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Lebanon 2017 | TELECOMS & IT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Mouhamad Rabah, General Manager of Beirut Digital District, on working with the American University of Beirut, infrastructure, and goals for the coming year.

Regarding expansion, could you tell us about the agreement that you signed with the Faculty of Engineering at AUB recently?

We will end 2017 with 20,000sqm of built-up area, adding an additional 2,500sqm to where we currently are. With Phase B, we are introducing new commercial blocks that will double our size which will become 35,000sqm by 2020. The agreement with the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture at AUB is another important element critical for our growth and achieving our vision. We must recruit the best talent. The main thing, and one of the main challenges that most of the start-ups are facing in Lebanon, is recruitment and access to talent. From that perspective we decided to venture with different universities, starting with AUB, specifically the faculty of engineering and architecture. We started there to spread later into many different faculties and then continue to spread on to other universities. We connect third-year students with companies that we host at BDD or to companies within the networks of our partners. The idea is to try to connect the needs of the companies with interns. For the companies this provides access to talent and potentially the ability to recruit talented people if they perform well during internships. From the side of the interns, which is the most important side, they get access to see what is happening in the ecosystem. Through having their internship at a start-up company, they will be asked to produce much more and have the opportunity to learn much more about the needs and innovations currently happening in the ICT sector in a two-month period.

As of today, Lebanon is home to over 200 startups, only second behind the United Arab Emirates. What is your outlook for the next five years?

It is all about the internet and bandwidth. We have the three other components. From my point-of-view, in its current state Lebanon can complement the UAE. It should not compete with the UAE because the UAE has invested a lot in infrastructure during the last 20 years. Our infrastructure does not compete with theirs. The UAE is also now positioned as an international hub for most international companies, especially with the political instability that Lebanon is exposed to. Although we have a certain level of stability when compared to the region over the last five to six years, there is still exposure to political instability. However, at the bottom line what you need is super high-speed internet at affordable rates. Everyone is looking for more speed so as to increase their productivity. We got fiber optics connected and we started rolling this out to many companies that we host at BDD. However, it was not at a subsidized rate, so it was at a similar rate to elsewhere in Lebanon. It is fair enough as a start, because currently the whole government is looking at internet prices and increasing bandwidth. This is much needed. Increasing the bandwidth while decreasing the cost is the one thing that must be done for Lebanon and that is discussed each year by the government. This will make companies more competitive.

What are the main priorities and goals for BDD over the next 12 months?

For our development we focus on five things, which are our pillars. They are community, business cluster, innovative architecture, sustainability, and work-life balance. For 2017, we see our two main focuses being our community and the business cluster, which is automating and increasing the productivity and benefits that our current community enjoys by launching a new app that automates all of its needs and services. This is happening this year and I believe it will create a seamless experience for anyone to enjoy all of the benefits that BDD can offer through their handheld phone. We are in beta-phase now, so we are testing internally. The app will allow door access, a digital secretary for visitors, payments, room booking, and so on. It was subcontracted through a Lebanese start-up company. The first version will be launched in July-August. There are two stages with different features, so all of the features will be finalized before the end of the year.


 

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