Wayakit Founders (left to right) Sandra Medina and Luisa Javier standing with their product on the KAUST campus. Photo by Khulud Muath.
Globally, air travel is down over 55 percent compared to 2019 due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. Flight bookings are currently on a slight upswing, however, as countries gradually reopen their borders.
As flights return, the challenge of maintaining a virus-free environment includes, not just the health of the travelers themselves, but airports, transport stations and cargo as well. Wayakit, a KAUST-funded startup, has partnered with Swissport, who will use the startup's innovative disinfecting products on international aircraft and buses at the Jeddah, Dammam and Riyadh airports.
"The aviation industry is severely affected by the consequences of the pandemic." Gerold Tumulka, CEO of Swissport Middle East said. "Swissport is helping to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus by ensuring that the aircraft of our customer airlines are disinfected after each flight, so that passengers regain confidence in air travel and will start to fly again. With Wayakit we have found a local partner that develops biotechnology based disinfectants that are fast acting, certified, naturally degradable and can be used in aircraft."
Founders Luisa Javier and Sandra Medina, both current Ph.D. students at KAUST, wanted to develop a powerful, non-toxic cleaner which is also environmentally friendly. Their antiviral formulation, sold as Wayakit, eliminates 99.999% of bacteria, common viruses and the SARS-CoV coronavirus strain. It works on any type of surface and, while other disinfectants take up to 30 minutes to work, Wayakit guarantees efficacy in just 30 seconds. The short disinfecting time makes it ideal for fast-paced environments, such as airports.
The Wayakit formula was created at KAUST. As biotechnology researchers and scientists, the Wayakit co-founders saw an opportunity to innovate the processes and chemical compounds to create a superior product that is highly efficient and environmentally friendly.
The partnership with Swissport is an essential development for KAUST and Saudi Arabia's developing startup ecosystem. The University's mission is to plant the seeds of an "innovation ecosystem" in the Kingdom—a network of startups, entrepreneurs, investors and others, all committed to helping great entrepreneurial ideas succeed.
Swissport workers disinfect a transport bus with Wayakit products. File photo.
KAUST encourages major corporations, such as Swissport, to work with startups like Wayakit, by supporting innovative technology and forward-thinking through mentorship and coaching programs. The University is committed to fostering and investing in high-quality, impactful startups in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.
Since 2011, KAUST has graduated over 250 startups through its programs and backed 56 startups with seed and early-stage funding. The ingenuity of the Wayakit team and their connection with Swissport is an example of the talent that exists within Saudi Arabia and KAUST.