Two winners at AUB’s Hult Prize competition

The second edition in a row of the Hult Prize competition was held on campus at the American University of Beirut (AUB).

The Hult Prize is a global competition which aims to fast-track the growth of student led ideas at universities from around the world.

This year’s competition’s global theme was ‘Harnessing the power of energy’ with an intention to come up with innovative solutions that would improve the lives of 10 million people by 2025. Participating students had to come up with new ideas to bring social good and create change, with the hope to solve the global energy crisis in a sustainable manner. The one-day event gathered around 70 attendees mainly consisting of students, university professors, and members from the Lebanese tech ecosystem.

37 teams participated, out of which 11 pitched their solutions to a panel of multidisciplinary judges, who assessed the value of the proposed projects, their feasibility of achieving them, and the overall quality.  Ideas varied in scope and approach: an ecommerce platform for energy-saving solutions, electricity-generating water turbines, power plant that runs on algae, et cetera…

Many of the participating teams focused their efforts on perfecting their ideas, on paper, but lacked the expertise to realize that a good idea alone does not make a great business. For example, there were many moments where students simply got their ‘feasibility study’ numbers from the internet (based on other projects), or pricing their solution based solely on its cost, rather than thinking of it as a profit-generating product.

This further highlights the guidance and orientation students are given, which will be leading them towards their future careers. Students were also taught to follow a vision rather than a path, a philosophy that is currently fostered and addressed at the Center for Research and Innovation (CRInn) on campus. The center was launched  two years ago as a hub for young and emerging entrepreneurs, who can thrive within a vibrant community of mentors, investors, faculty members, student groups and influencers.

This year’s winning teams were more pragmatic and brought more practical solutions. Team ‘YallaBus’ came in first place. They created a platform that offers reliable, precise, and instant directions to help users find buses around Beirut, which still lacks the infrastructure needed for a safe and time-efficient public transportation network. The app leverages data generated from GPS tracked buses to aggregate them in a machine learning algorithm, in order to provide users with the quickest way to move around the city. Team YallaBus consisted of Ghassan Zughaib (electrical and computer engineering student), Therese Kayrouz (industrial engineering student), George Geha (civil engineering student), and Yara Nassar (graphic design student).

The second winning team was Pro-Shield, which aims to limit the wasted energy from water-heating solar panels.

Both winning teams will be representing AUB on the Lebanese national level (competing against other universities), though only team YallaBus will go on for the regional Hult Prize competition. The national winner out of 26 universities will be awarded a sum of $250,000, and an opportunity to compete on the global level for a grand $1 million prize.

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