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Islamic Economy Startups: "You Can't Find the Muslim Market Unicorns; You Have to Create Them"

A high-profile panel discussion explores the startup ecosystem within the Islamic economy on day two of the Global Islamic Economy Summit 2016

Dubai, October 12, 2016 

Building on the successes of day one, the second day of the Global Islamic Economy Summit (GIES) 2016, included a panel discussion that explored the startup scene within the Islamic economy.

Dustin Craun, Founder of Salaam Bank moderated the panel discussion, where Yusuff Ali M. A., Founder of Lulu Group International; Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, Founder of Aladdin Group of Companies; and Amin Osmancevic, CEO of MyBazzar Global, explored the obstacles facing startups in the Islamic economy and discussed ways to help them overcome them.

“It is now more important than ever to build a startup ecosystem,” Craun began by saying. “If we talk about building billion-dollar companies at the moment, we’re putting the cart before the horse.”

Craun classified Muslim forays into the tech industry into four categories: the Muslims working within large international tech companies; tech startups targeting Muslim consumers but offering regular services, such as Careem, souq.ae, etc.; tech startups that cater to Muslims and serve particularly Islamic needs, such as locating halal restaurants, the qibla, etc.; and social enterprise projects that use aspects of Islamic branding but operate in non-Muslim countries.

“Muslims represent the largest growth community in the world, however, if you take the Muslims in the US and Europe out of the equation, there are only few Muslim unicorns left. Investors from the region keep looking to Silicon Valley and Europe for opportunities instead of in the region,” Craun noted, adding that stakeholders in the Islamic economy need to pay attention to the youth and to startups: “Part of the problem with Islamic banking, for example, is that it’s focusing on older Muslims when the largest population segment is the young. Meanwhile, traditional banks are launching products that cater to the youth such as apps and digital products.”

Meanwhile, Lulu’s Yusuff Ali said: “We should show to the world that Islam is a religion of love, tolerance, and respect, and then the world will respect us back. ‘You should be honest and trustworthy,’ says the Hadith. This is the first thing an entrepreneur should do.”

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Ali developed the grocery store his father left him into a chain of super and hypermarkets with 40,000 employees. “We are introducing and focusing on halal products and supporting the companies who produce them – it is our responsibility,” he said, cautioning that it would take some time for people to warm up to Islamic products: “When the first Islamic bank was launched, it took a while to take off. It was difficult to accept at first, but now Muslims and non-Muslims alike are benefitting from the sector. We are living in the 21st century, we sell halal products regardless of whether the manufacturing country is Muslim or not, and we encourage all our customers to buy halal products.”

Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor immediately grabbed the audience’s attention when he disclosed he was the ninth Muslim to go to space – on top of being a surgeon, a restaurant owner, and a model. “Everyone should go to space to change their perspective on the world,” says the founder of Aladdin Group, the first online halal product platform.

“We need to set internationally uniform standards for halal products. Halal is about life as a whole, it is about cleanliness and hygiene – not just slaughtering. This is what we’re trying to educate non-Muslims about,” Shukor explained, “I founded the platform to help entrepreneurs who have created halal products to sell their merchandise online. Non-Muslim countries are actually leading the charge in capitalising on the halal market. For example, the UK is the leading global hub for Islamic finance, while Australia is one of the world’s largest exporters of halal meats.”

Amin Osmancevic began by challenging the overemphasis on Muslim-only products. “Islam is only one aspect of a large, multifaceted market,” he noted. “By focusing only on halal markets, we would put ourselves in a box. Let’s produce products that serve all people. Another thing we should focus on instead is the risk-sharing paradigm of the Islamic economy. It receives inappropriately little attention; it is an environment where government, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists all share the risks.”

“That being said,” he continued, “Muslims have the untapped potential of having 1.7 billion consumers. There’s huge market potential in e-commerce, where only 1% of commerce in Muslim countries is done online for the time being. I’m from Sweden; Scandinavia has a very small population, yet accounts for 3% of the world’s exports. That is because the authorities focus on supporting entrepreneurs and creating a startup environment. Events such as the Global Islamic Economy Summit show how much the Dubai government is heeding the call and allowing entrepreneurs to connect with each other and to the public.”

“Where are the Muslim market unicorns?” Osmancevic asked in conclusion; “You can’t find them, you have to breed them; you have to create them.”

-Ends-

© Press Release 2016

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