The hottest entrepreneurship prize in the region was awarded to Jordanian innovator Sadeem Qdaisat in a narrow victory at Stars of Science on Saturday.
The 28-year-old scientist, who used to work at a children’s cancer center, was previously turned down for season six of the show.
He has now returned two years later to win the grand prize of $300,000, along with the kind of mentorship and exposure early stage startups can only dream of.
His invention, Genomiq, is a solution to the manual testing of chromosomes, which is time consuming and often prone to cross-contamination. His automated ‘slide dropping’ machine promises to eliminate these issues. This video explains.
“This is a personal project for me… I hope we can prove that the Arab world also has creativity and innovation,” he said during a press conference in Doha earlier this week.
But despite his win, Qdaisat was not the jury’s pick. Instead, Lebanon’s Sevag Babikian received the highest score among the jury members. It was the public vote, accounting for 50 percent of the score, that swayed numbers in favor of the Jordanian medical researcher and pushed Babikian down to third place.
The second place prize of $150,000 went to Algerian engineer Abderrahim Bourouis who developed the Smart Autism Shirt. The piece of clothing detects anxiety and panic in children. When a detection is made it will produce small vibrations to help calm the child, as well as sending data to an app, to help families monitor and calm autistic children.
Babikian, a mechanics and robotics instructor, won $100,000 for his 3D printer capable of printing objects horizontally and obliquely, as opposed to the usual printers that only print in vertical layers starting from the bottom up.
Bahraini Ghassan Yusuf received $50,000 for developing an automatic scoring and management device to help improve defensive moves in Taekwondo. The automated scoring will also give skeptical fans confidence in the fairness of matches.
A super accelerator
Millions of people regionally watch what is often called MENA's ‘super accelerator’.
Initiated by the Qatar Foundation, the educational reality show is in its eighth season and has had nearly nine million views on Youtube, Facebook and Instagram for this season alone. Over four million unique users have engaged with the show’s channels online this season, according to a recent press release.
“There is no other place in the world where such a show can happen,” said one juror at the finale.
The show accelerates nine ideas to nine functional prototypes, along with product design and business development in just three months. It is also unique in that it largely promotes and develops new hardware solutions in a region rife with apps and software solutions.
Everyone is a winner
But the show’s success is most evident in the immense success of its graduates. Season two finalist Hind Hobeika of Instabeat not only received $100,000 in seed funding, $75,000 from crowdfunding, but in 2014, she secured Series A investment from Wamda Capital, Jabbar Internet Group, and angel investors.
Twenty-two-year old Syrian inventor Yaman Abou Jeib was the winner of season seven for Glean, a solar-powered washing machine. Since then he has continued to perfect his product and has been named among MIT Technology Review’s ‘35 Arab Innovators Under 35’.
Saudi Arabia’s Ahmad Al Ghazi, a mechanical engineer who was a finalist on season two, moved to Silicon Valley but remains committed to working on his invention, titled Goom, aiding the mobility of the elderly.
Wamda got a sneak peak of an iteration of his prototype, but we can’t share anything more until his launch in early 2017. We promise it’s both a beautiful and an immensely valuable tool for seniors and their caretakers. On the side, Al Ghazi also launched his own web series at one point titled ‘Huna Silicon Valley’ (here is Silicon Valley).
“[Stars of Science] played a big role in my mindset. They put you in an office, never did that in my life. Put you there from 8am to 8pm, nothing to do except your invention,” said Mohamed Watfa, who won second place in the fourth season for his invention that transforms multiple wooden desks into interactive computer systems.
“I never thought I would patent. I used the money as capital for my school… It also helped with exposure,” he said.
Watfa has since opened an innovation school in southern Lebanon, titled the International School of Innovation. He plans to expand to Qatar in an effort to give back to the country that kickstarted his business.
Other notable alumni include Mahmoud Shattel who later launched Taqetna, offering the region renewable energy products, Bassam Jalgha of Roadie Tuner, now being sold in the biggest retail stores worldwide, and Omar Hamid cofounder of Launchgood, a crowdsourcing platform for Islamic startups.
Hamid’s invention on the show was a specialized prayer chair that supports worshippers who need physical assistance while praying in a mosque. The chair is now being manufactured in Italy, Hamid told Wamda last week.
“Stars of Science has been the driving force behind myself, my fellow candidates and many innovators, leading us to serve our communities through science and technology,” Qdaisat said in a press release distributed Saturday night.
“I am overjoyed to win this competition, and determined to bring Genomiq to market. To the young people watching – you are the future of our region and our world,” he said.
With thousands of dollars, months of support and a community of success stories to live up to, Qdaisat and his three fellow finalists have big shoes to fill.