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Tech accelerator brings boot camp to Lebanon

Participants at the boot camp for entrepreneurs hosted by the Amman-based accelerator Oasis 500 gather for a day of training. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Around 50 entrepreneurs in Beirut took part in an intensive training session hosted this week by the Amman-based accelerator Oasis 500 – in a sign that one of the region’s top early stage investment companies is interested in Lebanese firms.

“We believe that there is demand in Lebanon and that there are some good ideas,” Usama Fayyad, executive chairman of Oasis 500 said.

Fayyad spoke to The Daily Star after spending the first two days of the boot camp giving the entrepreneurs detailed presentations about the process of company growth, equity, investment and how to give concise pitches to potential investors, which he said was the key to getting funding for their budding companies.

The entrepreneurs, who were selected based on the business idea they submitted in their application, spent Sunday to Thursday at Coworking +961 in the gardens of the Sursock Palace in Ashrafieh learning about business models, company finances and lessons in failure from seasoned business leaders.

The Beirut-based technology groups Arabnet, Wamda and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Enterprise Forum in the Pan Arab Region helped Oasis with the recruiting. They managed to attract a diverse array of applicants, including 19 from the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli as well as several from Sidon in the south, three from Syria and one from Morocco as well as a high proportion of women.

This diversity of people resulted in a diversity of ideas – including hardware development – noted Oasis 500 marketing manager Omar Sharif.

It was as much a chance for innovators looking to break into the market as it was for investors to find new companies with high potential where they could put their money and help grow regional companies with a global potential. When Oasis 500 was established in September 2010, the aim was to accelerate 500 companies in five years. So far, they have been behind a total of 66 companies that have been through 22 boot camps, including this latest one – only the second outside of Amman after one held in Ramallah last year.

In Beirut, organizers noticed a high level of talent among company founders compared to their peers in other boot camps – a sign of the pool of skilled local entrepreneurs as well as an increasing recognition of the importance of training for new companies.

In fact, because of Lebanon’s high level of talent compared with the availability of funding and training, Fayyad has found that many new business owners are taking the only options available – often allowing investors to take a higher percentage than what they otherwise would if entrepreneurs had more options for funding.

Right now, he says, “Lebanese entrepreneurs are desperate for funding, and there aren’t the right options for funding in Lebanon.”

That’s why Oasis 500 is looking to set up a shop in Beirut the next three months. It is hoping that by then Lebanon will have fast Internet.

This comes as Lebanon’s Central Bank issued a circular earlier this week stating allowing banks to offer interest-free facilities for up to seven years to startup companies and accelerators.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 30, 2013, on page 8.

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