Soukie Speaks

The Moroccan startup ecosystem: a youth perspective

Since his teenage years, Yassine Bakir has always had a deep interest in economics, business and social development. This is why he chose to take the economics track in high school in Morocco and subsequently enrolled in ISCAE Casablanca, a Moroccan business school, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in finance and management in 2011.

Before discovering the world of startups and social entrepreneurship, Yassine BakirYassine served for a full year as a volunteer in several youth empowerment programs in Morocco. In addition to working as a financial auditor and analyst for a year.

However, when he found the world of entrepreneurship, he immediately realized that this field would allow him to merge his passion for business and social impact. So, Yassine decided to switch gears and join the Moroccan startup ecosystem.

From that moment onwards, not only did Yassine start attending different entrepreneurship bootcamps and events, he also started working on his own social enterprise. While he’s had to put his personal startup project on hold for technical reasons, Yassine is still very involved in the Moroccan startup space. From 2015 to 2017, he wrote about entrepreneurship in Morocco for Wamda and at the moment Yassine works with entrepreneurs and incubators as a trainer and mentor.

In this interview, I ask Yassine, a young Moroccan and an aspiring entrepreneur, how he feels about the startup ecosystem in his country.

1) Can you give an overview of the Moroccan startup ecosystem and how it has developed over the past couple of years?

Honestly, we only started seeing the first glimpses of an organized startup ecosystem in Morocco in 2012 and that’s thanks to the efforts of several people and organizations, who worked very hard to build it from scratch. Today, Morocco has various well-established startups, incubators, mentorship programs, startup competitions and institutional supporters.

As of now, the Moroccan ecosystem is organized around some key players who are at the forefront of the startup movement in the country. Some of the players are generalists like Startup Maroc, StartupYourLife and New Work Lab among many others. On the other hand, you have other key players like Moroccan CISE, Impact Lab (Ex Eiréné4Impact), Espace Bidaya and Enactus Morocco who focus solely on social entrepreneurship.

However, there’s a relatively newcomer to the Moroccan startup ecosystem called Numa Casablanca (the Moroccan branch of Numa World) which specializes in tech and open innovation. A term that was coined in 2003 by then Harvard Business School Professor, Henry W. Chesborough, who defined this idea as “the use of purposive inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate internal innovation and expand the markets for external use of innovation, respectively.”

Screendy, is another leading Moroccan startup that organizes hackathons and open innovation programs through its program Hack&Pitch. Recently, they launched LaFactory by Screendy, which is an a new open space in Casablanca for tech entrepreneurs to promote corporate-startup collaborations.

All of the aforementioned organizations offer training sessions and bootcamps for entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs. They also host local and international events, organize startup competitions, connect experienced mentors with startups and contribute to the establishment of a network of like-minded people to foster collaboration and collective learning in the Moroccan startup ecosystem. Some of these organizations also advocate for the establishment of a special legal framework for startups in Morocco.

Not only have the efforts of these different organizations played a key role in raising awareness about entrepreneurship among Moroccan youth and students, they’ve also helped a lot of startups get off the ground through their various programs.

Aside from these main players, there are also some other companies that contribute to growth of the Moroccan startup ecosystem. These companies include the OCP Group, which supports entrepreneurs through its OCP Entrepreneurship Network and MASEN, which funds clean technology startups through its Cluster Solaire program.

As far as the Moroccan investment landscape is concerned, it has always lagged behind because there are limited opportunities for startups to get funding- especially seed funding. Having said that, that’s gradually changing thanks to Outlierz Ventures (a seed investment firm) and Innov Invest Fund (a $50 million fund for Moroccan startups) which were both launched in 2017.

Other investment players in the Moroccan startup ecosystem include Maroc Numeric Fund, which funds growth stage startups, and Réseau Entreprendre, which provides interest-free loans to entrepreneurs. Hopefully, the increasing number of organizations providing funding in Morocco will continue to develop the local investment ecosystem in a positive way.

2) What role have youth played in the development of the startup ecosystem in Morocco?

The first startup ecosystem builders in Morocco were mainly dedicated young people. In fact, the majority of the incubators and support programs that you find in Morocco are founded or managed by teams of young people.

Two examples of this include Moroccan CISE, which was founded by a large group of young people and StartupYourLife, which was founded by a group of entrepreneurs, employees, developers and designers- the majority of whom were young people.

3) What are the main challenges that young entrepreneurs face in Morocco and what needs to be done to overcome them?

In my opinion, the main challenge that young entrepreneurs face in Morocco is a cultural one. From kindergarten to university, our educational system neglects to teach young people the values and skills that are needed to develop an entrepreneurial mindset. Subsequently, brilliant and talented young Moroccan graduates still prefer to join a big corporation, instead of starting their own business.

The few who do “dare” to take the entrepreneurial leap usually face endless family pressure, because most Moroccan families consider entrepreneurship to be a huge risk that’s not worth taking. Therefore, they try to pressure their children into seeking a well-paid corporate job that will give them a “secure” professional and financial future.
Unfortunately, this social pressure makes it tremendously difficult for young Moroccan entrepreneurs to start their own businesses.

However, even when they do find the courage to start a business, it’s generally very difficult for young Moroccan entrepreneurs to hire the talent they need, because most potential candidates are either afraid of the idea of joining a startup or they’re not qualified for the job. That being said, this challenge is gradually being tackled through training programs and MOOCs, which provide essential knowledge for aspiring entrepreneurs in an accessible and affordable way.

Again, as I mentioned before, while many Moroccan entrepreneurs complain about the lack of local investors and investment, the funding situation in Morocco is likely to change now with the launch of Outlierz Ventures and Innov Invest Fund.

Last but not least, another challenge that some startups in particular industries face is the difficulty to access certain types of data and expertise, which they need to grow their businesses. However, with the increasing popularity of the open innovation concept, this could quickly become a problem of the past. As organizations like Numa Casablanca and local startups like ScreenDy focus their efforts on connecting startups and corporations and encouraging idea-sharing in order to enable a culture of collaborative innovation.

4) What are the most underutilized resources available to young entrepreneurs in Morocco?

Personally, I think that knowledge is the most underutilized resource available to young entrepreneurs everywhere- especially in Morocco. This is a pity really, because knowledge is easily available nowadays. Founders can learn from the best startups and incubators in the world with literally one click of a button. However, unfortunately, I’ve been amazed by the number of startup founders that I’ve meet who have never read a book or listened to a podcast about entrepreneurship.

5) What recommendations do you have for youth who want to enter the world of entrepreneurship in Morocco?

Here are my top five recommendations for any young Moroccan who wants to enter the world of entrepreneurship:

  • If you can establish your startup while you’re a student DO IT, because not only will that allow you to acquire valuable expertise early on in your entrepreneurial journey, it will also save you a lot of money. Since the literal and metaphoric costs of failing as a student are usually much lower.
  • Acquaint yourself with the key players in the Moroccan startup ecosystem and make sure that you understand the benefits and services they provide their beneficiaries.
  • When you decide to establish your own startup, don’t insist on reinventing the wheel, as there are already a lot of resources and frameworks out there that can help you get your idea off the ground. So, don’t hesitate to look for them and test them.
  • You can’t do it alone. You absolutely need a team to be successful and finding the right team members can be a very difficult. Even if you attend the great number of startup and networking events that take place locally and internationally. So, choose wisely.
  •  Funding, especially in the early stages, is vital for the survival of your startup. If you’re lucky enough to secure an investment in the beginning of your journey, make sure you don’t burn it all before your company starts generating income. Otherwise, you’ll have to resort to finding other sources of income (be it a part-time job, savings or even financial support from your family) in order to keep your business afloat, because if you can’t cover your daily necessities you won’t be able to build your startup.

6) What industries would you encourage young Moroccan entrepreneurs to launch a startup in?

I believe that there are opportunities in every industry in Morocco, so it really depends on each individual entrepreneur’s passion and skill set at the end of the day. I also believe that innovation is possible in any field, because no industry is immune from disruption in this day and age.

Subsequently, I think that young Moroccan entrepreneurs have a very unique opportunity to innovate wherever they want to make a difference. That being so, there are certain industries that are trending in Morocco including clean technology, renewable energy, agricultural technology and Smart Cities.

Besides the obvious business and job opportunities that these industries will generate in Morocco, these industries will also have an immeasurable impact on the social and environmental development of the country in the future. The fact that some of these industries are also backed by government agencies should be another encouraging sign for entrepreneurs who are still deciding whether they should to take the entrepreneurial leap or not.

7) Any last thoughts for the young people and entrepreneurs reading the Soukie Speaks blog?

From my own experience, I learned that passion alone is not enough to succeed in launching a startup. Focus is an essential virtue to succeed in any kind of project. If an entrepreneur is focused and they can get the right kind of people on their team, then they’re already off to a good start. Ultimately, I believe that if you’re going to build startup that’s going to last, then you have to make sure that it has a solid foundation.

More entrepreneurial reads!

How to develop a stronger culture of mentorship for startups in MENA

The Egyptian startup ecosytem: a youth perspective

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