Author: Hanane Kaouane, Head of Experimentation, UNDP Algeria Accelerator Lab
It is said that the largest deserts owe their immensity to the small grains of sand only. This applies to the future of the Algerian entrepreneurial innovation ecosystem, that owes its emergence to the champions that we the accelerator lab are creating through the projects we strive to support with determination and courage. Those champions are the change makers, the future entrepreneurs, and the problem solvers that shine on among a handful of project holders and who create a chance to design with communities, to deeply understand the people they’re looking to serve, who dream up scores of ideas, and who create innovative new solutions rooted in people’s actual needs. Those champions dedicate themselves to creating products, services, experiences, startups and social enterprises, to keep people’s lives and needs at the core.
The Accelerator Lab of UNDP is the world’s largest and fastest learning network on sustainable development challenges. Our mission is to accelerate the speed at which we learn about what works, what doesn’t work, and how to implement solutions adapted to the local contexts. Through experimentation, we reinforce the network of partners and stakeholders and learn whether particular assumptions are accurate before deploying the solutions on a larger scale. This new method of working on development challenges does not constrain us to come up with an implemented project or idea, but it encourages us to uncover new insights and share learnings, whether those are success stories or failure ones. It is true that this method of running small and fast experiences to come up with both what works and doesn't is frustrating sometimes because we cannot see the change and the impact of what we are doing immediately or in a specific period of time. Perhaps this feeling is due to what we have always been told about what a smart project should look like: it should be limited in time and should have a tangible output. But what if the Accelerator Lab brings something new to the table? What if this new approach gives new results? What if the ‘What if’ experimentation can help create champions able to act and lead the path to achieving our collective Goals?
The COVID-19 pandemic has now spread across the entire globe. It had a terrible impact on health, social and economic sectors, and it has been managed differently from a country to another, with a huge struggle and lots of losses. However, many people have worked really hard to overcome these challenges and bring something new. A handful of projects have been conducted virtually during the pandemic and recently physically too, while respecting all the safety measures.
In those critical times, people have tried to save their businesses and to take their responsibilities as change-makers and bring something new that could feed the needs created by the Covid-19. During the peak of the pandemic, our Accelerator Lab was working on the implementation of the Coronhackthon in partnership with the “Algeria Startup Challenge”; one of the biggest entrepreneurial programs in Algeria, supported by the incubator Cap Cowork and under the edge of the Minister Delegate of Startups and Knowledge Economy. As a new program, our main objective was to build on what already exists by joining and positioning UNDP Algeria Accelerator Lab within the algerian innovation ecosystem. The Covid-19 represented an opportunity to meet this objective. This hackathon aimed at identifying digital solutions in response to the pandemic, five finalists have been selected for the experimentation process. But what was the percentage of success for those projects during the experimentation phase, despite all the obstacles created by the Covid 19?
THE EXPERIMENTATION PHASE, WHAT PATHWAY WE FOLLOWED?
During the experimentation phase, all the project holders benefited from personalized and individual support and coaching in different areas depending on the needs of the project and those of the project holders. Some of the projects like Payini, We Teach and Speed Gel got technical support like coaching in the UX/Ui, the architecture of the technology to be used, coaching on component supply chain and direct and indirect distribution strategy. Others got support on strategy and legal compliance, how to launch on market strategies, and how to position themselves in the market, in addition to digital media communication and fundraising coaching, and investor negotiations. All the project holders benefited from a wide visibility on traditional and social media.
After many coaching sessions with the project holders, we started by developing the prototype of some projects like Tahfifa App. Then, other projects have been tested like the product Speed Gel that ran two experiments: the crash test, a test to clearly determine the lifetime of the product and each of its components to know the warranty period for the customer; and the customer test that aims to verify the ergonomics, the appreciation of users especially with respect to competing products.
During this experimentation phase, the Algeria Startup Challenge team was able to organize a meeting with all the teams and the Minister Delegate of Knowledge Economy and Startups, Dr. Oualid Yacine at the Ministry. During this meeting, the minister shared his expertise and support on the legal side and the technical feasibility of some tests with the project holders.
WE FOCUS ON IMPACT! DISCOVER OUR TAKEAWAYS:
The innovation Algerian ecosystem identifies thousands of ideas per challenge, supports hundreds of projects per circle but only few of them become enterprises and startups per year. Out of the 5 projects selected for the experimentation phase, we are pleased that 3 are still alive now. Indeed, the startup of the year 2020 went through our UNDP Algeria Accelerator Lab!
The Accelerator Lab in Algeria, as a new program with a new innovative method to work on development challenges, succeeded in positioning itself in the Algerian ecosystem of innovation, and today the Accelerator Lab is a member of the “The Algerian Network of Incubators and accelerators of innovation actors”. In addition, after the participation of our team as a jury member in the Algeria Startup Challenge (ASC) big final, under the theme of social entrepreneurship and circular economy, we were surprised that the project holders have been evaluated on the test phase of their solutions, which shows the importance now attributed to the experimentation and the test phase in the startup’s implementation process.
Furthermore, during the final pitch of the big finale of ASC and after deliberation of the scientific committee members, we noted that the project leaders who had benefited from our support during the experimental phase of the CoronaHackathon have shown real maturity, both in their mindset and in the formulation of their solution. Tahfifa has been awarded of the title ‘startup of the year’ and Revadex was ranked on the top two in the circular economy section. Thanks to the support of the experts of the “Coronhackathon”, both projects Tahfifa and Revadex were awarded the new official label ‘startups’ after this event.
The impact of this hackathon went beyond the borders and reached Turkey, where after sharing our experience with the head of experimentation Turkey, our method was adopted by the Accelerator Lab Turkey to implement a competition for women inventors.
Today, young entrepreneurs are supported by different elements of the innovative ecosystem through the adaptation of different approaches. Thanks to the efforts made by the Minister Delegate in the First Ministry in Charge of Startups and Knowledge Economy, many facilitations and advantages have been granted, like the label of “startup”, “ Innovative project”, and “incubators”, in addition to the funds provided by the same ministry to the future entrepreneurs. Those efforts are contributing to the improvement of the Algerian innovation ecosystem and opening the doors for more innovators and change makers to join this same ecosystem, this is the reason why WE CHOSE TO CREATE CHAMPIONS!