The second edition of the Arab Innovation Academy (AIA), a collaboration between Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP) – part of Qatar Foundation Research, Development and Innovation (QF RDI) – and the European Innovation Academy (EIA), concluded with a grand pitching and graduation ceremony at QSTP on Tuesday, January 15.
AIA is the first and largest entrepreneurship program in the region, aimed at equipping entrepreneurs in Qatar, the MENA region, and the global community with the skillset to build their start-up in just 10 days. The accelerated mode of experiential learning introduced participants to cutting-edge methods and tools in entrepreneurship, from team formation and idea creation to pitching to venture capitalists and angel investors. During the competition, participants developed and launched new tech ventures in a real marketplace, with genuine customer feedback.
The program, which began on January 2, brought together world-renowned technology collaborators; more than 160 participants selected from a pool of over 900 applicants; 25 speakers; and 37 mentors and investors, representing 30 different nationalities. The second edition of AIA also witnessed even greater participation in the program from Arab women.
Commenting on the success of the event, Yosouf Abdulrahman Saleh, Executive Director, QSTP, said: “I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved in the second edition of AIA, with the majority of the teams completing their projects throughout their journey with us.
“Arab Innovation Academy is one of QSTP’s flagship initiatives, by which we follow through on our commitment to support tech-based entrepreneurship ventures in Qatar – through incubation, funding, training, mentorship, and connections to regional and global tech innovation ecosystems. We believe that this program contributes enormously to expanding the economic diversity of Qatar, and in developing its human capital.
“We look forward to educating the public and raising further awareness about the substantial benefits of the AIA program, while encouraging greater participation from the youth of Qatar and the region in our third edition of AIA next year.
Alar Kolk, President, EIA, said: “All of us at the Arab Innovation Academy are proud to have run the second edition of the program, in cooperation with QSTP and Qatar Foundation. This year, we have welcomed a record number of participants from all corners of the MENA region.
“Here, students develop the skills and confidence needed to develop start-ups from scratch, and learn to create unique value in the world of entrepreneurship and innovation.
“This unique, world-changing program is only possible through the vision and leadership of Qatar Foundation and QSTP. Our collaboration promises to empower young people to further the development of essential skills needed to transform the long-term prospects of the region.”
The start-up ideas produced by the participating teams addressed many global problems – from retaining children’s interest in reading and re-utilizing industrial wastes, to simplifying the search for blood donors – and spanned several industries, including health, education, construction, real estate, and tourism.
Two days before the graduation ceremony, the techpreneurs presented their start-up ideas to other participants, mentors, and visitors in a public Startup Expo, answering questions about their products, services, and business concepts. The expo served as a dry run for the teams ahead of the final grand pitching day, where the top 10 teams presented their start-up ideas to investors, received valuable input from the attendees, and were directed toward areas where their business concepts should be further developed.
AIA 2019 first place winner was team ‘Salamat-e’, who developed a mobile app that serves as a ‘health passport’. The app is connected to GPS, and contains information about epidemic diseases in the region of a particular travel destination, as well as prevention methods and necessary vaccinations. The team is composed of Bashar Shawar from Palestine Polytechnic University; Chaimae El Mahdaoui from Mohammed VI University of Health Sciences, Morocco; Polina Ladchenko from Higher School of Economics, Russia; Tareq Osman Babiker from Al Neelain University, Sudan; and Yafa Abd AlRahim from Birzeit University, Palestine.
The second place award went to team ‘Fly Stories’, who created a platform that provides children with an interactive reading experience, and authors with an outlet to publish their stories. Members of the team include Aboubakr Aqle, Ghadeer Abuoda, and Omer Abad from Hamad Bin Khalifa University, a member of Qatar Foundation, Qatar; Jalila Rashid Al Sharqi from Sultan Qaboos University, Oman; and Tasneem Ismail from Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, Qatar.
Teams ‘EyeTalk’ and ‘WheelsOnClick’ tied in third place. ‘EyeTalk’ presented a concept of a software-hardware system that can help people with disabilities communicate using just their eyes, by blinking. Team members include Abdelkader Keddar and Samia Cherifi from the University of Abou Bakr Belkaïd, Algeria; Abdullah Abdulwakil and Doğukan Aksu from Istanbul University, Turkey; and Shaikha Alsubaey from Qatar University, Qatar.
‘WheelsOnClick’ created a platform that connects owners of underutilized cars with people in need of cars for a short period. The platform follows the popular Airbnb concept, which users can use to look for, or list cars, for rent. Members of the team include Abhimanyu Saini from Indian Institute of Science, India; Fathalrhman Adam from Al Neelain University, Sudan; Garima Natani from Indian Institute of Technology, India; Omaiyma Hilal Alkathiri from Ibri College of Technology, Oman; and Wisal Ahmed Khatir Bakhat from Alzaiem Alazhari University, Sudan.
Speaking about her AIA experience, winning team member Mahdaoui said: “This opportunity is a life-changing experience for us. It was amazing to meet mentors and people who will support and work with us.
“Even if we just met each other, our harmony was amazing, and I think it’s what helped us win first place. We are now a team of entrepreneurs who will work on one project, develop, grow it, and make an impact in our respective countries.”
One of the investors, Sander van der Blonk, Venture Partner at Heywood & Sons, commented: “I have great respect for the people who came here as individuals and, after two weeks, came out as members of a team, and have thought through some very interesting and difficult issues, developing solutions and cultivating the beginnings of a start-up. I think the presentations that they gave were fascinating and, if this is what these teams are capable of, then this region has seen nothing yet. There’s much more to expect for the future.”
Mentors also expressed gratitude for the opportunity to participate in AIA. Ali Al Sahli, a Senior Assistant Engineer involved in software development at Qatar Petroleum, said: “I enjoyed interacting with the participants, from different backgrounds and with different ideologies. The chance to help them improve and seeing their progress were very rewarding.”
For more information about the Arab Innovation Academy and a complete list of winners, please visit: aia.inacademy.eu.