Saudi pioneer urges more investment for entrepreneurs

Saudi medical scientist Hayat Sindi.

Saudi medical scientist Hayat Sindi.

Better investment is needed in science and technology entrepreneurs in the Middle East if the region is to foster inventing talent, renowned Saudi medical scientist Hayat Sindi has said.

Sindi, whose research into diagnostics and biotechnology has been heralded internationally, said people often lamented the lack of inventors in the Middle East.

However, investment in scientific entrepreneurship was new.

“What is based on science and technology is frightening, because people don’t want to touch that investment, they want to touch something they understand,” Sindi said in an interview published in Arabian Business.

“It’s understandable and logical – if you have money you want to put it where you know best and science and technology was for so long far away from us.

However, she said there were a number of reasons that what was once a pioneering region now had a “fear” of starting science companies.

“First we don’t have the business skills in starting business in science and technology,” Sindi said.

“Second: the VC culture is quite new, and third: there is no encouragement from the social (side).”

Sindi says the approach to failure in science entrepreneurship needed to change and be viewed, not as a negative, but as a learning curve.

Through her new fellowship program, i2 Institute, Sindi is mentoring the next generation of inventors and entrepreneurs.

Sindi said the six inaugural fellows chosen from around the Middle East have been offered a “platform” to turn their inventions into potential commercial successes through an intense training and development program.

Offering them business skills, and perhaps, more importantly, confidence, Sindi says the aim is to customise their product as well as “build the bridge” between investors and what is essentially raw inventing talent.

Anil Khurana, a partner at PriceWaterhouseCoopers Middle East, which hosted a three-day workshop for the fellows in Dubai last week, said there was not enough people in the region working on “fundamental, original, business-building activities”.

He said a survey on the issue two years ago found a “bipolar response” with respondents seeking the best when they bought innovative products such as the next Mercedes car, while also recognising the lack of investment in entrepreneurship.

“We buy innovation but we don’t do enough innovation,” he said.

Khurana said the issue was endemic – starting in school and carrying through to business level.

“Do we teach college students or high schools students the ability to take risks? And the answer is perhaps not enough,” he added.

 “There’s a lot of trading companies that have made money. But, have they made money based on technology and innovation? The answer is: not enough.

“Risk taking, the fear of failure, the environment, the ecosystem, plays a role, because I f you have universities and investors and lawyers and engineers then the ecosystem comes.”

However, Khurana said the desire was there to improve.

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