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KAUST launches first ever SME Innovation Program
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 28 - 10 - 2020


Saudi Gazette
THUWAL — King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) announced on Wednesday the launch of Saudi Arabia's first university engagement program intended specifically to foster the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the Kingdom.
The university's newest department helps SMEs gain access to deep technological resources and capabilities, with optimum utilization of the latest technologies in tackling new challenges.
Addressing a virtual press conference, senior officials of KAUST SME Innovation Services said that the new services would help SMEs increase their customer base and reach new markets while diversifying and strengthening the Kingdom's economic landscape.
They said that KAUST, in its capacity as a hub for deep tech research and innovation, designed this to provide access to KAUST's innovation ecosystem.
Those who attended the press conference included Eng. Sami Sarhan, program manager, KAUST SME Program Development; Omar Kutbi, manager of KAUST SME Engagement and SME Innovation Services; Abdulmajeed Alomrani, director of the Innovation Department at Small and Medium Enterprises General Authority (Monsha'at); Naif Alduraywish, senior business development officer at Saudi Authority for Industrial Cities and Technology Zones (MODON) and Dina Alnahdy, member of the Board of Directors of Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Lulwa Shalhoub, senior media specialist at KAUST, hosted the Zoom event.
Replying to queries from Saudi Gazette, Omar Kutbi said that KAUST has accelerated efforts in finding solutions based on new technologies to keep up with the fast-paced changes in the post COVID-19 scenario. "Our priority was more on digitization even before the pandemic. However, there has been a huge increase in the number of companies and enterprises that provide digital services through online platforms and apps during the last six months after the outbreak of coronavirus," he said.
Kutbi noted that people want KAUST to play a much bigger role in lending a helping hand to the local market, in reshaping it and giving new directions to tackle the pandemic situation. "Around 65 percent of Saudi population is under the age of 25 and KAUST is proud to help them adapt to the new technologies and creating more job opportunities," he said.
On her part, Dina Alnahdy explained the enhanced cooperation and collaboration with KAUST in supporting SMEs, which account for more than 99 percent of the private sector establishments in the Kingdom.
"Initially, our focus in joint work with KAUST would be in three major sectors of health, education and industry and we will expand this to more sectors later. We will tap the vast expertise and research of KAUST in the development of these vital sectors," she said while pinning great hope on scoring mutual success stories.
"Innovation is growing rapidly and sustainably through an ecosystem," said Abdulmajeed Alomran. "This is reflected in the distinguished survey report and there is a desire for SMEs to adopt innovation in their products to enhance business growth and a desire to cooperate with a pioneering university such as KAUST."
The KAUST officials explained that its innovation services for SMEs aim to support the SME community by making use of the university's resources and capabilities. The university recently carried out a massive and comprehensive survey covering more than 500 SMEs across the Kingdom in order to achieve a better understanding of how small and medium enterprises can interact with universities.
Conducted in partnership with Monsha'at; the Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam Chambers of Commerce; Ministry of Investment; the Royal Commission of Jubail and Yanbu; and the Council of Saudi Chambers, the survey is the first to collect SME-university specific data.
The questionnaire elucidated the ways in which the university can support the SMEs sector by developing programs and initiatives that affect the SME system and the survey produced a set of recommendations and programs that can serve this sector in the best manner.
Based on the survey results, KAUST launched SME Innovation Services to engage SMEs through KAUST's innovation ecosystem. Through the program, SMEs will gain access to state-of-the-art facilities, including preferred access to KAUST's Core Labs.
In addition, they will have access to a talent pool of students and engineers, as well as research and scientific expertise in the form of consultancy. Specialized technical training will accelerate this knowledge transfer and help SMEs develop new products and funding opportunities. Participating SMEs will also have easy access to KAUST intellectual property.
KAUST SME Innovation Services has already completed workshops in artificial intelligence and rapid prototyping, with an ambitious aim to engage 1,000 SMEs in the next three years.


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