The story of Asma Gharbi and her business ECOBOIS in Kairouan, Tunisia, begins with a challenge.
“Despite a master’s degree in Banking and Financial Economics acquired in 2005, as well as a professional master in Business Creation in 2009, I could not find a job in Kairouan that suited my professional qualifications and my status as a married woman with children,” said Gharbi. “So I started working as a manager for my husband, a food wholesaler, which put me in contact with egg suppliers. That’s when the idea of working in recycling of wood came to me.”
While managing her husband’s business Gharbi noticed a business opportunity. On the one hand, farmers breeding chicks needed sawdust for their bedding, which must meet hygiene standards. On the other hand, there were wood chips scattered next to the roads in the region that were not recycled properly or removed by the municipality.
Gharbi avidly began working on her idea to turn used wood chips into sawdust that was safe for use in chick breeding. Thanks to the support of her father, a farmer and agricultural engineer, she was able to conduct market research through a trial period at the family farm to test her product, before officially launching her business.
Through the trial period she gained positive customer feedback and realized her project meets the need of the market. It also gave Gharbi the confidence to launch the business, and she contacted the APII Business Incubator in Kairouan to help formalize her project. It was there that she learned about the Mashrou3i program organized by UNIDO and supported by USAID, the Italian Development Cooperation, and the HP Foundation.
The Mashrou3i program is designed to foster a spirit of entrepreneurship and offer tools that support fledgling business owners. Its mission is to create some 6,000 jobs and reach more than 25,000 aspiring and existing entrepreneurs in Tunisia over the next five years. In addition to mentoring and technical skills training, participants have access to HP LIFE, a free, online program of the HP Foundation, which features 27 interactive modules covering business and IT skills training in seven languages.
She applied to the program so she could benefit from the HP LIFE training and gain support for completing her business plan with the UNIDO business expert.
"HP LIFE e-Learning is an interesting training for entrepreneurs at the business idea stage who need to develop their project to make their dream come true as I did,” she said. “The training is practical and focused. We can find support to solve specific challenges that arise in our projects in many business areas, such as pricing, finance, distribution, or marketing. I took advantage of all the HP LIFE e-learning modules and left the training with a solid business plan.”
ECOBOIS was established in 2016 in Kairouan’s industrial zone. The company currently employs 10 people and contributes to their social and professional integration, since they are all former prisoners who have served their sentences. The company has already gained a number of clients, including Poulina, Gallus, SOPAT, and numerous poultry farmers in the region.
“I’m excited about the future of my business and have a long-term vision,” said Gharbi. “With the support of Mashrou3i, I’ve overcome difficulties like sorting out my suppliers and winning tenders. My business model is scalable, and in the future I will think about exporting my products and also diversifying products by working on decorative objects from wood chips.”