The world has witnessed an unimaginable change in the past few decades; several Arab countries have transformed themselves into a hub for innovation, housing talent and creators through-and-through.
There are two features that have allowed for the industrial landscape to change: globalization and technology. Both these trends have disrupted several industries, changing the course of their work forever.
Major innovations don't just happen in Silicon Valley and are not limited to people from Silicon Valley either. In fact, people often forget that the Arab region is home to some of the world's greatest innovators, most of whom have made a difference in various aspects of life in recent years.
Without further ado, here are seven innovators you should know about:
1. Tony Fadell
Born in the United States to Lebanese parents, Tony Fadell was one of the guys behind the creation of the iPod and iPhone, and is often referred to as "one of the fathers of the iPod."
After helping build the iPod for Apple, then the iPhone, Fadell ventured out on his own and founded Nest Labs, a smart home tech company that was acquired by Google for $3.2 billion. The latter is the manufacturer of a smart thermostat, which studies a user's habits over time and adjusts the home temperature accordingly.
Fadell is a computer engineering graduate from the University of Michigan. Throughout his entrepreneurial life, he launched an education-software company called Constructive Instruments, founded the startup Fuse Systems, a hardware company that was endeavoring to benefit from the rise of the MP3 music format, and worked for several tech companies like General Magic and Apple. And the rest is history.
2. Fadi Ghandour
Fadi Ghandour is the co-founder of Aramex, the Middle East's first courier company, which began operations in Amman, Jordan back in 1982. It is the first Arab company to be listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange and one of the leading logistics and transportation companies in the Middle East and South Asia.
Ghandour was also a founding partner of Maktoob.com before it was acquired by Yahoo! for $85 million in 2010.
The startup advocate is currently the Executive Chairman of Wamda Ventures, a new Venture Capital fund focusing on technology investments in the Arab World; he is also the Managing Partner of MENA Venture Investments.
He has since founded Ruwwad, a non-profit community development organization that works with disenfranchised communities across Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and Palestine. Three main programs anchor Ruwwad: Child Development, Youth Organizing, and Community Support.
3. Ronaldo Mouchawar
Born and raised in Aleppo, Syria, Ronaldo Mouchawar co-founded Souq.com, the first online marketplace for the Arab world back in 2005. Since its start, Souq.com has become the largest online retailer and marketplace in the region.
In 2017, Amazon acquired the Dubai-based online shopping platform for $580 million. In 2019, the internet retailer Souq.com officially became Amazon.ae in the UAE.
For an e-commerce platform that today houses millions of products and millions of users a month, Souq (or Amazon, as it is now known) started off on a different foot.
"We launched Souq as an open marketplace; [it was] a very simple listings site till about 2009," Mouchawar said in an interview with Entrepreneur Magazine. That was the year they began transforming the platform to a retail marketplace, removing sections such as classifieds and online auction. Little did Mouchawar know his business would successfully exit in the way it did.
4. Rana El-Kaliouby
Egyptian computer scientist Rana El-Kaliouby's innovation started with the use of AI. El-Kaliouby is a major contributor to facial expression recognition research and technology development after founding MIT startup Affectiva to help computers read facial gestures more accurately.
In April 2019, Affectiva raised $26 million in a funding round with aims of advancing its emotion and object detection AI for monitoring vehicle passengers. Affectiva wants its solution to be incorporated into cameras used in car safety systems to recognize when a driver is happy, sad, drowsy, or frustrated.
5. Soulaiman Itani
Hailing from Lebanon, Soulaiman Itani founded Atheer, a pioneering Augmented Reality Management Platform that aims to provide enterprises with a variety of solutions and applications.
It all started in 2013, when the Lebanese entrepreneur and his cofounder debuted a pair of wearable glasses that went out on the market head-to-head with Google Glass. Contrary to the tech giant's product, Atheer's glasses displayed augmented reality (AR) in three dimensions as opposed to Google's two. It's been a smooth ride to success since.
Itani's previous work includes designing cancer tests as well as treatments and creating models for robotics. Prior to that, he received his Master's of Science and PhD in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from MIT.
In a 2019 interview, Itani explained how big businesses use AR in nearly all sections of their work.
"If you take Porsche, for example, they train their technicians for 4.5 years to get a gold qualification. Still, using our system, they were able to reduce the time to fix a car by 40%," Itani said.
6. Ayah Bdeir
Ayah Bdeir is not your typical engineer who ended up working for a consulting firm, no. Bdeir is a Lebanese engineer and interactive artist who founded littleBits, "an award-winning platform of easy-to-use electronic building blocks that is empowering kids everywhere to create inventions."
The company is basically a library of modular electronics that snap together with a magnet. It's no surprise considering the MIT media lab alumna's career was always centered around creating a platform that would make innovation and education available to as many people around the world as possible.
She is now considered one of the leaders of the open-source hardware movement and has made a huge impact on the lives of millions across the world. Her company has sold millions of products and now writes curricula that are used in 3,500 schools worldwide. Bdeir has been featured on Forbes, Business Insider, and many other international publications. She was also named on Fast Company's "Most Creative People in Business" list in 2013.
7. Noor Shaker
In 2008, computer scientist Noor Shaker left Syria for Europe to pursue her passion for artificial intelligence (AI). Following her master's degree, she spent eight years as a machine learning researcher in Copenhagen, Denmark, focusing on the application of technology in computer games.
Academia was clearly her first step; an entrepreneurial storm was her second. She eventually co-founded Generative Tensorial Networks (GTN), a company that combines quantum computers with AI to speed up the creation of new medicines.
Her significant advances for the pharmaceutical industry have landed Shaker a spot on the "Innovators Under 35 Europe" list in 2018. One year later, she occupied space on BBC's "100 Women" list.