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Silicon Valley Reconsiders Its Decision to Invest in Saudi Arabia

In the case of Google, it meant discontinuing a U.S. Defense Department contract involving artificial intelligence.

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Saudi Arabia
Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, center, and Jordan's King Abdullah II second left, attend the Future Investment Initiative conference, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday. VOA

The controversy over the death of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi has shined a harsh light on the growing financial ties between Silicon Valley and the world’s largest oil exporter.

As Saudi Arabia’s annual investment forum in Riyadh — dubbed “Davos in the Desert” — continues, representatives from many of the kingdom’s highest-profile overseas tech investments are not attending, joining other international business leaders in shunning a conference amid lingering questions over what role the Saudi government played in the killing of a journalist inside their consulate in Turkey.

Tech leaders such as Steve Case, the co-founder of AOL, and Dara Khosrowshahi, the chief executive of Uber, declined to attend this week’s annual investment forum in Riyadh. Even the CEO of Softbank, which has received billions of dollars from Saudi Arabia to back technology companies, reportedly has canceled his planned speech at the event.

saudi arabia
A demonstrator dressed as Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, center, with blood on his hands protests with others outside the Saudi Embassy in Washington. VOA

But the Saudi controversy is focusing more scrutiny on the ethics of taking money from an investor who is accused of wrongdoing or whose track record is questionable.

Fueling the tech race

In the tech startup world, Saudi investment has played a key role in allowing firms to delay going public for years while they pursue a high-growth strategy without worrying about profitability. Those ties have only grown with the ascendancy of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the son of the Saudi king.

The kingdom’s Public Investment Fund has put $3.5 billion into Uber and has a seat on Uber’s 12-member board. Saudi Arabia also has invested more than $1 billion into Lucid Motors, a California electric car startup, and $400 million in Magic Leap, an augmented reality startup based in Florida.

Almost half of the Japanese Softbank’s $93 billion Vision Fund came from the Saudi government. The Vision Fund has invested in a Who’s Who list of tech startups, including WeWork, Wag, DoorDash and Slack.

Saudi Arabia
Aurore Chiquot of SoftBank Robotics Europe extends her hand to a robot during the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. VOA

Now there are reports that as the cloud hangs over the crown prince, Softbank’s plan for a second Vision fund may be on hold. And Saudi money might have trouble finding a home in the future in Silicon Valley, where companies are competing for talented workers, as well as customers.

The tech industry is not alone in questioning its relationship with the Saudi government in the wake of Khashoggi’s death or appearing to rethink its Saudi investments. Museums, universities and other business sectors that have benefited financially from their connections to the Saudis also are taking a harder look at those relationships.

Who are my investors?

Saudi money plays a large role in Silicon Valley, touching everything from ride-hailing firms to business-messaging startups, but it is not the only foreign investment in the region.

More than 20 Silicon Valley venture companies have ties to Chinese government funding, according to Reuters, with the cash fueling tech startups. The Beijing-backed funds have raised concerns that strategically important technology, such as artificial intelligence, is being transferred to China.

And Kremlin money has backed a prominent Russian venture capitalist in the Valley who has invested in Twitter and Facebook.

 

Saudi Arabia
Tech startup WeWork offers shared space at more than 200 locations in 50 cities worldwide. Pictured is a co-working facility in downtown Los Angeles. The space caters to digital nomads and others who need flexible work space. VOA

 

The Saudi controversy has prompted some in the Valley to question their investors about where those investors are getting their funding. Fred Wilson, a prominent tech venture capitalist, received just such an inquiry.

“I expect to get more emails like this in the coming weeks as the start-up and venture community comes to grip with the flood of money from bad actors that has found its way into the start-up/tech sector over the last decade,” he wrote in a blog post titled “Who Are My Investors?”

“Bad actors’ doesn’t simply mean money from rulers in the gulf who turn out to be cold blooded killers,” Wilson wrote. “It also means money from regions where dictators rule viciously and restrict freedom.”

This may be a defining ethical moment in Silicon Valley, as it moves away from its libertarian roots to seeing the world in its complexity, said Ann Skeet, senior director of leadership ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.

jamal Khashoggi
(FILE)- Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. VOA

“Corporate leaders are moving more quickly and decisively than the administration, and they realize they have a couple of hats here — one, they are the chief strategist of their organization, and they also play the role of the responsible person who creates space for the right conversations to happen,” she said.

Tech’s evolving ethics

Responding to demands from their employees and customers, Silicon Valley firms are looking more seriously at business ethics and taking moral stands.

Also Read: The Truth About The Killing Of Khashoggi Will Be Revealed By The Turkish President

In the case of Google, it meant discontinuing a U.S. Defense Department contract involving artificial intelligence. In the case of WeWork, the firm now forbids the consumption of meat at the office or purchased with company expenses, on environmental grounds.

The Vision Fund will “undoubtedly find itself in a more challenging environment in convincing startups to take its money,” Amir Anvarzadeh, a senior strategist at Asymmetric Advisors in Singapore, recently told Bloomberg. (VOA)

Next Story

List of Best Penny Marijuana Stocks

As interesting and profitable as marijuana stocks are, they are still mostly penny stocks, the fact that making money off of this little green plant is still considered illegal in countries

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marijuana, cannabis, penny stocks, stocks, USA, investment
Marijuana grows at an indoor cannabis farm in Gardena, California, Aug. 15, 2019. VOA

As interesting and profitable as marijuana stocks are, they are still mostly penny stocks. This probably has something to do with the fact that making money off of this little green plant is still considered illegal in countries like the United States.

We know some states are changing their laws, but nothing has changed federally just yet. This means investors have to deal with cash most of the time, and sometimes, they can’t take advantage of certain tax deductions. The money made from this industry cannot always be used to open a bank account.

As you can see, there are many obstacles to overcome in this industry.

Some of these factors make it even more important for potential investors to pay attention to the penny stocks they do take a chance on. The following is a list of some of the best penny stocks available today.

1. InMed Pharmaceuticals Inc

When it comes to drug development and commercialization, there are only a few companies that can be compared to this company.

InMed Pharmaceuticals Inc. focuses on Cannabinoids, and they have invested a lot of time and effort into developing the therapeutic aspects of marijuana.

One thing the company is pretty proud of is the bioinformatics assessment tool. This tool allows technicians to figure out if a specific cannabinoid could address certain ailments.

The possibilities with this kind of targeted treatment are endless, which is attracting a number of investors around the globe.

marijuana, penny stocks, stocks, USA, investment
There is also the Aleafia Health stock that focuses on growing
and promoting medical cannabis clinics all around the US. Pixabay

At the moment, it seems like the company has made significant progress towards dealing with Epidermolysis bullosa, glaucoma, and it has also been working hard to address joint and muscle pains.

2. American Cannabis Company Inc.

The American Cannabis Company Inc. is considered the go-to company for entrepreneurs in the United States who are attempting to get into the business of selling marijuana.

Everyone knows that the business is setting itself up for a major boom in the coming years, even though it is already quite profitable.

This company understands that entrepreneurs don't always understand everything there is to know about cannabis, such as marketing it and navigating the current environment surrounding marijuana sales.

The American Cannabis Company Inc. is here to provide counsel, thanks to years of experience in the industry. It is here to provide marketing tools, branding information, and even help with staffing if needed.

Those interested in one of the best penny marijuana stocks out there should definitely pay close attention to this stock.

3. Auxly Cannabis Group

The Auxly Cannabis Group is an important company to watch out for. It is considered a cannabis royalty company, and the reason investors should keep an eye on it is because it is focused on helping growers start or expand their capacity.

If the marijuana industry is set to explode as more countries accept its usage, then there is going to be a need for growers who can provide.

Of course, the company does not only help other growers; it has also purchased its own farms as well.

marijuana, penny stocks, stocks, USA, investment
As interesting and profitable as marijuana stocks are, they are still mostly penny stocks. Pixabay

Projections say that these farms may end up producing up to 170,000 kilograms of marijuana in 2019 and the following year. Those kind of numbers have instilled the kind of faith any company wants to instill in possible investors.

4. Plus Products Inc.

Edibles are going to be an important part of the marijuana industry. These little things are fun, and people are loving them. At the moment, Plus Products Inc. is considered one of the fastest growing edible companies.

It continues to produce the kind of edibles that people want, hitting great numbers. Some of their best-selling edibles have seen great staying power and fend off competition.

It is safe to say that this company is putting a lot of work into the products they produce to make sure customers are happy.

It is currently selling its edibles in California, and that means the rest of the country is ripe for the picking, which means the potential for growth is undeniable.

ALSO READ: Daily Cannabis Use May Increase Risk of Psychosis

Plus Products Inc. is actually developing an even bigger facility that is going to be able to handle even more orders. It is safe to say that the company is foreseeing a huge spike in demand within the coming months or few short years. Investors interested in the the long game should definitely give this stock a try.

Of course, these are just some of the stocks that investors should keep an eye on, but there are more, such as MariMed Inc. that is more of an all-in-one consulting firm helping dispensaries and other players in the industry. There is also the Aleafia Health stock that focuses on growing and promoting medical cannabis clinics all around the US.

As mentioned earlier, the key here is to make sure each investor pays attention to each stock and what the company is attempting to do. We think one should only invest in a stock when the investor feels he or she can make an informed decision.