Hamdi Ahmed, a doctor of chemistry, is the founder and CEO of the Tunisian company, Ecomarc. After discovering the potential of nutrient-rich coffee grounds in cultivation, he decided to use them for mushroom growing. In 2018, he produced his first oyster mushrooms, with the plan to dehydrate them for sale.
Cultivated naturally without any pesticides or synthetic products, Ecomarc oyster mushrooms are distinguished by their freshness and quality. The company, which made its first sales in 2021, carries the slogan "Eat Clean".
Ecomarc is the first Tunisian company to use coffee grounds as a mushroom substrate. The company has even filed patents for this method. Its oyster mushrooms are sold in supermarkets and restaurants across the country, satisfying the taste of Tunisian consumers whose appetite for mushrooms is growing.
In September 2023, Ahmed was invited to take part in the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development's "Star Venture"(link is external) programme. This is an initiative that aims to identify high-potential start-ups and mobilize global expertise to support their operations and help them scale up.
Crucial support from Souk At-tanmia
Ecomarc also received a boost from the Souk At-tanmia programme*, an African Development Bank partnership that aims to foster entrepreneurship in North Africa. The programme had an electrifying impact on his company’s success, he says, which benefited from high-quality support, especially on how to survive the Covid-19 pandemic.
To control product quality, Ecomarc provides the mushroom substrate to partner mushroom growers in different regions and trains them in-house to ensure they deliver products that meet its quality standards.
Ecomarc now has six permanent and four temporary employees. Ahmed has big ambitions for his start-up. He is planning to double its number of staff in 2024 and is gearing up to launch in European and Middle Eastern markets. "Start small, but grow big," he says.
Ambition, ambition, ambition...
Why did he choose this business? "I don't come from a wealthy family and when I was young I think I showed that I was resourceful, finding ways of earning enough for my pocket money and my education. I found work every summer, all sorts of work from agriculture to IT, with a spell working in photography," he explains.
Ahmed believes there are several qualities required to be a good entrepreneur. The first is vision. The entrepreneur must be driven by a dream, a grand project, with specific objectives.
Next, is patience. "Entrepreneurs have to solve problems day by day, always remain positive, be in ‘solution mode’, while at the same time building each day the pillars that will determine our future success. This doesn't happen in a day. We have to persevere, to maintain our pace and take calculated risks," Ahmed says.
Finally, entrepreneurs need to show leadership. "They have to inspire, they have to be transparent, to work collegially, to listen and work as a team. Unless this attitude comes from the leader, it just won't work," he concludes.
www.ecomarc.tn(link is external)
*Hosted by the African Development Bank Group, Souk At-tanmia was established in 2012 to provide financing and support in the form of training, coaching, mentoring, market access services and networking for entrepreneurs. This programme, supported by the Bank Group and several partners, has directly helped nearly 800 business leaders in North Africa (Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia).
The Souk At-tanmia programme was followed in 2019 by EInA (Entrepreneurship Innovations and Advice – North Africa), a platform for entrepreneurship, innovation and consultancy for entrepreneurs in North Africa. EInA, which reinforces the achievements of Souk At-tanmia, has the goal of promoting, through operational innovations, public policies to support entrepreneurship and the creation of sustainable employment in North Africa.