On February 6th, MEP Brando Benifei and EIF invited MEPs, members and friends for the Brussels Pre-Launch of the Startup Europe Mediterranean, a project which aims to make a significant step forward as it links together different EU priorities: startups, investment but also the strategy for the Mediterranean as a geo-strategic area with innovation at the centre of the neighbourhood policy, development and cooperation and migration.
The discussion was opened by MEP Brando Benifei who expressed his delight to be hosting the presentation of “such a promising initiative”. MEP Benifei explained that the Mediterranean is a complex region, struggling to find its way toward democracy, as well as social inclusion and economic recovery. “There is an enormous untapped potential for growth, as well as innovation”. The purpose of Startup Europe Mediterranean is to create opportunities for startups and remove obstacles for businesses. The project will offer a virtual interconnected space where startups, investors, corporates, universities and policymakers can search, meet learn about the ecosystems in the region, drive investment but also meet other stakeholders, exchanging information, ideas, talents and build businesses links to grow their ecosystems.
Isidro Laso-Ballesteros, Head of Startup Europe Sector at DG CONNECT of the European Commission highlighted the mutual benefit that SEMED can bring to both Europe and the Mediterranean area. “It is a region full of opportunities, with a huge amount of young people, very close to Europe. The aim is to create the connections between the people of these startup ecosystems.” Mr Ballesteros added that the target group will be the entrepreneurs, and that the power of the network effect will be used in order to bring stakeholders together with the purpose of match-making talent with capital.
Gianpiero Lotito, CEO of FacilityLive, one of the organisations who powers SEMED, believes that this is the starting point to begin to speak of what is the future of Digital Europe and Digital Mediterranean. Mr. Lotito underlined the importance of having a digital market, a digital industry. In Europe, the impact of the digital industry on people’s daily lives was undervalued but “it is horizontal, it touches everything: education, economy, industry, elections etc. If we don’t find a solid industry, we will have a big lack in front of Silicon Valley and the Chinese ecosystem.” Mr. Lotito then added that it is the tech giants in these regions that make the traction for the whole ecosystem and that Europe needs tech giants as well to grow in industry. “We need to eliminate this gap to have the traction of a group of tech giants to help the ecosystem to grow faster. For this role, the EP and EC are crucial”, he concluded.
Zineb Rharrasse, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Startup Maroc introduced the initiative that she is leading, an accelerator funded in 2011 that operates in 15 cities with the mission to increase the number of startups and create jobs. Up to today, Startup Maroc has supported more than 20.000 entrepreneurs. Ms. Rharrasse expressed the importance to connect startups with international ecosystems: “SEMED is not just another component in the ecosystem, it is a necessity in our communities now. We need to be connected to expertise, to investors, markets etc.”
Rasha Tantawy, Head of Business & Entrepreneurship Support at TIEC offered a quick overview of the Egyptian startups ecosystem: “it is one of the fastest-growing ecosystems in the area, the number of startups has been multiplying every year. As any entrepreneurship ecosystem, it is facing a lot of challenges and we are working together with the private sector to identify and try to solve them: access to market, to finance and to talent. The role of her organisation is to work on these challenges through services and programs. Egypt hosts 42 incubators and accelerators, but only 15 of them are focused on tech. TIEC helps startups access market post incubation, connecting them amongst each other through trade fairs and connecting them with investors and consultation services in areas like marketing and finance. Ms Tantawy concluded by stating that Egypt is a big market where European startups can introduce their innovation too. Moreover, it has a substantial talent pool, graduating over 30.000 engineers each year.