Day One, BDLA16: Throngs of excited visitors

Beirut: “It was a proud moment for Lebanon,” said technologist Tony Haidar. “It was phenomenal, the exponential growth, since the beginning of the conference two years ago.

Haidar, a Lebanese/American IoT entrepreneur, whose company VinLi is based in Dallas, says that the large-scale BDL Accelerate 2016 forum proved a great deal about global interest in Lebanon as a tech center, a startup center, and a place with original ideas.

This year’s conference kicked off Thursday, with organizers saying that the 20,000 registrants expected were there in force, if not more, with the opening stages for BDL Governor Riad Salameh and for Tony Fadell, co-creator of the iPod and iPhone, filled to capacity and overflow with many others watching on screens outside the stages.

LAU marketing student, Tonia Herro, described the conference in glowing terms, saying it was interesting to meet new so manypeople, and be exposed to new ideas.”

She added that attending various workshops gave her an “Idea of how business actually works,” adding, “I liked the large volume of visitors, they were people that shared an equal excitement as to what was going on.”

The scene in the media section, was a convivial one of old news friends bumping into each other, while interviewees waiting in line for TV and print press interview, Famous photog Dan Taylor was there is his Punk Rock studded, vest, taking the top-notch head-shots he is known for of celebrity techies.

And there was much grumping about lack of plugs and guards were on everyone to snuff out their cigarettes, – in a press center mind you.

Fadell gave a brief exclusive to Annahar, saying he only had 10 minutes, but it was even in those few minutes he had a lot to say about his Lebanese heritage; Beirut as a technical center; and the shape of things to come as the Internet of Things become more common in household objects, cars and other similar usages.

He added that in terms of the “talent” found in Lebanon, a key characteristic is endurance and ability to face very tough circumstances that not everyone in the world could handle.”

Fadel said that Lebanon’s entrepreneurial scene from his last visit several years “was a huge transformation which should give hope to the young businessmen of tomorrow,” adding, “The most important thing for a Lebanese entrepreneur, is the access to four key things: access to markets, access to talent, access to technology, and access to funding.”

All these things are coming together in Beirut, he said,, to help foster for a number of companies in an active tech ecosystem.

The BDLA16 forum included a broad range of attendees, including thousands of international visitors, investors, entrepreneurs, tech mentors, innovators, startup gurus, media and students; mingling, trading cards, making deals, and giving speeches at the Forum de Beyrouth.

This accelerate forum is Lebanon’s 3rd such annual conference, and as technologist Mark Haidar pointed out, the growth has been exponential. In 2015, BDL Accelerate hosted 6,623 attendees from 50-plus countries, with over 100 top-tier speakers over the course of two days. It was widely hailed by attendees.

“Beirut is rapidly shaping up to be a powerhouse for startups in the Middle East, ” said Mike Bucher, Editor at Large, TechCrunch, at last year’s event.

While Tom Fletcher, UK Ambassador to Lebanon, noted last year, “In this room is the real Lebanon, this is the Lebanon 2020.”

The initial 2014 event was held as a celebration of the first anniversary of BDL’s Circular 331, a central bank program designed to provide seed funding for tech startups. That year, approximately 1,600 attended the conference.

Amid all the mixed economic news currently defining Lebanon, it would seem Beirut’s young technology experts are creating a whole new locus of growth in the local economic mix. And part of that has been achieved through the various accelerate programs that help many small tech startups get off the ground.

In Lebanon, the biggest example of the accelerate phenomena has been the Banque du Liban, whose ongoing circular 331 tech program has done much to benefit Beirut’s growing interactive industry by helping to infuse over $400 million into the local tech ecosystem.

Others similar initiatives include the BeryTech Funds I and I, the UK’s Tech Acceleration Hub and Speed@BDD. For Saturday’s edition, Annahar will feature a profile at Speed startup, WANGO, a dating Ap.

Apart from the world of startups, there were many new technologies display such as Game Cooks which was taking BDLA16 to a whole new virtual world of gaming! Testers came away mesmerized.

The top draw at this year conference, is a truly unique lineup of world-class speakers, including the headline speaker for the conference: Steve “The Woz” Wozniak, the Silicon Valley icon who founded Apple with Steve Jobs.

The real draw this year, is a truly unique lineup of world-class speakers, including the headline speaker for the conference: Steve “The Woz” Wozniak, the Silicon Valley icon who founded Apple with Steve Jobs.

Just a short list of other speakers includes: Tony Fadell, co-creator of the iPod, iPhone, and Founder of Nest; Riad Salameh; Governor of Banque du Liban; Marianne Hoayek; Founder & Organizer at Banque du Liban Accelerate, Head of the Governor’s Executive Office at Banque du Liban; Renaud Visage: Co-Founder & CTO at Eventbrite; and Loic Le Meur, a serial entrepreneur based in San Francisco.

And:Claire Burge; CEO of This is Productivity; Steven Bathiche, Distinguished Scientist at Microsoft; Mike Butcher, Editor at Large at TechCrunch, Founder of TechFugees; Dean Johnson: Head of Innovation at Brandwidth; and Keith Teare, Founder of Archimedes Labs, a startup incubator, and more.

Planners for this year said attendees will fly in from approximately 195 cities, hailing from 52 countries, shattering all Mediterranean conference records.

On stage for the first time in Lebanon, Fadell, who is of Lebanese descent, will represent the Lebanese-American bridge between Beirut’s startup ecosystem and Silicon Valley.

(Annahar will feature its exclusive interview with Fadell in Saturday’s Arabic Edition.)

Fadell, in his mainstage speech, said, “As someone who has spent a life in tech and business, I recognize the entrepreneurial culture that’s in the water here (Lebanon)― and its a great history.”

As a result of the BDLA16 conference, and the intense interest exhibited in local Startups, Annahar English will soon launch “Startup City” a colum featuring in turn the hundreds of early stage business in Beirut, and what they represent as to the talent and optimistic business plans of local young tech workers.