Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to welcome you to Beirut, the beating heart of the Middle East and home to Lebanon’s First International Startup Conference.
When we first came up with the idea of this conference four months ago, we knew that it would be a big challenge. We are in the Middle East, after all, and this region is boiling with uncertain events and influenced by numerous negative external factors. But we knew that we needed to work with a different mindset in order to weather the storms and build the inspiring future we are all dreaming of.
His Excellency the Governor has repeatedly said that the Central Bank’s mission and objective is to maintain monetary and financial stability. He is a firm believer that if we do not invest in the trust that we have accumulated over the past twenty years in the service of the economy then our mission is not complete. Our priority should be to increase social and economic growth.
The most important challenge that Lebanon is facing today, besides political uncertainty of course, is youth’s unemployment. This is a very pressing issue with evident repercussions on the country’s social stability and welfare.
More and more of our university graduates are leaving the country to look for jobs elsewhere. Our aim is to reverse this trend—to turn this brain drain into a brain gain—by creating and fostering an environment that would lead the young Lebanese to stay, or even come back and invest here.
Lebanese entrepreneurs have proved themselves inside and outside the country as innovators in almost all sectors from creative industries to high tech to medicine to fashion. And in the past couple of years the Lebanese ecosystem has shown marked signs of progress: ideas flourished, entrepreneurs matured, big investments were made, and the technology evolved.
We are at a crossroads between different civilizations and continents. In the current globalized world, we are well positioned to be the entry point to the markets of the region and even beyond. We have a large Diaspora present and active all over the world from Europe to Africa, to the Gulf to Australia and to the US. Tens of successful Lebanese come to mind, and we are honored to have some of them among us today to share with us their remarkable success stories and help us get closer to our goal.
As I said, we definitely have the comparative advantage in terms of human capital and talents and all what was missing was the appropriate tool and financing.
Which is why the Central Bank found the need to intervene—and we did.
On August 2013, we issued Circular 331which created a financial platform of more than $400 Million of Equity financing for Startups, incubators, accelerators and any company working in the knowledge economy.
This innovative financing tool, which is probably the only one in the Middle East, encourages commercial banks to participate in the Equity of companies while the Central Bank guarantees 75% of the risk. To date, we have secured the funding of more than $150 Million for companies and funds and have several others in the pipeline.
Our aim is to help companies bring their innovative ideas to life. We did not specify a closed list of illegible sectors. We kept it flexible. Investments could be made in apps, Internet platforms, media tools, medical equipment, agricultural solutions, or perhaps green technology… In brief, anything that offers innovation and falls into the knowledge economy would qualify.
We are also working on supporting “Startup Boot Camps and Training Programs”. These camps will help ensure a deal flow, provide the much needed technical support and help entrepreneurs transform their innovative ideas into a viable business that could be exported to the international markets. We hope that these programs, combined with the other efforts by the different stakeholders of the Lebanese ecosystem, will ensure Lebanon’s position as a true Hub for knowledge not only to the region but also to the World.
Finally, I would like to thank you all for being with us on this special day. I also extend my thanks to all our prominent speakers who have come from all over the world to share with us their inspiring stories and the lessons they have learned.
We truly hope that Banque du Liban Accelerate 2014 will open new windows of opportunity and inspire various stakeholders to work collectively towards raising the Lebanese startup ecosystem to the next level and positioning it among the premier tech hubs in the world.
Without further delay, I would like to give the floor to His Excellency, the Governor of the Central Bank, Mr. Riad Salamé…Without his support, guidance and strong leadership, none of this would have been possible.
Your Excellency the floor is yours…