You’re taking a leisurely stroll through the mall, only to stop stone cold in your tracks. You begin to stare at the genius pop-up clothing store selling that incredible blazer design that you doodled while you idly sat at your desk at work, only to regret not getting into the business of fashion any sooner. You walk away, putting yourself down for not taking that one step toward your ultimate dream. We tend to neglect our passions out of habit, hesitation and a mile-long list of reasons that is mainly headlined by fear of the unknown and insecurity in taking risks. The good people at Sirdab Lab, however, are here to put at an end to this mindless reluctance, pushing you to follow your passion and turn that design, idea, or life-changing innovation, into reality.
Co-founded by Mona Al Mukhaizeem (CEO), Abdullah Al Hussainan (CIO), Ghalia Faraj (CBDO), Haider Al Mosawi (COO) and Abdullah Al Sayer (CSO), Sirdab Lab aims to help aspiring entrepreneurs to realize their dreams and build the best digital products and tech startups that they can. The format of Sirdab Lab is unlike many other consultancies, or startup accelerators, as a membership at Sirdab Lab unlocks a community of ambitious entrepreneurs, passionate mentors, and smart investors looking to fund promising startups. The lab’s second purpose aims to provide a space for entrepreneurs where they can work on their product, grow their business, and collaborate with other founders and talented individuals; offering an effective talent hub that is a common occurence at the Silicon Valley. Finally, Sirdab Lab also functions as a platform to support, inspire and educate through events, workshops and a variety of practical programs.
Mona, the brainchild behind Sirdab Lab, used to work in private equity, and moved to San Francisco to pursue her MBA. Living in the Silicon Valley, internationally recognized as the hub of entrepreneurship, opened up Mona to a wealth of experiences. She said, “I fell in love with the passion that people had for what they were doing. CEOs, who are as young as 18 years old, already built and sold their company for millions and work on their second company. It was truly inspiring.” In working at two different startup accelerators, Mona saw the importance of creating this dynamic environment in Kuwait. Taking an initial idea to a product is no easy feat, it is a journey, and an accelerator surely ignites this endeavor. Mona also noticed that it was completely normal in the US for people to move from one accelerator to the other, as it was a cultural norm that startups benefit from as many resources as possible. Based on these enlightening experiences, she wished to import this mindset, that combined both knowledge and passion, to Kuwait.
Taking Mona’s vision, and transferring it from an idea to reality, nonetheless, required a totally different set of accelerators. That set being, or embodied by, the wonderful people who work by her side at Sirdab Lab. Chief Strategic Officer Abdullah Al Sayer was mentally prepared to start something similar in Kuwait. He said, “I was always excited by the idea, as I have been self-employed since 2007.” Haider, who was initially meant to come on board at Sirdab Lab as a user experience design mentor, was equally enticed by the idea, as he knew that it would help a complete generation of talented individuals who needed a simple push and mentorship. The COO said, “Anyone working in the entrepreneurial space needs something more comprehensive. The odd workshop here and there will not suffice. An accelerator program leans toward big picture thinking. The concept of Sirdab Lab integrates the expertise of the founders, along with a wide network of experienced individuals in the field of entrepreneurship, under one umbrella.” Ghalia, who heads up business development at Sirdab Lab, shared in Mona’s sentiments from her own experience. She said, “I worked at an accelerator upon graduating from my international masters program. The support system that startups receive here is minuscule compared to the scale available abroad. I love it because I feel that Kuwait needs a silicon-valley inspired environment.” Ghalia met Mona at Palo Alto, and her effective return to Kuwait to pursue what she loved to do, seemed like a natural decision. IT expert and CIO Abdullah Al Hussainan believes in the power of open source development and collaboration, an outlook to work that we barely see in Kuwait, and he said that Sirdab Lab is importing this perspective of sharing and collaborating to everything else that they aim to accomplish at this special space.
Their strength as a team definitely compliments one another, where they not only guide entrepreneurs from their mistakes, but also from their successes. Anyone who walks through the doors of the urban yet laid back space will instantly feel an energetic aura that will get you straight to work. The team doesn’t actually carry out the work of a certain project; they rather serve to effectively accelerate the process of connecting an inspiring entrepreneur to do the work themselves, depending on their needs. User experience design, where Haider is concerned, and android development will instantly interest Abdullah, for instance, and they could come on board as consultants. The team holistically consults on an entrepreneur’s project and idea, further nourishing their concept. Whether someone is looking for a financier for their idea, or they are at ground zero and have no business background, a nominal membership at Sirdab Lab will instantly connect you to a wide database of seasoned consultants besides the cofounders to help you with all of your business needs and inquiries.
Going beyond the accelerator concept, existing as a co-working space and a collaborative community provides the ultimate trifecta for young startups and even interested investors and entrepreneurs. “Existing as an accelerator,” Haider added, “is only part of the process.”
This, in and of itself, separates Sirdab Lab as a space from other business consultancies. The Sirdab team are each qualified in a certain field, and they also ensure that continuous lectures by experts in the field are constantly happening at the space. Virtual Skype sessions straight from the Silicon Valley could represent a typical round table discussion, or even a lecture by prominent inspiring individuals in Kuwait, are held at the space, to further the knowledge of young entrepreneurs. By becoming a Sirdab Lab member, you instantly join a network of professionals in the startup world from Silicon Valley & the MENA region. Members enjoy a wide array of benefits, besides being part of a one-of-akind innovative environment in Kuwait. As a startup, you can even test your products or services with small groups of people. “Consider this as a live case study,” explained Abdullah Al Sayer. During an event, the crowd will instantly give their feedback to better further the idea. Not only will the group offer their advice, their exposure in seeing this process serves as a learning tool that educates them about the user experience involved with an emerging product or design. “I would rather teach someone to understand what I know as I apply it, rather than do the work for them.” Haider added.
The annual membership fee is astoundingly low, where KD 150 unlocks an endless list of benefits that vary from free access to informative lectures and events, a wide database of mentors, exclusive participation at a weekly Idea Night, session guides, and even discounts on working with affiliated trusted service providers. You can even rent a space or work station at Sirdab Lab, as the team offers different packages and passes that unlock access to all of their useful resources. A worthy point of mention is that Sirdab Lab is open to both Kuwaitis and Non-Kuwaitis. Abdullah Al Sayer explained, “For expats, finding real Kuwaiti investors can be challenging, and I feel that expats should not feel discouraged if they wish to start a business in Kuwait. It’s all about finding the right partner. I actually had a member whose idea was extremely undervalued by his partner, and they were effectively advised not to commit to this partnership. We helped them find real investors that weren’t out to dominate their idea.”
It all boils down to this: Make the effort and do the work. Attend the events, network, test your product, and launch it effectively. All of these benefits are real experiences that are facilitated for entrepreneurs and start up owners at Sirdab Lab.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Ghalia: I tend to be overly impatient sometimes, but I’m working on it!
Which living person do you most admire?
Ghalia: I don’t have one specific person…I met many hard working entrepreneurs when I was working in the Valley (Silicon Valley) and they were the people I always admired for how smart they are and their work ethic.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Abdullah S: I’ll have to get back to you on that.
Abdullah H: Tamam.
Haider: “Wicked” for positive situations, “genius” for great suggestions/actions, and “deep” when things don’t go the way I expect or want them to.
What is your most treasured possession?
Ghalia: Probably my brain … it got me this far!
What are your favorite words to live by?
Ghalia: I’m just going to wing it.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Mona: A beach and good company.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Ghalia: Pre-conceived judgments that are usually wrong once you get to know the person you are speaking to.
Which talent would you most like to have?
Mona: I wish I knew how to play the drums!
What is your greatest extravagance?
Abdullah S: My Kids, electronics, cars and food is where most of my spending goes.
What is your greatest fear?
Abdullah S: Uncertainty.
What is your most marked characteristic?
Abdullah S: Never stop trying.
Haider: Clear thinking. I can understand and simplify ideas very quickly.
Mona: Haider does think clearly, but he sometimes overthinks things. (Just kidding!)
What is it that you most dislike?
Abdullah H: Nothing really, I’m very easy going.
What would you consider your greatest achievement?
Abdullah H: I am in constant pursuit of learning and achieving more.
If you could have any job, what would it be?
Abdullah H: I would be a tech entrepreneur.
Haider: I wouldn’t have a job, but would work on different projects, doing activities that I like for causes I believe in. I enjoy teaching/training, designing, developing, and writing. Projects that involve these activities bring me joy, so I wouldn’t want to be stuck in a job for too long when there are exciting projects to work on.
Where would you most like to live?
Abdullah H: I like living in Kuwait.
What do you most value in your friends?
Ghalia: Their ability to bake me really good desserts.