By Maya Sioufi
Lebanese with entrepreneurial spirit and a business idea are no longer left to their own devices. Locally, they can find an incubator willing to provide a place to work from and assist them through mentorship and support. Alternatively, they might choose an accelerator eager to speed up their idea is solid enough, entrepreneurs might even win a prize or two from one of the various entrepreneurial awards being offered in Lebanon. And for financing, the main option a few years ago was to beg for dough from family and friends, whereas now entrepreneurs are increasingly likely to be granted a loan, or even equity from a number of venture capitalists that have set up shop in Lebanon.
Granted, the obstacles to reaching success are numerous – from the lack of a solid information technology infrastructure to political instability made worse by last month’s bombing in the heart of Beirut – but with talent and ambition, entrepreneurs are increasingly able to overcome obstacles like these and thrive. Executive picks the top 20 Lebanese entrepreneurs that look to have what it takes to make it, and marks its favorite five with our exclusive stamp of approval.
Entrepreneur: Brahms Chouity
Industry: Mobile gaming
Established in: 2011
Number of employees: 11
Revenues: Generated more than $700,000 in the first three quarters of the year and expects to generate $3 million in 2013. With no subscription fees, the company generates revenues through sponsorship of its tournaments. Its client-base is made up of high profile names: American video game developer Electronic Arts, Swiss provider of PC accessories Logitech, American semiconductor company Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and video console provider PlayStation ME.
The offering: At7addak.com is an Arabic gaming website allowing users to challenge each other on their favorite video games for cash and prizes. Using their existing gaming platforms (such as consoles, PCs, mobile devices etc.), gamers can compete head-to-head or in teams. The site also boasts exclusive content including news and game reviews, both in English and Arabic (see more in Executive’s September issue).
Achievements: 80,000 registered users as of August. 5 million page views on their website per month and 250,000 fans on their Facebook page, the second highest number of fans of any website in the Middle East. Winner of the the Wamda Award for Best Startup (2011). Selected by Endeavor, a non-profit nongovernmental organization that supports high-impact entrepreneurs in emerging markets.
Financing so far: Self-funded.
Capital raising: No intention to raise capital at least for the next year or two. Looking to sell the business at its peak.
Strategy going forward:
1) Perfect the concept through At7addak.com version 2.0 (coming in three months);
2) increase the website traffic;
3) increase the online advertising revenue.
Where do you see yourself in five years? “I would like to find a successful and rewarding exit out of At7addak.com. In five years, I will probably be doing what I’ve wanted to do all my life: running my own venture capital firm with my best friends. One non-stop party,” says Brahms.
Entrepreneurs: Marc Dfouni & Nemr Nicolas Badine
Age: Marc 35, Nemr 35
Industry: Online marketing
Established in: 2006
Number of employees: 15
Revenues: $800,000 in 2011 and expect to reach $1.2 million in 2012 and $2 million in 2013.
The offering: Eastline Marketing creates and executes online marketing strategies for their customers across the digital landscape. Their services cover social media marketing, search engine optimization, paid search marketing, online advertising and online public relations. ELM also developed its own proprietary technology to create market-leading social media campaigns on social networks for brands looking to grow and strengthen their client base.
Achievements: Developed campaigns for Kimberly-Clark, Toyota, Majid Al Futaim, DHL, FXCM as well as local banks Audi and Fransabank. Selected in 2011 by Endeavor, a non-profit nongovernmental organization that supports high-impact entrepreneurs in emerging markets. Two Webby Awards (annual international award given by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences for excellence in Internet) in 2010 for their online marketing of website “Love Letters to the Future.” Gemini Award given by the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television in 2010 for “Love Letters to the Future”.
Financing so far: Received two Kafalat loans: one in 2009 for $90,000 and one this year for $240,000
Capital raising: Looking to raise $2 million to $3 million from strategic investors by 2013.
Strategy going forward:
1) Offer 360 degrees digital marketing services (social media marketing, search engine marketing, display advertising, mobile marketing)
2) Expand the social media marketing software platform.
Where do you see yourself in five years? “A leading digital marketing player in the Middle East region with the aim to become a business worth more than $20 million by 2016,” say Marc and Nemr.
Entrepreneur: Rabih Nassar
Established in: 2003
Number of employees: 60
Revenues: $2 million in 2011, expected to grow by 75 percent in 2012 to reach $3.5 million and $5 million in 2013
The offering: ElementN Holding is a group of companies based out of Beirut and New York that provide a number of technological products and solutions. ElementN Technologies offers mobile operators a number of solutions to enhance the customer experience using the web, mobile and call center channels. CADstrata is a software that provides a comprehensive standardization and collaboration solution for architects and building design professionals who use Autodesk, Adobe and Microsoft products. Apstrata is a leading mobile back-end-as-a-service, meaning it takes care of the back end code of an application and allows developers to focus on the front-end code. This service helps mobile developers cut their costs and accelerate the development time. (See more in Executive’s September issue).
Achievements: Selected among the top five fast growing Lebanese startups in 2010 by AllWorld Network, a non-governmental organization. Selected by Endeavor in 2012, a non-profit non-governmental organization that supports high-impact entrepreneurs in emerging markets.
Financing so far: Initially self-funded then raised $1.2 million in equity financing from Berytech Fund in 2010.
Capital raising: Currently in the process of raising $7 million in equity in a second round of investing.
Strategy going forward: Establish Apstrata as the leading global back-end-as-a-service used by application developers and mobile operators.
Where do you see yourself in five years? “A recognized leading global technology provider operating from Lebanon, offering continuous thought leadership and innovation for cloud-based application development,” says Rabih.
MobiNetS Off Shore S.A.L
Entrepreneur: Labib Shalak
Industry: Software technology
Established in: 2003
Number of employees: 94
Revenues: Refused to disclose revenues.
The offering: Mobinets’ solutions assist network operators in managing their mobile networks by providing them with operating support systems providing improved visibility and control over the networks. Mobinets’ fully automated platform eliminates the need for multiple databases and spreadsheets to manage network inventory and helps operators improve operational efficiencies and reduce costs while enabling rapid new product/service roll out.
Achievements: Solutions used by 18 clients across the EMEA region. Selected in 2011 by Endeavor, a non-profit nongovernmental organization that supports high-impact entrepreneurs in emerging markets.
Financing so far: Raised $2 million in equity capital from the International Financial Corporation, a division of the World Bank.
Capital raising: In advanced communication to raise $5 million from a local investment bank.
Strategy going forward:
1) Solidify position of mobile operators in the service fulfillment, the supply chain activities which provide services to subscribers, and service assurance which guarantees a predefined quality of service
2) Continue on growing within Europe and abroad.
Where do you see yourself in five years? “We see ourselves as a major player in the service fulfillment and service assurance [sector]”, says Labib.
Entrepreneur: Taline Assi
Established in: 2003
Number of employees: 14
Revenues: $1.5 million in 2011
The offering: Mosaic Marble offers more than 5,000 mosaic designs as well as custom made orders sold through their website, eBay, a showroom in Lebanon and several resellers scattered worldwide. Their main market is the US, accounting for 60 percent of their orders and their main customers are retail clients.
Achievements: Custom orders from Oprah Winfrey, the municipality of Rome, Queen Elizabeth Theatre in London and a landmark project in New York. Products sold to more than 7,000 retail clients. Website available in 13 different languages. Selected by Endeavor, a non-profit nongovernmental organization that supports high-impact entrepreneurs in emerging markets.
Financing so far: Received a Kafalat loan for $450,000 and other credit facilities; received $100,000 equity capital injection from a new partner.
Capital raising: Looking to raise $1 million next year in a first phase of financing from a strategic investor in order to set up a showroom in California in 2014, hire a salesperson to target professional clients in the Middle East and for other expenses.
Strategy going forward:
1) Cater more to professional clients such as architects and construction companies
2) Target markets in the Middle East — such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait — but also beyond the region, more specifically Japan, Russia and Australia
3) Move production from Syria (where currently 70 percent of production takes place) to Lebanon.
Where do you see yourself in five years? “Being the worldwide leader in hand cut marble mosaics”, says Taline.
Entrepreneur: Jad Khoury
Established in: 1999
Number of employees: 275
Revenues: Around $15 million
The offering: With offices in Beirut and Dubai, Print Works offers printing and fabrication solutions, often incorporating a variety of mediums in addition to distribution and installation. Print Works’ services cover printing and production for traditional large-scale advertising (billboards, branding on vehicles), promotional events (product launches, sponsorship events), and longer-term brand experiences (podiums in malls, point of sale display stands).
Achievements: Sold printing and fabrication solutions to around 3,000 clients including Yves Saint Laurent, Louis Vuitton, Channel, Cartier, British American Tobacco, JWT and Leo Burnett. Selected in 2012 by Endeavor, a non-profit nongovernmental organization that supports high-impact entrepreneurs in emerging markets. Selected in 2010 to be part of the Arabia 500 by AllWorld Network which provides ranking for the fastest growing private companies in different regions in the world. Selected also in 2010 to be part of AllWorld’s Lebanon 25 ranking.
Financing so far: Self-funded with facilities from local banks.
Capital raising: Not looking to raise capital.
Strategy going forward: Plan to open an office in Riyadh in the middle of 2013 followed by an office in Erbil, Iraq.
Where do you see yourself in five years? “The leading full service provider in the printing and production space in the region,” says Jad.