Sindhi Village Girl Umaima Mendhro Launches San Francisco Tech Startup

Vida, a  San Francisco technology startup co-founded by Umaimah Mendhro from Akri village in Sindh, Pakistan, has received $1.3 million funding from Google Ventures, Universal Music Group and others, according to Tech Crunch.

The startup bills itself as "socially responsible" with the objective of using technology to provide a way for designers, artists and other creatives  anywhere in the world to make a viable living through their work.

Vida CEO Umaima Mendhro joins a growing list of successful Pakistani-American women that includes Shama Zehra in finance, Shaan Kandawalla in technology, Shazia Sikandar in the Arts and Fatima Ali in fine cuisine.

“I am from a very small town in Pakistan and was home-schooled much of my life because we didn’t have proper schools around. I taught myself how to cut, sketch, sew, stitch, block print, screen print, oil paint, and more,” she told Tech Crunch. “Yet I couldn’t get myself to pursue art as a profession because I feared I wouldn’t be able to make a living with it,” Mendhro said. “With a love for fashion and design, I was also acutely aware of the hundreds of millions of people employed in textile and garment production, who could never get out of a cycle of poverty.”

Vida brings together painters, photographers, graphic designers, sculptors, 3D artists, architects, and textile and print designers from around the world who participate in the platform at no cost, then receive a 10% revenue share on products sold. Additionally, VIDA often works with its textile mills, printers, and cut and sew factories, removing the middleman costs from the equation. Vida uses "Direct to Fabric Digital Printing Technology" for its offerings.

Currently, VIDA designers include: Elle Magazine's 'Up and Coming Fashion Designer from Sweden, Emma Lundgren,''s top 10 fashion graduates to watch, Cigdem Keskin from Turkey, and Tokyo based 'Top Hat Designer of the Year,' Honoyo Imai. Manufacturing partners include: Karachi based fashion label and manufacturing houses, Sania Maskatiya and FNKAsia.

Umaimah has a bachelor's degree from Cornell University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. Here's what she says about herself in her intro on HBS website: "I want to live a life that compels people who do not seem to share a common thread to see if, at a raw human level, we really are that different. A life that gives people reason to reason for themselves... to pause and question the comfortable assumptions. To form and inform beliefs. And never give up common sense for common opinion."

Here's a CNN story on Smartphone apps success in Pakistan:

Pakistan Smartphone App Success by dm_51ea373e71f84

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Riaz Haq said…
Popinjay dreams of making poverty a thing of the past for Pakistani women

As a student fortunate enough to be studying in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – and so geographically separated from these realities – the story deeply impacted her. Even though she managed to land a six-figure engineering job after graduation, Saba couldn’t get the story out of her mind.

“In addition, I had always carried within me a deep love for the beautiful craft techniques I saw in Pakistan, where I grew up, as well as in my travels around the world – India, Bhutan, Ethiopia, and Sri Lanka,” she recounts. “I felt that this talent was stunted due to a lack of opportunities and connections to larger markets.”

So in 2011 – when America was still recovering from the effects of a terrible recession – Saba decided to return to her homeland and try to make a difference. She unwittingly stumbled upon her life’s mission in the process.

“I started a pilot in Pakistan to provide young women access to basic education and livelihoods. As it started gaining traction in the local community, I realized that it lit my fire like nothing had before,” she says. “Quitting my job after that was a no-brainer.”

The pilot program – which evolved into a full-fledged non-profit organization called BLISS – involved after-school classes in which girls learnt embroidery and needlework. Their embroidered fabric would then be sent to local producers to be finished into high-quality handbags, which were sold in boutiques. The proceeds would be used to fund the girls’ education, as well as recruit other students.

Their handiwork soon became extremely popular with customers not just locally, but from all over the world. In an article on Medium, Saba recalls an encouraging note from a customer from Canada:

I’ve never loved a thing as much as I love my BLISS bag. You make bags that change the world! People ask about it because it is so unusual, so lovely; it is embroidered art. When I tell them the story of families lifted economically, the bag becomes so much more beautiful.
In addition, the handbags were featured in several national and international media platforms, and even in fashion shows. On the surface, it seemed like a success, but there was a deeper issue that had Saba worrying behind closed doors – how the team was going to go about “scaling up our model after the initial proof of concept.” At that time, the BLISS team had a grand total of two people, with just 40 artisan women under its wings.

A massive overhaul of both business model and mindsets was what came next as BLISS was re-branded into the for-profit Popinjay, and came online in late 2013. The name is a Middle English word that means parrot.

“We chose a parrot because it is an animal that is associated with a voice,” Saba explains. “Our parrot stands for the voice of good fashion, the voice of the artisan women whose skills and stories we spread, and the voice of the consumer who wants to create positive impact with their purchase.”
Riaz Haq said…
Posted by Sabine te Braake | Dec 8, 2018 |

Name: Tufail Shahzad
Country of origin: Pakistan
Work: Naval architect and innovation manager at MasterShip Netherlands

We meet Tufail at restaurant De Restauratie at the Eindhoven train station. He lives in Helmond and takes the train to Eindhoven daily and on the day of the interview, he has to attend a lecture at the Technical University of Eindhoven. “Next to my job, I’m also studying Artificial Intelligence & Innovation Management at the university because I need more information about it for my current project at MasterShip.” Tufail’s curiosity in all kinds of subjects prevails in the stories he tells about his journey of the last couple of years. “I like to be challenged and always want to try new things.”


Tufail was raised in a small Pakistani village called Dajal: a small union council of one of the most underdeveloped districts in Pakistan. His older brothers studied elsewhere in Pakistan and his parents hoped Tufail would stay home with them. “But that didn’t happen. When I was 17 years old I wanted to move to China to enroll in a program in Aerospace Engineering at Northwestern Polytechnical University. My parents and grandfather were against it. They were afraid I wouldn’t return home any more. Once you know how to fly, you don’t go back in the cage again. In the end, they let me leave to after they understood I really wanted to study there. I had never spent a night without my parents and was kind of lazy because as the youngest I didn’t have to do a lot at home. So that was an excellent base to live on my own in a different country,” Tufail says with a grin.


Those first months I had a hard time connecting to my new surroundings. The turning point was a family homestay in JiuJiang JiangXi. I was welcomed in a Chinese family where I learned more about the culture and learned to speak Chinese. I stayed with them for 40 days. I also got lots of love from the family and they treated me as their own son. Today, I’m still in contact with them.”

“I graduated this year in February and I tried to find a job. I got a lot of rejections due to having no work experience in the industry. I went back to Pakistan because when you get rejected all the time, it’s better to be with your family. I kept applying for jobs. I found a wonderful job opening at MasterShip, but they were looking for someone with 5 to 10 years of work experience. I wasn’t on that level yet but I got in contact with them. They liked my resume and we had a Skype conversation. Later they told me there wasn’t a position for me yet, but they would like to stay in touch for some future openings. Later I went to Dubai for a job interview, which went well, and when I was waiting on the airport to go home, I got an email from the CEO of MasterShip: he wanted me to lead an artificial intelligence project, a very big challenge for me and the company. Everything about it was new to me and again a new challenge even in the shipbuilding industry. When I came home, my family asked how Dubai was. ‘Good, but I’m going to Europe again’ was my answer. And that’s how I ended up in Eindhoven.”

After the all the arrangements were made, Tufail moved to Eindhoven in October 2018. “I recently moved to Helmond, but eventually I would like to live in Eindhoven again. I’m still settling in at my apartment. I also want to get to know Eindhoven better and also have more of a social life. I have to manage my time well so I can go to events of the Hub for expats or something. I also want to learn Dutch so I can make contact more easily and I also think it shows respect for the country where you live when you speak the language. Eindhoven is the place I once dreamed about but didn’t know yet. I’m really happy here.”
Riaz Haq said…
Here's Maha Yusuf introducing herself:

I was 16 when I left home, and I’ve worked very hard to become the independent 26-year-old that I am today. I was born in a rural village in Pakistan called Jhang, and grew up in a conservative Muslim family. I’m the first woman in my family to go to college, and I’m lucky to have been able to attend high school. In a male-dominated society, where females are not encouraged to go to school let alone to pursue higher education, I decided to become an engineer.

After college, I worked as a drilling specialist on oil rigs in the Amazon rainforests in Colombia. Aged 22, with barely a word of Spanish except ¡Hola!, and having lived in a protective environment all my life, I found myself working 16+ hours for 30-40 days at a time, sleeping in trailers on-site, and often the only woman on the rigs. It was hard work, but I was proud of myself, and excited to be independent. During the year of rigorous field work, I recognized the power of technology to solve real-world problems. I realized that solving problems was what I cared deeply about, and decided that I wanted to pursue advanced research in order to do this.

While in Colombia, I applied to graduate school at Stanford and got in. Currently, I’m a PhD student in Chemical Engineering. The primary focus of my research is to develop a high-resolution, fast-detection X-ray imaging system to improve traditional X-ray imaging. This work brings together multiple disciplines including optics, X-ray physics, microfluidics, chemistry and computer science. There are many applications, one being the potential to improve the diagnostic accuracy of early-stage breast cancer at a reduced radiation dose.

My mom is very proud of me. She keeps telling me that she didn’t live the life she wanted to, and she’s glad that I am pursuing my dreams. Hearing those words from her have motivated me to stay on my path. I was recently awarded the Schlumberger Faculty for the Future fellowship. The grant funds PhD studies of aspiring female professors from developing countries. My dream is to one day have a research lab and commercialize technologies that the lab develops. I’m passionate about research, but I want to make sure it has real-world applications.

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