Kicking off Enpact's coworking space with a lively discussion. (Images via Startup Haus)
For the last three years, German entrepreneurship support organization Enpact has been mentoring startups in Tunisia. Proud of their origins, they named the space 'startup house', spelt in German, to stress the connection to and exchange of knowledge between German and Tunisian entrepreneurs.
The space, located in the heart of Tunis, aims to be a hub for startup events, training workshops, and talks about the reality and challenges facing Tunisian entrepreneurs. It will also incubate Tunisian startups and provide capacity-building programs for new teams developing their business model, looking for investors and solidifying their value proposition.
Sustaining the model
Startup Haus Tunis manager Nesrine Ben Slimen wants to build a viable model that can sustain itself in the long term.
“For our first year, we are supported by Enpact and The Westerwelle Foundation, but we will need to use this [time] to develop a sustainable business model for the hub to grow and provide more services for Tunisian startups,” Ben Slimen said.
The hub is registered as a nonprofit organization but aims to generate revenue that can be reinvested in growing its operations and services. Startup Haus’ core activity will be incubation; selected startups get access to office hours by national and international experts, meetups with well-reknowned experts, and, most importantly, Enpact’s international mentoring program.
In addition to incubating startups, the space also offers 90 coworking desks and office rentals for freelance consultants and those working remotely from Tunisia.
Coworkers can choose one of two options at 140 TND (US$70) per month, per person or 240 TND ($120) per month per person for access to more services. At the moment, two private offices accommodating six to eight people are being rented for 1,200 TND ($600).
When an industrial space becomes a tech hub.
Startup Haus Tunis currently incubates three startups: Tunisia Live, a startup which provides media production services for international organizations in Tunisia, Iris Technologies, which provides climate monitoring technology inside beehives to ensure the quality of honey, and YallaRead which aims to become Tunisia’s first book-sharing platform.
All of these startups were alumni of Enpact’s mentorship program, which started in 2013.
The one-year program matches entrepreneurs from MENA countries - Morocco, Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia - with counterparts in Germany to help enable an exchange and transfer of knowledge between the entrepreneurs. It begins with a week-long seminar in Berlin, followed by online meetups and visits in the MENA region throughout the year.
“They matched us with a media entrepreneur in Germany to exchange knowledge and learn about the business strategies which we could implement in Tunisia,” said Youssef Gaigi, founder of Tunisia Live, who went through the first class of entrepreneurs.
The mentorship program also raises awareness among MENA entrepreneurs about their own ecosystem.
“Through this network, I met with ten other Tunisian entrepreneurs and we have formed a support network to help each other in our endeavors. What startups in Tunisia really need is good mentorship, and that is hard to come by. Building a robust network of entrepreneurs is key for the success and growth in the sector,” Gaigi added.
Incubated startups hard at work.
Reforming business laws
To go further, the Startup Haus team believes the Tunisian government will need to better promote entrepreneurship and open the discussion about startup support measures.
During their launch event, the team organized a panel discussion on 'The importance of entrepreneurship for the economic development of societies'. During this lively back and forth, the long-awaited reform in business laws in the country took center stage.
Amel Saidane, executive director at consulting firm Slickstone, shed light on the deliberation currently happening in Tunisia’s Central Bank to come up with a startup law that will ease the process of registering a business, acquiring credit, and enabling e-payment gateways, which the ecosystem deems as necessary for entrepreneurship to pick up.
While optimism prevailed at the launch, the persistent fiscal and legal challenges facing startups in Tunisia call into question the efficacy of the plethora of entrepreneurship activities the country has seen in the last few years.
Without the much-anticipated legal reforms, a few entrepreneurs in the audience, including Gaigi, wondered whether the muc-vaunted capacity-building activities on their own could catalyze Tunisia’s startup revolution.