On the heels of the first-ever Online Startup Weekend in Saudi Arabia: Unite to Fight Covid-19 in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, 101 teams comprising more than 800 attendees have come up with ideas aimed at presenting the kingdom, and the world, with viable solutions to the challenges posed by the pandemic.
BY SWB TEAM
Ranging from home fitness apps, to EdTech platforms, to virtual biology innovations, the 10 winning teams were: Cash Sanitizing Machine, CEE, Virtual Biology Sections, Azouf, ChillLearn
Tryout, Jawwala, Smart Ein Yamama, Talaqa, and Aqqamna (We Sanitize). The startups have each won a $5,000 cash prize to continue to develop their idea.
The weekend, launched through a unique partnership between Techstars and the Saudi Ministry of Education, kicked off on a high note July 8th, 2020 with a virtual ceremony where opening remarks and introductions were made by the Ministry’s Deputy for Research and Innovation, Prof. Nasser Al-Aqeeli and Techstars’ own founder and CEO David Brown, who each spoke about the importance of staying a step ahead at these trying times, and the invaluable role entrepreneurship must play in tackling challenges presented by Covid-19 as they come.
Reiterating the importance of this competition beyond the prizes, Prof. Nasser Al-Aqeeli said “The ministry views this competition as a launching point and a positive move towards turning our sons and daughters’ entrepreneurial initiatives into startups with financial clout that benefit society.” He added that the ministry’s support of entrepreneurs is also aimed at achieving the kingdom’s vision 2030.
In response, stating that as ecosystems around the world find new ways to become even more entrepreneur-friendly, David Brown said he couldn’t be more proud to lend his support, “all of us as entrepreneurs, regardless of what country we live in or what gender we are, all of us have that same shared DNA that wants to make the world a better place in our various ways,” he added about the hundreds of ideas originating from Saudi Arabia, many capable of going on to compete globally.
The following days saw nine renowned judges eventually selecting the 10 winning teams after deliberation. On the panel were Dr. Abdulkarim Alsamaani, Executive Director of Entrepreneurship at the MoE, Prof Ahmed Abdulrahman Alsemimry, General Manager of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the MoE; Ali Abukumail, Senior Private Sector Specialist at The World Bank; Amal Dokhan, CEO of Global Entrepreneurship Network Saudi; Fouad Alnazawi, managing partner at Lamarka Consulting Services; Deema Alathel, Strategy Leader at IBM; Emon Shakoor, founder and CEO of Blossom Accelerator; Hani Enaya, Head of Venture Capital at Sanabil Investments; and Omar Christidis, Founder and CEO of ArabNet.
Over the course of the 54-hour action-packed virtual event, many of the contestants produced solutions that were viable, sustainable, and adaptable onto a global scale, beyond Saudi borders.
During the weekend, the teams enjoyed fine-tuning of their ideas and were at times even challenged on them. 54 mentors from around the world, and from across diverse industries and specializations, focused on ideas that fall under the competition’s sectors; education, health, business, and entertainment and tourism. In a testament to this diversity, the ten winning teams not only covered all four sectors, but in some cases even covered more than one at a time.
A prime example of this was The Cash Sanitizing Machine team which was particularly resonant as it tackled the pandemic from a rudimentary business perspective through a public health lens where the idea, put simply, lies in curbing transmission of the virus and intercepting cross-community infections by sanitizing currency; an everyday material that is exchanged on the daily.
The Azouf team, on the other hand, tackled the health sector with an idea that can cascade across many others, where sensor technology detects social distancing adherence using AI in real time. Innovative technology was also utilized by winning team ChillLearn, who in the education sector created a distance tutoring platform that brings together a smart board with screen and file-sharing capability. This is while on the other end of the spectrum, team Jawwala tackled the tourism sector in KSA beyond the pandemic with a tool that will in the long term circle back to a 360-approach to achieving Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030.