January 23, 2013

Entrepreneurship in Lebanon: Why 2012 Wasn’t Like… “2012”

Entrepreneurship in Lebanon: Why 2012 Wasn’t Like… “2012”


At the time of writing, snowflakes are falling outside of Seeqnce’s Hamra offices – something that has not happened for a very long time in Beirut. This could be the first of many firsts in the coming year: the 2013 Middle East entrepreneurship calendar is shaping up to be unprecedented in breadth, depth, and success stories.

This is also a good time to look back at the last year in entrepreneurship. Seeqnce’s next column will be about the key startup stories of 2012; but first, let us focus on the 2012 highlights of the entrepreneurship support sector in Lebanon.

Converging on Entrepreneurship, but the Master Plan is still Lacking

“Entrepreneurship” has been the buzzword of 2012 in the Arab World. International Organisations (World Bank, UN, EIB and many more), NGOs and governments (both local and foreign) have all shown a keen interest in encouraging entrepreneurship in the Middle East.

Everyone seems to agree that entrepreneurship is what Arab economies and societies need; it is encouraging to see that a consensus is growing around its benefits, and around supporting it.

What is still lacking, however, is a clear plan on how to get all this support and funding to the front lines. It is important that the many millions of dollars that are about to be unleashed to support entrepreneurship in the Middle East be used wisely, transparently and in the most impactful way possible.

Lebanon’s First Accelerator Story

It can be done: with the support of a handful of individual investors, and a budget of 600,000 USD, Seeqnce’s 2012 Seeqnce Accelerator Program has managed to attract 436 entrepreneurs from across the globe, which has led to 8 startups being founded and seed-funded by Seeqnce in Beirut on September 24th 2012 (find out more about them at http://seeqnce.com/startups.php).

All 8 startups are going strong, employing over 30 people and boosting the Lebanese economy through their activities. Some of them even started generating tens of thousands of dollars of revenues a mere 2.5 months after incorporation.

Taking this as a basis, and thinking slightly more conservatively, perhaps the yardstick of success for aid providers should be at least 10 startups per 1 Million dollars?

Most encouragingly, a huge amount of interest is being shown in the 2013 Seeqnce Accelerator Program, with over 100 early applications already received (you can apply at this link).

All Key Actors Making Headlines

While Seeqnce has continued to focus on Internet startups, other actors in the industry continue to make an impact across all sectors.

Hamra-based AltCity formally launched its new space in 2012, and has since increased its activities in support of social entrepreneurship. AlCity has some exciting things in the pipeline for 2013 including a tight partnership with Touch and Apstrata.

2012’s Arabnet conference, held in Beirut, was a great success, attracting over 1000 attendees from the region and beyond (plus a larger number of viewers on the live stream of the event). The number of globally competitive startups presenting is incrementally on the rise, with some very bright stars shining through, such as Qordoba and Cinemoz.

The 2012 MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Business Plan Competition has allowed some impressive entrepreneurs to shine through. 2012’s winner, Hind Hobeika, invented Instabeat, a HUD for swimmers, now available for pre-order in the Instabeat website.

In its second year of operation from Beirut, Endeavor continues to support late stage growth companies, and has more than doubled its roster to 8 companies in 2012.

An Increasing Choice of Working Spaces

On the real estate side, Berytech continues to be the prime location for subsidized startup-hosting. It is joined by new actors in different parts of Beirut.

The Ministry of Telecommunications unveiled the Beirut Digital District, where established technology/communications companies can set themselves up in a central location providing improved infrastructure. And perhaps most surprisingly, Solidere – not exactly a name synonymous with startups – launched a startup space (Cloud 5) in downtown Beirut in late 2012.

The Startup of Something Great?

All of these worthy initiatives are a great sign of the consensus building up around the value of entrepreneurship. But what is perhaps most encouraging is that this consensus exists both in public policy spheres (government, NGOs, etc.) and among private actors (investors, multinational companies, etc.) equally.

For a year when, as the Mayan story goes, the world was supposed to end, Lebanon’s entrepreneurship ecosystem looks more like it is in the midst of a rebirth.

Next week we will highlight the key startup stories of 2012. Stay tuned.

The Entrepreneurship Section is curated and edited by Seeqnce, a Beirut-based internet startup accelerator.