LAU Alumni Make the Forbes Middle East 30 Under 30 List

LAU’s AKSOB alumni Karim Ibrahim and Toufic Assaf earn a place on the Forbes Middle East 30 Under 30 list.

By Chirine El-Mchantaf

From left: Karim Ibrahim and Toufic Assaf shared goals and aspirations for the power and potential of virtual reality technologies and gaming.

LAU’s alumni of the Adnan Kassar School of Business (AKSOB) Karim Ibrahim (BS ‘07) and Toufic Assaf (BS ‘09), founders of Robocom VR – a Lebanese firm that provides a location-based virtual reality entertainment – were among the 2020 young and brilliant minds to feature on the Forbes Middle East’s 30 Under 30 list.

In this joint interview, they speak about their career path, touching on the role of technology in the growth of our societies.

Tell us about your company. How did it start?

It all started with a dream to become a leading company in location-based entertainment and build a community of unique individuals ready to impact the world in a way it hasn’t seen before. We connected three years ago, as we shared goals and aspirations for the power and potential of virtual reality technologies and gaming. All we had was a game plan and a dream accompanied by trust, mutual respect, and the determination to succeed.

What sets your company apart?

It is the fact that we are the largest gaming studio in the Middle East, whether in terms of the number of employees or IPs – including Transformers and Discovery Channel – creating AAA games and competing on the world stage while being authentically Lebanese. The latter cannot be recreated or emulated by even the biggest gaming studios in the world, because in spite of the draining absence of opportunities, stability, and basic infrastructure needed for any company to sustain itself and operate, let alone compete, we are developing our games with the highest standards while competing globally. So, it is Lebanese diversity and authenticity that make our games, our company, and our community unique.

From a gaming perspective, it is the fact that our games are integrated with state-of-the-art simulators, encouraging players to leave the comfort of their homes and enjoy the full gaming experience in our location-based entertainment centers. We plan to create a world where players can compete recreationally and more importantly, professionally, through our platform; Robocom has started implementing this strategy with the launch of its first E-sports academy, which is set to be the largest in the MENA region, and considered to be a first mover in the Arab market. 

Our mindset of “imagination without limitations” also sets us apart as it helped us get where we are today. We dared to dream, chose not to listen to the naysayers and grind our way there.

What is your view of technology and what role can it play in the growth of our societies?

We all agree that technology has its positive and negative effects on society and is relentlessly marching toward changing and shaping our societies, economics, businesses, and philosophical aspects of life. And whether we like it or not, the technologies that we have created will eventually surpass human intelligence. 

This is why we are firm believers in the eventual integration of biology and technology into one body by adding a third digital layer to our cortex and limbic system. Though this might sound like it is in the distant future, it is not. We have already added this digital layer through our phones, but it is not yet evident since we still have not figured out a way to make it more natural.

The more we innovate and maximize its effectiveness, the closer we get to becoming living robots, and we at Robocom VR are already working on haptic devices and simulations that will make our digital layer of the world seem more natural and realistic. Body suits, haptic gloves, treadmills, and much more are being developed to give our users a “Ready Player One” experience to be able to enjoy the virtual world like never before. Hence the name of our company Robocom, the Robot-Community.

Ultimately, we believe that as we change the course of human evolution through our own technologies, goodness will eventually prevail, because humans are innately put on this earth to learn, grow and advance from previous generations. In our case, it is the evolution of the gaming world to the complete immersive sensation of being in the game from feel to smell.

What, in our opinion, earned you a place on the Forbes list? 

Being featured on the Forbes list has been our goal ever since we started the company, individually and collectively. Reaching the 30 under 30 list was a personal ambition and challenge, but we both set our minds to it and got it done. It is all thanks to persistence and faith.

But mainly, what earned us this place were the trailblazing new gaming simulators and internationally recognized projects that we operate around the world, as well as the scalability and commercial viability of our company.

What advice would you give to students in the current tough job market?

With every situation comes opportunity. There has never been a better time to fight and reshape our norms by creating a new generation of entrepreneurs that will change the course of our country. We need them more than ever to re-build and believe in our country because they are the generation of change.

Where there’s a will, there’s always a way, and when you have a hard time finding your will, be patient, stay ready and never stop dreaming, because whatever the situation may be, we were born to deal with adversity. 

What lessons from your LAU years have shaped your approach to launching Robocom VR? And how would you encourage current and graduate students to make the most of their experience at LAU?

Our alma mater has taught us to strengthen and sharpen our hard skills, think outside the box and do business in the real world. LAU’s professors and academics truly helped us prepare ourselves mentally and emotionally for the trials of the actual business world, which is fundamentally the most important lesson you can learn. 

At the end of the day, university is what you make of it; so stay true to yourselves, focus on your strengths rather than your weaknesses, and try to enjoy the process of learning because what you choose to do today will shape your tomorrow. Don’t be hard on yourselves; there will be a lot of ups and downs.

On a side note, for all students who are graduating with high honors awards and distinctions at LAU, we say “great job,” but to all the “C” students, we’d like to tell you that you too can make it to the Forbes list just as we did!