How to secure funding from KAUST’s Innovation Venture fund to grow your deep tech startup

How to secure funding from KAUST’s Innovation Venture fund to grow your deep tech startup

KAUST Innovation Ventures (KIV) provides investments up to Series A stage for seed to early-stage startups to support our vision of developing KAUST-affiliated technology companies that will bring economic and societal impact to Saudi Arabia. We can fund up to $250,000 in seed investments and up to $1 million in follow-on investments.

One question we often get is, “How can I make my startup stand out so I can get funding from the KAUST Innovation Venture fund?” While we’d love to fund every good idea that comes across our desk, we have a few specific criteria that we look for in the startups we fund and in the pitch decks we review.

At KIV, we place the highest priority on funding KAUST faculty or students with go-to-market-ready technologies in sectors aligned with our research focus. Here are the main qualities we look for in startups:

We look for startups with KAUST affiliations

We give priority to early-stage technology-based startups with strong ties to KAUST and Saudi Arabia. The best way to get funding from KIV is to build on an existing relationship with KAUST or establish a presence on our campus or within the local community, whether it’s through research or entrepreneurship.

We’re a higher-ed institution, so our primary focus is cultivating innovation from learning and research to create impact. We can’t simply fund an idea just because it has the potential for a big return on investment. Instead, we want to increase opportunities for our students, staff, research and technologies to broaden our university’s impact in the community and on the world stage —so we do look for KAUST connectivity in every investment we make.

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Most of our pipeline at KIV is either spun out of KAUST through existing programs such as our entrepreneurship training programs, accelerators or via commercialization of our research and technologies. We can also make connections with startups outside our campus and in particular to support local Saudi entrepreneurs.

Most of our pipeline at KIV is either spun out of KAUST through existing programs such as our entrepreneurship training programs, accelerators or via commercialization of our research and technologies. We can also make connections with startups outside our campus and in particular to support local Saudi entrepreneurs.

These are the affiliations we typically look for:

  • Faculty, researchers, students, or staff: As long as you’re working with KAUST technology or know-how, you’ll meet the affiliation criteria.
  • Participants in KAUST Entrepreneurship Center Programs: Those who aren’t active students, faculty, or staff can join apply to join an entrepreneurship program on campus to build a connection with KAUST.
  • External companies with a strong affiliation to KAUST: Local Saudi entrepreneurs or startups that are willing to relocate their operations to KAUST, already have a presence on campus or a collaboration with KAUST will qualify.

After affiliations, we look for projects that align with our vision.

We look for technologies aligned to KAUST research focus areas

We select startups focused on one of the six KAUST research focus areas:

  • Energy: Startups focusing on next-generation technologies in the energy sector, whether they’re improved tools for existing energy sources or new, sustainable sources of energy. One startup in our portfolio, NOMADD, developed a solar panel cleaning solution using cloud-controlled waterless robots.
  • Food: Technologies that provide more efficient access to farming and sources of food to communities. Red Sea Farms, a company funded through KIV, develops solutions for controlled environment farming in hot, arid climates.
  • Water: Technologies or products that provide sustainable, clean sources of water to communities. For example, Medad Technologies, a KAUST-funded startup, designed a silica-based water absorption desalination system that’s driven by low-grade heat for cost-efficient water distillation.
  • Environmental: Startups with a focus on reducing harmful waste and developing environmentally friendly products and practices. Edama, another KAUST startup, creates compost for desert agriculture from the recycling of organic waste.
  • Digital: Groundbreaking technology systems and solutions such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and software-as-a-service (SaaS) components. One company in our portfolio, Firnas Aero, is piloting drones-as-a-service technology and aviation robotics solutions.
  • Health: Companies that are leveraging technology advances to bring new insights into healthcare and improve outcomes for patients. NoorDx, a KAUST startup, is a genotyping and discovery service that uses context-specific prognoses from diagnostic testing to support clinical treatment decision-making.

Most of our startups are in the digital and ICT (information and communications technology) space, but health and life sciences are some of the fastest-growing sectors. We expect to see more and more startups focusing on healthcare, biosciences and environmental solutions receiving funding from KIV.

We also look for startups that are making an impact toward Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030. One of our biggest priorities as a university is to align with the objectives of Vision 2030. KIV furthers that mission by providing funding to startups that are contributing to a more diverse and sustainable economy in Saudi Arabia.

We look for go-to-market-ready solutions with a proven commercial interest

Each startup that pitches to us should have a go-to-market-ready technology or prototype that’s been market-tested for demand. We avoid investing in technology that still needs more research so that we can supply the initial seed funding to get you to market, secure customers and ultimately attract other investors for the future.

Here’s what we’re looking to see in a market-ready solution:

  • Minimum viable product (MVP): We’re looking for evidence of an MVP—not just the concept of a product or a product that’s in development, but the minimum viable product that’s ready to hit the market and serve customers’ needs.
  • Commercial interest: Market validation to make sure there’s evidence of real commercial interest in your product and that there’s a potential target customer base.
  • Competitive advantage: We also look for clear benefits to your product, as well as differentiation within the market. Show us what makes your technology unique, specifically the ways that customers can benefit from your product compared to any others that are out there.

KAUST Innovation’s accelerator programs and entrepreneur boot camps can help test the business case for your product beyond just looking for an interesting technology. If you still need to do more research and development to create a market-ready technology, KAUST can offer grants for technology development and validation.

Your pitch should express your target market size and user applications for the technology, as well as your business model and your customer acquisition strategy. We’re providing the seed funding for you to acquire customers and generate revenue, but we rely on your strategic vision to do that. You should also demonstrate both your technical expertise and your business acumen—because the ultimate goal is to attract investors outside of KAUST to sustain your start up in the long term.

We look for strong startup teams with relevant experience and history

Since most of our earliest stage ventures come from within KAUST’s academic and research community, we’re comfortable working with founders and technical experts. But anyone we fund needs to be on the path of building and growing their company with a clear business vision.

One of the primary goals of our seed funding is to keep attracting investors outside of KAUST, and as your company grows, you’ll become less dependent on KAUST for funding. While technical expertise is great for developing your product, you’re going to need more experience to continue growing. Instead, it becomes more important to have commercial leadership with business and sales experience in place, so they can successfully push your message to investors and secure more funding.

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We look at startups with team members who have experience taking products to market and fundraising because we know they’ll have the skills to excel past the early stage of funding we give them. If you don’t have this experience yourself, consider building a team of people to encompass a range of these skills—especially if you’re seeking larger amounts of funding.

Ready to pitch to KAUST Innovation Ventures?

Many growing technology-based startups require funding to scale and go to market. At KAUST Innovation Ventures, we help our students, faculty, and staff—as well as other groups with a vested interest in KAUST and the wider community in Saudi Arabia—obtain the funding they need to reach commercial viability and stability.

We aren’t just funding further technology development; we’re here to help eligible startups enhance their products, gain traction in the market, generate more revenue, and grow their business for the long term.

Learn more about KIV and KAUST Innovation to see which program is right for your stage of development.