Tanja Gönner: More innovation and more entrepreneurship for Tunisia

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.

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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.

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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.

GIZ_Vorstand2012_Goenner_3181-KopieThe 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.