KAUST’s president wants to replicate Google-Stanford success with Saudi unicorns

KAUST’s president wants to replicate Google-Stanford success with Saudi unicorns
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Updated 06 November 2021

KAUST’s president wants to replicate Google-Stanford success with Saudi unicorns

KAUST’s president wants to replicate Google-Stanford success with Saudi unicorns

RIYADH: Tony Chan, president of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, sounded more like an angel investor or a private equity fund manager than an academic in his interview with the Arab News.

The third president of KAUST is on a mission to create Saudi unicorns and turn more ideas originating from his university into businesses.

A unicorn company is a private firm, often a tech startup, that hits a valuation of $1 billion or more.

“So if you look at business around the world, especially big businesses … they’re all tech-based, right? Where do their ideas come from? Many of them came from universities,” Chan said. 

“What we are doing at our research university is we are looking at the leading edge of human knowledge. One day, one of these great ideas and innovations will have an impact on every life and also be good for business and the economy,” he added.

Chan, who completed a Ph.D. in computer science from Stanford University, US said that the American university is known for being behind Google. He added that people do not think about how much money Stanford is making from Google, instead choosing to focus on the relationship between the two.

“I went to Stanford. Stanford is famous for this, right? So, that’s what KAUST is trying to do,” he added.

KAUST unicorns

Chan pointed out how several of the faculty’s professors have founded startup firms to turn their lab research into a business.

One group has “built farms that grow tomatoes and other vegetables that use seawater for irrigation,” which has the potential to transform agriculture in Saudi Arabia and other countries with scarce water resources.

“Hopefully this will be successful and become a unicorn farm,” he said.

Chan, who was speaking to Arab News on the sidelines of the Future Investment Initiative Forum in Riyadh last week, said: “We tell our professors and our students, if you have an idea from your lab that you think has the potential to make a big leap in about two years. We can give you funding. Then the commercial world, the private sector will follow with money, for good ideas.”

Chan has led the private research university, based in Thuwal on the Red Sea coast, since 2018, after almost a decade as president of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

KAUST has around 1,400 male and female students and 200 professors. It was established on a royal order in 2009 to conduct “curiosity-driven and goal-oriented research to address global challenges related to food, water, energy, and the environment.”

However, many Saudis do not feel the impact of the university on the country’s economy and society, leading some to question its objectives.

Chan acknowledged this. “I hear this all the time,” he said, attributing this perception to the legacy of being isolated from the rest of Saudi society both geographically and socially, something he has sought to change. 

KAUST is now open to visitors who can register online to interact with its staff. The university is now supporting local startups to help them on their journey.

Speaking about potential unicorns, Chan said that two other professors formed a startup last month based on their breakthrough work on mining lithium from the sea, a key element used in batteries.

The institution is also working on a project where a photo-cell placed on ordinary windows turns sunlight into electricity, while other staff are currently administering and certifying PCR tests for COVID-19 in the Kingdom.

 

KAUST tech fund

The KAUST head said the university has access to a $10 million innovation fund that allows “a professor or student with an idea that they invented in the lab to get going.”

But the faculty is also planning a much “bigger fund for deep tech” projects to develop game-changing apps and other software. Chan said it is looking for global investors to set up this fund.

He said: “We’re looking at Silicon Valley, New York, London. We were looking all over the world because this investment is deep. Technology is global.”

Chan said the university is looking to hire an international fund manager to run this project.

In June, KUAST announced a project with the $500 billion megacity NEOM to build a 100-hectare coral reef island off the coast of the Red Sea development to protect the existing environment to be completed in 2025.

Chan added that the university will have a continuing relationship with the giga-project.

“NEOM is going to be the global headquarters of artificial intelligence (AI). We are working closely with them,” said the KAUST head.

The university also has a host of partnerships with the biggest firms in the Kingdom and many key government departments, including Saudi Aramco, the National Water Co., ACWA Power, the ministries of  energy, environment, water and agriculture.

Its government work includes monitoring dust levels, improving water desalination and studying energy consumption.

 

KAUST’s Lionel Messi

Chan told Arab News that it is important for the university to hire the brightest academic minds in the world to find the smartest solutions to the world’s problems.

He said: “If you want to compete with the best in the world, you have to be prepared.

“This place is like Saudi Arabia’s world cup team in the academic world cup, we have to compete with Imperial College in the UK, or Stanford and MIT in the US. You have to invest, you have to hire the best players. We hire from around the world, and invest in them.”

Chan is particularly proud of a new professor he has hired to lead the university’s AI department.

He added: “Just one month ago we hired one of the world’s top AI machine learning experts, a German who came from Switzerland. He is here because of the vision that we have. He leads our AI. And we have introduced him to Saudi Aramco, NEOM and others. This is our Lionel Messi.”

Chan seems clear that with professors as good as Lionel Messi in his ranks, KAUST will be able to hit the goals the Kingdom wants.


Alibaba appoints new CFO, reshuffles e-commerce businesses

Alibaba appoints new CFO, reshuffles e-commerce businesses
Image: Shutterstock
Updated 6 sec ago

Alibaba appoints new CFO, reshuffles e-commerce businesses

Alibaba appoints new CFO, reshuffles e-commerce businesses
  • Alibaba said that it would be creating an International Digital Commerce team to handle its e-commerce businesses in international markets

China’s largest e-commerce group Alibaba said Monday it is appointing a new chief financial officer and reorganizing its e-commerce businesses amid a regulatory crackdown in the technology industry.


The company said in a statement Monday that Toby Xu will succeed Maggie Wu as its new CFO from April 1, 2022. Xu joined Alibaba from PricewaterhouseCoopers three years ago and was appointed deputy group CFO in July 2019.


Wu, who has been Alibaba’s CFO since 2013 and has helped lead three Alibaba-related company listings, will continue to serve as an executive director on Alibaba’s board.


She will also remain as a partner in the Alibaba Partnership – a group of senior executives who have the right to nominate a simple majority of Alibaba’s board of directors.


“We are focused on the long-term, and succession within our management team on every occasion is always in the service of ensuring Alibaba will be stronger and better positioned for the future,” said Daniel Zhang, chairman and CEO of Alibaba Group.


Separately, Alibaba said that it would be creating an International Digital Commerce team to handle its e-commerce businesses in international markets. A China Digital Commerce team will be in charge of e-commerce operations inside China, according to a post on the company’s Alizila news hub.


The international and domestic digital commerce teams will be led by executives Jiang Fan and Trudy Dai respectively.


Jiang has been in charge of Taobao and Tmall, Alibaba’s core e-commerce sites in China. Dai was the firm’s chief customer officer.


The Hangzhou-based firm was fined a record $2.8 billion for antitrust violations and is under scrutiny as regulators step up oversight of the technology industry at a time when the economy is slowing.


Last month, Alibaba cut its sales outlook for the year amid mounting competition from rivals such as Pinduoduo. It expects growth for its current year to be the slowest since it listed in New York in 2014.


Alibaba’s flagship Singles’ Day shopping extravaganza also posted its slowest-ever growth this year, amid muted marketing campaigns and a shift to sustainability and philanthropy amid Chinese President Xi Jinping’s calls for “common prosperity.”


Alibaba’s New York stock price has plunged more than 50 percent over the last 12 months. The company’s Hong Kong-traded shares were down 4.9 percent Monday.


American, Lebanese lag behind home-grown restaurants as they lead Riyadh’s lifestyle boom 

American, Lebanese lag behind home-grown restaurants as they lead Riyadh’s lifestyle boom 
Updated 5 min 28 sec ago

American, Lebanese lag behind home-grown restaurants as they lead Riyadh’s lifestyle boom 

American, Lebanese lag behind home-grown restaurants as they lead Riyadh’s lifestyle boom 
  • The US and UAE are the second and third largest sources of restaurant chains in Riyadh

RIYADH: Riyadh’s food and beverage scene has come a long way since 2016, when the National Transformation Plan was announced, with the city witnessing 288,000 square meters of new developments so far.

“The Kingdom’s capital is beginning to morph into a foodie’s treasure trove and we’re not done yet,” Faisal Durrani, head of Middle East research at Knight Frank said. 

This growth is led by home-grown restaurants and cafes, he added, with 68 percent of Riyadh’s new outlets being Saudi - 21 percent of which specialize in international cuisine. 

“American food outlets account for 16 percent of Food and beverage outlets, while Lebanese restaurants are the third most prevalent at 13 percent,” Durrani said. 

The US and UAE are the second and third largest sources of restaurant chains in Riyadh, respectively, he added.

“International brands must adapt their proposition across the full spectrum to suit demand, both in terms of operational aspects, as well as the actual menu offering itself,” Pedro Riberio, head of retail advisory KSA at Knight Frank, said.

The Kingdom’s capital will further benefit from upcoming tourism developments, including the Bujairi Terrace and Diriyah Gate, which the Knight Frank report said will add “15,000 sqm of lifestyle retail space to the capital when its 17 restaurants open their doors in 2022.”

This rapid growth and competition are putting pressure on older developments, the report indicated, with some operators struggling to keep vacancy rates and footfall up. 


Will TASI reignite after its slight fall in November? Here are key takeaways: Premarket

Will TASI reignite after its slight fall in November? Here are key takeaways: Premarket
Updated 56 min 28 sec ago

Will TASI reignite after its slight fall in November? Here are key takeaways: Premarket

Will TASI reignite after its slight fall in November? Here are key takeaways: Premarket

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s main benchmark index TASI started the week in the green zone with stocks recouping omicron-related declines, up around 350 points from last week.

Al Rajhi Bank traded at 4.8 percent higher this week with around 4 million traded shares.

Sahara International Petrochemical Company saw a recovery of 7.44 percent.

The Kingdom’s oil giant Aramco saw gains of 0.72 percent.

This came as the group announced its entry into the Kingdom’s domestic lubricants as well as its collaboration agreement with French companies including hydrogen car deals with Gaussin.

The International Company for Water & Power Projects, or ACWA Power, and Natixis CIB signed a memorandum of understanding aiming to collaborate on the development of ACWA power in the GCC region.

Natixis CIB will finance up to almost SR7.5 billion ($2 billion) over two years to finance ACWA Power’s projects.

Sadr Logistics’ shareholders approved the board of directors’ recommendation to raise SR175 million through a rights issue worth SR150 million to expand its logistics services. The rights issue trading and new share subscription period will start today Dec.6.

Apart from its rights issue, Sadr Logistics has been on the rise since last week jumping to an all-time high of SR86.2.

With reference to the Public Investment Fund and stc’s earlier announcement, the subscription period for stc’s secondary offering will start on Dec.7 and end on Dec. 8 for retail tranche whereas, for participating parties, it started yesterday and will end on Dec.9.

Saudi Exchange announced the initial public offering of Saudi Tadawul Group Holding Company to be 442.53 percent oversubscribed.

Subscriptions exceeding individual subscribers will be refunded no later than Dec.8, when the listing and trading of the company’s shares on the main market will begin.

Jahez International Company for Information Systems Technology issued the prospectus for its initial public offering at 13 percent of its capital on Nomu, Tadawul’s parallel market.

The offering period will commence on Dec. 23 and end on Dec. 26.


France’s Natixis to finance $2bn ACWA Power projects in 2 years

France’s Natixis to finance $2bn ACWA Power projects in 2 years
Updated 45 min 5 sec ago

France’s Natixis to finance $2bn ACWA Power projects in 2 years

France’s Natixis to finance $2bn ACWA Power projects in 2 years
  • The MoU will allow both parties to “explore opportunities to develop new projects in the region”

RIYADH: France-based Natixis Corporate and Investment Banking has signed an agreement to finance ACWA Power projects over the next two years - with funding of up to $2 billion. 

The MoU will allow both parties to “explore opportunities to develop new projects in the region,” the Saudi clean energy provider said in a bourse filing. 

Natixis has previously underwritten some of ACWA Power’s high-profile projects, including the Sakaka solar project. 


Tadawul IPO 442.53% oversubscribed to reach $1.3bn

Tadawul IPO 442.53% oversubscribed to reach $1.3bn
Updated 06 December 2021

Tadawul IPO 442.53% oversubscribed to reach $1.3bn

Tadawul IPO 442.53% oversubscribed to reach $1.3bn
  • The stock exchange group was offering 10.8 million shares to individual investors

RIYADH: The individual subscribers tranche of Tadawul’s initial public offering was 442.53 percent oversubscribed with a total demand of SR5.02 billion ($1.3 billion). 

The stock exchange group was offering 10.8 million shares to individual investors, or 30 percent of the total offer shares at a final price of SR105. 

Around 598,327 subscribers participated in the period, which started on Nov. 30.