What I actually remember from
Banque De Liban Accelerate 2014

2 days, 30 startups, 53 speakers and over 1500 people later…

I will start with a confession: I cringe at the sound of the word “entrepreneur”. It has become the equivalent of an oversized worn out coat. One which almost everyone, from the suit strutting big shots to the hoodie wearing techies, is trying to fit into.

This is not cynicism, It is simply saturation. Sadly it does not end there. More recently employers have been listing “entrepreneurial spirit” as a prime requirement to their job descriptions (Isn’t that the mother of oxymorons?). I kid you not, in a recent interview I was seriously questioned about my “entrepreneurial spirit”. Given my sentiment towards this particular term, I politely asked for some clarity on what that really meant. To my entertainment, for this particular “Business innovator” it meant “sales”, good old traditional leads & P.r. However (wait for it) doing traditional “sales” whilst having an “entrepreneurial spirit” apparently takes away your commission, who knew entrepreneurial spirit had such side effects?!

I chose this little anecdotal introduction to highlight the fact that today in order to resonate as an entrepreneur you have to get past a whole lot of noise. A fact that makes an event like BDL Accelerate and the seed stars world startup competition all that more challenging to write about.

The memorable:

in order of personal preference

Ki “the only password manager that
interacts with you”

The winner of the ssw14. A well deserved win to Ki which has exhibited substantial maturity and growth in its value preposition ever since it debuted as a USB device which keeps all you passwords in one place. Obviously the work invested into the founders at the MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Startup Competition payed off.

Ki is a service by which all your passwords are saved and logged into your personal Ki account. They are all stored in the Ki account which you will also download as an app on your smart phone. Their claim of being the only password manager that interacts with you comes from Ki’s most differentiating feature. The app is triggered to use when you are within a certain distance from your computer. This feature allows you to safely access your information via your phone, which ideally you would have sole control over.

Even though Ki won, the investors did grill them on their product. We all were wondering what happens if you happen to lose or displace you phone. Co-founder Antoine answered it simply by stating that by calling your I.T personnel they will be able to send a certain message to your lost phone that retrieves all password information and send them to your email (or something of the sort). However, this could be further explored and Ki needs to find a more streamlined and accessible way for the end-user to retrieve their passwords without an I.T middleman. This can pose drawbacks for adopters, there is a fair probability of losing your phone and businesses (which is the target market for Ki at this time) as well as regular users would think twice when they hear that the retrieval process is frictionfested.

Tari2ak “the simplest most accurate app to learn about real-time traffic conditions”

This app is extremely valuable within our transportation reality , I think investors may have a different view once they actually need to make a trip from Hamra to Jal el dib at 5 p.m. The lack of public transportation and rigorous traffic law reinforcement makes driving one of the most life crippling draw backs that Lebanon has to offer (and it offers many).

Tari2ak video demonstration

The app is simply as stated, a real-time feed of traffic congestion which allows you to choose less busy routes in real time, which will hopefully spare your exhausted nerves. When compared to rival app waze, Rami khawand (founder & developer) demonstrated that while waze is popular world wide it does not apply accurately or at all to the Lebanese or regional traffic scene, given the requirements needed for it to build a communal traffic map.

What really makes tari2ak a memorable project is their user centric and contextual focus. Khawand and his team were very deliberate in making this app in Arabic and using interactive elements that resonate with the Lebanese and Arab audience.

From a business perspective very few projects or startups looked at data as a revenue source within their business model, however tari2ak and with ubiquity of its data transmission has made this a primary corner to its business plan. Data as service is a reality for almost every business in tech, and given the talent components that make up the tari2ak team I can feel that they are on the right track and will get some great stuff out of that data. They are already bartering this data with interested parties such as media outlets in exchange for coverage and exposure. I see the business, design and engineering elements vividly present in this effort and that is why it holds big potential.

To answer all your questions about how this app was actually built, how it works, privacy policy, effect on you battery life: you can checkout an interview with Rami here via @blogBaladi

Saily “Buy & sell awesomely”

I have a soft spot for bootstrappers, especially those who haven’t even celebrated their 20th birthday yet. The two co-founders Jihad & Dani have put together a less creepy and more intuitive contender to the likes of Craigslist and “buy & sell” facebook groups.

This recently launched app is already gaining traction and adds user engaging features such as:

  1. tagging your posts for better product discovery
  2. meet-up location suggestions such as coffee shops, restaurants & the likes within the vicinity of both parties involved.
  3. in-app live chat to eliminate calls, emails and other communication problems.
Source: www.saily.co

The reason this app resonated with the audience and gained substantial traction is simply Dani & Jihad’s efforts in taking on these transactions from a user perspective. The features they developed solve major pain points for the end user. They also have a distinct sense of self deprecating humor which I find amusing.

A refreshing sense of humor

Both Saily and tari2ak did not make it to the SSW14 top 3. Regardless I am sure their efforts will probably be recognized within a more diverse jury. The other two winners were sohati.com (self explanatory) and presella.com. The latter having been around the scene for a while now, featuring “risk free event” concept:

“We are the first platform, globally, that takes the risk out of event planning by allowing users to sell tickets to what we call a ‘risk-free’ event in order to discover audience demand and secure the minimum funds needed to confidently prepare for its success.”

The jury questioned Persella on the reason behind the two models and which of those has been the primary source of hosted events till now. The founder answered clearly that the powerhouse behind user interactions so far has been the traditional model which is the one used by contenders everywhere. I found their 2 models approach somewhat counter productive, I don’t mind Presella being a ticketing platform running an event business which chooses to do things in a more viable manner with a tech forward approach. This claim, albeit less glamorous, is an incremental “innovation” but still substantial. I just cannot shake off the feeling that the claim behind their “risk free” model sounds a little forced & is there to create a somehow unneeded differentiator.

On another level this business being rooted in events and people needs to bank on service design first and foremost, an element I found missing from how Presella handled the BDL event itself. The energy on Thursday morning was insanely positive, however with the long lines and the uninformed personnel (about procedure, type of tickets, line allocation, time , schedule) it was transformed into this toxic pool of blame and complaints (the banking crowd had a huge hand in that FYI). So lets put our money where our mouth is, energy is the number one metric in any event and in-turn any event business.

The Space

The efforts invested in event were momentous. An event of such caliber brought some much needed energy back into the country, taking us away momentarily into a world of change and evolution. That was the true value of this event, injecting the sapped out souls of the business back with some hope and vision. Of course internet was the number one topic discussed by almost everyone and needless to say was isolated as one of the most important resources needed after funding to grow a healthy and change driven start up scene.

In terms of the actual space I would have liked to see more collaborations done to make the space more interactive (yes I saw the digital wall contact spot), more easy on those having to stay in their booth all day, more fun. Such events could be an interesting opportunity to involve several talents from universities or fresh grads to give them some exposure and tap into some fresh ideas.

The event still managed to showcase the work of two talented designers one of which was Joan Baz, who was behind the animations and the on stage 3D mapping and Patil Tchilinguirian who designed the graphics and all printed material (a great take away in terms of content & design).

There were also some workshops held in parallel tracks with the event which sounded pretty interesting. But honestly the space was too small which wouldn’t allow satisfying interactions which a workshop would require and the time slots were too short to get any real value in my opinion, overall felt like an after thought.

I would like to hear from the people who attended the workshops, were they useful, how was the interaction..?

The Speakers

To be honest the insane amount of speakers stuffed into a 2 day period left everyone in a bit of a haze. Many were interesting and some were not at all. Personally the speaker which left me wanting to hear more was Vitaly M. Golombo, even though his talk was scheduled at the very end and people were struggling to stay focused (especially on that nightmare of a chair) he pulled everyone back in with his personality and very useful presentation.

I would also add that the notions raised by Kalina King of General assembly on the importance of education and constant self improvement for entrepreneurs were on point.

She stressed that such efforts are especially relevant within the Lebanese startup ecosystem and the theme of the conference i.e building innovation around the knowledge economy. She even went as far as to state that a General Assembly would be much more useful in Lebanon as opposed to San Fransisco, were they recently launched.

Academic presence

In conclusion I have to highlight that even though AUB, LAU and ALBA all had representatives at this event, the number of student attendees was far lower than what it should have been. The time has never been more accommodating for students to become business leaders and change makers. Teachers and academics should push their students to attend and give them assignments based on the speakers or their experiences, just anything. Something needs to be done besides just “being there”
with a booth.

The visuals from ALBA’s representative booth

Please share your memorable moments with me, would love to hear what you actually remember, you can contact me on linkedin or twitter or comment on this post. Lets keep in mind the benefits of constructive and critical feedback vs. the toxicity of negative criticism. Leaving you with this memorable piece of wisdom from Vitaly Golomb’s presentation.

“A startup is an experiment in search of a business model”
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