Sylabs: Algeria’s first Startup accelerator and the heart of country’s ecosystem

Abdellah Mallek was born and raised in Algeria and at the young age of 13, he started working doing various odd jobs to satisfy his entrepreneurial curiosity. Over time, Abdellah continued to develop his business prowess and when he graduated from high school, he launched two startups that failed- a network of student tutoring and an e-tourism platform.

However, these failures didn’t hold him back. Abdellah went on to graduate from Houari Boumedien University of Sciences and Technology in Algiers with a bachelor’s degree in mathematical engineering in 2012; and in the following years, Abdellah became known in the local digital scene as a contributor to Wamda.

In 2015, after struggling to find a space to host meetings with other members of Algeria’s web community, Abdellah decided that something had to do be done. So, in December 2015, he founded Sylabs, the first private startup accelerator in Algeria, to give the country’s growing community of entrepreneurs and techies a place to network, collaborate and host events..

But that isn’t the only reason that Abdellah felt the need to found Sylabs. He also felt that Algeria needed to have a startup accelerator to stimulate Algeria’s economic growth, unleash the full potential of Algerian youth and diversify the country’s economy, which largely depends on oil and natural gas income. In this interview, Abdellah tells me more about Sylabs, the challenges he faces (and the triumphs) and his vision for the future of Algeria’s startup ecosystem.

1) What does the profile of the current Sylabs’ community look like?

After almost two years, I’m very happy to say that Sylabs has become one of the most important references for startups and entrepreneurship in Algeria. Not only has Sylabs succeeded in gathering Algeria’s aspiring entrepreneurs, it has also succeeded in attracting other important stakeholders to the startup ecosystem including students from different universities, artists, developers and all kinds of other people and organizations, who are interested in the value that we add to the local economy.

2) What kind of activities and services does Sylabs provide its community members?

As I mentioned before, the Sylabs’ community is large and quite diverse. So, we’re constantly adapting and adjusting our programs and offerings to meet our community’s needs. We work diligently at Sylabs to promote education and the development of young Algerians’ technology and entrepreneurship skills, so they can help us strengthen our economy in the future.

Sylabs also offers corporates unique innovation and intrapreneurship programs, which are adapted and customized to meet the specific needs of each team and organization. In our hackerspace (a place where local entrepreneurs, artists and students can translate their innovative ideas into a tangible prototypes) we we offer free 3D prototyping equipment thanks to our partnership with GE.

That being said, the main focus of Sylabs is increasing the number of startups in Algeria. With that in mind, we offer local entrepreneurs a working space, mentorship, and most important of all, direct contact with potential clients (for startups who already have a product) through our corporate network and partnerships with local institutions.

3) What have been some of Sylabs’ biggest achievements since its establishment in 2015?

I think that Sylabs’ most important achievement so far has been its ability to build an entrepreneurial community, where there previously wasn’t one. Not only have we stimulated the startup ecosystem in Algeria, we’ve also helped many startups connect with big clients.

In addition to that, we’ve also been able to start gathering and coordinating the offerings of various stakeholders in Algeria’s startup ecosystem. Thus, allowing us to collaborate and can create more comprehensive and uniform strategies to develop the future of entrepreneurship in the country together.

This new era of collaboration was clearly demonstrated our last Algiers Startup Conference, which was organized in partnership with the Wilaya (state in Arabic) of Algiers. I’m proud to say that this conference hosted more than 1,200 people who were interested in startups and the growth of the local startup ecosystem.

The crowd included the CEOs of different companies, potential investors, startups and students. The Algerian Prime Minister also attended our event, which was very significant, because it was the first time that a person in that position had ever attended a startup or tech-related event in Algeria.

4) What are the main challenges that entrepreneurs and startups face in Algeria?

The biggest obstacle to the Algerian startup ecosystem currently is the lack of coordination between its various stakeholders. At the moment, Algerian startups, universities, government institutions, the media so and so forth work in their own silos.

However, in order to build a real ecosystem, we need to break down these silos and establish partnerships between these diverse stakeholders and that’s why Sylabs exists. We’re dedicated to developing these collaborations, so we can build a strong and sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem moving forward.

5) Which industries and economic sectors are growing in Algeria? Which ones are still under-served? How are Algerian entrepreneurs trying to fill these gaps?

At Sylabs, we believe that there are opportunities in all of Algeria’s economic sectors, as many of the local industries are far from mature. That being said, I believe that mobile-related startups are becoming quite popular, because there are a great number of mobile  users in the country.

6) How can Arab youth and entrepreneurs in other startup ecosystems support Algeria’s budding startup ecosystem?

I believe that it’s important for Arab youth and entrepreneurs to actively collaborate with each other. Every country in the MENA region has experience in a specific sector or aspect of development. Consequently, Arab youth need to make it a priority to share their best practices with each other, so we can improve different aspects of our countries’ simultaneously and progress at a more rapid pace together. However, this exchange of experiences can’t take place externally, until we start developing these cultures of collaboration and knowledge-sharing within our borders.

7) What are Sylabs’ short-term and long-term goals?

At the moment, Sylabs has two main goals. Firstly, we would like to increase the number of entrepreneurs in our community, so we can continue to spread the cultures of entrepreneurship and ingenuity throughout Algeria. Secondly, we would like to further support our local entrepreneurial community and startups, by offering more projects and initiatives to develop their skills and ideas.

8) How can people learn more about Sylabs and its events?

Sylabs has a very strong presence on social media! We regularly update our followers on the different events that we’re hosting, our calls for applications and all our latest news on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Also, feel free to visit our website to learn more about us.

Soukaina Rachidi
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