Lebanon is a small market that is often described in the news as an unstable country full of corruption and problems on all levels. While these stories may be true, they are merely a zoomed out one-sided version of what’s really happening in the country.
The increasing Lebanese startups and support initiatives that exhibited during ArabNet Beirut this year may not cure the country, but could tackle underestimated sectors.
Diabetes, agritech, and green energy are just a few.
In its nineth edition held on February 20-22, here are few new components we noticed this year at ArabNet.
1- More entrepreneurs
You can tell that this year’s edition was more focused on entrepreneurs by stepping into the Emirates Hall in Hilton Beirut Habtoor Grand Hotel. Over 20 startups were exhibiting during the second and third day of the conference, including Cherpa, a software that allows users to create gaming themes using basic coding tools and connect them with robots and other hardware kits, which won the first place in the Startup Battle competition; DOX, a platform that assesses battery performance for e-bikes, e-cars and drones, to help them increase the efficiency of their batteries; Lexyom, an online platform for legal advice and consultation targeting smaller businesses; Find a Nurse, a home nursing company that offers medical services, personal care, companionship, child and mother care and among other services; Buildink, a 3D printing cement printing startup; Fig, a customized chatbot for businesses; and Spica Tech Academy which teaches online video gaming. The latter was cofounded by Reine Abbas, who is also the cofounder of gaming studio Wixel Studios.
2- More hardware
During the innovation avenue, which is an initiative allowing entrepreneurs to showcase their hardware projects, eight startups took the stage to pitch their ideas. Industries varied from agritech, healthcare, engineering, advertising and more: LifeLab, an indoor farming room-temperature environment that targets farmers or Seabex for irrigation monitoring; Spike, an app and a device that helps people with diabetes track their insulin intake; Off The Wall, which produces holograms for advertising purposes; ELight, solar shutters for windows; Bake and Go, a machine that bakes ‘manouche’ without any human intervention and WakeCap, a smart engineering helmet that provides data on workers' time on site and live location.
The conference featured a series of one-on-one meetings between startups and industry experts, to discuss their startups and challenges. The series was called MashUp, and it includes judges like Abduallah Yafi, the managing partner of B&Y Ventures; Fares Samara, CTO of accelerator Speed Lebanon, as well as Neda Aldihani, founder and genera manager of Kuwaiti accelerator Brilliant lab, among others.
4- Less sugar
Participants in the Creative Combat were requested to come up with a digital campaign to Lebanese telecommunication company Alfa, to raise awareness around diabetes and encourage people to adopt a healthier lifestyle. The three finalists were B-Kind, Dicers, and Media Monsters and they each pitched ideas on how to alert parents on the dangers of bad eating habits.
B-Kind came up with a puppet-like character called Beeto, which is the gift kids get when they follow a healthy diet. Dicers came up with the hashtag #حلوـكتير which means very sweet [nice] and is a play on word between sweet and looking good, and Media Monsters showcased several social media photos with hashtags. Dicers won the competition and $5,000 in cash.
5- More data
A study on the Lebanese digital economy and ecosystem conducted by ArabNet was officially announced. The study included data on the value of investments, most common challenges startups face, and other data points. 64 percent of surveyed startups mentioned navigating through regulatory framework as their biggest challenge. The percentage was the same for accessing local talent, while 32 percent said the country has enough support services .
The study highlighted the type of available support, the factors that are influencing talent accessibility and the most available skillsets. It also discussed the requirements for a healthy tech startup ecosystem, such as e-government services, makerspaces, more online payment gateways and others.