An entrepreneurship team from Canadian University Dubai (CUD) has won first place in two prestigious enterprise and innovation competitions with a new application they developed to assist people of determination to pursue employment. The technology, which provides home-based, work-related training using virtual reality, won first prize in the GCC-wide ProjectSet Innovation Challenge for Entrepreneurship 2022 (ICE-22), and the SHERAA Entrepreneurship Centre Annual Pitching Competition (2022).
The application is the work of three second-year students majoring in architecture; Ambre Tournadre, Jenna Harchaoui and Juliana Gayed, known collectively as Team Starlight. The group came together to develop the solution as part of their entrepreneurship studies, under the mentorship of international award winning CUD Professor of Entrepreneurship, Dr. Naveed Yasin, and with the support of industry expert, Ms Esha Anwar Khurshid, Chief Visionary Officer at Key2Enable, based in the UAE. Team Starlight has since gone on to receive Є6000 in prize funds to develop their project through the Scaleaway Start-Up Program resulting from their win at ICE-22. In addition, the team will benefit from a package of business mentoring support worth 5000 AED, organized by the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Centre, following their first place in the SHERAA Pitching Competition.
The first competition win at ICE-22 saw the team triumph in a three-week virtual hackathon that hosted more than 112 participants from 36 universities across the GCC region. Ranked among the top eight entries from 78 submissions in phase one, Team Starlight went on to secure a first place victory in the final stage of the competition for presenting the best social innovation. Fuelled by this success, Dr. Naveed Yasin and Ms. Esha Anwar mentored the students further to compete at an entrepreneurship competition staged in Sharjah, which they also won, taking the first place prize in the SHERAA pitching competition.
Explaining the thinking behind the application, Ambre said, “Based on our entrepreneurship course at CUD and creating impact in social innovation, our goal was to help people of determination to develop workplace skills that could lead them into secure employment and build their independence. We discovered that traditional learning environments can cause anxiety for people with special needs, so we aimed to develop a solution that could address this. The application we have created uses virtual reality to enable them to learn and practice new skills safely, in their own environment, with the help of their primary caregivers.”
Speaking about the importance of the innovation, Jenna said, “Our research revealed that the rate of unemployment among people of determination is up to 80% on the Asian continent, while their exclusion from the workplace represents an annual loss of $1.2 trillion to global GPD. Our application focusses on developing skills in a holistic way, to ensure that people of determination are able to secure sustainable employment. It can be customized to individual needs, and we aim to cover a wide range of personal and professional skills, from self-care exercises such as breathing and meditation, to practical tasks such as customer service.”
Speaking about the competition experience, Juliana said, “This process has taught me many valuable lessons in entrepreneurship; it has advanced my knowledge of the business world and made me feel more confident in my presentation skills. Having competed against senior and postgraduate students from across the region, we were very proud to see our innovation win in prestigious competitions like ICE-22 and SHERAA Pitching Competition.”
Mentoring the team throughout the process, CUD Professor of Entrepreneurship, Dr. Yasin commented, “CUD encourages entrepreneurship and innovation, and we believe in providing exciting opportunities for students to progress and grow both academically and professionally. At CUD, we are proud that our entrepreneurship students are demonstrating such impact at such prestigious competitions in the region; this is testament that entrepreneurship is embedded across the Canadian University Dubai. We are set to become one of the leading entrepreneurship universities in the region, which is fully engaged with the UAE and Canadian entrepreneurship ecosystem. On behalf of CUD, we congratulate Team Starlight on their success and look forward to supporting them as they move forward in their entrepreneurship journey.”