Lebanon has a long history of leveraging its strong capital base and geographical position to compete both regionally and globally for economic success.
The great civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia flourished around ancient Lebanon. The Phoenicians who inhabited this coastal Mediterranean strip thousands of years ago understood the value of their geography and natural resources. They cultivated their cedar wood and exported it to Egypt; when archeologists unearthed the Pharaoh Khufu’s Giza tomb, they recovered a fully intact cedar-wood funerary barge — a testament to the enduring impact of Lebanese entrepreneurship across the ages and across the region.
Even today, wherever the Lebanese go — whether it’s Brazil, Sierra Leone, Canada or the United States — they set up shop and thrive. Different people attribute their drive to different factors. Some say that entrepreneurialism is in the Lebanese blood, while others attribute it to a unique social and geographical environment. Others suggest that in a society where wealth accumulation is virtually impossible for the salaried employee, starting one’s own business is the best way to attain a middle class standard of living. Whatever the cause, there can’t be any doubt that entrepreneurialism is a hallmark of Lebanese society.
Loai Naamani — a successful Boston-based Lebanese entrepreneur — explained it this way: “When we come to the essence of entrepreneurship, there are three fundamentals for any business you create. One is the idea; either you have leverage in your technology, intellectual property, a way of cutting costs and so on. The second is access to capital and third is the human capital. These are the people who will be developing the idea and managing it.”
This year witnessed Lebanon’s participation in Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW), which is celebrated across 103 countries. A series of events were organized to promote the emergence of viable Lebanese businesses and to marshal support for those that may need it.
YallaStartup, a non-profit created by a successful Lebanese entrepreneur, “aims to foster early-stage entrepreneurship in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.” As part of GEW, YallaStartup organized a weekend getaway in November for approximately 300 entrepreneurs and other interested parties as part of its focus on “address[ing] the gaps in the early- stage entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
The organization was created by Habib Haddad — an American University of Beirut (AUB) graduate and a founder of the popular Yamli.com search engine — and two fellow successful Arab entrepreneurs. The idea to create YallaStartup sprung from a conversation that Haddad had with an angel investor. The investor expressed frustration that he was finding it difficult to locate promising startups. Haddad had been hearing something similar from entrepreneurs — that they were having trouble accessing angel capital.