A Look at Entrepreneurship in Morocco: Where Can Startups Turn for Help?

by Aline Mayard, April 24, 2013

Entrepreneurs in Morocco today face several challenges: meeting mentors and investors, finding a suitable office space, building partnerships, recruiting cofounders, and just having a community space to meet and share. But according to Karim Jazouani, co-founder of Moroccan startup and tech blog Thenexties.com, there is a lot that can be done to meet these needs.

Below we outline some of the major hurdles facing Moroccan entrepreneurs today and discuss how to overcome them.

Moroccan entrepreneurs need affordable places to work.

Premises in Morocco are expensive and hard to find. There are a few places in the country that offer offices in technology hubs such as Technopark in Casablanca (and soon in Rabat) or Rabat Technopolis, but the prices are prohibitive for many young entrepreneurs. "As a young entrepreneur, the only option is to work from home or in a friend’s office," says Karim Jazouani,
 
Last year, Casablanca’s first coworking place launched. iNSANE! quickly become the go-to location for local events and the TEDxCasablanca Salon, but then, after a duration of free rent expired, they faced issues finding a location with affordable rent. Today, iNSANE! is looking for a new location, but the team is hoping that they won't have to increase their fee structure.
 
Moroccan entrepreneurs need investment.
 
Like many investors in the Middle East today, investors in Morocco are culturally cautious and try to avoid ventures with an uncertain return on investment (ROI). The only option for many young entrepreneurs is to turn to institutional funding such as Maroc Numeric Fund, a venture capital fund that focuses on early stage startups, and the Centre Marocain de l'Innovation, a government-backed fund that finances innovative projects at both the startup and growth phases.

Moroccan entrepreneurs can also turn to regional funds and VCs, like Wamda Capital, that are open for investment in the Arab world.

Morocco will need a lot of evangelization to transform mentalities and enable more private investment, says Jazouani. Backing and coaching young startups could alleviate investors’ concerns, he says, so building more incubators and coworking spaces is essential.

Moroccan entrepreneurs need mentors.

"We have very few mentors," Jazouani says emphatically. According to him, Moroccan entrepreneurs will need to learn how to share knowledge in order to attract international mentors. Again, the role of coworking spaces cannot be underestimated. iNSANE! hosted several new events last year including Pitch Please!,and BeMyApp Weekend, which are essential for bringing together a real startup scene.

With the same goal in mind, this year Wamda is organizing the first ever Mix N’ Mentor Casablanca to bring together entrepreneurs to meet mentors in a close personal setting. 

Morocco needs organizations that are both urban and rural.

"Morocco is mostly a rural country. We need to promote employment and self-entrepreneurship to young unemployed Moroccans. That’s the main issue we have to work on," Jazouani stresses. Instead of just building up and supporting entrepreneurs in Morocco's major cities, it's important to empower entrepreneurs in rural areas as well.

Who's Supporting Startups?

Fortunately support organizations are growing. About a month ago, the first incubator launched in Casablanca: La Boutique de Startups. 

For a 2000 MAD (US $230) entry fee, La Boutique gives young entrepreneurs a place to work for six months, offering 18 workstations, a meeting room, and a secretary, and it will offer legal counsel, accounting services, and coaching from a team of mentors that the founder, Anasse Elkhadiryene, is currently assembling. At the end of those six months, Elkhadiryene, who comes from an investment banking background, will organize an angel investor pitch event. Thus far, two startups have joined. 

Other support organizations include Le Centre d'Investissement Régional, which helps entrepreneurs with the administrative creation of their company, and The Young Entrepreneurs Foundation, which helps young entrepreneurs develop their projects. 

Once startups are up and running, they can ask for funds at Maroc Numeric Fund and the Centre Marocain de l'Innovation. But those two funds are government-backed; much more support from the private sector could be transformative.

The ecosystem is off to a good start, it seems, but further support and momentum will be critical to prevent collectives like iNSANE! from dying off due to a lack of funding. The success of La Boutique des Startups will also depend upon its ability to collect mentors, but the next question is, when will Morocco get its first tech accelerator? 

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Aline is French Editor at Wamda. After having worked as the Online Marketing and Community Manager at French startup Buzzcar, she moved to the Middle East. She writes about traveling and culture in the Middle East on her blog Yallabye.euYou can follow her on Twitter  @aline_mydand @yallah_bye, connect with her on LinkedIn, or reach her at aline[at]wamda[dot]com.