“We are living in a world that is constantly evolving," noted Dr. Moussa Mathieu Ammar, senior director for strategy and technology at Inkript, a subsidiary of Resource Group, “and while technological advancement is bettering our lives, it is also putting our personal data at risk every day." Ammar made his remarks during his keynote speech at the Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (MSFEA) Pitch Marathon for the Resource Group Entrepreneurship Awards in cybersecurity and information privacy (CSIP) on April 23.
The establishment of these student awards is the result of a multi-year partnership between AUB and Resource Group, a regional investment group that is, in the words of Resource Group Chairman and CEO Hisham Itani, committed to “empowering youth with knowledge and providing them with the needed tools and support to bring their start-ups ideas to reality." Dr. Ayman Kayssi, professor of electrical and computer engineering at MSFEA, noted that the Resource Group award program “builds on MSFEA's strengths in creative human capital, state-of-the-art facilities, a strong mentor and alumni network, and access to seed funding."
Before pitching their ideas to a team of four judges (Ammar; entrepreneurship expert Elias Boustani; MSFEA assistant professor Dr. Ibrahim Issa; and Antoine Vincent Jebara, CEO and co-founder of MYKI, an award-winning cybersecurity startup), students had a chance to listen to an inspiring presentation by Jebara who described the journey he and his partner, AUB alumna Priscilla Elora Sharuk, had traveled and the challenges they had overcome along the way. Jebara had some very helpful advice to aspiring entrepreneurs stressing the importance of “finding a market for your product." He concluded his remarks by urging the AUB students taking part in the pitch marathon to get external validation for their ideas.
The winner of the Resource Group Award in information privacy was the RFSafe team (students Omar Al Jaroudi, Bashar Baajour, Abdallah Dandashli, and Mostafa Kamal Itani; co-supervisors Dr. Rouwaida Kanj and Dr. Ali Chehab) for its project to strengthen the security of the EMV protocol, which is the standard currently used for smart-card payment transactions. The team's solution provides complete protection against a vulnerability known as the “relay attack."
The BlackPen team (students Antoine El Choueiri, Christophe Saab, and Edmond Samaha; supervisor Dr. Ali Chehab) was selected for the Resource Group Award in cybersecurity for its project to develop a platform that could be used to automatically perform penetration testing on cloud applications. BlackPen's solution makes it possible to find and address vulnerabilities and security concerns in cloud applications without the need for extensive input from a skilled user. “This was undoubtedly a fruitful experience," said El Choueiri. “We all gained helpful insight into entrepreneurship. What was most valuable though was the guidance of our advisor, Dr. Ali Chehab, and the coordinator, Dr. Mona Itani, as well as the advice we received from the judges."
The members of the RFSafe team agree. “The best part of the experience was the weekly meetings we had with our advisors. Those meetings introduced us to the workflow of such fields and the importance of referring to our peers for help and insight," commented El Choueiri.
Both $15,000 awards include direct monetary support for the implementation of the student start-up and for the research and development (R&D) fund of the supervising faculty members.
“This opportunity to pitch their ideas before an experienced team of judges was invaluable for our students," said Dr. Mona Itani, MSFEA Entrepreneurship Initiative coordinator. “All of the students received excellent feedback on their ideas. They also received a lot of encouragement, which is especially important during these challenging times." Itani went on to note that she and her colleagues at MSFEA “are here to support all students with whatever help they need to pursue their ideas – while they are at AUB and after they graduate."
You can watch the pitching event on YouTube here.