Meet the Founder: Saman Karim

For all of our football fan readers, you are in luck! This “Meet the Founder” post features Saman Karim, Sulaimani’s premier football manager who is working on launching a football academy!


Can you give a brief introduction about yourself?

My name is Saman Karim, and I am from Sulaimani province in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. I'm a former football player and manager.

What is your business idea?

My business idea is to create a soccer academy for our region because we currently don't have an academy anywhere in Iraq that can create professional soccer players. In addition to the academy, we have also created an agency to represent these professional players.

What challenges is your business addressing?

The challenge we have is that we need investors to build this academy and to represent players. Most of the talented players in our region come from poor or low-income families and don't have enough money to participate in trial play and showcases that they may want to attend in neighboring countries.

Can you tell us about your experience starting your business?

We conducted research about our project with a population of 950 men of every age in Sulaimani, and 97% of them felt positively about the need to build this academy for our region. More than 60% of them are ready to pay more than $2500 every year, and through our calculation we can derive benefit from our academy without selling any players.

Why did you join the Five One Labs startup incubator?

I joined the Five One Labs incubator because of my trust in them. I knew they would do their best to make our dreams come true.

What progress have you made on your business since joining the incubator?

We participated in a trial play in Turkey for 15 days with two players, and now we want to send a talented player to Spain for a club in division 5. However, this participation has been slow because of the costs associated with this, and so often players don’t participate in large numbers.

What advice do you have for someone trying to start their own project/business?

Don't give up and stay focused. If you slow down along the way, don't give up. Someday you will get what you want.

Meet the Founder: Sozan Khalil

This week’s featured entrepreneur, Sozan, is passionate about engineering and agriculture and has combined these two interests to launch Sarbany Sawz, Sulaimani’s first green roofing company!


Can you give a brief introduction about yourself?

My name is Sozan. I was born and live in Sulaimani. I am a civil engineer, and I have four years experience in the field of construction.

What is your business idea?

I have experience in construction and my business idea, which is “living roof” or green roofing, is also related to that field. I want to encourage and help people to use the extra area in their houses and buildings, which is their roof, and make it green to have their own green area and plant vegetables. We are using a system which consists of many layers to protect the roof and plants, and this is an engineering system used by many countries in the world.

What challenges is your business addressing?

There are many challenges can be addressed for living roof. First, as land continues to be replaced with impervious surface due to population growth and urbanization, air pollution and temperature increase in cities, so the necessity to recover green space is becoming increasingly critical. Additionally, lack of green space affects people mentally and physically. According to the World Health Organization, nine out of ten people breathe polluted air in the world, and this kills seven million people every year.

Second, the lack of green space and soil cause stormwater runoff (flooding) during heavy raining, which results in water pollution in the cities because  a large amount of rain water goes to sewer system.

Third, people in the Kurdistan Region don't have access to organic vegetables, and they don't have enough space in their houses to grow them even though many people are passionate about having the ability to grow their own produce.

Finally, the roofs of most houses in the Kurdistan Region are not insulated well, and people spend a lot of money on electricity and fuel to keep their homes warm in winter and cold in summer.

All these problems and more can be solved by having a living roof.

Can you tell us about your experience starting your business?

Starting anything in life is kind of difficult, and if it's a business it is much more difficult. Starting a business is full of responsibility, but it's not impossible if you have passion about what you are doing. I faced many challenges and problems, some of which I could handle easily but others were not easy, and I still face obstacles.

Despite these difficulties, launching my own business has given me a lot of enjoyment because I have been working on something I truly believe in and am passionate about. It taught me many things that I could never get if I wasn't in a business. It made me stronger knowing all those wonderful friends who supported each other all the time.

What advice do you have for someone trying to start their own business?

If you have an idea that you truly believe in and are passionate about, and you know it can solve people's problems, then you have enough reason to start your own business.

Do not only work for money or think that there is someone who needs your product or service. Do not expect that it will be easy. While some things are uphill, they are worthwhile. Your passion and enthusiasm will push you to overcome any obstacle and difficulty that comes to you.

Why did you join the Five One Labs startup incubator?

I always had the dream to not work for others but to instead work for myself, as we already used our roofs for planting vegetables, and I saw that other people did the same but not in a professional engineering way. Because of this, I thought that it would be great if I could help people use their roofs for green area, but I didn't know how to do it.

When my friend told me about Five One Labs, and I looked at their Facebook page and website, I saw how they are doing their job in a very professional way and helped many other people. I thought it would be great opportunity if I could participate in this program, so directly I applied, hoping I would be accepted. And here I am, about to start my own business.

What progress have you made on your business since joining the incubator?

Before I joined the incubator, I didn't know anything about business, how to start, and what processes I should follow for starting a business. Five One Labs taught us everything necessary related to business and introduced us many business owners so that we could get benefit from their experience. I learned everything necessary to start my business, and I worked on my business a lot, l did market research, finished my business model, finished my prototype and my financial plan for the next three years, among other things.

Meet the Founder: Laylan Attar

This week’s featured founder is Laylan Attar, who is launching Dada, Sulaimani’s first babysitting app!


Can you give a brief introduction about yourself?

My name is Laylan and I am 28 years old, a graduate with IT degree and Business administration as minor. I am also a mother of wonderful little girl who was born in January. I was born in Baghdad and lived there for 17 years, but I am originally from Sulaimani where I’m currently settled. My husband Botan Burhan is also my partner. He is 30 years old, from Sulaimani and an IT graduate with a concentration in web technologies.

What is your business idea?

I joined Five One Labs with a business idea that came out of a personal need for a babysitting service that connects parents with babysitters to watch their children for a temporary time.

What challenges is your business addressing?

My business addresses a number of challenges. For working parents, once they have children and build their family, they often have to give up their jobs opportunities or their social life. Additionally, children need love and care but also need their parents to be sane and happy.

This babysitting solution gives peace of mind for the parents and the quality time for their children. It is for children between ages 1 to 12 years and is flexible, affordable and safe.

This service helps in making a healthier family environment and creating job opportunities for qualified babysitters who love spending time with children. It is the first organized platform in Sulaimani.

Can you tell us about your experience starting your business?

Starting my own business required persistence and ambition and a desire to truly want to start this solution and to believe in it.

Since I joined the incubator, it was a very rewarding experience. It prepared me through the guidance of the trainers, and the mentorship that I received from very intelligent and experienced mentor Caroline, made the process possible. Also, the environment of being surrounded by wonderful entrepreneurs encouraged me to think that nothing is impossible. Three months of training, meeting businessmen and women, meeting inspiring speakers and sharing great resources all prepared me to be in that world mentally and physically.

We started with brainstorming ideas among the entrepreneurs and then testing the idea by interviewing people in the market related to my segment. We then built and tested a prototype, which was the best step before launching the business idea. Finally we approached customers, built a marketing strategy, budgeted, and answered legal questions.

When my first customer tried the service, it was full of remarks and feedback. It only meant that no matter how prepared I was, there is still a lot to be improved. When it is your business idea, you will take care of it as if it’s your own little baby. So I will always take care of my little baby to be a matured premier service in the market.

Why did you join the Five One Labs startup incubator?

It was always my dream to bring a change and be the manager of my own. I always thought I needed experience and education to start my own business. But knowing there is such a place as Five One Labs, which required nothing from the participants but an idea, gave me a new hope. So I joined the incubator with an idea  and now im wrong, it mostly required the belief to be the manager of my own and run my own business.

What progress have you made on your business since joining the incubator?

To be remembered: My friend once told me that her daughter’s pediatrician's wife was looking for a solution as she has children and needed someone to watch them. Then my friend told her about my solution. Accidently, she was one of the people that I interviewed randomly during the testing phase in the market. She remembered my name and my solution positively which is a great opportunity for a potential clients.

Progress I made during the incubator included networking; testing my business idea by running a couple of babysitting sessions and getting reviews and feedback from them; finding new potential babysitters; finding training programs for the babysitters; and starting the legal process.

What advice do you have for someone trying to start their own project/business?

My advice is:

  • Never ever start a business idea without testing the need for it in the market.

  • Have a strong instinct and believe in yourself when everyone else against you.

  • Be positive. You will attract opportunities.

  • Read a lot and be aware of what’s going on around you.

  • It is a lot of work, sacrifice and responsibility so be prepared.

  • And plan ahead and have a vision.

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Meet the Founder: Sirwan Ezaddin

In this week's "Meet the Founder" post, we are introducing Sirwan Ezaddin, an entrepreneur who graduated from our first incubator cohort in Sulaimani in December 2018. Sirwan is the founder of Gas App, an online platform that helps you order gas, water, and fuel in a smarter, faster and more efficient way.


Can you give a brief introduction of yourself?

My name is Sirwan Ezaddin. I was born in Salahaddin, and spent much of my life traveling throughout Iraq and Kurdistan. I currently live in Sulaimani city with my wife and two children. I graduated from Kirkuk University with a degree in Computer Science. I have 10 years of experience in IT specializing in client support as a supervisor.

What is your business idea?

The idea for the project came while I was sitting in my garden with my family. Every day as we would sit under the sun, we were disrupted by loud music from the gas trucks. Every five minutes a new truck came, blasting its music. All I wanted was to sit in peace with my family.

What challenges does your business address?

The more I looked into this problem, the more I realized that the issue was much bigger than I had anticipated. Not only do the gas customers find the noise disturbing, but the gas suppliers disliked the method, too! It turns out that this approach of selling gas was inefficient and wasted many resources. Suppliers wasted time and fuel searching aimlessly for customers while customers in other parts of the city weren’t being reached. I knew this was a problem that millions of people were facing, so I chose to create Gas App.

Gas App is an online platform that helps you order gas, water, and fuel in a smarter, faster and more efficient way by connecting customers and suppliers. The app has many features that allow you to manage your orders, track your usage, and contact an after sales service representative. Because of the growing access to mobile phones and internet connection, this is a much better system than the current method of purchasing these items.

Why did you join the Five One Labs incubator?

I chose Five One Labs because I needed someone to guide me in my first steps as an entrepreneur. I knew I could do it but I wasn’t sure where to start. Five One Labs helped me open a new door in my life.

What progress have you made on your business since joining the incubator?

Over the past four months, I worked every day on my project. I learned how to conduct market research, develop my strategy, and build and test various prototypes. I was able to pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses of my personal leadership style and develop myself as a professional.  Through the program, I was put into contact with organizations such as the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) along with other successful businesses. This was a great help to keep me continuously working on my project and growing as an entrepreneur.

What advice do you have for someone trying to start their own project/business?

If I could give advice to an aspiring entrepreneur, it would be to take risks. I took a big risk when I chose to leave my job and become an entrepreneur. I want to encourage them to take the risk too and start their own business so that they can be free to think and build how they want.

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Hello Sulaimani: Our Fall 2018 Cohort of Startups!

After the successful completion of our Startup Incubator in Erbil last year, we are thrilled to welcome our newest cohort of startups to our Incubator in Sulaimani.

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With the hope to find innovative and passionate entrepreneurs, we have spent the past few months recruiting a diverse group of entrepreneurs from all over Iraq. During this process, we evaluated over 165 candidates, conducted many hours of interviews, and hosted nearly 30 entrepreneurs at our Innovation Hub for an intensive boot camp. We are happy to say that our rigorous recruitment process has paid off!

On September 23rd, 2018 we had the pleasure to welcome 17 new entrepreneurs to our Five One Labs community. These entrepreneurs come from a variety of backgrounds and industries ranging from technology to agriculture. With 7 female led startups and 8 entrepreneurs who have been displaced, we ensure that all members of the community feel welcome at Five One Labs.

During the three month incubator program, our entrepreneurs will be provided with intensive training, experienced mentors, and a collaborative workspace. They have access to a wealth or resources and industry experts to guide them on their journey as young entrepreneurs.

Every component of the program is designed to give Five One Labs entrepreneurs realistic and hands-on experience to prepare them for actually running a business. Through this approach, entrepreneurs learn hard business skills, effective leadership skills, and design training.  After the completion of the program, entrepreneurs will use their new business knowledge and skills to compete for up to $15,000 worth of seed funding to launch their businesses.

Not only are Five One Labs entrepreneurs interested in building up the economy in Iraq, they are also focused on building a strong sense of community. Our entrepreneurs are working to solve real life problems that people face on a daily basis.  This includes access to life saving medical information, products and services that promote healthy lifestyles, and technology that will bring quality education to those who need it most (to name a few).

We are so proud to welcome these new entrepreneurs!

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.

Download the app here!


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”.

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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).


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!


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!