In the past few decades, women have achieved great successes and attained unique goals. We see them in different fields of work, inventions, and businesses. They have used their creative multitasking skills and chased their dreams inspiring and empowering others.
September 22 marks the founding of the American Business Women’s Association. Its mission is ‘to bring together businesswomen of diverse occupations and to provide opportunities for them to help themselves and others grow personally and professionally through leadership, education, networking and support.’
In honor of such super women, I got in contact with the following business ladies who were delighted to tell us all about their startup businesses, and to inspire others attain their dreams.
- Razan Nabulsi – Dots and Links Skills Development Center – UAE
Being in the business for five years and a half now, Razan explains how rewarding their work is when they see tangible proof of children and adults leading significantly better lives after completing the BrainRx program. That is what mainly inspires her to continue providing people with such a unique learning opportunity.
The business life, according to Razan, has many challenges. One of them is having work life balance where she has to manage her time and prioritize her social life. Her working life makes her do only what really matters and be with people who truly mean a lot to her.
In addition to the above mentioned, the difficulties she faces at work is not being able to take a time off as she is always on call. By time, she learned to only stop at what really matters and keep her focus on delivering amazing results with all their students. According to her when a person has a focus and a clearly defined purpose, things become easier in the business life.
2. Vanessa Bosson – Hallabolou… where every child’s a star! – UAE
Working as an Early Childhood Educator for 18 years, Vanessa saw a need for a program that would allow children to learn while having fun. The idea of ‘Hallabolou‘ began in 2010 which was a dream that had been floating around in her head for quiet a while.
At the beginning, her initial concept of ‘Hallabolou’ was just a theater program, but it has expanded since then to greater aspirations to include science, technology, engineering, art and imagination. She created ‘Hallabolou’ with a unique educational philosophy behind it based on “The 5 Points of Discovery”.
As in all businesses, there are difficulties, and one of her biggest quandaries is explaining how they teach. She states that they may present similar classes and camps as other companies do, but they do take great pride in how they teach and not just what they teach. That is what they call, The Hallabolou Way.
In fact, the Hallabolou Way builds on each child’s own unique qualities, adjusts to each specific environment, and makes every child a star! Mr. Rogers once said, she quotes, “Play is really the work of childhood.” So whether it is constructing in the bRiK Programs, or building a rocket ship and watching it launch 100 feet in the air during EXTREME Steam, each program and event incorporates learning through play, which is the absolute core of ‘Hallabolou’s’ existence.
Their growth and change stems from expectations of the extraordinary, belief in a superior participant experience, and outstanding customer service. All this combines to make ‘Hallabolou’ not just a business, but an experience that she is proud to share with the community!
She continues saying that the main element that inspires her is to have fun!
She reiterates stressing the fact that learning should be an enjoyable process. Growing up with a learning disability herself in the 80’s was hard on her. She wasn’t even diagnosed until she was 14 years old. That is why, she struggled and compensated the best way she could, but it was the teachers who made learning fun, and that made the difference. They are the teachers she still remembers to this day. She ends saying that she wants all children to learn as knowledge is power and they are the future.
3. Janis Sarraf Tabet -Photographer – Lebanon
Back in 2007, Janis opened her own studio in Jdeitat el Matn and has been working in it since then. Her main focus now is capturing special moments for kids, newborns, families, and fashion photography. According to her, in order to run a photography business a person also needs to be a skilled marketer, accountant, and digital editor.
As a photographer she spends all her time behind the camera, which is normal, and she is not able to focus on issues like marketing for instance. So her challenge as a professional photographer, was to find her niche which is newborn photography, family portraits, kids photography and stick to it. By doing so, she is now able to multi-task and enjoy what she does best.
She ends by saying that her children inspire her every single day. Due to them, she switched from fashion photography photo-sessions and ended up in doing 80% kids photo-shoots by 2017. Jannis ends affirming, ‘I owe it all to my daughters, and I am obsessed about taking pictures of them. 🙂 ‘
4. Aleen Chehayeb Alame – The Garden Child – KSA
Nearly a year ago and after becoming a stay at home mom, Aleen decided to take on her passion for crafts by designing handmade accessories for young girls. That is how ‘The Garden Child‘ came to life.
Being accustomed to office work, and freelancing off her laptop, she was actually stepping out of her comfort zone by choosing handcrafting as a profession. At the same time, she knew that she did not need to wait any longer, and decided to launch immediately, acknowledging the fact that she will learn to improve as she goes.
Like in all businesses there are many challenges. One of them is the tendency in getting easily distracted by what happens on a daily basis. Still, she tries her best to stick to a schedule where her main work would be during the time when her daughter goes to play-school or takes a nap. Naturally, that helps her stay dedicated and focused whilst juggling her responsibilities towards being a mother, wife and homemaker too. Moreover, she always challenges herself by making her designs classic, yet unique at the same time.
She adds, and I quote; ‘The good part about working on your own is that you get to be in control of the direction of your creative business. Every success and failure is on you. Thankfully, I have a very supportive surrounding, starting with first and foremost, my husband.’
Aleen ends by stating that she has always appreciated anything handmade. She loves the fact that through ‘The Garden Child‘ she gets to be creative, and that she can get to bring that creativity into others’ lives.
5. Nadine Chamaa – The Kitchen Babe – Lebanon
Since the age of twelve, Nadine has had a unique relation with the kitchen. It took her some time though to establish her own business, but when she did she excelled.
She currently runs a food blog named ‘The Kitchen Babe’ where she enjoys most of her time in her kitchen. Two years ago, after her children left to study abroad, she felt she had to share the food that she prepared on her social media. Then, she decided to create a food blog, through which she shared her recipes, her approach to food, and how she prepares it in her simple yet beautiful and colorful way. She also started following different food trends in order to understand the market. Then, she worked on testing more recipes until she finally created new food concepts like her artisitc and mouth-watering “Labneh Cone”.
Soon, she started developing recipes for brands and restaurants. Then, she prompted food styling for advertisements and movies.
Some of her difficulties were mostly on learning to build a website and understand SEO – Search Engine Optimization – which were a new dimension for her. She even had to take digital photography courses so that she does justice to the food that she was creating. Sometimes she spends around six hours, researching, creating, executing, food styling and propping. Finding the right lighting, shooting, editing, posting, writing and interacting with her audience are also tasks she has mastered.
Now that her children are back and they saw what their mom has achieved while they were away, they are proud of how far she has come. Nadine ends by focusing on her belief that if a person is happy in her kitchen, it reflects on the home atmosphere. She knows that there is still so much for her to do, and since she is passionate about what she is doing, each day is a new promise for her to push her limits and create something new. She is willing to continue learning everyday and to continue to share what she learns.
6. Khadijah Lajam – Chateau de Sable stores in UAE
Khadija talks about Chateau de Sable with affection and fondness. Her business started when she had just given birth to her first baby boy at the beginning of 2009. He was only a few months old, and she was already at the design stage and sourcing for locations. By the end of 2009, she finally opened her first boutique in Wahda Mall.
Like any new business, Khadija explicitly talks about the personal and professional difficulties she passed through. Firstly, she was a new mother and was pregnant with her second. She was juggling between learning how to be a mother and setting up a store at the same time. It did not take her long to learn that its all about time management, but what has also helped her was that her babies slept a lot when young!
Besides managing her time, the market in 2009 was different. Back then, there were not many malls in Abu Dhabi. In fact, there were mainly Marina Mall and Abu Dhabi Mall which were very established and had no vacancy. Luckily, Al Wahda Mall had just opened then, and she had to prepare a very well thought of presentation to secure a space over for her.
The difficulties did not stop there. The market was less established in terms of entrepreneurship and sourcing for contractors who are familiar with retail for SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises). A lot of the bigger groups had their in house design and execution teams for their concepts. Fishing around Abu Dhabi for small things like a graphic designer for paper bags took a lot of effort!
She even mentioned how once the contractor was not meeting his deadlines, so she took the liberty to paint part of the store herself, and help with the clean up too in order to successfully meet the target date.
Once the set up was done at Al Wahda Mall’s boutique, she started learning the in and outs of retail in UAE and the rest as she said is history! Khadijah did not stop there and has played a major role in helping keep the ball rolling for their subsequent stores in Yas Mall and Dubai Mall!
I loved how Khadijah got the inspiration of managing her own business! She simply says that it was all about her family. In fact, her father is a businessman and was always an inspiration. At the same time, her mother consistently continues to work on developing herself. Naturally Khadijah grew around them as her role models.
However, the final push for her to go into this field was also family, but this time it came in the form of a cute little baby boy in her life! When she gave birth, she found shopping in the UAE to be hard. There were not too many choices. She either had to invest a lot of money in big brands which babies basically outgrew or soiled themselves in, or she had to settle for generic brands which didn’t suit Ali, her son, well. It turns out that he had eczema and she had to be careful around fabrics with a polyester mix which is unfortunately a lot of what retailers produce. She wanted to be practical, but it was hard with the offering given then.
One evening she just looked at her husband and discussed how all she wanted were nice clothes that are affordable and of utmost quality. She smiles as she repeats his words saying, “If nothing you want is available, why don’t you do something? I’m sure there are more mothers like you!”.
At first, she was hesitant as she already had a lot on her plate at that stage of her life! However, he pushed her to work on it encouraging and supporting her through that life-changing year. Today, she celebrates her seventh year in Abu Dhabi, and they have just finished five years of operation in Dubai as well!
7. Afaf Balaa – Da3douka – Lebanon
Afaf’s journey with ‘Da3douka‘, which is a natural homemade play dough made with 100% food grade ingredients, started as one of the products that she provided children at home and her mobile workshop known as ‘Junior Art’. The children used to play with play dough as they learned, while having fun, and relieved their energy at the same time. Soon, parents asked for having ‘Da3douka’ at their own homes, and that was how the idea of selling came up, back in 2013.
However, Afaf’s husband got sick, and she was forced to minimize her operating work in order to stay by his side at home. He, unfortunately, passed away in 2015 and did not live to see her succeed. Despite all what she went through, Afaf did not give up and wanted to pursue her dream. She strongly felt that her husband has always encouraged and motivated her to move on with her project, which was her dream since 2010. Her main challenge at that time was finding a matching fund! That did not stop her. She got her loan and started from home.
Being a specialist in Early Childhood Education, she believes that art is a form of education that enhances the necessary skills and confidence to meet life’s challenges. She developed ‘Da3douka‘ with the intention of helping kids develop their communication, socialization, and fine motor skills. Finally, she ends by saying that working with kids inspires her everyday!
8. Rania Wehbe – Engineering for Kids of Lebanon
To Rania’s delight the less than six months start up business ‘Engineering for Kids of Lebanon’ is growing fast and customers are more than satisfied with the outcome. The center brings STEM education to children in a fun and challenging way. In fact, STEM is relatively a new curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – in an interdisciplinary and applied approach.
Currently ‘Engineering For Kids’ is operational in 30+ countries worldwide in addition to 35+ US states, and Rania has succeeded in bringing it over now to Lebanon! Their programs and classes stay current, meet strict safety requirements, actively engage kids both mentally and physically, and encourage them to think creatively and intelligently. They offer various fields of Engineering programs for boys and girls aged 4 to 14 years old divided in the following programs: Junior engineers (4-6 years old), Apprentice engineers (7-11 years old), and Master engineers (12-14 years old).
Being a working mother of three adorable girls has always been a main challenge in her life, and she has always struggled to manage. “Not to boast,” she states,”but as a perfectionist, I cannot afford compromises in either way.” Despite the challenge of finding the time while working a full-time job, she has always had this passion to build something through which she can contribute back to the society at large, and specifically to the education of children. She has realized that no matter what people do in their lives, they will always fall short of time, and it is up to each person to decide how busy she wants to be and define her role and contribution. In her case, she explains that she does a lot of planning to overcome this. That is why, you find her planning her weeks way ahead and up to the finest details. This keeps her alert and, to an extent, in control.
She explains that starting a new business is certainly challenging, and a lot of it has to do with how big of a risk appetite a person has. However, this argument is diluted when one truly believes in what she is doing. The excitement in what a person does helps in getting through all the challenges that one might face. She strongly believes that with enough faith in oneself and with an established motive, a person can succeed. After all, everyone should find out what triggers their inspiration. In her case, she enjoys reading a lot about successful business leaders, who really inspire her to achieve more. One of the inspiring things she has lately read and that is worth sharing was about a successful entrepreneur who plans his day on 5-minutes slots. To some that might sound aggressive, yet it is worth thinking of.
Last but not least, she explains that she owes a lot of what she has achieved to her husband – her partner for life. When the decision was taken earlier this year to launch their own business, the idea was not clear back then. But after extensive thought and research, she decided to take the ‘Engineering For Kids’ route, and bring these enrichment programs to the children in Lebanon. Her husband was very supportive, as they decided to get into it together. Luckily enough, they both share the same passion for educating their own children and inspire them.
She ends stating that they strongly believe that children deserve the opportunity to have such a unique experience. And as we speak, she informed me that they have just kicked off their operations out at their Center in Sodeco, Beirut. The plan, in the future is to expand to cover all regions of their beloved country, in an attempt to give all the children in different areas such a unique opportunity.
9. Shadi Khazei – Dan-Dee Designs – UAE
With the help of her two children, Shadi designed a product for water bottles to help children identify their water bottles from those of other children. The whole idea started in October 2016, but the first cap was finally created in March 2017. Currently, Shadi heads a design company in Duabi named Dan-Dee Designs.
The ‘Dan-Dee Caps, The Real Bottle Cap’ is a bottle cap that fits perfectly over the existing Water bottle caps. The inspiration for undertaking this project stemmed from her children’s frustration that they could not easily identify their water bottles, especially in large crowds, sports events or in birthday parties. That is how they worked on creating a unique cap that would be appealing to both children and adults. Until they finally developed and designed colorful and fun food safe silicone caps.
Along the way she faced hurdles which she was able to quickly overcome since there are many resources in Dubai that help budding entrepreneurs. For example, in the conception stage, she didn’t know where to begin and how to bring the idea to life. After some research, she found a work space in Dubai where she learnt about casting, design and mold making. There, and with the help of instructors, she was able to make a prototype of the caps. The biggest barrier, according to her, was obtaining a patent and registering a design. Again, through firms in Dubai who specialize in patent law this was possible. She found out that the best way to overcome obstacles is through perseverance.
Shadi adds that although their inspiration is to create fun and safe caps for kids, but as a mother, her aim is also make life a little easier for other mums. Because this creation solved a problem for her, she felt that it would be beneficial to others as well.
Those pretty and very practical designs can be seen on their website www.dandeecaps.com and on Instagram message as @dandeecaps.
Shadi concludes by explaining more about her current work where she is looking forward to creating new designs for the bottles which will appeal to all ages. At the same time, she is working on creating a website aimed for mothers who would like to go back to work full time, par time, or as a volunteer. The website will focus on helping them to land the job interviews.
In conclusion, I can say that I have been honored to have had this discussion with those fantastic business women. They all represent the strong will each woman possesses and how this will can be directed into a fruitful and inspiring future. I would like to take the opportunity to thank each and everyone one of them for participating in this project.
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