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ACIC 2022

Under the slogan of “Your Challenges. Your Solutions. Our Support”, the AUIS Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center (AEIC) executed a new initiative titled the AUIS Community Innovation Challenge (ACIC 2022) during the past few months. 
The project was an initiative to put the AUIS community at the heart of creating an innovative campus. For its pilot run in 2022, the AUIS students were the sole target group for ACIC, both as challengers and as solvers. The initiative used the power of digital platforms to allow students to share their challenges in phase one and submit their solutions in phase two of the program. 
During the program (March and April, 2022), a total of 25 challenges were submitted to the platform which received a total of 405 votes collectively. Based on students' backing of the challenges, the top ten upvoted challenges were selected as calls for solutions in different categories such as reducing plastic waste, physical cleanliness, maintaining food quality, registration information and guidance, and eliminating food waste. 
A total of eleven solutions were submitted to seven challenges. The project ended with a pitching ceremony for the solutions to be evaluated by a panel of three judges composed of AUIS staff and faculty. As part of the ceremony, the top three solutions were awarded monetary as well as symbolic prizes. The top ten upvoted challenges were also given discount vouchers for school stationary and supplies as a recognition for sharing their challenges.
Overall, the AUIS Community Innovation Challenge (ACIC) 2022 received 11 solutions, 25 challenges, 116 comments, 405 votes, and 3056 views to its digital platform.  It is worth mentioning that the ACIC 2022 expenses were covered by the generous funds of Qaiwan Group to support entrepreneurship and innovation activities at AUIS.

 

AUIS Alumni Spotlight: Tara Mohammed, Founder of Black Ace Company

 

Tara Mohammed, an AUIS graduate (Information Technology ‘18), is the founder of Black Ace company for IT solutions. Black Ace has a diverse and young team from different backgrounds, and Tara credits her team with having had a great impact on her and being by her side from day one of starting her business. More than just serving budding entrepreneurs, Tara has focused on hiring and targeting fresh graduates to help them gain experience, build their skills, and prove themselves as professionals and entrepreneurs. 

AEIC: Tell us more about your business. 

Tara Mohammed: Black Ace works in IT solutions and our main services include software solutions and cloud services. We have other services such as hardware and infrastructure services, professional and technical training, as well as IT consultancy and support. We focus on bringing the newest technology into the market and we believe in providing top quality service to our customers. Black Ace's strength is to always bring the best and newest technology to the market.

AEIC: What inspired you to start your business?

TM: I had this idea since January 2019 and after six months of planning, we launched officially in July 2019. Seeing a gap in the market helped me pave the way for this idea. We do have many experienced and great companies but they are outdated and don’t reach today’s market needs in this area.

Technology is evolving very fast and to keep up with the industry is not easy, so as a technology company it is our goal to always bring the newest technology standards and keep up with the changes to give the market what it needs.

We faced issues defining the problem, which was related to quality and changes in market needs. So we took that and designed a product to fit customers’ needs rather than creating a fixed solution focusing on our own income. Business is much more than a paycheck. I do this because I love what I do -- IT and development -- and I recommend everyone do what they like so they can achieve outstanding work.

AEIC: How did you come up with the name of Black Ace?

TM: We wanted something unique and meaningful. ‘Ace’ means ‘a person who excels at a particular activity"’, and “black” came with it and we liked it so we decided that was it.

AEIC: What were your challenges?

TM: Human resources was one of the challenges we faced at Black Ace. It took us time to build a team, but I am very happy and proud of each and every one of our employees. Another challenge was COVID-19, but Black Ace survived through that and it made us stronger. 

AEIC: How did your AUIS education help you succeed? 

TM: I had so much energy and I wanted to direct that energy into my vision. For this I have to credit AUIS and the course options I had. I had an opportunity to learn and I took every bit of it and invested it in myself through learning and making the best out of every class. For example, taking a class in accounting may seem irrelevant but in my position now I have to understand numbers and deal with them. Finance, marketing, small business management, project management, and contentive business analysis were some of the best classes and I wish more students would consider taking them. When you are the CEO, it doesn’t mean that you have to do everything, but you have to understand everything in your business.

The flexibility that AUIS offered helped me to manage studying and work at the same time was very valuable since my working experience in different environments led me to build a unique one within Black Ace.

AUIS gives everyone an opportunity and if you take that opportunity well it will help you become a very prosperous and a promising individual. Being in a liberal arts university doesn’t only teach you raw material but also how to think critically, manage your time and develop your soft skills.

AEIC: How has your past experience helped you today?

TM: I have been working for over seven years now in multiple diverse environments, and I see these experiences as a ladder to help you reach your destination. It is important to communicate with others to understand the market. Work experience with others will also help you evolve and understand workplace environments more. Building your network, gaining experience and understanding market needs all help you with adding value and implementing your own vision.

AUIS helped me start early since I had the option to choose my classes and schedule them according to my work. Now I can see the reflection of the work experience I’ve had on my business.

AEIC: What do you do to make sure your business runs at its peak?

TM: We are a customer-centered business, meaning we always put the customer’s values and needs above all and we make sure everything is perfectly set.                    

It’s also important to work hard and be passionate about what you do, as I have always been about  business. If you love what you do, you can manage well and continue. We feel very responsible for every project and all work that is being done in our company. We consider every client to be a VIP, regardless of their income. Every employee in Blackace loves what we do.

AEIC: What advice do you give to other business owners and startups?

TM: For business owners, it is important to have a strategic plan, but you will also figure things out on your journey. You may face problems you didn’t consider, so it is important to learn and adapt, as business is about adaptation. I believe that as a manager/leader you need to lead by example, and your personal values will definitely reflect on the business.

For startups, you can never wait for the right moment to start; you have to create the right moment for establishing your idea. Looking at the current circumstances of our region, many might say it is not suitable to start a business, but it is very important to know which voices to let in since words have power that can either build you up or break you down. You feed on the energy of others. If you keep going around the wrong people, you will get their negative vibes and energy. Surround yourself with good people to keep yourself focused on your target and to keep up the energy in you moving forward.

AEIC: What are your regrets and lessons learned?

TM: I don’t have any regrets because I always try to make the best out of any situation and I own up to every decision and count myself responsible for my actions. Every day is an opportunity to learn more, especially as an entrepreneur. Overall, the one lesson I want to share is for everyone not to take things personally; try to rationalize and find the best route to deal with it.

AEIC: What is the most difficult part of your business as a founder/owner?

TM: It is not easy to start your own business. Sometimes it may feel like everything is against you, but what keeps you from failing is that one extra attempt or try, and having the spirit to keep going. To be realistic is not always easy as sometimes the tide might go against you, but always keeping an optimistic vibe is important to help you go forward.

 

AUIS Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center Announces Call for Applications For AUIS Innovation Awards

AUIS Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center Announces Call for Applications For AUIS Innovation Awards

 

The AUIS Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center (AEIC) at American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) announced today the AUIS Innovation Awards (AIA), which will highlight innovation excellence in institutions in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region and put a spotlight on innovative solutions that have had a significant impact on society. 

The inaugural AUIS Innovation Awards 2022 (AIA 2022) will be presented at AUIS on January 13, 2022, recognizing excellence in innovation by individuals as well as entities. The program invites submissions from individuals and institutions that showcase innovative achievements. ​​Entries will be accepted for consideration on a rolling basis until 11:00 PM Iraq time on November 30, 2021 using an online application form at http://www.auis.edu.krd/innovationawards

AEIC Director Dr. Hemin Latif praised this new initiative, highlighting its goal to support innovation across the country. “For the first time in the region, an award will reward innovators for shaping our future and making our lives better. Innovators are often unrecognized,” he said. “The AIA program shines a light on outstanding achievements in all sectors and creates a platform for Iraqi innovators like never before.”

AUIS Innovation Awards are made possible by the generous support of donors who include the Qaiwan Group. More information about the application process can be found on the AIA website: www.auis.edu.krd/innovationawards.

AUIS Alumni Spotlight: Hero Mohammed, Founder at Potan

AUIS Alumni Spotlight: Hero Mohammed, Founder at Potan

 

Hero Mohammed (Information Technology,‘17) is the founder of Potan, a B2B company focused on IT solutions and software development founded in 2020 and based in Sulaimani. With a team of five young professionals as well as clients in Kurdistan, federal Iraq, and internationally, she aims to grow Potan, which builds meaningful and scalable software solutions for companies around the world. Hero is also the founder of Hackasuly, a coding community started in 2017  with the goal of promoting technology and encouraging people to join the tech sector. Their first hackathon event was held in 2017 at AUIS with over 60 participants from different technology backgrounds.

Hero spoke to the AUIS Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center (AEIC) about her journey. 

AEIC: Please introduce your business and the story behind it.

Hero Mohammed: Potan is a software solution company. I was working in the tech industry before starting the company so I always looked at the market and how software was developed here. I saw a gap as we got closer to digital transformation. We need more IT skills and we need more companies in the private sector to be involved in the whole transformation. So I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to start Potan and try to be part of this transformation, not only in Kurdistan but across all of Iraq.

AEIC: What inspired you to start your business?

HM: When I was working in the tech industry, I saw very traditional, mostly old technology that we have adapted/picked up a decade ago, so I thought it was my turn to come in and try to modernize technology here as well.

At Potan, we have our own values and vision that we want to implement and that was a big part why I started the company.

Starting your own business or working for someone else affects a person’s perspective. You have to experience different industries, companies, organizations, and institutions in both the private and public sectors just to get the whole idea and the whole image of the industry. 

AEIC: What makes Potan different?

HM: What makes Potan different from other companies is that Potan is not only about doing business, but more about setting values and a vision.

Every company has a different culture and work environment. Unfortunately we don’t have a good working environment here. I have personally experienced working environments that were toxic and did not help employees grow, so I always had this idea to start this for myself; that I could start a company where the people working there actually feel comfortable and the company is helping them grow.

It’s not just about paying salaries or just working; it’s definitely a whole culture. 

AEIC: How did you come up with the name Potan?

HM: I was searching for a name in Kurdish that I could relate to from both a business and personal perspective, since from a young age I was interested in mathematics and computer science. After searching for months in Kurdish dictionaries and online, we came up with the name Potan. Potan, or in Kurdish پۆوتان, is used in mathematics to describe the coordinate system (x, y). Mathematics is a fundamental intellectual tool in computing, but computing is also increasingly used as a key component in mathematical problem-solving. At the same time, coordinate geometry is essentially the visualization of everything you do with symbols in algebra and calculus. As someone who has always been in love with mathematics and computer science, I find this connection very beautiful. In addition, I find پۆوتان very euphonious and beautiful in terms of the phonetics of the word in Kurdish.

AEIC: What are some challenges you have faced?

HM: The challenges have been very diverse from the first step till you get settled with your business; and it’s only natural to face these challenges,

Registering your business is a hectic and costly process that requires you to come and go to public offices for months . 

To start your own business as a founder you have to do everything and the challenges you face are different depending on your background and skill set. Aside from the technical knowledge I have in IT, I had to improve in other fields like sales, marketing, and finance to make sure everything stays on track. You have to work hard and make sure you stay on track.

Technology is a tricky thing; you have to really love it to continue working in it because it’s not necessarily difficult but it requires that you keep learning and making sure you are a good problem solver and that you aren’t reckless.

AEIC: Did you start this business journey alone?

HM: Yes, but everyone from my family, friends, university connections, and professional contacts were very supportive of me in starting this business. The people around you and their encouragement make you move forward.

AEIC: How do you make sure your business runs well?

HM: There are many things you have to run in parallel. Having a good team is very important, training your team and making sure they are progressing and learning new technologies. Also making sure you are generating enough revenue to continue and making sure you have good marketing and sales so you don’t burn out. 

AEIC: How did your AUIS education help you succeed? 

HM: Many centers of education or academic institutions don’t really prepare their graduates for the local job market. That's why they get shocked and want to give up when they start working.

AUIS as a university has had a great impact on who I am today, especially business-wise. When I started Potan I didn’t only need technical skills but soft skills as well, in addition to learning about business, politics, economics, and so on. What AUIS offered me was not only an IT degree, but knowledge about other fields as well and that gave me a very unique insight for understanding my situation.

The fact that you can take elective classes and subjects that you are interested in can help develop your perspective and your future through solving different kinds of problems you face.

So I would say the whole combination of educational options you have at AUIS form the person you will become after graduation.

AEIC: What advice do you give to other business owners and startups?

HM: Try to see how you can contribute and where you can have impact. Speaking from my own personal experience I think it is always a good idea to make sure everything you do is very well calculated and that you know what obstacles and opportunities may come your way and how to deal with them.

AEIC: What are your regrets or lessons learned?

HM: The whole process is gradual and helps you to learn new things every day. As you learn from your mistakes, the process is very slow but you have to stay passionate and on track.

AEIC: What is the most difficult part of your business as a founder?

HM: Multitasking as a founder is difficult; combining many skills together can be challenging but not impossible. 

 

 
 

AUIS Alumni Spotlight: Hayas Ismail Khayat and Hasara Ismail Khayat, co-founders of Nakhsh

AUIS Alumni Spotlight: Hayas Ismail Khayat and Hasara Ismail Khayat, co-founders of Nakhsh

 

Hayas Ismail Khayat (Business Administration, ‘19) and Hasara Ismail Khayat (Business Administration, ‘17) are sibling co-founders of Kurdish clothing brand Nakhsh, which prioritizes locally-produced and sourced materials. The company was founded in August 2019 and ran successfully for several months before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The global shutdown proved to be a serious obstacle, but the Khayats have remained passionate and are striving to achieve their ultimate goal of creating an international brand. Nakhsh attire can now reach national and international customers. They export to 14 different countries so far including the United States, Poland, Germany, United Kingdom and many more. You can find their website at: www.nakhsh.com.

The co-founders shared their experiences in entrepreneurship with the AUIS Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center (AEIC).

AEIC: Can you both introduce yourselves and tell us about the journey of getting together to start Nakhsh?

Hayas: My name is Hayas Ismail Khayat. I graduated from AUIS with a degree in Business Administration in 2019. I’ve worked in information technology-related fields with different organizations, but I am mostly interested in commercial photography and videography.

Hasara: My name is Hasara Ismail Khayat. I graduated from AUIS with a degree in Business Administration as well, but in 2017. I have personally worked in the humanitarian field with different organizations, but I am also interested in fashion and design. I am currently working as a librarian at AUIS.

Hayas originally had the idea for Nakhsh but both of us being business graduates and coming from an artistic family helped us choose this path. Our grandfather was from Khanaqin and was a very famous tailor in the region. That’s where we got our family name, Khayat, and our father, Ismail Khayat, is a well-known artist in Sulaimani. 

We’ve tried to connect what we have studied with our family’s tradition and our father’s art. We both love colors and patterns due to our father’s influence on us; just like our father has tried to show Kurds’ pain and sorrows through his art, we also want to take the same path of showing the world that we exist. We have written “Made in Kurdistan” on all of our products. We believe that art can do what politics cannot, and to make change through art is a peaceful way to have a great impact.

AEIC: Can you describe your products and what Nakhsh offers?

Hasara: We design and make clothing that is a mixture between casual wear and traditional patterns. We have different collections and can take customized orders from our customers. We make shirts, jackets, and we have been working online through social media and our website.

Our designs are all customized so you won’t find them anywhere else. We make our products locally, inside Iraq and mostly in Kurdistan.

AEIC: Is Nakhsh currently online or do you have a physical store?

Hayas: We recently opened our first physical store in Sulaimani, which offers a variety of items for different genders and we offer customization in our store as well. We are located between Zargata and Baxtyari streets behind the Grand Millennium. 

AEIC: How did you choose to get into the clothing business?

Hayas: I personally like colorful clothes and I see that products in the bazaar have nothing special about them. It’s hard to find unique looking pieces. We also did a survey and created some prototypes before officially launching. We saw a gap in the Kurdish market and customers' need for our items.

Hasara: I like fashion and getting to design these patterns is a big deal for Nakhsh and us. It’s our mark and we strive for perfect products; if we are not happy with an item, we won’t deliver it. We want every item to be perfectly made, with love and care, not with some machine in a factory with no special touch to it.

AEIC: What were your challenges and how did you overcome them?

Hayas: We have a hard time finding good people to work with, like tailors. We, as Nakhsh, are trying to support this talent in the region. Now that we are in the business, we see many talented people who are not well-known. We also have problems with sourcing materials since we want everything to be fully local; we don’t want to import the things we need. We continuously face the difficulty of finding good materials, like various types of fabrics, since the stocks sometimes run out. 

We want our investments to stay inside the country. That’s why we want everything to be fully local. We also spend a lot of time on each piece as we want it to be perfect. Clothes are not like other items; they have to be comfortable and the customer should feel good wearing them. That’s why we take back any item and fix it based on the needs of the customer.

AEIC: How did your AUIS education help you with your business?

Hayas: Taking classes on entrepreneurship, creative coding, robotics, and interaction design helped me think more than ever and to shape my vision and ideas. I still use what I learned in these classes in my business.

Hasara: Many people have great ideas but they start without any plans and that’s why their businesses fail after a short while. Learning how to take the steps professionally and writing a business plan has helped Nakhsh to stay this strong after many difficulties.

AEIC: What advice do you have for others who have a startup or a business idea?

Hasara: As a startup, it’s important to always get feedback from trusted people and ask for guidance. It’s also important to specialize in an area, and focus on it so it can grow. It is really important to have a goal and a vision. Start with what you know and understand what you are doing and why you are doing it. Starting your own business is not easy, so stay passionate and energized and believe in your idea.

Hayas: People are so afraid to fail that they don’t even take the first step. It’s really important to know that failing is temporary but regret is forever. It’s also important to start and share your idea with the right people to get feedback as not everyone is suitable to talk to about your business idea.

AEIC: Is there anything you want our readers to know about Nakhsh?

Hasara: Yes! We give free reusable fabric bags to our customers instead of plastic bags to help guide our customers to save the beautiful environment of Kurdistan.

Hayas: We also want to thank our family and friends for supporting us and helping us on this journey.

Alumni Spotlight: Dawar Fuad and Barham Mahmood, co-founders of Plus the Edge

 

Dawar Fuad (Information Technology, ‘19) and Barham Mahmoud (Business, ‘18) are AUIS graduates and co-founders of UK- and Iraq-based consultancy and technology solutions company Plus the Edge, which offers services covering advertising, business and tech consultancy, as well as professional training sessions. The founders’ journey hasn’t been easy; Plus the Edge launched just two months before COVID-19 shut down much of the world, but since then, the company has managed to not just survive the pandemic, but thrive in spite of it, and it now boasts more than 15 employees. AEIC was pleased to meet a number of other AUIS graduates and current students who work part-time or full-time at Plus the Edge. 

Besides their Erbil and Sulaimani offices, Plus the Edge has its own data center in Glasgow, UK as a first step towards serving both national and international clients. Their upcoming project, PE School of Entrepreneurship, is an educational summer school for kids aged 8-15 years where they learn business, technology, math, critical thinking, and the English language. 

AEIC: Tell us about yourselves and how you came together as co-founders.

BM: My name is Barham Mahmood. I graduated with a degree in Business Administration from AUIS in Spring 2018. I am from Halabja but live in Sulaimani.

DF: My name is Dawar Fuad. I graduated with a degree in Information Technology from AUIS in Spring 2019.

BM: The story of us coming together as co-founders started when we met in our first week as undergraduate students at AUIS. We came up with the core idea after working in different places and seeing different work cultures. We met up daily and had lunch together all the time. We knew the kind of work culture we wanted to build — a place where everyone loved to be and work. With Plus the Edge, we think that we have achieved that goal.

AEIC: Can you describe your business to our readers and let us know what inspired you to start your own business?

DF: The core mission of our company is to maximize efficiency within organizations, but we also want to empower anyone who joins our team; we care more about our employees than our customers because we want to build an ecosystem where our employees are valued. 

BM: We didn’t want to work for other people with our mindset, and we have seen that our ideas were not appreciated in so many other places in this region, so we wanted to build a community where everyone’s idea is accepted and valued, at Plus the Edge, all our employees are appreciated and valued.

DF: Also one of the most important points whenever starting a business is to think about maximizing the benefit you create for your surroundings. It’s a very core aspect we both believe in. It’s not about me. It’s about how we can benefit others and give inspiration. We want more people to embrace having the mentality to start small businesses in Iraq as it was not very common until recent years.

AEIC: Could you tell us about some of the challenges you have faced and how you overcame them?

BM: As a startup, you have six months to decide whether to stay in the market or shut down. We worked for two months and the [COVID] pandemic lockdown started. We were forced to go home and close our office completely; however, we continued. We returned the office space to our landlord and went home. But we didn’t give up and we continued working at home with our employees. We adapted to the situation because we had the ability to do so.

The lockdown and going remote helped us build more communication; we had many activities such as webinars on how to be an entrepreneur, how to write business plans, and how to help people cope with situations like COVID-19. We had a partnership with Five One Labs. We launched the Virtual Iraq Hackathon 2020, and we opened a branch in the UK. We also provided seed funding with IOM for entrepreneurs to start their own business. 

DF: We definitely benefited from having the proper tech infrastructure, and having a consultancy to do so. Technology helps companies to go remote fully and that was what we were doing; we let the transformation happen. 

AEIC: How did your AUIS education help you succeed?

BM: AUIS is a means to becoming international. It gives you the opportunity to learn the language that helps you in finding resources. Personally, one of the most important benefits I got from AUIS was learning the English language. AUIS is a liberal arts university which gives students the opportunity to know and explore different cultures too. 

DF: Critical thinking should be embraced more to think outside of the box; we should question and wonder how to make things better. AUIS equips students with critical thinking abilities that are crucial for success. We believe that education is always the key. 

AEIC: Do you have any regrets?

BM: I regret not starting two years ago or even earlier. Don’t leave room for regret — if you don’t fail you cannot learn the right way. Being able to go through COVID-19 made us believe that we were strong, and we could stay in the market. We coped with difficult situations and made the best out of it.

AEIC: What advice do you have for other founders at your stage?

BM: I would tell other founders to start as soon as possible. They don’t have to be afraid since too much planning and thinking kills a business. Businesses in the market now should think of culture and the adaptation of new, modern business concepts. And for startups, they need to have their own culture, they have to have their own belief in their goals. Otherwise, it’s not a business but a machine for printing money. 

DF: We always thought about giving up and that it might not work, but overthinking always kills. It’s not easy; it’s a process and you have to go through it. Money comes and goes; money is not a factor of happiness; people’s love is and it's priceless.

You have to build a better network, so networking is like fuel, the more you network the further you can go. You have to be able to stretch your mind, otherwise the easiest task becomes difficult. Getting out of your comfort zone and forcing your mind to an extent that you have never been to is difficult, but it is a matter of perspective. The younger generation must have a good eye on tech entrepreneurship, how you build a business around technology. 

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