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  • 16 Feb 2021 11:46 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    In the second part of LebNet’s Women in Tech video series, sponsored by Joun Technologies, we hosted a one-on-one interview with Hala Ballouz, President of Electric Power Engineers Inc. and Founder of GridNEXT.

    Ballouz is a leader in the energy industry and is currently building an innovative energy management software platform to enable the integration of technology and renewable resources into electric grids. She has over 25 years of experience in energy market studies, utility grid planning and renewable resource development and received the 2020 Women in Power Award during the virtual event Experience POWER held last September. In the below interview, Ballouz advised young tech leaders to be socially responsible and think about tech implications, and shared life lessons, future vision among other insights.

  • 19 Jan 2021 3:40 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    At the young age of 17, Ra’ed Elmurib left Lebanon and moved to the US by himself to pursue a career in Engineering. For six months, he slept on a couch at a friend’s place until he secured a couple of jobs to sustain himself and his education. 

     With extensive experience in building startups, corporate M&A, and Strategic Venture, he held the CEO position of Shoof Technologies in 2016, developing the Wireless technology that aims to change the world of Industrial IoT connectivity. He previously served as Executive Vice President of Corporate and Business Development for PMC-Sierra, leading the company’s non-organic growth, venture investment and strategic partnership. Elmurib led the $2.5 billion Dollar sale transaction of PMC to MicroSemi and executed over $4 billion in transaction value. He also served as the GM of the Microprocessor Division and VP of WW Sales. Ra’ed was the CEO and founder of Unitec Sale, a Manufacturer Representative of STMicroelectronics, Microchip, and other component suppliers.  

    1- If you had a rewind button, what would you change about your journey? 

    I would make sure I start my career working for a startup with a vision of changing the world by innovating a leading edge technology. New innovations are the most powerful initiatives that human can create to impact our quality of life.

    2- What are your 3 biggest accomplishments?  

    1. Raising three healthy and happy kids, with “work hard, play hard” instilled in them. Having grown up away from family since I was 17 years old, it was a challenge to raise kids in a foreign land without the support system we are accustomed to in Lebanon. Striking a balance between the two cultures requires an open mind and a vision for the future generation challenges as they become model contributing citizens. 

    2. Starting my first company, Unitec Sales, at the age of 30 years old. It was a goal I set for myself when I graduated from College. It was an awesome way to learn and grow both financially and mentally. 

    3. Leading the exit of PMC-Sierra, as we struggled to reinvent ourselves after the bubble bursting in 2000. It took us many years to rebuild the company and change the direction and it was almost like coming back from the dead.

    3- What’s the best lesson you learned? 

    Resilience is the key to success. For us first generation Lebanese-American, we endured many difficult obstacles on our way to accomplish what we set out to do. New language, new culture, no network to speak of, and lacking all the necessary tools to make it happen. But with resilience and commitment to succeed, we plowed ahead and reached our goals.

    4- Who is your role model? 

    Every successful immigrant is my role model. I learn so much from their stories. 

    5- How did surrounding yourself with a good support system help you advance in your career?

    One thing I missed out on is having a mentor. It is so critical to maneuver your way through the different situations you run into during your career. My support system was my wife, Kim, as I was traveling and working 80-90 hours a week. She sacrificed her career to take care of all of us.

    6- What is one habit you worked hard on breaking to improve your life or career? 

    I had the bad habit of assuming that everybody had the same drive, intelligence, and ambitions as I do. Learning that we are all different at an early stage would have saved me lots of anger and lots of unnecessary disappointments. 

    7- What characteristics do you look for in people you choose to work with? 

    I like self-driven people, because I hate to micro manage, its a waste of time and inefficient. To succeed in life you need to surround yourself with a team that shares your vision and compliment your weaknesses. 

    8- What skills did you work so hard on acquiring? 

    Being patient and it is still a work in progress. I expect people to move fast, break things, learn from mistakes. I am getting a little better but I still have lots to go.

    9- What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?  

    Ask for help, get a mentor that you respect and leave our world better than you inherited it.

    10- What excites you and what worries you about the impact of technology on the future?

    Lots to be excited about. What technology has accomplished in the past 100 years is nothing short of an amazing miracle. I just wish we use it to always benefit humankind and improve lifestyles by lifting everybody up.

  • 24 Dec 2020 1:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    The Lebanese civil war did indeed cost the country great minds, but as the saying goes, Lebanese always stand on their feet. This was the case with Daniel Daou, who left the country with his family during the war and founded years later one of the fastest growing wineries in the US, Daou Vineyards

    In 1973, when the civil war started, Daniel’s parents’ house was bombed, leaving the family wounded physically and emotionally. Trying to pick up the pieces and start a new life, the family moved to France a year later. 

    At 18 and after nine years of living in France, Daniel’s brother Georges moved to San Diego to study Electrical Engineering then Daniel followed him a year later to study Computer Engineering. Daniel started a company that computerises networks and with a capital from his father, he grew it and eventually sold it. He was ready to retire at 31 when his passion for winemaking started kicking in. 

    Image via Daou Vineyards.

    Daniel spent 8 years making wine at his garage, visiting wineries and studying the soil before launching Daou Vineyards with his brother. The family business is now operating in 50 states in the US and in 32 countries worldwide.

    In the video below taken from his talk during LebNet’s Virtual Holiday event held on December 15, Daniel reminisces the small details of his journey as a kid and a young entrepreneur passionate about wine and family bonds, explains what makes a viral excellent wine and shares the inspiring story behind the name behind their best wine: ‘Soul of the Lion’.

  • 07 Dec 2020 5:16 AM | Anonymous

    It’s 7am in San Francisco and Vancouver. In these different cities Khaled Nasr, George Akiki, and Anwar Sukkarie, are getting ready for their regular Investment Committee (IC) call with other fellow members of iSME’s investment committee.

    It’s 5pm in Beirut. Bassel Aoun, Naji Boutros, Gilles De Clerck, and Dany Eid are also getting ready for their call of the day.

    [Disclaimer: George Akiki, Khaled Nasr and Anwar Sukkarie are LebNet members].

    Despite the time difference, busy schedules, and remote calls, this is something they don’t want to miss. They’re keen to offer their informed judgement on which startup deserves funding from iSME, a $30 million USD matching fund by Kafalat, funded by the Government of Lebanon and the World Bank. Driven to play a key role in assessing promising startups and making sure the ones with the highest impact on job creation and society receive adequate funding.

    They are all volunteers. They don’t own shares or sit on the board of any of the startups they decide to invest in nor are they financially involved.

    So why is motivation so high? And why put in all this effort? Simply for the love of giving back. “We all love Lebanon and think it has many issues, but one of the bright spots is its entrepreneurial spirit, level of education, and exposure to the outside world.

    iSME is a matching fund operated by Kafalat and funded by the Government of Lebanon and the World Bank. Three of LebNet’s members sit on its Investment Committee.

    The traditional economy is failing and there’s not enough to keep up with population growth so we see a brain drain,” said Khaled Nasr, general partner and COO at VC firm InterWest Partners in Silicon Valley.

    In the face of the challenges of meeting and resolving conflicts remotely, as well as overcoming differences in mentalities and backgrounds, the IC members have found a way to always be involved and engaged, for the sake of Lebanon and its bright entrepreneurs. Five years in and the commitment is still going strong.

    So what three qualities make a great investment committee?


    The IC members bring different skill sets into deal assessment, providing several points of view. Khaled Nasr is a Silicon Valley venture capitalist at InterWest Partners, Anwar Sukkarie is an entrepreneur and the founder of Loop, George Akiki is the co-founder and CEO of LebNet, Dany Eid is the CFO of Resource Group, Gilles De Clerck is a private equity investor at The EuroMena Funds, and Naji Boutros is the Chairman and CEO of Telegraph Capital Partners and the owner of Chateau Belle-Vue in Lebanon. This has proven to be highly beneficial for entrepreneurs.

    “A private equity investor view puts a reality check on a VC dream and we felt that and it’s a good balance,” disclosed Tamim Khalfa, founder and CEO at delivery service Toters, whose company received a matching fund from iSME. His startup delivers thousands of orders a day and products worth millions of dollars per month, according to the founder.

    From top, left to right: Dany Eid, Gilles De Clerck, Khaled Nasr, George Akiki, Naji Boutros and Anwar Sukkarie

    Image via Toters

    “As a professional investor, the part that I had to adjust to is that this was not intended to be purely a financial investment. We were not just looking for a return on investment, but also to create an impact on the employment situation and create an ecosystem. We learnt to work with people with other backgrounds and it took me some adjustment so that I would look at other goals of iSME and assess accordingly,” said Nasr.

    As a private equity investor, Gilles De Clerck believes his expertise in this field has helped startups prepare for the next wave. Likewise, Naji Boutros is convinced that each member has his own strength: “while most of us are VCs and PEs, some of us are also operators and understand the organization’s behavior and that is so important in startups.”


    Dany Eid describes the committee’s approach to assessing startups as fair to the startups, selfless, and without ‘egos’. Khalfa added that “when [the iSME Investment Committee members] hear a convincing answer to their inquiries, they don’t keep doubting, and criticizing, and their questions make sense.” He also revealed that in his previous experiences with other VCs, the IC members used to break down the entrepreneur but that “you don’t need to put on a show or bully the entrepreneur if the answer isn’t convincing.”

    Local and Global Insight
    Having members in the US, Canada, and Lebanon brings entrepreneurs a wealth of advantages. “Those living abroad are quite familiar with Lebanon. When it came to scalability they were the experts. We were able to add value about our assessment of a pilot project running in Lebanon, but when an idea was to be replicated outside, this is where their experience comes in,” comments Eid. Agreeing, George Akiki recognizes the role of the members in Lebanon in assessing a startup’s scaling plans and validating if their expansion to a target market in the region is a smart move or not.

    An example of this in action is Reef Kinetics, an iSME portfolio startup that manufactures automatic water testing devices for aquariums, tanks, and ponds. When looking to expand to international markets, Reef Kinetics benefited from IC members’ knowledge in marketing and distribution overseas. They now work with distributors in more than 55 countries across the US, Europe, and the GCC.

    From early challenges to surviving difficult times
    Founded in 2015, iSME is a co-fund that aims at encouraging early-stage equity financing in Lebanon.
    So far, it has made 18 equity investments, offered grants to 175 startups and supported 4 Lebanese angel funds.

    Program manager Bassel Aoun explains that it was launched five years ago to encourage the creation of a healthy pipeline and to increase the supply of early stage financing by offering grants and equity co-investments to Lebanese startups.

    Reef Kinetics’ ReefBot Pro device. (Image via Reef Kinetics)

    Image via Kafalat

    Back in 2015, it was hard to convince other funds to offer co-investment opportunities for iSME, admitted Aoun who spoke about the challenges iSME faced trying to promote its concept. “The major challenge was to promote the fund to other VC funds and [to show them] the advantage of having a co-investor on board. […] From my experience, if you look at any deal in the VC industry and you look at the cap table, the smallest deal has three investors. You should have a co-investor to help you get follow on funding,” he divulged.

    Another challenge was having international committee members because co-investors believed they would be hard to convince. One successful deal after the other removed these barriers and today, iSME builds very good relations with VCs in the market and co-invests with 90 percent of them.

    During these extremely tough times, the idea of investing in high-risk startups in Lebanon might appear absurd. After all, many startups shut down and the remaining ones are bootstrapping their way out of a seemingly never-ending crisis. But resilience is key. Entities like iSME are struggling to keep the funding going, and this is why, Aoun explains, they are pausing new investments and prioritizing their portfolio startups: “we’re asking our startups to reduce cost and build a plan B, increase runway and survive for a minimum of 12 months. The money will go to those who prove they can run on survival mode.”

    Tough times call for tough measures. Lebanon, startups, hang in there!

    Feature image via Pixabay.

  • 06 Dec 2020 5:23 AM | Anonymous

    When he was barely 30 years old, Sam Samad faced the most challenging role in his career: he became Eli Lilly’s CFO for the Middle East area. At such a young age he found himself in charge of 15 countries and expected to be an expert on local cultures, all while having to navigate the bureaucracy of a large Fortune 500 organization headquartered in the Midwest. He admits that it was “not easy, but a fantastic learning experience nonetheless.” 

    This experience shaped him and throughout his 25-year career, he has never ceased to unlock diversified opportunities. As the current CFO of Illumina, Sam Samad is thrilled to be part of a company pioneering genome sequencing and to be involved in key decision making about investments in Oncology, Genetic Disease, Infectious Disease and Reproductive Health. He also leads Illumina’s sustainable growth efforts by helping to assess the financial potential of genome sequencing in diagnosing and treating key diseases in addition to overseeing the transformation of finance and GIS (Global Information Systems) organizations into more data driven support entities. 

    During a business trip.

    Daring to get out of his comfort zone by working in a highly scientific industry and taking on surprisingly diversified roles were key drivers in Sam’s success and have set him apart. 

    An Unexpected Path 

    Back in 1993, Sam Samad was looking for an opportunity in the world of finance. Shortly after earning his MBA from McMaster University, he joined the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly. This move sparked the young graduate’s passion for drug discovery, patent acquisitions, and medical product investment. 

    In 2003, he took a bold leap of faith and accepted a Sales Manager role at the same company in Toronto. He confesses that, “I never sold anything in my life before. I decided to go back and give it a try, because I knew I had to differentiate myself from other finance people”. The first six months were really tough, he recalls. He had to study medications and their side effects and sell them to doctors and physicians. “I took that risk. I was voted the Central Region Sales Manager of the Year,” Samad remarks. 

    Over the years, he acquired a deeper understanding of how the pharmaceutical industry worked, earning him a multifaceted perspective that helped him make more informed decisions as a Sales Manager, then as an Associate Vice President and later as the CFO of Eli Lilly in Canada. And he enjoyed every challenge and milestone. 

    His talent and potential were obvious throughout his journey with Eli Lilly. He won the District Manager of the Year Award for the Central Region in Canada when he was Eli Lilly’s District Manager in Toronto, highlighting his effectiveness at guiding a team towards great results and achievements. When he was the CFO of the Middle East, he was a finalist for Global Eli Lilly Chairman’s Ovation Award because of his exemplary work on negotiating agreements with a number of pharmaceutical distributors across the region. 

    In 2012 he accepted the position of Senior Vice President and Corporate Treasurer for Cardinal Health, a healthcare services and products company in Columbus, Ohio. He was in a leadership role for Cardinal Health’s China subsidiary, helping to grow the organization and spearheading a number of local acquisitions across China. 

    In 2017, Samad became the CFO of Illumina, a leader in DNA sequencing and microarray products and services in San Diego.

    “When you work in healthcare, it’s difficult to no longer work there. You become spoiled. It’s such a great place to work and wake up knowing that you’re doing something that really matters to many people.”

    Sam Samad with his team at Illumina

    A key secret to success according to Samad is understanding and recognizing what motivates different people when managing and incentivizing employees. “Otherwise you’re using a one size fits all approach which might not fit most.  Recognizing that sales professionals respond differently to challenges and opportunities compared to finance people is a critical ability I developed by working in both functions.” 

    Golden Eras: drug discoveries and precision medicine 

    Samad feels lucky to have worked for a pharmaceutical company during the late 1990s. He describes it as the golden age of the pharmaceutical industry, which saw a spike in the discovery of medications and treatments. 

    In the mid-1990s, drugs that came onto the market generated around $7 billion USD in sales, according to a study published in Forbes. But sales started declining between 2000 and 2009 due to the surging R&D costs and the lower number of new drugs coming to market. Profit margins tightened, so did the incentives for more companies to burn the midnight oil trying to discover new drugs for cancer and other serious diseases.  

    Pharmaceutical companies were revolutionizing how diseases were treated. Today, precision medicine through genome sequencing is making major steps towards that same goal. Samad again, with his move to Illumina, is lucky to be part of this revolution. Precision medicine works by determining and analyzing the DNA sequence of a person’s genome. This empowers scientists and researchers to be able to identify people’s predispositions to diseases and how their immune system would react. So instead of having a cancer patient undertake several therapies (from drugs to chemotherapy and radiation) to identify the most effective one, oncologists will be able to sequence a sample of a tumor to determine which cancer treatment is more likely to work. 

    “Ten years ago, the cost of genome sequencing was in the millions of Dollars. The cost has come down dramatically since then. We (at Illumina) have driven the cost down through our pipeline of innovations and our goal is to bring the cost down to $100 in the foreseeable future. Imagine the potential this has to unlock new scientific discoveries and potentially treat diseases.”

    At the moment, precision medicine applications are more heavily concentrated in research, however, clinical applications are growing rapidly. Oncology, Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing and Genetic Disease are all fast growing areas in clinical. One of the bottlenecks for more accelerated adoption in the clinic is data interpretation and analysis. Physicians and practitioners, according to Samad, are left with huge amounts of data and very little resources to analyze it. Illumina’s partners are now doing a lot of the interpretation work and Samad expects a steady rise in adoption going forward. 

    In the light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Illumina is leveraging its genome sequencing expertise to help Genomics England, which works with the Genetics of Mortality in Critical Care Consortium and the National Health Service in the UK, better understand how people’s bodies react to the virus. Illumina will sequence the genomes of 20,000 patients from across the UK who have severe symptoms and 15,000 patients with mild-to-moderate symptoms. 

    Responsibility that impacts lives

    Every senior position comes with serious responsibilities. And Samad shoulders a big burden as he must prioritize Illumina’s research efforts in areas with a bigger impact on patients’ lives. 

    “What excites me yet keeps me up at night is that it’s a vast ocean of opportunity. [We have to make sure] we prioritize our resources in the key areas that move the needle for the markets and patients we serve. It’s not easy. You feel like you have an obligation to tackle everything from Oncology to Infectious Disease. There’s so much out there,” discloses Samad. Despite all the challenges and pressure, what keeps him going is his unwavering belief that he is part of a bigger cause. 

    “Illumina today is on the verge of changing the way care is delivered and treated and [how we] manage diseases. Sequencing is a revolution in how you treat people and to work in a company that’s driving that is a huge privilege. That’s incredibly motivating.”

    During a family trip.

    What’s also motivating for him is the support he gets from his family and mentors. 

    At Eli Lilly, his boss’s manager was his mentor. “We would meet regularly. He sent me to the US and was part of the decision to send me to the Middle East. I touched base with him always and he believed in me and in my work so I didn’t want to disappoint him,” Samad reminisces. Outside of work, his wife always stood by his side, moving with him from one country to another. He sought advice from his brother-in-law who was working in the same field in the UAE. And turned to his mother who was a very strong person and a role model. 

    Sam Samad’s journey is far from over. This Lebanese business veteran still has a lot of things he wants to achieve as a CFO at Illumina. He aspires to transition into a CEO role if the opportunity arises, but until then, he is happy where he is. 

  • 04 Dec 2020 5:28 AM | Anonymous

    Featured in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 and being the cofounder and Chief of Product at Scopio, a tech-focused photo marketplace, Nour Chamoun keeps adding more bullets to her resume.

    After graduating from the Lebanese American University with a BS in Graphic Design, Chamoun did her Masters in Design and Technology at Parsons School of Design in New York, where she met Christina Hawatmeh, the initial founder of Scopio.

    “Christina had the idea of connecting citizen journalists to media outlets. She reached out to the Parsons program where I was doing my Masters at the time for design and development help. I loved the idea so, together and with some help, we built an AI-driven search engine that would allow media outlets to search for breaking news photos and videos on social media and license them,” explained Chamoun. 


    “When we first started building our search engine, we realized how much of a challenge it was to not only create a Google search equivalent for social media platforms that uses machine learning to find relevant content, but also how much of a complex system it was for customers to grasp, let alone to use as a service. So we eventually pivoted to a marketplace of over 200,000 photos submitted by photo creators from around the world on news and other topics that we sell to businesses.”

    Today, Scopio’s mission is to make stock photography more diverse, authentic, and affordable. The platform identifies rising photo creators from over 150 countries, titles and tags their photos, then licenses them so they become easy to use anywhere. Today, Scopio has about 7,000 subscribers who use photos and around 13,000 artists who contribute to its library. It’s made up of a small dedicated team of 8 full-time engineers, designers, and editors and a part-time marketing team.

    At Scopio, Chamoun leads the engineering and design teams. She has previously worked in design firms in New York and Beirut on a range of products including websites, web and mobile app design and development.

    This young cofounder and LebNet member was recently featured in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list and praised for her hard innovative work. She hopes this recognition will open doors for the cofounders in their future fundraising plans to scale the company. 

    Looking back at her short yet fruitful career, Chamoun believes that to sell an idea successfully one must perfect their narrative. Founders tend to overlook the importance of storytelling when they are trying to get people’s support, she said, but “when you’re an early-stage startup with little traction in the beginning, I would say that the most essential parts of your business are the founders and the story. With the scarcity of data, you need to sell the idea and its potential,” she concluded. 

  • 03 Dec 2020 5:32 AM | Anonymous

    Bossa Nova is set to revolutionize the way retailers track their inventories and people shop for every product. 

    The company was launched by LebNet member Sarjoun Skaff, who was listed among the 10 people transforming the retail industry by Business Insider. 

    Bossa Nova develops robots that navigate stores and provide real-time on-shelf product data for the retailer. It is currently deployed in 50 stores across the United States. 

    Founder Skaff chatted with LebNet about his business, overcoming near-death experiences, future plans and more. 

    Image via LinkedIn

    You graduated and started Bossa Nova without any previous work experience. What factors helped you kick off the business? How did luck play a role? 

    Luck played a huge role but sometimes in its absence! The founding team’s lack of industry knowledge led us to develop the wrong product. Luckily, we received industry feedback early enough that we quickly scrapped the initial plan, retooled, and replaced the initial product with two that succeeded in the market. More than anything, I credit our resilience for allowing us to overcome near-death experiences and live to fight another battle.  

    Today Bossa Nova’s robots offer services different from what they offered  before. Why did you decide to pivot your model?  

    We started building and commercializing robot toys. They were powered by the robotic technology developed at Carnegie Mellon University, were interactive and even connected to the cloud back in 2011! They were a remarkable technical success but in some ways were ahead of their time. Many products succeeded in the market but some didn’t, and those can be costly. In 2012, after a good run of five years and selling more than half a million robots, we decided to turn our attention to a business to business (B2B) model. This model has drastically less market risk and played well to our strengths in robotics and AI. 

    You received a lot of media attention recently after being named one of the top 10 people transforming the retail industry. Can you tell how exactly is Bossa Nova disrupting the industry? 

    Retailers around the world suffer from a lack of visibility into their store operations which translate into inventory distortion. Is this product on the shelf? Is it in the right location? Is the price correct? We solve this problem by automating the capturing and processing of on-shelf inventory data. Our fully autonomous robots roam the grocery aisles, take high-resolution pictures of every product on every shelf, and use AI in the cloud to extract inventory information and direct store associates to quickly correct the problems. 

    We’re seeing Bossa Nova’s technology being adopted as a productivity tool. For example, when a shift starts, store associates already know what to restock and fix on the floor. Team members can spend more time addressing issues and serving the customer. Shoppers are also able to find the products they need when they need them.

     Introducing a new product in the market poses its own challenges, especially if the product is a robot roaming the stores and interacting with human beings. Can you describe some of the challenges you faced at the beginning and how did you deal with them? 

    The biggest challenge we face and to some extent still do is that the retail robot market does not exist. We pretty much created it. Since 2013, we had to convince retailers that robots are the right means of data capture in stores, that they were safe and friendly to everyone, and to investors that brick and mortar stores were here to stay despite the rise of Amazon and e-commerce. It faced a desert crossing and here again, resilience was key to pulling through.

    Amongst the big names you’re working with, you partnered this year with Walmart to operate your robots at their stores. How did that partnership take place? 

    We exhibited a rudimentary version of the current solution at the National Retail Federation trade show in New York and caught the eye of virtually all retailers. Walmart approached us and has since proved to be an incredible partner. Through trial and error, we invented a new solution for retailers everywhere that we’re so incredibly proud of. 

    Manufacturing is a tough industry and many entrepreneurs often complain about the difficulty of finding the right manufacturing partner. Was it the same for you? 

    It was hard because robot manufacturers did not exist in the US when we started. We had to build a lot of the manufacturing engineering in-house and pass on the knowledge to manufacturers who were willing to take on such a complex system.

    Last but not least, what are your future plans?

    Our mission is to map the retail world so we’re just getting started. We are working hard to perfect our technology, scale the AI, expand coverage within a store, and develop solutions for different store formats. We have many more years of core innovation ahead of us to help the industry serve the shopper of tomorrow, and we’re excited.

  • 02 Dec 2020 5:56 AM | Anonymous

    The brain is the most complex organ in the human body. It produces emotions, thoughts, memories and reactions, weighs around 1.4 kilograms and contains around 100 billion neurons or nerve cells.

    The complexity of these cells is staggering. Each neuron makes contact with tens of thousands of other cells and our brains can form a million new connections each second.

    With a PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Southern California (USC), LebNet member Walid Soussou works on Brain-Computer-Interfaces to develop new wearable sensor technologies for commercial applications.

    During an event in Beirut, we met with Soussou and talked about his company Wearable Sensing – which uses non-invasive techniques to monitor brain activities – the complexities of developing such wearable technologies and the most popular applications. We also had the chance to test their virtual reality headset, which monitors brain activity while screening 3D visuals for patients to enjoy. Read our interview with him below:

    How do you describe Wearable Sensing?

    Wearable Sensing is a company that develops, manufactures, markets and sells wearable sensors for research and professional applications.

    We are currently focusing on wearable brain monitoring, as we have developed a revolutionary technology that allows us to record high-quality signals from the brain in a practical and non-invasive fashion, which allows brain monitoring outside of the confines of laboratories or specialized medical centers. The brain signals we record are called Electroencephalograms (EEG), and they represent the electrical activity of neurons as measured from the scalp (the surface of the head).

    Walid Soussou (Image via LinkedIn)

    Conventional EEG requires skin abrasion (a painful process of rubbing the dead cell layers, much like an old-style Hammam scrubbing!) and the application of gooey gels and a painstaking process of attaching electrodes to the head and plugging them into large equipment. What is revolutionary about our technology is that we use dry electrodes that do not require skin abrasion or gels and that are built into easy-to-use, comfortable and wireless headsets. This makes the entire process of setting up and collecting brain data achievable with minimal training. Of course, we take great pride that this simplification of use does not compromise the signal quality, making our devices still very useful for delivering high-quality brain signals in real-world settings. We have 6 principal products on the market and their peripherals, which we distribute through a global distribution network spanning 37 countries.

    The products sound revolutionary and provides much better alternatives. What type of audience would benefit from them?

    We currently sell our products to researchers in diverse fields ranging from neuroscience and psychology to marketing, education, and computer game development. The brain provides a rich set of data from which these researchers extract insight into our cognitive states (such as attention, memory, effort), brain health (such as depression, ADHD, autism), emotions (desires, fears, enjoyment, arousal) and which they use to understand the brain or to develop useful applications.

    We also sell our products to a subset of medical professionals who use it to conduct neurofeedback training, which is a type of non-pharmacological brain therapy that can be used for rehabilitation (after stroke, depression, ADHD, concussion) or for peak-performance augmentation (such as enhancing memory, focus, acuity).

    Furthermore, we collaborate and partner with businesses and companies to develop custom hardware for their specific applications, such as sleep enhancement, stroke rehabilitation, neuromarketing, gaming in virtual reality and more.

    The areas you’re tapping into directly impact people’s lives. Can you give us more specific examples on products helping people live better?

    There is a wide range of neuro-applications that could be useful and desirable to society, that is currently not possible due to a gap in brain monitoring technology. Current mainstream brain monitoring is either very expensive, difficult, tedious, and invasive, or produces low-quality brain signals that are not really usable for most applications. Our technology fills this gap by providing easy-to-use yet high-quality brain monitoring that can be done in real-world settings.

    We are already working on the following applications with some of our partners: using brain signals to control computers, prosthetic limbs or robots; using brain signals tocontrol computer games; using brain signals recorded while shoppers walk in a supermarket to determine which products appeal to which consumers; using brain signals to enhance learning outcomes; using brain signals to improve brain function, to improve airport security, to improve artificial intelligence, to teach meditation, to screen for autism, etc. All of these and more are applications we are working to bring out with our partners.

    Reine Farhat, LebNet’s Communications Specialist, testing Wearable Sensing’s headset after her interview with Walid Soussou at ArabNet Beirut event.

    Why did you pick this area of work?

    As an undergraduate student, I transitioned from a French educational system to an English system and found myself reading frustratingly slowly! I wished I could download books into my brain directly. I later heard of researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) working on brain Implants. This was in 1994, way before the current brain implant frenzy. So I applied to USC for graduate school and joined that lab, only to realize that this was a long-term mission and that I would be working on dissected brains and cell cultures for many years before there would be any human trials and books to download. After my post-doctoral fellowship, I decided to venture out of academic research into applied science that could directly benefit humans. I knew nothing about starting a company, had no funds, or business plan, I just reached out to a company that had just developed the right kind of non-invasive sensor that my project would have needed. They offered me a job, lab and office space, and access to the team and technology. So on my first day as an entrepreneur, I sold out and took the job! And I am very glad I did as I have learned so much about how to develop products from concepts, how to fund and manage research towards commercialization, how to keep a sustainable company alive, how to start a new one, and how to evaluate business opportunities. And in the process, I have been very fortunate to be developing applications for brain monitoring that are finally reaching market readiness, which was my ultimate goal.

    You operate in a capital-intensive industry. How are you sustaining your business financially?

    We have two companies that work together in synergy:

    1-QUASAR is an R&D company that is funded by research grants from the US government to develop new technologies. This non-dilutive funding allows us to keep innovating and developing cutting edge technology. We have raised over $28M over the past 20 years to develop our technology to where it is today. QUASAR licenses its technology to other companies to commercialize.
    2-Wearable Sensing is a company that has an exclusive license on QUASAR’s EEG sensor technology and manufactures and sells these products globally. It is funded solely through its sales. We are now raising VC funding to accelerate our growth and bring out some of our next-generation products faster to the market.
    QUASAR and Wearable Sensing share a team of 20 people, who are a mix of scientists, engineers, technicians and administrative personnel.

    Your technology is very complex. Can you walk us through the manufacturing process?

    Our products have both high-end electronic components and complex mechanical structures, which mandates tedious management of suppliers and inventory, careful assembly and extensive testing during manufacturing. Our team has developed procedures to manufacture these products at the small scales that our current market requires. As part of our growth, we plan to re-engineer our products to allow us to scale up manufacturing.

    How important it is to be passionate about the field you’re involved in?
    You have to face so many challenges every day of running a business, in everything from operations, to competition, to customers, to regulatory, to team members, etc., that the only way not to give up, is to be passionate about what you do. So that whenever you stop and ask yourself: “why am I doing this?” you can safely answer with this question: ” well, what would I rather be doing?”.

    The more positive view is that work is most rewarding when it is in a field one is excited about and doing well at. Passion leads to a perseverant effort which hopefully yields excellence and success, which ultimately produces satisfaction and bolsters passion… For now, I’m still at the perseverant effort stage and hoping the rest will indeed follow. I’ll let you know how it goes!

  • 02 Dec 2020 5:45 AM | Anonymous

    Rola Dagher describes herself as a proud Lebanese and grateful Canadian.

    Dagher, who recently joined LebNet’s Senior Advisory board, began her career in technology 30 years ago and her focus on customers, people and leadership continues to define the leader she is today – a servant leader.

    She was the Director of telecommunications company Bell Canada for 15 years before leading the enterprise solutions area for Dell in Canada.

    In 2017, she became the president of Cisco Systems Canada. Dagher oversees all facets of Cisco Canada’s business, including sales operations, engineering, services, finance, and marketing, backed with over 25 years of experience driving growth, establishing impactful partnerships, and achieving aggressive targets.

    At Cisco Canada, Dagher aims to create the best place to work for employees. She truly believes that in the digital age an empowered, inspired, inclusive, diverse and adaptable workforce is fundamental to any company’s success.

    If you had a rewind button, what would you change about your journey?

    Taking care of my health and making sure to put myself first. Your mental wellbeing is your superpower – don’t discard it. I use the analogy of putting your oxygen mask on first. When you are on a plane – the first thing they tell you is in case of an emergency, put your oxygen mask on first before helping others… that stands true for life. If you are not investing and nurturing yourself, you won’t be able to grow.

    What are your 3 biggest accomplishments?

    My Children. They make me want to be a better mother everyday.

    Transforming Cisco Canada’s culture because culture is the backbone of success. It is the ultimate enabler and when I came in to Cisco Canada it was my number one priority. Because of that, we were the fastest growing country for Cisco in 2018. Today, Cisco Canada has been named the Best Place to work in Canada from an inclusion perspective, a young perspective and from a giving back perspective.

    I am one of six girls and back in my village they would question my father’s decision to leave Lebanon and take six girls to Canada. We all proved everyone wrong and today I am proud of the daughter I am to the father who had six girls.

    What’s the best lesson you learned?

    You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Even if you make a mistake, get back up and use the opportunity to learn. If you have a victim’s mentality you will never go forward – you need to have a winner’s mentality.

    Who is your role model?

    My father for his strength leaving Lebanon with nothing to provide a better life for his children. His vision, his sacrifice and his attitude has been my inspiration.

    How did surrounding yourself with a good support system help you advance in your career?

    Family played a huge role – mother and father were instrumental in helping me with my children that allowed me to grow. My mentors/sponsors were my accelerators. They saw something in me that I didn’t even see and pushed me to be a better leader and to do things I would never think possible.

    What is one habit you worked hard on breaking to improve your life or career?

    Learning never stops and there are always habits you need to unlearn. One of the main habits is listening to listen and not to react.

    What characteristics do you look for in people you choose to work with?

    Hungry to learn: If you are not willing to learn no one can help you, but if you are hungry to learn no one can stop you. Humble to work with: I don’t care how smart you are, if you aren’t humble there is no place for you. Emotional Intelligence: Hire for EQ and train for IQ… that is the future in the Era of digital transformation.

    What skills did you work so hard on acquiring?

    Being able to translate technology into business impact. Listen to listen not listen to speak.

    What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

    Life owes you nothing. Life is a chance to make something of it. Be more confident and don’t focus on the negatives.

    What excites you and what worries you about the impact of technology on the future?

    Technology is intrinsically neutral. It’s how you use technology that defines its position as good or evil. I’ll give you an example of mental health – through tech we are working with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) to transform mental health services. On the other hand, social media has become a tool for bullies. We need the right people driving the progression of technology.

  • 01 Dec 2020 6:09 AM | Anonymous

    Dislaimer: The author of this post is Reine Farhat, LebNet’s Communications Specialist. She has tested both Instabeat products and this is her review]

    As someone who personally tested both the old and the new product of Instabeat, I can appreciate the time it took to launch the new version.

    Instabeat is a swimming device that gets attached to swim goggles to monitor swimmers’ heart rate in real-time and display the results through color coding on the corner of their goggles. Each of the three colors (green, blue and red) signal a different heart rate range and pushes swimmers to go faster or maintain their pace.

    After the swimming session is over, the 27 gram-device takes about 30 seconds to sync with the smartphone application before displaying information about the distance, workouts, the average pace, lap time, peak performance among other data.

    The new version of the product was officially launched on July 18, 2019 and can now be ordered from the website.

    The reason why founder Hind Hobeika, a competitive swimmer and engineer, wanted to create Instabeat is because when she used to train, she often had to stop her workout for a minute to measure her heart rate – which she calls the most important indicator for enhancing performance. She did not want to use devices like the watch, the belt or the finger clip because they added too much drag to her movement.

    I pre-ordered the first version of the product back in 2013 from the crowdfunding platform IndieGoGo and tested it months later. It didn’t fit most of the swim goggles I brought and I honestly wasn’t impressed with the performance: the light wasn’t always working, water was leaking inside my goggles and I had synching problems. I wasn’t the only person facing such issues.

    “When we launched the first product, we started too big. We had a crowdfunding campaign, we started shipping and started having many functional and manufacturing problems until it didn’t make sense to keep manufacturing anymore. We decided to stop and start again from scratch,” said Hobeika in an interview with LebNet.

    Another mistake Hobeika admitted making was testing the product with Lebanese swimmers only. “Most of the head shapes and swimming styles [in Lebanon] are fairly similar and when we shipped to different countries we understood the complexity of other faces. One of the advantages of being in the US is that it’s so multicultural. In our second testing, we made sure to bring people from different [ethnicities].”

    Olympic swimmer Sabine Hazboun using Instabeat.

    In 2016, while in London, Hobeika met Jawbone co-founder Alexander Asseily, who worked closely with her on redesigning the product, picking key contractors, building a new team and avoiding previous manufacturing mistakes.

    Hobeika and her team approached around 50 manufacturers in the US but none of them had the right machinery, expertise nor were they willing to take a chance on her. She teamed up with a big manufacturer in China but shortly after, the company changed its project manager and its priorities and sadly Instabeat was no longer part of them.

    “That’s the problem with working with big partners. You don’t know when their teams and priorities change and when you’re a super small company, you don’t move the needle when it comes to money. When that happened we started looking for smaller manufacturers.”

    That’s when Hobeika moved to China to monitor manufacturing closely and get the ball rolling.

    “It was hard to look at photos [from the US] and trying to understand what the problem is without testing the product. So I went to China to stay for a week or two, but I saw that everything moves so quickly there.” She would brainstorm the problem with the manufacturing team, go to the pool and test and the next morning try to implement a new solution.

    She ended up staying in China for 9 months before the new product was ready to hit the US market again. According to Instabeat’s press release, the development of the product included over 250 swimmers and triathletes including Olympic swimmer Sabine Hazboun and Ironman World Champion Leanda Cave. Testers swam with 11 different swim goggles each – pushing, flipping and turning – confirming the device’s ultra low-weight and low-profile design make it feel nonexistent without sacrificing accuracy. The company has raised a total of $6M in funding to date from Berytech Fund, Wamda Capital, Jabbar Capital, and angel investors. It has spent a total of 8 years on R&D between Lebanon, China and the US.

    The product can now be ordered from the website for $249 and shipped within the US in less than 10 days.

    From someone who has been familiar with some of the technical issues found in the first version of Instabeat, and who has tested the second one, I am happy to see how Hobeika has come a long way to improve swimmers’ experience and introduce a seamless product that will help them every stroke of the way.

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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