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24 September 2019

How QF is giving young Arab innovators ‘the right to dream’

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Qatar Science & Technology Park’s startup ‘boot-camp’ – the Arab Innovation Academy – has brought ideas like Dina Al Hajjar’s into the light

The path to entrepreneurial success can be difficult - filled with unexpected obstacles and challenges. So when Dina Al Hajjar, a Lebanese university student, found she had the opportunity to participate in the inaugural Arab Innovation Academy (AIA) in 2018, it was one she couldn’t pass up.

Launched by Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP) — part of Qatar Foundation Research, Development, and Innovation —and the European Innovation Academy, the AIA is an annual two-week boot-camp that provides aspiring entrepreneurs with a real-life experience of developing and launching new tech-based ventures.

“Before the AIA, I had many ideas that needed support and guidance, but they had not found the light of day,” Al Hajjar said.

When I arrived at Qatar Foundation to take part in the program, I felt like I was in the right place — a place where innovation is born and where supporting talented young people is a priority.

Dina Al Hajjar

Unique environment

The boot-camp sees participants grouped in teams whose members have never previously met each other, each headed by a highly experienced mentor. Once an idea has been determined to be both tangible and realistic, the teams are introduced to the project funding and incubation opportunities offered by QSTP that can enable aspiring tech entrepreneurs to realize their goal of commercializing their products.

“In this unique environment, we immediately started learning, training, and coming up with ideas. And within two weeks, we had defined our concept and were ready to move towards launch,” Al Hajjar said.

“Connecting with experts from leading global companies — such as Google and Amazon — is a dream come true for every young person looking to further their experiences, skills, and training in the innovation sector. During our time at AIA, we learned many soft skills, like persevering when failure is certain, having faith and confidence in our abilities, and thinking beyond limits.”

It was during these two weeks of the AIA that Swiftr was born. An innovative search engine that aims to refine information and provide a better service for students to complete their research projects, Swiftr helps to locate reliable and accurate sources of information for academic purposes. It emerged from the need to find information that is compatible with the academic level and the field of study in question.

“Online search engines usually provide us with huge and excessive amounts of information that waste our time and affect the value and quality of our research,” said Al Hajjar, “Swiftr, however, aims to refine information and provide only what is useful and appropriate, contributing to a better and faster service for students to complete their research projects.”

Ultimate aim

After receiving special recognition at the conclusion of the boot-camp, Al-Hajjar and her team are now working with experts and investors to further develop the project — with the ultimate aim of taking it onto the market.

“QSTP made me believe in my abilities and become more confident. It has taught me that it is my right to dream, no matter how big the challenges ahead might be,” she said.

I believe that technological advancement can reach new heights in this region. What we need as young people are high-level educational institutions and a culture of thinking and innovation so that we can turn our ideas into reality.

Dina Al Hajjar

“Arab youth have the potential to achieve what they want to achieve. However, they lack support, encouragement and guidance, and the support needed is often not found in their own countries. My experience has been very important, and I hope to see a QSTP-modelled initiative developed in my country so that we can create an impact — if we have enough confidence and support, we are able to make our dreams a reality.”

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