At the Mediterranean School of Business campus in Tunis, the Seedstars team gathered a dozen Tunisian startups around a competition that enables the winner to access the regional and then global competition of the organization.
The final reward includes investments of up to one million dollars and meetings with potential investors around the world.
The Swiss organization goes to more than 70 countries searching for of startups with the potential to become success stories.
While Tunis has for some time been the scene of competitions for acceleration or incubation programs, the arrival of Seedstars is part of a more ambitious goal: to spot future unicorns.
"It is true that three years ago, we did not focus on Tunis because the ecosystem was still building up but we looked at it from afar. Since 2016, we have noticed a real turning point, whether with the discussions around the Startup Act, the multiplication of coworking spaces or the recognition of some Tunisian startups worldwide," says Katarina Szulenyiova COO of Seedstars World.
And to get the precious prize of the Seedstars selection, one must know to show that the ambition of a startup is not limited to a single country. The teams had to pitch in front of a jury of six experts, including the representative of the investment fund Africinvest, one from FutureVents Early Stage and one representative from the venture capital investment company Diva Sicar.
Know how to scale
Apart from pitching on the innovative aspect of their ideas, the young entrepreneurs who were present had to answer before a jury on the question of the internationalization of their startup.
"The startuppers focus too much on Tunis and not enough on the rest of the world,but this is changing, that's where we come in because we can help them scale in the region and provide them with a network," said Szulenyiova, "as the main criterias of the competition were also to see how the product presented can help solve a problem in any market," she added.
The three finalist startups: Dabchy, WanaGames and Favizone were innovative in their capacity to offer an additional or essential service to existing products.
Dabchy, for example, offers a commission-free and collaborative online wardrobe, WanaGames (of which Wamda has spoken here) offers video game developers an intelligent product placement and Favizone uses a SaaS solution to facilitate the ergonomics of online sales sites and optimize them with performance indicators.
Gain more visibility
Others who did not win, got visibility and exposure outside of Tunis. This was the case of Mehdi Mahmoudi, CTO of Wheritics, a platform that localises people via beacons (sensors) and thus ensures their safety in case of alert or attack.
"We offer a mobile app that geolocates each employee and tells him/her what to do in real time," Mahmoudi said. He targeted France as his main market because of the security context of recent years: "There has been a real threat for several years and in case of a new attack, this kind of tool can be very useful”.
Still at the acceleration stage, the startup is looking for a seedfund of 600 000 euros (about US$ 650 000) of which 150 000 (US $ 165 000) would be devoted to the research and development aspect and the remaining 450 000 (US $ 500 000) for the creation of a business unit. Another startup like Pixels Trade has developed a digital pharmacy product that it is already experimenting with a pharmacy in Switzerland specialized in luxury goods.
"We are at the stage where we want to set up a speedrun and promote the concept in other countries," says Aymen Touhent in charge of marketing and sales.
Think big and be bold
While the ambition to go global was present among all competitors, some barriers to entry remain strong. During a panel between Yassir El Ismaili El Idrissi, CEO of Tayara, Hakim Khelifa, Senior Partner and CoHead of SSA and lawyer Ziad Miled specialist in digital law, ideas and sometimes contrary opinions have rocketed.
"I say ‘think bold and big’ rather than always start small or think too much about the prototype," said El Idrissi whose goal was to create the "African Uber" when he founded Careem in Morocco.
For Ziad Miled, the mojo was more about finding an institutional leverage before aiming big. "The variable in Tunis is really to see what institutional space similar to the one in which I am evolving, will allow me to really go global," he said.
All three panelists debating t scaling tips came to an agreement regarding the Tunisian case: do not be afraid to go further than the Tunisian border and develop a maximum your product before considering its expansion.