We finished our week with the conclusion of Open Start Up Tunisia. Throughout the week we learned more about our Tunisian counterparts and had the opportunity to have a traditional Tunisian dinner in their homes. Friday’s pitch competition allowed each team to showcase the work they’ve done over the past months, building out their business model, honing presentation skills, and obtaining sales to initial customers. Each venture impressed the judges with their commitment to social and economic goals, as well as demonstrations of their ventures’ prototypes.
With this 3rd generation of Open Startup Tunisia competition, key partners ranging from the Columbia Global Center in Tunis to the U.S. Embassy have enabled the organization to connect aspiring entrepreneurs with the right resources to launch their venture. Congratulations to team Tun Up, who won the competition with their venture to create the next generation of essential oil from harissa pepper seeds. While these seeds are typically wasted during the production of harissa, the oil they can create surpassed the beneficial properties of argan oil in lab tests.
Our company visits from the past few days have provided a window into the wide array of sectors and individuals working towards Tunisia’s future. Our class had the opportunity to visit Instadeep’s offices in downtown Tunis, where we learned about applications for artificial intelligence in Tunisian businesses. Instadeep provides a range of services through reinforcement learning and deep learning algorithms to enable companies to maximize the value of their own data. By working hand in hand with local businesses, Instadeep provides holistic services for its clients, from data cleansing to advanced AI models. Instadeep actively seeks to reduce the Brain Drain of young Tunisian students to Europe and Canada through their recruiting strategy in Tunis. While they have offices in the United Kingdom and France, they remain committed to growing their business inside of Tunisia.
We also were fortunate enough to meet with Olfa Terras-Rambourg of the Rambourg Foundation. Mrs. Terras-Rambourg’s team has conducted an unprecedented survey of over 11,000 Tunisians to determine top priority issues for the country leading into 2019 elections. As a potential presidential hopeful, Mrs. Terras-Rambourg has learned firsthand from Tunisians about their concerns, most notably:
- Inflation: the Tunisian economy has struggled following the departure of Ben Ali and inflation currently stands between 7-8%, making the cost of living unsustainable for most Tunisians
- Corruption: endemic within the Tunisian system is corruption that has become so prevalent some citizens refer to it as “another tax required to do business in Tunisia”
- Security: with uncertainty across the border in both Libya and Algeria, many Tunisians remain concerned about their own safety and security. Terrorist incidents following the revolution have limited tourism and foreign investment, which will be top priority to resolve for any incoming administration
- Health Care: many of Tunisia’s best medical professionals have left the country following the revolution. Students must be encouraged to remain in North Africa in order to build a sustainable health care system in the future
While these challenges may seem daunting, Mrs. Terras-Rambourg remains hopeful about the future. She seeks to create a grassroots movement that will create a better future for all Tunisians, where citizens can achieve peace and economic prosperity.
Katie Tsantes (’19) is an MBA Candidate at Columbia Business School