entrepreneurship

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

You:

  • 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.

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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!

Revolutionizing Advertising in Kurdistan

Interview with Hallo Sagrma, Co-Founder of Indigo

This week we wanted to introduce you a wonderful entrepreneur from Kurdistan, Hallo Sagrma, the co-founder of Indigo, an advertising and marketing company based in Suleimani. We were fortunate to get to learn about how he founded and grew Indigo and hear what advice Hallo has for young entrepreneurs in the region. 

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Q: What made you decide to launch a company in Sulaimani? How did your journey begin?

A: From an early age, I enjoyed the idea of having my own business but due to numerous factors, never quite made the jump. I started my working life at 15 and worked many jobs until the age of 27. I left a job at that time to take a short break to reconsider the direction I was heading in life. I knew that I needed a lot more say and control over my working life and discussed this with a like-minded friend. We spent much time together discussing what we could embark on together and as a result became business partners.

Our first venture was a small dessert shop in a mall. For me, this was the stepping-stone to bigger and greater things and the confidence and lessons gained were instrumental in our success today. Unfortunately, the shop didn’t quite work out the way we had envisioned and so we agreed to call it a day and we were back thinking of other ideas.

It was at this point that my business partner, Heja, suggested that we set up a marketing company due to the emergence of new businesses and a booming economy in Kurdistan. Despite no experience in this field or in the running of a company such as this, I said yes.

Q: What makes Indigo different from other companies? What have you done to intentionally make it stand out vs what differed on its own?

A: What makes Indigo different from others is our thirst to innovate and our determination to take the lead in our field. We set a target at Indigo when we started to own a large market share of the advertising sector within 5 years and we actually achieved this in 3. We continue to thrive to become pioneers and lead the way in this industry and this is evident by the new billboards we have introduced to the city.

In addition, the style in which we work differs from most other companies. The working environment at Indigo encourages a strong team spirit by supporting and encouraging the creativity of our employees. Our employees know that they are valued as their suggestions and ideas are always welcome. This hub of positive creativity has resulted in our employees being incredibly enthusiastic, imaginative and loyal.

Q: How did you know that a new type of marketing (ie, guerrilla campaigns, bus stop advertisements, etc) would work in the context of the Kurdistan Region? How did you brainstorm these kinds of ideas? 

A: To be honest, we did not know that such a business would work in Kurdistan. However, we believed it was worth the risk finding out. We were hungry to own something of our own rather than be a middle man. That is how the bus stops came into being. Heja and I sat down and brainstormed a number of ideas and spent many hours researching what would best fit in with Indigo’s already established aims. Eventually, we decided to pursue the idea of bus stops.

With guerrilla advertising, we wanted to be able to provide an extra service that was not common and that would set us apart from others. For example, Indigo was the first company to place a car on the rooftop of a building in Suleimani as part of a very successful marketing campaign.

Q: What would you recommend other startups do to differentiate themselves from others in Kurdistan, like you have?

A: Fundamentally, I would have to say that when you make the decision to commit, you must wholeheartedly commit 110%. This tenacity will instantly set you apart from others. Furthermore, I would strongly recommend thoroughly researching the industry you plan to go into so that you are as prepared as possible. And of course, always offer the best service as quality is key.

Q: What is the best part about being an entrepreneur in Kurdistan? How did you take advantage of working in your specific environment?

The best part for me is the ability to make decisions that can have an impact on everyday life and businesses in this relatively new market. If I want to introduce new ideas and concepts to this region, I have the power and freedom to make it happen and the results are noticeable within a relatively short period of time. That gives me great satisfaction.

Q: What is the biggest challenge you faced in starting up your business, and what is the biggest challenge you face today? Do you have general or specific suggestions for how entrepreneurs should approach common challenges?

A: Cash flow! My biggest challenge to date is cash flow. The most challenging aspect of my role is ensuring that there is enough cash in the business at the end of each month. There are things I have identified throughout my career to improve on with regards to managing cash flow. Having a good relationship with suppliers is one of them as it is vital.

Furthermore, I would strongly advise anyone intending on setting up a business to look painstakingly at all the relevant legislation and regulations concerning your chosen industry so that you don’t get hit with any nasty surprises in the future. The better equipped you are with regards to this knowledge, the better the decision making process will be.

Q: What strategies do you have to make your team more productive and creative?

It is really important to me to allow my team as much freedom as possible. I do this by creating a working environment whereby they feel confident to express themselves and are encouraged to contribute new ideas and concepts to help us grow as a company, together. I see Indigo as a family and within our family everyone is valued as they play an important role in our success.

Q:  Are there any last things you would say to those reading this article, either in Kurdistan, or the rest of the world?

A: Ideas are plenty and an idea is essentially just an idea. It is the people behind the idea who cultivate it into something great. It is fundamental to have a great team around you and that you urge them to be as involved as possible. I believe this is why we have enjoyed working with such an honest, committed and talented group of individuals, both past and present, who have been united in championing our common goals and have subsequently enabled our success.

Fall Incubator Cohort Application

Now Launching: Applications for Our Fall Cohort!

DEADLINE EXTENDED: OCTOBER 5th
Due to the referendum, we have extended the deadline for applications until Thursday, October 5th. Apply Today

Five One Labs is pleased to announce that we are launching the applications for our first three-month startup cohort in Erbil, Iraq, which will begin on October 22nd. We are recruiting strong entrepreneurs from diverse communities including refugees, internally displaced people, and locals. If you are passionate about a startup idea and are motivated to make it a reality, this program is right for you!

The application is open here. Applications are due by Sunday, October 1 at 11:59pm. 

(As the application is fairly long, we've also uploaded the questions in a PDF here so that you can draft your answers before officially applying online.)

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 . Our first incubator program will be held in downtown Erbil, Iraq from October 22 - February 1st.

The Five One Labs incubator is a three-month long program to take your startup business from idea to launch. Over three months, we help you understand your customers, define your value proposition, build out your business and financial model, and build and improve your prototype. Our goal is to help you get your first customers or your first investors by the end of the program.

Five One Labs entrepreneurs are enrolled and welcomed into a community of likeminded entrepreneurs. You will go through intensive business and entrepreneurship training; will be linked with mentors in the US and Middle East; and will be provided with business support – including legal, marketing and other support. At the end of the three-month program, you will have the opportunity to compete for seed funding for your business. At least three startups will receive funding at the end of the program, and we will try to help every business launch successfully.

What Do You Get From Joining Five One Labs?

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
  • A small need-based stipend to cover transportation and food during the program
  • A modern, hi-tech office space where you and your team can work
  • Connections to the business community, investors, and champions
  • Entrepreneurial mentors from the US and from the Middle East who can coach you through the challenges you will face
  • Legal support on registering and running a business
  • Marketing, design, and technical support 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
  • The possibility to participate in pitch competitions throughout the incubator
  • 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 focusing full-time on starting their business over the three months (from October through January). The expectations are that the team will come to the co-working space every day of the week and treat this as their job.

If you are enrolled full-time school or university that has courses during the week, or if you have a full-time job, you will not be eligible to apply for our incubator. Don’t worry, we will be holding other short-term trainings or bootcamps for you!

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.

In addition, we strongly prefer teams over individuals, as we believe teams will be more successful in overcoming diverse challenges. Note: if you are applying as a team, each team member should submit a separate application. The information about the start up idea can be the same in the applications of team members.

You:

  • 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 Erbil full-time

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 (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!

As the application is fairly long, we've created a PDF of the questions so that you can draft your answers before applying online.

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 if we are applying as a team? That’s great! Teams which work well together are more resilient and resourceful. We accept teams of up to 4 people. Each member of your team must complete a separate application form (the information about the startup idea can be the same in all applications). In addition, all team members must be able to commit full-time.

What does full-time mean? Our expectation is that aspiring entrepreneurs would work on their startup ideas as if it were their job. That means coming to the co-working space every day of the week, and participating in trainings, conferences, pitch competitions and social events.

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!

How much does the incubator program cost? The program is free, so there is no cost for entrepreneurs to participate.

What will our schedule be each week? Over the course of 12 weeks, there will be an entire 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 to three 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 mentors.

Each week, you’ll also have office hours with our trainer, who will be available to answer any questions you may have about that week’s training or the development of our business. During the rest of the week, you will be in the co-working space putting your new skills to use, or out doing market research or customers with the other start-up teams who will all be developing their business idea.