By Shitika Anand, Social Media Manager, Unsettled
Silicon Valley may have the Googles, Facebooks, and <insert hottest new app here> of the world. But its status as a global marketplace for new ideas pales in historical comparison to a place like Morocco, where for thousands of years the influence of Berber, Islamic, French, Spanish and other cultures have created truly thriving marketplaces for creativity, culture, art, design and commerce.
These days, Moroccan cities like Marrakech, Essaouira and Taghazout seem to be taking inspiration from the global startup ecosystems like Silicon Valley, and harnessing their own creative and entrepreneurial cultures to put Morocco on the map as a destination for entrepreneurs from around the world.
In fact, according to a report by Virgin, Taghazout falls in third place after Seattle and London as one of the best startup hubs in the world. This fishing town is also rated as the fifth best town for digital nomads to live and work.
It’s pretty easy to understand why. Why work from a glass tower in Menlo Park, when your office could be this? The lifestyle in Morocco doesn’t just inspire entrepreneurs living here to mix surf and work. It also projects a new way of life which might challenge them in ways that go beyond the walls of an office. Many entrepreneurs who have relocated here find themselves immersing in a new culture and traditions, which offer a new daily perspective and catalyzes new ideas, creativity, and openness, proven drivers of entrepreneurship and innovation itself.
Marrakech doesn’t sit too far behind in this narrative, either.
Since the opening of Emerging Business Factory in December 2015, an exclusive space dedicated to tech and media innovation, this ‘pink city’ is starting to pick up its startup game, too.
This coworking space and incubator is in an old textile mill in the industrial district of Sidi Ghanem, and it also houses a rooftop bar, a concept store, a sky farm and a lab for urban farming. Since its launch nearly two years ago, this space has sparked an important conversation in the local coworking and coliving industry, and brought in a new element of structure for the local entrepreneur community.
Co-founder Taoufik Aboudia, an entrepreneur himself, said at the opening of the space: “When you’re a geek, you’re always locked in a bubble, it’s important to meet people and open up. When thinking of the idea, I told [the government] why not start with a coworking space to get to know the digital players in Marrakech and experiment, move to an incubator, and then see if we’re ready for a technopole”.
And a game changer it was. Today, Marrakech is home to dozens of coworking spaces serving up a wave for startups and young entrepreneurs.
While it’s still rural in most parts of the country, the success of Morocco’s self-made entrepreneurs has encouraged many young Moroccans to find their professional grounding in the more creative industries. And supporting this movement are organizations like La Boutique de Startups in Casablanca.
La Boutique’s mission is simple: to provide an incubator space for young Moroccan entrepreneurs for six months, where it offers a startup workspace, meetings rooms, legal counselling, accounting service, mentoring and an opportunity for an angel investor pitch.
Aside from this space, there are also government-backed funds for the public and private sector, as well as other support organizations that help young entrepreneurs develop their ideas into something more substantial. For example, in September 2017, Google Launchpad Accelerator announced the launch of one of it’s 17 global startup programs in Morocco. Another international accelerator, Endeavor Morocco (supported by USAID), has been credited with supporting a number of successful startup ecosystem.
So, what kind of companies are coming out of Morocco’s new creative economy?
- Linea Luxe: This Moroccan luxury gifting company got a headstart from Endeavor Morocco in its initial stages, and it’s become one of the most recognized startups in the ecommerce space in MENA today. Founder and CEO Leila Laraqui runs the production offices in Casablanca, meanwhile the design offices are based out of Switzerland.
- Hmizate: An online marketplace for restaurant, spa, hotel and shopping deals, Hmizate is the Groupon of Morocco. Unique to every major city in the country, this startup was also supported by Endeavor Morocco, until it became the hottest platform for deals in the country.
- Jobi.Ma: This website connects recruiters with qualified job-seekers through a complex matching and profiling algorithm, and is one of the most efficient job search platforms in the region.
- Artinoo: This young startup bridges the gap between local artisans and an international e-commerce community. Founder Maria Noufsani employs artisans directly from the souks of Rabat, Marrakech and Fez, and their handmade products end up on her online shopping website. This startups key purpose is to provide fair wages and safe working conditions to the team of artisans and encourage sustainable tourism.
With so much talent and inspiration in the region, it’s easy to conclude why Unsettled has chosen Morocco as its brand new destination for 2018. We’re not only excited to give our participants a creative platform for them to explore their work/life symmetry, but also just as excited to contribute to this booming startup ecosystem.