BEIRUT: More than 1,000 students from 60 universities across Lebanon gathered on Saturday, Feb. 23, for the Lebanon Student Startup Forum at Beirut Digital District. Young entrepreneurs pitched their innovative business ideas before leading judges.
The event kicked off with student groups that have already won on their campus giving them six minutes on the dot to present their million dollar ideas in front a jury of judges including Dr. Amine Awad, general manager of Blom Bank, and Jawad Haidar, CEO of Headtechs and last year’s Hult Prize winner.
“When the Hult Prize started in Lebanon, Blom Bank and Banque de Liban were main sponsors for it,“ Dr. Awad told Annahar, “We really believe in social responsibility and mainly not letting young entrepreneurs leave the country, to create jobs not only for themselves but for others as well with the support of Hult Prize,” he added.
COO of Hult Prize Lebanon Karim Samra opening at the Egg building.
The startup teams were judged on presentation, efficiency, research, and the job market they open throughout their project. Pitches varied from biodegradable bags from tree bark, to project investment companies, to fully functional plans of medical cannabis and plastic mushroom products.
“We’ve worked so hard on our project,” said Elias Ghaleb, part of the Notre-Dame University team, “it’s all that we could think about for the past six months, the project is our baby.”
However, only six teams made it to the semi-finals which were announced at the celebration at the Egg building in Beirut. The teams were Rafiqi, a startup based on using tree barks to make bags; Beepers, which turns honey production business into entrepreneurship; Therapy In Your Pocket, an application that provides anonymous therapy; Rolly, a recycling organization for Lebanese youth; Apple house, an apple wine production business plan; and Mushtik, a startup that relies on fungi-based technology producing an affordable plastic replacement.
“This is our ten-year anniversary, this is our biggest challenge yet,” Jamal Khayat, national director of the Hult Prize Lebanon told Annahar, “we realized that for every one student that participates with us, fifty others are disconnected and don’t have the opportunity to be with Hult Prize. This year’s challenge is tackling that.”
There were nine judges in the jury that were picking the top startup this year, all coming from distinguished startups and companies such as CS Touch, VISA, Crypta, Women Leaders Council of Lebanon, Al-Fanar, Don Telecom and Carpolo.
“What’s different about the teams this year is that they really know what they’re doing. They’ve studied their markets and it’s really nice to see progress in the Lebanese ecosystem,” Ralph Khairallah, co-founder of Carpolo and judge of the competition, said.
After giving the six teams six minutes to explain their ideas to the jury and audience, they were asked numerous questions regarding functionality and possibility of succeeding in their projects. As for the winning team, they are rewarded with an all expenses paid trip to London where they compete on a worldwide level for a chance to win one million dollars to kick start their startup.
Khayat, who was the master of the ceremony, announced that for the first time in Lebanon, Amazon has committed to invest in all of the startups that make it to Hult Prize Lebanon Accelerator this summer. “This is not a success for Hult Prize, this is a success for Lebanon,” Khayyat said.
The judges were given 15 minutes of deliberation before announcing Mushtik as the winner this year.
“Our products have many attributes such as heat and water tolerance, shock resistance, and is 100% biodegradable,” Rayanne Beayno, a member of the Mushtik team said, “We are the first movers in the MENA region, and our process and raw materials are all natural. We also intend to hire workers from different intellectual backgrounds. Each manufacturing facility of the team will need 10 workers and 25 collectors to produce 500,000 packages per year.”
This photo shows the winning team Mushtik.
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