Every Monday we will profile a Newcomer Entrepreneur.

Shadi Alhakimi, along with his business partner Martijn Stegenga, launched Elanza after participating in the Refugees Forward startup weekend and incubator program in 2018. This platform facilitates fair and transparent cooperation between independent healthcare professionals and healthcare organisations by cutting out the middleman.

At Refugees Forward, Shadi Alhakimi worked with Floris van Alkemade as a business coach.

Born in Yemen, twenty-eight-year-old Shadi describes himself as one who enjoys entrepreneurship naturally. Despite having a trail of successful ventures behind him, he never accepts that entrepreneurship like any other talent is an innate skill.

“Entrepreneurship is taught…” he says firmly.

Shadi arrived in the Netherlands in December 2015 where he found himself moving between cities while his asylum application was being processed. The waiting period was excruciating. Yet, Shadi, ever the enterprising person, found his calling in volunteering, spending hours serving others. By May 2017, not only did he obtain his residency permit, but he also gained attention for his work and was given a volunteering prize by the municipality of Nijmegen.

A true entrepreneur at heart, Shadi kept his dreams of creating a job search portal alive by continuously conducting online market research and while trying his luck at entering incubators. During this time, he came across a Refugees Forward flyer in his language school. A quick application led him to an interview with Diederick, the founder of the organisation. Consequently, Shadi enrolled in Refugee Forward’s first Startup Weekend in February 2018.

“Normally, programs for refugees don’t have high-quality material. But at Refugees Forward, I felt motivated because of the workshops where I learnt a lot. David and Diederick were professional. And I was so happy when I was given €10,000 by one of the jury members at the end of the weekend,” he reminisces with a broad smile.

Between the Refugees Forward incubator program that was to start in April and the end of the Startup Weekend, Shadi continued working on the idea that now had a partner in Martijn who he met through a mutual friend.

“One meeting and we clicked,” he says. “Together we solidified the idea, conducted market research, made the idea sharper, and attempted to find a niche in the saturated market.”

 

“Normally, programs for refugees don’t have high-quality material. But at Refugees Forward, I felt motivated because of the workshops where I learnt a lot.”

 

This period was also crucial for Shadi. David, the founder of Refugees Forward, connected him to Sebastian Tan who helped him narrow his idea within the health care sector while giving him active networks that furthered the business. With research and personal understanding of the health care landscape, the duo realised that they should build a platform for freelance nurses.

The incubator followed where Shadi realised he was miles ahead of the others given how solidified his idea was. This gave him a more significant boost as he could go faster than others. The incubator also facilitated Shadi’s mentorship with Floris van Alkemade. His team became complete with the inclusion of students Maxime and Aviv.

Shadi Alhakimi being awarded winner of the 2018 RF Incubator Program Pitch Finale

“Every moment with Floris was great. He was focused, so knowledgeable. It was like sitting with Bill Gates. I got super lucky to have him, and he ended up personally investing in the company. Floris helped us negotiate deals and close them,” he notes. “But mostly he coached me in focusing on the big picture. Sometimes we get so short-sighted, we forget the big things. And that’s where Floris gave me so much. Also, he was instrumental in making me and Martijn close the cultural gap to get the business off the ground.”

Shadi’s idea also received mentorship from Andre Bolland, from Team Academy, and Diederick, who oversaw his progress on behalf of Refugees Forward.

 

“I choose to be named. Shadi Alhakimi, entrepreneur. I just hope people treat me like they do any other person. If you know I am from Yemen that doesn’t mean you ask me about the war. I like football. Ask me about it, my day, my work. Meet us with an empty cup so that we fill it with our interaction.”

 

“The students also helped me not just with Dutch but were committed to me and executed things wonderfully. The Refugees Forward aftercare program also kept me grounded.”

Once the incubator ended, Shadi continued with the team while the challenges mounted. The platform initially found few nurses and a few false starts. These were due to several new ideas being introduced that pushed the launch of the website. However, two weeks ago the website launched with a roster of 17 nurses, and it should begin executing transactions soon. While the business has funding till the end of this year, Shadi has started preparations to attract more funding at the start of the new year 2019.

While Shadi basks in his recent accomplishments, success is an old friend. With a double bachelor’s degree in Accountancy and Network Engineering, he had set up a venture that used a search engine to archive material for television and radio stations in 2014. Within six months, the business was drumming up profit worth $30,000 and was employing five people, bringing Shadi on various national public platforms where he became the face of young Yemeni entrepreneurship. However, these appearances were noticed by the emerging militia in the country. With threats mounting, Shadi trekked his way through the deserts into Saudi Arabia where despite a valid visa, he had to wait in the border for three days with what is left with him of food and water before being granted entry. In Saudi Arabia, Shadi found a sympathetic ear within days who wanted to hear his story. The encounter led to an offer.

“This man heard about my work in Yemen and asked me to come back in three days with an idea for a business. I thought he was joking. But I followed up. And three days later I took an idea jotted down on a piece of paper about logistics from the Jeddah port, and he came on board,” he recounts the fairy-tale like story. “A bank account was set, an office and employees followed. A month on, we were already in the profit zone because I recognised early the gap in the market and how to close them.”

However, with a visa that was ending, Shadi looked for other destinations. The search brought him to Amsterdam. His success in new shores affirms the idea that enterprising newcomers when given opportunities will find ways to enrich their host nations. As Shadi marches towards newer goals, he hopes to be seen as an entrepreneur and not as a refugee.

“I choose to be named. Shadi Alhakimi, entrepreneur. I just hope people treat me like they do any other person. If you know I am from Yemen that doesn’t mean you ask me about the war. I like football. Ask me about it, my day, my work. Meet us with an empty cup so that we fill it with our interaction.”

This is an intriguing idea, one that deserves an opportunity, just as Shadi and his entrepreneurial spirit did.