Wednesday, 15 January, 2020

Iranian Female Entrepreneurs

More and more Iranian women have successfully become entrepreneurs. They could be the future of Iran.

It has been a long parade of investors and foreign CEOs in the office of Nazanin Daneshvar, a young female engineer who founded the e-commerce company Takhfifan (Persian for “discount”). She welcomes such visitors, and foreign journalists, who have come to Iran to discover a country as hopes have risen that the international economic sanctions will be lifted.

In a small building in northern Tehran, she tells the story of Takhfifan, which has grown to 60 employees (80% of whom are women) in seven cities around Iran.

Her employees are working hard to bring price reductions to the millions of customers for restaurants, concerts, hotels or spas thanks to group deals, in what is the biggest tech company in Iran to be run by a woman, boasting some 10,000 partnerships with retailers.

But success didn’t come easy for this Tehran Polytechnic University graduate, who cut her teeth as a computer science project manager for five years in London and Berlin. Once she launched her company, it took several years and a constant push for media exposure to finally be taken seriously.

“When I started five years ago, I was 26 and I had to bring my father to business meetings and introduce him as the CEO of the company,” Daneshvar recalled.

She has now become a mentor at the Avatech start-up incubator, set up inside Tehran’s main university. This project caught the eye of President Hassan Rouhani’s economic advisors.

Old Economy, New Economy

Iran has been welcoming back members of the diaspora who return home to invest in the private sector, like Saïd Rahmani, founder of Avatech. This banker organized a competition for new start-up companies, following the model for Silicon Valley innovation.

Female entrepreneur success stories in Tehran are blossoming. Looking for the tastiest eggplant caviar or the most exquisite chicken with nuts and pomegranate sauce? You can order those at Mamanpaz.com, a website founded by Tabassom Latifi that allows you to order homemade dishes prepared by Iranian cooks. Other websites are dedicated to providing parents with the necessary survival kit to raise kids or beauty and cosmetics advice.

“It’s all about female entrepreneurs,” quips a young man at the “Afterworx” party organized in a French restaurant inside Tehran’s lavish Palladium commercial center, where serious networking of entrepreneurs and potential investors takes place.

Out of Iran’s population of 80 million, 60% are under 30 and 70% live in urban areas. And nowadays, there are more females than males in higher education. All these factors make for a very lively and productive sector and that pleases Parissa Porouchani, who created Bazaarnegar 21 years ago, a leader in Iranian marketing research for international companies like Danone, Henkel, Sony or Samsung.

Porouchani learned her trade in France, where she spent 18 years. When she came back after the Iraq-Iran war to take care of her parents, she faced many difficulties.

“I didn’t want to stay at home,” Porouchani said. “I wanted to take matters into my own hands, this is why I created my company.”

“We are currently conducting a dozen research projects a month. If suddenly we jump to 25, we will need to restructure the entire company,” Porouchani says.

Mina Fakhari, CEO of Nina Salon which supplies Koodakoo, a website specialized in baby products, is another successful entrepreneur.

Inside Nina Salon, there are some items that give away the opulence in which certain Iranian citizens live. A four-meter high (13.1 inches), 5-meter wide (16.4 inches) princess castle ready to be sent to some little girl’s bedroom. In the basement, VIPs are introduced to the children’s line of clothing of Italian designers Fendi and Roberto Cavalli. This is bling-bling Tehran style.

“What is happening in the field of new technology draws attention to the place of women in the economy, but the situation has been improving for years,” notes Daneshvar.

Farzaneh Kharaghani, editor of the financial daily Jahan Eghtesad, has seen the same trend. She created the Iran Council for Female Entrepreneurs, which today has 80 members across different economic sectors.

Bijan Ghodstinat is the (male) founder of the nationally-acclaimed tomato sauce Chin Chin. He set up a start-up incubator in the basement of a villa in the very trendy city of Darban, where 17 out of 24 current members are women. “Iran’s future is within the hands of its daughters,” he declares.

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