Neo — a financial services platform combining transfers, foreign exchange and payments — and Reborn Tech — a solution for recycling textiles to transform them into insulation materials — took home awards at the third edition of the Startup Competition ESA - HEC Paris, at the end of the final round that took place Wednesday evening on the campus of the ESA Business School (ESA), in Beirut. The competition was launched by L'Orient-Le Jour and Smart ESA with the support of the French Embassy in Beirut, La French Tech Beyrouth, the HEC Alumni Association Lebanon Chapter, Air France and the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture of Beirut and Mount Lebanon (CCIAB).
A total of 11 finalists defended their respective projects before a jury. To be eligible, candidates had to be of Lebanese nationality, whether residing in Lebanon or abroad, and must have founded their company at least two years ago, have a product under development and a turnover of less than $500,000. Selected from more than 80 candidates registered in May, each finalist strove to demonstrate the viability of their concept as well as their business potential, within a maximum of 10 minutes, to score points.
The winners won two spots in a six-month incubation program on-site at Incubateur HEC, Station F in Paris, the largest startup campus in the world. They will also receive two plane tickets Beirut-Paris-Beirut offered by Air France, as well as an expense grant financed by the French Embassy and the CCIAB. The runner-up won a six-month incubation program to be conducted remotely at Incubateur HEC.
Transfer and recycling
Neo's guiding principle is to offer new, smoother and cheaper transaction channels by centralizing transfers from abroad to Lebanon, foreign exchange operations in Lebanon and commercial transactions — an exercise in which Marwan Farah, CEO of Neo, and Aristide Bacha, co-founder of the platform, shone.
"What sets us apart is our comprehensive approach that integrates all of the current financial services needs of the Lebanese, in a country that is highly dependent on diaspora transfers and the cash economy," Farah explained to L'Orient-Le Jour. The model can be replicated in other markets, such as Egypt or Nigeria.
"We are now entering a fundraising phase, with a target of about $5 million. We will launch as soon as Banque du Liban grants us the necessary licenses," he adds. "Station F is an amazing leverage and gives us access to an equally amazing community that will really help us with advice and new technology."
Zeina Farah, founder of Reborn Tech, did not shy away from her runner-up position.
"Our project aims at the same time to increase the recycling of used textiles [Editor’s note: 80 percent of those used in the EU are not recycled] and to use them to understand a tangible market [insulation materials] that is worth billions of dollars," she summarizes. And for good reason: in France, for example, a new standard in place since 2020 requires almost tripling the thickness of insulation in buildings. Before Reborn Tech, Zeina Farah had also founded Reborn, a brand of sportswear made from recycled textiles.
The other nine finalists were:
- DonnaLeb, an application aiming at maintaining corporate culture.
- Eflow, an interface for training via instant messaging applications for the underprivileged.
- Ehki, an online professional training platform.
- Hexafresh, a designer of zone air conditioners using a new and environmentally friendly technology (finalist of the 2021 edition).
- Numu, an integrated financial management solution for SMEs.
- Purpl, a digital wallet linking Lebanon to the rest of the world, a project that L'Orient-Le Jour has already mentioned and that is waiting for the green light from the BDL central board.
- Siira, a platform for organizing online psychological support groups.
- WonderED, a line of toys that teach the basics of coding to very young children.
- Zaka, a platform combining training and recruitment in the field of artificial intelligence.
Resilience and commitment
The finalists all benefited from a coaching program provided by Smart-ESA in Beirut, scholarships for the Master in Innovation and Entrepreneurship (MENT) of ESA Business School (set up in partnership with Smart ESA and HEC Paris) as well as 15 percent discounts on Air France tickets booked over the period until Dec. 31, 2022.
In their speeches, the organizers praised the success of this third edition, which was organized against all odds in a Lebanon that has been in crisis since 2019.
"In this difficult context, it is important to emphasize that there are activities and programs that work, that create hope," said Maxence Duault, Dean of ESA. He recalled that entrepreneurship was "in the DNA of ESA ... which allows students in Beirut to have access to degrees that are in the best international rankings.”
Neo — a financial services platform combining transfers, foreign exchange and payments — and Reborn Tech — a solution for recycling textiles to transform them into insulation materials — took home awards at the third edition of the Startup Competition ESA - HEC Paris, at the end of the final round that took place Wednesday evening on the campus of the ESA Business School (ESA), in...