Promising Future for Lebanese Entrepreneurs, If Only…
A recent visit with seven entrepreneurs from Lebanon to ATFL gave us the opportunity to speak with them about their activities, the state of entrepreneurship development in Lebanon, and how the country can benefit from a more proactive effort to promote entrepreneurship and small and medium size enterprises (SMEs).
The program was funded under the International Visitors Leadership Program administered by FHI 360. Although there were interpreters with the group, it was clear that they were as talented in speaking and understanding English as they are technically competent. Made up of three women and four men, they were representative of many regions in Lebanon, from Tripoli to the Chouf, and were both entrepreneurs in their own right and several also head NGO programs to promote business development in the private sector.
The discussion was wide ranging – from perspectives on how the Lebanese overseas can support entrepreneurs to what the Lebanese government needs to do to enable small and medium enterprises. It is well known that most foreign direct investment (FDI) targets large capital intensive projects such as real estate development that have a marginal impact on creating long-term, valued jobs. By enabling SMEs, which are local businesses, to develop strong capabilities for production, marketing, and distribution, they can create more jobs, expand into exports and serving overseas clients, and help stabilize the economy of the country.
Lebanese overseas, many of who are entrepreneurs and owners of SMEs, can be instrumental in supporting these efforts. The country has not had a healthy manufacturing sector for years and agriculture could benefit from many improvements and marketing overseas. So we have a role to play in connecting these entrepreneurs to global markets through enhanced capacity-building and subcontracting IT services.
The government has its role to play. Lebanon has some way to go to be friendly for small businesses. Among its challenges are the need to update patent law, promote transparency in the regulatory environment, enable access more financing for early and second stage growth, revise bankruptcy and labor laws, and SMEs a seat at the table when government plans its economic program. Through these and other steps, the country will become a leader in the region for entrepreneurship, something that will serve Lebanon well as it takes its place in the reconstruction of Syria.
The group included: Ms. Joanna Abi Abdullah EP Charif, who leads the Business Support Teams at Berytech, a technology incubator that provides a range of resources to small and medium size enterprises. She has an MBA from Cornell University. Andre Abi Awad, the founder of Entreprenergy and Digital Smarter, works to support entrepreneurs in non-ITC sectors, and is the founder and coordinator of the Arab Open University Entrepreneurship Center.
Tarek Matar is co-founder and President of Neopreneur, a startup hub based in Byblos and operating in other regions of Lebanon. It works with both the private sector and nonprofits. Hani Malawi is the Director of Lebanon Science and Technology Park with a great deal of experience in software development. He focuses on developing ecosystems for entrepreneurs.
Haitham Saab also works in the non-IT sector, focusing his energies as founder and President of Rural Entrepreneurs on promoting an entrepreneurship ecosystem in rural areas of Lebanon by providing co-working spaces and support for their clients. Ms. Najwa Sahmarani, co-founder, Vice-president, and Programs Manager of the Tripoli Entrepreneurs Club, has participated in a range of training and development programs in her mission to develop strong support mechanisms for entrepreneurs in her region.
Ms. Mirna Shidrawi, is the Manager of the AMIDEAST Entrepreneur Institute, which acts as a clearinghouse and technical support center for growing the culture in support of entrepreneurs in Lebanon. Since the launch of the Institute in 2010, AMIDEAST/Lebanon has trained over 300 aspiring entrepreneurs, business owners, and professionals on how to start a business, grow a business, develop a sales team, and spur business growth using ICT.
The group is spending two weeks in the US, traveling to a number of cities and meeting with business groups, state and local agencies, federal agencies such as the Department of Commerce and SBA, and international organizations including the World Bank.
Left to Right:
Mr. Tarek Matar; Co-Founder and Presiding Officer, Neopreneurs
Ms. Joanna Abi Abdallah Ep Charif; Business Support and Development Manager, Berytech
Ms. Mirna Shidrawi; Manager, AMIDEAST Entrepreneur Institute
Mr. Jean AbiNader; ATFL Board Member
Ms. Najwa Sahmarani; Co-Founder, Vice President and Programs Manager, Tripoli Entrepreneurs Club
Ms. Dena Musfer; ATFL Executive Assistant
Mr. Andre Abi Awad; Founder, Entrepreneurgy
Mr. Haitham Saab; Founder and President, Rural Entrepreneurs
Mr. Hani Mawlawi (not in the photo); Director, Lebanon Science and Technology Park