Young entrepreneurs and business leaders have gathered in the Libyan city of Tripoli to woo investors for their new businesses.
The Radisson Hotel in Libya’s Tripoli hosted an expo aimed at bringing together investors and young entrepreneurs together. The expo, which celebrated its third anniversary this year, is intended to bolster the country’s private sector by help kick-start a number of start-ups.
The expo is attended by 120 start-ups and small businesses, narrowed down from an initial 350 applicants. They include a variety of businesses including traders that deal with customised arts-and-crafts, high-tech entertainment and apps designed for utility and convenience. The entrepreneurs spent much of the expo promoting their businesses to investors in hopes of earning their financial backing.
Beyond obtaining support for their businesses, many of the entrepreneurs here in Tripoli hope that their efforts will help bolster Libya’s private sector as a whole. Like many other Arab countries, the Libyan state has traditionally been the main employer. The extensive bureaucracy that resulted from such approach was infamous for being inefficient and wasteful, all the while discouraging the development of the country’s private sector.
Many of the entrepreneurs here today know that this system that reached its apex under Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is no longer sustainable. Fluctuating oil prices, the intense politicisation of government positions and the fact that the country has two rival governments all make the traditional employment model unpalatable for Libyans. According to the attendees here in Tripoli, building up the private sector in Libya will not only provide jobs for many Libyans who are feeling the sting of the economic downturn, but it will also take the pressure off the state sector.
Curiously, there are a number of contradictory factors that may provide these startups and small businesses with ample space to grow. Many international tech giants avoid investing in Libya due to political and security uncertainty. Indeed, even in major cities such as Tripoli, militia infighting is an unfortunate daily reality. However, the country has reasonably high levels of internet penetration (although the conflict has caused damage and slowdowns to the telecoms network), offering startups and small businesses a strong foundation to build upon. With relatively little competition (or cooperation) from outside, the Libyan startups have sought to provide localised versions of ideas and models made popular by their larger and better-known international counterparts.
As a generation with few memories of Colonel Gaddafi but many memories of the conflicts that followed his fall, these young business leaders are eager to lead the charge towards leading their city and their country to a better tomorrow.