At TechCrunch Startup Battlefield MENA, we spoke with Stephanie Abi Abdallah who is Beirut Digital District’s Programs Director. Abi Abdallah told us how BDD hosted the Startup Battlefield, and projects they look forward to as a digital community.
What does it mean for Beirut Digital District to host TechCrunch?
“Having this event happen in Lebanon is a testament of all the hard work everyone has put in over the past years to build this ecosystem. Every single existing player, person, startup, accelerator, incubator and everyone who contributed to build this system including BDD, is proud of this achievement.
For Beirut to be picked out of all the other countries here is really amazing and of course the opportunities that are offered to the startups competing are fantastic. They’re going to be exposed to the MENA region and international markets and then to tech giants like TechCrunch and Facebook. This is amazing because hopefully it will attract international interests and international investment in the region and it will help have more local success stories, which will eventually help boost our local ecosystem and encourage startups to stay here, to do something here instead of leaving.
Despite the challenging nature of Lebanon, having something like this happen in Lebanon gives us hope. Lebanese startups competing in the Battlefield are extremely proud that the Startup Battlefield is happening here”.
Are the startups really invested in this competition?
“We have 5 Lebanese competitors out of the 15. So speaking about the Lebanese ecosystem I don’t think it’s shy at all, I believe they are eager to be noticed. Most of the startups on the stage are aiming big, none of them are only looking at Lebanon as a market because it’s limited. When TechCrunch Startup Battlefield was launched, people knew about it but everyone was a bit skeptical. They couldn’t believe that it was going to happen in Beirut. What everyone saw today was the real thing. The Battlefield that happens everywhere is happening now in Lebanon”.
How did BDD bring the Startup Battlefield to Lebanon?
“BDD’s relationship with Favebook is not new, it goes back to few years back. Facebook and TechCrunch decided to take the Battlefield last year to Africa which was a very successful event. They decided this year to go back to Africa and target different regions as well, out of which was the MENA and out of the MENA, Beirut generated interest.
We believe the decision was influenced by Facebook relationship with BDD. Last year we organized a successful event, where we had senior management from Facebook visit the ecosystem and see what’s happening here and what’s going on. We could tell that their visit generated more interest in the country and in Beirut and this is when were introduced to TechCrunch.
Later, TechCrunch visited BDD and Beirut was picked, specifically BDD. As they said, ‘it only made sense for this to happen at BDD because it is the center of the ecosystem’.
Speaking of BDD, it started around 5 or 6 years ago to build a digital creative community. We have been growing very fast; today we are more than 100 companies and 1500 community members and 60% of our community are startups and scale ups.
What is exciting for us is that BDD does not stop here, it is a 15 years vision it’s the 2030 vision and this is only the beginning for us. We have gone through the initial phase, we just hope the economic condition allows us to actually achieve all that vision that we have. Partnerships are one of the key pillars to support our ecosystem. The more we support the startup ecosystem, the more we encourage startups to stay here, and the more we encourage multinationals to set up production houses in Lebanon and serve the rest of the world through digital highways and the fiber optic connection that is offered at BDD. Because we believe that talent is really the strongest and most important resource that Lebanon has, it is the reason that the developers of Beirut digital District are relying on”.
What can we expect from BDD?
“TechCrunch Startup Battlefield MENA was the highlight of our year. We really hope that this is the start of something bigger I think the way these things are going is really showing Facebook and TechCrunch that there is something to come and see here. So that was a test I think for them to come here and see the Startup scene as we are really hoping that it will be the beginning of more and more exposure for Lebanon. And, of course, we hope for BDD to keep on contributing and growing.
BDD is a 15 years planned project and phase 2 will be done by 2020. It will double us in size and give us more space to expand our operations as a digital hub allowing us to maintain our full occupancy as we go”.