My apologies that I have not updated my blog in a few days. I arrived in Beirut 7 days ago and there has been a lot of action, which I will share with you in detail.
Berytech Technology and Health, Incubator
Monday, July 25th
I met with Tania Mazrani this morning, Director of Berytech Technology and Health. She has been nothing but helpful as I began exploring the entrepreneurship climate here in Lebanon, even before my arrival. Berytech is a non-profit incubator/accelerator, that offers a number of other start up and SME services. They are housed in a beautiful 11 story building in one of Beirut’s business districts, and is an extremely well run operation.
Berytech's downtown building
Tania and I went through the Village Capital program template and had a long discussion around the viability of the model in Beirut. She is extremely optimistic about what we are looking to accomplish as we discussed some of the finer points of entrepreneurial culture in Lebanon. One huge point of importance in regards to Vil Cap, is that the 16-20 strong cohort of entrepreneurs see themselves as ‘team mates,’ and less as competitors, all vying for the same pot of capital. One of the ways we may over come this is by focusing on the concept that ‘ideas are cheap.’ There are a lot of great ideas out there, however whether in Beirut, Lebanon, or Palo Alto, California, the ability to execute a highly profitable business out of a strong concept is the key. If we are able to drive this point home, as well as successfully break the ice in our first couple of gatherings, there should be a greater free flow of ideas among the entrepreneurs.
One of Berytech's meeting spaces
Berytech is extremely well established in Lebanon, with a number of international and regional partners as well. First Light Ventures and Vil Cap hope to bring even more international expertise and exposure to the incubator, as we explore ways for them to break into the social impact space.
Friday, July 22nd
Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with an analyst and portfolio manager from the Berytech Fund. Berytech Fund makes venture capital and equity-related investments in start-up information, communication & technology (ICT) portfolio companies in Lebanon. They have about USD $6 million under management, and while they are small, they are a perfect example of ‘smart capital.’ While they are a completely seperate entity from the Berytech Incubators, they are connected in some significant ways, and have made investments in some of Berytech’s most successful startups.
Berytech Fund and Technology Incubator ("on the hill")
They asked a number of questions related to First Light Venture’s investing philosophy and investment criteria. One of the main problems addressed, especially in the high-tech/clean tech space, was the lack of access to the quantity of skilled engineers and scientists needed to launch some of the projects that are highly viable in the country and region. For instance algae farming for biofuels in the Mediterranean. Based on a number of factors, farming algae is ideal in this climate, but unfortunately, Lebanon has been unable to import talent for this kind of project yet.
In general, the Angel/VC startup culture is nascent in Beirut, and the fund, which has been around for only 3 years, is doing tremendous work in spite of this fact. Hopefully, international exposure through FLV and VilCap can help nurture some of their exits.
Thursday, July 21st
After talking with Raja a month ago, I was very impressed by 2Bdesign, and talked about them in my last post. I was even more impressed when I visited them at their workshop. Raja and his partner and founder Benidicte are travelling to New York and Paris to showcase their high end pieces which will typically sell from between USD $400-$600 a unit. 2B purchases salvaged rod iron from 19th and early 20th century homes that are being demolished to make room for high-rises. The rod iron then makes its way to an NGO that runs an iron smith and employ’s individuals from the BoP. 2B is now subsidizing the salaries of those individuals employed by the NGO to produce livable wages as well as paying their own employees who are differently abled and/or from the BoP. There is something innately beautiful about people from poverty and disabilities, scrap into something that is both full of art and extremely valuable.
80% of 2B’s sales are outside of Lebanon, while over half of the sales within Lebanon are to foreigners. It is not hard to understand, however, why this art would have more value outside of Lebanon. It is not uncommon for us humans to find more value in other’s cultures or for other’s find more value in our own, than we do.
As 2B scales they are actively looking for distribution partners in the US and Europe. They are targeting the US more, where 19th and early 20th century is considered ‘old.’
Wednesday, July 20th
Last week, my first meeting was with David Munir of Alt City, and formerly Root Space. David is a veteran to social entrepreneurship space, and extremely well read on the region and the issues facing social entrepreneurship. Additionally, David has been responsible for helping to organize MENA related events at SOCAP, the premier forum for social impact investing and social impact enterprises.
Alt-City's new space in Hamra
I had the pleasure of seeing Alt-City’s brand new space in the trendy and artsy Hamra district of Beirut. When I visited him he, as well as a number of staff and volunteers, were hard at work get the space ready for this week full of media collaboration and education events. I was extremely impressed by David’s talent as an individual, and equally impressed by the fact that he was able to inspire and mobilize an army to help him make his new collaboration and incubation space a reality. I believe that David and Alt-City can be a strong partner for Vil Cap in Beirut as they establish themselves as a force for social impact.
David's army, in anticipation of AltMedia Experience Week