Bring on the deep tech: Why KAUST is attracting life-changing tech startups to Saudi Arabia

Deep tech startups in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s economy is mainly driven by oil—something that Vision 2030 aims to change. Transforming our Kingdom is a significant undertaking that requires investment in new markets. So, KAUST is attracting deep tech companies to develop Saudi into a tech leader. Developing the deep tech ecosystem fosters innovation to create solutions for some of the most pressing challenges facing Saudi Arabia and the world.

Deep tech uses the latest technological and scientific breakthroughs to solve problems. A deep tech company is on the leading edge of science in areas like climate change, food scarcity or renewable energy. It’s essential that these companies come to Saudi because of the challenges we face every day: the vast amounts of energy required to grow food in greenhouses, the need to desalinate all water and the reliance on nonrenewable fossil fuels.

Attracting deep tech companies sets Saudi up to create a diverse knowledge-based economy focused on solving urgent problems in the MENA region and worldwide. Here are four companies currently headquartered at KAUST and working toward commercializing their scientific breakthroughs.

Natufia: Automated smart gardening

KAUST ‘spun-in’ Natufia to Saudi Arabia because they can help make fresh food more accessible. The region’s climate is hot and arid, so all produce must be imported or grown in energy-consuming greenhouses. This reliance can lead to challenges with food security and just finding the specific herb or product you need to cook.

Natufia developed a ‘Smart Garden,’ a small, automated greenhouse that makes growing herbs easy for home and restaurant owners regardless of weather or season. The Smart Garden contains two grow chambers—one for nursing seeds and another for maturing plants. A computer maintains the ideal temperature, humidity and watering schedule for each specific produce or herb.

This technology will help Saudi Arabia increase food security since we’ll no longer have to contend with arid environments not conducive to agriculture. Natufia’s system also reduces the carbon emissions required to get food from other countries to our grocery stores and then to your table. Together these breakthroughs will contribute to a more sustainable fresh food supply in the Kingdom.

Pasqal: Scalable quantum processing

KAUST wants Pasqal in Saudi Arabia because they’re pioneering quantum computing—powerful processors that outperform traditional computer processors. Quantum computing, for example, can devise more sustainable methods of making fertilizer, an energy-intensive process where regular computers have failed.

Pasqal develops quantum processing chips that allow them to create scalable computers so that each build perfectly fits their customer’s needs—making their solution more energy efficient and less wasteful.

This type of computing gives Saudis a way to solve major climate and agricultural issues within the Kingdom and the MENA region. Using quantum computers could also lead to other deep tech breakthroughs as solutions to more complex problems are found.

This year, Pasqal was part of Destination Deep Tech, a new three-month KAUST program to help deep tech companies to expand in the region. Through Destination Deep Tech, deep tech companies like Pasqal can discover markets in the MENA region while developing and executing their growth plan next to a team of mentors in KAUST’s facilities.

Proteinea: Accessible protein-therapeutics

KAUST welcomed Proteinea as part of Destination Deep Tech to increase the accessibility of life-saving protein therapeutics for people all around the Kingdom and the world. Right now, access to life-saving insulin varies based on what part of the world you live in and how much income you have. For example, the availability of insulin in sub-Saharan Africa is still low, as it can cost 39% of a family’s income for insulin for the year.

Proteinea is a protein engineering platform creating a more sustainable and affordable process to develop protein-therapeutics medicines, from computational design to high throughput manufacturing. They are leveraging deep tech breakthroughs in AI, and a novel bio-production approach, to accelerate development and increase accessibility to life-saving biologics.

Their portfolio varies between protein-therapeutics and other sustainability enabling products serving key areas, such as food alternatives. So, what does that mean? In short, they are making more life-saving medicine at a lower cost. Increasing the availability of antibody protein therapeutics helps Saudis with cancer, liver, or heart diseases live higher-quality lives.

PeroLED: Realistic color displays

KAUST welcomed deep tech company PeroLED to Saudi because their novel displays will be a world-first for both inkjet printing and color gamut. Existing displays—like TV screens or the screen you’re using to read this—can only show up to 52% of the color spectrum we can see with our eyes. That means the colors and images we see in day-to-day life don’t come across accurately when we look at them on a screen.

PeroLED creates technology for screens that can render up to 76% of colors so that recordings, movies, and pictures display more true-to-life than before. They use perovskite light-emitting materials with quantum confinement structures, to display a wider range of colors on phones, tablets, computers and more. Perovskite materials are luminescent, and their energy can be controlled, which changes the color of the light emitted. PeroLED is also now working on light-emitting technology that will work with inkjet printers and remove the need for costly masks.

PeroLED’s display technology has the potential to create the first display to meet the Rec. 2020 color gamut standards released by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). In addition, their inkjet technology could potentially lower the cost and materials needed to print high-resolution images.

Turn your research into impact at KAUST

KAUST works with deep tech companies and researchers worldwide to develop and build their products and services right here in Saudi Arabia. Our goal is to help the kingdom move from being an oil-dependent economy to focusing on technology leadership and knowledge by creating a deep tech ecosystem. To meet this mission, our campus houses world-class research and development facilities at our Research and Technology Park.

KAUST hosts world-leading talent and a deep tech community. If you’re a deep tech startup interested in expanding in Saudi Arabia, discover more about our Destination Deep Tech program. Through digital sessions and a three-month physical soft landing program, international startups will have the chance to explore the Saudi market and startup ecosystem, connect to world-renowned researchers and leverage KAUST’s unique infrastructure.