BDL official says Lebanon has potential to be startup hub

Lebanon has the necessary human capital and talents to be placed as a regional and international hub for startups, said Marianne Howayek, head of the Governor’s Executive Office at Banque Du Liban.

“Of course we are not going to compete with Silicon Valley but we can definitely compete with other ecosystems worldwide and be placed as a hub for startups,” she told The Daily Star on the occasion of Accelerate 2015 which will take place on December 10-11 at Forum de Beyrouth.

Howayek said that Lebanon’s geographic location in addition to talents, creativity and ease of accessing funds can create the right ecosystem in the country.

“We are optimistic about having a solid ecosystem while building a new sector in the country along with the traditional sectors that we have,” she said. “This is going to create more job opportunities and decrease unemployment rate in addition to having a positive impact on GDP,” added Howayek, who is also the founder and organizer of BDL Accelerate.

BDL Accelerate 2015 is Lebanon’s second international startup conference, featuring 100 stellar speakers from 50 countries – Singapore to San Francisco – and 5,000 select attendees.

Dubbed “Emerging Startup Ecosystems,” this year’s event will take place over a large space of 6,000 square meters due to the participation of hundreds of startups from Lebanon and the world.

“This event is very important because it creates exchange between the different ecosystems by gathering experts and entrepreneurs to share experiences, insights, techniques, methods, and know-how,” Howayek said, adding that Accelerate this year would witness a few new competitions.

The idea stage startup competition asks youths to reimagine Lebanon by developing solutions for a better Lebanon. The prize for this competition amounts to $5,000.

The early stage startup competition aims at finding the best startups in Lebanon by awarding them $10,000 each.

Howayek also spoke of Hackathon, which is an event that provides space for creative and tech-geeks to come together, form groups around a challenge or idea and collaboratively create unique solutions from scratch.

BDL Accelerate 2015 is hosting two hackathons: a Wearables Hackathon powered by DNY Group and a Web & Mobile Hackathon organized by MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab & WDS. Both will gather makers and builders from different backgrounds to collaboratively brainstorm and work extensively to find solutions to specific issues that are shared with them at the start of the Hackathon.

Howayek explained that Hackathon would gather innovators, designers, engineers and developers. “We want them build new wearables so they will be working two days in a row to come up with the product,” she said.

Participants of both hackathons will be provided with material and the machines to create along with know-how and mentorship for the duration of the competitions.

Applicants may apply as a team of three to five members; if an applicant doesn’t have a team he/she may apply as an individual and the organizers will assign the teams.

Teams will pitch their solutions during the conference to a panel of judges on Dec. 11.

Winning teams will grab a $3,000 cash prize, first runner-up teams will win a $2,000 cash prize and second runner-up teams will win a $1,000 cash prize.

The result of Hackathon will be announced at the closing ceremony.

Howayek said that BDL would continue with its strategy of loans guarantees for startups through Circular 331 in 2016.

“I don’t think we have new circulars coming out but we are continuing with the same momentum to promote ourselves as a real ecosystem,” he said, adding that BDL had so far provided more than $250 million of funds to startups.