BEIRUT: Entrepreneurs, tech gurus, mentors, and investors, flocked last week to the busy halls of the Charles Hostler auditorium at the American University of Beirut, eager to hear the pitches of the first batch of startups graduating from the Elevate Impact Accelerator.
The accelerator program, which was launched in Lebanon in July 2017, is the first social impact accelerator created as a joint partnership between UNICEF and AltCity Impact, with funding received from the Netherlands and hosted by Beirut Digital District (BDD).
The event gathered a wide variety of stakeholders in the Lebanese startup ecosystem, ranging from sectors as diverse as international NGOs and development agencies, governmental ministries and foreign embassies, banking and private/venture capital investment, local NGOs and charitable foundations, universities and more.
Prior to the startups’ main event, a number of speeches were delivered by the organizations involved, to discuss matters of the program, before unveiling the various embryonic companies with solutions ranging from second-hand clothes, medicine, and refugee issues.
Elevate provides funding, customized training, and mentorship to entrepreneurs building startup enterprises that address critical challenges in Lebanon, with a focus on young entrepreneurs, aged 18 to 35, including specialized support for youth from refugee and other vulnerable communities.
Seven startups emerged out of this successful partnership with the main aim of addressing UNICEF’s programmatic challenges areas in the education, health and nutrition, and water and sanitation sectors.
“I am very happy that we stand here today and tangibly see the hard work that was developed,” Tanya Chapuisat, UNICEF Representative, said during her keynote speech.
In less than six months, the startups participated in over 30 intensive training sessions by 25 local and international experts and validated their ideas in collaboration with UNICEF, by piloting their products/services within marginalized communities.
With music blasting loudly at the beginning of each startup founder’s entrance to hype up the crowd before each business proposal, the audience waited attentively listening to what these young entrepreneurs had to say.
One-by-one, the startup founders showcased their work, in a combination graduation ceremony and business launch for these independent small companies that will potentially shape the landscape of their respective domains.
Tara Nehme, Program Director of Elevate Impact Accelerator
“It is a great honor to be here with you all, as you show off your work to us after spending many sleepless nights, tirelessly molding your vision of the future,” said Netherlands Embassy Representative Willem van de Riet.
Among the various startup debuts was FabricAID, a nascent company that aims to collect second-hand clothing from all over the country that are cleaned and sorted and then redistributed.
“For every one kilogram of clothes donated $0.50 will be forwarded to a partnering charity of your choice; the clothes will then be sold to pre-existing second-hand shops and through our own shops that we create through a social franchising program,” Omar Itani, CEO of FabricAid, said during his pitch.
UNICEF's partnership with AltCity Impact builds on the organization’s belief in investing in the entrepreneurial and innovative talents of Lebanese people to address the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The partnership also aims to build on AltCity Impact’s mission of driving momentum around using technology and innovation to address the challenges in the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan (LCRP).
“Elevate has helped take what we have and consolidate everything into a very clear vision; the mentorship provided has been invaluable to our growth,” said Sarah Hermez, Creative Space Beirut, a school that offers free fashion design program for underprivileged people across Lebanon.
The group of innovative, tech-enabled, social impact startup businesses that finished their formal training with Elevate Impact Accelerator includes:
Bildits: an educational toy that replicates the real construction process and cultivates critical thinking, creativity, and teamwork; through an applied learning activity that can be done individually, in teams or in a class.
Creative Space Beirut: an e-commerce platform launched by Creative Space Beirut that connects consumers to ethical, sustainable and socially conscious fashion brands.
The e-commerce platform will sell CSB’s in-house brands and provide a space for alumni to expose their own brands, with a long-term plan to evolve into a sales arena for other socially conscious brands and designers.
A percentage of the proceeds will go towards sustaining CSB’s free design education program supporting the talent of underprivileged youth.
HM3: builds disease-fighting and environmentally responsible toilets that eliminate pathogens through a proprietary self-sterilizing system. The toilets are modular, scalable, transportable and easy to deploy.
KwikSense: empowers agencies to monitor, analyze and predict real-time environmental conditions by transmitting data from customizable devices to a cloud-based easy-to-use dashboard.
KwikSense devices are also useful to development organizations, hospitals, and factories in monitoring indoor/outdoor temperatures, fires, gas leaks and more in multiple locations.
Vaxy-Nations: a digital health diary that helps individuals and families track their vaccination history, stay on track with upcoming appointments, and connect with nearby health providers.
Its dashboard also enables public health organizations to monitor health conditions and conduct outreach campaigns to vulnerable and mobile populations.
FabricAid: collects used clothes from academic institutions, businesses, municipalities, and NGOs and then sorts, cleans and sells them at extremely affordable prices to marginalized communities.
For every one kilogram of clothes collected, $0.5 is forwarded to a partnering charity. Through an innovative social franchising program and a simple revenue sharing model, FabricAID enables struggling youth to open their own thrift shop by offering the clothes and a working space for free.
FabricAID also operates an e-commerce platform that caters to the supply needs of more than 250 second-hand shops in Lebanon.
LAMA: LAMA (Lifelong Archive of Medical Assessment) is a web and mobile platform that is reinventing how data is collected and analyzed to provide more efficient coverage and medical services for clinics, NGOs and field workers serving the most vulnerable communities.
These analytics are essential for monitoring epidemic outbreaks and other health-related issues. LAMA will leverage blockchain to reduce fraud and ensure data integrity and access to mobile health records by patients and health professionals anywhere, anytime.
Munir Nabti, Co-founder and General Manager of Elevate Impact Accelerator. (Photo courtesy of Elevate Accelerator)
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