As William Blake once said: “What is now proved was once only imagined." It is very rare, even impossible one might say, to stumble upon a phrase that perfectly describes the last fifty years of scientific progress. From computers to smartphones, electric cars to solar energy, inventions that were once the wildest fantasies of our ancestors have become a regular commodity in our everyday life. In the midst of these endless innovative achievements, the Student Startup Competition at MSFEA comes exactly to channel the innovative and ingenious minds of the faculty's students to come up with bolder, and more daring designs that tackle some of the most problematic issues in Lebanon and the region.
Set in a fun yet competitive spirit, Mona Itani, the coordinator of the Entrepreneurship Initiative, and Associate Dean Ayman Kayssi inaugurated the competition with inspiring words that accentuated how vital innovation is to MSFEA and AUB as well as the momentum this initiative has gained since its inception a few years ago. Twelve start-ups, with at least one MSFEA graduate or undergraduate student in the co-founding team, presented their innovative ideas and business models in three minutes each to the jury. Competing for $15,000 in equity-free awards, start-ups unveiled their projects over the next two-and-a-half hours. Diverse in industry, funding, and scale, these start-ups sought to tackle a wide array of problems, from waste disposal and fuel economy to driving safety and excruciating commute times. Six teams particularly caught the eye of the jury.
The first was Innovating Green Technologies (IGT), a company that develops green energy systems. Founded by Haytham Dbouk, recent recipient of the “Innovators Under 35" award by MIT Technology Review, IGT strives to sell solar power-based products to protect solar water heaters from overheating, to heat poultry houses, and to treat greywater in order to help modernize the Beqaa region. The second is Podio, an application/website that aims to personalize audio podcasts based on your interests to make your commute time as enjoyable as possible. Partnering with behemoths like Qatar Airways and BMW and with a solid team already in place, the jury was impressed by how far its founder Stefano Fallahah, listed on Forbes 30 under 30 in 2019, had already gone. The third is Revotonix, co-founded by Abbas Sidaoui, another recipient of the “Innovators Under 35" MIT Technology Review award. This startup is trying to revolutionize human interaction, customer support, and advertising through social autonomous mobile robots. Based on smart navigation systems, these robots could handle human interactions and personalize content displayed to the wishes of the people standing near it. The fourth is Alarmate. Founded by four AUB graduates, who were also part of the FYP Accelerator Program in 2018-19, it's a modular device that tries to tackle one aspect of a longstanding problem: vehicle death. Relying on an image processing camera and a heart rate sensor, this device aims to detect the drowsiness of the driver. Once identified, it notifies the driver through an alarm and can send an emergency message in extreme cases. Then comes Jeminai. A startup that has come up with a flexible interface powered by AI software through which they supply diverse online business platforms with personalization services. These include but are not limited to recommender systems to elevate consumer-store interactivity, with the eventual goal of increasing sales. Finally, Petcrete, which came up with a brilliantly innovative mechanism to transform PET plastics into microfibers that reinforce concrete, replacing traditional steel fibers and providing a great way to handle used PET, material that has long proved very hard to recycle, causing great harm to the environment.
AUB has played a pivotal part in the evolution and development of the region and the MSFEA Student Startup Competition follows that path. For the duration of an evening, these twelve student startups outdid themselves. They channeled their passions into showing the AUB community their big ambitions and their drive to change the world. In a time of uncertainty and tumultuous events, this evening of brightness may have exactly provided the shred of hope we need most.
Written by George J. Haydar, Cogs and Caffeine Magazine