In his native Beirut, Nicolas Chammas, SM ‘87, is a successful businessman and much more. He is an author of several books, an advisor to government agencies in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East, and a noted authority on Lebanese social and economic issues. He’s also a husband and the father of three children. But perhaps his most important role is that of an optimist in a war-torn country.
For two decades, one outlet for Chammas’s optimism has been cultivating MIT ties in the region. In fact, the Alumni Association awarded him the Harold E. Lobdell ‘17 Award in 2004 for these efforts. He founded the MIT Club of Lebanon and an Educational Council for the Middle East Arab countries, and last year he helped launch a pan-Arab MIT Enterprise Forum (EF) chapter. His country’s entrepreneurial spirit is strong, he says, but has been hindered by war and ongoing civil unrest. So the chapter aims to give would-be entrepreneurs “a proper framework, with an MIT-style toolkit to get started.”
The EF chapter is launching its first business-plan competition this year. Modeled on the Institute’s $100K Entrepreneurship Competition, the contest will be juried by MIT alumni, regional business executives, and successful entrepreneurs. Winners will receive a hefty cash prize. Chammas, who chairs the advisory board, hopes the chapter will soon start working to attract angel investing and venture capital to Lebanon, where they are virtually nonexistent.
Chammas, who earned an MBA at Harvard Business School after MIT and then worked as a strategy consultant in Paris, has been back in Lebanon since 1992. He returned to become managing partner in the family business, a diversified company with ventures in construction, luxury items, IT, and strategy consulting. He considers himself lucky to have the best of both worlds, east and west.
He hopes to help others reap the benefits of both worlds, too–be they young Arabs hoping to attend MIT or alumni who want to start new businesses. “What keeps me going on a personal level,” he says, “is to contribute, even modestly, to the reinventing of the new Lebanon and its economy.”