Posted on February 23, 2019
The Mushtic team from the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik won the 2019 Hult Prize Lebanon semifinals over the weekend, earning them a spot at the Hult Prize Global Accelerator program in London this summer. The result keeps them in the running for the first prize of $1 million in seed capital. Mushtic is currently enrolled in Berytech’s Agrytech Accelerator program.
Youth-focused learning company Changemaker gathered over 1,000 students from 60 university campuses for the Lebanon Student Startup Forum at Beirut Digital District during the day Saturday. Student entrepreneurs pitched their innovative businesses to leading judges from the Lebanese business community. Six startups were short-listed to pitch live at the 2019 Hult Prize Lebanon semifinals gala the same evening, organized through a multiyear strategic partnership with the Central Bank and BLOM Bank. The semifinals took place at the befittingly out-of-the-box yet iconic “Egg” in Downtown Beirut.
The Mushtic team is now one step closer to the global Hult Prize final in September at the U.N. headquarters in New York. Mushtic is a bio-based material solution that replaces highly polluting petroleum-based materials such as Styrofoam while offering the same shock absorbance and insulating properties.
The Mushtic team was inspired to develop biodegradable packaging after witnessing the garbage crisis in Lebanon, CEO and co-founder Rayanne Beayno, an agro-food engineering specialist, told The Daily Star moments after winning the semifinals. “At last year’s startup weekend at USEK [organized in partnership with Berytech], they told us every opportunity starts with a problem, so we thought of pollution and the garbage crisis in Lebanon. Now, what’s the worst kind of plastic? Styrofoam. So, we researched, and we found out that if we mix agricultural waste with mushroom roots, we have a texture that resembles Styrofoam,” a still slightly flabbergasted Beayno said.
Changemaker’s co-founder and Hult Prize COO Karim Samra told The Daily Star why he believed the young entrepreneurs from tiny Lebanon had enormous potential. “I think the Lebanese are very, very creative. They’re also very proud to be Lebanese and that pride, combined with their creativity and passion, makes them ideal candidates for this kind of program, because they’re so close to the challenges we seek to solve,” he said. “They live them [these challenges] every day, they see them, they breathe them and yet they love their country. They want to see their country lead rather than follow and we’re giving them an opportunity to have their country lead,” Samra added.
Beayno shared a similar sentiment. “People are fed up with the situation [in this country]. They think to themselves, ‘If I don’t do anything, nothing will ever happen.’ We’re saying our politicians don’t do anything, our government doesn’t do anything, so at the end of the day, it’s us who are responsible for the change.”
But it’s not just negative experiences that shape the entrepreneurial spirit of Lebanon’s youth. Beayno said Lebanese diversity was what inspired her the most. “A little bit of everything, all these tiny different pieces can make up a whole impactful thing in the end,” she said.