Tunisia is facing many challenges. Along with political stability, the country has to confront issues concerning sustainable growth and unemployment, particularly among young academics. An important step is to increase competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). These comprise 95 per cent of businesses in Tunisia. For them it is important to maintain competitiveness, especially towards the European Union, in light of aspirations towards a market opening.
The promotion of innovations and startup companies plays a vital role in the process. The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH therefore supports the Tunisian government on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) in developing a tailor-made promotional offer for SMEs and start-ups. One focus of this operation lies in the improvement in terms of advisory services offerings for SMEs in the area of innovation.
Innovation as a success factor GIZ has intensively trained Tunisian management advisers in the subject of innovation management. These have, in turn, advised 80 small and medium-sized enterprises in the context of a pilot project. This type of practical advisory service in innovation management has had a positive impact on both sides.
On the one hand, companies can now better manage innovation projects and deal with risks related to the introduction of new products. On the other hand, 90 per cent of participating management advisers are now offering the Tunisian SMEs innovation advice as a fixed part of their advisory services. Moreover, they established the first advisor network for innovation and sustainable development in Tunisia to convey the importance of innovations and to support them in doing so in a joint effort.
The breakthrough around the topic of innovation with companies and management advisers also brought about a breakthrough on the political level. As a consequence, the Tunisian government is now for the first time providing financing instruments and promotion measures. The Ministry of Industry has furthermore set up a special department for the development of innovation and technology.
GIZ has developed an “innovation scoreboard” to measure the innovation performance of Tunisian companies. Thanks to this scoreboard, it is now possible to assess the amount of expenditure of Tunisian companies for research and development at the ministerial level. The information that is obtained in this way helps the Tunisian government in formulating a suitable innovation policy and to control the implementation in an efficient manner.
The Tunisian dairy company Vitalait is a good example of successful innovation management. When Vitalait was established in 1998, it only had 50 employees and merely produced milk in bottles along with butter. Today, Vitalait has 450 employees and multiple modern production plants with which it produces a high number of milk and yoghurt varieties. The annual turnover amounts to 12 million dinars and the gross profit to 5.5 million – about 2.9 million euros mind you. The diversification at Vitalait started with a pilot project initiated by GIZ. Management advisers trained in the field of innovation developed a new strategy in cooperation with Vitalait and thus were able to open new markets with new products.
Creating sustainable companies But GIZ not only contributes to improving the innovation performance of existing companies; it also provides strong support in the formation of new businesses. Local particularities in the specific region are always a core focus when advising start-ups. Does an area have natural resources at its disposal? Do specific economic sectors already exist? What does the infrastructure have to offer? By answering these questions it is possible to identify short and medium-term market niches with potential for growth in the various economic regions. To promote and develop these niches, GIZ networks the various funding institutions with one another.
Networks that are created in this way integrate experts who work together in offering advice, supporting start-ups and providing financing instruments. The advising orientates itself towards the needs of the individual would-be entrepreneurs. It comprises specialised, technical and economic components and those intended for financial support. The offer also adresses particular requirements of graduates, returning migrants and women.
Along with advising on fundamental issues related to SMEs, GIZ also provides support in the linking of the economy and universities. In the meantime, the Ministry of Higher Education, which develops the curriculum and methods at universities, has been involved in the national policy for entrepreneurial training and start-ups. One of the results of this inclusion is the possibility of writing diploma theses at companies – just the same as it can be done in Germany. Another advantage is that this practical advice can already be directed at students. This should help to promote the entrepreneurial potential of students through professional management advisers, who offer advice on the possible subsequent formation of a business while they are working on their theses.
Aouini Itissar represents a vivid example of the successful work with students. The Tunisian native studied biotechnology at the Jendouba University in Beja. She came up with the idea to extract edible oil from tomato pips, which accumulate as a waste product in large quantities during the production of tomato purée or dried tomatoes. In the context of her bachelor thesis and in cooperation with the company Sicam, she developed a method to utilise the oil from pips. Without further ado, the young woman participated in the competition for the best business ideas, which was organised by her university and GIZ, and won the first prize.
She has since graduated from university and participated in the national competition for the best business plan right after. Supported by GIZ, this competition is organised by the Ministries of Industry, Higher Education and Labour. Here she took the third place. In the meantime she has patented her method for extracting edible oil. Right now she is looking for partners who are interested in her idea and willing to invest capital for a joint venture. The experts at GIZ, who are acting on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), offer active support in identifying serious business partners and developing a business plan eligible for financing.
The fully trained lawyer was born in Sigmaringen in 1969 and was the Minister for the Environment for the State of Baden-Wuerttemberg from 2005 to 2011. Since July 2012, she has been the spokesperson for the management board of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.