BEIRUT: When engineer Abed Jawhar unveiled AkelTech, his manouche-producing vending machine, at the Arabnet Beirut 2019 conference last June, people were amazed. They found it hard to believe that Jawhar’s manoushe was baked inside the vending machine in only 1.5 to 2 minutes. The price? 2,000 LL.
“It’s really amazing. I find it hard to believe that a whole oven is inside this machine,” Akram Dbouk, an entrepreneur attending the conference, told Annahar.
“I think it’s genius,” Leen Madi, an ICT student who shares Dbouk’s amazement, said.
AkelTech is a startup that aims to produce vending machines that can bake all kinds of manouche: thyme, cheese, and keshk, along with different kinds of dough that can be modified to be protein-based, gluten-free, brown bread, and multi-cereal.
“This is just the start,” co-founder and CEO Jawhar told Annahar. “We chose manoushe because it’s a tough, versatile product, but later on we might move on to simpler products like bagels, crepes, waffles or even falafel. We even received a request to do knefe,” he added.
The idea first came to Jawhar in 2017 when, fed up with having to use vending machines that only offer fast food, he decided to create one that would provide healthier options.
Jawhar studied mechanical engineering at AUB. “At university, the only kind of food available in the 10-minute break between classes and exams came from vending machines. I was athletic and I wanted to watch my weight, but there was no running away from fast food,” he said.
Ironically, when Jawhar graduated, he worked in providing automation solutions for factories of F&B giants like PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Mars, Snickers and Procter & Gamble.
“I must have dealt with hundreds of clients in my career. My clients wanted a solution that was faster with higher quality, more consistency, better hygiene and one that was less labor-intensive so that they could reach high accuracy. That was exactly the type of machine I was looking to build at AkelTech,” he told Annahar.
Rubbing shoulders with the F&B industry also opened Jawhar’s eyes to the fact that the concept of manoushe didn’t exist abroad. As he fruitlessly looked for quick, fresh, satisfying snacks to have between meetings, the concept of AkelTech started to take form: the idea of having the same vending machine that churns out unhealthy snacks consistently bake out a delicious manoushe, all done the Lebanese way.
“It would be like having a small automated oven inside the vending machine, with no one to touch it and stain it,” explained Jawhar.
Now that he had his idea clear in his head, he knew exactly who to contact: Hadi Boustani, an engineer with over a decade’s experience in Research and Development (R&D) in the automation industry which complemented his skills as a salesman “perfectly.”
“That was in mid-2017. I quit my job then and there, and we worked for two years on R&D until we reached the final prototype,” he said.
Jawhar received a grant from Kafalat with an undisclosed amount at the end of 2017 after graduating from the first batch of Agrytech accelerator. He and Boustani later joined the third cycle of Flat6Labs Beirut, from which they graduated in April 2018.
While onboard in Flat6Labs Beirut, Jawhar got to visit the UAE and Holland where he had people test out several prototypes of his machine. “By prototyping, we don’t mean to change the whole machine, but certain parts that need intensive studying. We also tested out different designs to make sure the machine is very low maintenance,” he said.
“All in all, we got the feedback of over 5000 people, so you can say that all our features are customer-friendly,” he continued.
Jawhar has now expanded his team to include three other engineers and is working on deploying a few machines in Lebanon so that he could get live feedback from the Lebanese people. After that, he plans to expand outside of the country.
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