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Saudi Arabia Investment Is Increasing In US-Based Startups

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Earlier this month, U.S.-based networking startup Nile announced a large $175 million Series C co-led by March Capital and Saudi Arabia sovereign wealth fund Sanabil Investments.

That was followed this week by Houston-based Axiom Space locking up a $350 million round led by Saudi Arabia’s Aljazira Capital — its first investment in a U.S.-based startup, per Crunchbase data — and Korean health care company Boryung Pharmaceutical.

Although the two rounds may not seem to have much in common, they do share something — they illustrate the growing appetite Saudi Arabia-based investors have in U.S. startups.

While Saudi Arabia investment in energy and even sports — think LIV Golf merging with the PGA Tour — has been well highlighted, Saudi sovereign wealth funds, corporate venture arms and other firms are exploring more deals, worth more money, involving U.S.-based startups than ever before, Crunchbase data shows.

Since 2019, Saudi Arabia-based firms have steadily increased the number of funding deals they are taking part in, as well as the number of rounds they are leading or co-leading. That includes an increase in 2022 numbers from 2021 — a time when most big VC and growth firms were pulling back in the market.

Saudi investment in U.S. startups, by the numbers

A quick analysis of Crunchbase numbers show Saudi Arabia-based firms took part in only nine total funding rounds in 2019. That number jumped to 16 the following year and 23 in 2021, when the venture market was at its height.

In 2022, that number rose by nearly 40% — to 32 funding deals — despite the venture market already starting a significant slowdown. Thus far in 2023, the investment pace actually has tailed off, with such firms taking part in only 13 deals.

In that same time, Saudi Arabia-based firms led or co-led only 14 deals between 2019 and 2021. However, last year alone those firms led or co-led 12 deals, and thus far have done the same for six deals this year.

Top investors

So who is investing?

More than three dozen different forms or funds based in Saudi Arabia have made investments in U.S. startups since 2016 — with many leading or co-leading some of them.

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has led or co-led the most deals worth the most cash since 2016, however, most of those deals are older. In 2016, the firm led a $3.5 billion investment in Uber, and a $1 billion round for Lucid Motors in 2018.

In total, the fund has led or co-led four rounds for U.S.-based startups totaling more than $5.3 billion.

Sanabil comes in next on the list of firms from the region that have led or co-led the most U.S.-based deals. Sanabil has led or co-led a half-dozen deals worth more than $600 million. Aside from co-leading the Series C for San Jose-based Nile, the investment firm also co-led a $123 million Series E for another California company, Redwood City-based data intelligence platform Alation in November.

Another very active venture fund has been Prosperity7 — the venture capital fund of Saudi Arabia-based Aramco Ventures — which just opened an office in Silicon Valley.

The venture arm has led or co-led 11 rounds in the U.S., totaling more than $490 million.

Some of the more recent deals include leading a $56.7 million Series A in San Mateo, California-based automated data orchestration system Hammerspace in July. In April it co-led a $150 million round for San Carlos, California-based medical robotics startup Noah Medical.

Prosperity7 also took part in the recent Nile Series C. The firm has been involved in a total of 17 funding rounds to U.S. startups totaling nearly $900 million.

No firm has been busier than Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures since 2016. The firm has taken part in 34 different rounds — totaling more than $900 million — in the last seven-plus years and has led or co-led a dozen of them worth $157 million.

However, similar to the Public Investment Fund, most rounds are from more than a year ago. Most recently the firm co-led a $44 million Series C in San Diego-based cybersecurity company AttackIQ in 2021.

An international game

It is not surprising Saudi Arabia-based firms have spread more dollars into the U.S. startup market. The U.S. tech startup scene is one of the most mature in the world and venture capital is an international game.

However, as the two rounds this month show, Saudi Arabian firms are staying aggressive even in a recoiling venture market, and if recent trends mean anything, there is no reason to think investment from the Middle Eastern nation will slow any time soon.

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