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  • 21 Jun 2019 3:51 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Toronto - Jun 19, 2019

    From disrupting ads through machine learning to building a pet society in Canada and the US, LebNet Toronto’s event on June 19 had something for everyone.

    Gathered at VentureX Canada, 30 people showed up to listen to Hisham Ghostine, CEO and President – Media Brands at Dentsu Aegis Network Canada and Pele Dagher, founder and CEO of Pawpular App Inc., talk about their expertise and journey.

    Prior to moving to Canada, Ghostine was the Chief Revenue & Growth Officer for Omnicom Media Group in the Middle East and Africa, growing the Omnicom network footprints through acquisition and new operations. In his new role, he is in charge of seven media and performance companies.

    The NLP challenge: over 6,500 languages and 3,900 emojis

    Ghostine’s talk focused on the complexity of understanding the constantly increasing languages by machines and how the natural language processing (NLP) is helping marketers understand their audiences and predict their behaviour.

    The world has now over 6,500 languages, he said, and the number keeps increasing on a daily basis as new language combinations are being formed. People keep introducing new items and characters and we now have more than 3,900 emojis. That number increases by 10 percent every year.

    These numbers pose a huge challenge for NLP, especially that individuals write and use words differently to express different emotions. Yet as Ghostine explained in his presentation, NLP has come  a long way to solve understanding the human text and speech. Through machine learning (ML), NLP is able to analyse patterns and trends and through deep learning (DL), algorithms are trained to understand human’s intention. Which means that NLP is helping marketers now understand consumers’ intentions, sentiments and behaviours and targeting them better.

    That said, user data collected from social media are now more accurate than polls and statistics, because they reflect users’ reactions, behaviours and feelings rather than pure numbers. Yet NPL still has several challenges to solve. Ghostine listed three:

    • Context classification: “Classification will help us in the future to analyse intentions from a picture, based on previous examples.”
    • Solid intent mining: “We understand that someone wants to travel, but we don’t know if they want to take a flight, train, car..”
    • Improve algorithm statistical relationship: “We want to create a link between images and texts.”

    When ads serve unwanted territories

    When marketers place an ad online, they face the risk of having their ad delivered to unsafe places. This is why they create white and black lists and set a number of keywords to guide them. Yet such strict guidelines mean that marketers are limiting themselves to a smaller ad space, without taking into consideration that some of the black listed keywords might carry a positive message if used in a different context.

    New ML and DL research, according to Ghostine, are coming up with effective solutions to recognize images and detect positive versus negative content. “Up to 60% of those black listed words had positive meaning. Prevention will free up billions of dollars worth of ad space now because we’re solving an economy problem,” he concluded.

    Turning a passion for pets into a business

    After spending 18 years founding and growing businesses with 8 years in high tech roles, Pele Dagher followed his passion for pets and launched Pawpular. Headquartered in Toronto, his company is a pet society and pet care services application.

    And there’s a huge market for it.

    Pele Dagher giving a talk about his pet society company Pawpular.

    In the US alone, 80 billion dollars is being spent yearly on 395 million pets, Dagher said. In Canada, it’s 10 billion dollars on 20 million pets. He is currently focusing on these two markets.

    On Pawpular, a pet owner will have a customized profile, connect with other users, find a local service provider (walkers, groomers, pet day care, pet hotels and vets), rate and review services, adopt, get notified if someone nearby lost their pet, and ask questions.

    Service providers will get more visibility and attract new customers, book and manage appointments, assign jobs to team members, send offers and interact with customers among other features.

    Pawpular has 50,000 users to date, of which 10,000 are active daily. It generates revenue by charging its 1,500 service providers with a monthly fee ranging between 10 to 50 dollars.

    In the near future, Dagher will launch a store within the app where users can also buy products from the app. They will also be working with insurance companies to offer competitive prices to pet owners and feature a Bluetooth tracker. In the next two years, he will be expanding to new countries.

    Similar to many other companies, Pawpular is leveraging the power of data to cater to its users (someone looking to adopt a pit bull dog in a certain area) and providing customer insights to service providers.

    Data is what will anchor all ships to safety moving forward and Dentsu and Pawpular are surely taking note.

  • 19 Jun 2019 3:53 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Boston - Jun 13, 2019

    The search to understand the complexities of the human body is endless. Scientists study, invent, test and fail for years before a small percentage of them are able to come up with an effective drug, cure or treatment for diseases.

    The convergence of technologies in healthcare paved the way for new methods and tools that scientists can use, including wireless perception, nanotechnology and using AI to monitor, prevent and cure diseases.

    To further discuss the newest technological advancements in healthcare, LebNet organized a talk in Boston on June 13th, at MIT’s 500 Technology Square attended by 30 members and guests, and featured the following speakers: Diala Ezzeddine, PhD, CEO of Xios Therapeutics, a biotech company developing a novel small molecule therapeutics capable of preventing tumors from evading the immune system; Fadel Adib, PhD, an Assistant Professor at MIT and the founding director of the Signal Kinetics research group at the MIT Media Lab; and Dr. Tarek Fadel, Assistant Director of the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine at the MIT Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.

    The talk was moderated by Johnny Ghibril, Vice President of Data Science and Solutions Architecture at B-Yond.

    Inventing an artificial pancreas

    Adib’s research group at the MIT Media Lab develops technologies and algorithms for wireless perception and sensing. One of their inventions is an artificial pancreas. It is a batteryless micro-implant that can be digested or swallowed in the body. It is smaller than a Tylenol pill, as described by Adib, and wirelessly connects and communicates information from deep inside the body.

    This process enables many applications, such as long term drug delivery, said Adib: “You take a pill once and it sits inside the stomach, then we’re able to trigger it over a very long period of time. It could be used to treat those who have Alzheimer [and forget to take their pills], it could be used for deep brain stimulation. We’re able to power it up and stimulate it without using a battery, because the battery requires invasive surgery to place it and remove it. This artificial pancreas can be used to sense the Glucose and Insulin level.”

    The idea ambition goes beyond that.

    “We also want to be able to do an early detection of diseases by monitoring the micro-implants. We hope to build the first in-body micro computer that is able to last for a very long period of time.”

    For oncology, this technology could mean a number of things, according to Fadel:

    “When you think about something as complicated as cancer, that you’re able to change the chemistry of the drugs so they can be delivered for a longer period of time, combine and synchronise multiple drugs in one formulation, this can really speak to the complexity of some tumors. The ability to get insights from the human body using small particulars help doctors delineate the tumors in your body better and see some lesions better when performing a surgery,” said Fadel.

    Teaching the body to get rid of abnormal proteins and cells

    While Fadel and Adib’s talks focused on the technology itself, Ezzeddine tackled the biotechnology aspect: how her company aims to teach the immune system to fight cancer – knowing that the cancerous cells can mask themselves from the immune system – and how to recycle ‘marked’ protein cells.

    Xios Therapeutics aims to generate cancer medications, based on the idea of harnessing the natural mechanisms by which cells degrade proteins.

    “You ask why would our bodies recycle proteins? It’s because on the one hand you want to be able to change the cells from feeling mode to metabolizing mode to something else, you want to have reactions quick. You can express proteins and want them to do their job and when the state changes you want them to go away for others to be expressed. You have not only to express genes and turn them into proteins but also get rid of these proteins. There’s a sophisticated recycling system in the cell where any protein that gets marked, the recycling mechanism knows that it needs to get rid of that protein,” she explained.

    Ezzeddine’s company looks at cancer and gene expression and how some proteins in the genes are overly or underly expressed and need to be stopped. The typical process for recycling them, she explained, is creating a small antibody compound that targets the particular protein that you want to get rid of. The compound gets ingested and it either modulates the protein, prevents it from functioning or changes its formation so it stops interacting with other proteins. However, the process is temporary and once the drug falls off the compound, the protein goes back to doing what it was doing.

    To solve this issue, Xios is creating compounds that when they go inside the body or into a cell, they can hone in on the protein they want to get rid of, where one piece of the compound binds to the protein of interest and another one binds to a part of the machinery that recycles cells called E3 Ligases. “That’s the molecule we create. When it goes into the body, it binds your protein of interest, search for ligases, search for protein of interest, couple them and recognize another protein is there and therefore tags it for degradation and it gets degraded. You have a biology-based mechanism allowing you to get rid of proteins. So now you have a way of addressing a number of diseases, and we do it for cancer,” explained Ezzeddine.

    The founder also talked about immuno-oncology, which works on preventing cancer from masking itself from the immune system.

    Typically the immune system knows how to get rid of foreign bodies and does this very well. But the tumor prevents the system from doing that. So immuno- oncology looks at finding ways to trigger the immune system to recognize it’s being fooled by the cancer, and to unleash its power on the tumor. Ezzeddine said that the immuno-oncology findings led to the introduction of a few new drugs to the market 4 to 5 years ago.

    “We create a drug that can go into the body is able to degrade the proteins of interest with the goal of trying to boost the ability of the immune system to recognize the cancer and get rid of it.”

    Why do most healthtech discoveries fail?

    Most of the healthtech inventions end up failing, due to the high barriers to entry, high cost and long time to market,” according to Ghibril, or to the FDA long approval process and scaling manufacturing, according to Fadel.

    There’s also the gender parity barrier, which excludes a big portion of women from the equation and leading to less innovative solutions. “Around 12% of digital health startups have women CEO,” added Fadel. Adding to that, Ezzeddine believed that the majority of discoveries fail during the late stage clinical trials, as “it’s really hard to predict on a large scale what’s going to happen compared to controlled environments in the early stages.”

    Despite these barriers, the industry is constantly evolving and innovations in the immuno-oncology industry are coming to life. The accumulation of previous knowledge and the increased communication and openness between scientists are paving the way for additional research and breakthrough technologies.

  • 24 May 2019 3:59 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    San Diego - May 16, 2019

    For any career move, personal development or progress to happen, it has to take place outside of your comfort zone.

    Be it climbing the corporate ladder, launching a venture or making drastic decisions, the key is to always push beyond the limits.

    On May 16th, 2019, LebNet San Diego invited three senior executives to discuss their career move and share tips and advice on how young professionals can progress in the corporate world.

    The panelists were Mark Abumeri, Partner at Intellectual Property and tech law firm Knobbe Martens; Mary Gendron, Senior Vice President and CIO at international semiconductor and telecommunications company Qualcomm; and Sam Samad, Senior Vice President and CFO at array-based solutions for DNA, RNA, and protein analysis company Illumina. The panel was moderated by Fram Akiki, Vice President of Electronics and Semiconductor industry at Siemens PLM Software.

    The first part of the discussion was focused on the panelists’ career moves and how they progressed and managed to land senior roles.

    It’s never too late to make drastic changes

    Three to four years into his career, Abumeri realized he did not want to be an engineer for the rest of his life, so he applied to Cincinnati College of Law and ventured into something totally different. He taught at several law schools for over 15 years before making partner at Knobbe Martens.  

    “I can’t believe that someone at the age of 18 or 19 knows what they want to do,” he said about the pressure of having to choose a career path from a young age.

    Gendron’s career move on the other hand was affected by the need to create impact beyond the area she’s involved in. She worked at the telecommunications company Bell in Canada for 13 years before she decided to move to Motorola, where she became Vice President.

    “I wanted to have a bigger impact on a global scale. Keep looking for opportunities, it doesn’t always come knocking. You have to recognize it and grab it and be prepared to take the risk. That’s key to anyone wanting to make a change, whether in the same company or elsewhere.”

    If Abumeri and Gendron’s career paths led them to discovering new passions and unlock new opportunities, Samad’s path took him to different countries. Shortly after landing his first job at KPMG in Lebanon, Samad moved to Canada to work at a pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly in 1995 as a financial analyst. Thanks to his sales skills, which complemented his financial expertise, he was at an advantage and was exposed to several work opportunities that led him to managerial roles in different countries such as Indianapolis (USA), China, back to Lebanon and then Canada.

    “You reach a certain point where you know you’re not going to get much more from what you’re doing, whether it’s from the same company or a different one. That’s when you make the decision to choose something different,” said Samad about his move from finance to sales. “You have to be open to new possibilities, where you have to go through a really long different route than what you expected, but you have to adapt to it.”

    Lessons and regrets

    Regardless of how hardworking and skilled a person is, their career path is far from perfect.

    During the Q&A session, one of the attendees in the audience asked the panelists to share their regrets or main takeaways they picked up along the way. Gendron, who was an advocate of forming diversified teams from different countries, culture and gender, believed that this diversity helps the company look at problems and solutions from different perspectives. Yet, she admitted making mistakes when picking team members.

    “Your track record is never perfect. When you know you made a bad decision, you need to change your choices. I had a situation where I called up someone from Singapore to take on a global role. He was great but it didn’t work out. So I said it was my mistake because I pushed him. I put him back to his initial role and he was happy. It’s never too late to make a decision and you shouldn’t be afraid to act. Own it and do something about it.”

    As for Abumeri, he did not regret making the move from engineering to law, but he did regret not taking advantage of networking properly. “If I could go back, I would benefit from all the people I knew 20-25 years ago,” he said.

    Samad regretted doing his MBA too early.

    “MBA helped me in a few ways. The ability to prioritize deliverables and networking was helpful. Meeting people with different experiences – some had no experience and others had 30 years of experience – taught me so much about being involved with different groups. One regret is that I was about 22 years old [when I did my MBA]. I did not have enough experience. My advice is to get a lot of good experience in between. After I got it, everything started to come back and make sense.”

    Another question from the audience was to share tips on how to advance in the corporate world and move from a middle position to a C-level. Samad’s answer was differentiation by having a complementary skill that puts the person at an advantage. Gendron and Abumeri advised the audience to have the courage to take on problems other people are running away from.

    The evening concluded with the LebNet San Diego team giving updates about LebNet’s internship program, which succeeded in filling 4 out of 7 summer internships, and encouraging LebNet members to join San Diego’s WhatsApp group to stay involved and updated. Those interested in joining can send their request to Andrew Tebsherani [[email protected]

  • 06 Mar 2019 4:28 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Beirut - Feb 26, 27, 2019

    What used to be labeled as science-fiction few decades ago may now be a forthcoming reality, except for the whole ‘Terminator’ craze.

    Artificial Intelligence research goes back to the late fifties, where the link between human intelligence and machines was widely observed. Fast forward to today, human intelligence is facing a real threat.

    In fact, machines are getting twice better every 18 months and we’re now increasingly hearing of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), when machines start exhibiting intelligence that exceed human performance in all domains, versus Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI), which is when machines outperform humans in certain domains. We’re currently in the ANI phase.


    Are humans on the verge of becoming the second most intelligent species on earth?

    In order to better understand AGI, how can we prevent it from destroying us and knowing its implications on several fields and economies, The Order of Engineers and Architects (OAE) in Beirut organized a two-day event on February 26 and 27, 2019 called Artificial Intelligence, Digital Revolution & Impact on the Economy.

    The event included several talks and two panels and featured speakers from engineering background, as well as data analysis, AI, IoT, fintech, politics, economy, philosophy and others. We were also excited to have four of our LebNet members giving talks or moderating sessions.

    The content of the sessions was highly rich and informative, backed with statistics, numbers and real examples. Below are some of the insights and observations that experts shared with us during the event. While they are not representative of the event, they do give a general idea of what has been discussed:

    1- If tech progress was not combined with the preservation of good values and acting civilized, we will be facing a social deterioration, with one minority taking over politics and economy and the majority being marginalized. Quoting Einstein: It has become appallingly clear that our tech has exceeded our humanity. Jad Tabet, the President of the OEA.

    2- People are debating as to when we will reach AGI. Some experts say as early as 2029, other say it might take 70 years. When we hit AGI, singularity will happen and humans will no longer be the most intelligent species on this planet. Mazen Skaf, Partner and Managing Director of Strategic Decisions Group.

    3- AI crushed us in 4 competitions: the first one in 1997, when the world’s best chess player, Gary Kasparov, was beaten by a computer; the second in 2011, when IBM’s supercomputer Watson beat Ken Jennings during a TV quiz show; the third in 2016, when Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo algorithm beat the world’s number one Go player and the fourth in 2017, when the best poker players were beaten by a computer. Calum Chase, Author of ‘Surviving AI’ and ‘The Economic Singularity’.

    4- AI is a misunderstood word. Everybody uses and misuses it. Machine learning is reversing the way we write programs and neural networks is inspired by the human brain. It has multiple layers and each layer is creating the features that will be used by machine learning. Bassem Monla, AI Subject Matter Expert at IBM.

    5- Estimates by Mckinsey suggest that by 2030, we will be adding about 13 trillion dollars to the economy, thanks to automation and optimizing productivity. The countries that are most likely to benefit from that are the countries that are already developed. Today US and China have the highest level of AI skills penetration. Nasser Saidi, Economist and Former Minister of Economy in Lebanon.

    LebNet’s member Rania Afiouni Monla moderating a session on the ethics of AI with panelists Calum Chase, Nasser Saidi, Mazen Skaff, and Anthony Bitar. (Images via LebNet)

    6- I advise Lebanon to do a leapfrog. We can skip a generation of technology and get up to speed and become competitive by skipping a lot of technology that has been around for the last 10 to 20 years. Imad ElHajj, Professor at the American University of Beirut.

    7- Computers can learn and understand feelings. We collected 120 pieces of music and published them online and asked people to listen to the music and tell us what emotions the music evoked in them. We collected the feedback and used the data to train our sentiment learner to detect and analyse emotions from the music and compose music on its own. Joe Tekli, Assistant Professor/Interim Assistant Dean/School of Engineering at the Lebanese American University.

    8- In 2019, we have 130 devices being connected to the internet every second. Analysts predictions say we’re getting to 75 billion devices connecting to the internet by 2025. Rabih Nassar, CEO of Scriptr

    9- In China, banks use AI to look at your social media accounts, your web browsing history and chats, then evaluate your credit worthiness. Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) algorithm is very much used today to recognise images and signature fraud used in banks. Next in Natural Language Processing we have chatbots. In wealth management it’s very well done. It prepares the room for analyst to be able to give you a better service. Crédit Mutuel, is using Watson and has improved customer satisfaction by 60% in wealth management. Chatbots, When they understand you it’s perfect, when they don’t it’s a catastrophe. Gerard Rafie, founder of FintekMinds.

    10- The first AGI machines that we create should like us and understand us better than we understand ourselves. In the next couple of decades, people will have to re-skill and retrain themselves to new jobs. If AI takes over our jobs, we could focus on other things: become the best mountaineer or painter. We can have a second renaissance. And if we make the cost of living very cheap with a Universal Basic Income for all and rely on economic abundance, we can achieve that. Callum Chase.

    11- AI might help us save ourselves from the problems we created: climate change, sustainability, mass inequality and cyberattacks. Some companies are using AI to identify cyberattacks from day 0 and intervene within seconds. The future of AI lies on adopting a code of ethics in the industry. Mazen Skaf.

    Taking into account that it’s not easy to host several sessions discussing one major topic without being repetitive, The OEA’s event did a good job providing rich and varied content in every talk. We would like to thank our four LebNet members, Bassem Monla, Rania Afiouni, Gerard Rafie and Mazen Skaff for making the trip from Montreal, Austin and California to join the event.

  • 27 Feb 2019 4:33 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Palo Alto - Feb 24, 2019

    On February 24th, 2019, LebNet hosted Dr. Fadlo Khuri, President of the American University of Beirut (AUB) and Dr. Alan Shihadeh, AUB Dean of the Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture over a dinner event in Palo Alto, California.

    A Trustee since 2014 and AUB former student, Dr. Khuri is AUB’s 16th President. He was a Professor and Chair of the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Emory University where he held the Roberto C. Goizueta Distinguished Chair for Cancer Research. He also served as Deputy Director of the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University and Executive Associate Dean for Research of the Emory University School of Medicine.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​


    Dr. Shihadeh was appointed as AUB Dean of the Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (MSFEA) in September 2017. He earned his doctorate in sciences in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the field of combustion in 1998. He has authored or co-authored more than 100 refereed journal publications, reports, and conference abstracts that are primarily concerned with the chemistry, physics, and exposure science of particle pollutants. He serves as an advisor to the FDA, a scientific expert to the WHO, and a Project Director and Executive Leadership Committee member of the Center for the Study of Tobacco Products at Virginia Commonwealth University.

    After dinner, Abdo George Kadifa, Chairman of LebNet, AUB trustee and Managing Director of Sumeru Equity Partners moderated the fireside chat and asked Dr. Khuri to share AUB’s new vision and strategy with an audience of 30 LebNet members.

    Following that, Dr. Shihadeh shared what his faculty was driving to enhance entrepreneurship in Lebanon as well as develop design process skills and multidisciplinary programs like the Humanitarian Engineering Initiative, which focuses on the design of engineering solutions for health challenges in crises.

    The ensuing Q&A session was very lively and addressed areas where LebNet, as a tech diaspora group, could play its part and extend its members’ collective expertise to help enhance the learning journey of future AUB engineering students.

    Dean Shihadeh promised to list the 5 areas where LebNet members could get involved. Follow-on discussions will help create tangible actions to operationalize the members’ engagement. Several ideas were explored like for example ‘Silicon Channel’ as a vehicle for LebNeters to deliver remote and in-person seminars and talks to AUB students, a quick and low friction way to share experiences.

    You can check the event’s gallery on our Flickr account here

  • 25 Feb 2019 4:37 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Silicon Valley - Feb 13, 2019

    Headquartered in Nashville, Asurion is one of the largest and fastest growing subscriber-based businesses in the world.  In a little over 20 years, Asurion has expanded to provide its award-winning services to over 150 million wireless customers, with over 17 thousand employees in 21 countries around the world.

    Co-founded in 1995 by current Chairman, Kevin Taweel and fellow Stanford GSB alumnus Jim Ellis, Asurion began by selling roadside assistance through wireless carrier channels.  Expanding to offer insurance for mobile phones in 1999, retail service contracts in 2008, and technical support in 2011, Asurion has become the global leader in technology solutions services.  

    On February 13, 2019, LebNet hosted a talk in Silicon Valley, California given by Kevin Taweel and moderated by Abdo George Kadifa, LebNet’s chairman and the managing director of Sumeru Equity Partners. During his talk, Taweel took us through the journey of Asurion, how luck played its part and how tough decisions and competition made his company one of the leading providers of device protection and tech help.

    Asurion cofounder Kevin Taweel discussing his company’s success during a LebNet event.

    When opportunity meets readiness

    Taweel, whose father is Lebanese, credits most of his successful journey to being lucky and ready. In other words, taking advantage of the opportunities that came his way and knowing how to react when bad things happen.

    Asurion’s business model was totally different when it started. Kevin was introduced early on at Stanford to an investment vehicle called a Search Fund that financially supported an entrepreneur’s efforts to locate, acquire, manage, and grow a privately held company.  The goal was then to sell it and repeat the cycle. Taweel and Ellis had purchased a roadside-assistance company in 1999 which proved to be a challenging business to operate.  It did, however, have an important upside: the product was sold through wireless carriers, and exposed the young company to opportunities created by the emerging mobile phone market.  

    In the early days of wireless, “…the phones were so big you could only put them in your car. So wireless carriers sold roadside assistance for $3 per month when you bought your wireless plan,” explained Taweel. The idea to sell mobile phone insurance presented itself when he came across a phone insurance brochure during a client store visit. Much of Asurion’s growth can be traced back to that decision in 1999, to purchase a small cellphone insurance company.  As mobile phones became ubiquitous and increasingly valuable, the business grew from a few million dollars in revenue at the time of acquisition, to the multi-billion-dollar enterprise Asurion operates today.

    It proved to be a very wise decision.  While the original roadside business grew by a factor of 50x, the wireless protection grew by over 1000x.  “Today, approximately one in four people in the US use our services,” said Taweel.

    So how does the product work?

    Customers pay a monthly fee of around $12 to insure their phones and have access to other services helping them fully use the capabilities of the technology they own. If the phone is lost, stolen or broken, Asurion can replace it the next day or often, fix a cracked screen within a few hours. In addition, Asurion support services, via phone, chat, or mobile app, help customers realize the full potential of their phones and other consumer electronics.

    Tough decisions make great companies

    Taweel, who studied engineering at McGill University and business at Stanford, explained that in the beginning, he had to make a lot of tough decisions that helped the company maintain its culture and top clients.

    In the early days, almost half of Taweel’s time was spent on hiring the right people and making sure that his best people were positioned in high leverage roles. Even today, he still spends about 30 percent of his time dedicated to people and talent.   

    “It has been a great learning experience. The time you spend hiring people will take you a long way. The biggest mistake [you make] is when you hire misfits and let them stick around and then they hire others worse than them. [It ruins] the culture, so early on in our growth trajectory people who weren’t very good were exposed immediately.”

    Culture remains a key component in Asurion’s success. It’s the glue that binds all members and Taweel attributed the company’s strong culture to its core values and leadership principles. Both core tenets reflect his beliefs and helps ensure the culture is true and strong by aligning how employees work and lead.

    “It is challenging to institutionalize a culture. Most of our team is new but we’ve created a culture where the team focuses on reaching full potential by putting our customers first, taking ownership, and collaborating across the business,” Taweel stated.  

    IPO and future plans

    During the Q&A session, Taweel was asked why he has not filed an IPO and what will Asurion’s next steps be.

    Without taking the IPO completely off the table, he told the audience that it was very unlikely. “We don’t need the capital and we don’t have liquidity issues. As long as our customers and partners find value in our service and have a great customer experience, that’s what’s most important. Being known for the sake of being known isn’t interesting to us,” he said, adding that making the company public requires a lot of work before and after. Taweel explained that he wants the entire team to stay focused on delivering the best service and experience for partners and customers, not be sidelined by analysts.

    As for Asurion’s plans, the future looks bright. Taweel announced that the company will be offering a new smart home service, to connect, protect and maintain all electronics people use at home so they can enjoy their technology. A new software product will show all the available devices in the house and assess their performance to ensure everything is working at optimal level. “We want to be the trusted partner that actually helps customers keep [their devices] up and running and provide more services on top of that,” he concluded.

  • 07 Feb 2019 2:01 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    San Diego, Jan 31, 2020

    On January 31st, The LebNet San Diego community hosted a talk and a panel on career development in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math).

    The event was held at Apollonia Greek Bistro in San Diego and attended by 26 people. Jeanine Akiki, ASIC Design Services Director at IBM/ Globalfoundries, kicked off the evening by walking the audience through her career journey spanning over 30 years.  

    [Check the full event gallery here]

    Born in Beirut, Akiki left Lebanon after high school to study electrical engineering at Western New England University of Vermont. She joined IBM in 1988 as a design engineer and was recognized with an IBM Division Award for Management Excellence. In 2015, IBM sold its microelectronics business to Globalfoundries where she became Director of ASIC design services. She retired from the semiconductor industry in August 2018 and is now searching for her next passion. She has become involved with LebNet and leading the launch of its internship program. You can find more information about it here.

    Following her talk, Akiki welcomed the panelists – Ghina Yamout-Jomaa, PhD, Director of Business Development and Senior Consultant, Alta Environmental; Marie Huff, Software Engineer and Systems Applications Specialist, Sharp Rehabilitation Center; Nathalie Gholmieh, Manager, Data and Integration Services at University of California, San Diego (UCSD); and Shadi Dayeh, PhD, Professor and Principal Investigator, Integrated Electronics and Bio-interfaces Laboratory, UCSD – who discussed career development challenges, lessons learned, and tips on work life integration.  

    Jeanine Akiki giving a brief presentation about herself before introducing the panelists. (Images via LebNet)

    25 percent of U.S. companies host peer-mentoring programs

    Panelists agreed that mentorship is a strategic tool that can attract and retain high-potential talent and accelerate leadership development and readiness. In fact, 25 percent of U.S. companies now host peer-mentoring programs, which is considered a significant increase from since 2007, when only 4 to 5 percent of U.S. companies reported sponsoring mentorship programs.

    Education is a continuous effort

    Speakers also focused on the important role of ongoing education, which includes webinars, degree advancement, attending conferences, reading, online tutorials and other skill training programs. Some fields like information technology (IT) require workers to regularly invest in new skills, according to Nathalie Gholmieh, otherwise they will become obsolete. Affinity groups are another mean that can help workers network, give back, learn and share best practices.

    More women engineers are leaving the engineering profession

    At the end of the day, panelists talked about work/life integration in demanding STEM fields and how many women today are not capable of maintaining a healthy balance due to the work/family conflict and occupational commitment. They also spoke about burnout, which is correlated with the inability to find time to juggle between work and family. Marie Huff is working part-time and Gholmieh believes having a supporting partner is crucial.

  • 27 Jan 2019 2:03 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    San Francisco - Jan 10, 2019

    Healthy mind in healthy body.

    We’re increasingly becoming curious about how our bodies function, how we can heal them and how they react to diseases. While we’re still far from figuring out how to cure certain serious illnesses and preventing them in the future, science and biotechnology are making a significant progress in that regard.

    In a fireside chat organized by LebNet on January 10 – which featured Diala Ezzeddine, PhD, CEO of Xios Therapeutics, a biotech company developing a novel small molecule therapeutics capable of preventing tumors from evading the immune system; Omar Haffar, PhD, Founder and CEO of Eos Biosciences, a nanomedicines company developing a nanobiologic particle-based platform technology to facilitate the delivery of approved and novel therapeutics to disease sites and moderator Farah Fawaz, PhD, and VP Quality Control at Allogene Therapeutics, a company developing allogeneic CAR T therapies for cancer – panelists talked about targeted cancer treatments that do not harm other parts of the human body, new drug discoveries, intellectual property and attracting  investments to finance expensive and high risk medical products.

    LebNet Biotech Event

    LebNet’s Biotech Event (Images via LebNet)

    Fawaz, who is a LebNet board member, kicked off the talk by saying that finding Lebanese-American colleagues and professionals in the biotech industry to connect remains a big challenge and invited guests to be engaged in helping build the network. This is why a few months back, she launched a biotech community under LebNet, to help create more synergies and partnership opportunities.

    Treating tumors without damaging the healthy parts

    Haffar got his Ph.D from the University of California at Berkeley in the eighties and left academia to join Genentech for his postdoctoral training. For nine years, he worked at large pharmaceutical companies, but eventually he moved on to starting his own companies. Eos Biosciences is his 4th company.

    Haffar’s recent company, Eos, was started in 2014 and focuses on oncology (the study and treatment of tumors). His drug-targeting platform technology was developed at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in LA in order to treat the tumors in the body without damaging the healthy parts, unlike chemotherapy. The technology is based on generating self-assembling, nano biological particles (Eosomes) that entrap a chosen therapeutic (drug) and specifically deliver it to the interior of the target disease cells.

    “We work with a technology that is made up of developing nanoparticles, where we put drugs inside the particles and once injected into humans, it hums right into the tumor, reducing toxicity.”

    The path to drug discovery

    Diala Ezzeddine got her Ph.D in Genetics from Harvard Medical School then started working at Millennium Pharmaceuticals, where she learned a lot about drug discovery and business development. “I decided later to take advantage of spinning companies out of Millennium to go on my own and do something for myself,” she told the audience.

    She co-founded HydroSpine, a hydrogel liquid that is injected in the spine to reconstruct it. She tried to do that with friends who had a proprietary gel before realizing the idea was a bit early for the market. So instead, she licensed the technology to other small companies. In 2010, she became the chief business officer of a company X-Chem, which applies innovative capabilities screening chemical libraries for the identification of novel small molecule therapeutics. She helped start the company from scratch and create a new drug discovery programs. In 2015, they decided to start a new company and fund it separately and that’s how Xios was born.

    “In 2011 and 2014, there was a watershed moment in cancer research and therapeutics with three drugs going into the market. Cancer is not just a tumor, it actually develops into almost an organ with a number of functions. It has its own environment, ability to connect to the human system and it cloaks itself from the immune system. It allows it to grow unchecked,” said Ezzeddine when talking about the limitations of certains cancer drugs or treatments. “The first generation [of treatment] was chemotherapy. It’s very effective but kills everything that’s alive. Then second was targeted molecular therapy, where we exploit between cancer and normal cells to focus just on cancer. It works well in a number of cases. The third is checkpoint inhibitors.”

    Her company aims to create a new generation of oncology drugs targeting checkpoint inhibitors.

    LebNet Biotech Event

    LebNet Biotech Event

    Intellectual property and proper funding

    The second half of the panel focused on patenting new innovations and finding huge amounts of investments to finance them.

    “In our industry, intellectual property is very important. We have nine patent families, 14 issued patents in six families. If you count them all, we have 28 US and global patents,” said Haffar.

    While it’s crucial to protect an innovation idea, especially in a tricky field like biotech where every detail matters, Ezzeddine believes patents are not always the best option.

    “When you have a complex technology that’s difficult to process, it’s more helpful to protect it by trade secret than by patent. Everybody knows about patents, so if somebody wants to practice it, they can change it enough to get around your patent.   Whereas if they don’t know what you’re doing and you keep it as a trade secret, it’s a lot stronger for protection,” explained Ezzeddine.

    In order to discover and test new drugs or treatments, researchers and scientists spend years and years of testing and iterating, without offering any guarantees. This all requires heavy capital before starting up, which makes attracting  investments a hard task.

    “Our industry is so capital intensive that no matter what you do, you can’t get a corporate partner to invest in the company, give you licensing fees, research support and you always find yourself going to a VC because they have the money that you need,” said Haffar. “They are the only ones that will invest in a private biotech [as they are always looking for the brightest ideas to invest in].”

    Whether they secure money from a VC or from friends & family, the true challenge biotech scientists and researchers face is clinical failure, as Haffar said. Being unable to know if a drug is effective before testing it on animals then on humans is the trickiest part and if ultimately, the results were negative, the product is dead.

  • 19 Dec 2018 2:09 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    San Mateo - Dec 10, 2018

    It’s an exciting time to be alive.

    Technology and competition are providing endless convenience options to the point that it’s hard to complain about not getting what you need delivered to your doorstep, whenever and wherever you need it.

    From Starbucks Corp. building on its partnership with UberEats to deliver coffee to around 150 cities this year, to DoorDash announcing plan to deliver to 500 US cities by end of 2018, and Postmates, doing 4 million deliveries per month in 550 US cities, the on-demand delivery scene is surely bustling.  

    Launched in 2011, Postmates handles delivery and pickup of food, beverages and groceries and works with 300,000 merchants and 250,000 carriers across the US. It has recently raised $300 million in additional funding led by Tiger Global Management and is now reportedly valued at $1.2 billion.

    This on-demand delivery unicorn might also be filing for an IPO in 2019, according to its CEO, Bastian Lehmann.

    “We have a beautiful path to an IPO in 2019,” he said in an interview with Fortune magazine.

    During a Holiday dinner event organized by LebNet in San Mateo California on December 10, 2018, Vikrum Aiyer, Vice President Global Public Policy at Postmates and former Senior Advisor at the White House with Sami Arayssi, Business Strategy Lead at Postmates and LebNet former board member, mentioned that the company is serving 60 percent of US households and explained how it is creating an impact on the local economy while being socially responsible.

    LebNet organized a dinner on December 10 and hosted Vikrum Aiyer and Sami Arayssi from Postmates to discuss how this company is creating thousands of jobs and impacting the economy. (Images via LebNet)

    LebNet organized a dinner on December 10 and hosted Vikrum Aiyer and Sami Arayssi from Postmates who discussed how this company is creating thousands of jobs and impacting the economy. (Images via LebNet)

    Fighting food poverty: In an attempt to provide healthy food to shelters and help restaurant owners donate food leftovers, Postmates launched four months ago the Food Fight program, in partnership with the Mayor’s Operations Innovation team in Los Angeles, the creative talent community Working Not Working and Vice Media. Via a button featured on Postmates merchants’ platform in LA, restaurants can click and have someone pick up their food leftover and drop it off at one of the three shelters Postmates is partnering with.

    Decreasing carbon footprint: Postmates may be in the logistics business but it doesn’t rely solely on cars to pick up and drop off goods. In New York, where they have the largest fleet, all their deliveries are done by bikes or on foot but in LA, it’s still almost entirely done by automobiles. They recently started testing with automated electric rovers on sidewalks in Washington DC, LA, Miami and other places, which will further decrease the company’s carbon footprint.

    “The US spends 400 million hours going to and from grocery stores,” said Aiyer referring to a study by Brooklyn Institute. “We can minimize this and optimize pick up.”

    Vikrum and Sami explaining to the crowd how the business is serving over 550 US cities and supplying food to local shelters.

    Vikrum and Sami explaining to the crowd how the business is serving over 550 US cities and supplying food to local shelters.

    Additionally, Postmates, through its multiple platforms (one for merchants, one for customers and one for carriers), helped local businesses sell over $1.2 billion worth of goods in 2017, according to Aiyer, and carriers earn an extra income.

    “In the era of amazon, when more retailers are struggling to compete with it, more local businesses are now able to plug in and sell,” he explained.

    On the other hand, the 250,000 carriers Postmates is working with have earned last year alone about $217 million in total, said Aiyer. This number also means that they are earning about $18.32 per hour.”

    That said, their network of couriers include students and women over 52 years old, with most of their customers between 18 and 34 years old (60 percent of them are female) and 99 percent of them living in urban areas.

    Collaborating with big names

    In order to test how people would react to having the goods delivered using a driverless car, Postmates partnered with Ford and Walmart to test a grocery delivery service in Miami.

    “When Walmart wants to deliver groceries in Miami they’re using a platform that we [developed] with Ford. This allows us to focus on how to test the future of the workforce and how we make sure that we’re not only investing in the wellbeing of this workforce, but if more jobs were to be automated, how do we make sure we’re developing the skill sets for those workers,” explained Aiyer.

    What started with three guys trying to figure out how to get a surfboard delivered to them has now grown to a company of 850 people in the US. In the last four to six months alone, Postmates went from few hundred cities to 550 cities. Despite competition, Sami Arayssi believes there’s room for everyone. They’re operating in an industry worth $550 billion with a 1.3 percent penetration rate, he said. “That’s a huge opportunity for a lot of players,” he said.

    By making all these deliveries, Postmates is adding additional jobs to the economy and creating a bigger effect beyond having your food delivered to you on a lazy Sunday.

  • 11 Dec 2018 2:15 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Beirut - Nov 29, 2018

    Impact investing is the purposeful act of investing in a business or product that will generate, in addition to financial returns, a social or environmental impact.

    2017 survey conducted by the Global Impact Investing Network, a nonprofit organization for scaling and measuring impact investing worldwide, revealed that over 200 self-identified impact investors closed around 8,000 investments in 2016, with a total value of $22.1 billion. The businesses they invested in focused on creating a positive impact on society or environment, while generating profits for investors.

    Seedstars, a global organization that empowers startups in emerging markets through events, workshops, acceleration programs and hubs, is an example of organizations doing impact investing. It aims to reach 10,000 entrepreneurs in 2019. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, between 5 and 7 trillion dollars of investment are needed each year, until 2030, to reach sustainable development goals worldwide.

    Since the inception of Seedstars six years ago, their amount allocated to impact investing has multiplied by nine, said Seedstars event manager Laure de Peretti de la Rocca, during her keynote speech at Seedstars MENA Regional Competition held in Beirut on November 29.

    “Goldman Sachs and BlackRock, have either acquired, launched or committed capital dedicated to impact. Despite the growing interest, the amount allocated to impact investment is low. If we look at Goldman, they have 1.3 trillion asset under management, less than 1 percent of it is dedicated to impact,” added Laure stressing on the importance of incentivising corporate and big investment firm to invest in impact businesses.

    With a focus on impact investing and fundraising in the US versus Lebanon, the event marked Seedstars’ third regional edition and it was supported by several partners including Investment Development Authority of Lebanon (IDAL), MADA Assistive Technology Center, local telecommunication company TouchSpeed LebanonBerytechEndeavor Lebanon, LebNet and many others. The 3-day competition had 351 attendees, 45 investors, 119 startup founders, 303 one-on-one meetings and a representation from 21 countries.

    Lebanese telecommunications company Touch organized a workshop on business growth and accessing new markets and featured 64 one-on-one meetings with 8 local and regional mentors. (Image via Seedstars)  

    Speakers included Christopher Schroeder, American investor and entrepreneur and the author of the book Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East; Fadi Zoghzoghi, CTO of Bridge Athletic and a LebNet board member; Sharif El-Badawi, partner at 500 Startups; Walid Hanna, founder and CEO of Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP); Ayah Bdeir, founder and CEO of global success startup littleBits and Hassane Slaibi, CEO and cofounder of Band Industries, the company that built the most fundraised musical hardware on Kickstarter: Roadie Tuner.

    Over 70% of Millennials and Generation X’ers  are investing with a purpose

    Doing business to generate profits without expressing social or environmental values is no longer an option for most of the millenials and their predecessor generation. A study conducted this year revealed that millennial investors and generation X investors are becoming more attuned to socially responsible investing than their older counterparts. Another study revealed that 77 percent of millennial investors and 72 percent of generation X investors have made an impact investment, compared to just 30 percent of affluent investors from the baby boomer and older generations.

    “It’s no longer about making money, but also about having a purpose. Not only is there this rising interest in impact investing, but also a rise in power of a new generation that believe doing business with a purpose goes hand in hand,” added Laure.

    And the winner of last year’s Seedstars Global Summit is an example of investing in high-impact startups.

    Impacting farmers’ lives through technology

    Last April, over 1,000 attendees, investors, startups and enthusiasts attended Seedstars Global Summit in Switzerland. After hosting around 80 local competitions and organizing five regional summits, the global summit gathered startups from 65 countries including the MENA region, for a chance to pitch and win the grand prize of $500,000 of equity investment. Twelve startups were chosen to present and the winner was AgroCenta. This Ghana-based startup aims to solve two critical problems small farmers face: access to market and access to finance. The lack of an access to a market forces farmers to sell their produce to middlemen, who will in return sell the products at a higher price. The lack of finance won’t allow farmers to expand to bigger farms and increase their production.

    The winner of Seeedstars Global Summit last year took home $500,000 (Image via Seedstars)   

    AgroCenta built a platform, AgroTrade, that allows farmers to sell their produce directly to large food traders, to ensure fair prices and selling in bulk. It has another platform called AgroPay, which provides financial institutions more visibility over low-risk farmers.

    Another Seedstars success story is eFishery, an Indonesian startup that won the global summit in 2014. It’s a smart automatic feeder for fish in farms, making it easier for farmers to track and schedule feeding times using a mobile app. eFishery’s goal is to increase feed efficiency while saving food, as many farm fishes die due to overfeeding.

    We may have a long way to go to reach sustainable development goals, especially with the $2.5 trillion investment gap in developing countries, but today’s generation is more than ever willing to invest in businesses that reflect their social and environmental values. With most millennials located in emerging markets, we can only hope the next big success story comes from the MENA region.


LebNet, a non-profit organization, serves as a multi-faceted platform for Lebanese professionals residing in the US and Canada, entrepreneurs, investors, business partners in a broad technology eco-system, and acts as a bridge to their counterparts in Lebanon and the rest of the Middle East

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