The Startup Act bill is opening new doors for Tunisian entrepreneurs

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Tunisian entrepreneurs are finally seeing a draft of the Startup Act. The latest is that it’s under negotiation before being submitted to the country’s parliament.

It is a long-term project that started in 2015 with former telecommunications minister Noomane Fehri.

In Tunisia, the outbreak of startups had already begun before the 2011 revolution, but due to lack of regulation, an appropriate legal framework and an absence of flexibility in financial procedures, the ecosystem is still struggling to flourish.

"Since 2011 we have been trying to structure the ecosystem, there have been a lot of things done with incubating spaces like Cogite, the arrival of new actors but we also had to work on the substance [of the ecosystem]," says Amine Chouaieb, CEO of the IT startup Chifco.

Chouaieb is one of the negotiators who proposed a new text to Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, on April 11, at the El Ghazela Technopole, along with the ICT minister, and the Secretary of State for Employment and Vocational Training.

The outcome of long negotiations

Ultimately the Act is seen by many as a way of making Tunisia a regional hub for entrepreneurship in Africa, and all by 2020.

Also to implement the five axes of the Startup Tunisia initiative which wants to help young people to get a more entrepreneurial vision, to act as a springboard for young startups and to succeed in creating unicorns with an international reputation.

The text proposes a legal definition of a startup as opposed to an SME or a traditional company.

A startup could also have the status of an SAS (simplified joint stock companies) for instance.

The draft also suggests an increase to 100,000 Tunisian dinars (US$40,000) for the Technology Card (this card provides for entrepreneurs with the ability to convert to foreign currencies but is limited to an amount of only 10,000 dinars (US$4,000) per year), tax exemptions, and a college for startups that will serve as a direct interlocutor for the startups and the government.

Chouaieb told Wamda, the text of the act, as it now stands, is the goal they wish to reach.

The text also calls for a temporary leave for the creation of a company. This would mean that someone, who is already employed could take time off work to start a business. It also wants to see the creation of a free zone, but in another country.

Revolutionizing the ecosystem

Chouaieb said he wanted to revolutionize the ecosystem much like the famous entrepreneur Xavier Niel did in France’s own Silicon Valley, ‘Frenchtech’, when he help building an entrepreneurial ecosystem all over France that now attracts business angels and investors.  

Discussions with the government were also an opportunity to bring back the issue of access to Paypal in Tunisia. Taher Mestiri, CEO of Hadrum, a retail solution startup, told Wamda that there weren’t as many barriers as before but they are still waiting for Paypal to be installed.  “There has been an opening with the Central Bank on this issue but it is not yet fully done because Paypal needs to adjust to all the the Tunisian legislative specificities before really coming on board.”

While all the entrepreneurs agreed that the involvement of government will to encourage entrepreneurship in Tunisia is finally showing as well as the acknowledgement of the ecosystem, many are still waiting for the debate in parliament and hope a vote of the bill by 2018.

Ali Mnif one of the entrepreneurs who has been negotiating the Startup Act (Image via TunisianStartups)

Bottom-up initiatives

"It is a whole process of validation that must be put in place because we are calling on different ministries, the ICT one, the Ministry of Finance and the employment one as well. We also consult private companies to study the feasibility of the project," Ali Mnif, an entrepreneur country manager of Silatech in Tunisia said. He has also contributed to the mapping of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Tunisia.

"The most important thing in this initiative is that everything is bottom up, and if the Startup Act goes ahead, we can say that Tunisian entrepreneurship will have really built itself, on it’s own," he added.

For others, the most important thing is to get organized, as shown by Tunisian Startups an association launched during the same month as the negotiations on the Startup Act. Amel Saidane, who works with the association, is also part of the lobbying force for the Startup Act. The association brings together startuppers around the discussions on the bill but also enables them to meet new business angels via meetups.

"We're trying to create a sort of landing point for startups to also generate a common voice to carry the Startup Act and become more visible as a community," she told Wamda.

If the ecosystem is gradually structuring, many expectations remain regarding the unblocking of the legal framework so that Tunisian startups can truly blossom.

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