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Big Goals, Bold Choices: Mishaal Ashemimry, Founder, Mishaal Aerospace Ashemimry is today perhaps best known as the first female aerospace engineer in the GCC, but she is also an entrepreneur, commercial pilot, speaker and influencer.

By Tamara Pupic Edited by Aby Thomas

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

Mishaal Aerospace
Mishaal Ashemimry, Vice President For Diversity Initiatives, The International Astronautical Federation, and founder, Mishaal Aerospace.

This article is from a special edition of Entrepreneur Middle East created for the 2024 edition of the Women's Empowerment (WE) Convention, staged by the WE Council. Check out the full publication here.

While Mishaal Ashemimry currently serves as the Vice President for Diversity Initiatives at the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), the Paris-based international space advocacy organization, and as a special advisor to the CEO of the Saudi Space Agency, she is also an entrepreneur, having founded Mishaal Aerospace in 2010 to pursue her ultimate dream of building rockets. Now, looking at how her career trajectory has led her to where she is today, it is quite understandable why her advice for aspiring female scientists starts with her saying, "The view from here [the top] is pretty amazing! So, don't let anyone clip your wings. The sky, as they say, isn't the limit– it's just the beginning!"

Ashemimry is today perhaps best known as the first female aerospace engineer in the GCC, but she is also an entrepreneur, commercial pilot, speaker and influencer. But when she was starting in this field years ago, she remembers chasing rockets as not exactly being the most conventional path for a young girl in the Gulf region. "There were definitely many hurdles [at the beginning]," she says. "The first one was the fact that aerospace engineering wasn't available in Saudi Arabia at the time. Consequently, I had to start my journey early from middle school and high school to prepare to get into aerospace engineering. Hence, I lived in the US most of my life away from my mom. This was tough, but necessary to get to where I am today."

Ashemimry thus went on to earn a master's of science degree in aerospace engineering from the Florida Institute of Technology in the US, as well as two bachelor's of science degrees -in aerospace engineering and in applied mathematics- from the same institution. "During my master's degree, I was fortunate to get funding for nuclear thermal rocket research from the US' National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Marshall Space Flight Center, which was and still is my favorite engineering effort," she recalls. "I was very eager to continue the next level of this research into a doctor of philosophy degree, but unfortunately, NASA's budget for space nuclear research got cut, so I could not continue this research into another degree."

Mishaal Ashemimry, Vice President For Diversity Initiatives, The International Astronautical Federation, and founder, Mishaal Aerospace. Source: Mishaal Aerospace

Ashemimry then started her professional career working at the Missile Systems' Aerodynamics Department at American multinational aerospace and defense conglomerate Raytheon, where she contributed to 22 different rocket programs. However, the aerospace job market started slowing down in 2010, and companies started laying off rather than hiring. "I left Raytheon, and then, it was difficult to find other jobs in the market," Ashemimry remembers. "As a result, I was faced with either moping around and waiting for a job opening at some aerospace company, or starting up my own. I was faced with either leading or following- I chose leading."

Related: Big Goals, Bold Choices: Katrina Mankani, Managing Director And Director Of Positive Education, Fortes Education

Starting her rocket company, Mishaal Aerospace, Ashemimry was confronted with two types of difficulties- technical and funding-related. "Every technical setback became a stepping stone," she says. "It taught me resilience, the importance of collaboration (because let's face it, rockets are a team effort!), and the power of creative problem-solving," she says. "When it comes to funding, searching for investors took me two and half years, because aerospace is not an easy field to attract investors (it is too risky for the average type of investor), while those that appreciate it had already invested in other rocket companies."

However, despite such problems, Ashemimry has never regretted going down the entrepreneurial route. "In starting your own business, you become in control of your achievements, regardless of society's reservations or whatnot," she declares. "However, as female business owners, we do get recognized by the community once one achieves a particular goal, and we get to be in the spotlight faster."

As much as her entrepreneurial journey is trailblazing for young girls in the Arab world who are interested in the realm of science, Ashemimry's work for international organizations is equally dedicated to inspiring change for the better- for instance, through her work at the IAF, she is actively contributing to increasing gender, geography, and generational diversity in the space sector. "In an effort to do this, we have created a committee called the Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Administrative Committee (IDEA), focused on developing initiatives and programs to facilitate and encourage diversity in the sector," she says. "One such initiative is the diversity checklist, which will be shared with all member organizations at the IAF that is meant to establish each organization's baseline statistics for different categories, and invites them to commit to key performance indicators for their diversity for the next three years. These and many other programs, like the 3G (gender, geography, and generational) Diversity Awards, are intended to encourage and recognize organizations to do more for diversity."

Mishaal Ashemimry, Vice President For Diversity Initiatives, The International Astronautical Federation, and founder, Mishaal Aerospace. Source: Mishaal Aerospace

Insider Insights: Mishaal Ashemimry shares her advice for women

Be passionate about your field "Pick careers you are passionate about, because if you have a passion for something, no matter how hard it gets, and trust me, it will get hard, one's passion will be the driver to continue."

Be comfortable with discomfort "I recommend learning as much as you can about your chosen field through formal education, individual research, and knowledge acquisition by all means. Next comes experience through working in one's field, and putting oneself in uncomfortable and challenging situations. Then, teach what you know, because it will enable you to explain complex concepts to others that may not understand it, pushing your creativity."

Be committed to success (regardless of setbacks) "Welcome failure, as one learns more from failure than from success. I always say, 'Failure is the seed from which success grows.'"

Related: Big Goals, Bold Choices: Sara Al Madani, Serial Entrepreneur, Public Speaker, And Reality TV Star

Tamara Pupic

Entrepreneur Staff

Managing Editor, Entrepreneur Middle East

Tamara Pupic is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Middle East.

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