AKA students attend this year's DMZ Basecamp competition | Aga Khan Academies

AKA students attend this year's DMZ Basecamp competition

21 December 2023

Three students from the Aga Khan Academies attended this year’s DMZ Basecamp at the Toronto Metropolitan University in Canada, in which they presented their entrepreneurial projects to DMZ experts who provided guidance through coaching, mentoring and networking

The DMZ Basecamp supports student entrepreneurs in creating tech solutions to help fill social and economic gaps in society today. The eight-week programme provides students with insight into the world of business, giving them the opportunity to start companies and compete for grants worth up to $5,000.  

Sarina Telerico, a Diploma Programme (DP) 2 student from the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa, developed a project about a mobile application to address needs in the houseplant market. The app would use a range of features, including artificial intelligence to educate plant owners about caring for their plants and informing them of climate trends and basic needs.  

“I came up with the idea when I noticed how much effort my mom had put into her plants at home,” she said. “I initially thought it was due to her obsession with health and well-being, but I later found out that she had to be cautious when caring for her plants as the humidity and climate of our area affected them greatly.” 

Shashini Bommala, a DP2 student from the Aga Khan Academy Hyderabad, worked on a project called “LabFlo”, which enhances and promotes science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education through scientific methods of learning. The application would support schools and students in laboratory management and experimentation by tracking equipment usage and providing a platform for equipment requests. 

“This idea is something that struck me when I was often engaged in lab activities, and I used to struggle to find the right equipment and understand the experimental process,” she explained. “This was not something that was specific to me, it was something that every other student in the lab did as well. After thinking this through, it planted an idea for making a standardised platform for all students, LabFlo.” 

Denilson Fernandes, a DP1 student from the Aga Khan Academy Maputo, created an app focusing on paying underrepresented artists from Africa. The app, “ArtSHIFT”, would give most of the profit to the artists, capturing a combination of their art and the continuous shift in global perspective of how African art is conceived.  

“The original thought was random, I remember it being in my parent's car and excitedly pitching them the idea of doing something about art, due to my interest in Leonardo Davinci's ‘Mona Lisa’ and the process,” Denilson reflected. “As the days went on, I began to realise that Mozambique's art scene was marvellous and underrepresented locally and even globally.” 

DMZ is a world-leading tech incubator supporting tech startups globally. By providing access to investors, target customers, experts and more, the company is ranked as the top incubator in the world. Annually, DMZ hosts their Basecamp for high school students, undergraduates, postgraduates and PhD students with innovative business ideas and are committed to finding real-life solutions. Students are then selected for the camp and learn vital skills like sales and negotiation strategies, product and brand management, value proposition design, and many more.  

“Participating in the DMZ competition was an entirely new experience,” said Sarina Telerico, a DP2 student. “Not only did it offer a unique platform to work on my entrepreneurial and technology skills, but it also gave me the opportunity to meet a diverse range of business owners and CEOs to gain a first-hand understanding of how to start a business.” 

Shashini also highlighted her experience as being a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. 

“The experience was eye-opening; it gave me a holistic insight into real-world competition and a new perspective about the world around me.” 

Denilson agreed, describing the competition as monumental step to create societal change. The Grade 10 student was also selected as one of the finalists among a competitive field including PhD and postgraduate students.  

“The sheer amount of interesting and diverse ideas was an important aspect of the competition because they are truly ideas that can change the world and the way that society functions, so in my opinion that was eye-opening to experience history in the making.” 

The students particularly thanked the Academies for the continued support and guidance in developing their business ideas and entrepreneurial flare. This can be seen through the Aga Khan Curricular Strands, which are specific areas of focus interwoven into the curriculum. One of these strands includes Economics for Development, which specifically provide students with the resources and confidence to find real-life solutions to issues the world is facing today.

“The Academy [in Hyderabad] has played a pivotal role in fostering my personal and professional growth, thereby significantly influencing my entrepreneurial journey,” Shashini expressed. “Over the past seven years at the Academy, it has instilled in me a strong foundation of values and attributes that have shaped not only my character but also my approach towards my business idea. Leadership and stewardship are the core attributes that are embedded within the Academy's culture, which is observed in the several opportunities that have been provided by the Academy that have been of great value to all the students.” 

For Denilson, not only was participating in the DMZ Basecamp was a huge opportunity for him, but it also gave him an insight into what life at university would be like.  

“Just the fact that they can provide these kinds of opportunities is very rare especially since the African continent is not as represented as it should be,” he said. “In addition, it allowed me to experience what life after university might look like and further helped me clarify the career that I would love to follow.” 

Congratulations to these students for participating in the DMZ Basecamp this year! In addition to immersing themselves into the world of technology and entrepreneurship, the students also demonstrated how to be globally minded citizens by working with peers from around the world to create real, sustainable solutions.