Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Hala Labaki.

8 Lebanese Female Entrepreneurs who are Changing the Country, the Region and the World

Jul 20, 2016

Anyone who is familiar with Lebanon will tell you that it is a vibrant, diverse and resilient country. Anyone who has visited or lived there most certainly experienced Lebanon’s distinctive lifestyle and culture— modern yet rooted in tradition.

Anyone who has interacted with the Lebanese people will certainly concede the array of general knowledge they hold, their entrepreneurial spirit and their business acumen.

The Lebanese people are business-savvy and entrepreneurial indeed. While the entrepreneurship scene has been on the rise in the last couple of years, however, it remains largely male-dominated.

Lebanese women still face hurdles to conducting business in the country on an equal basis with men. This is unsurprising, given that Lebanon still scores low in terms of women’s rights and women’s access to equal opportunities.

According to the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap Report, Lebanon ranks 138 out of 145 countries.

However, perhaps out of resilience, perhaps out of wanting to do better and more, women entrepreneurs are slowly but surely emerging with innovative concepts, business ideas and successful ventures.

In the hopes of inspiring the many other brilliant women Lebanon holds, here’s a list of notable women entrepreneurs who made it big locally and internationally.

Aya Bdeir – Founder and CEO of littleBits
littleBits is a platform of easy-to-use electronic building blocks that is empowering everyone to create inventions, large and small. Her company is among the leaders in the open source hardware field. An alumna of the MIT Media Lab, Bdeir was listed as one of Business Insider’s 26 Most Powerful Women Engineers and figured in Inc.

Magazine’s 35 Under 35, in NY Business Journal’s Women of Influence, in CNBC Next List and in Entrepreneur’s 10 Leaders to Watch, among others.

Christine Sfeir – CEO of Meeting Point (Dunkin’ Donuts) and Treats Holding (Semsom, Green Falafel).
Sfeir is one of the pioneers of the food franchising business in Lebanon. At the age of 22, she persuaded Dunkin’ Donuts to hand over the company’s Lebanese franchise to her.

“It was a huge risk because I was 22, I was female and the idea of American coffee and doughnuts was the last thing on people’s minds”, says Sfeir. Today, Dunkin’ Donuts has more than 30 branches in Lebanon, and Semsom is established in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, and the US.

Sfeir is an active member of the Lebanese League for Women in Business. She was selected as one of the 19th most powerful Arab women by Forbes. She was also recognized as one of the most 100 powerful women for three consecutive years (2012, 2013 and 2014).

Delphine Edde – Co-founder and publishing director of Diwanee
Diwanee is a digital media company that creates contents and distributes it through its several Arab websites, including, and Diwanee was featured in Executive Magazine’s Lebanon’s top 20 entrepreneurs 2013.

Hala Labaki – CEO and co-founder of Shahiya
Shahiya is the first cooking website in the Arab world and the largest Arabic language digital library with more than 2 million visitors per month and 15,000 published recipes. Labaki, an AUB and HEC Paris alumna, worked for several years in France in consulting, finance and marketing before launching Shahiya.

Hind Hobeika – Founder of Instabeat
Hobeika is the mastermind behind Instabeat, a pair of goggles that monitors swimmers’ heart rate.

At only 21 years old, Hind won the 3rd prize in the Qatari Reality TV Show ‘Stars of Science’. She also won 1st prize in the MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab Business Plan competition, which gathered over 4,500 applicants.

Hobeika was selected as Endeavor Entrepreneur, and Instabeat was rated first in the ranking of the Best of Wearable Technology in 2014. She is currently trying to develop her product in San Francisco.

Louise Doumet is the co-founder of Lebelik,
Lebelik is an online shopping website with the aim of showcasing Lebanese creations and designers to the world. She came up with the Lebelik idea when she was approached by random women in the streets of New York asking her about her clothes and accessories— which happened to be of Lebanese designs. Doumit quickly realized that there was a need to export Lebanese fashion to the world. The website delivers items to the US, Russia and the Middle East.

Maya Karanouh – CEO and co-founder of TAGbrands
TAGbrands is a branding agency that aligns business strategies to communication objectives. TAGbrands clients include Bank Audi, L’Oréal, British Council and the World Sports Group among others. TAGbrands’ work is not limited to Lebanon; it is also present in the Gulf countries.

Karanouh has won several awards and distinctions; she was selected as the “Rising Talent” by the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society in France, and was part of the World Business Magazine‘s “35 under 35 Global Women Entrepreneurs”. She is also the founding member of the Lebanese League for Women in Business.

Rana Chmaitelly – Founder of The Little Engineer
The Little Engineer was launched by Chmaitelly in 2009 as a company that enables youth to engage in science through workshops. Today, she has centers in Lebanon, Qatar and Libya. Chmaitelly was selected as one of the most promising entrepreneurs by the MIT in 2009.

In 2010, she won the ‘Coup de Coeur Femme’ by Medventures for the Mediterranean in 2010. She was also awarded the Cartier prize for best pioneer woman in 2011 and the Green Mind Award in 2012.


Leading the way in Lebanon, one woman at a time

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth story in a six-week series focused on women and work in patriarchal nations in the Middle East. Read other stories in the series.

Before recipe website, Shahiya, was snapped up by Japanese site, Cookpad, for $13.5m in 2014, the Beirut-based start-up had to explain itself over and over again. The mostly male investors needed to be swayed on more than just the usual.

They needed to be convinced there was value in funding a company mainly used by housewives.

We had the challenge of perception,” said Shahiya CEO and co-founder Hala Labaki.

“The decision-makers didn’t cook, even the few women (venture capitalists) didn’t, so they couldn’t relate. For some, the idea of food culture is that it’s for women, and you’re put into a category.”

Hind Hobeika faced issues being female and young. (Credit: Courtesy Hind Hobeika)

In the Middle East, Hind Hobeika faces the challenge of both being female and being young. (Credit: Courtesy Hind Hobeika)

Labaki said the fact that her two business partners are men probably went a long way towards convincing investors since men tend to be taken more seriously in the Middle East then women in business.

Shahiya is a success story for a woman-led business in the Middle East.

Its user base now has 3.5 million unique visitors per month, 40% of which are from Saudi Arabia. There are 15,000 published recipes, making it the largest Arabic language digital library for recipes.

Lebanon’s relatively open society and economy mean women have had more opportunities here than elsewhere in the region.

But, growing a business in the Middle East is never easy, particularly for women. Those who do succeed must meet the challenges of expanding their companies in to socially conservative countries — a step before expanding internationally — seek funding from largely male firms who are sometimes averse to dealing with women and find ways to make sure they are taken seriously by male colleagues.

Connections, rather than creativity, smarts and technical skills, can make the difference between success and failure, with networking a key ingredient to growing a business, says Dima Dabbous, Beirut-based consultant on media and gender at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

But that can be a challenge. Even in Lebanon women are often part of a small minority at their firms and like elsewhere in the world may not be invited to casual social functions outside of work. The few women’s networking groups that exist tend to be poorly-developed and not very active, Dabbous said.

“Men already have the structure in place. Men meet outside of working hours, which automatically excludes women from deals struck outside of work. [With women] there’s too much weight put on individual effort,” said Dabbous.

“I don’t think men make it on their own, so why should women do it on their own?”

Hala Labaki is a success story in the Middle East. (Credit: Courtesy Hala Labaki)

Hala Labaki is a success story in the Middle East. (Credit: Courtesy Hala Labaki)

Behind the scenes

Five years ago, Hind Hobeika invented a pair of goggles that measured a swimmer’s heart rate and presented her invention on reality TV show, Stars of Science in Doha.

Qatar is better known as an affluent energy state, but a fledgling IT and entrepreneur scene is now blossoming in the country. But until Hobeika won third place, the male hosts didn’t seem to want to appear on camera with her.

“[They] weren’t enthusiastic to talk to me,” she said, recalling that for most of the show the hosts preferred speaking with the male contestants on camera rather than her “It was lonely.”

In Hobeika’s case, her youthfulness also worked to her disadvantage. “People tend to take you less seriously when you’re young and a woman, especially the combination of the two,” said Hobeika, now 26.

She currently splits her time between her native Beirut and the San Francisco area in the US developing her product and business. And she’s learning the nuances of running a business in the West versus the Middle East.

“Learning to manage people has been the most difficult experience for me. I had never done it before. It was difficult to find a balance and deal with people without offending them,” she said. “In the Arab world, people aren’t used to getting feedback from someone much younger.”

Proving your worth

For Beirut-based Maya Karanouh, CEO and co-founder of branding agency, TAGbrands, the most difficult aspects of growing her business when she launched it 15 years ago had little to do with being a woman. Instead, weak infrastructure in Lebanon and generally low levels of entrepreneurship in the Middle East were her biggest challenges.

When she did expand her business into the Gulf nations, including Saudi Arabia, eight years ago, she actively took into account the cultural norms for women in these countries. She often jokes that wearing the abaya (full black covering that most Saudi women wear) made her lose her fashion sense for a few weeks.

“I’m a feminist, but I’m also a business woman. I have to navigate around regulations,” she said. For the Saudis with whom she was doing business, being a woman didn’t matter, so long as her team got the job done. That might have been because she was an outsider; however, gains in the professional realm for the Kingdom’s female citizens remain slow.

Karanouh said she does her own part to advance women in the region, making an effort to hire mothers and give them flexible working hours, acknowledging that not having a family of her own has been an advantage for her.

“Work-life balance is a major issue [here],” for employees, she said. “I’m a special case because I don’t have kids and I’m not married.”

Moral support

Lebanese entrepreneur Rana Chmaitelly launched The Little Engineer, workshops to engage young people in science, in 2009. She now has operations in Lebanon, Qatar and Libya.

She’d like to expand to the West, starting with the UK. Early on, one of her biggest challenges was getting her employees, a mix of men and women, to support her decision to grow.

“Even if you take a decision, if you’re a women, they think you’re not right. It happens all the time. Maybe it’s the culture, but we can change it,” she said in a Skype interview at an airport during a layover in Chicago.

There is still not much built-in support for women in business, but in recent years a handful of professional organisations have emerged, although they’re not yet very active.

Even so, 35% of IT entrepreneurs in the Middle East are women, compared with 10% on a global scale, according to the data analytics benchmark website Startup Compass, a sign that women in the region are making inroads in traditionally male-dominated fields here.

“Some people don’t accept change. But as an entrepreneur you can’t stagnate,” said Chmeitelly.




December 2022

Blog Stats

  • 1,513,634 hits

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by

Join 820 other followers
%d bloggers like this: