BEIRUT: Over the past several years Lebanon has come a long way in developing an entrepreneurship ecosystem, particularly in generating excitement among young people. But the country still has a long way to go before it has a thriving technology community, according to some participants in the ArabNet conference in Beirut.
“When we started six years ago, there were no entrepreneurs. Now there are 6,000 contestants in the MIT business plan competition. But we’re still in our early days, and we have a ways to go,” said Hala Fadel, who chairs the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Enterprise Forum of the pan-Arab region. She was speaking at a panel on the second day of ArabNet.
Indeed, just a few years ago finding someone who wanted to be an entrepreneur was hard to come by. Today, the job title has become fashionable, and there are more of them than can be counted. But most appear to be unprepared for what lies ahead – lack of information, funding, mentorship or too much hype of the few success stories that exist.
“What I see disturbs me,” says Usama Fayyad, executive chairman of the Amman-based incubator and accelerator Oasis 500, which has invested in more than 60 tech startups over the past two years. Amman is one of the places where new businesses in the region can find early stage funding, something he believes is still lacking.
“People celebrate success with a very early stage of finance. ... The entrepreneur became cool quickly, but there was nothing there to help them.”
Similarly, Dany Farha, CEO at BECO Capital, said, “There’s no shortage of zeal.” The problem, he said, was in the numbers. “We need to see exits. Investors want to generate return. I have to justify funding to them.”
The panel’s moderator, Ben Rooney, technology editor at the Wall Street Journal Europe, asked, “Is there an entrepreneurship bubble? Are we raising expectations too high in the region?”
Fadel, who for years has been working to encourage entrepreneurship among youths in the region, admitted that “there is a gap between hype and success stories.”
But she pointed out that a recent study by MIT found that it took 10 years after the first batch of success stories to have a good ecosystem. If that is the case, then Lebanon has its work cut out for it.
The conference was opened by Telecommunications Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui, who said that Lebanon would become a regional IT hub in the Middle East.