Hyundai challenge aims to reverse brain drain.

Summary: At a time when brain drain poses one of Lebanon's biggest social and economic threats, Hyundai called on local tech entrepreneurs and innovators to participate in a first-of-its-kind startup competition that would spur a wave of brain gain.

BEIRUT: At a time when brain drain poses one of Lebanon's biggest social and economic threats, Hyundai called on local tech entrepreneurs and innovators to participate in a first-of-its-kind startup competition that would spur a wave of brain gain. As part of an intiative aimed at reversing our country's mass exodus of talent, three startups will have the chance to win cash prizes from Hyundai worth $15,000, $10,000, and $5,000.

Five finalists pitched their projects Wednesday in front of a 12-person jury at the Hyundai Showroom in Zalka after six weeks of mentorship and training in workshops ranging from one-on-one consultations to user experience, monetization, accounting and finance, investment and communication skills.

The finalists were LifeLab Biodesign, a startup specialized in building vertical hydroponic farms as a solution to seasonal limitations and lack of arable land; Reable, a money management application designed for people with special needs; DaycareChannel, an application that helps daycares streamline and centralize their operations; Krimston Two, a one-phone solution to a 2 SIM card problem and Pathfinder, a tech solution for the visually impaired.

LifeLab Biodesign won the first prize; Daycare Channel and Pathfinder came in second and third place, respectively.

The Hyundai Start-Up Competition was launched on Aug. 12 in collaboration with ArabNet to tackle the country's brain drain problem by offering a platform for local entrepreneurs and university students in the tech and digital sectors.

The requirements were simple: Startups had to be Lebanese or based in Lebanon, less than 3 years old and with less than 10 employees.

Twenty startups were narrowed down from a pool of 140 applicants to attend six different workshops that would help take their budding business to the next level in anticipation of the finale pitch.

Speaking to The Daily Star, Hyundai's General Manager Rachid Rasamny explained the purpose of the competition. "We realized the potential of the youth in Lebanon who don't have the proper support and infrastructure to help push their ideas forward. So this competition is really about the workshops where we trained these -- mostly young -- individuals to run their business."

"In an atmosphere, especially this year, where there is very little growth, these are all startups with tremendous growth potential and who are not just targeting Lebanon, but eventually the entire MENA region and global market."

A jury of 12 experts -- entrepreneurs, local accelerators and incubators (UK Lebanon Tech Hub, AltCity, Flat6Labs), venture capitalist firms (MEVP) and organizations supporting the startup community (Kafalat) -- selected the three winners.

Former Telecommunications Minister Nicholas Sehnaoui told The Daily Star that "The future of this country lies in technology and startups because it is the only sector that can reverse our brain drain and that taps into what we have best; our grey matter and creativity."

"The new thing Hyundai is doing is that it is a corporation investing into startups not necessarily related to the field of cars or distribution, which is great, and if I were any other company in Lebanon I would do the same -- invest in startups and technology because whatever you invest you will get back tenfold. I invite all the corporations in Lebanon to follow Hyundai's example."

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