Beirut, the upcoming start-up hub in MENA region
Start-up accelerator Speed@BDD hosted a graduation Demo Day for its “Batch IV” group, whose members range from enterprises and apps that encompass digital shopping, artificial intelligence, financial assistance, electronic music, children’s books, gaming and educational applications.
Start-ups are big business in Lebanon. First Vice-Governor of the Banque Du Liban Raed Charafeddine recently highlighted results seen since the launch in 2013 of the Banque du Liban 331 initiative to support the country’s knowledge economy. Charafeddine said there are approximately 800 start-ups in Lebanon providing 6,000 jobs and contributing $1 billion to the Lebanese Treasury.
Charafeddine added that the knowledge economy in Lebanon is growing 7-9% a year, ranking Lebanon as third in the region during 2015-16.
At Speed@BDD’s graduation ceremonies, officials with games start-up Groovy Antoid gave a rousing pitch for the company’s Fat Bunny game, which will soon enter the multibillion-dollar gaming industry in search of the potential millions of users who might download the game. The audience applauded and laughed uproariously at Fat Bunny and other game characters devised by the nascent firm.
Groovy Antoid’s debut was among the nine start-ups graduating from Speed@BDD, which led the entrepreneurs through three months of intensive business training.
The live pitch in late June, to an audience of several hundred investment bankers, venture capital funds and politicians interested in Lebanon’s growing information and technology sector and start-up scene and young tech aficionados, was the final part of the training programme.
“In three months’ time, our start-ups grew their teams from 21 to 34 entrepreneurs. This is our biggest batch and an exceptionally promising one. We always highlight how important it is for entrepreneurs to be hard-working and coachable and the founders of Cycle IV start-ups embodied these qualities literally,” said Sami Abou Saab, Speed@BDD’s CEO. “One main proof is that two of our nine start-ups received investments by Demo Day already.”
“We’re at a time when we can say that Lebanon is on the global entrepreneurship map and Beirut is being internationally highlighted as the upcoming start-up hub in the MENA region,” Saab said.
In addition to Groovy Antoid, eight other potential new enterprises were out to make their mark at the event. Presentations covered everything from Living Book, a programme for creative people to collaboratively create, publish and sell personalised interactive and printed children’s books, to Neotic, a platform that allows stock traders to test strategies and leverage artificial intelligence to receive trading recommendations.
With the completion of Speed’s fourth acceleration programme, the enterprise’s founders said they are ready to begin a drive to secure more investments.
“As game developers, Speed@ BDD was the right push we needed to turn our passion into a more solid, data-driven business,” said Groovy Antoid co-founder George el-Habr. “Learning how to pitch and answer questions that investors might ask us drove us to research and develop proper business plans and strategies that make sense. We walk away from the experience a more robust studio and a more viable business.”
The success of Speed and other similar tech accelerators and incubators in Lebanon has been reshaping a vital part the economy towards a skill set that is more marketable in the larger MENA region and the bigger world.
A short list of training programmes — sometimes combination accelerator and incubator — includes Berytech; the UK Lebanon Tech Hub; Maria Goeppert-Mayer Incubator/Accelerator (MGMI), an initiative of the German government; Smart ESA, incubator/ accelerator, part of the ESA Business School in Beirut and created by an initiative of the French government; and the AltCity start-up Bootcamp.
There are many start-ups in Lebanon that have on their own created, developed and marketed products with funding from their own pockets and angel investors.