BEIRUT: Hundreds of people flocked to the MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Startup Competition (ASC) on 29 March at Hilton Beirut Habtoor Grand Hotel to attend the 12th edition of the Arab Startup Competition.
This annual competition, designed to empower Arab entrepreneurs across the region and foster the ecosystem with action leaders, industry experts and strategic decision makers, gathered over 600 attendees Friday and pitted the winning entrepreneurs in three different tracks: Ideas, Startups and Social Entrepreneurship. The sum of the prizes distributed reached a whopping $160,000.
“My joy is great that, for the first time after 12 years of organizing this competition, we celebrate the [finals] in Lebanon, our home country,” the founder and chair of the MIT Enterprise Forum of the Pan-Arab Hala Fadel told the audience. “14,000 job opportunities created, a contribution of $415,000,000 to the Arab World’s GDP, and finally, an increase in the percentage of women participants to reach 51 percent, the highest in the world. These are the accomplishments of the MITEF in the past 12 years.”
After Fadel, May Taibah, senior general manager at Nafisa Shams Academy, took to the stage. “12 years of partnership with MITEF has shown us that, to move forward to a more sustainable future, we need to invest in ideas and ambition of our young people,” she said.
Mohammad Choucair, Minister of Telecommunications, saluted Fadel for her efforts in the region, calling her a “world class innovator”. He also promised to stand by the youth of Lebanon and support their promising projects, citing the importance of having Arab countries band together to support progress and innovation in the Arab youth.
Also, Minister of State for Information and Technology, Adel Afiouni, reaffirmed the Lebanese government’s strong support for young Lebanese entrepreneurs under the patronage of Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
The event had three panels and two keynote speeches. The first panel was about the role of governments in fostering growth of digital economies.
Amira Mourad, Head of Business Support Unit for Startup at Investment Development Authority of Lebanon (IDAL), stated that “data is becoming the new oil” and stressed on the importance of managing data and ideas in the right way since they “will create a new economic dimension.”
Kushal Shah, Senior Partner and Head of Technology and Digital of Asia and Middle East at Roland Berger, stated that “it’s expected that the future is not going to be led by young 20 something heroes and heroines, and it’s time for governments to listen to the younger, sharper, and smarter generation.”
In the next panel, electrical engineering professor at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Bernard Ghanem, highlighted that nowadays artificial intelligence is more important than water and electricity, and added that indoctrinating it into the educational system is highly important.
Hanan Salam; Co-Founder and Head of Education and Research at Women in AI, stated that many teachers fear for their jobs if artificial intelligence was introduced to assist teachers in the classroom. However, she affirmed that “people who believe that teachers can be replaced by robots are underestimating the role of teachers in mentoring, guiding, and care for their students, something a machine can’t do.”
Others warned of the possible harm of technology and artificial intelligence, and the dangers they could lead to if misused.
Huma Abidi, Director of Machine Learning at Intel Corp, warned of the destructive consequences of bias through loans that are often aided by artificial intelligence.
Sana Farid, artificial intelligence strategist expressed the difficulties faced by teachers to provide customized individual teaching techniques to match the capabilities of each student. “Having a robot in class that can carry such tasks smartly would save time and cost,” she insisted.
Announcing the winners
Aside from top tier mentorship and exposure, the winning teams were awarded a total monetary award of $160,000 in equity free fund, divided according to the following:
In the Ideas Track, the second runner-up prize of $5,000 went to Lebanese startup Dloc biosystems, which enables drug researchers to better predict the success (and failure) of drug testing, while first runner up prize of $10,000 went to UAE-based ADDENDA’S Life Insurance Blockchain which allows insurance companies to detect fraud. Finally, the winner of the $15,000 prize was Lebanese startup Quadra, a fruit sorting machines that sorts fruits according to certain defects and criteria in order to meet international sorting standards.
In the social enterprise track, the second runner up for the $5000 prize was Egyptian startup CanBank, a machine that facilitates the job of waste sorters, followed by first runner up Ahmini from Tunisia with a $10,000 prize. Ahmini is a platform that offers rural women social security and inclusion in awareness campaigns. The winner of the first-place $50,000 prize was Lebanese startup compost Baladi, which turns bio-waste into sustainable products.
As for the startups track, the second runner up winner of $5000 prize was Egyptian startup Furnwish, an augmented reality application for furniture design, followed by first runner up Jordanian startup Repzo ($10,000) which is the first Arabic CRM that tracks sales representatives and their performance. Last but not least, the winner of $50,000 first place prize was Palestinian startup Mashvisor, which helps user find real estate property with greater ease.
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