 2034 isn’t just a sporting spectacle; it’s an invitation for the world to embrace the Kingdom’s rich cultural narrative. This milestone, aligned with Saudi Vision 2030, promises to elevate the country’s tourism and economic landscape to new heights.

Ripe opportunities for companies moving to Saudi

As we close the year with 500+ high-growth businesses expanded to Saudi Arabia, 2023 was filled with opportunities for companies entering the Kingdom. 

The 30-year exemption from taxes for businesses establishing an RHQ fast-tracked the move of multinational companies, resulted in 200 RHQs set up – this surpassed the set-160 mark for this year. In April, Saudi Arabia unveiled 4 new Special Economic Zones. These newly established environments present immense opportunities for international companies across a number of high-growth sectors. 

This year showcased robust alliances between Saudi Arabia and key global economies like South Korea and India, showcasing the potential of collaborative efforts in fostering economic growth. These strategic partnerships exemplify the crucial role played by international alliances in nurturing an environment conducive to global enterprise.

Capitalizing on the first-mover advantage, our expansion leaders including, Democrance, Grankraft and, Augustus Media, are already making impactful strides in their sectors and driving growth across the Kingdom. 

As we leap into the next chapter of growth in the Gulf, we are excited to get our hands full in accelerating the seamless integration of global and regional companies to the Gulf and building the future of key sectors in Saudi Arabia.