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ESSTST: Exams « Canceled-until-further notice »

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Let us set the time and place, place: The Higher School of Health Sciences and Techniques of Tunis (also known as ESSTST), Time: The morning of the first day on finals’ week, another term for the climax of two weeks of continuous stress, all-nighters, and frustration. Yet here we were, waiting in front of our assigned classes, cramming 17 courses’ worth in a mere 10 minutes, full of nervous energy and uncalled-for excitement. Minutes were passing quickly. At the time, we thought it was a blessing. Every minute of lateness on behalf of our proctors was an extra minute of last-minute cramming for us. But minutes kept on passing, and soon it was 8:30. The whispers started going around like wildfire: “I think the teachers are on a strike?”; “What? Since when? Why’d no one bother to tell us?”; “Someone said we won’t be sitting for any exams today”

And panic erupts.

Let me tell you something, spending days on end, not going out, not feeling fresh air on your face to the point of missing the sun, driving yourself to the point of sickness, all for the sake of getting good grades, is a thing most of us are guilty of. It comes with the major. And seeing all of that effort carelessly stepped on by the “authorities” can make you so mad, so desperate, so helpless, and it’s not a nice feeling.

We weren’t told much of anything, other than the fact that there won’t be any exams today (and probably the next few days) that we should go home and study for tomorrow’s exam, that our proctors were on strike and were refusing to do their duty of overseeing our exams, and that we will be contacted later if anything comes up, until then, stay home and study.

Now, this might make some people say “But you got some extra days of studying! So, what’s the problem? Some of us wish for that!” Let me tell you what’s the problem; Our third years have final projects that we hand out mid-March to the beginning of April, and they take a lot of work, effort, and on-site observations that are done in hospitals after the exams. So, this whole “canceled-until-further notice” situation was the last thing we needed. That and the fact that late exams benefit absolutely no one, but least of all the ever-ignored students.

That evening, our over-hardworking school delegates, who were torn trying to fit all ends and making sense of the situation, informed us of the inevitable: No exams on Friday and Saturday either. Everything will be postponed until next week. But nothing is for sure. So, we should stay home and study for our hypothetical exams. You know, just put your whole life on hold and keep studying for an exam you don’t know when you’ll be taking, because that’s just the way this works, we were powerless..

We were stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one end, there was the school administration who allegedly knew about the strike and didn’t inform the delegates, and who insists that they had a plan B consisting of letting its own workers be our proctors instead of the teachers. And on the other end, there was the strike planner: the syndicate of PMPs (Paramedical Professors) who claims that having administration workers supervise us is illegal, that it’s illegal for them to inform us of the strike, and that their demands are legitimate and worth this whole fuss. We were being played like puppets, coming and going to the whims of people who claimed they only wanted our best but weren’t acting like it.

On Friday, nothing changed. A group of students went to the university. We demanded answers, dates, anything to cling to, the student body was getting frustrated, it was all fun and games on the first day, but this looked like it might take longer than we thought, and we weren’t ready for that. But of course, we received nothing. We still have nothing but a promise of an emergency meeting on Monday that might or might not hold our salvation.

And so we wait, until further notice.

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Now that #StartupAct is finally here, what’s next?

Sami Mnassri

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Photo credit: Twitter / @MatthiasPeitz (Photo edited)

Friday April 5th, 2019 marked the official launch of the long-awaited Startup Act, one year after its entry into force.

A ceremony was held to this occasion at the « Dar Edhiafa » palace under the aegis of the head of Tunisian government who announced the launch of the Startup Act law and its online portal www.startupact.tn making it possible for anyone to apply and benefit from the various administrative and tax advantages provided by the law.

 

Context overview

Startup Act is a legal framework dedicated to Startups in Tunisia. It provides a strict definition for a “startup” and compels it to a label of merit named the “Startup Label” to which Tunisian registered companies apply after fulfilling five main criteria, namely the company’s age, its size, financial independence, innovation and scalability.

Startup Act is built with the aim of facilitating and encouraging the creation, development and internationalization of Tunisian Startups by providing numerous benefits to entrepreneurs, startups and investors as well.

This 20-measure law grants labelled Startups from exemptions to corporate taxes, permits the creation of a foreign currency account, allows both private and public sector employees up to a year off from their current jobs to run their outfits, provides a government-sanctioned salary to founders and helps firms file for international patents; along with several other provisions.

 

Startup Act’s first wave of startups: The lucky 12

The College of Startups, a commission declared under Article 6 of Law No. 2018-20 of April 17, 2018, was responsible for the review and approval of the applications and approving the “Startup Label” for those meeting the announced criteria.

The commission is composed of 9 members covering business experts (entrepreneurship, innovation, investment and support) as well as representatives from both public and private sector.

An initial call for applications was launched late February 2019 reaching out for beta-testers to trial the platform and to get the chance to be one of the first 20 Startup Label holders. The College of Startups reportedly received more than 300 initial applications for the “Startup Label” and eventually awarded the « Startup Label » to a first wave of 12 emerging startups in various sectors, namely:

  1. Enova Robotics (Robotics Industry): Designing and manufacturing mobile robots operating in the fields of safety, health and logistics.
  2. DataVora (e-Commerce): Offering a platform for competitive intelligence/monitoring and pricing on a large scale for e-Commerce players.
  3. PolySmart (Gaming): Producing Top Down 3rd Person Shooters games for PC.
  4. BWS: Be Wireless Solutions (IoT): Industrial and is an IoT operator offering integrated real-time object monitoring solutions for energy optimization.
  5. Ezzayra (AgriTech): Development and integration of technological products (Software, Hardware and Robotics) for agriculture.
  6. MedilSys (HealthTech): Providing hospitals with the most innovative solutions in clinical information systems specialized in intensive care.
  7. Dabchy.com (e-Commerce): A fashion marketplace allowing women to renew their wardrobes online and safely.
  8. VitaLight Lab (BioTech): A unique laboratory on the border between marine biotechnology and natural and refined dermo-cosmetic care formulation using high efficiency stabilized actives.
  9. PayPos Tunisie (FinTech): Development of innovative electronic payment solutions and digitalization of compatible banking and financial services (PCI-DSS, EMV …).
  10. NextGen Corp (m-Education): Specialized in the development of education-entertainment mobile apps for children with learning disabilities.
  11. Nostatik Media (IT): Symmetryk, a platform for exchanging documents between headquarters, subsidiaries and field teams.
  12. RoamSmart (Telecom): Assisting mobile operators in the digital transformation of their roaming business through innovative SaaS solutions.

 

Photo credit: « Ministry of Communication Technologies and Digital Economy » Facebook Page

 

Startup Act, beyond the euphoria

It only seems like yesterday, during the 2018’s Tunisia Digital Summit, when the tunisian government announced its « revolutionary » measures to digitalize the administration services allowing online extraction of vital records (the Birth certificate as a start), mobile money transfer services across all postal and bank accounts pushing towards a cashless economy, and the adoption of electronic seals through QR codes to replace the certified copies for legal and administrative documents.

So much of a « digital innovation » for the era of Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and Cryptocurrencies. One year later, none of those promises actually saw the light.

Startup Act itself was the result of a 3-year-long journey. The reflection on the Startup Act began in 2015 following several requests from the emerging ecosystem of Startups in Tunisia to have a specific and propitious legal Framework.

 

Now that Startup Act is finally here: It somehow feels like we simply created a false problem to get us aside from the original one. If, yesterday, the question was how to get a startup through the hustle of starting and pass the mountain of all the legal and administrative autorisations needed just to to move from ideation to early execution. Today, it seems that the label « startup » itself is no longer a given.

And if we’re trying to be less naggy and faultfinding, we would still argue that problems just cannot be solved with the same mindset that created them in the first place: Another additional step has been annexed to the already-overwhelming startup journey along with a relatively ambiguous selection criteria and scoring proccess that would naturally leave room for misinterpretations and fuel accusations of nepotism and favoritism.

So if Startup Act isn’t about those those early-stage dreamers/visionaries and small business owners still struggling to get their feet on the ground and spending endless nights making an impact right from home, then why are we even talking about it?

 

We sure would be more optimistic and consider this to be a promising first step, but then we would need to make sure the next ones, if any is yet to follow, won’t take as much long. Hopefully our legislators do realise that the world out there is currently exploding in terms of technology breakthroughs and that by the time they plan their next move, we’d have much bigger issues to worry about.

Needless to remind that the Tunisian administration isn’t exactly known to be an easy adopter of technology, or change to start with. Noting that, sadly but quite true, Tunisia still operates Under the Foreign Trade and Foreign Exchange code (law No. 76-18). A law that dates way back to January 1976. So until the we manage to bring the administration to the 21st century, any so-called innovation will simply fail to integrate, or at least to properly serve its purpose. Sometimes it’s just worthless to keep patching an old broken machine, when all you need is a new one.

 

Tunisia‘s change makers, a glimpse of hope.. 

The good side to this is that hard times do indeed make strong men, and women. Startup Act weren’t to make it this far already if it wasn’t of a massive collective effort backed by continuous lobbying from the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Tunisia over the course of many years.

It also is definitely worth mentioning that these initiatives emerging from the local ecosystem do in fact date back way before the Startup Act project including, but are not limited to, the work on creating and launching the International Technology Card (CTI) on 2015 to allow international financial transactions but mostly providing Tunisian developers access to merchand accounts (such as Google Play and Apple’s App Store) and be able to monetize their mobile apps (through Ads and in-app purchases techniques for example) and therefore make money out of it which was nearly impossible to do prior to the CTI card, at least in a manner that complies with laws and regulations.

It seems like, for once, refreshingly promising actions are actually coming from within: from those who are subject to the actual daily constraints depriving Tunisian entrepreneurs from the very basic rights and needs for a 21st century citizen. And it would be fair to claim that this post-revolution generation, arguably the most desperate and underrepresented generation of the country’s modern history, has had enough of playing by old-school rules that do not seem to be going anywhere better anytime soon and have decided to take matters into their own hands changing one bit at time.

It probably is still early to foresee how this would advance and what the upcoming few years might bring along. But one thing for sure, the battle has just begun and the updates are worth following. Better yet, stepping in, as every effort is considerably needed, and contribute to building the Tunisia we long for.

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