startup

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.

Building an Online Pharmacy Delivery Service

Five One Labs Entrepreneur Interview

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Understanding the background, passions and motivations of the entrepreneurs we work with at Five One Labs is one of the best parts of running our incubator! In this post we introduce you to a team of stellar entrepreneurs (Peru, Ali and Halbast) who participated in our recent Startup Bootcamp. They are working to develop an online pharmacy delivery service and sat down with us to tell us a bit more about themselves and their work!

Q: What is your personal background ?

Peru: My name is Peru. I am studying Information Technology as a  major and business administration as a minor at the American University of Iraq - Sulaimani (AUIS). As a young woman, I am always seeking to have my own business in the future. I started my first step by participating in the Startup Bootcamp where I learned how to improve and find out the strengths and the weaknesses of my idea. 

Q: How did your team come together?

Peru: Since we are a group of three students in two different majors, IT and business at AUIS, we decided to create a business idea which connects both fields together. Because of the fact that we were always interested in participating or volunteering in different events inside and outside the university, we decided to visit Hawler (Erbil) when the event was shared on the Five One Labs Facebook page. Then, the details of our idea were developed during the two days training at the MSelect office. 

Q: What is your teams professional and personal background? 

Peru: My team members are both students studying Business Administration at the American University of Iraq. They  are really hard working people and interested in getting new experiences and spreading new ideas in the community. 

Q: How did your idea come about? What problem are you solving?

Ali: Almost about 10 years ago, I was home all alone with a child who had a chronic lung disease. We were running out of his asthma spray. Back then, I had no clue how to handle the situation. The child was too young to be left alone, and I was too young to drive. Luckily, our neighbor saved his life. Imagine, if that did not happen. I remember when my mother came back home, she said something that initiated the idea in my mind. "I wish there were a home delivery medicine," she said. I introduced the idea to my colleagues, and we developed it along with our survey that we made with pharmacists and patients. We found out not only the patients have problems getting their medicine but also the pharmacists. 

With this online system, we are trying to make our system more efficient and less time consuming for pharmacists to take their medicine on time and with no confusion or misunderstanding that might happen during their order. Having data bases between the pharmacists and the drug store owners will reduce this confusion. 

Q: Why is this pharmacy service important in Kurdistan? 

Ali: This pharmacy service is significantly important in the Kurdistan region because our old system of receiving medicine from the drug stores is very time consuming. This online system will help pharmacists get their order to their pharmacy faster with less misunderstanding. Also, this online system will help our patients get their medicine from the closest pharmacy next to their location. Pharmacists can also deliver some of the medicine to the patients as long as they are approved on the website that they are not addictive, such as Panadol.

Q: How did you find out about Five One Labs? 

Peru: I found out about Five One Labs before I participate in the Startup Boot Camps event, which was shared on Facebook page. A couple days before that, Five One Labs arranged a similar event at the AUIS, and I have heard new related ideas and experiences from my friends who joined the event. Therefore, we need more events like these in the future to improve youth's abilities in the Kurdistan Region. 

Q: How has Five One Labs helped you improve your idea and business? 

Peru: Before I participate in the Startup Boot Camps, it was like a dream to imagine having my own business as a woman. I am so grateful to be part of the Five One Labs and appreciate their great efforts to progress our business ideas. It taught me not only to think differently but also to analyze my dream from the base of nothing to design plans, find solutions to the problems, creat business models, prototypes, pitch, and finally following the paths on succeeding my business. Since I was introduced to great minded people including, mentors, judges, and volunteers, it encouraged me to keep in touch with them and share future projects with them. Above all, these would never be happened without the supports of the Five One Labs.

Q: How is it being a young woman entrepreneur in Kurdistan? 

Peru: In the Kurdistan Region, there are fewer opportunities for women to open their own businesses compared to men, and this is mostly because of either the culture, gender inequality, or women's responsibilities at home. Therefore, to be a young woman entrepreneur in Kurdistan has a special value to me because it gives me enough courage to turn my dreams into reality at an early age, and it expands my expectations to become what I desire as a woman.

Above all, I was always passionate about helping other women to overcome their fear of success, always appreciate and remember their achievements to make a change in their lives and fight for what they want. Therefore, it was a great opportunity to introduce to different great minded people turning my potential abilities into performance and placing confidence in me to continue pursuing my goals and solve major problems in the community.

"To be a young woman entrepreneur in Kurdistan has a special value to me because it gives me enough courage to turn my dreams into reality at an early age, and it expands my expectations to become what I desire as a woman." - Peru, online pharmacy co-founder

Q: What would you say to people in America who are skeptical about entrepreneurship in Kurdistan? 

Peru: It is true we won’t stop at a place but we will keep on improving on our path to being one of the best.

Q: Why are you interested in entrepreneurship? Why is entrepreneurship so important?

Halbast: Entrepreneurship is very important in my country as it can be used as a weapon to fight back against the backward system we are used to, as it also helps the economic growth.

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Startup Bootcamp: Meet Erbil's Newest Entrepreneurs

Five One Labs is proud to announce Erbil's newest batch of entrepreneurs, fresh off their first Startup Bootcamp! 

Last weekend, forty incredible young entrepreneurs gathered in Erbil to learn the skills and mindsets of entrepreneurship and to take their startups from idea to reality. As part of Five One Labs’ first Startup Bootcamp, these 12 startup teams interviewed customers, brainstormed creative solutions, built prototypes, and pitched in front of a panel of esteemed judges. They even managed to squeeze in some fun into the schedule!

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The forty participants were chosen from over great 90 applicants. These impressive participants came from all over the region: some were from Erbil and Sulaimani in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, while others were displaced from Southern Iraq or Syria.

The startup ideas were as diverse as the participants. Ideas ranged from a taxi-hailing app that would provide safe taxi rides for women or the elderly; a gaming site in Kurdish and Arabic, designers or writers; and an event-planning service that ensured conferences and other events were environmentally sustainable. Other ideas included a platform to connect pharmacies with patients that allowed medicine deliveries even in the middle of the night. Entrepreneurs aimed to solve societal problems, generate impact, and fill gaps in the market.

At the end of the first day, entrepreneurs had an opportunity to meet with mentors – entrepreneurial professionals in Erbil – to discuss their business model and get advice. At the end of the second day, the entrepreneurs met with their mentors again to practice their pitch before the final competition.

Finally, after two days of hard work, the teams pitched their startups in front of a panel of impressive judges, including a local entrepreneur as well as representatives from the US Consulate General in Erbil, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani. Teams showed their prototypes and explained their business models and opportunities for growth.

So, who were the winning teams? The first place team was “Virtual Teacher” – a virtual reality startup that is building an educational game to teach refugees and IDP’s in Iraq the local language. Second place went to “On Time, Under Budget,” a platform to connect freelancers with organizations in need of short term design or coding skills. And third place went to a startup that will build beautiful, low-cost furniture out of recycled shipping materials.

Congratulations to all of Startup Bootcamp participants! Keep an eye out for more videos and interviews with our participants in the coming weeks, and check out our Facebook page for more photos! 

Interested in joining a Startup Bootcamp? The next one will be in mid-September in Erbil!