Posted on November 30, 2021
In this article, Suha Hallab, Business Development Support & Investment Specialist at Berytech highlights the need to channel resources towards creating a sustainable future and a secure food system in the Mediterranean. In that context, she introduces the WaterMedyin project launched by The Mediterranean Innovation Partnership (MIP) with the collaboration of CIHEAM Bari. She details her experience coaching two Lebanese startups, Garbaliser and Smartland, under this project while sharing her insights and personal experience with its different activities.
Water scarcity, declining food security, and deteriorating ecosystems are fundamental challenges affecting our lives every day and threatening the future of generations to come. The world population has grown from 2.3 billion in 1937 to 7.8 billion in 2021. Carbon was at 280 parts per million in the atmosphere and the remaining wilderness was at 66%. Today, the carbon in the atmosphere is at 415 parts per million and the remaining wilderness is at approximately 23% only. These alarming facts call for a worldwide intervention to provide food for the overly-populated earth and restore the balance in the ecosystem.
At the Mediterranean level, these challenges are exacerbated by the regional conflicts and political instability occurring in Lebanon, Palestine, Tunisia, and neighboring countries. The agri-food value chain in the region suffers from a lack of safety, quality, and limited infrastructure. Despite their ability to produce large quantities and product varieties, the Mediterranean food industries operate unsustainably with recurrent food safety issues.
For this reason, the focus on innovation in the agri-food sector in the area is inevitable. The movement towards supporting innovative businesses and startups in this field is initiated by numerous worldwide organizations and programs to secure more food for the area and reduce the usage of water and energy – for a sustainable future.
The Mediterranean Innovation Partnership (MIP) with the collaboration of CIHEAM Bari, was initiated as a broad network bringing together countries, organizations, innovation Support organizations, and SME clusters to support youth entrepreneurship and technology transfer in the agri-food sector. Its mission is knowledge sharing, cogeneration, and transfer for entrepreneurship, business creation, and innovation. It is the first Mediterranean network of its kind, and it is growing every year with all the public and private organizations that share its values and mission.
Since its inception in 2016, the MIP executes several activities such as publishing annual reports and papers on the main trends of the Mediterranean innovation and agri-food entrepreneurial ecosystems and the related policies implemented in Mediterranean countries. Moreover, it constitutes a platform for collaboration, offering opportunities for partnerships at the Mediterranean scale in addition to training programs for ISO managers.
This resourceful network contributed to the launch of the WaterMedyin project, which is led by CIHEAM Bari in Lebanon, Palestine, and Tunisia in partnership with the respective local Ministries of Agriculture and with the support of the most important Scientific Institutions: National Council for Scientific Research (CNRS-L) & the Lebanese Atomic Energy Commission (LAEC) in Lebanon, Palestine Academy for Science and Technology (PALAST) in Palestine in addition to the Institution of Agricultural Research & Higher Education (IRESA) and the National Institute of Marine Sciences & Technologies (INSTM) in Tunisia.
A budget of €1M, funded by the Italian Cooperation, financed the activities of the project with the aim of contributing to sustainable development in the Mediterranean, through the promotion of youth entrepreneurship, youth inclusion, and socio-economic opportunities in the water and marine sectors. The project started in November 2019 to specifically scale up and support innovative startups run by the youth in the sector of water and marine resources in Tunisia, Lebanon, Palestine.
The benefits granted by this project were numerous and reached a great number of direct and indirect beneficiaries fostering the creation of a pipeline from the donors, the MIP, the ISOs to the start-up companies. Among the project’s main activities, the WaterMedyin successfully launched a pitching competition after the conclusion of an extensive training program, in which 30 startups from Lebanon, Palestine, and Tunisia (10 per country) gained new skills to scale up and build their business strategies. The 5 best startups per country were not only awarded each a €10K voucher but also, each startup benefited from the support of an expert coach from the local Innovation Support Organizations on the MIP, to assist and coach the entrepreneurs in the best use of deploying the award and develop their businesses.
On top of all the training, coaching, and webinars, the professional team consisting of ISO leaders and coaches from Lebanon, Palestine, and Tunisia, were invited to participate in the Agri-Food Innovation Week in Bari, Italy organized by CIHEAM Bari with the collaboration of the MIP, under the WaterMedyin project that took place from 25 to 28 October 2021.
Through an extensive agenda of over 4 days, the event’s purpose was to identify new strategies for enabling an environment fostering sustainable development of the agri-food sector in the Mediterranean countries. Through an enriching set of seminars and workshops, the team and professional guest speakers had the opportunity to discuss, learn and exchange knowledge on several issues.
For instance, the topic of “the role of government and public sector within the entrepreneurship support value chain” stressed the crucial role of the government and the importance of public-private partnerships and policies for innovation to encourage economic development. Open Innovation was another important theme that shed the light on the link between innovative support organizations and the corporate world. Attendees explored the idea of bringing innovation to well-established companies for competitiveness and further growth. Moreover, the event offered afternoon workshops in which the attendees together with the experts brainstormed solutions and new ideas to ease and encourage networking at an international level.
Berytech, as an Innovative Support Organization on the MIP network, benefited considerably from the project on several aspects. For instance, a team of Berytech’s business advisors and coaches had the opportunity to attend the well-rounded coach-to-coach training sessions delivered by professional experts in several fields such as business coaching, social innovation, and women entrepreneurship.
The sessions fostered interaction with other ISO founders and coaches and allowed for a valuable exchange of knowledge and expertise. On top of the interactive virtual training with professionals from the 3 countries Lebanon, Palestine, and Tunisia, the team shared their insights, brainstormed ideas, and debated controversial topics within the entrepreneurial field.
In parallel, 2 Lebanese start-ups, previously incubated and accelerated by Berytech, won the financial award on top of the coaching services:
Garbaliser: A group of highly motivated women has set up this company that collects organic waste from municipalities and transforms it into a locally produced fertilizer, upon enriching it with poultry manure.
Smartland: A startup working on a smart irrigation and fertigation system. The system limits the consumption of water as well as fuel as it works on renewable energy, unlike traditional methods. Smartland works on an automated fertigation and irrigation system using a mobile app to improve the quality and quantity of the yields.
The financial crisis, the fuel crisis, the political instability on top of the Pandemic did not stop these startups from working hard on achieving their goals and taking their businesses to the next level. With the support of their assigned coaches, they were able to make the best use of the fund and reach their goals.
Moreover, all awarded startups (along with their coaches) were granted the opportunity to take part in the brokerage day in the Agri-food Innovation Week event during which they pitched amongst a wide network of investors and parties in the ecosystem.
My experience with this project was a steppingstone in my coaching career and I am grateful to share it with you through words and pictures.
I was assigned as a Berytech business coach for the 2 awarded startups “Garbaliser” and “Smartland” and had the opportunity not only to benefit from the project’s valuable training and network but also to fine-tune my coaching skills and accompany the startups on a small (yet great) part of their growth path.
The training sessions for “coaching the entrepreneur’s journey” were extremely interesting and thought-provoking for me, especially the interactive ones where I worked closely with a group of coaches from Palestine and Tunisia to identify the ecosystem parties and design the best scale-up plan of a start-up case study. I learned new tools and coaching techniques which I directly implemented during my coaching sessions. I also had the chance to receive constructive feedback through the self-assessment tool where I was evaluated by the observer expert coach assigned on part of my sessions.
On top of the training, the webinars broadened my horizons; of which I’ll mention the ones I liked the most: Social Innovation, Quantitative Measurement of Social Impact, Women Entrepreneurship, and Incorporating Design Thinking. Through those webinars, I learned about the topics on the international level, Mediterranean level, and the local level; moreover, the greatest thing about those webinars is the opportunity to discuss and challenge my ideas with the experts.
The virtual part of the project was very enriching and allowed for the buildup of a strong network of coaches and experts; our regular meetings fostered our team spirit and enthusiasm towards achieving the project’s goals we all believed in. Nevertheless, meeting in person in Italy during the Agri-Food Week event after our coaching journey amplified the learnings; this was in my opinion the cherry on the top. We were professional experts from 3 different Mediterranean countries, with different backgrounds, diverse ideas, different ways of thinking, sitting together in a conference learning and brainstorming ideas and solutions to our common economic and environmental problems in the region.
Even though all seminars were interesting and timely, I enjoyed the seminar of “ISOs and Finance: the role of the financial communities within the entrepreneurship support value chain” by the guest speaker Peter Kruger – a theoretical physicist, entrepreneur, investor, and leading an agrifood-tech seed fund. This seminar piqued my curiosity because of my background in finance and my interest in combining my expertise in banking with getting startups ready for investors.
During the coffee break, I asked Peter the reason behind his switch from the academic world as a physicist to the Entrepreneurial world. He indicated that other than the fact that writing academic papers is dull and that he was attracted to the dynamism of the entrepreneurial world, both worlds are not as separate as many think. Academia is where innovation comes from, and the entrepreneurs put the innovative ideas into reality; giving the example of Elon Musk as a physicist entrepreneur. Kruger stressed on the importance of uniting both worlds to provide solutions to our regional and international problems especially with the growing demand for technological solutions to our environmental problems.
On another note, the last day of the event was very special as the startups joined us and pitched their ideas in front of a large audience of investors and experts. I was impressed by all the young Lebanese, Palestinian, and Tunisian entrepreneurs. Witnessing the impact, the WaterMedyin had on their businesses was heartwarming.
I was also very proud of the startups I coached; truth is, I also learned from them. Hanan and Zeinab (founders of Garbaliser) and Ahmad, Khaled & Reem (founders of Smartland) taught me resilience, determination, and perseverance despite all the circumstances we were going through in Lebanon. With young entrepreneurs like them, we have hope for a better future.
To conclude with a few words, we are at a unique stage in our history and of utmost need for such projects and networks. The WaterMedyin project was a success story that touched and impacted many direct and indirect beneficiaries. On a personal level, the WaterMedyin journey was a journey of growth and substantial impact through which I grew as a professional and I grew as a person.
Suha Hallab joined Berytech in June 2021 as the Business Development Support & Investment Specialist, helping innovative startups and SMEs scale up their businesses. Suha has 13 years of experience in the banking sector. Her expertise lies in lending decisions under the IFRS9 guidelines and BDL circulars, and pricing and structuring facilities according to client business requirements. She is a Certified Management Accountant, holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from LAU, and an MBA with a published thesis in the field of behavioral economics.
Suha values creating positive social impact and believes in the exchange and the spread of knowledge and experience. She was previously a volunteer in programs such as financial literacy, career orientation, and social entrepreneurship. As an avid reader, Suha is also on a mission to encourage people to read; she co-founded the “Lebanon Readers Society”, a community for readers and authors hosting book discussions, cultural events, quiz nights, and debates.