LEAP23
Event Analysis Middle East & Africa Weekend Read

A Look Back at LEAP23

LEAP23 has come to a close as the technology conference celebrates record-breaking attendance and announces even more ambitious plans for next year. 

LEAP23, the technology conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, came to a close on Thursday after four days of its stellar industry-leading agenda, which pioneered the theme ‘Into New Worlds’. With 172,000 attendees, including The Fintech Times, the conference’s second edition is now confirmed to be the world’s best-attended global technology event.

The conference was closely aligned with defining the Saudi Vision 2030; an economic diversification framework set to transform Kingdom’s service sectors and manoeuvre its dependence away from oil.

The Kingdom displayed all of its top innovations at LEAP23 to demonstrate its progress towards the Saudi Vision 2030. Given the numbers and headlines from the recent event in the Saudi capital, it is clear that the Kingdom is well on track to reach its goal.

A look back at LEAP23

Saudi Arabia has sought to address every facet of its economy in preparations for Vision 2030, and the scope delivered by the event over the course of this week has confirmed the Kingdom’s commitment to its goal.

This retrospective looks back on four days of the event’s world-leading agenda and the integral role of technology in the Kingdom’s future.

4IR

The so-called fourth industrial revolution (4IR) conceptualises the seamless integration of the digital, physical and biological worlds. Since being coined by World Economic Forum (WEF) founder and executive chairman Klaus Schwab in 2015, it has been a term synonymous with industries and societies that are hurtling towards world-leading innovation.

The concept formed a key part of the event’s agenda, which addressed how smart automation and increasing interconnectivity are continuing to play a powerful hand in the Kingdom’s journey to digital.

Change managers, technologists, data and cloud specialists, innovators and C-suite executives came together during the first two days of the event to discuss the methodologies, technologies and latest advancements making 4IR a reality in Saudi Arabia.

Inside Saudi Arabia’s fourth industrial revolution

LEAP23 kicked off with a packed session on how technological innovations are supporting the diversification of Saudi Arabia’s economy and how to manage the uncertain consequences of 4IR technological progress.

HE Khalid Al-Falih, minister of investment, HE Bandar Ibrahim AlKhorayef, minister of industry and mineral resources and HE Faisal Alibrahim, minister of economy and planning, were joined by Dr Abdullah Sharaf Al-Ghamdi, president of Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) and Dr Basma AlBuhairan, managing director of Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Saudi Arabia (C4IR KSA), in collaboration with the WEF, on the event’s main stage on Monday for the session.

OneMind Technologies, a subsidiary of Affluence Corporation, continued the discussion on day two by unveiling its ‘Hypervisor for Digital Cities‘. The launch aims to harness AI and ML algorithms and expand the scope of analytics capabilities for smart cities, enabling informed decision-making.

Likewise, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) also introduced the Saudi Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) Awareness Initiative as part of its national industrial development and logistics programme (NIDLP) to facilitate the wider adoption of 4IR technologies and techniques of 4IR in energy, mining, industry and logistics.

Investor activity

Comprising major investor groups, sovereign wealth funds, private family groups, as well as major venture capital and private equity funds focused on technology, LEAP23’s investor faculty boasted assets under management totalling $2trillion.

These investors had a serious eye for the Kingdom’s fast-developing start-up community, which recorded 144 venture capital deals in the Kingdom in 2022; worth $987million. Continuing the positive inflow of capital, Saudi entities pledged $9billion during LEAP23 in-show announcements to fund the growth of the Kingdom’s technology start-up sector.

Riyadh-based investment company Impact46 put forward $133million to fund regional start-ups in the early to IPO start-ups, while Bim Ventures is to support financially sustainable start-ups with a $100million investment.

Likewise, Abu Dhabi-based investment company Shorooq Partners made a $100million investment into a venture debt fund, with $15million of this going towards the Kingdom’s first gaming accelerator fund.

Saudi Arabia has captured the world’s attention with its digital innovation, and as shown through just a segment of figures recorded at LEAP23, international investors are more than willing to offer the financial backing that Vision 2030 will require.

Cleantech and future energy

Like many of the world’s leading technology ecosystems, Saudi Arabia fully acknowledges the environmental consequences of a digital economy. The Kingdom seized the opportunity of LEAP23 to pioneer the latest developments in environmental, social and governance (ESG) structures.

Tuesday saw a hive of activity around the event’s cleantech stage, where ForbesWill Thompson discussed the use of technology in mitigating climate change and Finserv ExpertsAreiel Wolanow explored the contemporary use of the blockchain within the pursuit of a cleaner, more sustainable world.

On the floor, exhibiting stalls were commonly discussing their sustainability objectives at length. This was the case at the booth of the Saudi telecommunications company Salam, which offered visitors a view into a digital, greener tomorrow with its interactive display of how technology will allow Vision 2030 to thrive. It is also worth noting that various start-up tents were increasingly occupied by companies strongly promoting ESG initiatives.

As the Kingdom seeks to pivot away from the use of oil, its focus on future energies and the technologies behind them is clear.

Creative Economy

Saudi Arabia’s creative economy is the backbone of its Vision 2030, and its arts and entertainment sectors are just as fundamental, if not seamlessly integrated, as its prospering science and technology sectors.

Rami Jawhar of Google lead a fascinating session on the preservation of arts and culture in the ever-expanding use of AI, while Mirror CEO and co-founder, Tommaso Valente joined Pinko‘s Marco Ruffa to discuss identity, fashion, representation and inclusiveness in the metaverse.

Likewise, Abdullah Al Hammadi, Snapchat‘s regional business lead, sat down for a fire side chat with Rhea Allen, CEO and president of Peppershock Media, to delve into the future of digital advertising. Allen also led a session on the seven marketing trends and wins expected to dominate 2023.

LEAP23 held a particular focus on digital entertainment as well as innovation in fashion, architecture and design and how these innovations are reshaping the way consumers live and engage with technology.

DeepFest

The opening of DeepFest, a new co-existing event held in partnership with the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA), has solidified Saudi Arabia’s position as a major player in the global data and AI sectors.

DeepFest attracted key players in the AI industry to showcase and discuss cutting-edge initiatives, including sector-specific tracks, training programmes, live demonstrations and startup pitches.

Under the theme ‘AI beyond imagination’, the event considered the practical application of AI in areas such as cleantech, the metaverse, women in technology and robotics.

The event’s agenda delivered sessions on AI, neuroscience and ethics, as led by Neuroelectrics CEO, Ana Maiques, and an augmented reality piano demo, as performed by Dominik Hackl, CEO of Magic Keys.

To culminate the event, SDAIA signed a total of 13 memoranda of understanding with both local and international organisations specialising in data, computing, cloud services and AI.

Fintech

Anyone who’s even slightly familiar with the term fintech will maintain the fact that the industry has one of the largest responsibilities in delivering the Saudi Vision 2030, and the Kingdom presented the full force of its financial services throughout the four-day event.

Attracting industry leaders, speakers and innovators from over 100 countries, the fintech stage struggled for empty seats during the latter half of the event.

The event’s comprehensive fintech agenda pioneered some of the most forthcoming concepts dominating the industry’s innovation right now, including a well-attended session on how the emergence of decentralised finance (DeFi) is shaping the wider financial landscape, led by Blockchain Founders Fund‘s Aly Madhavji, and an equally as engaging session regarding the future of fintech in the rise of open banking, as discussed by Infynit’s Dr Ritesh Jain.

Throughout the event, topics on AI, the metaverse, and digital assets received significant attention. Attendees received an array of solutions and innovative concepts that showed a strong commitment to achieving the Saudi Vision 2030.

For further analysis of what fintech meant to LEAP23, check out our coverage of day three – fintech day – of the event here.

Smart Cities

The World Bank predicts that by 2050, the urban population of Saudi Arabia will have doubled, with almost 70 per cent of the country’s people residing in cities.

Saudi Arabia is preparing for this prediction with the notable development of its NEOM smart city. Building is underway in the Kingdom’s northwestern Tabuk Province for the smart city that will be 33 times larger than New York City. The completion of this city, which was heavily discussed at LEAP23, will mark the realisation of Saudi Vision 2030.

In this light, NEOM announced a collaboration with tech partners Oracle and NVIDIA at the event. Through its technology subsidiary TONOMOUS, NEOM is now set to deliver ground-breaking AI across development.

The Smart Cities stage in Saudi Arabia brought together technologists, city planners, government representatives, and private sector stakeholders to realise the country’s interest in smart cities and the technologies that make them possible. They discussed strategies for implementing digital infrastructure and accelerating the development of resilient, human-centred smart cities.

What’s in store for LEAP24?

With LEAP23 now wrapped up, the 172,000-plus attendees, and indeed the wider world, are waiting in hot anticipation of what the third edition of the event might look like.

The organisers of LEAP24 have announced that the event will take place from 4 to 7 March 2024 at a larger venue that will double the show’s size.

After two game-changing outings, LEAP24 will transition to a 120,000 square metre capacity venue next year, enabling the third event to double in floor size and cater for even more innovative future technologies, digital entrepreneurs, tech startups, and high-profile guest speakers.

Powered by the MCIT in conjunction with Tahaluf – a strategic joint venture co-owned by Informa PLC and SAFCSP – LEAP’s expanded new venue will further enhance the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s position as the largest digital market in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Closing remarks

“Momentum continues to go into orbit. In its first edition, LEAP22 enjoyed the largest debut of any technology event in history. In its second year, LEAP23 has rewritten the rule book once more to become the world’s largest technology sector event by attendance,” said Michael Champion, who heads Tahaluf, organisers of LEAP.

During the closing remarks of LEAP23, Champion added: “There is no limit to the ambition of this event or this nation. While the on-event investment announcements are truly unprecedented, the legacy of this year’s show will extend further and deeper than anyone can truly comprehend.

“There are 380,000 technology professionals currently working in Silicon Valley – the world’s tech capital – and there are 340,000 employed in Saudi’s technology industry. We are still only seeing the tip of the iceberg and when we consider that technology investment, adoption, innovation, and entrepreneurship are key pillars in the Kingdom’s ambitious economic diversification strategy, the potential for LEAP to power Saudi Arabia’s digital transformation and galvanise growth across the international technology arena is unlimited.”

Author

  • Tyler is a fintech journalist with specific interests in online banking and emerging AI technologies. He began his career writing with a plethora of national and international publications.

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