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January 6, 2017

Apple’s bite of $100bn Saudi-backed tech fund brings hope

Jeddah, Jan 6: The Middle East’s top tech investors are hopeful the region’s Internet businesses are in for a boost, after Apple confirmed its participation in a $100 billion Saudi-backed mega fund.

AppleThe iPhone maker on Wednesday confirmed its plan to invest $1 billion in a tech fund being set up by SoftBank Group Corp, according to reports.

The Japanese telecoms group was previously said to be in talks with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund for an investment of as much as $45 billion — putting the fund’s total size at an estimated $100 billion.

Oracle founder Larry Ellison will join Apple, Qualcomm and Foxconn in backing SoftBank’s record-setting technology fund, helping it hit its $100bn goal weeks ahead of schedule, the Financial Times reported.

Regional technology investors and prominent entrepreneurs were positive about Apple’s endorsement of the fund, expressing hope that the massive sums at play will provide a boost to the Middle East’s digital businesses.

One pointed to Saudi Arabia’s participation in the fund, which is significant given the Kingdom — with its economy hit hard by the oil price crash — is looking to wean itself off oil and diversify into other areas.

Fadi Ghandour, one of the Arab world’s most storied entrepreneurs and technology investors, said he hoped the SoftBank-led fund would pursue opportunities in the Middle East’s Internet space.

“If the Arab world wants to move beyond oil, then this fund needs to invest in the knowledge and the digital space,” Ghandour told Arab News.

“Ten percent of that fund, if invested over a period of time in this region, will get (things) to really happen in the market… It would be a real disappointment if there is no clear strategy on this.”

Dany Farha, chief executive and managing partner of the Dubai-based Beco Capital, and one of the biggest players in the region’s venture capital space, said he expects the biggest beneficiary of the SoftBank mega-fund to be US tech companies, primarily in technologies like the so-called Internet of Things (IoT).

“I think the US will get the lion’s share of the value, because they are the people who are innovating in the IoT space, both in terms of hardware and software.”

But Farha said Middle Eastern start-ups are also poised to benefit from the massive capital boost planned for such technologies.

“We’re going to be building localized services and products on top of them, so that they work for our culture, and our language, and our needs… There’s going to be a huge local opportunity across the globe, not just in the Middle East,” he said.

“The world is going to benefit, no doubt about it. These devices are going to be bought by consumers all over the world.”

Apple’s bite of $100bn Saudi-backed tech fund brings hope


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