Ecosystem

Meet the 13 startups from Saudi accelerator Taqadam’s second cohort

Started in 2016, Taqadam is a Saudi university startup accelerator that is run by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in partnership with Saudi British Bank (SABB). Their acceleration program provides Saudi university students, staff, faculty and recent graduates with the tools needed to launch a technology-based company. The accelerator helps the teams with support in ideation, product design, marketing, and fundraising.

The accelerator that claims to be the only multi-university accelerator in the Middle East accepting teams from different Saudi universities has graduated over 39 startups until now – with more than 9 million Saudi Riyal (1.2 million USD) awarded in grants.

Taqadam accepted 24 teams from 11 universities for its second cohort. These teams had 80 founders with 30% of them female founders. The teams that were selected have been building products in different areas including fintech, agtech, energy, biotech, ecommerce, phonotics, robotics, IOT, cybersecurity, and legaltech.

From these 24 teams, 13 made it through the eight-month acceleration program that pitched in front of key stakeholders of the ecosystem including investors and government officials and six won follow-on funding of $100,000.

The finalists were judged by a panel of judges from corporate world, technology sector and academia – it included names like Hashim Dairy, Division Head of Corporate Banking at SABB, His Excellency Dr. Nabeel Koshak, Founder of Athaal and former founding Dean of MBSC, Dr. Kevin Cullen, Vice President of Innovation at KAUST, Dr. Mohammed Fitaihi, Chairmal of Oqal, and Salem Washeely, Managing Director of Elm. The startups at the demo day were judged on their market viability, scalability, and profitability.

 

d.Heritage 2 tech

One-line Pitch: Inspiring kids in the Middle East with indigenous STEM toys

Founded by Myraida Rivera, Thomas Finkbeiner, and Aida Rivera, d.heritage 2 tech is going after the growing market of STEM toys but with a very interesting approach. The startup creates an STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) educational experiences that value and promote the local heritage.

All their products provide bite-sized historical, technical, and scientific content that help children better understand how the world works. D. heritage 2 tech’s first product is a you-build-it playhouse in style of historic Saudi houses. The kids after building it can then code electronics inside the house including fans, lights, and appliances.

Edama Organic Solutions

One of the six winners at the demo day winning $100,000

One-line Pitch: Scientific solutions for sustainable waste disposal and water savings

Edama Organic Solutions, founded by Sabrina Vettori, Mitchell Morton, and Kenana Dahlan, converts organic waste into soil conditioners for gardens and landscapes. Their team of scientists has developed a proprietary composting process for the desert climates that requires very little water and energy. According to the startup, their process can result in up to 50% increase in soil water retention which means significant improvement in water economy of irrigated areas.

Elevn Elevn

One-line Pitch: One-stop-shop party planning platform

Founded by Abeer Alyaagoub, Abdulhamid Al Qurashi, Shahad Ziyarah, Ghadah Aljebreen, and Sarah Alyaagoub, Elevn Elevn aims to make it easy for people to plan and organize parties and different types of celebrations. The platform will act as an online one-stop-shop party planning platform that will offer party planning packages and services to organize the entire thing.

Currently, there’s not much on the website as they’re probably still building the tech but the idea is to take the pain out of party planning of dealing with multiple suppliers. Elevl Elevn wants to do that on behalf of their clients.

Faheem

One-line Pitch: An online platform to find find local tutors in Saudi Arabia

Faheem connects students and their parents with local tutors in Saudi Arabia. Founded by Mohammed Al Hamid, Ibrahim Baatiyah, and Salem Bin Ghanem, the startup through its website wants to make it easy for people to find local trusted tutors that have been screened by Faheem’s team. The tutors who are available for both in-person or video sessions can be booked on hourly basis for a fixed price using the platform.

Iyris

One of the six winners at the demo day winning $100,000

One-line Pitch: Glass in the future produces electricity

Iyris is one of the coolest startups from this cohort. Founded by KAUST professor Derya Baran, Nicola Gasparini, Daniel Bryant, and Joel Troughton, the startup makes solar windows. Sounds too good to be true but that is exactly why Iyris claims to do.

Their patented solar windows can generate up to 50 Watts of electricity for every square meter. The windows also block the heat and eventually result in reduction of electricity consumption of buildings by as much as 25%. Given the fact that there are hundreds of new buildings being constructed with glass windows all around Saudi (and beyond), this could be a very big opportunity if the unit economics of the business makes sense.

Meteroid

One-line Pitch: Automating utility meter readings using IoT technology

Problem: Millions of home electricity meters are still manually reported causing data inaccuracies and significant expense.

Meteroid, founded by Raeece Naeem, Sharif M Hala, and Prabhu Murugesan is automating the utility meter readings with an IoT device they’ve developed at KAUST. If you think of it, it’s pretty strange that with all the technology we have right now, utility companies still have thousands of employees who go and read the meters of users on frequent basis. It is something that should be possible without involving an actual employee going to all these places where the meters are installed and read them manually.

Many countries countries have smart meters in place that have (almost) eliminated the need of a human but a big number of companies and countries still don’t have it. Meteroid is perhaps going after those. Their device which according to them is word’s first first LoRA based Opto-Wireless Energy Reading Device will help utility companies automate the electricity meter readings which will ensure better accuracy of data in addition to saving the cost that is normally spent on hiring the human resources to get this done. The startup has already manufactured and deployed 2,500 of these meters on KAUST’s campus.

Oeasis

One of the six winners at the demo day winning $100,000

One-line Pitch: Lowering the cost of LEDs using lasers

Indoor farming has been gaining a lot of exposure lately esp. in places where regular farming is not an option due to different reasons. One of the basics required to make it work is a good lighting system but the electricity cost of keep these lights on could be very high. Oaesis, founded by Robert Werfelmann, Vasiliki Kordopati, and Kuan-Sheng is trying to solve this problem. They’re building a laser-based energy-efficient lighting system that can be used for indoor farming. The startup cliams that their horticulture laser solutions will enable customers to use less electricity and provide more light than the leading LED technology available in the market.

Qanoon

One-line Pitch: AI for law

Problem: Finding answers to your legal questions in Saudi Arabia is hard.

Founded by a team of lawyer and engineer, Iman Linjawi and Andrew Yip, Qanoon as the name suggest, matches people looking for legal advice and services with ‘right’ lawyers using artificial intelligence. Anyone can use the chat interface on their website to ask a legal question and get an answer from their knowledge database and potentially a follow-up with a legal specialist. For the law firms and attorneys, the platform acts as a tool to showcase their legal expertise, get leads and offer their services.

Their website states that they’re only helping with questions about incorporating a business in Saudi but that scope has probably widened to include other legal types of services as well.

RoboCrop

One-line Pitch: Date harvesting using robots

Problem: Harvesting dates requires significant manual labor.

Saudi Arabia is one of the leading date producers in the world. But date harvesting is something that requires significant manual labor costing up to $32 for every date palm tree, taking almost an hour to harvest. RoboCrop has developed a robotic system that improves the harvesting process by increasing efficiency and consistency. The startup provides their services using an on-demand model or subscription plans that would cost about $20 for every harvested tree – and it takes 20 minutes – so reducing both time and cost for the farm owners.

Steadia

One of the six winners at the demo day winning $100,000

One-line Pitch: Making utility meters smarter

Steadia is another IoT startup in this cohort of Taqadam. Founded by Abdulah Aljohani and Abdolmaged Alkhulaifi, they make it easy for households to keep an eye on energy consumption of each home appliance. The startup using their IoT device converts the standard utility meters into smart ones and then analyzes the consumption data of all home appliances using artificial intelligence that can be viewed by the users through a mobile application. This could be pretty useful esp. given the fact that electricity prices have increased by almost four times in Saudi during the last one year or so. It should be an easy sell because if people know the breakdown of their electricity consumption by appliances, they can better manage it, eventually reducing their electricity bills.

UnitX

One-line Pitch: Supercomputing-as-a-service

UnitX, founded by a team of scientists and engineers,  provides supercomputing on a pay as you compute model. Founded by a team of scientists and engineers, Emad Al Ibrahim, Kiran Narayanan, Matthias Muller and Ravi Samtaney, UnitX’s first product is Terra-X, a SaaS platform that uses the power of supercomputing to provide estimates of material cost, crowd safety, pedestrian comfort, ventilation and energy performance. Their clients get remote access to their on-demand computing resources whenever needed. Not entirely sure how this works or how different it is from some of the existing solutions available in the market but does sound like something very useful esp. for the organizations that are looking for supercomptuing-like-resources but don’t neccessarily want to invest a lot of money in infrastructure.

Vythos

One of the six winners at the demo day winning $100,000

One-line Pitch: Monitoring the deep sea

Founded by Marco Terzariol, Jiming Jiang and J. Carlos Santamarina, Vythos provides a cost-effective underwater monitoring system. The system could be used by governments, researchers and companies to monitor natural and man-made seafloor activities. Their first product, SMO (Seafloor Monitoring Observatory), is a massively distributed sensing platform with independent nodes that can descend up to 1000m below sea level for up to two weeks per deployment.

Wayakit

One of the six winners at the demo day winning $100,000

One-line Pitch: Biotech in a bottle laundry spray

So this is my personal favorite from this cohort. If it does what it says it does, I am sold.

Founded by Sandra Medina and Luisa Javier at KAUST, Wayakit comes as a pocket-sized instant-spray that removes stain and smells from garments using a patented biotechnology. The spray degrades the molecules unpleasant odors. So next time when you spill coffee on the only shirt that you have taken to a business trip, Wayakit could save your life. The product also has also been live on Indigogo but hasn’t really done well for some reason in spite of raising the $10,000 funds that they were targeting. They’re not only my favorites. Judges and the regular attendees at the demo day both seem to love them – the startup was among one of the six winners, winning $100,000 grant and another $50,000 as people choice award winner.

I don’t know how viable these startups are commercially – but in terms of the products they’ve created or the value they’re offering – these are easily some of the best startups that I have seen to come out of an acceleration program in the region. I hope each one of them goes onto become a success story within few years from now.

Zubair Naeem Paracha

Founder at MENAbytes
A tech and startup enthusiast based in Riyadh. Zubair apart from leading MENAbytes is also building Qraar, a career discovery and development platform for millennials in MENA. He can be reached on Linkedin, Twitter or zubair [at] menabytes [dot] com.

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