In collaboration with the Center for Global Business at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship sent Student Venture Programs Manager Chris Rehkamp, MS ’18 on a study abroad program highlighting innovation and entrepreneurship in France and Morocco. The program was led by Smith School Associate Professor Oliver Schlake. The following is one student’s reflection of their experience.
by: Hannah Shraim ’20
In the span of ten days, I visited three countries, submerged myself into two very distinct cultures, and drank lots and lots of tea. Let me explain.
Rather than simply getting an education, securing a job, and acquiring a well-paying salary, I want to do more with my degree. I am a big believer that business can be used to solve social issues, so starting organizations that can utilize profits that serve underprivileged communities is something I have always been eager to explore.
I was granted the opportunity to study entrepreneurship and innovation in France and Morocco with a remarkable group of Terps. As a person who studied French since the age of four, I was particularly excited to go on this trip. While we stopped by Monaco for a day—hence the third country—the jist of our learning came from France and Morocco, which are connected by forty-four years of French occupation.
Besides the fact that both are francophone nations, there are certain commonalities within the entrepreneurial practices in France and Morocco. Notwithstanding, there are vast differences as well.
Now, let’s dive into what went down.
CHANGING MINDS AND MOVING MOUNTAINS
Morocco was the first stop on our journey. The country is filled with beautiful palm trees, intricate architecture, and hospitable tea-lovers.
While in the city of Marrakech, visiting the medina, located just outside of the Koutoubia Mosque, was one of the most remarkable experiences. The medina is filled with diverse shops and street vendors eager to sell their handmade pieces to anyone passing by. Above getting some amazing souvenirs – after 20 minutes of bargaining, no doubt – the experience was indicative of Morocco’s general mindset towards business.
Business in Morocco is two-pronged. Parts of the country maintain traditional shops, like those that sell scarves and handmade pottery, in areas that have held similar businesses for generations. On the other hand, there are established corporations, operating mainly in Casablanca, and entrepreneurs who are tackling the issue of changing the current mindset of resistance concerning innovation and entrepreneurship at large.
One of our business visits took place at Emerging Business Factory, a creative co-working space based in Marrakech. We heard from EMOB, a company that is hoping to reduce carbon emissions by introducing electric motorcycles to Moroccan streets. The company’s innovators attestest to the fact that marketing their product is about showing Moroccans that these vehicles are an adaptation to their way of life, not a means to change their way of life.
While there are a considerable number of entrepreneurial startups in Morocco and increased use of concepts like design thinking, one of the main hurdles to success includes getting citizens to accept new innovations.
THE FRENCH MANTRA
A continent away, in Nice, France, innovation is tackled differently. The city is filled with beautiful waterfront views, clearly a major attraction for visitors from around the world. Here, corporations are using innovation to generate value.
At Amadeus, a B2B company that advises travel agencies and airlines, there is a large focus on innovation driven by technology. The company is using artificial intelligence reinforcement learning to analyze and propose recommendations to customers based on past individual behaviors.
While technology is the engine behind innovating, Amadeus is keen on maintaining what they call “the human aspect.” Amadeus wants to fall in love with their customer, not their ideas, so they innovate to address what the consumer needs.
The stark difference between innovation and France and Morocco’s innovation comes down to one concept: stages of development.
As a developed European nation, France has the privilege of using technology as their main focal point for innovation. There’s a lot of chatter about artificial intelligence, data tracking, and corporate expansion to amplify an already comfortable standard of living. On the other hand, Morocco’s continually developing economy is using entrepreneurship and innovation to solve complex social issues.
Amal Association, for instance, is a business in Morocco that empowers disadvantaged women who have been pushed to the fringes of society. The organization trains women who are divorced, widowed, without education, or single parents to cook in the restaurant it operates.
With their newfound skills, Amal Association trainees can use this education to work in the restaurant industry and become chefs themselves. These women are lifted out of poverty, able to provide for their families, and empowered with confidence and a newfound sisterhood.
Based on the businesses we visited on our trip, it seems that the conception of French businesses are not created to mediate social issues like those in Morocco. However, this is not to say that meaningful businesses are nonexistent in France. Ladies Drivers, a startup that functions like Uber but uses only female drivers, tackles the societal stigma that excludes women from driving positions in France.
Commonalities in ideation exists between the two nations as well. Design thinking is incorporated into problem-solving in most entrepreneurial startups and incubators across France and Morocco.
The beauty of this trip was the opportunity to witness very unique entrepreneurial approaches with cultural and sociopolitical contexts at the forefront of the experience. The insights that I gained and memories that were made are a priceless souvenir from my time abroad—but the mint tea that I brought home? Close second.
Hannah Shraim is a junior undergraduate student majoring in Business Management with a pending minor in Law and Society. She is a recent transfer to UMD and gained her associates degree in General Studies, Business Administration and Government at Montgomery College. She is part of the Impact Ambassadors cohort at the Smith School of Business and previously served as a columnist at Global Student Square. In her free time, you can find Hannah making videos for her YouTube channel, Libre Looks, and planning her next travel experience.