As a fresh graduate in the Middle East in 2010, I was lost and confused. University had only taken me so far; I had theories and equations in my head and a magna cum laude degree in my hands. On the other hand, I barely had any idea as to how to apply this knowledge, and actually get a job and start a promising career. It was during this time I realized that I wasn't alone. Graduates were lacking direction; they needed a helping hand to get them started on the right path.
At the same time, youth unemployment was at its highest in the world in the Middle East at a whopping 24%. I was facing several issues in finding a suitable position, Every career portal I would apply through, required 3 to 5 years of experience for an "entry-level" position. In the face of all these difficulties however, I landed a position. It was not in my chosen field, but I decided to accept it so I could call myself "employed." Then on a whim, I approached Syed Ahmed (Gradberry's current CTO), with the idea of a graduate careers portal. As a fresh graduate of Mechanical Engineering, with some serious talent in design and project management, Syed was facing similar issues with the graduate jobs market. He loved the concept and came on board as a co-founder. I quit my job, and we decided to act upon the ideas we had on education, internships and graduate employment in the region. Hence, Gradberry.com was born, with the goal of planting fruitful careers for the youth of the Middle East.
My co-founder and I set up the initial domain, registration and design, and created the website with $200. Our aim was to connect employers, graduates and universities through a single website, and allow students to find internships and entry-level positions that require no experience. The tech, marketing and design budget was $0, so we decided to split the responsibility, and learn everything we could about launching and bootstrapping a start-up. Syed became CTO of the site, and learned how to code and design UI on his own, meanwhile I took the responsibility of marketing, sales and business development. Once the site was up and running, we launched the Fruit Bowl, Gradberry's career education blog. The Fruit Bowl provides career resources to support and facilitate the job search experience for students and new graduates.
During the process, we did face many difficulties, and continue to face challenges till today. Figuring out the red tape and legislative procedures in the UAE and Middle East was no mean feat, and support for expat entrepreneurs is literally non-existent in the region. Starting up even a small website can mean high costs, and there is almost no protection for intellectual property. High start-up costs, barriers to entry, and lack of standardization between countries in the Middle East, can challenge even the most experienced of entrepreneurs. A major upheaval of the entrepreneurial ecosystem is required, if the youth are to be encouraged to start their own initiatives. We somehow managed to maneuver our way around most challenges, through due diligence and tireless efforts in figuring out the system.
Since launching in November 2011, we've had over 8,000 students registered on the site, 85 students and graduates employed, and 150+ career advice articles. Currently, over 150 employers, ranging from Google to Philips, are using the site to hire interns, student freelancers and new graduates. The whole initiative has been entirely bootstrapped by a team which consists of students and graduates below 24 years of age. Many student entrepreneurs have been inspired by our story to launch their own start ups, and it gives us hope to keep moving forward.
Now, the question is, where do we go from here? Gradberry.com receives thousands of CVs every day, and we have discovered that there are several gaps in the skills of graduating students; skills which are significantly required by most employers, regardless of the region they're in. With the next version of the site, we're hoping to launch an online education component of the site, which will allow students to expand on these skillsets and become more marketable to employers. We're aiming to expand significantly in the Middle East in 2013-2014, to help as many students and graduates as possible, with version 2.0 of the site. Our vision is to create a dent in the education and employment sectors and revamp outdated ideologies through technology.
Iba is a 2012 Cartier Women's Award finalist. For more information, please go here.
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