Google eyes opportunity in Lebanon

Lebanon might be halfway around the world from the tech hub of Silicon Valley, but Wednesday hundreds of digital enthusiasts saw Google, one of the world’s best known IT companies, come to them.

“Silicon Valley was started [at] Stanford and Berkeley, so I don’t see why the universities here can’t start a mini Silicon Valley here. If you come up with ideas, things will come to you,” said Google’s new business development manager of emerging markets William Kanaan, before an audience of engineers and Web developers at the American University of Beirut.

Kanaan should know. He grew up in Lebanon and later spent over 10 years in California’s high-tech hub, where he learned that small businesses can start with limited money and resources; they just need an Internet connection and good ideas.

The full-day workshop, which was hosted on the sidelines of this week’s Arabnet gathering in Beirut, has been a long time coming for Lebanon’s Google fans. “I’ve been a Google fan since forever,” said Raghad Hamzeh, a fourth year engineering student at AUB, who also serves as one of two “Google student ambassadors” in Lebanon, and who previously attended Google conferences in Egypt and Jordan (the company has hosted such events across the region in the past two years).

He says he likes the company for their clean, simple and user-friendly services, as well as their corporate ethics, including their motto “Don’t be evil.”

The company has long had a following in the Arab world, which increased even further when then Cairo-based Google executive Wael Ghonim became a spokesman for the Egyptian Revolution, after he helped mobilize his compatriots though his Internet activism.

Many aspiring high-tech workers are also attracted to Google’s unconventional office environment, which encourages employees to take time out of their regular daily duties to develop their own concepts.

Although it doesn’t have a local office in Lebanon, through student ambassadors such as Hamzeh, Google is able to guage what young people need in terms of tools and material. This year, for example, many of the final year engineering projects are using Android, the mobile operating system led by Google. The company does have business offices in Dubai and Cairo.

“We want 19-year-old students not just to use Google, but also to see it,” said George Turkiyyah, chair of AUB’s computer science department. “It’s a way for them to test the waters.”

“There’re a lot of talent and good universities here,” Kanaan told The Daily Star during a coffee break. But, he added, “What’s frustrating is the Internet here isn’t very good.”

Indeed, the poor Internet speed slowed down a live online presentation given by a Google marketer, and a 10-minute power outage interrupted the workshop midway.

Still, the visit of Google to Lebanon has been an affirmation to some that at least the country is heading in the right direction and is getting recognition for its high-tech potential.

“I think Google is seeing the beginning of a serious software industry in Lebanon,” said Mariette Awad, assistant professor of electrical engineering at AUB. “I believe in a couple of years we could be a hub.”

Al Bawaba

  • josephphdman

    google is  a great company , it is good for lebanon and lebanon will be good for google ,

  • josephphdman

    google is  a great company , it is good for lebanon and lebanon will good for google ,  lebanon going  to be good for google

  • yazidi

    they just need an Internet connection and good ideas !!!!!!!!!!!
    where is the Electricity first……. fix the Electricity then we can talk about using google

  • yazidi

    they just need an Internet connection and good ideas !!!!!!!!!!!
    where is the Electricity first……. fix the Electricity then we can talk about using google

  • 5thDrawer

    The biggest trick, after getting some electricity, will be to live up to the slogan ‘Don’t be evil’.
     But of course, a working internet would be good too. Picking the right time to ‘get on-line’ is also tricky as the hopeful presentation showed, yet we CAN be inventive right? 😉
    Open, Factual, and Honest are also words that come to mind in a university … and a net without the spying would be nice too.
    Those 19-yr-olds have a loooong way to go … maybe until they are 60?
    Ah well … we could dream. Like Google wishes.
    And as for engineering … anyone notice some walls or buildings falling down lately? :-))))

    • dabshaleem

      yu google that mr salafites r evil mr

    • yazidi

      the only thing is missing in google is to add a search called ignorant search so we can know from where Dab is coming from!!!!!! may be from underground where is nasarshytan is hiding and making mot3a to the rats….

  • 5thDrawer

    The biggest trick, after getting some electricity, will be to live up to the slogan ‘Don’t be evil’.
     But of course, a working internet would be good too. Picking the right time to ‘get on-line’ is also tricky as the hopeful presentation showed, yet we CAN be inventive right? 😉
    Open, Factual, and Honest are also words that come to mind in a university … and a net without the spying would be nice too.Those 19-yr-olds have a loooong way to go … maybe until they are 60?
    Ah well … we could dream. Like Google wishes.
    And as for engineering … anyone notice some walls or buildings falling down lately? :-))))

    • dabshaleem

      yu google that mr salafites r evil mr

    • yazidi

      the only thing is missing in google is to add a search called ignorant search so we can know from where Dab is coming from!!!!!! may be from underground where is nasarshytan is hiding and making mot3a to the rats….

  • Hannibal

    I just googled “Dab” and found out he is an alien. He speaks good englese being from outer space… lol

    • 5thDrawer

      Trouble is, Hannibal, his ship landed at ‘Boom Boom U’ … and then he met Leo Mr. 🙂

      • dabshaleem

        no boom boom yu mr boom boom wahabis mr

        • 5thDrawer

          In a really strange way, Dab, we have taken a liking to you.  I consider a reason in this line:
          “Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.” – Albert Camus 
          I like to think that one day, you will be able to lay out your philosophy of life more completely. But I’m sorry to say that I also often think of this line too.
          “I can’t be talking to you about this anymore. I would horse-whip you if I had a horse.” – Groucho Marx

      • Hannibal

        Albert Camus is wahabis mr boom boom u and boom boom ur hors

        • 5thDrawer

          Oh dear … I’ve mixed the buggers up again 🙂 My Badaba. I was just thinking of an old song to go out to ….
          ‘Sha Boom Sha Boom …. ratatatatatat … Sha boom Sha boom …’

  • I just google “Dab” and found out he is an alien. lol

    • 5thDrawer

      Trouble is, Hannibal, his ship landed at ‘Boom Boom U’ … and then he met Leo Mr. 🙂

      • dabshaleem

        no boom boom yu mr boom boom wahabis mr

        • 5thDrawer

          In a really strange way, Dab, we have taken a liking to you.  I consider this line:
          “Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.” – Albert Camus 

      • Albert Camus is wahabis mr boom boom u and boom boom ur hors

        • 5thDrawer

          Oh dear … I’ve mixed the buggers up again 🙂 My Badaba. I was just thinking of an old song to go out to ….
          ‘Sha Boom Sha Boom …. ratatatatatat … Sha boom Sha boom …’