2020 was undoubtedly a disruptive year for startups around the world. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, some startups continued to grow and thrive. In Saudi Arabia, in particular, there are many examples of entrepreneurs innovating to solve problems, better our world and promote sustainability.
KAUST is committed to supporting these cutting-edge startups that redefine our future and impact Saudi Arabia and the world. Here are eight of the most promising KAUST startups that have not just progressed during the pandemic, but are now thriving in the areas of AgriTech, digital customer experiences and more.
Imagine growing a never-ending supply of fresh food right in your kitchen. Startup Natufia created a ‘smart indoor kitchen garden’ with the technology to harvest herbs, leafy greens and vegetables at home. This fridge-size appliance is easy to use and fully automated — think of it as the “Nespresso for plants and herbs.” It comes as a self-contained cabinet that provides the optimal combination of water, lighting and nutrients to grow plants, allowing a harvest of up to two salads per day, enough for the entire family.
Founded by Gregory Lu, this KAUST spin-in startup’s idea was brought to life in response to the expanding challenges of the supply of fresh and nutritious produce, eliminating food safety ambiguity whilst focusing on sustainable accessibility solutions. Natufia’s objective is to rebuild connection back to nature and enhance health and overall wellbeing. In early 2021, Natufia will be officially moving its lab and full operation to KAUST.
Food waste is a global issue that costs an average of $35 billion every year. Almost a third of food produced for human consumption is wasted, while millions worldwide suffer from poverty and hunger. Uvera is changing the future of food waste by using chemical-free ultraviolet (UV) light technology to destroy several types of bacteria, viruses and pathogens that cause food spoilage, resulting in increased shelf life for fresh food.
Founded in 2019 by Asrar Damdam — a KAUST student and TAQADAM startup founder — she took her idea to Silicon Valley, where she developed the startup business plan during an entrepreneurship training program at Draper University. Damdam is now based at KAUST and is further developing and testing the innovative technology at KAUST Core labs.
Table Knight Games
When the lockdown started, families had the rare chance to spend more time together. It was during this time that the startup Table Knight Games saw a massive increase in players. Founded in 2017 by Abdulrahman Abdullah and Ghada Alhudaithi, who have graduated from TAQADAM, Table Knight Games creates entertainment that brings people together through gaming fun.
The startup digitizes and builds culturally inspired Arabic social games, transforming physical games — such as cards and board games — into digital ones while still focusing on direct interactions. Since the startup graduated from TAQADAM, funding has helped the founders expand their team and continue to grow their business.
Finding someone capable to assist with odd jobs around the house can seem like an impossible feat. Ajeer is changing the future of digital home maintenance services, saving the people of Saudi Arabia from the hassle of searching for a suitable technician to maintain their homes.
Founded in 2017 by Faisal Alzahrani and Turki Alarjani, co-founders and graduates of 9/10th startup accelerator, Ajeer is an on-demand platform that connects homeowners with maintenance providers offering standardized services at competitive rates.
Many e-commerce retailers face issues with slow courier service and difficulties handling cash on delivery (COD). During the COVID-19 lockdown, online shopping dramatically increased across Saudi Arabia — as did complaints about slow service. Saee, a KAUST startup founded in 2016, is changing both the supplier and user experience in e-commerce logistics and last-mile delivery in Saudi Arabia.
Saee is introducing cash before delivery (CBD) to clients and recruiting freelance couriers on-demand, allowing more flexibility and higher success rates. As of today, Saee dispatches last-mile shipments in more than 120 cities across the Kingdom with an average of 5,000 transactions per day.
The concept was developed by KAUST alumni Tariq Alturkestani and Eihab Nassier, who met each other at the accelerator, where they developed their business plan. Saee has recently closed $2.4 million in investment with Saudi Arabia’s Business Incubators and Accelerators Company (BIAC), ABN Ventures and TasHeel Holding.
Red Sea Farms
Red Sea Farms is a KAUST spinout that is changing agriculture’s future by saving up to 90% of fresh water by using saltwater-based agricultural systems to grow tomatoes and other vegetables.
Founded in 2018 by KAUST scientists Mark Tester and Ryan Lefers, they have combined their desire to innovate and develop a sustainable solution that impacts the world by using saltwater resources to sustainably grow healthy food. The startup is also building a saltwater greenhouse pilot facility based at KAUST in collaboration with Research Products Development Company Park (RPDC) and has raised funding through the KAUST Innovation Fund for another commercial facility opening in 2021.
Edama Organic Solutions
Around 70% of the global freshwater budget goes into agriculture, creating concerns about a worldwide water shortage. In desert countries such as Saudi Arabia, sandy desert soil lacks organic matter, increasing water demand. Edama Organic Solutions transforms organic waste into rich soil and innovative agricultural products to improve desert agriculture and decrease water demand.
The KAUST startup provides composting services to help farmers increase production while using less water by adding certain fertilizers and micros to the soil. Founded in 2017 by KAUST alumni Sabrina Vettori and Mitchel Morton — graduates of TAQADAM currently based at KAUST Research and Technology Park — Edama Organic Solutions has received $780,000 from the KAUST Innovation Fund in 2020 and is also building a commercial-scale composting facility on campus.
When it comes to industrial applications, many companies struggle with underwater communications. There is no viable technology to process high volume data links and to connect devices and equipment underwater. SaNoor Technologies, a KAUST’s startup, creates a solution that bridges the gap by bringing the internet to the sea and powering the Internet of Underwater Things (IoUT).
Founded in 2018 by KAUST alumni and faculty Chao Shen and Boon Ooi, SaNoor developed the fastest laser Light Fidelity (LiFi) devices and systems to offer high-efficiency lighting and 100,000 times speedier data communication solutions. The startup graduated from TAQADAM and raised $365,000 from the KAUST Innovation Fund to further develop its technology and offer laser LiFi that is eco-friendly and can be used by applications such as subsea pipeline inspection, environmental monitoring, and autonomous subsea operations.
KAUST empowers startups
KAUST trains entrepreneurs and equips them with the resources needed to flourish and innovate. It’s KAUST Entrepreneurship Center’s mission to empower innovators, investors and entrepreneurs of Saudi Arabia.