Looking for an avenue to harvest creativity in innovation, young minds from across the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe have gathered in Qatar to participate in the Arab Innovation Academy (AIA).
Organised in collaboration with the Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP) and the European Innovation Academy (EIA), the AIA is a 15-day intensive programme – the largest of its kind in the pan-Arab region.
It guides young entrepreneurs through the authentic experience of developing and launching new tech ventures under the guidance of leading global tech start-up mentors from organisations like UC Berkeley, Stanford, and Google.
Hilal al-Kindi, an Omani student from the Sultan Qaboos University, heard of the AIA from friends who had participated in previous editions.
“What struck me the most was how global the programme is; it features mentors and participants from different countries, and creates a really unique network,” he said.
“Not only am I hoping to learn how to build my own start-up, but I’m hoping to make some long-lasting connections that will be mutually beneficial in the future,” al-Kindi said.
Participants in the programme work in teams to identify challenges and propose an idea that could potentially help solve the problem.
Turkish student Dogukan Aksu said he came to Qatar specifically for the AIA for the second consecutive year, and thinks “there isn’t a programme like it in the world”.
“I wish to establish a start-up, and before the programme, I didn’t know how to. Now I am learning under the guidance of some great mentors, and hopefully I can turn our idea into something concrete,” he said.
Aksu’s teammate, Büsra Mete, also from Turkey, came up with the idea of creating an app to help connect citizens directly to the municipality to help raise awareness about community concerns in crowded cities.
“Back in Istanbul, there are several problems that communities face that the government is unaware of, due to the large numbers of people,” she said.
“I noticed this, and vowed to create a solution, which is exactly what I plan on doing with the help of the AIA,” Mete said.
Like Mete, teams have used personal experiences to identify and tackle challenges facing communities around the world.
Moroccan student Ihssane Srhayri’s team came up with the concept of a wearable device that alerts hearing impaired people whenever someone tries to get their attention or talk to them.
They thought it was appropriate because often in the Arab world people maintain cultural boundaries when it comes to physical contact, which makes it harder to interact with the hearing impaired from a distance.
“Our chief executive had an experience with a family of six who were all hearing impaired. He found that it was quite challenging for them to communicate, and eventually conceptualised this device to help combat this issue faced by most in the hearing-impaired community and decided that the AIA was the best platform to pursue it,” Srhayri said.
Nora al-Fraih is a Kuwaiti student who joined the programme in the hope that she would be able to meet people from different cultures and backgrounds.
She is also working on a similar idea with her team and decided to develop a solution for the hearing impaired using augmented reality (AR).
The idea revolves around creating AR glasses that will use speech-to-text technology to display real-time subtitles as a person speaks.
The teams will continue to develop their ideas until the “Grand Pitch” today, which is when they will present them to investors.
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