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Why General Motors Believes Startups Are A Key Component To The Success Of Its Global Strategy Looking more broadly at the future of our region, the contributions of startups are set to grow exponentially, considering accelerators, incubators, and government-led initiatives and various in-person events right across the region.

By Luay Al Shurafa

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.


From social media platforms to global e-commerce marketplaces, startups have established a strong and well-earned reputation for innovation. Often serving as change agents, startups can bring a previously underrepresented or an unconsidered perspective to identify and capitalize on a gap in the market, or reimagine an existing process or experience.

Long considered an incubator of innovation, the Middle East has recognized the positive impact of startups with a renewed focus on growing regional businesses. In Saudi Arabia, the number of deals sealed by startups rose five-fold in the third quarter of 2021, versus the same period in 2020, as the country actively seeks to diversify its economy from oil. Just recently, I had the honor of attending and participating in the Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC) in Riyadh. I was truly blown away by the energy and opportunities the startup ecosystem in Saudi Arabia presents. Organized by Monsha'aat, at GEC, we discussed the importance of collaborating with startups to realize our collective visions and hearten innovation within our region. The panel was an incredible opportunity with insightful data on various startups, their needs, and how we, as multinationals, can be supportive of their growth.

In a similar vein, the UAE Ministry of Economy announced that SMEs represent 94% of the total companies and institutions operating in the country, and that they contribute more than 50% to the country's gross domestic product. To drive this positive momentum, the Ministry also recently unveiled several new integrated initiatives and services to further attract young talent and startups to the UAE. This is also true for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with the multiple initiatives the Ministry of Communications and Industry are taking, among other governmental authorities.

At General Motors (GM), we share this thirst for innovation. As one of the largest and most successful automotive manufacturers in the world, we have the will, the skill, and the scale to revolutionize the face of mobility. We are disrupting the very foundations of our industry with world-class vehicles, cutting-edge tech, and wholly reimagined customer experiences, building "smartphones on wheels" to create a seamless bridge between our customers and their vehicles. However, innovation is a team sport. We understand the power of startups, and how collaboration between them and GM is essential to delivering against our global strategy, and introducing a world of zero emissions, zero crashes, and zero congestion.

We are feeding this ecosystem through GM Ventures, a dedicated global business unit, that allows us to partner with and invest in startups that share our vision of building a brighter future. GM Ventures provides a combination of venture capital and active sharing of the technical expertise we've earned over the last century of engineering excellence. Matched with our global business resources, we are also able to collaboratively improve, expand, and scale technology. Harnessing the power of startups, we are disrupting the automotive industry, and driving meaningful change for cities and people across the region. Globally, GM has made 54 investments through GM Ventures to date, but a key element of our strategy is collaboration and expansion outside pure investments.

A great example of this is our GM-backed startup, Yoshi. An on-demand vehicle services company, Yoshi currently provides gas delivery, car washes, car-detailing, oil changes, and other light maintenance services in North America. Integrated with OnStar, car owners can access a frictionless customer experience and tailored delivery services, when needed and where needed, thanks to a livestream of data insights about the vehicle's maintenance and fueling needs. In 2020, General Motors led a US$23 million investment round in Yoshi, along with other investors, marking the second time our GM venture capital arm has participated in a funding round for the Silicon Valley startup. To bring this level of connectivity to the region, late last year, we signed an memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Altawkilat (Universal Motors Agencies), and Yoshi to explore mobile vehicle care in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Related: Four Tips On Finding Success As An Entrepreneur In The Automotive Industry

The two companies will focus on opportunities to provide contactless services to increase convenience for customers. The initiative will be centered around the Yoshi last-mile delivery platform, which is designed to deliver vehicle services directly to consumers, wherever they are in the Kingdom. Another outstanding example is BrightDrop, a new business from GM that's reimagining commercial delivery and logistics for an all-electric future. We recently announced another MoU between Emirates Post Group and BrightDrop, which seeks to support the former's growing operations at Emirates Post, the UAE's official postal operator and leading express services provider, for more efficient, smarter, and sustainable last-mile solutions.

In a similar vein, General Motors has signed a MoU with Egypt's Al-Mansour Automotive Company for cooperation on future growth opportunities. The MoU will also explore investments in Egyptian startups involved in future mobility solutions, including engagement with the Egyptian government agencies around requirements for electric vehicle readiness in the market. Partnerships like these between our two companies hold immense value to these key investments that are driving GM's global growth strategy.

We are also playing an active role in supporting the emergence of startups through talent development in the next generation of the workforce. We have engaged in multiple partnerships with educational, governmental, and mentorship organizations to nurture STEM and leadership capabilities for the region's youth. This includes working alongside institutions such as the Arab Youth Centre, Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, and the GITEX Youth X High Flyer program.

Our contributions are varied, spanning offering industry insights from our leadership team, creating platforms for discussion and learning, as well as providing driven individuals the chance to gain on-ground experience via internships with GM Africa and Middle East Operations, to support career opportunities in the fields of technology and mobility. We want the youth of the region to draw from these resources, and access our regional leaders to hone their market understanding, and lay the groundwork for their future entrepreneurial endeavors.

We see immense promise in startups for their innovative approaches and blue-sky thinking. Looking more broadly at the future of our region, the contributions of startups are set to grow exponentially, considering accelerators, incubators, and government-led initiatives and various in-person events right across the region. At GM, we see innovation as a team sport- one we are playing to win.

Related: Meet Abdallah Of Arabia: Abdallah Abu-Sheikh, The Serial Entrepreneur Behind UAE-Based Barq And Rizek

Luay Al Shurafa

President and Managing Director, General Motors Africa and Middle East

Luay Al Shurafa is President and Managing Director at General Motors Africa and Middle East Operations.
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