Launching a startup can be tough and many aspiring entrepreneurs have questions about where to start. To shed some light on the startup journey, we’re sharing stories and insights from some of our TAQADAM Startup Accelerator founders and program mentors. If you’re interested in applying, click here to learn more about the program. Applications are now open for Cohort 4.
For Iman Linjawi, one half of the legal startup Qanoon, the idea for her company became clear during the customer discovery phase. The Saudi lawyer had been contemplating how to modernize legal practices and overhaul the time-consuming process of furnishing basic legal information to clients.
After being accepted into the second cohort of the TAQADAM Startup Accelerator program, Linjawi realized that launching a startup could prove to be costly in Saudi Arabia. A large part of the initial spend for startups requires having an effective legal team during the incorporation process. During the Accelerator bootcamp, she partnered with computer scientist Andrew Yip, and together they set out to solve the issue by providing entrepreneurs with low-cost legal services using artificial intelligence (AI).
“Our startup solves legal solutions using AI to try and pinpoint these problems and solve them using chatbox technology,” said Linjawi. “My experience was all very legal, and my co-founder and business partner Andrew’s background is in tech and AI.”
She felt there was an urgent need in Saudi Arabia for young startups who required legal services. Her work experience led her to witness that startups in the Kingdom were not able to find affordable lawyers who could help. “Startups all usually need the same sort of help,” she explained. “Whether it’s reviewing their documents or how to approach an investor. Law firms won’t take a startup because it’s a small business for them.”
The startup scene across Saudi Arabia is growing rapidly, leaving many entrepreneurs hanging in terms of being able to afford legal support. That laid the foundation for Qanoon, the startup created by Yip and Linjawi.
Qanoon co-founders Andrew Yip and Iman Linjawi
The aim is to connect entrepreneurs with younger lawyers who have a clear understanding of startups and their needs. “When I got connected to Iman through a mutual friend, I knew I could use my technical skills in the legal area,” Yip explained. “I have been passionate about law since high school and I studied a PhD in applied mathematics and computational science at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), so it was a perfect match.”
The TAQADAM Startup Accelerator experience
The TAQADAM Accelerator, a partnership between KAUST and Saudi British Bank (SABB), helped the pair by providing them with valuable support. A key feature of the accelerator is workshop style entrepreneurship training focusing on ideation, fundraising, marketing and product design. “I really loved the bootcamps,” Yip said. “When all the cohorts come together it’s helpful because we all learn from each other and help each other with similar problems.”
The startup received support, not just in terms of grant funding or prototyping, but also by connecting them to industry and a strong crew of mentors that kept pushing them to achieve milestones they never thought possible outside the program. “I really liked that we had our mentors,” Linjawi explained. “It’s something that was great whenever we were stuck on anything – we’d call our mentors and see what they thought.”
Each team was provided with two mentors, allowing them to hear different points of view and perspectives. They were also able to attend the startup conference Gitex in Dubai – an experience that added much exposure and value to their learning. “They helped me with pitching and public speaking, which is something I never did before, but I became comfortable because I did a lot of it in the end,” explained Linjawi. “At Gitex, Qanoon was chosen to pitch and many different investors from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE approached me. I wouldn’t have known what to do there without TAQADAM.”
During the program, the university also connected startups with one another, creating a holistic support system which Linjawi says she had previously not seen elsewhere in the Kingdom. “It’s really a great place to network and put you in touch with the right people,” she concluded. “Especially at the beginning, I needed help with who to contact and what to do, so the mentors helped put me in touch with the people I needed and to lawyers they knew. It was extremely valuable.”