AIESEC ‘Youth to Business Forum’ restores hope in Lebanese entrepreneurship

Dana Kambris
Staff Writer

LAU’s lower campus was bustling with students Saturday as AIESEC hosted an entrepreneurship and innovation convention, called “Lebanon Youth to Business Forum,” or Y2B. The forum, according to the club’s president Mark Aghajanian, sought to convince the Lebanese youth not to leave their country, since “nothing is truly lost, there is always something to fight for […] great things can be achieved through dedication and hard work.”

About 150 students, some of them budding entrepreneurs, from 14 different universities attended the all-day event, each with very different aspirations and expectations.

“I’m here more for the networking aspect for it, since I’m opening a coding school called Le Wagon,” said NDU student Malek Houri. On the other hand, AUB business student Lynn Itani wished to explore the entrepreneurship sphere, as she is very indecisive about her future.

After an opening speech by LAU’s Dean of the School of Business, the first keynote speaker, Yasser Akkaoui, took the stage. Akkaoui, a prominent entrepreneur in the Middle East and a reference for corporate governance in the region, encouraged the young audience to “embrace change and innovation” in their future endeavors, especially since the business world is currently witnessing deep transformations.

He also reassured students that “failure is not the end of the world” because if “at the end of the day you find that you made 51 decisions and 49 bad ones, you will be fine.”

The most inspirational speaker, however, was Samer Karam, a person who contributed greatly to the creation of an “ecosystem for start-ups” in Lebanon in the past five years.   Karam, who helped create a multitude of Lebanese start-ups and programs to help start-ups, wants the Lebanese youth to “look at entrepreneurship as an opportunity to create your own path in Lebanon.” He said that it will not be easy as “you will lose a lot of hair and a lot of sleep,” but as long as “you go with your gut feeling and keep moving forward,” great things can be done.

A panel discussion followed, where representatives from accomplished Lebanese start-ups such as Anghami, Zoomal, Etobb, and other institutions such as Berytech and Uber, tried to shed light on the difference between the corporate world and the entrepreneurial one, arguing in favor of the start-up world in Lebanon.

“This is exactly where you should be,” said Tamara Zakharia, AUB alumnus and Head of Strategic Partnerships at Zoomal. The panel speakers agreed that there is much room for growth in Lebanon’s information and communications (ICT) market, and young entrepreneurs can benefit from the many start-up support programs offered by the Central Bank, start-up accelerator Seeqnce and Berytech to grasp this opportunity. Ideas, they said, are not worth much without having the right team to execute them, claiming that Lebanon is a pool of diversely experienced people.

“Pressure leads to innovation,” added Zakharia, explaining how the pressure the Lebanese population is constantly subject to can be used to their advantage.

The forum ended with a series of workshops offered by Microsoft, Anghami, Zoomal, Bader, and Middle East Venture Partners, where students learned about the basics of technological innovation, entrepreneurship strategies, crowdfunding, and financing through venture capitals.

“The panel discussion was much more interesting than the Anghami workshop we just attended,” said LAU students Isaac Bahsoun and Tala Zein. “It was really motivational whereas the workshop was more informative.” When asked whether the forum encouraged them to create their own start-up, they replied, “It is an option now.”

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