Three entrepreneurs from across Saudi Arabia — Sara Alattas (Jeddah), Noor Andejani (Dhahran) and Safiah Labani (Riyadh) — made their first trip to Texas after being named network ambassadors for Texas Global’s Saudi Women Entrepreneurs Networking and Membership Initiative.

Saudi Women Entrepreneurs Thrive in Austin as Network Ambassadors

  • May 31, 2024
  • Alex Briseño

Three entrepreneurs from across Saudi Arabia — Sara Alattas from Jeddah, Noor Andejani from Dhahran and Safiah Labani from Riyadh — made their first trip to Texas after being named network ambassadors for Texas Global’s Saudi Women Entrepreneurs Networking and Membership Initiative. The three were interviewed and selected to visit The University of Texas at Austin in May 2024 and to continue promoting women’s entrepreneurship in Saudi Arabia thereafter. 

Facilitated by University’s Global Innovation Lab (GIL) in collaboration with the Consulate General Jeddah and Blossom Accelerator, the program generates new business opportunities throughout Saudi Arabia while tethering new Saudi hubs to global entrepreneurship networks. This initiative was created in 2023 following the successful implementation of GIL’s previous project funded by the U.S. Department of State, Empowering Saudi Women through Entrepreneurship.   

The new networking initiative has already generated a 300-member group throughout Saudi Arabia, coalescing for the purpose of providing access to best practices and immersive learning opportunities while connecting Saudi women entrepreneurs with each other.  

“The goals of the program are to support and foster connection among women entrepreneurs in Saudi Arabia, as women have a seat at the table now to venture into business opportunities they have not had before,” said Aimee Reed, GIL's assistant program manager. “It was moving for me to hear from the women about the recent and ongoing changes in Saudi Arabia, where women can now not only enter the workforce but also start their ventures and hold leadership roles in companies that were once only held by men.”  

While acknowledging the work still to be done, Reed is confident that the ambassadors will continue to act as catalysts for change in their country.   

Three entrepreneurs from across Saudi Arabia — Sara Alattas (Jeddah), Noor Andejani (Dhahran) and Safiah Labani (Riyadh) — made their first trip to Texas after being named network ambassadors for Texas Global’s Saudi Women Entrepreneurs Networking and Membership Initiative. The three were interviewed and selected to visit The University of Texas at Austin in May 2024 and to continue promoting women’s entrepreneurship in Saudi Arabia thereafter.

Reed added, “The goal for Texas Global is to provide women entrepreneurs a network of like-minded women where they feel supported. Building a sense of community has been essential so the women do not feel they have to travel the entrepreneurial road alone.”  

The ambassadors traveled to UT Austin to take advantage of exclusive weeklong programming, join entrepreneurial training sessions, receive exclusive tours with key ecosystem partners in Austin and engage in networking opportunities with industry experts and mentors.  

“This program provides truly a 360-degree view of being an entrepreneur. That’s why this experience has been so enriching,” Labani said. “My role as an ambassador is to help build the community, leverage resources and move forward with a global mindset. I don’t like silos; I’d much prefer exposure, so having global interconnectivity is crucial in learning where we can all complement each other. I look forward to taking this message to Saudi.” 

Meet The Ambassadors  

Alattas (Jeddah), Andejani (Dhahran) and Labani (Riyadh) sat down with Texas Global to share their unique entrepreneurial journeys and new aspirations as ambassadors for the Saudi Women Entrepreneurs Networking and Membership Initiative.  

Sara Alattas, Jeddah  

Having built and run a sunglasses company, The Seen Eyewear, for more than 10 years, Alattas ascribed her business-oriented mindset to her entrepreneurial family.   

“I consider this entrepreneurial thing to be in my blood,” said Alattas.   

The origin of her company dates back to when she was just 13 years old.   

“I wanted to get a pair of fancy sunglasses, but I couldn't afford it. I ended up going into my savings — two years of savings — and I got them,” Alattas recalled. “The day after, they broke. I was without money and sunglasses. I never let myself forget that feeling.” 

By the age of 22, Alattas decided she wanted to create a company that offered trendy sunglasses for an affordable price. For her, this was a launchpad into the entrepreneurial world.   

Alattas’ passion for business and fashion was evident during a program session at the Austin Community College (ACC) Fashion Incubator, which prepares aspiring designers and established entrepreneurs for success in their industry with career technical training, residency programs, transferrable credits and more.   

“I met Nina Means, director of the ACC Fashion Incubator, and she has this fabulous energy. She expressed interest in collaborating in the future, which is exciting,” Alattas said. “I appreciate global collaborations because I really care about connecting the fashion in Saudi Arabia with the fashion around the world.” 

 Alattas’ affinity for fashion and global collaboration is also applicable in her role as a program ambassador. She views the opportunity to build a community in Jeddah as a responsibility, and it’s one she doesn’t take lightly.  

“I feel a responsibility to build this ecosystem, now that I understand how crucial networking is for entrepreneurs,” Alattas said. “Now that I'm here, I'm inspired by what I'm seeing. And this entrepreneurial ecosystem is relatively new compared to Silicon Valley. That's why I feel that creating a similar community of entrepreneurs is something that I can do in my city, and I'm so excited about it.”  

Alattas described the program as an “eye-opening opportunity” for entrepreneurs to learn and find inspiration. As she looks forward to connecting women entrepreneurs in Jeddah, she also encourages them to explore the entrepreneurial environment at UT Austin and in the United States.  

“This is worth your energy,” Alattas advised aspiring entrepreneurs. “Come, travel miles to see the other worlds. It's going to open your eyes, too. It will give you an opportunity. Embrace the challenges that come your way. See it as an opportunity for growth. Make sure that you build a community around you to continue going. We should keep going.” 

Noor Andejani, Dhahran 

Andejani has been creative for as long as she can remember, which is also how long she has wanted to own a business. Growing up, though, she realized that it was difficult for her to stay focused. This held true through her college days at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), where she drew and sold stickers while pursuing a degree in neuroscience. Before long, she created Tarkeez, an app designed to gamify focus, thereby boosting individual engagement, saving time lost to distractions and increasing productivity.  

“I'm very passionate about increasing awareness about brain health and how you can use your brain to optimize your life,” Andejani said. “When I started working, I was really struggling to focus. Yet I felt like I couldn't say this with people around me.”  

Despite seeing others experience similar issues, Andejani said nobody vocalized their troubles because it sounded like a “childish” issue. That’s when she thought, ‘If children have tools for helping them focus, why don’t adults?'   

“When I started seeing gamification being added to so many things, it inspired me,” Andejani said. “I combined my skill set in neuroscience knowledge and creativity to come up with a personalized tool. As you're working, it manages your distractions for you. It also rewards you and turns focus into a game to keep things fun and engaging.”  

Andejani specifically appreciated the time she spent at Capital Factory — an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Austin that supports startups at all stages — where the ambassadors participated in a networking session with a successful startup.   

Coming out of this program, Andejani says she is eager to apply a broadened skill set and new knowledge to improve her market research, become more product-focused and build a community upon returning to Dhahran.  

“As an ambassador for the program, it’s going to be so fulfilling to build a thriving community of women entrepreneurs in the eastern region in Saudi, because it’s currently very small and not well connected,” Andejani said. “My message is that I want all of the women to do as much as they can in supporting one another and building real connections.”  

She added, “I would really encourage them to come here because they can find so many opportunities, as well — like Sara, who found an opportunity for potential collaboration. That’s amazing.” 

Safiah Labani, Riyadh  

Labani, who enjoys a passion for biomedical science, originally worked as a researcher in both the private and governmental sectors. Just last year, though, she experienced an epiphany that resulted in a career shift.   

“I worked as a researcher for six years. I see the struggle in Saudi and how many resources are wasted,” Labani said. “That's why I came into entrepreneurship: I want to try and help rebuild the ecosystem. I want to leave a mark as a person and as a researcher. That is why I'm doing this.”  

Labani started by attending networking events in Riyadh, where she learned about building a brand, product and business plan. That’s also where she connected with GIL Program Manager John O’Neill.   

“Texas Global came to Riyadh, and that’s where it all started,” Labani said. “I started attending the program with them through the virtual sessions and tried to attend more pitching and networking events.”  

For Labani, becoming an ambassador meant traveling to the U.S. for the first time. Knowing little about Austin and Texas beforehand, she immediately appreciated the welcoming environment on and around the Forty Acres.   

“There are so many cultures here! For example, I didn't know about the prevalence of Mexican culture here,” Labani said. “As for the Texan identity, I appreciate this because it relates to us as Saudis. We are proud to be Saudi, and people in Texas are proud of being Texan.”  

The session that stuck with Labani most tightly was presented by Lesley Robinson, Ph.D., founder of Embolden Consulting, who guided the group in exploring the intricacies of leadership traits essential for navigating the startup realm.   

“That session stood out for me because it was entirely about leadership, specifically female leadership. This is an untapped area in Saudi; this is why we are here,” Labani said. “This is the main idea of the program: how to empower female entrepreneurs and leaders. Dr. Robinson’s session, this program and being a regional ambassador has been inspiring for me, our city and our country.”   

Networking Across Saudi Arabia  

The next phase for the ambassadors of the Saudi Women Entrepreneurs Networking and Membership Initiative entails fostering the growth and support of women entrepreneurs within their respective regions. This involves orchestrating planned networking sessions, engaging meetups and featuring experienced guest speakers in the future.   

“By sustaining these initiatives, the aim is to cultivate a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem that thrives on collaboration, empowerment and collective advancement for women,” Reed said. “Our goal is for the women to embrace a sense of ownership, curating the best practices and activities for the network. By entrusting them with this responsibility, we envision a community where each ambassador becomes a steward of women’s entrepreneurship, crafting strategies and initiatives that resonate with the needs and aspirations of their local entrepreneurial landscape.”