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Here’s how these 20+ Muslim entrepreneurs built their startups

Since 2010, we’ve had nearly 300 entrepreneurs apply for the AMCC Entrepreneur Showcase startup competition. We recently reached out to all of them to hear about their successes, failures, and lessons learned. Here’s what they had to say.

 

Abdalhamid Evans
COO, Alchemiya

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

In 2016 Alchemiya was picked up by Amazon – and they found us and asked if they could carry us on Prime! and we are now live on their TV and mobile app versions of Prime. Huge boost to our credibility, especially in mainstream markets. Plus an *exclusive* deal with the BBC to access their huge content archives for everything on Islam and Muslim life and culture, many hardly ever screened. Nice scoop!

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

Made contact with Axiata, one of SE Asia’s leading Mobile operators with 392 million subscribers. Signed NDA and LOI, now negotiating to bundle Alchemiya to 90m mobile subscribers in Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh. Planning to go live mid 2018, after next investment round for apps and more content. Massive game-changer! Stay tuned!

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

We had some internal problems over the past year. We could have sorted them out more quickly and smoothly; these are always real learning opportunities to maintain more effective communications within the team, and to avoid the all-too-easy ‘grey areas’ of responsibility etc. Our newly appointed Team Coach will definitely help to make those errors a thing of the past!

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

Never forget that ‘Aha!’ moment of inspiration that made you start! You will need it as a constant and reliable companion on the (potentially) long and lonely journey across the valley of abandoned start-ups. Protect your sources of inspiration, you will need them. Stay lean, flexible, sincere and full of hope. Never stop learning, and don’t be afraid to pivot!

Amin Aaser
Managing Director, Noor Kids

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

We’ve helped over 100,000 Muslim children across 25 countries develop a love for God through Noor Kids children’s books.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

We developed mutually beneficial relationships with other Muslim-focused companies, such as Noor Vitamins. As a result, we’ve shared learnings, strategies, and resources, to collectively serve the community with greater efficiency.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

I wish I would was more conservative when I estimated the size of the Muslim market in North America. We’ve come to the conclusion that it is smaller than previously thought.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

Collaborate! When we started Noor Kids, I was doing this on my own. We now have a team of fifteen creative, scholarly, and educational experts! This team was created out of a desire to collaborate. Often, we see Muslim entrepreneurs work in a silo — either as a sole founder or in a spirit of intense competition with other Muslim companies. My advice is to build bridges, and collaborate. Together, we are much stronger, capable, and efficient.

Chris Blauvelt
CEO, LaunchGood

LaunchGood won the $10,000 grand prize at the AMCC 2014 Entrepreneur Showcase competition.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Having established a growing, sustainable social enterprise serving and uplifting the Muslim community.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

Recruiting incredible people to work with me, especially my cofounders Amany Killawi and Omar Hamid who took an incredible risk with no pay and no promises. With the right people, you can do anything (with Allah’s support).

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

Trusted myself and believed in our vision more early on. I didn’t worry too much what others thought but enough that it could cast doubts at time.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

People. Surround yourself with the right ones. Get an amazing cofounder or two. Find a selfless mentor who’ll spend hours with you without any expectations other than you work hard. Listen to people who have been successful before.

Drakshan Khan
Founder, Purple Impression

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

In the business of slow fashion it is hard to be ethical, sustainable & transparent at the same time. We started our business with the focus on being just artisan made, however, after knowing the harm textile waste brings to the earth, we decided to pursue sustainable materials. We are proud to say that we are ready to launch our Eco line that ensures fair wage from the farmers to the artisans we work with.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

Having business mentors and a good support network I believe has been pretty impactful for us. There are many times in our business when we didn’t necessarily have the answers and it certainly helped to reach out to mentors who are still our pillars at this time.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

Seeking perfection in everything. We missed a lot of opportunities initially in business because of this. It caused us to delay the important decisions because we felt like “we were not there yet” but we soon learned that perfection is good but done is better.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

Persistence, flexibility and stay true to your values. Being an entrepreneur is a tough road and the only thing that will keep you on track your passion for what you do.

Kelvin Ali
President, Northern World Entertainment Software

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Alhamdullilah, we’ve received a positive consumer response for our various IP’s. Our technology and partner affiliations, as well as the release of transmedia production elements including a digital comic series for our Beyond Badr Product has allowed us to educate and provide dawah in a digital age. This is something we are particularly proud of.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

We’ve diversified our skills and product offerings to facilitate new business opportunities, which has brought us to profitability and we simply never gave up. Perseverance and focus are the two key words that have allowed us to continue on with our vision of making “Just Good Games” while helping others improve their own core business mission.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

We have learned that talent and dedication are valuable traits which are hard to come by in any country. Circumstances in the business and limited resources initially did not allow us to retain some core talent and we opted instead for international collaboration which derailed several elements of the production process. Trust is so vital.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

Believe in yourself, know your abilities and your team has to believe in you. Communication, empathy, and integrity will always win on the hardest of days and there will be several as you try to get others to follow your mission. Live each day with mindful purpose, persevere, pray, and have gratitude to Allah (swt), he is able to do all things.

Khadija Fajry
Founder & CEO, KENZA International Beauty

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I started my business (with 5 products) in 2012 with the goal to show America what real Argan oil, is after being outraged by brands just profiting on our national beauty treasure name while offering garbage.  Now I offer and sell worldwide (Retail and Wholesale) beauty products with organic Argan, Prickly Pear Seed Oils from Morocco and essential oils (Lavender and Lavandin) from France.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

I became an expert in what I was offering and stayed authentic. People were curious to know more about the ingredients in their personal care products. I shared lots of information and what I learned from my travels while visiting small producers in Morocco and France.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

I wish I had listened and invested in a placing a PR announcement about my business when I started to reach a larger audience. At the same time, I am proud and grateful for all the organic (free) media reach I got through my first five years (Telemundo, The Guardian, ELLE Magazine and Organic SPA Magazine).

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

Start small and stay focused on your vision. Take it step by step, listen to the market and adjust as needed (and quickly).

Laila Alawa
Founder & CEO, The Tempest

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

In 2017, we more than doubled our monthly audience to 3 million users a month from over 90 countries, opened our second office in Dubai to build out our GCC/MENA audience, and have continued to create opportunities for our media network in both mainstream media and social impact spaces.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

Diversity has been part of our blueprint since day one, and it’s been instrumental in creating an inclusive workplace, foster unconventional ideas, and recruit strong talent to the company.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

Every mistake and misstep we have made has only served to give us lessons and the ability to strengthen our company as time goes on.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

Ask for help. Reach out to those you admire. Give your time to those who ask for your advice. It will come back and help you in the future.

Leen Sadder
CEO, THIS Toothbrush

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

We won best packaging design at the Dieline awards and were featured in The National.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

Built a design-centered company that cares about the end user and product.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

Expanded internationally.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

If it’s easy, you’re not doing it right. :)

Lena Khan
Writer/Director, Sneaky Sneaky Films

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I feel blessed that, with the support of God and many others, to make a film (The Tiger Hunter) that was in theaters nationwide and had outstanding reviews in The New York Times and others. I’m excited that several of our interns are now working in Hollywood, and I recently sold a TV show and am attached to direct a studio feature.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

I tried to take the time to work as well with other minorities and Muslims who had less experience, so we could all rise together, and also realized that ‘our stories’ aren’t any less valid or mainstream than other stories. That helped diversify my content in a way the industry really wanted.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

I wish I had raised more money for marketing, instead of scrambling at the end when our film got a nationwide distribution deal that we weren’t expecting.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

Find mentors, always do everything with integrity, and hone your craft. Treat the investor’s money as if it were your own.

Mohamed Pazhoor
President & CTO, Divine Connect

Divine Connect won the $10,000 grand prize at the AMCC 2016 Entrepreneur Showcase competition.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

We are most proud of the awards and recognition we have received, the most recent being the Islamic Economy Award 2017. The award validates and embodies our ongoing commitment to improve and enhance the spiritual well-being of Muslims through the effective use of latest technologies.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

The company’s ability to develop a strong relationship with the leaders and key decision makers at the General Presidency of the Haramain enabled us to understand the magnitude of the problem and their needs, and tailor  solutions that will benefit millions of pilgrims visiting the holy mosques.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

Over the last year we could have done many things differently, however every move that we made was strategic and purposeful in order to achieve our overall mission and vision.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

Be realistic about the market need, develop product(s) and solution(s) that address an unsolved problem, build a passionate team, manage your limited resources (time, money and people), be open to change – learn, apply and adapt faster than the market demands.

Mohammed Faris
CEO, The Productive Muslim Company

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Investing $25k in learning and development.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

Developed a strong story narrative for Productive Muslim brand.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

Moved to Infusionsoft email marketing platform earlier.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

Clarify your message so customers will listen.

Mubarakah Ibrahim
CEO, Fit Muslimah

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I have had a lot of moments of accomplishment throughout my career, but the moment I most proud of is being recognized and invited to the White House by President Barack Obama for my contribution to the health and wellness in America. Receiving that phone call was just more validation that I was making a difference in, not just the lives of my clients, but contributing to the wellness of a nation.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

The most biggest thing I did was develop a long term strategic plan for my brand and business.  Thinking about where I want my brand in 5 years, 10 years and 20 years down the road developed further focus rather than focusing on 1 or 2 year terms.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

Earlier when I started my business it was based solely around retreats for Muslim women a few times a year.  When I began to market online and build a following I did not realize how much I could monetize my brand.  I wish I had monetized my brand more and earlier in its development.  Part of the reason I made this mistake was lack of long term strategic planning.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

Dream your biggest dream then reach for the part of the dream you didn’t even imagine. Work everyday to make that dream a reality.  There is no such thing as a 4 hour work day or weekend off when you are an entrepreneur.  If you aren’t thinking about your business in a small corner of your brain when you are not working then you are probably not living your purpose.

Rana Bacaloni
Founder, Eid Creations

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I am mostly proud of being a pioneer in the Muslim party industry and reaching my dream of being able to put a smile on muslim families’ faces during islamic festivities. Eid Creations products are now sold all over the globe as we are in every single continent.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

Being able to put a modern flair to my designs in keeping with the trends so that products are in line of customers’ needs. We often consult with our vendors and listen to our clients and keep improving our products to satisfy them.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

The one regret is to start off with designs without doing a research of the community needs. It is a common mistake that most start ups do by producing what the novice entrepreneur likes rather then what the clients wants.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

To be a successful entrepreneur one has to be a hard worker and be persistent with his or her work because it takes time before one starts seeing results. I also believe that one must have a passion for what he or she is doing as it makes it more bearable to accept the downs and propels the person to move forward.

Shahbaz Mirza
Founder, Ramadan Legacy

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

In 2017, Ramadan Legacy was invited to deliver a workshop in Dubai Mall at the inaugural 9th Hijri Ramadan convention by Emaar.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

We focused on revenue generation. We launched a course with Al Maghrib Institute Instructor, Imam Suleiman Hani, to provide added value to our loyal customers as well as generate funds to sustain the company.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

Focused on branding. When focusing on the performance of the company, KPI’s and revenue generation you sometimes forget about the brand experience and what the consumer thinks.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

Be patient. It takes years for your start-up to come to life, mature and exponentially grow. Don’t be quick to throw away your ideas or if something isn’t working. Be patient, think and the answer will come to you.

Shahzad Younas
Founder & CEO, Muzmatch

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Accepted into the Y Combinator accelerator – backed by YC – who have also backed Dropbox, Airbnb amongst others. Closing our seed round after this programme, raising $1.75M from Silicon Valley and UK/Middle Eastern investors has been a major milestone for us.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

Focusing on the product, and focusing on making it better than anything else out there.  Being fussy over which investment we took – we very easily could have raised > $4M if we wished however we turned many parties away.  Discipline is key here.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

Honestly – I don’t think there is anything differently we could have done – so far we have a plan and are executing on it. So far we have made the right calls. Early on perhaps one could stay being much fussier over bringing on useful investors.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

It’s not easy – you have to really graft and give it your all.  It’s 95% hard work and execution and 5% luck. Never underestimate what you can do yourself. I taught myself how to build apps for both iOS and Android and launched Muzmatch from scratch on both platforms all in six months.

Shaista Kazmi
President, Apna Ghar

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

When I started the company, I only had two employees. We’re now a team of 60 strong and have expanded to two new branches.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

Speaking to the community, talking to local nursing homes and assisted living and personally helping them understand our company’s mission.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

I feel I did not allocate funds properly. I should have spent more on a good marketing director and placed emphasis on TV ads. You live and learn.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

It’s ok to fail. In fact, it’s actually good to take risks and fail because otherwise you will never learn. You will meet good and bad people in this world, those who are passionate and believe in your company and those who are just after a paycheck.

Shereen Sabet
President, Splashgear

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

There are two personal accomplishments that I am most proud of: earning my PhD in Immunology from UCLA, and establishing Splashgear. I had no business, website design, or apparel manufacturing experience whatsoever when I began, and the learning curve was very steep in all aspects of the business; but I am proud of how far Splashgear has come.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

Splashgear cemented its reputation as a premier provider of modest swimwear by creating high-quality swimwear that delivers on its promises. Since its founding, Splashgear has enjoyed very high customer satisfaction with a loyal following, resulting in word-of-mouth referrals and repeat customers, because it offers the best product in its market.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

I wish I hired a professional marketing team early on to help with social media marketing.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

Don’t travel on this journey alone. Try to partner with a trustworthy person or assemble a team of individuals who can help you start and run your company. It is very difficult to be a sole entrepreneur and I would strongly recommend that a new entrepreneur seek out those who can help him/her to establish and maintain a successful company.

Sonia Syed Rehman
Co-Founder, Aquabean

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Using water in the toilet to clean oneself is a challenging topic to discuss. We not only embraced the idea publicly but designed a sleek vessel that promotes single America Muslim identity as opposed to a specific cultural binding.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

We always reached out to individuals in the community to seek guidance. Shahed Amanullah (Founder of Zabihah.com) helped us tremendously during early stages of our startup. LaunchGood provided us the platform to collect funds to donate aquabeans to multiple mosques. We will always be thankful to our mentors.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

We would have followed a different road map to get to our current stage.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

Develop strong support system as you start working on an innovative idea. Taking care of emotional health during this long journey prevents burnout and keeps relationships intact.

Umar Akbar
CEO, Navinata Health

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Increasing our client base 5-fold from 2016 to 2017 (we now have 5 pharma clients).

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

Running a proof-of-concept pilot to build out a detailed case study to support our selling efforts. This allows our impressive results to speak for themselves.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

Our mentors have been extremely helpful. I wish we could have identified them earlier and built these key relationships earlier.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

Don’t give up. 75% of being an entrepreneur is believing in your vision and not getting discouraged by a no. Learn from it but do not get discouraged.

Yvonne Maffei
Founder, My Halal Kitchen

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Writing the first cookbook that explains halal cooking and provides home cooks to make any type of global cuisines halal.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

Doing the inner work on myself first to release any mental blocks and obstacles that kept me thinking small and in a negative space. It’s changed so much about the way I do business and see my own potential, but more so the vision for the potential this business has to go way beyond myself.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

I wish I had begun to hire people early on to help scale the business- and thus learned HOW to scale early on.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

Do the work on yourself – to grow up, to mature, to have a healthy mindset and to know who you are. It’s constant work, and it’s not easy but I truly believe it’s what separates the truly successful from those who are beating themselves up about why they aren’t achieving what they set out to do.

Zeyad Ramadan
Founder, Purify Your Gaze

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

We started 2017 with one big question – how can we have MASSIVE IMPACT as an enterprise? ​In addition to the barrier of taboo, we identified the barrier of finances is a real obstacle. Amongst our target market are those without the financial means to receive professional support: students, those living overseas, and those without jobs. How can we as a business whose product delivers healing be as indiscriminate as the disease impacting our customers?  We decided to shift our pricing model to be a sliding scale model whereby anyone regardless of financial means will receive support within our program. ​​This led to the birth of the #HealingTogether initiative that we ran this past summer!  With the support of our tribe on LaunchGood, we successfully ran a crowdfunding campaign this past summer where we raised $25,000 to provide 6-months scholarships in our program to 400 deserving individuals who didn’t have the means.  With our raised funds and within a 4 months period we were able to increase our audience on Facebook which more than doubled from 22,000 to 55,000. We administered ~8,000 online sexual health assessments that educates on the difference between healthy and addictive sexuality, and are on pace to deliver 150 scholarships with 6 months of support within our program before the end of the year.  Through all of this we were also able to get in touch with significant influencers within the Muslim community.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

We formed a strategic collaboration with the Institute Of Knowledge Chaplaincy, the largest organized network of chaplains present on college campuses within in the United States.  Through this collaboration we will be: 1. Training their college chaplains to better educate their communities on the harms of pornography addiction and talking about sensitive mental health issues. 2. Equipping them resources and tools to identify signs of addiction amongst their students and to compassionately support those who are in crisis situation. 3. Providing an avenue for chaplains to refer students who are in need of Purify Your Gaze services. Through 2018, we aspire to form 10 such collaborations!

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

We are significantly pleased with the direction we’ve taken this year. There really isn’t anything we would have changed!

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

If you can sit down, and gain great clarity on your personal purpose as an entrepreneur and the big hairy audacious goal that you want to achieve, you will find the opportunities that will help you get there emerge naturally.

Please note: Although we received numerous responses, we were only able to feature a select few in this publication.

Dream big and never give up

By Sabiha Ansari and Faisal Masood

Sometimes becoming an entrepreneur happens by accident.

When the World Bank sent one of its employees, Sayed Ibrahim, for higher studies to the US in 1991, the thought that he would never return to Sudan did not occur to him. Due to the political upheaval at the time, Sayed decided to stay on in the US and earned his PhD in Organic Chemistry from Howard University in Washington DC.

Even before finishing his degree, Sayed had been hired by Colgate-Palmolive Company in New Jersey. After working there for a few years and feeling stifled by the corporate culture, he started dreaming of owning his business. But due to strict company policies, he had to ensure that any business he started would not compete with his present position. So Sayed opted to start to a medical transportation company in 2001 and in 2003 transferred to a school bus company. His side business did so well that he soon owned over a hundred buses. In 2007, he left Colgate-Palmolive to pursue his bigger dream by opening up his own Research and Development Lab and formulate his own products.

“While I was at Colgate, I realized that there were segments of consumers that were not being served. Muslims, Jews, Vegans/Vegetarians, and people with Celiac disease needed oral care products that met their faith and lifestyles and big companies were not catering to these minorities since it didn’t meet their business model. In 2015, after completing construction on my own manufacturing facility, I launched Sprinjene, a Halal. Kosher, Vegan, and Gluten-Free toothpaste,” stated Sayed.

Aren’t there already so many toothpastes on the market to choose from?

“Sprinjene is a premium toothpaste for everyone, not only for the specific groups mentioned. It has the best hand-selected ingredients and the only patent-pending toothpaste that is enriched with Black Seed Oil (Nigella Sativa), exclusively made in the USA. I went back to my childhood and remembered how my mother used to clean her teeth. I did my research and made sure that this was anti-inflammatory, anti- cancerous, and anti-bacterial. I made sure to use only natural ingredients and no harsh chemicals. Did you know that a bottle of black seed oil that was found in King Tut’s tomb was 3000 years old and still wasn’t spoiled?” shared, Sayed.

You mentioned patent pending?

“Yes, we are in the process of obtaining our patent in the US, but already have it in Turkey and filed for Europe, Middle East, and Israel. Since our launch in November of 2014, Sprinjene is now available in over 100 stores in 10 states, mostly ethnic and health stores, pharmacies, Amazon, and online on our website. We are extremely competitively priced and are currently in talks with Walmart, Walgreens, and Shoprite to get our products on the shelf. Just last month, we opened up a distribution center in Dubai so our plans to expand internationally have begun as well, “added Sayed.

What creative strategies did you use to fund Sprinjene?

“I was very lucky that my busing company did so well. While I was at Colgate, I already had an income so I was able to pay my employees and managers very well. In fact, many of them stayed loyal and are still with me twelve years later. Continuity, sustainability, and quality of service was what helped me to grow the company and whatever money I made, I put back in the business. At one time I had 100 buses. I sold 40 of them to fund Sprinjene. Recently, I purchased some more and am now at 75. My manufacturing facility in Piscataway, NJ is eleven thousand square feet and Sprinjene currently has a team of 10 people.”

Sprinjene_Img1

What have been your biggest challenges?

Recently, I was invited to speak at a conference where I was the only Black Muslim among thousands of attendees. It has been a great challenge to break into the “Old White Boys Club”. When I started my company, my bigger goal was to be valued as a contributing Muslim to the American society. We are not  only consumers. We are not only takers. We are givers. We are inventors, we are smart and intelligent and we can do much to be recognized for our contributions to society.”

“Another challenge is not hiring the right people. Trusting an individual without verifying their credentials can be a big mistake,” he added.

But it can’t be business all the time. Sayed lives with his wife and four children in central New Jersey. In his spare time he enjoys meeting friends and travelling. He’s also an avid soccer fan and doesn’t miss an opportunity to play.

What is Dr. Sayed Ibrahim’s advice to budding entrepreneurs?

“Dream big and never give up. Seek advice from others and stay humble…you do not know it all. Be human and treat everybody with respect regardless of your differences with them.”

Impact of Islamic Digital Services and Technologies

By Susan Labadi

“The next billion consumers to come online will be making their digital decisions on a mobile device – very different from the practices of the first billion that helped build many of the foundations of the current e-commerce industry.” — Where the Digital Economy is Moving the Fastest, Harvard Business Review

We nonchalantly throw concepts referring to billions of currencies, populations, and bit and bytes. The world is hyper driven and respects a mindset aligned to what was previously found only in sci-fi fiction, but now we label it “virtual.” Yet the future is right around the corner, and if you’re looking for the next big “thing” explore the growth of digital services and technologies within the OIC [1].

Fueled by a young demographic, combined with tech-enabled educational resources, and ambitious work ethic, we may see a new Islamic renaissance. A joint study by Accenture Strategy and Oxford Economics calculated a 2.3 percent increase over baseline GDP with the top 10 economies by 2020, but a more advanced trajectory of 3.4 percent increase is expected from emerging economies. The reality could be even more profound with the compounding rate of expansion for new technologies and nascent enterprises.

A New Market with Global Reach

Enter a new category of commerce, Islamic-based Digital Services that cater specifically to the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, who are expected to increase in population to 2.7 billion by 2050. Muslims have discovered a myriad of apps that inform them about prayer times and direction, the nearest mosque, halal restaurants and travel destinations, and even games that inform, challenge, and improve recitation of the Holy Qur’an and assorted facts particular to the religion. There are even apps that qualify ingredients of products to ascertain if they are free from pork or alcohol adulteration. The Muslim consumer appetite for Islamic food, finance, fashion, and other lifestyle necessities has been quantified by market research firm DinarStandard in its Islamic Growth Markets Investment Outlook 2015 which claimed the 2013 GDP of the 57 OIC countries to be $6.7 trillion with anticipated GDP growth of 5.4% expected between the years 2015-2019. That exceeds the BRICS rate of 3.9%.

The report qualifies that not all OIC economies are of equal strength and promise; yet, it categories the top 30 and offers significant investment guidance. However, potential game-changers that may rank the Islamic Digital Economy beyond current expectations are its entries in the realm of the following Digital Technologies which will be playing on a global platform and which are primed for acquisition.

E-Commerce

E-Commerce has leveled entry for all players who have any commodity and a bank account. Offerings from handcrafts, fine arts, business services, Islamic calligraphy, books, films, clothing, halal cosmetics, vitamins, and personal care products has given plenty of cottage business owners an income. Trading and investment platforms have also been opened to global partners who wish to do business without incurring interest-based financing, and these may be attractive targets for acquisition, that is a blueprint for “build it and sell it” for profit.

Mobile Computing

In a world of two thumb texting, the smartphone dominates the stage for connection to directions, movie tickets, restaurant reviews, stock trading, and any one of a number of apps that help us search and play games. Mobile computing engages companies and greatly facilitates the rise of digital nomads and everyday folks who use GPS technology, RFID tags, sensors and transmitters we can wear and even consume for medical analysis, and devices that control our cars and homes. Yet, all this data has to be stored somewhere.

Cloud Computing

Through cloud computing, data storage is networked and shared in data centers so it is not vulnerable to loss or damage through a virtual system. It sure beats the hard drive on your laptop or thumb drive you misplaced, but prospects of leveraging this technology is even more valuable for companies and institutions. Uniting big players such as Amazon, AT&T, and Verizon for storage and computing solutions to industries, all this data has opened a new vista in the analysis, interpretation, and application of it.

Big Data

Big Data can be predictive, resulting in efficient execution of resources and thereby saving time and money. A relevant example is that a company monitors social media for feedback on its products and offers coupons based on past purchases, or utilizing records of pharmaceutical sales to track and predict shipments for necessary public health information. Also, governments can make data public for users to develop distribution plans in disaster zones. There are undoubtedly yet undiscovered applications for this field, as its potential is still being explored.

Hyper-Converged Infrastructure

Let’s explain this in a two-step process. Maximizing efficiency by blurring traditional silos of data storage, computing, and networking are what distinguish converged infrastructure. Rather than maintaining distinct corporations for what can be a lumped together function, these merged enterprises evolve into more accountable symbiotic entities. Going from converged to hyper-converged involves scaling by using more add-on modules, featuring fast installation. Administration is simplified, offers greater control and accountability, and customer retention. This is a major disruption benefiting small companies who find scale computing to be a profitable solution.

New/Social Media

The popularity of live streaming and short-lived video via Periscope and Snapchat is bringing visual journalism power to the masses. Global penetration by anybody with a camera, internet, and an app has opened minds and hearts toward uniting people, and it offers prospects to dovetail with the other technologies previously mentioned.

Ubiquitous Islamic Impact

Islam is not constrained by geography or ethnicity; and Muslims’ work in digital technologies and as a consumer group of expanding Islamic services holds promise, as qualified by market research firms this decade. Muslims are often underrepresented in existing research and have potential to become an economic asset.

One of the leading U.S. based organizations to promote Muslim entrepreneurs and businesses is the American Muslim Consumer Consortium. Its efforts showcase businesses that are based on Islamic values, and they promote Muslim business, products, and entrepreneurs. As the only platform that represents American Muslim consumers and helps start-ups through their conferences, articles, and competitions, they have successfully involved mainstream organizations such as Walmart, Whole Foods Market, and Best Buy to recognize the significant market potential of this niche. Invited speakers have also included C-Level executives from PepsiCo and world class advertising and marketing agency Ogilvy & Mather. This year, they have joined with Thomson Reuters and Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority to introduce the Innovation 4 Impact Entrepreneur Competition to be presented at the Global Islamic Economy Summit in Dubai, October 5-6, 2015.

[1] OIC refers to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and is comprised of 57 countries.

Haroon Mokhtarzada sells Webs.com for $117.5 million

By Faisal Masood and Sabiha Ansari

“I have a lifetime goal to significantly impact the lives of a million people.” states Haroon Mokhtarzada, founder of Webs.com.

Although he humbly adds that he’s not even close to that goal, we beg to differ. Haroon, a 35-year-old Harvard law school graduate turned entrepreneur who sold his first company for $117.5 million dollars, is definitely on his way to achieving his goal!

We had a chance to talk to Haroon about his amazing journey, lessons learned and plans going forward.

After graduating from the University of Maryland with a degree in economics in 2001, Haroon and his brothers started a company, Freewebs.com, a platform to let people build their own website.

“It was basically a side business. A free platform with premium optional features that only a small percentage of people were paying for,” he shared.

But after graduating from Harvard with a JD in 2005, Haroon had a decision to make.

“I had a choice between joining a law firm or doing business, so we decided to go all out in the business. I turned down that offer and didn’t take the bar exam. I decided that I’d rather be an entrepreneur than a lawyer,” he adds.

Along with his older brother, who quit his job at the National Institute of Health, and help from his younger one who was still in high school, they launched the company full time.

“At that point, we actually had a million users who had signed up on the site, basically without any marketing because they liked the product and it was free!” he points out.

A year later, they had raised $12 million dollars from two venture capital firms and a few Silicon Valley angel investors. By 2011, Freewebs, now called Webs.com, was doing extremely well and was acquired by Vistaprint and became their digital arm.

But growing so rapidly doesn’t come without its pitfalls. There were many hard lessons learned along the way.

“We did some things right, but we made a lot of mistakes too. At one point, we almost sank the business,” he says.

In an effort to monetize their users, one of the big decisions they made was to put advertising on the site which wasn’t originally there. This started bringing in a lot of revenue, but it was at the expense of the user experience.

“Users now had ads on their sites and in general our focus became how can we make more and more money instead of how can we make the users happy? It took a lot for us to admit that this was a wrong strategy and that we needed to abandon it. But we did give up all that revenue and shrank for almost a year. We put the focus back on the customer, back on the user, and the people who were really paying us and getting value from our site. This really helped us to regain our foothold and grow again. I learned the hard way that the customer really has to be at the center of the company,” he stated.

Another lesson that Haroon shared is to “trust yourself”. He believes that it’s important to get advice from people who have more experience. “But at the end of the day, the person who has created the business tends to have the best intuition about their company. In certain instances, I wish I had just trusted my own instinct,”

So what habits make Haroon successful?

“I am someone who really enjoys problem solving. So if I see something and it’s a problem, my mind instantly races to “Why is it like this? And how would it be better?” he questions.

So naturally, when this problem solver, who is happily married with three young daughters, had sisters from the community approach him with issues of not being able to get married, he came up with a solution … and his next project. “At the end of the day, this was a data problem. Muslims looking to get married were spread across the country without a way to really connect,” he said. In March 2015, Haroon launched Minder, an app for other Muslims to meet each other, not too different from the widely popular app, Tinder. But he specifically mentions that this is not an Islamic app, it’s just an app for Muslims. “We want to have a cultural shift. Everything else is happening on mobile so it makes sense to remove the stigma of Muslims being online,” he adds.

With 20,000 plus signups, 15 million swipes (number of times profiles have been viewed), 125,000 matches (conversations started), and launches in many countries throughout Europe, this might very well become another one of his success stories.

But that’s not all that Haroon does in his spare time. He’s part of the Global Entrepreneur’s Council at the UN Foundation. He’s also part of a pilot project in Afghanistan, a country where his parents emigrated from and where he spent the first three of years of his life. It’s a private school that subsidizes free education for orphans called “Tolo-e-Shams”, meaning “Rising of the Sun.”

So what’s Haroon’s message to budding entrepreneurs? “Most businesses fail because they never get their first customer. A business isn’t really a business until you have a customer that is paying you. At the end of the day, a business and a product is a promise. And a promise is a very powerful statement.”

This post was originally published on The Muslim Observer

Rafat Ali blazes travel media trail

By Sabiha Ansari and Faisal Masood

“Rafat Ali is a global soul.”

That’s how the Founder and CEO of Skift, the first and only media brand that covers the business of travel globally, describes himself. And it’s no wonder considering that he’s grown up across three countries (and continents), having lived in the U.S., UK, and India.

We had a chance to sit and talk to Rafat and hear about his amazing career and insights.

“I was never meant to be an entrepreneur, I just kind of stumbled onto it,” he states. Not surprising since he came to Indiana University to pursue his masters in journalism in 1999, with a previous degree in computer engineering from Aligarh Muslim University in India.

Not exactly the path of the classic entrepreneur.

But back in 2002, what started out as a simple blog covering the business of digital media, turned into his first successful venture. He later sold the blog which had transformed into an online media company, PaidContent, to UK’s Guardian Media Group in 2008 for a reported $30 million. Rafat stayed on with them until 2010 before he took off to travel across the world for the next two years looking to find “the next big thing”.

And that turned out to be Skift. So what does the word exactly mean? “It’s an Old English word meaning shift, change, or transformation and it’s now become the word that refers to the change and shift happening in the travel industry,” shares Rafat. “Skift provides news information and data services for the travel industry between all its subsectors- airlines, airports, tourism, hotels, online travel, cruises, some backend tech players and manufacturers. We have a very progressive message. We like to talk in big picture fashion about the changes happening in consumer behavior, the digital technology trends that affect consumer behavior and the future of travel. In essence, we’re the Bloomberg of travel,” he adds.

As Skift celebrates its third anniversary on July 30th of this year, Rafat is quite confident in the direction it’s headed. Based in New York City, with currently 18 people on his team, he sees his company steadily growing in the next few years. “We’re a boutique media information business and although we’re a venture backed company, we’ve only raised $2.5 million dollars and we like it that way and don’t want to raise more, he states. “Some of these other companies have raised tens of millions of dollars, but investor money can come with too many strings attached and you don’t want to sell your soul. For a media company, brand and reputation is extremely important,” he further adds.

When asked what habits make him successful, Rafat laughs and says “A delusional sense of belief in yourself that you will succeed! You will hear a hundred no’s before you hear one yes.” He also adds that it’s important to focus and have a sense of balance, learn to say “no” to a lot of things while keeping your head down and working and “brutally” managing your time the right way.

But the start-up world can come with its own unique challenges. What keeps Rafat awake at night, we asked? “Building the right culture inside of the company” he shares. “Hiring the right people is a great challenge, but it’s only half the battle won. Keeping the people happy inside is the next phase of the battle.”

In a recent memo to his team, Rafat shares, “We work hard during the hours of 8 am to 6 pm, and that’s it. We don’t want people in the office after 6 pm, we don’t want people working on weekends. We want to build a humane company that wants the best out of our people in the hours they give to the company and build a more balanced life outside of it” And he has followed through with his words with two exotic off sites for his entire team in the past two years, Iceland and Medellin, Columbia.

So what does Rafat do in his free time to relax and recharge? “I read, travel, and play with my six month old son. I met my wife while I was traveling during my two year trip, so travel is of course a big part of our lives. I’m also very connected to my Indian roots. It keeps me grounded in many ways while being in America,” he shares.

Rafat’s parting advice to budding entrepreneurs- “Be prepared as best as possible in whatever sector you’re focusing on and do your research. Have a high risk tolerance and be comfortable with this uncertainty at all time. And action over intent, always.”

This post was originally published on The Muslim Observer

Announcing Innovation 4 Impact competition at GIES 2015

In hosting the Entrepreneur Showcase over the last five years, we have found that creativity and ingenuity in producing unique models to fulfill the Muslim market needs result in wide buy-in and success. We also recognize that real entrepreneurs are a unique breed of humans, with an imbued talent of identifying and risking extraordinary lengths to fulfill market needs.

What you’ve been waiting for…

We’re excited to announce the inaugural Innovation 4 Impact Competition, hosted by Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority (DSOA) and Thomson Reuters in collaboration with American Muslim Consumer Consortium (AMCC). The competition will take center stage at the Global Islamic Economy Summit from October 5-6, 2015 at the Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai.

The Innovation 4 Impact Competition has been developed to support digital businesses in the Islamic economy across the globe. The competition will serve as a platform for start-ups and businesses to gain support and entrepreneurial advice to further refine their propositions.

Nurturing these innovative entrepreneurs, the entrants will propose disruptive ideas in the following areas:

i4i-categories

We believe that the digital economy will play a crucial role in changing the lives of millions.

We are looking for innovative entrepreneurs across the globe whose solutions will disrupt the status quo.

Learn More & Apply

Application Deadline: August 10, 2015

Female entrepreneur blazes trails in Alabama

By Faisal Masood and Sabiha Ansari

Silicon Valley, NYC, or L.A. usually come to mind when you think of a classic tech entrepreneur, but if you live in Birmingham, Alabama, chances are you’re well aware of dynamo and serial entrepreneur, Tanveer Patel. Many of her ventures have been in the tech sector including her current one as co-founder and CEO of ConcertCare, a company that provides integrated technology solutions in healthcare.

We had the pleasure of speaking to Tanveer about all that she has accomplished and her views on entrepreneurship.

So why healthcare?

“I already had such a good understanding of the industry. It was my area of expertise,” she shares. Tanveer’s previous company CircleSource, which she started and grew to 100 employees and sold in 2010 was in the healthcare services industry.

On starting her latest company Tanveer said, “My current partners and I are all IT people and most of our family members are in the medical field, so it just made sense to blend the two and develop a product,” says Tanveer. ConcertCare’s focus is on changing the landscape of healthcare by enabling physicians and patients to connect seamlessly through the use of technology.

But Tanveer is an avid entrepreneur so she’s always on the lookout for an opportunity. So along the way, when the chance to purchase an Indian grocery shop came along, she couldn’t pass it up. “I’m Indian, I love to cook and I love spices, so my husband and I decided to buy it,” she says.

Ever the techy, Tanveer wanted to really change the face of the traditional ethnic store. So of course, she brought in technology to harness the productivity by making sure all products were coded and digitized, she added an internet café, and gave it a trendy and hip feel to it. “Patel’s Spice World” became quite a staple in the small Birmingham community and the local mosque. When a couple in the community lost their jobs and were looking for business opportunities, they approached Tanveer. “It’s really such a beautiful story, “she says. “The wife came to me and said she wasn’t interested in buying a convenient store or anything similar. She wanted to have a halal business and ours was the only one she knew of and asked would we sell her our store? My husband and I talked about it…and we thought for us this store is a hobby, but for this family, this could be their source of income, so we decided to sell it.”

After putting in so much passion and effort, how did she feel about selling it?

“I love buying, building, and selling!” Tanveer states.

So what habits make Tanveer so successful? “I’ve always tried to model myself after how our Prophet Muhammad did business in a just and fair manner. He always talked about a win-win strategy for everyone. Have good contracts in place. Be persistent. Have a positive outlook and don’t let problems stop you. Find another way.”

Tanveer is co-founder and president of the Birmingham Venture Club and serves on the boards of many other businesses and non-profits, including Alabama Helping Hands, environmental group Solid Earth, Tech Birmingham and the Birmingham International Center.

She has also founded a non-profit, Red Crescent Clinic of Alabama which serves more than 700 patients without insurance. “Every Sunday, my husband and two sons, ages 23 and 17, volunteer there. It’s a great way for us to spend time together while serving the community,” explained Tanveer.

Tanveer also credits her success first to her father and then to her husband. “My father was an entrepreneur and he always taught me that if I wanted to make a difference, I had to be at the head of the table where I can influence decisions.” At the age of 19 while she was still in college, she had an arranged marriage and immigrated to the US from India. “My father also made the best decision of my life in choosing my husband for me. Twenty four years later, my husband has been my best friend, guide, mentor, and the best teacher. I’ve learned so much from him and he’s been at my side all along,” she fondly adds.

Thoughts that keep Tanveer up at night, “As a leader, it is always at the back of my mind, that you are responsible for so many people and their families. I’m always thinking how can I help my employees, my partners, and customers achieve their goals individually and within the company. Think about others before you think about yourself. Servant leadership is so rewarding,” she adds.

Tanveer’s advice to budding entrepreneurs, “You should always do something where you make a difference. Don’t run after money. Solve problems, do the right thing and money will follow you. Think of how you can be game-changing, disruptive and different. Change the way people operate- that’s very cool!”

This post was originally published on The Muslim Observer

Muslim Marriage is Mobile

This is a guest post by Shahzad Younas, Founder & CEO of Muzmatch.

After a long successful career as a Trader at Morgan Stanley, one of the large American Investment Banks, I decided to leave the world of banking behind and start my own venture. I had been itching to be my own boss, and be more in control of my destiny. I wanted to do more to actually help others and have some more meaning to my life. I wanted to be even more successful – both in this life and Inshallah in the next.

From my time in Finance, I had many opportunities to network with other similar Professional Muslims in that field across various banks and Institutions. It was here I realised that many Muslims were single, yet despite their success in their careers and chosen field, many of them really struggled to find their other half. I spoke to many ladies and gents on this topic and I realised it was a big problem.

In my later years at Morgan Stanley I started muzmatch. It was a Muslim Marriage website which focused on quality – quality profiles and quality service to its members. Plus it was very affordable and operated on a Pay As You Go model.

Alhamdullilah it was successful and led to over 4 marriages (that I know of!). However from running the website I realised that many users found such web based services to be slow, expensive, inaccurate and very disappointing to use. It was a long process to search for someone, then to message them and then to wait for a response (or none at all). Furthermore there were too many people who used the anonymity of websites to portray a false picture of themselves.

At this time mobile apps were gaining real traction and western style “dating” apps such as Tinder were proving very popular.

Looking at Tinder I could see some positives from its mode of operation – firstly that it would show location based matches, as more importantly that before any conversation can take place, both parties must show mutual independent interest first. I thought, if I could take the good from this, whilst combining this with more Islamic principles, I could really create something which would genuinely be useful, convenient and safe for Muslims worldwide.

I felt passionate about making a real difference and creating something of real quality. I decided to leave Morgan Stanley and pursue a career as a Tech Entrepreneur. I spent the next month learning how to design and build apps for Apple. Four months later the muzmatch app was released! Another month later I learnt how to build Android apps and then released it for the Android platform.

I focused on making the app as Halal, safe and private as possible whilst also catering to the diverse range of Muslim’s that exist – from those who are moderately religious to those who are very religious. I made the focus clearly for Muslims seeking Marriage, whilst particularly paying attention to the needs and sensitivities of Muslim ladies.

Firstly ensuring that ladies can set their photos to be fully private, and only show them as and when they feel it is suitable to do so. Also all members can add a Wali/Guardian to their account, who will then have the ability to watch over all conversations taking place. The principle of mutual interest was key – specifically as it prevents the barrage of messages many ladies will acknowledge receiving from hundreds of men when using traditional Muslim Marriage websites.

Some technological features of mobile phones really lend well to making muzmatch more secure for our members. Firstly we show you other single Muslims who are actually nearby (using your phones GPS). This cuts out those who purport to be from different countries as is often the case with normal marriage websites.   Also we recognised that many people wished to remain private and not connect such apps to their Facebook or other social media, hence we verify each member using their actual phone number. This allows us to permanently block any unsavoury characters as well as to ensure that each person only has a single muzmatch account.

Feedback thus far has been incredible – many of our members love the app and love how it operates. We are constantly tweaking and improving things along the way but Alhamdullilah our growth is testament to the real need there is by Professional Muslims.

We see the process of finding someone for marriage as a real cornerstone of our deen and so we aim to keep this service free to all. We plan to really market the app further and grow our userbase so we can play our role in bringing Muslims together for marriage.

Leaving medicine for the world of art design

This article was originally published on The Muslim Observer. Edited by Mahvish Irfan.

How many doctors do you know would leave behind a lucrative career in medicine and start an Islamic art company instead?

We know one such person.

Graduating from Cornell, completing medical school in upstate New York, and an added internship at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), Jontie Karden did just that.

“Throughout the whole process, I had misgivings. By the time I went through residency, it became clear that this wasn’t what I wanted to do,” he explains.

But with all the years he had invested in his education, Jontie still wanted to give his medical career another shot. He spent some years working in clinical research, but here again he faced a dilemma. “I saw some moral and ethical issues that were inappropriate and I didn’t want to be a part of …so I left.”

One day while sitting with his wife, Kunk Pik Liu, he contemplated, “What do I do? Where do I go from here? I know what I don’t want to do….but what is it that I want to do?”

Jontie had created a piece of art for his home some time back. “My wife Pik pointed to the artwork and said, “Why don’t we do that? I’m a designer and can design the artwork. We could create a whole line of products and that could be our business!” “

Hence in 2009, Sakina Design was founded by a creative husband and wife team, Jontie and Pik.

Although we have known them for many years, it was such a pleasure to sit down with this delightful couple and discuss their journey.

At first glance, you can’t help but notice their diverse backgrounds. Jontie, although born and brought up in upstate New York has a unique Circassian background. His parents fled the Caucasus Mountains to Golan Heights and later immigrated to America. Kunk Pik Liu, or “Pik” as everyone knows her, was born and brought up in Hong Kong. She came to the US in 1999 to study graphic design at the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT).

One of the first Muslims she ever came across offered her some books about Islam. She put them away. But, she did decide to challenge herself to try fasting. “I thought a quarter of the world’s population does it, why can’t I?” The first year she drank water while fasting, but the second year, she wanted to fast exactly like everyone did. “I just felt wonderful afterwards, a kind of peacefulness.” But the true clincher came in her second year at FIT when her instructor assigned a design project that could be based on anything, even religion. So Pik chose do it on Islam and after two months of extensive research on the religion, she was ready to take her Shahadah and convert.

So, how did these two totally different people from the spectrum meet? A matrimonial site of course! “I am a very practical person,” says Pik. “I knew that if I wanted to practice my faith the way I wanted to, America was the best place to do it. I couldn’t go back to Hong Kong. Another convert friend of mine had found her spouse online so I decided to give it a chance as well.” In the summer of 2003, they both were married.

“For both of us it’s important to have meaning in our lives and have a cause that we’re striving towards. So the concept of creating a product that melded our Islamic and western identities was very appealing and sharing that with Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Sakina Design’s focus is on home décor and gifts that reflect the rich spirit of Islamic art from around the world. Our hope is that our unique designs create contemplation and sakina – tranquility – while offering timeless beauty. We believe in building bridges, Pik comes from East Asia, my family comes from Caucasus Mountains, we’re in America, we’re Muslim, we have this global perspective of trying to connect people to each other,” shares Jontie.

What makes Sakina Design unique? “What differentiates us from others is we have a certain aesthetic. We’re minimalists. We try to bring things down to its cleanest and simplest form while still retaining its authentic origin,” states Jontie.

Alhambra_BLACK_room

But that’s not all, the husband and wife duo believe living responsibly is an integral part of their faith and business. They try their utmost best to ensure that their products and packaging utilize resources wisely, minimize waste and pollution, and even have a Sakina GREEN label to show products that have been produced from eco-friendly and sustainable materials. “We’re Americans and the U.S. has some of the best labor standards, so our goal is to support local businesses and create as many products here in the US as we can,” expresses Jontie.

But as any entrepreneur will tell you, owning a business does not come without its challenges. With all this buzz of the “Islamic Economy”, Jontie and Pik are still trying to understand their market. “It’s so young and diverse and it’s definitely not a homogeneous community,” says Jontie. While most of their customers are based in the US, they have seen increased interest internationally from Canada, Asia, UK, France, and the Middle East.

Jontie and Pik’s advice to budding entrepreneurs, “Just do it! Don’t let fear stop you. It prevents you from experimenting and understanding the market. Go out and try with good intentions. Don’t be content and always look for ways to improve and grow yourselves. A business can’t grow unless the owners grow and that is what we have always strived to do.”

Halalifying your investments

Post by Faisal Masood and Sabiha Ansari. Edited by Mahvish Irfan.

How many of us have wondered about the “halalness” of our investments?

With 6 to 7 million Muslims in America and a buying power of $100 billion, Islamic finance is still in its infancy in the U.S.

We sat down with the perfect person to discuss this matter, Naushad Virji, founder & CEO of Sharia Portfolio, a boutique asset management firm specializing in Sharia-compliant investing.

Ansari_Naushad

After graduating with a degree in Business Administration from University of Florida, Naushad began his career in setting up a small hedge fund. “My focus at the time was only to invest in companies which I believed to be halal. I didn’t want to go outside of my comfort zone which meant no alcohol, pornography, tobacco, gambling, or weapons manufacturing”, he shared. “It was an exciting time for me because I was able to invest yet avoid areas that didn’t conform to my personal values and still do very well. Our initial return was 20% per year. I was happy and my clients were very happy.”

When his wife started United Muslim Foundation, a non-profit organization focusing on establishing unity through community service, Naushad became more involved with the local Muslim community in the Orlando area. In discussing what he did for a living and specifically the avoidance of non-halal investing, he realized there was a great interest and appeal in what he was doing. People kept asking him to invest their money. It dawned on him that with all the various regulations pertaining to a hedge fund, he would have to switch to setting up an investment advisory firm and therefore in 2005, Sharia Portfolio was officially launched.

Why the name Sharia Portfolio? With all the negative connotations attached to the word and increasing use of the phrase “creeping sharia”, did that affect his business in any manner? Surprisingly it didn’t. “I decided on this name because in one word it described the company. Originally, we started with a team of three people and we couldn’t keep up with the demand. There was an email that an anti-Muslim group sent out that spoke out against sharia compliant investing and mentioned Amana Mutual Funds, Azzad Investments, and a few other companies, but we weren’t mentioned at all. Frankly I was a bit offended!” laughs Naushad. “I joked with my staff that maybe we should contact them and complain that we weren’t on that list.”

Today Sharia Portfolio, has grown to a team of 10 financial professionals with a total asset management of approximately $40 million. “We hope to be at about $100 million by the end of the year. Our average rate of return over the last 10 years has been about 11 percent, and in the last 3 years, since the market has done very well, it has been about 14.5% to 15%.”

With regards to halal investment growing in America, Naushad is extremely optimistic. “According to a statistic released by DinarStandard, over 80 % of Muslims believe alcohol, gambling, and some of those areas are wrong and haram, but less than 20% actually avoid them in their investments. So that gives me a pretty big market,” he states. “What differentiates us from our competitors is that we see ourselves as financial advisors and consultants and our focus is more heavily on individual stocks as opposed to mutual funds,” he adds. But Naushad isn’t the only one with his eye on this huge market. According to him, four of the large major financial firms have reached out to him to buy out Sharia Portfolio in the past year, but he has no plans to sell.

With Naushad’s diverse background, being born in Italy, brought up in southeast Florida, and raised by parents of South Asian descent, family is an integral part of his leisurely activities. They try to spend as much time as possible together. “We’re going to blink one day and our kids are going to be gone, and when that happens, I don’t want to have any regrets,” he reflects poignantly.

What is Naushad’s advice to budding entrepreneurs? “Be determined, focused and think long-term. Have a clear vision of where you want to be and take the necessary steps to get there. Don’t expect to make your first million right away, my first year when I started my hedge fund, I only made $112!”

This post was originally published on The Muslim Observer.