After graduating in computer engineering, Nicolas Zaatar started a strenuous job hunt, but several disappointments later, he decided to pursue his passion and create the opportunity he always dreamt off. So, he went on to develop his final year university project with his partner Charlie Khoury into a promising startup.
The idea first came to them when they were helping the local firefighters put out a fire in the forest of Baabda and they saw how hard it was to locate the fire. So they decided to build a smart drone that that is able to detect wild fires. After graduation, the duo decided to create their own opportunity and launch into the entrepreneurial world.
Microsoft Imagine Cup provided the perfect launching point. This global student technology program and competition provides opportunities for students across all disciplines to team up and use their creativity, passion and knowledge of technology to create applications, games and integrate solutions that can change the way we live, work and play. Winning the competition in Lebanon, the project was baptized NAR, Next Automated Robots. NAR project was accepted into Speed’s acceleration program after being referred to it by Dr. Nicolas Rouhana, General Manager of IM Capital, who was one of the Microsoft Imagine Cup judges. Speed@BDD is a Beirut-based startup accelerator that invests cash in top-tier companies in the MENA region. It accepts startups at the idea and early stage, and is tasked with producing the region’s next high-growth businesses, particularly in the software, digital, and Web/mobile industries. Speed@BDD is a collaborative effort between Lebanon’s leading investment funds and entrepreneurship support organizations: Bader, Berytech, IM Capital, Lebanon for Entrepreneurs & Middle East Venture Partners.
“During our residency at Speed, we were selected to go to Silicon Valley as NAR to continue with the Black Box Connect program which is an accelerator program that helps you develop your idea and business plan, pitch it and take our product to the next level.” describes Nicolas. “Our initial project was concentrated on fire detection drones, but we broadened our vision into making all drones smart. This means creating a software on the drone which makes it smart enough to analyze all the data around it and perform multiple safety-critical tasks that are dangerous to humans.”
After returning from Silicon Valley, NAR won the Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC)- green edition prize in Lebanon, a competition organized by USJ and Berytech, with the support of Diane Foundation, the strategic partner.. GSVC provides aspiring entrepreneurs with mentoring, exposure, and money prizes to transform their ideas into businesses that will have positive real world impact. The team won an incubation program at Berytech and further support from ‘Fondation Diane’, who had sponsored NAR’s trip to Paris for their participation in the semi finals of global GSVC competition.
Today, NAR is at the final stage of finishing their drone-based solution that could detect oil leakages and alert authorities in real-time to reduce the economic as well as the environmental damages caused by toxic oil spills. “We moved into a different application because detecting oil leakages has received more interest than wild fire and the opportunity is bigger. It doesn’t mean we gave up on that one. We will not be quitting on any application, we are just prioritizing,” confirms Nicolas. Beyond the startup challenge, building a startup in the environmental sector has its own challenges and one of them is the limited size of the market.
NAR was also invited to attend the Collaborative Entrepreneurship Summit in Dubai to showcase their drone solution. “We are very proud to say that it attracted the interest of highly qualified people that were amazed about the technology being developed in Lebanon. It feels great to be a Lebanese startup and have the opportunity attract the interest of giant companies in the Oil & Gas industry for potential collaborations in the future,” recounts Nicolas.
Creating new opportunities is what made Nicolas proud of turning into entrepreneurship rather than traditional employment: “The future of the country really depends on the youth. With the lack of opportunities here, you need to create the opportunity you want for yourself and ultimately you would be creating opportunities for other passionate talents who join you. We are very proud of what we are achieving on the technological front and would be even prouder with young Lebanese talent joining us in our adventure rather than travel abroad for better opportunities.”