Every year AUB hosts the President’s Innovation Challenge, serving as an exciting platform for startups, where pioneering entrepreneurs display their solutions to tackle some of the most pressing challenges of our time. Now in its fourth edition, the momentum continues, with numerous innovative solutions that transcend boundaries and improve humanity, presented during the Award ceremony.
To learn more about the AUB President’s Innovation Challenge, we sat with Maha Zouwayhed (MZ), Associate Director at Talal and Madiha Zein AUB Innovation Park (Zein AUB iPark), to capture some of this year’s highlights and to learn more about the winners this year.
BDD: What are the exciting updates from this year’s President’s Innovation Challenge?
MZ: This year’s President’s Innovation Challenge brought exciting updates, notably in the awards structure and the overarching themes. The ceremony was held on December 1, at BDD, offering a leveled playing field by categorizing awards based on startup stages. Additionally, the Chinyeh Hostler Award for Social Innovation continues for the second year, emphasizing the commitment to transformative social impact. The awards included:
- USD30,000 for the best innovative advanced-stage startup.
- USD15,000 for the most innovative early-stage startup idea.
- USD10,000 for the Chinyeh Hostler Award for Social Innovation.
Also for the second year, we engaged with the community to have a feel of what innovation lands most preference through the People’s Choice Award (based on public voting). This pizzazz added a friendly fun element and contributed to spreading awareness in a gamified way.
It is worth highlighting that, in addition to our expert selection committees, this year we engaged our US based international partner for invention and research commercialization services in the validation and selection process.
BDD: What where the main themes this year?
MZ: The 2023 challenge focused on the themes of HealthTech, Social Innovation, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Web3, showcasing a forward-thinking approach to address contemporary challenges.
The choice of themes reflects a strategic alignment with global demand trends, regional and national priorities, and the available opportunities and skills in Lebanon. In a rapidly evolving landscape, HealthTech addresses breakthroughs in healthcare, Social Innovation tackles societal challenges, AI drives technological advancements, and Web3 explores the potential of decentralized economies. These themes provide a platform for innovators to contribute to transformative solutions that align with the current needs and future aspirations of our world.
BDD: Can you tell us what happened at the event?
MZ: The event featured 10 finalists, who made it out of 119 applicants after multiple rigorous selection rounds by industry and international experts. The finalists that competed in three categories as follows:
- 6 advanced revenue-generating startups vying for a USD30,000 prize.
- 4 pre-revenue early-stage startups competing for a USD15,000 prize.
- 5 of the above 10 are Socially impactful startups contending for the prestigious Chinyeh Hostler Award for Social Innovation for USD10,000.
Each finalist presented a 3-minute pitch, followed by a 5-minute Q&A. Jury members were encouraged to engage in pre-evaluations on the Potential Judging Platform after each presentation, adding an interactive element to the proceedings.
BDD: Why is it more important than ever to keep supporting innovators and entrepreneurs in Lebanon, in these challenging times?
MZ: In the face of challenging times, supporting innovators and entrepreneurs in Lebanon is critical. The President’s Innovation Challenge serves as a beacon, rallying the AUBite community to address pressing global issues. With Lebanon’s entrepreneurial spirit facing challenges, it is essential to nurture and empower talents that can contribute to positive change. This support is not just about financial prizes; it involves capacity building, mentorship, expert feedback, exposure, and network access, creating a robust ecosystem for sustained innovation.
BDD: Beyond the financial prizes, what other support do you offer the startups?
MZ: Beyond monetary awards, participants gain access to a comprehensive support system at Zein AUB iPark. The incubation and acceleration program offers capacity building to enhance entrepreneurial skills, mentorship from industry experts, exposure, and networking opportunities. Becoming a community member at iPark ensures an ongoing support network, reinforcing the commitment to the ventures’ long-term success.
Here are the winners of this year’s AUB President’s Innovation Challenge
- Advanced Stage Award: DOODA Solutions, who won $30,000! DOODA Solutions is a woman-led earthworm farm dedicated to revolutionizing sustainable agriculture.
- Early Stage Award: Luxeed Robotics who won $15,000. A weed burning solution for farms using A.I. detection and precision lasers, with zero herbicides needed.
- Chinyeh Hostler Award for Social Innovation: $10,000 awarded to Parency. A go-to platform consolidating professionals in the fields of perinatal and parental care.
- People’s Choice Award: Dekenet El Ness. A package-free grocery shop that provides high-quality of locally sourced food & household product.