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Entrepreneurs worldwide are people who accept challenges and turn them into opportunities. Their methods may differ but their problem-solving attitude remains constant.
In Silicon Valley, where losing billions of dollars is celebrated and considered a sign of revolutionary ideas; innovators, entrepreneurs, business people and employees might be shielded from what’s happening outside of their communities. The same goes for communities outside of the Valley that look up to this area and consider it a startup haven.
Therein lies the importance of bridging the gaps between communities and this will only bring back benefits to their stakeholders.
Marc Suidan agrees.
Currently leading Mergers and Acquisitions Tech sector at PwC – a company that offers advisory, auditing, tax, legal and other services to businesses – Suidan is a Lebanese entrepreneur and professional living in San Francisco. He previously launched two startups, Oisin Systems in 1999, which he sold two years later, and an online marketplace Quebeccommerce.com in 2003. He exited the company and sold his stake but the company is still running, according to Suidan.
In a candid chat with LebNet, Suidan discussed the importance of building a communication channel between different ecosystems, especially that of Lebanon and Silicon Valley, where he’s based. This channel can facilitate knowledge transfer and best practices and give back to others.
Bridging ecosystems: Lebanon and Silicon Valley
In a visit to Lebanon this summer, Marc met a number of Lebanese founders, CEOs and VC directors and shared his input on what needs to be done to set up this channel.
“After meeting multiple startup CEOs, it is pretty apparent that Lebanese entrepreneurs can create great technologies. The main limitations are really scaling up and building strong go-to market capabilities, resulting in slow growth businesses with lower valuations,” he said. “The main gaps are access to more experienced and seasoned executives in areas of sales and operational scale-up, and board members.” According to Suidan, Lebanese entrepreneurs can bridge this gap by networking with relevant stakeholders in Silicon Valley and finding leaders who have skills that can be applied in local markets.
Lebanon’s ecosystem is small but thanks to numerous accelerators/incubators, VCs and small hubs, it is helping entrepreneurs find a good environment to launch their products and test them. Located at the heart of the Lebanese capital, Beirut Digital District (BDD) is a business and startup cluster for the creative and digital industries in the country. It hosts a number of incubators, accelerators and VCs including accelerator Alt City, incubator Berytech, support organization Endeavor Lebanon, Speed@BDD, IM Capital, Leap Ventures, UK Lebanon Tech Hub, coding academy The Little Engineer and many others.
In an attempt to build a communication channel with startups and experts abroad, BDD hosts regional and global talks and competitions to help its members learn about what people in other countries are doing and what challenges they face. In October, it will be hosting the first TechCrunch Startup Battlefield competition in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
The competition will offer local startups the chance to compete and win US $25,000 prize plus a paid trip for two founders to compete in the Startup Battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt 2019.
This is one example of how building a connection can help founders meet their counterparts in other countries, understand how they do business there and extract best practices.
LebNet’s Ignite program is another example. This two-week accelerator bootcamp connects Lebanese startup founders to Silicon Valley experts and gives them access to the expertise needed to take their business to the next level. “We work closely with accelerators, incubators, angels and VCs in Lebanon to continuously evaluate the gap in addressing the needs of Lebanese entrepreneurs and we try to develop programs on our end to address those needs,” said George Akiki, LebNet’s President and cofounder. “Giving back to Lebanon is a tenet of our mission. Our members strive to share their expertise and knowledge with upcoming Lebanese entrepreneurs,” he added.
An unfair comparison?
It is not uncommon for entrepreneurs to look up to Silicon Valley as the ultimate startup haven, yet they must keep a realistic approach when conducting business. Silicon Valley has a far more advanced ecosystem in terms of support organizations, VCs, ease of doing business and access to talent and mentorship.
“Silicon Valley is the leading ecosystem, and does not require any non-private sector help. Versus the Lebanese ecosystem needs public sector and NGO support to initially thrive, and eventually it needs to become a self sustaining ecosystem,” said Suidan. Similarities do exist and apply to any ecosystem in the world.
“In certain aspects yes [they are similar], and in others no. From a commercial perspective, it is a global market, and you are competing for the same customers. So the bar to win should be the same. The Foundational principles of building a highly successful business remain the same: build an amazing team. What can be learned is avoid pitfalls or common mistakes like over-investing in marketing and advertising, without a supporting sales motion, or sign up customers and not be ready to service them. Don’t create an imbalance in the maturity of your capabilities. Also, have a more conservative view on the quality and retention of resources. Not all recruits work out,” he concluded.