Ibithal standing behind a pink cotton candy bar.

MONAI - hitting
the sweet spot
with Ibithal Saleh

In the vibrant world of small businesses, it’s the personal touch and the passion behind the brand that always fascinates us. Ibithal Saleh is a computer science student in Cincinnati, Ohio, who has already run several side businesses and recently started a new venture called MONAI, which means ‘my wish’ in Arabic. The name not only reflects the product, cotton candy, but also Ibithal’s vision for her business endeavors. A nominee for the Vev Awards (Best in Design), MONAI has not only created a delightful product but also a story worth telling.

First steps into entrepreneurship

The origin of MONAI lies in Ibithal’s bold leap from the medical field, driven by a yearning for a more creative and fulfilling endeavor. “After working in a medical job for two years, I realized it wasn’t for me. It felt like a nightmare to be honest,” Ibithal recounts.

Her entrepreneurial spirit soon led her to explore various ventures from photography to selling contact lenses, “I was obsessed with lenses and how I looked in them... I wore them once, and everybody was giving me compliments. That made me start selling lenses, which was an unexpectedly successful stint actually!” However, balancing her life as a student and managing a side-business was definitely not simple.

I was obsessed with lenses and how I looked in them...

Inception of MONAI

The creation of MONAI came from a simple realization during Ibithal’s time in Oregon—by chance she stumbled upon the joy of making cotton candy and discovered that practically no one was making it in her region.

Her entrepreneurial spirit as a side business entrepreneur was once again evident: “Since there was a bazaar coming up, I decided to buy a cotton candy machine and accompanying table and everything else I needed,” Ibithal explains.

Her first assignment, during the bazaar, went really well she says with a smile: “All the kids and many adults were in my line all day long, the lady who was managing the place told me, ‘You’re the star of the show!’”

Learning to make the perfect fluffy candy didn’t come naturally. Ibithal turned to the internet, finding guidance through numerous YouTube tutorials. “I watched tons of videos, even those meant for kids. If a ten-year-old could do it, why couldn’t I?” This self-taught journey was pivotal in shaping her skills and confidence.

a person wearing pink gloves is holding a large cotton candy on a stick .
You’re the star of the show!

Entrepreneurial challenges and learnings

However, turning a passion into a business is never without its challenges. Ibithal faced numerous hurdles, from logistical issues like custom-made, heavy tables requiring trailers, to financial constraints and unreliable partnerships.

“There were a lot of delays, due to the slow process of financing, and whoever was supposed to partner up with me kind of let go at the last minute,” she shared, highlighting the solitude of her journey. Despite these challenges, Ibithal remains determined and optimistic.

Ibithal has gleaned key insights, particularly in time management and adaptability. “Allowing time for the unexpected and preparing as much as possible ahead of time has been crucial,” she explains. These strategies not only helped her manage her business but also her studies effectively.

She also emphasizes the importance of pacing oneself. “Start your business at your own pace. There’s no need to rush the process,” she advises fellow entrepreneurs. This approach has helped her maintain her sanity amidst the bustling demands of business and academics.

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“Start your business at your own pace, there’s no need to rush the process”

a woman wearing a white top and a headband is sitting at a table with her hand on her chin .

Seamless integration of Vev

In her search for a good appointment scheduling software tool she made a call in her network. An acquaintance in Jordan showed her Vev and she liked it instantly. Integrating Vev into her business operations has revolutionized how Ibithal interacts with her existing customers. “Vev has been a game-changer in keeping everything organized and ensuring the smooth running of MONAI,” Ibithal explains.

Instead of merely handing out a business card, she now uses Vev to enhance visibility and engagement. “Now, I can just show a QR code, and customers can scan it to access our website directly. It’s streamlined and efficient, letting people know that we're out there and easy to connect with,” she adds. This shift not only simplifies the process but also aligns with modern consumer preferences for digital interactions, making MONAI more accessible and interactive.

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“Instead of merely handing out a business card, she now uses Vev to enhance visibility and engagement”

Community engagement for business growth

A significant growth driver for MONAI has been Ibithal’s participation in local communities and events. “Active engagement within various communities has played a pivotal role in gaining recognition and affection for my ventures. Specifically, during my time in the contact lens business, the rapid sell-out was largely due to the strong community ties I had established,” she states.

What keeps her customers returning? “I make sure to be on time for my events. Being reliable builds trust and ensures customer loyalty,” Ibithal highlights.

Looking forward, Ibithal envisions expanding MONAI into a recognized brand both locally and internationally. “I plan to grow MONAI into multiple locations, even internationally. Imagine MONAI bringing joy at events across the globe,” she dreams.

Active engagement within various communities has played a pivotal role in gaining recognition and affection for my ventures

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