AUB launched its first President’s Innovation Challenge during a turbulent year, in part to “assert that the will to construct is stronger than the will to destruct,” in the words of Mouhamad Rabah, CEO of the Beirut Digital District (BDD).
In response, 132 entrepreneurs submitted startup ideas including tasty protein “puffs,” a digital platform to help students find tutors, and vice versa, and ways to find a home healthcare aid. In the end, an innovative medical device took first prize, but not until 13 finalists had given presentations finely honed to one-minute elevator pitches, plus five minutes of interrogation by a panel of judges.
AUB professors Massoud L. Kraiche and Hassan Zaraket presented the winning idea, which they call Acoustosens
, bringing them $30,000 in prize money. Five years in the making, Acoustosens is a scalable, low-cost, at-home, saliva-based test. Kraiche and Zaraket have tailored it to test for COVID-19.
“What about your time to market?” came the first question from a judge concerned that, by the time Acoustosens is ready for use, the peak of COVID-19 will have passed. “It can be adapted for other diseases,” Dr. Kraiche explained, adding that the unique part of their product was its high-sensitivity sensor.
“And what makes it unique?” asked another judge. Kraiche explained that most other testing devices require amplifying the virus in order to test. “Our sensor doesn’t require amplification,” he continued. “Our sensor is our edge.”
In the pitching and award ceremony that took place over several hours in the Talal and Madiha Zein AUB Innovation Park in the BDD on October 28, three other startups were rewarded with cash prizes. The second prize of $15,000 went to PETCRETE
, which works on transforming used plastic bottles into fibers used to reinforce concrete, replacing steel reinforcement.
Judges also selected two, third-place winners to receive $5,000 each: RAM Polymer
, a novel composite surgical mesh for hernia repair; and Synkers
, an online learning platform that connects students with personal tutors.
Each winner will also have access to full incubation and mentorship support at the AUB Innovation Park.