Day 2 of ArabNet 2014: Morning Announcements Reveal New Opportunities for Entrepreneurs

If you are planning to attend the ArabNet Digital Summit in Dubai this June, it’s helpful to review what happened at this year’s ArabNet Beirut so you can know what to expect. ArabNet is the major event in the MENA region for digital creative professionals, so if you are a developer, artist, freelancer, investor, or entrepreneur interested in Web design, mobile or Web development, e-commerce, Internet marketing, content creation, or related fields, ArabNet is the perfect chance to geek out.

I recommend starting by reading my summary of highlights from Day 1 of ArabNet 2014, which included information on entrepreneurial ecosystems, development tools, psychological Web design, and Arabic typography.

This article summarizes the morning sessions of the second day of ArabNet Beirut, which featured the Ideathon and Startup Demo, as well as 3 major announcements of interest to every Lebanon-based entrepreneur.

Ideathon and Startup Demo

Two well-known ArabNet events, Ideathon and Startup Demo, gave a total of 18 entrepreneurs the chance to present pitches that ranged from introducing ideas to making a case for existing start-ups. To give each presentation the attention it deserves, please read my separate summary of ArabNet Beirut’s 18 innovative pitches.

Interview with Marianne Hoayek, Executive Director at the Executive Office Unit of the Central Bank of Lebanon

After the Ideathon and a quick coffee break came an interview with Marianne Hoayek, Executive Director at the Executive Office Unit of the Central Bank of Lebanon, that focused on the entrepreneurship funding solution known as circular 331.

Circular 331 allows the Central Bank of Lebanon to guarantee $400 million at 75% for Lebanese banks to make equity investments in start-ups, accelerators, incubators, and entrepreneurship funds.

Marianne made the following main points about circular 331:

  • Circular 331 is meant to boost competition in Lebanon by supporting entrepreneurs and creating new job opportunities for Lebanese youth
  • The funds will be available to Lebanese companies headquartered in Lebanon that mostly operate in Lebanon
  • Circular 331 could boost Lebanon’s GDP by 1%

Finally, Marianne said that start-ups and entrepreneurship-focused funds in Lebanon should approach banks directly to make use of circular 331’s offerings, since the Central Bank is backing the funds, not distributing them.

Announcement by Walid Hanna, Managing Partner of Middle East Venture Partners

Immediately following the interview with Marianne came an announcement by Walid Hanna, Managing Partner of Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP). Walid said that his team recently put together a 50-million dollar fund with the help of circular 331’s offerings, along with 8 Lebanese banks and 15 investors, most of whom were from the GCC countries.

According to Walid, Middle East Venture Partners has already made investments ranging from half a million to one million dollars in 21 companies total, creating 150 new jobs.

The 6 latest start-ups to receive investment from Middle East Venture Partners are as follows:

    • Fadel Partners: An eastern Lebanese company that focuses on global sales of IT management software; U.S. is a major buyer
    • Potential: A training program for businesses, mostly based in Dubai
    • Apstrata (Alamanta): A back-end-as-a-service provider that gives mobile app developers the APIs they need to develop and launch apps
    • Instabug: a bug-reporting tool for apps
    • Lamsa: a children’s entertainment app that offers interactive stories, games, art, rhymes, and learning opportunities for Arabic-speaking children
    • Bnooki: a price comparison website for financial services

Then, Walid said that Middle East Venture Partners is planning to make even bigger investments in fields such as ICT, energy, and fashion. However, MEVP is only interested in companies that started in Lebanon and have a regional or global market.

Finally, Walid encouraged high-impact Lebanese entrepreneurs in need of equity to contact Middle East Venture Partners.

Announcement by Rabih Nassar, CEO of Apstrata

Next, the founder and CEO of Apstrata, Rabih Nassar, spoke on behalf of Touch, one of two major mobile developers in Lebanon. Touch has recently launched an initiative to empower app developers, built over Apstrata’s technology.

Touch’s initiative features the following:

    • The Touch API, available from touch.com.lb, which provides developers the fundamental back-end Web services needed to power their apps, along with core network APIs
    • The Touch app store, which allows developers to publish their apps in a local app store in Lebanon where users can buy and download apps without using a credit card
    • A soon-to-be-launched app builder that will allow non-programmers to create mobile apps by dragging-and-dropping different components, then let them publish these apps in app stores
    • Touch Cloud’s Direct Operator Billing API, which will allow mobile phone users to pay for apps or in-app purchases by charging to their next phone bill or deducting from their top-up credit

According to Rabih, this initiative will help Lebanon leverage everything from its nearly universal mobile penetration to circular 331’s offerings to the country’s budding entrepreneurial and high-tech ecosystem.

It’s clear that Lebanese entrepreneurs have a lot of opportunities ahead of them. I would like to see Saudi Arabia follow Lebanon’s example with improved access to funding for start-ups and greater opportunities for developers in the fast-growing mobile sector.

Please check back soon for a summary of the afternoon sessions of the second day of ArabNet Beirut, which featured guests like Intigral’s Vice President of Strategy and Corporate Development, Juan Jose de la Torre; Arabreneur and MENA Apps Founder Dr. Abdul Malik Al Jaber; Eureeca’s Head of Strategy, Partnerships and Outreach, Joanne Kubba; PITME Founder Nima Adelkhani; and a representative from Ipsos, the leading research agency in the MENA region.

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