Like graduates all over the world, Tunisians leave university and want to find a job. Unlike many others, they can’t. The country’s unemployment rate hovers at around 40%, with one third being university graduates. Traditional jobs are few and far between. This situation has been leading many young people to turn to entrepreneurship as a solution. As a consequence, a small, but influential start-up community has sprung up in Tunisia, and the rest of the world is beginning to take notice.
Start-up incubators like Founder Institute and Boost have already made an impact on fledgling companies, offering the capital and training needed for launch. Flat6Labs, a successful incubator that has supported a number of start-ups in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, is soon to launch an office in Tunisia, providing entrepreneurs with seed funding, strategic mentorship, office space and development workshops.
This upward rise is partly due to foreign investment and much to do with the newly launched youth employment project branded “Mashrou3i” (meaning “My Project” in Arabic). A joint initiative between the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the government of Italy and HP Foundation, it aims to address youth unemployment through entrepreneurship and enterprise development in Tunisia. Impact investment, where social or environmental impact is sought by investors along with a financial return, could follow, as evidenced in USAID’s global PACE initiative.
Slush Global Impact Accelerator, a global programme supporting sustainable startups, launched its hub in Tunisia last year, giving local social entrepreneurs a chance to receive strategic mentorship and impact investment – where their social mission along with their financial performance is important to the investor.
Bilel Sboui always knew that he wanted to be self-employed. After graduating as a technician in automation and industrial computing in 2010, he was ready to strike out on his own after a series of internships, taking over his sister’s prickly pear seed oil business, Cactus Kairouanais.