Meet the millennial trying to change the narrative about Muslims around the world, one startup at a time.

Ankush is a journalist hailing from India, who has edited and written for publications in his home country, the UAE, US, and UK. Previously the editor of Gulf Business in Dubai and of Entrepreneur in India, Ankush is a keen student of economics, a follower of Manchester United since 1996 and a disciple of Archer.

This is part of the series: The New Stars Of The Islamic Economy, featured in the June/July 2017 issue of Inc. Arabia Magazine. Muslims account for one out of every four people on the planet right now and are also one of fastest-growing consumer segments in the world. By all accounts, they are also one of the most under-served when it comes to products and services that appeal to their values and heritage. Here are four MENA startups that are using technology, innovation, design, finance and more to break up that norm.

Boy Wonder

If you think you have seen Omar Hamid somewhere before this issue of Inc. Arabia, you are not in the wrong. Hamid, a 26-year-old American Muslim of Egyptian origin was one of the standout stars of the seventh season of regional channel MBC’s science-based reality show Stars of Science, where he took the second spot.

What got him to the second spot is Sanda—a specialized chair for worshippers who need physical assistance while praying at a mosque. “Usually when someone wants to pray using a chair in a mosque, with all the praying motions, they end up interfering with worshippers around them…given you are supposed to pray in a mosque in line with each other…Sanda solves this.”

Designed to decrease pressure on joints with assistive sitting and standing features, Hamid tells us that Sanda has applications beyond the mosque in theaters, stadiums, universities, restaurants, and even churches.

Getting second place at Stars of Science has given a major fillip to the Sanda project. He came in with merely a sketch, he says, and came out with an almost-finished project, helped along by mentors in market research and product development.

The winning Stars of Science stint led to a three-month accelerator program at the Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP), where Sanda got $100,000 in funding, mentorship, help on brand and copyright work, as Hamid strived to build out a prototype. “We are now putting out a request for proposal for manufacturers.”

But even as Sanda nears the finish line, Hamid has his hands full with his second startup, where he hopes to take Sanda one day when he moves into the pre-launch stage looking for funds and validation.

LaunchGood is a crowdfunding platform that is run out of the US and focuses on the Muslim community worldwide.

“We want to show our values in action, and that we come from a history of creativity, innovation, and compassion.”

Hamid co-founded LaunchGood with Chris Blauvelt and Amany Killawi when he came on to design the website in back in 2012-13, wrapping his design agency (Alfenn, which he had founded while still in high school) into the platform.

“With LaunchGood, we are trying to change the narrative about who Muslims are. There is so much misinformation going around about Muslims,” he says.

“We want to show our values in action, and that we come from a history of creativity, innovation, and compassion.”

Since its launch in 2013, LaunchGood has funded 1,852 Muslim community-focused campaigns across 83 countries to the tune of $19 million (at the time of publishing).

Notable projects that LaunchGood has had a hand in include the campaign to help rebuild African-American churches destroyed by arson in  the state of South Carolina back in the summer of 2015; Qirtas, an Elephant clock toy, based on a 12th-century design, made by Saja Muzaini, a female Saudi entrepreneur; and most recently, Muslims United for Jewish Cemeteries, where Muslim activists raised money to fix Jewish graveyards desecrated in a wave of anti-semitic acts in the state of Missouri following the last US presidential elections.

“The tie-in for me between LaunchGood, Sanda, Alfenn, and Stars of Science is that it’s all about inspiring a generation and reviving the legacy of innovation,” says Hamid of his endeavors. “Being proud of where we come from and looking ahead to an inspiring future.”

Photo: Lens Asia