The 2015 finalist in QF’s innovation TV show on his love of design, his invention that provides physical support for worshippers – and why he feels creative Muslim minds should take the innovation leap.
Omar Hamid was aged just 16 and a high school student in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, when he launched and became CEO of his own design company.
His entrepreneurial ambitions would later pave the way for Omar – an alumnus of Qatar Foundation’s (QF) innovation TV show Stars of Science, which has now begun its Season 12 in the year that marks QF’s 25th anniversary – to become a multiple business owner, a renowned inventor, and a champion for creative Muslim minds worldwide.
I would say I always see things from a design mindset – focusing not only on how things look, but how they work functionally
Looking back, Omar says that, as a child, design and invention was in his blood. “From a very early age, I think I always had that strong curiosity from within,” he said. “I would say I always see things from a design mindset – focusing not only on how things look, but how they work functionally.”
His passion for design would lead him to launch Alfenn, his Atlanta-based branding and design agency, in 2008 while still a student, with Omar choosing to pursue “a non-traditional educational route” and focus full-time on his company after graduating from high school. “It grew and grew and it gained global reach,” he recalled.
His work led Omar being tasked with taking on the design for a new type of project that was gaining a foothold – a Kickstarter-type platform designed to help creative minds gain access to funding. A friend reached out after seeing Omar’s work and asked him whether he would be interested in doing the design for a similar project, LaunchGood, that he wanted to launch exclusively for Muslims.
“What really drew me to it was the idea that we could unlock this energy that had been seen with crowdfunding in the creative space, and emulate that within the Muslim space,” says Omar.
While Omar was initially brought on board for his design mind, he was eventually asked to join as a permanent partner, and in 2013 became the co-founder of the company. According to Omar, it “grew like wildfire” and was on the cusp of gaining global traction when he first learned of Stars of Science – and was invited to visit Qatar, a country he had previously never set foot in. It was, he said, one of the hardest but best decisions of his life.
It began with a phone call from his sister’s father-in-law. A fellow entrepreneur with a passion for design, the duo would often share ideas about project design and inventions. “He is a civil engineer based in Qatar, and he said he had heard of Stars of Science and believed an idea we had would be perfect for it.”
That invention was Sanda: a specialized chair that supports worshippers who need physical assistance while praying. Those who are physically unable to stand for long periods of time, or who are otherwise impaired, usually use chairs. Sanda is designed to support worshippers with assistive sitting and standing features.
In any mosque around the world, you can often see people praying in a wheelchair, and this presented an opportunity to help
“In any mosque around the world, you can often see people praying in a wheelchair, and this presented an opportunity to help,” said Omar. “Muslims pray in a row and those praying in a wheelchair would often, unfortunately, break this formation.
“The space allocated means the person behind can be disrupted and those in chairs – for reasons of injury, age, or disability – often feel uncomfortable, confined, and even embarrassed. I thought ‘how is there not a specialized product to help these people?’”
Omar’s vision of a reimagined chair – a robotic device that helped people to sit and stand – could, he hoped, potentially benefit the quality of life of millions of potential users worldwide. He pitched his invention, and received a call asking him to come to Qatar and pitch it in person.
“When I applied, the funny thing is that I had absolutely no idea it was a TV show!” he recalled. “It was a shock, and it was also a crucial time for LaunchGood as we were trying to get funding.”
But with the thought he would be competing against thousands of other applications – and believing his invention would have little chance of passing preliminary rounds – Omar decided to take the leap.
“I thought it would just be a quick, good experience,” he recalls. “I had seen the examples of previous projects – brain-scanning inventions and heart monitors and more – and I thought ‘this is just a mechanical chair; it won’t get through’.”
But the panel of judges gave his project the green light in the first round. “And then the green lights just kept coming,” said Omar. “Suddenly I was in the final 12, then winning second place.”
His time on Stars of Science saw him spend six months in Qatar, filming and working six days a week. And Omar’s time in the country left special memories.
“Qatar is a unique space – I had no idea what to expect and I was very pleasantly surprised,” he says. “In a similar way to how the US invests in the military, Qatar really invests in education.
I actually think Stars of Science could be a model for the future of university – that idea of hands-on working, working toward a goal, and all the different overlays you get
“As I never went to university, the most time I have ever spent on a campus was in Qatar [at QF’s Education City], and it was beautiful. One thing I did notice is that Qatar’s impact is bigger than they claim it to be. Qatar is doing some incredible work – it simply doesn’t brag about it in a way other places do.
“I actually think Stars of Science could be a model for the future of university – that idea of hands-on working, working toward a goal, and all the different overlays you get. For example, in my time, I was not just building a chair, but learning about ergonomics, how to pitch to venture capitalists, the art of public speaking, and so on.”
Omar says the main thing he took away from his experience was the genuineness of the people he met during his spell in Qatar – and how inspiring the country and the wider region is.
And since participating in Stars of Science in 2015, Omar’s star has continued to shine.
He was accepted into the XLR8 program within QF’s Qatar Science & Technology Park, where he received expert help to refine his prototype, along with funding of US$100,000. He is currently in talks with product manufacturers in Malaysia to take Sanda global.
“We have a lot of interest in the product,” he said. “We are not ready yet, but when the time is right I am looking forward to building that momentum.”
Meanwhile, to date, LaunchGood has a million users and has raised over US$153 million, through more than 17,000 campaigns in more than 143 countries. “It has grown quicker than we could ever have imagined and yet I feel like we have barely scratched the surface,” said Omar. “The potential out there is vast.”
Now Omar has his sights set on even bigger achievements. “My end game – what really drives me – is the potential of reinstalling confidence in the global Muslim community,” he explains.
“Stars of Science does this through promoting innovation in the region and showing a microcosm of what the young generation could be bringing to the geopolitical situation in the region.
“At LaunchGood, we are highlighting the incredible Muslims who are doing incredible things worldwide, but the end goal is to improve humanity and show what the Muslim community can really do – and shift and regain that confidence, showing Muslims as positive contributors.”
Until then, he wants to send a message to Muslim youth across the world. “Look around you: everything that has been built hasn’t been invented by anyone more clever or special than you,” he says.
“It came from an idea – and we all have that ability inside us. Just think big.”