Towards a global Muslim startup ecology: 11 most innovative Asian Muslim startups
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Indian Muslim Entrepreneurs Network co-founder Tausif Malik stands with the inaugural participants of the national Muslim Spelling Bee in the US

Indian Muslim Entrepreneurs Network co-founder Tausif Malik stands with the inaugural participants of the national Muslim Spelling Bee in the US

This article was written by Dustin Craun, founder and executive editor of Ummah Wide.

Tech in Asia

This article was written by Dustin Craun, founder and executive editor of Ummah Wide

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 two 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 offshoot 500 Durians based in Malaysia.

Photo credit: Jess Erickson

Photo credit: Jess Erickson

In the San Francisco Bay Area where Ummah Wide is based, we have Muppies, Persian Tech Entrepreneurs, OPEN SV focused on the Pakistani tech and entrepreneurship community as well as Tech Wadi and PITME focused on the MENA region and the Turkish Startup Network. We even have a 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 11 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 Thomson Reuters Islamic Finance Gateway arm in collaboration with Dinar Standard, it is estimated that in aggregate the Muslim consumer and lifestyle sectors were worth US$1.6 trillion in 2012, with growth of those markets expected to reach US$2.47 trillion by 2018.

Image credit: Ummah Wide

Image credit: Ummah Wide

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 ones that we are most excited about in the Asian region. These companies each made our global list of the 50 Most Innovative Muslim Startups that we published last month.

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.

1-2. Halal Trip and Irhal

Photo credit: HalalTrip

Photo credit: HalalTrip

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. 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 Ratingparent company. Another interesting new travel app is Irhal, “an Arabic and English travel app for Muslim travellers worldwide. It has over 90 city guides with information on places to visit, shopping, hotels, and so on.”

3. November Culture

Photo credit: November Culture

Photo credit: November Culture

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 are shipping throughout the world.

4. Qeerad

Photo credit: Qeerad

Photo credit: Qeerad

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.”

5. Zilzar

Photo credit: Zilzar

Photo credit: Zilzar

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.”

6. Hijup

Photo credit: Hijup

Photo credit: Hijup

Launched in 2011, Hijup has grown in the modest fashion world as it built Indonesia’s first and largest Muslim fashion site. Featuring 100 fashion designers from Indonesia the site is looking to expand globally after recently raising a seed round that included investments from 500 Startups, Fenox Venture Capital, and Skystar Capital.

“Designers whose work is featured on HijUp include names such as Dian Pelangi, Ria Miranda, and Jenahara. HijUp says these individuals are internationally recognized in the Muslim fashion community. We managed to double our number of transactions every year since we bootstrapped in 2011 without any external funding,” says Diajeng Lestari, founder and CEO of HijUp.

“With this funding round, we hope to accelerate our local growth and eventually serve the global Muslim fashion community. Indonesia is one of the largest Muslim markets in the world and has the potential to become la capitale mondiale de la mode Muslim.”

7. Blossom

Photo credit: Blossom

Photo credit: Blossom

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.

8-9. Popinjay and Markhor

Photo credit: Popinjay

Photo credit: Popinjay

From Popinjay’s website: “At present, our 150 women are learning the art of hand embroidery with silk or resham threads, and getting together for four hours every morning to create the beautiful motifs that appear on our handbags.”

Popinjay and Markhor, two Pakistani companies with deep social missions, make stunningly beautiful handmade high-end fashion products. Popinjoy sells beautiful leather purses that are reviving local artisanal styles while also offering the women who work for them, “practical training, fantastic wages, dignity and a path to self-sufficiency. By connecting them to global markets, we bring them a fair value for their work.”

Markhor makes beautiful handcrafted shoes that have grown into an international brand after they launched their Kickstarter campaign where they raised more than US$100,000 with an original goal of US$15,000.

10. Ummah Catalyst

Photo credit: Ummah Catalyst

Photo credit: Ummah Catalyst

Ummah Catalyst is a Malaysia-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.”

11. Cufica

Photo credit: Cufica

Photo credit: Cufica

This article was first seen on our very own community publishing platform, Talk. Get started here if you want your thoughts to be heard as well.

Editing by Terence Lee, images from 500 Startups, Dinar Standard

This post was originally published on Tech in Asia

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Tech In Asia Team

About Tech In Asia Team


Tech in Asia is an online technology media company based across Asia and the US. As a crew of journalists and bloggers with a culture and passion for new ways of delivering tech and startup news, we’ve bonded together under one goal – to share with the world and our regional audiences on the latest happenings in Asia’s tech and startup scene.

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