When entrepreneur Labib Shalak was looking for a place to base his software company, MobiNets, one city sprang to mind: Tripoli, Lebanon.
It is Shalak's hometown and the 39-year-old was eager to invest in a city that usually plays second fiddle to its more glamorous southern counterpart, Beirut.
"Our objective was to create jobs," said Shalak, who was recently named one of Lebanon's top entrepreneurs by a leading business magazine. "I wanted to return home and make a positive contribution."
It was a vision he shared with IFC, which made a $2 million equity investment in MobiNets in 2011. Now, thanks in part to that support, the company is a major player in the mobile game.
MobiNets, which helps telecom firms better manage their mobile networks, has inked deals with some of the biggest names in the mobile industry, including Vodafone and Orange.
As well, the company has doubled its workforce in the last couple of years and now employs 100 people. Shalak says IFC's investment and advisory services were instrumental in that process.
The investment provided capital essential to the company’s growth and strengthened its ability to deliver on large projects. Meanwhile, an IFC advisory services team helped assess the company’s corporate governance using material tailored to small and medium enterprises. That allowed Mobinets to strengthen its board functioning and control environment, among other things. IFC recommended Shalak hire a chief financial officer, something the career engineer said has paid off.
When asked where MobiNets would be without IFC, he said, "Not where we are today. We would probably be a small player in a place that requires a global presence."
The IFC investment was part of a strategy to partner with promising companies to support Lebanon's nascent information technology sector. It’s also designed to drive growth into a part of the country that is often overlooked by foreign investors.
"Lebanon is full of investment opportunities, but usually the focus is on Beirut," said Tom Jacobs, IFC Principal Country Officer. "The success of MobiNets proves that private businesses can thrive beyond the capital and that good opportunities exist in centers like Tripoli. These investments make a positive impact on communities, especially by creating high-quality jobs."
While MobiNets has grown dramatically in recent years, Shalak isn't resting on his laurels. Buoyed by a series of big contracts, some won in the face of competition from large software companies, he's aiming to turn MobiNets into a $50 million company in three years.