Not just the apps

Our non-tech startups need support

There’s cross pollination potential being missed in a certain Lebanese ecosystem. Nowadays, everywhere you look there’s a link between technology and entrepreneurship that seems to suggest the latter is only possible if it incorporates the latest advances in the former. This is a global trend, and it’s driven by the market. Remember, a street vendor is an entrepreneur, but that vendor will need several lifetimes of work to become a unicorn (a company valued at $1 billion or more, in venture capital parlance). For better or worse, entrepreneurs make the biggest headlines when they’re associated with VC, and VC needs big, big wins to cover losses in the majority of its portfolio companies. Big, big wins typically come from tech companies, not from hospitality, food and beverage or even small design or ad firms, and yet these small players are the cartilage helping to keep Lebanon’s economic backbone limber and upright.

Central bank circular 331, approved in late 2013, freed up some $600 million in capital for entrepreneurs in Lebanon’s “knowledge economy”. While the text never actually mentions the word “technology,” there’s a very heavy tech focus in the ecosystem. However, Lebanese entrepreneurs are still pouring blood, sweat and tears into “traditional” ventures with much success (see story here). Some of these non-tech entrepreneurs complain of a lack of financing opportunities in an ecosystem obsessed with apps, online marketplaces and the internet of things. Worse, the insight and experience many have gained after years of trial and error does not seem to be filtering its way into the “hubs” of the country’s knowledge economy.

In an effort to cover 331 from an editorial perspective, the magazine’s eyes and ears are on the newest players entering the game. We see the events, meetups, dinners, conferences, etc., and notice a glaring lack of input from anyone talking about the “old economy”. This is unfortunate, particularly when we begin dreaming of the potential social entrepreneurs can have in making a difference in the daily lives of people in Lebanon and the wider region, if not the world.

This country has social and cultural diversity as strengths and any number of problems most would point to as weaknesses. These weaknesses, however, are opportunities. The more minds we have working together, sharing advice and experience, the more chances we have to find scalable, commercial solutions that actually improve people’s lives. A better blending of the ecosystem’s old and new will maximize its impact both locally and abroad.