Features | Campus
Zein AUB iPark Inspire. Enable. Connect.
By MainGate Staff
Fall 2019/Winter 2020
Sleek walls, signage in looping modern typeface, a maze of crisscrossing ductwork set against a high, unfinished ceiling, a sprawling open office hemmed by a green wall—grass, red-leafed cabbage, ivy—large screens tucked to corners, glass-walled meeting rooms. The newly-built Talal and Madiha Zein AUB Innovation Park (Zein AUB iPark), recalls the offices of tech giants like Google and Facebook and is no doubt meant to inspire the same kind of innovative, digitally-focused entrepreneurship. To enter the iPark, about a mile east of AUB’s main campus in Beirut’s Digital District (BDD), is to feel empowered to “build things”—a website, an app, a company.
“This is the first time that AUB has established an institutional presence off campus,” explains Professor of Finance Salim Chahine. “The location of the iPark in the Beirut Digital District in the heart of the city is critical to our plans for its future. We are very grateful to the family of the late Talal Zein for their generous gift to endow this new facility.” The iPark’s location also sends a powerful message about AUB’s intention to play a role in the emerging entrepreneurship ecosystem in Lebanon.
In his remarks at the Zein AUB iPark inauguration on September 2, President Fadlo R. Khuri noted that less than five percent of young people from the Arab world who leave the region for work or education return to their home countries, the lowest percentage in the world. “At AUB, we recognize the importance of unleashing the potential of our youth, with people under 25 making up 60 percent of the population of our region. Investing in youth through initiatives such as this one is therefore a key driver to economic and social growth,” said Khuri.
What Chahine and his colleagues want to do is make the Zein AUB iPark a place where students, faculty, and alumni get the support and resources they need to develop innovative ideas and convert them into profitable and scalable startups. “We want our students and graduates to be able to innovate and develop successful businesses here,” says Chahine.
The Zein family and AUB leadership during the inauguration.
There are already a number of AUB initiatives that promote entrepreneurship at the university, such as the Samih Darwazah Center for Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship at the Suliman S. Olayan School of Business, which organizes the annual Darwazah Startup Accelerate (DSA) competition. In addition, the Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture offers an undergraduate track in entrepreneurship that includes hackathons, coursework, a summer internship at a startup at BDD, and a year-long design experience in the final year of study, during which teams of students develop their own startup companies based on technologies they developed. Since 2015, AUB’s Center for Research and Innovation (CRInn), under the leadership of Dr. Fadia Homeidan, has trained more than 2,000 students, organized 15 student competitions, and supported the launch of 84 startups—51 of which are active in one way or another. “The Zein AUB iPark will support all of these initiatives and also enable us to expand into new areas and offer aspiring entrepreneurs even more support,” says Chahine, who is the founding director of the Zein AUB iPark.
Chahine points out that a number of AUB graduates have become successful entrepreneurs—people like Ayah Bdeir (littleBits), Habib Haddad (Yamli), Hind Hobeika (Instabeat), and Bassam Jalgha (Roadie Tuner). All of them had to leave Lebanon in order to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. “That’s what we want to change,” explained Chahine. “Thanks to the efforts of BDD CEO Mouhamad Rabah and others, Beirut now has a lot more to offer young entrepreneurs. The Zein AUB iPark is now part of what Beirut has to offer. We are very excited about this initiative—and eager to move ahead.”