Women in Tech Startup Competition
UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili in a statement said: “Tourism startups are also leading the way in advancing women empowerment, in the Middle East and globally, and UNWTO is delighted to support the region’s best innovators and digital entrepreneurs.” United Nations Arab Emirates

A new event, henceforth known as the Women in Tech Startup Competition has been launched by the United World Tourism Organisation in Riyadh. The startup competition was launched in Biban, Saudi Arabia's largest SME conference, in an effort to further advance the region's female innovators.

The Women in Tech Startup Competition aims to encourage female entrepreneurs and allow them to grow their enterprises regionally and in a global capacity.

Natalia Bayona, UNWTO's director of innovation, education and investment spoke with Arab News and said: "Knowing that according to Arabian Business (magazine), only 34 per cent of tech startups were founded by women, UNWTO initiated the competition to give women entrepreneurs a chance to thrive in their tourism tech careers, aligning with Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 that emphasises on digital transformation, enhancing social growth to prominently digitalise the tourism sector with women leaders."

According to a report by UNESCO Cracking the Code: Girls' and Women's Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), 57 per cent of graduates in the STEM fields across the Arab world are women, and in the UAE 61 per cent of university STEM graduates are female, showing great progress.

Furthermore, 34 per cent of tech-focused startups were founded by women. According to research by Endeavor Insight, the region has more women working in tech startups than companies in

In 2021, the participation of women in Saudi Arabia in the tech sector was reported at 28 per cent, 10 per cent above the European average rate of 17.5 per cent, during the same period. The number of women in tech startups soared in 2021 after Saudi Arabia issued 139,754 new commercial licences to women according to the Kingdom's Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.

The region is also home to great leaders and pioneers in the STEM field such as UAE Minister of State for Advanced Technology and Chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency Sarah bint Yousef Al Amiri.

Despite these great improvements, there is still a long way to go to ensure women in the UAE, and the Middle East are given both the opportunity and platform to be innovators, creators and entrepreneurs.

According to PcW's MENA Women in Work survey, 20 to 40 per cent of women across the region, with Gulf countries ranking highest and Egypt and Jordan the lowest, participate in the workforce.

Despite the fact that between 10 and 20 per cent of startups in the region are led by women, there is still very little opportunity for women to enter the workforce.

The UNWTO's Women in Tech Startup competition is an opportunity to give visibility to female entrepreneurs and act as an inspiration for younger girls dreaming of joining the tech industry.

The competition consists of categories ranging from social impact, tourism and travel, experience, future tech and events and communication.

The UNWTO will provide mentorship and workshops to winners and grant finalist access to a network of more than 447 investors, 1247 companies and international officials from governments and universities giving them both business and scholarship opportunities.

Additionally, they will have a chance to pitch at the UNWTO Tourism Tech Adventures innovation forum in Saudi Arabia, as well as free access to UNWTO's Tourism Online Academy.

The competition is open to startup owners residing in the following countries: Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, and must have an operating full team, a tested pilot and business plan.

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili in a statement said: "Tourism startups are also leading the way in advancing women empowerment, in the Middle East and globally, and UNWTO is delighted to support the region's best innovators and digital entrepreneurs."

With more than 23 global, regional and specific startup competitions, UNWTO innovation has been encouraging The Middle East to promote women in tech advancements, and this initiative might be the way.