Our Global Entrepreneurship Forum in Beirut on June 23rd was a seminal event. High energy, cross-cultural contexts, role models, success stories, rich content, and interdisciplinary dialogue prevailed, all converging on one simple yet powerful call to action… LET’S GROW TOGETHER!
Entrepreneurs, CEOs and venture capitalists from the US and MENA gathered at AUB to explore how to promote entrepreneurship in Lebanon. We heard inspiring stories and learned valuable lessons:
- From Greg Behrman who presented and explained the US Government’s policies, plans, and initiatives aimed at fostering innovation and entrepreneurship;
- From Maroun Chammas, who discussed the state and aspirations of emerging growth companies, IT start-ups and incubators in Lebanon;
- From Saeed Amidi who unveiled the secret ingredients of Silicon Valley – and how to import and use them in the Middle-East;
- From Nicolas Rouhana, Hala Fadel, Court Coursey, and Habib Haddad on the key role of mentors and incubators in building the support infrastructure for start-ups in the US and MENA;
- From Tony Feghali and Ghada Howaidy on the challenges, role, projects and programs of educational institutions in promoting entrepreneurship in Egypt and Lebanon;
- From Khater AbiHabib, Sami Beydoun and Tarek Sadi on the global venture capital industry, alternative financing vehicles, current and best business practices, and opportunities for cross-border collaboration; and
- From the TechWadi100 Charter Members, our shining stars – Fadi Ghandour, Magid Abraham, Edgar Masri, Fadi Daou and George Chammas – about their extraordinary success stories and perspective on the challenges and opportunities facing MENA entrepreneurs.
Panelists, members, and guests engaged in lively discussions, all while striving to converge on consensus. Key conclusions were powerful yet disarmingly simple. Here are the takeaways in a nutshell:
- Success, entrepreneurial and national, is within reach, as attested to and ascertained by our sessions’ illustrious panelists;
- Entrepreneurship is alive and well in Lebanon. Indeed, at the heart of many of the most promising global startups is a Lebanese or Arab co-founder. Let there be no doubt about the investment opportunities in MENA or the entrepreneurial qualities of its people;
- Entrepreneurs need a supportive ecosystem to accelerate their growth. Some are spawned from universities, others from business plan competitions sponsored by incubators, governments, and NGOs, and yet more from corporations and family businesses. They all share common needs – favorable government policies, and an accelerator such as PlugandPlay, where they can access VCs, corporate partners, mentors, and communities of interests through well designed and frequent encounters;
- Mentors are needed – badly. Luckily, with TechWadi100, we are here to help. The TechWadi100 charter members, mostly Diasporas, all professionals with extraordinary records of accomplishments, have pledged “hearts, minds and money” to mentor the most promising and passionate entrepreneurs. The modalities of engagement will be laid out and promulgated by late July.
As we all stood up holding hands at the end of the sessions, pledging to grow together and echoing the prayer of God Bless Lebanon, a breath of Mediterranean fresh air filled the auditorium, and a sweeping feeling of pride and hope bonded 150 committed professionals. It was a majestic moment. And it was just the beginning!
Our trek in Lebanon continued. We visited Berytech, the leading incubator in Lebanon, and also the Business Incubator Association in Tripoli. We actively engaged with energetic entrepreneurs at the American University in Beirut and the mesmerizing Balamand University. We held private consultative meetings with President Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Governor of the Central Bank Riad Salamé, Vice Governor Saad Andari, and Minister of Economy and Trade Mohammed Safadi. We pitched entrepreneurship to a receptive audience. Where we hoped to inspire, we were inspired. We stretched a hand and received hugs in return.
As we flew over Lebanon approaching Jordan, many flirting thoughts: can we transform the Middle East into a hot bed of entrepreneurial endeavors? Can we marshal our talent and channel our temperament to create inspiring successes? Can we, together, build a better future?
YES WE CAN. YES WE CAN. YES WE CAN.