It was a beautiful San Francisco night and we had just listened to a speech by an international investor about growing global markets and international opportunities for startups. We are building Ummah Wide with global and regional markets on our minds constantly so we decided to introduce ourselves and tell the investor about our company. Once we said we were focused on the global Muslim market his face changed. He began to look around, and we could tell he was uncomfortable.
We finished our short pitch, he took a breath and said, ‘You’re really going to have to be careful about infiltrators.’ We didn’t know what to say, ‘You mean like the FBI?’ ‘No, I mean like ISIS.’ WOW.
There are nearly 2 Billion Muslims on the planet, and this is the one story that is told, so it’s not really surprising that someone would say this to us and this experience helped us realize three things.
- It became crystal clear to us how much of an uphill struggle Muslim centric companies face in Western startup communities. This despite the clear market logic that shows that there is almost no greater growth market opportunity, as Muslims make up one-quarter of humanity representing trillions of dollars in potential revenues.
- It affirmed for us how important our work is at Ummah Wide in telling a more diverse and complete story about Muslims globally.
- Finally, it showed us how important it is that we support the growth of a strong global Muslim startup ecology.
Despite this one bad experience we had in San Francisco, we know that with the growth of entrepreneurial and startup communities throughout the world, leaders are focused on strengthening these communities in different cities and regions. We see the emergence of regional technology and startup ecologies across Muslim regions and ethnic groups, ranging from 500 startups funding companies throughout the MENA region and their offshoot500 Durians based in Malaysia.
In the San Francisco Bay Area where Ummah Wide is based, we have Muppies, Persian Tech Entrepreneurs, OPEN SVfocused on the Pakistani tech and entrepreneurship community as well as Tech Wadiand PITME focused on the MENA region and the Turkish Startup Network. We even have the growing presence of venture capital funds from countries such as Malaysia (Khazanah) and Singapore (Temasek and Infocomm Investments) with branches in the Bay Area. While each of these entities are powerful in their own right, our question here is, how would we move beyond only regional startup and entrepreneurship communities to begin thinking about building this global Muslim startup ecology? The 40 companies we feature below, which range across the sectors of media, technology, fashion, tourism, education, finance, food, and non-profits, are trailblazing the global Muslim market and helping to lay the seeds for companies to thrive in this space for generations to come.
In the recent report “State of the Global Islamic Economy” published by Thomsan Reuters Islamic Finance Gateway arm in collaboration with Dinar Standard it is estimated that in aggregate the Muslim consumer and lifestyle sectors were worth $1.6 trillion dollars in 2012, with growth of those markets expected to reach $2.47 trillion dollars by 2018.
While the worth of this market is greater than any regional or national market of Muslims, the same could be said if we were to imagine what the networks of entrepreneurs, tech talent, mentors, and investors would look like if we were able to leverage these regional entrepreneurship networks into a global ecology. This especially makes sense when we have tens of thousands of highly talented and deeply connected Muslims living and working in places like Silicon Valley and San Francisco, New York, London, Paris, Berlin, and Sydney who are globally connected to the other key hubs of Muslim entrepreneurship, life and culture throughout the world.
The internet makes it possible for companies focused on capturing a part of this global Muslim market to emerge and we are beginning to see these companies being birthed at an ever increasing scale. While many companies could have made this list, these are the 40 that we are the most excited about.
NOTE: In writing this article the editors of Ummah Wide consulted a network of entrepreneurs throughout the world. Despite the deep research we conducted, we do not believe we have enough information about all the companies to give actual rankings. This is why there are no numbers and placement in the article is not meant to reflect a ranking. The companies featured have as their primary focus Muslim markets and this list does not include Muslim led companies which would be an entirly different list. Do you think an important company is missing? Tweet us at @UmmahWide
Media & Technology — Berkeley, California
Noor Kids is a great example of the global reach of Muslim companies when they create great products. Founded by Amin Aaser, Noor Kids have sold tens of thousands of books across 25 countries, despite only printing English language books so far. Books were just the beginning for Noor kids as they begin to develop into a full-fledged media company focused on building, “confidence in the religious identity of little Muslims by engaging children with Islamic education and Muslim cultures.”
Holiday ME, Halal Trip & Irhal
Travel — Dubai & Singapore
Open a travel guide and you can find tips for almost any type of unique traveler, except for the Muslim community which makes up nearly one-quarter of humanity. Not surprisingly, there are a number of startups working to break into the $137 billion dollar Muslim travel market. Holiday ME is a Middle East focused startup that just raised a $4 million dollar angel round. Halal Trip is a Singapore based app and website, where you can book travel and check out ratings. It is a part of the larger Crescent Rating parent company. Another interesting new travel app is Irhal, “an Arabic/English travel app for Muslim travelers worldwide. It has 90+ city guides with information on places to visit, shopping, hotels, etc.”
Media & Technology — San Francisco, California
In 2014 Digital Media startups were the 2nd most funded Venture Capital area because of the growing scale of many digital media startups such as Vice, Buzz Feed, Business Insider, Policy Mic, and OZY. Experts believe that digital media platforms will attract hundreds of millions of daily users with hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues within the next 10–20 years. The media landscape is changing so quickly that Vice media today has a higher valuation, $2.5 Billion dollars, than the legacy media powerhouse the New York Times.
This is exactly where Ummah Wide is positioned as a company as we attempt to create one of the first truly global Muslim businesses. We are a digital media and technology startup focused on stories and cultures that transcend the global borders and boundaries of the Muslim and Human family. We are building a high growth digital media company that will use our website, video content and a suite of apps and social media channels to tell the stories that are not being told from across the world. Since launching five months ago we have experienced fast growth and brand recognition globally as we open our seed investing round in April. You can support our crowdfunding campaign to build our Global Digital Media Fellows Program here.
Media & Technology — Detroit, Michigan
LaunchGood founded by Chris Blauvelt, Amany Killawi and Omar Hamid is the first Muslim centric crowdfunding website. Launched in 2014 they have helped crowdfund nearly $2 million dollars and to launch all kinds of positive social impact projects with Muslims all over the world. Check out our profile of LaunchGood from a few weeks back:
Fashion — Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia & Los Angeles, California
Founded by the Malaysian pop star who is growing in popularity in the US and throughout the world, Yuna Zarari, November Culture is a startup in the growing modest clothing and fashion industry. While there are many clothing startups none of them except for November Culture have a globally recognized singer, songwriter at their helm. They recently opened their first store in Kuala Lumpur and ship throughout the world.
Dubai, UAE & Los Angeles, California
Baraka Bits is a fast growing digital media company that publishes in Arabic and English with a focus on “Good news from the Middle East.” Founded by Rama Chakaki, according to a piece in Wamda Baraka Bits, “seeks to document and popularize a “simple and uplifting narrative on the Arab region and its people, culture, environment, and religions,” a far cry from the kind of regional stories that are reported on mainstream media outlets.”
Media & Technology — Sydney, Australia
Founded by Reuben Brand and Peter Gould Creative Ummah is an exciting new platform that aims to inspire and empower Muslims to become positive change makers locally and globally. The BETA version of their new website is coming soon and will include “a global directory of the movers and shakers of the Ummah, exciting community campaigns and challenges, such as the current collaboration with Al Jazeera, as well as the ever expanding online courses and a platform of inspirational content that highlights the incredible achievements the Ummah continues to make.”
Media & Technology — London, United Kingdom
Alchemiya is a Netflix-style video platform focused on the Muslim world with “On demand content that celebrates the culture, ideas, and achievements of the Muslim world.” They just launched their beta site with over 30 films ranging from a Muslim Travelers guide to Granada to Musa Syed’s Sundance film “Valley of Saints.” With a team led by Navid Akhtar and Ajmal Masroor both with deep media experience, we are excited to see what Alchemiya is going to build. You can support Alchemiya on Creative Cubed today in their equity crowd-funding campaign.
The Play Studio, Sukoon Creative, Wage Beauty, House of Gul & Make Me Believe
Media & Technology — London, Chicago, Oakland, and Portland
There is an impressive grouping of creative agency startups that have launched within the last twelve months. While each of these projects are not focused solely on Muslims, their founders are Muslims who do important work across communities.
The Play Studio based in London is a creative design agency started by Mehedi Islam that works on branding, digital and animation design.
Sukoon Creative founded by Asad Jafri in Chicago is, “multifaceted firm that works at the intersection of art, culture, design, and space. Our services are catered to actualizing new ideas and delivering innovative concepts in local and global markets.”
Wage Beauty is a creative firm launched by the social innovator and educator Mark Gonzales. The firm officially launched in February although Mark has been working with clients ranging from Stanford University to refugee camps in Palestine, to the United Nations for over a decade. With the launch of this creative firm, Mark Gonzales also released his first book,In Time of Terror Wage Beauty: A Personal Guide for Social Good.
House of Gul founded by Ali Godil in Portland, Oregon this design firm has the beauty and feel of the company that Portland is known for and who has been a client of House of Gul, Nike. House of Gul works with clients on branding and design, web development and marketing. Working with the Nike Foundation, House of Gul developed branding for the Girl Effect.
Make Me Believe is a London and Dubai-based studio founded by Ruh Al-Alam and Abdul Hamid which specializes in Arabic design, typography and calligraphy. They, “help new and existing brands, products and businesses cross the cultural divide in and out of the Middle East and global Halal markets.”
Various — Washington, D.C.
All of Shahed Amanullah’s different projects deserve mentioning in this space as a serial entrepreneur and founder of Zabiha.com, Altmuslim.com, and Salatomatic.com who is launching two projects this year. Founded by Shahed Amanullah and Quintan Wiktorowicz,Affinis Labs is a co-working space outside of Washington D.C. which opened its doors in February to help entrepreneurs that provide positive social impact in Muslim communities. They are also launching a $5 million private equity fund to help these startups get off the ground. Already working with companies like LaunchPosse (a pre-launch startup from Amanullah), Coming of Faith, Aqua Bean, LaunchGood and Ishqr we are excited to see what Affinis will grow in the coming years.
Various — Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Qeerad is an investment firm that has positioned itself between entrepreneurs and investors, working with both parties to bring great ideas to market. As they state on their website, “At Qeerad we are attracted to entrepreneurs with socially impactful ideas and look to collaborate with investors using sharia compliant models. To date our venture footprint spans across Malaysia, Germany and Australia.”
The Muslim ARC (Anti-Racism Collaborative)
Non-Profit — Detroit, Michigan
Muslims make up the single most diverse religious grouping of people on the planet Earth. While the call to anti-racism is central within Islamic teachings, in many ways the community falls short and this is whereMuslim ARC comes in. Founded in 2014 by Margari Hill and Namira Islam, Muslim ARC is working towards getting its non-profit status. They facilitate conversations in person and online about race and identity in the Muslim community as well as publish educational materials like their #BlackLivesMatter toolkit. As Sherman Jackson of the University of Southern-California makes clear in the above video for Muslim ARC, race is something all Muslims need to take seriously because, “Anti-racism is not just some sort of political activism, real anti-racism is heart work, it’s soul work.”
Media & Technology — London & Dubai
Executive Muslim has put together an impressive team led by Nassar Youssef and Tel Rashid. With years of deep research on the global Muslim professional community going into the building of the site, EM is getting ready to launch a Linkedin type portal for the Muslim community. The site is set to launch in the next few months and beyond professional networking will also feature portals for Muslim non-profits, publishing and e-commerce components also.
Social Enterprise — Doha, Qatar
Narwi, another pre-launch company that we are excited about is seeking, “to empower young micro-entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa to start and grow their businesses through an online crowdfunding micro-endowment platform. Our vision is to establish young Arab micro-entrepreneurs with capital and knowledge, mobilized through the crowd, to start and grow their businesses, create jobs and realize their entrepreneurial dreams. Narwi is a micro-endowment crowdfunding platform where users around the globe set up their own micro-endowment to finance micro-entrepreneurs in the MENA region. When the entrepreneurs repay their loan, the users’ micro-endowments are replenished for repeat, transparent and sustainable philanthropy.”
E-Commerce — Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Zilzar is a global online marketplace focused on Muslim consumers looking for certified Halal products. Similar to a platform like AliBaba or Amazon,Zilzar was launched in October of 2014. From that moment Zilzar had big goals in mind as their CEO Rushdi Siddiqui told the Guardian that he, “predicts that within two to three months the site will have more halal suppliers than Alibaba.”
Finance — San Francisco, California & Jakarta, Indonesia
Founded by Matthew Martin in San Francisco, Blossom uses a concept from Islamic finance to create a business partnership and a profit-sharing model called Musharakah. Blossom is focused on working with Muslim businesses’s through small loans using a halal financing model that includes no interest. With their recent decision to relocate their company from San Francisco to Indonesia to focus on the largest Muslim population on the planet, we are excited to see what comes next for Blossom.
Global Online Muslim Organizing Startup
Non-Profit — New York, New York & Berkeley, California
Colorofchange.org was just named the 6th most innovative company on Fast Company’s 2015 list of the world’s 50 most innovative companies because of its innovate online political campaigns using, “petitions, images to share on social media, or boycotts.” After founding Color of Change Rashad Robinson worked to start the Citizen Engagement Laboratory in Berkeley, California to help build online platforms to serve a diverse range of communities. This civic incubator that has helped build such organizations as presente.org, and18 Million Rising recently accepted a group of Muslim digital strategists and community organizers for incubation to build a global online Muslim organizing platform. They are currently building this non-profit startup in stealth mode, hoping to launch by July of 2015.
My Halal Kitchen & Halal Gems
Media & Technology — Chicago, Illinois & London, United Kingdom
My Halal Kitchen has quickly grown into one of the top Muslim digital media companies on the internet with no paid advertising. Founded by Yvonne Maffei My Halal Kitchen has quickly grown into the standard bearer for information on Halal (meat slaughtered in accordance with the principles of Islamic jurisprudence) cooking. They are getting ready to launch their second cook book focused on halal cooking and baking this year.
Halal Gems is a recently launched digital magazine that showcases the best halal cuisine and halal restaurants from throughout the world. This new magazine is, “the first interactive digital magazine for halal foodies. Download it free on the App Store and Play Store. Cutting edge technology, beautiful design and unique content: In-depth interviews, restaurant showcases, trends in the halal food scene and events to indulge your foodie life.”
The Whitestone Foundation
Non-Profit Consulting & Social Enterprise
The Whitestone Foundation has put together an impressive team of non-profit, and business professionals working on solving key issues within Muslim communities. They work with non-profits to develop, “models of excellence, strategic direction, and grants that transform community aspirations into reality.”
Arabic Made in China
Education & Digital Media
Arabic Made in China combines online learning with the unique teaching style of Dr. Imran Lum, “The main goal of Arabic made in China is to get people to love learning Arabic and to help people overcome any fear they may have learning it. Arabic is an incredibly beautiful language and Imran’s method is simple, learn Arabic by speaking with people and teach what you learn.”
Non-Profit — Chicago, Illinois & San Francisco, California
For nearly a billion people on this planet there is nothing more important than access to clean drinking water. This is where Zam Zam Water comes in as they are working to launch water projects in Yemen, Afghanistan and Uganda. Zam Zam is an “organization devoted to playing a vital role in eradicating poverty by providing clean, sustainable water to villages across the globe.”
The Safa Center for Research & Education, The Tarbiya Institute & The Green Room
Non-Profit — Irvine, California, Sacramento, California & Edmonton, Canada
There are a lot of non-profit startups but only six made this list for a reason, we had to see innovative and transformative qualities within the work they are doing. The Safa Center for Reasearch and Education is made up of the powerful couple of the Islamic scholars Shaykha Muslema Purmul and Shaykh Jamal Diwan, and the Tarbiya Institute was founded by Imam Mohamed Abdul Azeez. Both of these institutes are providing creative content and workshops at a time when Muslim youth and the Muslim community at large are looking for relevant, balanced and deep scholarship to respond to the issues of our times.
The Green Room is a powerful concept focused on youth development in Edmonton, Canada that provides, “a neutral space & platform, activities, events, and training for youth to connect, learn, and engage with the Muslim and Canadian community.”
Ahli & Musallah
Technology — New York, New York
Ahli and Musallah both offer new takes on the Muslim prayer app concept that has been around for some time. Ahli founded by Souhail Wardi is a location-based app that lets you find other people around you to pray with throughout the day. Ahli is designed beautifully and it has become our go-to app for prayer times and Qibla direction (the direction of Mecca).
Musallah founded by Nushmia Khan and Rashid Dar, is a startup focusing on a real problem for Muslims navigating cities where you can’t find a place to pray on every corner, or can you? With this app you would be able to find restaurants, coffee shops or maybe even church’s that don’t mind Muslims stopping in for one of their five daily prayers. New York city where the app is launching is a great example of this where you have small prayer rooms all over the city, but most Muslims probably have no idea that they are there.
The Muslim Writers Collective
Media & Technology — New York, New York
The Muslim Writers Collective is almost a movement more than it is even a startup. Founded by Hamdan Azhar and Ayisha Irfan in New York in 2014 this monthly gathering space for writers and creatives has grown into a global network of Muslim writers with MWC chapters emerging in the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, Maryland, Toronto, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia. Each of the monthly sessions are filmed and then selections of the best performances are posted on Facebook for the global audience to see.
Technology — Washington, D.C.
The Muslim marriage startup scene has received some recent attention on BuzzFeed in this overview piece by Ghazala Irshad. The company that is the most interesting to us because of their product design and concept is Ishqr. One of the Ishqrfounders, Humaira Mubeen clearly sums up how important this company could be for Muslims looking to get married, “We are Muslim American millennials — a unique hybrid of identities, so we need a platform that allows us enough space for our multifaceted narratives, that means connecting beyond a shared faith or physical attraction, and steering the building of a relationship based on shared values and interests, which is what’s most important for a successful marriage.”
E-commerce & Digital Media — Ramallah, Palestine
‘First comes Ishqr? Then comes love and marriage and then….Karaz is here to help out with important information about sex and intimacy. Karaz, founded by Ashraf Alkiswani, has built sites in Arabic and English to educate Muslim and Arab populations about issues that may seem taboo but that are important to lasting relationships. As Alkiswani has stated, “In the Middle East because there are certain cultural issues that people face, husband and wife are not able communicate their desires because they are embarrassed or they feel that it is inappropriate to discuss things like this, so we are trying to bridge that gap with Karaz.”
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Ummah Catalyst is a Malaysian based startup that is working to help Muslim businesses launch and sustain themselves. Ummah Catalyst supports Muslim-led startups with hopes of putting, “an end to the Ummah’s current state of innovative apathy, we at Ummah Catalyst believe we must truly embrace the principles that underline the Islamic economic system — the system that promotes income distribution and risk taking for the sake of Allah, through Islamic financing tools such as mudharabah (profit sharing mechanism) and musharakah (partnership mechanism), the heart of which are the fundamental concepts of brotherhood, cooperation, and justice.”
Los Angeles, California
Louella is focused on filling a gap in not only the modest clothing industry, but modest clothing that is affordable and made in the United States. Founded by the first Muslim athlete to represent the United States in international competition, the Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad. With all their clothes designed and made in Los Angeles, Louella is making beautiful clothes that are available exclusively on their website.
Chicago, Illinois and Doha, Qatar
Growmada founded by Raafi Hossain and Kavilash Chawla is a Kiva type startup focused on the Muslim world with an e-commerce twist. As they have stated of the platform that they hope to launch later this year, “There are a growing number of artisan-based social enterprises that are unable to take advantage of the growth of ethically-driven consumers due to the lack of capital to scale production and a limited access to global consumers. The Growmada platform enables social enterprises to access crowdfunded capital through Growmada’s social investor user base. Simultaneously, the platform enables consumers to purchase ethically produced and crowdfunded artisan goods through the Growmada Marketplace. The revenue from the marketplace is then shared between the social enterprises and the crowdfunders. Growmada believes that it can help develop the social enterprises that bring out the best in their local artisan base by providing them livable wages and business acumen to produce luxury quality, handmade goods.”
5ive Pillars & Al Ghuraba Clothing
San Francisco, California & London, England
5ive Pilars clothing and al-Ghuraba are both growing t-shirt/ street clothing companies that appeal to global Muslim youth culture. Al-Ghuraba was founded by Qasim Arif and features a unique collection of his caligrafiti style. 5ive Pilars features a range of t-shirts and products ranging from arabesque sock designs to a beautiful series of Muhammad Ali t-shirts.
Ahlan Art & Cufica
London, United Kingdom & Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Ahlan Art is a unique pop-up gallery based in London that, “has a roster of more than 40 established and emerging artists from across the world, showcasing a range of modern, contemporary and classical art. As well as exhibitions, Ahlan Art are working closely with artists to create a new narrative for Islamic Art.” Cufica is based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where they are soon to open their own shop featuring their unique blend of Islamic art with styles ranging from Monochrome to pop art.
Do you think an important company is missing? Tweet us at @UmmahWide
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