With just weeks before returning to TV screens on 17 September 2016 for its eighth season, Stars of Science, the highly popular televised competition initiated by Qatar Foundation (QF), is set to once again inspire and educate audiences across the Arab world.
The competition, which emerged from the vision of Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Chairperson of Qatar Foundation, and is in line with QF’s mission to develop human capacity and power a knowledge economy, has produced a new generation of innovators within the fields of science and technology. Though viewers are consistently enraptured throughout each season of the competition, they may be unaware that for each entrepreneur, the end of their time on the show is actually the beginning of the next stage of their innovation’s journey.
In its efforts to realize Qatar National Vision 2030, a key part of QF's role in producing new knowledge falls not only to Stars of Science, but also in the rising start-up culture of Qatar encouraged by Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP), a member of QF.
The Foundation recently spoke to four Stars of Science alumni who have continued their journey of innovation within QF, and discovered how QSTP has allowed them to take the next step towards turning their visions into reality.
Season Five Stars of Science winner Dr Mohammed Doumir entered the competition in 2013 with a concept he titled ‘Camel Racing Diagnostic Boots’. In 2016 his startup now is incorporated in QSTP’s Business Incubator, which provides companies with fully-furnished offices, nearby meeting rooms, business support services, and on-hand experts ready to offer advice. Vetosis, Dr Doumir's four-person company, is dedicated to research, development, and innovation in the field of veterinary diagnostics.
Upon winning his season of the show, Dr Doumir fielded many offers from investors eager to provide financial backing for his invention, but he told The Foundation that the decision to stay in Qatar was an easy one.
“I had watched Stars of Science from the very beginning, from my hometown in Algeria,” he said. “I saw it as a dream for a young innovator. When I came to Qatar for the first time in 2010, I worked for a specialized veterinary company involved in camel racing. Within my three years in Qatar I learned a lot from how elders in Qatar treat and take care of camels using traditional methods. That gave me a chance to think of how I could apply what I had learned. I began to place sensors in the legs of camels to assess their biomechanics and collect the pressure data and localize potential injuries. Then I entered Stars of Science.
“I knew that the show’s experts could help me because I was just a camel doctor – I needed a lot of expertise from the likes of computer scientists and electronic engineers to bring my innovation to life. Winning my season of Stars of Science changed my whole life. Before I was just an employee in a company, and now I have started my own company and have big dreams. I now have three patents, two Inventions disclosures and I’ve published an Arabic book on camel racing.”
Dr Doumir aims to establish a commercially viable company whose technology will be adapted around the world; for example, by extending the Vetosis diagnosis technology developed for camels, to horses. Overall, the company's three core services are to develop new technologies and devices, conduct new research on camels and the relationship between the camel and Qatari traditions, and to publish Arabic books and scientific journals on the animal. “Our work is not about creating innovations that make people turn away from their traditions, but instead enhances their appreciation and understanding of those traditions,” said Dr Doumir.
Vetosis benefits from QSTP in three ways: the Business Incubator location and portfolio of services offered; QSTP’s financial support for Qatar-based entrepreneurs and institutions to develop innovative and commercially viable products and services; and lastly, QSTP’s vast network of experts who are specialized in various technologies and have extensive start-up experience.
“I believe QSTP is the best environment in the world for innovation because it is equipped with everything an innovator might need,” said Dr Doumir.
“Looking ahead for Vetosis, I hope that my story is one that will have begun with camel racing here in Qatar and in time, will become a global company that started from just a 45m2 office at QSTP.”
The QSTP Accelerator is another core program that provides aspiring entrepreneurs with training and mentorship to help them take their idea to market. The Accelerator, which runs for three months, combines funding and mentoring to help participants achieve three main objectives: create a very rough conceptual prototype) of your invention, verify whether your invention is commercially viable, and pitch your invention to potential investors to secure additional funding. The Accelerator accepts 15 successful applicants per cohort and offers a lucrative grant to each accepted candidate. Its most recent intake, in February 2016, saw 106 applicants – an increase from 27 the previous year. At the end of the three-month period, each team pitches to experts during ‘Demo Day’, after which teams can either incorporate in the QSTP incubator, start a company elsewhere in Qatar, or reapply to the Accelerator with an alternate idea.
Omar Hamid, Hassan Albalawi, and Mohamed Mourad Benosman are all familiar names to Stars of Science viewers, as all three were finalists of Season 7 in 2015. Post-Stars of Science, the trio each chose that the next step for their innovation should be QSTP's Accelerator, following successful pitches to QSTP.
Hamid is the visionary behind Sanda, the first chair specifically designed for the masjid, which aims to help the elderly and people with physical disabilities to perform their prayers with ease. The chair uses assistive sitting and standing to help eliminate any interference caused by normal chairs during congregational prayers.
“QSTP's Accelerator helped me take a step back from the project and re-focus my energies through a proven methodology,” he explained. “The environment QSTP provides removes the financial burden and gives you no excuses to determine if there is a market out there for your product.”
Although Hamid could not divulge too much information about the eventual launch of the product, he said that Sanda has attracted many interested customers and manufacturers. He credits this interest to the opportunities his creation has been given in Qatar.
“Stars of Science and QSTP are amazing opportunities at your fingertips,” he stated. “The experience, expertise, networking, funding, and exposure are some of the best in the world as long as you put in the effort to drive your idea to success. Also, beyond the program, you become part of the family at QSTP. We stay connected to help and learn from each other.”
Fellow finalist Mohamed Mourad Benosman has seen QSTP as an ideal home for his ‘Digiheart’ creation, which is the first heart rate monitor of its kind to differentiate between physical and mental stress. To do this, the device uses sensors that detect the presence or absence of the subject’s physical movement by using a patented method. The method is based on the use of the muscle contraction activity of the abdomen. As a result, doctors can collect much more accurate data and users can self-monitor their performance, leading to better health outcomes. He described his journey of innovation to The Foundation.
“During the Stars of Science program, I developed a first prototype version but I didn’t work on the business part of the project,” he said. “In the QSTP Accelerator, I developed a second prototype and I also developed a strong business plan and business model.”
Benosman’s advice to fellow innovators seeking similar success is clear: “Listen, understand and react to the environment,” he said. “To have the technical skills necessary for your creation is very important, to have the correct communication skills to show them is also very important.”
Hassan Albalawi is the inventor of the WakeCap, a construction helmet designed to lower the risk of accidents caused by fatigue and drowsiness. It does so by monitoring the user's alert states. It can also alert the user and manager in cases of drowsiness. The Stars of Science Season 7 finalist entered the QSTP Accelerator in February 2016 and through a series of extensions, his time in the program will conclude in August 2016, and expects to seek financial support from QSTP and incorporate the business in the Incubator.
“During the show, a lot of what we focused on in relation to our innovation was the technical details, while the Accelerator was an opportunity to focus on the business model moving forward,” said Albalawi.
“The Accelerator made it so easy for us to follow through on this, and talk to a lot of experts. By doing this we were able to greater define the product. For example, when the WakeCap was first envisioned, I had a lot of ideas about potential features, but through the program I understood how I could adapt current helmets to integrate the solutions I had proposed. I don’t have much experience in the field of business but the Accelerator pushed me to find, hire, and collaborate with those who do.”
Albalawi says that WakeCap has benefited greatly through the program, both in terms of assistance but also collaboration. Albalawi is currently collaborating with the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy; Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (WCM-Q), a partner university of QF; and Aspetar to further develop his product and its eventual launch. An ongoing academic study with WCM-Q will study the effects of drowsiness on use of crane operation, while Aspetar and Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy are each interested in the concept of next-generation helmets for general labor.
“The end of the Accelerator is not the end of the benefits of the program – such as the collaborations we’ve achieved,” stated Albalawi. “Instead it’s just the start. We’ve applied to the Proof of Concept Fund to become officially incubated by QSTP and by doing so we will be able to fully pursue these collaborations and finally deliver WakeCap to the market.
These stories of Stars of Science alumni, and their commitment to ensure their dreams find a home in Qatar and QSTP, embody the values QF seeks to instill in those who attend its partner universities and lead its research.
In the words of Dr Doumir, it is true that Stars of Science is more than just a TV show. Rather it is a tangible, aspirational example to others that the greatest journey begins with just a single step. While viewers across the Arab World will be entertained and educated by the latest season on a weekly basis, the cycle of innovation for each competitor will continue long after the next winner has been crowned.
Stars of Science Season 8 begins on 17 September 2016 at 10pm on MBC4. Please visit starsofscience.com for more details.