King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) has announced the launch of Saudi Arabia’s first university engagement program intended specifically to foster the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the Kingdom. Designed to provide access to KAUST’s innovation ecosystem, KAUST SME Innovation Services will help SMEs increase their customer base and reach new markets while diversifying and strengthening the Kingdom’s economic landscape.
Within the Kingdom, SMEs accounted for more than 99 percent of the private sector in 2018, yet contributed only about 28.7 percent of GDP, according to a recent report by the Small and Medium Enterprises General Authority (Monshaat). With plenty of opportunity for growth, SMEs play an important role in Vision 2030, the Kingdom’s blueprint for a thriving economy. To further this vision, KAUST is committed to supporting a primary objective: Increasing SME GDP contributions to 35 percent by the year 2030.
“SMEs are the engine of the economy and create crucial jobs and income,” said Kevin Cullen, vice president of innovation and economic development at KAUST. “As a university driven by our economic development mission, we have identified SME growth as a key focus area — and we are keen to welcome these companies into our world-class innovation ecosystem.”
The new program follows the completion of KAUST’s comprehensive survey of 500 SMEs throughout the Kingdom. Conducted in partnership with Monshaat, the Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam chambers of commerce, Ministry of Investment Saudi Arabia (MISA), the Royal Commission of Jubail and Yanbu, and the Council of Saudi Chambers, the survey is the first to collect SME-university specific data.
“Innovation is growing rapidly and sustainably through an ecosystem,” said AbdulMajeed Al-Omran, director of the innovation department at Monshaat. “This is reflected in the distinguished report; there is a desire for SMEs to adopt innovation in their products to enhance business growth and a desire to cooperate with a pioneering university such as KAUST.”
Mohammed Yousuf Naghi, chairman of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s board of directors, said: “As part of the Jeddah chamber’s keenness to support small and medium enterprises in line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 to advance development, the Jeddah chamber contributed with KAUST to circulate an opinion poll aimed at measuring the extent to which small and medium enterprises need scientific research and innovation with the aim of developing partnership programs in research and development.”
The Saudi Authority for Industrial Cities and Technology Zones (MODON) has also been working with KAUST on enabling SMEs and supporting areas of improvement. “We are delighted to explore the outcome of KAUST’s survey report to identify SMEs challenges and the way forward to support this sector through a list of inventive packages,” said Ahmed Al-Hilayel, health and environment director at MODON.