A week ago, I sat down with Mr. Nadim khater, touch’s Chief Commercial Officer, in order to acquire further information about touch Innovation Program and the changes that are occurring to each cycle, get his opinion on the Lebanese ecosystem and how we can improve it, and find out the reason behind touch and IoTree’s collaboration.
Q: Could you tell us a bit about how TIP came to be and the mission behind it?
As a big incumbent company, we get approached by a lot of startups wanting some sort of engagement, partnership, or collaboration but we were unable to provide them with a definite answer since most startups are either pivoting or in their very early stages. For that reason, we decided to create a 6-month program in which startups have the opportunity to work among us. Each participant is assigned a mentor from the touch teams and they take part in various workshops in order to improve and develop their business models, help them scale, and look for potential ways for collaborations.
We believe it is our duty as a big ICT company in Lebanon to help out young and aspiring entrepreneurs in our ecosystem.
Q: Why is it important for Corporates and Startups to work together?
A TelCo company such as ours has something we call unused scale. This means that we have a lot of customers but only provide 3 services: SMS, Megabytes, and minutes. Therefore, if we do not incubate, accelerate and partner with other companies that are more capable of building relevant products/services and value propositions to our customers, we will eventually fade away.
Q: What has changed within the program from the 1st cycle to the ongoing 2nd one?
The mentor-startup relationship has greatly improved. During the 1st TIP cycle, we felt as if there was no intimacy and ownership among them because the selection happened randomly. In order to improve that, we decided to create an initiative called ‘Mentor Match-Up’. It was similar to speed dating; the mentors went around the room and spoke with each startup to get to know them. Then, both the mentors and startups would jot down their preferences allowing the selection to be done by both of them. This initiative gave way to more harmonious collaborations.
Additionally, cycle 3 is undergoing several changes that we believe will elevate the program further. So stay tuned for that!
Q: In order to develop the Lebanese ecosystem, which sectors do you believe should be given more attention?
I believe that Lebanon is well-conditioned for doubling down on and scaling Fintech. Our country is known for its abundance in bankers and richness in the market; however, the biggest obstacle we face is the heavy regulations.
Q: How could touch be involved in developing the Fintech sector in Lebanon?
The successful Fintech-TelCo models are mainly focused on payments and wallets. Zain Cash is a perfect example of that. Through their mobile phone wallets, users can make payments and receive pay rolls and that is what we aim to accomplish here in Lebanon: a model similar to PayPal.
More advanced technologies such as blockchain and cryptocurrency remains to be the uncharted territory in Lebanon and we want to figure out how to enter that kind of market.
Q: IoTree received a golden ticket from Touch. Could you tell us the reason behind this decision?
We awarded IoTree with the golden pass to ensure that they spend 6 months with touch during the 3rd TIP cycle. This is a strategic move for us. We want to take part in accelerating and mentoring this startup. The Internet of things (IoT) is very important for us going forward and we had to make sure that there is a sustainable used case that would go along with our new powerful technology ‘Narrowband IoT’. We even asked IoTree to change their infrastructure in order to use this new technology that we are testing and hopefully will deploy.
Q: When will the applications for Cycle 3 open?
The 3rd cycle of TIP will open its applications at the first week of March. The exact date will be announced soon!