We were about to shut down the business
Anwar, a 30-year old Syrian Entrepreneur from Turkey, managed to overcome the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. He is now employing five people in his product design company.
Mohamad Anwar Kattan is an architect, industrial designer and business owner. He crossed the Turkish-Syrian border in the early days of the Syrian War. When he arrived in Gaziantep, Turkey in 2009, he had no idea that he would study, start a family and become a business owner in Turkey.
“As an architecture student, I have always been passionate about 3D designs. I truly enjoy design thinking, specifically ideating and prototyping a product that provides a solution,” he says.
After finishing his final year studying Architecture at the University of Gaziantep he founded his own business in laser-cutting and 3D printing, as well as opening his own workshop and showroom in Gaziantep.
When he realised that he was lacking business skills, he applied for SPARK’s training and mentorship programmes for young entrepreneurs. “I took business English courses with SPARK, alongside other business training”, he says.
He founded Efkar Design, a product design company specialising in children’s toys and learning materials. After receiving a grant of 50,000 Turkish Lira with the support of the European Union through the EU Regional Trust Fund, in response to the Syrian crisis, the ‘MADAD’ fund, he was able to stop outsourcing his production and buy his own equipment, whilst employing five people in the process. They now create their products in-house, as well as having a showroom for customers. Efkar Design now has contracts with nurseries and private schools, selling learning materials such as laser-cut Arabic letters and games to aid numeracy development.
“COVID was a very hard period”
Just before the outbreak of COVID-19, Mohamad had found a new office but had to close due to restrictions. He described it as a very hard period. “We were about to shut down the business during the early days of the pandemic,” he says. Yet he used the time to focus on studying markets, and how people would behave after the pandemic.
Despite the struggles brought on by the global lockdown, Mohamad has been successful in expanding his business and is now employing four people. He now hopes to hire junior level product designers, particularly young Syrian handicraft makers, who the company can train. “If we speak about the refugee community – the most vulnerable – they graduated in Syria but can’t use their qualifications here. They struggle to find a job appropriate for their skills. I want to find people around me who are in the same situation I was in.”
Family is an important part of life for Mohamad. He says his wife supports him in the business, including researching gifts for women. Mohamad says: “Syrian women feel more comfortable speaking to another woman, so if we have products for women, they should be made by women”. He also describes his children as his motivation, that “when I think of my daughter and son, I have to keep working and moving forward”.
“Always find solutions”
To share his entrepreneurship experience and inspire youth like himself, Mohamad recently joined a hybrid meeting by DAAD, an association of German institutions of higher education and their student bodies. His advice to young entrepreneurs is to have patience, to “not give up on the first problems, and always find solutions”. He also strongly recommends volunteering, saying: “If you have time, for example at university, it’s great to volunteer to improve your skills and to network, like I did. Many of my customers are based upon the people I met during volunteering and also during university life.”