Meet the Winners of the Maghreb Startup Initiative Competition
After nine months of pitching sessions and bootcamps during the Maghreb Startup Initiative competition, 13 startups have survived to win the country finals in Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco.
Implemented through the U.S.-North Africa Partnership for a Economic Opportunity (PNB-NAPEO), the Maghreb Startup Initiative brought together leading support organizations in each country: the Algerian Startup Initiative in Algeria, Fondation du Jeune Entrepreneur in Morocco, and Education for Employment Tunisia and accelerator Wiki Start Up in Tunisia, to source over 300 applications from entrepreneurs, vet them over the summer, and send a list of 25 semfinalists in each country through a one week bootcamp.
After the back-to-back bootcamps, held in Tunisia from October 8-13, Algeria from October 12-15, and Morocco from October 17-21, the countries decided on the final winners in each country:
- In Tunisia, winning teams were determined by sector: Chifco won in the Energy sector, Saphon Energy in the Green Energy sector, DigitalMania in the Media and ICT sector, Steviamania in the Biotechnology sector, and Chito_Prod won the special innovation prize.
- In Algeria, the winners were Dialife from the health care sector, Smellnat from the agrofood sector, and Smarto-TV, a digital TV box starutp.
- In Morocco, ERDK, Mécatech, Verordi, Fbiolak and Playcom won (for more on these, read contributor Karim Jazouani's piece on the Morocco finals).
The 13 teams won a total of US $94,250 in cash prizes, which were provided by Abraaj Capital, Intel, Group BENAMOR, INSIM Bejaïa, and Crédit Agricole du Maroc. Details on each startup are below.
Of these winners, Chifco, a Tunisian consulting company that helps small businesses with project management, monitoring, and energy saving, was chosen to compete in the Intel Global Challenge in November, representing the Maghreb region.
Judges at the separate Intel competition in Berkeley, California were “pleasantly surprised” to see innovative ideas coming out of a country that they may previously have only understood through the lens of revolution, says Maghreb Startup Initiative Regional Coordinator Michael Blumer. “I think many of these companies shatter global stereotypes.”
Maghreb Startup now hopes to reconvene these winners in a regional event in the next few months, to give them the opportunity to think about scaling throughout the Maghreb and broader region, says Blumer. For now, local Maghreb Initiative “implementers” are working directly with the startups in each country to assess their training needs, introduce them to investors, and get them registered to ensure that they can move forward at full steam.
Meet the startups:
Interview with Amine Chouaieb, Leader
Location: Sousse, Tunisia
Chifco is an energy-focused Tunisian startup that created a product called the InnerJ Box, a new customer engagement platform for the energy sector. It helps people use energy more efficiently and ultimately save money on their energy bills, and vastly improves the overall customer experience by making energy use personally relevant. Chifco received a prize of 10,000 Tunisian Dinars (US $6,500) as the Energy winner of the Maghreb Startup Initiative, and was the finalist selected from Maghreb Startup to represent North Africa at the Intel Global Challenge at UC Berkeley in November, 2012.
Interview with Olfa Kilani, Founder
Location: Sfax, Tunisia
Led by Olfa Kilani, PhD in biotechnology, Chito-prod at once addresses the major environmental problem of shrimp waste that collects along the Tunisian coast, and extracts and creates in bulk a complex, multi-beneficial product. Shrimp are currently being disposed of by incineration along the Tunisian coastline, consequently wasting the rich bimolecular resources found in shrimp remains, notably cytosine and chitin, which have many nutritional benefits. Chito-prod has developed an enzyme application to combine these molecules with enzymes to produce a hyper active substance in bulk which has myriad medical uses as an anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial agent. Chito-prod received the special innovation prize of 6,000 Tunisian Dinars (US $4,000) for innovation in the Maghreb Startup Initiative.
Interview with Walid Sultan Midani, Founder, on WamdaTV
Location: Tunis, Tunisia
Digital Mania is the first online video game development studio in Tunisia and in the Maghreb region, and has seen great success by promoting and providing access to their video games over Facebook. The team received a prize of 10,000 Tunisian Dinars (US $6,500) as the Media and ICT winner of the Maghreb Startup Initiative.
Interview with founder Hassine Labaeid on WamdaTV
Location: Tunis, Tunisia
Saphon Energy is a Tunisian startup that has developed a wind-powered energy system, founded by a Tunisian engineering university graduate and a banker from Dubai. Saphon Energy is the Green Economy winner of the Maghreb Startup Initiative, and received a prize of 10,000 Tunisian Dinars (US $6,500).
Interview with Fares Mehouachi, Founder
Location: Qa Afur, Siliana, Tunisia
Steviamina is a startup producer of an innovative, calorie-free, organic sugar substitute product aimed at diabetics, mainly in Europe, created using the rare plant, stevia. This plant is found primarily in China and Paraguay, but Mr. Mehouachi and his company has developed a method of producing stevia in the hot Tunisian climate. The team received a prize of 10,000 Tunisian Dinars (US $6,500) as the Biotechnology winner of the Maghreb Startup Initiative.
Dialife is the producer of an online healthcare platform that responds to the needs of diabetic patients and their families by combining the elements of diabetes management into one simple and intuitive multi-support solution accessible on the web, desktop computers and mobile phones. Dialife was a runner-up from the Maghreb to participate in the Intel Global Challenge, and received a check worth 1.5 million Algerian Dinars (approximately US$ 19,000) as a winner of the Maghreb Startup Initiative.
Saliha Moulfi, Manager
Interview with Ms. Chiri and Ms. Bouchelkia
Location: El Kala, El Tarf, Algeria
Smellnat is an Algerian startup founded by chemical engineer Nasma Bouchelkia and electrical engineer Meriem Chiri, who create essential oils and bio-antioxidant oils for sale. These oils are in high demand in Algeria but are not widely produced locally, despite an abundance of natural resources. Smellnat received a check for 1 million Algerian Dinars (US$ 12,700) as a winner of the Maghreb Startup Initiative.
Abdelhakim Meftahi, Team Leader
Location: Oran, Oran, Algeria
Smarto-tv is a provider of digital solutions designed for the broadcasting industry, such as Set Top Box manufacturers and Broadcast Servers. They have developed technology that allows for the recording of audio and video coming from satellite channels, cable or ADSL based on a new algorithm that is more powerful than current products that exist on the market. The team received a check for 500,000 Algerian Dinars (US$ 6,300) as a winner of the Maghreb Startup Initiative.
Interview with Essaid Raoui, Team Leader
Location: Kenitra, Gharb-Chrarda-Beni Hssen Morocco
ERDK is an engineering R&D office for innovative thermal equipment design, particularly dealing with renewable energy. The concept is based on a hot water storage unit that is without pressure in a tank made of a new plastic, combined with a new efficient exchanger for instantaneous production of hot pressure water as well as utilizes a new innovative float safety system to limit the temperature in the plastic tank when there is no water. ERDK received a check for 50,000 Moroccan Dirhams (US $6,250) and a Human Resource and Accounting Management package from Allser as a winner of the Maghreb Startup Initiative.
Location: Agadir, Souss-Massa-Draa, Morocco
Fbiolak’s principal activity is the production and marketing of biopesticides based on fungal spores (Inocula). The spores are produced in solid state fermentation agricultural by-products (sugar cane bagasse, wheat bran, and olive pumice) under water stress. This activity is the first to scale nationally. Fbiolak received a check for 40,000 Moroccan Dirhams (US $5,000) as a winner of the Maghreb Startup Initiative.
Taoufik Smires, General Director
Location: Casablanca, Morocco
MécaTECH is in the design and production stage of a new product, called Probatt, which extends the life of batteries laptops and has the ability to resolve 90% of problems related to the battery. MécaTECH received a check for 45,000 Moroccan Dirhams (US $5,625) as a winner of the Maghreb Startup Initiative.
Interview with Anass Mchimcha
Location: Casablanca, Morocco
Playcom creates internal and external communications for companies with a twist – based on video games and web marketing by taking into consideration the profile of the new consumer and employee as they become more and more connected. Playcom received a check for 30,000 Moroccan Dirhams (US $3,750) as a winner of the Maghreb Startup Initiative
In three words Verordi is collecting, sorting, and recycling. At the end of its life, computer hardware is part of many Moroccans’ informal waste management scheme, which endangers both the environment and the scavengers who work there. Verordi takes the position upon itself as a pioneer in the field to establish a chain from collection to recycling waste for better use. Verordi received a check for 45,000 Moroccan Dirhams (US $5,625) as a winner of the Maghreb Startup Initiative.