CITRIS Foundry innovation hub expands under new leadership

by Saemmool Lee

The CITRIS Foundry welcomes a new executive director, Maher Hakim, Ph.D., who comes aboard after the Foundry’s five-year-review and a renewed mission to support deep tech innovation in the public interest. He comes to the CITRIS incubator from positions as managing director of Qatar Science and Technology Park and professor of entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University. In addition to his new Foundry role, Maher is the chief innovation advisor to the state of Qatar and a partner at, a venture capital firm based in Istanbul.

“Berkeley has always been a pioneer in technology development and science,” says Hakim. “As someone who is interested in entrepreneurship and innovation and bringing tech-based products to market, the closer I get to the core of the science and the inventions, the more exciting it is. That’s what really attracted me to Berkeley.”

Originally from Syria, Hakim received his undergraduate degree from Damascus University, MSc from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Ph.D. in computer-aided design and management from Carnegie Mellon University.

He spends half of his time at the CITRIS Foundry, and the other half between Doha and Istanbul. We caught up with him at the CITRIS Foundry to learn more about his plans for the program.

Q. Could you tell us your vision as the new director of the CITRIS Foundry?

A. Berkeley is one of the top research universities in the world, also one of the top entrepreneurial universities, and an integral part of the Silicon Valley ecosystem. What the CITRIS Foundry has done in the past few years is to bring these factors together and create a program to accelerate the development of research-based startups, and it’s been wonderful. We want to build on that and expand so that more and more students and faculty members can benefit from our programs and services, including students and faculty who may be interested not only in entrepreneurial activities but in the whole process of innovation itself.

One of the things that is key to the CITRIS mission is helping translate science, research, and technology into meaningful impact in society. A lot of that meaningful impact results from the process of innovation, which could result in entrepreneurship ventures and the creation of startups, but could also lead to the creation of projects that large companies and enterprises may be interested in sponsoring and supporting.

So the Foundry’s vision is to become an innovation hub, where people who have science and technology-based ideas and breakthroughs go through a process to innovate products and services that create impact based on those ideas and breakthroughs.

Q. What changes will be made in the CITRIS Foundry under your leadership?

A. The CITRIS Foundry has been associated with the accelerator program that the CITRIS team has created. The CITRIS Foundry could be expanding programs to facilitate and inspire innovation. For example, we can figure out a way to match the science and research that’s happening on campus with startups outside of campus to work together on innovation. The CITRIS Foundry will become the innovation hub. Under that innovation hub, we’ll have a number of programs to facilitate, support and inspire innovation.

Q. How does your entrepreneurial career and academic experience affect your role?

A. I have been a startup founder, many times over, so I’ve gone through that experience – mostly with technology-based companies. I am also an educator and have taught innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology incubation in general. I also worked as a government policymaker to facilitate regional innovation and build innovation ecosystems. All of those experiences shaped my thinking that innovation is not necessarily an exclusive ownership of any one category of activities and does not follow one path.

Yes, startups innovate, but governments also innovate and can lead innovation, large corporations also innovate. However, there are certain skills and tools that people and teams have to acquire to learn how to innovate, which are not necessarily taught within an academic context. The Foundry can add value by complementing academic education with the tools and processes and ecosystem that will help students and faculty become innovators.  They can then choose to pursue an entrepreneurship journey or can become a great asset to any organization that would like to leverage their skills and their innovations.

Q. CITRIS Foundry has reached an important milestone in its growth as a program. How do you see the next phase of it?

A. I see it as a continuation of what the CITRIS Foundry has built to date. The mission remains that we want to enable smart students, researchers, and faculty members to materialize their dreams into useful products and services that are impactful in society.

Within that mission, we have a lot of freedom to experiment with a lot of different ideas and programs. That’s really what we plan on doing. The vehicles to introduce and create innovation in the market also evolve with times. Today doing a startup is hot, but five years from now it may not be, we don’t know. The important thing is to continue to support and inspire the process of innovation, and build the talent and skills needed for it.

The CITRIS Foundry Launch Event will be held on May 29, 2019, at the Banatao Auditorium at Sutardja Dai Hall, headquarters of the multicampus CITRIS and the Banatao Institute. See invitation for full list of speakers and to register.   

Photo: Adriel Olmos