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!


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!


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: Laylan Attar

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


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: 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.