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Hind Hobeika’s ButterflEye invention

Hind displaying a prototype of ButterflEye. (Photo by Azakir/The Daily Star)

BEIRUT: Hind Hobeika is a swimmer who wants to keep track of her heart beat during her daily exercises. There is no way for her to do this, her coach informed her.

She could check her pulse after she gets out of the water, he said, or she could purchase a wrist-watch with a heart-rate monitor. Both are inconvenient choices, Hind explains, because the first of these can only be done in the “warm-down” period, and the second is simply impossible to check in the heat of a front crawl, or a butterfly.

“You need to know your heart rate instantaneously if you want to get the maximum [benefits from] exercise,” says Hind.

“I always had a doubt at the back of my mind that this wasn’t possible.”

Hind invented the ButterflEye, a pair of regular-looking swimming goggles except for a yellow wire that runs across the upper parts of the lenses leading into two heart-trackers that sit at the swimmer’s temples.

She received $100,000 in seeds capital from the Berytech Fund in order to take her invention further and is in the throes of a painstaking application for a U.S. patent.

She is one of several young entrepreneurs in a burgeoning Information Technology sector, powered by enthusiastic youth and supported by local and regional investors who see IT as a new frontier for the Lebanese economy.

BerytechFund is one of those groups that fund and incubate budding entrepreneurs, boasting a $6 million portfolio. Year-old start-up catalyst group, Seeqnce, itself run by young entrepreneurs, is another.

“When I see these bright, promising and innovative entrepreneurs, I feel confident about the future of this country,” said Berytech Fund Chairman Maroun Chammas at a ceremony that unveiled Hind’s product, as well as three other youth-powered projects, at the group’s headquarters Wednesday.

Hind’s ButterflEye is a heart rate monitor that tells the swimmer when they’ve reached their target zone through a tiny bulb located at the top of a lens. When the bulb blinks green, this means that the swimmer is on target. Yellow indicates that she must speed up. Red tells the swimmer to slow down.

It is the first heart rate monitor specifically designed for swimmers.

The 23-year-old first invented the machine while being “locked in” by the ever-present cameras of a Qatar-based reality show named Stars of Science. The show gathers aspiring young scientists from across the Arab world, watching them interact with one another as they piece together an innovative design concept.

Hind came in third place, after an intense four-month period, during which she labored on her brainchild while taking her final-semester AUB courses through an online correspondence with her professors.

She also had to work through some major social barriers. For a month and a half, Hind was the only female finalist. Some of her peers refused to talk to her while on set, she reports, because they said they believed that a woman had no place among inventors, and refused to be broadcast associating with one while at work.

Still Hind emerged from the show more determined than before. “The highlight of the competition was that it showed me that if I had an idea, I could do it,” said Hind.

Prior to the competition, she reports, she had plenty of ideas for potential products. A product development course at AUB initially made her enthusiastic about the idea.

Friends and family, at first, discouraged Hind. They said her work would run into too many risks in a politically unstable Lebanon.

“But I was very stubborn about my decision,” she says.

Hind is currently working to develop a second prototype of ButterflEye. After this she enters phase 2 of the project: reaching out to firms in North America who would be willing to take her product, license it and market it.

She expects the price to be around $100 a piece.

Eighty percent of the market for health-related products is in North America, Hind’s research reveals. It’s research that she has had to do in order to apply for her American patent.

For now, she plans to stay in Beirut and work through her patents and inter-continental connections with Berytech.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 05, 2011, on page 4.

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