“Looking back, I can hardly imagine what my life would have been like if I hadn’t decided to become an entrepreneur.”
Salma Louati graduated from Sfax’s National School of Engineering (ENIS) in 2013 with a degree in civil engineering. Despite her strong educational background, she had a hard time finding a job. After searching for three years in the private and public sectors, Salma decided to step out of her comfort zone and launch her own business.
Her first step was to enroll in a Ministry of Equipment and Habitat program designed to help young engineers develop their own enterprises. Through the program, Salma gained experience in highway and road repair and maintenance. She secured a loan from BTS and in 2016 she launched her business, STP: Salma Travaux Publics.
“At first, it felt strange to be the only female entrepreneur in the field of road maintenance in Sfax, but my determination and passion for my job made me adapt quickly,” Salma explains. She was concerned, however, that she lacked the management experience and the networks she needed to access new markets. Despite her hard work, Salma was struggling and could hardly pay back her loan.
“As I was experiencing financial problems and a growing concern about the sustainability of my business, I was introduced to the director of the TAMSS Sfax WES in STEM center, Dalel Krichen. She told me about the different services WES offers women entrepreneurs in STEM to help them launch and consolidate their businesses. I knew that was exactly what I needed.”
Salma was eager to join the WES-UP initiative, but because of financial constraints she faced, she could not afford to pay even the low cost of the fees. Knowing how motivated Salma was to become a successful entrepreneur, the TAMSS Sfax WES in STEM center found a scholarship for her to join the WES-UP accelerator and business growth initiative.
New horizons opened up for Salma when she started participating in the training and coaching with the WES team. “I have learned more in the last three months in the WES in STEM center than I have learned in the past four years,” Salma shared. The business plan workshop was most interesting to me because it enabled me to know where I was heading and the different steps I should take to ensure the sustainability of my business.”
One of Salma’s biggest concerns was that her pricing was not competitive enough. The WES center team supported her to set more competitive prices by lowering her charges and trying to improve her technical processes. Since then, Salma has been able to win a contract with one of the biggest firms in the field in Sfax. She will be signing the contract in a few days and feels she owes this success to the support she got from WES.
Salma is also building her professional network. Two weeks after she enrolled in WES-UP, she presented her business to the governor of Sfax as part of an exhibition to introduce the WES in STEM center “I can’t believe I was selected to have lunch with the Prime Minister of Tunisia and talk about my work; I was thrilled!”
As part of the action plan Salma has developed with WES-UP, she feels she has at least three key milestones she wants to accomplish in the short-term: sign the new business contract, recruit a new worker by next month, and buy new equipment.
The journey is just beginning for Salma. She feels confident about the future and she knows she is supported by WES-UP.
Dalel Krichen is the Director of the TAMSS Sfax WES in STEM center, located in Sfax, Tunisia.