Beirut, the upcoming start-up hub in MENA region

There are approximately 800 start-ups in Lebanon providing 6,000 jobs and contributing $1 billion to the Lebanese Treasury.

On the global map. A picture from the graduation Demo Day IV in Beirutز (Speed@BDD)

2017/07/23 Issue: 116 Page: 20

The Arab Weekly
Timothy Kinahan Maloy

Start-up accelerator Speed@BDD hosted a graduation Demo Day for its “Batch IV” group, whose members range from enterprises and apps that en­compass digital shopping, artificial intelligence, financial assistance, electronic music, children’s books, gaming and educational applica­tions.

Start-ups are big business in Leb­anon. First Vice-Governor of the Banque Du Liban Raed Charafed­dine recently highlighted results seen since the launch in 2013 of the Banque du Liban 331 initiative to support the country’s knowledge economy. Charafeddine said there are approximately 800 start-ups in Lebanon providing 6,000 jobs and contributing $1 billion to the Leba­nese Treasury.

Charafeddine added that the knowledge economy in Lebanon is growing 7-9% a year, ranking Lebanon as third in the region dur­ing 2015-16.

At Speed@BDD’s graduation ceremonies, officials with games start-up Groovy Antoid gave a rousing pitch for the company’s Fat Bunny game, which will soon enter the multibillion-dollar gam­ing industry in search of the po­tential millions of users who might download the game. The audience applauded and laughed uproari­ously at Fat Bunny and other game characters devised by the nascent firm.

Groovy Antoid’s debut was among the nine start-ups graduat­ing from Speed@BDD, which led the entrepreneurs through three months of intensive business training.

The live pitch in late June, to an audience of several hundred in­vestment bankers, venture capital funds and politicians interested in Lebanon’s growing information and technology sector and start-up scene and young tech aficionados, was the final part of the training programme.

“In three months’ time, our start-ups grew their teams from 21 to 34 entrepreneurs. This is our biggest batch and an exception­ally promising one. We always highlight how important it is for entrepreneurs to be hard-working and coachable and the founders of Cycle IV start-ups embodied these qualities literally,” said Sami Abou Saab, Speed@BDD’s CEO. “One main proof is that two of our nine start-ups received investments by Demo Day already.”

“We’re at a time when we can say that Lebanon is on the global en­trepreneurship map and Beirut is being internationally highlighted as the upcoming start-up hub in the MENA region,” Saab said.

In addition to Groovy Antoid, eight other potential new enter­prises were out to make their mark at the event. Presentations cov­ered everything from Living Book, a programme for creative people to collaboratively create, publish and sell personalised interactive and printed children’s books, to Neotic, a platform that allows stock trad­ers to test strategies and leverage artificial intelligence to receive trading recommendations.

With the completion of Speed’s fourth acceleration programme, the enterprise’s founders said they are ready to begin a drive to secure more investments.

“As game developers, Speed@ BDD was the right push we need­ed to turn our passion into a more solid, data-driven business,” said Groovy Antoid co-founder George el-Habr. “Learning how to pitch and answer questions that inves­tors might ask us drove us to re­search and develop proper busi­ness plans and strategies that make sense. We walk away from the experience a more robust stu­dio and a more viable business.”

The success of Speed and other similar tech accelerators and in­cubators in Lebanon has been re­shaping a vital part the economy towards a skill set that is more marketable in the larger MENA re­gion and the bigger world.

A short list of training pro­grammes — sometimes combina­tion accelerator and incubator — includes Berytech; the UK Lebanon Tech Hub; Maria Goeppert-Mayer Incubator/Accelerator (MGMI), an initiative of the German gov­ernment; Smart ESA, incubator/ accelerator, part of the ESA Busi­ness School in Beirut and created by an initiative of the French gov­ernment; and the AltCity start-up Bootcamp.

There are many start-ups in Lebanon that have on their own created, developed and marketed products with funding from their own pockets and angel investors.

Timothy Kinahan Maloy is a contributor to The Arab Weekly and deputy editor and correspondent at An-Nahar English.

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