The American University of Beirut (AUB) held its second annual Hult Prize Challenge on January 15. The number of participating student start-ups grew to 38 teams this year.
The start-up accelerator has become the world’s greatest student movement to launch ‘for good for profit’ companies and is currently being run in more than 25 universities across Lebanon. Each year, the accelerator picks a theme for students to work on. Last year, students were asked to address the refugee opportunity, and this year students have been asked to use energy to transform the lives of 10 million people.
Though the program is currently active in more than 100 countries and 1,200 universities globally, in Lebanon the key supporters are Blom Bank and Bank du Liban, that both provide winners with a cash prize of $250,000. A representative of this project, Ghady Moussa, told Outlook that each university has an average of 10 start-ups, which consist of three or four students per team. He explained that the competition has grown to become huge nationally.
The AUB event saw judges from a number of prominent local corporations and university departments pick one winner to attend the global regional finals in one of 15 cities and compete against more than 300 other teams from around the world for a $1 million seed grant. In addition, the top two teams from AUB’s event will be invited to compete in the Lebanon National semi-finals, where they could win a coveted spot at the 8 week live-work incubator being run this summer at Beirut Digital District.
Outlook then spoke to Isabelle Naoum, head of communication CSR at Blom Bank, who is helping to make this program possible in Lebanon.
Naoum emphasized on the fact that the term ‘millennial’ has to do with the digital movements that we have today, and Blom’s goal was telling students that they had the right to have a vision, not a dream. Naoum stated that people themselves need to believe in the fact that they can make something out of an idea.
Q: Can you please tell us a bit about yourself?
A: I am, like a lot of students, an ex-ocp (oﬀ campus AUB during the war.) I entered the banking system by chance and ﬁnished my degree in the John Cabot University in Rome, Italy. I realized I wasn’t into the banking part but I loved to give and be creative. Every problem has a solution. I believe I chose the best part of it which is the communication one.
Q: What is, in your point of view, the deﬁnition of the Hult Prize?
A: The Hult Prize is a program that is preparing the future active youth, not just youth, but anyone, to get employed. So, we see it as a partnership. We are ﬁnding a solution to the social problem, which is the most important, and opening up minds from a business point of view.
Q: Why did you decide to fund such project?
A: The bank entered the ﬂow of social responsibility. Personally, we wanted to show that our business does good to society and Hult was the best opportunity to send a message to the students. At the end, it’s business. We need to show that we are an advisory corporate and enhance the broader spectrum of opportunities.
Q: What will the goal be after the prize is won?
A: Eventually, all the start-ups will become companies and the deﬁnition of entrepreneurship would be better known as a state of mind. Hult isn’t about just taking a prize and leaving, the students are being taught how to make their ideas real and get internationally acclaimed, too.
Q: What would be your message to the AUB community?
A: I would like to emphasize that we are happy to have a national competition, and would like to say to students that we can see great things for the community.