women entrepreneurs

Meet the Founder: Znara Ahmed

The final member of our Female Founders Fellowship to be featured on our blog is Syrian artist Znara Ahmed, the founder of Sêv Gallery, an art gallery and center for art education. Learn more on Sêv Gallery’s Facebook page!

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Can you give a brief introduction about yourself?

My name is Znara Ahmed. I graduated from an art institute in Syria with a major in ceramics. I like all art, especially, of course, ceramics, but also painting, photography and art management.

In the past, I worked as part of the faculty at the Art Institute in Damascus. I have also participated in six  art shows between Erbil and Sulaimani, including one in partnership with Five One Labs. I have also worked as an executive manager at Kurdistan Little Village, a children’s learning center, where I supervised an art program.

My work in photography has included being a trainer in Terre des Hommes Italia, an NGO, and Goethe institute Germany. I have also worked with Save the Children. I also implemented a children’s TV program with ZaraTV, focused on claywork.‏ Last year I was part of the jury at the Rwanga Foundation.

‏Currently I work with freelance organizations as a ceramic and photography trainer, and I am currently working on opening my own gallery, called Sêv Gallery.

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

‏When I came to Erbil, I had a problem finding a place where I would enjoy my hobbies and my development. Additionally I observed the following:

  • There are very few cultural spaces in Erbil.

  • There are no galleries and only limited places for adults and children to learn creative arts, practice their hobbies, or appreciate art.

  • People seek out activities for their children, signing them up for summer school or sports activities. However, there are very few cultural activities for children.

  • Young adults do not have places to go after work to practice their hobbies and enjoy their time.

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

My main challenges include obtaining legal support and funding. I hope that the more I work on my business, the more people I will meet who are interested in my business and in potentially funding it.

What is your proudest moment/biggest achievement when it comes to your business?

The place, the vision of people they love and come as customers, the success of work and the most important team successful, because I believe the idea of the team .

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

It was a difficult experience because I came from Syria, so there were more challenges. I worked in teaching and administration, and then I moved to work with organizations as a trainer for ceramics and photography. I have clients and I have many paintings. I have also worked on the issue of logo and social  media for my business. I have some challenges in terms of licensing and financing. I am trying to solve them constantly. I try what benefited from the existing experiences around me.

How have you supported other women in your community?

I have trained many women in photography and ceramics to take a career in the future. Recently I have actively participated in the International Women's Day and I was invited three other women to participate. I have faith in the idea of women supporting other women.

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

For anyone who is planning to start their own business or project, they must first identify the following: the plan, the location, the target and beneficiaries. They must also evaluate and research similar projects and identify any weak point so they can overcome these in their own work. Do lots of research to identify the cost of starting a new project. Be sure to market and advertise your product. Finally, pay attention to the importance of leadership and be prepared to be flexible when managing staff.

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

I joined the program to gain experience from the trainers and the other women in the program, and to expand my network of relationships with people interested in this project. I wanted to understand how to solve the problems I face in my work and find solutions to them. Additionally, I wanted to meet with people who care about the implementation of this idea and receive their support.







Meet the Founder: Randi Barznji

Next up in our Meet the Founder series is Randi Barzinji, an entrepreneur who is making a big impact in the e-commerce world in the Kurdistan Region. Read about her journey and her business, shopyobrand, below!

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Can you give a brief introduction about yourself?

My name is Randi, I am an AUI-S business & MBA graduate originally from the city of Koya. Right now, I am also pursuing my Doctorate at Paris School of Business. This is my last year of research, and I can tell you it has been one eye-opening journey. I love the business world clearly, and I’d like to pass on my knowledge and experience to young people and my community in the future.

I have mostly worked in marketing and commercial with successful startups. First at X-FM radio station where they first started out, and later with Asia-Hawala, the first mobile money payment provider, for three years. Pretty soon after I wanted to pursue a DBA and do research on Kurdistan’s economy and where it can lead to, and I figured there is a lot of interest in the e-commerce world. So doing research and using so many platforms on a daily basis myself led me to this new path I am on today.

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

In February 2018 I started my own e-commerce website www.shopyobrand.com with little technical knowledge. But that didn’t matter as I had a precise idea in mind for a fun and easy online shopping experience for people in Kurdistan. I wanted to be professional enough to not only use social media platforms for an online business but also to have a creative platform. So since I love shopping myself, and I saw in Europe the excitement of receiving parcels and packages from these diverse online stores, I made shopyobrand.com. On my website, customers can order items and products from their favorite beauty, fashion, kids, home décor worldwide brands including Amazon! Soon local brands too. These orders can be made by just sending the link of the items from the original websites listed on shopyobrand.com already where they can click on the brand and get redirected to the brand’s original online store.

Payments are done from their home, and we have drivers in Erbil and Sulaymani to pick up their payments and hand them an invoice. Once they have signed, we make the orders and deliver it to their home in 2-3 weeks time.

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

Now, there are many challenges with having an online shopping site. Since my target is regular people who love shopping, there is not much familiarity with how online stores are used since it is done with a credit card. Besides reaching and gaining customers as a huge part of my daily activities in the business, I had to make sure people understand how this is done, and how to use the website. Therefore, educating and guiding customers was a big challenge. I had to make sure they find it easy and understand that this is a very easy tool for them to do their shopping from home, and have access to so many items that they can not find in the market at the moment.

So therefore, to address this challenge I made educational videos, and now I do daily updates on our social media platforms to communicate with our customers on how they can order online without a credit card.

What is your proudest moment/biggest achievement when it comes to your business?

My proudest moment was when people, especially my lady customers, fell in love with it and came back over and over again for more orders. Those customers have a special place. It is amazing to see them be so excited about their next purchase, and they make me be more ambitious about shopyobrand.com. It makes me think of the next idea and how I can provide them with more services and offers to add more value and importantly more excitement. It makes me proud to know that I started with no investment, no place but a passion. The proud moment was when we celebrated our one year anniversary. I realized they are part of the shopyobrand family, and feeling their support and presence makes me work harder to make this platform bigger and reach many others to be a huge success. I know now that it doesn’t matter where you start as long as you believe in it.

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

Starting a business in Kurdistan is not easy. It usually need a lot of money, investment and risk. Especially for a woman, since we are usually on our own and it needs time for others to believe our idea in a male-dominated community. However, my experience of starting shopyobrand.com in Kurdistan was not very difficult as I had and still have a vision for it, and I’m confident to where this can lead. It is a matter of knowing what your good at, to be willing to face the challenges with it. The difficult part for me is the regulations to having your own business here especially an online one. Since registering your company is a long process plus very costly. There is not a specific law for online businesses.

How have you supported other women in your community?

After I established this platform, I felt like many others felt like it is okay even if you have the highest degree to do something simple as long as you have the passion and love for it. It is great to do work and be an employee or do something because it pays a lot or it has a high value in the community. But on the other side, if you are not happy or satisfied, you can go for your business; this is what I like to encourage my women community for.

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

My advice will be to sit down for it. If you have a passion or a great idea that you have been having in mind for years. You can still be an employee but fulfill that dream or plan too. It is possible to start with less than 1000$. It is possible to start from scratch, and once you take these steps, there will be many other ways to add on to it slowly but progressively.

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

Last but not least, I joined the Female Founders Fellowship at Five One Labs because I wanted to meet people who could give me feedback, provide me tools of expanding my business and pass me knowledge to grow my business. I knew I needed help in terms of mentoring, a second and third eye to lay out my business strategies, challenges, activities and so many other things that I needed to keep this platform. I am still at an early stage of my business, but since I have joined Five one labs, I have my own co-working space, a mentor that I can communicate with and a lot of new visions that has added on to my idea. This is only the start, but my direction is heading towards a very fulfilling journey that I can later advice, lecture on to other woman starting their businesses.

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.

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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: Laylan Attar

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

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Can you give a brief introduction about yourself?

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

What is your business idea?

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

What challenges is your business addressing?

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

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

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

Can you tell us about your experience starting your business?

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

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

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

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

Why did you join the Five One Labs startup incubator?

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

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

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

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

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

My advice is:

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

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

  • Be positive. You will attract opportunities.

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

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

  • And plan ahead and have a vision.

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Meet the Founder: Znara Ahmed

In this week's "Meet the Founder" post, we are introducing Znara Ahmed, an artist and entrepreneur from Syria who is on a mission to spread art throughout Kurdistan. Znara participated in Five One Labs' Entrepreneur Academy, where she worked to launch her business -- a multipurpose art space that serves as a gallery and an art school.

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Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your business?

My name is Znara Ahmed. I graduated with an Art degree in Syria and my major was in ceramic. I like all art, especially, of course, ceramics, but also painting, photography and art management.

In the past, I worked as part of the faculty at the Art Institute in Damascus. I have also participated in three art shows in Erbil, including one in partnership with Five One Labs. Further, I have worked as an executive manager at Kurdistan Little Village, a children’s learning center, where I supervised an art program.

My work in photography has included being a trainer in Terre des Hommes Italia, an NGO, Goethe institute Germany. I have also worked with Save the Children. I also implemented a children’s TV program with ZaraTV, focused on claywork.

How did you get your idea or concept for the business?

As I have a strong background in the field, I came to realize there was a gap in Iraq generally when it came to art. This was the case in Kurdistan, especially as people often do not pay attention to the sector. This gave me the idea for my business.

What’s your business’s current mission?

I consider art to be the face of the community of any nation. It is important to advocate the sector. My business’s current mission is to create a place for children, youth and retired people to explore their creativity and develop their talent while in a gallery.

How did you break into the business world?

The idea of giving business a go first struck me after participating in a business module in the Five One Labs program through their Entrepreneur Academy. This motivated me to get started because from the program I had learned how to start a project, how to advertise and how to market a product. This coupled with my desire to share the experience I have and the opportunity to advocate the importance of integrating art into daily life inspired me to get started.

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

Anyone planning to start their own business or project, you must first identify the following: the plan, the location, the target and beneficiaries. They must also evaluate and research similar projects and identify any weak point so he/she can overcome these in their own work. Do lots of research to identify the cost of starting a new project. Be sure to market and advertise your product. Finally, pay attention to the importance of leadership and be prepared to be flexible when managing staff.

What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

The skills are: flexibility and the ability to make decisions; problem solving; leadership and management; and communication.

Describe your typical day.

My typical day is based on planning, taking time to focus and at the end of the day, considering the results of any achievements made.

What’s your favourite part of the work you do?

I like the endless creativity that can be found in art. I also love that it gives me the opportunity to share my experiences with others and learn how art affects their lives. Finally, it is always great to sell one of my pieces of art.

Do you feel you have faced any obstacles as a female entrepreneur and how have you overcome these?

In general, most females in the country face issues in being an entrepreneur. This is especially the case if you work in the art sector, which in itself is already challenging in Kurdistan. The way I overcome these challenges is by not letting myself be stopped by them and by focusing on how to be productive. I believe having a strong personality and faith behind your goal gives you the power to change the way others think.

How do you see the future of business and entrepreneurship for women?

I can see success. I also have high hopes for the future of handmade projects designed specifically by those who cannot read or write.

#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

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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