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

What brings a group of entrepreneurs from the Mahgreb region of Africa to Detroit’s TechTown? It’s an interesting story that started in Egypt three years ago.

On June 4, 2009, President Obama delivered a speech in Cairo that was aimed promoting harmony between the United States and the Muslim world. Tensions were high after eight years of the Bush administration’s foreign policy, which was perceived by many global leaders to be especially hostile toward Islam. Obama, predictably, devoted a lot of time to the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine, but he also dedicated a section of the speech to economic development.

Muslim countries, Obama noted, have historically been at the forefront of education and innovation. He announced a flurry of new initiatives meant to drive economic development in the Muslim world, including a Summit on Entrepreneurship to identify how to deepen ties between business leaders, foundations, and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.

In April 2010, the Global Entrepreneurship Program was announced at the Summit on Entrepreneurship, to which 55 Muslim nations sent envoys of entrepreneurs, and as part of the Global Entrepreneurship Program, the North African Partnership for Economic Opportunity (NAPEO) was launched. NAPEO is a private-public  partnership of U.S. and North African business and civic leaders, entrepreneurs, and governments with a mission to spark job creation and entrepreneurship. NAPEO reccently sent entrepreneurs from Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria to spend a few months at TechTown, the business incubator on the Wayne State University campus in Detroit, to receive mentorship, refine their business plans, and pitch their ideas to investors.

Lorraine Hariton, special representative for commercial and business affairs for the State Department, said the goal of NAPEO is to use entrepreneurship as a pathway to engage the Muslim world in ways that extend beyond economic development. “We’re promoting economics as foreign policy,” Hariton adds. “It’s a way to build relationships as well as promote U.S. companies around the world. Entrepreneurs are the ones who create jobs—by working to help develop entrepreneurship, we’re fostering job creation and economic growth.”

After holding business plan competitions in North Africa last fall, three winners were selected and awarded residencies at TechTown. Detroit was chosen as the city to … Next Page »

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