Our new GIST Innovation Hubs are designed to build strong and vibrant networks of young science and technology entrepreneurs around the world. Through community-led meetup groups, the program aims to bolster the participants’ networking and entrepreneurial skills to build durable, long-term, supportive networks. The ultimate goal is to stimulate local entrepreneurial activity and ensure participants can grow their skills and businesses together - both in their home country and through global connections.
We recently spoke with representatives at Berytech, leaders of the GIST Innovation Hub Beirut about the benefits of the initiative.
Tell us about the startup ecosystem in Lebanon.
The rise of the entrepreneurship scene in Lebanon started with the founding of Berytech in 2001. Developed by business visionaries at the Saint-Joseph University, Berytech is the leading incubator and business development organization in Lebanon. Berytech is also the first technology hub in Lebanon that introduces the incubation concept to small ventures. Entrepreneurial resources range from incubation to business development, networking, mentoring, funding, access to markets and company hosting.
With the rise of local entrepreneurial success stories, international donors and regional stakeholders were mobilized, contributing to the growth of the ecosystem through key initiatives, access to networks, grants and capacity building programs.
In the past three years, the central bank of Lebanon issued Intermediate circular 331 to encourage banks to invest in the equity capital of startups and entrepreneurship support structures in the knowledge economy sector. With this initiative, the central bank provided a major boost to the Lebanese entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem, which also became a key driver to develop the knowledge economy sector. This led to the rise of new support partners, structures, funds and networks.
The current ecosystem includes several support players offering programs and resources for entrepreneurs including: accelerators, incubators, co-working spaces, funding structures, programs, mentors, competitions and more.
What are the challenges and opportunities facing startups in your region?
Startups in Lebanon and the region face the following challenges that sometimes hinder their growth:
- Political instability has a negative effect on the ecosystem.
- It’s difficult to find skilled people to help evolve and grow the startup ecosystem.
- There is a mismatch between what the progressive startup ecosystem market is asking for and what is currently available in the market.
- The educational systems are not catering to the innovation, entrepreneurship, and tech knowledge requirements of the market, leading to a discrepancy between the skills of the graduates and the market needs.
However, our startups are benefiting from many ecosystem resources including:
- Incubator Programs, such as Berytech, which allow project holders and young startups to benefit from on-site business counseling. Participants also have access to mentors for the duration of their incubation period. Other Incubator programs include SouthBic and BIAT.
- Venture capital funds were formed to fund several stages of companies ranging from seed to growth level including: Berytech Fund II, IM Capital, Leap Ventures, MEVP, Saned Partners, B&Y Venture Partners.
- Accelerator programs that aim to support the growth of idea and early stage startups, such as [email protected] and UK Lebanon Tech Hub.
- Competitions provide startups with the chance to acquire financial rewards, increase their visibility and receive additional business support.
- Mentor networks such as Confideo Venture Mentoring train mentors on best practices and techniques for effective mentorship, thus enabling professional development opportunities to help entrepreneurs grow their skill sets and bring their innovations to market.
- Programs with access to markets provide exposure to startups through regional and international network partnerships. These programs are available through Berytech and UK Lebanon Tech hub.
- Grants offered by Kafalat and Berytech to early stage startups and small to medium enterprises.
- Angel investment network such as Seeders Masterclass for Business Angels aim to create an informed investors’ community in Lebanon with an impressive portfolio.
- Events: Many events are coordinated to support entrepreneurs and motivate the youth:
- Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW), an international initiative that introduces entrepreneurship to young people in six continents.
- Startup Weekend is a global 54-hour weekend event, during which groups of developers, business managers, startup enthusiasts, marketing gurus, graphic artists and more pitch ideas for new startup companies, form teams around those ideas, and work to develop a working prototype, demo, or presentation.
What do you hope to achieve from participating in the GIST Innovation Hub program?
We aim to:
- Inspire and motivate the young graduates to become entrepreneurs and create their own startups in the innovation and tech industry.
- Build a strong community of entrepreneurs and innovators to create a network they can call on when needed.
- Take part in a reputable international program, providing networking opportunities for our participants.
- Exchange with regional and international experts to build expertise, opportunities and partnerships.
The topic of our latest GIST TechConnect was "failing forward." In your experience, what are the most common setbacks facing startups in your network?
There are many setbacks that prevent startups from moving forward. The most common setback is the lack of market research performed by startups. Entrepreneurs rush to create a product or service without assessing the market demands. Another setback is not having enough skillful and knowledgeable people on the team. Every startup should have at least one business-oriented teammate and one tech-savvy teammate. The third setback occurs when the elements of the Business Model Canvas are not studied enough to be completed and followed. However, we are conducting trainings that focus on identifying market needs, validating the startup idea, and understanding the business model canvas.
Watch the recording of the November TechConnect, Failing Forward: Using Setbacks to Drive Success.