American University of Beirut

Innovation and entrepreneurship take center stage at MSFEA

​​​​​​​Seven teams of AUB students took part in MSFEA Pitch Marathon 2022 on May 5 showcasing some terrific ideas for how to tackle a wide range of issues: helping farmers treat a particular type of moth that is decimating conifer forests, secure affordable and effective fertilizer, and access targeted information and resources; providing psychosocial support to people in the Arab world; proposing an alternative way to fund university education; using recycled plastics to pave sidewalks; and offering a cheaper way to generate heat. “I am very proud of our students who worked hard and diligently," said Mohamad Fanous, who is an entrepreneur in residence at the Talal and Madiha Zein AUB Innovation Park (Zein AUB iPark) and a part-time instructor at the Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (MSFEA) where he teaches the Final Year Project (FYP) Accelerator course. “Our students made things challenging for the judges. They had a difficult time selecting the winning teams." The teams were competing for two Resource Group Entrepreneurship Awards and three FYP Accelerator Program prizes.

The Resource Group Entrepreneurship Awards were established in 2021 in partnership with Resource Group as part of its mission to support human capital and promote a knowledge society for social and economic development. Congratulating the winning teams, Resource Group Chairman and CEO Hisham Itani stressed on the importance of investing in youth and their promising ideas. He said, “As a corporate business, we believe in our active role in supporting educational institutions to give students the opportunity to bring their creative ideas to life. Promoting entrepreneurship and innovation is part of our social responsibility, and through our partnership with MSFEA and AUB, and the establishement of these two awards, we are committed to provide students with the chance to develop and implement their ideas in their country."

The Ta3bir team, Franco Frecchero (electrical engineering) and Sara Catherine Mourani (medicine) was selected as one of the two winners of the prestigious $20,000 Resource Group Entrepreneurship Award for its idea for an artificial intelligence chatbot that provides mental health support to Arabic speaking users, addressing an especially urgent and neglected need in Lebanon and the region. The Ta3bir team will be using the funds to develop the first prototype using artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP).

The PPMX team (mechanical engineering students Ibrahim Hariri, Omar Roumie, Paul Yared, and Omar Ghalayini) was also selected for a $20,000 Resource Group Entrepreneurship Award. It has developed a drone that targets, delivers (pneumatically), and kills pine processionary moth nests that are doing terrible damage to local pine trees – and to the livelihoods of some local farmers.  “We are one step closer to helping revive what used to be one of Lebanon's most lucrative farming sectors," said Ghalayini.

Five of the seven teams that competed on May 5 were part of MSFEA's flagship entrepreneurship initiative, which was launched in 2018. This innovative program allows graduating MSFEA students to take their final year projects beyond the MSFEA and university settings, and think about them as potential viable businesses. Students find this type of engagement invaluable. (Here are links to stories about the 2020 and 2021 winners.)

The FYP Accelerator 2022 winner was the AgriDoc team of Carl-Etienne Chaaya and Elie El Khawand (both majoring in electrical and computer engineering) and Paul Frangie (computer and communications engineering) that has developed a mobile app, which will be available on Google Play on June 30. The app offers a number of features including the ability to upload a photo of a sick plant so the pest attacking it can be identified and treated. “Our app aims at tackling the food security risks in Lebanon and the region," explained the AgriDoc team. “This award will help us launch the app and acquire our first 3,500 customers."

Two teams were awarded second place $10,000 prizes: Cedar Chemical (chemical engineering students Leia Bassam and Jad Slim) and StOve (mechanical engineering students Joseph Bejjani and Peter Jabbour). Cedar Chemicals has developed an acidic fertilizer using 70 percent locally sourced raw materials, which is currently being tested at AREC. Providing hard-hit households in Lebanon with more accessible and affordable heat was the goal of the Stove team, which has developed a stove/heater that uses “waste oil" as a fuel source.

All of the students who participated were winners though – not just because of what they learned from the experience of participating in the May 5 pitch marathon, but also – as Professor Elhajj announced at the conclusion of the marathon – because “MSFEA will help you – all of you – with funding, as much as we can, so you can move your ideas forward." Elhajj also urged all the teams to take advantage of the Zein AUB iPark. “They are willing to support you with whatever is needed," he said.

“My dream is for all MSFEA – even AUB – students to have the type of hands-on experience that our FYP students have," said MSFEA Dean Alan Shihadeh. “We are very grateful to Resource Group for its support, to our panel of judges (AUB CIO Dr. Yousif Asfour, Corine Kiame from IM Fndng, Hussein Fakih from Resource Group, and Lara El Khoury from Berytech) and to our students – for their energy, ideas, and perseverance."​

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