Picture a room with a young boy sitting cross-legged on the floor with a bag of Legos and a creative imagination. At a very young age, Thieab Aldossary identified his interest in design and technology, his favorite toys were Legos where he would spend hours using his imaginative talent to create and design new things. Not only did he spend time with Legos, but he also had a curiosity in dismantling electronic devices and understanding the mechanics behind their design. That very same young boy grew up to follow his very early interest and now holds a Bachelor Degree in Design Engineering from the University of Middlesex, a Masters of Science in Systems Engineering from George Washington University and has gone on to win major regional innovation competitions and has come to be known as the Bahraini Inventor, Thieab Aldossary.
A sense of pride seeps through our veins when we learn Thieab’s story. He is a true innovator with a unique mind that brings together creativity, design, engineering, passion, and determination to produce the inventions that are held under the umbrella of Feelix (Feelix.co).
Thieab has always considered himself as a creative person and not only does he have an appreciation for art and music, but he also produces them. His ability to identify with the realms of art and music have overflowed into his design engineering capabilities and created a proof of concept for a product he invented while he was studying. “After making a proof of concept for a product I found myself where a lot of inventors have been, needing help, but scared to tell anybody the idea for fear that disclosing it would lead to someone stealing the idea or losing the credibility for patent because of disclosure”, revealed Thieab during our interview.
ALTHOUGH HE FOUND THAT MANY OF THE HIGH TECHNOLOGY SOLUTIONS DESIGNED FOR THE VISUALLY IMPAIRED WERE REJECTED; THIS DID NOT HINDER HIM FROM CONTINUING ON WITH HIS PROJECT.
Many of us come up with projects during our studies, but very few of us ever pursue it afterwards. For Thieab the story was different, he did not lose sight of the opportunity and innovative capabilities that he saw in his concept, but was waiting to find the right opportunity and to patent his concept before moving forward. So what is Feelix all about? “My inventions in Feelix explore the sense of touch as a means of communication, through the development of communication devices while exploring how information can be transferred to people through the sense of touch (tactile). Having information communicated through the sense of touch enables people to receive information without necessarily needing to see it or hear it but feel it; this opens a whole array of possibilities and applications for this technology. It has generated a lot of interest and I am proud to be recognized as a Bahraini Arab inventor representing my country and the region as a whole.”
As we envision the many colors and shapes that a bag of Legos contain, it can only bring to one’s imagination the number of designs that can be created and it is that gifted mindset and ability to see many possibilities from one focus or concept which Thieab has undoubtedly carried from the hours spent playing with them as a child which has ultimately contributed to his success. Thieab’s concept started out to solve a problem, which was communicating information to the visually impaired while they are in motion. Although he found that many of the high technology solutions designed for the visually impaired were rejected; this did not hinder him from continuing on with his project. Like his curiosity to understand how things work, he wanted to understand why the users rejected the technology that could assist them with their disability. He did extensive research on the topic and found that it was not the technology that posed the issue, but rather the way the information was communicated to the users. It was this that served as the foundation for his invention “I made it my mission to find a way that communication could be sent to the user without disrupting their other senses, like hearing or movement; the solution was a tactile communicator in the palm of the hand” stated Thieab when describing the spark that led to his invention.
IT IS HERE WHEN YOU ARE ABLE TO IDENTIFY ENTREPRENEURIAL CHARACTERISTICS; THIEAB UNDERTOOK A RISK TO FOLLOW HIS PASSION OF TRANSFORMING HIS PROJECT INTO SOMETHING VIABLE FOR THE MARKET.
It took him quite a while before he obtained the ability to patent his concept, but that did not discourage him at all. Thieab started his career using his studies and knowledge skillset working in various fields that required design engineering and up until his last and current role working with patents and intellectual property. His experience and knowledge did not go unnoticed, but rather added a lot of value to him and what eventually led to him to be able to patent his invention; which is when his journey with Feelix actually took off.
Right after obtaining his patent Thieab set out to look for funding and investment opportunities. He applied to various programs and not every attempt was successful, however he did succeed in entering two Qatar based competitions; Stars of Science a program initiated by Qatar Foundation and Challenge 22 a competition to inspire eco-friendly inventions to support the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022. To be able to enter Stars of Science Thieab had a difficult decision to make, he was fully employed working with patents and intellectual property at a well renowned firm in the USA and he would have to take a leave of absence for a few months to be able to fully satisfy the competition requirements. It is here when you are able to identify entrepreneurial characteristics; Thieab undertook a risk to follow his passion of transforming his project into something viable for the market. Thieab believed in the potential of his idea and that is what you need as an innovator and entrepreneur to help drive you to take the leap. His decision to progress in both competitions and forego his career opportunities and pursue his passion led him to win in both competitions. “My first win at Stars of Science only highlighted the potential my invention had in the market and pushed me to enroll into Challenge 22. The experience at Challenge 22 was a great one. It was tough as there were four rounds of elimination to get through and each required a lot of work. In the end we won and it was amazing, to be one of six winners out of an original 331 that applied. The win made me extremely happy! Both experiences allowed me to gain great knowledge and skills to support me in furthering Feelix” expressed Thieab as he spoke of his time at Stars of Science and Challenge 22.
INVENTORS HAVE TO BE VERY CAREFUL WITH WHAT DEALS THEY MAKE FOR THE MONEY THEY RECEIVE, I HAVE RECEIVED MONEY SO FAR WITHOUT GIVING EQUITY
It would be easy to think that winning two competitions and gaining regional recognition, as the Bahraini Arab Inventor would lead Thieab to arrogance. On the contrary, Thieab has a humble nature that makes him even more amicable to the crowds. He spends a lot of his free time mentoring regional inventors on the importance of intellectual property and patents. “I think if you invent something you should get it protected, its not an easy step and the whole process can be daunting, but if you can get a patent for your idea it can really help protect the idea, obtain investment, or sell/lease the concept” advises Thieab. But, who mentors Thieab? His view on mentorship is that mentors are not for teaching, especially when it’s a new idea that has never been done before he told us, “Mentors are very important to be there when you feel lost and at a low point, they can offer directions and help brainstorm solutions to help you advance. For me I have had many people encourage me on my way, professors, teachers, friends who have all served as mentors, but I most grateful to my mother who has always believed in whatever I wanted to do, however crazy it may have been; she would not only encourage me to follow my ideas, but so long as she saw how important it was to me, she would do whatever she can to help support it”.
As an inventor it has not always been an easy journey. Thieab describes the various challenges that face the inventors once they have a concept ready the first being, finding the right source of funding. He believes that there are a lot of start up fundings available, but it’s generally not for “free”. “Inventors have to be very careful with what deals they make for the money they receive, I have received money so far without giving equity” Thieab tells us. Thieab goes on to give some good advice to inventors and entrepreneurs “There are a lot of accelerators, incubators, funding programs, angel investors, but not all of them will suit each individual. Make sure to outline their interests and intentions and map them against yours and ensure you have a good business plan when you go to seek funding, which is exactly what I did!” Another challenge for inventors in the region that Thieab has identified is the ability to make high level prototypes as there lacks high level consultants with expertise to help and support. He also finds it hard to locate tools and technicians that know how to utilize them to help with inventors to progress. Although, there are these current challenges Thieab says, “ I feel innovation will have a bright future here in the region!”
His creative flair does not end with his inventive capabilities, but extends to the name he has chosen to call his company that holds his inventions- Feelix. The name is not only catchy, but sparks the imagination and of course leads everyone to wonder the story behind the name. The name Feelix is a play on the words “feel” and “matrix”. The word “feel” because it is the use of tactile technology to “feel” information. The word “matrix” is used because the sensory components of the invention are laid out in a grid that forms a “matrix”. Hence, Feelix and its catchy slogan “Feel the Matrix”.
A BAG FULL OF COLORED LEGOS AND ENDLESS POSSIBILITIES IS THE START OF THE STORY OF THE BAHRAINI INVENTOR THIEAB.
Feelix winning competitions marks further the potential for its inventions to succeed in the market once they are commercialized. The project has now reached a stage where many aspects of the project require full time focus to get them ready for commercialization and to be introduced into the market. To do that, the next or rather current steps for Thieab and Feelix is for him to build a team which can be challenging yet exciting and is a step that many entrepreneurs lose sight of its importance. It is imperative to identify key individuals to work within the early onset of a new startup especially when the project is niche and innovative like that of Feelix.
If the mere fact that Thieab has brought to us an unique innovative idea is not enough, then we must highlight that he is not only an inventor and entrepreneur, but the social aspects of his invention makes him also a social entrepreneur. His device has social elements that relate mostly to being able to assist people with visual or hearing impairments and introduces the possibility of many new ways that these people can interact with their surroundings, devices, and other people.
A bag full of colored Legos and endless possibilities is the start of the story of the Bahraini inventor Thieab. His passion, creativity, innovation, determination, and passion have brought him to where he is now with Feelix. We would like to see how his colorful story continues and our vivid imagination takes us to the sight of Feelix inventions sold globally to help us all be able to communicate better through tactile technology. Thieab creates a synergy between the elements of art, design, innovation, and invention and is a true inspiration for inventors in the Arab World.