Health sector and business incubators drive innovation in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is accelerating the pace of innovation in various sectors but the health sector is receiving more attention than others, with experts and specialists agreeing on the significance of innovation to achieve optimization, cost reduction, and sustainability.

The Saudi Council of Ministers approved the establishment of the Research, Development, and Innovation Authority in 2010, and the country has risen significantly in the Global Innovation Output Index in recent years. It moved from 85th in 2019 to 77th in 2020 and was 66th in 2021.

Abdulaziz A. Alsheikh, the co-founder of Spectropharma, said innovation in the health sector was critical to addressing and resolving the challenges confronting the sector’s workers on the one hand and its user market on the other.

Support, innovation, and flexible alignment toward the best innovation underpinned industry-leading health systems, enhancing the quality of life and the future of healthcare, he added.

The growth of innovation in healthcare and quality of life depended on specialists, creators, talent, and investors in engineering, information systems, and other sciences.

He explained that medical device and pharmaceutical development, business model development, design and manufacturing solutions, and apps related to smart healthcare, were all examples of how innovation in the health sector addressed the challenges the industry was expected to face.

There were alliances and competition in many sectors in Saudi Arabia to stimulate innovation in many fields. This movement would strengthen the Kingdom’s role in competitiveness by “focusing on research and then adopting, issuing, and enabling the best innovations,” he said.

Alsheikh believed the most current important innovative trends were those that contributed to the transformation of the public health sector, such as lowering healthcare costs, improving patient care quality through the integration of modern technology in communication, diagnosis and treatment using analytical data, and increasing readiness for disease prevention and surveillance.

“There is no universally accepted definition of creativity and innovation,” said Mohammed Al-Ghazal, the founding CEO of Noor Energies. “As a result, it is open to interpretations ranging from artistic expression to problem-solving abilities in the context of long-term economic and social development.”

Al-Ghazal, an award-winning digital entrepreneur and inventor, said that business incubators were one of the most effective and successful ecosystems invented in recent decades to accelerate the implementation of economic and technological development programs, create new jobs, and had been deployed in developed and developing countries.

“The significance of business incubators has emerged to pay attention and provide small and medium-sized enterprises with all of the ingredients they require to succeed and continue to embody ideas on the ground and turn them into marketable products.”

There is a high demand in the government and private sector to establish innovation departments or support their employees in seizing the culture of innovation. Innovation has become an urgent necessity for the success of government and private sector development to achieve the goals of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.

Vision 2030 wants the Kingdom to be among the top 10 countries in the Global Competitiveness Index by 2030.

Two key components of the index are directly related to research and development and the Kingdom can only improve on them by increasing its competitiveness in research and innovation, and by achieving the presence of at least five Saudi universities in the world ranking of the top 200 universities.

This goal demands high-quality research and influence in the Kingdom’s universities, stimulating collaboration between universities, business incubators, and innovators.

Al-Ghazal said these objectives could be met by supporting research and innovation efforts at universities and across national industries in ways that contributed to stimulating research, knowledge production, social development, economic development, and private sector participation.

Abdullah Alyousef, CEO at software firm ALIA ICT, said that technological advancement and innovation could play a critical role in reimagining the potential of various sectors, from healthcare and communications to agriculture, and their ability to leverage technology to make a positive impact on society and mitigate significant problems.

One of the most critical elements of digital transformation success was empowering people to work in new ways, preparing the workforce for the future, and training them to adapt to the new realities of the world and the industries in which they operated, Alyousef said. This meant providing training opportunities, honing employee skills, and engaging all business units actively to ensure that businesses continued to be driven by innovation and digital updates.

Saudi Arabia has grand ambitions for the future. In addition to overcoming some legal and administrative obstacles, Vision 2030 seeks to increase the contribution of small and medium-sized enterprises to the economy by facilitating their access to finance and encouraging financial institutions to allocate up to 1 percent of total financing to SMEs by the same time, he added.

He said the contribution of small and medium-sized enterprises to the economy in some countries, such as the UK and the US, typically reached 70 percent, emphasizing the significance of the development and growth of small and medium-sized enterprises and startups.

There were numerous innovative trends in which to invest, including products, services, business models, processes and technology, the environment, and marketing.

He added that the Kingdom had a real incentive for innovation and entrepreneurship – and a large number of young people eager to make a difference. “These young people are eager to leave their mark and have a direct and positive impact on the country’s future. All of our innovation programs are expanding.”

Successful innovation allowed adding value to the business so that profits could be increased. “If you don’t innovate well, your business will stabilize,” said Mohammad Sabbah, a business development specialist. “Innovation helps to stay ahead of the competition, which is important in a globalized and rapidly changing market.”

He did not believe that innovation should be affected by market research before launching new products. Instead, it relied on the so-called “trial and error correction” method. It pushed innovative products to market quickly and then began to modify them based on customer reactions and the continuous development approach.

He said that innovation differed from one institution to another and from one character to another, so the process of applying it and evaluating its results also differed. Realizing ideas was as important as creating them, so the team responsible for realizing the idea should develop a detailed work plan for measurement that included everything required to implement the idea, such as cost estimates and time.

Sabbah said innovation was not limited to a particular idea, so removing an unnecessary or redundant step in the current process or eliminating an unnecessary feature in the current product fell in this direction. He referenced a Japanese saying about how a dwarf could see farther than a giant if he climbed over his shoulders.

He stressed that creating a conducive institutional, legislative, and technological environment for innovation in the health sector was essential. In his opinion, these elements worked together to create a fertile ground for new ideas, promoting the development of pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, and working with strategic partners to develop the medical research sector for the treatment of prevalent diseases.

He said that because of the current reliance on data and data analysis to improve diagnostics and treatment in Saudi Arabia, it was clear that the sector had a bright future. A flurry of activity in the sectors targeted for innovation was also helping to empower society by promoting healthier lifestyles and better mental health, which were both essential for a healthy and psychologically sound society.