A lifetime of tinkering turns into innovative risk-taking for entrepreneur Mohammed Issa
By Caora McKenna
Photos Caora McKenna
Mohammed Issa was 10 years old when his family moved from Amman, Jordan to Bedford, Nova Scotia. As a child, Issa was famous for disassembling his toys. He liked to know how things worked, and the best way to do that was to take them apart.
“I always had a screwdriver and never a working toy,” says Issa.
His passion for tinkering evolved, and in 2015 he bought a 3D printer. The investment was the first step towards what is now Eureka Technologies, a small business that offers 3D printing, laser cutting, prototyping and, most important to Issa, a community hub for innovation.
He learned about innovation and entrepreneurship from his father, Alaeddin. His father grew up with 13 siblings who all shared one room where they ate, played and slept. Innovation, says Issa, “was the only way to make life happen.”
Issa inherited his ambitious and hard-working spirit from his father. He has passed those traits and his tinkering spirit on to his second oldest child, Aladdin, a keen maker at just six years old.
Inspiring creativity and making a space for it to come to life are essential to Issa’s business model.
“I just love the smile on people’s faces when they find a solution to the problems that they have,” he says.
He calls it the eureka moment: the cry of joy or satisfaction when we find or discover something. His first 3D printing eureka moment saved him from buying a new dishwasher. He printed a discontinued part that had broken, installed it, and the dishwasher is still working today.
When Issa was a student moonlighting with his 3D printer, Craig Summers, the president of SailTimer Inc., reached out to him with a problem. Summers’ innovative sailing technology design needed an off switch, and he was stumped. Issa’s printer offered the opportunity to test and refine new ideas over and over without a big overhead cost.
After lots of tinkering they had their eureka moment: magnets and a custom sized snap-on cap. Because they were working retroactively—developing a piece to fit an already designed and made product—Issa’s 3D printer was just what they needed. The solution, and their partnership, stuck.
Since then Issa and Summers have had many eureka moments. “Eureka!” was often the subject line in emails sent back and forth, before Issa had chosen the name Eureka Technologies for his business. Together they design parts “out of thin air,” using their own creativity, “that are now parts of physical products,” says Summers. “It’s interesting and satisfying.”
Summers says it’s rare in commercial development to get the chance to work so closely on developing and improving a product. “Even though we have a product that has gone through a lot of iterations, we often still find ways to improve a manufacturing process or part of a design.”
Those kinds of challenges are Issa’s favourite part of his job. And why he was thrilled to create the trophies for the 2017 My Nova Scotia Experience’s Top 25 Immigrants Awards Gala. Their sleek design representing an iconic Nova Scotia scene—Peggy’s Cove—is very distinctive. Issa says it had to be, because the province’s best immigrants are adding value to their communities by making a difference every day.
“It’s a very difficult journey” for immigrants, says Issa. And recognizing those who are succeeding “inspires others to move forward.”
ISANS reports that in 2016 there were 109 new businesses started by immigrants in Nova Scotia. Those 109 small- to medium-sized businesses join both Eureka Technologies and SailTimer Inc. in employing a huge percentage of Nova Scotia’s workforce.
“It’s extremely difficult for any business to start from scratch,” says Summers. Issa has grown from a student with an idea into someone whose ideas and products are part of a supply chain being shipped to people all over the world, something Summers is “very pleased” to have been a part of.
Issa’s greatest difficulty as an entrepreneur and small business owner is “wearing all the hats in one day,” he says. “It’s very cumbersome, and it’s tiring.” He works long hours, often seven days a week. He does the ordering and the stocking, the cleaning and the fixing, the customer service and the advertising.
All of this means he spends less time with his family than he would like. He regrets not having more time to show his tinkering son Aladdin how to use the technology and tools in the workshop. In October Issa hired his first employee, and hopes to hire more as Nova Scotians learn about the power of fixing and his business grows.
Issa says Eureka Technologies is the only business of its kind in the Halifax area. That and being local are two of his biggest advantages. The friendly spirit of Nova Scotians means he gets lots of people walking in asking great questions and “eager to learn new things,” he says.
“It’s about the journey of finding a problem and solving it,” explains Issa. When people understand what the tools they have can do, they can find and solve problems “that they never even knew existed!”
Summers says that as technology is rapidly changing, it’s “solving problems that have existed for centuries.” Like Issa, he appreciates the value in potential. “You can buy a piece of hardware and it can do more tomorrow than it can do today,” he adds.
Issa’s services and tools offer people the opportunity to find that potential; his patient and enthusiastic personality gives customers “the face that can tell you how to use them,” he says.
He tells them the 3D printer is not magic, “just tools and a toolbox.”