HomeFeatured NewsTunisian start-ups: a flash in the pan?

Tunisian start-ups: a flash in the pan?

The performance and success stories of Tunisian startups that have made headlines in recent months are isolated cases, and by no means indicative of the general dynamics of the Tunisian tech ecosystem. A flash in the pan, as some analysts and commentators have noted.

Indeed, in May 2023, the Global Startups Ecosystem Index relegated Tunisia to the bottom of the rankings in the sector. It was ranked 91st out of the 100 countries covered by the index. In 2022, Tunisia’s startup ecosystem was ranked 83rd, down from 82nd in 2021 and 77th in 2020.

The Global Startup Ecosystem Index ranks 100 countries around the world according to the viability of their startup ecosystems.

Small consolation. On the African continent, Tunisia ranks 6th, behind Kenya (62nd in the global index), Nigeria (64th), Egypt (67th), Ghana (77th) and Senegal (82nd), with Morocco just behind Tunisia in 93rd place.

Since 2018, the year of the launch of the Tunisian Startup Act, around 900 Tunisian startups have been labelled and duly obtained the Tunisian startup label. But what exactly is the situation today, in June 2023, with these thousand or so labelled Tunisian startups?

The Global Index measures the viability of the startup ecosystem in the countries covered, i.e. the ability of start-ups to survive, sustain themselves and not disappear. Reliability, on the other hand, refers to the proper internal or intrinsic functioning of a company or piece of equipment and its ability to perform the function for which it is intended.

When it comes to viability, however, Tunisian entrepreneurs and experts have not stopped sounding the alarm.

In an opinion piece published recently, on 6 June, on the Tunisie Haut débit (THD.tn) website, expert Rym Akremi Ben Dhiaf, business coach and senior business consultant, said: “Today, we are constantly encouraging the labelling of startups through the Startup Act program launched in 2018 and initiated by the Ministry of Communication Technologies. However, the questions that arise are: do we have any idea of the current state of these startups? Do they still exist? How many startups are being liquidated? What are the reasons for their failure? What sustainable programs have been prepared for these start-ups to ensure their survival?

Market access

The problem is not one of reliability, but of viability, since many Tunisian startups have been able to establish themselves internationally, even in the country of startups par excellence, the United States of America.

In May 2023, Tunisian startup company nextProtein received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to market its products in the United States, and has already begun marketing them on the American market after receiving approval from the European Union in 2020. The Tunisian startup specializes in transforming insects, in particular the black soldier fly, into protein-rich food for animals.

According to expert Rym Akrémi Ben Dhiaf, access to national and international markets is one of the main problems facing Tunisian start-ups.

In her article, she said: “It is not enough to encourage startups to get accredited in order to benefit from tax and other advantages, or to set up incubation programs or hackathons, or to try to raise funds abroad. I think that one of the main problems our startups face is access to the market (national and international).

In this regard, she pointed to the regulatory provision set out in the 2018 Law on Startups, and taken up in the 2023 Finance Law, regarding dedicating 10% of innovative public purchases to startups, and questioned the extent to which it is applied by state enterprises and administrations. Public procurement represents 40% of the state budget and 15% of GDP.

Is it not time to give startups compulsory access to contribute (through their innovations) to the improvement of our state enterprises?” she noted, lamenting the fact that Tunisian private companies do not want to benefit from the creativity and inventiveness of Tunisian startups either.

Referring to a recent survey on the subject, Rym Akrémi Ben Dhia pointed out that 70% of Tunisian companies said they had no business relations with startups.

She stressed that in order to attract investors and increase the value of our startups, we must first give them the chance to access local markets. This will allow them to test, improve and gain international recognition of their know-how and product, giving them a better chance of breaking into international markets.

Financial rigor

All this should add value to Tunisian startups and increase their chances of accessing the international market.

The expert also criticized the strictness of financial criteria in this area: “At the level of our public or private companies, when we have a purchasing need, we draw up specifications that require references and consistent financial bases to guarantee the success of the contract.”

But we forget that a responsible company with values in line with sustainable development objectives and a corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy should contribute to the economic development of Tunisian startups through its economic and social responsibility.”


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