incubator

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!

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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!

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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: 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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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.  

The Middle East You Should Know: Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and More

"The feeling of going to work to solve problems is in my DNA - the things we are trying to solve now are not the same things we were tackling two or three years ago. That part of being an entrepreneur should never go away."

Photo cred: "the_dead_pixel"/Flickr

Photo cred: "the_dead_pixel"/Flickr

Ronaldo Mouchawar, quoted above, is a Syrian entrepreneur and one of the most well-known startup founders in the Middle East. In 2005, he launched Souq.com, which has quickly grown to be the largest online shopping sites in the region. Known as the “Amazon of the Middle East,” Souq.com is one of only two unicorns (with a valuation of over $1 billion) in the region, along with Careem, a ride-hailing app similar to Uber.

The Middle East has become known for a number of different things, but the region’s innovation and entrepreneurship have been largely overlooked. While Mouchawar is one of the most visible examples of successful entrepreneurship in the Middle East, he is definitely not alone. Entrepreneurial ecosystems are blossoming in every corner of the region, from the UAE to Lebanon and beyond. With its infamous youth bulge – around 65% of the population in the Middle East is under 30 – entrepreneurship could be an exciting path towards necessary job and opportunity creation in the region.  

In November, I attended Harvard Arab Weekend, a three-day conference following the newest trends and most influential people in the Arab World. The topic of the last day’s discussions? Entrepreneurship. From successful VC models (Wamda Capital, BECO Capital), to social enterprises (Nafham, RISE Egypt) to impressive new entrepreneurs, like Mohannad Arbaji of Chalk Talk, the day was a deep dive into the bustling startup scenes that are coming to life throughout the region. After having spent some time studying the Middle East’s entrepreneurial landscape, I was still surprised by the diverse initiatives I learned about.    

Take Amman, for example. Oasis500 is one of the largest tech incubators in the Middle East, providing aspiring entrepreneurs with bootcamps, mentorships, and accelerator programs to help them get their ideas of the ground. The Oasis500 platform has been so successful that it is expanding to other parts of the world, including India. In Cairo, an entrepreneurial hub has developed around the American University of Cairo’s old center-city campus, the Greek Campus, and now holds a yearly entrepreneurship summit called RiseUp. In Lebanon, the government has made entrepreneurship more attractive by issuing Circular 331, a stimulus package that has provided interest-free loans to banks to invest in startups.

Photo cred: Startup MENA/ Flickr

Photo cred: Startup MENA/ Flickr

What about in areas that are not quite so stable? Gaza Sky Geeks, a tech incubator based in Gaza, has over the past 6 years developed a strong entrepreneurial scene in arguably one of the hardest places in the world to start a business. With a number of their startups receiving seed investment from regional investors, its model proves that talented entrepreneurs, freelancers, and coders can thrive even in difficult economic and security contexts. Cactus, also in Palestine, serves women entrepreneurs who want to develop businesses in their regions. Their for-profit model allows them to sustainability serve their community, and empower women to become economically self-sufficient.

Finally, our team has been talking to a number of entrepreneurs based in Iraq, both in the Kurdistan Region and in Baghdad. We’ve been impressed by a number of individuals who have taken the lead in developing an active startup scene. One entrepreneur we spoke with, Marwan Jabbar, highlights these trends. Marwan is a prolific writer and self-described "entrepreneurial evangelist" who brought TechStars and Startup Weekend to Iraq. Recently he started working full time on his own startup – a grocery delivery service in Baghdad that has gained a lot of traction. By being active both with his own startup but also as a leader of the startup community in Baghdad, he has created the space for others to follow in his footsteps.

The moral of the story? With people like Marwan in the region, it’s easy to feel like the fun is just getting started.

Written by Alice Bosley. Please contact fikrahub@gmail.com with any questions or comments.