As the sun beats down brightly in Kairouan, you can see Tunisia’s huge potential for solar power. To expand the country’s renewable energy capacity, the Tunisian government is investing heavily in the sector. Many farmers have already received subsidies to power their wells and irrigation systems with solar energy. The state-run energy agency also offers discounts for homes that heat water with solar panels.
Five young entrepreneurs from Kairouan, seeing the opportunity in this booming sector, decided to launch their own businesses. Each of these entrepreneurs has a unique journey but there are many similarities in their paths. After completing degrees in the field of electronics and electrical engineering, they all gained vital work experience before facing similar challenges in the launch of their start-ups. In 2017, their paths crossed at a 40-day training course in irrigation maintenance and systems organized by the Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH in collaboration with the Tunisian Ministry of Agriculture. It was the beginning of a new friendship which has blossomed with the support of the Mashrou3i project.
“We were in a group of 40 agripreneurs who took part in this training at a specialized center in Kairouan,” explains Bassem Ben Gadour. “The five of us were selected to receive support in the acquisition of materials for irrigation system maintenance and quickly became friends.”
After the training the young entrepreneurs focused on the creation of their start-ups. Business coaching provided by the Mashrou3i project, a public-private partnership between USAID, the Italian Cooperation, the HP Foundation and UNIDO helped them to strengthen their business and IT skills.
"The self-learning on the HP LIFE online platform and the Mashrou3i face-to-face training session helped me turn my abstract project idea into something more concrete”, says Nizar Lijini.
The Mashrou3i project also provided the young entrepreneurs with deep dive business coaching and technical assistance in the form of several trainings in sales, communication and administration. To help them strengthen their technical skills, Mashrou3i also supported the entrepreneurs with a training on the maintenance of hydraulic pumps and the installation of photovoltaic panels for rural irrigation.
"The course covered theory as much as practice,” says Naiem Ellouzi. “It’s rare to find such an extensive and effective training in our field. After 10 days, I felt like I knew the photovoltaic industry from A to Z."
The friendship the entrepreneurs have built up has also transformed competition to cooperation. They now support each other in achieving their goals and refer clients to each other if they are unable to take on the job.
“This training brought us closer together,” Naiem adds. “We know that by working together we can jointly increase our market share and business growth.”
"Today we are motivated to access new markets and gain a major client, a state institution for example, which would represent a real springboard for us”, says Amor Guallaoui with a lot of ambition.
Today, the future is brighter for these five entrepreneurs. With nearly 418,000 Tunisian Dinars of investment funds combined and 8 jobs already created, they are confident about the positive impact they will have on the development of irrigation systems in the agricultural region of Kairouan.
"As soon as my project flourishes, I intend to create around 5 additional jobs. With the support of Mashrou3i, I am more confident,” says Saber Ayadi. “Solar power can be used in agriculture in a number of ways, saving farmers money and benefiting the environment. It also generates new employment opportunities which traditional farming simply cannot offer young people like us,” he adds.