As people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) overcome many of the barriers to entrepreneurship, such as funding, the region is becoming a more prominent destination for innovators. At the end of 2015, Forbes published a list of the “Top 10 Cities in the World to Launch Your Startup,” which included two MENA cities: Cairo and Tunis.
Cairo’s Emergence as a Major Entrepreneurial Hub
Cairo has recently developed a reputation as a hub for startups in the Middle East. In this city, large masses of highly educated graduates find the accelerators, incubators, and networking events they need to realize their ideas and produce highly refined products. Part of Cairo’s success stems from its high volume of excellent universities that train world-class engineers and innovative thinkers. A number of notable startups have emerged from Cairo and more are likely to launch with new accelerators opening their doors every month. One leading accelerator is Flat 6 Labs, which produced the highly valued Instabug, an application that offers immediate feedback for mobile app engineers.
In December 2015, Seedstars World held a startup competition in Cairo. This event allowed 12 startups chosen for their incredible potential to face off against each other in front of a jury of both local and international judges. The event also included networking sessions and an inspirational keynote speaker. The winner of the event received a ticket to travel to Switzerland to compete in the final Seedstars World competition for the chance to win $1.5 million in investment capital. The fact that Seedstars World chose Cairo as one of its host cities speaks to the fact that the metropolis has proven itself to be a valuable entrepreneurial hub.
Tunis, a Young Entrepreneurial Ecosystem with Great Promise
Opportunities for funding, coaching, and mentorship are still nascent in Tunis. The Arab Spring served as a major turning point for this city, and many of its entrepreneurs began embracing civic entrepreneurship and looking toward a brighter future. The technologies coming out of Tunis have been used to mobilize communities and facilitate productive political discussion. The pure ingenuity behind these society-changing products is what landed Tunis a place on the Forbes list.
Tunis is quickly becoming more attractive to entrepreneurs as policy makers turn their attention to creating supportive programs. So far, the country has implemented several strategies for boosting incubators, accelerators, and education programs to jumpstart the entrepreneurial ecosystem. One of the most promising programs is the Regional Development General Commission’s Integrated Development Program, which collaborates with local decision makers and entrepreneurs to identify priority projects and target locations. With the knowledge gleaned from this collaboration, the program identifies the best path for moving forward that supports all parties involved.
Perhaps the most groundbreaking startup to come out of Tunis so far is Tunisia Live. This news portal provides stories in English about events during and since the Arab Spring. This outlet provides vital information to people living outside of the Arab world and empowers individuals involved to make the best decisions about their own futures.
Before the Arab Spring, entrepreneurs in search of funding had only one option—to ask the state for support. Now, enterprising innovators can partner with venture capitalists or join incubators to receive financial support. Due to the relatively small and nascent nature of the Tunis startup ecosystem, a lot of mutual support exists between members of the community. Individuals regularly host and attend workshops and provide each other with whatever support they need. One valuable resource that entrepreneurs in Tunis have is the Microsoft Innovation Centre, which is run by Alia Mahmoud. The organization works with very early-stage startups as they gain footing in the city.
Despite the promise that Tunisia holds, the country still presents some hurdles to overcome. Corruption remains commonplace, although many entrepreneurs are targeting this issue to make the market more stable. Entrepreneurs are also focusing on the Tunisian educational system. Tunisia boasts one of the most educated populations in the region, but many universities are failing to teach important, practical information, so graduates struggle to find jobs. Therefore, many people travel internationally to find work, which drains the market of many brilliant minds. The people who choose to stay often turn to entrepreneurship to create the future that they want.
Recently, the Tunisian startup ecosystem received a needed boost from international donors. With this extra funding available, development is likely to continue at exponential rates, thus helping Tunis grow into the Middle East’s hub for entrepreneurship.