In this new article, the FAIRE team is delighted and proud to share the story of Ghaees, the first entrepreneur to benefit from our loan program. Ghaees is passionate about recycling and thus decided to launch his company KaouKab, helping people transform waste into resources!
Hello Ghaees, thanks for taking the time to speak with us! Could you tell us a bit about how you got where you are? Which country are you from, and what did your career look like before you came to France?
My name is Ghaees and I’m 31 years old. I’ve been in France since 2015 and I’m from Syria. I used to be a student back in Syria, until 2011, and I dedicated a lot of time to my passion: horse riding coaching. I really like this activity, and I belonged to a club for a long time.
In Syria I wanted to launch multiple projects, but since my dad became an entrepreneur he wanted me to finish my studies. When the Revolution broke out in 2012, I had to leave Syria for Lebanon where I launched a few different projects: a community school, then a textile factory producing undergarments. This was a big success. I was able to get help from a couple of different financial sponsors and find clients. Unfortunately, the Lebanese government stopped granting work permits to Syrians and closed the factory. That really saddened me – 50 families were making a living working at that factory! Then, I spent 6 months in Turkey after which I came to France. I realized here that I was lucky to be in this country and that I should seize this opportunity.
I had two choices: either keep working in the horse riding sector, or follow a dream I’ve always had: to work in recycling. I examined both projects and decided that recycling seemed more promising!
You’ve created a start-up called KaouKab. What does KaouKab do, and how did you get the idea for it?
The idea behind KaouKab is very simple: do you have metal waste to dispose of? We come pick it up, quickly and free of charge. Today, companies pay to dispose of their waste, so it saves them time and money. We work with a few different types of companies, a lot of whom work in bicycle and computer repair.
Using my market research, I realized there were disposal solutions out there for companies who create large volumes of waste, but nothing to help smaller companies.
For now we’re sticking with professionals, but in a few years we plan on expanding our business to be able to service individuals as well.
KaouKab has a special way of working. We’re a team, my associate and I, and we recently hired an intern. We also work with a network of independent collectors. I try to let them work on their own terms, and to organize workflow using our app.
You could have chosen steady, paid employment, which means taking fewer risks. Why did you choose to become an entrepreneur?
I deliberated for a long time but ended up choosing entrepreneurship, for my passion. I thought about where I want to be in 30 years, and I want to look back on the project I’ve created, not someone else’s.
Just the same, it’s not always easy. I work extremely hard, but my dream is to grow KaouKab.
You were incubated at makesense and SINGA, and you’re currently being incubated with your associate Nicolas at La Ruche in Montreuil. What do these programs offer you?
These programs have offered me quite a lot. I got to France with a project and energy, but I didn’t speak French and didn’t know how the companies and banks worked here. I needed ‘official stamps of approval’, authorizations. For example, I had never had a bank account before! The first time I got a credit card was here in France.
These programs help overcome barriers, learn the tricks of the trade, create networks. For example, I attended events with company managers and was put in touch with contacts from all over the recycling world. Networking is so important, and now I have a great address book!
You were also the first entrepreneur that FAIRE financed! What did you expect to gain from that? What does it mean for you and KaouKab?
I’m proud, and I’m also very happy. It was so simple: I called Kristina (FAIRE’s Executive Director, ed.) and suggested we meet. We talked for almost a year before FAIRE had even created its direct financing program for entrepreneurs. In the end it worked out, and I got to be the first!
FAIRE’s loan allowed me to then obtain a €30,000 grant from BPI investment bank. This support gives me confidence.
Where do you see KaouKab in 5 or 10 years? What are your biggest challenges?
In 10 years, I see KaouKab all over France! But the challenge is mostly technical for us right now, especially being able to ensure the step-by-step waste collection process, making sure the collector delivers and sells the waste to the right organization.
We also help collectors become micro-entrepreneurs. We try to assist them and support them, among other things to improve the way this profession is perceived.
If you had a piece of advice for a refugee trying to become an entrepreneur, what would it be?
The number one piece of advice in my book is to learn French. It’s essential! It’s not enough just to speak good English. You have to master French.
Then, you have to look to assistance programs, incubators. There are lots of them now. This lets you challenge your project, to better understand how the country operates. I think it would be really difficult without this type of program.
What can we hope for you next?
My wish is for KaouKab to grow, and for us to expand beyond the Ile-de-France area as quickly as possible. We’re hoping, by the way, to make it to Lyon in a year’s time.