Prince Sultan UniversityA framework for innovative research with commercial viability

A framework for innovative research with commercial viability

PSU’s Research and Initiatives Center is boosting the reputation and visibility of research and encouraging investment in the region

Prince Sultan University (PSU) in Saudi Arabia has global ambitions to expand its reputation for research and innovation. It is building an environment where it nurtures, encourages and inspires research activities – both in terms of entrepreneurship and to boost the institution’s academic credentials. 

In 2018, PSU conducted a comprehensive analysis of its research and innovation capabilities, identifying areas where it could improve and excel further. Through this analysis, PSU recognised the need for stronger leadership in driving research initiatives, greater involvement of faculty members in research activities, and more focused research themes that build on the university’s strengths. PSU’s commitment to continuous improvement and innovation is a testament to its reputation as a leading institution in Saudi Arabia and beyond.

Based on the findings of the analysis, PSU committed to transforming its strategy and establishing a dedicated Research and Initiatives Center (RIC) to support and promote research and innovation activities. Since establishing the RIC, PSU has made strides in enhancing its research outcomes, with an increase in the number of research facilities and publications per faculty member. These achievements demonstrate PSU’s commitment to promoting and supporting research, entrepreneurship and innovation, as well as its dedication to providing the best academic experience for its students.

Decentralising decision-making around research at PSU has eliminated several stages of management approval, meaning innovative research ideas can be approved and actioned quickly. PSU has also invested in cutting-edge technologies that automate the time-consuming transactions associated with research processes, from capturing information and data related to research transactions to accurately monitoring research and innovation performance. 

Today, PSU boasts one of the most advanced research ecosystems in Saudi Arabia, devoting more resources than ever to research. Faculty members are producing strong scientific outcomes, with each member now averaging 3.36 publications per year, up from  0.4 in 2018. PSU’s efforts are not going unnoticed, and it was shortlisted for the Leadership and Management Team of the Year Award at the 2022 THE Awards Asia. These improvements are just the beginning of PSU’s commitment to revolutionising research management.

The RIC is not only boosting the reputation and visibility of Saudi researchers but also encouraging investment in the region. Getting to this point was not entirely smooth. “As a private university, we are self-funded and it is not easy to receive sufficient external financial support, despite our excellence,” says Anis Koubaa, executive director of the RIC. Achieving success in any endeavour is rarely easy, and that was certainly the case for PSU as a young and ambitious private university in Saudi Arabia. Despite being largely self-funded, PSU has established itself as a leader in innovation and entrepreneurship. 

The university has adopted a start-up culture and is focused on fostering innovation, knowing that this approach is crucial in attracting investment and achieving success through its incubation programme, which was created to support students with an entrepreneurial mindset and innovative ideas. This forward-thinking strategy has helped the university create a vibrant community of entrepreneurs and researchers, driving progress and growth in Saudi Arabia. Start-ups that have spun off from the RIC include 3D printing and interior design companies established by PSU students. 

In response to the government's call for universities to prioritise research, PSU has committed to forging stronger ties with industry and investing in intellectual property, with the aim of becoming an entrepreneurial powerhouse. To this end, PSU has established its state-of-the-art Innovation Center (PSU-IC). The PSU-IC is a dynamic hub of creativity and innovation committed to transforming research into tangible business opportunities. The centre’s mission is to spearhead innovation in Saudi Arabia and the wider Middle East region by upholding four core values: integrity, creativity, quality, and efficiency. The PSU-IC stands firm in its commitment to honesty and ethical values, nurturing researchers to develop their imaginative solutions, producing outcomes through best practices and maximizing efficiency for all stakeholders.

One of the greatest barriers to innovation is attracting investors at an early stage. “In Saudi Arabia, industrial investors tend to feel more comfortable investing in products or services with proven success stories,” Koubaa says. “As a result, start-ups in Saudi Arabia often struggle to obtain investment during the stages between concept and real-world deployment despite the effort made by the government in this regard. This is a challenge that many entrepreneurs in the region face, but it also presents an opportunity for innovative solutions that can bridge this gap and attract early-stage investment. By creating an environment that fosters entrepreneurship and supports the development of innovative products and services, PSU is helping to address this challenge and promoting economic growth in the region. 

“The PSU-IC aims to bridge the current academia-industry gap and attract investors who are willing to co-invest. We hope to make this a unique model in the country. With revenue, we can better promote our research outcomes and operate a more sustainable research ecosystem because we will have the means for adequate funding. When we find a good idea, we go through the process of acquiring patents and protecting intellectual property. We have a technology transfer office that makes connections with the business sector and supports entrepreneurship,” Koubaa says.

A legal affairs unit reporting to the university’s compliance office handles matters related to contracts and processes, while the Intellectual Property Office (PSU-IPO) manages the processes encompassing patenting to protecting copyright, industrial designs and trademarks. “Our PSU-IPO is an accredited centre that provides intellectual property services for any institution in the kingdom,” explains Iman Almoumani, associate director of the RIC and PSU-IC. The office defines policies and by-laws related to intellectual property, coordinates and manages application and licensing processes and improves PSU’s awareness of intellectual property rights. The office has submitted six patents in areas including facial recognition technology, license plate recognition technology, and the tuning of robotic systems. The first issued patent was related to an unmanned vehicle for delivery and surveillance.

These research and investment activities are aligned with the ambitions of the Saudi Vision 2030. The Saudi Vision 2030 is not only a national vision but a blueprint for diversifying the Saudi economy beyond the petrochemical industries. “One of the key aims of Saudi Vision 2030 is to enrich Saudi Arabia’s profile in terms of approved patents, so what we are trying to achieve in the RIC and the IPO is very much aligned,” Almoumani says. By fostering an environment that nurtures creativity and innovation, PSU is establishing itself as a hub of innovation in Saudi Arabia and the wider Middle East region.

Find out more about the Research and Initiatives Centre.

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