summit looks to put beirut on digital map
Last Updated : GMT 14:33:55
Arab Today, arab today
Arab Today, arab today

Summit looks to put Beirut on digital map

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today Summit looks to put Beirut on digital map

Beirut - Arabstoday

Beirut could emerge as a regional hub for digital entrepreneurship despite a set of challenges, the founder of ArabNet Digital Summit told The Daily Star ahead of a five-day event focusing on the latest technology trends for web and mobile ventures. “I am extremely positive about Lebanon’s ability to create a knowledge-based economy,” Omar Christidis said, arguing that local entrepreneurs have been increasingly successful in tapping the benefits of the Web. He said Lebanon’s sluggish public sector had also been trying to push forward the ambitious transformation. “The Central Bank, for instance, had been a major supporter of our project and a number of Web-based startups through various initiatives,” he added. “A lot of energetic individuals from many governmental agencies have also been very supportive,” he said. But Christidis seemed convinced that advancing Web ventures was primarily a private sector initiative. “For instance, the U.S. government does not do much to support Silicon Valley. It is primarily a combination of private initiatives and mainly highly qualified human capital,” he said. Among the primary objectives of the summit in Beirut, Christidis said, was creating what he described as a launching pad for digital startups. He said many of the participants would grasp the opportunity to get the exposure, mentorship and funding that they need to realize bright business ideas. Christidis added that Lebanon had been witnessing a boom in digital entrepreneurship over the past few years, fueled by an abundance of technical and creative talent, as well as the increasingly available support. “A few years ago when we started our initiative the scene was limited to a few companies, but this has changed very quickly. Today, we have an ever-increasing number of Web entrepreneurs that we hope to help out through the conference,” he said. Christidis said Web-based businesses were key to boosting both the local and the regional economies, which he said were in desperate need of job creation. “Web-based businesses require a very low startup capital. You don’t need to build a factory or a building. Often you do not need to rent an office at the beginning. All you need is a bright idea,” he said. To help sustain the boom, Christidis said entrepreneurs should remain focused on utilizing the extended market reach provided by the Web. “You have to think regional and consider expanding globally,” he said. “Why remain limited to the local or even the regional market?” he asked. When asked about challenges faced by the Web-based sector, he said the biggest challenge was Lebanon being perceived as a minor market. He explained that such a view complicated the attraction of significant investments from global Web corporations that instead opt to invest in larger economies. Another challenge highlighted by Christidis was that some of the country’s most qualified people often chose to leave the country. “It is sometimes tough for Web-based businesses to hire those who are highly qualified. A lot of these people opt to leave in search of much higher salaries abroad,” he said. E-commerce in Lebanon, he added, remained challenged by a lack of payment tools such as PayPal. Nevertheless, Christidis said mobile payment methods, which were picking up quickly in Lebanon and the region, contribute toward filling the gap. “We are seeing a wave of mobile payment companies that are introducing game-changing and innovative tools that are able to give a boost to e-commerce,” he said Christidis said telecoms operators from across the region would be actively participating in the summit. He added that he hoped collaboration would kick off between entrepreneurs and the corporate sector on developing such applications. Christidis said that a recent growth in Internet advertising revenues remained insignificant when compared to the much higher profits reaped by traditional media outlets. “But this is likely to change as more and more people shift preference to online outlets,” he added. Christidis said the conference would see significant participation from very successful Turkish Web enterprise, adding that a number of these companies had shown keen interest in acquiring and investing in Lebanese and Arab Web enterprises. The ArabNet Digital Summit 2012, which starts Tuesday, will mainly cater to Web and mobile developers, industry leaders, business professionals and entrepreneurs, organizers say. According to Christidis, it is expected to draw an audience of over 1,500 ranging from young entrepreneurs to executives from global companies including Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. “We have stopped calling this event a digital summit. We are now calling it Beirut’s yearly festival of entrepreneurship, creativity and talent.”

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