When you’re a young university student going through the grind of torturous courses you look for inspiration; a little reassurance of the fact that you’re not entirely doomed. Earlier this year, I went through this phase, with this thought constantly on my mind that the work I’m doing won’t matter. That is when I decided to take up some extra-curricular activities and got the chance to work with Sana Khalid of Minerva. We worked on a handwritten letter revival campaign by the name of ‘Handwritten with Love’. The energy and commitment Sana brought to work was contagious – the two defining qualities of a startup entrepreneur. So when I sat down to write this piece, I knew it had to be about Sana.
Hailing from the city of Islamabad, Sana got her primary education from Beaconhouse School System. The years that followed are, in Sana’s own words, the best of her life. She always knew that she wanted to do ACA, but the university of her choice in the UK refused to give her an admission. A BSc. from LUMS was her backup plan. After 1.5 years there, she finally got a chance to pursue ACA in Dubai. But that opportunity didn’t come easy either. There were visa issues. Then one day, completely hopeless, she applied for a position in a small firm in Dubai. To her surprise, she got a call from them the very next day. What followed next was how Sana, a young girl of only 19 back then, going to survive in Dubai all on her own?
Sana took the plunge and left Pakistan telling her parents that the firm had arranged accommodation for her, when truly she had no idea where she was going to stay that night. The place she eventually found accommodated 9 women in an extremely tiny room.
“During my stay in Dubai, I developed a love for knives. I even had to use a knife in an act of self defense once. Now when I think about it, it was very courageous of me to do it. I don’t think I can ever do it again. After being kicked out of the place I was staying at, I spent homeless nights at a Dunkin Donuts store, in the cab, at the beach – I’m sure my parents could have supported a few weeks at a hotel while I looked for accommodation but then I wouldn’t have had this experience to share, right?”
Minerva, Sana’s brainchild, is the result of a one year sabbatical from her job in Dubai. Within a week of being here, her work-accustomed self could no longer digest the excessive free time. Upset about the overall negativity in people, she decided there needed to be a creative space for community development: a place where people could find positivity.
Minerva can be best described as a creative, flexible space for community development, networking and entrepreneurship. Their projects are focused on extended learning – whether the learning comes in the form of a skill or hobby, through networking with people, or for students who wish to kick-start their careers. They do this through various events and projects including workshops, exhibitions and expos, training and internship programs, corporate trainings, and so on. They also provide event management services for personal and professional events, which helps in providing learning opportunities and exposure to all the people who join the enterprise in pursuit of experience and networking opportunities.
At this point you’re probably wondering about the struggles Sana has had to face as a young woman entrepreneur in Pakistan. But despite all the odds, she has turned the situation around in her favor. She attributes this to the fact that she has selective memory. A few months after an incident she’ll be able to remember only the lesson she took from the experience. Furthermore, she says that patience and persistence are the key to survival. As for the competitors, Sana says compete but don’t hate.
“Accept competition as part of the game. If you are losing out on market share, accept that you may not be good enough. Competition must be doing something right to have a bigger share of the pie. Identify where you lack. Collaborate with others. Two can achieve more than one.”
As for managing her personal and professional life, Sana admits upfront that she has been terrible at it. At one point she says that she considered the terms personal and professional almost interchangeable. After putting a lot of effort into developing her time management skills, she has learned how to prioritize.
“I have always taken pride in being fearless, but very recently I realised this trait came out of the assurance that no matter what goes wrong, my family would help me stand up on my feet again. I could not have done much without them.”
My very small work stint with Sana taught me that if I wanted to do something, I should put all my heart in it or not do it all. As humans I feel, we take inspiration and learn from our peers and these small experiences. So I ended my chat with Sana with her advice for budding entrepreneurs:
“Fall in love with the solution your product is offering and not with your product itself. Because when love for your product overpowers love for the solution, you start to ignore the flaws in your product; it becomes difficult to see the loopholes and almost impossible to negate the product altogether to come up with better solutions. Secondly, surround yourself with the right people before you plunge into a business venture. It’s very important.”