Meet the Founder: Sirwan Ezaddin

In this week's "Meet the Founder" post, we are introducing Sirwan Ezaddin, an entrepreneur who graduated from our first incubator cohort in Sulaimani in December 2018. Sirwan is the founder of Gas App, an online platform that helps you order gas, water, and fuel in a smarter, faster and more efficient way.


Can you give a brief introduction of yourself?

My name is Sirwan Ezaddin. I was born in Salahaddin, and spent much of my life traveling throughout Iraq and Kurdistan. I currently live in Sulaimani city with my wife and two children. I graduated from Kirkuk University with a degree in Computer Science. I have 10 years of experience in IT specializing in client support as a supervisor.

What is your business idea?

The idea for the project came while I was sitting in my garden with my family. Every day as we would sit under the sun, we were disrupted by loud music from the gas trucks. Every five minutes a new truck came, blasting its music. All I wanted was to sit in peace with my family.

What challenges does your business address?

The more I looked into this problem, the more I realized that the issue was much bigger than I had anticipated. Not only do the gas customers find the noise disturbing, but the gas suppliers disliked the method, too! It turns out that this approach of selling gas was inefficient and wasted many resources. Suppliers wasted time and fuel searching aimlessly for customers while customers in other parts of the city weren’t being reached. I knew this was a problem that millions of people were facing, so I chose to create Gas App.

Gas App is an online platform that helps you order gas, water, and fuel in a smarter, faster and more efficient way by connecting customers and suppliers. The app has many features that allow you to manage your orders, track your usage, and contact an after sales service representative. Because of the growing access to mobile phones and internet connection, this is a much better system than the current method of purchasing these items.

Why did you join the Five One Labs incubator?

I chose Five One Labs because I needed someone to guide me in my first steps as an entrepreneur. I knew I could do it but I wasn’t sure where to start. Five One Labs helped me open a new door in my life.

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

Over the past four months, I worked every day on my project. I learned how to conduct market research, develop my strategy, and build and test various prototypes. I was able to pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses of my personal leadership style and develop myself as a professional.  Through the program, I was put into contact with organizations such as the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) along with other successful businesses. This was a great help to keep me continuously working on my project and growing as an entrepreneur.

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

If I could give advice to an aspiring entrepreneur, it would be to take risks. I took a big risk when I chose to leave my job and become an entrepreneur. I want to encourage them to take the risk too and start their own business so that they can be free to think and build how they want.

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Apply today for the Female Founders Fellowship!

The the Female Founders Fellowship is designed to give women the support they need to grow their businesses in Erbil and Sulaimani. Apply by Jan 19th at 11:59pm to be considered!


After speaking with women entrepreneurs from Iraq and Syria to learn more about their experiences launching a business, we have designed a program specifically for incredible women entrepreneurs.

Through this program, we intend to foster a collaborative learning environment through skills sharing and team work. The program starts on January 26th, 2019.

We are looking for a group of 8-10 women to join our fellowship program in Erbil and Sulaimani. During our 4 month program, Fellows will accomplish three main goals:

  1. They will make major steps to grow their business by taking action to reach their personal goals,

  2. Learn new skills related to business, leadership, management, and more,

  3. Build their professional network and confidently communicate their professional brand.


What does the program consist of?

We are expecting you to be the leaders and drivers of your business, and we will support you to do this in a variety of ways.

The program will have four main components, each intended to develop the entrepreneur in a unique way:

  1. Four training workshops: These workshops are intended to teach entrepreneurs new skills. Topics of these workshops will contain business, leadership, and design thinking components; however, each training will be designed based on the needs of the participants.

  2. Weekly meetings: These sessions are designed to hold the group accountable for each other’s success. You will meet on a weekly basis to define goals, discuss progress, and contribute insights to the group as a whole. You will spend at least 10% of your time helping other fellows meet their goals during this program.

  3. Support staff: Each fellow will be matched with 1-2 supporters to help her manage her business. These supporters will be trained on specific business concepts such as marketing, sales, financial management, and more. This component will provide the fellow with real management skills and an extra hand to get the work done.

  4. Networking events: Finally the fellow will be invited to different networking, press, and public speaking events intended to push the entrepreneur out of her comfort zone.  

Who is eligible to apply?

All entrepreneurs must be committed to participating in the full length of the program from January 26 through May 2019.


  • Have strong self-motivation and professionalism

  • Possess a good level of English speaking and writing skills

  • Are able to attend training sessions and weekly meetings in either Erbil or Sulaimani

Your business:

In order to apply, entrepreneurs and their businesses must meet the following requirements:

  • You must be a growth stage entrepreneur. This means that you must:

    • Be operating your business for at least 1-3 years

    • Have paying customers

    • You have a recognized brand in the market and you are ready to increase sales and market share

  • Your business must provide a solution to a problem in your community

  • Your business can be a physical store, online, or social media business

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 or send us a message on our Facebook page!

Programming at The Lab:Suli is generously supported by GIZ.

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Announcing Global Entrepreneurship Week!


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

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

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

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

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

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

Join the Five One Labs Entrepreneur Academy

Five One Labs is pleased to announce that we are launching the applications for our second Entrepreneur Academy, starting on November 11th in our coworking space in Sulaimani, “The Lab:Suli.”. The Entrepreneur Academy is a two-month, evening training course that will teach you the fundamentals of how to start and lead an innovative business.

The Academy will run every Sunday and Tuesday evening (5:00-7:00pm) from November 11th - January 15th. 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. Read below for more information on the program cost and our limited financial scholarships.

SPECIAL PROMOTION:  Submit your application before October 25 at 11:59pm and you get $100 off the full price of the course! (Note: You still must be accepted to the program.)

Applications are due by Tuesday, November 6 at 11:59pm.

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 November 11 - January 15, 2018). The training will be held on Sunday and Tuesday evenings from 5:00-7:00pm.

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


  • Are an aspiring entrepreneur with a creative idea for a new business

  • Have strong self-motivation and professionalism

  • Possess a good level of English speaking and writing skills

  • Are able to attend the Academy in-person at The Lab:Suli each Sunday and Tuesday from 5:00-7:00pm

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 (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 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 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, particularly for university students and displaced people. If you are not able to participate without financial support, you can apply for one of our scholarships using our Financial Aid Form.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):

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 I don’t speak English? Don’t worry, we’ll be running Kurdish and Arabic programming soon!

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 Sulaimani, along with opportunities to put into practice what you learn and to get feedback from your trainers. Over the course of the Academy 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.

Meet the Mentor Pair: Muataz and Mike

Mentorship is a key component of the Five One Labs incubator model. In this blog series, we interviewed the entrepreneurs from our first incubator cohort and their mentors to hear about their experience over the course of our three-month program!

First up are Muataz Aziz, founder of AlMadrassa, and his mentor, Mike Guirguis, Head of Operations and Business Development at Yup, who worked together during our pilot program in the spring of 2017!

Muataz talking to customers during Five One Labs’ February 2018 Demo Day.

Muataz talking to customers during Five One Labs’ February 2018 Demo Day.

Could you tell us a little about yourself and what you do?

Mike: I work at Yup, an education technology startup providing students with 1:1 tutoring support, 24/7 over a mobile app. I am in charge of partnering with schools and districts and running tutor operations. Prior to working in technology, I was a management consultant in the Middle East. I am also really interested in economic policy.

Muataz: I am Muataz Aziz, CEO, and Founder of Almadrasa (which means "school" in Arabic). I have always been interested in education, and because of conflicts I was displaced multiple times and I had to study in four different universities in four different cities and countries until I obtained my bachelor's degree. I am an architectural engineer, software developer, and graphic designer. I started my journey with entrepreneurship in Startup Weekend Erbil 2016 when my idea won a jury prize.

What brought you into the world of entrepreneurship?

Mike: My first experience in entrepreneurship was during my senior year of college. I co-founded an website that let students buy and trade items from each other through a secure, e-commerce portal restricted to university communities for safety. After working as a consultant I realized that there is nothing more motivating for me than having complete ownership and accountability of my work and nothing more exciting than getting to chose the problems you dedicate your life to solving.

What insight did your mentor give you into the world of entrepreneurship?

Muataz: Back to the beginning of 2017, it had not been too long for my start in the entrepreneurial world. I just had won in late 2016 in Startup Weekend Erbil. So, it was a great opportunity to talk to a successful entrepreneur to convey his mature experience in a market full of competition and challenges to me and help me refine my vision, plan, and strategy in implementing my idea in a challenging market.

Why do you think entrepreneurship is important in today’s world?

Mike: Entrepreneurship is about solving problems for yourself and for others. Established organizations have already chosen to solve a set of problems and have their own set of stakeholders to satisfy. I believe entrepreneurship is one of the best ways for communities to solve problems while also inspiring the next generation of youth.

How do you think entrepreneurship has had an impact in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI)?

Muataz: Indeed, the concept of entrepreneurship and startups in Kurdistan and Iraq, in general, is not fully mature. However, we have seen many young people starting their startups or at least starting to think about setting up their own businesses, especially after they found it difficult to be employed in the public sector.

Entrepreneurship provided a significant number of jobs for young people and offered many services, but in general, there are not too many startups offering products and we hope to see that shift soon.

Muataz pitching during the Five One Labs Demo Day in February 2018.

Muataz pitching during the Five One Labs Demo Day in February 2018.

What attracted you to becoming a mentor at Five One Labs?

Mike: I went to college with Alice, the co-founder and Executive Director of Five One Labs, and have always found her to be an inspirational person. Motivated, passionate and thoughtful. When she described the mission of Five One Labs I immediately knew I wanted to be involved so that I could help this community of entrepreneurs get their organizations off the ground. I knew this program and these entrepreneurs would be successful if they were working with Alice and Patricia, and I wanted to be a part of that.

What did you benefit from having a mentor by your side during the program?

Muataz: Actually, Michael is a smart, kind, humble, and successful person. Basically, I was feeling very confident that what I was doing was going on the right track. I was asking him about anything I needed after I could not find the right answer. Sometimes, he was forwarding my technical queries to specialists and then came back to me with the best answers. He was explaining practically how businesses grow. He helped me make the best decision when I was hesitant. benefits are really big, bigger than words.

What was your favorite aspect of being a mentor?

Mike: My favorite aspect of being a mentor was seeing the progress my mentee made every time we spoke. He was extremely motivated and dedicated to his mission and I felt lucky to be able to support him even a bit.

What has stuck with you from any advice your mentor gave you?

Muataz: It’s not about an advice stuck with me. It’s about the business mindset that he helped me to adopt. As my mentor and I went through all the steps of my business, he was always advising me about specific details. I still remember our discussions and his advice on the importance of segmentation, MVP, pricing, and setting up alternative plans.

What advice would you give to anyone breaking into the business world?

Mike: The only way to know if your product or service can grow as a business and sustain itself is if you can find paying customers. Entrepreneurs are always tempted to offer their service for free until people show interest, but people do not know how to value free products/services. Charge early for your services even if it is a symbolic amount.

What was your favorite part of the Five One Labs program?

Muataz: Everything was amazing, it was a coherent program that takes ideas from ideation to the light. It’s difficult to mention one favorite part; the interactive nature, the valuable information, the permanent follow up, mentorship and so many other parts make Five One Labs my favorite program.

What would you say to anyone considering applying as a participant to the Five One Labs program?

Mike: The best ideas are the ones that you can't stop thinking about and can't sleep at night because you want them to exist. Be thoughtful with your application and be even more thoughtful about the problem you want to solve and the idea you want to dedicate yourself to. The more clarity and passion you have on the problem, the better your solution will be.

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!

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.


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.

Meet the Founder: Ameen Hadeed

In this week's "Meet the Founder" post, we are introducing Ameen Hadeed, an entrepreneur from Mosul who cares deeply about fitness and public health. Ameen participated in the Five One Labs Startup Bootcamp in Erbil in May and came in first place in the individual pitch competition for his business idea, Lipido.


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

I am Ameen Hadeed, from Mosul. I am 26 years old. I hold a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering. My business idea is to help people, of both genders, who are discontent with their body image and fitness, to get to a place where they are happy and healthy. This is through customised meal plans, training courses, and a circle meeting game play to help them learn how to work their best to achieve their goals effectively.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals which my business focuses on are: good health and well being, gender equality and industry innovation and infrastructure.

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

Since 2012, I have been working as a volunteer in youth development campaigns and activities with the Ministry of Youth and Sports, alongside groups of young, motivated friends.

It all began when I was working in a small shop selling computers in Mosul. I noticed something was missing in the way we were working. I wanted to differentiate ourselves and stand out in the market. I started thinking about how to make a business thats stands out and beats the competition.

In 2014, when ISIS invaded Mosul, I lost my job and all the money sources in the city shrank. New challenges stood in front of all the people living here, and money, especially, was one of them.

In 2016 I started a small internet service provider with money that had been left to me. I started to search for answers to my earlier problem: “How to start a special business that works?” However, times were tough back then. The circumstances we were facing inside the city were the hardest a man could endure. I was determined to search for a good number of to read about.  I began downloading books to feed my curiosity on the topic.

I wanted new relationships with people with similar beliefs and ideas, especially after the war.

I decided to choose a new path because I knew there wouldn’t be job offers in the future because of the different obstacles Iraq faces. After the war ended in East Mosul, where I live, we were liberated, thank Allah. Safely, I went to complete my fourth stage of college and then started to work again. Following this, I participated in a large workshop, the “UNDP Innovation for Development,” at both the basic and advanced level. It was a huge turning point for me because I wanted new relationships with people with similar beliefs and ideas, especially after the war. I was working to fill the gap by learning and experimenting with the necessary skills be a successful entrepreneur.

I’m passionate about fitness and have specialized knowledge in the field. So the idea flashed into my head as the market had large potential and opportunity. I am now starting to execute my idea in Mosul as a franchise.

How did you break into the business world?

I went on to make prototypes for my startup, until I finally succeeded when I participated in Five One Labs Startup Bootcamp in the “Entrepreneurship for all” program in May 2018. There I learned how to validate my idea and went on to be the winner in the pitch competition for individuals for my idea “Lipido.” I made great progress with the support of Five One Labs’ Director of Training and Business Development, Pat Cline, as a mentor.     

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

My advice to would-be entrepreneurs is to take time learning the different roles of an entrepreneur while also having the mindset, the vision and the necessary skills and tools to think, act, and innovate.

Also, it is important to to read a lot about entrepreneurship and to start a business that you are passionate about. A business that solves a clear and definite problem. Don't be afraid to fail, because failure is a great teacher. Entrepreneurs are well known as risk takers, so I encourage you to take responsibility of your decisions.

Don't be afraid to fail, because failure is a great teacher.

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

There are three skills I emphasize particularly. Firstly, cash flow management because it is the foundation of a business. When there is no money, you’ll be out of business. Secondly, communication is important in how you share your ideas to customers, employees and partners when you are trying to sell it. Finally, the last skill is to have the visionary mindset of an entrepreneur, to work on your business and not in it and lead it to success.  

Describe/outline your typical day?

My typical day is focused on building and optimizing business systems so I can make sure the value is delivered the proper way and scale the business to grow.

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

My favorite part of the work I do is the process, itself, of being an entrepreneur. For example, using skills like strategic thinking and coming up with innovative new product ideas and seeing the impact on the customers and their reactions.