By Sindhu Hariharan / Entrepreneur Middle East - Image Credit: Fun Robotics
According to the World Economic Forum, almost half of the MENA region’s population today is made up of youth under the age of 25. While this can be seen as a hugely positive demographic for a region with ambitious plans, it also means that what you do to shape this population will determine the landscape of the future as well. For countries in the process of transitioning to becoming knowledge-based economies (as many Middle East nations are), it would be safe to say that investing in digital automation and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and breaking down the “geeky” stereotypes associated with these areas will be crucial first steps.
And this is what UAE-based startup Fun Robotics is trying to do: this enterprise, which has been certified by the UAE’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority, is on a mission to provide the younger generation in the Middle East with a fun and interactive learning experience in the field of robotics and STEM. With two major verticals- research and development (R&D) and robotics education- Fun Robotics aims to invent futuristic solutions to life’s everyday problems, as well as support educators and schools to inculcate robotics in their curriculums. “Fun Robotics was launched in 2013,” remembers founder and CEO Lubna Taji. “And the main motivation behind it was an aspiration to create the tools and the conductive environment for future innovators and makers to flourish, to make sure all students have the opportunity to be the problem solvers of tomorrow, by giving them the chance to design and innovate today.”
According to Taji, robotics is an engaging and exciting way to make students get fully involved in learning STEM, and does a lot to improve their problem solving, teamwork, and communication skills at early stage. The startup, however, goes beyond nurturing next generation innovators: Fun Robotics also facilitates team building and design thinking for enterprises by organizing workshops for their employees, where they get to learn the basics of robotics as well as compete in engaging challenges. With a bachelor’s education in computer science, it was Taji’s keen interest in robotics and a passion to nurture children gifted with STEM skills that saw her take up various online courses from Carnegie Mellon University and MIT in the US. The advanced technologies that Taji set out to master can hardly be considered a walk in the park, and factor in the matter of being a woman in STEM in the region, and you can’t help but applaud Taji’s determination.
“Every thing in the beginning was extremely difficult, and any tiny support was very important,” she admits. What started off as something as casual as teaching robotics to her own kids and her friends’ children, is now a stable business in the form of Fun Robotics, she says. “Then, gradually I rented a place in after-school clubs only once a week… I used to put the kits and laptops in a big suitcase, [then when] I had more demand, and I [conducted it as] after school activities at schools. My husband’s support was really important, and my kids’ encouragement and excitement was essential,” she adds.