© BMZ / Shehzil Malik

    One of engineer Amel Saidane’s first clients once asked her, “Why do you bother to sell CRM licenses; why don’t you just sell makeup?” The tech entrepreneur and co-founder of TunisiaStartups knows the challenges women face in the start-up world – and is advocating for change.

    Amel always gravitated to the tech orbit, first as an electrotechnical engineering student in Germany, then in senior positions with Siemens, Nokia and later Microsoft in her homeland Tunisia. “When I left my job at Microsoft, I didn’t even really want to look for another,” she recalls. She decided to become an entrepreneur instead, and started her first business in 2015. At the end of 2016, she co-founded the Tunisia-Startups association, whose membership has grown to around 100 start-ups today.

    The shift towards entrepreneurship has presented plenty of challenges, and even failures at times. “We were not aware of how start-ups should be run. But I learnt the importance and power of lobbying, advocacy, influencing, government relations and the media.” One of Amel’s projects didn’t attract enough clients, and the promised funding never materialised for another. But Amel never doubted her own capabilities or herself as a person for even a second. “The positive part of transforming the frustration of my failures into determination is that I have met lots of amazing people who were also facing many challenges.”

    Being a woman adds another layer of difficulty. “The patterns seem to be the same in most Arab countries.” In Tunisia, the percentage of girls in technical programmes is from 50 to 60, but only 5 percent of key level positions in tech companies are held by women. This also translates to the start-up ecosystem. “In today’s world, 90 percent of the funds are invested by men in start-ups run by men. I only know one lady in Tunisia who is leading a private equity investment capital fund.” But according to Amel, statistics show that start-ups led by women stand a better chance of remaining active and surviving longer. Despite what most people think, women are equal to men when it comes to taking risks and handling stress.

    Armed with these figures, Amel has become an avid fighter for women’s visibility in the start-up world. She co-organises start-up weekends for women, teaches courses on electronic engineering to motivate school girls to pursue tech professions, and gives talks at conferences about women in tech. “We need to raise awareness; it is simply not true that men are superior when it comes to risk-taking. And start-ups are not a man’s world either. Investing in ventures with women co-founders has proven profitable, so I hope investors will dare to place their trust in women more often.” Amel is not a woman who shies away from problems. Maybe this is why she was unanimously chosen by a majority of men as the Startup Association President. “The guys are proud to say we have a female president,” she says with a smile. To young women interested in tech she says: “The tech world is so much easier than other disciplines as it is so logical and predictable. So go for it girls!”

    “We should not wait for anybody to tell us what we should be doing.”

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