“Give back to Mother Earth as much as you can afford”
Environmental problems have long since been an issue in Kuwait, and beyond. But how many of us actually pledge to do something about it? Ismail Ahmad Al-Tabtabai did just that, using natural materials and processes to achieve a positive social impact. And the secret ingredient in his project? Clay.
Hi, can you tell us about yourself and your background?
I am a philomath polymath person and a believer in humanity without categorization. My happiest moments are when I am detached from the bitter reality and become a vagrant in my own realm. I consider myself a realist idealist. I want to change my reality, and those who will join me, to a better realm – a realm without man-made borders. I did my higher education in the US and worked for about ten years in Japan.
Tell us about your education.
A biotechnologist, back when there was no biotechnology major. Thus, my curriculum was a multidisciplinary one. I made two graduation researches, one in pharmaceuticals and one in proteomics.
Tell us about your invention or idea in brief.
Simply put, an air-conditioner that uses natural clay and water to condition hot and arid air. Right now it is a supplement to existing AC. I hope to develop it into an independent device in the not so far future.
How and when did you come up with the idea of this invention/project?
I am a developer/designer of industrial plants that mitigate environmental problems using natural materials, processes and forces. Natural clay is one of the materials I use in the designs and processes I develop. So, I had to take the role of the clay to understand what it does and that’s when I came up with the idea early in the millennia. It is more of a development of a historical invention and improvement of it.
Can you tell us about the process of inventing and prototyping your original idea? How many iterations did you go through?
It is essential to live the idea and be passionate about it in order to carry on with its development. Part of being passionate is playing the roles in the idea and exploring the possibilities. In this case, water, clay and air are the philosophical elements of life, and the forth is fire which comes into play when baking the clay. Each of these elements has a complex personality and behaviour which needs to be played. Without this role playing, the process would have been financially costly.
Based on that approach, I have developed and manufactured two proof-of-concept units which answer the most simple minded in the first proof-of-concept and a bit more scientifically challenging minds in the second proof-of-concept – all with about 250 KWD and in about 3 months. The results are very promising and there is so much space for improvement in the future.
What kind of special training or studies did you go through to further enhance your idea/invention?
All credit goes to the first two years of college, followed by the experience I have accumulated in my carrier and finally, our forefathers who have used clay for thousands of years to condition the living rooms. That’s on the development of the unit itself. But to go commercial I had to develop my business skills to carry on with the idea. For that, I have joined and went through Fikra Program Second Edition to help me out.
Who is supporting your project and how difficult was the process to get the support you wanted?
Currently, no-one is supporting it financially. It is a team effort and Cubical Services has joined us as administrative partner. We would need financial support for which we are still in the process of preparing the papers to present to potential financial supporters.
What problem will your invention/idea solve?
Humbly put, and so far in the progress of the idea, it helps to keep most AC unit’s parts off for as much time as possible. Therefore, the plan is to save at least 20% of power consumption on the national level during peak times. This in essence should prevent blackouts during the summer season.
With that saving in mind, subsidies can be reduced and funds and power can be diverted elsewhere, AC spare parts will be less susceptible to breakage, maintenance time and money will be reduced and a healthy level of humidity is provided.
The above is all about the Kuwaiti market. Once we expand our vision, then there are markets with weak electricity, those with no electricity, and remote areas to count just a few.
What’s unique about the idea/invention?
It is Green from cradle to grave in every possible way that I have control over. It is simple in design and operation. I’ve put so much thought into making it almost maintenance free. Hopefully in the future it would be mechanically and electrically passive as well.
Where can the idea/invention be implemented?
It could serve residential spaces, industrial hangers, greenhouses, livestock hangers and, possibly, open spaces. Geographically it can be used in MENA and all other regions with hot and arid climates. I hope to develop it further in the future to include the regions with high humidity.
Tell us about some of your achievements?
Completion of Fikra Program. Two proof-of-concept units. Nomination for AIM Startup which is focused on ideas with Sustainable Development Contributions with Social Impact.
What difficulties did you face in the initial stage?
The lack of proper equipment to manufacture the clay is the one difficultly that I am still facing. Other than that, I owe it to the private sector in general for building the units, and none to the government sector. National Industries Co being number one and NICeramics, Cubical Services to name but a few.
What are some of your future plans?
To develop ideas and gadgets that use natural clay in many other aspects of our daily life.
What are some of your hobbies?
While in Kuwait it is mostly cooking.
Abroad, I like walking and hiking and mountain trekking. I long for the days when I volunteered for the National Forest in US and trekked the Cascades of Western Coast.
At all times and everywhere, I enjoy reading, learning new skills, contemplating and introspecting on problems and their solutions.
What according to you are the keys to success?
Being mindful. Be mindful of myself. Be mindful of my environment. Be mindful of other humans around me.
Your message for the young entrepreneurs:
So much can be said!
For those in Kuwait:
Don’t let the frustration of other matters put you down. Try your best to live within your own realm if all goes south. If you must, then take a rest and start anew tomorrow morning. I agree with you that today is bad. But tomorrow will be better.
For entrepreneurs at large:
Be a dreamer, drift with your dreams. Be a vagrant in your drifts, you don’t know where the next idea will be or come from. Many great ideas are bestowed upon us as if they are holy revelations – if your intentions are virtuous of course.
If you run into a problem in your everyday life, find the solutions and introspect the solutions with yourself while playing roles. This should be your lifetime training technique. Entrepreneurs are problem understanders, solution finders and presenters; not just problem finders. Eventually you’ll come up with a solution that you’re passionate about and can pursue commercially.
Give back to Mother Earth as much as you can afford. Mother Earth needs your contribution.
Think in terms of sustainability, not profitability. The more simple and longer lasting your solutions are, the better chance they are sustainable. From there on, the profitability will be insurmountable, if you desire.
You don’t have to be a scientist nor a specialist to understand the needs of the market or that of the people. Our forefathers did not need to. Draw a lesson from that.
Entrepreneurs are not the kind of people that know-it-all. You will always need to cooperate with others in areas that you don’t grasp or comprehend, e.g. you could be good working with your bare hands, but not good in administrative tasks so seek an administrative partner.
Your message for our magazine:
Thanks for giving me the chance to talk to my fellow entrepreneurs. I never had the chance to talk freely to the media so far. I could have pinpointed many of the problems that we face, but wanted to present a brighter future for the entrepreneurs to start their holy endeavors to better serve Mother Earth.