Tuning Tunesia’s Innovation System to Steinbeis

Steinbeis experts join forces in the country to set up a transfer system

After the sudden and peaceful change in the political system in December 2010, the economic system in Tunisia has been transforming into a modern knowledge-based economy. Tunisia has developed into a pioneer in North Africa, not just in political but also in economic terms. Around 1% of gross domestic product (GDP) investment goes into research and development, making Tunisia a positive exception to other countries in the region, which only invest between 0.2-0.7% of GDP. Tunisia’s figures compare more to the EU average of around 2% but they also show that there is still room for improvement. The classic economy also shows scant interest in innovation projects. At only 20% of total expenditures, the share of investment from the private economy in R&D is extremely low. To counteract this, Steinbeis experts are providing support with the setting up of sustainable technology transfer in the country.

As innovation is a central pillar of a modern and sustainable economic system, there is a need to build up more of such activities in Tunisia. Improvements are needed in the country, not only in the innovation infrastructure but also in terms of innovation know-how. Apart from fighting the loss of specialists, there is a particular need for the proper framework to make it possible to facilitate the transfer of scientific know-how and adapt this to the demands of local industry. There are more technology parks and business hotspots in Tunisia than in its neighboring countries. A new generation of business startups is starting to expand, originating from research establishments. Despite this, the number of technology transfer institutions based in academic and scientific locations – and with this the degree of collaboration between science and business – is still minimal and still in the starting blocks.

This is where PASRI (Le Projet d’Appui au Système de Recherche et de l’Innovation) comes in. PASRI is an EU project involving GIZ (the federal enterprise of international collaboration from Germany), which is acting as a partner on the PASRI project in Tunisia and has asked Steinbeis not only to develop strategies for eight existing technology transfer organisations, but also to join forces with Tunisian experts and conduct a tour of 30 companies to gauge requirements and determine possible solutions by using technology transfer.

Four Steinbeis experts went on regular trips to Tunisia in 2014 to work with Tunisian partner organizations and companies. Delivery of the project was carried out in partnership with Tunisian consultants to include local knowledge and make it possible to coach consultants. The results speak for themselves: Based on the previous analysis, all eight technology transfer organizations (which stem from a variety of technology fields) have now worked up concrete action plans and strategies for achieving more technology transfer. This involved exploring a plethora of different measures:

  • The creation of independent establishments in order to work selfdependently and efficiently
  • Regular visits and analysis of companies
  • Evaluation of the results of these analyses to assess which services could be offered to Tunisian companies
  • Collaboration with Tunisian consultants in order to make the process of project management more professional and to bridge cultural gaps between science and business
  • Mobilization of scientists at research institutions,
  • The drumming up of additional funding for personnel and material costs
  • Establishment of a national network to facilitate exchange and offer the services of all transfer establishments
  • More promotion of initiative and entrepreneurial thinking
  • Development of marketing campaigns specifically tailored to the target group

The second part of the project entailed a tour of 30 companies with an emphasis on business in ICT, biotechnology, food and beverages, and mechanical engineering. This was based on the Steinbeis concept of short consulting sessions and special consultations. To prepare and carry out the visits, help was provided by Tunisian consultants, who were briefed beforehand on different ways to approach businesses and analysis. The analytical method used by the experts helped industry to recognize areas of deficit with respect to innovation.

The company tour allowed the Steinbeis experts to identify around 80 key issues that will need to be addressed by companies through the use of technology transfer. These include:

  • Set up departments responsible for R&D within companies
  • Improve environmental standards
  • Introduce recycling
  • Test new products
  • Offer analytical services
  • Develop and implement marketing instruments
  • Make it possible to collaborate with European partners on R&D
  • Forge more business contacts in Germany

There was clear interest on behalf of the companies to solve these issues with Tunisian experts, who work professionally and offer industry experience. The analysis of requirements showed how important it is that transfer establishments focus on the needs of industry. This was also taken into account within the strategies of the eight establishments.

There is unanimous agreement among the Steinbeis experts that the innovation system in Tunisia is making good progress and that the support from Steinbeis helped to clearly underscore the methods of transfer and, in particular, market orientation. The Tunisian consultants will continue to work with the technology establishments and there are already initial plans to form these into a Steinbeis Tunisia Network. The work with key players in Tunisia was also fulfilling for Steinbeis as it was possible to understand and explore many specific issues relating to the country. Collaboration within the Steinbeis team was also highly fulfilling for all those involved at the different Steinbeis enterprises and a variety of skills were pooled from different industries, areas of consulting and federal states. Summarizing his deep satisfaction after the project, Frank Graage, head of the Steinbeis Research Center Technology Management North East, stated: “This kind of interdisciplinary and intercultural experience, which often hopped between communication in three languages – no more than two of which I actually understood – is something I’m glad I didn’t miss out on. I look forward to more projects in Tunisia with Steinbeis colleagues.”

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