The capacity for innovation to reach beyond boundaries and unite people from different countries in pursuing their collective goal of shaping the future was recently showcased at the first Arab Innovation Academy (AIA). The unique 10-day startup boot-camp was organized by Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP) in collaboration with the European Innovation Academy (EIA).
The groundbreaking program, held from December 31 to January 11, provided more than 100 aspiring university students and other young entrepreneurs from countries across the Arab world with the authentic experience of developing and launching new tech ventures. Under the guidance of leading global tech startup mentors, teams whose members had never met before were challenged to take an idea to a viable startup after just two intensive weeks of working together.
Through the AIA, participating students from universities in Algeria, Lebanon, Oman, Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, and Qatar had the opportunity to leverage an extensive global network of leading tech entrepreneurship experts, who introduced them to innovation tools and methods developed by leading universities and companies including University of California, Berkeley; Stanford University; Google; Amadeus IT Group; and QSTP, part of Qatar Foundation Research and Development (QF R&D).
As well as enhancing participants’ skills, insights, and determination to bring game-changing technology onto the market, the program created a new and dynamic network of more than 150 international advocates and message-bearers – from students, to mentors and speakers – for Qatar’s mission of unlocking human potential and becoming a regional innovation hub whose efforts can benefit both its own society, and the world.
“The young tech entrepreneurs who have participated in the first Arab Innovation Academy care about our region,” said Dr. Maher Hakim, Executive Director, QSTP. “They are passionate about, and committed to, helping solve the challenges it faces, and they are now global ambassadors both for Qatar and for the Arab world – building bridges among communities and cultures, through innovation.
“The most important change we’ve seen in these young people during the AIA is that they now have a different mindset – a mindset of creative collaboration, built around diversity and open honest communications. They have demystified innovation by realizing there is no hidden secrets to the success of the likes of Google and Uber – there are simply tools and processes that, if followed in the right way, by people who have the right mindset, can succeed as well. And they, along with everyone involved in our AIA journey, are now part of a global network of friends. Such a network is the starting point for innovation.
“What we’ve achieved through AIA is to help young people build their confidence, not only in their ability to do things other people cannot do, but to demonstrate that they can make a positive contribution to our world.”
In a Grand Pitching Session at the end of the AIA, participants live-pitched the startup ideas they had developed from scratch during the program to investors and experts from around the world. The winner was AG Automation, a startup that aims to use technology to transform indoor farming. AG Automation CEO Sinan Al-Obaidi, from Iraq, said: “The two weeks I spent at the Arab Innovation Academy saw me grow as a person, helped me to become a global citizen as well as an innovator and entrepreneur, and opened my eyes in so many ways.
“Our team listened to each other, learned from each other, and went through so many challenges together. We are all totally committed to making our idea more than just an idea, through developing it into a solution that serves society and meets a global need, and this is because of what we learned at the Arab Innovation Academy. It’s a unique program that enables you to become a true tech entrepreneur, and we will all spread its message to anyone who wants to follow that path.”
Dr. Ahmed Nabeel, a medical doctor at the Ministry of Health in Kuwait, and CEO of GoGather – a tech-based platform for organizing gatherings of family and friends, which took second place in the AIA rankings – said: “This has truly been a once-in-a-lifetime experience for myself and my team. We have learned in 10 days what it would otherwise have taken many years to learn, and had the opportunity to get to know people from around the world.
“The Arab Innovation Academy has given us an insight into different cultures and mindsets, and provided us with so much experience of how to build a tech startup. Our team had never worked together before, but now we feel as if we’ve all known each other for such a long time. We will now be ambassadors for the program, for Qatar, and for tech innovation in general, because we see it as our responsibility to pass on our experience to others and help them to realize how they can achieve their goals.”
The impact made by the AIA extended beyond its participants, with Florent D’Souza, a marketing mentor for the program, saying: “I was invited to be a mentor to oversee young and talented entrepreneurs pitch and present innovative ideas and learn from a bootcamp-style program, which, I think, was quite unique for a lot of the participants.
“Assisting participants with their marketing ideas, I was thoroughly impressed by the level of their entrepreneurial spirit and eagerness to learn — they really grasped the lean model of early growth startup mentality. It’s also been wonderful to see how the local and regional ideas generated through AIA embody the true spirit of Qatar Foundation and the country as it works towards becoming a diversified economy.”
The Grand Pitching Session was followed by a special edition of ‘QSTP Technovate’, where Ravi Belani, Co-founder and Managing Partner of Alchemist Accelerator – a Silicon Valley-based leading tech accelerator, and Ali Karabey, Managing Director of 212 – a venture capital firm based in Istanbul, Turkey, participated in a fireside chat with Dr. Hakim on the topic of ‘Investing in MENA Tech Startups’. The AIA concluded with a closing gala event attended by members of the local technology community, including QSTP incubatees and resident companies, who networked with participants, mentors, investors, and other attendees.
Dr. Hamad Al-Ibrahim, Executive Vice President, QF R&D, said: “Our collaboration with the European Innovation Academy has provided an exciting opportunity for us to introduce this important entrepreneurship program to the region. We look forward to expanding the Arab Innovation Academy in the coming years as we continue to offer aspiring entrepreneurs the support and guidance necessary to drive regional innovation.”
Alar Kolk, President, EIA, said: “As we know, innovation distinguishes between leaders and followers. If you want to succeed, you should follow new paths. Innovation is not achieved by imitating the success of others; it’s achieved by those who choose to risk failure in order to create something completely new. The first Arab Innovation Academy went into the future – the 30 teams from 27 nations invented the future of the region. They innovated around the most important aspects of our life – from the future of food and healthcare, to logistics and education. These entrepreneurs were not afraid to sail away from safe harbors. They have the confidence to create new economies that will take over existing ones in the coming years. Ambition and confidence in the Arab region will drive innovation.”
The EIA is the world’s largest extreme entrepreneurship program, offering aspiring techpreneurs from across the globe the necessary support and mentorship to launch a startup in just 15 days.