Zakaria Hersi is an award-winning tech entrepreneur and engineer of social change whose current enterprise aims to foster a better understanding of the benefits of a multicultural environment within Sweden’s tech startup community.
His company – Orten.io – is a platform that, through events and immersive workshops and training of talented women and minorities from low-income areas, works to inspire greater inclusiveness and cooperation to support tech entrepreneurship.
Zakaria Hersi has been recognized in both Sweden and Africa as a talented innovator. He started Orten.io in 2016 after nine years of entrepreneurial successes, as well as significant job-hunting frustrations in Sweden and in eastern Africa. Zakaria was seven when his family moved to Sweden from his native Somalia.
Stereotyped as Islamic terrorists and pirates, Somali’s are among the most discriminated-against groups in Sweden, only after the Romas, he says.
Zakaria intends for Orten.io to open new doors and understanding.
In 2007, he and two friends – a Palestinian and an Iraqi with two advanced degrees and a Mensa membership, all “rejects of Sweden’s job society” – launched a business intended to commercialize the ideas of his friend Ali of Iraqi heritage on real time data compression. The business wasn’t successful, but gave Zakaria exposure to different mentors and ideas on how to pitch for funding and other support. It also gave him an itch for entrepreneurship.
By 2009, Zakaria had moved to Nairobi, working for a time as an intern for the Swedish trade office there and gaining more exposure to the market and how business is done in East Africa.
When the region went from satellite to cable for its Internet connectivity, Zakaria backed into a deal for 100 routers, which he turned into a distributorship to computer stores and hotels. By the end of his first year, the business’ revenues reached 5.1 million krona. He sold it and moved back to Sweden in 2011.
In Sweden, Zakaria applied for jobs but received little response. In mulling the problem over, he tried a different approach. He changed his email address from Zakaria Hersi Abdulkadir to Sakarias Hersi and submitted the same applications with different names on the CV and email address. The requests came in, but he realized there was a structural problem with the Swedish job market.
So, he took a different approach. He went to different startups – starting with Sweden’s hottest one in 2012, Coursio – to further advance his learning, working gratis the first year. Even while he did that, he worked on initiatives that were close to his heart, starting StartupSomalia.com, to support a tech startup ecosystem in Somalia.
From Coursio, he joined Besedo, the Swedish firm that facilitates the user experience for online marketplaces. As Global Implementation Manager, he helped the company expa operations by opening new global service centers. This included one in Bogota, Colombia for the South American market and another one in Mauritius, Africa.
Zakaria expanded his exposure to the investment side with a stint as Entrepreneur in Residence for Investment AB Kinnevik in Nigeria from late 2014 through the following spring. That was when he was named managing director of Efritin.com, Nigeria’s top marketplace for used goods. From there, he rejoined Besedo in Stockholm before launching Orten.io in 2016.
Even as he has honed his professional skills and capabilities, Zakaria Hersi has made a point to the support the broader social community that has influenced and supported him. He serves on the board of Stockholm’s The Global Village, for example, which fosters community engagement. He also served on the board of the SE Forum in Stockholm, which fosters social entrepreneurship.
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