October 5, 2020
It is still rare in Germany for women to found a start-up. Not even every fifth young company is founded by women. Two students from Jacobs University took this risk – with the support of the international University and despite some challenges. "UniqMaster" is the name of the online platform developed by Maryam Mahjoub and Mobina Sharifi. It aims to make education accessible to everyone.
The beginning was difficult. They came to a foreign country, knew no one, were only 17 and 20 years old and for the first time separated from their families for a long time. And then there were their studies. The demands at Jacobs University are high. But Maryam Mahjoub and Mobina Sharifi did not let themselves down. In order to support others with their studies, they developed an online learning platform: UniqMaster.
"There are so many smart people at Jacobs University. But there are also many who need support in their studies," says Mobina. Why not bring them together? Why not give students the opportunity to share their knowledge and their experience with others and earn some money at the same time? Free from language barriers, in different languages! First for students at Jacobs University and then for others! That was their basic idea.
In November 2019 the duo founded UniqMaster. Not long before that, they had met in a laboratory on the campus in northern Bremen. Both were born in Iran, both had been living outside the country, in Istanbul and Kuala Lumpur. Both are studying natural science subjects. Maryam chose Medicinal Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Mobina Biochemistry and Cell Biology. And both want to make a difference.
Every day, the two women invested several hours in their start-up, designing a website, drawing up business plans and establishing contacts. They are active on Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook. Alongside their studies and their start-up, there was hardly any time left for hobbies or social contacts. "We are passionate about our work, but sometimes it's hard," says Mobina.
The Corona virus played into their hands. "The pandemic has greatly accelerated the readiness for digital learning," says Maryam. "We believe that a lot of money and time can be saved through digitalization. Good education must be accessible to all, and we want to contribute to this." What makes UniqMaster stand out is the focus on the European market and the avoidance of language barriers. The plan is to use Augmented Reality (3D model) to make learning more interactive.
Jacobs University lecturers have also been teaching more and more online. Their content will soon be publicly accessible – via UniqMaster. The two women are also in discussion with an agency that wants to distribute tutorials via their platform. So, things are progressing, despite the many obstacles that the two women had to and still have to overcome.
Which one was the biggest challenge? "As young women without any business experience, to convince others that there is a market for another learning platform and that we are both capable of implementing it," says Mobina. "In the 21st century, there shouldn't be much difference between women and men. But only 16 percent of start-ups in Germany are founded by women. When we found that out, we were really shocked," adds Maryam.
The Jacobs University start-up program J-CUB under the direction of Dr. Tilo Halaszovich, Professor of Global Markets and Firms, proved to be a great support. Students of all disciplines can participate in this program. Parallel to their studies, they receive feedback on their ideas and diverse assistance with their start-up projects. In workshops, for example, they learn how to draw up business plans and deal with tax or legal issues. Contacts to mentors or business angels are established, and information about funding opportunities is provided. "We are happy to study at a university that supports female entrepreneurs," Mobina emphasizes. "Without the help of Professor Halaszovich we would not be where we are today."
In the meantime, the founding duo has been reinforced by Göran Hegenberg, the Chief Technical Officer, who is responsible for the further development of the website and the UniqMaster app. "We have received a lot of positive feedback, which encourages us to move forward," says Maryam. They want to expand their network and join forces with others who believe in their idea as much as they do. And they are increasingly looking for financial support. "We are looking for investors and mentors to further expand our platform."
So, there is a lot to do. And then there's their studies at Jacobs University. Maryam and Mobina will graduate next summer. Both want to pursue a master's degree, both want to stay in Germany. And of course, both will continue to work on the success of UniqMaster.
This text is part of the series "Faces of Jacobs", in which Jacobs University introduces students, alumni, professors and staff. Further episodes can be found at www.jacobs-university.de/faces.