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From conceptualization to start-up: CEN’s Product Design Program fosters engineering entrepreneurship

Written by:
Samar Mahmoud
American University of Sharjah (AUS)

Starting Fall 2023, engineering students at American University of Sharjah (AUS) will have the opportunity to turn their innovative ideas into marketable solutions for businesses and communities through the College of Engineering (CEN) Technology and Engineering Product Design Program (PDP).  

Serving as an incubator for student ideas, the program helps students conceptualize, develop prototypes, receive financial planning training, including budgeting and sourcing, establish start-up trademarks and pitch their ideas to potential UAE and international investors. It also involves a series of workshops, seminars and consultations with business experts ensuring a comprehensive entrepreneurial learning experience.  

“We are working on changing students’ mindsets from being mere members in a university group project to founders of startup companies. The program offers them a holistic view of their work that goes beyond what is technical, taking into consideration the market, competition and the marketability of their product. Our PDP is open to students to develop their ideas, and they have access to our state-of-the-art laboratories to create their prototypes. We also facilitate their work with major startup accelerators such as the Sharjah Research Technology and Innovation Park (SRTIP) and others around the UAE.” said Dr. Lutfi Albasha, Professor in Electrical Engineering and PDP Lead.

A long-standing partner of AUS, SRTIP encourages the creation of knowledge-intensive companies and provides a state-of-the-art location for businesses and organizations to access research undertaken at the Sharjah University City. The ecosystem houses the park’s headquarters, laboratories and innovation centers, and will host a mix of startups, SMEs and anchor companies that focus on contributing to the region’s research, development and innovation culture.

The CEN-funded PDP was selected from among several proposals submitted by engineering faculty members. The initiative, launched by Dr. Fadi Aloul, Dean of CEN, aims to enhance engineering students’ educational experience and strengthen CEN's community engagement. The PDP will work closely with the Technology Transfer Office within the Office of the Provost at AUS to help protect product IP deemed critical for faculty and students.

Open to all engineering students across all academic levels, the program targets ideas that are novel or those addressing specific market needs. Students work closely with the PDP Lead and engage in continuous consultations with the accelerators and incubators within specified timeframes to culminate their work with a pitch presentation by the end of the fall or spring semesters.

The PDP kicks off with three projects, namely a logistics intermediary application for cost-effective and secure courier solutions, a robotic approach to waste management and an academic management service.

“What struck me most about the students we selected is their enthusiasm and unwavering belief in their ideas, which are vital sentiments for success. I reviewed more than 20 project proposals and selected these three. The students also provided a basic financial plan without any prior training to support their pitch. The three concepts are innovative and cater to very different market segments,” said Dr. Albasha.

Industrial engineer Alya AlMatrooshi is working on ShipX, an app that addresses the logistics needs of small and medium-sized businesses, offering advanced solutions that empower entrepreneurs.

“The PDP is an inviolable opportunity to gain skills in entrepreneurship, market research and product development, and to navigate the business landscape in ways that will benefit me as a student and professional. I look forward to the mentorship sessions and networking events, and to finally developing a marketable product, she said.

Computer science and engineering team Mohammed Fawaz, Abdulrahman Shoaib and Hafsah Tahir are working on revolutionizing the waste management sector through a self-sustaining robotic solution.

“Our technology is geared towards collecting and categorizing waste from various environments into their appropriate recycling streams. This innovation promises a significant move towards more sustainable, smart cities. By automating waste collection and sorting, our system significantly increases the efficiency of recycling processes and greatly contributes to cleanliness and health standards. The project also addresses the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 11 on sustainable cities and communities. The PDP serves as a launchpad for our entrepreneurial aspirations and enables us to leave a meaningful impact on the technology and sustainability industry,” said Shoaib, the team’s spokesperson.

Another inspiring team, composed of Mahmoud Darwish, Qusai Al Tah and Jawwad Sheikh, envisions creating a centralized platform for students to access learning and experience enrichment opportunities that go beyond the traditional classroom. Their goal is to empower students to choose activities and opportunities that complement their education, connecting them with experts to become lifelong learners and contributors to society.

The program is also working with the Student Engineering Product Design and Innovation Society, which kicked off in May 2023, which functions as a channel connecting students to the PDP.

“Our goal is to catalyze a revolution in innovation within CEN by creating a distinctive platform that enables students with groundbreaking concepts to turn them into successful and profitable ventures. Students are encouraged to think outside the box, exploring novel solutions to real-world challenges and transforming ideas into tangible and impactful projects,” said Mohamed Hassan, an electrical engineering student and President of the Engineering Product Design and Innovation Society.

The society’s team is currently working on an online platform to be housed within CEN, catering to the needs of students and faculty. It will also organize talks and workshops led by seasoned industry professionals and CEN faculty to inspire innovation within CEN students and provide them with invaluable exposure to leading companies.

“We are dedicated to delivering an exceptional online experience that reflects the essence of our society, and the PDP, and provides valuable resources for all. We will also be working on more projects once the academic year begins to better support the program and the needs of students,” said Hassan.

A strong believer in the PDP, Hassan said that the program is an absolute necessity for every university, describing it as an “engineering sandbox” for exploration and innovation.

“By fostering an environment that encourages innovation and embraces all ideas, we can create a community where students' creativity thrives, and groundbreaking achievements become a norm. Together, we can make a significant impact and showcase the remarkable capabilities of AUS students to the world,” he said.

CEN is a leader in engineering education in the UAE and region, having received international recognition for its commitment to providing quality education through its esteemed undergraduate and graduate programs.For more information about the AUS College of Engineering, visit www.aus.edu/cen.   

About AUS 

American University of Sharjah (AUS) was founded in 1997 by His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed AlQasimi, Member of the Supreme Council of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Sharjah. Sheikh Sultan articulated his vision of a distinctive institution against the backdrop of Islamic history and in the context of the aspirations and needs of contemporary society in the UAE and the Gulf region.

Firmly grounded in principles of meritocracy and with a strong reputation for academic excellence, AUS has come to represent the very best in teaching and research, accredited internationally and recognized by employers the world over for creating graduates equipped with the knowledge, skills and drive to lead in the 21st century.

AUS values learners not driven only by academic success, but by those that embrace our dynamic campus life and embody our ideals of openness, tolerance and respect. This combination of academic excellence and community spirit ensures AUS is filled with world-class faculty and students, poised to become the innovators, thinkers, contributors and leaders of tomorrow.

By Naser Nader Ibrahim

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