Zein AUB iPark, Inspiring, Enabling And Connecting Innovative Startups Since 2019

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The Lebanese entrepreneurial drive is one for the books. Despite the ongoing and persistent challenging climate that both companies and individuals have to navigate on a daily basis, innovation continues to thrive. This can be attributed to the unwavering spirit of Lebanese people in general, but also the commitment and support of various organizations, who keep the entrepreneurial ecosystem in motion.

One such organization is the Talal and Madiha Zein AUB Innovation Park (Zein AUB iPark), founded in 2019, with the mission to inspire, enable and connect AUB students and alumni, supporting them to transform their innovative ideas into profitable and scalable startups. We sat with Fadia Safadi Gebran (FSG), Communications Officer at the Office of Innovation & Transformation – iPark, to discuss the role of Zein AUB iPark and the upcoming AUB President’s Innovation Challenge.

BDD: For starters, why was the Zein AUB iPark founded?

FSG: Zein AUB iPark was established with a clear mission – to Inspire, Enable, and Connect AUBites aspiring to transform innovative ideas into profitable and scalable startups. Recognizing the untapped potential of groundbreaking innovations and the challenges faced by startups in Lebanon, Zein AUB iPark prioritizes offering comprehensive support throughout the entrepreneurial journey.

BDD: Why is it integral to foster and support entrepreneurs in Lebanon?

FSG: Lebanon has witnessed numerous success stories in the past decade, showcasing the potential of its entrepreneurs and innovators. Supporting these ventures not only contributes to positive economic impact but also enables positive change on a global scale. By ensuring their survival and providing necessary support, Lebanon can position itself as a hub for venture capital and innovation commercialization.

Zein AUB iPark actively facilitates the development of scalable and profitable startups, fostering their success and propelling them onto the international stage.

BDD: Over the past four years, since its founding, what have been its biggest achievements?

FSG: Working with entrepreneurs has been both challenging and rewarding. Since 2019, Zein AUB iPark has achieved significant milestones, stemming from the three completed cohorts, and the fourth, now in its final stage. The achievements include:

  • 42 Startups have graduated, and over 50% of which are still active
  • 20% of which are revenue generating
  • 98+ jobs created
  • USD290K in awards and grants
  • 8M+ investment funding raised by startups
  • USD1M+ Revenue
  • The creation of a 100+ Mentor network
  • 3 AUB President’s Innovation Challenges have been held, with the 4th in progress
  • 5 startups were winners in international competitions: WSA, GCL, IEEE, EO, Arch Grant
  • National and global partnerships and collaborations have been fostered

BDD: That’s impressive! Based on your experience with startups, how would you describe the startup and innovation ecosystem in Lebanon, given the existing challenges?

FSG: Against all odds, startups in Lebanon are thriving, particularly in social innovation, healthtech, fintech, edtech, and AI-based innovations. The ecosystem has faced challenges, but key players and collaborations continue to energize resilience. Despite facing hurdles such as limited access to resources, lack of credibility for international investors, socioeconomic challenges, and fragmented support, the entrepreneurial community is working collaboratively to bridge the gap. Zein AUB iPark plays a crucial role in this ecosystem by building a value chain that complements synergies for an uninterrupted entrepreneurial journey.

BDD: Given that Lebanon’s entrepreneurial ecosystem needs support, what are startups in need of most?

FSG: Startups primarily require:

  1. Incubation and acceleration
  2. Connection with industry networks and experts
  3. Linking with potential investors, partners, and talents

The key challenge identified is the cliff gap between incubation, acceleration, and investment. Zein AUB iPark aims to provide uninterrupted support, especially in funding and access to a global network, filling this crucial gap and ensuring a smoother journey for startups.

BDD: The next AUB President’s Innovation Challenge is right around the corner. Are there any success stories from previous years, that stand out?

FSG: The AUB President’s Innovation Challenge is a testament to the university’s commitment to fostering innovation. Notable success stories include:

  • Ostaz achieving a successful exit
  • Celitech securing an impressive USD2M in funding
  • Nadeera raising USD300K for further innovation
  • Shabab Lab transcending borders with transformative programs
  • UPaint accessing global markets and securing an undisclosed angel investment
  • Listando raising USD1M and currently operating in Germany
  • Neural Vision solidifying its position with a corporate partnership with Zeiss

These success stories exemplify the tangible impact of Zein AUB iPark’s initiatives, with many more ventures poised for success in the near future.

BBD: Thank you Fadia. As you have mentioned, we need entrepreneurial ecosystem players, such as Zein AUB iPark, to support innovative startups to scale and energize Lebanese founders.

Learn more about Zein AUB iPark here: https://sites.aub.edu.lb/ipark/

And the AUB President’s Innovation Challenge, here: https://sites.aub.edu.lb/ipark/pic-2023/

Zein AUB iPark inspires, enables and connects AUB students and alumni, supporting them to transform their innovative ideas into startups.
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