THE ENTREPRENEURS: Abshir Warsame & Abshir Mahamed
Owner & General Manager, Des Moines Daycare
Friday, August 30, 2013 7:00 AM
Abshir Warsame and Abshir Mahamed are two young men with strong family and cultural traditions of entrepreneurism. They’ve chosen Des Moines as the place to grow those traditions.
Both men’s families came to the United States to escape violence in Somalia and they were able to start businesses in the United States that quickly prospered. The men said they left those prosperous family businesses - in Seattle and in Minneapolis - to start their own businesses in Des Moines because as Mahamed said, “it’s number one or two for business,” according to a variety of national reports.
They have teamed up in Des Moines to salvage Des Moines Daycare, a child-care center that serves families that have fled violence and bloodshed in the Arabic and Muslim worlds.
The two men became business partners after Warsame’s wife learned that a friend in Des Moines was in danger of losing her childcare center, which rented space from the city of Des Moines atop a parking garage at 555 Fifth Ave. The space, a little more than 20,000 square feet, was constructed as a day care and one time housed the Drake University Head Start program.
The business was late on rent payments to the city and faced other cash-flow issues, Mahamed said.
Warsame, 28, bought Des Moines Daycare, and sought out Mahamed, 22, to be its general manager.
The men trace their connections to Somalia and a tribal relation. Their families left the country nearly a decade apart, both driven by the unpredictable and frequently violent politics of their homeland. Both men are driven to make their own way in the United States.
“You don’t want to build someone else’s wealth,” said Mahamed. Ever the aspiring businessmen, they see a variety of opportunities in Greater Des Moines.
Mahamed’s family originally settled in the Seattle area, where it operated a childcare center, a grocery store and a restaurant.
Warsame was born in Somalia and grew up in Kenya. He arrived in the United States in 2005, going first to Minneapolis, which has the largest Somali population in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. He operated a transportation service that delivered members of the city’s immigrant population to their medical appointments.
Both men understood that the Somali families in Greater Des Moines would be uncomfortable trusting the oversight of their children to people who did not understand their culture and customs. Mahamed estimated that there are about 6,000 Somali families in Greater Des Moines.
“It’s a valuable resource for the community,” Mahamed said of Des Moines Daycare.
They have settled the previous owner’s most pressing debts, worked out repayment agreements with other creditors and negotiated a new lease with the city.
Eric Skinner of the city’s real estate division said the initial lease is for five years and can be renegotiated to run through 2027.
“With (Warsame) coming in, you can see that he is really pushing,” Skinner said. “And that is a good thing. If we can have the same tenant in there through June 2027, we’re all going to be happy people.”
Warsame and Mahamed said competition for such services was fierce in Seattle and Minneapolis.
About one-third of the Somali population in the United States is located in Minnesota, according to the Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey data. Washington State ranks in the top four Somali population centers in the country, according to the survey.
Mahamed said the business atmosphere in Des Moines fosters business development, regardless of an entrepreneur’s nationality. As for the day care business: “Here, we basically cornered the market,” he said.
Mahamed and Warsame have their sights on more than day care centers.
They hope to establish a grocery store and restaurant, and there could be other opportunities.
The Arabic and Muslim populations are growing, focused mostly on Somalians, Bosnians and Sudanese. Mahamed said an influx of Congolese immigrants is expected in 2014 in Iowa.
Mahamed and Warsame said their culture fosters an entrepreneurial spirit.
“In Somalia, our people have been big agriculturalists for thousands of years,” Mahamed said. A farmer’s independent nature translates into a desire to operate your own business in the United States, he said.
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