Technology Incubation in Saudi Arabia: A Conversation with Sultan Al-Mubarak

Published: October 6, 2013

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Editor’s Note:

Science and technology based innovation and the development and support of sustainable high growth enterprises are at the heart of all leading economies. So says the introduction to this year’s Technology Incubation Conference set for next month in Riyadh. This year, the 5th such event to boost technology development in the Kingdom, will be held in conjunction with the 10th annual Technopolicy Network Conference, the first time for such an event in the Middle East.

SUSRIS was fortunate to talk with Dr. Sultan Abdulaziz Al-Mubarak at the recent US-Saudi Business Opportunities Forum about the King Abdullah City of Science and Technology’s role in these important developments and to learn about this years joint conference. Today for your consideration we provide our conversation with Dr. Al-Mubarak.

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The 5th Annual KACST & 10th Technopolicy Network Conference 2013
November 4-6, 2013
King Abdullah City of Science and Technology (KACST) Headquarters
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

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Technology Incubation in Saudi Arabia: A Conversation with Sultan Al-Mubarak

[SUSRIS] Can you tell me the background for the Technology Incubation Conference. What inspired an event like this for Saudi Arabia?

People KACST Sultan Al-Mubarak[Dr. Sultan Al-Mubarak] This event originated with the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), which is the mother governmental agency for science and technology in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. For the past thirty years they have been supporting research and development in different sectors within the Kingdom including ICT, biotechnology, and other science-related research activities.

In the late 90s the Kingdom realized SMEs, small and medium enterprises, to be one of the major sectors that help improve the economy for any nation. One of the best examples is the United States. Though it’s the largest economy more than sixty percent of new job creation has been coming from the small and medium enterprises. In the United Kingdom, another example, more than ninety percent of the GDP in the world is coming from SMEs.

So Saudi Arabia started to plan to diversify their economy. As we know most of the economy is dependent on oil and petrochemicals. Saudi Arabia started to look at how to diversify the economy, how to create high-value new Saudi jobs, and how also to start SMEs that are providing or doing some innovative technologies within the Kingdom. They include many different kinds of technology, just to name a few: ICT, the advanced manufacturing of fracturing, and alternative energy.

As we know Saudi Arabia is producing oil, however, that doesn’t mean that we are relying on oil for our energy. Saudi Arabia is looking to the future, and we know that alternative energy is one of the promising sectors that Saudi Arabia may also have a lead on. Just to give an example is solar energy. Aramco, which is the largest oil company in the world, is spending heavily in many alternative energy R&D activities.

The King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology developed what we call the Badir Program for Technology Incubator. In the past most of the R&D work that has been done and is still being done at KACST does not necessarily end, only to be shelved or to be archived. We take it further and we try to support it from the government with the help of a private practice to involve new emerging small and medium enterprises within these technologies. Incubation has been started in the ITC sectors and has been expanded to advanced manufacturing as well as biotechnology, which includes medical, agricultural, environmental, as well as pharmaceutical. Soon there will be the energy incubator including alternative energy and the nanotechnology incubator.

[SUSRIS] There was a symposium organized to advocate the role of SMEs and Mohammad Al-Jasser, in his role as head of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency gave a keynote address noting the importance of SMEs in the national economy. Can you comment on the public and private roles in developing SMEs?

[Al-Mubarak] As Dr. Al-Jasser mentioned, there is a national strategy called the National Science and Technology Innovation Plan, or NSTIP. One of the elements of such a strategy is to develop innovative technologies for the SMEs, so the SMEs that the government is looking for are not in the traditional way. The government is looking for SMEs that rely on innovative technology that can sustain growth and increase the productivity of the Kingdom in different sectors. Furthermore, as Dr. Al-Jasser became the minister of Commerce and Planning now he is also pursuing this national mission personally and making it as one of the top priorities for the ministry, he is also coordinating with many governmental sectors as well as private ones to make such venture success.

We will also be honored by having Dr. Al-Jasser as a keynote speaker in the first day of the conference as and he will give a view about the Ministry focus towards such initiatives.

There is a strategy for the knowledge-based economy, and most, if not all the governmental sectors are working together to develop such a strategy. There is a budget directed towards such efforts for all sectors including Ministry of Trade, Ministry of Economy and Planning, the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, and most of the other ministries.

Also, some of the private sectors like Aramco and SABIC are working together with the government to support such initiatives, and there are a few success stories that have been developed within the past few years out of these collaborations and we hope within the next decade or so that we can see Saudi Arabia as one of the leading countries making good within the knowledge-based economic sector, and having developed SMEs within such sector.

[SUSRIS] Let’s talk about the conference. It brings together policymakers and stakeholders across the board. Can you talk about the objectives that you would like to see achieved at the conference?

[Al-Mubrak] The Annual KACST & 10th Technopolicy Network Conference 2013 is being held for the fifth year. Since the first time King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology held the conference it received much international attention. There are very well known international speakers who participate. We also have networking for decision makers in both sectors and some entrepreneurial partners. There are also investors as well as the VCs. The first conference was held in 2009 and it is an annual event.

This year is going to be different because it’s being held within the annual conference of the Techno Policy Network, which is in its tenth year. The Techno Policy Network is also supporting the knowledge-based economy and sectors that help regional development, entrepreneurship, and incubation activities. We are very happy to have the Techno Policy Network partnering with us. They held their past nine conferences in North America and Europe. It’s going to in Asia for the first time as well as the first time in an Arab country and in the Middle East. It’s an international organization that is based in the Netherlands.

[SUSRIS] So you’re inviting international partners, not just Saudis and people who are connected with this network, but you’d like others to consider participating in the conference?

[Al-Mubarak] There are international speakers coming from different sectors including the World Bank and SME sectors in different countries. It is open for all to attend the conference. We will facilitate their participation after they submit their registration through our website (www.technopolicy.net). Then we will with their arrangements in Riyadh.

[SUSRIS] What kind of people are you hoping to attract, and what should they expect the outcomes to be?

[Al-Mubarak] As I mentioned the conference is about incubation for startups in different innovative technology fields and we’re looking for technology transfer opportunities in different fields. There are strategic priorities in the Kingdom in different sectors. Let me give an example. Because of my background in the field of healthcare I’m going to be biased to medical area. In Saudi Arabia diabetes is one of the medical and economic struggles as well as cardiovascular disease. So there are technologies that have been developed to facilitate the diagnostic and treatment approaches in the Kingdom for diabetes and obesity. There is going to be a major international conference to talk about diabetes and obesity at King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology by the way. Diabetes and obesity are becoming an epidemic within the country, and there is much national focus on these two diseases. So there are many priorities within the Kingdom that they are trying to tackle.

[SUSRIS] So that’s just one example, but those considering attending should know there will be attention to a host of business incubation issues?

[Al-Mubarak] The conference is about technology in different sectors including advanced manufacturing, energy, alternative energy, ICT, nanotechnology and so forth. What we are looking for is technologies that show a good proof of concept and which need to be supported by venture capitalists and/or angel investors.

[SUSRIS] Any last ideas or thoughts that you would like to share with people who might consider coming or participating in some way?

[Al-Mubarak] When people think of Saudi Arabia they focus on oil and petrochemicals. They should know that there is now a great focus on different technologies.

The conference can connect those who are looking for partners to work with and looking to have a presence in the Kingdom. They will benefit by being in Saudi Arabia, as the economy, one of the twenty largest economies in the world, is doing very well. We believe Saudi Arabia is one of the best places in the MENA region for starting business as it has the infrastructure needed as well as the supporting facilities and is a good location for those companies that would like to establish themselves in the region.

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About - The 5th Annual Saudi International Technology Incubation Conference – 2013

Science and technology based innovation and the development and support of sustainable high growth enterprises are at the heart of all leading economies. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is investing heavily in innovation and entrepreneurship and recognizes their importance in diversifying and maintaining the economic growth and prosperity of the country…

This year KACST and Badir have teamed up with the Technopolicy Network to organize the 5th Annual Saudi International Technology Incubation Conference which will incorporate the networks 10th International Annual Conference. The aim is to provide stakeholders and practitioners in the entrepreneurship and incubation industry the opportunity to contribute to discussions with international and local experts about the importance of science and technology based businesses within the kingdom and to consider the latest developments in technology entrepreneurship, innovation and the role that incubators should play.

The conference will help to develop knowledge and understanding between policy makers, incubation practitioners and stakeholders about the importance of science and technology based entrepreneurship and its role in the creation of a knowledge-based economy and a diversified technology industry base, while providing networking opportunities that support the development of the Saudi Arabian incubator industry.

The conference will be held from 4 to 6 November 2013 (1 to 3 MuHarram 1435 A.H.), at the KACST Conference Centre, KACST headquarters, King Abdullah Road, Riyadh.

The theme is “Science and technology as a driver for change – how regional development, entrepreneurship and incubation interact” and will highlight the role of entrepreneurship and incubation in delivering sustainable economic development.

Source: http://www.icsaudi.org/2013/en/About.html

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About Dr. Sultan Abdulaziz Al-Mubarak

People KACST Sultan Al-MubarakProfessor Al Mubarak works as a Consultant at King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) and King Fahad Medical City. He is currently the Director of the Badir Biotechnology Incubator that supports the commercialization of biotechnology innovation. He is Adjunct Professor at the State University in New York at Buffalo, USA. As a researcher, Professor Al Mubarak has received several private and government research grants in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States of America.

He obtained his Bachelor of Dental Surgery from the College of Dentistry at King Saud University, Saudi Arabia. His Specialty Certificate in Advanced Periodontics and a Master of Science in Periodontology was gained from the University of Aarhus, in Denmark. In 1998 he obtained a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Clinical Periodontology from the State University of New York at Buffalo, USA. In 2000, he obtained the Clinical and Research Fellowship in Dental Management of Medically Compromised Patients from the Division of Endocrinology at the Kaleida Health Hospital in State University of New York, USA. In 2008 he obtained the degree of Certified Clinical Research Professionals. Professor Al Mubarak is a Reviewer of several local and international journals and at research organizations. He is an Editorial Advisory Board member of the Biological Therapies in Dentistry in the USA, and an Editorial Board Member of several American journals such as the International Academy of Periodontology. He has a wide range of publications in peer reviewed journals and has had several articles published in the Kingdom and other international journals.

He is a recipient of several awards. In 2005, Professor Al Mubarak became the first non-American to receive the Alumnus Certificate of Excellence from the State University of New York at Buffalo, USA, for his research in the interaction between dental infections and systemic disease, a field that has recently received global scientific attention. In 2008 and 2010, Professor Al Mubarak and his research team were awarded a Certificate of Merit for their research achievement by the President of KACST. In 2009 Professor Al Mubarak was nominated to be the Middle East Advisory Oral Health Board Member.

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