KAUST paves the way for new entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurship Center hosts graduation ceremony for participants of New Ventures Accelerator

A fresh batch of innovative ideas is emerging in the Kingdom thanks to the Entrepreneurship Center at KAUST. On February 18, KAUST honored the first graduating class from its New Ventures Accelerator startup program.

The program is an evolution of the three-month-long VentureLab, which helped develop some of KAUST's first startups. The New Ventures Accelerator, in contrast, is nearly six months long and is mentor-led by a cadre of seasoned entrepreneurs and investors. Participants have been hard at work since September 2014, meeting weekly with Entrepreneurship Center staff and mentors to fast-track their business ideas.

Pitch-Perfect Performance

Seven teams completed the program, with concepts ranging from bioinformatics to customer relationship management. During the event, each team's founder(s) gave a five-minute pitch explaining how their ideas will address a current gap in the local or global market.

A three-person panel of judges evaluated the teams. Panelists included Gordon McConnell, head of the KAUST Entrepreneurship Center; Adam Gazzaley, professor of Neurology, Physiology & Psychiatry at University of California; and Rebekah Kapfer, Marketing & Outreach Manager for Innovation and Economic Development at KAUST.

Hayah, a personal care product line focused on organic and natural cosmetics, won the audience favorite award, while the panel of judges gave the best pitch award to Material Solved, a KAUST IP-based startup that utilizes visualization software that helps materials scientists design materials more efficiently through geometric modeling of particle paths.

The focus of the event, however, was not on competition, but rather on celebrating the progress each team has made. These ventures are already creating impact in the Kingdom and beyond, and will soon create job opportunities and contribute to Saudi Arabia's economy.

What's Next?

Next, all seven startups will move into phase two of the development process. Over the next six months, the Entrepreneurship Center will help further advance their ideas, incorporate their companies in the Kingdom and grow revenue.

"These startup projects, which cover everything from KAUST intellectual property to consumer products, show the wide range of entrepreneurial activity that is going on in KAUST and the Kingdom," said Gordon McConnell. "We look forward to helping these new businesses scale their activities while growing their revenue and job creation potential in the next phase."

Panelist Adam Gazzaley praised the participants: "It's impressive to see startup ventures of this kind emerging in this region," he says. "The future certainly looks bright for the entrepreneurial talents emerging from KAUST."

The next New Ventures Accelerator program begins end of March, where a new crop of budding entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to accelerate their business ideas. This one will focus purely on intellectual-property-based startup teams, and will involve staff, student and academic teams from KAUST and partner universities. If you are interested in participating, contact

By David Murphy, KAUST News