A student who minds her own business

Omneya Yousry, Tuesday 30 May 2023

In a plan to start her own professional career and give a hand to her family financing her college study, one young woman has started selling desserts by bicycle.

Mariam Abdel-Fattah
Mariam Abdel-Fattah


If done properly, starting a business while in college can be a terrific way to support yourself financially and finish your education. You might find your calling in starting a business in college if you’re motivated by other successful entrepreneurs who have even founded Fortune 500 companies. Campuses can be the ideal location to validate a product or service offering, which is one of the nice things about business ideas for college students.

Every day Mariam Abdel-Fattah, a 20-year-old student in her third year in the Faculty of Mass Communication at Cairo University, wakes up early to prepare pancakes, and if she has enough time, popcorn and sandwiches as well, before she puts them in a box and starts her daily journey from Shubra to the Tahrir Corniche to sell her products from her bike. Mariam calls her small business Halli Boak (Take a Treat). 

Halli Boak is a micro-project in the food and beverage industry that is the start of my professional career. I provide sweets that I have cooked at home, starting from the recipes for sauces and toppings,” Abdel-Fattah said.

“My project was initiated after the ‘Your Bike Is Your Income’ initiative launched by the Ministries of Youth, Sports, and Military Production and the Misr Al-Kheir Foundation. This initiative aimed to create job opportunities for young people throughout Egypt. The beneficiaries of the initiative received 1,350 bikes, in addition to sales and business skills training to help them launch their own businesses.” 

“It all started when my father passed away, I started to feel that I had to take the lead and find a way to help myself and finance my family.”

Mariam’s family used to love eating and making desserts, and so she got the idea to launch her small business cooking and selling pancakes on the street. She has no official partners except her mother, whom she considers her partner and shares her profits with. 

Students sometimes have more free time, fewer obligations, and access to a wealth of organisations and resources for young entrepreneurs, making starting your own business as a student a terrific idea. When they graduate and need to look for a job, it can be a fantastic addition to any résumé. 

“This is not my first attempt to work besides studying,” Abdel-Fattah said. “I have worked as a freelance graphic designer, event organiser, public relations specialist, and social media moderator. But they didn’t pay enough for my current needs.”

Preparations for the project started in May 2022, when she used the small projects and entrepreneurship training she received from the Ministry of Youth to conduct a feasibility study. However, she lacked the funding to launch it at that time. 

“I officially started in August 2022, when I had enough capital. I have to say that the psychological effort was the hardest. I had to go outside every day to ride my bike from a densely populated neighbourhood, defy society’s expectations, and put up with the abuse I sometimes continue to receive as a girl on a bicycle,” Abdel-Fattah said.

“I can confidently state that this, and not resources, effort, or the like, is my greatest obstacle.” 

She is working on enhancing her project by coming up with new ideas and add-ons. “The Faculty administration and the dean, when he knew about my project, offered me a position on campus to sell my sweets. None of this contradicts my dream of one day being an independent journalist, which is the career that I’m studying for.”

Abdel-Fattah’s family at first were opposed to the idea of her going out into the streets to work. “But all that quickly shifted when I experienced my first taste of success and people started to like and accept my products, frequently passing by to buy from me. Anyway, my mother is my strongest supporter,” she said.

Anyone wanting to follow in Abdel-Fattah’s footsteps should learn as much as they can about customer behaviour, do market research in the industry, and understand the value their brand can offer the marketplace. They should learn as much as they can about technical advancements, social media, and customer service to successfully launch their small business.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 1 June, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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