After fablabs and makerspaces, startup studios debut in Beirut

Startup studios are true innovation factories

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Accelerators, incubators, coworking spaces, hackerspaces, makerspaces, fablabs, and living labs, all constitute a crowded ecosystem lexica to accentuate the value of collaboration spaces for startups. This variety of collaboration spaces create and — in some cases — manage and sustain the communities that allow ecosystems to sustain and grow.

Mapping out these vital nodes, a new collaboration space type worth highlighting would be startup studios. Currently, looking on a global scale, these startup studios exceed 300, each specializing in a specific segment and field.

What are they and what do they do?To put it straight, startups studios are a new kind of accelerators for innovation: instead of accelerating startups previously settled, like traditional incubators and accelerators do, they participate to the setup of the startup.

A startup studio is a company that starts companies. Sometimes they generate their own genuine ideas, and find out the right team to execute (like eFounders -focused on SaaS ventures- Nextstars, or partially Rocket Internet).

They also develop untapped ideas brought by corporations or entrepreneurs, and shape startups to execute them  (like, TechnoFounders, Btwinz -dedicated to SaaS ventures-, or StartupFactory). They provide support from ideation to implementation, and liaise with relevant startups on the domain.

Besides mentorship and practical assistance, startup studios may also act as venture capital providing funding to the startups they help initiate.

Lebanon joins the community

Sqwirl Lab, is a new startup studio that opened its doors in Beirut, cofounded by Ziad Jureidini and Karl Abouzeid.

Its role consists of conceiving and founding its own startups in-house, handling all managerial, operational, and developmental functions needed to grow the enterprises into potential standalone entities.

“We focus on tech-oriented concepts that may approach us at the idea level, and we would assist them turn their concept into an existing product,” Jureidini told Wamda.

He continued: “Unlike incubators and accelerators who offer six to 12 months programs and mentorship classes, startups we help create can stay with us until they become independant businesses,” Jureidini said.

When required, the studio will also provide seed stage and follow-on financing for select enterprises, in partnership with Beirut-based tech venture capital firm, Leap Ventures. Tickets vary between $10,000 and as up as $150,000, according to Jureidini.

Sqwirl Lab evolved from Sqwirl, an urban delivery service app conceived by Abouzeid in October 2015. After persuading his friend Jureidini, the pair joined Speed@BDD’s startup accelerator program in April 2016 where they received funding, mentorship and support.

By January 2017, they had completed over 5,000 deliveries. After that, together with Leap Ventures, Sqwirl became a multi-entity startup studio, and ceased making deliveries in March 2017.

“To succeed you have to be willing to radically shift course when more promising opportunities arise. This is something we constantly keep in mind when growing our startups,” said Jreidini.

Off to a good start

The spin-off of Sqwirl marked the first successful exit of a Speed@BDD-accelerated startup.

Sqwirl Lab already founded three startups: Haulo (the successor to Sqwirl), a marketplace for logistics companies that streamlines transactions between freight owners and carriers; sociaLang, a platform connecting students of second languages around the world; and a third platform providing minimum viable product development and design thinking services to fellow start-ups.

As well as adopting startup ideas generated internally, Abouzeid and Jreidini are looking to partner with entrepreneurs to bring their visions to reality. “We have experienced first-hand how challenging it is to grow a startup,” says Abouzeid. “The innovation potential in Lebanon is immense. I truly believe that with the studio approach, we can put Lebanon on the international map of start-ups. We are here to do start-ups the new way.”

In the region and the world

Though still nascent, startup studios have found their way to the MENA. Level Z is a startup studio that was founded in Manama, Bahrain, in 2015. Its vision consists of rolling out innovative startups and products that solve real problems. One of its startups is Skiplino which tries to find a solution to the queues and the standing in line for long times, where on average a human wastes six months of his/her life standing in queues.

Skiplino aims to solve this problem by offering an automated smart mobile solution to better manage traffic/flow and save people a lot of time by letting them get in queue wherever they are.

On a global scale, the first proto-startup studios to come into existence were the likes of Rocket Internet in Berlin and Betaworks in New York City. The goal of Rocket Internet was to replicate successful American startups and launch them in different geographic areas.

Feature image via Stockvault.

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