Currently incubated by the makesense COMBO program, Mehdi and Marwa are two young Tunisian entrepreneurs who have resolved to commit themselves to the Social & Solidarity Economy (SSE). Via their association, Tunisia Tomorrow, they have developed ILEYCOM, an online marketplace offering eco-friendly, ethical, and local Tunisian products. For each product purchased, training is being provided to a Tunisian entrepreneur within their incubation program!
We went to meet them.
Thank you very much for granting me this opportunity to speak with you! Could you begin by introducing yourself and telling me about your background?
Marwa: My name is Marwa, and I am Tunisian. After studying mechanical engineering in Tunis and at INSA Lyon, I did a Ph.D. in partnership with the French Institute of Petroleum.
I also work with the Tunisia Tomorrow association, which aims to invest in social impact projects in the South via the Tunisian diaspora and the population present in Tunisia. Together with the association, we decided to launch in August 2020 ILEYCOM - Inclusive and Local Economy with Youth Social Entrepreneurs Community.
Mehdi: My name is Mehdi, and I am from Sfax, the capital of southern Tunisia. I went to the same engineering school as Marwa in Tunis, and I finished my studies in Lyon. After several trips and projects to meet the Tunisian diaspora, I wanted to direct my career towards project management. These experiences inspired me to create Tunisia Tomorrow with some friends.
How did the idea of developing SSE in Tunisia and launching ILEYCOM come about? What does this project currently consist of?
Mehdi: Tunisia Tomorrow aims to build a community that wants to change the future of Tunisia, which is for us free, green, democratic, and bearer of values geared towards the SSE.
Marwa: During the confinement, we wanted to develop, in collaboration with the association, a project to promote the Social & Solidarity Economy. To help young Tunisian entrepreneurs develop their projects, we had the idea to accompany them by launching training and incubation programs. Given that these entrepreneurs also needed a push in digital marketing and e-commerce, we also created the marketplace to help them sell their products nationally and internationally. We have thus created the first social incubator in the South of Tunisia.
Mehdi: Our incubation program has been quite a success because following our call for applications, we received about 100 applications. After one month of incubation, we were able to select 12 entrepreneurs.
You launched ILEYCOM remotely from France just before the health crisis. Did you encounter any difficulties during the development of your project?
Marwa: The COVID period was difficult because working with our team and our remote incubees was complicated. You have to build a relationship with them and make sure they don't get demotivated.
Mehdi: I don't share the same opinion as Marwa. It's more efficient to do online training because you don't waste time, and time is money for an entrepreneur.
However, we need a financial boost to build team loyalty, optimize the website and communicate more.
How do you picture your project in the future? What are your next steps?
Marwa: I would like ILEYCOM to become a real space to buy and sell ethical African products and offer training and services within the framework of the SSE. By purchasing a product, the buyer contributes to a training course that will be provided to Tunisian social entrepreneurs. The marketplace's ambition is to become a large African SSE community.
Mehdi: Not only for Africa! The marketplace is still young, but we would like to develop it further.
This summer, we will also organize three solidarity fairs. We are going to organize training sessions for artisans along with meetings and workshops with artisans and participants. We also have a project for a forum on the SSE with Expertise France from October 22 to 23, 2021.
You have been incubated in the COMBO program. What did you gain from this program?
Marwa: The COMBO program is exciting because it promotes social and cultural diversity. Despite our differences, we are a family, and we help each other a lot. We share our difficulties as non-French nationals. It is this difference in nationality that contributes to the strength of the program.
Mehdi: In particular they helped us with the incubator part, that we were then in turn able to provide to our incubation program. We also benefited a lot from the makesense network, because if tomorrow we say that we were incubated by makesense, it provides us with a lot of credibility in front of financial backers.
What advice would you give to future entrepreneurs?
Marwa: It is essential to participate in an incubation program, especially the COMBO program for people with a migratory background. Don't be afraid to get started; make an action plan and detail it over weeks and days. You must also always try to network because you can't do it all by yourself. It's with others that you can move forward. And don't forget to keep learning every day!
Mehdi: Being an entrepreneur is not easy; you must be persistent, have the strength to carry out their project, and fight.
What do you wish for the future?
Mehdi: We hope to be free of administrative problems and to find our next buyers in Europe!