Some of the most promising young entrepreneurs from the Middle East and North Africa have gathered in the U.S. for the last six consecutive summers. Some are high-tech innovators, and others are passionate about environmental work. But all of them have spent or are spending, in the case of the 2017 MENA Scholars, a summer at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business because they have a business idea that they believe can change their countries for the better.

Since 2012, the U.S. Department of State and The Coca-Cola Company have collaborated to give hundreds of these up-and-coming entrepreneurs an intensive curriculum, wealth of expertise and vast network with which to develop their ideas and share knowledge. Up to 100 applicants are selected for the program yearly based on both public voting forums and selections by the program team. This year, out of 4,500 applicants, 94 more have just made their way to Indiana. The goal is for them to walk away from an intensive month of teaching and teamwork with new perspectives and valuable insights they can take back to Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, the Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.

“The MENA region has a young and fast-growing population, and empowering the region’s youth will be essential to ensuring long-term economic and social prosperity,” Zoran Vucinic, president, Coca-Cola’s Middle East and North Africa Business Unit, said in an interview earlier this year.

As rich as the MENA Scholarship Program is for its participants, it’s just the beginning for a group of ambitious businessmen and businesswomen. Of the 500 students who have gone through the program since 2012, more than 100 have already started their own businesses, with more than 80 still operating today.

As this summer’s program kicks off, we look back at what a few past scholars have been up to, and how the program has impacted their lives.

Abdullah Ahmed, Pakistan; MENA Scholarship Class of 2016

It’s only been a year since Ahmed went through the MENA Scholars program, but he’s already making big moves. Following his completion of the program, Ahmed launched CricFlex, a wearable technology that analyzes the performance of bowlers in cricket. It was the world’s first of its kind. It’s been featured by ESPN Cricinfo—the world’s top cricket news website—and went on to become the runner-up in Pakistan’s largest startup competition, the Pakistan Startup Cup.

What did you enjoy most about the MENA Scholarship Program?

The Coca-Cola MENA program is probably the best opportunity I’ve had so far in my life. It can be the best tonic for an entrepreneur with a non-business background. It certainly was for me. Apart from the fact that I got to be part of this wonderful program filled with great opportunities, I really valued the rigor and challenge of being so busy that there is barely enough time to sleep! Instead, you need to apply all of the knowledge gathered that day to work on your business case in the evening, and what’s helpful is that information and learnings are condensed for you to absorb, implement and get feedback to improve. I personally learned things in a month that I couldn’t have learned on my own.

Ahmad Alnoubani, Jordan; MENA Scholarship Class of 2012

Sometimes a great idea is a stepping stone to something else. That’s what it was for Ahmad Alnoubani. The business he developed following the scholarship program landed him a position at Jordan’s Ministry of the Environment. Alnoubani says his exposure to entrepreneurs from business of all different sizes was one the program’s biggest strengths, allowing him to soak up new perspectives and begin to think creatively himself.  

What are you doing now?

Since taking part in the program, I started my own environmental services and consultancy company. I was then delighted to be appointed as a consultant for the Minister of the Environment, at which point I sold my company. I’m now settled and enjoying my role at the Ministry of Environment and hope to re-start my business. I’ve built a new business plan and feasibility for my company and have recently found a new office too, so it’s a very exciting time for me.

Ahmad Shakib Mohsanyar, Afghanistan; MENA Scholarship Class of 2015

Mohsanyar is Executive Director of Sustainable Development for Future Organization (SDFO) in Afghanistan. He’s also the founder of Afghanistan Needs You, a campaign encouraging Afghans to use their skills to invest in the country’s development instead of leaving. Mohsanyar is also the managing partner of an Afghan consultancy service.

What advice do you have for future MENA Scholars?

This time is precious and passes so quickly! Make sure you use the time you have to really connect and collaborate with not just your fellow classmates but everyone that you come across on the program.

Ali T.M. Alzaanin, Palestinian Territories; MENA Scholarship Class of 2015

Alzaanin splits his time between studying for his master’s degree in business administration and running his own business: Forus Blogger, anonline hub for Palestinian youth who are searching for job listings, scholarships, internships, CV writing, and other opportunities. For Alzaanin, the program’s biggest strength was one we’ve heard before: networking. He says the global network of mentors and other entrepreneurs that MENA scholars have access to are invaluable for people looking to start their own businesses.

What are your top three learnings from the program?

How to think in a creative way, how to work with a team under pressure, and how to pitch my ideas and be engaging.

The Innovation Conference “The Innovation Showcase” at Indianapolis was the highlight of the program for me. During this program, I had the chance to see how people pitch, and how entrepreneurs deal with investors—it was invaluable. It was the first time I had experienced something like this, and it was great to see some of the things we had learned during our time at Kelley being put into practice by some inspirational entrepreneurs.