Meet the Founder: Shadia Babakr Rasul

Now that Ramadan has started, Shadia Rasul, the next entrepreneur featured in our Meet the Founder series, is hard at work preparing sweets from her shop in Ranya. Shadia is a member of our first cohort of women in our Female Founders Fellowship, where she is working to grow her business so that she can support more women in her home city by providing jobs in her shop.


Can you give a brief introduction about yourself?

My name is Shadia Babakr Rasul, and I am 31 years old. I graduated in 2012 as a mechanical engineer, and I am married and have one girl. I like teaching and have always wanted to  be a business trainer for girls and women, especially in my city, Ranya. I want be a businesswoman and have a big training center.

Can you tell us about your business? What inspired you to start it?

My business is producing sweets in a good and healthy way, namely making all types of cakes, including cake art, birthday cakes, party cakes and specialty cake. These cakes are unique and different than those in other bakeries. I now run a sweets factory in Ranya which sells and distributes sweets.

What are some of the challenges your business has faced and how have you addressed them?

At first, my challenges were that I didn’t have a place to work and didn’t have enough money to start. I always wanted to have a special place where women could make sweets and have a job because in Ranya, there weren’t many places to work. I started to think about how I could make a sweet factory. And while I liked my job, I didn’t have enough money to start, so I began my business at home. But now I have a shop that makes and sells sweets and thanks for God, I would now like to grow my business.

Why did you join the Five One Labs Female Founders Fellowship program?

Work and family and children are not barriers for learning. I have always loved both learning and teaching, and I participated in many courses about business and marketing. When I saw the Five One Labs Female Founders Fellowship, I applied, and when they called me I was happy and very interested in participating.

I thought that this would be the right place for me to grow my business, and in fact now I am growing with Five One Labs. They are helping, teaching, and supporting all the women and found us great mentorship.

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

When you have any idea you should have a plan in order to reach your objectives. The most important things are to believe in your idea and yourself and to do research before starting.

Images courtesy of Yalla Iraq.

Meet the Founder: Sawsan Malla

In this week’s Meet the Founder post, we are introducing you to Syrian artist Sawsan Malla, the first featured entrepreneur from our Female Founders Fellowship, a program geared towards growth-stage women entrepreneurs.

Stay tuned over the coming weeks to meet other member’s from Sawsan’s cohort!


Can you give a brief introduction about yourself?

I'm Sawsan Malla. I’m 26 years old and from Syria and currently live in Erbil. I studied at Al-Furat University in the College of Education, and I am an artist and founder of Ora Studio.

Can you tell us about your business? What inspired you to start it?

My business is about designing characters and creating illustrations, for example bookmarks, stickers and portraits. I also can create specific art based on people’s needs.

I was inspired to start this business because I am passionate about art, and my goal is to spread my artwork as much as possible so I can share it with others.

What are some of the challenges your business has faced and how have you addressed them?

My biggest challenge as a new person in this business is to prove myself because I don't have a strong network that could help me to become better known and have the opportunity to know more about art-related events. Funding for my business is also a challenge as I currently don't have enough financial support .

Can you tell us about your experience starting your business in Kurdistan?

It's something really great that I'm getting a new experience  with Five One Labs. I'm learning new things that could help me in my path way, and I'm finding it very exciting as I'm working on things that I'm really interested in. In addition, all the materials that I need for my art are available at Kurdistan.

How have you supported other women in your community ?

I do believe that women have their own existence in each community, and they can make a difference with their unlimited power. So, I would like to support all women to be independent, to follow their own dreams and to achieve their goals.

For me, I've helped my younger sister to improve herself in art and create her own crafts to start her own business when she get older.

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

My advice is :

  • you have to believe in yourself and your abilities.

  • read more about your business idea.

  • work on your weaknesses to improve it.

  • be positive.

  • get the inspiration from people who already have experience .

Why did you join the Female Founders Fellowship?

During my research on internet, I found Five One Labs and went through their website to find out more. My friends have given me great recommends about them, so I felt that it would be a great chance to join them and to be a part of their team. I'm thankful for this experience and all the knowledge that Five One Labs is giving me.

A selection of Sawsan’s most recent work.

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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Announcing Global Entrepreneurship Week!


At Five One Labs we encourage everyone to think about entrepreneurship, innovation and problem solving every day -- and night! But there is one special time of the year when people from countries across the world celebrate these topic together -- Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW)!

From November 12-17, 2018 Five One Labs, in partnership with the US Consulate General, Erbil, is proud to be hosting a series of events in Erbil and Sulaimani for GEW, and we invite you to celebrate with us! The goal of the events will be to expand the network of Iraqis and Syrians interested in startups; provide entrepreneurship best practices to those interested in learning more; and give young innovators the opportunity to meet and mingle with other like-minded individuals.

So where did Global Entrepreneurship Week come from? GEW was started by the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN), an organization that seeks to provide more cross-border entrepreneurship collaboration in order to make it easier for anyone who has a business idea to launch their own startup.

As part of this mission, GEN organizes GEW every November through a series of partners across 170 countries to celebrate innovation and inspire people like you to become entrepreneurs!

We hope that you’ll join us in this celebration! The schedule of events hosted by Five One Labs and partner organizations can be found below and on our Facebook page!

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Five One Labs’ Global Entrepreneurship Week events are kindly sponsored by the US Consulate General, Erbil.

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!

#GIRLPOWER: Expanding Tech and Entrepreneurship Opportunities for Women

“If women believe in themselves and have enough faith and confidence, they can not only be good at what they do but excel." - Safa Salwan
Photo by Re:Coded

Photo by Re:Coded

Global trends have shown that there is growing interest in STEM, but did you know that across the Arab world, women now earn more science degrees on a percentage basis than women in the United States? And in certain countries in the Middle East, like Jordan, girls have been outperforming boys in every subject?

In keeping with this trend, we want to ensure that young women in Iraq, particularly those who have been displaced, have had equal access to events and support that cultivate their creativity and encourages them to pursue innovative career options.

In partnership with Re:Coded, Zain Iraq, and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), we sought to do just that. In November, we hosted the Women in Tech and Entrepreneurship Summit at the Tech Hub in Erbil to bring together inspiring female leaders and innovators to explore opportunities for women in technology and entrepreneurship in Iraq. 

The participants had the opportunity to participate in one of two hands-on, crash-course workshops about coding and entrepreneurship and then listen to inspiring innovators and founders from Iraq talk about their careers.

Speakers included a leader from the refugee community who started her own business; Safa Salwan, Founder of Women Techmakers Baghdad; Ravan Al-Taie, Founder of The Book Cafe Erbil; and Ava Nadir, Head of Zain Kurdistan Marketing Communication and PR Department. The discussion revolved around important issues in Iraq, including the digital gender gap, opportunities and challenges in the tech and startup sectors in the country and the importance of role models to inspire more women to enter the world of technology and entrepreneurship.

Five One Labs and its partner organization hope to continue to encourage women in Iraq to excel by providing them with the support and resources that they need to succeed and by cultivating a community of like-minded women across Iraq. As  highlighted by Safa Salwan during the panel discussion, “If women believe in themselves and have enough faith and confidence, they can not only be good at what they do but excel".


Photo by Re:Coded

Photo by Re:Coded

Apply today for the Entrepreneur Academy!

Five One Labs is pleased to announce that we are launching the applications for our Entrepreneur Academy in Erbil, Iraq!

The Entrepreneur Academy is a training course that takes place every Sunday and Tuesday evenings (5:30-7:30pm) from December 3rd - February 6th. The Academy is a highly selective, focused, and energetic program for people who are planning to launch their own businesses or who have launched their business within the past year.


We are recruiting strong entrepreneurs from diverse communities including refugees, internally displaced people, and locals. If you are passionate about a startup idea and want to learn the skills to turn it into a business, this program is right for you!

The full two-month training program costs $250, however limited financial scholarships are available. SPECIAL PROMOTION: If you apply before November 7th, you get $100 off of the full price (if accepted). 

The application is here. Applications are due by Thursday, November 23 at 11:59pm.

Please read below to learn more about the program, the application process, and whether you are eligible to apply:

The Program

Five One Labs is a startup incubator in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) that aims to empower entrepreneurs to build successful businesses. We are launching a two-month Entrepreneur Academy for entrepreneurs, professionals and students from November 26-January 28. (The program will have a two week break from Dec 24-Jan 6).

The Entrepreneur Academy is a twice-a-week course that teaches you the skills to take your business from idea to launch. You understand your customers, define your value proposition, build out your business and financial models, and build and improve your prototype.

You will go through intensive business and entrepreneurship training, and will be connected with legal, marketing and other advice to help you think through your business. Winners of “competitions” throughout the program may be linked to world class mentors or provided additional support for launching their business. Finally, all Five One Labs entrepreneurs are welcomed into a community of likeminded entrepreneurs, both in their training and through optional networking events.


What Do You Get From Joining the Entrepreneur Academy

We want to give you the resources you need to grow your business. This could mean a number of things:

  • Practical training to help you learn the fundamentals of starting a business
  • Connections to the business community, investors, and champions
  • Connections to marketing, design, and technical advice as you develop your product or service
  • The full support of a world-class team of trainers, advisors, and friends at Five One Labs who will push for you to succeed
  • Access to social events and an entrepreneurial family to share the experience with!

Who is Eligible to Apply?

All Five One Labs entrepreneurs must be committed to attending the full two months of training (from December through early February). The training will be held on Sunday and Tuesday evening from 5:30-7:30pm.

The program will be held in English, so candidates must have good written and spoken English ability in order to apply. This means being able to converse easily and understand business terms.


  • Are an aspiring entrepreneur with a creative idea for a new business
  • Have strong self-motivation and professionalism
  • Possess a good level of English speaking and writing skills
  • Are willing to work with a diverse group of people in a multicultural environment
  • Are able to attend the incubator in-person in Erbil each Sunday and Tuesday from 5:30-7:30pm

Your business:

  • Is innovative and has a high chance for success
  • Has a scalable model for growth and income-generation
  • Is in the idea stage or  later of business development (ie, you already have a set plan and strategy, and just need to implement it)

Finally, we are looking for candidates from very diverse communities, including locals, refugees, and internally displaced people in Iraq. If you are not sure you are eligible or have any other questions, please email us at applications@fiveonelabs.org and we will respond immediately!

Program Cost

The cost of the program is $250. The cost will include two trainings per week for eight weeks (for a total of 16 training sessions), access to advisors and potential additional support, and individual advice from the Five One Labs training team during “Office Hours” every other week.

We welcome diversity in our program and encourage all individuals to apply. In order to ensure that those who are interested can participate, we have a limited number of scholarships available to cover some or all of the cost for entrepreneurs on a needs-based system. If you are not able to participate without financial support, you can apply for one of our scholarships using this link.

SPECIAL PROMOTION:  If you submit your application by the early deadline of Tuesday, November 7th at 11:59pm, the cost for you will only be $150! (Note: You still must be accepted to the program.)

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):

What is an incubator? An incubator is an organization that helps entrepreneurs start businesses. Incubators help entrepreneurs develop their business and solve problems they might face while launching.

What is an entrepreneur? An entrepreneur is someone who is starting a new business to solve a problem in a creative, innovative way.

What level of English is required? The program will be held entirely in English. This means that you have to be able to converse freely and to feel confident about presenting and pitching your startup idea in front of an audience in English. But don’t worry: there will be special sessions for startup, business and financial terminology as part of the training, and entrepreneurs will be encouraged to work together and help each other.

What if I don’t speak English? Don’t worry, we’ll be running Kurdish and Arabic programming in the Spring and next Fall!

What will our schedule be each week? Over the course of 8 weeks, there will be an curriculum that will cover topics related to launching a businesses, such as customer discovery, defining your value proposition, building business and financial models, and strategy, among others.

There will be two training sessions per week at the Five One Labs coworking space in Erbil, along with opportunities to put into practice what you learn and to get feedback from your trainers. Over the course of the incubator there will be a few sessions of office hours with the trainer, who will be available to answer any questions you may have about the topics covered or the development of our business.

Five One Labs Welcomes First Cohort of Entrepreneurs!

The Five One Labs entrepreneurs in their coworking space in Erbil, Iraq.

The Five One Labs entrepreneurs in their coworking space in Erbil, Iraq.

Five One Labs is proud to welcome the inaugural cohort of entrepreneurs to the Five One Labs Startup Incubator!

On October 22nd, Five One Labs accepted 9 innovative, early stage startups to our startup incubator. The entrepreneurs will be working full-time over the next three months to go through customer research, prototyping of ideas, and finally to launch their businesses in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

Over the past months, we’ve been doing intensive recruitment to find the best and brightest young entrepreneurs around the region. The entrepreneurs that were chosen are young men and women from diverse backgrounds and communities – from Mosul, Ramadi, Baghdad, Sulaimani and beyond. We have four female-led startups and six startups led by entrepreneurs who are currently or have been displaced.

The three month, full-time incubator provides Five One Labs entrepreneurs with intensive training, mentorship from experts, office space in the Tech Hub in Erbil (sponsored by Zain Telecoms), and connections to a broad network of likeminded entrepreneurs and innovators in the region. At the end of the three months, the entrepreneurs will compete for seed funding of up to $15,000.


The startup ideas are aimed at solving diverse challenges in Iraq, including education, 21st Century skills for youth, and facilitating communication during conflict. Our entrepreneurs are running healthcare, fashion, technology and virtual reality businesses. Check back here often to read more about how they are progressing over the next three months.

Join us in welcoming our new entrepreneurs!