We’re delighted to announce the $10,000 August Amber Grant recipient. Congratulations to Donya Amiri, Founder of AIM Professional Engineers.
Donya is the ninth qualifier for the 2021 year-end Amber Grant ($25,000).
Recently, WomensNet Advisory Board member Marcia Layton Turner sat down with Donya for an exclusive interview. You can listen to their conversation and view the transcript below.
WomensNet: Welcome everyone to a chat with our latest Amber Grant winner. Today, we’re speaking with Donya Amiri, Founder of AIM Professional Engineers. She is our Amber Grant winner for August, 2021. I’m Marcia Layton Turner. And I’m on the Advisory Board for WomensNet, who gives the Amber Grant. So, Donya, let’s start at the beginning. Tell us about your business, why you started it and the services you’re providing.
Donya: I’d like to first of all say thank you to WomensNet for this generous grant. And it’s so special because of its meaning and the legacy we’re trying to carry by using these funds to start up. So again, thank you so much. It’s such an honor to be here.
A little bit about AIM Professional Engineers. AIM is a startup actually, so it’s very, very beginning setup phase. My goal is to run a business that is giving back to the community through services of civil engineering and traffic engineering. AIM is named after my three children and order of birth. It just really symbolizes a lot of the goals that I have for the company, which is aiming for greatness in being straightforward and honest and transparent. Really, civil engineering is an ancient form of engineering. And it’s an honor to have the ability to serve our community through civil services.
Civil engineering typically works with government jurisdictions, municipalities, county, and state. And so civil engineering is everything, including our roads, our storm drain system, our sewer system, our transportation system, our communication network and bridges/dams, (etc.). So it’s really everything around us. We just don’t realize it until you’re in the industry and you’re working in it. We’re serving to improve it and to maintain the systems. My desire to open AIM is really deep rooted in me because I’m actually an immigrant from Afghanistan. I fled my country to safety during Soviet War.
I started second grade in the city of Fremont. When I earned my engineering degrees and licenses, it was an honor to serve the city of Fremont where I grew up. And so most of my career has been serving a community that I lived in. And I really believe in that philosophy that while maybe you feel like you can’t save the world, it’s a lot easier or more manageable if you just shrink it down to your own circle, your own community, your neighborhood. That was basically my reason for opening this business; that I love serving my community. I love giving back. I love that. I had the privilege to be educated and have the knowledge and the passion to want to continue to give. It’s just different because as a city employee, I had a lot of resources and great teams and great colleagues and mentors. And stepping back from that to run it as a small consulting firm seems a little challenging, but with amazing women like WomensNet and some of the other resources I’ll talk about later, that helped me get started. It’s incredible because the way I want to give back to my community, there are actually agencies and groups that want to help women or want to help startups. So it’s not impossible. And, honestly the pandemic had a lot to do with why I started the business. I am truly dedicated to serving the community.
So no matter what, and I love being a civil engineer and a traffic engineer, no matter what, it’s a part of me. And having three young children at home with distance learning… my husband was taking his calls. I was taking my calls. We’re all stuck in a small house. And I thought I was failing as a mom, and probably other things too. When your job has to do with safety and the public health, you just can’t compromise. So I basically was focusing very heavily on my work. I came to a point that a decision had to be made. And the best decision for me was to open a business where I can continue giving and doing what I love so much.
WomensNet: Let’s talk about what you’ve been doing to get started and understand that there’s a big shift in mindset when you go from employee to entrepreneur. I’m sure that’s part of the challenge, but what have you started to do to an official business?
Donya: For me, it was a lot of visualization. I’m a very visual person. I close my eyes and I think about something exactly to the finest detail. And I meditate around that. I could give you a story of how I actually started my degree as a business management student and went through almost the entire degree of my graduating semester. I thought, I don’t know how I can give back to the world as a business management person, but I know that I want to give back; I want a job that is fulfilling for me. But what can I do? I’m about to graduate. And it meant a lot to my family because I was the first person to be in college.
They were very anxious to get me out and I was excited to come out and graduate and I would just sit outside the engineering building and stare at people. And I was amazed and I’m like, ‘oh my God, these are like the brilliant people on our campus.’ Look at them and our student union based engineering building. So just sit and just people watch. And I then just close my eyes and I said, ‘what would it feel like if I walked through those doors or I walked outside with a group of friends talking about a problem, or a homework assignment or something. So visualizing that this is the kind of future you want for yourself. It’s very much a mental exercise. And you don’t need funds for that.
Maybe you need books to guide you through, but definitely visualizing what it is that you really want more specifically, the better. Because then you will be amazed about how things kind of fall into place, whether you intended it, or you didn’t intend for it to fall into place. I had my husband’s support and he’s like, ‘you should take a few months to just reset. This is a really big decision. Just see if you want a summer off with the kids, or do you want to look for another opportunity that’s closer to home and would have a better work-life balance.’ So I didn’t have the stress of working and thinking [about the future]. I did take a little bit of time just to kind of clear my mind. And honestly, it was a lot of research, just getting on and just starting again.
I believe in local. So I looked up things around my own city. I looked up what’s out there for small businesses. How does a woman start a business? What does an engineering company look like outside? And I was amazed. I was amazed about how many different companies or organizations are out there, government organizations and companies, groups like you guys that are not run by the government or agencies like Small Business Administration. There are people that are cheering you on the minute you’re ready. And that’s the biggest thing that I learned. You’re not alone and that there are a lot of amazing people out there that really thrive on helping you. The excitement and joy that I received from literally strangers in the last four or five months has been amazing. And I feel that way for what I do as a person and as a professional, but it’s been very fulfilling to see that in return.
So I signed up for a few classes, like Starting your Business one-on-one or How to Do Your Books, or What is Marketing/ Branding? And I mean, these are just 30 minutes lunch hour classes. So this isn’t giving you everything, but I just jotted down different things and I’m very much a person that likes to share. So the minute I learned something, I have a couple of friends who are exploring different things. I’m like, ‘you guys have to come right now. We’re all signing up for this class together. We’re all going to take it together.’
It’s just a bunch of checklists. You need to get your LLC or an Inc or a sole proprietorship. And then you need your EIN number. In my case, I’m working from home until hopefully I have the money, or I get projects enough where I could step away from the home and open an actual office. So don’t be overwhelmed, but there are things out there that will guide you in terms of just making a little checklist for the week or a day. And if anyone’s interested, I’m more than happy to talk to them, even offline. But honestly, it’s been a four month journey. So again, I’m so honored to be here because a lot of this just took place within the last four to five months for me.
WomensNet: You mentioned telling friends about the Amber Grant. How did you originally find out about it and what made you decide to apply?
Donya: I know that I had so many resources being a city employee. When you’re not there, it all belongs to the city. I have no resources besides the laptop and my phone. And to run an engineering firm, you need some basic technology, advanced engineering software, and there’s equipment for safety in the field. And there’s engineering-based basic necessities that I don’t own on my own. And so during a conversation with someone at the SBA who helps identify grants and funding opportunities, I scheduled a meeting and I asked her [about opportunities]. She pretty much said, there’s not a lot out there right now, because they’re focused on businesses that were impacted by COVID. But then she spoke so highly of the Amber Grant.
I said, oh, I’m an engineer company. I think maybe they like other types of services, like maybe baking, restaurants… and she said, no, you should just give it a shot. And I did, I just applied, as soon as they got off the call. I went on your website and I actually wrote from the heart and I pressed send. And then I was like, oh my God, I could have written that a little bit better… organized it better. Oh my God. But I was excited. And so I’m honored because I could see that you guys made it really easy to apply. I think you basically have two questions to ask, right? That was about your business and what would you do with the money.
WomensNet: Now that you won, what are your plans for spending the $10,000?
Donya: Engineering software that our licenses [require]… it’s just really advanced engineering software technology. And like I mentioned earlier, just safety equipment and gear to provide the basic services. So for traffic engineering, there’s a suite of things needed for the field, like count traffic counting. And then for drafting and plotting purposes, there’s things, at a minimum, very minimum, that an office should have of providing solution services. So the initial investment will go through getting me the equipment I need to do the work.
As you noticed, I didn’t have a website set-up, so I’d like to do that as well.
WomensNet: Where do you see yourself in say three to five years? What are your plans for growth?
Donya: Yeah, I am very excited. Because the way I see the company, there’s definitely a need for civil and traffic engineers. I think all of us, the minute you get in your car, I think all of us, they were dropping engineers. A few of us are actually traffic engineers, but you notice and recognize the need for efficiency, for safety, for visibility, for things to fall into place where you’re just like, well, I’m getting my timing correct. Or what sidewalk is the right size for me, or I’m able to see the street when I’m riding my bike at night, or I have a lane for myself. So the demand, especially in California, I think around the world is great. So that’s exciting. I have really, really big dreams.
My future plans is to expand and get help, for starters. Hire some passionate, excited engineers who are really service driven, because I imagine our clientele being cities and counties from the state of California. But also private developers who were just really trying to expedite affordable housing in California, and housing for the unsheltered. There’s such a huge demand and need for improvements to our infrastructure.
Besides hiring great help, it would be getting an office space to put people in, and definitely at least, some trucks, some equipment to go to the field construction zone.
WomensNet: Do you have any advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs?
Donya: Definitely. Success is really a mindset, and how we measure success and what we think of our abilities literally lives in our head. My advice to women entrepreneurs would be — like I mentioned before — to first visualize success, Secondly, for me definitely, it’s taken an entire village for almost 40 years to get me here. And my success is not even mine alone. It’s not even a secret. Everyone that has helped me get to this point. It is their success as well. Everyone, starting with where I came from and that drive to give back to my community and helping a war torn country like Afghanistan and my mom and her hard days as a single mom. Then just all my friends and my teachers, elementary school teachers, college professors, mentors, whether they knew it or they didn’t. I’ve embraced everyone around me.
And I’m always eyes and ears because we’re all growing and nobody’s perfect. And if you have a tip like ‘everyone go and apply for Amber Grant.’ It’s because the more you give the more you’ll get back as well. And it’s just a very natural cycle for me. And so my tip would be to believe in yourself, and be patient. I didn’t finish the story about how I started as a business student because I knew one day I wanted to open a business. I was almost about to graduate only to realize that I don’t know what I’m going to do with the business degree. I never imagined being a civil engineer or an engineering student. I thought it was very intimidating. I thought I was not good at math and physics or calculus.
I actually did it faster than I expected to do it. I managed to get through the degrees, but also worked 15 years that I did not think I was going to do to now at this stage of my life, be ready to bring that desire. And at the time when it’s right for me. So it’s just like it manifested itself. The COVID pandemic had a lot to do with it, definitely becoming a mom or having three young children. But, it’s not done overnight. And that’s what I just wanted to emphasize… that I have counted on my entire village, their words of motivation, their encouragement, believing in me, including you guys at WomensNet. If you have some setbacks, just embrace it and definitely surround yourself with people that make you feel amazing.
Anyone else who doesn’t, it’s okay. You know, maybe you can help them, but when you need that juice to kind of push you forward, and if you have nobody, then find books, find audio books. That’s been my go-to. That’s my spot. I just find amazing authors who can talk to me. Like you have Marcia, actually. So it’s a great world. There’s a lot of people out there to help you and just take one step and go to the next. Don’t be overwhelmed by the entire process.