By Leila Hatoum
His boyish looks, plaid shirt and simple jeans betray nothing of the character of the person in front of me.
If I didn’t know any better, I would have mistaken him for a college freshman. But the young man flashing a big smile while talking about inventing robots, drones and providing custom electronic solutions to people, is anything but a regular college student—or dropout.
Jad Berro, a 25 year old inventor and entrepreneur built his first robot when he was a teen, and started his own company when he was under 20.
I met the young man in Dubai recently, at a forum where he was taking visitors on a virtual tour of Dubai Expo 2020’s pavilions by way of simulation goggles.
Berro’s fascination with electronics began at the age of five, when he would dismantle and reconstruct everything he could get his hands on, “to see how things operate.”
Much to his parents’ dismay he would ruin some of the electrical appliances at home, Berro continued to discover how the world around him worked.
“My parents never stopped me from exploring, not even when I detonated one of the water gallons at home,” he says. As he grew older, his fascination turned into building things, which he could manage and control.
“I was around 14 when I built my first robot from scratch. It was mostly made of wooden pieces, tin, and whatever wiring and batteries I was able to get my hands on,” says Berro.
“But if I see that robot today, I am sure I [would] hate it and end up dismantling and rebuilding it with proper equipment,” he adds as he recalls how his perspective changed over time.
“I have become a perfectionist. Yes, I do trials all the time, but the end result [has] to be impeccable,” he says. That robot “was not smart, and it was not even wireless. But I was proud of it back then.”
Berro, who has won multiple awards for his robots and innovative robotic solutions over the past decade, says he was particularly proud of himself at the age of “14 or 15” when he won a prize at the American University of Beirut’s science fair, despite being a high school student at the time.
His first working robot—after a series of trials and errors—was devised to detect landmines from a distance in an attempt to help the Lebanese army in its demining process in south Lebanon.
At the time, Berro thought using robots would minimize human casualties, especially among children who lose their lives or limbs when stepping on a mine or an unexploded cluster munition.
Following a 15-year civil war, an Israeli occupation and continuous acts of Israeli aggression the southern part of the country is littered with over 1.5 million unexploded ordinance and mines, according to the United Nations.
Too Cool For School
When Berro enrolled at one of Lebanon’s prestigious universities to pursue a computer and communications engineering degree, he was eager to learn something new. However, higher education was not what he was expecting.
“Going into my second year, I started noticing that my professors would resort to me for help to solve problems they couldn’t deal with. I found that the university wasn’t offering me much beyond what I knew, so I quit. I was not happy and decided that
I didn’t want to waste any more of my time and money, when I can be more productive elsewhere,” he says.
His parents were not happy with his decision. Berro says they “were very angry at the time and thought that I had gone mad.
Starting a job on your own in Lebanon isn’t the easiest thing ever, and people always prefer a stable job with a steady income. But that wasn’t the life I wanted.”
So, he started a small business doing what he likes best, providing custom electronics and hardware solutions to clients.
However, Berro never thought that his company, Innovo-Hardware Solutions, which he began with two other friends some years ago, would be as successful as it is today.
“I was focused on doing what I love, and never dreamt it would grow this big, this fast,” he says, given that the friends who had joined him in building the project soon quit as they wanted to find steady work elsewhere.
Today, he leads a group of employees working on contracts for local and regional governments, banks and big businesses.
Innovo has gotten a new partner, Tareq Dejjani, who had initially retained Innovo as a client, and ended up investing in the company through his conglomerate, the DNY Group. With a new investor, Innovo was able to buy high-tech equipment. This includes a strong circuit-building machine, and the LPKF ProtoMat S103, that can produce such delicate printed circuit boards, in addition to 3D printers and larger machinery.
“Our laboratory is one of the best laboratories out there in the Middle East in terms of the line-up of the machinery. We don’t have to go and rent the equipment, or have to go elsewhere to create an item over a lathe. We have all that at our own lab,” he proudly explains.
Part of what Berro enjoys building is crazy robots. “I saw the BB-8 robot in Star Wars movie and thought it was really cool. My team and I set our minds on building one and we succeeded,” he boasts.
“Sadly, part of that robot got lost when I shipped it from Lebanon to Dubai to take part in the Collaborative Entrepreneurship Summit in Dubai, on May 18 and 19, which is also under Expo 2020,” he says.
Customs in Lebanon demand large sums of money for imported machinery, and that “sometimes exceeds the price of the equipment itself.” In addition, a weak Internet connection and the fact that innovators must depend on themselves at a time when the government doesn’t have the resources to foster talent are part of the challenges that face entrepreneurs in Lebanon.
Innovo is currently building a 10-meter space shuttle from scratch for a client in Doha, Qatar.
“We will create the simulator, software, hardware and everything else for that project. It will have an elevator that will take students up, and when they get out at the upper level, they will be in a room that simulates walking on the moon with an outer space surrounding,” says Berro. He demurs when talking of other, security-related projects he has been tasked to work on. But his plans to grow the company and to “give other young innovators the chance to learn and grow big as well” are not in doubt.