Generation “Co”: Tunisian entrepreneurs co-working and forming cooperatives
Founded by Ichraf Jarray, co-working space, Hive12, is based in Sousse, Tunisia
COVID-19 led Tunisia’s co-working spaces to a watershed moment. “I almost lost all my clients”, says Ichraf Jarray, the 29-year-old IT engineer and founder of Hive12 based in Sousse.
In the 10 years since the ‘Arab Spring’, the Tunisian government has been urging young people to embrace entrepreneurship as a response to rising unemployment levels. Since then, thousands of new startups have sprung up across the country.
Many of these new companies see ‘co-working’, or sharing spaces and resources, as a viable way to reduce costs and gain access to new markets. In 2019, Tunisia counted 60 co-working spaces scattered throughout the country, mostly in coastal areas; an increase of 57.9% compared to 2018. Reaching marginalised communities has always been a challenge in Tunisia, so this business model has offered an alternative solution to high startup costs for young entrepreneurs in vulnerable areas with limited transportation, infrastructure and broadband links.
Hayfa Ben Fraj, founder of Go Community, the only co-working space in Kairouan, a disadvantaged city in the centre of the country, works with local handicraft artisans to develop their capacities and enable them to reach larger markets.
“70% of our work is based on personal contact. COVID-19 has caused us a lot of harm. We were forced to adapt our business model, shift most of our activities to digital and search for new opportunities, like our partnership with SPARK, to ensure our own survival”, she says.
At the start of the pandemic, SPARK and Go Community collaborated within the Local Employment in Africa for Development programme to gather 15 young women entrepreneurs, eager to seize opportunities, to participate in four months of capacity building training. Over the course of the programme, the women received intensive training in management, digital marketing and communication, plus technical skills to improve the quality of their products.
At the end of the training, the 15 entrepreneurs joined forces and launched their own cooperative, ‘We Design for Kairouan’: an initiative that not only helps them compete locally, but also allows them to present their products to wider markets and share costs. Thus providing a layer of protection from future uncertainties the pandemic may bring.
“By creating the cooperative, we hope to encourage more young entrepreneurs to join. We will constantly share the knowledge and skills we gained during the programme to help young women trust in their capabilities,” explained Chayma Bardi, elected head of the We Design for Kairouan cooperative.
“I lost almost all my clients”
60km from Kairouan, Ichraf Jarray, a 29 year old IT engineer and entrepreneur, created her co-working space, Hive12, in the coastal city of Sousse in 2016. The space provides training and incubation for startups focusing on strategic, operational and commercial excellence.
Ichraf’s co-working space was also affected by the pandemic. “I lost almost all my clients”, she explains, “it was a very challenging period but I wasn’t ready to let all my hard work go. I used my branding and IT skills to help other startups and to seize the opportunity to expand Hive12 services by starting a new incubation programme in collaboration with SPARK”.
Hive12 created a new incubation in response to the pandemic, called ‘Your Idea Is Your Spark’, which offered 11 young entrepreneurs the opportunity to join tailored training sessions in how to launch their businesses. The participants pitched their business ideas to local and international business angels and investors from different industry sectors.
Haroun Ouanes launched his mobile app from the incubation programme. ‘Go Staff’ is a platform that allows tele-expertise between health professionals and facilitates the automated diagnosis of diseases via artificial intelligence. Haroun says: “thanks to the incubation, I know more about my clients. All I needed was guidance, real comprehension of my users and how to access the market. I found all that I needed but also a lot of love and encouragement to pursue my dream”.
Co-working spaces in Tunisia are proving that they can be collective economic engines, especially in the underprivileged and vulnerable areas. Their overall goal is twofold: they provide guidance and mentorship to aspiring young entrepreneurs and simultaneously remove the hurdles of red tape and bureaucratic procedures. If anything, the global pandemic that hit all the sectors with no exception showed that these spaces are essential to the entrepreneurship ecosystem and that community is the key to crisis rebound and eventually total recovery.
Learn more about the Local Employment in Africa for Development programme