TechTown Hosts North African Entrepreneurs as Part of State Dept. Program

7/5/12Follow @XconomyDET

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incubate the winners, Hariton says, because of its large Arab community and its familiarity with economic challenges. “We believe Detroit is a better fit than Silicon Valley,” she explains. “Silicon Valley is not struggling with the same issues Detroit is.”

While in Detroit, the visiting entrepreneurs will take classes at Wayne State, network with the Arab American Chamber of Commerce, and polish up their investor pitches at TechTown. TechTown officials say the entire three-month trip is valued at about $30,000.

Souad Rouis, a college professor and founder of BRP Biotech, the first company of its kind in Tunisia to develop vaccines and diagnostic kits, began her TechTown residency in May. Her winning business idea involves diagnostic kits for cancer detection based on antibody interaction, and she says she hopes to leave Detroit with an investor or partnership to move her company forward.

“Biotech is new in Tunisia,” she says, noting that finding financial backing for new ventures is difficult. “Entrepreneurship is mostly in IT. What’s lacking is the ecosystem. I think the training [from TechTown] will be very useful when I go back, because I have a lot of contact with students who are also interested in entrepreneurship.”

In America, I told Rouis, the presence of women is somewhat rare in the biotech world. Was that also true in Tunisia? Rouis responded with a hearty laugh. She told me of an expression they have in Tunisia: If you teach a man, you teach a person—but if you teach a woman, you teach a nation. ”In Tunisia, women work harder than men,” she explained, “and there are more women in science and medicine than men.” A career in biotech requires long hours of study, she added, which many men can’t do because they have to enter the workforce. Women, on the other hand, often pursue advanced degrees after they get married.

Rouis has enjoyed her stay in Detroit so far. She’s been out to eat at a couple of restaurants and was on her way that night to a performance at the Detroit Institute of Arts. “This experience is amazing,” she says. “I like all the things I’m doing here. The people are warm and friendly, which was one of the good surprises for me.”

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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