Part of its mission to empower the next generation of Lebanese entrepreneurs, LebNet launched its residential mentorship program LebNet Ignite in 2014, to offer startups in Lebanon a two-week bootcamp in San Francisco.
Startups get access to the required expertise and know-how that will help them scale their businesses globally. Participants will meet investors and learn how to attract global funds, connect with mentors, scale globally and get legal advice. Since its inception, the program graduated 19 startups.
“LebNet Ignite was the best experience ever. We had access to people we can never have access to in Lebanon,” said Audrey Nakad, cofounder at Synkers, an online private tutoring platform. The Lebanese market is in need of more role models and success stories they can look up to and seek advice from, she added.
Similarly, Charlie El Khoury, cofounder at Nar, added that “we lack success stories. We need people to look up to. In San Francisco, you always find people to help.”
His startup Nar is a smart-drone software solution that integrates with drones to track wildfires and oil leakages.
Photo: During a feedback session with LebNet Ignite startups, held by LebNet president George Akiki this month at Speed Lebanon.
Customized mentorship for each startup
The program featured one-on-one sessions with LebNet members, coaching and brainstorming dinners, which were startup-focused. “LebNet organized [for us] a dinner with 5 mentors, and it was about Synkers challenges, how to enhance algorithms and growth hacking and they answered all of our questions,” added Nakad.
Another participant found an advisor who helped him throughout their journey. “Connections are extremely important. One of LebNet’s members, Amer Hajj, is now our advisor. He’s been in the healthcare sector and we were lucky to have someone who wanted to be involved,” said Ziad Alame, founder and CEO of Spike, a diabetes management mobile application.
Alame’s startup recently won the GITEX competition in Dubai and was shortlisted to participate in Seedstars MENA Regional Summit, which is happening in Beirut on November 29.
A mentor is not an advisor
Like Alame, finding the right mentor for a startup is crucial at every stage. Yet mentors are confused with advisors/coaches, knowing that the latter have a deeper involvement, which is often remunerated.
Marc Suidan, Mergers and Acquisitions Tech sector leader at PwC and a LebNet member, advised entrepreneurs to distinguish between the role of mentors and that of advisors/investors/board members. The former guides entrepreneurs to a certain direction until they are able to execute on their own and the latter is when entrepreneurs bring someone to the company for a longer period of time and potentially give them shares in it, hence a different level of commitment and involvement.
“If mentorship requires a lot of time then maybe a startup needs to talk to investors as well. Mentors don’t own decisions, [they are] just a sounding board. If there’s a match, if should become more organized and deeper,” said Suidan.
Adding to what Suidan said, Elie Antoun, a veteran LebNet member and a serial CEO with a handful of experience in corporate development, management and growth, strongly believes that mentorship comes down to setting objectives and expectations so nobody gets disappointed. “You have to be careful to distinguish between mentoring and consulting. Consulting you pay for it. Mentoring there’s an emotional involvement,” he clarified.
For this reason, his strategy with helping startups is to focus on a few, help them at a certain stage then connect them to another mentor who can fill in the gaps and he does this all for free. Mentors should not demand shares or money in return. “Giving a mentor 1 percent is very expensive. You only give this to an early board member. Advisors take 0.2 or 0.5 percent and you will use them a lot. Engage with those who have time and passion for you. Don’t be shy to ask for help”
LebNet Ignite startups
Its 6th edition held on February 2018, LebNet Ignite welcomed two new startups, making a total of 19 graduated startups until now. In the upcoming editions, the program will be reinforced with follow-ups.
“We need to setup a structured mentorship program. We will do it as much as the mentee wants it and mentors might be re-assigned. It will be for people who will be very aggressive. We need to move quickly and don’t want to design something so heavy that takes 6 months to setup,” said George Akiki, cofounder and president of LebNet.
In addition to this, Akiki also spoke about the possibility of setting up a network of angel investors, who will fill in the gap between seed money received by entrepreneurs in Lebanon and bigger tickets in the US. “We don’t want to come at a pre-seed level, we don’t want to compete with what’s happening locally [Lebanon].”
1- Brate, an online marketplace for products, services and businesses
2- Nar, a drone software that tracks wildfires and oil leakages.
3- Vision in Motion
4- Synkers, an online platform for private tutoring.
5- Jellyfish, a budget management software.
6- Zoomal, a crowdfunding platform in the Arab World.
7- Rational Pixels, a dynamic advertising format for online games
8- TeensWhoCode, a coding academy for kids and teenagers.
9- Spike, a mobile application for patients with diabetes.
10- Neotic, a customized AI solution for traders.
11- Cherpa, an educational platform teaching robotics, coding, AI and others courses.
12- Vbout, a marketing and analytics tool
13- Petriotics, an online pet shot.
14- Riego, a solar powered, agricultural irrigation dynamic-control device.
15- Sqwirl, an idea-generation lab for startups.
16- Neumann, a data platform for businesses specialized in data collecting, mapping, and visualizing.
17- Makerbrane, an online and offline platform for creating and playing games.
18- Wango, a dating application.