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Seasoned Entrepreneur Leads Youth Business Program in Lebanon
April 14, 2010

Antoine Abou-Samra inspires young entrepreneurs in Lebanon

Bader Young Entrepreneurs Program supports aspiring Lebanese start-ups

This article is part of a series on delegates to the April 26–27 Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship.

By M. Scott Bortot
Staff Writer

Washington — Antoine Abou-Samra knows how valuable the Bader Young Entrepreneurs Program can be: He wants it to provide Lebanese businesses the sort of support he could have used when his first business was struggling for success nearly 20 years ago.

That’s why he joined the Bader Young Entrepreneurs Program as its managing director in 2008. “I was thrilled by the idea of working for a great cause that helps young entrepreneurs,” he told America.gov.

Established in 2006, the Bader Program supports fledgling Lebanese businesses by providing financial help and education and improving morale among young entrepreneurs.

Abou-Samra says he could have used a morale boost when he returned to Lebanon after earning a degree in commerce from McGill University in Canada.

“I came back in 1993, and at that time there was no help, there was nothing,” Abou-Samra said. “It was quite hard to start a business.”

He and a partner founded Middle East Pro Sports and ran it for 10 years. Then he took business leadership roles in two European countries: In Spain, he was chief executive of the Casa Bella Collection, which designs and manufactures table lamps, and in the United Kingdom he spearheaded growth at the Third Millennium Information Group publishing company.

Abou-Samra said the Bader Program uses the resources of Lebanon’s business community to reach new entrepreneurs of all backgrounds.

“The idea was to engage the business leaders in the country in [a nongovernmental organization] which would be totally apolitical and nonreligious and only be concerned about the support of entrepreneurs,” he said.

In 2006, the Bader Program launched one of the first venture capital initiatives in Lebanon, the Building Block Fund. The fund raised nearly $20 million and helps support investment in small and medium-size enterprises.

Scholarship programs for young entrepreneurs are a hallmark of the Bader Program. Since 2008, it has granted nearly $200,000 in scholarships to aspiring businesspeople to study at Lebanese universities.

The Bader Program also directly engages young entrepreneurs from areas that need business development.

“We have an education program with a workshop that goes into underprivileged areas in Lebanon,” Abou-Samra said. “It basically gives entrepreneurs the tools on how to develop a business plan and how to be ready to look for financing.”

University education and roaming workshops are sometimes not enough. Abou-Samra said the Bader Program pairs mentors and young entrepreneurs for two years.

“The first two years is the most important time in the life cycle of a start-up,” he said.

Abou-Samra has international ambitions for the Bader Program. A step in this process is the organization’s partnership with the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Network, a move initiated by Abou-Samra.

The Global Competitiveness Network finds impediments to business growth and works on strategies to eliminate them and help countries achieve sustained economic progress. The Global Competitiveness Report ranks 134 countries by business climate strength.

“Being present in this ranking is extremely important to us,” Abou-Samra said. “It gives us the opportunity to benchmark our position and see how we evolve across the years.”

In step with going global, Abou-Samra hopes to partner with the vast network of Lebanese businesses abroad to improve entrepreneurship at home. Entrepreneurs in Lebanon can benefit from Lebanese-owned businesses overseas by exchanging information and resources.

Abou-Samra plans to make these partnerships a reality.

“We will tell Lebanese entrepreneurs outside the country that we want to help them develop their business by financing through local institutions, such as banks,” Abou-Samra said, adding that the Bader Program wants something in return. “[This will be] on condition that they either open an office, a research and development center or their headquarters in Lebanon.”

By creating these partnerships, Abou-Samra said Lebanese companies abroad will benefit from young Lebanese talent that, in turn, will learn about overseas business while developing international contacts.

Abou-Samra aims to start this process in the United States when he attends the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship in Washington April 26–27.

“It should be interesting because I’m going to try to see about opening a chapter for Bader in the U.S,” Abou-Samra said. He thinks the summit will be an excellent opportunity to exchange ideas with business leaders from all over the world.