Category Archives: Biz4Change!

Teen Entrepreneurs Shine at Competition

As well as performing, Jebe Bara gave the audience an impromptu lesson in Guinean drum playing. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Many go abroad to make their fortunes. But over the weekend a group of young entrepreneurs showed a determination to create fortune in Lebanon.

At the sixth annual Injaz Lebanon Company Program National Competition, eight teams of high school students, given six months and a $1,000 start-up budget took the stage, pitching their business plans to a panel of jurors, who judged their ability to make money, market their product, benefit society and create a viable business.

“We’re creating a culture of entrepreneurship. We have to start at an early age to have a return on the economy,” said Roula Harb, communications director at Injaz Lebanon during a quick coffee break at the packed conference at the Lebanese American University.

The top prize went to Visio, a company that gave an impressive and detailed presentation about how they had devised a nationwide recycling plan, which could yield high financial returns and also fill a badly needed gap in Lebanon. All winners were presented their awards by Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh.

Other prizes went to Wrapadub, a small plexiglass device that neatly wraps up headset cords, which won for marketing. S.Mile (Students Making Indoor Life Easier) gave a demonstration of their robot, Helver (a contraction of helper and rover), that delivers medication in a light-up box to bedridden patients, winning the students the “team spirit” award. Bigger Eco, which designed a reusable grocery bag, won in the social responsibility category.

Other participating companies included Tourathi for a candle holder in the shape of the map of Lebanon designed as souvenirs for Lebanese expatriates visiting their homeland; Coup Company, which created a laundry basket with three compartments for black, white and colored clothes; L’Equipe, which made a compact toiletries bag for overnight trips; and PAW, which organizes sports tournaments and other social events for young people.

The prevailing theme of the event was social responsibility – respecting the environment, creating sustainable companies that benefit society, fostering a workspace that respects all roles within the company, and placing the needs of society above profit.

One of the featured speakers was Ziad Abichaker, president and founder of Cedar Environment, an ecologically friendly waste management company, who told the aspiring entrepreneurs to never lose sight of their principles regardless of profit.

He warned them that the odds of building a successful business from scratch were not in their favor, particularly in the Arab world where laws and society aren’t favorable to new startups. But he added that the biggest barrier to success is fear – broken in the region following the self-immolation of Mohammad Bouazizi.

“I’m really optimistic about the days we’re living in,” Abichaker said. “The status quo has been broken and the region will change a lot.”

“This is our turn,” he added.

In contrast with most of the Arab world where women’s role has been marginalized in the business world, the majority of entrepreneurs showcasing at the competition were women, who own 30 percent of Lebanon’s small and medium enterprises.

Another entrepreneur who shared his experience was Tony Haddad, founder of Technica, an automation service for food, beverages and other containers. The engineer-turned-entrepreneur proudly outlined the history of his company from its founding in 1982 in the midst of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon through the July 2006 war, when they consistently met all their delivery deadlines.

“We never made any excuses. We always delivered on time,” he said.

Today it is one of the leading companies of its kind in the region, with operations in 32 countries – major clients include Proctor and Gamble.

Indeed, perseverance in the face of adversity is a character trait that Lebanese entrepreneurs have earned over the years.

In that same spirit, the team from Tripoli, Tourathi, didn’t let their city’s ongoing crisis stop them from getting their product completed in time for the competition – even though the violence caused the temporary closure of a factory that manufactured parts of their candle sticks and also led to nearly half of their team of 25 dropping out.

“The candle [stick] is the map of Lebanon and we put the candle in the north because there have been a lot of problems in the north. Our candle can light the north,” said Omar Kabbarra from the Tourathi, at his team’s booth during the judging session. “We made this product because each member of our company has family outside Lebanon, and this is a great souvenir to remember the country.”

All of the teams interviewed said they planned on continuing with their companies after the competition regardless of the judge’s selections. Luckily for the hard-working entrepreneurs the day wasn’t all about business. On the agenda were also some examples of social and cultural entrepreneurship.

This included an interactive presentation by laughter yoga instructor Sabine El Jizi, who got the audience on their feet for some laughs and stretches.

A display of cultural entrepreneurship – bringing African music to Lebanon – was provided by Sahar Al Khatib, whose group Jebe Bara gave a performance as well as an impromptu lesson of Guinean drum playing to the students and dignitaries in the audience.

The day’s events were wrapped up with the students clapping along to the beat of the drums after seeing the results of their past six months of work.

“This is one of the cornerstones of fighting unemployment,” said Dima El Khoury, executive director of Injaz Lebanon. “When you have a generation that’s innovative and creates something out of nothing, more youth will reach their potential.”

By Brooke Anderson |


Arab Women Turn to Crafts as a Source of Employment


AMMAN — Through their eight years of marriage the husband of Suzan Qouqas would not allow her to work, even though she had studied to become a pharmacist. A year ago, she found herself divorced, with three children and no career.

At first, Ms. Qouqas, 34, who lives in Amman, found solace in baking desserts and selling them to neighbors and friends.

Then one day Ms. Qouqas stumbled onto a Facebook page called Sitat Byoot, or Women of the Home, an online start-up created two years ago by Saeed Omar, 34, as a marketplace for Arab handicrafts created by women.

Sitat Byoot promotes, sells and delivers worldwide handmade products created by Arab women — and it provides skills training.

Ms. Qouqas decided to learn how to crochet, a form of knitting that produces lacy fabrics, using a hooked needle. Today her skills in crocheting are turning her into a promising entrepreneur.

“I knew I had it in me to create, work and support my children, but I didn’t think I could implement my ideas,” Ms. Qouqas said during an interview.

Ms. Qouqas is one of an increasing number of Jordanian women who, for a few hours each day, escape from family and social constraints into gainful, home-based activities: Some plant, some weave, some work as designers.

For those who do not have access to the Internet, marketing is done primarily by word of mouth. They sell their products to relatives and neighbors: More and more, they make a significant contribution to the household’s income.

Because they work from home — and often alone — they can do so without alarming Jordan’s predominantly conservative society. They still tend to children and chores.

Even in rural districts, still struggling with basic services and chronic unemployment, women of all ages are learning skills that match the needs of their communities. Loans from foreign donors and nongovernmental organizations are being allocated to training and skills development as the cost of living continues to rise.

Over the years, women in Jordan have become judges, lawyers, doctors and ministers, but traditional attitudes toward gender roles have been embedded in the culture. Rising enrollment of women in universities has yet to show through in the broader labor force.

“The challenges for women’s equality still remain in family relationships and the struggle begins from there,” said Layla Naffa, a project director at the Arab Women’s Organization, a nongovernmental organization that was founded in 1970 by a group of Jordanian women activists.

Two-thirds of unemployed university graduates are women, according to the department of statistics. The mismatch between job requirements and skill sets is a major contributing factor to unemployment, according to the International Monetary Fund.

The Sitat Byoot Facebook page created by Mr. Omar for women’s creations already has over 24,000 fans and a link to the store.

“My family is into retail and fashion so I was born into this,” he said. “The handmade industry worldwide is huge and the Arab world is not contributing. I thought let’s solve this problem and make these products appear.”

The online marketing provided by Sitat Byoot has become popular among Jordanian women.

“I already had the passion and commitment to make unique products that cannot be easily found in shops,” said Ms. Qouqas, “but it is very difficult to do it without a platform, so Sitat Byoot has helped in terms of implementation.”

“There is a demand for good quality,” she said of the items she crochets, “and when it is handmade I choose the colors and the threads.”

Other products being crafted by women include designs on glass cups, chocolates and wrappings for them, jewelry, stationery, organic soaps made with olive oil, and school bags.

International organizations are giving loans to locally trained women who are buying their own sewing machines to create school bags, while women in rural areas are being trained to plant and cultivate vegetables in their home to be sold in the market.

Alaa’ Abu Karaki, public relations and projects manager at DVV International, a German adult education association that implements development projects, said: “After the training, the women are eager to apply for loans and to have their own greenhouses. They have commitment, enthusiasm and patience, and they are becoming the leaders in the family.”

But real challenges remain for these women.

For those who live in more conservative and rural districts, just going to training sessions outside the home can cause family feuds. For other women, lack of transportation from rural districts to training centers in Amman is a barrier.

The economic sustainability of these small projects also remains a main concern for both the women and for small businesses like Sitat Byoot.

“We are a small start-up and we don’t have any investors,” said Mr. Omar. “Social impact investors are absent, and so sustainability is a big problem and it is something I worry about a lot.”

For women like Ms. Qouqas, meeting with other women at the training sessions has both inspired her and empowered her.

“I really want to believe that people will realize that this is part of our tradition and that women have talents and have always worked,” she said. “They can contribute a lot to society.”