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Saudi Arabia and the world
Thursday, Dec 08, 2022

Innovation is the centerpiece of KAUST’s role in Saudi Arabia and the world

Innovation is the centerpiece of KAUST’s role in Saudi Arabia and the world

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is a catalyst for innovation; by paving the way for new technology, new talent, educating and upskilling the Saudi Arabian workforce through new programs and aligning with Vision 2030.

Since its inception in 2009, KAUST was purposefully designed to bring the power of innovation to address many of the challenges experienced in the region, in the sectors of environment, food, water and energy. These are the foundation pillars of KAUST.

In my tenure at KAUST and as the world has evolved, I have added the pillars of health and digital; including artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and big data.

KAUST has successfully turned every crisis that we have faced, including COVID-19, into an opportunity to be of service to the Kingdom and the world.

At the start of the pandemic, we developed the COVID-19 Rapid Response Team, pivoting the University’s top researchers to focus their expertise on innovative research outcomes that address the virus.

We had many successful innovations as a result. For example, a KAUST-developed COVID-19 RT-PCR test, the Kingdom’s first, is now SFDA-approved.

KAUST startup Noor DX provides a full suite of processing equipment using biotech diagnostics developed by Professor of Bioscience Samir Hamdan.

Such fast-moving innovation demonstrates the capacity KAUST has to support new ideas that meet changing conditions in the global environment.

Innovation hub at KAUST


The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has set its sights on a knowledge economy, and therefore must develop the innovation to meet this vision. KAUST has endeavored to enhance the innovation culture in the Kingdom.

Our Innovation department is a catalyst for supporting novel technologies, entrepreneurial development and impact.

We provide access to world-class facilities, cutting-edge IP and technology, deep tech startup investment and acceleration, connections to the world's brightest minds and access to Saudi Arabia's leading innovation hub.

Our mission is to put our research to use, and through our collaborations with industry, government and startups, we are leading a growing deep tech ecosystem in Saudi Arabia.

We have developed cutting-edge new programs and training that are changing mindsets and advancing the Saudi Arabian workforce.

In 2021, we trained over 15,000 entrepreneurs in the Kingdom, and our first-ever MOOC 'Entrepreneurship Adventurers' has attracted over 100,000 online learners since it launched in 2019.

We also currently have 30 active deep tech startups in our investment portfolio, with 24 spin-outs from KAUST faculty and KAUST entrepreneurs and six international spin-ins.

Innovative partnerships to support Vision 2030


The Kingdom is a dynamically evolving nation, and the site of some of the world’s most ambitious giga projects.

Aligned with Vision 2030, there are currently five giga-projects in the Kingdom. KAUST is strategically placed to support these, providing innovative thinkers and doers, cutting edge research and technology.

The largest of the five projects, NEOM will be a destination for sustainable living, working and prospering on the Red Sea. KAUST has provided a stream of talented graduates to work at NEOM, as well as faculty experts in areas of marine conservation, water, energy and food security.

By far our biggest undertaking with NEOM is our joint effort to establish the world's largest coral garden at Shushah Island in the Red Sea.

The Shusha Island Coral Park will cover 100 hectares and become a global center to showcase innovations to protect and restore coral reefs.

Similarly, KAUST partners with The Red Sea Development Company on a ground-breaking application of conservation and development planning to enhance biodiversity and conservation-priority species distributions across almost 1,300 square kilometers of pristine lagoon.

The Marine Spatial Planning process coordinates multiple uses of the marine environment — energy and utilities, recreation, conservation, transportation and shipping, aquaculture and others — and carefully manages the way these interact with vulnerable species and habitats to optimize goals of both conservation and development.

These partnerships are valuable to helping the Kingdom achieve Vision 2030 goals such a capacity building for the artificial intelligence (AI) industry.

In our partnership with the Saudi Data and AI Authority (SDAIA), KAUST is taking a leadership position within the Kingdom to develop educational programs and upskilling for Saudi Nationals in AI and machine learning, brought together under the Center of excellence in Data Science and AI.

Vision 2030 prioritizes human capacity development, and this highlights the need for dynamic learning experiences, both in-person and online, to enrich the tapestry of higher education.

KAUST Academy facilitates embedding the ethos of lifelong learning into the design and development process of blended learning.

This directly supports the development of a knowledge and skills-based society for Vision 2030, and beyond, for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The overall goal is to foster a healthy AI ecosystem with local, regional, and international collaborators and partners; such close collaboration is the secret weapon to how Saudi will get the edge in AI, energy transformation and climate tech.

Partnerships across the region are important for KAUST, but of most significance are the partnerships we foster with our local universities.

In the coming year, we are deepening our existing relationships with national universities, working closely with partners such as King Saud University, AlFaisal University, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, and King Abdulaziz University, to name just a few, on education initiatives, talent development and upskilling for students, and increased collaborations between KAUST and eminent Saudi faculty.

Our goal is to complement what these renowned universities offer, mix that with KAUST expertise and global DNA, and generate something larger than the sum of its parts — working together to build a very robust talent and higher education ecosystem that can power the Kingdom’s ambitions.

One thing is clear — we are all on a mission to give the new generation of young Arabs the tools and education to innovate and apply their knowledge to these regional and global issues.

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