UP & COMING

Lebanon 2017 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Mouhamad Rabah, General Manager of ZRE, the developers of Beirut Digital District (BDD), on partnerships with universities, developing talent, and upgrading IT infrastructure.

Mouhamad Rabah
BIOGRAPHY
Mouhamad Rabah returned to Lebanon after acquiring global experience in business consulting in the energy, aerospace, and construction industries. A visionary, he channeled his energy and drive into leading ZRE, a company whose aim is to build communities and not only real estate. After successfully delivering The Platinum Tower, the largest residential high rise in Lebanon, he ventured into developing the Beirut Digital District, a work, live, and play innovative neighborhood aiming to become the go-to destination for the digital and creative community in Lebanon. Mouhamad holds a master’s degree in science from the University of Texas at Austin and an engineering degree from the American University of Beirut.

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

We will end 2017 with 20,000sqm of built-up area, adding an additional 2,500sqm to where we are currently. With Phase B, we are introducing new commercial blocks that will double our size to 35,000sqm by 2020. As part of our vision to create a business cluster fueling the growth of more than 10,000 creative individuals and knowing that the main challenge that most start-ups face in Lebanon is recruitment and access to talent, we decided to partner with different universities, starting with AUB and specifically the faculty of engineering and architecture. We connect third-year students with companies that we host at BDD or to companies within our partners' networks. For the companies, this provides access to talent as interns who perform well can be recruited full-time employment. From the intern position, which is the most important aspect, they get access to see what is happening in the ecosystem. Through their internships at start-ups, they will be asked to contribute to the company and have the opportunity to learn much more about the needs and innovations currently happening in the ICT sector through two months of experiential learning.

Currently, Lebanon is home to over 200 start-ups, second only to the UAE. What is your outlook for the next five years?

It is all about the internet and bandwidth. From my point of view, Lebanon can complement the UAE. It should not compete with the UAE because the UAE has invested a great deal in infrastructure in the last 20 years and is now positioned as a hub for most international companies. By retaining the talent in Lebanon, Lebanon can act as a production hub serving regional and international markets while the UAE can serve as a sales platform where those companies can showcase and sell their products. At the bottom line, what we need in Lebanon is super high-speed internet at affordable rates. Everyone is looking for more speed to increase his or her productivity. We have fiber optics connected, and we started rolling this out to many companies that we host at BDD. Currently the government is looking at internet prices and increasing bandwidth. Increasing the bandwidth while decreasing the cost is the one thing that must be done to make companies more competitive.

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

For our development, we focus on our five pillars: community, business cluster, innovative architecture, sustainability, and work-life balance. For 2017, we see our two main focuses being our community and our business cluster. We are working on 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, meeting room booking, and so on. It was subcontracted through a Lebanese start-up company. There are two phases with different features, and all the features will be finalized before the end of the year.