Rabat: Input Facilitates Output

Conversations with three thought leaders in the Startup Ecosystem

I read this today:

Input facilitates output. There’s no getting around that. The quality of the information one consumes determines the quality of work one will produce.

With my colleagues Bruno and Lyly, we’re wrapping up the third week of our Social Sabbatical in Rabat. Thus far, we’ve spent a lot time speaking with the founders of StartUp Maroc. But this week we’ve had the opportunity to meet three thought leaders in this startup ecosystem here in Morocco. These three were a program administrator, a business person and a researcher. Each had fascinating takes on this ecosystem.

The Program Administrator: Benoit

Benoit has organized and managed a successful nonprofit that funds entrepreneurship for women here in Morocco. He shared a couple of lessons with us.

  1. A mixture of smarts is important: street smarts and book smarts are the ideal combination. Benoit told us of a woman that participated in a StartUp Weekend in Fez, who was ‘an-alphabet’ or illiterate. Yet she had a great business plan and a great pitch for designing clothes in this economy. During StartUp Weekend she teamed with folks who had book smarts, including designers and sales people, and together, they came up with a great plan and won the event. The StartUp Weekend events are a great connector of these types of mixtures.
  2. The StartUp Weekend events produce winners, but they also identify many with potential who may not win that event. The ecosystem has an opportunity to not only celebrate the winners, but to keep their eye on those who demonstrate potential in these events. Once identified, the ecosystem can further mentor, and encourage them to keep developing their ideas.

The Business Person: Amine

Amine is successful businessman and entrepreneur. He’s also started a school for training advanced business students.

Some lessons from Amine:

  • The Morocco startup culture is small, but getting money is not the the biggest issue. The network for finding funding exists. Yet people don’t know how to use that network. Many entrepreneurs are looking for the $1 million USD grant, when $20K would be more than adequate. The entrepreneurs are struggling reaching the small goals, and proving they have achieved those goals necessary for receiving the next level of funding, before coming back for additional funding. There’s an opportunity to teach them how to better use this network of funding, and to be satisfied with the smaller amounts now.
  • Many entrepreneurs here feel they need to stay in Morocco, even when opportunities for success are greater elsewhere. Amine disagrees. The goal for this budding ecosystem in Morocco is to help Moroccans grow and develop into entrepreneurs, regardless of where they are now. If a Moroccan leaves and finds success, that is still a success, and will breed more success in the future. Eventually, some of that success will take root in Morocco.
  • The culture here relies too much on models and tools that don’t make sense for young people here. For example, the Business Model Canvas is used frequently, and is an important part of the StartUp Weekend. Amine feels that model is best suited for advanced students, or for participants who have been exposed to these concepts for years. Instead of just the business model canvas, this culture needs a variety of tools, based on the type of audience that is engaged.

The Researcher: Ilyas

Ilyas is a researcher for a national organization focused on business and scientific research.

Ilyas has looked into what he calls the Intention Gap in Morocco. A study he ran this year showed that 70% of surveyed young Moroccans have some interest in being an entrepreneur. Yet only a tiny fraction of those act on those aspirations. He compared these intentions to other countries, like China, where far fewer young people have a stated desire to become an entrepreneur. Yet, many more of these Chinese students actually do start a business. In Morocco, something is slowing down the intentions of these young people to actually create their own business. These issues are numerous and include access to funds, lack of skills, bureaucracy, among others.

Ilyas also discussed the differences in innovation. Different economies need different types of innovation. In the US and Europe, we talk about a disruptive type of innovation, where new technology or digitization completely re-imagines a business process. It’s different in Morocco. Incremental innovation, or reverse engineering, is still innovative in this economy. This type of innovation may be dismissed elsewhere, but it can still be very impactful here, and should be encouraged.

These conversations were valuable to give us that deeper context. Now we we need to process this valuable input, and incorporate it into our final output: ideas and recommendations for StartUp Maroc.

technologist, cultural omnivore, book nut, father

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