Lebanese entrepreneurs work to grow new talent in Tripoli

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Recently, while walking up and down the stairways of heaven in one of the holiest places in Lebanon - The Qadisha Valley - I had the chance to talk with Fadi Mikati, the cofounder and director of Tripoli Entrepreneurs Club.

On the cool foggy day, Mikati and I chatted about outdoor activities and nature, but it wasn't long before we got down to business and the subject turned to the work we each do for a living. 

Mixed with the smell of fresh air, his enthusiasm and passion about what he does was contagious. Coming from a background in finance, specifically Islamic finance, Mikati is a university instructor and a financial analyst in Kafalat SAL, a Lebanese financial company that provides loans to small and medium sized enterprises. Although he is pretty happy with his five-year-old job at the company, it wasn’t until he began talking about Tripoli Entrepreneurs Club (TEC) that his eyes began to sparkle.  

Qadisha Valley. (Image via Reine Farhat)

Giving back to Tripoli

TEC is an apolitical, non-religious, and non-governmental organization that aims to create, foster, and nurture entrepreneurial culture in Lebanon, with a particular interest in the northern coastal city. It does so by educating students and young inventors through awareness campaigns, and training on entrepreneurship, business planning, fundraising, and pitching with focused workshops, competitions and boot camps.

The members of TEC, all volunteers, come from different backgrounds, where each can offer specific value to those who participate in their events, depending on their expertise. Mikati helps on the financial side and trains participants on how to make a balance sheet, break even, prepare income and cash flow statements, and fundraising topics. Rashad Baroudi, another member, offers legal advice on how to register a company, distribute shares, and get a patent. Member Najwa Sahmarani, who previously cofounded CardioDiagnostics and launched Alkindy, a cultural and social space in Tripoli, takes care of the market research and idea assessment. Saly Khalaf, cofounder of Green Ways, a waste management company in North Lebanon, specializes in giving workshops on idea pitching. There's also Rami Alameddine, founder of Heroic, an application that's still under construction, who specializes in idea generation workshops. 

Fadi Mikati speaking at TEC's graduating ceremony.
The idea for the club was born in September 2013, when Sahmarani would organize weekly entrepreneur brunches in Tripoli. “We had 30 people showing up each week,” says Mikati during a chat at Wamda's office. In one of the games they played, “each person had to put 1,000 Lebanese pounds (LBP) in a pot, suggest an idea, and the owner of winning idea took all the money.”

TEC was the winning idea. “My idea won and I took it seriously. Everyone was excited and said let’s work on it.” So we assembled a team and started organizing events with the help of the Chamber of Commerce, which, from day one, provided them with support and offered them an event venue and free food for guests. 

“We always look for like-minded people to found a productive community in Tripoli, the North, and Lebanon [in general]. So far, we have launched three startups in six months, which already have teams.”

Ehden National Reserve Boot Camp

In September, TEC organized a three-day boot camp in the national reserve of Ehden, a town in northern Lebanon, to teach young minds an A to Z of entrepreneurship in a cozy panoramic surrounding. The event drew 25 participants and six mentors.

On the first day, there was a session on market research and idea assessment. Participants learnt how to develop an idea and were given the required tools to come up with alternatives for their business models. Then everyone went hiking. “We are not a college. We want to make entrepreneurship fun," said Mikati.

On the second day, participants joined a session on strategy which was designed to cover the best marketing practices, how to segment a market, and set a sales and pricing strategy. The third session was about legal forms, where they learned about Lebanese commerce law, how to differentiate between company types, how to get a patent, and how to register a company, ending the day with a camp fire.

The third day kicked off with a zip line to get the creative juices flowing before attending a session on conducting feasibility studies and doing financials for startups. On this session, participants learned the basics of financial statements and financial analysis, how to break even, how to do a business valuation, understand a term sheet and others. Last but not least, there was the idea pitching session where one winner was picked. “One person will continue the acceleration with us. There was no monetary prize. We didn’t want them to participate for money,” emphasized Mikati. “We want them to participate because they really want to build a startup, not take the money and leave. We had sponsors and we could have brought money if we wanted to, but that wasn’t our purpose.”

The winner was Derby, an app that helps you book football and basketball fields dependent on time, day, and number of players. It can even match players with each other in order to complete teams.

The graduating ceremony

The graduating ceremony took place at the Chamber of Commerce in Tripoli, on September 6th. Over 80 people showed up to check which ideas graduated from TEC. Here’s a look at some of them. 

- Bobzy: Manufactured by a 22-year-old, Bobzy is a wooden racket that doesn’t break, is compressed and comfortable to handle. 

- Derby, the winner

- Wastericity: A solution that generates gas from waste.

- Funsta: After he failed his classes twice, a 16-year-old boy built this app to help students help each other with assignments and earn extra points for keeping their grades high.

- YouMade: A platform that encourages the purchase of home-made products, or “food of teta [the Levantine grandmother]” as Mikati put it. The platform provides a medium for housewives to promote and sell their products online. Each person will have a profile so users can rate each product and track delivery. 

During the ceremony held at the Chamber of Commerce, Tripoli.

Misconception of youngsters

“They think they can’t do it. When we show them examples from real life, how this guy took funding and made it, they become motivated and change the way they think,” explained Mikati. “Their self-confidence increases.”

When we know that these active young members built this club and developed it during their free time on a Saturday or Sunday, from a coffee shop, and in a region that’s sadly known for being insecure, we can’t help but ask ourselves: 'what’s stopping us from giving back to our community?' 

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