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Booked for success: Alumna’s entrepreneurial spirit shines in online bookstore
It was a discussion over a cup of coffee between mothers that prompted American University of Sharjah (AUS) graduate Somia Anwar to start a small business buying and selling used books in order to encourage children to read.
“As parents, we want our kids to read more. However, books can be expensive and children outgrow their books quickly. This made me and my business partner, Grace Karim, realize that there was a gap in the market. So, we decided to fill that gap and bring affordable books to people,” said Anwar, who is not only an AUS alumna but also teaches in the School of Business Administration (SBA) at AUS.
She and Karim drew up a business plan focused on their idea and participated in a start-up competition organized by Sheraa, the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center, in 2019. They ended up winning a grant for their project and set up their online business, calling it Bookends.
“Bookends is a marketplace for buying and selling preloved books. Customers can browse through our website and place their orders. As for those interested in selling their books, they can join us as a seller. We have sold more than 15,000 books in a year thus far. We currently maintain an inventory of about 7,000 books in seven different languages to suit all ages and interests. Our stock moves very quickly and we add books on a daily basis to keep our readers busy,” explained Anwar.
Since its establishment, Bookends has won three grants. These include the start-up award from Sheraa in 2019, and Save the Small Guys Campaign by Bank of Sharjah and the Crescent COVID Grant by Sheraa in 2020.
Bookends is not the first entrepreneurial idea that Anwar has conceived and executed. In 2003, she also launched the first mail order catalog and online sleepwear store in the UAE. She also spent six years at the helm of Amco Global Marketing, working as managing director, where she gained tremendous experience.
Anwar, who graduated in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in management information systems and received an MBA from AUS in 2004, has also spent considerable time teaching at her alma mater.
“I have been teaching at AUS for almost 11 years now. I am currently an adjunct faculty member, but I also worked as a visiting faculty member for two years. I never really planned on a teaching career. I taught my first course at AUS because I wanted to know how it felt to be on the other side in a classroom. To my surprise, I fell in love with it! It feels great that we can contribute to and shape the future by helping young minds reach their full potential,” she said.
Reflecting on how her AUS experience has impacted her life, Anwar said: “AUS is home. I walked into my first economics class in 1999 and never really left. I was taught by some amazing professors, and it feels good to give back. I feel blessed to be surrounded by students and educators who have the energy and compassion for learning. The one lesson I have learned is never say no to new experiences and learning,” said Anwar.
AUS aims to foster students’ sense of entrepreneurship though various courses, competitions and workshops. This past fall, the School of Business Administration launched StartupSBA, the first chapter in the region of the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization, a network with over 250 chapters in North America and across the world. Additionally, Sheraa, the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center, is housed on the AUS campus.