AMBITIOUS INVESTMENTS

Saudi Arabia 2016 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Dr. Khalid Al-Saleh, CEO of Riyadh Valley Company (RVC), on investment strategies, business development, and partnerships.

Dr. Khalid Al-Saleh
BIOGRAPHY
Dr. Khalid Al-Saleh is an associate professor at the Industrial Engineering Department, College of Engineering, King Saud University. He obtained his PhD from Birmingham University, UK, in 2004. His BSc in industrial engineering was obtained from King Saud University in 1993. His research interests focus on human factors engineering and ergonomics. He is a member of the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) and is a founding member of the Saudi Inventors Society. In 2007, he served as the director of the Intellectual Property and Technology Licensing program at King Saud University. He is a member of the Higher Committee of Unifying Intellectual Property Rights under One Umbrella. He has published several papers in related journals.

What have been the most important measures you have taken since becoming CEO two years ago?

King Saud University (KSU), the largest and oldest university in Saudi Arabia, had ambitious targets when it was established, and aims to serve the country. In 2009-2013, I was the director of a tech-transfer office, where we developed many excellent initiatives taking the tech-transfer issue seriously, which would eventually lead KSU to establish RVC. I joined RVC in 2013, and we serve as the investment arm of the university. We help the university to materialize its intellectual property as we facilitate access to state-of-the-art technology for the faculty and students through deals signed with high-tech companies. On the other hand, whatever problem or difficulty we face, we can rely on an army of more than 5,000 faculty members and 50,000 students, 10,000 of which are postgraduates ready to provide technical support or consultancy.

Does Riyadh Valley Company only invest in companies based in Saudi Arabia?

When 2010 started, the focus was only on early-stage local start-ups from Riyadh. In 2013, RVC hired an international consulting firm based in San Francisco, and we revised our investment strategy. RVC signed deals with companies based in Japan, Sweden, and the US, and when we sit on their boards, communicate and exchange ideas, and offer clear and deep insights into the market, they start seriously considering expanding into the GCC and MENA region. Additionally, we defined the areas we want to invest in; not just ICT but also renewable energies and life and health sciences. By supporting companies to develop technologies related to renewable energy, we help our country to reduce its dependence on oil. All this is in accordance with the 10th National Development Plan, which has the main objective of moving toward a knowledge-based and diversified economy. Finally, we generate new jobs for young Saudis while also making profit.

How do you choose the companies to invest in?

We have a proactive and well-defined investment process here at RVC. Our business development department does an early screening of companies in the pipeline for potential deals. Normally, we invest in Series A of funding and above, as well as in companies that operate in our three areas of interest. If the investment passes the in-house phase, then we outsource it to a third party for due diligence. If the report is satisfactory, then we call for the investment committee of RVC to intervene. We have a committee under the board to examine investments. This is a board from the private sector and includes some faculty members from KSU to provide a technical and scientific background. We have this committee meet the company, and if it is satisfied then the committee will make a recommendation to the board of RVC. For 2016, our goals are to seal at least four deals, which means we will be reviewing approximately 500 contracts in the pipeline.

Once a deal is reached, what contributions can RVC make?

We know the market. We are here and have a footprint in the region. For a company operating 13,000km away, it might not know much about it. In many deals we do, partners are independent of the market here. We do deals based on their business plan; we do not force them to modify their business plan to come here. We leverage their presence here in the market. It is a promising market here in the GCC, and the overall MENA region. This region is largely forgotten when it comes to venture capital. We signed a partnership recently with a solar company based in Silicon Valley. We are now helping it construct a testing area for its solar panels for hot and dusty conditions. In this experiment, we are involving faculty members and experts from KSU. For us, we do business and investment; however, when it comes to experience and technical know-how, we have our army from KSU.