27 New Business Ideas for the Southern Mediterranean Region

autarky-magazine

#1

As usual when visiting a place for a bit longer, I have more business ideas than I could possibly use. So I’ll offload them here, and leave it to you to find anything of value in there :smile:

This time, the ideas are for the Southern Mediterranean region, otherwise often called the “MENA region”. If you’re interested in even more ideas, have a look at my previous list: Seventy-One New Business Ideas for Nepal.

Note that my inspirations are largely from our project in Sidi Kaouki (Southern Morocco, right at the Atlantic coast) and our various activities in Medenine (interior Southern Tunisia), attracted by @Yosser’s space OurGhema.

The List

(1) Colorful pavement blocks from recycled plastic

We had an issue in Sidi Kaouki: there was no trash collection, so lots of plastic was laying around. However, the plastic can also be collected from the beach, informal trash yards, the roadside etc. and used as a raw material.

The idea to utilize the plastic must be able to deal with large amounts of mixed plastic with little worktime, so the Precious Plastic machines are not that suitable. But how about this:

Roughly clean and sort the plastic (by type and color), grind it, mix it with bright beach sand, and bake or extrude it into pavement blocks of about 20×10×10 cm. They will all have slightly different colors due to the different plastic mix in each, letting people create nice colorful courtyards etc…

(2) Digital mapping service for businesses etc.

This is about “putting you city on the digital map”, by collecting, digitizing and updating information about businesses, tourist attractions etc… There are various ways to run this as a business, for example: “entry is free, update costs money”.

With @yosser and @zmorda we’re in the initial phases of organizing this in Medenine, and we also have a technical manual for it.

(3) Producing water filters for the home from clay

(4) Low-cost solar desalinators for the home

Coastal regions around the Mediterranean sea have access to a lot of seawater and sunshine, which they can be used to distill water for drinking, gardening etc… I have not yet seen any homes using low-tech solar stills there, so here is that idea.

For instructions, see for example the booklet “Simple Solar Still for the Production of Distilled Water” (1965, 9 pages). The device described there can produce ca. 3 l per day with an area of 120×50 cm.

(5) Custom stone structures from interlocking CNC cut stones

This is a potentially unrealistic idea to make use of the enormous amounts of natural stones lying around in arid and wind-eroded areas.

It starts with creating a 3D CAD design of a structure one wants to build, and that can use all kinds of fancy shapes. The computer will then calculate what stone blocks would be needed to build this; these would be both cuboid blocks and those in irregular shapes for vaults, adjacent to vaults etc…

Then, there would be a 5-axis CNC controlled tool with a large diamond cutting blade, cooled with water. Such a blade needs way less machine complexity than a water jet cutter, and allows to create shapes (like zig-zag cross-section grooves) that are not possible with a waterjet. The maintenance and replacement costs will be similar to that of a waterjet cutter after finding the best supplier for the blades (probably a Chinese manufacturer) and ordering large volumes at once directly from the factory.

The machine will then scan a boulder / natural stone put inside, calculate what to use it for, and cut that shape out of it. It would engrave numbers on all its faces; each number is used on one face each of two stones only, telling to connect these faces when building the structure. This way, the structure / building is simple to assemble: make a foundation, start with the first stone, and connect the other stones as told by the face numbers.

(6) Weather resistant bicycles for coastal regions

Bicycles really suffer in salty air, but that can be minimized: use only aluminium, use a rubber belt instead of a chain etc…

(7) Date coffee for the international market

You should talk to @islem about this, it’s actually her idea :slight_smile:

(8) Surf boards made from recycled plastic

Surfboards have to be made with foam on the inside, but this could perhaps be produced with thermoplastic that is mixed with baking powder (or another gasing agent ) and then heated.

(9) Trash collection robot for beaches

(10) Silent vertical wind generators for rooftops

There is a lot of strong, consistent wind on the Moroccan Atlantic coast. And while they are starting to build large wind turbines now (for example around Essaouira), houses don’t use wind power yet.

However, since the wind is so strong and consistent, even small wind turbines could be economical in these places (which they are not in a lot of other places).

To make a small wind turbine as unobtrusive as possible for use in settlements, it should cast no changing shadows and visually not change colors when rotating. Some types of vertical wind turbines fulfill these criteria.

(11) Retrofit insulation for houses from recycled plastic

The plastic would be extruded into fine fibers. Plastic fibers are used as insulation in sleeping bags, so it should work for homes, too.

And it’s not only about keeping the warmth in, more about keeping the heat out during the summer.

(12) Solar room heating

When it’s getting cold in rural Morocco, people burn wood. However, the sky is usually clear in winter, so on most days rooms could be heated by having large thermal solar collectors outside.

If necessary, a heat storage that covers a few days could be added.

(13) Soilmaking

Collect kitchen trash and any other biodegradable trash from cities, compost it, and mix the compost with sand, crushed stone, wood ash or whatever else it needs to become fertile soil.

Many areas in windy southern Morocco are heavily eroded, which means, in need of new soil. In the coastal areas, agriculture would be pretty well possible if there would be soil (and if it would be properly protected from the wind by permanent vegetation, i.e. using permaculture).

(14) Wiki for government processes

Government processes in Morocco were quite obscure and it was difficult to find out what to do at all to (for example) extend a visa or legalize a rent contract. Probably it is similar in Tunisia, Egypt etc…

This is an opportunity for a startup: document the processes in a wiki-style website, perhaps funded by a Patreon user base (that can include supporters from institutions and government).

There was a very interesting initiative like that in Nepal at one time, called NaliBeli.

(15) Custom small wooden boxes

Made-to-order website for furniture, for flightcases, for custom hydraulic hoses etc. are are regular sight in Europe now.

However, there is nothing yet for small custom boxes, for example made from wood, with various inner compartments as needed for the instruments or objects to store.

That’s a business opportunity for areas in the Southern Mediterranean region that have skilled carpenters, such as Essaouira, Morocco, and its surrounding villages.

A startup would set up a website with an online configurator to collect the orders, and forward them to the craftspeople (for example by handing them an automatically printed blueprint in 1:1 size). Then the startup comes back later, purchases the object, and sells it with a surplus to the original customer in Europe. This needs direct parcel shipment, obviously.

In addition to wood, alternative materials are acrylic, glass and various plastic sheet materials.

(16) PET greenhouse

PET seems quite UV resistant and is certainly more wind resistant than the PE film used for polytunnel greenhouses. So there should be a way to connect shingles made from PET bottles together to create sturdy greenhouses.

(17) Plastic floor and wall tiles

Made from recycled plastic. With nice textures by mixing different colors.

See the similar idea “(1) Colorful pavement blocks from recycled plastic” above.

(18) Building blocks made from natural stones encased in plastic

The stone will show on both sides of the wall, but the other sides are made even by molding plastic around the stone (and through it, by drilling 20-30 mm holes through it before). The plastic case will have interlocking elements like LEGO.

With these building blocks, buildings, garden walls etc. can be built quite easily, and even in a re-configurable way. The plastic is of course made from waste plastic.

(19) Art broker

There are quite several artists in Morocco who remain quite poor because they are not connected to enough paying customers.

There is an opportunity for a startup that would offer works of local artists on the Internet, manage the sales and shipment, and collect a fee for that service.

(20) Night bus service with beds

A new and comfortable travel option that does not yet exist. In the absence of long-distance railways, it would allow a new, climate-friendly alternative to air travel. For example “Essaouira to Tangier” in one day.

(21) Vehicle mounted machine to produce gravel and interlocking pavement blocks

People would just feed in stones they find in the local area onto a conveyor belt. The machine analyzes them (hardness, 3D scan) and where possible cuts a pavement block from them. Where that is not possible, the stone is made into gravel; the same is done with all cut-offs. The machine would be mounted on a truck, for example a small container on a pickup truck.

Such a machine is able to produce everything needed to make a street. Gravel would be produced in two or three different types of coarseness, as needed for a streets. The machine would move along slowly, leaving a complete street behind.

(22) Biogas plants

No need for distributing LPG bottles anymore.

(23) Unbreakable bicycles and a mobile bicycle workshop

In villages, even getting a bicycles repaired is difficult as there is often no local bicycle workshop. So in rural Morocco, everyone drives around on broken bicycles, or rides a donkey.

Making or upgrading bicycles in a way so they don’t break would fix most of that. An off-road truck that visits villages twice a year and carries a mobile bicycle workshop would fix the rest.

Unbreakable bicycles would have to include unbreakable bicycle lighting (made from 3D printed, open source parts) and thorn resistant bicycle tires (already existing as “touring tires”, but there should be a way to make these cheaper).

(24) Stone collection tools

In arid or wind-eroded areas in the Southern Mediterranean region, there are a gazillion stones lying on each field, in various sizes from ca. 1 to 30 cm. “Harvesting” them would yield a great raw material for gravel, sand and for stone cutting and masonry. However, collecting them by hand is probably less efficient than having a quarry and would not be done.

As a solution, a robot could collect them. Or (more realistically) tools for people that make it more efficient to collect these stones, such as grippers for large stones, a collection stick for small stones and an electrical, off-road wheel barrow that can carry 250 kg of stones even on a sandy path.

(25) Stone slicer for building stone walls

A machine that would slice natural stones and boulders into standard thicknesses (2 cm, 4 cm, 8 cm, 16 cm) and optionally also cut them to a standard depth. Another machine would create grooves on the flat top and bottom surfaces of these stone slices, allowing mortar to stick to them properly or even to simply glue them together with no need for mortar (using a zigzag groove pattern with narrow tolerances).

This will result in nice-looking stone walls as their outer surface is still looking like natural stone. The inner surface will be either cut (good inside homes for cleanliness) or also natural. The walls will have a more orderly look though as the stones are laid in layers, and they will be faster to build.

(26) Water delivery robot

Many villages have one or a few wells in this area. The government is trying to connect households to water supply, but this is a challenge and quite expensive.

Given the current advancements in self-driving vehicles etc., another solution seems possible and could be more economical: a self-driving water delivery robot. It would move slowly (ca. 6 km/h) and only at night (to be most safe for others), and would be electrically operated to not annoy people. It would carry 2000 - 4000 l of water at once, visit pre-mapped refill tubes of houses and pump water into each until the tank of the house is full again.

(27) Hill gardening robot

In Morocco and Tunisia, there is quite some land on hills that could in principle be farmed, but is difficult to do. In Asia and Southern America, terracing has been done in such cases (also for erosion protection).

But there might be another option now: a robot that can drive on two narrow footpaths at once, one uphill and one 2-6 m downhill. The two parts of the farming robot would be connected with a beam that holds the farming tool attachments which can move along the beam.

Of course, the question is still how to deal with soil erosion in such a setup.


#2

@matthias this is stupendous! A very generous offer coming out of your time in Tunisia and Morocco . My fingers are crossed that some of them are able to move to the next stages. Thank you :seedling: