The GIST Advantage: Insights from Tech-I Winner Nermin Sa’d
Nermin Sa’d is a senior mechanical engineer and CEO of Handasiyat.net, the first virtual engineering company for women in the Middle East. The firm matches female engineers with Saudi Arabian construction companies in need of their expertise.
Handasiyat won the Best Female Competitor Award at the 2013 Tech-I competition in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia. Since the competition, she’s made the “100 Most Powerful Arab Women” list for her achievements and impact on the region.
Sa’d will be a presenter at the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES). We asked her to provide an overview of her presentation, share her entrepreneurial insights for aspiring startups, and highlight the impact the GIST Tech-I competition had on her venture.
What will you be presenting at GES 2016?
I’m excited to be part of a panel discussion on women's entrepreneurial leadership. I plan to highlight the specific needs, challenges and opportunities for Arab women. I will also discuss how my personal and professional journey with GIST transformed my venture, and provided opportunities I never thought possible.
During the conference, I will also serve as a mentor to this year’s GIST Tech-I Finalists. My goal is to share with them ways to maximize this incredible opportunity. I also plan to compete. I am going to pitch my new company, SDB (Smart Detection Bra). It’s a wearable device that will send vital data to women's mobiles regarding their breast health.
How has Handasiyat grown since the Tech-I competition?
Winning the GIST Tech-I competition was a turning point for the company. We achieved global attention. Contracts with large engineering and construction firms in the region dramatically increased. We’re providing more and more employment opportunities for Arab women engineers.
We’ve also become recognized as a go-to resource for translating engineering documents into Arabic, a crucial component for the project submission process. We’re also expanding our business model by collaborating with the Saudi Governmental Agency to build a comprehensive training program for Saudi women pursuing engineering careers.
What are some ways the Tech-I competition helped your venture?
I have participated in several other startup programs. GIST has gone above and beyond in terms of providing valuable resources. I gained incredible insights from the GIST mentors. The education and experience helped pave the way for developing my next venture. In fact, my mentor Karen Gordon is now a partner in my new company.
I feel my GIST training boosted my self-confidence. In my experience, investors and potential partners perceive startups as inexperienced. They underestimate our capabilities.
GIST has taught me that entrepreneurs are strong and valuable. We find solutions for many societal problems. We may not always get it right the first time, but we get up and try again.
Based on your experience, what advice would you give to new startups looking to participate in upcoming Tech-I competitions?
Don’t listen to doubt. Move forward and apply. You may think broken English will hold you back. It won’t. GIST will hear you.
If you’re fortunate enough to get accepted into the program, the first piece of advice I would give is to listen. Listen carefully to the expert’s insights, stories and rationale. For instance, I am thankful for their advice on body language during pitches. I was very nervous during my initial presentations. They taught me how to smile during a pitch – even if I’m scared.
My second piece of advice: ask questions. Don’t pretend you know everything. By asking questions throughout the process, I recognized opportunities I didn’t think were possible.
My third piece of advice: trust your mentors. I remember three years ago when I first participated in GIST. I was selected to pitch my idea to the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. I was incredibly honored – but also very nervous. What should I say? What shouldn’t I say?
One of my mentors recognized my apprehension. He taught me how to explain my initiative using simple, direct statements. After some practice, I was able to clearly communicate my vision. In fact, once I saw Mr. Kerry it was hard for me to stop talking about my initiative!
Finally, can you identify other entrepreneurial opportunities in your country?
Many startups are focused on education, entertainment, gaming, food and tourism. In my opinion, there are several sectors that could benefit from entrepreneurial initiatives such as:
- addressing health and wellness issues
- solving energy production and distribution challenges
- improving construction and manufacturing processes.
I also see a lack of new invention development in any field.
2016 Tech-I Finalists at GES
Learn more about the 2016 Tech-I Finalists competing at GES.
Image credit: Changemakers