Innovation and Entrepreneurship Capacity Building to Support Mobile Internet Ecosystem in Lebanon
The Government of Lebanon faced a dire environment of unemployment amidst migration of it growing, educated workforce. The Government entered into a knowledge exchange to learn from Chile’s experiences galvanizing multiple stakeholders and developing programs to support an innovation ecosystem that would lead to increased opportunities for entrepreneurship and skills building.
As part of its efforts to diversify its economy, the Government of Lebanon sought to combat high unemployment and significant talent migration among its growing and educated workforce by developing an innovative Internet-based ecosystem that would create jobs and offer incentives for this talent to remain in Lebanon. The Government began plans for a Mobile Internet Ecosystem Project (MIEP). With its local focus, MIEP was developed to address the growing mobile Internet industry in Lebanon; strengthen startup pipelines; improve competitiveness of the Lebanese ICT sector; and establish a coordination mechanism among the main stakeholders through a Mobile Innovation Hub. In order to better achieve these goals and help catalyze action, Lebanese stakeholders in the new innovation ecosystem needed exposure to different ecosystem models to help them understand some of the challenges and successes.
The Government of Lebanon requested World Bank assistance in supporting an exchange with Chile to share experiences in developing an innovation ecosystem, including building financing options, developing skills, promoting entrepreneurial programs and incubation efforts, and engaging multiple stakeholders. Lebanese participants included key public and private sector stakeholders from government, incubators and accelerators, financing agencies, businesses, entrepreneurship support agencies, and universities.
Chilean participants included representatives of Start-Up Chile (a government-funded program), Berytech (a local incubator and entrepreneurship support facility), universities, entrepreneurs, and other business incubators and innovation stakeholders. The exchange centered around a study visit to Chile on July 20-25, 2015, with the following components:
- Field visits. The Lebanese participants visited a total of 15 organizations representing a cross-section of the innovation, startup, and entrepreneurship ecosystem in Chile. They learned about each host organizations’ experiences and models while also discussing concrete opportunities and ideas for improvement and how the models may or may not fit with the Lebanese context.
- Open forum. The organizers arranged for a public event involving 100 entrepreneurs, business and venture capitalists, accelerator and incubator personnel, university representatives, and government stakeholders from Chile. During this open forum, the Chilean experts gave presentations about their organizations’ models and roles within the ecosystem. Speakers included the Chilean Ambassador to Lebanon, World Bank officials, and a representative from the Chilean Ministry of Telecommunications.
- Focus groups. The third component of the exchange was a series of closed focus groups with key stakeholders, including universities, venture capitalists, and financial institutions. The focus groups allowed for creating relationships among the Chilean and Lebanese entrepreneurs through smaller discussion groups where issues and good practice approaches could be explored. In total, three focus groups were organized with a total of 52 participants attending.
- Raised awareness of the importance of engaging multiple public and private sector stakeholders to work together to build an innovation infrastructure.
- Strengthened networks among entrepreneurs and facilitated future collaborations. Upon completion of the exchange, communications between individuals from the two countries continued through follow-up discussions and partnerships.
“Chile’s tech scene is driven by several unique academic, private sector, and government-supported institutions working together towards a shared vision of innovation and entrepreneurship. By better understanding how Chile advanced its startup ecosystem, we can be better equipped to tap Lebanon’s potential as a regional hub of entrepreneurship.” – Boutrous Harb, Minister of Telecommunications, Lebanon
“During the public event I met Layal, from Zoomal. We did a connection and we were able to bring her to FIIS, the International Festival on Social Innovation in Chile.” – Ms. Carolina Rossi, Head, Social Innovation Center at Finis Terrae University, Chile
“I am connected with Bassam and Bilal, the founders of the Maker Community in Lebanon, and hopefully next year (2016) we will start a project together in the area of ICT, skills, and education.” – Macarena Pola, Co-Founder, Santiago Maker-Space, Chile
- Individual connections between exchange participants and knowledge-providing country representatives can and often do develop from these small group exchanges, leading to joint ventures and collaborations after the exchange has ended.
- When the countries participating in an exchange have common economic, social, political, or geographic circumstances, the value of the exchange can be greatly enhanced as both countries can learn important lessons from one another – regardless of which is considered the knowledge provider or recipient.
- In the design of an exchange, it is important to incorporate more interactive sessions, such as workshops or co-creation sessions rather than only formal meetings, to help boost conversations, promote more active engagement, and generate concrete ideas.
The exchange was financed by the South-South Knowledge Exchange Facility.
Berytech, a local tech incubator and entrepreneurship support facility was the local implementing partner for the exchange visit. In this capacity, its representatives developed the agenda, promoted the exchange in social media, and reached out to participating stakeholders. In addition to Berytech representatives, the primary knowledge providers during the exchange were:
- Sebastian Vidal, Executive Director, Start-Up Chile
- Carolina Rossi, Head, Social Innovation Center, Finis Terrae University and Founder & CEO, Yebame
- Macarena Pola, Co-Founder, Santiago Maker Space
- Alexandra Winter, Operations Director, Ideas Factory
This exchange allowed Lebanese and Chilean entrepreneurs to learn from one another’s experiences, and created opportunities for future collaborations. Although the Mobile Internet Ecosystem Project was not ratified in Lebanon, the country continues to build its innovation ecosystem. Individual entrepreneurs are utilizing examples observed in Chile to create space for more entrepreneurial endeavors while the Lebanese Government continues to advance its innovation infrastructure development, including communications and positioning strategies, which will help create a more solid country brand that can position Lebanon as a regional innovation hub.
Participating in the exchange visit to Lebanon were representatives of the Government of Lebanon, incubators and accelerators, financial community, innovation and entrepreneurship community, universities, and other partners.