On Friday, 12 June 2015, The Jasmine Foundation for Research and Communication (JFRC) organized a roundtable on the importance of promoting startups to foster employment, at Ramada Plaza Hotel, Gammarth, Tunis. Representatives from the government and the parliament, the private sector and the civil society were present and took part in the discussions and proceedings of the event. Mr. Hatem Dammak, Project Coordinator at JF and moderator of the roundtable, started the session by pointing out the regulatory challenges that young entrepreneurs and innovative startups face sometimes and by highlighting the need to create more spaces for interaction between the private sector representatives and decision makers in parliament and government. Jasmine Foundation and other civil society actors can actually provide these spaces to build bridges between the various stakeholders in order to identify the barriers that entrepreneurs face and to enable advocacy to remove these barriers.
Mr. Faycel Zahar, Head of the Small Business Promotion Division at ANETI
After that, the roundtable continued with keynote presentations from distinguished guests. To explore where Tunisia currently stands in terms of governmental support to young entrepreneurs, Mr. Faycel Zahar, Head of the Small Business Promotion Division at ANETI “National Agency of Employment and Independent Work” (Ministry of Employment), presented the various trainings and mechanisms offered at the ministry to help youngsters turn their ideas into viable businesses (pre-startup support) and then sustain them (post-startup support). He explained for instance the approach they use for the CEFE training (Competency-based Economies through Formation of Enterprise) which is entirely based on matching the right person with the right business idea on a deeply personal level to ensure the success of the endeavor. He also mentioned the funding opportunities the ministry creates for the participants of such programs by exposing them to financing bodies and banks such as BTS and BFPME. But promoting entrepreneurship should start at an earlier age, noted Mr. Zahar, that’s why his division helps organize business plan competitions for students across the nation each year. Last but not least, he highlighted the importance of the role that CSOs (Civil Society Organizations) can play in fostering employment which is why his division forged many partnerships with various development associations to co-finance and organize employment-driven initiatives and programs.
Mr. Khaled Ben Younes, Director of IntilaQ
As a matter fact, creating opportunities to aspiring entrepreneurs can’t be the sole responsibility of the government. Big corporations with strong social responsibility inclination have a lot to offer, especially when partnering with civil society organizations. Mr. Khaled Ben Younes, who has been Executive Director of Strategic Projects at Ooredoo, is currently the Director of IntilaQ, the biggest startups promotion initiative in Tunisia. IntilaQ is a joint venture between QFF (Qatar Friendship Fund), Microsoft and Ooredoo and it aims to help create local startups with regional and international outreach. Mr. Khaled presented the rationale behind the initiative which is based on empowering youth who have bright ideas and promising innovative projects to get their startups up and running and become competitive on a global scale. The approach of IntilaQ is comprehensive, designed like a one-stop shop with the needs of the entrepreneur in mind: not only does he get access to high-quality training, but he also gets the opportunity to pitch his business in front of an investment committee that could grant him up to 250 thousand dinars in funding. IntilaQ also provides its beneficiaries with valuable networking opportunities both nationally and internationally. To find talented entrepreneurs and fresh promising ideas, IntilaQ has launched a unit called “Academic Center” which gets in touch with universities and research centers to spot students and researchers whose academic work can be developed into business endeavors, also known as Research-Based Spin-Offs (RBSO). Mr. Khaled gave the example of “Tech Accessibility”, a startup that aims to help deaf people in Tunisia through technology based on interactive communication, for example smartphones that can be operated by deaf people. Four researchers developed the concepts but had no business background. IntilaQ provided them with the support to bring their ideas to market. Overall, the incubator currently counts 28 startups, has trained 400 entrepreneurs in technical, managerial and soft skills, and has tested 30 research/academic projects to gauge their business readiness and viability.
Ms. Madi Sharma, representative at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC)
And while all the technical and financial support is needed to help people start creating their own businesses, none of that could work if the person lacks the self-motivation and determination to be a master of his destiny. Ms. Madi Sharma, representative at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and successful businesswoman, started her presentation by stating that Tunisian people are true inspiration to the rest of the world because they collectively realized their own power and changed the system. Now, that needs to be replicated on an individual level, with every dreamer who thought his/her dream could never be a reality, with every aspiring entrepreneur who doubted his ability to create his startup, and with every civic actor who wanted to make a big change in his community but never had the courage to. Ms. Sharma said that 82% of people are doing jobs that they hate, which is quite sad. To be successful at what you do, you need to start doing what you love to do, no excuses. One should not be afraid of failure, because we all learn from our mistakes and we build our business acumen through a trial and error process. But more importantly, Madi thinks that the fear of success is what really inhibits us from chasing our wildest dreams: what if we make it and become hugely successful? Are we going to be able to cope with it? Are we ready to get out of our comfort zone and handle massive success? She went on to present practical guidance on how to fulfill your dream and launch your project (whatever that is) in an inspired and empowering way.
After that thought-provoking presentation, Ms. Madi took the opportunity to present some of the networking and funding opportunities for change-makers, such as the “SME Instrument by European Commission” that helps fund innovative projects and provide them with substantial technical and financial assistance, the “European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights” destined to support civil society organizations (it has actually funded many Tunisian associations so far), and several other programmes for exchange of expertise. She is currently working on a web portal called “the entrepreneur envoy” that aims to be a global platform bringing entrepreneurs together. She also mentioned CoSEED, a business incubator in Macedonia that she helped create and she would love to see partnerships forged between Tunisian and Macedonian entrepreneurs.
Dr. Stefan Krauss, Directorate-General for External Policies of the Union, the European Parliament
Finally, Dr. Stefan Krauss, from the European Parliament (Directorate-General for External Policies of the Union) also mentioned other European funding opportunities for Tunisian organizations such as EED, European Endowment for Democracy.
After these rich presentations, the audience had the opportunity to interact with the keynote speakers in a very candid way to further explore the topic and learn more about the available networking and collaboration opportunities.