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AAAS Announces Finalists in Global Entrepreneurship Competition

Thirty finalists from 24 countries will head to Marrakech, Morocco to receive intensive training prior to pitching their innovative ideas and products at the 2014 Global Entrepreneurship Summit, AAAS announced today.

The finalists are participants in the yearly GIST Tech-I competition, sponsored by the U.S. State Department and implemented by AAAS. Since 2011, the State Department's GIST (Global Innovation through Science and Technology) Initiative has mentored more than 3,500 start-ups and helped young science and technology researchers build entrepreneurial skills and connect with mentors and investors.

The finalists are divided among 15 people who are at the idea stage of their business and 15 others who are at the start-up stage. They were chosen from a group of 67 semifinalists through a combination of public Internet voting and expert panels in the fields of agriculture, energy, health, and information and communication technology. If a finalist's pitch at the 18-21 November summit is a winning one, she or he may receive up to $15,000 in grant funding. All finalists will walk away with three months of one-on-one mentoring from global experts in their field.

Idea finalist Cynthia Ndubuisi grew up in Lagos, Nigeria and began working at age eight to help support her mother's business. Now her own business, Kadosh Production Company, is working on a new way to dry cassava peels and market them to goat farmers. The GIST Tech-I competition has given her "the opportunity to let thousands of people know about my work…and that was a really great experience for me," she said. "I got calls from people, wanting to know more about this project and see how they can help in their own little way."

Mawano Kambeu, a start-up finalist, is developing a way for Zambians to reserve and pay for bus travel with their smart phones, computers, or third-party sellers like the post office. Like many of the other finalists, he is impressed with the exposure that Bus Tickets Zambia has received as a result of the competition. "We have received numerous positive messages from the general public, especially on social media," he said. "Most of the feedback has been consumers who would ultimately end up using our products and a lot of their comments have validated the earlier research we did and gave us the confidence to push this project further."

The finalists will participate in three training webinars prior to embarking on their journey to Morocco, in addition to receiving two days of intensive on-the-ground training focused on developing their business plans and pitches before the final, said AAAS program associate Jennifer Roderick. For the intensive training, AAAS has recruited 20 international experts and trainers to help the competitors develop business plans, improve their presentation skills, learn how to market their ideas and seek funding sources, and find mentors.

For the final part of the competition, finalists will deliver five-minute business pitches and answer five minutes of questions before a panel of judges consisting of scientists, technologists, angel investors, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and U.S. government officials.

Tunisian finalist Wassim Zoghlami is eager to present his mobile app What'sIn, which scans product bar codes and alerts consumers to potential allergens. "Personally this has been a rewarding experience so far. I have put a lot of work in this, and the best is yet to come and the real work is when I reach and hopefully win Tech-I," he said.