Launching a startup can be tough and many aspiring entrepreneurs have questions about where to start. To shed some light on the startup journey, we’re sharing stories and insights from some of our TAQADAM Startup Accelerator founders and program mentors. If you’re interested in applying, click here to learn more about the program.
With millions of date palm trees holding great economic value across Saudi Arabia, modernizing the harvest process is key for the Kingdom’s future. Solving this problem is why Mohammad Shaqura, a 31-year-old from Dammam, and Mohammed Al Farhan, a 30-year-old from the eastern town of Ahsa, chose to create RoboCrop.
Having both grown up in agricultural areas where palm trees are widely harvested, their invention improves the technique to ensure maximum productivity in the most efficient way. “My ancestors went through hardships and struggles to harvest palm trees, so we both wondered if we could create a robot to climb the tree and harvest it,” Al Farhan said. “Our research showed that all robotics target structured trees, like coconut or apple trees, but there was no specific robot for the very difficult geometry of palm trees. We thought it would be a unique and interesting idea that no one had tackled before.”
With PhDs in robotics and high-performance computing and a family history in palm trees, the duo began experimenting with new robots. “That is how RoboCrop came to life,” explained Al Farhan. “We are trying to solve a big problem in Saudi Arabia.”
The TAQADAMA Startup Accelerator experience
Both Farhan and Shaqura were technically qualified, having received their PhDs from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), however the TAQADAM Startup Accelerator provided the entrepreneurs with necessary business skills. “Before the TAQADAM Accelerator, we were looking at the problem solely from a technical perspective,” Al Farhan explained. “During the program, we were motivated to go out and look at the market and refine our idea to be more focused and technically based on the business requirements.”
From marketing to customer surveys, TAQADAM provided them with the expertise needed to launch a successful business. As many of their customers could not relate to the technical language of their PhDs, their newly-acquired knowledge as entrepreneurs helped bridge the gap. “With the TAQADAM workshops and through the experience of meeting other entrepreneurs, we managed to improve our business skills and potential customers started to understand us,” Shaqura said. “This is the added value we gained out of the TAQADAM Accelerator. In summary, they sharpened our business and entrepreneurship skills.”
RoboCrop co-founder Mohammed Al Farhan
The exposure that the TAQADAM program, a partnership between Saudi British Bank (SABB) and KAUST, provided the team with was unparalleled. “Had we not completed the program, we would not have had the connections to see what people are doing in our field of study or in the problem we were trying to tackle,” he explained. “The mentors helped us research to find out if the idea had been done before. TAQADAM is a very good place to sharpen your research and technical skills.”
The support of the TAQADAM Accelerator was viewed as different to others available in the Kingdom. “There are some accelerator programs that are shorter,” said Al Farhan “But from a financial point of view, TAQADAM was extremely helpful – the main source of startup funding comes from the monthly seed money and incubation at KAUST.”
The access to a vast amount of technical and business expertise was an important aspect for them. “KAUST is a university so throughout the accelerator you have advisory access to professors of different expertise and to all of the university labs,” he said. “On the business side, the financial and marketing advice was paramount, and so was the access to the KAUST and SABB network. This level of accessibility isn’t really available anywhere other than TAQADAM.”
The team is currently raising capital and applying for a new cycle of funding. In parallel, the entrepreneurs are in the product’s testing phase, where they are building and testing the prototype to prepare for RoboCrop’s piloting phase.