While Tunis may not be a Berlin-style boomtown or a Tel Aviv tech hub, there are signs that Tunisia could be set to become the region’s next startup hotspot.
“I resigned from my previous job to commit fully in my project because I believe in its originality by incorporating new technologies in the beekeeping sector.” says Khaled Bouchoucha.
Khaled is one of a core of tech saavy and forward-thinking business entrepreneurs creating a buzz around Tunis.
His project IRIS is designed to improve productivity in the beekeeping industry.
“Tunisia has always opted for biological solutions concerning beekeeping. Yet the integration of technology using electronic cards, GPS, on board electronics and advanced software is becoming more common, he said.
“Using our product to extract samples,we can detect the hives’ problems.We use different measurement systems and analytical tools and services to harmonize the farmer’s hives.”
However Khaled is just one of many bright business minds who are propping up Tunisia’s start-up scene which has bubbled since the 2011 revolution thanks to faster, freer internet access and advaances in technology.
The nerve centre of the scene is the Cogite co-working space in the Tunis suburb of Lac.
Cogite is a creative space which provides freelancers and start-ups from across the capital with a collaborate space to work, share ideas and drink coffee while replacing the traditional office environment.
“It is a space of engaging citizens aiming at creating alternatives, says Cogite CEO Houssem Aoudi.
“As entrepreneurs we share a communal sense as we believe it is our duty to construct Tunisia. For me, entrepreneurship is a kind of resistance against unfriendly banking system and our old-fashioned government.
“Being an entrepreneur offers us a valve to breath with.”
Currently there are no official figures available for the number of Tunisian startups but estimates suggest thousands of new ideas are springing up across the country as young entrepreneurs throw out the rule book of traditional Tunisan business.
There are many reasons why the country is ripe to become a major player in the startup world.
“Tunisia’s closeness to Europe is beneficial as we can develop mutual platforms that provide job opportunities for Tunisians seeking salaries higher than local rates. said entrepreneur Sadek Ghannouchi.
“Another benefit for Tunisians is that the concept of a startup is new phenomenon here. We are still in our first start-up generation and many projects and possibilities are open.”, he added.
Many successful startups have gained global fame after focusing on rather high-tech and useful applications that can facilitate everyday life.
One such application is Sadek Ghannouchi’s ‘E-Taxi’ a Tunisian app designed to take the struggle out of finding a cab.
“ I thought of e-taxi application as I was in a hurry and couldn’t find a cab one day”, he told Tunisia Live.
“Now you can book a taxi from your by installing the application on your smartphone or connecting directly to the website.
“The taxi driver will respond as soon as you’ve contacted him as each cab is provided with a tablet connected to 3G network.
“The application allows the user to have the name of the driver, see his picture and know the cab’s proximity.” Sadek added.
But it is not just taxis that are turning heads on the startup scene.
‘Rap Arab’is a Tunis-based startup is designed to take Tunisian rappers off the streets and into the digital age by grouping their music into one place online.
“I set up Rap Arab application to be used by Android or Iphone users so that they can listen to Tunisian rap , follow their favorite artists.
“Users may also keep track of rap in neighboring countries like Algeria, Morocco and Egypt”, developer Ward Marzouki explained to Tunisia Live.
The app also aims to boost support and provide exposure for underground artists on the Tunisian rap scene.
The launch of the ‘Carte Technologique Internationale’ in May this year has provided one of the greatest breakthroughs in the startup sector.
The prepaid bank card allows start-up entrepreneurs to make payments in foreign currency through foreign sites to promote the development and creation of new digital applications.
“This is very good for us because this card allows Tunisians’ to work with foreign platforms and allows them to get paid in foreign currency”, said Sadek.
Despite this, young entrepreneurs still face challenges and obstacles that may hamper start-up growth.
“I was lucky enough to find funding but as young entrepreneurs we lack advice in project development as well as legal advice.” says Sadek.
His views are echoed by fellow entrepeuneur Khaled Bouchoucha.
“The lack of judicial support for young entrepreneurs frightens me.
“Investors are often rigid and they won’t advise an entrepreneur who isn’t familiar with legal procedures.” he said.
Despite the struggle many of the countries entrepreneurs believe that the start-up scene is not just a luxury but a necessity for the country’s youth.
“We have to keep progressing by putting up ideas and projects. It is this approach of building that needs to be at top of Tunisian society, claims Houssem Aoudi.
“We have no choice: either be an entrepreneur or be unemployed as the state is not providing any alternatives.”
Zeineb Marzouk is a journalist at Tunisia Live newsroom. She is currently pursuing a Master's degree in English language at the university of Human and social science of Tunis (FSHST). Zeineb speaks Arabic, English, French, and Italian.