Born in Cairo, Egypt and currently attending Auburn University, Haitham Eletrabi can be recognized as both an international student and international alumni of Auburn. He initially came to Auburn University only to pursue a Ph. D. in civil engineering. Once here, however, he decided to get an MBA in his free time and discovered he had a knack for mixing engineering with business to form a winning combination.
Eletabri, who finished his MBA last fall at the Harbert College of Business and defended his Ph.D. this November in engineering, designed an application for smart phones and wristbands that uses sensors to monitor athletes’ performances. The design earned him first prize in the annual Business Plan Contest for Engineering Inventions, sponsored by Auburn’s Thomas Walter Center for Technology Management. He now has an office in the Auburn Business Incubator to continue working on his project. “My idea was a smart wristband that is a virtual coach, not just a fitness tracker,” Eletrabi said.
Besides the office space, the contest awarded him $6,000, but it wasn’t solely for the invention. As the contest title suggests, the award was also based on the business model accompanying the invention. “My business plan was about a digital personal tennis coach that will help the tennis players improve their game,” said Eletrabi. “The device uses an innovative combination of sensors to capture the player’s movement.”
Paul Swamidass, professor of Operations Management and director of the Thomas Walter Center for Technology Management, told Eletrabi the results of his customer survey and input from numerous tennis professionals indicated a strong market potential for his product. Considering the goal of the contest is to find future entrepreneurs who could follow in the footsteps of other young founders of successful companies such as Apple and Microsoft, it appears Eletrabi has a bright future ahead.
“I always felt attracted to business even though I love engineering, so getting a degree in business in addition to Engineering was an intriguing idea. The main challenge was how to do both at the same time. The only way was by switching back and forth between the two and by knowing the difference between what is urgent and what is important. Obviously, my social life took a hit, and I didn’t have a lot of free time.”
Discussing some of the differences between Auburn and Cairo, as well as some of the growing pains and adjustments he faced, Eletrabi reflected again on the kindness of Southerners. “The main difference I noticed here was the fact that people are more practical. Also, the weather here is very unpredictable compared to back home,” said Eletrabi. “I guess what I mean by practical is that people around here are very professional and whether you are trying to finish some paper work in the DMV or get a service in a private business, people tend to be nice, helpful and professional. Unfortunately, this is not always the case back home.”
While discussing some of the more challenging aspects of traveling half a world away from home to pursue his education, Eletrabi seemed to have discovered he is a man with two homes. “Being away from my family and friends is the hardest part about leaving home,” Eletrabi said. “However, since I came to Auburn I met a lot of nice people and made a lot of friends. Now, when I travel somewhere and then I return to Auburn it feels like I am returning back to home.”
– From the Auburn University Office of International Programs