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  • 05 Jun 2020 6:59 AM | Anonymous

    New York - June 5, 2020

    On June 5, LebNet and LIFE organized a fintech panel in New York on alternative online lending models. This event was hosted by Eli Curi, Tech startup, venture, and M&A lawyer at Fenwick & West and took place in their NYC offices which resemble more an innovation space than a law firm.

    The panelists were Renaud Laplanche, the CEO of Upgrade, a platform that provides affordable personal loans, credit monitoring and personal credit line and the founder and former CEO of LendingClub; and Noah Breslow, the CEO of OnDeck, a platform that provides small business loans and lines of credit. The panel was moderated by Habib Kairouz, the Managing Partner at Rho Capital Partners.

    Before delving into the topic of online lending in the US, panelists introduced their companies and explained how they’re using data to better evaluate users’ credit scores.

    Bypassing traditional banks and providing capital to small businesses

    Breslow comes from a purely technical background, having studied Computer Science and Engineering at MIT. He joined OnDeck in 2007 after his former company, Tacit Networks, was sold in 2006. The idea of giving loans to small businesses without going through a bank was revolutionary for him.

    “We have 6,000 banks in the US and they are largely set up to give $2 million loans to small businesses. If you needed $20,000 only, the bank would apply the same process for the $2 million loan. Six to eight weeks go by and the business would decline. The bank would look at the personal credit score then make a decision, but the challenge is it doesn’t take into account what the underlying business model is,” Breslow said.

    The other challenge is if the borrower maxed out on their personal credit card, they won’t be able to get any funding from the bank to grow their business. “Digital data helped us solve this problem and build the technology to digest the digital data of the business and make a loan decision in a fraction of the time and cost it takes a traditional bank.”

    OnDeck enables small business owners to apply for a loan within few minutes, evaluates their business model and makes a decision within minutes. Today, the company has 700 employees, it processed 1.6 million loan applications, made nearly $12 billion of loans with an average loan size of $50,000 and is operating in the US, Canada and Australia. It went public in 2014.

    So how does its evaluation system work?

    OnDeck uses third party online payment processors to monitor how a certain business is performing in the present. It then downloads transaction and payment data from the small business checking account and credit cards. The process works in real-time and provides quick analysis.

    “We don’t claim to replicate traditional banking. That process is very labor-intensive and costly. A commercial bank might ask for tax returns and if you’re a small business you rarely report income on your tax returns. The data is usually stale. Today your business could be better or worse than what that data shows.”

    The company also learned by trial and error. OnDeck had to lend a billion dollars’ worth of loans to have enough defaults to build a good credit score, Breslow said. The source of their capital comes from financial institutions and credit funds.

    Unlocking credit potential and lowering the cost

    Laplanche earned an MBA in finance, co-founded and sold a company to Oracle before he started LendingClub then Upgrade. LendingClub is an online marketplace connecting borrowers and investors, facilitating personal loans, business loans, and financing for elective medical procedures and K-12 education and tutoring.

    Both platforms are online consumer credit platforms. The LendingClub started as a peer-to-peer lending platform and then evolved today to  90% of its funding from institutions and 10% from retail investors.

    In addition to traditional credit scores, credit history, and performance, the company uses technology to reduce cost of capital by looking at debt ratio and behavioural data that advertisers usually use to monitor time spent on certain websites and online activity and machine learning methods to make the best out of the available data they have.

    An interesting topic raised by Kairouz was the required steps to scale the model to the Middle East and specifically Lebanon and the issue of the unbanked population in many countries.

    OnDeck isn’t present in the Middle East but has international businesses in Australia and Canada, and may expand to other markets in the future. The alternative online lending models can be tricky by nature, according to Breslow, and require proper infrastructure and resources in order to flourish in a certain environment. In some countries, he said, anyone without a banking license isn’t allowed to lend money to people.

    There’s also the problem of accessing data. In Lebanon for instance, the only way to access credit, account and payment data is through the Central Bank and this could be a major hurdle due to banking secrecy.

    Yet such hurdles can be surpassed thanks to a high mobile penetration in the Middle East, accounting for 70% of the population in 2017. Mobile-based solutions can help business owners access behavioral data directly from telecommunication companies and network operators. African-based M-Pesa and Tala are two great examples. Their users can transact, pay and apply for loans using a mobile app.

    Moving to the Q&A segment, topics varied between the emergence of competitors like Goldman Sachs and tech giants; access to data in the early stages, the pressure of moving to mobile; catering to larger businesses and the future of the fintech space.

    “It’s all about innovation and market size,” said Laplanche in response to the competition question. With competition comes new ideas, so we can make the market better and create better products and solutions.”

    He talked about access to data in the early stages saying: “There are no shortcuts, it’s a learning curve. You start with industry data, data from credit card securitization, enhance it with credit bureau data, ask for [credit history] and how they performed in the last 3 years.”

    As for Noah, they obtained data about small business activity from payment processors. Unfortunately, it was not only the loans that performed, but bad loans that didn’t perform, that were required to build their credit models. “Your credit model won’t improve unless you do this.

    For us, it wasn’t until we made about a billion dollars’ worth of loans that the model started to accelerate its capabilities. Do everything you can to acquire data and bootstrap until you get to that learning phase.”

    The event was attended by 40 people and exquisitely moderated by Habib Kairouz, who jokingly reminded himself and the audience that he passed on an investment opportunity with Laplanche and Breslow years ago, yet now believes in the power of what they’re doing. Perhaps online lending models are tricky due to the heavy amount data they require, but the possibilities are endless even in the least expected markets.

  • 11 Feb 2020 5:00 AM | Anonymous

    San Diego - Feb, 1, 2020

    In a cosy setup on February 1st, LebNet co-hosted a lunch with the Worldwide American University of Beirut Alumni Association chapter in San Diego.

    The sold out event drew over 65 people who got the chance to hear Guest speaker Professor Gabriel Rebeiz talk about his experience at AUB, how he was the youngest AUB graduate (he graduated when he was 17 years old) and how the university is still going strong despite the financial crisis in Lebanon.

    Prof. Rebeiz is a Distinguished Professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering department at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego, where he also serves as the Wireless Communications Industry Endowed Chair.

    He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and is considered as one of the fathers of tunable radios for 4G, affordable phased arrays for satellites and 5G, and high resolution automotive radars for collision avoidance.

    Jeanine Akiki,LebNet’s chairman and AUB Trustee George Abdo Kadifa also gave a few words on how the university is coping with the current economic situation, based on his recent trip to Lebanon in January. Kadifa noted that 60 percent of AUB’s students are on financial aid. He contributes with Rebeiz to AUB’s fellowship fund to help students pay their tuition fees.

    a retired executive in the tech industry and LebNet board member, concluded the event by briefing the audience on LebNet’s mission and initiatives.

    In addition to a partnership with the Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture at AUB, to exchange knowledge and support students, LebNet has also launched Outsource Lebanon, a call-to-action initiative to encourage members to outsource work to Lebanon.

    The initiative aims at employing 100 people in 100 days. Today, 11 percent of the initiative’s target was met.

    Those who have jobs that can be outsourced to Lebanon can visit this page to learn more about how they can contribute.

    Jeanine Akiki informing the audience about LebNet’s programs and initiatives

  • 13 Dec 2019 5:05 AM | Anonymous

    San Francisco - Dec, 10, 2020

    Over dinner at Tannourine restaurant in San Mateo California LebNet’s members gathered on December 10 to catch up, be informed about recent activities to help the tech sector in Lebanon and meet the winner of LebNet’s Bireme award for Entrepreneur of the Year 2019.

    LebNet Chairman Abdo George Kadifa kicked off the evening by listing key achievements in 2019:

    • 403 new members and 21 events in 2019
    • 4 new communities (Montreal, Vancouver, Arizona and Toronto)
    • Two signed MOU’s with the American University of Beirut and with Endeavor
    • 11 original articles on the blog and new content series: “10 Questions With…”
    • 4 new Lebanese startuuls hosted in Silicon Valley as part of LebNet Ignite 7th edition

    From Left to right: George Akiki, Andre Haddad and Abdo George Kadifa.

    Call-to-action for Lebanon

    LebNet’s CEO George Akiki announced the launch of ‘Outsource Lebanon’, a call-to-action project to help save the tech sector in Lebanon.

    “We’re urging our members to consider outsourcing jobs, projects and services to Lebanon. We have vetted a few companies with a proven track record that can provide engineering services competitively and with high quality,” said Akiki during his speech.

    “But we’re not stopping here. You can also send work over to Lebanon for other services ranging from accounting to market research to branding and lots of graphic design work.

    We’re accumulating a list of freelance marketplaces like Upwork and Nabbesh on our website and we challenge all of you to take a leap of faith and dispatch a few projects to Lebanon to keep people employed there in these trying times.”

    LebNet’s Bireme award for Entrepreneur of the Year 2019

    The event awarded Andre Haddad, the CEO of peer-to-peer car sharing company Turo, the LebNet’s Bireme award for Entrepreneur of the Year 2019.

    The award symbolises the bireme, an ancient ship with two decks of oars, designed and used by the Phoenicians.

    “In 2011, Andre joined Turo which is considered to be the AirBnB of cars. It is the dominant player in its space and is now valued at more than a Billion dollars after raising this last summer $250 million in a series E round, which pushed it into unicorn territory,” said Akiki. “When Andre joined Turo in 2011, Turo was in 2 cities, now they are in 4 countries and over 5,000 cities.”

    Read more about Andre Haddad’s early beginning and journey to success in this article.

    The award symbolises the bireme, an ancient ship with two decks of oars, designed and used by the Phoenicians.

    “We picked this symbol as a representation of our plight as a Diaspora traveling away from our country of origin to faraway lands, succeeding in our fields of expertise and representing the best that our heritage can offer but always looking back and hoping for those ships to return and dock home again,” concluded Akiki.

    We added all the event’s photos on LebNet’s Flickr account. Visit this link to check them out.

  • 11 Sep 2019 3:46 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Vancouver - Sept 5, 2019

    Entrepreneurship and building sustainable businesses was the topic that the LebNet Vancouver community picked to mark its first event on September 5th, 2019. 

    Held at the Aplicata Technologies office in Vancouver, this kick-off event surprisingly drew more than 40 attendees, who joined to listen to talks given by serial entrepreneur Mazen Sukkarieh, energy and environment consultant Rola Nasreddine, IT consultant Talal Moughnie, and moderated by the CEO of Aplicata Mohammad Darwish

    The event kicked off with George Akiki giving a presentation on LebNet’s state of affairs, privileges and responsibilities of a LebNet member, and a call to action in Vancouver to get engaged and grow the community.

    LebNet’s CEO George Akiki giving a presentation on LebNet’s state of affairs, privileges and responsibilities and a call to action to grow the Vancouver community.

    Moving to the talks, Darwish asked speakers to define entrepreneurship, choose between an ambitious job or launching a startup, elaborate on the needed skills to succeed in this field and list common entrepreneurship mistakes.

    What does entrepreneurship mean to you? 

    Sukkarieh defined entrepreneurship as not just a business but a project to make society better. “Entrepreneurship is wanting to do what you want to do in any vertical, not just necessarily in business, to impact society.” 

    Nasreddine, who helps refugees become financially independent, defined entrepreneurship as a vision that needs to be fulfilled. She helps refugees build good business plans, advises them, trains them and prepares them for the market. 

    Should we climb up the corporate ladder or start a business? 

    When it comes to choosing between entrepreneurship and the corporate world, Moughnie believes that people should think about the growth potential of their ideas and calculate risks before quitting their job. “The best ideas were ideas that evolved from something that you are already doing, where you see a need, value or need to address the problem and then decide to roll with it. In most of the cases, you identify this need and keep your full-time job. Some companies allow you to take few unpaid months,” he said. 

    For those thinking about quitting their jobs to launch a startup, he advised them to “think twice, you don’t want to end up losing something sure for something probable. As your idea progresses and you start seeing things that are materialized, then it’s the right time to quit.” 

    From left to right: George Akiki, Mazen Sukkarieh, Rola Nasreddine, Talal Moughnie, Mohammad Darwish, Nick Kahwaji and Carla Zarife, the president of the Lebanese club in Vancouver.

    Why do most companies fail?
    Before opening this question to the audience, Darwish stated that failed stories are often untold to the media and in public. And like Sukkarieh, who admitted that he tried to launch a social business in Lebanon but failed terribly, others joined to share their experiences and what it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur. 

    “Sometimes people who don’t follow mentorship get into trouble. It’s good to have a sounding board,” said Anwar Sukkarie, Founder, President & CEO of LOOPShare. Entrepreneurs shouldn’t launch a venture if they don’t have enough capital to sustain it, he added. “Dream big without a doubt but take small steps, one at a time. Many entrepreneurs fail because they expand too quickly and get mixed up between dreams and reality.”

    On the other hand, Moughnie advises new entrepreneurs not to get too attached to the ideas that will hold them back. “Most big companies fail more than they succeed. They kill many products. Don’t hang too long to an idea, make a strong judgement to let it go before it drains your resources.”

    While Sukkarieh and Moughnie talked about taking things slowly and assessing ideas, Nick Kahwaji from the audience, who is the Honorary Consul of Lebanon in Vancouver and a dentist, said that keeping expenses low worked well for him. He doesn’t gain much but doesn’t spend much either. 

    During the last part of the event, Darwish steered the conversation to empowering women in the workplace and using cloud-based technologies to save money. 

    From the audience, Mariane Zakhour, who leads Canada operations and buyout merge at WebLink Commerce in Canada, shared her experience of working in Abu Dhabi and how she succeeded while dealing with gender-based issues. 

    “Leading by example and showing that you can,” she said. She grew up in Abu Dhabi, she was always surrounded by men and was forced to prove herself constantly. Such challenge empowered her to move forward. “You either annoy someone so much or you lead by example.” That said, she also believes that when there’s a good team and a vision alignment, any challenge, be it gender-based or not, can be solved. 

    Despite this being the first LebNet Vancouver event, the turnout and level of engagement were impressive and although the sessions went a bit longer than planned, no one left their seat till the very end: a first! The next Vancouver event will be held in the next two to three month. “It was exciting to see so many friends come together for LebNet’s inaugural event in Vancouver to talk about entrepreneurship and technology,” concluded Darwish. “We are gearing up for the next event and looking forward to serving the needs of the community as a whole.”

  • 21 Jun 2019 3:51 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Toronto - Jun 19, 2019

    From disrupting ads through machine learning to building a pet society in Canada and the US, LebNet Toronto’s event on June 19 had something for everyone.

    Gathered at VentureX Canada, 30 people showed up to listen to Hisham Ghostine, CEO and President – Media Brands at Dentsu Aegis Network Canada and Pele Dagher, founder and CEO of Pawpular App Inc., talk about their expertise and journey.

    Prior to moving to Canada, Ghostine was the Chief Revenue & Growth Officer for Omnicom Media Group in the Middle East and Africa, growing the Omnicom network footprints through acquisition and new operations. In his new role, he is in charge of seven media and performance companies.

    The NLP challenge: over 6,500 languages and 3,900 emojis

    Ghostine’s talk focused on the complexity of understanding the constantly increasing languages by machines and how the natural language processing (NLP) is helping marketers understand their audiences and predict their behaviour.

    The world has now over 6,500 languages, he said, and the number keeps increasing on a daily basis as new language combinations are being formed. People keep introducing new items and characters and we now have more than 3,900 emojis. That number increases by 10 percent every year.

    These numbers pose a huge challenge for NLP, especially that individuals write and use words differently to express different emotions. Yet as Ghostine explained in his presentation, NLP has come  a long way to solve understanding the human text and speech. Through machine learning (ML), NLP is able to analyse patterns and trends and through deep learning (DL), algorithms are trained to understand human’s intention. Which means that NLP is helping marketers now understand consumers’ intentions, sentiments and behaviours and targeting them better.

    That said, user data collected from social media are now more accurate than polls and statistics, because they reflect users’ reactions, behaviours and feelings rather than pure numbers. Yet NPL still has several challenges to solve. Ghostine listed three:

    • Context classification: “Classification will help us in the future to analyse intentions from a picture, based on previous examples.”
    • Solid intent mining: “We understand that someone wants to travel, but we don’t know if they want to take a flight, train, car..”
    • Improve algorithm statistical relationship: “We want to create a link between images and texts.”

    When ads serve unwanted territories

    When marketers place an ad online, they face the risk of having their ad delivered to unsafe places. This is why they create white and black lists and set a number of keywords to guide them. Yet such strict guidelines mean that marketers are limiting themselves to a smaller ad space, without taking into consideration that some of the black listed keywords might carry a positive message if used in a different context.

    New ML and DL research, according to Ghostine, are coming up with effective solutions to recognize images and detect positive versus negative content. “Up to 60% of those black listed words had positive meaning. Prevention will free up billions of dollars worth of ad space now because we’re solving an economy problem,” he concluded.

    Turning a passion for pets into a business

    After spending 18 years founding and growing businesses with 8 years in high tech roles, Pele Dagher followed his passion for pets and launched Pawpular. Headquartered in Toronto, his company is a pet society and pet care services application.

    And there’s a huge market for it.

    Pele Dagher giving a talk about his pet society company Pawpular.

    In the US alone, 80 billion dollars is being spent yearly on 395 million pets, Dagher said. In Canada, it’s 10 billion dollars on 20 million pets. He is currently focusing on these two markets.

    On Pawpular, a pet owner will have a customized profile, connect with other users, find a local service provider (walkers, groomers, pet day care, pet hotels and vets), rate and review services, adopt, get notified if someone nearby lost their pet, and ask questions.

    Service providers will get more visibility and attract new customers, book and manage appointments, assign jobs to team members, send offers and interact with customers among other features.

    Pawpular has 50,000 users to date, of which 10,000 are active daily. It generates revenue by charging its 1,500 service providers with a monthly fee ranging between 10 to 50 dollars.

    In the near future, Dagher will launch a store within the app where users can also buy products from the app. They will also be working with insurance companies to offer competitive prices to pet owners and feature a Bluetooth tracker. In the next two years, he will be expanding to new countries.

    Similar to many other companies, Pawpular is leveraging the power of data to cater to its users (someone looking to adopt a pit bull dog in a certain area) and providing customer insights to service providers.

    Data is what will anchor all ships to safety moving forward and Dentsu and Pawpular are surely taking note.

  • 19 Jun 2019 3:53 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Boston - Jun 13, 2019

    The search to understand the complexities of the human body is endless. Scientists study, invent, test and fail for years before a small percentage of them are able to come up with an effective drug, cure or treatment for diseases.

    The convergence of technologies in healthcare paved the way for new methods and tools that scientists can use, including wireless perception, nanotechnology and using AI to monitor, prevent and cure diseases.

    To further discuss the newest technological advancements in healthcare, LebNet organized a talk in Boston on June 13th, at MIT’s 500 Technology Square attended by 30 members and guests, and featured the following speakers: Diala Ezzeddine, PhD, CEO of Xios Therapeutics, a biotech company developing a novel small molecule therapeutics capable of preventing tumors from evading the immune system; Fadel Adib, PhD, an Assistant Professor at MIT and the founding director of the Signal Kinetics research group at the MIT Media Lab; and Dr. Tarek Fadel, Assistant Director of the Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine at the MIT Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.

    The talk was moderated by Johnny Ghibril, Vice President of Data Science and Solutions Architecture at B-Yond.

    Inventing an artificial pancreas

    Adib’s research group at the MIT Media Lab develops technologies and algorithms for wireless perception and sensing. One of their inventions is an artificial pancreas. It is a batteryless micro-implant that can be digested or swallowed in the body. It is smaller than a Tylenol pill, as described by Adib, and wirelessly connects and communicates information from deep inside the body.

    This process enables many applications, such as long term drug delivery, said Adib: “You take a pill once and it sits inside the stomach, then we’re able to trigger it over a very long period of time. It could be used to treat those who have Alzheimer [and forget to take their pills], it could be used for deep brain stimulation. We’re able to power it up and stimulate it without using a battery, because the battery requires invasive surgery to place it and remove it. This artificial pancreas can be used to sense the Glucose and Insulin level.”

    The idea ambition goes beyond that.

    “We also want to be able to do an early detection of diseases by monitoring the micro-implants. We hope to build the first in-body micro computer that is able to last for a very long period of time.”

    For oncology, this technology could mean a number of things, according to Fadel:

    “When you think about something as complicated as cancer, that you’re able to change the chemistry of the drugs so they can be delivered for a longer period of time, combine and synchronise multiple drugs in one formulation, this can really speak to the complexity of some tumors. The ability to get insights from the human body using small particulars help doctors delineate the tumors in your body better and see some lesions better when performing a surgery,” said Fadel.

    Teaching the body to get rid of abnormal proteins and cells

    While Fadel and Adib’s talks focused on the technology itself, Ezzeddine tackled the biotechnology aspect: how her company aims to teach the immune system to fight cancer – knowing that the cancerous cells can mask themselves from the immune system – and how to recycle ‘marked’ protein cells.

    Xios Therapeutics aims to generate cancer medications, based on the idea of harnessing the natural mechanisms by which cells degrade proteins.

    “You ask why would our bodies recycle proteins? It’s because on the one hand you want to be able to change the cells from feeling mode to metabolizing mode to something else, you want to have reactions quick. You can express proteins and want them to do their job and when the state changes you want them to go away for others to be expressed. You have not only to express genes and turn them into proteins but also get rid of these proteins. There’s a sophisticated recycling system in the cell where any protein that gets marked, the recycling mechanism knows that it needs to get rid of that protein,” she explained.

    Ezzeddine’s company looks at cancer and gene expression and how some proteins in the genes are overly or underly expressed and need to be stopped. The typical process for recycling them, she explained, is creating a small antibody compound that targets the particular protein that you want to get rid of. The compound gets ingested and it either modulates the protein, prevents it from functioning or changes its formation so it stops interacting with other proteins. However, the process is temporary and once the drug falls off the compound, the protein goes back to doing what it was doing.

    To solve this issue, Xios is creating compounds that when they go inside the body or into a cell, they can hone in on the protein they want to get rid of, where one piece of the compound binds to the protein of interest and another one binds to a part of the machinery that recycles cells called E3 Ligases. “That’s the molecule we create. When it goes into the body, it binds your protein of interest, search for ligases, search for protein of interest, couple them and recognize another protein is there and therefore tags it for degradation and it gets degraded. You have a biology-based mechanism allowing you to get rid of proteins. So now you have a way of addressing a number of diseases, and we do it for cancer,” explained Ezzeddine.

    The founder also talked about immuno-oncology, which works on preventing cancer from masking itself from the immune system.

    Typically the immune system knows how to get rid of foreign bodies and does this very well. But the tumor prevents the system from doing that. So immuno- oncology looks at finding ways to trigger the immune system to recognize it’s being fooled by the cancer, and to unleash its power on the tumor. Ezzeddine said that the immuno-oncology findings led to the introduction of a few new drugs to the market 4 to 5 years ago.

    “We create a drug that can go into the body is able to degrade the proteins of interest with the goal of trying to boost the ability of the immune system to recognize the cancer and get rid of it.”

    Why do most healthtech discoveries fail?

    Most of the healthtech inventions end up failing, due to the high barriers to entry, high cost and long time to market,” according to Ghibril, or to the FDA long approval process and scaling manufacturing, according to Fadel.

    There’s also the gender parity barrier, which excludes a big portion of women from the equation and leading to less innovative solutions. “Around 12% of digital health startups have women CEO,” added Fadel. Adding to that, Ezzeddine believed that the majority of discoveries fail during the late stage clinical trials, as “it’s really hard to predict on a large scale what’s going to happen compared to controlled environments in the early stages.”

    Despite these barriers, the industry is constantly evolving and innovations in the immuno-oncology industry are coming to life. The accumulation of previous knowledge and the increased communication and openness between scientists are paving the way for additional research and breakthrough technologies.

  • 24 May 2019 3:59 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    San Diego - May 16, 2019

    For any career move, personal development or progress to happen, it has to take place outside of your comfort zone.

    Be it climbing the corporate ladder, launching a venture or making drastic decisions, the key is to always push beyond the limits.

    On May 16th, 2019, LebNet San Diego invited three senior executives to discuss their career move and share tips and advice on how young professionals can progress in the corporate world.

    The panelists were Mark Abumeri, Partner at Intellectual Property and tech law firm Knobbe Martens; Mary Gendron, Senior Vice President and CIO at international semiconductor and telecommunications company Qualcomm; and Sam Samad, Senior Vice President and CFO at array-based solutions for DNA, RNA, and protein analysis company Illumina. The panel was moderated by Fram Akiki, Vice President of Electronics and Semiconductor industry at Siemens PLM Software.

    The first part of the discussion was focused on the panelists’ career moves and how they progressed and managed to land senior roles.

    It’s never too late to make drastic changes

    Three to four years into his career, Abumeri realized he did not want to be an engineer for the rest of his life, so he applied to Cincinnati College of Law and ventured into something totally different. He taught at several law schools for over 15 years before making partner at Knobbe Martens.  

    “I can’t believe that someone at the age of 18 or 19 knows what they want to do,” he said about the pressure of having to choose a career path from a young age.

    Gendron’s career move on the other hand was affected by the need to create impact beyond the area she’s involved in. She worked at the telecommunications company Bell in Canada for 13 years before she decided to move to Motorola, where she became Vice President.

    “I wanted to have a bigger impact on a global scale. Keep looking for opportunities, it doesn’t always come knocking. You have to recognize it and grab it and be prepared to take the risk. That’s key to anyone wanting to make a change, whether in the same company or elsewhere.”

    If Abumeri and Gendron’s career paths led them to discovering new passions and unlock new opportunities, Samad’s path took him to different countries. Shortly after landing his first job at KPMG in Lebanon, Samad moved to Canada to work at a pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly in 1995 as a financial analyst. Thanks to his sales skills, which complemented his financial expertise, he was at an advantage and was exposed to several work opportunities that led him to managerial roles in different countries such as Indianapolis (USA), China, back to Lebanon and then Canada.

    “You reach a certain point where you know you’re not going to get much more from what you’re doing, whether it’s from the same company or a different one. That’s when you make the decision to choose something different,” said Samad about his move from finance to sales. “You have to be open to new possibilities, where you have to go through a really long different route than what you expected, but you have to adapt to it.”

    Lessons and regrets

    Regardless of how hardworking and skilled a person is, their career path is far from perfect.

    During the Q&A session, one of the attendees in the audience asked the panelists to share their regrets or main takeaways they picked up along the way. Gendron, who was an advocate of forming diversified teams from different countries, culture and gender, believed that this diversity helps the company look at problems and solutions from different perspectives. Yet, she admitted making mistakes when picking team members.

    “Your track record is never perfect. When you know you made a bad decision, you need to change your choices. I had a situation where I called up someone from Singapore to take on a global role. He was great but it didn’t work out. So I said it was my mistake because I pushed him. I put him back to his initial role and he was happy. It’s never too late to make a decision and you shouldn’t be afraid to act. Own it and do something about it.”

    As for Abumeri, he did not regret making the move from engineering to law, but he did regret not taking advantage of networking properly. “If I could go back, I would benefit from all the people I knew 20-25 years ago,” he said.

    Samad regretted doing his MBA too early.

    “MBA helped me in a few ways. The ability to prioritize deliverables and networking was helpful. Meeting people with different experiences – some had no experience and others had 30 years of experience – taught me so much about being involved with different groups. One regret is that I was about 22 years old [when I did my MBA]. I did not have enough experience. My advice is to get a lot of good experience in between. After I got it, everything started to come back and make sense.”

    Another question from the audience was to share tips on how to advance in the corporate world and move from a middle position to a C-level. Samad’s answer was differentiation by having a complementary skill that puts the person at an advantage. Gendron and Abumeri advised the audience to have the courage to take on problems other people are running away from.

    The evening concluded with the LebNet San Diego team giving updates about LebNet’s internship program, which succeeded in filling 4 out of 7 summer internships, and encouraging LebNet members to join San Diego’s WhatsApp group to stay involved and updated. Those interested in joining can send their request to Andrew Tebsherani [andrewtebsherani@outlook.com

  • 06 Mar 2019 4:28 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Beirut - Feb 26, 27, 2019

    What used to be labeled as science-fiction few decades ago may now be a forthcoming reality, except for the whole ‘Terminator’ craze.

    Artificial Intelligence research goes back to the late fifties, where the link between human intelligence and machines was widely observed. Fast forward to today, human intelligence is facing a real threat.

    In fact, machines are getting twice better every 18 months and we’re now increasingly hearing of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), when machines start exhibiting intelligence that exceed human performance in all domains, versus Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI), which is when machines outperform humans in certain domains. We’re currently in the ANI phase.


    Are humans on the verge of becoming the second most intelligent species on earth?

    In order to better understand AGI, how can we prevent it from destroying us and knowing its implications on several fields and economies, The Order of Engineers and Architects (OAE) in Beirut organized a two-day event on February 26 and 27, 2019 called Artificial Intelligence, Digital Revolution & Impact on the Economy.

    The event included several talks and two panels and featured speakers from engineering background, as well as data analysis, AI, IoT, fintech, politics, economy, philosophy and others. We were also excited to have four of our LebNet members giving talks or moderating sessions.

    The content of the sessions was highly rich and informative, backed with statistics, numbers and real examples. Below are some of the insights and observations that experts shared with us during the event. While they are not representative of the event, they do give a general idea of what has been discussed:

    1- If tech progress was not combined with the preservation of good values and acting civilized, we will be facing a social deterioration, with one minority taking over politics and economy and the majority being marginalized. Quoting Einstein: It has become appallingly clear that our tech has exceeded our humanity. Jad Tabet, the President of the OEA.

    2- People are debating as to when we will reach AGI. Some experts say as early as 2029, other say it might take 70 years. When we hit AGI, singularity will happen and humans will no longer be the most intelligent species on this planet. Mazen Skaf, Partner and Managing Director of Strategic Decisions Group.

    3- AI crushed us in 4 competitions: the first one in 1997, when the world’s best chess player, Gary Kasparov, was beaten by a computer; the second in 2011, when IBM’s supercomputer Watson beat Ken Jennings during a TV quiz show; the third in 2016, when Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo algorithm beat the world’s number one Go player and the fourth in 2017, when the best poker players were beaten by a computer. Calum Chase, Author of ‘Surviving AI’ and ‘The Economic Singularity’.

    4- AI is a misunderstood word. Everybody uses and misuses it. Machine learning is reversing the way we write programs and neural networks is inspired by the human brain. It has multiple layers and each layer is creating the features that will be used by machine learning. Bassem Monla, AI Subject Matter Expert at IBM.

    5- Estimates by Mckinsey suggest that by 2030, we will be adding about 13 trillion dollars to the economy, thanks to automation and optimizing productivity. The countries that are most likely to benefit from that are the countries that are already developed. Today US and China have the highest level of AI skills penetration. Nasser Saidi, Economist and Former Minister of Economy in Lebanon.

    LebNet’s member Rania Afiouni Monla moderating a session on the ethics of AI with panelists Calum Chase, Nasser Saidi, Mazen Skaff, and Anthony Bitar. (Images via LebNet)

    6- I advise Lebanon to do a leapfrog. We can skip a generation of technology and get up to speed and become competitive by skipping a lot of technology that has been around for the last 10 to 20 years. Imad ElHajj, Professor at the American University of Beirut.

    7- Computers can learn and understand feelings. We collected 120 pieces of music and published them online and asked people to listen to the music and tell us what emotions the music evoked in them. We collected the feedback and used the data to train our sentiment learner to detect and analyse emotions from the music and compose music on its own. Joe Tekli, Assistant Professor/Interim Assistant Dean/School of Engineering at the Lebanese American University.

    8- In 2019, we have 130 devices being connected to the internet every second. Analysts predictions say we’re getting to 75 billion devices connecting to the internet by 2025. Rabih Nassar, CEO of Scriptr

    9- In China, banks use AI to look at your social media accounts, your web browsing history and chats, then evaluate your credit worthiness. Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) algorithm is very much used today to recognise images and signature fraud used in banks. Next in Natural Language Processing we have chatbots. In wealth management it’s very well done. It prepares the room for analyst to be able to give you a better service. Crédit Mutuel, is using Watson and has improved customer satisfaction by 60% in wealth management. Chatbots, When they understand you it’s perfect, when they don’t it’s a catastrophe. Gerard Rafie, founder of FintekMinds.

    10- The first AGI machines that we create should like us and understand us better than we understand ourselves. In the next couple of decades, people will have to re-skill and retrain themselves to new jobs. If AI takes over our jobs, we could focus on other things: become the best mountaineer or painter. We can have a second renaissance. And if we make the cost of living very cheap with a Universal Basic Income for all and rely on economic abundance, we can achieve that. Callum Chase.

    11- AI might help us save ourselves from the problems we created: climate change, sustainability, mass inequality and cyberattacks. Some companies are using AI to identify cyberattacks from day 0 and intervene within seconds. The future of AI lies on adopting a code of ethics in the industry. Mazen Skaf.

    Taking into account that it’s not easy to host several sessions discussing one major topic without being repetitive, The OEA’s event did a good job providing rich and varied content in every talk. We would like to thank our four LebNet members, Bassem Monla, Rania Afiouni, Gerard Rafie and Mazen Skaff for making the trip from Montreal, Austin and California to join the event.

  • 27 Feb 2019 4:33 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Palo Alto - Feb 24, 2019

    On February 24th, 2019, LebNet hosted Dr. Fadlo Khuri, President of the American University of Beirut (AUB) and Dr. Alan Shihadeh, AUB Dean of the Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture over a dinner event in Palo Alto, California.

    A Trustee since 2014 and AUB former student, Dr. Khuri is AUB’s 16th President. He was a Professor and Chair of the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Emory University where he held the Roberto C. Goizueta Distinguished Chair for Cancer Research. He also served as Deputy Director of the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University and Executive Associate Dean for Research of the Emory University School of Medicine.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​


    Dr. Shihadeh was appointed as AUB Dean of the Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (MSFEA) in September 2017. He earned his doctorate in sciences in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the field of combustion in 1998. He has authored or co-authored more than 100 refereed journal publications, reports, and conference abstracts that are primarily concerned with the chemistry, physics, and exposure science of particle pollutants. He serves as an advisor to the FDA, a scientific expert to the WHO, and a Project Director and Executive Leadership Committee member of the Center for the Study of Tobacco Products at Virginia Commonwealth University.

    After dinner, Abdo George Kadifa, Chairman of LebNet, AUB trustee and Managing Director of Sumeru Equity Partners moderated the fireside chat and asked Dr. Khuri to share AUB’s new vision and strategy with an audience of 30 LebNet members.

    Following that, Dr. Shihadeh shared what his faculty was driving to enhance entrepreneurship in Lebanon as well as develop design process skills and multidisciplinary programs like the Humanitarian Engineering Initiative, which focuses on the design of engineering solutions for health challenges in crises.

    The ensuing Q&A session was very lively and addressed areas where LebNet, as a tech diaspora group, could play its part and extend its members’ collective expertise to help enhance the learning journey of future AUB engineering students.

    Dean Shihadeh promised to list the 5 areas where LebNet members could get involved. Follow-on discussions will help create tangible actions to operationalize the members’ engagement. Several ideas were explored like for example ‘Silicon Channel’ as a vehicle for LebNeters to deliver remote and in-person seminars and talks to AUB students, a quick and low friction way to share experiences.

    You can check the event’s gallery on our Flickr account here

  • 25 Feb 2019 4:37 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Silicon Valley - Feb 13, 2019

    Headquartered in Nashville, Asurion is one of the largest and fastest growing subscriber-based businesses in the world.  In a little over 20 years, Asurion has expanded to provide its award-winning services to over 150 million wireless customers, with over 17 thousand employees in 21 countries around the world.

    Co-founded in 1995 by current Chairman, Kevin Taweel and fellow Stanford GSB alumnus Jim Ellis, Asurion began by selling roadside assistance through wireless carrier channels.  Expanding to offer insurance for mobile phones in 1999, retail service contracts in 2008, and technical support in 2011, Asurion has become the global leader in technology solutions services.  

    On February 13, 2019, LebNet hosted a talk in Silicon Valley, California given by Kevin Taweel and moderated by Abdo George Kadifa, LebNet’s chairman and the managing director of Sumeru Equity Partners. During his talk, Taweel took us through the journey of Asurion, how luck played its part and how tough decisions and competition made his company one of the leading providers of device protection and tech help.

    Asurion cofounder Kevin Taweel discussing his company’s success during a LebNet event.

    When opportunity meets readiness

    Taweel, whose father is Lebanese, credits most of his successful journey to being lucky and ready. In other words, taking advantage of the opportunities that came his way and knowing how to react when bad things happen.

    Asurion’s business model was totally different when it started. Kevin was introduced early on at Stanford to an investment vehicle called a Search Fund that financially supported an entrepreneur’s efforts to locate, acquire, manage, and grow a privately held company.  The goal was then to sell it and repeat the cycle. Taweel and Ellis had purchased a roadside-assistance company in 1999 which proved to be a challenging business to operate.  It did, however, have an important upside: the product was sold through wireless carriers, and exposed the young company to opportunities created by the emerging mobile phone market.  

    In the early days of wireless, “…the phones were so big you could only put them in your car. So wireless carriers sold roadside assistance for $3 per month when you bought your wireless plan,” explained Taweel. The idea to sell mobile phone insurance presented itself when he came across a phone insurance brochure during a client store visit. Much of Asurion’s growth can be traced back to that decision in 1999, to purchase a small cellphone insurance company.  As mobile phones became ubiquitous and increasingly valuable, the business grew from a few million dollars in revenue at the time of acquisition, to the multi-billion-dollar enterprise Asurion operates today.

    It proved to be a very wise decision.  While the original roadside business grew by a factor of 50x, the wireless protection grew by over 1000x.  “Today, approximately one in four people in the US use our services,” said Taweel.

    So how does the product work?

    Customers pay a monthly fee of around $12 to insure their phones and have access to other services helping them fully use the capabilities of the technology they own. If the phone is lost, stolen or broken, Asurion can replace it the next day or often, fix a cracked screen within a few hours. In addition, Asurion support services, via phone, chat, or mobile app, help customers realize the full potential of their phones and other consumer electronics.

    Tough decisions make great companies

    Taweel, who studied engineering at McGill University and business at Stanford, explained that in the beginning, he had to make a lot of tough decisions that helped the company maintain its culture and top clients.

    In the early days, almost half of Taweel’s time was spent on hiring the right people and making sure that his best people were positioned in high leverage roles. Even today, he still spends about 30 percent of his time dedicated to people and talent.   

    “It has been a great learning experience. The time you spend hiring people will take you a long way. The biggest mistake [you make] is when you hire misfits and let them stick around and then they hire others worse than them. [It ruins] the culture, so early on in our growth trajectory people who weren’t very good were exposed immediately.”

    Culture remains a key component in Asurion’s success. It’s the glue that binds all members and Taweel attributed the company’s strong culture to its core values and leadership principles. Both core tenets reflect his beliefs and helps ensure the culture is true and strong by aligning how employees work and lead.

    “It is challenging to institutionalize a culture. Most of our team is new but we’ve created a culture where the team focuses on reaching full potential by putting our customers first, taking ownership, and collaborating across the business,” Taweel stated.  

    IPO and future plans

    During the Q&A session, Taweel was asked why he has not filed an IPO and what will Asurion’s next steps be.

    Without taking the IPO completely off the table, he told the audience that it was very unlikely. “We don’t need the capital and we don’t have liquidity issues. As long as our customers and partners find value in our service and have a great customer experience, that’s what’s most important. Being known for the sake of being known isn’t interesting to us,” he said, adding that making the company public requires a lot of work before and after. Taweel explained that he wants the entire team to stay focused on delivering the best service and experience for partners and customers, not be sidelined by analysts.

    As for Asurion’s plans, the future looks bright. Taweel announced that the company will be offering a new smart home service, to connect, protect and maintain all electronics people use at home so they can enjoy their technology. A new software product will show all the available devices in the house and assess their performance to ensure everything is working at optimal level. “We want to be the trusted partner that actually helps customers keep [their devices] up and running and provide more services on top of that,” he concluded.


LebNet, a non-profit organization, serves as a multi-faceted platform for Lebanese professionals residing in the US and Canada, entrepreneurs, investors, business partners in a broad technology eco-system, and acts as a bridge to their counterparts in Lebanon and the rest of the Middle East

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