Published on Arab Voices

Tunisia’s #Startup Act catching the wave of innovation

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Dotshock |
To reduce unemployment and create a more prosperous economic outlook, the Tunisian economy must grow at a faster pace, especially with the rapidly growing pool of young, educated people the country has ready to enter the workforce.

An acceleration of economic growth and the job creation it needs makes a new economic model—one that eliminates privilege, opens up economic opportunity to all Tunisians, and spreads prosperity across the country—all the more necessary.

It also requires new types of businesses with high potential for growth. Traditionally, the country’s economy has been focused on fragile sectors such as tourism.

Science and technology are at the heart of this transformational economic change, and startups are its engine. Giving young, educated Tunisians access to a creative ecosystem, where their ideas could flourish, would create a paradigm shift in the Tunisian economy.

Yet, launching a startup in Tunisia is not an easy thing to do. It may take months just to create the legal entity needed to do it, and include numerous trips between the court, the municipality (to notarize every signature), and Tunisia’s old-style administration.

In the midst of this lengthy process, you get the feeling that you are going around in circles. Creating a startup isn’t cheap either as, between accounting and registration fees, the cost can reach 10,000 Tunisian dinars (about $4,300).

Furthermore, if you ask young entrepreneurs about the challenges they face, there is near consensus on the negative role the country’s Central Bank plays in killing their ambition when it comes to monetizing their online products, especially if they plan to expand into the international market.

It is virtually impossible for Tunisian startups to conduct business outside of Tunisia with all the restrictions put in place by the Central Bank.

The motive behind our initiative is pretty simple: Tunisian startups are being governed by ancient laws inherited from the French legal system, and it is time for a new legal framework to take into consideration the high risk and high potential associated with startups.

The workforce has done a tremendous job of drafting a new law, the Startup Act, with support from a large number of entrepreneurs who communicated via virtual Facebook groups and by meeting up in person.

In the draft of the law, the authors recognize the role of entrepreneurs in creating wealth, jobs, and giving people hope. They use the example of the Estonian startup, Skype, which was created in 2003 and later sold to eBay in 2005 for over $2 billion.

They also recognize there are hurdles in the entrepreneurship journey—psychological barriers, such as the lack of Tunisian success stories for Tunisian youth to identify with, as well as the relative lack of financial and functional support available for startups.

The Startup Act proposes a new set of regulations that facilitate the operation of a startup, helping it to deal with things like stock distribution, tax advantages, creation and liquidation, and the easing of customs procedures for imports.

The draft law sets pretty ambitious goals, though, inviting skepticism. These include placing Tunisia first as an entrepreneurial hub in Africa, and second in the Mena region, which means it would have to overtake countries such as Morocco and Kenya.

It also aims to have Tunisia reach the number one slot in Africa for the number of startups relative to its population. We shall wait and see.


Bassam Bouguerra

Founder of the Tunisian Institutional Reform group

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