After a rigorous competition, three talented youth teams with exciting, scalable ideas to bring positive environmental change, were announced as winners in the Arab Youth Hackathon. The regional entrepreneurship program, spearheaded by PepsiCo and the Arab Youth Center (AYC), aims to bring together regional rising stars who are creating smarter solutions for climate-related issues in agriculture, circular economy, water security, and renewable energy.
Held at the Youth Hub at COP28 in Dubai, the final event saw 15 of the most promising solutions to combat climate change, from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon, compete in the Arab Youth Hackathon’s first edition.
On the winning podium in first place was Green Taqa from Lebanon, represented by Afif Wehbe (31 years old). Their team developed an innovative waste-to-energy solution, converting organic materials into methane. This clean natural gas is then utilized to generate electricity, providing cooking and heating solutions. The process also produces natural fertilizer as a beneficial byproduct, contributing to sustainable agriculture.
Cropsense from Saudi Arabia secured the runner-up position with their AI-generated system designed to provide farmers with essential insights, allowing them to make decisions based on data. Presenting their idea was Murtadha Alnasser (27 years old), who articulated the expertise and innovation which led to the success of the team.
Luxeed Robotics from Lebanon claimed third place and rounded out the top three performing teams. This Agrytech pre-seed startup, represented by Guadaluna Chaer (26 years old), employs advanced technology to revolutionize organic farming. Their concept aims to make organic cultivation more accessible, efficient, and cost effective, empowering farmers to produce crops without relying on harmful chemicals.
These three winning teams will receive an equity-free seed fund from the PepsiCo Foundation to launch their businesses, worth $30,000 for the winner, $20,000 for the runner-up, and $10,000 for the second runner-up. In addition, they will participate in a one-month incubation program that will help them develop and scale their groundbreaking ideas and ensure long-term success.
Eugene Willemsen, CEO – Africa, Middle East and South Asia at PepsiCo said, “Finding more sustainable ways to look after our planet’s resources is in everybody’s interest, and to do this, youth-inspired innovation is essential. We announced the launch of the Arab Youth Hackathon at COP27 last year. One year on, it’s inspiring to engage with young innovators and bring their ideas to life at COP28, through the biggest youth hackathon program in the region. Seeing the immense potential of youth to activate new thinking and action for a sustainable future, energizes the important topic of urgent climate action, which is a focal point of COP28 here in Dubai. Collaboration between generations and across the industry has been at the heart of this success, and we hope it serves as a stepping stone to forefront the region as an innovation hub powered by young changemakers.”
Haya Aseer, Projects Team Lead – Arab Youth Center said, “The process of engaging young people, understanding their ideas, developing their vision, and seeing the growth in actionable ideas, has been inspiring. Our hope is that the innovations awarded in this Arab Youth Hackathon will emerge to become the real, meaningful beacons of hope we need to transform and achieve a sustainable future.”
Seena Amidi, Managing Partner – Plug and Play EMEA said, “We kicked off this unique initiative last year at COP27, where our esteemed partners PepsiCo, PepsiCo Foundation and the Arab Youth Center announced a cross border climate tech hackathon designed to bring regionally developed solutions to a global sphere. This is how the Arab Youth Hackathon really stands out in my opinion, and I wish to congratulate all finalists and all participants from the five markets on their innovative solutions. He also added, ‘We at Plug and Play, are proud to support our partners but also the three hackathon champions Green Taqa, Cropsense, and Luxeed Robotics as we bring them onboard in our globally recognized open innovation platform.”
Over the past three-months, the Arab Youth Hackathon activated in five cities, hosting bootcamps with local partners, where finalists received extensive training and mentorship through curated workshops from industry and subject matter experts. With over 400 participants engaged, the final entries were evaluated based on their sustainability credentials, ability to reduce emissions, and the magnitude of impact on areas under the four pillars of the competition (Water, Agriculture, Climate and Circular Economy).
COP28 has ambitious goals to be a COP of action, and private sector sustainability initiatives, especially those involving youth, are playing a key role in contributing to the legacy of the world’s most significant climate forum. The Arab Youth Hackathon has now delivered a next generation of action heroes who can drive forward their stress-tested innovations with the support of major organizations like PepsiCo, and additional private sector collaborations. The Hackathon was supported by several institutions in the region, who worked closely with PepsiCo and the Arab Youth Center to identify promising talent and guide them through the process. Plug and Play, known for accelerating innovation across a wide network of accelerators, industry-leading corporations, and venture capitalists globally, extended its expertise to help bring the program to life in MENA.