Against The Odds
In 2014, multidisciplinary education graduate, Mohamed Jaidane, co-founded his startup Sciencia with the aim of providing scientific leisure products and services that promote learning by doing and the scientific awakening of kids and youths. According to Mohamed, “In Tunisia, there is a high rate of graduate unemployment and many kids who are motivated to learn Science, but no structure or support to realise it, as well as a weak technical innovation scene that neglects local problems.” The idea behind Sciencia was to approach all this unrealised potential and find a way to tackle the problem. Mohamed and his team are focusing on Tunisia in order to prove the concept, before hopefully expanding to similar places that face the same issues.
Prior to Sciencia, Mohamed was involved in several highly challenging projects and ventures in oil & gas and his experiences working abroad helped him learn to approach problems in different ways and to accommodate solutions to different contexts. With his associates, he tried to tie this in to the two passions they share: Science and knowledge-sharing, and to the place that bears so many unfolded and unrealised opportunities, which is Tunisia. As well as being Sciencia’s CTO, Mohamed handles finances and several strategic projects.
One challenge Mohamed faced as a co-founder was managing his constraints and finding the right involvement in his startup, as he claims it’s tough to find a balance. He also had issues raising capital and engaging employees. When he joined the enpact programme last year, Mohamed’s intention was to share and exchange with other fellows, mentors and experts who had experienced similar challenges and found ways to overcome them. Through observing and understanding others, he hoped to improve the way his team do things and their approach to challenges and objectives.
The mentoring programme allowed Mohamed to gain some traction but also to engage with the dynamic startup ecosystem in Tunisia and become more a part of it. He commented on how the mentoring with all the mentors, not just his assigned mentor, greatly impacted his approach to solving issues:
“we discovered other ways of doing things, and we learned the importance of clarifying our priorities and sticking to our vision and principles”.
Mohamed’s mentor, Frank Neumann, mostly focused on Mohamed’s team, their involvement and their interactions together. He challenged them to ask themselves the right questions and find a way to answer them based on their priorities and their real potential. Frank commented:
“it’s the whole group of empowered people by enpact who are making this possible. mohamed and his team have to face quite some challenges, due to the conditions in tunisia and mohamed living abroad, and i believe that their first product is a positive result of their doing”.
The past six months have been quite exciting for Mohamed. Sciencia was involved in several startup programmes other than enpact, including WES, Yunus Social Business Tunisia and Cherie Blair Foundation for Women in Business, proving that Sciencia has real potential to impact children’s education. The company also won several competitions, including TuniRobots Junior, AeroDay Junior and the prestigious UTICA Prize for Social Innovation through demonstrating the effectiveness of their workshops and proving that kids can really enjoy Science. Finally, they expanded their activities to new schools and recruited a new employee, and are planning to recruit two more. Mohamed is also extremely proud of the commercialization of their first product, the Sciencia Truck Camiounti.
Mohamed has shown that Sciencia has a real impact and great value to kids, both in and out of schools. His medium-term vision is to prove that the business model is really viable and profitable, and can be scaled to other centers, so that they can begin expanding in Tunisia. He wants Sciencia to be present in every region of Tunisia with a global presence to supply schools and family with scientific leisure activities and products designed and made locally.
Naturally, several challenges remain for Mohamed, such as finding the adequate support and strategy to expand the brand in order to impact as many kids and possible and ignite the passion of Science and Technology everywhere. Mohamed told us that recruiting is a tough challenge too, as they are looking for quite atypical profiles: people that are both passionate about Science and love to work with kids. He went on to say, “Like with any entrepreneur, I think that facing challenges and failures is the part of the reality of having a startup so if my life were a book, it would be ‘The Man in the Arena’, which refers to the speech of Roosevelt.”
Overall, Mohamed’s experience of the mentoring programme was a positive one. He stated that it was “an awesome and amazing experience” and continued by saying, “Everyone was engaged and committed and that made the experience unique. It’s trying to make it successful and impacting for everyone, by great staff, amazing mentors and experts, awesome mentees… that made it valuable. It’s the same for our entrepreneurial experiences, we commit and engage with a vision and we strive to make it happen. Sciencia’s vision is the scientific awakening of kids and youths and the ignition of science passion.”