Why research centres of excellence are a valuable resource for entrepreneurial students | Top Universities

Why research centres of excellence are a valuable resource for entrepreneurial students

By Craig OCallaghan

Updated March 13, 2024 Updated March 13, 2024

Sponsored by American University of Ras Al Khaimah

If you have ambitions to launch your own business and be part of the global startup community, identifying a university which can support you on that journey is essential.

The American University of Ras Al Khaimah (AURAK) offers entrepreneurial support to its students and graduates through its research centres of excellence, notably ICONET and the AURAK Centre for Entrepreneurship (ACE).

To learn more about these centres and what it’s like to study at the American University of Ras Al Khaimah as a budding entrepreneur, we spoke with two AURAK graduates: Mariam Attallah and Shadi Ben Abderrahmen.

AURAK campus

Mariam, AURAK Centre for Entrepreneurship (ACE)

After graduating with a degree in communications from AURAK, Mariam had ambitions to start her own freelancing business, having wanted to do something beyond the regular nine-to-five.

“I wanted more autonomy over my own work,” she told us. “That’s why I was inspired to start my own business and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to open my startup at ACE. The centre provided me with invaluable support, including assistance in obtaining my trading licence at the RAK Economy Department.”

When asked to consider the key benefits that ACE were able to offer her on her entrepreneurial journey the network of mentorship and support provided to Mariam is top of the list.

“Through the guidance of professors, I was able to refine my business plan and develop the skills necessary to succeed as an entrepreneur. I received a lot of mentorship and advice from Dr Tahseen, who’s been available and extremely patient and understanding, especially since I don't have a business background.”

That guidance has enabled Mariam to turn her ideas into reality and she’s quick to share with us how grateful she is for the resources and support offered through the centre of excellence.

“Working at ACE has shown me what doing business in the real world is like. When you're still a student, even with the best professors and curriculums, there are some things that you still won't fully comprehend or pick up until you've been thrust into the real world and experienced it for yourself.

“The extra benefit you get from ACE is that they also offer guidance which you would not find in many other places. Most workplaces you start at expect you to know everything from the get-go. At ACE, there’s this safety net to help you through whichever obstacles get in your way.”

When asked to share with us what message she would have for potential applicants to AURAK, Mariam’s message was clear: “AURAK has opened the door for students and graduates to take control of their own future and start the business of their dreams. If you're interested in entrepreneurship, you've come to the right place and there's no better time to do it than now!”

Shadi Ben Abderrahmen, ICONET

Shadi graduated from AURAK with a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering in 2018, and it was in their final year that they were first introduced to some of the work being done by the ICONET research centre of excellence.

“My supervisor, Professor Abdul Halim Al Jallad, introduced me to a project called MeznSat, a satellite measuring greenhouse gases on top of UAE. I liked the project idea and with a colleague started to prototype a preliminary model for the senior design project on my course.

“During the summer of 2018, I did a two-month internship on the actual MeznSat project in Abu Dhabi, and from that I joined ICONET as part of the MeznSat team.”

MeznSat project, ICONET

That initial project has since opened doors for Shadi to work on a range of other ICONET projects, including fire prediction software, smart street lights and work within robotics and artificial intelligence.

Over time, they’ve also taken responsibility for guiding the next generation of scientists and innovators joining ICONET.

“Every summer ICONET accepts trainees who are either trying to complete their internship university course or they are trying to learn new skills, who I supervise and make sure to guide them and monitor their actions. 

“So far, I have supervised four trainee students over the past years. Monitoring students in their senior design projects is one of the tasks I oversee. I have to make sure that the students are progressing through their tasks and fulfilling their goals, making sure they have the right tools and guiding them when they face difficulties. 

“While working on such projects requires a varying set of skills depending on the project, teamworkand willingness to explore and learn new concepts are the most important skills every student should have. In ICONET we aim that every student can work well in a team and is able to self-learn when required to.”

Shadi is full of praise for the working environment at ICONET, citing its supportive nature but also the way it pushes everyone to think outside the box and be constantly learning: “Everyone at ICONET is friendly and supportive, energised by the range of exciting projects in progress.

“Working in ICONET has always been exciting and challenging. Every year we have different projects that require different skills and knowledge which pushes me to teach myself to be able to commit and fulfil those projects.

“During the five years I spent in AURAK, I acquired loads of skills from programming to teamwork and leadership, which I really appreciate and will set me up for the great future ahead of me.”

This article was originally published in January 2024 . It was last updated in March 2024

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