Tunisia Open-Start-Up Grand Finale

T5Today was the much-anticipated final pitch competition for the startup pitch competition that we had been collaborating with the Tunisian students with over the last two months. From skype and facebook meetings to virtually meet each other, to building the products, and watching our Tunisian students rehearse  ten times we were all feeling extremely exciting and nervous for the finals. SIX teams total had made the finals and startup ideas ranged from room sensors that would let you know if an elderly person had fallen, relaxing and stress reliving steering wheels for drivers to prevent accidents to a device that turns fire into energy that would allow rural areas in Africa to have access to electricity. Each team was composted of four CBS students and 4-6 Tunisian students. In attendance for the finals was the Tunisian ministry of education, AfricInvest, the US ambassador in Tunisia and Columbia Business School representatives from both the business school and engineering school. The prize for winning this competition was flights and hotel paid for to New York City for the Tunisian team to pitch their business idea at the final pitch competition at CBS in April. For most of the students winning this competition would mean their first opportunity ever to be on a plane and leave Tunisia.

There was nothing more inspiring and nerve racking then watching the judges announce the winners and all of the Tunisian students sitting on the edge of there chairs. My team ended up winning the competition with the idea of turning fire into electricity with thermal engines and there was nothing more rewarding than seeing their hard work over pay off and the smiles on there faces. We asked our teammates what they wanted to do in NYC the responses we got were: go to Walmart, go to the coffee shop with “the girl” (Starbucks) and go to a basketball game – we all had a good laugh and will make sure these Tunisian NYC dreams come true! The opportunity to help the local teams and collaborate in the competition for the first year ever was an extremely rewarding experience that was the peak of the trip! I am excited to see what continues to come out of this collaboration and we can’t wait for our Tunisian friends to land in NYC in April!

-Sarah Spear ‘18


Tunisia – An Olive Oil Heaven!

Fun fact: Tunisia is in the top 5 largest olive oil producing counties in the world next to Spain, Greece, Italy and Turkey! Today we visited les Moulins Mahjoub an olive oil press run by the Tunisian Mahjoub family in their olive grove. When we arrived at the processing plant we were all surprised at how incredibly manual the entire process of producing extra virgin olive oil was and few of us had any idea of the scale of the operation. Les Moulins Mahjoub is an extremely unique producer as it combines local and timeless craftmanship and the modernity of production standards to create an extremely high quality and high-end product that I must say tasted phenomenal! The olive oil is sold both domestically and across counties in the Middle East, Europe and in the US – we were all surprised and excited to hear that they distribute at a few of our local NYC spots – Dean & Deluca, Whole Foods and have a special relationship with Le Pain Quotidien. We got to tour the processing plant, the olive fields, as well as the packaging plant and then enjoy an amazing lunch made with all the ingredients fresh from the farm. The tour started with the processing plan where we saw the olives being crushed, sorted, and squeezed into baskets to press the olive oil out. After that we wondered out into the olive tree field where groups of 4-5 women were singing and climbing ladders to pick the olives off the trees and have them fall into a net where they were collected and then placed into baskets. We were extremely lucky this year as the weather was 20 degrees celsius and sunny and we were wearing t-shirts and shorts as Professor Jedidi said that in previous years it had been raining and they were unable to visit the fields. The women picking the olives were extremely warm and welcoming and we learned shortly after work on the farm all year even though the picking is only seasonal from October – January.

We were extremely surprised to hear that the majority of Tunisian olive oil is sent to Europe for anonymous blending and to be rebranded. Although last year marked a decline in olive oil production (https://www.oliveoiltimes.com/olive-oil-business/tunisian-olive-oil-production-55-percent/54746) the Mahjoub family seemed optimistic about 2018 production.

CBS students are now educated consumers of olive oil as we know that while many olive oil producers make “extra virgin olive oil” only a few actually don’t mix the oil with water, use manual presses and pick by hand which makes all the difference in taste!

Tonight, we are off to Professor Jedidi favorite dinner and drinks spot that we have been hearing about for the six weeks leading up to the trip! We are looking forward to a live band, Magon (the best Tunisian red wine) and of course an amazing meal after our olive oil filled day.

-Sarah Spear ‘18


First few days in Tunis!

tunis3Our first few days in Tunis have been action packed and the perfect mix of discovering the city by foot and beginning to understand the political and financial landscape through our meetings with AfricInvest, IACE, African Development Bank and our local Tunisian teammates.

We arrived at the hotel on Sunday and had the opportunity to visit the Tunis city center also known as the ancient city of Carthage (meaning “new city”) on the Eastern side of Lake Tunis. The city was first developed from a Phoneician colony during the first millennium BC and was later destroyed by the Roman Republic in the Third Punic War in 14 BC and again redeveloped by the Roman Carthage which became the “Royal Empire” in Africa. Excavations on the lost city were performed mostly by French archaeologists in the 1920’s and attracted quite a bit of attention because of the evidence that was found of child sacrifice. Our tour guide (who will be with us for the week!) explained that many of the statue heads were missing because people had stolen them, and it was later discovered that many of them were actually found in the houses of royalty.

After our tour of the ancient city we headed to Sidi Bou Said – which could be mistaken for Mykonos  or Santorini in most of the pictures we took. The city was absolutely beautiful and is known for being a town of artists that is all blue and white! The town is a labyrinth of winding streets, beautiful blue doors and hidden gardens with a background of the beautiful Mediterranean sun.

On day two we spent the morning with one of the biggest private equity firms in Africa called AfricInvest which has over $1.1Bn USD of capital deployed over 16 funds in Africa. We got to hear first from FIVE the fund that the PE firm is currently investing out of, the Venture Fund, and the Innovation Fund, as well as from three entrepreneurs who explained their journeys and challenges of starting new businesses in Africa. They explained the importance of having an open-ended fund which focuses on long tenured investments so that the businesses they were investing in felt continually supported. We were all quite proud to hear that AfricInvest had just hired a CBS student full time and that this would be there 5th CBS hire!

That evening we met up with our local Tunisian team members to finalize our pitch presentations and help them to prepare for the final presentations on Friday. For most of our Tunisian teammates winning this competition would mean it would be there first trip EVER out of Tunisia and to the United States which is the prize for winning! After a few hours of preparing for the pitch our team members welcomed us in their homes for a local Tunisian dinner with their families. Professor Jedidi had told us that we would really get to experience the warmth of the Tunisian culture and indeed we could not have felt more welcomed after an amazing meal and the families wanting to take many pictures with us as well as giving us gifts.

See attached for quite a few photos of our first few days on the ground in Tunis!

-Sarah Spear ‘18



Ready, Set, Tunisia here we come!


tunisThere is no better way to kick off 2018 than with the opportunity to travel with 28 of my classmates to TUNISIA! Over the past two and half months spent in the classroom learning about Tunisia, Professor Jedidi has provided us with a thorough overview of the history, culture, economy, language, a few prominent companies and case studies so we are well versed on Tunisia coming into the trip. For the first year ever, the trips focus has shifted more to learning about startup methodology in Tunisia and specifically we have been given the exciting opportunity to work with the six finalist university teams that were selected out of sixteen teams in the National Open Startup competition. Our project over the seven days spent in Tunisia will be to partner with our team members and help them develop and pitch their startup ideas to present their ideas once again at the final round of the competition on January 19th!

I am writing this blog post from Marrakech as a few of us lucky CBS students have spent a few days enjoying Morocco before the Tunisia trip starts. As we are about to spend 7 days immersed in the country it is important to take a quick look at a few of the highlights that made the news from Tunisia 2017!

Tunisia in the news in 2017:

  • The number of tourists boasted a record figure of 7,051,813 in 2017, a 2% rise in comparison with 2016! The UK, the Netherlands, Poland and Belgium lifted their advisory against travel to Tunisia in the aftermath of June 2015 terrorist
  • December 2017 marked seven years since a wave of protests erupted across the Middle East and North Africa in what came to be known as the Arab Spring. Tunisia, the country where the uprisings began, has been saluted as the revolution’s success story for managing a relatively peaceful transition from an authoritarian regime to a functioning democracy!  This article provides a great overview of both the successes and challenges that remain in Tunisia post Arab Spring: https://www.thecipherbrief.com/arab-spring-anniversary-tunisia-really-success-story
  • Tunisia’s external debt jumped to about 46.8 trillion dinars (18.72 trillion U.S. dollars) as of November 2017, accounting for 48.35 percent of the GDP
  • Tunisia announced the second increase in fuel prices in six months, raising the price of petrol by 2.85 percent as the government tries to rein in the budget deficit.
  • Export volume accounted for one third of Tunisia’s GDP in 2017, which achieved growth of 4.1%.
  • Tunisia was featured among Bloomberg’s 22 flagship tourist destinations in 2018, published Tuesday, January 2nd.
  • In 2018 on May 6th, Tunisia will hold long-delayed municipal elections, the first such vote since the 2011 uprising unseated autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. Activists hope the elections will give a new push for the North African country’s democratic transition by giving more power to local councils.

Over the next seven days we will have an action-packed itinerary with tours through Medina and Moulins Mahjoub (70-year-old family owned olive oil producer) visits with the African Development Bank, ENDA Inter Arab, Vermeg, IACE and working with our Tunisian team members before the startup competition finals.

I look forward to sharing every part of the TUNISIA 2018 trip with you!

-Sarah Spear ‘18

South Africa: The State of Trust

Chazen South Africa’s first four days were full of side-splitting laughter and rib-tickling fun in Cape Town. We climbed the 1,100-meter high Table Mountain, wined and dined (and drummed away at an African restaurant), and rang in two birthdays.

IMG_2856.jpgBut in a land of poverty and inequality, we were presented with much to ponder over, too. The common thread we observed in our visits is that of trust—trust in public institutions and, more generally, trust in other South Africans.

At its infamous prison in Robben Island, the apartheid regime broke a black South African’s trust in his white countryman for decades. Prisoners worked nonstop in limestone quarries under the blinding sun without any sunglasses, permanently impairing eyesight. They could barely speak with their loved ones, or be brought news of the outside world. And a top political prisoner was tortured by purposely being brought outside news—and prevented from sharing the news with anyone else.

We visited two e-commerce firms in South Africa—TakeALot, the Amazon.com the country, as well as Yuppie Chef, a niche kitchen-appliance vendor—both of whom talked about how the online market in the country is still so small. Despite being compared to other large emerging markets such as China or India, South African e-commerce is barely 1% of total retail sales, whereas China’s is nearly 20% and India’s in the high single digits.

IMG_2823.jpgOne reason: A history of banking fraud in South Africa has slowed development of online payments. Those who follow the explosive growth of e-commerce in Asia will know how significant a role Alibaba’s own payment service played in creating trust in e-commerce across China. Called AliPay, that service keeps customer money in an escrow account that won’t be forwarded to the merchant until the customer was happy with the product.

We also visited a financial planning startup in Cape Town called 22seven, akin to Mint.com or Betterment in the U.S. Part of a financial conglomerate called Old Mutual, 22seven’s mobile app is still getting its feet off the ground when it comes to growing its user base. South Africans need to be coaxed to enter their financial details on a mobile app.

IMG_2815.jpgOften, the mistrust is directly aimed at the public provision of goods that we in the West take for granted. At Township Farmers, we saw a social enterprise try to kill two birds with one stone—a daycare center for children under 6 years of age who might otherwise fall prey to the worst in society, and an organic farm in the backyard of that center that teaches children about agriculture. The children are happiest around the garden, while the farm piggy-backs on the infrastructure, especially the water, of the daycare center. One depends on the other, because the provision of education and water is otherwise so poor.

All this said, South Africans are a technically accomplished and entrepreneurial bunch, and are making strides. Online payments now require a user to key in a PIN using a mobile device, which should foster trust. Yuppie Chef goes out of its way to write handwritten cards to new consumers who buy appliances off its website, creating a bond to both the brand and to the otherwise impersonal edifice of e-commerce. Township Farmer’s very existence is proof of risk takers looking for roundabouts.

In other words, this is the hard slog of building brands and institutions—and new mindsets. Like in other emerging markets, perhaps what one needs most is patience. As one of our tour guides observed when we were waiting for an hour for a meal: We in the West may have a (wrist) watch, but in South Africa they have the time.

~Abheek Bhattacharya ’18

{ Reflections on Tartarugas } – Chazen Brazil Summer Study Trip 2017

They say hindsight is 20/20, but I wish it was more (robot vision?) because I never want to forget a single moment of the epic Chazen Brazil Summer Study Tour 2017.

As we’ve all settled back into out New York routines – exercise, class, not eating cheese bread all the time, it’s easy to have the memories of an amazing week and a half fade away. Thankfully we are at CBS, so we get to see each other all the time (and still can’t get enough of this crew!). Everyone at school is super jealous of our strong Brazilian friendships and awesome Instagrams.

Reflecting on the trip, we did learn quite a bit, in both the business and cultural realms:

On the business side, we had a truly well-rounded and complete view into Brazil. Each meeting complemented the other and seemed carefully curated to show views from multiple industries on similar topics. Overall, the takeaway is that Brazil seems to have bottomed out from its recession and barring any major political upheavals, is on track for a strong recovery. Business activity, both from domestic players and foreign investors, seems to be supporting that. Our access to the C-suite at the companies (pronounced “coompanies”) was unparalleled, and for any of us that end up doing business in Latin America, I’m sure our new contacts will be helpful.


Culturally, I think it’s safe to say we are all a bit more Brazilian now. Our capacity to drink caipirinhas, the national Brazilian drink, has increased immeasurably. I’ve heard some students are still ordering cachacas at the bars of New York. We were fortunate to experience two of the world’s great cities in Sao Paulo and Rio. As Paulistas for a few days, we got a taste of what life could be like in a “lifestyle” city that is as much defined by its people and culture as anything else. Often disregarded as a concrete jungle, our amazing hosts showed us the vibrant side of Sao Paulo. As Cariocas, we were blessed with amazing weather that allowed us to experience the beach and outdoor culture the city is known for. We played beach volleyball with locals, watched the sunset from amazing vantage points, ran along Ipanema, soaked up as much sun as we could. Each outing in Rio was better than the last, and no one was ready to leave when it was finally time to go. Yours truly even improved his Portuguese to the point of being conversational about animals.


The point of a Chazen trip is to have fellow students show you a side of their country you wouldn’t otherwise be able to see. For the Chazen Brazil Summer Study Tour 2017, that was accomplished and more. We love you Chazen! GO LIONS!

This is your correspondent signing off for the final time. Tchau!


{ Board Rooms and Beaches } – Chazen Brazil Summer Study Trip 2017

Hello. This is your correspondent reporting from Leblon beach in sunny Rio de Jienero. Our Chazen crew has been doing our best to live like Rio locals, soaking up both the beach culture and flare for life that Cariocas are known for. While we do that, here’s a quick recap of all the exciting things we’ve been doing in Brazil:

On Tuesday the 22nd, we had our marquis company visit at Embraer, the region’s largest aircraft manufacturing firm. We headed out to their manufacturing facilities outside Sao Paulo and began the visit with breakfast (cheesebread of course) and a tour of their museum. Following that, we were privileged to hear from the group CEO, the head of innovation, as well as the heads of each of their three main business units: commercial aviation, executive jets, and defense & security. Aviation is an incredibly complex business that touches nearly every area across the business world, and everyone was able to take something valuable away from those talks.

Our tour in the afternoon took us to the production lines for both commercial and executive aircraft, and a state-of-the-art paint center that uses robotics technology. In addition, we saw new warehousing tech on display alongside a service center that works 24/7 monitoring planes around the world. The visit ended with a tour of the prototype aircraft for Embraer’s new line of commercial jets. While no photos were allowed on the tour, we certainly left with a lot of mental pictures! Few understood how planes fly before our visit, but by the time we left we came a lot closer. Flying will never be the same again.

The following day, our last in Sau Paulo, we visited Itau, the country’s largest bank and one of its most respected financial institutions. We had a presentation about company culture, which Itau took an incredibly unique approach to. We also had an insightful conversation with the former CEO of 20+ years about how the bank grew to dominate the market. We also saw the sun for the first time on the trip in the afternoon.

Our lunch at Fogo de Chao, which started in Brazil before becoming ubiquitous in wealthy US areas, was one to remember. The unlimited meats in the rodizio restaurant saw many different eating strategies employed by students, but none escaped without the inevitable meat sweats. Recovery occurred over the course of a typically delayed flight to Rio, where we were going to check out its beautiful scenery, beaches, and people. First, of course, we needed to get our business game on in board rooms!

On the morning of Thursday the 24th, we boarded the bus and drove to the headquarters of Grupo Globo, the biggest media company here. We started with an in-depth presentation on their television business, which had the best-produced corporate videos we’ve seen all week. They are a force to be reckoned with in Brazil, having the vast majority of the country as their audience. Following that, we had a studio tour where we saw how the telenovelas that Globo is famous for get made! Student Bani Bahari was star struck when she learned that her teen idols Hanson were in the building filming one of Globo’s shows.

The iconic and famous Christ the Redeemer statue was next. We all did our best Jesus impressions and snapped those postcard-perfect photos that Rio is known for. Dinner, drinks, and dancing were on the menu in the evening.

On Friday, our last full day in country, we went to meet with BR Malls, the largest shopping center company in Latin America. They spoke about the opportunities and challenges in the real estate industry in Brazil. The new CEO came in the room to give his insights into the company and personal management style. Student Murali Krishnan was especially inspired by this talk.

We wound down our ‘ChAMAZEN’ trip with a lunch at Rio’s Jockey Club, our second horse club related meal of the week. With pristine weather and lovely scenery, each student shared their insights gathered in Brazil and said what they took away from the trip. A common theme was that everyone was thankful to the organizers, who worked tirelessly to ensure a seamless, productive Chazen Study Tour. We all are leaving better educated on and prepared to do business in Brazil – what more can you ask for?

It’s sad the trip is over, but before we leave, there is time for beach, beach, and beach. In fact, your correspondent needs to get out there as well to work on his tan. In just a few days it’s back to NYC, where you can expect a trip recap! Talk to you soon!