EghtesadOnline: Millions of Iranians live outside the country with a substantial number of relatively well-to-do living in North America and Europe -- a vast clientele that Simia, a local online business, has tapped into.
The business provides these expats with a wide range of services from online therapy counseling and legal services to purchasing goods that are delivered to any desired location in and outside Iran. Simia is available under the web address simiaservice.com.
High Council of Iranian Affairs Aboard estimates that 6 million nationals live outside the country.
“The online shopping service has vastly been popular with expats, and the company has delivered 8,500 parcels earning $640,000 since the service was introduced in 2012,” Simia’s co-founder and directing manager Mehdi Ghotbi told the Financial Tribune.
Despite the fact that Iran’s nuclear accord with the six world powers put an end to the international sanctions in 2015 Iranian companies face major hurdles in doing business with foreign banks and financial institutions.
Ghotbi says, “To bypass the hurdle (remaining sanctions) Simia opened an office in Spain through which the company’s foreign financial transactions are conducted. Clients can pay Simia via all international and local debit cards.”
Initially Simia’s services were confined to online sales, but it has expanded in recent years.
The company’s cofounder Alireza Tavakoli told the Tribune that the company’s therapy service dubbed ‘Simia Room’, which has 10 mental health professionals, targets the same market.
“Most of our therapists have lived overseas and are aware of the problems that Iranian expats face on a daily basis.”
One of the services Simia offers to its growing number of clientele is legal counseling. According to the company officials the service has become popular with Iranians studying abroad.
One of the common cases referred to Simia is requests for extension of temporary exemption from military service. By law, all Iranian males over 18 are required to serve two years. However, university students can benefit from temporary exemptions.
According to Ghotbi, many Iranian students, while studying aboard, also enroll for other studies and courses, “and need to inform the Iranian conscription office to provide them with extended temporary exemption.”
The process is time-consuming and most students prefer not to leave their studies to return home for completing the bureaucratic procedures. In some instances it is possible that their request for renewal of the exemption is rejected, which means registering for the draft.
Ghotbi says, “So far Simia has successfully processed requests from 600 university students. However, there also were some 4,000 requests about which the company could not do anything to help.”
Simia charges students some $25 to $100 depending on the case and work involved. For initiating the process students are required to first approach the Iranian Embassy (or consulate) in their country of residence and acquire power of attorney which authorizes Simia to act on their behalf in fixing the conscription issues.
Always in the Spotlight
Simia has had a proactive presence in local and international startup events. During Seedstars World held in Tehran in July, Simia was ranked among the top 10 contestants.
Seedstars is a Swiss company that promotes, connects and according to the business’s official website annually invests up to $1.5 million in emerging market startups through its competition in 60 countries.
Simia is one of the Iranian startups that will represent the country in the (Persian) Gulf Information Technology Exhibition (aka GITEX 2017) that will open in Dubai on October 8.
GITEX is a five-day annual technology event held in the UAE. Reports say 12 Iranian startups will participate in the event with the assistance of Tehran Chamber of Commerce.
Simia is set to unveil a new service at GITEX, an E-learning service which targets younger Iranians born overseas. Through the service, which is a blend of entertainment and education, youngsters will get familiar with Iranian culture and history. Furthermore, Persian language courses will be offered through the new service. Simia has employed linguists and animators for promoting its latest project.
Ghotbi said “Iran’s Presidential Office for Science and Technology has provided Simia with a low-interest loan to set up the service.” He did not elaborate.
He did say that his company is planning to launch an English website aiming to attract foreign customers interested in purchasing Iranian handicraft.