This article was developed by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and published here with the approval of UNIDO.
For Slim Essid, starting his professional life has not been easy.
After graduating from high school with a focus on Economics and Management in 2003, he started studying at the Rades Institute for Higher Technological Studies (ISET), but ultimately gave up to become a seller of handicrafts in the city of Medenine, Tunisia.
In 2007, he decided to embark on other professional projects. Five years of instability followed during which he tried different industries — from car mechanics to commercial sales. Then in 2011, he decided to resume his studies. Essid started a degree in management, accounting, and finance, which he successfully earned in January 2017.
This led to the birth of his project: the cultivation of the superfood spirulina.
“I got the idea for my project in 2014,” said Essid. “I come from a family of farmers, and I’m passionate about agriculture. After watching a TV show and doing some research on the Internet, I became interested in hydroponic cultivations [vertical farming], especially the production of spirulina, a dried micro-alga used as a food supplement.
“There are not many people producing spirulina in Tunisia so I approached various spirulina farmers abroad, who guided me towards the Swiss foundation ‘Antenna Technology,’ which was engaged in scientific research. Through them, I learned more about this plant and its properties and production techniques, despite my lack of training in biotechnology.”
In 2016, he was put in touch with a regional expert from the Mashrou3i program, who helped guide his first steps into entrepreneurship.
The Mashrou3i program — organized by UNIDO in partnership with USAID, the Italian Cooperation, and the HP Foundation — is designed to foster a spirit of entrepreneurship and offer tools that support fledgling business owners. Its mission is to create some 6,000 jobs and reach more than 25,000 aspiring and existing entrepreneurs in Tunisia over the next five years. In addition to mentoring and technical skills training, participants have access to HP LIFE, a free, online program of the HP Foundation, which features 27 interactive modules covering business and IT skills training in seven languages.
“The support of the Mashrou3i project has been a great help to me,” said Essid. “First, I completed the HP LIFE e-Learning training in October 2016, which enabled me to hone my idea into a viable business plan. The 27 courses on the online platform were very practical and based on actual scenarios, where you learn to apply the tools to your own project — whether operations, marketing, or management.”
In January 2017, Essid received training and group coaching from a UNIDO financial expert, where he also met microfinance banks and institutes operating in the southern regions of Tunisia. Through the Mashrou3i program, he also got the support of a communications and marketing expert to help him improve his packaging and access to the market.
“Mashrou3i and the UNIDO regional experts have been instrumental in helping to better organize myself, especially in terms of administrative procedures that have proven to be very complicated, and also to access unconventional financing,” said Essid. “Thanks to the assistance of the UNIDO finance expert, I have received grants from the Tunisian Bank of Solidarity and have already secured two thirds of my total planned investment of 62,000 Tunisian Dinars for the realization of my project.”
Spirulina BioMed officially opened in May 2017, and has already created two full-time jobs. The start-up company has set up its vertical farm greenhouses and is waiting for the remaining funds to acquire the plant strains and start planting as the last step in the production and marketing process.
Essid plans to manufacture spirulina in capsules and already has orders from an export company located in Sidi Bouzid which supplies the Algerian and Saudi markets. In the long term, Essid plans to create six additional jobs, as well as get the certification of an organic Tunisian label that will open doors for exporting to Europe.