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  • 06 Dec 2020 5:23 AM | Anonymous

    When he was barely 30 years old, Sam Samad faced the most challenging role in his career: he became Eli Lilly’s CFO for the Middle East area. At such a young age he found himself in charge of 15 countries and expected to be an expert on local cultures, all while having to navigate the bureaucracy of a large Fortune 500 organization headquartered in the Midwest. He admits that it was “not easy, but a fantastic learning experience nonetheless.” 

    This experience shaped him and throughout his 25-year career, he has never ceased to unlock diversified opportunities. As the current CFO of Illumina, Sam Samad is thrilled to be part of a company pioneering genome sequencing and to be involved in key decision making about investments in Oncology, Genetic Disease, Infectious Disease and Reproductive Health. He also leads Illumina’s sustainable growth efforts by helping to assess the financial potential of genome sequencing in diagnosing and treating key diseases in addition to overseeing the transformation of finance and GIS (Global Information Systems) organizations into more data driven support entities. 

    During a business trip.

    Daring to get out of his comfort zone by working in a highly scientific industry and taking on surprisingly diversified roles were key drivers in Sam’s success and have set him apart. 

    An Unexpected Path 

    Back in 1993, Sam Samad was looking for an opportunity in the world of finance. Shortly after earning his MBA from McMaster University, he joined the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly. This move sparked the young graduate’s passion for drug discovery, patent acquisitions, and medical product investment. 

    In 2003, he took a bold leap of faith and accepted a Sales Manager role at the same company in Toronto. He confesses that, “I never sold anything in my life before. I decided to go back and give it a try, because I knew I had to differentiate myself from other finance people”. The first six months were really tough, he recalls. He had to study medications and their side effects and sell them to doctors and physicians. “I took that risk. I was voted the Central Region Sales Manager of the Year,” Samad remarks. 

    Over the years, he acquired a deeper understanding of how the pharmaceutical industry worked, earning him a multifaceted perspective that helped him make more informed decisions as a Sales Manager, then as an Associate Vice President and later as the CFO of Eli Lilly in Canada. And he enjoyed every challenge and milestone. 

    His talent and potential were obvious throughout his journey with Eli Lilly. He won the District Manager of the Year Award for the Central Region in Canada when he was Eli Lilly’s District Manager in Toronto, highlighting his effectiveness at guiding a team towards great results and achievements. When he was the CFO of the Middle East, he was a finalist for Global Eli Lilly Chairman’s Ovation Award because of his exemplary work on negotiating agreements with a number of pharmaceutical distributors across the region. 

    In 2012 he accepted the position of Senior Vice President and Corporate Treasurer for Cardinal Health, a healthcare services and products company in Columbus, Ohio. He was in a leadership role for Cardinal Health’s China subsidiary, helping to grow the organization and spearheading a number of local acquisitions across China. 

    In 2017, Samad became the CFO of Illumina, a leader in DNA sequencing and microarray products and services in San Diego.

    “When you work in healthcare, it’s difficult to no longer work there. You become spoiled. It’s such a great place to work and wake up knowing that you’re doing something that really matters to many people.”

    Sam Samad with his team at Illumina

    A key secret to success according to Samad is understanding and recognizing what motivates different people when managing and incentivizing employees. “Otherwise you’re using a one size fits all approach which might not fit most.  Recognizing that sales professionals respond differently to challenges and opportunities compared to finance people is a critical ability I developed by working in both functions.” 

    Golden Eras: drug discoveries and precision medicine 

    Samad feels lucky to have worked for a pharmaceutical company during the late 1990s. He describes it as the golden age of the pharmaceutical industry, which saw a spike in the discovery of medications and treatments. 

    In the mid-1990s, drugs that came onto the market generated around $7 billion USD in sales, according to a study published in Forbes. But sales started declining between 2000 and 2009 due to the surging R&D costs and the lower number of new drugs coming to market. Profit margins tightened, so did the incentives for more companies to burn the midnight oil trying to discover new drugs for cancer and other serious diseases.  

    Pharmaceutical companies were revolutionizing how diseases were treated. Today, precision medicine through genome sequencing is making major steps towards that same goal. Samad again, with his move to Illumina, is lucky to be part of this revolution. Precision medicine works by determining and analyzing the DNA sequence of a person’s genome. This empowers scientists and researchers to be able to identify people’s predispositions to diseases and how their immune system would react. So instead of having a cancer patient undertake several therapies (from drugs to chemotherapy and radiation) to identify the most effective one, oncologists will be able to sequence a sample of a tumor to determine which cancer treatment is more likely to work. 

    “Ten years ago, the cost of genome sequencing was in the millions of Dollars. The cost has come down dramatically since then. We (at Illumina) have driven the cost down through our pipeline of innovations and our goal is to bring the cost down to $100 in the foreseeable future. Imagine the potential this has to unlock new scientific discoveries and potentially treat diseases.”

    At the moment, precision medicine applications are more heavily concentrated in research, however, clinical applications are growing rapidly. Oncology, Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing and Genetic Disease are all fast growing areas in clinical. One of the bottlenecks for more accelerated adoption in the clinic is data interpretation and analysis. Physicians and practitioners, according to Samad, are left with huge amounts of data and very little resources to analyze it. Illumina’s partners are now doing a lot of the interpretation work and Samad expects a steady rise in adoption going forward. 

    In the light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Illumina is leveraging its genome sequencing expertise to help Genomics England, which works with the Genetics of Mortality in Critical Care Consortium and the National Health Service in the UK, better understand how people’s bodies react to the virus. Illumina will sequence the genomes of 20,000 patients from across the UK who have severe symptoms and 15,000 patients with mild-to-moderate symptoms. 

    Responsibility that impacts lives

    Every senior position comes with serious responsibilities. And Samad shoulders a big burden as he must prioritize Illumina’s research efforts in areas with a bigger impact on patients’ lives. 

    “What excites me yet keeps me up at night is that it’s a vast ocean of opportunity. [We have to make sure] we prioritize our resources in the key areas that move the needle for the markets and patients we serve. It’s not easy. You feel like you have an obligation to tackle everything from Oncology to Infectious Disease. There’s so much out there,” discloses Samad. Despite all the challenges and pressure, what keeps him going is his unwavering belief that he is part of a bigger cause. 

    “Illumina today is on the verge of changing the way care is delivered and treated and [how we] manage diseases. Sequencing is a revolution in how you treat people and to work in a company that’s driving that is a huge privilege. That’s incredibly motivating.”

    During a family trip.

    What’s also motivating for him is the support he gets from his family and mentors. 

    At Eli Lilly, his boss’s manager was his mentor. “We would meet regularly. He sent me to the US and was part of the decision to send me to the Middle East. I touched base with him always and he believed in me and in my work so I didn’t want to disappoint him,” Samad reminisces. Outside of work, his wife always stood by his side, moving with him from one country to another. He sought advice from his brother-in-law who was working in the same field in the UAE. And turned to his mother who was a very strong person and a role model. 

    Sam Samad’s journey is far from over. This Lebanese business veteran still has a lot of things he wants to achieve as a CFO at Illumina. He aspires to transition into a CEO role if the opportunity arises, but until then, he is happy where he is. 

  • 04 Dec 2020 5:28 AM | Anonymous

    Featured in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 and being the cofounder and Chief of Product at Scopio, a tech-focused photo marketplace, Nour Chamoun keeps adding more bullets to her resume.

    After graduating from the Lebanese American University with a BS in Graphic Design, Chamoun did her Masters in Design and Technology at Parsons School of Design in New York, where she met Christina Hawatmeh, the initial founder of Scopio.

    “Christina had the idea of connecting citizen journalists to media outlets. She reached out to the Parsons program where I was doing my Masters at the time for design and development help. I loved the idea so, together and with some help, we built an AI-driven search engine that would allow media outlets to search for breaking news photos and videos on social media and license them,” explained Chamoun. 


    “When we first started building our search engine, we realized how much of a challenge it was to not only create a Google search equivalent for social media platforms that uses machine learning to find relevant content, but also how much of a complex system it was for customers to grasp, let alone to use as a service. So we eventually pivoted to a marketplace of over 200,000 photos submitted by photo creators from around the world on news and other topics that we sell to businesses.”

    Today, Scopio’s mission is to make stock photography more diverse, authentic, and affordable. The platform identifies rising photo creators from over 150 countries, titles and tags their photos, then licenses them so they become easy to use anywhere. Today, Scopio has about 7,000 subscribers who use photos and around 13,000 artists who contribute to its library. It’s made up of a small dedicated team of 8 full-time engineers, designers, and editors and a part-time marketing team.

    At Scopio, Chamoun leads the engineering and design teams. She has previously worked in design firms in New York and Beirut on a range of products including websites, web and mobile app design and development.

    This young cofounder and LebNet member was recently featured in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list and praised for her hard innovative work. She hopes this recognition will open doors for the cofounders in their future fundraising plans to scale the company. 

    Looking back at her short yet fruitful career, Chamoun believes that to sell an idea successfully one must perfect their narrative. Founders tend to overlook the importance of storytelling when they are trying to get people’s support, she said, but “when you’re an early-stage startup with little traction in the beginning, I would say that the most essential parts of your business are the founders and the story. With the scarcity of data, you need to sell the idea and its potential,” she concluded. 

  • 03 Dec 2020 5:32 AM | Anonymous

    Bossa Nova is set to revolutionize the way retailers track their inventories and people shop for every product. 

    The company was launched by LebNet member Sarjoun Skaff, who was listed among the 10 people transforming the retail industry by Business Insider. 

    Bossa Nova develops robots that navigate stores and provide real-time on-shelf product data for the retailer. It is currently deployed in 50 stores across the United States. 

    Founder Skaff chatted with LebNet about his business, overcoming near-death experiences, future plans and more. 

    Image via LinkedIn

    You graduated and started Bossa Nova without any previous work experience. What factors helped you kick off the business? How did luck play a role? 

    Luck played a huge role but sometimes in its absence! The founding team’s lack of industry knowledge led us to develop the wrong product. Luckily, we received industry feedback early enough that we quickly scrapped the initial plan, retooled, and replaced the initial product with two that succeeded in the market. More than anything, I credit our resilience for allowing us to overcome near-death experiences and live to fight another battle.  

    Today Bossa Nova’s robots offer services different from what they offered  before. Why did you decide to pivot your model?  

    We started building and commercializing robot toys. They were powered by the robotic technology developed at Carnegie Mellon University, were interactive and even connected to the cloud back in 2011! They were a remarkable technical success but in some ways were ahead of their time. Many products succeeded in the market but some didn’t, and those can be costly. In 2012, after a good run of five years and selling more than half a million robots, we decided to turn our attention to a business to business (B2B) model. This model has drastically less market risk and played well to our strengths in robotics and AI. 

    You received a lot of media attention recently after being named one of the top 10 people transforming the retail industry. Can you tell how exactly is Bossa Nova disrupting the industry? 

    Retailers around the world suffer from a lack of visibility into their store operations which translate into inventory distortion. Is this product on the shelf? Is it in the right location? Is the price correct? We solve this problem by automating the capturing and processing of on-shelf inventory data. Our fully autonomous robots roam the grocery aisles, take high-resolution pictures of every product on every shelf, and use AI in the cloud to extract inventory information and direct store associates to quickly correct the problems. 

    We’re seeing Bossa Nova’s technology being adopted as a productivity tool. For example, when a shift starts, store associates already know what to restock and fix on the floor. Team members can spend more time addressing issues and serving the customer. Shoppers are also able to find the products they need when they need them.

     Introducing a new product in the market poses its own challenges, especially if the product is a robot roaming the stores and interacting with human beings. Can you describe some of the challenges you faced at the beginning and how did you deal with them? 

    The biggest challenge we face and to some extent still do is that the retail robot market does not exist. We pretty much created it. Since 2013, we had to convince retailers that robots are the right means of data capture in stores, that they were safe and friendly to everyone, and to investors that brick and mortar stores were here to stay despite the rise of Amazon and e-commerce. It faced a desert crossing and here again, resilience was key to pulling through.

    Amongst the big names you’re working with, you partnered this year with Walmart to operate your robots at their stores. How did that partnership take place? 

    We exhibited a rudimentary version of the current solution at the National Retail Federation trade show in New York and caught the eye of virtually all retailers. Walmart approached us and has since proved to be an incredible partner. Through trial and error, we invented a new solution for retailers everywhere that we’re so incredibly proud of. 

    Manufacturing is a tough industry and many entrepreneurs often complain about the difficulty of finding the right manufacturing partner. Was it the same for you? 

    It was hard because robot manufacturers did not exist in the US when we started. We had to build a lot of the manufacturing engineering in-house and pass on the knowledge to manufacturers who were willing to take on such a complex system.

    Last but not least, what are your future plans?

    Our mission is to map the retail world so we’re just getting started. We are working hard to perfect our technology, scale the AI, expand coverage within a store, and develop solutions for different store formats. We have many more years of core innovation ahead of us to help the industry serve the shopper of tomorrow, and we’re excited.

  • 02 Dec 2020 5:56 AM | Anonymous

    The brain is the most complex organ in the human body. It produces emotions, thoughts, memories and reactions, weighs around 1.4 kilograms and contains around 100 billion neurons or nerve cells.

    The complexity of these cells is staggering. Each neuron makes contact with tens of thousands of other cells and our brains can form a million new connections each second.

    With a PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Southern California (USC), LebNet member Walid Soussou works on Brain-Computer-Interfaces to develop new wearable sensor technologies for commercial applications.

    During an event in Beirut, we met with Soussou and talked about his company Wearable Sensing – which uses non-invasive techniques to monitor brain activities – the complexities of developing such wearable technologies and the most popular applications. We also had the chance to test their virtual reality headset, which monitors brain activity while screening 3D visuals for patients to enjoy. Read our interview with him below:

    How do you describe Wearable Sensing?

    Wearable Sensing is a company that develops, manufactures, markets and sells wearable sensors for research and professional applications.

    We are currently focusing on wearable brain monitoring, as we have developed a revolutionary technology that allows us to record high-quality signals from the brain in a practical and non-invasive fashion, which allows brain monitoring outside of the confines of laboratories or specialized medical centers. The brain signals we record are called Electroencephalograms (EEG), and they represent the electrical activity of neurons as measured from the scalp (the surface of the head).

    Walid Soussou (Image via LinkedIn)

    Conventional EEG requires skin abrasion (a painful process of rubbing the dead cell layers, much like an old-style Hammam scrubbing!) and the application of gooey gels and a painstaking process of attaching electrodes to the head and plugging them into large equipment. What is revolutionary about our technology is that we use dry electrodes that do not require skin abrasion or gels and that are built into easy-to-use, comfortable and wireless headsets. This makes the entire process of setting up and collecting brain data achievable with minimal training. Of course, we take great pride that this simplification of use does not compromise the signal quality, making our devices still very useful for delivering high-quality brain signals in real-world settings. We have 6 principal products on the market and their peripherals, which we distribute through a global distribution network spanning 37 countries.

    The products sound revolutionary and provides much better alternatives. What type of audience would benefit from them?

    We currently sell our products to researchers in diverse fields ranging from neuroscience and psychology to marketing, education, and computer game development. The brain provides a rich set of data from which these researchers extract insight into our cognitive states (such as attention, memory, effort), brain health (such as depression, ADHD, autism), emotions (desires, fears, enjoyment, arousal) and which they use to understand the brain or to develop useful applications.

    We also sell our products to a subset of medical professionals who use it to conduct neurofeedback training, which is a type of non-pharmacological brain therapy that can be used for rehabilitation (after stroke, depression, ADHD, concussion) or for peak-performance augmentation (such as enhancing memory, focus, acuity).

    Furthermore, we collaborate and partner with businesses and companies to develop custom hardware for their specific applications, such as sleep enhancement, stroke rehabilitation, neuromarketing, gaming in virtual reality and more.

    The areas you’re tapping into directly impact people’s lives. Can you give us more specific examples on products helping people live better?

    There is a wide range of neuro-applications that could be useful and desirable to society, that is currently not possible due to a gap in brain monitoring technology. Current mainstream brain monitoring is either very expensive, difficult, tedious, and invasive, or produces low-quality brain signals that are not really usable for most applications. Our technology fills this gap by providing easy-to-use yet high-quality brain monitoring that can be done in real-world settings.

    We are already working on the following applications with some of our partners: using brain signals to control computers, prosthetic limbs or robots; using brain signals tocontrol computer games; using brain signals recorded while shoppers walk in a supermarket to determine which products appeal to which consumers; using brain signals to enhance learning outcomes; using brain signals to improve brain function, to improve airport security, to improve artificial intelligence, to teach meditation, to screen for autism, etc. All of these and more are applications we are working to bring out with our partners.

    Reine Farhat, LebNet’s Communications Specialist, testing Wearable Sensing’s headset after her interview with Walid Soussou at ArabNet Beirut event.

    Why did you pick this area of work?

    As an undergraduate student, I transitioned from a French educational system to an English system and found myself reading frustratingly slowly! I wished I could download books into my brain directly. I later heard of researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) working on brain Implants. This was in 1994, way before the current brain implant frenzy. So I applied to USC for graduate school and joined that lab, only to realize that this was a long-term mission and that I would be working on dissected brains and cell cultures for many years before there would be any human trials and books to download. After my post-doctoral fellowship, I decided to venture out of academic research into applied science that could directly benefit humans. I knew nothing about starting a company, had no funds, or business plan, I just reached out to a company that had just developed the right kind of non-invasive sensor that my project would have needed. They offered me a job, lab and office space, and access to the team and technology. So on my first day as an entrepreneur, I sold out and took the job! And I am very glad I did as I have learned so much about how to develop products from concepts, how to fund and manage research towards commercialization, how to keep a sustainable company alive, how to start a new one, and how to evaluate business opportunities. And in the process, I have been very fortunate to be developing applications for brain monitoring that are finally reaching market readiness, which was my ultimate goal.

    You operate in a capital-intensive industry. How are you sustaining your business financially?

    We have two companies that work together in synergy:

    1-QUASAR is an R&D company that is funded by research grants from the US government to develop new technologies. This non-dilutive funding allows us to keep innovating and developing cutting edge technology. We have raised over $28M over the past 20 years to develop our technology to where it is today. QUASAR licenses its technology to other companies to commercialize.
    2-Wearable Sensing is a company that has an exclusive license on QUASAR’s EEG sensor technology and manufactures and sells these products globally. It is funded solely through its sales. We are now raising VC funding to accelerate our growth and bring out some of our next-generation products faster to the market.
    QUASAR and Wearable Sensing share a team of 20 people, who are a mix of scientists, engineers, technicians and administrative personnel.

    Your technology is very complex. Can you walk us through the manufacturing process?

    Our products have both high-end electronic components and complex mechanical structures, which mandates tedious management of suppliers and inventory, careful assembly and extensive testing during manufacturing. Our team has developed procedures to manufacture these products at the small scales that our current market requires. As part of our growth, we plan to re-engineer our products to allow us to scale up manufacturing.

    How important it is to be passionate about the field you’re involved in?
    You have to face so many challenges every day of running a business, in everything from operations, to competition, to customers, to regulatory, to team members, etc., that the only way not to give up, is to be passionate about what you do. So that whenever you stop and ask yourself: “why am I doing this?” you can safely answer with this question: ” well, what would I rather be doing?”.

    The more positive view is that work is most rewarding when it is in a field one is excited about and doing well at. Passion leads to a perseverant effort which hopefully yields excellence and success, which ultimately produces satisfaction and bolsters passion… For now, I’m still at the perseverant effort stage and hoping the rest will indeed follow. I’ll let you know how it goes!

  • 02 Dec 2020 5:45 AM | Anonymous

    Rola Dagher describes herself as a proud Lebanese and grateful Canadian.

    Dagher, who recently joined LebNet’s Senior Advisory board, began her career in technology 30 years ago and her focus on customers, people and leadership continues to define the leader she is today – a servant leader.

    She was the Director of telecommunications company Bell Canada for 15 years before leading the enterprise solutions area for Dell in Canada.

    In 2017, she became the president of Cisco Systems Canada. Dagher oversees all facets of Cisco Canada’s business, including sales operations, engineering, services, finance, and marketing, backed with over 25 years of experience driving growth, establishing impactful partnerships, and achieving aggressive targets.

    At Cisco Canada, Dagher aims to create the best place to work for employees. She truly believes that in the digital age an empowered, inspired, inclusive, diverse and adaptable workforce is fundamental to any company’s success.

    If you had a rewind button, what would you change about your journey?

    Taking care of my health and making sure to put myself first. Your mental wellbeing is your superpower – don’t discard it. I use the analogy of putting your oxygen mask on first. When you are on a plane – the first thing they tell you is in case of an emergency, put your oxygen mask on first before helping others… that stands true for life. If you are not investing and nurturing yourself, you won’t be able to grow.

    What are your 3 biggest accomplishments?

    My Children. They make me want to be a better mother everyday.

    Transforming Cisco Canada’s culture because culture is the backbone of success. It is the ultimate enabler and when I came in to Cisco Canada it was my number one priority. Because of that, we were the fastest growing country for Cisco in 2018. Today, Cisco Canada has been named the Best Place to work in Canada from an inclusion perspective, a young perspective and from a giving back perspective.

    I am one of six girls and back in my village they would question my father’s decision to leave Lebanon and take six girls to Canada. We all proved everyone wrong and today I am proud of the daughter I am to the father who had six girls.

    What’s the best lesson you learned?

    You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Even if you make a mistake, get back up and use the opportunity to learn. If you have a victim’s mentality you will never go forward – you need to have a winner’s mentality.

    Who is your role model?

    My father for his strength leaving Lebanon with nothing to provide a better life for his children. His vision, his sacrifice and his attitude has been my inspiration.

    How did surrounding yourself with a good support system help you advance in your career?

    Family played a huge role – mother and father were instrumental in helping me with my children that allowed me to grow. My mentors/sponsors were my accelerators. They saw something in me that I didn’t even see and pushed me to be a better leader and to do things I would never think possible.

    What is one habit you worked hard on breaking to improve your life or career?

    Learning never stops and there are always habits you need to unlearn. One of the main habits is listening to listen and not to react.

    What characteristics do you look for in people you choose to work with?

    Hungry to learn: If you are not willing to learn no one can help you, but if you are hungry to learn no one can stop you. Humble to work with: I don’t care how smart you are, if you aren’t humble there is no place for you. Emotional Intelligence: Hire for EQ and train for IQ… that is the future in the Era of digital transformation.

    What skills did you work so hard on acquiring?

    Being able to translate technology into business impact. Listen to listen not listen to speak.

    What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

    Life owes you nothing. Life is a chance to make something of it. Be more confident and don’t focus on the negatives.

    What excites you and what worries you about the impact of technology on the future?

    Technology is intrinsically neutral. It’s how you use technology that defines its position as good or evil. I’ll give you an example of mental health – through tech we are working with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) to transform mental health services. On the other hand, social media has become a tool for bullies. We need the right people driving the progression of technology.

  • 01 Dec 2020 6:09 AM | Anonymous

    Dislaimer: The author of this post is Reine Farhat, LebNet’s Communications Specialist. She has tested both Instabeat products and this is her review]

    As someone who personally tested both the old and the new product of Instabeat, I can appreciate the time it took to launch the new version.

    Instabeat is a swimming device that gets attached to swim goggles to monitor swimmers’ heart rate in real-time and display the results through color coding on the corner of their goggles. Each of the three colors (green, blue and red) signal a different heart rate range and pushes swimmers to go faster or maintain their pace.

    After the swimming session is over, the 27 gram-device takes about 30 seconds to sync with the smartphone application before displaying information about the distance, workouts, the average pace, lap time, peak performance among other data.

    The new version of the product was officially launched on July 18, 2019 and can now be ordered from the website.

    The reason why founder Hind Hobeika, a competitive swimmer and engineer, wanted to create Instabeat is because when she used to train, she often had to stop her workout for a minute to measure her heart rate – which she calls the most important indicator for enhancing performance. She did not want to use devices like the watch, the belt or the finger clip because they added too much drag to her movement.

    I pre-ordered the first version of the product back in 2013 from the crowdfunding platform IndieGoGo and tested it months later. It didn’t fit most of the swim goggles I brought and I honestly wasn’t impressed with the performance: the light wasn’t always working, water was leaking inside my goggles and I had synching problems. I wasn’t the only person facing such issues.

    “When we launched the first product, we started too big. We had a crowdfunding campaign, we started shipping and started having many functional and manufacturing problems until it didn’t make sense to keep manufacturing anymore. We decided to stop and start again from scratch,” said Hobeika in an interview with LebNet.

    Another mistake Hobeika admitted making was testing the product with Lebanese swimmers only. “Most of the head shapes and swimming styles [in Lebanon] are fairly similar and when we shipped to different countries we understood the complexity of other faces. One of the advantages of being in the US is that it’s so multicultural. In our second testing, we made sure to bring people from different [ethnicities].”

    Olympic swimmer Sabine Hazboun using Instabeat.

    In 2016, while in London, Hobeika met Jawbone co-founder Alexander Asseily, who worked closely with her on redesigning the product, picking key contractors, building a new team and avoiding previous manufacturing mistakes.

    Hobeika and her team approached around 50 manufacturers in the US but none of them had the right machinery, expertise nor were they willing to take a chance on her. She teamed up with a big manufacturer in China but shortly after, the company changed its project manager and its priorities and sadly Instabeat was no longer part of them.

    “That’s the problem with working with big partners. You don’t know when their teams and priorities change and when you’re a super small company, you don’t move the needle when it comes to money. When that happened we started looking for smaller manufacturers.”

    That’s when Hobeika moved to China to monitor manufacturing closely and get the ball rolling.

    “It was hard to look at photos [from the US] and trying to understand what the problem is without testing the product. So I went to China to stay for a week or two, but I saw that everything moves so quickly there.” She would brainstorm the problem with the manufacturing team, go to the pool and test and the next morning try to implement a new solution.

    She ended up staying in China for 9 months before the new product was ready to hit the US market again. According to Instabeat’s press release, the development of the product included over 250 swimmers and triathletes including Olympic swimmer Sabine Hazboun and Ironman World Champion Leanda Cave. Testers swam with 11 different swim goggles each – pushing, flipping and turning – confirming the device’s ultra low-weight and low-profile design make it feel nonexistent without sacrificing accuracy. The company has raised a total of $6M in funding to date from Berytech Fund, Wamda Capital, Jabbar Capital, and angel investors. It has spent a total of 8 years on R&D between Lebanon, China and the US.

    The product can now be ordered from the website for $249 and shipped within the US in less than 10 days.

    From someone who has been familiar with some of the technical issues found in the first version of Instabeat, and who has tested the second one, I am happy to see how Hobeika has come a long way to improve swimmers’ experience and introduce a seamless product that will help them every stroke of the way.

  • 30 Nov 2020 8:23 AM | Anonymous

    Dr. Magid Abraham is the CEO and co-founder of NeuraWell, a mental health therapeutics company. He also co-founded ‘ComScore’, where he focused on innovation and industry leadership, and was CEO of ComScore for 14 years and took it public in 2007. He was the founder and CEO of Paragren Technologies, producing CRM systems and president of IRI, a major international research company, which he led through sustained growth and innovation.

    Dr. Abraham received a Ph.D. and an M.B.A. from MIT, and is an Engineer of the École Polytechnique, France. He became a Visiting Scholar at Stanford in 2015, where he taught at the Graduate School of Business for three years. He serves on a number of commercial and institutional boards. Abraham is a world expert on consumer and market measurement and analytics and has authored seminal award-winning articles. He received some of the most prestigious awards in the field, was https://www.comscore.com/Insights/Press-Releases/2008/05/Abraham-and-Fulgoni-Ernst-and-Young-Entrepreneur-Of-The-Year-Award-Finalists named Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year and inducted in the Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame and designated “Technology Pioneer” by the World Economic Forum.

    What’s the best lesson you learned?

    The most important lesson for me is to believe in yourself. People rarely believe in someone who does not believe in himself. We are sometimes lucky, and we have people who encourage us along the way, but there are also plenty of people who doubt us, expect us to fail, and feel their dismissive opinion validated when we do. Since failure is unavoidable in life, self-confidence is what makes us stand up and fight another fight.

    If you can describe your journey in one sentence, what would it be?
    I liked what I was doing and learned a lot along the way.

    If you were to prioritize one aspect when hiring, which one would you pick: culture or skills?
    I would never hire someone whose values run AGAINST the culture, but I would prioritize high skills when I think the person can adapt and learn the culture, over a perfect culture match in an average candidate.

    Magid Abraham

    What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

    I like hiking, boating and Golf, but I am always in learning mode even in my free time.

    What excites you about the future?

    Exponential progress is happening on most fronts. I wish I could be a student again.

    If you had a rewind button, name one thing you would change in your journey?

    I would have worked harder on upgrading my management team.

    What or who is your biggest support?

    I am blessed with a great family, and a wife who is really my best friend, always supportive but also honest with feedback.

    What are your three biggest accomplishments?

    My family, my career, and what I am now working on.

    Who is your role model?

    Abraham Lincoln, the ultimate self-made man who led by principle and example.

    What advice would you give to someone starting their professional journey?

    Make the most of the opportunity you now got, and, if you do your best, bigger and better opportunities will present themselves along the way.

  • 29 Nov 2020 8:31 AM | Anonymous

    Nora Denzel is a Silicon Valley software industry veteran with over 30 years experience in technology. She currently serves on the board of directors of AMD, Ericsson and Talend software.

    She retired from Intuit in 2012 as the SVP of Big Data and started her career in 1984 as a software engineer for IBM.

    She is also a trustee at AnitaB.org, a non-profit dedicated to getting more women in computing.


    What’s the best lesson you learned?

    Failure isn’t the opposite of success, it’s part of it.

    If you can describe your journey in one sentence, what would it be?

    Anything is possible if you work hard enough.

    If you were to prioritize one aspect when hiring, which one would you pick: culture or skills?
    Culture because skills can be taught.

    What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

    I like to read and take classes.

    What are your three biggest accomplishments?

    I’ve worked for over 10 years with a non-profit to get more women into computing. I raised thousands of dollars to combat domestic violence in Northern California. I graced the cover of Computer Storage Magazine in the 90s.

    What excites you about the future?

    The changes technology will have on how we live and work.

    If you had a rewind button, name one thing you would change in your journey?

    I would have worried a lot less. It all works out.

    What or who is your biggest support?

    My husband supports me unconditionally.

    Who is your role model?

    Ada Lovelace. After reading about her, I decided to become a software engineer.

    What advice would you give to someone starting their professional journey?

    Make sure you’re enjoying yourself because time goes by so quickly!

  • 09 Oct 2020 7:02 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

    The learning curve has a beginning but not an end. Investing in young talent has a great impact on a nation because the future depends on the youth, especially in a country like Lebanon. To help Lebanese students gain global knowledge and prepare them for the labor market, Maroun Semaan’s Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (MSFEA) at The American University of Beirut (AUB) partnered with LebNet to give engineering graduates the rare opportunity to work with US-based companies for their final year projects (FYPs) and course projects. 

    Four teams from AUB worked with two companies in the US: Asurion (a device insurance, warranty, and support services provider for cell phones, consumer electronics, and home appliances) and FADEL (the creator of rights and royalty management software). 

    In 2019 and 2020, each of the four teams either worked on an FYP or a course project, closely collaborating with mentors from FADEL and Asurion.

    (In collaboration with LebNet, four teams from Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture at AUB worked on course and final year projects with US-based companies Asurion and Fadel.)

    Projects at a Glance 

    Expert Helper (FYP)

    Students: Sara Hammoud, Aya Eido, and Dana Daoud
    Company: Asurion
    Mentors: Peng Xie and Sundar Kuppuswamy

    The Work:

    The AUB team prepared and curated a data set of tech support sessions from Asurion into a category of replies. They then selected categories of these sets and automated initial replies to them using natural language processing techniques mixed with expert knowledge. 

    (Aya Eido, Sara Hammoud, and Dana Daoud)

    The Experience:

    “The collaboration went very well. Our goal was to make sure that students worked on a problem that interests them and has a potential value for Asurion and to ensure the team learned from a tech standpoint how to implement new algorithms and solve problems at hand while getting a sense of data in the real world,” said Sundar Kuppuswamy. “My experience with the students was good. The students were very curious and motivated, did a great job exploring the original data set, and came up with multiple ideas. I would be happy to repeat the exercise next year between AUB and the team at Asurion,” added Peng Xie. 

    “The last academic year was definitely not easy. Our team had to adapt to many challenges and work hard to be able to deliver what we promised, all while taking care of our well-being and mental health. If it weren’t for my teammates and the culture we established that is based on openness, optimism, and trust, we would not have been able to submit the requirements, let alone be nominated for the Murex Best Innovative Software Development Award and present our work to Asurion’s Chief Analytics Officer, Faker Zouaoui,” revealed Sara Hammoud. 

    Emerging Problems (Natural Language Processing NLP Course Project)

     Students: Julia Zini and Issa Issa
    Company: Asurion
    Mentor: Peng Xie and Sundar Kuppuswamy

    The Work:

    The AUB team helped Asurion’s tech support team figure out whether a novel tech problem is emerging on social media (Twitter). And for novel emerging problems, it also helps determine if the problem is related to tech support or generic news events.

    (Julia Zini and Issa Issa)

    The Experience:

    “Working with industries on a course project gives you a different perspective, because usually most of the university projects are research-oriented and not backed by delivery. It was especially interesting for me and Julia because we had to deliver a well-packaged product and the insights from Asurion and feedback were rewarding,” commented Issa Issa. 

    Extracting Insights (NLP course project)

    Students: Mohamad Mansour, Fouad Khnaiser and Bassel Musharrafieh
    Company: Asurion
    Mentor: Harsh Tomar and Sundar Kuppuswamy

    The Work:

    The AUB team focused on extracting phrases of trends from collection of text data (emails) allowing the Customer Experience team to quickly identify and mitigate issues. The project was hosted by a startup incubated by Asurion, which had different IP regulations. This prohibited Asurion from sharing the data as they discovered they required different NDAs. Despite this, the team worked on a methodology to extract information from public data similar to what Asurion might have. The results were impressive enough to be accepted as a possible solution. It was a learning curve for the team because they had to apply NLP techniques to an industry-level problem and deal with real-data. 

    The Experience: 

    “The industry project provided a great opportunity for the students to experiment with real business problems. Where in an academic problem, students try to solve problems to get to the right answer via the right methods, in business problems, there sometimes isn’t a right answer, and oftentimes no “right method”.
    The students broke the problem down into smaller pieces and attacked each piece sequentially with the easiest methods to get the outcomes. At each step, new problems emerged and so did several different ideas to solve them. Key steps from the students’ implementation of phrase extraction ended up being utilized in the working of the ‘Extract Insights’ project.” – said Harsh Tomar.

    Image Match (FYP)

    Students: Hadi Ahmad, Hafez Jawhary, and Samir Saidi
    Company: FADEL
    Mentors: Rony Eid and Ziad Bassil

    The Work:

    Specialized in copyright and digital rights management, FADEL’s goal is to ensure that the digital content its clients use does not violate any copyright laws. Hence, the AUB team was tasked with improving matching performance. Walid Daccache, FADEL’s CTO, explained that with the help of FADEL mentors, who met with students on a weekly basis, the team implemented a different algorithm that outperforms FADEL’s algorithm while being compatible with the rest of their system. 

    (Hadi Ahmad, Hafez Jawhary, and Samir Saidi)

    The Experience: 

    “My colleagues and I agreed with FADEL to extend this project beyond the course’s frame. The complexity and time requirements of our assignment ensued this mutual understanding over the project’s time management. The new image detection model is substantially accurate for large datasets, while still maintaining adequate performance,” shared Samir Saidi. 

    “We were glad to work with the AUB faculty members and their bright students on finding solutions to challenging problems in image processing. We feel that the collaboration and knowledge exchange between FADEL engineers and the AUB FYP team added value to all parties who participated in the project,” said Daccache. 

    “Though the final solution required some refinement in terms of accuracy and performance but still Samir Saidi, one member of the team, continued to work on it within his internship with the company and that added additional plus points to the solution towards its feasibility to be integrated within our product. Eventually the collaboration yielded good results on which we can build further to reach more successes,” said Rony Eid. 

    For the Future

    Lebanon is suffering from many crises and significant challenges are facing the education sector and students. But such collaborations bring hope for a better generation and future. 

  • 10 Sep 2020 10:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Marianne Zakhour did not grow up in Lebanon, but she always dreamed of living there one day. She got accepted in Civil Engineering at the American University of Beirut and was getting ready to move in with her uncle and his family in Beirut before he passed away that summer. 

    “That was a pivotal moment in my life. I couldn’t go anymore. I was too close to him,” she said. Instead, she went to McGill University in Montreal to study commerce. The dream of coming back home was shattered but her efforts to help Lebanese carried on.  

    A decade later, Zakhour co-founded Orderbot, an e-commerce, order management and back office platform for modern e-commerce, which was recently acquired by a US firm. “I focused on tech because it is very solution driven. After finishing my studies, I learned everything I needed to learn to start my own business.”

    Today, aside from running her business, Zakhour is also outsourcing tech work to Lebanese in their home country through LebNet, as a way of giving back. Her company hired a senior developer knowledgeable in ASP.Net coding, who is working remotely with Orderbot for two months now, after being referred to by LebNet board member Jeanine Akiki. Those interested in outsourcing work to Lebanon can send an email to call-to-action@lebnet.us 

    In the first part of a LebNet video series on Women in Tech, Zeina Saad, Senior Consultant at Exponent Partners interviewed Marianne Zakhour, who talked about women in leadership, future trends in e-commerce, career takeaways and advice for younger women.

    Watch the full interview sponsored by Joun Technologies here

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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