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  • 25 Jun 2024 11:32 AM | Anonymous

    Dr. Ossama Hassanein is an entrepreneur, mentor, and venture capitalist based in Silicon Valley. Over the last 35 years, he has managed over $1 billion in international technology funds in roles such as EVP of Berkeley International, Chairman of Technocom Ventures, President of Newbridge Networks, Senior Managing Director of Newbury Ventures, and Chairman of the Rising Tide Fund. In the 1980s, he led the mezzanine financing of over 80 Silicon Valley IT companies, including Adaptec, Cirrus Logic, Atmel, PMC-Sierra, LSI Logic, Linear Technologies, and Oracle, with a combined market value exceeding $400 billion.

    In the past 25 years, he co-founded or chaired seven high-tech startups in the U.S., UK, France, and Switzerland, including ACC (acquired by Ericsson), Algety (acquired by Corvis), HighDeal (acquired by SAP), HighWave (listed on Euronext), NetCentrex (acquired by Comverse), nCipher (listed on LSE), and Zong (acquired by eBay). He served as a Director at Bank of the West in San Francisco and the Mohammed Bin Rashid Innovation Fund in Dubai. He is a charter member of C100, supporting Canadian entrepreneurs.

    Dr. Hassanein has served on several boards, including the University of British Columbia (UBC), Harvard University Center for Middle Eastern Studies, UCSF Department of Ophthalmology, and TechWadi. He is also a member of the LebNet senior advisory board. He has been involved with Relief International, PSD, and the American University in Cairo. He has lectured at Stanford, UC Berkeley, and other prestigious institutions and has spoken on entrepreneurship at the White House, State Department, MIT, Harvard, and Qatar Computer Research Institute.

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    Tell us about your journey to the US: Successes and challenges you faced while adapting to your new environment?

    With my family's support in Alexandria, Egypt, I earned a B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering with First Class Honors from the University of Alexandria. I later pursued an MBA, M.Sc., and Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. As Chairman of ACC in Santa Barbara, our routers led to an acquisition by Ericsson, expanding their remote access capabilities. Post-acquisition, I managed           $1 billion in international tech funds across roles like EVP at Berkeley International and Chairman at Technocom Ventures. I've co-founded and chaired seven startups globally, including Algety (acquired by Corvis) and NetCentrex (acquired by Comverse), while supporting life science ventures and mentoring through organizations like C100 and LebNet.

    Throughout these endeavors, I faced many challenges but overcame them by surrounding myself with like-minded friends and business associates. One of my favorite quotes is, "Quiet the cautious voice and let excitement cheer you on!"

    What inspired you to pursue a career in technology?

    I was inspired to pursue a career in technology by its profound ability to improve lives and solve real-world problems. The advancements in AI, autonomous vehicles, clean tech, and healthcare demonstrate technology's transformative power. Reflecting on the technological landscape from forty years ago, when I first became involved with startups and venture capital financing, I am amazed at the rapid progress and its immediate, enormous impact.

    What led you to transition to the VC and the investment world?

    My transition to the venture capital and investment world was driven by the desire to provide funding, counsel, and mentorship to startups and early-stage companies with tremendous growth potential. I enjoy working with teams that push the boundaries of technical feasibility to advance science and make a positive impact on society.

    How does Rising Tide VC define and identify visionary companies that are breaking barriers and creating new markets?

    Revolutionary companies are rare. At Rising Tide VC, we focus on innovations that can transform existing industries or create new markets. We seed-finance entrepreneurs in the information technology and healthcare sectors, aiming to make a significant positive impact.

    When evaluating investments, we look for a minimum viable product (MVP) with early market traction and a scalable revenue model focused on positive unit economics. We prioritize management teams with experience, domain knowledge, and leadership qualities. Additionally, we seek companies targeting large market opportunities with a clear exit path within three to five years. We ensure they can return our capital at least ten times and have at least eighteen months' cash runway. Lastly, we assess the potential for Rising Tide to add substantial value. These criteria help us identify and define visionary businesses.

    You have been involved in the growth of numerous successful companies. Which achievement are you most proud of and why? 

    I have been part of the global startup community for decades, witnessing various investment opportunities across corporate and international venture capital, spinouts, joint ventures, seed and early-stage funding, pre-IPO, and mezzanine financing. I am proud of every investment I've made.

    Two notable portfolio companies I engaged with during their pre-revenue stages are Aspect Biosystems and Precision Nanosystems. Both joined us at UBC's biomedical incubator. Aspect Biosystems, which prints human tissue on demand, recently partnered with Novo Nordisk in a deal worth over $2.7 billion. Precision Nanosystems (PNI), a leader in lipid nanoparticle genomic medicines, including mRNA vaccines, was acquired by Danaher Corporation’s Life Sciences platform. With commitment, teamwork, and a focus on outcomes, both companies are making a lasting positive impact on human health.

    How did you become involved with LebNet? How would you like to see LebNet evolve?

    My close business colleagues introduced me to LebNet, highlighting its focus on investing in businesses with unique intellectual property and a competitive edge, led by trustworthy and successful teams delivering high-impact value propositions. I fully endorse this mission and take great pride in seeing its growth and success. Looking ahead, I would like to see LebNet continue providing its esteemed members with the tools and resources needed to accelerate their growth.

    What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs looking to make their mark in the tech industry? 

    I have seen many successful companies grow across Silicon Valley, North America, Europe, and the Middle East. These companies share a common trait: they are building innovative businesses that can transform the global economy.

    For aspiring young entrepreneurs, my advice is to build dedicated, cooperative, and results-oriented teams. Partner with those who value your support and are eager to grow and make a positive impact. Focus on reviving underfunded, emerging, and outdated industries with innovative solutions. By surrounding yourself with passionate people, you can help develop new industries, technologies, and global opportunities.

    What trends in technology and innovation do you find most exciting right now? What do you see as the future of venture capital and technology investments over the next decade?

    The rise of clean tech, healthcare, autonomous vehicles, and artificial intelligence marks an exciting era, especially compared to my four decades in startups and venture capital. These innovations are making a profound impact by improving lives and livelihoods, particularly for underserved communities.

    Success in venture capital requires continuous learning and venturing beyond traditional paths. VCs must swiftly identify startup challenges and make informed decisions. Looking forward, venture capital will increasingly rely on data and analytics over intuition and personal connections. Artificial intelligence and machine learning will be pivotal in this evolution. Moreover, investors will focus more on building relationships and fostering a community with the startups in their portfolios.

    If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

    If I could give one piece of advice to my younger self, it would be encapsulated in the following quotations: "Don't compare yourself to others. Your strengths and weaknesses are your own, and you have your own path to pave. Enjoy the journey without comparing it to others' paths. Find your voice and don't be afraid to use it. Don't worry excessively about others' opinions or base your path on perceived expectations."

    As Benjamin Franklin wisely said, "Diligence is the mother of good luck."

    How do you envision the impact of your work on further generations of entrepreneurs and investors?

    I aim to impact future entrepreneurs and investors by sharing experiences that inspire and guide. For partners, I stress investing in exceptional entrepreneurs to scale disruptive technologies, networking with global influencers, and maintaining rigorous due diligence for mutual value creation. In venture capital, continual learning and agile decision-making are crucial for success beyond conventional paths. For entrepreneurs, I promote a passion for technology and understanding its societal impacts. Staying ahead in scientific advancements and collaborating with innovative groups pushing technical boundaries are pivotal.

    In essence,”The Future is Brighter Together”.

  • 28 May 2024 1:17 PM | Anonymous

    Najib Khouri-Haddad is a seasoned technology executive with hands-on experience in venture capital, general management, marketing, strategic alliances, and mergers and acquisitions. He has worked at renowned companies like IBM, Siemens, 3COM, and HP, and currently holds the position of General Partner at Sway Ventures – a role he has excelled in for the past decade. Najib has served on the board of numerous startups, many of which are VC-backed, and has been actively involved in non-profit organizations like LebNet as Director and now as Secretary for over a decade. Najib is dedicated to mentoring members and providing invaluable guidance to those in need. He has been instrumental in recruiting women to the board and driving the organization's diversity and growth.

    Tell us about your journey from Lebanon to your first position in the US.

    After graduating from the American University of Beirut (AUB) in 1984 with a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering, I came to the US to pursue my Master’s degree at the University of Michigan (UM) which I completed within a year. Upon graduation, I accepted a software engineering role at ROLM, IBM’s telecommunication division, trading Michigan’s winter weather for California’s warmth. Originally, I envisioned gaining a few years of experience in the US before returning to Lebanon, provided that the war would end. However, securing a green card and US citizenship, alongside Lebanon’s continuous instability, led me to integrate into the new nation.

    What insights can you share about the importance of gaining diverse experiences and exploring different roles throughout your career?

    Career shifts and cross-continental moves, although difficult, have enriched my trajectory and spurred my growth. I believe in continuous learning, new experiences, and the avoidance of cruising in a comfort zone. My interest in business led me to shift from tech-heavy roles to management, sales, and marketing. I pursued a Master's in Engineering Management at Stanford University while working, which opened the door to positions in product planning and management at IBM and Siemens, and later in sales and corporate development at 3Com and HP. Transitioning to mergers and acquisitions and venture capital allowed me to directly impact company strategy and contribute to high-profile exits like the Palm Pilot spin-off during the dot-com era.

    How would you describe the relationship between Marketing Business Development, Management, and Software engineering?

    A solid technical foundation is critical in the tech industry. It gave me instant credibility and a problem-solving mindset that were crucial in every role I took on thereafter. Understanding the technology as an engineer allows for better communication with diverse audiences like salespeople, channel partners, and customers, boosting confidence and public speaking skills as a subject matter expert.

    What inspired you to pursue a career as a General Partner at Sway Venture, where you focused on investing in early to mid-stage technology companies for the past decade?

    After managing sales for 3Com in the MENA region, I joined a corporate development team in the company in California during the late 90s tech boom. The internet was being built, technological advancement was rapid, and competition was fierce. No company could keep up alone, so acquisitions became a way to move fast into new sectors. I focused on identifying strategic opportunities in M&A and venture investments that would create synergies and long-term growth. Leveraging my tech background and market insight, I led numerous acquisitions and investments, marking my entry into the venture capital world. My product management roles prepared me to seek short-term growth opportunities, while my engineering roles trained me to focus on the present. Driven by a passion to guide companies in their growth strategy, I was inspired to launch and join Sway Ventures in 2013.

    Could you discuss your experiences as one of the original architects of LebNet? What were your responsibilities during the initial stages, and what role do you currently hold within the organization?

    Elie Habib and George Akiki approached me in 1999 with the idea of creating a networking group for the Lebanese in tech. I joined the board as Secretary during Akiki's presidency in 2012, focused on building a member database, expanding our membership and improving our website’s backend. We established our first fundraising campaign and budget to create a baseline for managing and growing the group. As part of the Executive Committee, I contributed to updating bylaws and enhancing inclusivity within the organization. Over the last 10 years, I've served as Director and am still the Secretary today, mentoring members, promoting diversity, encouraging women to join the board, and providing guidance to those in need.

    What do you see as LebNet’s most remarkable achievements and where would you like LebNet to be in the future?

    LebNet has established itself as a prominent network of professionals across North America. Its mission to facilitate networking and support members while serving Lebanon with its talent and knowledge has been remarkable. Despite LebNet’s expansive reach, its communities are self-sustaining, fostering activities and attracting participants from different backgrounds. Its mentorship programs, internships, conferences, and events have made a significant impact beyond the 1500 members. Looking ahead, I envision LebNet expanding to become an influential force in North America.

    Finally, to close, what is your proudest accomplishment to date?

    It takes a village to unwind and rebuild families as they immigrate from another nation. Groups like LebNet alleviate the burden of starting anew by accelerating newcomers' integration and networking. I’m proud to be part of that village. On a professional level, I’m proud of my contributions to significant spin-offs, investments, exits, and product launches. While my career has covered a lot of ground, my greatest accomplishment remains finding balance between my passion and my family – those who have accompanied me on the journey.

  • 18 May 2024 6:11 AM | Anonymous

    Michelle Tager has over 30 years of international experience in law and education. She founded and manages Alefb, a center promoting Arabic language and culture to children, and has been involved in tech-driven educational initiatives. As Executive Director of LebNet, she tripled its membership and expanded it to four cities, also launching a mentoring and accelerator program for Lebanese startups. She holds a Master’s in Law from Université de Paris II, a Mediation diploma from UC Berkeley, and a Leadership certificate from Stanford. Trilingual in Arabic, French, and English, Michelle contributes to tech and education through her work with USAID, the World Bank, and other NGOs.

    As the founder and president of Alefb Arabic Online, What inspired you to create Alefb, and how has the program evolved over the years?

    I created Alefb in 1994 after I had my first child in Bilad Al Hijra - Paris, France. I wanted to pass on my language and cultural heritage, so I used my legal background to start a nonprofit educational program teaching Arabic to children. At that time, teaching Arabic playfully as a foreign language was unprecedented.

    Despite Arabic being considered challenging and having a mixed reputation, Alefb highlights its poetic beauty and richness, aiming to promote Arabic culture globally. With growing demand, especially in Gulf countries, we empower learners to showcase their Arabic skills. We also turn the latent identity crisis affecting heritage children into a powerful wealth.

    Using Learning Experience Design (LXD), we tailor our teaching to individual needs for an engaging learning journey. Celebrating our 30th anniversary, we remain committed to making Arabic accessible and engaging. Through technology and online classes, we've achieved a 95% retention rate, proving our success.

    What academic background and experiences have shaped your unique perspective on the intersection of law and education, and what advice would you offer to college students based on your journey?

    I hold a master's degree in Law, with certifications in Mediation and Leadership in teaching foreign languages. My law degree has proved invaluable internationally, and my passion for education has led me to focus on civic education and combating corruption in education. I advise college students to pursue a broad foundation degree to gain essential skills and to stay curious in our changing world. To me, The relationship between law and education is profound: education empowers individuals to understand legal systems, while law governs behavior.

    What has been your experience and impact in international development and education projects?

    As an Independent Consultant, I managed MENA program activities for the Global Fund for Women, developed a network of advisers, awarded grants to local NGOs, and provided IT training for Yemeni women in San Francisco - CA.

    For a USAID in Haiti, I designed a Citizen Education Strategy involving youth and women’s organizations, bar associations, and government institutions, and I led Rule of Law Public Awareness in the West Bank, reforming a school-based Civic Education program. At the World Bank Institute, I conducted blended learning activities across Francophone Africa and Arab countries.

    All these initiatives significantly promoted education, governance, girls' education, Education for All, post-basic education, and employability in these regions.

    As a leader in the Arab Film and Media Institute, how do you envision the future of Arab cinema and media, and what role do you see yourself playing in shaping that future?

    Since 2005, I've been involved with this organization, starting as a volunteer promoting Arab films in schools. Later, through, I became a sponsor, then a board member, and now Chairwoman, focusing on funding and strategic initiatives.

    For me AFMI plays a vital role for our community's cultural needs. Promoting Lebanese directors and films like "Heritages," "Capernaum," and "The Swimmers" has been rewarding. We embrace innovation, screening one of the first Arabic movies in VR in 2022.

    My focus is on expanding access to Arab films in schools and colleges, and empowering young Arab and Arab American creators to shape their own narratives.

    How did you become involved with LebNet, and what contributions have you made to further its mission of fostering entrepreneurship and innovation?

    My involvement with LebNet showcased its networking mission. Initially connected through personal relationships with the founders, I was inspired by the dedication of all board members.

    During my tenure as executive director, through LebNet Ignite, we facilitated the entrepreneurship movement, supported by the Lebanese government, assisting young Lebanese entrepreneurs to experience Silicon Valley's unique ecosystem.Today, it warms my heart to see the impact on these determined entrepreneurs. This fall, I'm thrilled to collaborate with Audrey Nakad, a graduate of LebNet Ignite, on a LebNet webinar about language learning and technology.

    Another rewarding aspect has been the youth engagement through chapters, from college students to Early in Career, building a supportive community that empowers Lebanese professionals and drives economic growth.

    Contributing to LebNet's mission by mentoring aspiring entrepreneurs, fostering partnerships, and advocating for Lebanese startups has been very gratifying.

    What is your vision for the future of LebNet?

    For me, LebNet is a vital platform for all Lebanese in tech, serving as the oldest network of Lebanese professionals in North America. Its vision of creating synergies among members is crucial for our community's advancement, both in our homeland and in our host countries.

    I envision LebNet broadening its scope to encompass a wider range of professional sectors, recognizing that technology transcends industry boundaries. I see LebNet expanding internationally, fostering solidarity among members for mentoring, job opportunities, business collaborations, and innovation.

    While funding has been a challenge, I believe establishing sustainable revenue streams is crucial. The vast network cultivated by LebNet presents opportunities for monetization through a robust membership program. I see momentum building towards this path, enabling LebNet to continue sparking innovation and driving positive change in Lebanon and beyond.

  • 30 Apr 2024 9:09 AM | Anonymous

    Mariam Dabboussi, Product Manager at YouTube, is part of the team that oversees the Homepage for 2.7 billion users worldwide. Currently, her focus is on enhancing the viewing experience for women by personalizing and improving recommendations. She joined Alphabet in 2018 driven by her passion for technology's transformative potential and its capacity to provide equal opportunities for all.

    Before her current role, Mariam was a Regional Marketing Manager at Google focused on leveraging technology for Arabic users in the Middle East & North Africa. She spearheaded projects to improve the region’s representation within tech, such as launching the Google Assistant in Arabic across 18 markets and redefining its response to emotional distress, scaled to languages globally.  

    In addition to her professional endeavors, Mariam generously volunteers with LebNet's Women in Tech community Tech Fellows program.  Through this initiative, she actively support first generation, low income students in navigating a successful career path in the tech industry post graduation.

    Mariam holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial Engineering from the American University of Beirut (AUB).

    How would you describe your career path and what do you enjoy most about your current job?

    I’m currently a Product Manager at YouTube, and am part of the team focused on enhancing the personalization of YouTube recommendations for our vast user base of 2.7 billion globally, with the goal to drive user growth. Right now, I’m focused on improving the viewing experience for women across YouTube by introducing AI and algorithm fairness to the recommendations system to make YouTube more personalized and valuable for women worldwide, catering to their diverse needs.

    In 2018, I joined Google driven by my passion for technology and its ability to positively transform lives on a large scale, creating equal opportunities for all. Prior to this role, I served as a Regional Marketing Manager at Google, where my efforts were centered around harnessing technology’s potential to benefit millions of Arabic-speaking users across the Middle East & North Africa. Some notable achievements from this role include launching the Google Assistant in Arabic, creating an interactive platform to showcase Africa’s oldest civilization to a global audience, and revolutionizing Google Assistant’s capability to provide support for users experiencing emotional distress, a solution later implemented across multiple languages worldwide.

    Almost 1 year ago, you filed your first patent at Google. Can you tell us more about it?

    In late 2021 and early 2022, amidst the growing excitement for the World Cup in Qatar, I identified a significant gap. How can we make it easier to find establishments such as cafes, bars, and restaurants screening the World Cup? This query evolved into a feature that I believed Google Search and Maps could effectively facilitate.

    In discussions with a few colleagues, we collectively filed US-20230308829-A1, proposing a system designed to enable Searching For Local Establishments Based On Content Presented (link). We envisioned that the application of this solution could extend beyond the World Cup to any major sports league or competition. From La Liga to The World Cricket League, users would no longer need to contact the establishments to confirm if they’re airing the game, simplifying the viewing experience with friends.

    In 2022, you were selected as part of the 2022 IMF (International Monetary Fund) Youth Fellowship program, where you discussed global economic challenges and focused on responses to help with inclusive 

    growth, climate change and building a better future for youth.

    Share with us one of your innovative ideas on climate change, inflation and food insecurities, and in your opinion, how can it be fixed.

    The fellowship provided me with an enriching experience, deepening my understanding of the IMF and its mission to support economic policies that promote financial stability and monetary cooperation, and address future challenges affecting the economy and job creation.

    My fellowship focused on Climate Change, during which my team researched the countries responsible for the largest carbon emissions presently. We provided counsel on policy improvements that could be implemented. For instance, we proposed that the United States consider adopting a tax credit or rebate policy to incentivize multinational corporations to invest in carbon capture technology, thereby offsetting and reducing their carbon emissions. This could be achieved through methods such as imposing additional tariffs commensurate with the level of carbon emissions, or granting tax relief to compliant companies.

    What inspired you to co-found “Arabs@Google”, and what’s “Arabs@Google” mission?

    We created Arabs@Google, an Employee Resource Group at Google, to foster a community to advance shared professional and community objectives among Arabs and allies globally (comprising over 2000 members).

    Our initiative was founded by bringing together existing regional Arab focused groups to strengthen our efforts of building community within Google. By amplifying Arab voices and promoting broader awareness of Arab perspectives, we can foster an inclusive environment for cultural exchange. The group is committed to offering mentorship, support, and hold space for Arab Googlers from various regions, offices, and faiths to connect and thrive.

    You received many awards and got honoured many times. Tell us more about your “Rising Star Award” from WOMENAiT.

    Women Of MENA In Technology (WOMENAiT) is an NGO established in Silicon Valley, with a mission to close the diversity and gender gap in STEM by connecting, mentoring, educating and elevating Middle Eastern and North African women in STEM globally.

    The Rising Star award recognizes emerging talent in STEM under the age of 30, who in their short time rising up are already reaching back. I am deeply grateful to the WOMENAiT board and team for selecting me for this prestigious award in 2023. It is an immense honor to be recognized for my work in the Middle East and North Africa, increasing the region’s representation in tech.

    Specifically, my work on projects such as the Google Assistant in Arabic and the rollout of emotional wellbeing feature during the COVID19 pandemic, which was later scaled to English and other languages globally has been highlighted. This award serves as both recognition of past achievements and motivation to continue making meaningful contributions to the field.

    What is your most proud of accomplishment you did so far?

    My current work is a profound source of pride and fulfillment for me. Improving the women experience on YouTube is deeply connected to 

    my mission of creating a more equitable and representative experience for women and underrepresented groups in the tech industry. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to focus on this space and to work on algorithm fairness within our recommendations system.

    What advice would you give to changemakers, like yourself, to start their journey and achieve their goals?

    The best advice I’ve received, and one that I’d like to share with you, is to lean into what uniquely qualifies your background for the role you’re interested in. When aiming for a software engineering position at a big tech company, you’re competing with the brightest minds globally. However, if for instance your goal is to secure a software engineering role focused on internationalization at big tech where your passion, interests, and experience lie in launching products on a global scale, the pool of candidates well-suited for this role is much smaller.

    Lean into what makes you unique and tell a story with your background that is so connected with your goals, making it a no brainer that you are made for the role.

  • 16 Apr 2024 3:54 AM | Anonymous

    As the Country Manager at Aspire Software Lebanon, Nabil Mardelli is responsible for creating, expanding, developing, and running the company’s operations in Lebanon.

    One of Nabil’s notable achievements was establishing the company in Lebanon in July 2022.  WIth the support of an inspiring executive team and dedicated colleagues, Nabil successfully grew the team to 100 employees within a year, with plans to double the workforce by the end of 2024.

    Nabil holds an engineering degree from the American University in Beirut (AUB) and has obtained various IT certifications.  

    Your background in Telecom/IT and operational management is impressive. Tell us briefly about your journey and how it led you to Aspire Software?

    I was born and raised in Lebanon before immigrating to Canada in my mid-20s. Despite facing a few hurdles, I embarked on a career spanning over 20 years in the telecommunications industry. Throughout my journey, I primarily specialized in operations, assuming various roles encompassing support, implementation, and service delivery. This path took me across three continents, providing me with invaluable experiences in diverse cultural and professional landscapes.

    In October 2021, I joined Aspire Software in Montreal, Canada, as a senior operational director. Subsequently, in July 2022, I had the privilege of establishing our company’s presence in Lebanon, with operations officially starting in September 2022. Aspire Software embodies the mission and culture that I have always sought in a mature company, making it a fulfilling professional environment for me.

    Aspire software is the operating arm of Valsoft, can you elaborate on Valsoft’ s mission and how does Aspire contribute to achieving it?

    Valsoft is an entrepreneurial company dedicated to the acquisition, enhancement, and sustainable growth of businesses, all while empowering its companies and offering opportunities for its human resources to build a better future. Aspire serves as the operational arm of Valsoft, embodying a commitment to nurturing, enhancing, and growing acquired companies through investment in time, resources, and knowledge.

    The leadership team creates an environment of engagement, making difficult decisions easier to own, drive and implement. They possess the expertise to bring out the best in their teams and are deeply committed to career development and growth.

    Having worked on 3 continents, what led you to choose Lebanon with Aspire?

    In every setting, challenges are inevitable, but at Aspire, we are unwaveringly dedicated to success. With some owners and executives at Valsoft and Aspire, tracing their roots back to Lebanon, our bond with Lebanon as our mother country runs deep. Moreover, Lebanese talent is renowned for its high level of education and proficiency in multiple languages. Our mission at Aspire has been to cultivate an environment where our workforce can thrive and excel to its fullest potential.

    Starting Aspire in Lebanon during challenging times required courage:

    • What motivated you and kept you optimistic about success?

    It never crossed my mind that these challenges could be showstoppers. As I mentioned earlier, the supportive environment fostered by Valsoft and Aspire makes hard tasks easy to achieve. Having the confidence and belief that we can achieve our objectives is a big factor in our success. Thanks to this mindset, we were able to expand the company to 100 employees in less than a year.

    • What were the main challenges you encountered when establishing Aspire in Lebanon? How did you overcome them?

    Beyond the challenges of high internet cost, unreliability, and frequent government office closures, it’s evident that the Lebanese workforce has lost its ability to envision a future in their homeland. Understandably, the prevailing sentiment is one of disillusionment, leading to a lack of ambition in building careers.

    We noticed a lack of hope and aspiration in their mindset, overshadowed by the persistent daily challenges they face. When I asked about their long-term career goals, job seekers often seemed perplexed, as if such aspirations were foreign concepts. In a sense, they were right; I was an alien to their struggles and losses. It became clear that I needed to bring them alternatives and career plans that would foster growth and optimism.

    Consequently, we established an environment conducive to nurturing long-term career plans, with each employee encouraged to actively participate and take ownership of their success. Rather than solely attributing challenges to the country's circumstances, our small and dedicated team was empowered to be part of the solution.

    As Lebanon’s Country Manager, what aspect of your daily responsibilities do you find most fulfilling?

    Working closely with our employees is the most fulfilling aspect of my role. Anticipating opportunities for mutual growth and helping them realize their achievements and contributions are fundamental to their career growth and to building a successful company.

    What is your long-term vision for Aspire software in Lebanon? Do you foresee expansion in new markets?

    Valsoft’s acquisitions have nearly doubled from what they were two years ago, and we are on track to reach nearly 100 companies by the end of 2024. With this growth, the demand for Lebanese talent is expected to increase significantly, prompting us to aim to double our resources by the year’s end. We have ongoing plans for further expansion and recruitment, which are currently under evaluation.

    After building your team in Lebanon, what advice do you have for young professionals entering the workforce?

    Be humble and stay hungry. Believe in teamwork and in the company’s core values. Focus on building your career and think long term.

    Is there anything else you’d like to share about your journey with Aspire?

    We cannot achieve our objectives without the right structure and colleagues. I am truly blessed to be surrounded by talented individuals who consistently bring their best to the table and understand the importance of teamwork and a shared vision. Aspire Software’s journey in Lebanon started as a risky challenge, but it has become our finest and most remarkable project. Moving forward, we are committed to continued growth and expansion while remaining true to our culture and core values.

  • 02 Apr 2024 8:25 AM | Anonymous

    In March, LebNet celebrated Women’s Month with the theme “Inspire Inclusion”, featuring our Women in Tech leaders who are championing the advancement of fellow women in the tech industry, alongside the LebNet Women Tech Fellows. At LebNet, our commitment to fostering a gender-equal world remains unwavering. We aspire to a world free from bias, stereotypes, and discrimination - one that embraces diversity, equity, and inclusion.

    Quotes from LebNet’s Women Tech Leaders

    Thank you, Layal Rouhana, for your exemplary woman leadership as a LebNet board member and guiding force behind the LebNet Women in Tech community and its mentorship program. Your dedication and passion are truly appreciated as you empower women in tech to achieve their fullest potential.

    Thank you Aya Mouallem for leading the LebNet Fellowship program, empowering women in tech! As a co-founder of All Girls Code, you have inspired hundreds of girls in the Arab world in STEM. Your advocacy for equitable education has been featured by Forbes, Cosmopolitan Middle East, and UN Women.

    Thank you, Joelle Bouchedid, for your invaluable contributions as a pioneering woman technologist and CEO of ArcusScale. Your leadership journey inspires innovation and growth in the tech industry and serves as a beacon of support for aspiring women in the field.

    Thank you Stephanie Semaan for trailblazing as a woman inspiring transformative change in the Metaverse. Your leadership in unlocking the future of work with Virtual Reality ignites innovation and empowers organizations to navigate confidently.

    LebNet Tech Fellows 2024:

    The WiT fellowship program, led by Aya Mouallem (WiT outreach lead), equips the next generation of Lebanese technologists, studying at various Lebanese universities, with the skills needed to succeed in tech careers post-university. Join us in celebrating the women who joined the program this year.

  • 07 Nov 2023 10:27 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Charbel Atala was born and raised in Lebanon, where he completed his legal education at the Lebanese University.  Later he pursued a Master's degree in Law and International Relations from Notre Dame University. His legal career began in Lebanon, specializing in insurance civil litigation. However, his journey took a significant turn after the 2006 conflict, leading him to relocate to Dubai and work with esteemed U.S. law firms such as Dewey & LeBoeuf and Dechert LLP. In 2017, he made a strategic move to California, immersing himself in the field of recruiting. Charbel secured franchise rights for Gecko Hospitality in crucial California markets, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, he spotted an opportunity for innovation and founded Talent Gurus, a retained search firm that is revolutionizing talent acquisition by prioritizing skill and performance-based hiring. Despite being a relatively small startup, Charbel Atala envisions significant growth for Talent Gurus. 

    For a deeper dive into how he manages to  juggle roles while maintaining work efficiency and success, explore our exclusive interview with him.

    You serve as the Managing Partner for two companies: how do you allocate your time between them?

    Splitting my time between Gecko Hospitality and Talent Gurus is an art and a science. Right now, it's a 70/30 balance, with Talent Gurus getting that essential 30% nurturing time. Thanks to a strong team of recruiters in Gecko Hospitality, we're able to run a tight ship, allowing me the headspace to strategize and fuel Talent Gurus' growth.

    Tell us more about Talent Gurus and Gecko Hospitality: Specifically the number of companies you collaborate with, the quantity of individuals placed through these companies, and the type of roles or talents that are particularly sought after.

    With Gecko Hospitality, we're talking about a national brand with local spice. My California market collaborates with dozens of regional hotel management firms and national hotel brands. Last year, we placed 50+ exceptional talents (various managerial positions), especially in an understaffed industry and hungry for skills. As for Talent Gurus, the spotlight is on senior-level roles. We're a boutique firm, so the numbers may be smaller, but each placement is a gem—12 last year, including two COOs and a CFO. At Talent Gurus, we pride ourselves on being at the forefront of talent solutions, offering innovative programs for professionals like SOLVE and PACE, designed to enhance leadership skills and career development. On the company front, we're expanding our services to include comprehensive talent attraction and acquisition strategies, employer branding, and advisory services. We craft customized employer value propositions, revamp career pages, and develop tailored social media content plans. Our offerings also extend to compensation and benefits advisory, ensuring our clients stay competitive and retain top talent. This holistic approach positions us as a strategic partner in our clients' success.

    Are they sister companies? Why did you decide to manage both at the same time? 

    Not in the traditional sense. My vision is to make Gecko Hospitality so seamless that it operates without needing my daily input, freeing me up to pour all my energy into growing Talent Gurus, my brainchild.

    How is your background in corporate law supporting your current roles? 

    Corporate law hasn't just given me a keen eye for detail; it's also fortified my understanding of organizational dynamics. It helps me navigate the intricate pathways of talent acquisition with an almost forensic accuracy. It's the secret sauce that adds depth to my role in both Gecko and Talent Gurus.

    What was the most challenging role for you and why?

    My greatest challenge lies in driving innovation within the industry and diversifying our service offerings in response to market demands, all while overseeing the operational aspects of the business. It’s about continuously evolving our practices and ensuring we meet the highest service delivery and operational excellence standards.

    You are a paid LebNet member, thank you for your contributions. Why did you decide to support LebNet and how do you think you can help us create more impact in our communities and for our members? 

    Supporting LebNet is more than just a financial contribution; it's a nod to my roots. Sure, there's a bit of "selfish" nostalgia to stay connected with the Lebanese community, but the real value lies in sharing my insights to help others navigate their careers. Let's create impact, one career at a time!

  • 27 Sep 2023 10:00 AM | Anonymous member

    Philippe Boutros moved to the US from Lebanon to study Philosophy at the University of Portland. From 2015 to 2022, he worked as a consultant for B2B tech companies (ranging from startups to Google, Amazon, and Microsoft). He subsequently ran Marketing for Transform Data, a Series A startup that was acquired by dbt Labs in February 2023.

    Since 2014, he has been deeply engaged in a variety of projects, amassing considerable expertise in the B2B market and marketing for dozens of tech companies. In 2022, he assumed the role of Vice President (Tech Sector) at ClearPath Strategies. He subsequently took the helm of marketing efforts at Transform Data, a data analytics firm that was acquired by dbt Labs in February 2023.  

    Boutros –an active LebNet member since 2015– recently relocated from Portland, Oregon to Boise, Idaho, where his wife joined Boise State University as a neuroscience professor. After Transform's acquisition, he deliberated running Marketing for other startups, but ultimately settled on trying to solve a problem that had irked him his entire career.

    “When software buyers at businesses need to buy something they don't have experience with, they spend an inordinate amount of time searching for, buying, and implementing software, even though someone in a similar position has already had to learn things the hard way. This results in, at best, wasted time, and at worst, the wrong software decision, a costly mistake,” he explained.  

    Hence he founded GetWhys, a resource to help software buyers find the right answers. Using the same data collection process as they do in market research, GetWhys is building InsightsDB, a proprietary database of research interviews with software buyers. GetWhys uses a commodity LLM to access the information in that database, helping customers save time identifying the right solution, negotiating the cost and contract, and efficiently implementing it. As Boutros put it in a prior interview, “It leverages the hindsight of people who come before you.”

    In August 2023, Boutros launched GetWhys’ first product, which is currently in closed beta testing with a dozen customers, ranging from AI startups to enterprises. Over the next few months, Boutros will keep letting organizations off the waitlist and they are always on the lookout for new joiners.

  • 22 Sep 2023 10:00 AM | Anonymous member

    As you navigate career goals and face personal challenges, your mental health well-being significantly impacts your overall quality of your life. A study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimated that over one in five U.S. adults live in moderate to severe mental health conditions (57.8 million in 2021). While treatment approaches differ based on specific conditions, the recommendation  to ‘talk with people’ remains a crucial piece of advice for individuals coping with stress or managing mental health concerns. Consequently, we now witness a range of services providing support and guided meditations to address this need. 

    One such service is Mind-Easy

    Emerging as a response to the cultural shock faced by its three co-founders (pictured below), Alexandra Assouad (Lebanon), Dalia Ahmed (Yemen), and Akanksha Shelat (India) - Mind-Easy is a mental health resource designed to aid clients while they wait for therapy services. By seamlessly integrating this resource into teletherapy services, Mind-Easy assists clients in preparing for their upcoming therapy sessions, leading to a reduction in drop-out rates, fostering an enhanced therapeutic alliance between clients and therapists, and ultimately improving the treatment outcomes.

    (The three co-founders Akanksha Shelat to the left, Alexandra Assouad in the middle and Dalia Ahmed)

    “I experienced a lot of external upheaval in my upbringing, and while I was fortunate enough to move to Toronto for education, I encountered a different form of turmoil, and this time it was internal,” shared Alexandra Assouad during an interview with LebNet. “Being far from my family in Lebanon, I had to adapt to a new culture and a new language.” 

    Assouad further explained that she and her co-founders struggled to find the support they needed. “It was particularly challenging to locate mental health solutions that truly understood our unique identities, or were available in our native dialects and languages. This is when we decided to pool our distinct but very complementary skill sets to create Mind-Easy.”

    The founding team is an embodiment of diversity. Beyond their cultural backgrounds, each member brought something new to the endeavor: Assouad’s background encompassed venture capital funding within the healthcare industry, Dalia Ahmed is pursuing a PhD in education with a specialization in Counseling and Psychotherapy, and Akanksha Shelat holds a BSc. in Computer Science and Cognitive Science. 

    The Next Frontier: Technology in Mental Health

    Launched in March of 2021, Mind-Easy offers virtual therapists proficient in several dialects and over 120 languages. These therapists take the form of AI-based avatars designed to represent diverse cultures and ethnicities. These avatars serve as helpful guides in areas such assertive communication, managing email-related stress, and handling challenging situations with a superior, among other relevant topics.  

    “We've established a premier network of more than 70 mental health specialists, representing diverse ethnicities, cultural and religious backgrounds.  Their invaluable clinical expertise ensures the rigorous assessment and validation of the modifications we make to our resources,” remarked  Assouad. “These dedicated experts have devoted their lifetimes to researching effective strategies, identifying suitable terminology and careful approaches for distinct identities. Our rigorous clinical validation process is applied to everything before it’s made public.  Our entire approach is self contained and devoid of reliance on any open-source data.” 

    At present, the founders focus on engaging companies that enroll their employees on the platform as a vital aspect of the company’s mission to deliver wellness services to its workforce. The team has more than a dozen corporate partners, primarily concentrating on large enterprises boasting a staff of 25,000 or more. Although they piloted a mental health clinic in the Metaverse, the team have been more focused on their online platform and B2B contracts. 

    “Our on-boarding process is straightforward, involving a brief set of questions to gauge each employee's current well-being, enabling us to tailor a personalized program. The interaction isn't a real-time conversation; it’s based on stored information. Whenever I, as a customer, pose a question to the chatbot, it responds with the knowledge it possesses,” explained Assouad. 

    Presently, the co-founders are actively seeking funding for their seed round, aiming to grow their team and acquire the talent to elevate their mission. Their ultimate goal is to establish themselves as frontrunners in the realm of mental well-being.  They plan to diversify their reach by venturing into additional sectors, with a strategic focus on partnering with hospitals and healthcare systems, as well as engaging the younger demographic through education institutions such as schools and colleges. 

    Each day presents an opportunity to promote awareness of individuals facing mental health challenges. A meaningful conversation, a thoughtful gesture, or a supportive action can have a profound impact. Thanks to technology, the world has the potential to improve significantly, with the assurance that there’s always someone to engage with even during the times when it seems otherwise. 

  • 25 Jul 2023 3:11 AM | Anonymous member

    Elie Habib is an accomplished venture consultant, investor, entrepreneur, and corporate executive with extensive experience in leadership, global venture investment, and consulting.  He is the Managing Principal at Venture Consulting Partners, providing advisory services in the USA and MENA regions. Elie founded the first VC fund in the Middle East, and has extensive experience in global venture investment serving on the boards of various VC-backed startups. He has also held several executive positions at Nokia and other US corporations. He holds an MS in computer science from Case Western University and a Maitrise in Computer Science from Toulouse, France.

    In 1999, Elie had the vision to create LebNet, a community platform for Lebanese high-tech professionals in the Bay Area. Serving as its president until 2010, Elie aimed to connect LebNet’s members, facilitate knowledge exchange, and encourage community contributions. Together with George Akiki, Fares Moubarak, and Khaled Nasr, they laid the foundation of this premier diaspora network for tech professionals worldwide.

    Tell us about your early beginnings

    Like numerous Lebanese immigrants, my personal journey mirrors those who were compelled to leave Lebanon during their formative years and eventually establish their lives in the United States after completing their higher education. Initially our contact with our families was limited to sporadic phone calls, letters, and infrequent visits.  Lebanon was still reeling from the aftermath of war, and each of us had to navigate our own paths and persevere to achieve our goals.

    In your current job: What do you enjoy the most? 

    Currently, my primary focus revolves around aiding funds in the US in their capital-raising efforts and providing consultation to corporations in the MENA region as they design and implement their VC programs. I firmly believe that this serves as a crucial foundation for large local corporations to strategically invest in startups, thereby expanding their distribution channels and markets. Ultimately, this can lead to the acquisition of startups and the provision of liquidity to local stakeholders. I enjoy solving this intricate puzzle and enabling a win-win situation for the local ecosystem. This entails fostering the growth and successful exit of startups and entrepreneurs, while enabling corporations to embrace external innovation internally. This, in turn, creates new job opportunities, markets and business models, ultimately culminating in liquidity for the investors. 

    You worked with Nokia before launching your own company Vusion: what influenced your decision and how would you describe your experience co-founding a company? 

    In 1998, I led the product team of a startup that went public through a successful IPO.  Following, Nokia acquired the company, and I became the Global VP of Engineering and SVP/GM, responsible for enterprise products, including security appliances.

    After six years at Nokia, I felt a strong desire to venture into another startup. In 2006, I partnered with a co-founder, secured funding, and established a company aimed at disrupting Netflix’s CD distribution business while pioneering high-definition video streaming. Our innovative value proposition gained traction, and we landed our first deal with Def-Jam to stream Rihanna’s “Umbrella” in high definition through a browser.  Although commonplace now, this exemplifies the ongoing cycle of innovation. As a CEO and founder, the experience was exhilarating, thrilling, daunting, challenging, and pushing the limits of creativity and tenacity. Enjoying the journey and trusting  intuition,  along with the advice from trusted friends, are crucial elements in this role.

    In 2010, you moved to the MENA region to take on the role of country manager at Abraaj Capital. What motivated this move?

    After selling my startup in 2009, a conversation with George Akiki,  who was leading a major initiative supported by Cisco and Intel for Lebanon, inspired me to establish a $50 million VC fund exclusively for Lebanese startups. This decision required me to move to Beirut to effectively deploy the fund. Initially, Abraaj Capital joined as a limited partner (LP) and later became a co-general partner (GP) under their own brand. 

    Moving to Lebanon from the US brought a blend of excitement, challenges and apprehension. The endeavor required more effort than anticipated, overcoming intricate social and geopolitical hurdles. My decision to start and lead LebNet, establish a fund, and relocate to Lebanon stemmed from a deep passion for driving positive change for the aspiring young Lebanese community. 

    You worked with funds in the US and the Mena region: How do you describe your experience in both? 

    Engaging in VC work is an exceptionally unique and fulfilling experience regardless of location, but the MENA region poses challenges compared to the US. The region lacks the same seamless economic systems, leading entrepreneurs to allocate more equity capital to address regional deficiencies vs. focusing on the core value proposition. There is also an imbalance between capital inflows and the supply of quality startups, resulting in inflated valuations without corresponding liquidity events for investors. Despite these challenges, job opportunities are being created, and local solutions are driving progress in the region. 

    What do you consider to be your biggest achievement?

    Professionally, LebNet.

    What do you see as LebNet’s most remarkable achievements?

    I am proud of LebNet’s remarkable evolution and grateful to all who have believed and supported our vision. Our unwavering faith in our mission, commitment to supporting our global community, and investments in our role as a professional bridge to Lebanon, have been key to LebNet’s success for the past 24 years and counting.  

    Another achievement is our commitment to reinventing LebNet while upholding key principles: 

    1) Implementing succession planning by setting term limits and electing diverse and younger board members. This empowers the next generation to lead and ensures the original founders and other board members transition gracefully into advisory roles, 2) Emphasizing inclusivity, and diversity among our members, communities and board members.  This generates excitement, volunteerism and engagement surpassing Lebnet’s early days. 3) Expanding LebNet’s reach beyond the Bay Area to major cities across the US and Canada through our effective organizational structure. By consistently implementing these principles, we propel LebNet forward, ensuring its relevance, impact, growth and engagement.

    LebNet’s success is exemplified by its ability to transcend religion, politics, social divisions, and gender issues that often hinder organizations. This harmonious collaboration among diverse individuals requires immense effort and unwavering commitment.  We take pride in LebNet’s brand value, as it showcases the possibility of creating a thriving environment of unified cooperation.

    As LebNet grows in membership and impact, there are ongoing challenges that require attention. One primary challenge is securing a budget to sustain and operate LebNet at its current scale. Historically, we have relied on a small group of generous donors for funding. I invite all members who benefit from the Lebnet platform to consider making donations and offering financial support. Every dollar makes a meaningful impact and contributes to the continued success of LebNet.

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LebNet, a non-profit organization, serves as a multi-faceted platform for Lebanese professionals residing in the US and Canada, entrepreneurs, investors, business partners in a broad technology eco-system, and acts as a bridge to their counterparts in Lebanon and the rest of the Middle East


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