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. Applications are now open for Cohort 4.
After graduating from the business school at the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Mohammed Al-Buali never thought he would end up winning the TAQADAM Startup Accelerator.
During his time at KFUPM’s Entrepreneurship Institute, he was linked to a number of different innovative technologies at the university, including one by Professor Nasser Al-Aqeeli and Humood Al-Hajri who had invented a recycled crumb rubber coating.
“The technology was created at KFUPM and I chose it because I wanted to create a startup that could commercialize a Saudi invention and support our transition towards a knowledge-based economy,” Al-Buali said. “It’s a green and disruptive technology that might shape and contribute to the recycling industry in the country.”
The 27-year-old from Dammam went on to create a groundbreaking startup, Telaa, and he used this technology to enter, and ultimately win, the first TAQADAM cohort, a multi-university accelerator founded by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and Saudi British Bank (SABB).
Telaa involves using recycled crumb rubber extracted from wasted tires with anti-corrosion coating. With almost 30 million tires coming into Saudi Arabia every year – and millions dumped – the issue needed to be addressed. “We’re creating demand for a recycled product,” he said. “We mix our patented formula with other additives and chemicals, and end up with an anti-corrosion coating that can be applied on any steel surfaces, mainly used in pipelines for oil, gas and water.”
Telaa founder Mohammed Al-Buali holding a prototype of his recycled crumb rubber coating.
There is a strong market need for such a product, particularly in an oil-based country such as Saudi Arabia. “Aramco is investing millions in the maintenance of pipelines,” Al-Buali added. “Telaa coatings can offer a lot of value. It gives the metal a longer lifecycle by resisting corrosion, which can dramatically reduce yearly operation and maintenance costs. Moreover, the cost structure of our technology is very competitive.”
The TAQADAM Startup Accelerator Experience
Al-Buali’s experience in TAQADAM proved both valuable and useful. The program features a supportive entrepreneurship ecosystem that provided him with training, mentoring, and access to a network of other startup founders. “There was a sense of competition, which is a very motivating factor for me,” he explained. “The understanding and acceptance of failure, as well as the flexibility and quick action regarding funding and milestones were great.”
For entrepreneurs, flexibility and agility are key in ensuring their success. Al-Buali, whose objective is to become one of the future leaders in Saudi Arabian technology-based startups, said KAUST made him feel like they had a partnership. The program is zero-equity based, so startups retain full ownership over their early-stage ventures. “Some programs want to control your startup and have bigger shares in it, which discourages you from taking part in the entrepreneurial journey. But at KAUST, they treat entrepreneurs with a lot of respect and this definitely has a positive effect on the startup success,” explained Al-Buali. “The KAUST team, including Hattan Ahmed, Nawaf Algain, and Nikolas Tsorpatzidis are continuously supporting us.”
Going forward, Al-Buali hopes to support the Kingdom’s economy by developing local products and enhancing the country’s knowledge-based economy by commercializing more Saudi patents. “It’s a personal mission and I will work hard to achieve it” he added.
He also strongly believes in the power of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and innovation in contributing to a countries’ GDP. “The trend around the world now is about competing on innovative technologies and it is no longer in the traditional way of doing business,” he explained. “Even in Saudi Arabia, this has changed. There is a bigger opportunity for people to be innovative and think outside the box.”