On April 28, the American University of Beirut (AUB) hosted an Innovation Showcase and Student Competition for the Tomorrow’s Leaders College-to-Work Pipeline Project (TLP). Funded by the US-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), the project aims to bridge the gap between academy and industry by providing the students with the necessary skills to enter the corporate world and simultaneously grow their entrepreneurial spirit. After one and half years of the TLP launch, students and faculty collaborated on interdisciplinary projects to ideate and execute startups.
Administered by Dr. Mona Itani and Dr. Randa Salamoun, the aim of the competition was to offer senior TL students a live and in-person space to pitch their startup ideas. Dr. Itani outlined the region’s trend toward entrepreneurship to improve economies; she stated “the role of universities, centers, and programs such as MEPI TLP in Lebanon is crucial at these times because they equip our youth with the necessary skills to become innovators and creators.” The top-voted projects will be awarded “seed-funding” to potentially launch startups together with coaching on business, legal, and entrepreneurship or to pursue developments at an industry partner’s site.
The competition consisted of a panel of five judges:
• Ms. Haifa Najjar- Portfolio Manager at Alfanar
• Ms. Gaelle Yammine- Associate at Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP)
• Dr. Fadia Homeidan – Director of the Office and Grants (OGC) at AUB
• Dr. Yousif Asfour- Chief Innovation and Transformation Officer at AUB and the Director of Talal and MadihaZein AUB Innovation Park.
• Ms. Corine Kiame- Investment Manager at IM Capital
The judges offered advice to the students, encouraging them to continuously pursue upscaling projects nationally and across the borders. Ms. Corine commented, “ In Lebanon, operational expenses have become a third of what they used to be making it extremely affordable to set up a business.”
The competition was composed of nine teams, each of which tackled a unique gap in the market, challenging multiple industries. The students were acquainted with design thinking methodologies, market studies, and validation before delivering the technical innovation/development aspect of their pitch. Below is a summary of each startup idea:
1. WindSounds: WindSounds is a software application that predicts noise levels from wind turbines used as an assessment tool for wind energy projects.
2. Echo: Echo is a Tech startup aiming to solve the echo cancellation problem that most online platforms suffer from.
3. RadioSight: RadioSight-M is a tech startup offering solutions for the visualization of the hidden building components of existing buildings.
4. DilutePro: DilutePro provides an automatic dilution machine for disinfectants to accurately and automatically dilute any disinfectants safely.
5. CoinPort: CoinPoint is a software application that facilitates Peer-To-Peer and Peer-To-Business transactions.
6. REIIE: REIIE is proposing a sustainable solution to match every industrial sector in terms of water treatment and water reuse.
7. Sustainable Soil: Sustainable Soil is a startup that aims to revolutionize Lebanon's agricultural sector with a sustainable alternative to chemical fertilizers.
8. GS1: Blockchain food safety traceability platform
9. Cedar’s Chemicals: Cedar's Chemicals is a startup that produces solid and liquid fertilizers using 70% local raw material
Every team was provided four minutes to pitch their startup idea, followed by five minutes for Question and Answer (Q&A). Following the pitches, the judges gathered to assess the performance of each team and determine the winners. During the final stage of the event, TLP Program Director, Dr. Riad Chedid announced the winners:
• 1st place: RadioSight (Prize: $7,
• 2nd place: DilutePro (Prize: $4500)
• 3rd place: Cedar Chemicals (Prize: $3000)
The prizes will be distributed following certain deliverables and milestones. Dr. Chedid offered gratitude towards all project contributors including the MEPI United States, AUB partners: LAU, AUC, and Georgia Tech, as well as the management, faculty, and the students of the project. The innovation showcase and student competition allowed TLP to develop an entrepreneurship mindset and showcase the outputs of their team project.