Craig Smith, CEO of Dhahran Valley, said Saudi Arabia needs to incubate more SMEs to accelerate progress towards a knowledge economy
The kingdom of Saudi Arabia must urgently leverage technology to create business innings for youths.
That’s according to Craig Smith, CEO of Dhahran Valley Technology Development Company (DVTDC) – the government-owned holding company behind the Eastern Province-based science park initiative, which now has 20 companies on its books.
“All of our companies are focused on complete automation and innovation… this kind of knowledge needs to be shared within the kingdom so that it can power up SMEs and provide opportunities for youths,” Smith told Arabian Business.
DVTDC, a wholly owned subsidiary of the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM), is a key driver of the Dhahran Techno Valley Ecosystem, which was created to promote a knowledge-based economy in Dhahran and in the Eastern Province. The ecosystem includes KFUP, national champions like Saudi Aramco and SABIC, and technology partners.
DVTDC is responsible for the management of the Dhahran Techno Valley Science Park and commercialisation of technology created by research activity in the ecosystem.
Commenting that Saudi Arabia’s SME ecosystem is "almost non-existent", the CEO called for the kingdom to incubate more SMEs to accelerate progress towards a knowledge economy.
He said: “The SME engine needs to become empowered so that small companies can become technology and information systems leaders – this will help to diversify the economy and create opportunity.
“We lack SMEs… there is so much more we could do. We could also have greater integration with universities. We have 20 companies so we need to build up the rest of the park's eco system…. we need renewable energy and desalination companies.
“Saudi Arabia is well positioned economically and now it’s time to open up the door of technology to empower the youth… without technology nothing will change. The R&D we create needs to be shared with young people so that they can use the knowledge to create their own businesses and be empowered."
According to the General Authority for Statistics (GaStat), unemployment in Saudi Arabia fell slightly in the fourth quarter of 2018 to 12.7 percent. Total youth unemployment (20-24 years old) stood at a hefty 36.6 percent in 2018.
The GaStat figures also noted that female labour force participation reached 20.2 percent by the end of 2018, up from 19.4 percent in 2017.
According to Smith, the Dhahran Valley Technology Science Park houses over 1,220 employees, including around 170 women who are mainly in engineering roles.
The Dhahran Techno Valley Science Park began life as an upstream park to support oil giant Saudi Aramco, but it has rapidly evolved into the kingdom’s largest concentrated park for oil and gas focused R&D.
While Saudi Aramco is the park’s main anchor company, the community is now home to upstream companies, downstream companies and several process automation and integration companies.
Smith said: “Collectively we have common challenges within the Saudi Arabian environment… we are starting to see a lot of interplay between the companies because of our common challenges.
“The real story of this is that the power of a collective science park is so much more valuable than a collection of companies.”
The CEO said the park has cultivated a ‘strong position’ in electrical systems, process controls, and automated systems.
“Everything that moves oil to products involves sophisticated systems. Today it’s all about clean oil and efficiency… they do that through automation,” Smith said.
On 5 July 2019, Saudi Aramco signalled its commitment to next generation technology with the opening of a ‘game-changing’ Baker Hughes GE research facility at Dhahran Valley Technology Science Park
The facility will house a number of cutting-edge technologies, including the first industry 3D printer for metal in Saudi Arabia and a data visualisation and automation platform to help simulate and optimise well activity and construction.
“This centre will be a game-changer in ways that many of us would have considered science fiction’ at the beginning of our careers,” said Saudi Aramco’s vice president of petroleum engineering and development, Nasir Al Naimi.
In June this year, Saudi Aramco and Air Products launched the first hydrogen fuelling station in Saudi Arabia at Air Products' new technology centre in the park.
The pilot station will fuel an initial fleet of six Toyota Mirai fuel cell electric vehicles with high-purity compressed hydrogen.
The new fuelling station combines Saudi Aramco's industrial and technological experience with Air Products' know-how and experience in the field of hydrogen fuelling.
It is expected that the fleet of Toyota Mirai vehicles will have a driving range of 500km with water as their only emission and the ability to be fuelled in five minutes as opposed to an hour for traditional battery electric vehicles.