Interview: Hichem Turki
How will the Start-up Act help to bolster entrepreneurial activities?
HICHEM TURKI: Developing a burgeoning start-up ecosystem is a hot topic, especially given the increasing flow of migration. The Start-up Act is a unique legislative framework that paves the way for more innovation-based economic models in Tunisia and in the region. Its implementation brings many positives from a fiscal and administrative standpoint for young entrepreneurs. It is important to ensure that the younger generations in Tunisia can grow in an environment that is conducive to business creation, and that they are made aware of the opportunities that exist in their country. Start-ups are the future of Tunisia and its economic development. Therefore, facilitating the creation and registration of start-ups is positive news for the overall economic momentum.
While the number of start-ups per capita in Tunisia is the strongest in the MENA region, it is weaker when compared to European countries, with many challenges remaining. For instance, solutions to finance start-up projects before they have developed a sustainable business model have yet to be introduced. To this end, the Deposit and Consignment Fund is looking forward to the implementation of a specialised fund for financing start-ups by the end of 2019.
What innovative financing solutions could be available to young companies and start-ups?
TURKI: In a context of restricted access to bank credit for all companies, and considering that companies are most vulnerable at early stages where their business model is not yet generating enough revenue to cover their costs, affordable financing solutions for young companies are paramount. Guarantees required by traditional banks are not suitable to these young companies, and therefore alternative solutions are needed. A few innovative financing models are still in testing, while some have been found to be conclusive. Most importantly, the financing partner and the beneficiary must share the responsibility of developing innovative financing models. Given the agreement is atypical, both parties must be willing to cooperate to find a new way of bearing the risks and sharing the rewards. Entrepreneurs should seek to build a relationship with the private sector, and the private sector should become more open towards entrepreneurs. For instance, entrepreneurs can reach out to corporations, learn about their needs and develop tailor-made solutions to meet the needs of the enterprise. Ideally, the company would support the development of the project by purchasing shares and is given the right to use the product before anyone else, therefore minimising the risk of failure of the project and rationalising the cash needed to earn revenue.
To what extent are technoparks helping to reduce the regional economic divide in Tunisia?
TURKI: The situation between different regions in Tunisia is disparate. Macroeconomic indicators such as contribution to GDP, unemployment rates, level of education and access to health highlight these differences. By definition, technoparks are places around which knowledge, training, financing and work organisations gravitate. The creation of such parks in interior regions of the country would help to boost economic activity. Specifically, the use of local resources within technoparks located in interior regions would create economic opportunities for the inhabitants, and as a consequence, improve the living conditions in these parts of the country.
In addition, technoparks are a response to the brain drain facing the country. These places make it possible to work in a rewarding environment that foster innovative thinking and solutions to unique challenges, in conjunction with an upwards revision of wages, which helps to retain a skilled workforce.
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