KAUST Innovation Fund provides funding for technology-based startups

Nicola Bettio, manager of the KAUST Innovation Fund

The KAUST Innovation Fund, formerly known as the Seed Fund, supports the University's pipeline of technology-based startup projects and companies. It also invests in high-profile international technology companies willing to establish their operations in Saudi Arabia and to benefit from synergies with KAUST research activities. The new fund is one of the very few players in Saudi Arabia making venture capital investments in technology-based startups from seed (less than $200,000) to early-stage (up to $2 million).

KAUST has taken a bold stance in contributing to the emerging venture investing ecosystem in Saudi Arabia and is actively supporting KAUST-based startups and high-profile early stage companies willing to move to the Kingdom. The Innovation Fund is currently managing a portfolio of more than 15 startups and has adopted a hands-on approach to ensure their success. The new Fund intends not only to provide the financial resources needed by a startup to grow, but also aims to be a long-term strategic partner providing operational support.

"This approach is quite novel in academic institutions and is the first of its kind in Saudi Arabia," said Nicola Bettio, the manager of the KAUST Innovation Fund. "We need to support the growth of our startups beyond simple seed funding, encourage international technology-based early stage companies to move to Saudi Arabia and attract local investors and international venture capitalists to the Kingdom's relatively young innovation ecosystem."

The core difference from the previous Seed Fund program is that the funds provided by KAUST will now allow the University to become shareholder of the startup once its incorporation process is completed. Moreover, applications for seed funding can now be submitted at any time; there is no more need to wait for a specified seed fund round.

Additionally, the Innovation Fund is working with more mature startups needing to finance further stages of their growth, in order to raise larger investment rounds in partnership with financial and industrial co-investors in Saudi Arabia and the region.

What makes a startup's business a good candidate for investment?

The most important factors in determining whether the KAUST Innovation Fund will invest in a startup includes a large potential market, a superior product/technology, a strong team and a clear business plan. The Fund also assesses the extent to which the startup's technology is aligned with KAUST's main research areas and its potential impact on the region in terms of job creation and solutions to specific local problems.

The Fund's main investments focus on:

  • KAUST internal startup projects - teams working on entrepreneurial projects related to KAUST areas of excellence
  • KAUST early-stage companies - KAUST startup projects that have gone through the incorporation process and need additional funding
  • Spin-ins - international early-stage technology companies that are interested in establishing R&D activities at KAUST

How and when to submit a business plan?

If you have a breakthrough technology, a strong team and clear business model for a new startup that you would like to be considered for funding, the first thing you must do is to draft a business plan and send it to the Innovation Fund (

To create the most complete, coherent and compelling business plan, we recommend participating in the startup training sessions or acceleration programs offered by the KAUST Entrepreneurship Center (contact

Before making any public disclosure or communication of your innovation, we encourage you to talk with the KAUST Technology Transfer Office to disclose and protect your inventions (contact

By David Murphy, KAUST News.