September 7, 2012

Five Arab innovators honored in global MIT competition

Five Arab innovators honored in global MIT competition
By Brooke Anderson

KASLIK,Lebanon: Five of the Arab world’s top young innovators were honored Thursday evening at the first ceremony of its kind in the region as part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Enterprise Forum.

On the rooftop of Bar National in Kaslik, the entrepreneurs showcased their innovations, which in a relatively short period have achieved global reach.

“Recognition is important to encourage and promote people,” MIT Lebanon chair Hala Fadel told The Daily Star following the announcement.

Five young innovators were selected from 100 applicants based on their ingenuity, innovation and approach.

Fadel said she hoped this event and subsequent ones would help Lebanon build a community of entrepreneurs, part of the mission of the MIT Enterprise Forum. She said, “This brings people together and creates a network of innovators.”

Since its establishment in 1978, the Enterpise Forum has been organizing events on innovation, technology and entrepreneurship, adding the TR35 awards in 1999 (honoring those under 35 years old). When it started expanding those awards to Bangalore, India, in 2010, Fadel, who earned an MBA from MIT in 2001, decided it was time to recognize Arab innovators, too.

Receiving the awards were Habib Haddad, creator of the Arabic search engine Yamli; Elie Khoury, founder of the web analytics service Woopra; Hind Hobeika, inventor of ButterflEye, goggles that monitor heart rates under water; Palestinian Sami Khoreibi, founder of solar power development company Enviromena; and Abdulrahman Tarabzouni from Saudi Arabia who created a system that separates important emails from spam, with the aim of solving the problem of information overload.

As he received his prize, Haddad told the audience the idea arose after feeling frustrated at being unable to read news during the 2006 war in Lebanon.

“I decided to do something about it.”

Thus Yamli was born – a search engine that transliterates Latin script into Arabic, allowing those without Arabic keyboards to access information online in that language.

Khoreibi, a Palestinian-Canadian based in Abu-Dhabi, said his interest in solar energy goes back to his childhood, when he would burn leaves with a magnifying glass.

He later thought about starting his own alternative-energy company when he was working in the oil sector in the Gulf.

He saw the abundance of sunlight in the region as a potentially bigger opportunity than oil, noting that countries in the region have some of the highest carbon emission rates in the world.

“Solar power is exceeding our expectations,” he said.

“We could be an exporter of the technology for the region.”

Giving a demonstration of her goggles with a mannequin, Hobeika, a former competitive swimmer, said that her vision was to have technology integrated into sports, especially swimming.

The two other winners spoke to the audience via video, as did Kathleen Kennedy, chief strategy officer of MIT Technology Review.

The five winners will take part in Em Tech (Emerging Technology), the annual conference for the MIT magazine Technology Review, in Boston in October, where they will get the chance to promote their products to a global audience.

“They will be portraying a different side of the Arab region,” Fadel said.

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