The “Entrepreneurship for Scientists and Engineers in Lebanon” 3-day workshop started on September 12 at Berytech Technology & Health. This workshop, organized in collaboration with the ESCWA Technology Centre (ETC), the National Council for Scientific Research (NCSR) and Lebanese Industrial Research Achievements programme (LIRA) introduces scientists and engineers to the process of innovation, generation and protection of intellectual property, technology transfer and commercialization of inventions.
There were around 45 participants (academics & scientists) coming from major institutions and universities in Lebanon: ESCWA, LIRA, NCSR, AUB, USJ, LU, NDU, LAU, AUST, MoET, MoI, etc. as well as industrialists such as Indevco, Gemayel Bros, AlRifai, Ghattas, etc. As representative from the host, I had the task to deliver the opening and welcoming remarks, which BTW I always consider is like kissing the Queen Mother: a great honor but don’t like to do it really 😉 Anyway, as a way of engaging the audience and- as they say “a picture is worth a thousand words”- I started by asking participants to smile as I took a panoramic shot using Dermandar app on my iPhone, and then told them that this new app had registered more that 1.3M downloads in less than 2 months, and “guess what, it is developed by a Lebanese who is like you guys – a scientist, engineer & maths teacher, who has maths in his DNA and cannot live w/o doing maths everyday! He developed this amazing algorithm that stitches pictures super-fast, and now with the support of Berytech he turned entrepreneur…”
It seemed (as I noticed later) that this intro “stunt” paid off and allowed participants to relate to what the workshop was all about, as the example was revisited in various occasions during the sessions on that day.
After a few words from ETC, NCSR & LIRA, the technical sessions (Entrepreneurship Workshop Program) started, led by international experts (Speakers Bio_Lebanon) and structured in an interesting way that includes lectures, panel discussions, group activities and role plays. One example of break-out session was for the participants to brainstorm around the simple question: “What are the barriers to Technology Transfer in your University/Company”. Well, below are findings you get when you mix together scientists, engineers, industrialists, academics and corporates in one group:
• Lack of link between industry & academic (solution: find a moderator between both worlds)
• Lack of funds (solution: get & private sponsors)
• Define rules & roles of industrial collaboration (more transparent understanding)
• Regulation & IP laws and enforcement
• No clearing house for ideas – disconnect (no culture of of VC)
• Size of economy & limitation of scales
• Lack of education of taking ideas to product & market (students, faculty, industrialits)
• Major confusion between incubator & technology transfer office
• Publication vs non-publications ideas (example: patents)
Dr. Tony Feghali from AUB exposed how the entrepreneurial Eco-system is growing in Lebanon: around 20 support institutions and counting, as well as the availability of more than 90M$ of equity financing waiting to be spent on startups. Following that, participants were puzzled why students were not encouraged to create startups. Well, fortunately or unfortunately, the answer is quite simple: it is more a question of local culture than something else: parents encourage (and are ready to pay for) their kids educations (which btw is around 50k$/year in top alpha Lebanese universities) rather than giving them seed money and get them to startup their businesses. Of course, one needs to take into account as well the turmoil in the region, because looking at news coming out of this part of the world, how can one not be discouraged to find opportunities elsewhere. However, the example of Dermandar is quite striking, as it is a breakthrough during the risings of ‘Arab spring’ revolutions and ‘financial crisis’ in the region! So there is no real excuse not starting up and we need to tell more “inspiring stories”, hoping they will be contagious and send the positive message “yes it can be done!”
Another group exercise done by the participants is to look at a small device and answer the following simple questions:
• What was the problem that it is a solution for?
• Is the solution commercially viable?
• Will it make sufficient profit to interest investors?
I believe this is key, as scientists might perceive commercialized research is often perceived like a solution searching for a problem, while entrepreneurs do it the other way 😉
So the workshop went to a great start, I am looking forward to the exchange, and stay tuned for more news coming out of it!