Launching a startup can be tough and many aspiring entrepreneurs have questions about where to start. To shed some light on the startup journey, we’re sharing stories and insights from some of our TAQADAM Startup Accelerator founders and program mentors. If you’re interested in applying, click here to learn more about the program. Applications are now open for Cohort 4.
Thinking of launching a startup and wondering what it takes to become an entrepreneur? Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, said it best: an entrepreneur is someone who jumps off a cliff and builds a plane on the way down.
Launching a startup anywhere in the world is not easy. And without mentorship, training and support, it can feel overwhelming for most entrepreneurs. Globally, startups have been growing at an exponential rate, with around 472 million entrepreneurs and 100 million startups founded each year. In Saudi Arabia, where the entrepreneurship ecosystem is relatively new, startup support is essential to help launch groundbreaking ideas and turn them into a reality. In the last decade, the number of entrepreneurship support organizations in the Kingdom, including funds, coworking spaces, incubators and accelerators, has nearly tripled.
In 2016, King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST) partnered with the Saudi British Bank (SABB) to launch the TAQADAM Startup Accelerator. The program was designed to take into account Saudi-specific challenges in launching a startup, including access to talent, capital and bureaucracy. The accelerator program focuses specifically on Saudi university students, staff, faculty and recent graduates, providing them the tools and funding needed to take an idea and turn it into a technology based startup. The part-time program is an intensive six-months where founders are immersed in ideation, marketing, fundraising, and product design.
What are the key reasons to join a startup accelerator?
Joining an accelerator is a great way to help transform ideas into new ventures. Founders learn from mentors, receive training and advisory, and have access funding. As explained by Hattan Ahmed, Head of the Entrepreneurship Center at KAUST, “We help entrepreneurs derisk their startup journey and learn from other people’s experiences, rather than starting from scratch.”
What will startups learn and what is the mentorship process?
Mentorship is an essential part of the startup process. During the TAQADAM Accelerator, mentors help guide founders through the entrepreneurship journey. Each startup receives a primary mentor as well as access to a network of specialists in marketing, legal, finance, and technology development. The primary mentor checks in on a weekly basis to provide advice on everything from the business plan, naming and fundraising. For startups accelerating at KAUST, mentors provide a full support system, “by helping to protect intellectual property created from research, as well as access to industry, market expertise, and funding,” explained Ahmed.
How does TAQADAM facilitate access to networks?
TAQADAM is unique in the Middle East as it’s the only multi-university startup accelerator. During the second cohort, founders from 18 Saudi-universities were accepted into the program. Working across university networks is one of the key advantages, as it allows founders to collide and scout for new talent. Each year during the program, we see teams merging and startups pivoting because of this.
Locating at KAUST is also a key differentiator. The university offers access to a network of industrial partners, funding agencies and other resources, such as mentors, that have proven to be key in past startup success. Because the program is located in a science university, startups tend to hail from the deep-tech industries including FinTech, BioTech, AgTech, renewables energy, and IoT. KAUST is uniquely positioned to support these startups, through access to world-class facilities and laboratories and an advisory network of leading professors and scientists.
What is the funding model for the TAQADAM accelerator?
Once accepted into the accelerator, TAQADAM startups receive access to a zero-equity startup grant worth 75,000 SAR over 6-months. Startups must achieve specific milestones during the course of the accelerator to receive the funding. This funding is used to build prototypes, early stage marketing and generate initial customer traction.
Startups also have access to non-financial or in-kind opportunities, including research and laboratory facilities located on the KAUST campus. The university has recently opened a state-of-the-art prototyping lab for rapid product development that is accessible to all accelerator entrepreneurs.
At the conclusion of the accelerator, startups also have access to follow-on funding, generously provided by SABB. This grant-based, equity free funding is worth 375,000 SAR and is awarded to the top 6 startups from each cohort.