Meet the Syrian entrepreneurs building a brighter future

Startup RoadshowMeet Spermly, 2019 winner of the Startup Roadshow competition which supports Syrian entrepreneurs to build a brighter future for themselves and the next generation. 

When Zaher Ballar was studying biomedical engineering for his Master’s degree at the University of Aleppo back in 2010, little did he know that one day it would come in handy as he formed his startup in Turkey.

“I fled to Turkey with my family in 2013 because the war had become insufferable,” Zaher told Jusoor. “There was no internet, no electricity, nothing…we had to move on.”

It was while working as an online freelancer in Turkey that Zaher was contacted by a former college friend, Mohamad Alkoma, who was working on a new concept: a Computer Aided Semen Analysis (CASA) software for sperm quality analysis to be used for fertility tests.

“I liked Mohamad’s project and I agreed to help him, especially because it was part of my major,” Zaher said. The pair worked hard to launch their startup’s MVP (Minimum Viable Product) but they came across several obstacles, namely the fact that they were foreign to the Turkish market, and that Turkish people inevitably preferred local products to foreign ones. 

“One other challenge was that the biological analysis program had to be validated from a reputable medical institution with a certificate,” added Zaher. “So we contacted medical exhibitions in Turkey until we found someone interested to join us.”

That “someone” was a Turkish partner with experience in the local market. The trio decided to form a startup and apply to tübitak, the premier scientific Turkish organization. To their immense surprise, they were accepted with a fund of 150,000 USD. 

However, for reasons unknown to the team, the funding didn’t follow through. “It was a very low moment for all of us, especially because our Turkish partner decided to leave the team afterwards,” Zaher recalled. 

Zaher and Mohamad chose not to give up. It was then that, by sheer coincidence, he and Mohamad heard about the Startup Roadshow competition. Without hesitating, they decided to enter the competition and ended up being one of two startups chosen from Gaziantep to compete in the finals in Amman, Jordan.  

However, obstacles rose once again and Zaher and Mohamad couldn’t obtain visas because certain travel documents were stuck on the way to Beirut due to road blocks. Luckily, they got in contact with a close friend, Abdulrahman Baki,  who had also graduated from the same major in Aleppo University. Abdulrahman soon joined their startup as cofounder.

“Abdulrahman was able to go to Jordan and represent Spermly as one of its team members, and this has made us very proud,” Zaher said. Spermly ended up winning the final prize of 15,000 USD along with mentoring opportunities from Jusoor.

“Jusoor helped us tremendously in our journey,” he added. “We were able to access a large network of professionals and founders of startups who have medical networks.”

Posted on February 21, 2020 in Uncategorized

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