SUS­TAIN­ABLE IN­VEST­ING

CEO Middle East - - BUSINESS -

PRINCE KHALED BIN ALWALEED BIN TALAL turned 40 this year, but the man who’s steadily mak­ing a name for him­self as the Mid­dle East’s most prom­i­nent im­pact in­vestor didn’t take too much time out to cel­e­brate.

“I was asleep at 10.30pm,” he laughs, as he in­vites CEO Mid­dle East to take a seat in his cor­ner of­fice with out­stand­ing views of Dubai Creek.

The four-decade mark is a mile­stone in any­one’s life but over the course of an hour-long chat with the prince it’s clear that he also sees this as a time of tremen­dous op­por­tu­nity.

Our con­ver­sa­tion veers from Sil­i­con Val­ley to Pe­tra, and from the Mid­dle East’s start-up ecosys­tem to the prospects for Saudi Ara­bia.

Prince Khaled’s in­ter­ests can ef­fec­tively be split into two dis­tinct ar­eas. There’s KBW In­vest­ments, the Dubai-head­quar­tered hold­ing com­pany that counts Rai­mondi Cranes and other con­struc­tion-re­lated en­ti­ties in its port­fo­lio. Arada, the de­vel­oper that has been mak­ing head­lines across the Gulf for its eye-catch­ing projects in Shar­jah, falls into this cat­e­gory.

But it’s the sec­ond port­fo­lio, KBW Ven­tures that is grad­u­ally also com­ing more to the fore, thanks to a se­ries of in­vest­ments into com­pa­nies that are gain­ing trac­tion in a num­ber of dif­fer­ent sec­tors around the planet.

“We’ve seen re­ally, re­ally good re­turns,” says Prince Khaled, of KBW Ven­tures, which has now grown to a team of seven ex­ec­u­tives.

“Granted this doesn’t hap­pen all the time, but one of the com­pa­nies we in­vested in, we got about a five-and-a-half or six times re­turn, which is de­cent for the ven­ture world. But we’re in the early stages right now, and we’re just plant­ing the seeds of where the com­pany will be.”

At first glance, there ap­pears to be lit­tle rhyme or rea­son to the be­wil­der­ing ar­ray of firms within the KBW Ven­tures port­fo­lio.

There’s Gel­tor, a Cal­i­for­nia-based start-up that makes plant-based col­la­gen. Pro­lacta, a life sciences com­pany that is de­vel­op­ing hu­man breast milk for­mula for pre­ma­ture ba­bies, is al­ready present in “20 per­cent of the hos­pi­tals in the US now,” Prince Khaled points out.

Then there’s Zi­pline, a drone de­liv­ery ser­vice that is cur­rently fly­ing med­i­cal sup­plies to ru­ral parts of Rwanda.

Throw in cryp­tocur­rency out­fits, a lengthy list of plant-based and lab-grown food man­u­fac­tur­ers, LED and elec­tric ve­hi­cle projects in Jor­dan and a fast-grow­ing part­ner­ship with Na­tional Geo­graphic’s Ocean Odyssey, and it seems tough to draw the threads of this di­verse in­vest­ment strat­egy to­gether.

For Prince Khaled, how­ever, the strat­egy is clear.

“One of our cri­te­ria is you have to be prof­itable, you have to have an ac­tual prod­uct that peo­ple can get be­hind,” he says. “I usu­ally don’t in­vest in seed, I in­vest in Se­ries A [rounds], B, maybe C and D is a lit­tle late.”

In ad­di­tion, each in­vest­ment is in a com­pany that KBW Ven­tures be­lieves has the ca­pac­ity to im­pact the planet pos­i­tively in the fu­ture, while Prince Khaled also says that bring­ing the very best that Sil­i­con Val­ley has to of­fer to the Mid­dle East is also a prime con­sid­er­a­tion.

“Right now, ev­ery com­pany that I’ve worked with, we’ve set out plans for them to come into the re­gion,” he says. “Why? Not be­cause of how promis­ing the re­gion is, but I be­lieve the re­gion can ben­e­fit from amaz­ing com­pa­nies, amaz­ing tech­nol­ogy, amaz­ing thinkers and driven en­trepreneurs. Our econ­omy and our peo­ple need new ideas and fresh blood. Sure, we’re get­ting some ideas or­gan­i­cally from the re­gion, but to get some in­flu­ence in­ter­na­tion­ally is some­thing I’m a very big pro­po­nent of.

“By de­fault, a lot of these com­pa­nies are go­ing to want to ex­pand in the US first – that’s nat­u­ral. They’re also nat­u­rally go­ing to want to go into Europe. The reg­u­la­tions there are pretty tough, so you have to jump through a lot of hoops, and then maybe Asia. I’m here as an in­vestor to ed­u­cate these com­pa­nies, these CEOs. I ex­plain to them what the Mid­dle East has to of­fer, the pur­chas­ing power here. So we open the door for them and re­ally ed­u­cate them about the fact that this is a mar­ket they need to fo­cus on.”

Bring­ing a Sil­i­con Val­ley mind­set to the Mid­dle East is no easy task, but Prince Khaled seems de­ter­mined to ac­com­plish the task step by step. A clear area of fo­cus is the fu­ture of food, which is per­haps no sur­prise given his well­known agenda with re­gard to ve­g­an­ism, an­i­mal rights and the ef­fect the live­stock in­dus­try has on the en­vi­ron­ment.

Among the in­vestents and part­ner­ships that KBW Ven­tures is linked to is the LA-based Be­yond Meat and JUST, a firm that pro­duces plant-based may­on­naise and a ve­gan egg al­ter­na­tive. Ad­di­tion­ally, Prince Khalid has teamed up with the San Diego-based Plant Power Fast Food, which bills it­self as a ve­gan al­ter­na­tive to McDon­ald’s.

“I’m in talks with a com­pany right now to bring all these prod­ucts to the re­gion on a whole­sale ba­sis,” he says. “For me, this is some­thing thta I need to do, be­cause I need to ed­u­cate peo­ple that there are other al­ter­na­tives out there. And they just can’t be ava­ial­ble in just one or two small chains – they need to be avail­able in Car­refour, in Spin­neys and in LuLul, so peo­ple can see they are read­ily avail­able,” he says.

WITH CANNY IN­VEST­MENTS IN SIL­I­CON VAL­LEY FIRMS, SAUDI ARA­BIA’S HRH PRINCE KHALED BIN ALWALEED BIN TALAL IS HELP­ING THE PLANET, BRING­ING SUS­TAIN­ABIL­ITY TO THE MID­DLE EAST, AND CRAFT­ING HIS OWN LEGACY BY NEIL HALLIGAN

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