A new startup established by an international team of young innovators is set to help millions of people suffering from vestibular disorders manage their illness in a more cost-effective way from the convenience of their homes. VertiPro will be a cutting-edge mobile application and computer software that uses augmented reality (AR) to guide patients through a series of exercises to help ease the symptoms associated with vestibular disorders such as vertigo and dizziness.

The revolutionary software is being developed by Saad F. Moazam, a mechanical engineering senior studying at Texas A&M University at Qatar and Pakistani national who has lived in the Middle East for the past 13 years, along with Alexander Paul, Hayden Mertial, Delano Covarrubias and Prof. Alexander Lewis, who are students at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Saad and Delano met during last summer’s European Innovation Academy (EIA) in Italy where they had a different team, but they decided to make VertiPro a reality after the program was over.

The EIA is the world’s largest extreme entrepreneurship program, offering aspiring techpreneurs the necessary mentorship to launch a startup in just 15 days. Through the support offered by Qatar Science &Technology Park (QSTP), Moazam was able to attend the coveted program and has since returned to Doha as a Chief Technology Officer of VertiPro. Covarrubias has taken the role of managing the startup from San Antonio, as the Chief Executive Officer.

“I went to the EIA with the goal of making an idea a reality and so, I was lucky enough to come out with a viable startup and was then highly motivated to enter the startup world. The experience was eye-opening and refreshing, as I got to work with a diverse team that is made up of people from five different countries. “I believe some of our success can be attributed to the diversity of the team and the varying ideas and mindsets we brought to the table,” he explains.

Going into EIA, Moazam and his original team had an initial startup plan, but three days into the program they had to completely transform their idea to ensure it addressed a specific need. “Hearing the first few keynote speeches at the start of EIA, I personally realized that our initial idea didn’t address a problem, and we needed to adapt our business plan if we wanted to make a success out of our product,” he says.

It was with the help Dr. Jonathan H Spindel, Director of Engineering Programs at Thomas Jefferson University, who serves as the team’s scientific advisor, and Federico Mammano, Chief Advisor and Mentor at VertiPro, that the team was able to fine-tune their initial idea. Federico is an entrepreneur enthusiast with more than 10 years of technology product management experience who believes that being adaptable and open-minded is essential when techpreneurs are in the early stages of product development.

“Usually when participants start the EIA, they are attached to their idea, it’s their ‘baby,’ but often this is just a solution teams are trying to push onto the market and it doesn’t hold any real value or address market demand. Realizing your initial idea doesn’t solve a significant problem is a huge learning curve, but the program gives teams an opportunity to play with startup ideas and provides a safety net to explore all the options,” says Mammano.

Under the guidance of Mammano, VertiPro recently competed in the “Big Rowdy Idea Business Model Competition” at the University of Texas, San Antonio, and was successfully awarded US$30,000 for the funding and services of the startup. With the initial funding, VertiPro plans to enter the Texas market, after which the startup will branch out to the rest of the United States, where vestibular disorders affect an estimated 69 million Americans, before introducing their AR product to the global market.

“As part of our short-term goals, we are working on re-doing our market research to get valid qualitative data and we will then allocate the funding that we have for development, marketing solutions, and applying for a patent in the US,” says Moazam.

Arab Innovation Academy (AIA)

In order to succeed in programs such as EIA and AIA, he notes that it is crucial for techpreneurs to be able to take a step back from their ideas and goals. “As a participant in both EIA and AIA, you need to detach yourself emotionally from your idea. If you think critically and rationally about a solution and consider the pros and cons of what you’re doing, only then can you move on and learn from your mistakes, otherwise you’ll be stuck in an endless loop,” Moazam says.

Mammano implores current and future participants of EIA and AIA to enter the programs with an open mind: “The best innovator is the child-like scientist who has a lot of curiosity for the outside world and the determination to experiment with different ideas.”

“As a mentor and speaker of this program and the Arab Innovation Academy, it is my job to support and inspire a young generation of innovators, not inventors, and both programs definitely alter the way the participants approach tech development and entrepreneurship.”