Saudi Vision 2030

Smith ... helping SMEs take root

Smith ... helping SMEs take root

DTVC nurtures new ventures and makes them succeed

Dhahran Techno Valley is not just a physical location. The value is in the integrated ecosystem of diverse stakeholders. DTVC facilitates this grand vision, says its CEO CRAIG SMITH in an exclusive interview with OGN

The Dhahran Techno Valley Company (DTVC), a wholly owned subsidiary of King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM), aims to advance and commercialise the University’s intellectual property by bringing more small and medium enterprises (SMEs) into the Science Park.

'We want to elevate the awareness and the importance of Saudi SMEs to operate in the Dhahran Techno Valley,' says DTVC CEO Craig Smith. The Small Medium Enterprise Authority (SMEA), a newly created authority in Saudi Arabia, has recently been invited and agreed to open up an office in the Park’s Innovation Center to help attract small and medium business, says Smith in an exclusive interview with OGN.

With more than SR1 billion ($266.53 million) invested so far, DTVC is seeing a shift in strategy to accommodate its Phase II expansion in which petrochemical major Sabic has signed on as its largest partner, thus far taking six lots. KFUPM’s College of Petroleum Engineering is well represented on the map and a substantial portion of Phase II is dedicated to multi-use and small business opportunities, he says. Smith, who took over as CEO last year, says 16 premier energy companies are under contract, currently operating, in construction or design phase for their R&D facility. 'They are all large companies capable of managing 3-5 years in the contract and development phase to build advanced R&D centres. They can afford the substantial outlay of capital funds to support their long-term research goals. Small companies do not have that opportunity.' Small companies seldom have the business volume to justify the kind of investment required to set up a major R&D facility. Large companies are well established in the Dhahran Techno Valley, but there is tremendous opportunity for SMEs in the Science Park.

'DTVC works hard to establish close relationships with all of the Park’s companies. We are proud to say we have a great relationship with Sabic, who came on board last May. We have a close working relationship with Emerson Electric who has been very proactive in engaging with our stakeholders, even before they opened their research centre. They are already working on how they can partner and collaborate with KFUPM, and how they can work with companies that are not even their clients. Sure it’s goodwill, but it is also excellent business,' he says. Smith says that as of March, 2017 a total of 202 Saudi research professionals are working in the DTV Science Park on advanced research and technology projects. Since its inception, DTV Science Park has seen 278 patent applications filed of which 121 were granted.

DTVC has promoted companies through funding as well. 'We work closely with KFUPM’s Entrepreneurship Institute to support new ventures that express aspiration and promise of becoming startup companies.'

Some examples of new concepts or new technologies that have been incubated through the Entrepreneurship Institute are CorEcho, Telaa, ConCure and Concoating. 'I am very proud to say that only a few days ago Telaa received the first place in the King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (Kaust) business competition and received $30,000 in funding to develop a prototype and move into real use case field testing for their pipe coating product. We connect these new entities to our Science Park companies for potential application in their large research efforts. Some of the companies in the Science Park have offered work and lab space, expertise, mentorship, and guidance on how to succeed,' he says.

Excerpts from the interview:

What role does DTVC play in promoting a knowledge-based economy in Dhahran and in the Eastern Province?

There are a lot of events going on at the Science Park. One of the activities we strongly support is the KFUPM Entrepreneurship Institute. As part of the academic programme, it promotes the knowledge-based economy vision of developing the skills of students in preparation of becoming excellent managers, entrepreneurs and business owners in Saudi Arabia. We nurture new ventures, and want them to succeed through incubation, which the Entrepreneurship Institute focuses on, then accelerate into real business opportunities. We want them to engage through the Science Park into the community and serve the expanding needs of the country. We also work with our large company partners to encourage them to hire interns, young Saudi professionals and local talent. Many of the companies have a strong Saudisation initiative, and many partner and connect with universities here and across the kingdom.

Our vision is to localise innovation. This science park attracts major R&D players across energy sectors into the kingdom, and they bring with them the know-how and knowledge to start producing their products locally. This is a way of promoting the knowledge economy because what was being manufactured and produced outside the kingdom is now brought into the kingdom creating new value-added opportunities. We are leveraging the assets of a vibrant ecosystem here – outstanding university expertise, the greatest energy company on earth, and an enthusiastic, well-educated pool of local talent. DTVC is the platform for this ecosystem to grow. Dhahran Techno Valley is the integrated, innovation ecosystem that drives value creation. Dhahran Techno Valley is not just a physical location. The value is in the integrated ecosystem of diverse stakeholders. Our company facilitates this grand vision.

KFUPM ... encouraging entrepreneurship

How successful has DTV TDC been in the commercialisation of technology emanating from the research activity occurring in the ecosystem?

There are significant challenges in transitioning early stage technologies into commercial viability. The energy sector in particular is a conservative sector resistant to revolutionary design and implementation changes. Approaches and practices that work efficiently are typically improved upon only incrementally, so transformational changes occur over a very long period of time. What we drive for are improvements in technologies that our science park partners can benefit from with collaborative research from the university. Ultimately, they want to add value to their customer offerings. Our focus in commercialising technologies is to lead to long-term revolutionary development of new products and approaches.

How Does DTV contribute to the kingdom’s Vision 2030?

The park has been in existence since early 2000. The mission is to develop and promote research that drives innovative technologies benefiting the kingdom, the region and the world by solving some of earths most challenging energy related concerns. Our vision is well aligned with Vision 2030 – seeking to diversify the Saudi economy, promote new advances in technologies, enable small business, generate quality domestic employment – all of these objectives are part of the Dhahran Techno Valley. We are pleased to see more participation from Saudi companies in the Park. We believe that a strong mix of Saudi and multi-national companies is a good indication of a healthy sustainable research ecosystem.

How does the DTV plan to take advantage of the global trend of R&D globalisation?

The global trend in R&D is migrating into what we now refer to as the 4th industrial revolution – big data, cloud computing, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, robotics, digital automation, energy storage. Innovation is imperative. It’s not optional. General Electric is a good example - a 125-year-old company known for its jet engines and light bulbs is now a major competitor in the global digital solutions arena. The challenge now is how to optimise technology inventions that are coming from in the digital revolution. Many of the Park’s companies are engaged in a similar transformational growth. Halliburton and Schlumberger are two well established upstream companies seeking new methods of using big data and integrated digital solutions to improve an already highly optimised upstream oil and gas sector.

The concept of globalisation and open innovation is accelerating and we view the Dhahran Techno Valley as a platform well positioned for open innovation. We want our companies to deliver the skills, tools and capabilities that will provide energy-based technology innovations for generations to come.

What is the role of DTVC at Middle East Process Engineering Conference (MEPEC) 2017?

As the Chair of MEPEC’s Innovation and Commercialisation Zone (ICZ), I lead an effort to have 30 new start-up companies demonstrate their innovative technologies on the exhibition floor at the Manama conference in October. We are also planning to host an innovation and entrepreneurship boot camp, with the generous support of the Bahrain accelerator CH9. These process engineering technologies will be viewed by 3,000 participants attending MEPEC. It’s a fantastic opportunity for companies and small business entities across the GCC to put their product in front of potential customers and end users. DTVC is perfectly positioned to support a conference like MEPEC. Many of the companies operating in the Science Park are active and will have exhibition booths as well as white paper presentations and technical seminars. Yokogawa, Emerson and Schlumberger will have a strong presence at MEPEC. DTVC’s contribution is delivering small companies and new ventures the opportunity to display their cutting-edge technology in front of seasoned experts at the Middle East’s largest engineering conference of the year.

More Stories