Entreprenergy summit celebrates MENA startups

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Marc Dfouni, cofounder and CEO of Eastline Marketing interviews MarkaVIP founder Ahmed Alkhatib. (Image via Abed Kataya)

Just what is entrepreneurship?

“Entrepreneurship is about changing the world, not just about making money ... and making change while simultaneously earning a profit so you can continue,” said Cedar Environmental founder Ziad Abi Chaker, at the recent Entreprenergy Summit in Beirut.

Held on October 31 at the Palais de Congrès in Dbayeh just north of Beirut, the summit marked the one-year anniversary of the Entreprenergy podcast and brought together more than 800 people including entrepreneurs like MarkaVIP founder Ahmed Alkhatib, Takreem founder Ricardo Karam, Telr cofounder and Zoomaal chairman Elias Ghanem, Earth Technologies founder George Abboud, Lebanese League for Women in Business president Asmahan Zein, as well as representatives of the UK Lebanon Tech Hub, AltCity, Wamda and more.

A 3D printed prosthetic hand was just one project seeking support during an auction. (Image via Stephanie Nour Prince)

Instead of relying on traditional speeches, the event emphasized interaction between ecosystem players, said event organizer Andre Abi Awad.

“It had very active people, and the questions were intelligent,” said Mayrig founder Aline Kamakian. “It was excellent, not just in terms of organizations, but from the audience’s side too.”

Though the summit was a celebration of the progress of MENA’s startup ecosystem, it was more than a look back.

The Berytech incubator launched the Digital Energy Revolution Challenge, in partnership with SHAAMS. Intended to drive green innovation, technology, and startups, with a focus on solar energy, the competition targets engineering students and professionals.

Music provided a nice change of pace. (Image via Wamda)

There was plenty of advice.

Entrepreneurs seeking to start an online service should focus on just one idea at first, Alkhatib said. This could mean inventing something new, improving an existing service or copying a foreign service and applying it in the region, “which is what I did with MarkaVIP”, he said.

Market studies are integral for Alkhatib. He also believes entrepreneurs should network in real life and through online networks like Facebook and Twitter. But, be careful - audiences can be openly critical on social media.

Emerging tech

Wamda's Stephanie Nour Prince moderates the Entrepreneurship at the Service of the City session, attended by (R to L) Cedar Environmental founder Ziad Abi Chaker, Tari'ak cofounder Rami Khawandi, and Asset Peak Performance founder Johnny Frem. (Image via Abed Kataya)

The promises of fintech

Innovations in fintech can enhance peer-to-peer banking.

Ghanem made it clear that UAE is MENA’s fintech leader. Lebanon’s fintech sector, by comparison, has serious obstacles including trust and verification, document-scanning and transmittal, banking transparency, cloud computing and government regulations, according to Bnooki founder Elie Abou Jaoudeh.

But what if you fail?

“If you don’t fall, you’ll never know how to get back up,” Alkhatib said. Having launched 37 startups of which only two were viable, Alkhatib had good reason for his opinion. Even MarkaVIP was initially a flop in the large Saudi market, a market he had attempted to penetrate without understanding its obstacles.

“You must study and understand your target market before making your move, so take your time and be patient,” Alkhatib advised.

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