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.”
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.”