Walking through the doors of Tunisia’s Elgazala Technopark on Monday October 13th, there was one thing I couldn’t help but notice: the passion of the audience armed with the ‘next big idea.’ Coming from around Tunis, a diverse group of entrepreneurs gathered for the latest edition of the Your Middle East Startup roadshow, organized by Aurore Belfrage in her capacity as COO of Your Middle East, an online newspaper that aims to move beyond the conflict-driven stories that dominate news coming from the region.
The event spotlighted Tunisian female entrepreneurs, as well as the challenges and successes all Tunisian entrepreneurs inevitably face on their entrepreneurial journey.
An injection of inspiration
During the first networking hour, tech companies, and business association representatives mingled with local business students and recent graduates, listening to pitches and introductions. For investors and other professionals, this was a way to get a sense of the emerging entrepreneurial players, while young entrepreneurs could “see what kind of projects are going on and succeeding in the Middle East… especially those managed by women,” according to one IT university student.
Fredrik Floren, Sweden’s ambassador to Tunisia, discussed his own personal connection to entrepreneurship in his opening remarks, citing his grandfather as inspiration. He reiterated Sweden’s commitment to supporting Tunisia’s political and economic growth, while highlighting the special role that female entrepreneurs can play in creating an inclusive economic ecosystem. He called upon female entrepreneurs to participate in programs like She Entrepreneurship, a leadership and training program for women in the MENA region who aspire to become social entrepreneurs. Ultimately, the ambassador challenged the audience to continue with their entrepreneurial endeavors, as they were a key element of Tunisia’s success in creating an economically sustainable state.
Learn from success stories… as well as failure
After Floren’s remarks, Ms. Belfrage took to the stage to share her own entrepreneurial journey as cofounder of Wrapp, sharing her missteps and lessons learned through humor and communion with the entrepreneurs in the audience. She discussed the importance of mistakes and how “it is scary to be an entrepreneur… I cried every day,” but how the struggle was worth it because “ultimately it is about the joy of creating something new.” Belfrage’s journey through navigating financial, team building, and communication issues highlighted the importance of recognizing that mistakes are inevitable and that success does not come overnight.
Belfrage then invited Sarah Arbi, a communications consultant with G-dice, and Hayet Rais from Mindshare to share elements of a ‘success story.’ Arbi highlighted the importance of networking and finding people that believe in you, giving you a platform to turn an idea into reality. Rais added in the importance of content for any entrepreneur, no matter the sector. For her, “going viral is all about content… smart content reaches the highest number of people. If content is king, then media is the throne.”
Key elements of a successful pitch
The final component of the event was a pitching session for three startups, moderated by Belfrage, with a panel featuring Maher Kallel, the president of Carthage Business Angels, a collection of Tunisian business angels; Mouna Ayari of Intilaq, a coaching program funded by the Qatar Friendship Fund; and Fadhel Guiga of SUST, a Tunisian association that aims to support startup creation. The three projects were:
- Enssan, a social enterprise that provides a platform for artisans to sell their handicrafts abroad, created by Noor El Amel Glenza.
- Manage All, an online platform headed by Yasmin Ammar that seeks to digitize the Tunisian healthcare system.
- Good App, an alert manager app, organized by Sarra Taboubi.
This session was highly interactive and offered strong takeaways regarding the elements of a successful pitch:
- Show your passion. Sell your story (and that
of your product) in an authentic way.
- Have an emotional and visual appeal, adding the human
element which personalizes your pitch.
- Show that you are adaptable to the needs of
investors, the market, and potential customers.
- Know what differentiates you from other products and highlight
what your value-added is.
- Keep everything product focused. Your product
will determine what type of revenue and funding source you should
- Know your vision and long-term potential and highlight what investors will gain from supporting you. Come up with potential questions the investors may ask and prepare accordingly.
Ultimately, this event was a fun and interactive way to get people talking about the realities of being an entrepreneur. According to Belfrage, “it is critical to start with energy and to demonstrate who and where you are. This event showed that everyone has to practice and understand the fundamentals of storytelling.”
Photo credit: Courtney Joline