9 Artificial Intelligence Startups in Lebanon
With roughly the same population as the State of Missouri, Lebanon is a small country of six million people that borders Syria and Israel. Due to its location, the country has been subjected to a multitude of political and religious factions inhabiting the state. People frequently fight over whose invisible friend is better, and the country has faced long periods of instability including wars with Israel, civil wars and internal conflicts, and most recently some spillover from the Syrian war – which means lots of Syrians flying around on motorcycles. All of this turmoil has contributed to structural problems in the economy such as chronic fiscal deficits that have increased Lebanon’s debt-to-GDP ratio to the third highest in the world. Economic growth has slowed to 1-2% over the past decade which constrains government investments in necessary infrastructure improvements.
Notwithstanding these challenges, day to day life in Lebanon is pretty awesome. With its Mediterranean vibe, great cuisine, and people with a certain joie de vivre, Lebanon is a great place to visit. There are ancient cedar trees talked about in the Epic of Gilgamesh, and in the Baqa’a Valley lies one of the best preserved and grandest Roman temple ruins in the world. You’ll have the whole place to yourself, as it’s just shy of the Syrian border in a small town where you can buy Hezbollah t-shirts because, well, it’s Hezbollah controlled territory.
While the economy remains challenged, it doesn’t curb the country’s tech ambitions. Lebanon doesn’t have an official artificial intelligence (AI) strategy, but the country has been working on regional AI events and the implementation of AI into education as well. According to former Minister of Economy Nasser Saidi, development of a national AI strategy is crucial in improving the economy and fighting corruption at the same time.
We toured the country, scoured Crunchbase, and spent some time talking to Sami Abou Saab, the CEO of a Beirut-based startup accelerator called Speed@BDD that invests cash in top-tier companies in the MENA region, to come up with a list of some AI startups in Lebanon for you to check out.
|Eqlim||Big Data||Beirut||425 000|
|Rational Pixels||Digital Ads||Barcelona and Beirut||30 000|
|dox||Electric Vehicle Battery Maintenance||Beirut||undisclosed|
|Hello Harold||Big Data||Leicester, UK and Beirut||undisclosed|
|NAR||Drone Inspections||Wilmington, Delaware, and Beirut||undisclosed|
Founded in 2013, Beirut startup Eqlim has raised $425,000 to develop a big data platform that provides real-time risk intelligence for global supply chains. The startup’s algorithms process data from more than 100,000 web and social media sources to come up with information on geopolitical, operational, and environmental risks in frontier markets. Location-based risk assessments include protests, attacks, smuggling, traffic disruptions, and war, all of which are complemented by crowdsourced information from people close to an incident location.
The platform can be used to enhance supply chain security in risky geographies and identify low-risk alternative routes for transportation. The service is also used by commodities traders to forecast the impact of geopolitics on commodity supply, and insurance companies to adjust “country at war” type risks. Eqlim has partnered with Clipper Data, a real-time crude oil and petroleum product cargo tracking company, to provide an alert service specifically for the oil and petroleum product market as well. The company’s Medium blog contains a handful of interesting case studies on countries like Nigeria, Iran, and Brazil. It would be super useful if they could repackage this as a subscription offering for civilians who enjoy traveling to more “exotic” locations.
Founded in 2017, Rational Pixels has raised a seed round of $30,000 from Speed@BDD to develop a non-interruptive digital ad format embedded into online videos. The startup has established locations both in Spain and Lebanon, but Mr. Saab assured us of their Lebanese roots. As online advertising is becoming increasingly saturated, consumers are irritated by the numerous pop-ups, banners, and full-on ads disrupting videos. Rational Pixels’ algorithms incorporate ads right into videos as if they were in the frames from the beginning, making ads native to the video. How cool is that?
Not only is this more user friendly, but ads cannot be blocked or skipped providing guaranteed views. Publishers of online videos can manage when and in what part of the frame their ads will appear through Rational Pixels’ online interface. These ads then change dynamically depending on their audience the same way Facebook and Google Ads do. The company targets both content publishers and digital ad agencies with its offering.
Visit Tripoli in north Lebanon and you just might see tanks rolling down the streets keeping everything secure. It’s the second biggest city in Lebanon and the home of Neotic, a startup that’s raised an undisclosed amount of funding to develop machine learning algorithms for equity traders. The startup’s platform allows users to create custom trading strategies for stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ, and run multi-year backtests on them. When a strategy is up and running, the platform provides ongoing stock forecasts and recommendations, and also executes trades on behalf of the user automatically. Neotic’s algorithms also recommend optimal investment allocations for investment funds.
The platform offers off-the-shelf short-term strategies with three years of backtesting for really lazy traders and claims its own model portfolios consistently provide positive returns and beat the market over the short-term. Neotic’s platform is also available white labeled for brokers who want to integrate it into their own trading system. Pricing for individual traders ranges from free to $420 a year based on utilization, and case-by-case pricing is available for investment and brokerage firms. Don’t get too excited though. As we discussed recently, it is increasingly difficult to generate alpha without having a very unique data set.
Founded in 2017, Beirut startup dox has raised undisclosed funding to develop a predictive maintenance platform for batteries in electric vehicles. Battery behavior is hard to predict because it’s related to usage habits and environmental factors. These irregularities can cause sudden battery failures or energy waste, increasing costs for fleet operators. Erring on the side of caution, operators will change batteries too frequently so as to avoid unscheduled system failures. This means a large part of a battery’s useful lifetime is being wasted.
dox’s platform provides customers with battery analytics, performance metrics, and replacement and maintenance forecasts so operators can save on their fleet’s inventory and service costs. The startup is present in Lebanon and Europe and is targeting battery and electric vehicle manufacturers and telecom companies.
Founded in 2017, Beirut startup Fig has raised an undisclosed amount of funding to develop an AI-powered custom chatbot plug-and-play solution that takes care of all the heavy lifting like conversational design, configuration, launch, and maintenance on behalf of its clients. The chatbot platform employs machine learning to get smarter over time, and provides analytics and insights about your customers. Some experts say that chatbots will save $65 billion annually in the US alone, as a significant percentage of human customer service and sales representatives become augmented by chatbot technology that handles 95% of call center volume. A “human in the loop” will handle exceptions while also serving as a trainer for the algorithms. Customers of Fig come from a wide variety of industries like travel, banking and insurance, retail, healthcare, and hospitality.
Founded in 2012, Beirut startup Yakshof has raised an undisclosed amount of money to perform some big data analytics on the news. The company’s algorithms monitor web and social media sources in all languages for information relevant to corporate clients, filter out the noise, and aggregate relevant content. The platform analyzes and indexes results using semantic analysis, network analysis, and facial recognition, to come up with concise executive summaries and visualizations for decision makers. The service allows customers to slice and dice real-time global media coverage to come up with actionable insights related to crisis management, PR, company communications, and security.
Founded in 2015, Beirut startup Cloudfish has raised an undisclosed amount of funding to develop sentiment analysis for the Arab-speaking world. The company’s Babel algorithm, specifically designed to understand Arab colloquial language, listens to social media and web interactions to analyze preferences of the 300 million Arab speakers over the world. Cloudfish also offers a tool for big data analytics specifically focused on the food and beverage industry, and a drag-and-drop report generator for intuitive business intelligence visualizations and presentations. Off the shelf products are complemented by custom big data consulting services for companies looking to develop their own algorithms, performance metrics, and business reporting.
Founded in 2017, Hello Harold is another startup that has established its presence outside of Lebanon. Located in Leicester, UK, Hello Harold is also backed by Speed@BDD with an undisclosed amount of funding that’s being used to develop a Facebook Messenger chatbot that helps buyers and sellers of used cars find the right price, ad platform, and timing for their transactions.
Harold’s AI algorithms scan online marketplaces in real-time to come up with fair price suggestions using a database of more than 3.5 million cars. The solution handles all relevant classified ad sites from Messenger so users can conveniently transact using one platform. The company also offers a subscription solution to assist in corporate fleet transactions as well.
Founded in 2015 by final-year students at the Lebanese American University in Beirut, NAR (short for Next Automated Robots) is the third startup on our list that’s raised seed funding from Speed@BDD and also lists total funding undisclosed. With offices in Delaware and Beirut, NAR has developed drone inspection software that is able to tag important observations in real-time during inspections. Inspectors need an iPad with the downloaded app connected to the drone controller before the flight. After launch, the iPad displays the drone’s camera view, and the inspector can tap and tag any damages, issues, or irregularities on the inspected building. For example, an inspection of a residential house might reveal cracks on the wall, exposed wires, paint failures, or corroded areas. As users highlight important details on the go, there is no need to spend time analyzing the inspection video, the app simply issues a full report with the results as soon as the inspection is over. NAR’s software is able to manage six different asset types like buildings, bridges, and pipelines, and the company claims it reduces time spent on drone inspection reports by 85%.
It’s tough to keep track of everything happening with the 3,000 plus AI startups out there, but we would venture to say that half of these Lebanese AI startups are addressing innovative use cases for AI that we haven’t seen elsewhere. In the majority of cases, venture capital funding isn’t openly disclosed, so it’s a challenge to try and do any sort of ranking based on funding. It’s also equally likely they’re not reflected properly in Crunchbase, so we may have missed your sacred Lebanese cow.
Mr. Saab of Speed@BDD also talked about how talent in Lebanon often seeks greener pastures. The three startups we’ve talked about backed by his accelerator – Rational Pixels, Hello Harold, and NAR – have all established headquarters outside of Lebanon, showing how home-grown startups prefer to operate in major global markets right from the start. Still, the additional geopolitical risks don’t seem to stop Lebanese tech talent from getting stuff done whether it’s in their own country or abroad.