Priya Vithani, contributor
The November 16th Next Innovators panel brought together up-and-coming entrepreneurs, experts, and professionals in the Lebanese startup ecosystem, specifically in the cluster and technology transfer arena.
Moderated by Souhail Khoury – Investment Associate at Berytech Fund II, the panel was part of The Next Society and Berytech’s Lebanon Elevator Roadshow, which featured a full day of events, including a startup pitch that offered three selected startups the chance to receive support services from The Next Society.
Panelists included, Boudy Nasralla – President and founding member Beirut Creative Cluster, Priscilla Elora Sharuk – Co-Founder Myki, Ali Ghandour – Coordinator of the Lebanese National Technology Transfer System CNRS, Christine Francis – Expert Coach and Mentor Mowgli Mentoring, Emmanuel Noutary – General Delegate ANIMA Investment Network, and Alain Tubiana – Board Member France Cluster.
The importance of mentorship
Panelists highlighted their observations about the ecosystem in Lebanon, shared their experiences on the benefits and challenges of startups, clusters, and technology transfer. Panelist Priscilla Sharuk emphasized the importance of mentorship and the lack of concrete avenues for mentorship and role models in Lebanon as a critical gap that needs to be filled.
“Programs like The Next Society are key in helping bridge this gap,” Sharuk emphasized.
Myki co-founder Priscilla Elora Sharuk stressed that personal development is equally as important as capacity development in mentoring.
“Political and economic instability makes retention of youth talent difficult. We need to work with youth to understand their needs and concerns and connect them to talent that can help them and motivate them to stay in the country and contribute to the economy. Platforms like Next Society have allowed us to get international talent and expertise in niche markets that can do this for young entrepreneurs,” Sharuk observed.
An enthusiastic Lebanese ecosystem
The benefits of mentoring are proven. As Expert Coach and Mentor from Mowgli Christine Francis observed, “In Lebanon, there is a 1,060 percent return on mentoring investment.”
All panelists agreed that despite the lack in robust mentorship programs, the ecosystem in Lebanon is growing, hospitable, and enthusiastic. Panelists also noted that Lebanon’s large diaspora community around the world could be leveraged to expand markets and engage successful Lebanese entrepreneurs abroad.
Boudy Nasralla with the Beirut Creative Cluster observed that the Lebanese ecosystem has also been moving in the right direction when it comes to providing entrepreneurs with technical support.
“Today you can see many spaces in Lebanon that offer technical support to entrepreneurs in the areas of Internet access and other technology services. This has been critical in developing businesses in the creative industry,” Nasralla said.
Benefits of Cluster System
Panelists stressed the benefits of the cluster system as a way for Lebanese ventures to overcome larger barriers to businesses, including accessing international markets and adapting to legal and regulatory changes in the country. Alain Tubiana of France Cluster defined clusters as “networks of companies working in the same general area and on the same value chains that offer collaboration with competitors and opportunities for fast-growth.” Cluster development, which panelists observed often takes place informally and without assistance, is not without its challenges. Essential to cluster success is the development of a united strategy of cluster members, which also requires quality of cluster management.
“When we developed the Beirut Creative Cluster, we needed people to overcome competition, see the benefit of collaboration, and understand the results that come with it,” says Nasralla.
Positive impact of technology transfer
Equally emphasized during the panel was the positive impact of technology transfer on local and global markets. “International businesses are keenly interested in the types of models and technologies that are emerging from Africa and Middle Eastern countries,” said ANIMA founder Emmanuel Noutary. “This is also about reverse innovation. Local level technologies will teach bigger and more international businesses how to use technology and accomplish goals in a low-cost way,” he stressed.
Technology transfer and research can also help to map the products and services that Lebanon has to offer.
“Universities and hubs do not currently have the capacity at the industry level for technology transfer, so we are working at CNRS to facilitate this,” said CNRS Ali Ghandour. “Governments are allocating some taxpayer funds into the research and knowledge transfer sector, but much more can be done in this space,” he said.
Optimism, collaboration, and initiatives
As the panel concluded, panelists expressed optimism for Lebanon’s ecosystem trajectory, emphasized the importance of collaboration, and called for the continuation of initiatives like Next Society to accelerate and market Lebanon’s entrepreneurship ecosystem.