In order to boost the Lebanese startup scene, the United Kingdom, in collaboration with Lebanon's central bank, the Banque du Liban (BDL), has launched the UK Lebanon Tech Hub, a two-year international initiative looking to support entrepreneurship and the SME landscape, while stimulating the local economy.
The tech hub will act as an accelerator and mentoring hub for local startups, and falls under the BDL's Circular 331, a larger program announced in August 2013, aiming to help boost Lebanese startups by injecting some US$400m in equity funding.
In an inaugural event that occurred last Thursday, the UK Lebanon Tech Hub officially opened its doors in the Beirut Digital District.
Speaking at the opening, the central bank governor Riad Salameh said:
"All these sectors, [including the knowledge sector, the financial sector, and maybe one day, the gas and oil sector], are going to give leverage to the traditional sector. They are going to allow us to be more competitive and create a sector that is not subject to [...] political risks and also the security risks."
Salameh further noted that Lebanon's Capital Markets Authority (CMA), an independent body that regulates and organizes financial firms and capital markets, was preparing a proposal for an electronic stock market.
Expected to be set up by the end of the year, the electronic market would link banks, brokerage firms and other financial institutions, as well as external exchanges.
The CMA would issue operating licenses for the launch of online stock and currency trading for the private sector.
In an economic conference last month, Salameh explained:
"The CMA will authorize the launching of an electronic market for digital trading of stocks, currencies, commodities and bonds, with the participation of banks, financial institutions and brokerage firms."
The electronic market can be run from the Beirut Stock Exchange in the event that the government privatizes the bourse, Salameh stated, adding that "if this does not happen, the online bourse will be independent and owned by the private sector." He further noted that the primary purpose of a digital market is to provide liquidity to small and medium-sized companies.
Lebanon's gradual transition to digitalized stock markets follows Overstock's latest SEC filing for the issuance of crypto-based stocks. Last week, the American e-commerce giant filed a prospectus to obtain permission to issue US$500m in stocks using Bitcoin's blockchain.
Meanwhile, the UK Lebanon Tech Hub should help 45 Lebanese startups in developing growth plans. Of these, the 15 startups with higher potential to go global will go on to attend a 10-month program in London.