In the suburbs of Almaty, Irina Abasova found her niche. Or rather, she molded it.
She started off in the banking industry, but after becoming a mother and with some encouragement from friends, she realized she wanted to be her own boss. So she started her own 3D printing with one used printer. Eventually, she shifted her focus to plastic molds and today she leads a staff of 15 at Creat3D. Last month, she won a government grant through a program that promotes innovative ideas that will develop the economy of Kazakhstan.
The CEO is used to working hard for her accomplishments. In high school, she earned a place in the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program and spent a year living with a host family in the United States. The acceptance rate for the FLEX program rivals Ivy League universities.
“[After FLEX] I could see that I could go anywhere in the world, to study, to live, and I can do whatever I want--that I have all the abilities and all the opportunities to do something great,” she said.
After she returned home to Turkmenistan and finished high school, she was drawn to the US-Central Asia Education Foundation, which offers fellowships for undergraduate students to study at the American University of Central Asia or at KIMEP University.
“The most appealing fact is that [KIMEP] was famous in Central Asia,” Ms. Abasova said. “It teaches classes in English and that was important to me because…as a FLEX alumna I wanted to practice my English.”
She stayed in Kazakhstan after graduation in 2012 and applied her finance skills, working at a major bank for several years, applying self-taught analysis skills to create customer prediction models that were later used across the institution. After having her first child and meeting some inspiring women on a trip to New York who reminded her to dream, she realized that she wanted to be her own boss.
She took a chance on a new industry in Kazakhstan and the world: 3-D printing. At the time, there were only two companies in Kazakhstan that did 3-D printing. After working at her business, Creat3D, for a year, she refined her focus again, this time to plastic molding and laser cutting.
“That’s how my company became a company and not just me working in the house,” she said.
She has collaborated with other businesses to create a prosthetic limb for a child. She once fulfilled a military order for parts using pink plastic because it was the only color available at the time. She works with a variety of clients from the medical to entertainment fields, start-ups and established companies, and her clientele is growing.
“Before, companies would order plastic stuff from China and they would place manufacturing orders there,” she said. “Now they are more interested in manufacturing here in Kazakhstan.”
After her latest grant award, US-CAEF program manager Rosa Thiele visited Ms. Abasova, along with several board members of the program.
“What impresses me is that she takes risks and she acknowledges that she had failures and that she learned through these failures. Now she feels more confident and knows that she’s on the right path,” Ms. Thiele said.
In 2016, she won the Steven F. Shea Excellence Award, named for the first president of US-CAEF. Now, her company will create the molds for the awards that will be handed out to future winners.
She is also creating space for other women in an industry more often filled with men.
“They don’t take me serious at first because they think that I’m a small woman,” Ms. Abasova said. “After we talk, they change their mind.”
Ms. Thiele noticed this during her visit as well.
“I was so impressed, because she’s such a tiny women telling so many men what to do,” Ms. Thiele said with a smile.
Ms. Abasova said she hopes to collaborate with other FLEX and US-CAEF alumni, and women in particular.
“Entering any new field is scary. Spheres such as manufacturing where men dominate are actually the same as any other sphere. You would face problems and challenges,” she said. “Just don’t be scared.”
“Just start,” Ms. Abasova said. “You will get all the knowledge and experience along the way.
About the Future Leaders Exchange Program
The Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) program is a competitive, merit-based scholarship program funded by the US Department of State. FLEX students who pass multiple rounds of testing earn a scholarship to spend an academic year in the United States living with a volunteer host family and attending a US high school.
FLEX students gain leadership skills, learn about American society and values, and teach Americans about FLEX countries and cultures. FLEX is a highly competitive program with over 25,000 alumni who have contributed over one million hours of community service in cities and towns across America. The students return home to active alumni networks that carry out inspiring activities. Learn more at discoverflex.org.
About the US-CAEF Education Foundation
The US-Central Asia Education Foundation Enterprise Student Fellowship Program (US-CAEF) is an academic scholarship program of the US-Central Asia Education Foundation and is administered by American Councils for International Education. US-CAEF provides funding for undergraduate study in business administration and economics through the Enterprise Student Fellowships.
Fellowships fund student enrollment at the American University of Central Asia and the Kazakhstan Institute of Management Economics and Strategic Research, which are leading Western-style institutions in the region. The fellowships are awarded to qualified students based on academic merit and financial need. Classroom experiences are enhanced through the Enterprise Regional Internship Program, which allows students to gain valuable work experience at local companies following their second year.
The foundation further strengthens the quality of business education through professional workshops for regional faculty to improve teaching skills, knowledge and course curricula.