So You Want To Be An Entrepreneur? Obaid AhmedWritten by Muslim Link
Pakistani Canadian entrepreneur Obaid Ahmed was a recipient of the 2015 Top 40 under 40 Award for local business professionals by the Ottawa Business Journal. He has recently been nominated for MAX Gala’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award, for outstanding Muslim Canadian entrepreneurs. (Vote Here Deadline March 5th)
Muslim Link interviewed Obaid about the rewards and challenges he experiences as an entrepreneur.
Tell us about yourself
I am originally from Pakistan, I came to Canada in 1998 with my family. After finishing my high school in Brampton, I decided to study at Carleton University where I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Mathematics. During my post-secondary education, I worked at Blackberry (RIM) for two years as an intern. After that I joined IBM Canada as a software engineer. I have been in Ottawa for over 15 years now.
Why did you decide to be an entrepreneur instead of pursuing conventional employment?
During my university years, I started pursuing personal projects to learn new technologies. I built up a reputation and people started to ask me to help them develop their ideas.
Are their challenges in getting family to accept your decision to be an entrepreneur, given the uncertainty it entails?
Since my family had immigrated to Canada mainly for economic reasons, it was always preferred to go with the traditional route of employment. However, I always wanted to follow my passion of creating new solutions. With the help of my mentors, I found entrepreneurship as a viable career path. In terms of challenges in getting my family onboard, I was lucky to have their support from the start. I was always told to follow my passion.
Tell us about some of the projects you have been involved with?
I have contributed heavily towards development and deployment of technology for non-profits and social enterprises in the community through the “OAK Technology Fund”, an OAK Computing initiative that ran from June 2011 until December 2015 and gave non-profits and community organizations access to the best in class technology solutions to drive their strategic growth. During the life of the fund, OAK built pro-bono or highly subsidized technology solutions for over 20 local organizations and initiatives to support their quest for social change in our community. Some of the prominent organizations and projects supported by the fund were TEDxCarleton U, Hidden Harvest Ottawa, HUB Ottawa, The Centre for Innovative Social Enterprise Development (CISED), the Ottawa Local Immigration Partnerships (OLIP), and Veterans Emergency Transition Services Canada (VETS Canada).
Apart from incubation support and community technology building, I find time to personally mentor other young entrepreneurs, giving them advice, technical help, introductions and connections – all things I wished I had access to at the beginning of my journey. Afani.com, MissCupcakes, CampusBuy, RocketFuse, Radical Software, Sonia Riahi Consulting, Stuffed Motion, UmmahVenture – these are just a few startups that are currently benefiting from one-to-one mentorship from me. I have also served as a advisor/mentor for a number of community initiatives like TalentBridge, Mindtrust Leadership Development Program, Ottawa Community Challenge, Ottawa Innovation Challenge and The Ottawa Experience.
Below are details of some of my currently active commitments:
TiECon Canada (TiE Ottawa Annual Conference)
The TiE Ottawa chapter was started in November of 2002. In keeping with the spirit of TiE and its philosophy of giving, the Ottawa chapter has a mandate to create wealth through entrepreneurism for its members so that it can advance the virtuous cycle of "wealth creation and giving back to the society" - all this done on a volunteer basis. TiECon Canada is TiE’s flagship entrepreneurial conference, and it was held for the first time on Canadian soil in Ottawa, Ontario on October 31 and November 1, 2013. Since the very first instance of TiECon Canada, I have been involved with the initiative in a core advisory role to guide the conference committee on all matters related to the web and technology infrastructure of the global conference.
Entrepreneur in Residence - 1125@Carleton
1125@Carleton is an experimental, collaborative virtual and physical space for problem solving, whether focused on new products and services, or addressing irritants or complex “wicked” problems. Many labs focus on one set of problems – incubation of new ideas or a sole focus on social challenges – but 1125@Carleton is open to exploring new ideas that will contribute to building sustainable communities. My strategic role in this volunteer position with 1125@Carleton is to work with the executive team to mentor the next generation of pioneers, disruptors and innovators – outstanding organizations and individuals who have demonstrated their ability to translate societal challenges into value-creating businesses, policies and technologies.
OAK Kiva Team
I am one of the two leads on the OAK Kiva team - a team that was put together in late 2010 to encourage micro-lending and to rally support in Ottawa for global projects. Together with my partner, I have overseen the growth and operations of the team, including all aspects of team recruitment, fundraising, and community outreach. My specific interest in creating, building and supporting the OAK Kiva team was to create a community of givers in Ottawa that would be joined together in their vision to make frequent financial contributions to global projects, specifically to projects supporting and empowering women and early stage social entrepreneurs around the world. Together, now 78 active members strong, the OAK Kiva team has loaned out $12,575 to 497 projects at an average of 6.4 loans per member.
“YoungMaker”, a social enterprise that I co-founded in 2013 to give low income at-risk youth (ages 8-18) access to 21st century technological tools with the goal of activating their creative potential, instilling confidence in their abilities to learn and open new pathways for education, skills development, and entrepreneurial empowerment. Inspired by the concept of “makerspace” - a physical location in the community where people gather to share resources and knowledge, work on projects, network, and build - YoungMaker provides a healthy and creative extracurricular option that is geared to empower these youth, building and reinforcing their desire to explore and accomplish goals, build self-esteem, and develop new and marketable skills which can translate into economic and entrepreneurial opportunities. Using a combination of publicly crowd- sourced “3D printers” and a core team of mentors and facilitators, we are working with grassroots organizations looking to engage at-risk youth by helping them develop collaborative spaces for creative invention.
What have you learned so far about your experience as an entrepreneur?
Entrepreneurship is all about team work. I have been blessed to work with an amazing team that puts their trust in my vision and helps me achieve it. It allows me to work on some exciting projects with other thought leaders in Ottawa and around the world.
What supports do you feel entrepreneurs need in Canada?
We have a great support system in Canada for entrepreneurship. Organizations like Invest Ottawa and Mars Toronto play a vital role in fostering the future of entrepreneurship. However, for us to compete on a global scale we need better access to private venture capital. This will allow Canadian companies to grow globally faster and compete better.
What supports do you think Muslim Canadian communities can provide for up and coming entrepreneurs?
Our community can play a vital role in being the support for Muslim entrepreneurs. Creating positive environments for teaching and encouraging entrepreneurship can help build stronger Muslim professionals.
What advice would you give to people considering becoming entrepreneurs?
There are lots of great ideas. What sets great companies apart is their ability to execute their ideas. Build the best team possible. Get rid of the ineffective people. Bad employees are like a cancer. Once you get rid of people who are a bad fit, everybody else bounces up 20 feet. Once you give up helping someone improve, it’s over. They won’t magically get better. Make your team feel like they have ownership and are invested in the success of the company. If you can do that successfully all of the decisions they make will be in the best interest of the company.
Most importantly those who will not risk cannot win. Put yourself out there and take some risks. It’s the only way to win.
Anything else you would like to add?
I would like to thank everyone in the community, my mentors, my friends and family who have stuck by me during the good and bad times.
Follow Obaid on Twitter here
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