Inaugurated on June 11 in Tunis, in the presence of the Tunisian authorities and Ambassador of the European Union, Marcus CORNARO, The Dot aspires to be «the first digital innovation hub in Tunisia. » This ambition is driven by a group of institutions: besides the lead partner Smart Tunisia - a program designed to support the development of the digital sector in Tunisia - the Tunisian Development Foundation has provided the premises while the French (Expertise France) and German (GIZ) public cooperation agencies brought technical assistance and financial support.
Located in the upscale neighborhood Berges du Lac, the incubator will operate from a brand new 2900 m2 building, where nothing has been left to chance to pamper its occupants: open space workstations, meeting rooms, training and event spaces, a podcast studio, an anti-café, innovation labs (on artificial intelligence and mobile technologies in particular), assistance services for local and foreign companies…
"Creating a momentum of innovation, transformation and entrepreneurship"
The objective of the initiative - “creating a momentum of innovation, transformation and entrepreneurship” - is indeed well worth these multiple thoughtful gestures. But to achieve this goal, it will be necessary to work on «three main areas», warns Zeineb MESSAOUD, the Director of The Dot. According to her, success will be achieved by “hosting and supporting innovative start-ups" (about fifteen at the moment), "structuring public services" and, more broadly, by “strengthening the digital transformation”. Another key point is the "regional entrepreneurship" plan that will seek to encourage and develop entrepreneurship outside of the capital, “particularly through a series of virtual platforms (conferences, training …)”, says the head of the incubator.
The ambitious project, however, came close to never seeing the light of day. It all began in February 2018, during French President Emmanuel MACRON’s visit to Tunisia. Present alongside the head of state, Xavier NIEL, the founder of the telecommunications group Iliad - parent company of Free and Free mobile -, offered to duplicate in Tunis his two most emblematic Parisian initiatives, the famous Ecole 42 - a free training in digital professions - and the startup accelerator of the Station F. A feasibility study was launched in the wake … but it quickly concluded the “unsuitability” of the project for “the needs of Tunisian society”.
"Developing a more suitable format, mainly through enhancing the entrepreneurial dimension of the project and more emphasis on issue of employability"
The reason, according to Zeineb MESSAOUD is that “the initial concept does not really [respond] to the issue of unemployment among young graduates”, which is rampant in the country. Drawing conclusions from this study, the Tunisian project developers, Smart Tunisia and the Tunisia Development Foundation, then decided to develop a ”more suitable format,mainly through [strengthening] the entrepreneurial dimension of the project”, reports the Director of The Dot. This new pro-business orientation should involve, in particular, the establishment of 9 specific support programs, ranging from “pre-incubation to financing” and a service to support foreign companies that will offer “for a period of four months, […] accommodation, access to experts, access to partners’ data and network”, says Zeineb Messaoud. Finally, committed to tackling the root of the “problem of youth employability”, the management of the incubator is preparing to launch its own academy. Announced for January 2022, The Dot academy, financed by GIZ, is aiming to train 5,000 young people in the tech industry.
If successful, this will further strengthen Tunisia’s digital economy which, with its good infrastructure (the third best mobile connection on the continent, according to the Speedtest Global Index), a large network of incubators (43 against 25 in Morocco), 1,200 companies, 100,000 jobs and an annual growth rate of 7.5%, is already one of the most successful in North Africa.