BDLA 2016 gave local startups a debut on a world stage

By account of the dozens of people Annahar interviewed during the show on the last day, repetitive remarks flowed between each person that witnessed BDL's effort to breathe life into local startups; it was an off the chart positive experience for all involved.
by T.K. Maloy and Yehia El Amine

7 November 2016 | 19:50

Source: by Annahar

The view from the high-vantage point of the Media Centre above the main deck of the Forum de Beyrouth during BDLA 2016, Saturday November 5, 2016. (Annahar Photo)

BEIRUT: The Banque du Liban Accelerator 2016 conference kicked off in behemoth-like fashion with crowds at upwards of 20,000 attendees; among them technologists, startup gurus, investors and students who took part in the three-day event to network, learn and buy.

Saturday – the conference's last day – still had the same excitement vibe, even as the crowds began to dwindle, with workshops, investment bankers and various national and international players only slowly beginning to close up shop, reluctant, it almost seemed, to say goodbye.

By account of the dozens of people Annahar interviewed during the last day of the show, echoing remarks were made about the off the chart positive experience of the event, particulary as a chance for local startups to show themselves on a global stage.

Hundreds of embryonic companies made their debut to the world at large, aiming at increasing clientele, visibility, exposure and landing angel investors. As information forums were held throughought the large hall every half an hour for anyone to sit and listen to whatever business-related topic that triggered their fancy; business cards were traded on the sidelines of every private conversation; and much networking was done in every concievable corner.

Karl Abouzeid CEO of Sqwirl app – an uber type delivery company – found the entire event to be "brilliant! I met potential investors, added more users to the app and found new clientele to add to the already 200 businesses we serve."

Abouzied's views were shared by many other attendees who described BDLA 2016 as a watershed business experience that added both to their exposure and sales knowledge as a whole.

For Speed@BDD Accelerator – a Beirut-based tech startup accelerator – the forum provided "a lot of exposure! We have been reaching an amazing amount of people, including potential startups to add to our mentorship program," Gracia Soued, Marketing and Communication Manager at Speed told Annahar.

"I found the numerous talks and discussions I attended to very helpful in terms of adding to my overall knowledge and broaden my horizon as to what is out there," Soued added, while praising the talks for "being very targeted."

Lastly she noted that with Speed exhibiting at this large scale three-day conference, it was a chance for the accelerators "to see our work bear fruit."

Dan Taylor, a London based professional photographer, reported that there was barely a moment where his camera was not flashing, as he was kept busy snapping portraits of the hundreds of techies who came to pose for his well-regarded signature brand of photography.

"Look all around you, all you see across the halls is money, where to spend it, if you need it, how to use it, how to make it; thus it just seems as though there is a lot of money flowing into the region's business side," Taylor said from the high-vantage point of the media centre above the main floor while pointing to the myriad of banners mentioning "money" spread across the Forum De Beyrouth halls.

As music erupted at the outdoor pavilion labeled "The Networking Hub" adjacent to the halls of the massive forum, all attendees regardless of their role in the conference, sat side by side enjoying food from the various eateries; while the theme of much conversation was the potential for future business and possible investment. The true backbeat to the music was an excitement in the future of technology and where it was collectively leading.

Attendees sipped drinks, enjoying a burger or had a quick cigarette and a drink of water before heading back into the fray once more to pitch their idea to the thousands of people who would either be potential users or buyers.

Elias Baaklini a co-founder of Leadz – a local advertising platform startup – was ecstatic to have had a chance to take part in this conference since "we could share our idea on such a big stage, with multiple people from all across the region as well as having a chance to push forward with our startup."

Baaklini also noted that such a conference is considered very healthy for Lebanon, since it acts as lifeline for newborn businesses which can nourish the country's economic state and help local businesses step forward to join the international market.

The main deck of the conference was like a full functioning brain, pumped with inventors displaying their newly bread technologies; from gadgets that can detect a pet cat's mindset, to headsets which play music according to the listeners' emotional brainwaves.

In other words, the future of the world's youthful techies bringing their innovation for the world to see, awing users and attracting grinning investors who saw what could be the next big thing. Others saw the opportunity to start something of their own, pushing them to courageously endeavor on their long thought of ideas.

Which was the case for Alain Mehanna, a screenwriter and Radio TV instructor at the American University of Science and Technology, who considered the three-day event to be "just the push I needed to go forward regarding a number of projects I had in mind; the speakers just motivated me, moved me and unconsciously drove me to actually take a shot for certain ideas I've had in my head."

Many who attended confirmed the same message on the minds of every national and international speaker coming to the Lebanon, which was that Beirut is rapidly shaping up to be a powerhouse for startups in the Middle East. It has many of the key elements: a highly entrepreneurial culture, incubators, accelerators, venture capital and access to growth funding.

At the heart of the world's conflict zone, this seaside capital has emerged to be the pinnacle for technology, innovation and invention through the minds of its youth, its everlasting fighting spirit and its people's willingness to reach a business-like Cinderella story with their ideas in hand.

"This conference shone a light on the horizon for Lebanon's emergent tech ecosystem, bringing together the brightest minds of the region for a chance to compete on the world stage, in a David versus Goliath themed competition of technological creativity," Nicolas Hajjar, computer science student at the American University of Beirut told Annahar.


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