In the Marrakech-Safi region of Morocco, many resources are available to entrepreneurs, but they weren’t working together or coordinating to influence policy. The Al-Rawabet project, with funding from the United States Department of State Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), takes a whole systems approach to the development of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the region. Through Al-Rawabet, the Near East Foundation (NEF) is strengthening the entrepreneurial ecosystem by linking business development service providers and incubators together and strengthening their capacity to meet the needs of businesses.
Since 2018, NEF has worked with organizations like the Emerging Business Factory and Hub Créatif to establish new connections and expand support to local businesses, creating a stronger entrepreneurial ecosystem that promotes regional economic development.
NEF and its partners began by conducting joint institutional needs assessments to determine the capacity of these organizations and identify gaps where additional support was needed. Based on these assessments, the project provided tailored coaching, training, and support.
EMERGING BUSINESS FACTORY
In Marrakech’s industrial quarter of Sidi Ghanem, an old textile factory has transformed into a modern work and gathering place for some of the country’s most innovative entrepreneurs. Emerging Business Factory (EBF) is a digital and IT incubator and co-working space, dedicated to becoming a creative force in the region and to working with entrepreneurs to transform local development. Co-founded by Taoufik Aboudia and Pascal Chevalier, EBF works to place Marrakech, and Morocco more broadly, at the forefront of innovation and creative technologies.
“EBF’s incubation programs help gather innovators in the community, corporations, NGOs and government institutions,” founder Taoufik said. “They work together in problem solving issues like water, sustainable mobility, tourism, e-commerce, COVID-19 and other important challenges, using EBF’s design thinking approach and collective intelligence rituals.”
EBF is making a splash in Morocco and around the world, focused on supporting an enabling environment for women and youth, encouraging competitiveness, and building resilience.
NEF worked with EBF to organize networking events and to strengthen the training and coaching support they offer to IT enterprises. Together, EBF and NEF organized monthly Emerging People networking events for entrepreneurs from across Marrakech, offering a space for those at the forefront of development and creativity in the region to connect.
NEF is also working with EBF to create a Business Angels network in Morocco that will give entrepreneurs access to new forms of capital. Angel investors help entrepreneurs succeed through personal investments, which are accompanied by business mentorship.
When the COVID-19 pandemic made in-person events unsafe, these events transitioned to a virtual platform and continued bringing together dozens of entrepreneurs and leaders for discussion and connection.
EBF also organized a virtual hackathon and conference in the midst of the pandemic, bringing entrepreneurs and business leaders together to discuss the impact of the pandemic and brainstorm ways to adapt to its challenges. This support has helped entrepreneurs find ways to connect, continue, and even grow their work amid the economic challenges emerging from the pandemic.
Hub Créatif brings together innovative creative enterprises for incubation support. Founded by the Marrakech Creative Interiors Cluster, Hub Créatif is a multi-service platform for the creative ecosystem in Marrakech, offering meeting and co-working spaces and specialized training and support. It has incubated 18 enterprises and continues to expand its support to creative businesses in the region—including those focused on artisanal crafts, interior design, and other arts.
NEF is working with Hub Créatif to develop an e-commerce site to help member businesses promote and sell their products. Once completed, the site will support businesses with sales and logistics.
NEF also supported Hub Créatif through training sessions, roundtables, and networking events. This included a training for Hub Créatif member companies to master the 3D printing process. Companies can now use Hub Créatif’s 3D printer to make prototypes, allowing these entrepreneurs to test and improve their products.
A VIBRANT ECOSYSTEM
EBF and Hub Créatif are two nodes of a much broader and very vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem in Marrakech-Safi. Al-Rawabet regularly brings together professional associations (e.g., the Confédération Générale des Entreprises du Maroc/CGEM), government agencies (e.g. regional administration, Regional Investment Center, Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Services, and small business administration/ANAPEC), private sector (e.g., OCP Group), financial services (e.g., Banks), and academia (e.g., Cadi Ayyad University) to collaborate and together to create an enabling environment for start-ups and emerging businesses The synergy and shared vision will help propel Marrakech-Safi entrepreneurship into the future. Since the inception of Al-Rawabet in 2018, NEF and its partners have supported 250 businesses, including 50 “gazelles” (achieving at least 20% growth annually), creating more than 150 jobs, and mobilizing $828,000 in additional business finance.