For the 9th year in a row, the Darwazah Center (DC) trains, mentors, and supports a cohort of teams in their entrepreneurial journey—making the DC motto a reality—"we build entrepreneurial capacity”. Around fifty applications were submitted, and through a highly competitive process, only eight reached the finish line. After two months of hard work and pivoting, the finalists got themselves ready to pitch their innovative start-up ideas in front an audience of around 150 persons, from diverse professional and academic backgrounds as well as ecosystem players.
Mr. Said Darwazah, Executive Chairman at HIKMA Pharmaceuticals
, along with Dr. Yusuf Sidani
, Dean of the Suliman S. Olayan School of Business and Professor of Leadership and Business Ethics at OSB and Dr. Bijan Azad
, Director of the Darwazah Center and Professor of Technology Innovation and Strategy at OSB, presented inspiring speeches.
Mr. Darwazah highlighted the strong relationship between the Darwazah family and AUB. “I am very happy to be here. AUB has a very special place in my heart. It is where my parents met, fell in love, and got married when they were still students. Our relationship with AUB has been a very long one,” said Mr. Darwazah. He also focused on the quality of education that AUB offers. “Over the years, HIKMA has hired many AUB graduates from different schools. And I am very happy to tell you that without exception, they have all done extremely well and have become senior members of the management team, to help HIKMA be where it is today,” he added. Mr. Darwazah, who served on the AUB Board of Trustees, and also on the Board of Trustees of Babson College, believes that the start-up ideas that he sees at the DSAccelerate are as good if not better than the ones he saw at Babson. “Believe me, this is a wonderful institution. Students and faculty have to be very proud for being part of AUB,” concluded Mr. Darwazah.
Dean Yusuf Sidani emphasized on OSB’s role in offering a wide range of entrepreneurship opportunities to its students, whether inside the classrooms or through students’ competitions and activities like DSAccelerate. “Business Schools may not be the only place for entrepreneurship education, but we claim we do it best, especially in a university like AUB where the values of liberal education are merged with cutting edge entrepreneurship curriculum. Startup entrepreneurship may not be for every student. Yet, all students need to develop a sort of entrepreneurial/intrapreneurial thinking”, claimed Dr. Sidani. “Indeed, activities like the DSAccelerate help students engage with each other, and with practitioners and experts from the field. These initiatives provide excellent opportunities for students to learn beyond the classroom, and here comes the critical role of innovation centers such as the Darwazah Center,” continued Dr. Sidani.
Dr. Bijan Azad presented the work of the Darwazah Center via a few short videos about the Darwazah Center’s flagship activities, covering the DSAccelerate, the Venture Building Practicum course and the 2022 Cryptocurrency Hackathon. He also moderated a fireside chat with two successful young entrepreneurs, Ms. Yusr Sabra, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Wakilni and President of the Lebanese League for Women in Business (LLWB) and Mr. Ghassan Abi Fadel, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Moodfit. Each of Ms. Sabra and Mr. Abi Fadel shared their “beyond-your-comfort-zone” journey of how they made their decision to leave their high paying jobs and instead founding a startup and growing it. Their authentic and unpolished narratives were heartfelt, frank, honest, and highly appreciated by the audience.
Following the talks came the more serious part, the pitches. The finalists, uPaint, CitrusPeel, SATify, Swikl, DonaLeb, Ta3bir, SMOX and Stigma presented their 5-minutes pitches in front of the crowd. They explained their business concepts and provided actual samples of products. They also shared their plans and how they would invest their financial prize in case they win.
The winners had been selected in part by the jury evaluations, including Dr. Khater Abi Habib, Chairman and General Manager of Kafalat s.a.l., Dr. Yousif Asfour, Chief Innovation and Transformation Officer at the American University of Beirut and the American University of Beirut Medical Center, Dr. Nabil Fahed, Chief Executive Officer of Fahed Group, Ms. Randa Bdeir, Deputy General Manager and Head of Electronic Payment Solutions & Card Technology at Credit Libanais and Ms. Yusr Sabra. According to Dr. Azad, the results were close. uPaint, a state-of-the-art computer-generated kit allowing people with no painting skill to paint ready-made or customized artwork through numbered regions and CitrusPeel, a skin-friendly soap pod that moisturizes and softens the skin, won the first-place prizes $10,000 each, and SATify, an app that provides self-paced online SAT courses with gaming elements and Swikl, an AI powered engagement-focused fitness app, won the runner-up prizes $1,000 each. In a major surprise and generous gesture, Mr. Darwazah, who was astonished by the excellence of the ventures, made a pledge to invest $10,000 in each of the first-place winners’ ventures and $5,000 in each of the runner-up startups to support them further.
In addition to the cash prizes, the Darwazah Startup Accelerate winners will be admitted to the Venture Building Practicum course to accelerate their startup ideas and will receive support from the Darwazah Center to launch their businesses.
About the Darwazah Center
The establishment of Samih Darwazah Center for Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship at AUB's OSB was made possible in 2011 through a generous gift by the Darwazah Family, founders of the largest MENA-based pharmaceutical company with global reach – HIKMA Pharmaceuticals, headquartered in Jordan and listed in London Stock Exchange. The Darwazah Center's mission is to transform entrepreneurial thinking and practices within the MENA region and help organizations become innovative.