Key public and private research, development and innovation (RDI) institutions are being harnessed to cultivate domestic and international partnerships designed to foster knowledge-sharing and skill transfer, and reinforce the innovation ecosystem in the Kingdom. Indeed, the Sustainable Partnerships Conference held in Riyadh in November 2022 resulted in 50 partnerships being signed between Saudi universities and public and private entities from various sectors.

Key Players

In 2009 King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) was formed with the purpose of fostering a stronger culture of innovation in the Kingdom. In addition to its research and graduate programmes, KAUST trained over 15,000 entrepreneurs in 2021. Its investment portfolio includes 30 deep-tech start-ups, comprising 24 local and six international companies. Through its Joint Centre of Excellence Programme, King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) collaborates with leading research universities and companies to strengthen the Kingdom’s RDI human capital and help raise its technological profile.

New Partnerships

Recent years have seen Saudi Arabia reach deeper into the global economy and business community. In December 2022 the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Centre signed an agreement with China’s Economics and Technology Research Institute, an affiliate entity of the China National Petroleum Corporation, to forge energy-related research partnerships. Priority topics will include energy economics, technology, policy and the environment. The agreement looks to facilitate workshops and physical and digital knowledge-sharing platforms, and initiate mutual peer review processes.

Furthermore, KAUST announced in March 2023 that it would partner with a number of RDI institutions based in Shenzhen, China. Shenzhen’s population grew from around 330,000 in 1970 to some 13m in 2023, making it roughly one-third the size of Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, Shenzhen’s GDP increased from around $181bn in 2012 to $445bn in 2022. That rapid growth has been driven by the city’s status as both a special economic zone and an innovation centre, with around $23bn of funding for RDI activities in 2022. KAUST is seeking to learn more about the methods implemented in Shenzhen. The partnerships are being designed to leverage knowledge and expertise to stimulate industrial innovation and exchange, technology transfer and incubation, while seeing co-owned facilities and infrastructure established in both countries.

In January 2023 KACST signed a letter of intent with the World Economic Forum (WEF) to co-create an innovation accelerator aimed at fostering closer public-private international and domestic linkages, increasing knowledge and contact sharing, and aiding the development of priority and emerging sectors.

The WEF detailed plans for its Global Collaboration Village, through which it will harness metaverse capabilities to facilitate global collaboration in innovation and economic development. Energy giant Aramco was the first entity to establish a presence in the village, and the Saudi government plans to extend the Kingdom’s public and private presence on the platform.

In March 2023 KACST entered into a partnership with Hong Kong-based Lenovo to establish an innovation centre in the Kingdom that will be focused on artificial intelligence (AI) and high-performance computing. The agreement will see the two organisations collaborate to form an economic cluster designed to advance RDI endeavours as well as the commercialisation of solutions related to high-potential fields such as genomics, satellite imagery and renewable energy.

Saudi AI and deep-tech development organisation nybl has also partnered with Lenovo to provide customised AI frameworks for Saudi municipal authorities and generate smart city and environmental protection solutions, deepening the extent to which innovation and disruptive technologies are being harnessed to respond to the Kingdom’s socio-economic challenges.