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Hassan Al Thawadi: We can transform Middle East as a global innovation destination

For the man leading Qatar's preparations for the 2022 FIFA World Cup™, the first ever tournament in the Middle East offers an unparalleled opportunity to mark the region as a global destination for innovation. Speaking to entrepreneurs as a Final Judge of the MIT Enterprise Forum Pan-Arab Region's 10th Arab Startup Competition in Bahrain, Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) Secretary General H.E Hassan Al Thawadi pointed out that the transformation is already underway through regional innovation initiatives

H.E Hassan Al Thawadi told the 10th MIT Enterprise Arab Forum that transformation of the Middle East as a regional innovation hub is already underway

"Our vision is to provide an environment for creativity and entrepreneurship to flourish and to ensure that the finest minds in our region are provided with the ultimate platform for their ideas and concepts – being part of the fabric of the World Cup in 2022," said Al Thawadi highlighting the example of the SC's Challenge 22regional innovation programme.

He added: "The response to Challenge 22 has been phenomenal. Almost 1,000 concepts were submitted in our latest edition. For me, Challenge 22 symbolises a window into the talent that we have in our region and the hunger and desire that exists to develop that talent."

Submissions to this year's cycle of Challenge 22 have combined creativity with innovation, including concepts to make sustainable stadium seats from palm tree fibres, create smart jerseys to help prevent cardiac arrest, or enhance spectator experience through in-seat food delivery. The 28 finalists from the second cycle of the award were recently announced by the SC.

"The MIT Enterprise Forum is a strategic partner for our own innovation award – Challenge 22 – and this partnership is one of tremendous value and we hope that our ties strengthen as we continue on our journey toward hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2022. The overwhelming majority of our youth want a better future. They are more educated, more connected and more mobile than ever before. It is of utmost importance that platforms and opportunities are created to harness the incredible wealth of latent talent that exists in our region," said Al Thawadi.

Member of a judging panel at the MIT Enterprise Forum alongside renowned regional entrepreneurs and business leaders Wassim Basrawi, Maher Ezzeddine and Khaled Ismail, Al Thawadi added: "Entrepreneurship and innovation are vital in order to create the economic growth required to provide the future that the youth of our region deserve. Through building upon the work that so many of you here already do, and ensuring that we realise the legacy potential of moments such as the 2020 World Expo and the 2022 FIFA World Cup, we can contribute to that better future – developing new and diversified economies, creating jobs and making our region a global destination for innovation."

H.E. Hassan Al Thawadi was a member of a judging panel at the MIT Enterprise Forum alongside renowned regional entrepreneurs and business leaders Wassim Basrawi, Maher Ezzeddine and Khaled Ismail

The first place and a prize money of USD 15,000 went to Blinkapp from Egypt for offering an innovative solution by utilising smartphones to automatically detect car crashes and transmit assistance notifications. Meanwhile, the first runner up and USD 10,000 went to SpicaTech from Lebanon, while an Egyptian innovation called NanoGreen was the second runner up, winning USD 5,000.

Speaking after judging the final round on the "Ideas" track, Al Thawadi said: "Witnessing the talent, ingenuity, creativity and persistence that the entrepreneurs and innovators brought to this event was inspiring. These people face numerous obstacles and challenges - especially in the region - and events such as these and Challenge 22 are important because they offer ecosystems for creativity to flourish and they bring people together.

"I genuinely enjoyed the experience of judging the Ideas track finalists along with Wassim, Maher and Khaled. Each of the finalists presented well-considered concepts and narrowing down to the final three and the eventual winner was a difficult task. The ultimate goal of 'Blinkapp' – the eventual winner – is to utilise smartphone technology to transmit notifications of road accidents to the relevant emergency services in real time, saving time and saving lives."

The 10th MIT Enterprise Arab Forum Arab Startup Competition in Bahrain included over 140 entrepreneurs, 51 judges, four trainers, more than 80 start-ups and 450 people who attended the final award ceremony

The event included over 140 entrepreneurs, 51 judges, four trainers, more than 80 start-ups which exhibited in the expo area, and 450 people who attended the final award ceremony.

"From a World Cup perspective, myself and the team in attendance were able to build new regional contacts that can work to enhance Challenge 22 and also begin discussions about potentially integrating some of the entrepreneurs and their ideas into our work, whether directly or indirectly relating to the tournament. The eventual success of 2022 will be measured beyond the event itself, and we consider developing regional talent as a fundamental pillar of the legacy of 2022 that will leave behind," Al Thawadi concluded.