Empowering Entrepreneurs: TAQADAM’s Seventh Cohort Prepares to Pitch

Twenty-four startups from the seventh TAQADAM cohort at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology are gearing up to pitch their business ideas to investors at the final showcase taking place on March 3, 2024. Of the original 42 startups that participated in the accelerator program’s online and in-person boot camps during August last year, only these 24 hero startups made it through to the final round. Both camps offered expert mentorship in areas such as product design, pricing strategies, public relations, and legal and financial matters, as well as access to a network of investors and professionals.

TAQADAM’s portfolio startups will emerge from the program with newfound business skills and connections for turning their startup dreams into reality and impacting the entrepreneurial landscape of the Kingdom with beneficial products and services.

Below, we highlight four of the 24 hero startups as examples of the diverse talent that TAQADAM is supporting to expand their business potential:

  • Cognna — a Software as a Service (SaaS) cybersecurity threat detection and response platform that detects and neutralizes threats that might otherwise go undetected.
  • BuildBench (formerly ProTenders) — a leading business-to-business construction platform using digital data to increase efficiency and reduce risk.
  • Talents Arena — an AI-based next-generation recruitment platform that helps organizations hire talent.
  • Trh Capital — a licensed platform that offers Shariah-complaint financing through Sukuk for businesses and individuals.

Cognna: Secure solutions

Cognna’s technology uses advanced algorithms, sensors and machine-learning software with real-time early detection and mitigation intelligence to thwart cyber threats and provide companies with seamless protection across business networks, endpoints and cloud operations.

As critical information structures (CII) rise across the Kingdom, the need for resilient and secure core networks, data centers and power grids is increasingly of paramount importance. Cognna aims to address this gap with its innovative and cost-effective cyber platform.

Founders Ibrahim Alshamrani and Ziyad Alshehri, based in Riyadh, foresee a bright future for Cognna, having raised US$2.25 million (around SAR 8.3 million) in seed funding from Impact46, Vision Ventures and Faith Capital during their time in TAQADAM, making it the first startup in the Middle East to secure this level of investment in the cybersecurity sector. Before joining TAQADAM, Alshamrani and Alshehri participated in the inaugural 12-week Cybersecurity Accelerator Program launched by the Saudi National Cybersecurity Authority in August 2022.

Cognna CEO Alshamrani said that participation in TAQADAM gave his team strategies and resources for expanding the business at a time when cybersecurity services are needed in Saudi Arabia.

“Imagine Cognna as a fledgling startup, ready to take flight but in need of a boost. Enter TAQADAM, the powerhouse accelerator that served as our jetpack. With expert guidance from industry veterans, we soared!” he said.

BuildBench: Construction connections

Based in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, BuildBench (formerly ProTenders) uses digital e-tendering processes to help connect construction companies at all stages in the industry — from developers and architects to contractors and suppliers — while helping them to find new deals, access project data, streamline their work and manage bidding activities across the Middle East.

With US$5.3 million (SAR 20 million) in seed funding raised across five funding rounds, BuildBench is expanding operations in the Kingdom and is poised to onboard some 9,000 Saudi companies to its platform in the next two years. The move into the Saudi Arabian market takes advantage of the unprecedented rise in construction projects ongoing across the Kingdom in pursuit of Vision2030 goals. With so much construction comes the opportunity for BuildBench to empower local businesses to thrive, open doors to foreign enterprise and contribute to the Kingdom’s economic diversification.

BuildBench emerged from the TAQADAM marketing workshops with a clear outline of how it intends to leverage its in-depth knowledge of the construction landscape in the Middle East to attract new clients and increase team productivity and sales activities.

Co-founder and CEO Karim Helal said: “With its well-structured sessions and wide array of relevant mentors, TAQADAM has been extremely instrumental in helping us better understand the nuances of Saudi Arabia and has prepared us for our expansion into the KSA market with the ambitious goal of becoming the first construction-tech unicorn to emerge from the region.”

Talents Arena: Novel recruitment

For companies that need help hiring the right talent for the job, Talents Arena offers advanced matchmaking solutions. Claiming to be “the first AI-based technical hiring platform in the MENA region,” the startup reduces the time and resources needed throughout the recruitment process with the help of an AI engine using advanced algorithms to automatically source and match talent, schedule interviews and provide assessment tools for evaluating candidates and making strategic technology decisions.

Saudi Arabia’s economy is expanding quickly, notably in non-oil growth fields — a surge that is in line with its Vision2030 mission to diversify income sources and increase competitiveness. With growth comes new job opportunities and, in turn, opportunities for companies like Talents Arena to provide labor-recruitment services.

Based in Cairo, Egypt, Talents Arena has raised a total of US$810K over two funding rounds toward expanding operations in the Kingdom, where around 25% of its clients are already based. The company had previously graduated from the “Flat6Labs” and “Plug and Play” accelerator programs.

Founder Aya Elgebeely, CEO and managing director of Talents Arena, said that participation in KAUST’s TAQADAM was a natural next step toward this goal, commenting that the program’s valuable perks and extensive network had been immensely beneficial.

“TAQADAM at KAUST stands out as the pinnacle among all the incubation programs I’ve participated in. The journey is exceptionally designed to assist us in refining our products, market positioning, pricing and strategies to effectively cater to the dynamic Saudi market.”

Trh Capital: Investment opportunities

Trh Capital, based in Riyadh, contributes to the economic development of the Kingdom by providing Shariah-compliant financing and investment avenues to companies and individuals through Sukuk — a type of Islamic bond with ownership in financial assets. Having completed its business requirements, Trh secured a Financial Technology Experimental Permit for Offering and Investment in Debt Instruments through the Saudi Capital Markets Authority (CMA).

The CMA regulatory stamp of approval signifies that individuals and companies can confidently invest through Trh. The startup’s platform helps end users navigate complex financial transactions and legal procedures for small and big investments alike, from amounts of SAR 1000 up to SAR 20 million. According to Khalid Alhindi, Chief Technology Officer at Trh, ease of financing is designed to help enterprises of all sizes borrow and move money, which will hopefully yield lucrative results and stimulate the economy.

Startup superstars

KAUST is proud of all the startups that joined the 7th Cohort of TAQADAM. Each one is a superhero in their target market, and TAQADAM will continue to play a part in their unique trajectory of success. We look ahead with anticipation to the TAQADAM showcase on March 3, 2024, where we can learn more about the novel products and services that will invigorate the business landscape of the Kingdom and make it stronger.