AI-Powered Entrepreneurship: Building Tomorrow’s Success Stories In Cyprus

by Marios Roussos
AI/ML Hackathon

The AI/ML Hackathon and how startups benefit from Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence has conquered the technological landscape and stands out as a transformative force driving innovation and entrepreneurship.

While not a new field, recent advancements have propelled AI to the forefront, offering unprecedented opportunities for startups and entrepreneurs.

We talked with Mr. Micheal Glaros, Principal Program Manager at Microsoft Cloud for Industry AI, about the intersection of AI and entrepreneurship, exploring its potential for prosperity and addressing the challenges and opportunities it presents. The occasion behind our conversation is the AI/ML Hackathon – more of it below- of which Mr. Glaros, will be part of the team of trainers, mentors, and speakers.

Our interviewee brings a wealth of experience and insight to the discussion. Drawing from their involvement in initiatives like Project Beacon and collaboration with professionals such as Steven Stavrou and Burak Berk Doluay from SocialTech Lab, they provide valuable perspectives on how AI is shaping the entrepreneurial landscape, particularly in regions like Cyprus.

Additionally, their involvement in organizing AI hackathons sheds light on the practical benefits and opportunities these events offer for both participants and the broader entrepreneurial community.

Is artificial intelligence a new field that will give prosperity to entrepreneurship?

Artificial intelligence is not a new field, but it has seen rapid advancements in recent years that have significantly increased its potential to drive entrepreneurship and innovation. AI technologies can analyse large datasets, identify patterns, and make predictions that can be invaluable for startups. By leveraging AI, entrepreneurs can gain insights that lead to more informed decision-making, personalized customer experiences, and innovative products and services.

AI is transforming how businesses operate and creating new opportunities for entrepreneurs. AI hackathons, such as the one we’re hosting, are important for this because they offer a space for innovative people to learn how to solve real-world challenges using AI.

How AI can help startups and entrepreneurs with their ideas? Is AI for everyone?

Generative AI and tools like Microsoft Copilot can help entrepreneurs and founders by acting as a force multiplier by lowering the barrier to entry and helping startups with content creation tasks like promotional announcements and product marketing materials that are traditionally labour intensive.

What are the main challenges companies face today in Cyprus and how AI can assist?

Globally, companies are racing to adapt to the swift advancements in innovation and the expanding array of software development tools. Creating AI applications that are not only high-performing but also secure and reliable demands a significant volume of data.

This data must be meticulously curated to ensure it is of high quality, safeguarded, and primed for AI utilization, which is a complex endeavour. Moreover, despite AI’s longstanding presence, the surge in generative AI technologies is quite recent. Consequently, standards for security, privacy, and ethical AI practices are still in the formative stages and vary widely across different regions, industries, and applications.

In Cyprus, the demand for skilled professionals in product management, data engineering, cloud computing, and data science is critical for the nation’s ambition to become a hub for AI development.

How did the idea of an AI/ML Hackathon come up and how do participants benefit?

Back in 2021 Shaden Awad and Rakan AlZagha started a mentorship program called Project Beacon that brought Microsoft professionals together with Palestinian university students living in the West Bank studying computer science. This program brought us into contact with Nadiah Sabaneh of FINOMENA who got us connected with the students.

The goal was to complement their academic experiences with real-life guidance from working professionals to help them with their career development. One of the common asks we received from the participating students was the chance to apply their skills by getting an internship. We tried on several occasions to place students with internship opportunities but failed, typically because the internships best suited to take advantage of the student’s skills were located abroad and they could not secure the necessary visas.

Around 2022, I got to know Steven and Burak at CyprusInno. As a Greek-American, I immediately felt comfortable with Steven and Burak. The three of us discussed this idea of giving the Palestinian students the next best thing to an internship – the opportunity to participate in a hackathon working on real-world problems to help accelerate Cypriot startups.

Most of our Palestinian mentees have never traveled before so the idea of gaining both international and professional experience that could boost their career prospects became quite motivating for us.

Tell us a little bit about the AI/ML Hackathon in Cyprus.

The AI/ML Hackathon emerged from a collaborative vision to bridge the gap between education and practical experience for computer science students in the West Bank. Initiated by Shaden Awad and Rakan AlZagha in 2021, the Project Beacon mentorship program initially aimed to pair these students with Microsoft professionals, enhancing their academic learning with valuable industry insights. However, the aspiration to secure internships for these students is often met with obstacles, primarily visa issues for opportunities abroad.


Startup World Cup Cyprus

In a serendipitous turn, a partnership with CyprusInno’s Steven and Burak forged through my involvement with 50:50 Startups—an NGO fostering joint ventures between Palestinian and Israeli entrepreneurs—opened a new avenue. As a Greek-American, I instantly felt at home in Cyprus and was inspired to conceptualize an alternative to internships: a hackathon that would offer Palestinian students the chance to tackle real-world challenges faced by Cypriot startups.

When Nadiah, Steven, Burak, Shaden, Rakan, and I came together for our very first planning call, the connection was instant. We collectively aligned our vision to provide a platform for the practical application of the student’s skills but also a taste of international professional exposure, a first for many of the mentees. The hackathon stands as a testament to innovation and cross-cultural collaboration, offering participants a unique opportunity to enhance their career trajectory while contributing to global startup ecosystems.

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