Washington — At the U.S.-Maghreb Entrepreneurship Conference, North African and American business leaders discussed the potential, and the challenge, of launching businesses in countries from Libya to Mauritania.
Naeem Zafar, a lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley’s Hass School of Business, moderated the innovation and technology panel at the conference. Entrepreneurship, he said, goes deeper than just running a business.
“The most innate need every human has is of survival, and entrepreneurship is the armor which can prepare you for survival,” Zafar said.
Organized by the U.S. State Department in partnership with the U.S.-Algeria Business Council, the conference was held in Algiers, Algeria, on December 1 and 2. Inspired by President Obama’s June 2009 speech in Cairo and last April’s Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship, held in Washington, the conference provided workshops and networking opportunities for North African entrepreneurs. The North Africans were joined by 14 leading American entrepreneurs.
At the conference, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jose Fernandez announced the North African Partnership for Economic Opportunity (NAPEO). NAPEO is a public-private partnership to better link North Africa and American business leaders and entrepreneurs.
“You have to create a website, you have to create videos,” Zafar said. “You have to create local stories and have some Moroccans and Algerians talk about how those stories changed their thinking.”
North African and American entrepreneurs shared their success stories at the conference.
“One of the great things we did was we had maybe half a dozen American entrepreneurs … who told their stories,” Zafar said. “They told them how desperate they were. About how the guy was down to his last 27 bucks, what happened and how did he make it.”
Arezki Daoud, founder of the news and analysis website North Africa Journal, moderated a panel on “Opportunities and Challenges: Stories from Maghreb Entrepreneurs.” Daoud said that although North African entrepreneurs have talent and vision, regional business climates present obstacles to their success.
“The processes of creating, managing and closing a business are not only outdated and antiquated, but also structured to slow the pace of entrepreneurship,” Daoud said. Other challenges include access to startup capital and a shortage of mid-level management, the kind of employees entrepreneurs need to run day-to-day operations.
“Banks do not loan, and the concepts of angel investor and venture capital are still nonexistent,” Daoud said. Entrepreneurs have to rely on their own resources to start a business. “While the entrepreneur can establish the strategy, there is very limited talent to create and manage the tactical aspects.”
A likely solution for these challenges, Daoud said, is for leaders to be proactive in making the business climate suitable for aspiring entrepreneurs.
“It really defaults back to government, policymakers, legislators and to the leaders of those countries,” Daoud said. “There is an enormous amount of interest from the local business community, a lot of people with money, a lot of young people with good ideas.”
Lisa Canning, founder and president of the Institute for Arts Entrepreneurship, discussed how to turn talent into business opportunities. Canning, an artistic entrepreneur who has developed multimillion-dollar businesses, took part in the “Regional Business Incubation of Creative Industry” panel.
“I thought that the conference was an amazing event because of the appetite and the interest in the subject matter,” Canning said. “There were some people on the panel that clearly understood that artists are born with an entrepreneurial bent, but that it remains uncultivated.”
Canning created the Institute for Arts Entrepreneurship to teach artists to leverage what they know into a business. Developing an art-centric business is like learning a musical instrument: It takes patience.
“The reason that this can’t be done overnight is because it takes time to develop the craft,” Canning said. “Just like it took time to incubate your idea [talent] as a 10-year-old.”
For more information, see the websites of the U.S.-Algeria Business Council, the North Africa Journal and the Institute for Arts Entrepreneurship.