The Saudi Arabia startup ecosystem is booming. And here at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), startups are supported with the right environment to scale and grow. KAUST is working alongside a network of agencies, ministries, and companies who are all aligned on accelerating startups within the Kingdom. Through the university’s partnerships with industry and government and its unique on-campus entrepreneurial ecosystem, KAUST is committed to leading the next generation of innovators into the future.
From seed round startups to well-established companies that have already raised significant capital, here’s a list of KAUST startups you won’t want to miss in 2020:
UnitX team on campus at KAUST
Supercomputers offer incredibly powerful processing capabilities and the need for big compute capability is growing as more businesses of all sizes need to process and manage complex data. Founded in 2018, UnitX offers on-demand, cost-efficient simulation tools that are easy to use, ultrafast and fully accessible with a web browser. The startup allows users to harness the power of 14 supercomputers; making supercomputing affordable to a much wider range of businesses. In 2019, UnitX secured $2 million of co-investment from the KAUST Innovation Fund and Saudi Aramco’s Wa’ed Ventures Fund to support the startup in its quest to democratize supercomputing and help enterprises and government make data-driven decisions, reduce IT spending, innovate and become globally competitive.
Edama Organic Solutions team.
Edama started with a simple question – where does waste in Saudi Arabia go? After extensive research, Sabrina Vettori – a KAUST alumnus and chief executive officer of Edama, learned that all waste suffers the same fate – the landfill. The startup recycles organic waste producing a natural soil improver tailored to increasing food security in arid regions while significantly reducing water consumption, pollution and fighting desertification and climate change. Based at the KAUST Research and Technology Park, Edama Organic Solutions graduated from the second cohort of TAQADAM Startup Accelerator and is solving sustainability challenges towards creating a Saudi Arabia where all organic waste goes back into the earth.
Mark Tester and Ryan Lefers, co-founder of Red Sea Farms in the greenhouse.
Saudi Arabia is one of the most water-scarce regions of the world, often relying on unsustainable sources of water for irrigation, such as groundwater, which is being rapidly depleted, or desalinated water that requires large amounts of energy to produce, costing at least $1 for every cubic meter, in addition to its high environmental impact. Co-founded over than 18 months ago by KAUST Professor Mark Tester and Research Scientist Ryan Lefers, Red Sea Farms aims to solve the Kingdom’s food security needs by growing saltwater-tolerant crops. In Red Farm’s refitted greenhouse, 80% to 90% of freshwater is substituted with saltwater, reducing freshwater and energy requirements tenfold. The Saudi startup has secured $1.9 million of co-investment from the KAUST Innovation Fund and Research Products Development Co. (RPDC) to produce 50 tons of tomatoes annually by 2020. They also celebrated winning the 3rd place at the Entrepreneurship World Cup in 2019 at Misk Global Forum out of over 100,000 applicants.
Carbon-CPU co-founders in the KAUST lab.
Food waste produced by food companies, restaurants and home kitchens all over the world are an untapped resource. Every year, more than 1 billion tons of food waste is dumped, producing secondary environmental pollution with no value to society. However, the high organic content in the food waste makes it a resource rather than a waste stream. Carbon-CPU has a new, world-leading technology that transforms food waste into high-value products such as livestock feed nutrients by producing bioproducts at a much lower cost and environmental burden, compared to the traditional chemical synthesis. Carbon-CPU graduated from the third cohort of TAQADAM Startup Accelerator in 2019, and won the People’s Choice Award, kicking off their startup journey with funding of over USD $50,000 from KAUST and SABB.
Qualsens startup team.
To keep pace with Saudi Arabia’s use of smart technologies in managing water production and distribution, KAUST startup Qualsens offers instant solutions for monitoring and protecting water installations in real-time using an IoT enabled self-activating biochemical sensor. This process introduces non-invasive sampling technology that detects, characterizes and alerts water operators to biological fouling at the earliest stage, improving the production of water in Saudi Arabia and reducing operational costs. The founding team graduated from the third cohort of TAQADAM Startup Accelerator in 2019. Co-founder and KAUST alumnus Babar Khan was also selected as one of 20 Innovators Under 35 in the MENA region by MIT Technology Review Arabia.
Startup FalconViz’s drone.
FalconViz, one of KAUST’s homegrown startups, is an innovative data collection, visualization, and processing company with a focus on drone-based services. Launched in 2015 as a result of a collaboration between co-founders Neil Smith, Luca Passone, Mohamed Shalaby, and Anas Dahlawi, FalconViz’s drone design, manufacturing, and performance evaluations are all conducted in KSA to meet the tailored needs of clients. The startup has already secured over $2 million in funding from KAUST and is poised to close its first institutional round from Saudi-based VC funds. FalconViz was also listed as a Top 100 MENA Startup by the World Economic Forum and collaborated with Mobily and Ericsson to bring 5G drone tech to Hajj in 2019.
Sadeem team working on installing one of their company’s flood and traffic sensors on the KAUST campus.
Floods are one of the world’s most damaging natural disasters, and a major problem with flooding lies in the lack of information—information about the flood, the severity, the magnitude, the propagation—of the flood in the streets in real-time. KAUST startup Sadeem helps cities manage flooding and other environmental factors (such as air quality and traffic flow) to make decisions better and faster, saving lives and resources in real-time. The Saudi startup is founded by a diverse team from KAUST – Ahmad Dehwah, Mustafa Mousa, Esteban Canepa, and Christian Claude, and has secured $2.6 million of co-investment from the KAUST Innovation Fund and Saudi Aramco’s Wa’ed Ventures Fund for product updates to the existing Equa and Aura sensors, and development of new technologies for monitoring ice, hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes.
Cura app co-founder Wael Kabli, a Saudi finalist in the Entrepreneurship World Cup.
Cura is changing healthcare for the better with a revolutionary app that gives users access to hundreds of doctors from all specialties just in one click to enhance users’ healthcare experience. Dedicated to delivering the best healthcare services anytime and anywhere, Cura is powered by a spirit of doing better and improving people’s lives. The Saudi startup graduated from 9/10th accelerator in cooperation with KAUST in 2015 by cofounders Wael Kabli and Mohammad Zekrallah. Cura is currently promoting wellness and focusing on prevention rather than treatment in Saudi Arabia. Both co-founders are planning to expand in the MENA region with a wider range of healthcare services focusing on digitizing the future of medicine in Saudi Arabia and the region.
Entrepreneurship at KAUST
Here at KAUST, we strive to empower innovators interested in startups to find the right resources for success – whether an entrepreneur, investor, or an idea, KAUST provides the ideal environment, investment opportunities, mentorship, business training and facilities for success. The Entrepreneurship Center’s mission is to support the development of an innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem in Saudi Arabia by enabling promising startups from every day.