Be the change
“I went from zero to having a combined turnover of NOK 100 million in my five companies – and then I went back to zero again”. Declining business results are not the reason why successful entrepreneur and visionary Aiman Shaqura now finds himself at the zero mark again. Quite the opposite, actually.
The five companies that Aiman has built from scratch during the past six years are prospering – one of them has even been awarded the Gazelle award in Norway four years in a row. Instead, Aiman has chosen to sell off all his companies in order to give his full attention to a cause with the potential to create even bigger financial impact and social consequences: helping refugees onto the job market and incubating first-generation immigrants to break through the invisible glass ceiling of the Norwegian business market. Aiman’s most recent initiative is Charge, Norway’s first incubator for first-generation immigrants looking to build successful growth companies for the future. And to Aiman, the challenges faced by newcomers are all too familiar.
“I went from zero to having a combined turnover of NOK 100 million in my five companies – and then I went back to zero again”
From farm hand
to business student
Aiman was born in Beirut to a Palestinian father and a Lebanese mother. 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 this 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”.
To Aiman, 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. I also did gardening for elderly people, and eventually ended up knocking on too many doors.
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, and he, quite unknowingly, took the first steps on a road that would eventually lead him all the way to business studies at Oxford Brookes University and Bournemouth University.
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, and in the end, all of my decorations were sold”.
Founder of Charge
Aiman is married to Hana who works at the Palestinian Embassy in Oslo, and 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 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.
Norway’s first incubator for first-generation immigrants looking to build successful growth companies for the future. The project is driven by entrepreneur and visionary Aiman Shaqura – QVARTZ is a partner in and co-driver of the project.
A change of direction
Upon completing his university studies, Aiman went on to start several successful businesses in Norway. However, the massive refugee crisis set off by the Arab Spring made Aiman 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 Give a Job, 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.
“If the startups are working with their PR strategy, they will sit at Trigger’s offices, and if they are focusing on their strategy, they will be at QVARTZ. This enables us to really get to the core of things, and for all parties to contribute with what they know best”
Breaking the glass ceiling
“During Give a Job events, I’ve met a lot of people who have told me 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”. Six months ago, QVARTZ and Aiman met for the first time, and soon, Aiman’s initial ideas behind an incubator programme, aimed at helping entrepreneurial first-generation immigrants, began taking on a more concrete form.
Today, at the launch of the initiative, Charge has three main 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 operational and who can very concretely help them make their dreams come true”.
Charge differentiates from other incubators first and foremost by focusing on first-generation immigrants, a segment that, according to Aiman, is much underserved. Moreover, there is a steely-eyed focus on operational practices; a focus that is supported by the three Charge partners hosting the entrepreneurs, instead of the other way around. “If the startups are working with their PR strategy, they will sit at Trigger’s offices, and if they are focusing on their strategy, they will be at 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
“My 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 his 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.
“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'”
- The aim of Charge is to help first-generation immigrants in Norway realise their ambitions of building growth companies for the future.
- The partners in Charge are project owner Aiman Shaqura, Trigger, SoCentral and QVARTZ.
- The participants of Charge will be part of a well-structured programme aimed at developing their business ideas and making them sustainable. They will work together with professionals from Charge’s partners and build a network of potential cooperation partners, clients and investors. The participants will also get help with regards to future funding, as well as coaching and mentoring.
- The first phase of Charge will run from September 2017 to March 2018.
- The programme is open for applicants from all of Norway.
- Throughout the 24-month pilot phase, 12-16 companies will be admitted to the programme.
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