Veloroute... How Ahmad and Barak plan to open up a new era of freedom of movement for youth across Lebanon
"To achieve the big dream, you have to start small"
For two keen cyclists, 29-year-old Ahmad Derbas and 23-year-old Barak Shamseen, their own life experiences inspired an innovative way to get the younger generation more mobile and open up opportunities for youth within a larger area across their city.
“Not everyone has the luxury of a car”, they point out, “and without freedom of movement, it can sometimes be difficult to get to work, college, or even to a job interview”.
Ahmad and Barak’s solution, and one they continue to explore under the wing of the Generation of Innovation Leaders (GIL) programme, is ‘VeloRoute’ – a bike-sharing network powered by a dedicated smartphone app which helps locate available bicycles and, cleverly, releases its brakes using a unique connection.
While Barak continues in the third year of an engineering degree at the Lebanese International University, Ahmad’s academic career has been rather less conventional. “I dropped out of education for five years”, he recalls, “and during this time, the only transport I had was my own bike. It made me realize how the availability of transport is an essential lifeline in today’s world”.
While the duo remains clear on their concept for ‘VeloRoute’, they were wise enough to recognize there were numerous issues they could not solve without input from other more knowledgeable specialists. “A key area we would have struggled to deal with was regarding legal issues. They can be so complicated, and we knew that if we got them wrong our business would fail before it had even got started. Through GIL, we’ve seen that laws are too easily overlooked by new enterprises, but they’re so important. Our mentors here advised us on how to make legal agreements with partners, and how to secure legal agreements for where we will place the bike parking”.
“On top of this, we received help on refining our business plan – we had a basic plan, we thought we’d covered everything, but GIL mentors helped us scale it up”. The financial support ‘VeloRoute’ has received has enabled an acceleration of their plan to launch too. At July’s Jawa2ez GIL event, the project received funding to the tune of $1,500.
They are both realistic in the face of challenges that lay ahead if they are to establish this business as their own. Ahmad reflects, “My friends think I’m lucky. But I tell them what I’m doing has nothing to do with luck - I plan ahead and I’m committed to following my dreams through small steps. Connecting with the GIL programme was a big sign of this commitment - even when I’m tired, I keep pushing – GIL encourages this, it’s a positive experience”.
His partner, Barak, hopes one day also to own his own truck repair garage, “I want to have a big garage, I want to have a big business, but I realize that for people like us, average Lebanese young men, to achieve the big dream, you have to start small and go step by step”.
It appears that the UNICEF Lebanon-supported Generation of Innovation Leaders programme, funded thanks to the Kingdom of Netherlands and the German government through the KFW Development Bank, is delivering a hugely important step or two along their journey to commercial success.