At Tatweer Research, we are interested in one thing: how to diversify Libya’s economy away from oil and gas and gradually into the knowledge economy. One way to do this is to support innovation-driven startup ideas succeed. These are business ideas, that usually take time to develop, but once created can create high revenue and potentially a multitude of jobs.
In 2016, we discussed in conjunction with St John’s Innovation Centre in Cambridge, who are closely aligned to Cambridge University, what we can do to support entrepreneurs…. And how do we build an ecosystem to support them.
Startups and entrepreneurs around the world in London, Silicon Valley, Cambridge, Berlin and anywhere else do not succeed because they are necessary smarter people …. it is because they have been attracted to entrepreneurship, thought of a great idea, decided to pursue it and most importantly found in their environment an ‘ecosystem’ of support.
A successful ecosystem for entrepreneurs in any city looks like this:
- Culture – Awareness and opportunities of entrepreneurship
- Enablers – Places to work and availability of data/information etc.
- Knowledge – How to start and manage a rapidly growing business and skills development
- Finance – used to start and grow the startup
- Academy – An education system that graduates people with the skills needed for the new innovative enterprises
- Public Policy – that is supportive to startups and enterprise
At Cambridge on that cold December day in 2016, we came to the conclusion that this diagram, illustrated below, needed to be implemented to build the foundations of a successful ecosystem in Libya:
The diagram looks pretty confusing, but the essence is simple: create a funnel where you encourage as many startups to form (on the left side of the diagram), help them develop, over time some start dropping out but in the end you have a few successful startups (on the right of the diagram). This process continually runs…. Left to right.
So we went ahead when we went back to Tatweer Research Benghazi offices to go ahead and try to tackle this in Libya. A country with no such ecosystem or supportive infrastructure for entrepreneurs. Libya was still in conflict but it didn’t deter us to create a program called TEC; Tatweer Entrepreneurship Campus.
As we started to develop our program to help build the foundations of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Libya we created a host of projects within the funnel to help young people and entrepreneurs.
The difficult diagram above, today, three years later, looks like this:
The diagrams shows all the different project names that we do, that support entrepreneurs in different ways ‘along the funnel’. The program, TEC, inspires young people to be entrepreneurs on the left….. and moves to support serious pre-growth startups on the right. In the middle: a lot of support in different formats.
Pre-growth in our mind means a startup with an idea that works, and their next stage is to grow rapidly. For this to happen, these startups need strong investment. We have met a few startups like this which we believe are moving to this stage… but this is where the challenges really kick-in.
While a general business after the initial investment can start growing slowly, a innovation-driven startup (IDE) usually needs investment while it develops the business idea. This means that there can be a large time when they spending more than they receive, but once the idea succeeds, business revenue can grow rapidly.
After three years, we have been able to create a multitude of programs supporting entrepreneurs. For example TEC Talks encourage young people to talk about technology and how these can be turned into businesses, a special coworking space that is free to use and support in finding initial funding. We also see other players in Libya trying to support entrepreneurs too, which means the left side of the funnel, should within time, get bigger.
But this whole funnel… is the easy part. The hard part is what goes on in the right side after the initial investments and/or grants. When the startup is at its ‘pre-growth’ stage.
- There needs to be larger pots of investment funds.
- An academic environment that graduates young people with the right high-end skills needed for innovative startups as they grow.
- And most importantly…. government policy that supports innovative startups.
The startups in Libya that we supported to enter the ‘funnel’ and are now moving to the end of it. These promising startups must be able to find the larger investment support, employee skills and ultimately a supportive government. One or two organisations working on the entrepreneurship ecosystem to do this is not possible, more players are needed to come together. Otherwise the startups that form on the ‘left’ will struggle to continue on the ‘right’.
Young Libyans, deserve the same opportunities available in other parts of the world. It is time to trust our young entrepreneurs. They are young, a lot of times slightly naiive as we all are…. but ultimately, we should believe in their ideas…. and support them to reach their potential.