Established in 2021, Dammam Valley is a source for biotechnology innovation in Saudi Arabia, aiming to support the nation’s plan to diversify its economy as laid out in Vision 2030.
Dr. Abdulrahman Al Olayan (CEO at Dammam Valley) was a Founding CEO (and is still a board member) at Taibah Valley – he recognised that there were more investors than investment opportunities in the region, so created a program to support Taibah University graduates in developing their own tech startups. Taibah Valley has been behind several important leaps in local tech innovation; including Saudi Arabia’s very first blockchain and IoT labs.
Now, Dr. Al Olayan is focused on facilitating biotech innovation through Dammam Valley, together with Imam Adbulrahman bin Faisal University. He’s joining us as a keynote speaker at #LEAP23 – so we caught up with him to get a glimpse into his world.
What led you to found Saudi Arabia's first blockchain and IoT labs? And how will that tech support business and growth in Saudi Arabia, and in the wider region?
“Blockchain, AI, and IoT are influencing different industries and businesses. It opens new opportunities, nudges exciting business models, and brings more investment. In 2017 and as we were planning to establish Taibah Valley, we knew that we needed a platform where nerds can not only network, but also collaborate and innovate.
“This is why we established the first Blockchain lab, IoT/AI lab, and AR/VR lab where tech innovators can experiment different use cases, build their MVPs, and raise funds for their startups. In early 2018, we launched Blockchain Lab and worked with Sadara Petrochemical Company to build their project. Also, we work with Elm, MCIT, MEWA and others to build different blockchain use cases. In March 2019, we launched AI/IoT lab and AR/VR lab, and work with a number of entities including MEWA, Sadara, MCIT, Taiba Investment, and Ministry of Education in different use cases and projects.
“I think we are still in early stages in the region to see the full potential of emerging technologies, and Blockchain Lab, AI/IoT Lab, AR/VR lab are playing an important role to support the businesses with right talent, business model, and use cases.”
Why is biotech a key industry in Saudi Arabia right now?
“Biotech is an important industry to Saudi Arabia as the country is working to diversify its economy. Directed by Vision 2030, biotech will play an important role, and Saudi Arabia is taking a number of steps toward that direction. Soon Saudi will launch the National Biotech Strategy, Riyadh Biotech City, and other initiatives.
“At Dammam Valley, we launched a program to support the biotech startups locally, and attract the global ones. We were surprised that startups from 15 different countries applied, which shows the strength and belief from the global community in the Saudi potential as a main global hub of biotechnology. We also made a few investments not only in Saudi startups but also in global companies with direct benefit to the Saudi Biotech ecosystem.”
What are your driving motivations when it comes to investing in (and founding) businesses?
“Impact on lives, society, and individuals. Each and everyone of us is unique and can bring something to the table. Let's build the right channels that encourage more talent to contribute to the betterment of humanity.”
You take a big picture approach to investments, incorporating knowledge and experiences from a wide range of sources to inform your decisions. Why do you think it’s important that investors and founders have a broad understanding of their industry, and how that industry fits into society?
“The more you understand the society, needs, customers, and industry – the better you will make decisions. Our work usually influences the early stage and life of startups where we bet on the future of the businesses. And we need to be accurate about our assessment of the future, trends, needs in order to make money and survive. A single-lens perspective typically will not help us much in our work. Knowledge, experience, and a broad range of sources will put us in a better position in making the right decision.”
Thanks to Dr. Abdulrahman Al Olayan at Dammam Valley. Join us at #LEAP23 to learn more.