The tool to translate text and speech to sign language was designed and presented in 72 hours.
Translation software Mimix shines at Startup Weekend
Of almost three dozen new companies that emerged at the end of last week's Startup Weekend in Beirut, none seemed as promising as the venture that created a software tool to translate text and speech into sign language.
More impressive was that the five people behind the company developed and presented the translation software just 72 hours after meeting one another for the first time.
The new company, Mimix, was one of 34 new entities that "graduated" from the Startup Weekend event hosted last week by YallaStartup, an organisation co-founded by the Arab entrepreneurs Habib Haddad, Elie Khoury and Sami Shalabi.
The event brought together more than 250 eager entrepreneurs as young as 18 from across the Arab world to learn about turning ideas into viable businesses.
"There's so many different dialects of sign language and 80 per cent of all deaf people live in the developing world," said Pierre Daher, a Mimix co-founder who is studying for a Master's degree in marketing at St Joseph University in Beirut.
"We thought that the product had a lot of potential here in the Arab world … and can be used anywhere you have contact with strangers. Instead of trying to communicate by writing a note or reading lips, you can easily understand what they're saying."
At the end of the weekend, the Mimix team members created a working prototype and business plan. They demonstrated the software-generating hand gestures that corresponded to American Sign Language in response to typed or spoken phrases.
Not only was Mimix voted the best start-up at the end of the weekend, it also won the Global Startup Battle among a group of other winners from Startup Weekend events held in 12 cities including Boston, Lisbon, New York and Sofia.
Mimix plans to perfect its technology and launch a website and mobile application over the next year.
"We started on Friday and we were working on a different project called Echoscan, a mobile app which would give you the scientific info of the product when you scan its barcode," Mr Daher said.
"We discovered that one of our team members had a better idea. We thought it had more potential and spent the rest of the weekend sitting on our laptops trying to finish it."
The Startup Weekend highlights the growing emphasis in the Arab world on nurturing entrepreneurs and new companies as a way to help meet the need for an estimated 50 million jobs in the region over the next 10 years.
This month, Abraaj Capital, one of the largest private-equity firms in the Middle East, hosted the Celebration of Entrepreneurship, which aimed to spark new ventures and create a platform for angel investments in the region.
Mr Haddad, who runs the Arabic online transliteration service Yamli, said Startup Weekend was a grass-roots initiative that would be judged on how many jobs and businesses were created over the next year.
"We have very limited resources and we're not backed by a fund or government. We barely have any money to sustain ourselves," Mr Haddad said. "But we wanted something we could manage but make the biggest impact possible."
Among the companies to which the Startup Weekend judges gave high marks were Capsu.ly, which provides unlimited data storage for online communities, and Hintout.com, a social network that connects online users with events that match their interests.