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AUB and BDD partner to foster young entrepreneurs

(The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: The American University of Beirut and the Beirut Digital District Wednesday launched their new partnership designed to foster young entrepreneurship, a welcomed move in a country with over 20 percent unemployment among its youths according to the International Labor Organization. Ayman Kayssi, associate professor at the AUB’s Electrical and Computer Engineering department and Mohammad Rabah, General Manager at ZRE, the developer of the BDD made this announcement at ArabNet Beirut 2017, following a panel discussion on universities’ role in stimulating entrepreneurship among students.

ArabNet is a yearly digital event that serves as a platform for entrepreneurs, investors, corporate executives to discuss trends in the digital sector, as well as available opportunities for groups working in these areas.

The aim of the AUB-BDD partnership is “to bridge the gap between academia and the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Kayssi said.

“Employers are claiming that they are not finding graduate students with the skills that they need,” Ramy Bou Jawdeh, the deputy general manager at Berytech pointed out earlier in the discussion, an issue, the joint project is hoping to solve. To do so, the BDD will be taking on 30-40 student interns from AUB, providing them with mentoring, access to needed data and resources, events, workshops and introductions to industry leaders.

“It is important for students to be close to the digital entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Rabah said, adding that they hope to eventually provide incubator funds to help students develop their business ideas.

Yet, “students either have an entrepreneurial spirit, or don’t,” Walid Karam from the University of Balamand said, adding that they tend to find the ones that have that passion at various Hackathon events and then target their efforts on those students helping them develop their own projects into viable businesses.

However, although Josiane Fahad-Sreih, director at the Institute of Family and Entrepreneurial Business at the Lebanese American University agreed that passion was necessary, she underlined that it was possible and important to universities to educate students on how to become entrepreneurs. “I really believe in education and in the same way that we educate our lawyers and doctors, I believe we can also educate entrepreneurs.”

In fact, Fahad-Sreih said that universities still had “a lot to do to engage students in entrepreneurial activities,” using the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as an obvious role model.

She added that despite a growth in investment and funding opportunities stimulated by, for example, the Banque du Liban, especially its Circular 331, fewer students are interested in becoming entrepreneurs.

For example, she has seen during her time at the LAU, that while 50 percent of students tend to be interested in setting up businesses in their first year, only 5 percent are still engaged in their final years, leading her to ask herself whether the educational system is failing in its role to encourage entrepreneurship.

“Millennials want overnight success,” Academic Director of the Darwazah Center for Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship at AUB Bijan Azad added, “which, is an issue because successful entrepreneurship takes time.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 23, 2017, on page 4.

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