Inside Rensselaer
Volume 6, No. 2, February 3, 2012

Publication Explores How Entrepreneurship and
Innovation Will Impact North Africa

It has been nearly a year since an uprising in Tunisia over unemployment and the soaring cost of living ended years of dictatorship. Today, as the country struggles to rebuild, what many do not know is that behind the scenes and for nearly five years, a team of management professors from the Lally School of Management and Technology at Rensselaer and the Institut des Hautes Etudes Commerciales (IHEC)—the Institute of Advanced Business Studies in Tunisia—has been working to develop a road map that will support sustained high economic growth in the region known as the Maghreb, specifically Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco.

The professors recently released the publication Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Maghreb, which provides current and aspiring entrepreneurs with practical tools and strategies needed for the creation of successful new enterprises in emerging markets.

The initiative is funded through the U.S. Department of Commerce Commercial Law Development Program titled “Assistance for Capacity Building of Innovative SMEs in Tunisia.” Financing for the publication was provided by the Middle East Program Initiative of the U.S. Department of State.

“This project has been part of an ongoing effort to foster international education partnerships, entrepreneurship, and technological innovation in developing countries,” said Pier Abetti, a longtime faculty member in the Lally School who also served as the lead coordinator for the project.

“There is an Italian proverb Chi ben comincia è alla metà dell’opera, which is equivalent to the English proverb Well begun, half done, which really describes where we are right now in terms of the project,” Abetti added. “The startup phase of a business is difficult, particularly for new entrepreneurial companies whose founders have little business experience, and for innovative companies that face higher technological, market, and financial risks. In the Maghreb, support systems for startup companies are newer and weaker than in developed countries, but social and business networks are often stronger. The book serves as a useful guide for entrepreneurs, government leaders, academicians, students, and the general public.”

“The startup phase of a business is difficult, particularly for new entrepreneurial companies
whose founders have little business experience,
and for innovative companies that face higher technological, market, and financial risks”—Pier Abetti

In addition to Abetti, other Lally School faculty who were involved in the initiative include Jeffrey Durgee, associate dean for academic affairs and associate professor, and Iftekhar Hasan, the former Cary L. Wellington Professor of Finance and co-director of the International Center for Financial Research at Rensselaer. IHEC professors include Marouane El Abassi, professor and director of the master’s program in technology management, and Naoufel Ben Rayana, professor of entrepreneurship and management, who also now serves in the role of entrepreneur as co-founder and CEO of Radio Express FM, Tunisia’s first independent FM radio station and a recruitment website.

Since 2005, the partners have been working on a long-term study on global innovation, faculty/student exchanges, and a research project focused on women entrepreneurs. The findings will reveal the conditions and key success factors for economic development in Tunisia, with future extensions in Algeria and Morocco.

“In today’s global business environment, even small- and medium-sized enterprises take on international markets,” said Thomas Begley, dean of the Lally School. “Globalization of business has changed the playing field as well as the rules of engagement. Being able to manage technology within both transnational and national settings has become an increasingly critical skill as the process of innovation—technological discovery and application—has become truly global.

“As a business school, we recognize that highly focused, multinational business teams are working in North America, Asia, and Europe around the clock as the requirements of staying competitive necessitate nonstop innovation,” Begley said. “In leading this partnership in Tunisia, the Lally School has been particularly adept at providing individuals with the valuable resources to address the multiple challenges that they may encounter on a global stage. Most important, we look forward to helping the Maghreb countries develop a foundation to stimulate businesses in the region and beyond.”

“Through this partnership, we recognize, especially now, the challenges that Tunisia and the other Maghreb countries face in trying to expand into new markets,” said Durgee, who traveled to Tunisia in April to participate in a conference focused on entrepreneurship and innovation. “Our publication takes a holistic approach, and covers all the aspects of enterprise development, from the creation of new ventures and their funding sources to harvest and exit strategies.” 

The publication, Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Maghreb, is available in English and French. Future plans include an Arabic translation, and efforts to explore entrepreneurship and innovation in Egypt and Libya.

To read the publication, visit


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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 6, Number 2, February 3, 2012
©2012 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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