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A Look Back On LEAP 2023 With Informa's Michael Champion (And What To Expect In LEAP 2024) With 172,000 people confirmed to have visited the event, LEAP 2023 has been declared to be the world's largest technology event in terms of attendance.

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It's an understatement to say that it's been a busy couple of days at the 2023 edition of LEAP, the Riyadh-based technology event powered by Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) in conjunction with Tahaluf, a strategic joint venture co-owned by the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones (SAFCSP) and Informa PLC, the world's largest tradeshow organizer.

Be it with the multitude of announcements declaring the investment of billions of dollars in the Kingdom's tech sector (an increase of over 32% from the amounts announced last year), or the sheer number of people that have attended the event (which, by the way, had over 172,000 attendees, while seeing over 300,000 registrations), LEAP 2023, which ran from February 6-9 at the Riyadh Front Exhibition and Conference Center, cannot be declared to be anything other than a success- and Informa's Regional EVP for the MEA region and Head of Tahaluf, Michael Champion, is only too happy to vouch for it.

"I've worked in exhibitions for events and exhibitions in the region for over a decade, and I don't know of any B2B event that has had over 200,000 registrations," Champion said, in an interview with Entrepreneur Middle East. "So, you can liken to a startup, wherein it's gone from delivering a product that has had the largest launch of its kind, and now grown in to becoming the fastest moving, or the fastest growing of its kind, probably worldwide, I think, because of the doubling of the size, as well as the interest."

Michael Champion, Informa's Regional EVP for the MEA region and Head of Tahaluf. Image courtesy LEAP.

For Champion, the key distinction between LEAP's debut edition in 2022 and its current iteration in 2023 is simply in the turnout the two events have seen. "The difference between '22 and '23 absolutely is, of course, the attendance," Champion noted. "The attendance is significantly higher. Even in the last edition, it was the largest debut tech event, but this time, it is significantly higher than then. We're also seeing a more international presence. Many countries from around the world are doubling the size of their participation, [with them] doubling the size of the interesting startups and interesting homegrown companies that they want to export into Saudi Arabia and the region. The UK, for instance, has doubled theirs, and I think that next time, they're planning on quadrupling it. We've also got a really lovely presence from Pakistan, from India, from Japan, from South Korea, from Bahrain. I could go on- and yes, [I think] the international presence will continue to grow."

According to Champion, LEAP 2023's success is a testament to the potential and ambition of the Kingdom when it comes to its tech scene. "LEAP, as an event, is an excellent event in itself, but it has so much more to do with the market of Saudi Arabia, and this region being so attractive and so interesting for entrepreneurs at the moment," Champion said. "If we were to pick up LEAP, and put it into a country or a region that wasn't the Middle East, it may look similar, but the transactions, the deals, the things that energize the event wouldn't be the same. And what we see with Saudi Arabia is this massive intent to diversify its economy, and to become one of the most major tech adopters, investors, entrepreneurial hubs in the world, and also one of the biggest event hubs in the world. So, both of those dynamics together have been extremely conducive to LEAP becoming a substantial and major tech event, as well as the most attended tech event in the region."

Speaking of the audience, a particular aspect of LEAP 2023 that got Champion especially pleased was in terms of the gender-based breakdown of the event's attendees. "One thing that excites me quite a lot about LEAP is the continuing engagement that we get from women in tech," Champion explained. "Now, a few days ago, [we found that] something like 60,000 to 70,000 people who had registered for this event were women. Again, I can't think of another tech show that has that many people- some would be happy to have that many total registrations, but to say that they're women is unbelievable. And the amount of women that are at the show here, actively engaged in tech, wanting to pursue a career in tech, is dispelling myths and misperceptions [around women in Saudi Arabia] from around the world, and for every foreign visitor that comes to see it."

Image courtesy LEAP.

Champion also had a personal moment of delight when he noticed a globally renowned personality visiting the event on their own accord. "I'm a football fan, so I was particularly excited to see [former English professional footballer] Rio Ferdinand walking around LEAP 2023," Champion said. "I told a friend of mine, 'I didn't realize Rio was speaking at the event," and they replied, 'He's not. He's just visiting. He just flew into Saudi Arabia to come and visit LEAP!" So, I thought that was a really nice endorsement. Normally, we have people like Rio speaking at our events, but he's here to come and visit, so that's quite good."

LEAP 2023 may have now come to a close, but Champion and his team are already making plans for next year's installment of this landmark event. "Next year, what you're going to see is us putting together an extraordinary set of plans in place, in order to meet the demand [we're seeing for this show]," Champion says. "Now, in my view, that means more than doubling the size of the show, in its capacity and its square meterage. It also means supplying more content, more investment opportunities than we've had before. And we have partners in H.E. Eng. Abdullah Alswaha [Saudi Arabia's Minister of Communications and Information Technology,] and Faisal Al-Khamisi [Chairman of SAFCSP], both of whom have huge ambitions and wonderful vision, and we want to be able to achieve that. We won't stop until this is at the very boundaries of its potential, because Saudi Arabia deserves to have that. It deserves it, because of its position, its economy, its people. It deserves to have a tech event that has global resonance, and so, the size will increase. The quality of the speakers will increase even more. The quantity of them will increase even more. The inclusion and diversity of them will increase even more. The investment funds, the announcements, the attendees, the international presence- all of these measurables that are important to us, we will increase them in a serious, serious way. So, what you'll expect is something far larger than the growth that you saw this time."

Related: LEAP 2023 Announces KSA Tech Investments Of US$580 Million To Add To The $9 Billion Announced At The Event's Launch

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