Seed Fund Spring Gala 2014 unveils three winning startup projects

Seed Fund spring 2014 winners pose with members of the Seed Fund team during the Spring Gala 2014.

New Ventures & Entrepreneurship hosted the 2014 Spring Seed Fund Gala on June 4 to recognize and honor this spring’s winning Seed Fund teams.

The KAUST Seed Fund functions as a product development funding mechanism that assists budding entrepreneurs move their ideas through the commercialization process and ultimately form them into new businesses. Through this, the University aims to provide the Kingdom with innovative startup companies leading to new jobs, and present a successful startup model that may be used Kingdom-wide.

As Amin Al-Shibani, KAUST VP for Economic Development, noted during the event: “The Seed Fund program is geared at empowering interested faculty, research scientists, postdoctoral fellows and students, and providing them with the space needed as well as the seed capital to turn their ideas into successful businesses. We recognize they are working in deep science with real business potential.”

The Seed Fund hosts two rounds of applications for funding during the year, one in the spring and one in the fall semester. This spring’s three winning teams were drawn from a pool of 37 applications, and were selected by a panel of judges from academia to industry. A final selection was made by the Seed Fund Oversight Committee.

The winning teams’ project titles and members were: “I3-Waste CO2 to Commercial Products” (Dr. Jeremie Pelletier, Laboratory Manager at Catalysis Research Center; Dr. Valerio D’Elia, Research Scientist at Catalysis Research Center; Mr. Blake Ashwell, Center Manager at Catalysis Research Center); “ONCOGENOMICS - Highly Accurate Test for Early Detection of Colorectal Cancer” (Prof. Vladimir Bajic, Director of the Computational Bioscience Research Center (CBRC); Dr Roberto Incitti, Bioinformatician at the CBRC; Dr. Hicham Mansour, Research Scientist in Biosciences Core Lab; Dr. Claude Hennion, external member; Dr. Jean-Pierre Roperch, external member); and “ZAD - Microbes to improve agriculture under drought, heat and salinity” (Prof. Heribert Hirt, Biological Sciences and Engineering Division (BESE); Prof. Daniele Daffonchio, BESE; Dr. Axel de Zelicourt, postdoctoral fellow, Center for Desert Agriculture (CDA); Dr. Feras F. Lafi, Research Scientist, CDA; Dr. Ramona Marasco, postdoctoral fellow, Red Sea Research Center).

“It is just the beginning of the teams’ journeys,” Al-Shibani noted. “The teams will face incredible pressure, the need to make difficult decisions, and take risks – and all of this in addition to honoring their dedication to their current professional and scientific engagements.”

The event featured Keynote Speaker Professor Erhan Erkut, Founding President of Ozyegin University in Istanbul, Turkey. Prof. Erkut discussed the mission of the world’s new “global universities,” which are “third-generation” universities that must focus on commercializing technology produced through their education and research.

“Universities are breeding grounds for entrepreneurs,” Prof. Erkut said, “and universities today must make a point of producing and encouraging entrepreneurs. Through this, economic value, new companies, and employment opportunities will be created.” All these, he noted, are essential in the global economy today, as the world has an increasing need for more and better jobs for an ever-growing workforce.

Prof. Erkut also stated that he believes KAUST has many of the characteristics of a third-generation university, and has the potential of becoming a fully-fledged third-generation institution. This, he said, will be essential to fostering economic growth and creating new employment opportunities in Saudi Arabia, which is as essential for the Kingdom today as it is for his home country of Turkey. “There is the important need,” he stated, “to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem in our respective countries.”

The event concluded with the Seed Fund winning teams presenting their innovative business ideas through a series of short videos and presentations. The teams then had a chance to network with event visitors from academia and industry.

The Seed Fund is led by Nicola Bettio, who has recently joined KAUST and who has been managing a venture capital fund in Europe for the last 13 years. Saifuddin Tajuddin Mohamed, another new hire with a long experience in entrepreneurial ventures in North America, is managing the Fund portfolio. Other members of the team include Osman Sayeed, Award Financial Administrator; Amal Dokhan, Project Coordinator; and Ozden Yurtseven, Pre-Award Specialist.

The Seed Fund team is always ready to meet people with novel business ideas to discuss their projects and investigate how to commercialize them. For further information and to schedule a one-on-one meeting, contact the Seed Fund team at

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