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The Darwazah Center for Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship (DC) at the American University of Beirut (AUB) organized its yearly flagship event: the Darwazah Startup Accelerate Demo Day (Cycle 8) on December 3. Eight teams pitched their startup ideas after three months of hard work and high-level commitment and are ready to embark on new entrepreneurial journeys. Two of the finalists were announced as first-prize winners and received $10,000 each to launch their startups. Two teams were announced second-prizewinners and received $1,000 each as consolation prizes. The pitches were preceded by highly motivating messages from top-ranking people from Hikma Pharmaceuticals and AUB.
This year's theme “Think Global Build Local" was adopted to encourage the applicants to come up with startup ideas that tackle local problems, such as the decreasing purchasing power caused by the currency devaluation, and to come up with startup ideas that substitute imports and promote exports. The first and second prizewinners succeeded in addressing the problem. For Instance, the first-prize winner “Cedar's chemicals" came up with a startup idea that produces solid and liquid fertilizers using 70 percent local raw materials. The second first-prize winner, “Nutri 3", came up with a startup idea that produces nutritious, tasty, and convenient “3" meals in a jar combining a variety of certified local organic ingredients.
The second-prize winner “Sheavera" developed a natural toxin-free product that helps moisturize and freshen the skin. The other second-prizewinner “Lebaid," that previously won the Data for Good hackathon organized by DC in May 2021, developed a blockchain-based platform for crowdfunding that directly matches donors with the top priority beneficiaries, the vulnerable households, as well as the potential NGOs who have intimate knowledge of the socioeconomic status and location of neediest households in the most economically disadvantaged regions of Lebanon.
Dr. Fadlo Khuri, AUB president, spoke at the event. He delivered a message of hope stating that “AUB exists to create hope to create opportunity. Without opportunity, it is very hard to have hope."
Dr. Bijan Azad, director of the Darwazah Center and associate professor at AUB's Olayan School of Business (OSB), presented the work executed by the DC for over a decade, highlighting the core values of the center. “We, at the Darwazah Center, build entrepreneurial capacity; we do it the old-fashioned way, but with state-of-the-art tools and technology."
Dr. Yusuf Sidani, OSB dean and professor of leadership and business ethics at OSB, also spoke at the event and addressed a problem that is present in the MENA region, where many local talents are wasted, whereas they start to shine aboard. He added that the mission of AUB is to help them shine at home. Dean Sidani reminded the finalists to give back, stating, “When you reach that place you desire, just remember where it all started right here at AUB, right here at OSB. When you reach places, don't forget to pass the favor, it is not your responsibility, it should be more about your passion and the legacy you want to establish."
The fourth message was from H.E. Mazen Darwazah, senator of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and executive vice chairman and president of the Hikma Pharmaceuticals strategies and operations in the MENA region. Mr. Darwazah, whose parents the late Samih Darwazah and Samira Fadli both graduated from AUB, said that, “Today Hikma is a Jordan-based global company with 8,500 employees, listed on the London stock exchange. People ask us, what are you doing in Jordan and you are a global company? Our answer is: we are a multinational company it is true, but we are local at heart. This is very important. When you go on your entrepreneurial boundaries, always remember your roots, because your roots are what you have to come back to, where you have to build on."
A fireside chat also took place during the event, between Dr. Azad and Waddah Malaeb, the founder and CEO of DLOC Biosystems, Darwazah Startup Accelerate 2018 winner and DC-Venture Acceleration Practicum alumnus. Waddah shared an important learning from his entrepreneurial journey, “I used to think, 'how could I innovate something when there are millions of people smarter than me, who have more resources than me, and are more exposed than me.' I was focusing on the product. The Darwazah Center changed my way of thinking; I started focusing on the problems. There are tons of problems out there and not enough people to solve them. You just need to focus on something, persist and go to the end to solve it."
In addition to the cash prize, the Darwazah Startup Accelerate winners will be admitted to the Venture Acceleration Practicum to accelerate their startup ideas and will receive continuous support from DC to succeed.
About the center
The establishment of Samih Darwazah Center for Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship at AUB's OSB was made possible in 2011 through a generous gift by the Darwazah Family, founders of the largest MENA-based pharmaceutical company with global reach—Hikma headquartered in Jordan. The Darwazah Center's mission is to transform entrepreneurial thinking and practices within the MENA region and help organizations become innovative. The Center develops and promotes evidence-based approach to establishing, operating, and growing ventures and businesses. Its work agenda includes entrepreneurship-innovation research, developing teaching case studies, venture acceleration and scale-up programs, running competitions, mentoring, and conferences.