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AUS team wins top honors at Injaz Company Program
A team of budding entrepreneurs from American University of Sharjah (AUS) recently won the Product of the Year award at the Injaz Company Program 2020–2021. Competing against six other teams from four universities, the AUS team was required to conceptualize and form a start-up by developing a team, building products and prototypes, selling shares, and finally pitching the start-up idea to a panel of expert judges from a variety of sectors in UAE.
The main vision of the team’s winning start-up, entitled Hydroot, is to have a farmer in every house. It envisages selling small-scale sustainable hydroponic kits, similar in size to a medium household vase, to enable its customers to grow fruits and vegetables in their own homes. These Hydroot Kits feature completely customized full-spectrum LED lights and high-quality air pumps to provide the optimum growing conditions for the plants, allowing the kits to be placed in any type of home, ranging from a small apartment in a 100-floor skyscraper to an underground house.
With the start-up partnering with a hydroponic-run farm in Sharjah, its kits boast supplemental features. Once the “farmers”—the customers—have purchased the deluxe Hydroot Kit, the company will provide them with a subscription plan that provides weekly replenishment and servicing of the kits. This will include the transplantation of live fresh and fruits and vegetable plants with the roots attached from Hydroot’s partner hydroponic farm. This will allow customers to enjoy their yield from their very own crops any time between the second they receive delivery to up to a week later.
Speaking about the project, Muhammad Junaid, a computer science major and Hydroot’s CEO, said: “Our deluxe Hydroot Kits are made locally, using mud and clay. This allows Hydroot to stay one step ahead in terms of sustainability and provides support to the local pottery community. Also, as the kit is integrated with a premium growing system, it enables customers to sustain their yield for a longer period of time.”
According to Junaid, the team spent over eight months developing a prototype of the product and the company’s service model, and conducting tests to make the prototype market-ready. “We worked really hard on this project and are incredibly pleased to see that all our efforts bore fruit and our project received such appreciation. Our journey allowed us to deal with all the different aspects that go into forming a company from scratch, from the basic concept to bringing in investment, to prototype development and marketing to team management,” said Junaid.
“We are now planning to pitch it to different startup incubators, accelerators and investors for potential investment, and are registering a license and patent to initiate the business journey,” said Junaid.
Other members of the multidisciplinary team are Arpit Jain, a finance major and company CFO; Syed Faizan and Syed Kumail, computer engineering majors and the company’s Director of Operations and Director of Product Development, respectively; and Mohammed Al Najjar, an industrial engineering major and Hydroot’s Director of HR.
Speaking on the importance of such opportunities for students, Rose Armour, Head of AUS Sustainability, said: “I have been continually impressed with the Hydroot team and their dedication to this project. They approached the AUS Sustainability Office during their research phase. It is great to see a multidisciplinary team of students working to address real-world sustainability challenges. It really exemplifies the role the Sustainability Office sees for AUS graduates; they are our link to the future. We strive for all of our students to graduate with a sustainable mindset, allowing them to address sustainability issues in their professional and personal decision making."
AUS is widely recognized for its sustainability initiatives and is the MENA region's best performing university in the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System. In 2020, AUS became the Gulf region's first university to begin to ban single-use plastics across its campus, with all campus vendors banned from selling plastic water containers holding less than 500 millimeters of water. The plastics-ban initiative followed the launch of the university’s new Engineering and Sciences Building, which was awarded the highly sought after 2 Pearl rating by Estidama, a sustainable development initiative of the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council. AUS also received the Green Audit Award as part of the Abu Dhabi Environmental Agency’s Sustainable Campus Initiative for university students.