If you asked my 18-year-old self where I’d be in the future, running a quarter million dollar social enterprise would certainly not be on the list. My team and I came to University through different paths and were brought together only by the many courses we took in common.
During the winter break of 2017, everything changed. We received a phone call from our professor asking us to participate in the 2018 Hult Prize – which is the world’s largest platform for social entrepreneurship that encourages university students to create their own social enterprises – and I remember us all complaining about the amount of work we had to do during our short winter break, including both research and studies. Our professor had this mind-blowing idea of replacing the conventional heating system in airplanes with a safer and a more eco-friendly phase change material. In a very short time period, we fell in love with the idea, learned about it, and familiarized ourselves with every type of question related to it. We prepared a power point pitch presentation and managed to win the first place at the Rafik Hariri University Hult Prize On Campus startup competition, thus securing a place in both the regionals and national semi-finals in Lebanon.
After winning the university competition, we hit our first wall. Due to certain issues with the university, we were not permitted to participate in the next round of competition in Tunis and therefore lost our first chance to pitch in front of multinational judges and participate in the London accelerator. At this point, we thought that our short journey with entrepreneurship was over. We had truly lost the hope and motivation we had to continue this journey and decided to go on a break.
Two weeks before the semi-finals, we picked ourselves up, worked day and night on developing our idea and a small business model for it, and completely changed our deck. The heat of the competition at the semi-finals was undeniable as we were competing against more than 30 teams who had strong ideas, but that did not stop us from doing our best and becoming one of top 6 finalists and gaining a place at the Lebanon accelerator! It was undoubtedly one of our proudest moments as a team.
During the first week of the accelerator, we were faced with the cruel reality that our idea is not as easy and feasible as we thought it was. We had a very limited market opportunity, and we were asked to pivot by the Hult Prize coaching team one day before our first pitch Friday, at Solidere. Believe it or not, you can alter your technology, come up with a completely new concept, and pitch it in less than 24 hours, but we don’t guarantee a positive outcome. We were ranked fifth out of six during our first pitch Friday.
The accelerator was filled with ups and downs, sleepless nights at the office and extreme frustration, but if you know how to truly benefit from the opportunities that come your way and quickly apply the feedback you receive from mentors from all around the world, then you can become a Hult Prize winner! It was definitely not an easy road for us; we faced various struggles, especially during our first weeks of the accelerator, and our biggest challenge was coming up with a new impact-centered and market-driven application for this amazing technology we had in hand.
After several unsuccessful pivots, and at out of our most desperate moments, a startup was born, Heatechs. Jawad (CEO) decided we should integrate the phase change material inside mattresses and use them as a heat storage system to help refugees in cold areas avoid the dangers of uncontrolled stoves at night. We ran computer simulations to verify our theory, visited refugee camps, talked to NGOs, developed a new business model, contacted mattress and PCM manufacturers, and came up with a new killer pitch in less than a week and finally, we did it; we ranked first at the last 2 pitch Fridays of the Hult Prize Lebanon accelerator, and the rest is history.
We believe that social entrepreneurship is extremely important, especially in the current global economic and environmental state that the world is in. The Lebanese eco-system encourages the launch of start-ups and the best ones are those that are impact centered and aligned with the UN’s SDG.
We encourage all the youth to participate in the Hult Prize journey and benefit from all the support and experience they offer, and become a part of their beautiful family.
Written By Adam Choufi
Edited By Hiba Abi Hussein