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From bombs to bytes: How Beirut's tech scene is flourishing

  • 20 January 2017
  • From the part Business
Old man smoking hookah pipePicture copyright Getty Photographs
Picture caption Hookah pipe smoking is an integral a part of Lebanese tradition

Probably the most acquainted sights within the Center East is of native residents gathering in cafes smoking hookah pipes as they drink espresso robust sufficient to knock out an Arabian horse.

However in Beirut, Lebanon's capital, such conventional pastimes are being given a hi-tech twist.

Not solely is the town as hip and funky as any metropolis within the West, Lebanese know-how is even altering the character of the hookah pipe.

Discovering the perfect tobacco flavour within the bowl on the proper temperature is the Holy Grail of hookahs, however a start-up referred to as Nara - Arabic for flame - is fixing this with the primary "web of issues" hookah pipe.

Compact fast-lighting spheres of charcoal are supplemented by a dense battery and internet-connected sensors that measure air movement, moisture and temperature - all very important parts for an ideal smoke.

Picture copyright Getty Pictures
Picture caption Beirut, as seen from Zaitunay Bay, seems to be much more affluent and peaceable lately

Nara does its greatest to maintain every little thing within the bowl completely balanced. And the collected knowledge can be utilized by cafe house owners to organize a private combine for returning clients.

With greater than 500 million individuals throughout the area having fun with a every day hookah pipe, that is one among a number of improvements that the Beirut start-up ecosystem is starting to create.

Teen prodigy

Nara is the brainchild of Lebanese-born Fady Isshak, Joe Zoghzoghy, and Mark Haidar - the latter now a extremely profitable US-based entrepreneur.

However Mr Haidar's begin in life was far much less auspicious.

Raised in a "combined" South Lebanese refugee space of Bedouins, Palestinians and different displaced peoples, Mr Haidar created his first product, a sensible chair, when he was 17 and with out using electrical energy.

Picture copyright Banque du Liban
Picture caption Mark Haidar made his cash within the US however is now investing in his house nation, Lebanon

Sensible and impressive, he left Beirut when he was 23. 4 days later he had acquired his US visa, after charming the interviewer by saying he'd discovered English by watching the "two greatest documentaries on America": The Simpsons and Seinfeld.

'$300 for meals'

The rationale for his swift departure was the start of the 2006 struggle.

His father ordered him to get out of Beirut and gave his son the household's life financial savings of $2,200 (£1,785), asking just for him to go away "$300 for meals".

Mr Haidar took his probability, managed to get to the border, and like many refugees after him, travelled by way of Syria, Turkey and Germany earlier than lastly flying to the US and getting a job in a Detroit petrol station.

The remaining was one other instance of the American Dream come true. His corporations embrace Silvr, a funds firm, and Dialexa, a know-how and product improvement agency.

Smoke much less, study extra

Whereas Mr Haidar has invested in a Beirut start-up as a part of Lebanon's diaspora, a number of different corporations are beginning life within the metropolis itself. And smoking appears to be a key theme.

Samer El Gharib based Slighter, a sensible cigarette lighter that helps people who smoke give up regularly. The lighter data the consumer's smoking habits within the first week that they use the system after which sends them notification of occasions they're allowed to smoke - considered one of a number of steps on the best way to giving up utterly.

Picture copyright Slighter
Picture caption The Slighter sensible lighter and app goals to assist individuals give up smoking

One other (non-smoking) Lebanese start-up is Play My Means, an academic approach to cease youngsters spending an excessive amount of time on their smartphones and tablets.

At parent-specified intervals, Play My Method interrupts any operating app with an academic query and can solely return to the app as soon as the query is answered.

Of clearly international attraction, final month the app was the third most downloaded app, not in Lebanon, however within the UK.


Different international gamers within the tech scene are taking an curiosity in Beirut.

Two months in the past, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak made his first go to to the town. He was the keynote speaker on the BDL [Banque du Liban] Speed up convention in November, one of many 10 largest tech conferences on the earth. Tony Fadell, creator of the iPod and iPhone, additionally addressed the 25,000-strong viewers.

Occasion organiser Samer Karam was initially a photojournalist in Lebanon, overlaying all of the traumatic occasions of the area within the early 21st Century. Now, he's in all probability probably the most influential tech individual throughout the Center East North Africa (MENA) area.

Picture copyright Getty Photographs
Picture caption Beirut, famend for its nightlife and delicacies, can also be turning into a tech hub

In 2010, he raised $700,000 and based Seeqnce, one among MENA's first start-up accelerator programmes and whose first two batches of start-ups raised greater than $10m.

He recurrently advises the Central Financial institution of Lebanon on greatest practices in enterprise capital and was a member of the founding steering committee of Lebanon's $600m start-up fund, BDL Round 331.

'Tech gateway'

The Lebanese tech sector witnessed vital progress between 2009 and 2014 - the so-called "youth bulge".

Younger gifted people have been capable of begin corporations in their very own nation, somewhat than having to maneuver overseas like so many others. There are 15 million Lebanese dwelling in different nations, from Brazil to Melbourne.

The institution of latest incubators and accelerators such because the UK Lebanon Tech Hub - an initiative between the Central Financial institution of Lebanon and the UK authorities - is creating jobs, revenues and funding for start-ups.

"We've already seen the ICT sector right here take big strides ahead because of incentives, such because the introduction of Round 331," says Colm Reilly, chief government of UK Lebanon Tech Hub.

"There's large R&D functionality from academia right here and if we get this proper, Lebanon can develop into the tech gateway to the Center East."

Whereas nothing in Beirut is ever sure, at the least it's now a lot simpler to seek out that good hookah pipe smoke, because of know-how.

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