Lebanon is a small country in the Middle East. The country only measures 10,452 square kilometers or 4,036 square miles. In 2016, the estimated population of Lebanon was 6,006,668. Its culture is popular and despite its size, Lebanon is an influential country within the Arab world, due to its diaspora. In the past, when the country was not yet embroiled in a civil strife, it was known for its prosperity, gaining an economic boost from banking, commerce, agriculture and tourism.
Because of itsits diversity and financial power when Lebanon was very popular, it was dubbed as the Paris of the Middle East for its tourism industry and Switzerland of the East because of its financial strength. Although its civil war has ended and Lebanon struggled to rebuild its infrastructure and revive its economy, it still showed strength within the Arab World, remaining in the higher ranks in terms of GDP per capita and Human Development Index (HDI).
Worldwide commercial networks
Commercial enterprises are very popular among Lebanon’s urban population, but emigration led to several commercial networks of Lebanese entrepreneurs around the world. One-fifth of the national economy of Lebanon comes from remittances from Lebanese working overseas. This is not surprising considering that among the Arab states, Lebanon has the highest number of skilled labor.
In this century, Lebanon’s industry is particularly focused on small businesses engaged in the re-assembly and packaging of parts imported from other countries. About 65% of the country’s workforce right now is employed in the services industry. The country’s economy is at risk of political instability because there is a high dependence on the banking and tourism sectors.
Banks in Lebanon have high liquidity and are well known for their tight security. Lebanon’s economy is a developing economy according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In 2008, Lebanon was one of just seven countries worldwide whose stock market values increased.
The United States is a big exporter to Lebanon. When the passport restriction was lifted, more U.S. companies established regional offices and branches in the country. They include some of the biggest companies in the U.S. like Pepsi Cola, Computer Associates, Eli Lilly, Cisco Systems, Parsons Brinckerhoff, General Electric, UPS, FedEx, Coca-Cola, American Airlines and Microsoft.
MENA stands for Middle East and North Africa. It is a region comprising 22 North African and Middle East countries that account for about 60% of the oil reserves in the world. These countries also have 45% of the natural gas reserves of the world. Being part of MENA, the member countries are still economically stable.
The MENA region includes 12 nations that are part of OPEC as well. The countries include:
- West Bank
- United Arab Emirates
- Saudi Arabia
Surprisingly, Lebanon ranked 63rd in the 2013 list of Richest and Poorest Countries in the World published by the Global Finance Magazine based on IMF data. But among the Arab nations included in the list, it ranked 7th in terms of GDP per capita. The richest was Qatar, followed by:
- United Arab Emirates
- Saudi Arabia
Upcoming startup environment
Lebanon had undergone a number of rocky situations, particularly in recent years, due to its environmental crisis and political instability. However, it is surprising that its citizens still exude optimism and resilience. For startups, Lebanon is now a hub for tech entrepreneurs.
The startup scene in Lebanon is still very young, as entrepreneurs only started appearing around 2010 or 2012. Within a span of two years however, the country already showed robust growth in the tech sector. Several venture capitalists and fund sources came forward as well. Some of the more prominent are Middle East Venture Partners which have poured in about US$50 million and Berytech that have released US$30 million worth of funds for tech startups. Sometime in 2015, Banque du Liban, by virtue of Circular 331, announced that it would be investing US$400 million to fund the knowledge economy.
It is not impossible for Lebanon to become the Middle East’s Silicon Valley, with the availability of several accelerators, incubators as well as boot camps.
Still, there is fear that this blooming environment for startups might not last long because many of the citizens are migrating. In the country, the Lebanese population is only about five million. However, outside of the country, about 12 million Lebanese are living around the world.
It is becoming a problem for the country because many of the younger professionals and new graduates prefer to go abroad to establish their startup businesses. Primarily, the emigration is due to the tension in the region and the instability within the local government. Moreover, the conflicts in Lebanon’s neighboring countries have a negative effect, reducing the opportunities for the younger generation. The salaries are still low and young workers feel that career advancement within Lebanon is limited.
Foreign attention to Lebanon
The startup environment in Lebanon is now more active, gaining support from regular competitions, innovation forums, entrepreneurship talks and workshops. The Arabnet Conference in 2017 brought together investors, entrepreneurs, leaders in the marketing industry and more than 1,000 corporate executives. The conference focused on discussions regarding the digital industry and the opportunities it could bring to Lebanese startup entrepreneurs. In 2016, the Banque Du Liban hosted a convention called Accelerate, attended by prominent global company executives like Nest founder Tony Fadel and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.
Students in Lebanon are likewise exposed to entrepreneurship from the activities and events put up by top universities, including the American University of Beirut, in collaboration with creative and digital industries in Lebanon’s Beirut Digital District.
Diverse entrepreneurship ventures
The diversity of the startups in Lebanon attests to the healthier startup environment in the country. Many are into the development of lifestyle apps, tech industries related to engineering and Fintech. Aside from these, several entrepreneurs are into the financial software development, blockchain, data analytics, medical, retail, gaming, educational, agro-industrial and hospitality industries.
Here are some of the new digital startups in Lebanon:
The company provides a solution to banks to improve client acquisition through a robo-advisor to help the bank’s human investment advisor reduce the time spent in providing personalized service to a number of clients with limited investment capital. Anachron Technologies will provide banks and other institutions a platform for a more efficient provision of investment advice.
This startup is into 3D printing for the construction industry. According to Bilal Farshukh, the co-founder and CEO of Buildink SAL, its 3D printer will reduce the construction time to a maximum of 75%. Aside from reducing the time to finish a construction project, the company says that it will also reduce labor cost by minimizing the number of people that would be hired. It already has a prototype robot cable printer that measures 2x2x2 meters and hopes to build a printer with a 10x10x5 meters operational range.
The startup is for the solar power industry. Crowd Powered is an online platform to help customers find out if they can install solar panels in their home or business and check the right solution based on their budget. It is a one-stop shop, according to its co-founder and CEO Georges Khoury. A client can find the right option for solar panel installation according to their available budget and space, secure a loan, hire the right designer, contractor and select the supplier for the required equipment.
The founder of Fabric Aid used to donate clothes. However, he found out that most of the donated clothes were wasted because the NGOs handling the donations had a difficult time with clothes storage and redistribution. The second-hand stores in Lebanon import second-hand clothes from other countries. There are thousands of poor people in Lebanon as well as about 2.5 million refugees. The demand for cheaper clothing is huge. With Fabric Aid, clothes are sourced from donation boxes and from the NGOS that are paid for the donated clothes by the kilo. The company developed an algorithm to keep track of its clothes inventory that are later sold on retail at refugee camps, permanent stores, pop-up shops at NGO locations and a network of second-hand stores. Collected clothes that are damaged are recycled as pillow fillings with the help of an orphanage. Some are to be used for recycled furniture and others are to be used for the fashion schools’ recycling projects.
These are just a few of the long list of startups in Lebanon. What the young entrepreneurs need right now is access to investors. The local infrastructure, such as taxation, Internet and legal, should also be ready so entrepreneurs would have the incentive to start their businesses in the country. This may be realized soon as the government is working on several reforms to accommodate entrepreneurs engaged in various ventures, including digital technology.
In fact, Lebanon, particularly Beirut, is very conducive for hardware-related startups. Several international companies are already clients of the budding hardware industry in Lebanon, such as Oracle, Juniper, IBM, Teledyne Scientific, Foxcon, Dell, Intel, Cisco Systems and Google. One of the incentives for these clients is the availability of tech engineers who are fluent in different languages, including German, Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, Italian, English, French and Arabic.
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