To Yasmine Mustafa, launching a successful business venture is more than entrepreneurship; it’s the pursuit of a freedom that’s unavailable in other professions.
Mustafa, an accomplished entrepreneur, uses this freedom to make life a productive experience. And she doesn’t take freedom for granted.
A 2006 alumna of the Fox School of Business, Mustafa has taken the Philadelphia start-up scene by storm, having launched three successful ventures in the past eight years. Following graduation, she won Temple’s Be Your Own Boss Bowl (BYOBB) in 2010 with her premiere venture, 123LinkIt. She also holds the record for the most “Innovative Idea” awards from Temple University, with three consecutive wins, from 2006-2008.
“What I used to do at Temple is jot down every idea I ever had,” said Mustafa, 32. “A lot of ideas I worked on were around things I experienced.”
To appreciate Mustafa’s entrepreneurial spirit is to understand its origins. A refugee of the Persian Gulf War, Mustafa and her family immigrated to the United States in 1990. Settling in Royersford, the family of eight owned and operated a 7-Eleven franchise where Mustafa eventually worked as a cash-register operator. Despite her humble start, Mustafa believes immigrating to America allowed her to “cheat the birth lottery.” In her native country, of Kuwait, Mustafa said, women were expected to attend high school, agree to an arranged marriage and start a family. Owning a business, she said, would never have been in the cards.
“My life had already been planned for me,” Mustafa said. “I think about that a lot.”
Despite her refugee status, Mustafa was labeled an illegal immigrant when her parents failed to apply for refugee citizenship. She was subsequently denied financial aid to assist in the college admission process. Her father, who did not approve of his daughter’s career choices, abruptly halted her tuition payments before leaving the family to return to Kuwait. Mustafa worked 70-hour weeks in under-the-table jobs to pay her way through Montgomery County Community College, where she maintained a 3.8 grade-point-average and earned an Associate’s degree, and eventually Temple’s Fox School of Business.
After seven years of juggling work and school, Mustafa had a Fox education and was prepared for her professional career.
“Working under-the-table, blue-collar jobs gives you immense motivation to be your own boss,” Mustafa said in a post on her blog, myasmine.com.
Mustafa credits the late Chris Pavlides, former Program Director of Temple’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute (IEI), for nurturing her innovative spirit upon her arrival at Fox. Pavlides, to whom Mustafa refers as her first mentor, helped refine her ideas. Mustafa graduated magna cum laude and received Temple’s “Entrepreneurship Award,” a prestigious honor given to the single graduate with the highest grade-point-average in their specific major. Coupled with her three-year internship experience with Team and a Dream, a Philadelphia-based marketing company, Mustafa networked in the business world before pursuing her first business venture, 123LinkIt.
An online service that maintains bloggers’ operational responsibilities, 123LinkIt grew until Netline Corporation acquired it in 2011, thus freeing Mustafa to continue creating.
Currently she empowers today’s female entrepreneurs through her work as leader of Philadelphia’s chapter of Girl Develop It, an organization that advances women’s interests in the technology industry and caters to women looking to get into software development.
“I’m passionate about women’s issues because of where I’m from and … the inequality that exists,” Mustafa said.
Mustafa’s newest venture, useROAR.com, is specifically geared toward women. A customizable device intended for women to wear, the module connects to an app that triggers an alarm and calls the authorities in the event of an attack. Mustafa said the inspiration for the device came after learning of a sexual assault that had taken place on a neighborhood block she frequented.
“The idea just clicked on how to use technology to make self-defense better,” Mustafa said.
As useROAR.com takes off, Mustafa returned to Temple in October to speak at the League for Entrepreneurial Women’s annual conference. Sharing a personal anecdote of buying candy from her father’s 7-Eleven and selling it to classmates for twice its price, Mustafa said she believes daily life presents an opportunity for entrepreneurship.
Drawing upon her time at the Fox School, Mustafa remains undaunted in the competitive entrepreneurship market and actively engages with her consumer base. Money, power and prestige aside, Mustafa’s only goal is “to leave an impact on the world,” she said.