Beirut is rapidly shaping up as a crucial player in the region’s startup scene. Venture spoke to four Lebanese female entrepreneurs who have made major headway in Lebanon, the region, and even the world with their startups and creations.
By Dina Al Wakeel
The Lebanese economy is mired in problems. Growth and consumer and investor confidence continue to be held back by regional instability and a long-standing local political impasse.
Still, the Lebanese are a resilient bunch, with an abundance of potential and innovation. A positive development for all Lebanese startups has been a recent Central Bank decision to unlock $400 million for startup investments. This move, coupled with a serious attempt to create a tech hub in Beirut, will boost Lebanese startups’ competitive edge.
Here, Venture features four diverse Lebanese entrepreneurs, all of whom are women, for creating a successful business in a strenuous environment, for acting as a boon to the local, and in some cases even regional and global, economy, and the arduous task they still have ahead to maintain their success.
Today we feature Lamice Joujou, CEO of Smile Holding and Chair of Women in Toys, Lebanon Chapter.
In Lebanon, young girls—like others all over the world—are fascinated with dolls. Lamice Joujou, a mother of three including one young daughter, wanted young girls to have a doll that would teach them something valuable, rather than the distorted body-image and the low self-esteem that some dolls might trigger.
“I wanted to add something with a meaning and a message to pass on to the new generation of girls, something to look up to, learn from, and cherish,” said Joujou, who launched My Doll & Me line of dolls in 2013.
My Doll & Me, which targets girls between 4 and 14, was the culmination of almost two decades of experience working in children’s education. Joujou directed a nursery school and an edutainment center. After visiting Boston, Joujou became familiar with American Girl dolls, which appeal to every girl regardless of color or language, yet only represent American history, something girls in the region did not relate to.
“This is where I thought about my role and therefore I started creating dolls that can ‘speak our language’; thus Leila and Zeina were born,” she explained. Each doll comes with its own story, an accessory or game from the era that they come from. Leila, for instance, is a Lebanese doll from 1943, the year of Lebanon’s independence, while Zeina is inspired by young girls in 1971, before the outbreak of the country’s civil war.
Today, she markets 21 child-like dolls with different skin color, hair color, and eye color, as well as different backgrounds and careers to offset any gender-stereotyping. All the dolls come with “no makeup, and no supermodel looks,” said Joujou, adding that they each teach acceptance.
The dolls’ design and concept are carried out in Beirut, while the manufacturing is done in China. Joujou started with one store in Beirut, and has since added several seasonal pop-up stands.
When asked about the lessons she learned through her career, Joujou said one of the most valuable lessons was accepting failure and not being afraid to make mistakes.
To take her business to the next stage, Joujou is currently negotiating deals in the region, including providing franchising opportunities in new markets and making exclusive deals with some global distributors. “Expanding in the region would be a solution for so many who are getting these dolls from the States or ordering them online,” she said.
This is the final part of a four-piece story. Part one features Chantal Abou Jaoude, the Cofounder and Managing Partner at EDGE and EDGE Middle East. Part two features Christelle Fakhoury, the Cofounder and CEO of C2C (Le Club Des Deux Clowns). And part three features Hind Hobeika, the Founder of Instabeat.