In Saudi Arabia, there is no shortage of people with vibrant ideas and a determination to pursue them. King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST) is home to a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem with the Kingdom’s highest concentration of deep technology innovators, entrepreneurs and technology startups.
As part of the university’s commitment to developing a culture of innovation and fueling the growth of the local SME (small and medium enterprises) sector, the university supports innovators at all stages of the entrepreneurship process – from ideation to launch, to funding and beyond.
Here are the top emerging KAUST startups to watch in 2019:
Vasiliki Kordopati in the lab testing Oaesis laser technology
KAUST startup spinout Oaesis is a next generation laser grow light solution for indoor farms. Oaesis technology provides plants with more light and less heat and while reducing total energy costs for farmers by up to 30%.
Growing food in the desert and making the future more sustainable for growing populations is at the core mission for Oaesis founders Vasiliki Kordopati and Robert Werfelmann. The team are currently piloting their patented laser-based grow light technology in the KAUST Research and Technology Park, an incubation space for high tech startups. Co-founder Werfelmann is optimistic about the future of the company, “Once Oaesis starts the piloting phase and customers observe the energy consumption and heat emission benefits, then our technology is going to be the next step in the agritech evolution.”
Oaesis graduated in the second cohort of TAQADAM Startup Accelerator 2018 and received 375,000 SAR of follow-on funding from SABB. They won first place at Startup Saudi Arabia 2018 and made it to the top 10 finalists at Startup Istanbul 2018.
Nicola Gasparini in the iyris lab
iyris is a KAUST startup that turns windows into solar panels for cities of the future. Developed in the labs of KAUST Professor Derya Baran, the patented solar cell technology can reduce electricity costs by up to 25%. The startup is at the forefront of a new technology that could revolutionize the way buildings harvest energy. Baran has set her sights sky-high, looking to wrap skyscrapers in iyris’s light harvesting solar glass. The founding team graduated from the TAQADAM Startup Accelerator in 2018, receiving follow-on funding from SABB of 375,000 SAR and recently took third place at Startup Istanbul 2018. Baran was also named by MIT Technology Review as one of their 2018 “Innovators Under 35.”
Sadeem founders Mustafa Mousa & Esteban Canepa piloting their sensors at KAUST
For smart cities of the future, managing floods, traffic, weather and air quality is increasingly being seen a top priority. As global warming related weather and natural disasters increase, the ability to detect and monitor events such as flooding can help save lives and resources.
Established in 2011, Sadeem is the world’s first multi-patented sensor solution that uses independent active sensor networks to enable cities to make decisions better and faster. The Saudi-based startup was founded by a team of KAUST graduates – Dr. Ahmad Dehwah, Dr. Mustafa Mousa, and Dr. Esteban Canepa. Sadeem is headquartered at the KAUST Research and Technology Park and has already launched in cities throughout the Middle East, United States and Mexico.
The management and development team of NOMADD
NOMADD is an automated robot designed and developed in Saudi Arabi to remotely clean solar panels in the harshest desert conditions using no water. In desert climates, solar panels are often exposed to heat, humidity and other outdoor elements such as sand and dust. These pollutants and weather conditions prevent sunlight from reaching the solar cells. After an event such as sandstorm, the panels could produce up to 60 percent less power.
NOMADD is a KAUST startup that addresses this challenge with a fully automated, robotic solution that is cost effective and requires no additional energy sources. NOMADD was founded in 2012 and is located at the KAUST Research and Technology Park. The company recently closed a Series B investment with Saudi manufacturer CEPCO and is actively deploying NOMADD robots on solar panels throughout the Middle East.
Wayakit founders Sandra Medina & Luisa Fregoso in the lab
Wayakit makes traveling easy with pocket-sized dry-cleaning kits. The company’s first product is a compact, all-natural enzyme-based stain and smell removal spray that can be used on most fabrics. Founded by two KAUST environmental scientists and entrepreneurs, Sandra Constanza Medina and Luisa Emilia Javier, the pair created Wayakit as a way to link their passion for traveling with real-world environmental solutions. After months of researching, testing, measuring and formulating, they launched their first product on crowdfunding website Indiegogo raising over 37,500 SAR and selling 2,000 units. Wayakit was also a TAQADAM Startup Accelerator 2018 graduate and won the People’s Choice Award, kicking off their startup journey with funding of over 500,000 SAR.
Co-founder Lutfan Sinatra in the Quantum Solutions labs
For gamers, movie-lover and Instagrammers, Quantum Solutions is a KAUST startup poised to change the way we view images on electronic devices. The startup develops and manufactures quantum dots for electronic applications, such as LCD displays, LEDs and solar cells to enhance their visual quality. The quantum dots can also be used for scientific purposes to help the research community explore new applications of these luminous materials. In 2018, Quantum Solutions won first place at the MIT Enterprise Forum, receiving 100,000 SAR in prize money. The company is now located at the KAUST Research and Technology Park and is actively partnering with electronics companies globally.
Kiran Narayanan, founder of Unit X after signing partnership contract with KAU HPCC
KAUST startup Unit X is making supercomputing accessible to all companies and providing easy-to-use workflows for big data analytics, artificial intelligence and simulations. Unit X offers customers access to supercomputing power by connecting them to under-utilized supercomputers in their partner network. Customers are then able to launch their compute jobs through an easy-to-use, cloud-based software platform. The founders raised Seed funding from the KAUST Innovation Fund and have recently partnered with King Abdulaziz University High Performance Computing Center (HPCC) to bring supercomputing, big data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) to enterprises in the Kingdom and in MENA.
A place for startups to scale
For entrepreneurs pushing the boundaries of science and technology, KAUST is a place to grow and accelerate. Through mentorship, business training, access to co-working offices, prototyping labs, and funding, the university is a destination for innovators to build and scale next-generation startups in Saudi Arabia.