With more than one-third of Tunisia’s graduates unemployed, many young nationals are taking matters into their own hands by creating their own tech companies.
Regional accelerator schemes are also playing a part in growing a culture of entrepreneurship and SMEs.
Flat6Labs, for example, which has hubs from Tunis to Beirut and Bahrain, provides technology companies with seed capital and mentorship.
Through their coaching programme, the accelerator recently offered 8 places to some of the 400 tech start-up hopefuls that pitched ideas to them.
Yehia Houry, managing director of the Flat6Labs, believes the start-up environment in Tunisia has expanded significantly over the past two years.
“There are a lot of innovations, smart young people who are working towards building creative, innovative solutions to everyday problems,” he told Euronews. “We were at around 50 start-ups when we first started, we’re now at 600 to 700.”
Bechir Afifi, who took part in the accelerator’s competition, is the co-founder of Fabskill, a tech-smart recruitment company.
Since launching eight months ago, Afifi’s software has been used to recruit candidates for five international firms.
Believing that Tunisia’s future lies in the digital and the IT sector, Afifi argues that highly educated people should be encouraged to develop their ideas in their homeland, rather than search for opportunities abroad.
“If we can give them the right ecosystem here, if they can work on cutting edge tech - and more challenging things - they can create something awesome,” he told Euronews.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE GAINS MOMENTUM
According to PricewaterhourseCoopers, Artificial Intelligence could add as much as $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030.
Thus, it’s perhaps no surprise that Tunisian Afifi is not the only entrepreneur to jump on the AI bandwagon.
Zohra Slim, the co-founder of one of Tunisia’s leading AI companies, was fixing computers in a call center before pursuing her tech start-up.
Founded in 2014, InstaDeep creates Artificial Intelligence systems that optimise decision-making processes in real-life industrial environments.
With 60 staff members across its European and African offices, InstaDeep delivers its products digitally.
“Technology is the sweet spot, because we have issues in Africa and the Middle East [...] with importing and exporting goods,” she explains. “It’s always a hassle, you have to wait.”
Slim adds that with software, trade is a lot faster than with other products:
“You just send it, there’s no limits. In Tunisia, we don’t have the big oil reserves, [but] we have our brains.”
BUREAUCRACY STUNTING INNOVATION
Walid Sultan Midani launched Digital Mania, an independent gaming company, eight years ago. The firm, which is expanding into creating games for Virtual Reality, has 128 games produced so far.
When asked what is stifling start-up growth in Tunisia, Midani says that too much bureaucracy is to blame.
He adds that although people are pushed to launch start-ups in the country, they are not equipped with the same resources or tools as elsewhere in the world.
Last year, the Tunisian government launched The Start-Up Act, a series of policies and reforms to develop the country’s entrepreneurial and tech ecosystem.
Despite these efforts, businesses like InstaDeep and Digital Mania have had to move their headquarters to Europe in order to expand and bypass red tape.
“There is much talent here, but the barriers are just frustrating,” says Midani. “Just open the door and let the flow go, and you will see in two years something magnificent will happen here.”