Marwan Kheireddine, Founder and Managing Partner of Sama Capital, discusses the potential for growth in Lebanon and its technology sector. He explains why he left his job at a top investment bank to start an early-stage venture capital fund and offers insights on what’s next for Lebanon. In light of the many difficulties facing Lebanon now — including the Syrian refugee crisis, a struggling economy, and corruption at high levels of government — it might seem like a strange time to launch a venture capital firm there. But Marwan Kheireddine sees opportunity in turmoil. Kheireddine is co-founder and managing partner of Sama Capital, based in Beirut, and has an office in New York City. Founded in 2016, Sama is one of the first VC firms dedicated to investing solely in early-stage opportunities in Lebanon or globally, with strong potential for growth if they operate with a presence in that country.
What is the biggest opportunity currently available in Lebanon?
Lebanon’s population is very young, with a median age of 29.9 years, compared with 36.8 in the US, 39.7 in China, and 48.6 in Japan. This is an asset for several reasons. Young people are very entrepreneurial — some research indicates that millennials are twice as likely to start a business than other generations. A young population also means plenty of people to staff growing companies. And there’s a large, untapped talent base in Lebanon, which has been underserved by the education system but has the potential to be a powerful driver of growth if invested. The Lebanese have a strong tradition of entrepreneurship, and the country is well known for having incubated and housed some of the world’s best and most iconic brands, such as the food conglomerate SABIC. The telecom company, OGERO, to name a few.
Why is now the perfect time to invest in Lebanon?
The investment community has been bullish on Lebanon for some time. The World Bank has been very bullish on the economy since 2006, when they issued a report titled “Lebanon’s Momentum, Realizing the Promise of the Moment.” The IMF recently issued a report in June 2017 that predicted positive growth and an imminent economic upswing. The Lebanese government has taken some measures to foster economic growth, and the Central Bank of Lebanon has been working to improve the country’s financial sector. These include a more open and welcoming foreign direct investment policy, which has been in effect since 2016, and the introduction of the Special Economic Zone Law, which will allow companies to operate under Lebanese law while benefitting from reduced taxes and customs duties.