|26 October, 2018

Ten essentials for creative startups in the Islamic economy

Entrepreneurs use a creative, problem-solving approach to overcome the obstacles they face while launching their start-ups

Image used for illustrative purpose.World Government Summit kicks off with Minister's speech

Image used for illustrative purpose.World Government Summit kicks off with Minister's speech

Getty Images/Valentinrussanov

Entrepreneurs use a creative, problem-solving approach to overcome the obstacles they face while launching their start-ups. The 10 finalists of the Islamic Creative Economy competition being held as part of the Islamic Economy Week 2018 share their experiences.

Solve a problem

Francesco Cavallari, Founder of Video Games Without Borders, tells My Salaam  that the biggest challenge he faced in creating smartphone games for Syrian children who are out of school because of the conflict was that he was “neither Syrian nor a child”. The solution came from people who reached out to share their problems thus giving birth to a product that can be shared across phones that are not so smart, using limited connectivity, while still being educational. He calls this approach “cultural integration of the beneficiaries into the design process”.



Be the bridge

Karim Jabbari, Founder of Made from Words, says the challenge lies in creating a link between what used to be treasured and how it can be valued now. For him, the answer was to fuse the modern with the ancient by using street art and lighting painting to popularise calligraphy, and in creating software that utilises technology effectively.

Make it digital

When Meryem Chin, the Co-founder of Takva, found herself struggling to reach out to fellow Muslims because she is based in the Muslim-minority Japan, it led to the creation of the platform that helped her reach her kind throughout the world. “We started by making prayer mats because in Japan, we didn’t have that many places to pray, nor a customer-base. In the end, our families got together to make prayer mats. We thought of creating a platform for everyone and using digital technology to our advantage.”  

Embrace the diversity

Many creative economy entrepreneurs grapple with the fact that the Islamic world is widely varied. Yasmin Sobeih, Founder of modest ‘athleisure’ brand  UNDER-RAPT, based in the UK, says that the challenge lay in having to apply the product to a Muslim market that is quite diverse, geographically and demographically.

Standardise to win

Gerriadi Agusta, Founder of Kaaba Virtual Experience, says that standardisation in creating a product is tough, even when creating a prayer experience. “There are so many different ways of praying and I had to find a unifying factor that a person from any orientation would accept.”

Simplify the ROI model

Securing funding becomes challenging if your idea cannot be easily commercialised. Nathan Brown, Co-founder and CEO of Tomorrow Never Knows, says the answer lies in having “a succinct and simple business model” that investors can easily grasp. And the trick to keeping them happy is to show return on investment on both “profit and purpose”.


Bootstrapping needs to be developed into a fine art when funds are sparse. Ali Mazraeh, Founder and CEO of the Arabic Digital Reform Institute in New Zealand, which utilises technology for optimising Arabic content, says that in such a situation, the entrepreneur needs to manage the budget tightly, while being vigilant about prioritising the use of services required to make the start-up successful.

Go local

The movement of goods and services across the Islamic economy is restricted by borders and each country’s regulatory frameworks. Mohsen Hazrati, Founder of the Dar AlHkoomeh Project in Iran, says that in sourcing closer home instead of searching for bigger, better service providers across the world may actually work out to be cheaper and more efficient.

Retain talent

Talent retention in the fast-growing creative industries is a challenge. Badr Ward, Founder and CEO of Lamsa, a digital literacy platform for children across the Arab world, says the solution lies in ensuring that the team buys into the long-term vision. He recommends creating “a long-term partnership with the talent rather than a simple employer-employee relationship.”

Contribute to GDP

Entrepreneurs say the economic value of creative industries is not fully recognised. Mohammed Wahdan, Founder of the Egypt-based Al Qalam, which aims to popularise Arabic calligraphy in every home via products, says the only way forward is to recognise the economic value of culture. “Design, make products, and make money so you contribute to the economy of the country.”

Reporting by White Paper Media

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