This July, three Algerian college students became the first team from the Middle East and North Africa to place as finalists in the cloud software challenge at Microsoft's Imagine Cup global finals in Sydney, Australia.
For Tahar Zanouda (@T_Zano), Amine Aboura (@amaboura), and Amine Bounoughaz @A_Bounoughaz), who called themselves the "Klein Team," the idea for Dialife, an online health management platform for diabetics, took some brainstorming. "We started working on the idea around May 2011," after meeting at the national Imagine Cup finals in Algers in 2011, says Bounoughaz.
By October, after trading ideas on a Google Doc from their three univerisites, they had decided to build an application inspired by Zanouda's father's battle with diabetes. The concept made sense for the 2012 Imagine Cup, whose theme asked entrepreneurs to "Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems."
The result, DiaLife, will officially launch online soon, allowing diabetics to input blood sugar level data over time and share it directly with their doctors. By mid-2013, the team will launch a mobile application designed to accomodate a direct connection to most glucometers, explains Bounoughaz.
The platform was designed using doctors' feedback, and learns from their analysis as well. Doctors can also communicate with patients directly by posting on their "DiaWall," and the site offers an encyclopedia of information on diabetes called DiaPedia. With this feature, says Bounaoughaz, "we thought of people who might get diabetes for the first time and sign up for the app."
The central goal is to save diabetic patients money as it prescribes certain foods and warns patients of dangerous cycles; DiaLife isn't not the first diabetes app to come online since the cost of treating diabetes soared to an estimated $174 billion in the U.S. in 2007.
Critically, the application is built to host its data entirely on the cloud. Of the 350 teams that applied to the Windows Azure cloud software challenge, only 80 projects made it to round two, after which the judges asked teams to develop and submit their cloud-based products within a month and a half. Only three made it to the finals in Sydney.
It's not the first time a team from the Arab World has made headlines at Imagine Cup; last year Jordanian team OaSys made waves by taking third place in the software design challenge. Their winning software solution, which allowed quadriplegics to control a computer, made Jordan's Queen Rania proud and made Imagine Cup Academic Developer Lead Sekna Khanafer's jaw drop.
Unlike the Jordanian team, however Zanouda, Aboura, and Bounoughaz are building a name for Algeria's engineers, despite the fact that the country does not have a strong tech entrepreneurship scene.
While they each bring a specific talent to the team- Zanouda being the architect and UI engineer, Aboura being a good mobile developer, and Bounoughaz being the hardware and report craftsman, becoming an entrepreneur was a surprise to all of them, explains Bounoughaz. "The entrepreneurial mindset is not really that developed here. People would rather go for a job with financial security, even if it's something they hate."
Yet the team hopes slowly transform Algeria's entrepreneurship ecosystem, beginning with developing DiaLife into a global product. Next the team plans to apply to an incubator focused on healthcare technology, somewhere on the globe, to take the next step. "We've realized our potential to build creative solutions," says Bounoughaz, "and we really want to be entrepreneurs."