Technopark: Driving innovation in Morocco through an ecosystem of entrepreneurial growth
Acting as a true incubator and accelerator for micro-enterprises and innovative SMEs to drive innovation in Morocco and wider Africa, Technopark continues to define Morocco’s business landscape.
Over recent years, Africa has been experiencing a technology boom as more and more young entrepreneurs and business ventures are embracing innovation and thus technology and redefining the African landscape. Enabling this countrywide technology transformation requires infrastructure and solid foundations that empower individuals and equip them with the skills and knowledge in order to continue to propel Africa’s growth in the modern world. 17 years ago, a vision of a technology park located just about side Stellenboscch, a small town in the Western Cape province of South Africa, was brought to life. This vision, was the Technopark Stellenbosch.
“Technopark's mission is to assist in the creation and development of companies in ICT, Green Tech and cultural industries in Morocco,” says Lamiae Benmakhlouf. Directeur General, Technopark (MITC). “Today, Technopark is focused on co-creation, open innovation and scale up as we provide companies with support services such as financing, market access, networking, training and technological support.”
Managed by the Moroccan Information Technopark Company (MITC), which is a limited liability company joined owned by Moroccan public and private sectors, Technopark has firmly established itself as a true incubator and accelerator for micro-enterprises and innovative SMEs to drive innovation in Morocco and wider Africa. To date, Technopark is home to more than 1000 companies, an evolution that Benmajhlouf has had the pleasure of witnessing first-hand.
“Since its inauguration in 2001, Technopark has successfully met the challenges of innovation, set up a dynamic and complementary entrepreneurial ecosystem, a sectoral openness (green tech and cultural industries) as well as the duplication of the Technopark model in other cities (Rabat and Tangier),” she says.
“In the last 10 years, Technopark has built up a strong ecosystem formed by the main entrepreneurship and innovative actors whose headquarters are located in all of our Technoparks (Casablanca, Rabat & Tangier). This approach is helping Technopark to fulfil its wide range of services by providing innovative strategies that help answer the main needs of technology companies, start-ups and entrepreneurs.”
Through Technopark, companies have around the clock access to “infrastructure-ready” premises. With prices at preferential rates, and dedicated offices designed to the highest of standard, Benmakhlouf feels that these premises are ideal for the acceleration of tech start-ups and entrepreneurs.
Through a quality management system, Technopark set a clear priority in order to provide dedicated offices with high standards and a wide range of associated proximity services. These services include telecom services, travel agencies, and access to a local bank and legal advice. Companies will also be able to access the Technodesk, a “one-stop” service with a panoply of administrative, legal and advisory services for both the CEO and employee community.
“With these services, what the Technopark looks to do is to provide the entrepreneur or the company with the freedom they need in order to be able to focus on their business development and efforts on other added value activities,” says Benmakhlouf.
A cornerstone of the success of Technopark is the duplication of the Technopark model, which represents two axis of the company’s business strategy. Built up of four key axes, regional duplication, sectorial duplication, development of the ecosystem and participative culture, Technopark’s strategy is already paying dividends with the company’s expansion into Rabat in 2012 and more recently into Tangier in 2015.
Since its creation, Technopark has been engaged in a regionalisation strategy to duplicate its concept in order to extend and create new innovative communities across Africa. In order to achieve this, Benmakhlouf recognised that Technopark needed to look within the company and assess how to effectively and efficiently recreate the operational model. Most notably, she needed to understand whether it would require operational change. “The regional duplication required an internal reorganisation and the adoption of a new information system, with a view to a complete digitisation of processes and the effective management of the customer relationship,” she says.
This is key in understanding where to look to expand next. After all, each new market has its own unique nuances and challenges that must be navigated in order to succeed. There is no one size fits all mentality. “The Technopark duplication approach is conducted with a prospective approach in different cities. We’ve researched heavily and identified that those who seem to be best for the next settlements are Agadir, Fez and Oujda.”
Part of Technopark’s very mission statement is to create an ecosystem that allows SMEs, start-ups and technology companies to navigate the challenge of growing and scaling in an exploding market. Technopark is not exempt from these challenges and so the company attracts and works with some of the major institutions and associations that aim to provide support to innovative entrepreneurs. This, Benmakhlouf feels, enables Technopark to better understand the needs of its community as well as ways in which MITC can also overcome these challenges.
MITC works with Maroc Numeric Fund, a public private fund that provide early and mid-stage funding to IT companies and at $10mn is the one of the first and largest funds dedicated to the IT sector in Morocco.
There are a number of institutions based in Technopark that provide mentoring, training and financing. An example of this is Reseau Entreprendre Maroc, which offers financing and support by an expert for three years,” says Benmakhlouf.
“The companies situated in the Technopark have needs for market access, access to finance and skills. Technopark positions itself as a facilitator between its client companies and organisations that can provide support.”
The Technopark has attracted more than 280 companies which employ over 2000 employees. These companies work across a vast array of sectors including Big Data, Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, Green Tech and Digital Marketing to name a few. With a combined annual turnover of more than $90mn, representing 90% of Morocco’s entire IT turnover, the Technopark is well and truly the key accelerator hub it set out to be back in 2001.
Benmakhlouf has been a part of this journey from the very beginning and after 17 years of working with MITC, she feels honoured to have played and to continue to play a key role in unlocking and developing an innovative future for Morocco. “I am blessed to have had 17 incredible years of overwhelming experience witnessing and playing a key role in the evolution of the Technopark and Morocco,” she says.
“Being at the head of a structure such as the Technopark provides me with a great challenge. Working with technological start-ups and observing their evolution is a realisation in itself. Technopark has undergone a great evolution in recent years with a thousand entries, regional expansion and great success stories and the ambition is for the Technopark ecosystem to continue to serve start-ups and promote even greater innovation across Morocco.”
5 minutes with... Janthana Kaenprakhamroy, CEO, Tapoly
Founder and CEO of award-winning insurtech firm Tapoly, Janthana Kaenprakhamroy heads up Europe’s first on-demand insurance platform for the gig economy, winning industry awards, innovating in the digital insurance space, and leading with inclusivity.
Here, Business Chief talks to Janthana about her leadership style and skills.
What do you do, in a nutshell?
I’m founder and CEO of Tapoly, a digital MGA providing a full stack of commercial lines insurance specifically for SMEs and freelancers, as well as a SaaS solution to connect insurers with their distribution partners. We build bespoke, end-to-end platforms encompassing the whole customer journey, but can also integrate our APIs within existing systems. We were proud to win Insurance Provider of the Year at the British Small Business Awards 2018 and receive silver in the Insurtech category at the Efma & Accenture Innovation in Insurance Awards 2019.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I try to be as inclusive a leader as possible. I’m committed to creating space for everyone to shine. Many of the roles at Tapoly are performed by women and I speak at industry events to encourage more people to get involved in insurance/insurtech. Similarly, I always try to maintain a growth mindset. I think it’s important to retain values to support learning and development, like reliability, working hard and punctuality.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
Build your network and seek advice. As a leader, you need smart people around you to help you grow your business. It’s not about personally being the best, but being able to find resources and get help where needed.
How do you see leadership changing in a COVID world?
I think the pandemic has proven the importance of inclusive leadership so that everyone feels supported and valued. It’s also shown the importance of being flexible as a leader. We’ve had to remain adaptable to continue delivering high levels of customer service. This flexibility has also been important when supporting employees as everyone has had individual pressures to deal with during this time. Leaders should continue to embed this flexibility within their organisations moving forward.
They say ‘from every crisis comes opportunity’, what opportunities do you see?
The past year has been challenging, but it has also proven the importance of digital transformation in insurance. When working from home was required, it was much harder for insurers to adjust who had not embedded technology within their operating processes because they did not have data stored in the cloud and it caused communication delays with concerned customers at a time when this communication should have been a priority, which ultimately impacts the level of customer satisfaction. This demonstrates the importance of what we are trying to achieve at Tapoly in driving digitalisation in insurance and making communication between insurers and distribution partners seamless.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
Start sooner, don’t be afraid to take (calculated) risks and make sure you raise enough money to get you through the initial seed stage.