Reblog of my post on Cisco EMEAR Regional Thinker Series – Technology Transfer in Saudi Arabia: A Third Pathway; Used with the permission of The EMEAR Network http://newsroom.cisco.com/emearnetwork/.
Instead of a startup-only approach or an exclusive orientation toward established companies for technology transfer in Saudi Arabia, KAUST seeks to help build an “innovation ecosystem” in the Kingdom—one that creates long-term, sustainable pathways for commercialization, regardless of which type of companies it involves.
The “third pathway” presented by assisted technology transfer is a hybrid of the first two approaches. It frequently deals with existing companies—local small and medium enterprises (SMEs) with essential market access and know-how for launching new products and services. KAUST’s technology transfer office also works closely with inventors to help them protect intellectual property and move inventions closer to market. And because the anticipated outcome is development of new products, assisted technology transfer has much in common with starting up and scaling up spin-out companies.
At every step, assisted technology transfer requires extra investment and attention given to those involved. But is it worth the effort?
Helping local businesses grow
Across the globe, about 80% of all industrial production comes from SMEs. In Saudi Arabia, however, only 14% does. This imbalance represents a tremendous opportunity. Investing in SMEs has a job-creation multiplier effect: according to Mohamed Ramady, “for every one million Saudi Riyal invested in large companies, one additional job was created, while a similar amount invested in SMEs created around 28 new jobs.” In other words, a strong SME network has far-reaching benefits—and is crucial for a robust innovation ecosystem.
How does KAUST help Saudi SMEs see the value of assisted technology transfer? We work to validate a technology’s value proposition in the local market context, advancing a technology’s readiness level beyond that typically associated with academic, early-stage research results. In doing so, we have successfully secured Saudi firms’ commitment to developing products and services based on new technology.
The next challenge: assimilation and application of technology to achieve business goals. Saudi firms bring market knowledge and expertise in doing business in the region. The technology transfer office at KAUST brings intellectual property and commercialization process expertise, along with technical knowledge to enable the exploitation of the invention. By forming a joint commercialization team, companies learn by doing, and absorptive capacity grows.
Today, assisted tech transfer; tomorrow, a competitive advantage
The potential outcomes of assisted technology transfer in Saudi Arabia are great. Just as China harnessed the entire research, development, and deployment lifecycle in its experimentation with clean coal, so can Saudi Arabia leverage its own natural resources and market potential. The Kingdom is the world’s biggest market for desalination technology, and is home to robust extraction and processing industries. The advantage of having development activities close to the market goes beyond better understanding of the customer. The growing market itself is a platform for rapid experimentation, and thus innovation. This creates an incentive for companies seeking to create or develop a particular market to perform R&D and product development activities locally.
Part of KAUST’s mission is to help Saudi businesses realize these benefits. Through assisted technology transfer, we hope to bolster Saudi SMEs to grow an innovation ecosystem—one that will transform the Kingdom’s economy and share innovation with the world.