Aiman Shaqura

Charge Incubator

Aiman is married to Hana, who works at TV 2 Norway, and together, they have two young children. According to Hana, Aiman is an expert at getting free upgrades at hotels, and he gets a kick out of bargaining prices – regardless of how small the deal is. A couple of years ago, Aiman was very much into sports, but these days, he considers raising two children sufficiently exhausting.

10 years without a home

“First-generation immigrants in Norway are faced with many invisible barriers that make it hard for them to prosper. What Aiman has done to help the newcomers achieve some very tangible goals in terms of employment and growth is really groundbreaking”, says Morten Kleveland from QVARTZ Norway, who is part of the Charge Incubator core team.

Aiman Shaqura was born in Lebanon to Palestinian parents. When he was just a few months old, his family had to flee Lebanon because of the civil war, and they spent the next 10 years as refugees, moving between different countries in Africa, the Middle East and Europe. In 1991, the family came to Norway, and moved between eight different asylum centres before settling in Toten, a small town on the Norwegian countryside.

“We were very happy to finally have a home, but when I was a kid, there was a gap between our living standards and those of the native Norwegians. It became very clear at school trips, which I couldn’t join because they cost money, and we had none. Therefore, at a very young age, I started working”, says Aiman. To him, growing up in the countryside turned out to be fortunate, as there were many small jobs to take on. “I did everything from cleaning boots to picking strawberries and working at restaurants. All of a sudden, I had too much to do, and so I engaged my brothers and a few friends to help out with the chores”. At this point in his life, Aiman began to realise the potential of doing business.

Aiman’s road to success was, however, anything but straight. “My first real investment was in Christmas decorations”, he says. “I had saved 200 crowns, and invested it all in decorations that I tried selling at a local Christmas market. But I failed miserably – no one bought my stuff. Eventually, I took a bus to the rich area and started knocking on doors. In this one house, a big man came out, stared angrily at me and told me to f*** off and go home to Sahara. I was 11-12 years old, and it was a really hard blow. I was about to give up on the whole thing, but eventually decided to try other doors. In the end, all of my decorations were sold”.

A change of direction

Upon completing his studies, Aiman went on to start several successful businesses in Norway. However, the massive refugee crisis set off by the Arab Spring made him want to contribute on a larger scale. “The way we received some of the people in Norway was devastating. Many great things were done, but I saw the potential to do more, much more. I thought, ‘what people need is basically what I needed when I was a refugee; people who are welcoming to them’. But in Norway, we don’t just start talking to strangers, that’s not in our nature”.

With the aim of facilitating dialogues between refugees and native Norwegians, Aiman initiated “Give a Job”: a series of large events throughout Norway where refugees and employers meet for a large joint dinner, entertainment and not least “speed-dating” aimed at facilitating employment. In the beginning, Aiman maintained his businesses alongside his new initiative, but he soon realised that Give a Job would never be the success he aimed for without his full commitment. “It also gave me the opportunity to end something and start something else. That’s a very inspirational place to be”, reflects Aiman.

Breaking the glass ceiling

“During Give a Job events, I’ve met a lot of people who have told me about the difficulties they face when trying to grow their businesses in Norway. But as a first-generation immigrant, there are many invisible barriers that are difficult to break through before entering the job market. It became increasingly clear to me that there was a big gap to fill”. Soon, Aiman’s initial ideas behind Charge, an incubator programme aimed at helping entrepreneurial first-generation immigrants, began taking on a more concrete form.

Charge has three founding partners: Trigger, SoCentral and QVARTZ. While Trigger focuses on PR, communication and development, SoCentral is Norway’s largest incubator for social entrepreneurs. QVARTZ’ main contribution lies within strategy and business development. “Through Charge, we want to give people more than just a fair chance to succeed. We want to give them the best chance to succeed”, says Aiman. He emphasises that there is no need to create motivation among the newcomers, “these people are already motivated. What they really need is someone who is already in operation and who can very concretely help them make their dreams come true”.

“For QVARTZ, being a part of the Charge incubator programme is meaningful, motivating and educational. It’s a humbling experience to meet so many highly driven entrepreneurs who just keep on pushing to create new paths”, says Morten Kleveland.

Charge differentiates from other incubators primarily by focusing on first-generation immigrants, a much underserved segment. Also, there is a clear focus on operational practices; a focus that is supported by the three founding partners hosting the entrepreneurs, instead of the other way around. “If the startups are working with their PR strategy, they sit at Trigger’s offices, and if they are focusing on their strategy, they share offices with QVARTZ. This enables us to really get to the core of things, and for all parties to contribute with what they know best”, says Aiman.

The time is now

“The aim with Charge is for first-generation immigrants in Norway to see that there are people out there who are willing to help and contribute, and realise that there are endless possibilities ahead. Today, many people believe it’s so hard to succeed that they won’t even try”, says Aiman. For the future, he hopes that the initiatives are able to change things on a system level, and that more governmental institutions can start working together. “To predict what will happen on a macro-political level in the future is very hard. The only thing we can really do something about is today, so let’s just start there”. And that’s just what Aiman has done. Hands-on, he has taken his desire to help and turned it into some very concrete and innovative initiatives.