KAUST Coronavirus Innovation Challenge: Live Pitches

In a time of global social distancing, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) embraced digital connectivity and hosted the COVID-19 Innovation Challenge with live pitches from six finalists on June 14, 2020. Shaped by the idea that out of crisis comes opportunity, the challenge was open to all members of the KAUST community, asking how they could create innovative solutions to the challenges faced during the pandemic. 

Entrants were required to digitally submit their ideas of new solutions, products, services or ways of operating to enhance life and public safety that were born out of necessity from the COVID-19 global outbreak.

Hosted by Kevin Cullen, Vice President of Innovation and Economic Development, this unique event was a first for KAUST. During the webinar, he said that “This was an experiment for KAUST in innovating innovation – it has ultimately highlighted the talent within our community. I am so impressed by the ideas presented to some of the key challenges we have been facing in healthcare, education, social connectivity and community management.”

Among the 101 project ideas submitted, 16 KAUST judges were presented with a variety of dynamic and creative concepts. After 27 entries were shortlisted, six stand-out projects were chosen to pitch their idea to an online audience of 289 people from KAUST. 

Each finalist pitched their product, vision, and how their concept solved problems presented by the global pandemic. They shared details on functionality, timelines for production, potential barriers and how they would use the funds provided should they win.  

Responding to the caliber of the pitches Tony Chan, President of KAUST, remarked, “We wanted to tap into the brainpower of the KAUST community – and we have. I’ve been so impressed by all of these ideas.” 

Each project provided a unique solution, which made choosing one winner a difficult task, and so, each finalist won $20,000 USD in prize funding. A KAUST sponsor was also appointed to guide the winners through the next stage of development.  

Sandra Medina, CTO of Wayakit and KAUST Ph.D. Candidate in Environmental Engineering pitching a new disinfectant product.

The People’s Choice Award, as voted for by the webinar attendees, was given to KAUST Professor Derya Baran, for her ‘Creating Antiviral Surfaces’ concept, receiving an additional $10,000 USD. 

The six winning project ideas were:   

Antiviral Surface Additives
An antimicrobial, eco-friendly phone case made with bacteria and virus reducing metal-ion additives.
Proposed by: Derya Baran

Wayakit Disinfectant
Antiviral disinfectant for surfaces and clothes that is both antiviral and antimicrobial and takes 30 seconds to be effective.
Proposed by: Luisa Javier and Sandra Medina

Non-thermal Plasma Hand Sanitizer
A small, rechargeable handheld non-thermal plasma generator that sterilizes hands without the need for chemicals or heat.
Proposed by: Mani Sarathy


Plasma-San founder Professor Mani Sarathy, Assistant Director of Clean Combustion Research Center

Backpack Ventilator
A new movable backpack mechanical ventilator equipped with an oxygen generator to support critical patients suffering from lung diseases in a pandemic or non-pandemic situations.
Proposed by Adnan Qamar

Virtual Laboratory Anywhere
The Virtual Laboratory Anywhere (VLALA) allows researchers to perform experiments anywhere with an interactive simulation of a realistic lab and robotic agent.
Proposed by: Amani Alonazi

Adaptive Tech for Distant Learning
A single platform to enhance interactivity, access virtual labs, conduct research and engage learners.
Proposed by: Muhammad Hussein

Wrapping up the event, Kevin Cullen stated, “ The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted many of the ways we live and work, however, it also provided an opportunity for creativity and problem-solving. This KAUST initiative aims to aid innovation in the future.” 

This challenge showcased the widespread innovative thinking that exists within the university. The KAUST community eagerly anticipates seeing these projects realized, and the positive impact they can have in enhancing health on campus and around the world. 

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