BDL Accelerate 2014, Lebanon’s first international startup conference kicked off today.
Speaking to an audience of over 1800 attendees from over 20 countries, Marianne Hoayek, Director of the Executive Office at Banque du Liban gave a powerful opening speech highlighting Banque du Liban’s aim to ensure Lebanon’s position as a true hub for knowledge – and not just for the region, but also for the world. Whilst acknowledging that launching a startup is exceptionally challenging in the boiling Middle East, Marianne emphasized that it is time to change the trend of graduates leaving, to reverse the trend from ‘brain drain to brain gain.’
Governor Riad Salameh
In his opening speech, Governor of Banque du Liban, Riad Salameh stated that Banque du Liban issued Circular 331 to encourage Lebanese banks to invest in the knowledge sector, as it could be the main pillar of the Lebanese ecosystem. He highlighted that 15 Lebanese banks have already allocated funds to invest in Lebanese startups. Banque du Liban’s aim is to create a synergy between the banking and knowledge economic section. He added that Lebanon can benefit from the human resources to grow and increase its GDP.
Chairman of the Association of Banks in Lebanon, Francois Bassil continued on the same promising and encouraging rhythm highlighting that entrepreneurship is a key future of Lebanon and its economy plays a crucial role in the overall economy. He continued that the establishment of an enterprise is deeply rooted in the culture and habits of the Lebanese. He emphasized that it is vital for local startups to access regional and international markets and hopes that BDL Accelerate can ease that journey for them.
Mohamed Choucair, Chairman of the Federation of the Chambers of Commerce stated that Lebanon is filled with talented people who produce innovative ideas that deserve to be financed. The region is undergoing major transformation that creates major opportunities that we need to grasp.
UK Ambassador, Tom Fletcher gave a remarkable, inspiring and empowering speech. He announced that in January 2015, along with Banque du Liban, the British government will be launching a Lebanese/British tech hub. The aim is to build and develop the Lebanese tech capacity and put Lebanese entrepreneurs on the map. He hopes that this initiative will lesson any obstacles Lebanese startups tend to face.
Alexander Asseily, the Co-Founder of Jawbone and State gave the opening keynote.
Some of the most noteworthy points were:
- It took Jawbone 6 years to become an overnight success.
- Tools evolve – before we had cars, we had horses. Before mobile phones, telegraph.
- We (the region) created one of most important communication tools – phonetic alphabet
- The region was responsible for bringing other tools, tools of the mind – mathematics, astronomy, chemistry
- Starting a company requires confidence in your region and this region has what it takes.
- We are in the age of horses when it comes to the internet, we need to move to the age of cars.
- Knowledge economy today is not transferred with books and fax. It’s digital. The internet has to get faster!
- Always think global, aim high, aim to be number 1.
- Find issues you want to change and aim at changing them. State is an opinion network – connect the world with what they think rather than who they know.
- Perseverance and confidence is essential for startups. Do not give up!
Panel: Startup Success Stories
Speakers: Jean Nehme, Mark Haidar, Ramzi Rizk and Imad Riachi
Moderator: Alexander Asseily
The young Lebanese speakers each shared their inspiring story of where they started from and how they got to where they are today. They continued by debating some of the challenges they have experienced.
- Vinli found the opportunity to build an app with smartphones independent from the automotive industry. Scaling the business by leveraging a platform that is widely available rather than building an independent platform.
- The speakers got into a debate on whether the location of the launch is essential for your business to go global.
- A second debate that ignited was on whether Lebanese entrepreneurs should leverage Lebanese diaspora.
- “If you told me 10 years ago that BDL will invest $400 million to support startups, I would have said no way!” – Mark Haidar
Keynote: Lorraine Habib – Big in Europe
Lorraine Habib shared a keynote on how to scale and grow globally.
- BlaBlaCar is a ridesharing service that has been building a massive transportation network through ridesharing, providing passengers with a most cost-effective method of transportation.
- She discussed how acqui-hiring competitors early accelerate the growth of BlaBlaCar and is a great strategy to accelerate the growth of any company.
European Ecosystem Panel
Speakers: Karin Venneri, Thijl Klerkx, Dimitris Kalavros, Aiste Lehmann, Leen Segers
Moderator: Jean Nehme
Dimitris sees many similarities between Lebanon and Greece in terms of the diaspora and brain drain.
Before the financial crisis entrepreneurship was not an option for youth in Greece. The crisis created the opportunities.
They continued discussing the challenges and opportunities they all face in Europe and how they try to overcome them.
One of the main challenges is that there is a huge gap between the ease of receiving early funding and difficulty in receiving late round funding.