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Meet the computer and electrical engineering grad behind an award-winning tech start-up

By Chloe Lane

Updated October 7, 2021 Updated October 7, 2021

Meet Salwa Alzahmi, the Khalifa University graduate who is changing the world of software with her award-winning tech start-up. 

Sponsored by Khalifa University   

Launching a start-up isn’t easy. You’ll have to work hard and overcome many challenges to be successful. 

However, the result of this hard work can be incredibly rewarding. Some of the most famous tech start-ups may be companies you interact with every day, such as Instagram, Airbnb, Facebook and Uber.  

While a degree isn’t always necessary to create a great product, an engineering master’s can provide you with the technical skills, experience, confidence and connections needed to help launch your product and make your start-up a success. 

TopUniversities spoke with Salwa Alzahmi to find out how her master’s in electrical and computer engineering from the UAE’s Khalifa University helped her launch an award-winning tech start-up: the software development company, SPL Co. 

Motivations for launching a start-up 

Salwa’s start-up, SPL Co, aims to provide efficient technology to speed up the process of migrating and refactoring software systems to operate efficiently on the cloud. She aims to help companies reduce the time and the resources it takes to do this, while also providing efficient toolsets for code governance and modernisation. 

“I have always been passionate about building my own products and addressing new trending market segments in technology, particularly software governance, artificial intelligence, and cloud computing,” said Salwa. 

Salwa’s idea for the start-up came from the struggles she encountered in her early career. She recognised the limitations in IT processes and technologies when modernising and maintaining software systems.  

She said: “There was a huge challenge that I faced as a project manager to keep adapting and upgrading our software systems to cope with the latest technology and digitisation initiatives and trends such as cloud computing.  

“This experience gave me a unique advantage in understanding the gaps and opportunities in current IT systems.”  

Salwa understood there was a gap in the market for a new product and used this as the inspiration for SPL Co. 

Preparing to launch a start-up 

Studying for her master’s degree at Khalifa University helped Salwa “tremendously” in developing her start-up, she explains.  

Khalifa University offers students the chance to study their master’s degree in one of their associated research centres, which for Salwa was the Emirates ICT Innovation Center (EBTIC). The reason for this choice is because EBTIC places a strong focus on applied research: something that formed the basis for SPL Co.  

Not only did her degree teach Salwa an extensive technical knowledge, but it introduced her to a range of industry connections, which would play a vital part in Salwa’s start-up. 

“During my master's I was able to validate my research outputs with one of EBTIC’s industrial partners, British Telecom (BT). I was given the opportunity to present my research findings in front of senior experts in the field at BT and their partners,” said Salwa. Salwa was also invited to attend BT’s international seminars and events. These industry connections helped Salwa by improving her communication skills, helping her create innovative, timely solutions to problems and enabling her to build professional relationships with high profile scientists and industry experts.  

Additionally, Khalifa University and EBTIC ran seminars and training workshops throughout the year to educate students about entrepreneurship and how to design and create disruptive technology.  

“Khalifa University also offers business-oriented courses within the campuses. We can join these to build knowledge in financial and leadership aspects, which are essential skills for an entrepreneur to learn,” said Salwa. 

During these sessions, the schools invited inspiring entrepreneurs from around the world to help students learn and build valuable connections. 

“Graduate study can play a major role in achieving outstanding success in entrepreneurs' journeys,” she says. 

From master’s student to entrepreneur 

After graduating from her master’s in electrical and computer engineering in 2014, Salwa continued working on her SPL project as a full-time researcher at EBTIC. Her aim during this time was to continue the research she’d started in her master’s, establish her research team, improve her initial prototype, and continue working with BT, which had shown a strong interest in the SPL project. 

“Through EBTIC and the Khalifa Innovation Center (KIC), Khalifa University provided me with the right platform and infrastructure to achieve my goals and productise the SPL solution with leading industrial partners,” said Salwa.  

During this time, Salwa trialled the SPL solution with BT and met with great success, receiving recognition from local and international communities. Salwa received further funding support from EBTIC and KIC, a start-up incubator supported by Khalifa University, to continue the product development and commercialisation initiative on SPL.  

Salwa said: “The reason I got all this support is that Khalifa University management realised at an early stage the importance of bringing industry and academia together at the research level to accelerate innovation in the country and globally.  

“Therefore, master’s or PhD graduates like me are given the support they need to start their journey as an entrepreneur.” 

Bright future 

Since Salwa started SPL Co, the company has won many prestigious international awards, including the AI and ML Computing Award and the Global Telecommunication Award in UK, as the best cloud automation solution. Salwa has also been selected to be an expert in the international ISO community in the AI and Big Data group. 

Currently, SPL Co is working with the Microsoft start-up programme to reach more customers and get extra funds to boost growth. Additionally, SPL Co has completed a successful pilot with one of Dubai’s local government entities and is in the process of negotiating a commercial deal with them. Another commercial opportunity is in the pipeline with one of the major banks in the region.  

Salwa says her ultimate goal for SPL Co is to become the leading provider of the most innovative technology for software governance and modernisation.    

Outside of her company, Salwa’s personal goals are to inspire other entrepreneurs and to show support for the Women in Deep Tech movement, which strives to overcome gender bias and stereotypes in the technology industry.   

Her advice for aspiring tech entrepreneurs? Enrol in a university that focuses on applied research. It will significantly cut down the time it takes to develop and launch your product, helping you evaluate your hypothesis, identify the market needs and validate your initial minimum viable product (MVP).  

She added: “Entrepreneurship can be a long and demanding road but for me there's no other experience that's more challenging, rewarding, and but also exciting all at the same time.  

“If you have a vision or passion to change the world as a tech entrepreneur, do it. You will face some obstacles, but you should always remind yourself why you started and make sure to surround yourself with people that complement your skills.” 

This article was originally published in October 2021 .

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Written by

As Content Editor for TopUniversities.com and TopMBA.com, Chloe creates and publishes a wide range of articles for universities and business schools across the world. Chloe has a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Reading and grew up in Leicestershire, UK. 

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