BEIRUT: Lebanese startup companies have benefited in recent years from an increasingly supportive ecosystem driven mainly by the Central Bank’s determination to foster a knowledge-based economy.

Thanks to Central Bank Circular 331 as much as $400 million of equity investments are up for grabs today. However, not all startups are finding it easy to secure funding. The majority of venture capital funds that have recently set up shop in Lebanon are focused on later-stage financing, leaving early stage startups struggling to secure equity investments.

Endeavor Lebanon, a nonprofit organization that is part of a global network of business leaders and mentor entrepreneurs, is trying to bridge that gap, its Managing Director Tarek Sadi told The Daily Star.

To achieve this goal, Endeavor Lebanon organized last December the Global Lebanese Entrepreneurs and Investors Summit, a forum that brought together local entrepreneurs and over 300 expatriate Lebanese investors and business executives. The forum, held in partnership with the Lebanese International Finance Executives, provided a platform for dialogue between local entrepreneurs and the Lebanese diaspora.

By connecting local entrepreneurs with leading Lebanese investors abroad, Endeavor hopes to help early-stage companies in Lebanon secure funding, Sadi said.

The Global Lebanese Entrepreneurs and Investors Summit attracted equity investors from the world’s major financial centers including New York, London, Paris, Geneva, Singapore and Dubai.

Sadi said the event generated positive feedback from participants, underscoring that many have expressed interest in investing in Lebanese startup companies.

“Very interesting high-growth businesses in Lebanon, we would be willing to invest in these companies and help them grow,” read one of the anonymous feedback cards collected following the event.

Another feedback card said the forum provided a “great opportunity to meet other expats and potential to co-invest in Lebanese high-impact entrepreneurs to support growth.”

Local entrepreneurs, on the other hand, were also excited about the prospects of securing funding.

One of the participants described the event as an “exciting first step of a long-term initiative aimed at attracting expat investment into Lebanese high-growth companies.”

Sadi said the summit has given birth to an investor network that creates the missing connections and bridges the gap between local talent and expatriate investors who care about reviving the country’s economy and help it grow.

“We wanted to capitalize on their keen interest, capabilities and international experience to transform the entrepreneurial sector in Lebanon,” he said.

The summit was not Endeavor’s sole initiative to support entrepreneurs last year. Endeavor organized in November “Ignite,” an event aimed at connecting startup owners with potential clients.

The first-of-its-kind event held in Beirut allowed entrepreneurs to directly pitch their products to 10 local banks and an equal number of real estate developers.

Sadi said the event was aimed at providing local entrepreneurs with the opportunity to build a successful local portfolio. Without one, it would be difficult for Lebanese entrepreneurs to access foreign markets.

Energy24, a company which developed a new energy technology allowing the storage of large amounts of electric energy into a new type of battery to power residential, commercial or industrial buildings during long power outages, was one of the participants at the Ignite event.

Endeavor followed up a few months later on the progress made by participants in their bid to secure contracts with real estate developers and leading banks.

E24, for instance, was “already discussing with some of them [real estate developers] the possibility to install the first ‘energy to the building unit,’” the company said in feedback recently collected by Endeavor.

“Ignite helped us start a conversation with real estate developer companies, which we wanted to approach to introduce E24 to assess their interest and to secure our first installation,” the company added.

While it is important that some of the entrepreneurs manage to sell their products, the feedback that Endeavor collected from industry leaders was equally important, Sadi said.

“It helps us understand why some entrepreneurs failed to win contracts and how they should improve their offerings to meet the needs of large Lebanese corporations and consequently secure contracts,” he said.

Endeavor will be organizing in December another investor summit to further expand the Lebanese investors’ network and attract additional funding to Lebanon, Sadi said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 30, 2015, on page 15.