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GIST Competition Teaches Entrepreneurs How to Think Globally

The 10 GIST Tech-I winners accompanied by their mentors celebrate their recognition. | Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2016

Samina Sarwat of Bangladesh took home two top prizes at the sixth annual Global Innovation Through Science and Technology (GIST) Tech-I Competition for her design of a water filter to help halt arsenic poisoning that endangers some 20 million people in her home country each year.

Sarwat was among 29 entrepreneurs representing all corners of the globe who showcased their startups and ideas, competed for a chance to mingle with fellow scientists, entrepreneurs, and potential investors; received coaching; and vied for seed capital awards and other prizes amounting to $70,000 at the competition held at Stanford University, Calif., on 22-24 June.

Sarwat took first place in the idea-stage category for her proposal to tackle arsenic poisoning with a rice husk, ash-based water filter she designed, called an Ashta Purifier, and, separately, was named this year’s Outstanding Female Entrepreneur. In total, she was awarded $20,000.

"When young innovators have the skills and mentoring that they need, they are more likely to take the risks that can turn ideas into startups and ultimately into successful businesses"

Lisa Brodey, the U.S. Department of State’s executive director for GIST

Hoang Dao of Vietnam took first place in a category honoring start-up companies for seeking to blunt illiteracy rates through a web-based learning-application, called Monkey Junior. The app, now available to download, is designed to teach children up to age six to read. Dao was awarded $15,000.  

Maher Maymoun of Jordan won the Science and Technology Award for his project providing self-cleaning technologies for solar panels in the arid and dusty regions of the Middle East. His project also was tapped as the No. 1 favorite among those attending the competition, a prize called – the People’s Choice Idea Award. Maymoun’s innovation also earned second place in the idea stage category. He was awarded $12,500 in seed capital prizes.

“The challenges that face humans around the world have scientific and technological components and there is a role for science and technology in finding solutions,” said Rush Holt, AAAS chief executive officer and executive publisher of the Science family of journals, at the competition’s award ceremony. “At AAAS we believe the power of curiosity and creativity can benefit communities and improve lives everywhere, and the Tech-I program is a representation of that. We are proud as an organization to be involved in a program that seeks to identify, select, train, and encourage exciting young scientists, engineers, technologists, healers, and great minds to build businesses around the world.”

Lisa Brodey, the U.S. Department of State’s executive director for GIST, highlighted the importance of the department’s program in furthering innovation and delivering economic benefits.

“When young innovators have the skills and mentoring that they need, they are more likely to take the risks that can turn ideas into startups and ultimately into successful businesses,” she said at the awards ceremony. “The GIST initiative is committed to identifying young scientists and innovators and supporting them and helping them to achieve their dreams of success.”

This year’s 29 finalists were selected from 1,075 entries submitted by science and technology entrepreneurs representing 104 emerging economies. The scores from a review panel of experts, organized by AAAS, were combined with the results of a global online voting semifinals round to determine the finalists. The participants hailed from as far away as Serbia and Ukraine, to Egypt and Peru. Four finalists were from Ecuador, Armenia, Bhutan, and Paraguay, four nations whose residents were invited to participate for the first time this year.

Participants were required to submit a short promotional video pitching their innovation. The public was invited to select their favorite projects based on the posted videos. Finalists were given an all-expense paid trip to the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) at Stanford, along with a two-day workshop from entrepreneurs, scientists, and investors ahead of the final pitch competition. 

"This year the GIST Tech-I Competition had 30 more countries represented than last year"

“This is the first time I have participated in an event like this,” added Dao, who said he learned how to leverage his product and expand globally. “Coming to the finals is already very big, but winning your first prize is huge. It’s nice to share this with everyone, because back home our team worked so hard and once I get back I’ll get to work right away.”

The GIST initiative was launched in 2011 by the U.S. Department of State to empower aspiring entrepreneurs from underdeveloped nations through mentorship and networking and to equip them with the technological tools to change and impact their communities. The State Department tapped AAAS to administer, organize, and coordinate the event in 2014.

“We competed and we proved the world’s largest general scientific association is really a good organization to bring together the science and research community and the entrepreneurial community,” said Charles Dunlap, AAAS program director for AAAS’ Research Competitiveness Program (RCP), which leads the GIST Tech-I project.

Beyond the $70,000 in seed capital for winners, the contest gives competitors valuable access to mentorship and training, and provides an opportunity for participants to network with entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. 

Dunlap said the contest underscores the importance of promoting entrepreneurship across the globe, a view that mirrors the Department of State’s diplomatic goals. For AAAS, he said, the contest amplifies its mission to help science deliver innovations that improve people’s lives and spur economic development.

The contest attracts increasing numbers of participants – 502 in 2014, 792 in 2015 and 1,075 applications this year. The program also has witnessed an upward climb in gender diversity. This year, 18.6% of applicants were women, compared with 17% in 2015. Among this year’s 29 finalists, 12 were female.

“They’re all in different stages, whether it’s the idea stage or the startup stage. Some of them have not really formed their business plans yet, but the education they got this week is going to help them do that; others are ready to launch, and what they need is some short-term capital investment to try to do the final stages of development before they go to market. It’s a wide range, but the enthusiasm and the commitment that they have is phenomenal,” said Kellye Eversole, a GIST mentor and president of Eversole Associates, a technology consulting firm she founded.  

To read more about GIST and the GIST Villages program visit their web site:

2016 GIST Tech-I Winners







Clockwise from top left, Sarwat of Bangladesh with AAAS CEO Rush Holt and State Department’s Lisa Brodey; Maher Maymoun of Jordan; Hoang Dao of Vietnam; and Charity Wanjiku of Kenya, recipient of the "People's Choice Award" | Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2016