Lebanon is a wonderful place and the government and other vested interests are serious about creating an environment that empathizes with the life of an entrepreneur. However, during my recent trip to the country I observed a few things that the Lebanese Government could do to create a more supportive environment for entrepreneurs and investors. So, if I was the Prime Minister of Lebanon supporting tech-entrepreneurs I would …
Fix the Internet.
Lebanon has the slowest Internet on the planet but that is not slowing down the number of tech-entrepreneurs trying to start new companies. For instance, almost 200 entrepreneurs have submitted early applications to the 2012 Seeqnce Accelerator Program. However, until the Lebanese Government solves the problems of Internet outages, limited bandwidth and the high-cost for connectivity, these tech-entrepreneurs will be at a significant disadvantage to others they are competing against in this globalized world.
Treat Software Development as a Capital Expense.
The Investment Development Authority of Lebanon (IDAL) is doing some great work into stimulate investment in Lebanon. I was first introduced to IDAL through Omar Christidis and I’ve had the chance to learn quite a bit about their efforts. They offer two incentive packages to companies looking to make investments within the country. However, these incentive packages need to factor in software development costs as part of the minimum investment required to be eligible for future tax exemptions on income. Currently only “machines and equipment” are factored into the minimum investment for “IT/Technology/Telecommunication/Media” companies. Capital expenditures on hardware and office equipment are negligible for tech-startups.
Integrate Startup Weekend into University Education.
It is important for entrepreneurship to be presented as a career choice to all University students, not just students studying business or computer science. More importantly, Universities need to shift away from the formal textbook methods of teaching entrepreneurship and give students a platform to actually test being an entrepreneur and improve their entrepreneurial skills. My opinion is obviously biased, but I believe the experiential educational model that Startup Weekend has developed is a great way to bring together students of a different background, encourage collaboration, and foster active learning.
Mr. Hussam Kayyal (advisor to the Minister of Telecommunications) understands and values experiential education and I made a specific ask for support in expanding Startup Weekend to cities and Universities outside of Beirut from him. Mr. Kayyal seemed very genuine and sincere and I believe he will follow through with actions.
Create a Government Fund of Funds … for Incubator/Accelerator Programs.
When regional investment in technology startups is nascent Governments can help accelerate and attract new foreign investors by creating a fund of funds. Yet instead of the Government just investing in newly created venture funds that supply just capital, I believe they should invest in newly created incubator/accelerator programs that can provide immense value for first-time entrepreneurs. Also, Government investment in newly created incubator/accelerator programs would alleviate some of the cash-flow problems that new incubator/accelerator programs that have not yet had a successful exit face.
I am excited to see what steps that Lebanese Government takes, but for the sake of Lebanese entrepreneurs I just hope they don’t take too long.