Meet the Founder: Azhar Almadani

In this "Meet the Founder" post, we are introducing Azhar Almadani, the founder of Shiffer, a peer-to-peer logistics service platform for express shipping with minimal cost and faster transit time. Azhar participated in the Five One Labs Startup Bootcamp in Erbil in May.

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Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your business?

I was born and grew up in Syria. After my graduation from Civil Engineering college at Damascus University in 2012, I left it. After that, I visited many countries to start my new life (Malaysia, the UAE, Egypt and Jordan), but Erbil was always the best. Because of this I have now lived in Erbil, Kurdistan Region, Iraq since 2013. Currently, I am studying a Supply Chain Management MicroMasters at MITx through the EDX platform. I am doing this on a scholarship from the Al Ghurair Foundation for Education. I am also interested in data analysis, therefore I have also started studying a Microsoft professional program in data science. So far, I have completed two out of nine courses.

In September 2017, I started thinking about the problems related to Syrian express shipping. This led me to my business “Shiffer”, a peer-to-peer logistics service platform for express shipping with minimal cost and faster transit time. It is an online platform on the internet, on Android and iOS. Senders apply online with their contact details, shipment weight and type and request delivery time and origin and delivery address.

Our algorithm that matches the sender and the passenger generates the recommended cost of shipping depending on the global express shipping. After the approval, Shiffer manages the transaction between the two sides from picking up the shipment to deliver it to the receiving point.

How did you get your idea or concept for the business?

From my time as a Syrian immigrant, the cost of express shipping of documents, passports and proof of residence to Syria was high. My average yearly spend reached up to $180. On one day, I paid over $150 for a single paper to be sent. Also, the transit time is long, taking over 15 days to cities like Aleppo and Hama that are far away from Damascus. This is incredibly hard for each Syrian family, who will pay at least $55 for a single shipment. This is equal to more than half the wages of a Syrian employee. This led me to the concept of “Shiffer”.

Shiffer Logo

What was your mission at the outset? Has this mission changed?

When I started Shiffer, I was thinking of building a constant connection between the sender and their parcel so that they could monitor their shipment directly. Our primary goal was to make the system more accessible to Syrian immigrants.

Today, we now have our business up and running. We get a lot of advice from mentors and investors, allowing us to work independently and make changes in our business model. In the future, we are looking to build trust between the peers and protect them against any illegal transactions. Also, we are aiming to provide insurance on all our shipments. In particular, we want to ensure that the system is accessible for all developing and emerging countries. We aim to do this in the way we have designed our platform. We have used blockchain technology to give a 100% discount to all refugees in the world. Further to this, we also collaborate with the UNHCR in our work.

How did you break into the business world?

We participated in the Jusoor Entrepreneurship Boot Camp 2018 in Beirut. They pushed us to take the first step and make my business idea a reality. Following this we participated in the Five One Labs Boot Camp in Erbil in May 2018. They provided us with help and support to develop our business and grow on an international scale.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to start their own business or project?

First, he must ask himself, does his business find a solution or need to a real problem in his community? Second, he should not delay his project, and get the confidence to start it as soon as possible with the right and good team.

What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

  1. Being patient to face the problem and keep the hope to achieve his business idea.
  2. Being a good listener so that he can take on board a lot of advice to ensure his business is suited to his customer.
  3. Being an analytical thinker because the job of an entrepreneur is to find a solution to a problem. As such, he needs to analyze everything in his surroundings to find the right solution.

Describe your typical day.

Since March, I have been working full time at Shiffer. I wake up at 9am and first check my email and entrepreneurial news from around the world. After that, I start work. At 4pm I take a break. At 7pm, I start up again on my laptop and study the online course I am taking until I have completed my daily study plan. Over the last few weeks, I have also spent my mornings seeking a new job, as our Shiffer alpha version is now complete and we are going to launch it soon.

What’s your favorite part of the work you do?

Shiffer is logistics platform, the content of it is related directly to my masters degree in Supply Chain Management and has given me the opportunity to apply what I learnt then to my startup. In addition, my work allows me to provide a solution to and help people in my country.

Can you tell us about your personal experience of business and trade?

I grew up in a Syrian business family. A lot of my family members work in investment, the industrial sector and trade. In particular, my father was a businessman. When I was a child, I would spend a lot of time in his office. This developed my skill set before I went on to start my degree.

After five years of studying the field at university, I started a job as a project engineer and managing director for an Emirati construction company in Iraq. This gave me enough information and experience to found a new business and also provided me with connections and networking skills. During this work, I completed many projects in Kurdistan. The most important of them was the Grand Millennium Hotel Sulaimani (Shary Jwan). After this, I opened my own personal engineering office in Baxitiary, Erbil. Then I worked part time as a sales manager for a building materials factory in Erbil for four months.

Meet the Founder: Ghareba Hussein

The final member of our first startup incubator is Ghareba Hussein, founder of Nûjîn, a premier locally-made fashion brand for children in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI).

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Can you give a brief introduction about yourself?

I am Ghareba , a young entrepreneur. I have a combination of 8 years of education in Turkey and Kurdistan. I graduated from Duhok Polytechnic University with a specialization in building and construction in 2014. I have worked in many different fields.

What is your business idea?

What I am interested in is creating a brand of locally-produced children's clothing, and I am doing my best to make my dream come true.  As nothing is easy at the beginning, I faced many challenges, but there is nothing that we can not overcome if we really go for what we want with a deep passion. 

Why did you join the Five One Labs startup incubator?

I joined the Five One Labs incubator because it was a big opportunity for me to make my dream come true, so I couldn't miss such a great chance.

What progress have you made since you started the incubator two months ago?

When I joined Five One Labs I did not have a clear vision for my business. I felt that it was just my dream rather than a business idea, but now I have a clear vision about what I have to do in order to achieve my goal. Now, I am doing my business and feel so happy about it.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to start their own business or project?

My advice to everyone who wants to start their own business is to do something that is a real dream for them. If it's not something they have always dreamed about, they will give up when they face a small challenge, and business life is full of challenges, full of up and downs.

And another piece of advice: learn from your mistakes. When something goes wrong you may feel bad about it, but do not stop and think about your mistake. Think about how you can correct it, even when you think you are about to lose your mind.

NEVER, EVER give up! Impossible is just a word. You have to be really passionate about what you want!

To learn more about Nûjîn, visit their Facebook page and Instagram page!

A selection of designs from Nûjîn's first collection. 

Meet the Founder: Fatima Mohammad

The next entrepreneur in our "Meet the Founder" series is Fatima Mohammad, who has launched Tech Teens, a coding school for kids!

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Can you give a brief introduction about yourself ?

My name is Fatima Mohammad. I'm a clinical pharmacist in my past life. I was born in Kuwait but I am originally from Basrah in the deep south of Iraq. I studied Pharmacy in Baghdad and I worked as a clinical pharmacist for the past 15 years. I was displaced from Basrah to Fallujah. I lived in Fallujah for three years. When the war started, I fled with my family to Erbil when ISIS occupied the city. I took a coding boot camp last year and I joined Five One Labs in Nov. I am still with them.

What is your business idea?

I'm starting Tech Teens, a coding academy to teach teens aged from 13 to 17 programming and coding to create their own game and website in a simple fun way. That will be in a great, safe environment under the supervision of specialized trainers.

What challenges are you addressing?

Tech Teens addressing a number of challenges. First, teens don’t have fun ways to learn the most recent skills (like coding). Our kids are not updated with what is happening in the world. Coding is the future all developed countries are heading towards in programming. Our teens don't know about that and they are way behind.

Second, parents are missing a safe place for their teenagers to learn new skills. Some of these parents work long hours away from their kids. They want the best for their kids. They know that their kids spend long hours on their smart devices without learning something new and useful. They are certain that their kids are talented and smart but they don't know how to utilize their skills. 

Finally, our schools don’t provide special creative activities for students.

Why did you join the Five One Labs startup incubator?

I took a coding boot camp last year and I met Alice (the co-founder of Five One Labs) during that. After the boot camp, I learned how much coding is important. How programming changes your life and changes the way you solve problems and design thinking. I wanted to teach our kids all that. It will improve their future and will create a better career for them. It's important to start from that early age.

So I decided to start a coding academy to teach teens coding. I did not know how to begin and from where. I did not know how to do it and to succeed in that. At that time, a friend who worked with Five One Labs invited me to join the incubator. I was so excited when I learned about what Five One Labs is offering. I knew and I was sure that they will help me and they will make my dream comes true. So I decided to join them right away.

What progress have you made since you started the incubator two months ago?

I made a lot of progress in my business the last two months. I interviewed a lot of people, including parents, teachers in schools and teens. I learned a lot about my customers. I learned how to start up my project step by step. I made two prototypes. It was amazing to see how ,y classes would look like. I learned how to have a good financial plan and how to have a future vision for my business. I can see it becoming real day by day.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to start their own business or project?

My advice to anyone stating his/her project is that if you really want to start a business, get rid of every reason that makes you think that you can't start one. Your idea should solve a problem rather than to sell a product or a service. Opening your own business is often a learn-as-you-go process. But, the more smart decisions you make early on, the better chance your project has for success. Listen to what others have to say—friends, family, experts, even yourself. Don’t ignore the power of advice from experts and business owners. They know what does and doesn’t work. Smart entrepreneurs learn from the mistakes other business owners have made.

To learn more about Tech Teens, visit their website and Facebook page!

Meet the Founder: Muataz Aziz

Our first entrepreneur of the week in our "Meet the Founder" series is Muataz Aziz, a member of our first incubator cohort who has launched an ed-tech platform in Iraq called Almadrasa!

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Can you give a brief introduction about yourself?

I am Muataz Aziz, CEO, and Founder of Almadrasa (which means "school" in Arabic). I have always been interested in education, and because of conflicts I was displaced multiple times and I had to study in four different universities in four different cities and countries until I obtained my bachelor's degree.

I am an architectural engineer, software developer, and graphic designer. I started my journey with entrepreneurship in Startup Weekend Erbil 2016 when my idea won a jury prize.

What is your business idea?

Almadrasa is an educational technology company that enables students to access education remotely through an online platform. This platform provides high-quality and affordable educational courses based on the Iraqi curriculum from the Iraqi Ministry of Education that are interactive, practical and fun!

What problems are you solving?

The formal education system in Iraq is getting worse after every war and after every conflict. Until it is now one of the worst education systems in the world quantitatively and qualitatively according to international reports and indicators. Iraq needs to build about 9,000 schools to fill current needs. Overcrowded schools, inadequate infrastructure, low attendance and so many other problems lead to the inability of teachers to complete the curriculum and the inability of the students to understand the subjects relying just on the schools.

Because of these challenges, students have to pay exorbitant fees to afford private courses. From my perspective, I find a great business opportunity because of high demand. According to students, about 70% of students enroll in high-cost private courses to succeed and complete their education and get seats in  universities.

On the other hand, most of the displaced have no chance of education and the poor can't pay for these courses, which deprives them of the opportunity to learn. This leads higher illiteracy and dropout rates, which casts a shadow over the entire society through the increase of drug abusers, drinkers and smokers among adolescents, which thus increases the rates of murder, crime and participation in armed groups. Education is important, but at a certain point in life, education is everything, at least as an important means of development and prosperity.

Why did you join the Five One Labs startup incubator?

I had the opportunity to meet the Five One Labs team a year ago when I was studying programming with Re:Coded. From then on, Five One Labs made every effort to provide all kinds of help and support. Even though I had a winning idea in startup weekend Erbil and I had the skills of innovation, creativity, and methodical thinking, I needed experienced professionals who could provide me with the knowledge and strategies that enable me to move between all stages of the project, (from start to market entry) and then achieve profits according to a solid methodology. 

Five One Labs did this by providing me the proper training; connecting me with successful people all over the world in different fields related to my business; providing financial support to test the project; and providing follow-up support. For me, Five One Labs is one of the best business incubators, if not the best, at least that I know.

What progress have you made since you started the incubator two months ago?

I was able to make progress on the programming of the platform. I also created a marketing strategy and established the marketing streams to reach the targeted people. I got the electronic payment methods and the recorded lessons of the first subject. I also went to schools to conduct research about the problems that students suffered, and later I went to test the prototype with the targeted students and got the feedback. I developed my presentations and I was able to achieve a quantum leap in my pitch performance.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to start business or project?

Whoever wants to start a business is brave and has a certain gene that makes him/her one of the few in the world. The rapid and unstudied start ends with rapid failure, so you should do  research on all aspects of your project, ask specialists, develop a plan and strategy for your business, join a business incubator if possible, or enroll in online courses to gain the knowledge that able you to build your decisions based on concrete facts.

You need to work a lot, be patient, think efficiently, be flexible in change and firm in making decisions. You should know that the probability of failure is greater than success but the right steps will certainly lead to success. START TODAY and do not hesitate.


To learn more about Almadrasa, visit them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Telegram.

Meet the Founder: Hero Salih

Next up in our "Meet the Founder" series is Hero Salih, who is starting Helana Hub, a center for students in Sulaimani. 

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Can you give a brief introduction about yourself ?

My name is Hero Salih. I’m the founder and CEO of Helana Hub. I’m also interested in painting and always want to make it green.

What is your business idea?

From my point of view I came up with an idea to open a wonderful place for students to get rest and relax while they are studying. We are going to set up a hub for the students where they can find reliable resources, books, and any other related sources that students needs during their studying time. It is aiming to fill the gap that students have in this community. We provide comfortable hub and snacks.

What challenges are you addressing?

The main segment that Helana is targeting is students. From our interviews and surveys we have discovered a number of main challenges that students are facing, such as having high prices which are not affordable and a lack of school supplies. Cafes are often crowded and smoky, which does not allow them to concentrate on their studying. Helana is seeking to address these challenges by having a talented and hard-working team to facilitate the school life of these students.

Why did you join the Five One Labs startup incubator?  

My reason for joining the Five One Labs startup incubator is because I see this as the place that I need to start-up my business.

What progress have you made since you started the incubator two months ago?

Since I started I have made enough progress to start pursuing what I want to do. I have prepared a draft budget plan, improved my start up procedures and learned where to start to set up my businesses. I found out about the challenges and how to tackle with them, learned about the needs of our targeted customers and how to improve business models as well.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to start their own business or project?

My advice would be never be afraid of starting up, do what you want to achieve. As Will Smith said, "If you want to something, go get it. Period." Never let anyone or anything keep you away from what you are dreaming of.


A sampling of treats available for students at Helana Hub

To learn more about Helana, visit the Hub's Facebook page!

Meet the Founder: Ali Alrawi

The third profile in our "Meet the Founder" series is Ali Alrawi, a member of our first incubator cohort and founder of Software You Need.

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Can you give a brief introduction about yourself?

My name is Ali and I am from Ramadi, Iraq. I graduated from Al-Anbar University in 2006 and I have a degree in Chemistry. Since my childhood, I have been passionate about sciences and learning. In 2012, I decided to learn how to code by taking free online tutorials to learn a long list of programming languages. Once I felt that I became more experienced and more professional I decided to start my own business.

What is your business idea?

Software You Need (SYN) is a new company that creates and design software solutions to improve the business efficiency in Iraq. We target small- and medium-sized enterprises and new startup companies. We provide competitively prized and high-quality customized, fast-delivered and cross-platform solutions for companies to improve their business efficiency.

What challenges are you addressing?

There is now a lack of companies that provide the flexibility to create software applications that fit the customer needs. Old technologies and techniques are still used to create software solutions in Iraq. We are committed to improving our customers' business performance by delivering the following:  

  1.  Business software solutions that include customer-specific features designed around current and future business practices
  2. Software that is portable across multiple platforms (Apple, Microsoft, Linux and/or  Android, Apple).
  3. Faster and more effectively solutions than the customer’s in-house development 
  4. Lower cost to the customer current methods

Why did you join the Five One Labs startup incubator?

I joined Five One Labs incubator to empower my business skills and to meet people from different cultures to exchange knowledge.

What progress have you made since you started the incubator two months ago?

In the last two months I researched the market, identified my goals and my customer archetype, and served three clients.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to start their own business or project?

I advise any entrepreneur to have the team that will help overcome the obstacles and hardships they might face. 


To learn more about Software You Need, visit their website and Facebook page!

Meet the Founder: Narin Sabah

Part two of our "Meet the Founder" series is with Narin Sabah, a member of our inaugural startup incubator cohort who is starting the Development and Peace Analysis Center in Erbil. 

Can you give a brief introduction about yourself? 

My name is Narin Sabah, and I am the founder of Development and Peace Analysis Center (DPAC) in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). Besides being an entrepreneur, I also have experience in teaching conversational English to non-native English speakers. Teaching students has been a reason to why I have become passionate about learning more about human behavior and how they react in different settings. 

What is your business idea?

DPAC strives to ameliorate tensions and misconceptions that exist among the various social groups in society. Additionally, it seeks to provide professional development that will serve as a guide in helping to create a more collaborative and peaceful society.  DPAC is committed to helping to create a dedicated and passionate generation for better life opportunities, and to achieve a more prosperous and peaceful region. 

What challenges are you addressing?

DPAC is seeking to discover ways to help create a better and more productive work force and better living conditions for the generation to come. Thus the Center devotes efforts to improving the quality of life of the citizens of the KRI by raising awareness of peace building and nonviolence, primary research training as well as peace and development research.

Why did you join the Five One Labs startup incubator?  

Great friends encouraged me to take part in Five One Labs which I came to see as an opportunity for me to start on something new, explore and test my limits.

What progress have you made since you started the incubator two months ago?

I have been able to better identify the purpose of my business and as how I could better relate to it. Beside the unforgettable entrepreneur experience, it taught me an important lesson: you have to earn your own success; nobody will create it for you. 

What advice do you have for someone who wants to start their own business or project?

Based on my own experience, the advice I would give is "listen". The world gives you the answers, just listen.


To learn more about the Development and Peace Analysis Center, visit their website!

Meet the Founder: Kosha Hussain

Ahead of our first Demo Day in February, we would like to introduce you to the seven wonderful entrepreneurs in our first incubator cohort in Erbil. First up is Kosha Hussain, founder of Mirsha Media 360!

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Can you give a brief introduction about yourself?

My name is Kosha Hussain and I'm the founder and CEO of Mirsha Media. I'm also an art curator and tech and astronomy geek; I'm colorblind and can say thank you in over 30 languages.

What is your business idea? 

From a holistic point of view, Mirsha Media is a creative agency built for the digital world. We provide innovative marketing and communications solutions ranging from social media management to content creation using cutting edge mediums such as 360° content and virtual and augmented reality experiences.

The company is based around the intersection between technology, media, communications and art. The business ethos upholds an interdisciplinary mindset with a talented team driven by a thirst for creative problem solving while having fun at the same time. The core values of empathy, integrity, and high-fives are what drive Mirsha Media to greatness.

What problems are you solving?

One of the sectors we are aiming for is NGOs and charities. From our research we have identified three main challenges this sector faces: firstly in fundraising, secondly in amplifying their communications and thirdly in resources. Mirsha Media targets these challenges and tackles them through innovative and captivating storytelling using low-cost and high-impact social media strategies and digital campaigns devised by a talented and smart-working team who love the job.

Why did you join the Five One Labs startup incubator?  

I joined the Five One Labs startup incubator because I knew this is what I needed to kick-start my business out here.

What progress have you made since you started the incubator two months ago?

Since starting I have made enough pivots to finally find the path I want to pursue. I have developed a company culture, business ethos, first draft of a budget plan, acquired leads, built and deployed prototype products, formed customer surveys, outlined customer journeys, planned a launch event, built a website, grown a team and learnt from many mini mistakes along the way!

What advice do you have for someone who wants to start business or project?

As Richard Branson says, "screw it, let's do it!" It's never too late to start. Don't let anything or anyone hold you back. Be ready to do away with your Netflix binges. Have a vision and reverse engineer it. Try to minimize regret for when you're too old to work. Just go for it!


To learn more about Mirsha Media, visit their website and follow the company on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube!