August 25, 2022

Entrepreneur in Exile: Amir Alkadri

Entrepreneur in exile, a short documentary, depicts the story of Amir Alkadri, the founder of USTA OL, a startup delivering pre-packed meal boxes in Turkey. Each cook-at-home package contains the exact ingredients needed to make particular meals and comes with illustrated instructions. The documentary highlights the challenges entrepreneurs in exile face and the support they need.

While pitching his idea at Startup Roadshow-Wired, a startup competition run by SPARK and Jusoor, Amir Alkadri captivated the audience with his positive energy and enthusiasm. Even viewed remotely, his great hope for the future was palpable.

Amer is the Syrian founder of a startup. Upon completion of his Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, the situation in the country drastically changed. When the war started in Syria, he left the country for Jordan, then Lebanon, then Egypt and then Dubai but having no legal status meant he had no right to employment. In 2016, he decided to regain control of his life and came to Turkey, where soon after he received temporary protected status.

“At school, all concentration is on being a full-time employee, and no effort is put on becoming a job creator,” Amer said.

Today, Amer is running his own company, USTA OL, a startup that delivers pre-packed meal boxes in Turkey. Each cook-at-home package contains the exact ingredients needed to make particular meals and comes with illustrated instructions. 

There are more than 10,000 formally registered Syrian-led enterprises in Turkey, in which each entrepreneur contributes positively to social cohesion and economic development in the country. Entrepreneurship has always been a vehicle that creates employment opportunities and further generates income for individuals and family units.

The total estimate of Syrians’ contribution to the Turkish economy is 27 billion TL (~ 3.8 billion dollars), 2% of the Turkish GDP. Since 2016, SPARK has supported both Syrian and Turkish entrepreneurs through different training sessions, advisory services, mentoring and institutional capacity-building projects. 

“To be or not to be, this was the situation; I have risked everything,” Amer says. The problems and challenges fueled Amer’s motivation to begin establishing USTA OL. 

Amer is one of the participants of the Economic Resilience through COVID-19, funded by the Qatar Fund for Development. Amer participated in SPARK and Jusoor’s startup competition in 2020 and won first place in Startup Roadshow-Wired. Also, Amer benefited from the NAMA II startup competition with Bina Business Incubator. Thanks to this programme, his start-up, USTA OL, received training and mentorship and was introduced to many investors through both competitions as well as he received seed funding to grow his idea. 

Entrepreneur in Exile: Amir Qadri

Tough but bright journey

Amer’s journey was indeed full of challenges. “When I arrived in Turkey after moving between four countries, I made many job applications, but unfortunately, I couldn’t get a job,” he says. “Then I focused more on starting my own business and being the one who helps others to find decent jobs.” 

At the beginning of the journey, he managed to gain some clients, especially his friends studying at the same university, but at that same moment, he also realised that he had to develop his idea and his project. “The Economic Resilience through COVID-19 comes into view at the perfect time after months of looking for an Arab incubator in Turkey,” Amer added. 

Today, Amer is the founder of USTA OL. He expanded the business from Ankara to Istanbul and has ten employees, and this year he will be creating new jobs. After the support the business received, USTA OL has a clear vision, a clear plan, an actual understanding of the Turkish market and a view on competitors. 

“I joined USTA OL because I loved the idea, and I see a bright future. When I joined the team, we were only three, but we are ten now, and we are growing fastly, I enjoy every step we make, and it’s an unbelievable feeling when you see the team is growing.” Ghalea Sawan, Director of Innovation Culinary. 

Economic Resilience through COVID-19 Programme

“Many of the entrepreneurs in exile have problems including language barriers, lack of market and legal knowledge that need to be overcome to ensure success in the local market,” Nabil Alarabiin, COO, USTA OL.  

The Economic Resilience through COVID-19 Programme aims to tackle some of these barriers by providing training and seed funding, while entrepreneurs are also matched with mentors, investors, incubators and accelerators so that they can start and complete their journey through the programme cycle depending on their individual needs.

Clear plans and high hopes

With dedicated technical support, USTA OL was able to have a clear-cut strategic direction, and with access to funds, the company is now aiming to expand both locally and regionally, which will allow them to grow their business and human capital. According to Amer, “The journey of entrepreneurship begins with zero and does not end with a billion!”