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.