Get in the innovation game

This year's Innovation & Economic Development Open House event featured an interactive gaming theme that drew visitors to the University's Innovation Cluster to take part in the activities. Photo courtesy of I&ED.

The KAUST community discovered what it takes to "get in the innovation game" this year at the Innovation & Economic Development (I&ED) Open House event on October 4 and 5. The interactive event provided an opportunity to learn about the University's resident industry partners and how to engage with I&ED, and featured video games, prizes and new technologies in a celebration of innovation on campus.

Eleven of the University's industry partners with residency in the KAUST Innovation Cluster had booths at this year's event, with representatives from companies including Dow Chemical, the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC), Saudi Aramco, Boeing, Nalco and Cray attending. Startup resident partners also participated, including FalconViz, NOMADD and Visual Experience.

The Open House also featured Saudi Membrane Distillation Desalination (SMDD), Integrated Information Technology Support (IITS) and Haala Energy, three new startup resident partners, and three I&ED-sponsored community self-directed groups (SDGs): the Entrepreneurship Business & Innovation Group (eBIG), a graduate student SDG; Young Builders; and Maker Space. The SDGs showcased I&ED's efforts to create an innovation movement within the KAUST community.


Michael Margineanu​ , a Ph.D. student in the University's Biological and Environmental Science and Engineering Division, founded eBIG, a student-run entrepreneurship business and innovation group, in 2015 with fellow KAUST Ph.D. students Nadia Kouraytem  and Martin Ibarra.

"The three of us served on the Graduate Student Council's International Business Relations Committee, and we realized KAUST needed active student engagement outside of the lab to achieve one of its core goals, economic development. We believed there were many ways students and I&ED could benefit from such a group on campus," explained Margineanu.

"eBIG aims to provide a link between the student body and I&ED, with a focus on engaging students in entrepreneurial-spirited activities and competitions, encouraging them to build new sets of soft skills and learn what it takes to get a research idea beyond the laboratory stage," Ibarra said.

Over 80 KAUST students have already participated in eBIG events, which included organizing the KAUST selection for the Hult Prize for social entrepreneurship in 2015 and the development of the proposal for the 2015 Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) Innovation Challenge, a program later launched by I&ED in partnership with the Islamic Development Bank. The group plans to continue working on similar initiatives, and will be assisting with the upcoming Arabian Venture Forum event in November.

"The Open House event was a great opportunity to engage with visitors and the other participants, find common areas of interest and discuss some of eBIG's initiatives," said Kouraytem. "Each time we reach out to the community, we learn how we can better serve KAUST as a student-run group and how we can further contribute to the University's economic development mission."


SMDD, founded in 2014 in Jeddah by Saad Almittiri, develops membranes specifically for membrane distillation that will improve the efficiency of water treatment systems three to sixfold. The company currently holds three patents for its technology.

"Using our newly developed membranes, the energy consumption is expected to be much lower compared to other conventional processes, as the whole system could be run by solar energy for heating, cooling and water circulation processes," said Fouad Mahdi, SMDD's managing director. "We aim to be a part of the solution to preventing water shortage around the world, and in particular in countries like Saudi Arabia where there is no naturally regenerated drinking water, but where water desalination is low-cost and huge production of water is needed."

"The University's Innovation Cluster is a 'plug and play' location for us where we can quickly and efficiently begin making use of the many resources at KAUST, like the professors, students, researchers and lab facilities," Mahdi continued. "Our base here helps us to rapidly reach our goals."


Technology company IITS is headquartered in Jeddah and provides solutions for the health informatics field. Founded in 2012, IITS has grown from a three-member core team to 22 members. The company currently works with clinics and governmental institutions, implementing health informatics platforms for them.

"KAUST is a location for intellectual people, and we were proud to take part in the 2016 I&ED Open House to present our informatics solutions and exchange ideas with visitors at the event," said Ehab Arif, CEO of IITS. "We work in advanced levels of health informatics, and we are looking to utilize the expertise of KAUST researchers, professors and students for the development of our projects.

"The datacenter at KAUST is an exciting place for us to manage and host our application that can analyze the health data of patients in the Kingdom. We hope this will be part of a broader project in the future that will establish a data center for health informatics for the entire country. This would be utilized for preventive care for the citizens. With the assistance of KAUST and the research team here, we are sure this will become a reality."

Haala Energy

In 2015, Faris Al Sulayman and Rowan Jandu founded Haala Energy in Jeddah with one goal in mind: establishing a different kind of renewable energy developer—one that is local and dynamic and promotes employee ownership to capitalize on emerging opportunities for solar deployment in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries. Haala Energy focuses on distributed solar generation at the commercial scale and works with agricultural and industrial clients.

"We decided to become a resident partner at KAUST because we wanted to be part of the University's vibrant and scientifically engaged community. This would allow us to learn from and collaborate with academic research related to solar power at the KAUST Solar Center and elsewhere, and also to be close to other companies promoting similar technologies," Al Sulayman said.

"Being at KAUST also gives us access to a great talent pool and the University's New Energy Oasis (NEO), which we hope to use to conduct a set of pilot tests on thin film technologies. Here we can also access data from other research groups that have been studying solar technologies under local conditions since the establishment of the University," he added.

Young Builders

The Young Builders SDG provides children ages 6 to 12 the opportunity to create, build and construct projects with their parents using a variety of building materials. All of the projects center around the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

"Our building space in the University's Research park is set up for 20 children, and in each project we look at architecture, the physics involved in demolition and construction, robotics and programming, mechanics and team and individual problem-solving skills, and we have weekly 'builders' challenges.' Children also make video presentations of their projects once they're complete," said Laurie Zienchuk, president of the SDG.

Zienchuk noted the SDG is "brand new. The Open House was our first event, and we were most pleased to be invited. It was the best opportunity I could have ever imagined to present our SDG to the community. We feel Young Builders has so much to offer children and their parents on so many developmental levels. The children's faces sparkle when they are building and when they have learned something new, or when they have created something they never thought they could."

Maker Space

"The Maker Space SDG is a collaborative effort of community members to initiate a 'maker space' at KAUST in the University's Research Park," explained Pe​te​r Rautek​ ​, a research scientist in the Visual Computing Center and coordinator of the SDG. "We want to empower people to build whatever projects that have in mind, both for themselves and for the benefit of the KAUST community."

I&ED provided the Maker Space team with a space for their facilities and the budget for the initial outfitting of their room. In the "maker space," community members can tinker, invent and build safely and can take part in courses that include digital fabrication, programming, electronics, micro-controllers and woodworking. There is also a tools library on-site where group members can check out tools "like books in a library," Rautek said.

"We hope to have our workshop area fully constructed and outfitted by the end of 2017," he added. "We currently have a core team of eight people who run the SDG, and anyone with a passion for making is welcome to join. During the University's 2017 Winter Enrichment Program, we plan to run a variety of courses on 3-D printing, electronics, micro-controllers and the internet of things, further introducing the community to Maker Space."

Supporting the KAUST community

Getting into the innovation game has been made much easier with the programs offered by I&ED to support the community in bringing their ideas and inventions to commercialization. To learn more, visit