The Mejuri team: Majed Masad, Jorge Barnaby, and Noura Sakkijha. PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE DIGITAL MEDIA ZONE

Crowdsourcing designs for family jewels

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By Tara Deschamps

Breaking into the fine jewelry business after graduation was a nobrainer for Noura Sakkijha. She comes from a family with over two generations of experience and connections in the industry.

But it’s not just good old-fashioned family tradition that’s making Mejuri a success.

The former Ryerson business management student has wisely embraced one of the hottest entrepreneur trends on the web – crowdsourcing.

Mejuri matches jewelry designers with jewelry lovers online. Crowdsourced approval means a healthy market for new designs before a single stone is cut.

Designers submit their sketches or images. Customers browse the site, comment, and vote for their favourite pieces. Mejuri tallies the votes, and puts the winning design into production. The company keeps the rights to the products, and designers pocket a 10 per cent royalty on each purchase.

Sakkijha says it’s becoming more and more difficult for fine jewelry designers to get their products to market through conventional retail channels.

Rae Szereszewski, a fourth-year fashion student, agrees.

After winning a Mejuri design challenge, Szereszewski can finally hold the pair of sterling silver earrings with emerald embellishments she envisioned in the palm of her hand.

“Before Mejuri, if I wanted to manufacture my own fine jewelry, it would have been very expensive, but with Mejuri I can submit my idea and see it made,” she said.

The real payoff for Szereszewski came when she saw someone sporting her latest design.

“A friend bought a pair for her birthday. When she showed them to me in person they were perfect,” she says.

Sakkijha’s startup is winning over venture capitalists, as well as designers and customers.

Last January, Sakkijha joined a group of investors in an elevator at the base of the CN Tower. She had just 58 seconds to peak their interest and convince them Mejuri is a sound investment before the end of the 550-metre ride.

“It was a great experience that was definitely nerve-wracking, but definitely very exciting at the same time,” Sakkijha said.

Mejuri beat out 100 other startups to win Best Elevator Pitch at the International Startup Festival’s Elevator World Tour event held at the CN Tower. The win secures a spot to compete for the Elevator Pitch of the Year in Montreal.

Elevator acumen aside, Sakkjha said Mejuri’s success is largely due to working with her family. Both her brother and husband play a large role in the company.

While she always planned to run a company with her brother, who deals with Mejuri’s product manufacturing from Jordan, she said working alongside her husband Majed came as a surprise.

Once the two joined forces, Sakkijha noticed the business brought them even closer together.

“Being away from home for 12 hours a day you start understanding what the other person is going through,” she said.

Sakkijha also keeps close ties with Ryerson through the Digital Media Zone, and hopes to build a partnership with the fashion program.

Next month, Mejuri is asking designers for pieces featuring emeralds, a prospect that should have both the company and designers seeing green.

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