For the past several decades, the economy of Saudi Arabia has depended primarily on oil revenue—with 80 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) comprised of oil exports. With a decline in global oil prices and increasingly loud calls to reduce dependence on oil, the Saudi government recognizes the need to diversify its export economy and generate new sources of revenue.
Saudi Arabia has traditionally imported technology via partnerships with multinational corporations. It has limited infrastructure and know-how to develop and commercialize technology-based innovations that could bridge the gap between lab discoveries and commercial products.
Saudi Arabia also has few experienced professionals to support technology development—such as rapid prototyping firms, contract R&D companies, or clinical research organizations. And little private venture capital is available for investment in technology-based startups. This relative lack of experience results in the stigmatization of failure, with no entrepreneur community or mentoring network to challenge that stigma and foster the entrepreneurial mindset.
Cultivating a Powerhouse Consortium of Key Stakeholders
As Saudi Arabia works to tackle these challenges and effect change that will drive innovation, the country also seeks economic growth and diversification that can create meaningful and global career paths for its young population.
In December 2015, a team led by RTI experts in innovation ecosystems began building a coalition of key stakeholders now known as the Saudi Arabia Advanced Research Alliance (SAARA). SAARA is a first-of-its-kind collaboration among industry, academia, and Saudi government entities, including
- Saudi Aramco — the world’s largest oil company
- King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology — Saudi Arabia’s national science and technology agency
- Two leading universities — King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology
- Two operating partners — Saudi Technology Development and Investment Company and RTI.
The driving purpose of SAARA is to help develop and commercialize technologies to create economic impact.
The coalition made great strides toward this impact with the creation of a commercial entity called RPD Innovations to carry out SAARA’s mission to create a Saudi-based, Saudi-staffed R&D center for transforming research and technologies into economic benefit and impact. The primary goal of the center is to create jobs and career opportunities for Saudi scientists and engineers and encourage and empower them to become entrepreneurs and business leaders.
RPD Innovations will cultivate an innovation ecosystem in Saudi Arabia by connecting universities, research centers, and industry, and by fostering entrepreneurship, commercializing technology into economic activity, and creating a new, diversified commercial and industrial landscape.
Operationalizing Innovation to Yield Success
To operationalize RPD, our experts helped establish a management team to drive the company’s strategy and we helped build the center’s initial technology portfolio. In its first year of operation, RPD’s team performed market and commercialization assessments for over 50 technologies. They developed scale-up plans and/or commercialization strategies for eight of the technologies, and identified industry interest for seven others.
With a portfolio of promising technologies, actionable strategies, and links to potential industrial partners, RPD Innovations is poised to deliver on the stakeholders’ vision of creating real commercial opportunity and economic impact for the country.
As RPD advances these technologies and gains experience, our experts expect to see startup companies, manufacturing initiatives, and product deployment of technologies developed in Saudi Arabia. Over time, these market activities will foster job creation, help increase GDP, and bring new opportunities for investment not previously possible.