Wa’ed’s group investment in Red Sea Farms, developer of a salt water-based hydroponics
system for vegetables, is an example of its collaboration approach to funding larger venture capital deals.

Saudi-based sustainable AgTech firm Red Sea Farms, a salt-water growing specialist, receives $10m investment
  • Investor group includes Aramco entrepreneurship arm Wa’ed, the Future Investment Initiative Institute and KAUST from Saudi Arabia, and Global Ventures of the UAE.
June 7, 2021 -- Red Sea Farms, a Saudi Arabian AgTech business whose one-of-a-kind technology enables the commercial farming of produce using primarily salt water, received a $10 million venture capital investment today from a group of leading Saudi and UAE investors.
The investment in Red Sea Farms, which is based at King Abdullah University for Science & Technology (KAUST) 60 miles north of Jeddah, is one of the region’s largest AgTech investments to date. The consortium reflects growing investor interest in the Gulf in sustainable farming solutions that can combat pandemics and global supply chain disruptions.
The funding is being led by a group of Saudi and UAE investors including the Aramco entrepreneurship arm Wa’ed, the non-profit foundation Future Investment Initiative Institute, KAUST and Global Ventures, a UAE venture capital group. The funding is one of the first AgTech investment for many of the participants.
Red Sea Farms was established in 2018 with a vision to reduce food insecurity, carbon and fresh water use in the global and Gulf food sectors. The company’s unique, end-to-end growing system primarily uses salt water, cutting fresh-water consumption by 85 to 90 percent. Through a patented system of new, more efficient solar and growth monitoring technologies, salt water replaces fresh water typically used to cool greenhouses and irrigate crops.
Red Sea Farms’ growing systems can be quickly and easily scaled in climates such as the Middle East, where conventional farming methods are not possible or cost-effective. The company is initially using its technology to grow and sell tomatoes in Saudi Arabia, but ultimately plans to sell entire turn-key growing systems to buyers around the world.
Red Sea Farms plans to use the funding to build and retrofit more than six hectares of commercial farming operations in central and western Saudi Arabia. The company currently operates a salt-water pilot greenhouse at the KAUST Research & Technology Park. 
“We are proud to have designed, developed and delivered one of the world’s most sustainable agricultural systems from our base in Saudi Arabia,” said Ryan Lefers, Red Sea’s Chief Executive, who along with professors Mark Tester, Chief Scientist and Derya Baran, Chief Engineer, co-founded Red Sea Farms. “The investment from our new partners will help us improve global food security while reducing the carbon and fresh-water footprint.”
Wassim Basrawi, the managing director of Aramco venture Wa’ed, said: “The Red Sea Farms investment reflects our decade-long commitment to the Saudi start-up sector, where Wa’ed has deployed more than $100 million in venture capital investments and loans to more than 100 entrepreneurs. Red Sea Farms is a good example of a game-changing start-up whose innovations not only can transform markets but improve life for everyone in the Kingdom.”
The investment is FII Institute’s first in the AgTech sector. Richard Attias, the FII Institute Chief Executive Officer, said: “Our investment in Red Sea Farms is an expression of FII-Institute’s mission to support initiatives and projects which will have a positive impact on humanity. Our trilogy strategy ‘Think-Xchange-Act’ empowers us to play a transformative role in the new impact economy. We are pleased to partner with the King Abdullah University for Science and Technology and leading investors to bring this revolutionary technology to market.”
Kevin Cullen, the vice president of innovation and economic development KAUST where Red Sea Farms was developed, said: “KAUST is powering an emerging deep tech start-up ecosystem in Saudi Arabia – and Red Sea Farms is helping to drive this revolution. The start-up is the product of many years of research in KAUST labs, now commercialized and ready to change the face of agriculture in the Middle East and other water-scarce regions.”
Said General Partner Noor Sweid at Global Ventures: “We’re thrilled to partner with Red Sea Farms. With the earth’s resources depleting at an alarming rate, food and water security have become pressing global challenges. Powered by KAUST’s ecosystem of scientific and tech knowledge, Red Sea Farms is envisioning sustainable and innovative ways of addressing these issues in the region and the world, with the ultimate objective of leaving our planet better than we found it for the generations to come.”
A KAUST spin-out advised by Kirchner Group, Red Sea Farms was originally founded by Tester, a plant scientist, and Lefers, an agricultural engineering expert. The pair recently acquired Iyris Advanced Desert Greenhouses, a maker of smart glass that integrates solar technologies and optical tuning developed by KAUST’s Baran, who became a co-founder.
Red Sea Farms received a $1.9 million investment in 2019 from the KAUST Innovation Fund and Saudi-based Research Products Development Company. A leading graduate research university, KAUST is a major innovator of sustainable agriculture solutions for the Middle East and other water-scarce regions.
About Red Sea Farms
Red Sea Farms is committed to solving one of today’s greatest problems - how to feed the world in the face of diminishing resources. Red Sea Farms cares about the planet just as much as people. Combining impact with innovation through saltwater-based agriculture products, systems and services Red Sea Farms promotes environmental and economic sustainability by meeting the nutritional needs of water-scarce populations. The approach is a world-leading blend of plant science, sustainable cooling, light and energy management and systems that use Artificial Intelligence. www.redseafarms.com
About the Future Investment Initiative Institute (FII-Institute)
The Future Investment Initiative Institute is a new generation of non-for-profit global foundation that seeks to empower the world's brightest ideas to materialize and scale sustainably. The FII Institute will act as the curator of the global conversation on humanity's most pressing societal issues, sparking concrete actions and mobilizing cross-border thought leadership, collaboration and resources to cater for an accelerated impact in the short- and mid-term, while also creating long-term platforms that have the potential to significantly shape the future of our societies. https://www.fii-institute.org/en/home
About Global Ventures
Global Ventures an established UAE-based, international investor backing global-minded, growth-stage founders who are using technology to transform emerging markets and the world. https://www.global.vc/
About King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST)
Established in 2009, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is a graduate research university devoted to finding solutions for some of the world’s most pressing scientific and technological challenges in the areas of food, water, energy and the environment. With 19 research areas related to these themes and state of the art labs, KAUST has created a collaborative and interdisciplinary problem-solving environment, which has resulted in over 11,000 published papers. www.kaust.edu.sa
About Wa’ed
Wa’ed is the entrepreneurship arm of Saudi Aramco. Established in 2011 as a wholly-owned venture of Saudi Aramco, Wa’ed helps drive the diversification of the Saudi economy by providing entrepreneurs with end-to-end services in mentoring, incubation, loan financing, and venture capital investment. Since its founding, Wa’ed has deployed more than $100 million in venture capital investments and loan to Saudi-based start-ups. www.waed.net

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Yasmeen Almattaboli                                       
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