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Sep 27, 2012

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Zainab Zaki, TappedIn

Zainab Zaki, TappedIn

“America is the land of dreams in which you can get what you want if you work hard enough to get it,”  Zainab Zaki reassuringly claimed.

Since the age of 10, Zainab wanted to live and study in the U.S. The America she knew of was a land that encouraged freedom and provided opportunity to anyone no matter their circumstance.

“I grew up in the Middle East and from that point of view my dream life was to pursue the freedom of higher education and the freedom to live my life my way,” said Zainab.  “Because, in America, success is not based on privilege.”

Zainab found her path to the U.S. via the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin where she pursued her Master’s in Business Administration. She was one of two international students who received sponsorship under an F1 student visa in 2008. In 2010, Zainab graduated from UT only to face a depressed economy where jobs were scarce and recruiters looked past international students.

“During this time, I married and changed my status to a dependent H4 Visa,” said Zainab. “With the economy tanked and the ‘no-work’ provision of my visa, I decided to take control of my fate in my hands and started working on my startup TappedIn.”

TappedIn is a recommendation engine that helps business executives and professionals find the people who can help them wherever they go. The platform helps save time and reduce social noise by connecting users with the people who can solve their professional and personal needs anytime, anywhere.

“My cofounder and I were tired of wasting our time at the events we attended. We would meet random people, have many wasteful conversations and end up having a stack of business cards on our desks the next day with no time or motivation to follow up,” explained Zainab.
“Meeting people through serendipity works only when one has a lot of time and a lot of interactions. But life is short; so why wait for serendipity?”

TappedIn is working to disrupt the $500 billion global networking industry. In 18 months of its existence, TappedIn has seen plenty of growth. They recently closed their first round of funding (undisclosed amount) and now employ six people; none of which include Zainab. TappedIn’s services have been employed by some of the most marquee events in Washington DC including TEDX PennQuarter, Disruptathon, Fosterly, TEDCO Expo and CADRE. In addition TappedIn is the exclusive social discovery partner of over 3500 TEDx events around the world.

Due to her current immigration status, Zainab is neither unable to apply for full time employment with a U.S. company nor claim any of her contributions to the development of TappedIn.

“It’s incredibly frustrating,” said Zainab. “I see the support, I see the opportunity. And, when I attend events and meet people, never am I questioned about my immigration status. So, it’s difficult for me to understand why it has to be so complicated.”

Her husband, who works for an established company in Washington, D.C., is the sole provider. He also doubles as the CTO for TappedIn.

“It would be a dream for both of us to be able to work on TappedIn full time. We’d be able to accelerate our growth 10 fold. But as a family, we cannot afford for him to lose his status at his full time job,” said Zainab. “In the meantime, our company suffers from having only a part-time CTO and a COO who can’t get out there as much as she would like.”

Luckily for the business, Zainab’s other co-founder, CEO and “face” of the company is a U.S. citizen giving them the advantage of closing on funding – unlike some of the  other stories featured on the site.

Zainab and her husband continue to push through the immigration process in hopes of one day being naturalized. She is a strong advocate for immigrant entrepreneurship opportunity flying across the country to tell her story.

“I came to the U.S. because I knew I could have a better life here. I can’t think of anywhere else in the world that has the resources, the support structure, the infrastructure, the knowledge and the energy needed to maintain a successful startup community like the U.S.”

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