I Have A Dream
by Selma Bennis
This year’s Professional Fellows Program participants consist of 8 Moroccans and 8 Tunisians, selected by the US Department of States to participate in an exchange program in Washigton DC. One of the wishes of the program is the transfer of expertise. But do we really need content and knowledge in Morocco?
There are actually similar challenges…
All regional entrepreneurial ecosystems in the United States do not look like Silicon Valley and Boston. There are regions like the one where I am currently facing almost the same challenges as the Moroccan entrepreneurial ecosystem. The first part of PFP took place in Southern Virginia at Virginia Tech University. It is a region that faces many challenges almost similar to those of our country: unemployment, decline of certain industries, a nascent entrepreneurial ecosystem, and a flight of talents/professionals to more economically attractive regions. Startups in Southern Virginia are struggling with funding and face a lot of competition and difficulty to integrate the few accelerators that exist… The role and support of Virginia Tech University is paramount in this particular ecosystem. The awareness of the need to train young people to entrepreneurship is a consensus through education, startup competitions, experimental laboratories, and support for incubators and accelerators.
…But here’s a different mindset.
The second part of the program consists of my one-month immersion in Stuck in the Sand: a startup tech accelerator in Washington, DC that promotes diversity. Their model (which I find innovative) is a combination between a digital marketing agency and an accelerator: in 3 months, startups go from an idea to a business model validated on the market, with a prototype, a website, a logo, a marketing strategy and an action plan. Every Tuesday, for the startup community, they organize “Unstuck Tuesday” and give the opportunity to any project leader to pitch his/her/their idea to mentors, experts, other entrepreneurs, investors and even trainees. And everyone comes for the good of the community. The objective of this weekly pitch event is to obtain constructive feedback. No idea is a bad one. There are even entrepreneurs who come back every week to pitch the same idea, but it is reworked/reformatted each time. They are guided each time to rephrase their ideas with this sentence:
SO THEY CAN …”
I came here with the idea of returning home with new content, concepts, and knowledge. I quickly understood after visiting and talking with several accelerators that they use the same content and the same fundamentals as us to support their entrepreneurs and there is really no technical expertise to transfer.
On the other hand, what has to be transferred is the culture and the entrepreneurial mindset. And my dream is to definitely make sure that this cultural and entrepreneurial exchange in mindset happens!
Entrepreneurship has a real potential for development in our country, but a change of mindset is needed.
We all know that in our region, we have many challenges and problems related to poverty, education, health, and employability. Without a doubt, entrepreneurship is the ideal solution for these issues. In our ecosystem, stakeholders are aware of the need to promote entrepreneurship, create a business-friendly environment, facilitate access to finance, and monitor businesses through incubators and accelerators. But when will there be a transformation of mindset into our ecosystem? Before becoming the hub of innovation that it is now infamous for, the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley had their own mindset.
If we want our entrepreneurial ecosystem to grow, we need to find our peers, build strong communities, promote mentorship, share resources, connect with one another, and to open networks.
Silicon Valley’s spirit of collaboration, sharing, and dissemination of valuable knowledge and experience is what brought its success to the height it currently has today.
The founder of Stuck in the Sand once said to me, “Do not be afraid to ask, because if you ask somebody for a favor, you are just giving them permission to do the same…” From then on, a real culture of giving back and/or giving feedback can begin.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together with friends.”
Let’s break down our mental barriers, encourage collaboration, build technology hubs, and create communities where we can build things that will last. Let’s invent our own solutions.
After all, we Moroccans are the best positioned to solve our problems.