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Ex-Google exec gets $500M from STC for Mideast tech deals

(Bloomberg) -- Saudi Telecom Co. has created a $500 million technology fund to be run by ex-Google executive Abdulrahman Tarabzouni to invest in areas like artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

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The Kingdom Tower, center rear, stands as automobile traffic moves along the King Fahd highway, left and Olaya Street, right, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. Saudi Arabia is working to reduce the Middle Easts biggest economys reliance on oil, which provides three-quarters of government revenue, as part of a plan for the biggest economic shakeup since the countrys founding. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

STV, as the fund will be known, already has a pipeline of potential deals it is looking at and the first could be completed before the end of the year, Tarabzouni said at a press conference in Riyadh. The fund is looking to make investments over the next four to five years and more money could be allocated to it in the future, Saudi Telecom Chief Executive Officer Khaled Biyari said.

Investor interest in the Middle East’s technology industry is picking up after Amazon.com Inc. paid $580 million to buy e-commerce firm Souq.com. Dubai-based business tycoon Mohamed Alabbar raised $1 billion to create an e-commerce company called Noon, and said he had separately raised $1 billion to make technology investments.

Saudi Telecom, 70 percent owned by the government through the Public Investment Fund, needs new sources of growth after profit fell in seven of the past 10 quarters. Tarabzouni plans to help transform the company into something more akin to SoftBank Group Corp., which owns stakes in fixed-line and mobile carriers along with e-commerce, web advertising and semiconductor businesses. Saudi Telecom invested $100 million in Dubai-based ride-hailing app Careem Networks FZ in December, in a funding round that valued the Uber rival at $1 billion.

“We have an incredible pipeline already of great opportunities, so we have a great problem of weeding through that pipeline and finding the first initial investments we’d like to make,” Tarabzouni said. “Our job is going to be to identify the winners and make bets on them over the next few months.”

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