By Hasna Sabah
Morocco World News
Casablanca, July 3, 2013
On Friday, June 21st, I attended an amazing event that reminded me of my days in Silicon Valley: the 7th Moroccan American Bridges conference held in Casablanca. Revolving this year around the theme of Entrepreneurship as Morocco’s Engine for Growth, the conference was organized by the Association of Moroccan Professionals in America. AMPA is a non-profit membership organization whose aim is to bring together successful Moroccan professionals, in the US and beyond, to create synergy and value.
I was really proud of all the members, whether those in leading US companies (Google, Coca-cola, Bloomberg), and the startup founders (Enigma, Greendizer, Social IQ) or Morocco-based professionals (Microsoft, Dayam fund, hmizates.ma). On a global level, the event was similar to Techwomen Entrepreneurship Day. However, it was special because the conference approached the subject matter from a Moroccan perspective. Hearing from dark-eyed conference panelists, who switched from time to time from English to Darija (our local arabic) enhanced the transmission and processing of their message. I was saying to myself, if they did it, I can do it!
In his keynote speech, Mr. Ahmed Reda Chami, ex Minister of Industry, Trade and New Technologies (also an engineer and businessman) highlighted Morocco’s need for its people and encouraged entrepreneurship by highlighting his own ventures.
Then he talked about the business climate in Morocco, described as the land of opportunities where everything has yet to be done, a gateway to Africa and one of the most appealing business environments in the MENA region.
While there are certainly more hassles in Morocco than in the US, suck as a lack of legislation on bankruptcy law, there are also many efforts underway (with focus on governmental ones) to help businesses through startup and financing: intilak, tatwir, innovation hubs at universities, Maroc numeric fund, etc. Mr. Chami’s message was clear: this is the best time to start something in Morocco.
In the following session on the “entrepreneurship path,” panelists discussed best practices for various business steps:
– Ideas generation: one can spot a local need or something that is not working properly. It is possible then either to come up with a new solution or adapt a foreign model to local market, no matter how inventive or innovative the idea is, the most important thing being the perception of return.
– Business model: one has to keep in mind that realistic things that sell better are not necessarily fancy ones. In order to match correctly the needs of the market, one has to reach out first to potential customers and build upon that. Things can change and one has to adapt: perseverance is not rigidity.
It is also important to think of building a process to ensure payment, as making people pay you can be a tough problem.
– Financing: Apparently, there is plenty of money for business holders: Maroc Numeric Fund, DAYAM fund, Atlas Business Angels, Ceed morocco (potentially), Reseau Entreprendre Maroc are all potential sources of revenue.Offers range from thousands to millions of Dirhams, depending on the needs, scale and status of the project. Some VC’s required ownership equity might be questionable however.
How does one get this money? By working hard on the pitch and if possible, playing the “customer satisfaction card.”
After the keynote speech came the Startup competition. There were 4 candidates:
Averty.ma: an online survey and opinion poll service.
bloomingbox.net: a cosmetics online shop
myVLE.com: a learning management system
stagiaires.ma: an intern recruiting service
The AMPA Award consists of funding, coaching and networking. Participants presented their mission, service details, growth and sales plans. Judges commented on the quality of the business pitches, asked questions about their revenue models, marketing strategies, customer management, and returns on investment.
I personally liked the performance of myVLE team: a smart introduction with their brainstorming during a Bissara (a very popular moroccan dish based on beans) and Meloui (another popular form of bread) meal. They also demonstrated their good assessment of the local market demand, and it was easy to see their efforts building the product.
The announcement of the winner was left till the end of the conference.
Lunchtime was a great opportunity to talk to some wonderful people and get energy for the afternoon.
During the third session, Achieving Career Growth in Morocco, I was a little bit dizzy and bored with discourse on management. But I got the important message (for me at least) that getting a diploma from the US has many advantages, apart from the prestige. Most recruiters in Morocco don’t differentiate between US universities, unlike French schools with which they are familiar and know exactly their ranking.
Returning to Morocco to directly start a business might be a fiasco, especially if one is not aware of and ready to deal with hassles typical to morocco (I still smile when I remember how Mr Samir Benmakhlouf depicted that). A soft landing, at an international company here, is certainly a good alternative.
Mr Samir also gave valuable advice to Moroccan folks: we need to boost our technical skills. In other words, getting certified on technologies of interest is as important as getting one’s degree.
I was perfectly awake for the forth session, very well introduced by Mr Mohamed El Manjra. I appreciated his way of seeing hassles as barriers to competitors as well, and encouraging perseverance as a key to success. Then came one of the best moments of the event: presentations by successful Moroccan entrepreneurs.
Hicham Oudghiri, co-founder of enigma.io did an excellent job explaining what Big Data is all about. Today more than any time before, huge amounts of data are produced daily and need to be analysed. Banking, Telcos, Government, social networks are all examples of sectors abounding with opportunities. Hicham gave some outstanding examples beginning of course with his startup, and mentioned Netflix which had great success with its matching algorithm of likes and dislikes.
Representing e-commerce and the deals industries, Kamal Reggad, founder of hmizates.ma and hmall.ma, talked about e-commerce opportunities in Morocco. Although some customers still prefer cash payment, the majority (70%) of transactions in his websites are done via credit card. Mobile payment is not implemented because of high fees required by telco operators. I also learned that the initiation of payment institutions in Morocco will certainly enlarge customers’ options and create many more opportunities for e-commerce.
The last presentation reminded me of how rich Moroccan soil is and that agriculture is a pillar of our economy. Mr Othmane Aqallal, founder of Atlas Olive Oils, gave an insightful look at wealthy opportunities in Agro-business. I was extremely thrilled to learn that Morocco is the third exporter of olive oil to US (behind Italy and Spain). Our product is good and has great potential, but it needs added value and marketing efforts. Atlas Olive Oils has been working on that, by designing nice bottles, getting certified to high quality standards and doing R&D to develop medicinal products based on olive oil. The company won an impressive number of awards and I am sure the best is still coming. Way to go Moroccans.
The event closed on a high note. The Startup competition winners were announced: The myVLE team did it! What an enthusiastic, achieving and humorous team! They deserved it and were Heartily applauded by everyone. Congratulations to our education re-inventors.