On Tuesday, March 11, TechWomen traveled to Casablanca to participate in the Women Entrepreneurs in Technology Conference. After a festive lunch at Rick’s Café, members of the delegation arrived at Technopark (an information technology business complex) to learn about rising startups, hear from leading enterprises, network with local female entrepreneurs.
The visit began with an introduction of the business complex by CEO Omar Balafrej (@OmarBalafrej), who discussed Technopark’s (@Technopark) excellence in fostering an innovative community within the STEM sector in Morocco. The complex houses 200 startups and small enterprises, and it has helped more than 600 companies establish themselves since Technopark’s inception in 2001. TechWomen was particularly interested to learn how the complex is open 24 hours a day, which gives female entrepreneurs the flexibility they need to succeed in a fast-paced field, while balancing personal responsibilities. Added to Technopark’s ease of access to finance, a supportive community, and local resources, the complex is an ideal location for entrepreneurs to spearhead new concepts and collaborate with fellow leaders in technology.
Following the introduction, the TechWomen delegation heard from Andrea Appell, Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Casablanca. Appell discussed the country’s strong commitment to increasing access to STEM education for girls. Appell also shared the Consulate’s enthusiasm for the continued growth of technology careers for women, and how mentorship is vital in seeing this growth materialize. These invigorating remarks made the audience eager to hear from Moroccan entrepreneurs and learn more about unique enterprises based in Casablanca.
Appell was followed by Laila Miyara, President of Technopark-based business Association des Femme chefs d’Entreprises du Maroc (AFEM). Miyara discussed how AFEM works to support women in reaching their full potential in their respective professions. AFEM is the first venture capital firm for IT in Morocco, and it works to increase funding for startups to support growth. Funding is one of the biggest struggles for startups in the country, and AFEM provides female entrepreneurs with marketing resources, microloans, and advising to help their ideas come to fruition. Businesses like AFEM are key to building a strong base of female entrepreneurs in STEM, and many of the TechWomen delegates said they felt inspired by AFEM and Technopark’s commitment to providing a collaborative and supportive space for female professionals in these fields to succeed.
Next, Nezha Larhrissi (@NezhaLarhrissi), Salima Kaissi (@ksalima), and Zineb Rharrasse (@zineb_r), three Moroccan alumnae from the 2013 TechWomen program, launched eSTEM Morocco. eSTEM Morocco works closely with schools and local technology companies to create opportunities for girls to be hosted at these companies during school breaks for one-on-one mentorships with female professionals so that they can learn about the field, careers in STEM, and professional development. Audience members were excited about this venture, and many were eager to get involved.
Finally, TechWomen alumnae and mentors shared some of their experiences as technology professionals. Sheila Casey (@SheilaDCasey) from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State moderated the panel, and shared the impact that the TechWomen initiative has made to the overall growth of women in STEM worldwide. Additionally, program mentors and alumnae spoke about how TechWomen has made them more passionate about supporting global development of the field. Their collective advice to the audience was a fitting way end to the day at Technopark, and an excellent segue into the night’s networking event: foster entrepreneurship through collaboration, and pay it forward by mentoring fellow female professionals in STEM.
We also encourage you to read the following blog posts about the trip: