(MENAFN - Arab News) Abdulaziz bin Ibrahim Al-Harqan, Director of the Badir program for technological incubators at King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), has said the lack of funding required for the launch of the program's projects is the biggest obstruction for Saudi innovators, as it hampers the commercial marketing of their projects. Another obstruction is the innovators' lack of knowledge regarding pioneering businesses.
In an exclusive interview with Arab News reporter Ibrahim Nafee, Al-Harqan said that Badir this year had incubated 71 technology projects that provide over 400 jobs, 75 percent more than last year. Also this year, it supported and helped the establishment of 11 incubators in Riyadh, Jeddah, Makkah, Eastern Province, Qasim, Al-Kharj, Madinah and Baha. "They (the incubators) play an important role in the progress of economic development."
Badir program has signed several agreements and memorandums of understanding with a number of government agencies as well as pioneering organizations and companies in the Kingdom and abroad. It aims to communicate with them and develop the incubators' industry and pioneering technology business in the country.
How would you describe the growth in Saudi innovators' projects and technology models?
"King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, represented in Badir program, is playing a vital role in supporting and sponsoring technology projects and encouraging Saudi business pioneers and innovators. KACST helps them to transform their ideas into successful commercial projects that contribute in diversifying the sources of income, the progress of the national economy, and in providing more job opportunities for Saudi youths.
"Badir program has succeeded in increasing awareness of the innovation and incubators culture, and it encouraged young people, especially university students, to innovate and be pioneers in technology businesses, to make positive impacts, and to create promising technologies that contribute in increasing productivity."
What type of projects does Badir adopt?
"It adopts technology projects with a high level of personal innovation, whether they are completely new or developments of existing products. They also have to be found to solve specific problems in the field of technology and be applicable and marketable. A project applicant has to have knowledge of the market and understand the existing competition, and must explain the success potentials of his or her project clearly."
What are the obstructions facing successful marketing of Saudi innovators' technology projects? And what are the reasons for them not being adopted sufficiently by the private sector?
"The main impediment is young people's and the society's pioneer intellect, which still has to be developed. Some people consider it a positive thing, and some consider a pioneer businessman as someone irresponsible who evades work. There is a lack of knowledge on pioneer initiatives and how to be a pioneer " an issue we are working on with educational, training and organizational bodies to tackle.
Another obstruction is funding, for which Badir program studied the experiences of other countries and decided to implement the individual investors method, known as 'Angel Investors', to provide innovative funding solutions to fulfill the gap of funding in the early stages of projects.
"This year, the individual-investors network Sirb was opened to overcome financing problems that prevent projects from transforming from merely research into projects.
The network comprises a number of distinguished businessmen and individual investors who want to support small and medium projects financially and administratively to contribute in increasing the projects' success and growth potentials and guarantee their continuation."
On what domains are the technology projects based? And what are the most prominent successes resulting from adopting them?
"The program comprises of three incubators: information technology and communication incubator, biological technology incubator, and advanced manufacturing incubator.
The first was founded by the end of 2008 and encompasses computers, communications, infrastructure of information technology and communications, software, and multimedia.
The second was established in November 2009 and works on supporting the business sector in the field of biological technology through adopting and developing strategic projects of researchers and doctors.
It aims to provide advanced medical services that support technology transfer and contribute in improving the health sector in the Kingdom. It is involved in health, medicine and pharmacy as well as the environmental and agricultural sectors.
"The third incubator was established in May 2010 and serves those interested in founding new companies in the field of advanced manufacturing technology. It aims to achieve an industrial technology improvement in the Kingdom. It is involved in advanced manufacturing and production of advanced industrial materials and new innovated products.
"Despite the short period since its inception in 2008, Badir so far has adopted 71 technology projects and supported and helped in the establishment of 11 incubators around the Kingdom."
What are the most prominent partnerships you have convened domestically to support Saudi youths' technology innovations? And what are the most important foreign agreements in that regard?
"Badir program has signed several agreements and memorandums of understanding with a number of government agencies and pioneering organizations and companies in the Kingdom and abroad, aiming to communicate with them and develop the industry of incubators and pioneering technology business in the country.
Those include Stanford Institution for Research, the International Association for Business Incubators, Global Connect Organization, Startup Weekend, Index Company, Microsoft, Google, Ernst and Young, and Intel."
How would you assess your cooperation with the private sector in terms of adopting the concept of technology economy and opening the market for technology projects?
"Badir seeks to enhance constructive cooperation with the private sector " i.e., businessmen " and has enabled those interested in supporting pioneer technology projects to do so through the Sirb network, which I hope will receive more support in order to develop the industry of technology incubators and help establishing promising technology projects.
The private sector aims to gain profits, and we are working with business pioneers and innovators to build successful projects that achieve profits to the project owner while being compatible with the country's development plans in the same time."
What about universities and their role in supporting technology projects through research? Are you communicating with them?
"Badir has partnerships with universities and supports and helps universities' incubators.
In 2009, the program established the Saudi Business Incubator Network (SBIN) with the goal of uniting the efforts of all Saudi sectors in developing and supporting the industry of incubators in Saudi Arabia. Members include different bodies supportive of the activity of business pioneering in the country including universities.
The program also works with universities in carrying out studies on the foundation and operation of incubators, building national capabilities in managing incubators, and the training of specialists capable of developing pioneering businesses."
Do you have technology projects being developed abroad? What are the foreign centers cooperating with you in that regard?
"We don't have projects adopted abroad. Badir works on benefiting from foreign expertize for developing the skills of Saudi innovators, polishing their talents, and developing their incubated projects in scientific innovative ways.
We also benefit from organizations and institutions we have partnerships with in supporting Saudi business pioneers, which would result in an outstanding generation of business pioneers in the Kingdom. For example, we have convened workshops and lectures in cooperation with Global Connect, Startup Weekend, Intel, Arab Net and others."
What are the technology products the Kingdom imports and you actually manufacture?
"The products in incubators are new and global. They have the capacity to grow domestically as well as globally and be present at new markets. Sima Noor project of Emad Al-Dughather is an outstanding technology project that serves education and curriculums in the Kingdom through Noor website.
The website includes the Ministry of Education's textbooks and electronic lessons, and more than 215,000 teachers have benefited from it. Visitors numbered so far more than 5 million from 13,000 places around the world.
"Another project is the Saudi Personal Medicine Program that helps doctors find the right medication and the right dosage for their patients via blood analysis and gene identification for each patient. It also plays a role in reducing risks and side effects for patients and in reducing medical treatment costs.
Other projects include the Plasma Cutting Machine by Khaled Al-Khaldi and a project to exploit palm tree wastes by transforming them into coal. These projects achieved tangible results and became commercial projects that produce and provide job opportunities."
What are global successes Badir program has achieved?
"There are some projects that accomplished achievements for the Kingdom, like the Esmi project for social communication, by Abdullah Al-Zamel. The project obtained the World Bank's award for being one of the top 50 emerging commercial technology projects.
The Badir biotechnology incubator has also accomplished an achievement when it launched the first medical laboratory specialized in diagnosing medical conditions based on the genes and environmental factors of each patient. It was launched at King Fahd Medical City in Riyadh within the Saudi Personal Medicine Program project."