BEIRUT: The SmartEx 2018 conference kicked off in energetic fashion with strong attendance throughout the four-day conference; among them technologists, startup gurus, investors and students who took part in event to network, learn and buy.
Saturday – the conference's last day – still had the same exciting vibe, even as the crowds began to dwindle, with tech talks, investment bankers and various national and international players only slowly beginning to close up shop, reluctant, it almost seemed, to say goodbye.
By the account of many visitors to SmartEx, they echoed similar remarks about the positive experience of the event, particularly as a chance for Lebanon to become a technology hub in the years to come.
Various embryonic companies made their debut at SmartEx aiming at increasing clientele, visibility, exposure, or landing angel investors, during the event's signature Get in The Ring startup pitching competition.
As information forums were held throughout the large hall of the Beirut Forum 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 conceivable corner.
This is the second year of the conference, which spawned from a Saudi tech and networking event in 2007 that then spread throughout the region.
This year’s edition follows the recent CEDRE Conference with $11 billion in loans and grants slated to rehabilitate Lebanon’s aging infrastructure and a few days away from the long-awaited elections, with high hopes of using that money to place the country’s tech scene on a more advanced playing field.
Lebanese Telecommunications Minister Jamal Jarrah opened the exhibition by highlighting the accomplishments of Lebanon’s entrepreneurs being able to hold their own in global startup competitions.
“Our youth people have shown distinction on the global stage,” Jarrah said during his speech.
Adham Bou Zayed, CEO of a consumer-drone startup called FlyQuest, noted that Lebanon’s tech sector is growing at an exponential rate placing it on the worldwide map of being a hub for entrepreneurs.
“The tech industry is being treated more and more seriously as time passes with serious investors, government initiatives, and international recognition hitting the shores,” Zayed told Annahar.
Zayed’s views were shared by many other attendees who described SmartEx as a watershed business experience that added both to their exposure and sales knowledge as a whole.
According to IDAL, Lebanon’s ICT sector grew by an astounding 9.7 percent in 2017, which is among the country’s fastest-growing industries.
This growth has been widely credited to Circular 331, the central bank-guaranteed fund for Lebanese startups, which has allowed many Lebanese entrepreneurs to launch their innovative products and companies at home.
This has allowed the sector to be taken more seriously, breaking out of its niche market, transforming it to become an integral part of a wide range of businesses, such as IT solutions, education, medical, telecoms, and printing.
Echoing Zayed’s words, Mohammad Hatem CEO of an e-commerce platform that focuses on 3D printing hardware called RealBuild, considered that Lebanon’s tech sector has transformed the country’s skilled force into hardworking entrepreneurs ready to disrupt the local market.
“Look around you and notice the sheer numbers of entrepreneurs the country has harbored and locally bred over such as short span of time, it’s incredible,” Hatem told Annahar.
The main deck of the conference was populated with inventors displaying their newly derived 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, local young technologist showing innovation for the world to see; both awing users and attracting serious 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 brainstorms.
Sami Abou Saab, CEO of Speed, who closed summit Saturday with a startup competition, noted that the Beirut-based accelerator has led to around 600 jobs.
“I see the tech startup ecosystem in Lebanon as a foundational pillar in the country’s future,” he said.
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