The up-to-now very discreet Startup Factory, a Tunisian accelerator launched a few years ago by telecommunications operator Ooredoo (then known as Tunisiana), will be the talk of the town in the upcoming months.
After the establishment of a partnership with the Qatar Friendship Fund (QFF) – a Qatari fund that has invested so far a total of $100 million USD in organizations working to develop entrepreneurial culture in Tunisia – the accelerator has so far received 26 million TND (corresponding to $16 million USD) from the Qatari fund. Under the name Intilaq (‘start’ in Arabic), the accelerator may well turn into an entrepreneurial hub. Here is what you can expect.
Right after the 2011 revolution, driven by the desire to solve the problem of massive unemployment among young people, especially young university graduates, telecommunications operator Tunisiana decided to establish a process to help Tunisians create jobs for themselves by launching sustainable businesses. This structure is the Startup Factory.
Khaled Ben Younes, the director general of Intilaq, estimated that it was the first time that such ‘end-to-end’ support has been offered in Tunisia, explaining that the program assists startups from the concept stage to the fundraising stage.
Each quarter, Tunisians of all ages who have technological ideas are invited to present their projects to the in-house investment committee at a pitch session. But even before these sessions, the accelerator provides free coaching to a group of ten startups per quarter, in order to improve their chances at convincing investors.
The startups selected by the committee and the accelerator then draft custom target agreements in which both parties determine what they will deliver in this partnership between the startup and accelerator. What follows is free incubation for six to nine months – depending on the needs of the startup – with the objective of creating a minimum viable product. Following this incubation, entrepreneurs are once again invited to pitch their concepts before the in-house investment committee in order to obtain investment in the form of equity or convertible loans.
Since fall 2012, the fund has facilitated, with its 2.5 million dinars, the incubation of 11 startups and the funding of ten startups – including Disrupt CK, Yooopy, and more – around 50,000 TND on average (around $30,000 USD).
With the arrival of the QFF and its largesse, the hub will acquire in a few months a Tunis- and Sfax-based workspace which will include four divisions: a bootstrapping acceleration and investment center, a technology center, a career center, and an academic center.
The bootstrapping acceleration and investment center would adopt the same model as Startup Factory; the biggest difference post-QFF funding would be the investment capacity. The accelerator will aim to invest in 12 startups and incubate at least 24 per year, and the investment received by the selected startups will see an increase of 500%; after the new cash injection, no less than 250,000 TND will be invested in every startup.
The technology center will allow access to advanced technological tools and solutions to allow Tunisians to develop and test their prototypes, especially in the mobile apps field. Non-incubated entrepreneurs will also benefit from these solutions at rates that should be very competitive.
The career center aims to enable young Tunisians to increase their employability by providing them with professional guidance programs, and to give them the opportunity to obtain certifications to validate their skills, as well as attend vocational training and recruitment events.
The academic center will offer a workspace exclusively open to students and teachers, in addition to an online and offline library that subscribes to the various scientific publications. This center aims to become the link between the business world and the academic community, and provide support services for researchers to enhance their research.