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His Royal Highness Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud speaks exclusively to Emirates Man about his work as an investor and being an advocate for tech.

Can you outline how you approach investment?

It’s easier to walk you through that starting from now and working backwards. So today, through KBW Ventures, I get to merge my love of tech with my passion for investing. I really do love what I do; it’s not a cliché to say that venture capital can be good. It all depends where you devote your resources – we have several investments that are mission-driven so these companies demonstrate massive commercial potential matched with a social good aspect. I always wanted to work in tech in some regard, but I knew that it wouldn’t be consumer tech. I loved trying out every type of device and using social media, but it wasn’t ‘clicking’ with me from a work aspect. I’m still a tech addict. This is how I started investing in emerging technologies including food tech. Some of these companies were based on what is called ‘moonshot’ ideas, which is exactly what it sounds like: shooting for the moon. The big idea that changes everything. We’re proud to be investors that got in early for many of these companies.

What works in business?

Work hard and have a consistent focus. Bouncing around makes you a master of none, and that’s okay if you don’t want to really excel and stand out. I’ve heard a lot of people describe themselves as a jack of all trades; I don’t think there is anything wrong with that per se but being a generalist doesn’t make you the most sought-after guy in the room. It makes you useful, sure, but not the person people seek out to partner up with. Really know your stuff, make yourself indispensable in terms of added value from your knowledge base, skillset and network. Be honest and don’t waste people’s time. If it isn’t something you intend on pursuing fully, just be transparent from the get-go.

What is your advice for entrepreneurs starting out?

I’m not an entrepreneur, but I do fund entrepreneurs. I’d say it takes a lot of guts to make that leap as it isn’t a secure career move, a lot of intelligence to be able to continuously assess risk vs. reward, and definitely some technical know-how in whatever field your business is in. My advice to entrepreneurs is to explore verticals thoroughly, know the sector backwards and forwards, really research your competition properly, and when you are pitching for funding make sure you research the investor – this is a big one. You might have gotten 50 ‘No’ responses simply because these investors don’t work in your field. If the investor has committed to a startup in say SaaS, for example, they may very likely do so again.

Who would you say has really influenced the trajectory of your life and why?

 

I think my father played a big role in helping me shape my business acumen; and he has such an authentic love and passion for what he does, so this clearly set a strong example for me to pursue the path that I feel most strongly about both professionally and personally. My mother has taught me kindness, respect, compassion, so much of her personality is admirable. People remember the smallest gesture from her, because she has the most genuine human to human quality about her.

 

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You’re also incredibly passionate about sustainability. How does this relate to your involvement in XPRIZE?

XPRIZE is sponsored by Abu Dhabi’s Aspire. The Advanced Technology Research Council (ATRC) rerecently launched the ‘Feed the Next Billion’ Challenge with $15 million to be awarded. ATRC works toward big answers for pressing global questions, hence their interest in the XPRIZE and this is how I got involved.

I’m acting as an advisor to this challenge as it is around food tech; they are looking for a startup – or even an established business – that can create whole chicken breast and fish filet alternatives. What I think is important to mention is that the competition is focusing on elements that haven’t taken a front seat thus far in food tech like achieving comparable nutritional value, minimal environmental footprint and prioritizing no harm to animals, basic things like serving size, and versatility of use.

XPRIZE’s Feed the Next Billion is about sustainability pure and simple. The more alternative protein sources we have, the better it is for the earth and the most equitable it is for humankind.”

You’re an advocate for animal welfare, environmental preservation and living a vegan lifestyle – how did this start?

Now we’re closing in on a decade of what I consider living in line with my moral compass. Sustainability – everything we can do to preserve the planet and prevent the climate crisis – has always been an interest of mine. It is only in the past few years I was able to ‘vote with my investments so to speak. Through KBW Ventures, I recently invested in a startup working on carbon capture technology – Carbix. This, and a few other ventures that I have invested in, have me really excited as they are all working towards sustainability and staving off more damage to the environment.

Some of our portfolio companies are headline-makers for their potential to change the world like Memphis Meats, working in lab-grown meats, and BlueNalu, working in cellular aquaculture. Both companies had record-breaking funding raises in their fields; the investor confidence is there and we know these companies will do so much good in terms of feeding people sustainably.

What are the hurdles you’ve experienced during your career?

Like everyone, I’ve had to find a way to create a system that allows me to work on what I love to do. Along the way, I have made mistakes, even bad investments – not everything is a winner. I’ve also made a few poor judgement calls on trustworthiness, skill levels, and dedication; people can surprise you. I wouldn’t say I’ve had the same challenges as so many others just mainly due to the advantages I have had in terms of mentorship, deal-making environment, opportunities and so on, but of course, like any person I had my own shortcomings to improve upon, right?

What are the key milestones you’ve achieved?

A few of our investments have been what I consider milestones in my work life. Investing in mission-driven companies from the early Seed or even Pre-Seed days and then seeing them take a product to market is just an unbelievable feeling. You actually see your investment create change; you see how your work can make a difference towards a larger cause. This goes back to voting with your wallet, and in my case, voting for the kind of world I want with my investments.

What are the biggest life lessons you’ve learned to date?

Studied evaluation of every situation is key to formulating a strong and suitable response. In some cases, you’ll find that many ‘situations’ that seem to need an immediate reaction from you need none at all. For more than a year now, I’ve been devoting a few minutes each morning to meditating and increasing mindfulness in my life and this has been one of the things that have been made clear to me.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Everything is temporary.

Beyond your work, you are the President of the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA). Can you talk us through this role?

I was appointed President of the Saudi Sports for All Federation; taking over the position after Princess Reema bint Bandar who did an amazing job building the foundation. The SFA is mandated by the government, with the close guidance of the Ministry of Sports and the support of the Saudi Arabia Olym- pic Committee, to increase the participation of all of Saudi society in physical activity.

We need to achieve 40 per cent of the population meeting international activity recommendation metrics, as part of the larger Vision 2030 goals. We’ve seen strong numbers of people from across the country participate in our programmes and activations, despite all the adversity that the pandemic presented. We have a very motivated and driven team; I’m proud to work alongside them every day.

What are your hopes for the future of sport in Saudi Arabia?

My hopes for the future of sport in Saudi: that everyone finds at least one activity that they love enough to commit to regularly. The SFA not only wants to get everyone active, for those who are moderately active we want to move them up what’s called the activity chain. Basically, if you walk three times a week for 30 minutes, that’s already great but we want to facilitate your move from that up to five times per week. And once you hit that five times per week, what about adding a run once per week? So, we want to activate the inactive, and we want to help get the already active demographic more active. We have some initiatives dedicated to this, like the SFA app that allows for peer challenges and gamifies your participation with monthly winners and so on.

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