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Day 2 – Morning Recap

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The 2nd day of BDL Accelerate kicked off with a panel discussing Lebanon’s Ecosystem with an audience of over 1000 attendees.

Panel: Lebanon’s Ecosystem
Speakers: Nicolas Sehnaoui, Mohamed Rabah, Yasser Akkaoui, Hala Fadel
Moderator: Mike Butcher

The panel discussed where they see Lebanon’s ecosystem in 5 years.

– Hala Fadel said that Lebanon’s ecosystem has progressed in the past couple of years & expects a more vibrant ecosystem in 5 years and that was the major consensus of the panel.

  • On making reforms Nicolas Sehnaoui said “I was not pushing an open door. I was pushing a concrete wall.”
  • He added that there still is a lot more to do infrastructure-wise such as fiber optics, abundant bandwidth, and faster internet.
  • The fiber optics infrastructure is available and connected to clusters and we’re only one click away to connecting our digital economy clusters to the world at maximum speed.

The panel then went on discussing who is responsible for not switching on fiber optic that’s already there without really touching on precisely who.

  • Looking at the positive side, Hala said big steps have been taken such as BDL Circular 331 but we need faster internet NOW and not in baby steps
  • Nicolas added that we have to bridge the gap between the banking & startup culture. Circular 331 slightly did that but not enough.
  • Mohamed Rabah highlighted that collaboration among entrepreneurs is key for Lebanon’s ecosystem to improve. Don’t compete locally.
  • Initiatives similar to the Lebanon-UK Tech Hub, the diaspora will help connect the local network to the world network.
  • Yasser Akkaoui stated that we have exceptional creative minds and designers in Lebanon.
  • Nicolas concurred and added that the Lebanese are the most creative people in the world, and that has been often proven giving examples of top world renowned designers.
  • Mike Butcher input: “Teach the kids how to code. Get them started young” highlighting the importance of educating young people for a better tech industry.

Keynote: Innovation in Emerging Markets
Speaker: Paul Papadimitriou

Paul went through the path of innovation describing how it’s changed over the years. Processors speed up and prices drop, which happened with smartphones for example.

Innovation is all about platforms.

Recipes for success: Logos, Ethos, Pathos, Mythos

Forget about labeling generations. That doesn’t mean anything. What makes you different is when and where you were born.

He kept on discussing how we don’t need to own anything anymore.  We can rent/share. For example, UBER and Airbnb.

Panel: Lebanon’s Investors
Speakers: Maurice Sehnaoui, Marwan Kheireddine, Maroun Chammas, Walid Hanna, Henri Asseily
Moderator: Mike Butcher

This explosive panel discussed the opportunties and challenges that have been faced with investing in Lebanon. Starting off that the Circular 331 allowed banks to invest rather lend which caused to shift the culture.

  • Today for the first time a bank is allowed to own shares in a company and take risks
  • Walid Hanna said that banks have no idea how to invest in technology.
  • Mike Butcher agreed that bankers wouldn’t be able to recognize Snapchat even if it hits them on the head.
  • There was a consensus among the panel that entrepreneurs don’t want access to money but they also want access to networks and expertise.
  • To construct the ecosystem, entrepreneurs are to be taught everything from A to Z, from incubators, to accelerators, to fund raising, to how to market their companies.
  • Mike Butcher brought back the topic of who is blocking faster internet connectionin Lebanon. The panel proceeded to discuss how local politics affect the ecosystem.
  • Marwan said that the single biggest obstacle for entrepreneurs is anything going through the government and proceeded to lay out the truth about the obstacles faced due to government bureaucracy.
  • Henri added “We don’t want to keep riding horse-drawn carriages when we have cars, just because you don’t want to pave the road.”

Keynote: From Silicon Valley to the World
Speaker: Jambu Palaniappan

Jambu began the keynote by introducing the story of Uber from creation to expansion and continued with:

  • Piece of mind is the key performance of our differentiation.
  • Beirut is UBER’s fastest growing market in the Middle East.
  • Uber brings job opportunities, safety, less congestion, price transparency, and innovation to Lebanon.
  • Imagine Uberpool, a modern equivalent to ‘service’ cabs.
  • Through pooling @ adding many new driver, partners would create a transportation revolution.
  • Pooling would reduce traffic and congestion, a great solution in cities like Beirut.

Panel: USA’s Startup Ecosystem
Speakers: Devin Soni, Melissa Ablett, Mark Haidar, Vitaly Golomb
Moderator: Paul Papadimitriou

The panel discussed if location in the US affects funding, expansion, and competition. Does it matter where you are in the US?

– Growth, marketing, networking all come with being in Silicon Valley said Mark however, being elsewhere results in cheaper talent and less competition

– Vitaly added that Silicon Valley is like the Olympics of startups.  He then advised startups to go learn in Silicon Valley, then return home with that experience and startup with less competition.

– Vitaly believes that to build a healthy ecosystem, you need to give back. You have to mentor the next generation.

– Mark discussed how he plans on giving back with LISA (startup association) he is launching to give back to Lebanese entrepreneurs through educating them and more.

– The biggest challenge Mark faces in the US is immigration. You feel the system works against you. Canada is taking advantage of US immigration. The country is welcoming the best and brightest in the world.

– Startups don’t create jobs. Startups eliminate jobs because they make things more efficient. – Vitaly

– If Vitaly was to start from scratch, he would start in South East Asia right now. The opportunity is great there.

– Statistically, 90% of startups will fail & you have to be in a society that embraces failure. Its ok to fail says Mark.

Fireside: Investing: How to

Speaker: Paul Bragiel
Moderator: Mike Butcher

In emerging markets you can take successful business models & localizing them. Nothing wrong with copycat startups.  If a business models work then take it replicate it, and localize it.

Most entrepreneurs had to teach themselves how to walk. You are going to have to fall on your face a few times.

Bragiel would consider starting a fund in the Middle East with the right partner on the ground and the right opportunity.  Trust is essential.

Most tech developments usually start as a toy then turn into something significant.  For example: Internet.

Bragiel discussed his time practicing for the Olympics and compared his adventurous life to being an entrepreneur – you take big risks.


Day 1 – Morning Recap

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BDL Accelerate 2014, Lebanon’s first international startup conference kicked off today.
Opening Ceremony

Marianne Hoayek

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.

Francois Bassil
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
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.

Tom Fletcher
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.

Opening Keynote

Alexander Asseily
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.