Aspiring student innovators have a final chance to apply to the latest edition of the Arab Innovation Academy (AIA), submissions for which close on August 14. This year, AIA has also partnered with Qatar Foundation’s Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) to jointly deliver a course titled ‘Innovation Entrepreneurship Leadership II’ (CSE 786) – a credited course at HBKU. The 2021 edition will be virtual and opens on August 31, with weekly sessions running until November 23. To find out more and apply, please visit this link: https://www.inacademy.eu/qatar/
The AIA program offers university students an accelerated mode of learning where they are taught to turn an idea into a start‐up in only 12 weeks. The program enables aspiring techpreneurs in Qatar, and the region, to develop their ideas into viable business models.
This is done by exposing participants to experiences from a real marketplace with customer feedback to help hone their entrepreneurial skills. It also gives them access to an extensive global network of mentors and speakers in tech entrepreneurship and innovation.
At the end of the course, participating teams pitch their business to a panel of investors, and stand a chance to win an award for their new venture.
“Don’t think of the program as competition, but more as a school or training placement, because that’s what it is,” says Sara Ait Hak, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the five-member team Go Star! who placed third in the 2020 program. The team of Go Star! was made up of students from Qatar, Morocco, Kuwait and Jordan, who created a unique startup project that gamifies domestic chores for children.
“The biggest impact that the program had was through its role in aiding the transition of an idea or problem into an actual startup. Thinking about it, I would not have imagined a business model nor a marketing campaign for our idea – certainly not before the AIA. The feedback was tremendously helpful, especially coming from people who have extensive experience of working with new startups. It gives you an insight into what is going on at a broader level,” she explains.
“The AIA gives an equal opportunity to aspiring entrepreneurs like myself, irrespective of their background, to learn and explore the entrepreneurship domain and set free their abilities. It also helps you to think outside the box by meeting new people with different perspectives from various cultures.”
Sara also believes the program benefits Qatar’s economy, as well as has an impact further afield: “Local and regional economies need young, fresh and modern ideas to solve modern problems. Programs like the AIA give the opportunity to seek out those problems, and find ideas to fix them before designing and building startups to shape those ideas.”
Abed Al Rahman Naser, a member of Hamza, which is a website extension that provides real-time support on Arabic grammar to Arabic-speaking students – and another successful runner-up in the 2020 program – shares: “The course enabled us to become familiar with basic business concepts from several fields including marketing, software and design. Being taught about such fields by experts from Silicon Valley in the United States and by other professionals from around the world was a massive benefit.”
The AIA is run by Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP), a member of Qatar Foundation Research, Development & Innovation (QF RDI), in partnership with European Innovation Academy (EIA), and through QF RDI’s strategy to address local priorities, the program – like many others at QSTP – serves to develop local and regional innovation opportunities.
Abed, who is studying computer science at HBKU, also considers the AIA as an ideal setting for young entrepreneurs to hone their talents: “Never underestimate your skills and ideas. Believe in them and say ‘yes, we have a problem, and I can solve it with a good team’. Open a door for your curiosity – it absolutely matters!”
Abed adds: “I was immensely proud of how Qatar, through QSTP, has become the digital and technological hub in this region, and I was amazed by the efforts and the whole experience.”
The 2020 winner, Salamtak, developed an online platform for the management of chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. Salamtak’s Chief Business Officer (CBO), Syrian-born Mohammed Al Mukdad, who now resides in Qatar, says: “The concept of entrepreneurship is still in its early stages of development in the MENA region. AIA helped us think and behave like successful entrepreneurs, showing us that we are not different from those who have changed the lives of millions.”
Salamtak’s CEO Samah Saad from Algeria, whose mother has type 1 diabetes, shares: “Having experienced several startup weekends and competitions, the AIA has truly been the one that has taught and inspired me the most, training me to lead my team to a winning position. The course covered every field we needed to tackle in building a successful startup. They taught us the hard way, showing us how things really are out there in the market. I believe that is what pushed us the most – they didn’t train us as students, but early-stage entrepreneurs.”