As the Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs in the State Department's Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, one of my responsibilities is the promotion of entrepreneurship overseas -- something that is critical to the State Department's overall mission of "creating a more secure, democratic and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community." I am proud that our efforts to promote entrepreneurship have expanded to a new corner of the globe -- the Maghreb -- as part of the U.S.-North Africa Partnership for Economic Opportunity (NAPEO), a regional initiative under the global alliance Partners for a New Beginning (PNB).
I was privileged to lead a State Department Entrepreneurship Delegation to Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria October 26-November 2. The delegation, which consisted of 20 distinguished U.S. entrepreneurs, angel investors, members of academia, and NGO representatives, was co-sponsored by the Global Entrepreneurship Program (GEP) in my office. One goal of the U.S.-NAPEO is to enhance economic cooperation between the United States and the Maghreb region, and to share best practices between experienced and emerging entrepreneurs with the goal of providing tools and strategies that can help to overcome some of the common challenges that entrepreneurs usually face. Our entrepreneurship delegation supported this goal. We believe that entrepreneurship is a powerful mechanism for job creation that will benefit not just the economies of the countries that hosted the delegation, but the U.S. economy as well. The delegation was enormously successful in generating excitement around entrepreneurship -- after listening to pitch-sessions by aspiring entrepreneurs, we selected a total of three promising start-ups in each country for a four-month business incubation prize at the Tech Town Detroit Incubator and a full-tuition scholarship for one semester of instruction at Wayne State University. Entrepreneurship delegate Ahmed Chabbani generously represented TechTown, Wayne State University, and the American Arab Chamber of Commerce to award the prize in person. These efforts represent the type of unique public-private partnerships that the U.S.-North Africa Partnership for Economic Opportunity is building to deepen ties between the United States and the Maghreb.
We also mentored aspiring entrepreneurs in one-on-one sessions, coaching them on how to improve their business plans and pitches. Mentoring is crucial to entrepreneurial success, because it gives aspiring entrepreneurs an opportunity to learn from others' mistakes and successes. Interestingly, the mentoring sessions were two-way exchanges -- not only did our delegates provide valuable operational knowledge, but they also learned about the unique challenges of doing business in each host country. In Morocco, start-ups reported difficulty in identifying seed capital to begin their businesses. In Algeria, aspiring entrepreneurs reported difficulty in managing and distributing their funds. In Tunisia, start-ups said they needed marketing skills to expand their businesses regionally and maybe ultimately globally. As one of our delegates, Driss Temsamani, said, "We were working for a higher purpose; the satisfaction of sharing success with others…We gave them one common message, 'You can do it!'"
In addition to helping create opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs in countries with high unemployment and other challenges, our expanded economic cooperation in the Maghreb may lead to the next "big" innovation that can help restart not only the economy of the Maghreb region but also the U.S. economy as well. Our engagement has the potential to be a "win-win." And I think I speak for the entire delegation when I say that we were all impressed by the energy, drive, and innovation of the aspiring entrepreneurs we met in the Maghreb. Our goal for our future programming in the region is to sustain the momentum we have generated around entrepreneurship. PNB-NAPEO is now planning its annual regional partnership conference, the U.S.-Maghreb Entrepreneurship Conference, for January 16-18, 2012, in Marrakech, Morocco, where we will showcase many new partnerships that came out of the delegation. One example, our delegates are planning to create a regional angel network -- with money from their own pockets -- to support aspiring entrepreneurs.
I want to especially thank our U.S. embassies in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia and the local partners on the PNB-NAPEO advisory boards in each country for such an outstanding work and support in these efforts. Some of our success is immeasurable, such as the personal impact that our events had on the lives of aspiring entrepreneurs. To quote one of our winners in Morocco, Yassine El Kachchani, "This opportunity was life-changing in a very positive way. I was amazed by the level of openness and the willingness to help that the delegation and the U.S. Embassy showed during this event. […] I'm more than ready to exceed your expectations -- this is my new challenge."