Last month, Nigeria passed a bill through the Senate and House of Representatives that is designed to foster a culture of innovation and a supportive climate for entrepreneurialism, particularly in the technology sector.
But the West African country is not the first on the continent to pass legislation with the intention of supporting startups. In fact, many elements of Nigeria’s startup bill bear resemblance to similar acts that came before it.
Tunisia is considered the first African country to have signed a startup bill into law back in 2018. Like the recent Nigerian bill, that startup act laid out the terms for a designated startup label and established investment schemes, tax incentives, startup accelerator initiatives, as well as other support programs designed to help young businesses grow.
And four years on, over 700 Tunisian companies have received their designated startup label, giving them access to the program’s various resources and making them eligible for grants, funding and other incentives.
But the act is just one of three pillars of the Startup Tunisia program, which also includes Startup Ecosystem — the supporting structures — and Startup Invest — the program’s various funding schemes.
A browse through the program’s database reveals that labeled startups include companies in diverse sectors, from FinTech to mobility, from AgriTech to wellness.
One of the key takeaways of Tunisia’s startup program is that when a country’s startup ecosystem flourishes, it has far-reaching benefits for the wider economy, even beyond the country’s borders.
For example, Startup Tunisia’s Anava Fund of Funds, overseen by the fund manager Smart Capital, was one of the major backers of BIF2, a venture capital (VC) fund launched by VC firm Silicon Badia. BIF2 is an investment vehicle focusing on technology and tech-enabled startups in Series A and Series B stages in Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco and Lebanon.
A Cluster of AI Innovation
Tunisian startups have gone on to become global leaders in their respective fields, including several artificial intelligence (AI) companies that have gone on to achieve international success.
One of the country’s most successful startups, AI developer InstaDeep, was awarded a startup label in 2019, just months before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic that would propel the company to the frontlines in the development of novel immunotherapies and vaccines.
And thanks to a joint research lab that would see InstaDeep team up with BioNTech, in November 2021, the endeavor created an early warning system for detecting high-risk COVID variants. The company reported that the warning system was able to identify more than 90% of World Health Organization (WHO) designated variants on average two months ahead of time and detected omicron three days before it was classified as a variant of concern by the WHO.
In fact, the success of the joint innovation lab may well have been behind BioNTech’s decision to join a $100 million Series B funding round in January, which made InstaDeep one of the most valuable startups to be associated with the Startup Tunisia program.
Perhaps hoping to follow in InstaDeep’s footsteps, there are many other young businesses listed in the Startup Tunisia database that are using AI in interesting and innovative ways.
Founded in 2019, Tunis-based startup Unfrauded has developed an AI-powered tool that detects automotive insurance fraud and helps to streamline and automate insurance claim assessments. Following the receipt of its startup label in 2020, Unfrauded has gone on to participate in numerous international accelerator programs and is helping to put Tunisia firmly on the map when it comes to AI innovation.
Another Tunisian AI startup taking the technology in a completely different direction is 3S: Software and Security Solutions, a developer of sensor-based, Internet of Things technologies for various industrial and agricultural sectors.
Ranging from “smart farms” to “smart waste management,” 3S is helping businesses in Tunisia and beyond deploy AI to optimize their resource usage and ensure their processes are running in the most efficient manner.
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