This month witnessed a milestone for Lebanese and wider Arab entrepreneurship with the launch of Sqwirl Lab, the first start-up studio to open its doors in the heart of Beirut’s burgeoning start-up sector.
Pioneering a bold, all-new business model, Sqwirl Lab will complement the startup ecosystem by conceiving and founding its own start-ups in-house, handling all managerial, operational, and developmental functions needed to grow the enterprises into potential standalone entities. If and when required, the studio will also provide seed stage and follow-on financing for select enterprises, in partnership with Beirut-based tech venture capital firm, Leap Ventures.
The studio is the brainchild of two longtime start-up enthusiasts, Ziad Jureidini and Karl Abouzeid. It began with Sqwirl, an urban delivery service app conceived by Karl on a balcony in downtown Beirut in October 2015. After persuading his friend Ziad, then managing director of the Publicis ad agency, to get on board, the pair were selected to join Speed@BDD’s start-up accelerator program in April 2016 where they received funding, mentorship and support. By January 2017, they had completed over 5,000 deliveries.
In a decision in partnership with Leap Ventures, Sqwirl chose to evolve into a multi-entity start-up studio. In March 2017, Sqwirl ceased making deliveries and pivoted to become Sqwirl Lab, an audacious enterprise which has already founded three new start-ups to date: Haulo (the successor to Sqwirl), a marketplace for logistics companies that streamlines transactions between freight owners and carriers; sociaLang, a platform connecting students of second languages around the world; and a third platform providing minimum viable product development and design thinking services to fellow start-ups. The spin-off of Sqwirl marked the first successful exit of a Speed@BDD-accelerated start-up.
“The lesson we drew from our formative experience was to always remain agile,” says Jureidini. “To succeed you have to be willing to radically shift course when more promising opportunities arise. This is something we constantly keep in mind when growing our start-ups.”
As well as adopting start-up ideas generated internally by themselves and their team of Laboratorians, Karl and Ziad are looking to partner with exceptional entrepreneurs to bring their visions to reality. Sqwirl Lab has the capacity to provide partners with whatever resources they may need, from funds to software development to strategy to design to administrative functions.
“We have experienced first-hand how challenging it is to grow a start-up,” says Abouzeid. “The innovation potential in Lebanon is immense. I truly believe that with the studio approach, we can put Lebanon on the international map of start-ups. We are here to do start-ups the new way.”