A man who plucked up some Dutch courage to resign from a high-flying role last year to start pursuing his business idea is finally launching his firm - thanks to a chance meeting on a plane to Amsterdam.
Harris Qais, who lives Tanworth-in-Arden, has launched King of Saffron – a business that is aiming to change the lives of farmers in Afghanistan by importing their Saffron crops from the Middle East country into the UK and across the globe.
The spice is one of Afghanistan’s largest exports, with the country growing more than 4,000kg across 800 acres of land. It is used in a variety of food and drink, and is also used for medicinal purposes.
The 32-year-old, who was originally born in Kabul before moving to the UK as a six-year-old, reflects on the key moment that unlocked further potential for his idea.
“I had just left my role as an IT sales director and went through a short period of asking myself what I had done,” said Harris.
“I needed a break for a few days to mull things over and while on a plane to Amsterdam the man sat next to me could see that I seemed a bit restless, and asked me what was troubling me – after explaining my business idea to him, he revealed that he worked for Aston Business School and could point me in the right direction.
“It was from here that he pointed me towards the CWLEP Growth Hub who have been instrumental in helping me to convert a business idea into reality.”
Harris contacted the Coventry and Warwickshire LEP (CWLEP) Growth Hub in November 2018 about his idea, and since then has worked with Gavin Barnett, Business Navigator at CWLEP Growth Hub, to kick start his career as an entrepreneur.
This included building up a step-by-step guide on launching a business, and pointing him towards the Warwickshire Start Up Programme which is delivered by Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce to receive personalised business mentoring.
Gavin also put Harris in touch with the Department of International Trade who equipped him with the necessary documentation required to trade with specific countries, as well as advice on which countries to target first.
CWLEP Growth Hub -which is part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund as well as Coventry City Council and Warwickshire County Council - was also able to introduce Harris to the University of Warwick Science Park’s Business Ready Programme, which has unlocked contacts for Harris in the manufacturing sector to make his end-product a reality.
Harris added: “I’ve been back to my motherland since leaving for the UK and I was shocked to see the vast divide between the rich and the poor and I was determined to try and do something about it – which is how King of Saffron was born,” added Harris, who has an agreement with Amazon to distribute the product across the UK, Europe, China and USA.
“Saffron production is on the rise significantly as farmers try to make a living for their families, and I will be supporting farmers across 30 Afghan regions by purchasing their crops subject to authenticity testing, and selling in countries such as the UK, Europe, USA and China.
“The main aim for year one is to establish a regular trading pattern with the food, beverage and pharmaceutical customers for the raw material of Saffron, while we continue to make plans to create a drink and a nutritional product.”
Gavin, from CWLEP Growth Hub, praised Harris for taking his idea from concept to reality in ten months.
He commented: “Having an idea is one thing but becoming a businessman is a totally different challenge, and Harris has networked and listened as much as he can to get his idea to where it is now.
“He came to us with just an idea and now has a credible business plan – and we are hoping his story will inspire other people with an idea to contact us for some impartial advice on how they take their concept to the next level.”
The Warwickshire Start-Up Service and Business Ready are both part of the “CW Business – Start, Grow and Scale” programme which is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund and Warwickshire County Council. The Start-Up Service also receives further funding from all five of Warwickshire’s District and Borough Councils.
To find out about the range of support available to grow your business, visit www.cwgrowthhub.co.uk