Science park, incubators and even reality shows, Qatar uses very different means to promote innovation and the success of its start-ups.
Accessibility is an important issue when it comes to organizing a major event and the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Qatar is no exception. A local start-up ensures that digital content is accessible to visually impaired fans.
Based in Qatar Science & Technology Park, Bonocle was founded by two engineering students. The idea for this Braille entertainment platform came about by chance. When one of them, Abdelrazak Aly, broke his hand in a car accident, he had to associate with people with disabilities.
Making digital content accessible to the visually impaired
“It was at this time that we were able to interact more with blind people” says Abdelrazak Aly. “How do they use technology, Instagram or WhatsApp? they,” he explains. His partner Ramy Soliman adds: “It has always shocked us to see that the visually impaired were segregated, had their schools and institutions separate and even in the workplace, they are often separated from the rest of the teams”.
The little device they designed called Bonocle has many possibilities. Designed with a “braille cell”, three buttons and different haptics, it helps visually impaired people to read, write, count, measure or even play games.
Its designers experimented and tested various handheld devices like a pen, a tablet and even a glove before settling on a prototype that looks like a computer mouse. It was a question of modernizing braille technology, which until then was too expensive, cumbersome or unreliable according to them, thus widening the gap between the sighted and the blind. The duo hope their product will help people with visual impairments to integrate “in our society, our classrooms, our workspaces or our video game rooms”, says Abdelrazak Aly.
They tested their device in early September at the Multaqa center in Doha during an esports tournament. “It’s the true meaning of inclusion to participate in important events and compete alongside real players, it’s so much fun and I can’t wait to see what else can be done with this little device.” recognized Ikrami Ahmed, a braille teacher who uses Bonocle.
Despite the challenges the company faced, such as making a new product during a pandemic, it received strong support as it was tasked with converting digital content to Braille during the upcoming FIFA World Cup. .
support for entrepreneurship
It is to encourage innovation that Qatar opened this Qatar Science and Technology Park, which is part of the Qatar Foundation. Its Innovation Director Hayfa Al Abdulla explains what makes this Park an essential platform for start-ups and technology companies, in terms of funding, mentoring and incubation.
“For us, it’s important to have a place to build community, but it’s even more important to integrate the right people and make the connections that startups need, whether it’s putting them in touch with investors, the right mentors, or directing them to market opportunities”, she says before adding: “If we see opportunities outside of Qatar for project leaders, we help them find them through new programs we offer them.”
“We help entrepreneurs at different stages”, adds Hayfa Al Abdulla. “There is the one where we support their ideas, where we teach young start-ups how to build their business model, how to conceive an idea that will be successful; then we have the so-called “ELV8 Program” in which we help start-ups to grow; finally, they can test their ideas outside of Qatar, where they can sell or explore other markets,” she enumerates.
Having worked in innovation for a long time, here is Hayfa Al Abdulla’s advice for budding entrepreneurs: “The key is not to focus too much on the idea, but to build the right team from the beginning. You have to make sure that you have the ability to lead a tech startup, but also to gather the right people around you, because that will help you out”, she believes. “Taking this course alone is not so easy, so find a partner!” she says.
Reality TV is also an innovation engine
The Qatar Science and Technology Park is also the setting for a famous Qatar Foundation ludo-educational reality show: “Stars of Science”, where Arab inventors compete to be crowned “Best Innovator”. But what happens to entrepreneurs after they participate? Two of them told us about their post-show journey.
Khalid Aboujassoum not only participated in the “Stars of Science”, but in 2012, he won this competition that lasts twelve weeks. His product? A standalone food processor called Oliver. Khalid Aboujassoum imagined this before he even participated in the show. His idea was to use artificial intelligence to prepare homemade dishes to perfection.
“In 2011-2012 we were just getting started and laying the groundwork for the project”, remembers Khalid Aboujassoum. “At the time, there was only one technology incubation center in the country, so it is clear that the ecosystem has grown”, he points. “For my part, I was looking to create a global business because it’s a global challenge, it’s a global need that we must meet in terms of having high-quality dishes accessible through technology and robotics,” he said. he says.
Today, the inventor has made it his mission to bring his robot to as many kitchens as possible, in homes but also in companies. Eventually, their aim is to offer a variety of robotic chefs for restaurants, caterers, and even offshore platforms and ships.
“You have to be patient and disciplined and it will pay off”
Majed Lababidi participated in the third season of “Stars of Science” with a product that provides free Wi-Fi. After the show, he became involved in the development of Droobi Health, an application specializing in prevention and management in the health field. Current CEO of Rawi Al Kotob, a provider of Arabic audio content, he has managed several businesses. For him, being an entrepreneur is above all a matter of mentality.
“The hardest thing for an entrepreneur is to maintain their enthusiasm because one day it’s great and the next day it’s like the sky is falling over your head, like when you’re waiting for an investor to call back or a customer to text, “ acknowledges Majed Lababidi before advising: “It’s very difficult to maintain passion for what you’re doing, but things will work out eventually, you have to be patient and disciplined and it will be worth it in the end.”
More than ten years after participating in the fair, Majed Lababidi is now passing on his experience to new competitors. He likes to guide you, seeing”the passion in their eyes as they learn from the experience of others” and discover your new ideas.
The “Stars of Science” program aims to stimulate interest in science and innovation. But it also fosters an entrepreneurial ecosystem in the region that goes far beyond competition.