KAUST’s Red Sea Farms closes $1.9m investment

Red Sea Farms is uniquely positioned to serve the growing food security needs of the Middle East.
Updated 14 May 2019
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KAUST’s Red Sea Farms closes $1.9m investment

Red Sea Farms, an agriculture technology spinout company from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) specializing in saltwater greenhouse technology, has secured $1.9 million of co-investment from the KAUST Innovation Fund and Research Products Development Co. (RPDC). 

Red Sea Farms is uniquely positioned to serve the growing food security needs of the Middle East. A combination of irrigation water scarcity and hot, arid lands are constant barriers to the region’s ability to achieve agricultural self-sufficiency. 

For Red Sea Farms co-founder and KAUST professor of plant science, Mark Tester, food security has always been central to his research. “The Middle East is one of the most water-scarce regions of the world. Here we often rely on unsustainable sources of water for irrigation, such as groundwater, which is being rapidly depleted, or desalinated water,” said Tester. 

“Desalinated water requires large amounts of energy to produce which is costly — at least $1 for every cubic meter -— and has a high environmental impact.” 

With its combination of engineering and plant science, Red Sea Farms has developed solutions to grow saltwater-tolerant crops in greenhouses cooled using saltwater. In their saltwater greenhouse, 80 to 90 percent of freshwater is substituted with saltwater, massively reducing both the water and carbon footprint of food production. The result is a system where both fresh water and energy requirements are reduced up to 10-fold.

The seed investment will enable the company to build a 2,000 square meter saltwater greenhouse on the KAUST campus in Saudi Arabia and realize plans to produce 50 tons of tomatoes annually by 2020. Building on six years of research at KAUST, the tomatoes that will be grown have significantly higher salinity tolerance. The resulting crops can be grown using up to 30 percent diluted seawater, which will save further freshwater; it also makes the fruits exceptionally sweet, with higher levels of vitamins and antioxidants. 

The new patent-pending system can be retrofitted to existing greenhouses, allowing for evaporative cooling with saltwater resources to save precious fresh water. The company is aiming to retrofit 5 percent of greenhouses in the Kingdom, offering a return on investment for farmers in less than two years. 

“RPDC and KAUST share common interests in commercializing intellectual property and supporting high-tech startups in Saudi Arabia. This investment marks a shining example of the transition of KAUST academic research to commercial application, with the potential to revolutionize the future of food production in Saudi Arabia and the region,” said Kevin Cullen, vice president of KAUST Innovation and Economic Development.

“RPDC has a strong track record of bringing technology to market in Saudi Arabia and looks forward to supporting Red Sea Farms as they scale,” said Abdulmohsen Almajnouni, RPDC CEO. “Red Sea Farms will use this investment to pilot their saltwater greenhouse cooling technology in the Kingdom. It will also enable them to scale-up their crop production of the saltwater tomatoes.”


ICD & We-Fi empower women entrepreneurs

Updated 18 September 2019

ICD & We-Fi empower women entrepreneurs

With the aim of discussing how the Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector (ICD) and the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) can expand their relationship and integrate the gender themes into ICD’s operations and businesses, a meeting was held between Ayman Amin Sejiny, CEO of ICD; Wendy Teleki, head of We-Fi secretariat; and Samir Suleymanov, director strategic initiatives, World Bank, at ICD’s premises in Jeddah recently. The parties discussed the development and promotion of women’s entrepreneurship through innovative sustainable solutions to increase women’s access to economic opportunities in developing countries. 

Teleki highlighted the main objectives of We-Fi, which is to support women entrepreneurs around the world through programs that provide financing, capacity building and also promote enabling environments that allow women to become entrepreneurs and grow their businesses. We-Fi uses an ecosystem approach to develop programs at the country level that will break down barriers and create more opportunities for women.

During the meeting, Ayman said: “ICD and We-Fi are working together to enhance their initiatives and mandates in supporting the female society in all ICD’s member countries. We want to ensure that our lines of finance and our relationship with the 102 directly connected financial institutions we are dealing with will further enhance the funding, training to women entrepreneurs and to provide the required necessary support to women in all our member countries.”

Teleki said that We-Fi has six implementing partners (IP) and the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) is one of them. “IsDB, along with ICD is supporting women entrepreneurs in fragile countries. In Yemen, they have a very interesting ongoing program named BRAVE Women. They target to train up to 500 women to learn to develop business plans in fragile and high-risk contexts and up to 400 of them will get access to funding on a matching grant basis. This program aims also to develop the relationship between those women entrepreneurs with the local banks and also lead companies to make sure those women have access to finance and markets to grow their businesses. Moreover, the IsDB and ICD will be implementing soon this BRAVE Women program in two other countries to improve the women’s entrepreneurship potential in key economic sectors and we look forward to seeing those programs happening in future,” she said.

We-Fi is a global platform that seeks to support over a 100,000 women around the world in the next five years and mobilize at least $2 billion from the public and private sector for further activities.