The world is connected to newsfeeds 24/7. In western societies, a lot of erroneous messaging in the mass media has made the Muslim community there a prime target of casual racism, fear-mongering mobs, harassment, hate crime and other serious issues.
For Muslim entrepreneurs who have migrated to greener pastures, all in the hopes of getting the resources, tools and funding to realize their entrepreneurial ambitions, this presents a huge challenge.
But as a wise person once said, In adversity It furthers one to be persevering.
We take a look at some Muslim entrepreneurs who have employed technology in interesting ways to remain steadfast to their identity, their goals and to thrive in unfavorable circumstances.
Rashid Dar – Who Couldn’t Find Prayer Places in NYC
Rashid Dar, when he first moved to New York to complete his graduation, faced a challenge in the new city. He found that locating a quiet space where he could say his prayers was easier said than done.
“I’d find myself praying in dressing rooms at H&M, in empty stairwells, or on the side of a highway,” – Rashid Dar
This experience led the entrepreneur in him to solve an issue faced by millions of Muslims all across America. He started Musallah, an iOS app that could use crowd-sourced maps from all across the globe.
His app has been used by about one billion Muslims worldwide. His app didn’t attract any venture capital despite its widespread success, leading Rashid to turn to Kickstarter as a result. He has attracted backers worth $14,000 ever since.
Amin Asser – An entrepreneur who started Children’s books for Empowering Muslim Kids
Venture capitalists normally pounce on apps with a billion plus user base. But in the case of religious apps, especially Muslim ones, they’re hesitant to back them. This forces many Muslim devs and entrepreneurs to turn to Kickstarter.
“In talking with investors and in the entrepreneurial landscape, it feels like there is a lot of heartburn associated with Islamic-related startups,” says Amin Aaser, the Co-Founder behind Noor Books, a publisher for children’s books for the Muslim community in the West.
His advice for Muslim startups and entrepreneurs in America? Stay bootstrapped for now.
“The best situation you want to be in is bootstrapping until you’re profitable,” Aaser says. “You want venture capital to chase you.”
According to a report, the startup scene in Silicon Valley is more about white men funding other white men. Even with free-flowing cash all around, Muslim entrepreneurs believe that it is an issue where their faith plays a role in their exclusion from the greater startup scene.
Shahed Amanullah – The Brains Behind the First Incubator Focussed for Muslims in America
America is, for most, the land of opportunities. Muslim entrepreneurs who face a multitude of cultural, political, religious or logistical issues can circumvent most of them by becoming a stakeholder to the startup scene in Silicon Valley.
Shahed Amanullah had the same idea. He saw that ideas as well as talent were both in abundance in Silicon Valley. And the only thing that was needed was to be more judicious when it came to talent acquisition.
Keeping this in mind, he co-founded Affinis Labs, a business incubator with a focus on bringing a positive impact on Muslim communities.
He knew that there were two problems. One, the usual suspects in VC circles were uncomfortable backing Islamic startups. Two, Islamic private equity sectors themselves were reluctant when it came to doling out money for startups as was the norm.
“These firms understand logically that this space is growing and that there are opportunities here. But they aren’t good at talent acquisition, and they are uncomfortable at making million-dollar seed donations.” – Shahid Amanullah, Affinis Labs
Instead of having Muslim startups go it alone, his incubator provides mentorship, funding and more that is needed for entrepreneurs who are looking to make it big in America.
But Shahed is still a pragmatist, and he believes that focusing exclusively on Muslims in America is not a win-win strategy for most startups.
“We have a motto here: ‘By Muslims, for everybody. You can tap into your values, but you have to make a product that has value for people who aren’t Muslim.”
Navid Akhtar – Creating a Netflix-like Video Service geared towards Muslims
Its a no-brainer really. With some 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, they are the biggest consumer base that is just ready for the taking.
And yet VCs are the least bothered, even with a clear market value that Muslim startups can leverage based on the numbers alone.
This is something that Navid Akhtar, CEO of Alchemiya, an online video service that custom-tailored for the Muslim lifestyle, knows very well.
“When you say that you’re doing a product for Muslims, many people say it’s a niche product. But it’s not.” – Navid Akhtar, the CEO of Alchemiya.
Advertising firm Oglivy & Mather puts the Muslim market value at $170 billion in 2010, in America alone. But to truly succeed, Muslim startups need to think about why they came to America in the first place.
Only by leveraging America’s rich cultural tapestry and diversity can Muslim startups hope to survive and taste success.
To sum it up all, Mr, Amanullah says that racism isn’t the issue. Its accessibility and broaden your target demographic.
“If your company can cater to both of those needs, everyone wins. Well, except for Trump.”