As health officials around the world fret about a second wave and desperately urge the public to keep vigilant, there was a glimmer of hope on Monday that a vaccine against COVID-19 might be found soon. Researchers at Oxford University had reportedly had positive initial results from early trials of a vaccine that appeared to safely trigger an immune response, albeit with some manageable side effects.

If all goes to plan, the vaccine could be ready by the end of this year. But for the time being, it is business as unusual, so to speak, for Lebanese startups trying to grapple with the unfolding changes in the business landscape. This time around we are highlighting TIP alumni Cherpa, an interactive online platform offering tech courses ranging from cybersecurity and robotics, to autonomous driving and smart cities.

Cherpa is the brainchild of Basel Jalaleddine and Ibrahim Ezzeddine. The pair initially teamed up in college – driven by their mutual passion for robotics – to work on a joint FYP and develop a smart interactive breadboard, before honing their idea and moving it online with Cherpa shortly after graduating. You can read all about their journey here.

The coronavirus pandemic presented Cherpa with a new challenge. Cherpa’s offering comprised a mix of online material as well as in-person activities that take place in the classroom. So as schools sent students home, Cherpa quickly started to adapt by shifting courses entirely online – group discussions were digitized, instructional videos were created, etc, effectively eliminating the need for teachers and students to work in physical proximity.

The readjustment process, which accounted for the initial shock and confusion created by the pandemic and for demand for their products to pick up again, lasted about a month and a half Basel told me.

Beyond the Pandemic and Into the Recession

Unfortunately for Lebanese startups, the pandemic roughly overlapped with a severe economic downturn. Not all schools suffered, Basel stressed, but a considerable number of smaller institutions found themselves in a dire financial situation.

Luckily for the Cherpa, a healthy portion of their client base lay outside the country, primarily in the UAE. “Otherwise, it would have been horrible, we would have left the country” Basel declared. In fact, compared to the pre-crises period, Cherpa has already doubled both their users and more than doubled their revenues. 

This is the advice that Basel has for fellow Lebanese entrepreneurs: Find clients outside, it is both critical and a nice challenge, he said. It’s “scale or die” he concluded.