The fund's capital has increased from SAR25 billion to SAR65 billion. How has the money been allocated?
ABDULKARIM IBRAHIM ALNAFIE Our focus is on supporting loans and projects that are in line with Vision 2030. Some of the largest projects we are supporting this year are in the petroleum sector. In total, we have financed around 140 projects in diverse fields, with a focus on mining, renewable energy, automotive, pharmaceuticals, and electronics. Some industries are more mature than others; automotive, for example, has not really started, while renewable energy is just starting now. We have been in pharmaceuticals for some time, and we hope to see more growth in that area. There is potential for downstream industries, and that is where we will create jobs. We need to push for more downstream and local use of these commodities and products. The value is there. The aim is to export less raw materials and more industrialized goods.
How did RPDC come about, and what is your role in developing the innovation ecosystem?
ABDULMOHSEN ALMAJNOUNI The inception of RPDC was the result of the Saudi Arabia Advanced Research Alliance, which aimed to establish a technology development and commercialization engine. Khalid Al-Falah, the current Minister of Energy, Industry, and Mineral Resources and CEO of Saudi Aramco, had the vision to develop RPDC, understanding that large firms could use an innovation body to support commercialization of patents. Patents can also be a goal to kick start SMEs that will use the patent to make a specific product or service. RPDC's engagement considers the entire commercialization cycle, starting with a market assessment for the actual need of it. Next, we can move into scaling and prototyping, and once that is complete, startups can develop their business plan, seek investment, recruit staff, and build the production facilities. RPDC has been in operation for the past 4.5 years and in 2017 it looked in greater detail at its strategy, scope, mandates, and the need to develop expertise in commercialization.
How are you collaborating with MODON's industrial cities?
AIA Both SIDF and MODON are enablers for the private sector; they provide developed land to build facilities and we cooperate on legal aspects regarding ownership, mortgages, and other technicalities. The private sector interests dictate our activity and narrows down which projects are viable and in demand. We have enough resources to support all kinds of projects, whether highly technological or simple projects. We also give advisory services, especially to SMEs and greenfield projects. SIDF has a wealth of data, information, and experience that has been developed over the last 45 years. We want to make sure these projects come on stream in the right size and format to assure their success. Our role is not purely financial, i.e. lending and recovering money; we are developing an industry in Saudi Arabia.
How do you select patents you deem suitable for commercialization?
AA RPDC has four founding members: Saudi Aramco, King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. They all provide us with a flow of projects and a pipeline from their high value patents. We do the assessment of those patents and we choose to focus only on the most promising technologies to take into the cycle of commercialization. We also aim to include more member companies in our process, and we are currently in talks with Saudi Basic Industries Corp. We also look to offer our services to include SMEs that do not have their own research departments to provide technical solutions that support their competitiveness and growth.
How do you seek collaboration with international entities?
AIA We have and always will support any venture that is established in Saudi Arabia, whether it is done by a Saudi, in partnership with foreigners, or even 100% owned by foreigners. There are many good, successful examples of foreign direct investment in Saudi Arabia on different scales. Notably examples are Dow Chemical in the petrochemical sector, Alcoa with aluminum, or GE with many projects in Saudi Arabia.
AA Commercialization is new to a young nation like ours; therefore, we looked abroad to find suitable partners. We rely on our technical partners from all over the world and approach certain companies because of their expertise in a specific field. During our visit to the US, we signed MoUs with Avascent and LUX and reinforced our collaboration with Stanford Research International. These partnerships are aimed to support technology commercialization and localization initiatives, including IP, strategy development, and job creation.