Brandeis startup employs refugees, wins honors

May 10, 2018

A startup co-founded by Wafaa Arbash, MA’17 took home first place in the MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge Beantown Throwdown, a prestigious startup competition held as part of HUBweek in downtown Boston.

At the Oct. 13 Beantown Throwdown, WorkAround won over 11 other teams from local universities including Harvard, MIT, Tufts and Boston University. WorkAround also won legal and marketing communications services and a guaranteed place at the MIT Enterprise Forum Cambridge Startup Spotlight event in June 2018.

“This was a great experience.” Arbash said. “It was incredible to compete with top universities across Boston, all of which had teams with great ideas. It is an honor.”

“I think this was great exposure to the Boston ecosystem,” Arbash added. “Winning the Beantown Throwdown is an encouragement to us to keep going.”

The victory was only the latest win for WorkAround, an online platform that connects refugees around the world with employment opportunities in the U.S.

Arbash came up with the idea for WorkAround at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management as part of her master's thesis. Then she quickly teamed up with Heller classmates Jennie Kelly and Shadi Sheikh Saraf and Brandeis undergraduate student Shai Dinnar ’18, to compete in the 2016 Heller Startup Challenge. That team worked to develop the business idea into a more concrete plan, pitched it to a panel of judges, and took home first prize in that challenge. WorkAround went on to win a Brandeis SPARK grant, took first place in two other startup competitions, won the IBS three-day startup competition and were finalists this year at MassChallenge – Boston’s world-renowned startup accelerator.

Arbash’s efforts with WorkAround have put her in impressive company. The same day the company won the Beantown Throwdown, Arbash was also on the same stage as luminaries such as Atul Gawande, Malcolm Gladwell, Abby Johnson and Michael Bloomberg at HUBweek, an annual innovation expo featuring entrepreneurs, thought leaders and public officials held at Boston’s City Hall Plaza.

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