American University of Beirut

FAS students succeed at Hackabu competition with app to support refugee learners

Created by Mike Clarke and Ahmad Ghizzawi, the mobile application “Kindi" was recently selected as one of two winners in a startup impact competition hosted in Austria by Hackabu, a leading growth hacking agency in Europe. The competition received over 250 applications and invited the top five to come and pitch in Austria.

Launched with support from MIT's Refugee Learning Accelerator, Kindi creates virtual, on-demand, reading experiences that enable refugee students to practice their English pronunciation and comprehension skills with native speakers.

Mike Clarke, Kindi's chief executive officer and former AUB CAMES summer student, said: "As a team, we've spent the past six months in Lebanon working extremely hard to design and develop Kindi with our pilot user group; getting accepted into the impact program at Hackabu validates a lot of the work we've done thus far, and more importantly, offers us the opportunity to get a fresh perspective on our business and impact roadmap, as well as inroads into new client opportunities in Europe. We are excited about the experiences and learnings ahead." 

For winning the competition, Kindi will now enter into a three-month accelerator program run by Hackabu, where they will work with Hackabu's team to define and scale Kindi's growth strategy. This partnership will have a great impact on boosting the global mission to empower as many refugee communities as possible.

Ahmad Ghizzawi, the chief technology officer at Kindi and a current master's student in computer science at AUB explained the challenges and impact of this project. "Developing Kindi in refugee communities in Lebanon, specifically in the Beqaa Valley, has consistently challenged us to overcome a number of infrastructure and connectivity barriers. The resiliency we have developed throughout this process, both as a team and in our tech, gives us great confidence in our ability to scale within European markets."

Ghizzawi expressed his appreciation to the American University of Beirut, saying “AUB has helped us a lot so far, through the connections of the Computer Science Department, we were able to take part in regional programs such as the MIT Refugee Learning Accelerator as well as local AUB programs such as CRInn. We have also been supported by CCECS which helped us recruit reading volunteers from the AUB community."

Chairperson of the Computer Science Department, Dr. Wassim El-Hajj, expressed his pride in Ahmad and Mike for this achievement and highlighted the contributions of the department and AUB in helping this startup succeed both in terms of technical support and logistical support. He added, “this is not the first startup success story in the department and it will not be the last; Serious steps should be taken by AUB to set strong basis for computing across campus which when integrated with other fields, more and more startups and successes will emerge."

Currently in beta, Kindi is being piloted with students at the Kayany Foundation, who have thus far completed over 100 reading sessions with volunteers from the US, Europe, and MENA region (including current and former AUB students). Further pilots of Kindi will soon be launched in Europe and the US, helping to further refine the technology and user experience.

The team which also includes Leen Naffaa, the lead graphic designer and marketer, is actively looking for reading volunteers to join the initiative. ​





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