Elie Habib is an accomplished venture consultant, investor, entrepreneur, and corporate executive with extensive experience in leadership, global venture investment, and consulting. He is the Managing Principal at Venture Consulting Partners, providing advisory services in the USA and MENA regions. Elie founded the first VC fund in the Middle East, and has extensive experience in global venture investment serving on the boards of various VC-backed startups. He has also held several executive positions at Nokia and other US corporations. He holds an MS in computer science from Case Western University and a Maitrise in Computer Science from Toulouse, France.
In 1999, Elie had the vision to create LebNet, a community platform for Lebanese high-tech professionals in the Bay Area. Serving as its president until 2010, Elie aimed to connect LebNet’s members, facilitate knowledge exchange, and encourage community contributions. Together with George Akiki, Fares Moubarak, and Khaled Nasr, they laid the foundation of this premier diaspora network for tech professionals worldwide.
Tell us about your early beginnings
Like numerous Lebanese immigrants, my personal journey mirrors those who were compelled to leave Lebanon during their formative years and eventually establish their lives in the United States after completing their higher education. Initially our contact with our families was limited to sporadic phone calls, letters, and infrequent visits. Lebanon was still reeling from the aftermath of war, and each of us had to navigate our own paths and persevere to achieve our goals.
In your current job: What do you enjoy the most?
Currently, my primary focus revolves around aiding funds in the US in their capital-raising efforts and providing consultation to corporations in the MENA region as they design and implement their VC programs. I firmly believe that this serves as a crucial foundation for large local corporations to strategically invest in startups, thereby expanding their distribution channels and markets. Ultimately, this can lead to the acquisition of startups and the provision of liquidity to local stakeholders. I enjoy solving this intricate puzzle and enabling a win-win situation for the local ecosystem. This entails fostering the growth and successful exit of startups and entrepreneurs, while enabling corporations to embrace external innovation internally. This, in turn, creates new job opportunities, markets and business models, ultimately culminating in liquidity for the investors.
You worked with Nokia before launching your own company Vusion: what influenced your decision and how would you describe your experience co-founding a company?
In 1998, I led the product team of a startup that went public through a successful IPO. Following, Nokia acquired the company, and I became the Global VP of Engineering and SVP/GM, responsible for enterprise products, including security appliances.
After six years at Nokia, I felt a strong desire to venture into another startup. In 2006, I partnered with a co-founder, secured funding, and established a company aimed at disrupting Netflix’s CD distribution business while pioneering high-definition video streaming. Our innovative value proposition gained traction, and we landed our first deal with Def-Jam to stream Rihanna’s “Umbrella” in high definition through a browser. Although commonplace now, this exemplifies the ongoing cycle of innovation. As a CEO and founder, the experience was exhilarating, thrilling, daunting, challenging, and pushing the limits of creativity and tenacity. Enjoying the journey and trusting intuition, along with the advice from trusted friends, are crucial elements in this role.
In 2010, you moved to the MENA region to take on the role of country manager at Abraaj Capital. What motivated this move?
After selling my startup in 2009, a conversation with George Akiki, who was leading a major initiative supported by Cisco and Intel for Lebanon, inspired me to establish a $50 million VC fund exclusively for Lebanese startups. This decision required me to move to Beirut to effectively deploy the fund. Initially, Abraaj Capital joined as a limited partner (LP) and later became a co-general partner (GP) under their own brand.
Moving to Lebanon from the US brought a blend of excitement, challenges and apprehension. The endeavor required more effort than anticipated, overcoming intricate social and geopolitical hurdles. My decision to start and lead LebNet, establish a fund, and relocate to Lebanon stemmed from a deep passion for driving positive change for the aspiring young Lebanese community.
You worked with funds in the US and the Mena region: How do you describe your experience in both?
Engaging in VC work is an exceptionally unique and fulfilling experience regardless of location, but the MENA region poses challenges compared to the US. The region lacks the same seamless economic systems, leading entrepreneurs to allocate more equity capital to address regional deficiencies vs. focusing on the core value proposition. There is also an imbalance between capital inflows and the supply of quality startups, resulting in inflated valuations without corresponding liquidity events for investors. Despite these challenges, job opportunities are being created, and local solutions are driving progress in the region.
What do you consider to be your biggest achievement?
What do you see as LebNet’s most remarkable achievements?
I am proud of LebNet’s remarkable evolution and grateful to all who have believed and supported our vision. Our unwavering faith in our mission, commitment to supporting our global community, and investments in our role as a professional bridge to Lebanon, have been key to LebNet’s success for the past 24 years and counting.
Another achievement is our commitment to reinventing LebNet while upholding key principles:
1) Implementing succession planning by setting term limits and electing diverse and younger board members. This empowers the next generation to lead and ensures the original founders and other board members transition gracefully into advisory roles, 2) Emphasizing inclusivity, and diversity among our members, communities and board members. This generates excitement, volunteerism and engagement surpassing Lebnet’s early days. 3) Expanding LebNet’s reach beyond the Bay Area to major cities across the US and Canada through our effective organizational structure. By consistently implementing these principles, we propel LebNet forward, ensuring its relevance, impact, growth and engagement.
LebNet’s success is exemplified by its ability to transcend religion, politics, social divisions, and gender issues that often hinder organizations. This harmonious collaboration among diverse individuals requires immense effort and unwavering commitment. We take pride in LebNet’s brand value, as it showcases the possibility of creating a thriving environment of unified cooperation.
As LebNet grows in membership and impact, there are ongoing challenges that require attention. One primary challenge is securing a budget to sustain and operate LebNet at its current scale. Historically, we have relied on a small group of generous donors for funding. I invite all members who benefit from the Lebnet platform to consider making donations and offering financial support. Every dollar makes a meaningful impact and contributes to the continued success of LebNet.