Investments

Saudi VC Firm Hires Google Exec To Grow Tech Unicorns

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Saudi Arabia’s STV, one of the country's largest venture capital firms, has enlisted the help of a Google employee, Ivan Jakovljevic, with the hope of boosting their startups into unicorns.

A unicorn refers to a privately held startup that is valued at over $1 billion.

STV will employ Jakovljevic as a chief development officer starting next month, according to Bloomberg. He was previously in charge of new markets for Google in the Middle East and North Africa.

The venture capital firm is known for backing Dubai-based Careem, a ride-hailing service which was later sold to Uber.

Abdulrahman Tarabzouni, STV's chief executive officer and a former Google employee himself, said it was a vital time for Saudi startups, with two or three that could potentially become unicorns in a few more years.

Uber’s acquisition of Careem, along with Amazon’s purchase of Souq.com in 2017, generated interest in the burgeoning tech field in the area. There was almost $700 million in funding disbursed to around 600 startups in the last year, according to reports from MAGNiTT.

By acquiring Careem, Uber was able to grow its presence in the region and also stave off what would've been a contentious rivalry. The purchase was an unusual move for Uber, which usually prefers to buy stakes in competitors and offload overseas ventures.

And by purchasing Souq.com and rebranding it as Amazon.ae, Amazon was able to plant a foot in the Middle East for future business, and the site now sells a vastly increased number of products, including from Amazon U.S.

Some of the firms Jakovljevic will help with include Trukker, which serves as a digital hub for land freight and brought in one of the largest funding rounds for a startup in the area, and Mrsool, which is more popular as a delivery service than both Uber and Facebook in the Saudi Arabia region.

STV, formed in 2017, might raise more than $500 million for its second fund after initially being backed by Saudi Telecom Co., according to Tarabzouni last fall.

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