Saudi Aramco World: May/June 2014 - page 25

ted nearly $180,000—three times their stated target. Jalgha has
since traveled to China to oversee the first batch of production,
and he expects Roadie Tuner to hit stores sometime this summer.
“I don’t think you guys need any help from us,” said Butcher
after awarding the duo tickets and a table at the 2014 Tech-
Crunch Disrupt event in New York City. “Awesome job.”
Taking second prize at the challenge was Ki, a plug-in
USB
se-
curity device that reads a user’s fingerprint with both security algo-
rithms and biometrics developed in Beirut. “That seems like over-
kill,” said one of the judges. “Why not buy the technology from
the
US
?” “What guarantees that the
NSA
hasn’t tampered with
it?” rejoined the twenty-something developer, to laughs from the
crowd. The judges also rewarded Jihad Kawas, who was pitching
an app that connects buyers and sellers of used items within close
proximity. This wasn’t Kawas’s first app, and he is 17.
Of course, many of Lebanon’s most successful developers no
longer need to pitch at such events.
Twenty-six-year-old Hind Hobeika has already raised over $1
million in investment capital for her hardware innovation, Insta-
beat, which had just won a 2014 design and engineering award
at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The product is
the first waterproof, goggles-mounted heart-rate monitor, which
allows swimmers to hone their workouts and also track their
performance after a swim. Hobeika, a former varsity swimmer
and engineering student at the American University of Beirut,
saw the need for such a device when she couldn’t find it in stores.
After more than two years of development and nine prototypes,
production is scheduled to begin this summer, and Hobeika is
negotiating distribution deals in the
US
and Australia.
Still other products have already gone to market, many in
the form of mobile apps. Perhaps the most successful of these
has been Poo, a virtual pet users can feed, stroke, buy gifts for
and watch grow. Created by 24-year-old Paul Salameh, the
application has proven viral. In press interviews, Salameh has
claimed up to 300,000 downloads per day, with Poo having
reached the number-one spot in the kids’ games category at app
stores in more than 65 countries. Revenues will likely soar with
in-app purchases to feed and dress your Poo, available from $1
to $11. YouTube videos celebrating the game in various lan-
guages have seen millions of views while Poo’s Facebook page
has garnered more than five million likes.
But runaway success stories like this are still somewhat rare
in the region, where the tech industry is still understandably
finding its feet after barely a decade of existence. And develop-
ments in Lebanon, as one of the Arab world’s smallest countries,
amount to just a fraction of the region’s newest industry.
Known for sealing the biggest Middle East tech deal to date, Samih
Toukan cofounded the first major Arabic-language Internet
provider, Maktoob.com, which sold in 2009 for some $175 million.
More recently, his investment firm has acquired Souq.com, the
region’s largest online retailer.
Aramex founder and
CEO
Fadi Ghandour has emerged as a key
investor in the region’s growing technology sector, having
helped launch several major startups and venture-capital funds.
He serves as chairman of leading regional tech news site
wamda.com, and he is now partnering with the United Nations
to fund 200 “microbusinesses” in his native Jordan.
May/June 2014
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