Having completed a third edition, the Arab Innovation Academy is experiencing high engagement. What makes this program so special?
The third edition of the Arab Innovation Academy witnessed an overwhelming response. Close to 800 applications were received this year for the tech boot camp that often sees high engagement – from Silicon Valley mentors, through experts from the world’s top corporations, to global investors.
Such high participation from people around the world begs the question – what draws them to the Arab Innovation Academy?
“It’s a very interesting program where students, from varied cultural backgrounds and with differing mindsets in terms of engineering or business or creativity, can interact,” said Ricardo Marvao, Co-founder of Beta-I, and an investor at LC Ventures – a company that does pre-seed investment and is typically the first investor in a start-up.
The entrepreneurial skills students learn during the program while working with peers from different cultural backgrounds help develop problem-solving abilities that youth around the world need.
The Arab Innovation Academy (AIA), touted as the first and the largest entrepreneurship program in the pan-Arab region, received applications from Algeria, Oman, Tunisia, Morocco, Kuwait, Palestine, Turkey, Jordan and France this year.
“The entrepreneurial skills students learn during the program while working with peers from different cultural backgrounds help develop problem-solving abilities that youth around the world need,” Marvao said.
To see students from different countries, speaking different languages, with different backgrounds, working together is very inspiring.
Mentor Indrek Rebane, like Marvao, enjoys the interdisciplinary aspect of AIA, where people with different skills, and mentors from various parts of the world, come to Qatar to exchange knowledge. A Chief Technology Officer at Hedgehog Electronics R&D, this year’s AIA was Rebane’s third.
“To see students from different countries, speaking different languages, with different backgrounds, working together is very inspiring. There are so many differences between all these students. No one team is made up of only engineers or only marketing professionals; it’s a good mix of specialties. It’s amazing to see these elements are not dividing. I also see a healthy gender diversity,” Rebane said.
AIA was first brought to Qatar and the Middle East in 2018 through a collaboration between Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP) – part of Qatar Foundation Research, Development and Innovation (QF RDI) and the Europe Innovation Academy.
Using a unique, accelerated mode of experiential learning that provides authentic insight into what it takes to launch a new tech venture, AIA places teams into a dynamic innovation environment: a real marketplace, with genuine customer feedback, and the challenges that innovators around the world face every day.
For Tiffine Wang, a partner at MS&AD Ventures, and an investor, her interest lies in disruptive business models. As someone who worked with the European Innovation Academy for a very long time, she understands the need to train future entrepreneurs.
“The whole point of the Europe Innovation Academy program was to train the next generation of entrepreneurs, and so AIA happened to be the next region they were supporting,” she said.
Wang noted that AIA was a safe environment for people from different cultures coming together to build brand new things.
She said, “What really stands out is just the multinational aspect of it. Getting really bright students and putting them all together, and putting them in a very uncomfortable place, but at the same time in a safe setting, to teach them how to learn more about themselves, about the world, and about each other is the crux of the whole program.
I think confrontation of ideas and difference in perspectives is great.
“So, the program may not result in very large companies, but over time, by having this entrepreneurial DNA placed into them, they will have the ability to bring changes in this world that they want to see.”
For Patricia Soares da Costa, CEO and Branding Consultant at MARQUINISTA, AIA is a life-changing experience. She says participants who truly immerse themselves in the program will surely come out on the other side a changed person as are more evolved individuals.
“I think it's impossible that you don't get touched and transformed by the amount of people, the diversity of people, and even the pressure and the stress that you're going to feel here through the entire process,” da Costa said.
Like Wang, da Costa has also been involved with the Europe Innovation Academy and this year was her second time at AIA. She says that diversity of backgrounds, experiences and interests are the main differences between AIA and other entrepreneurship programs that she attended as a mentor.
“I think confrontation of ideas and difference in perspectives is great. This is where all of this is blooming and flourishing,” she noted.
Most of the mentors and investors at AIA have a keen interest in learning about the region and understanding how, through education and innovation, accelerator programs are propelling the region to be self-reliant and entrepreneurial.
Mentor Rebane suggests a way to further enhance the learning mechanism to develop an entrepreneurial and innovation system among students. He points to one aspect that the Europe Innovation Academy has, but the AIA currently doesn’t, and that is: students get academic points. He believes if this could happen, it would possibly help universities and students work together in a more effective manner.