Starting Over Again: One Refugee Entrepreneur’s Path To Success

Like all refugees, Mukhlid Shaikhil came to America in search of a better life than the one he had left behind. While Shaikhil was a talented civil engineer in Iraq, a stagnant economy and poor prospects led him to Jordan in 2000 where he worked as an electronics technician, but lacked the rights of a natural born citizen.

Shaikhil found himself engaged in many bureaucratic tangles in Jordan, and he often had to cross the border to renew his visa, regardless of how inconvenient the timing was. Furthermore, the effects of the war had impacted Jordan’s economy to the point where it mirrored Iraq’s when Shaikhil left in 2008. The region’s political and financial situation had become so bad that the idea of moving to America, even in the midst of the Great Recession, brought him more hope than staying put. After being declared a refugee, Shaikhil took the money he had saved up and moved to Columbus, Ohio in hopes of carving out a new way of life in America.

When he arrived, Shaikhil set himself one goal and one goal only: to find work. As engineering accreditations from his home country rarely translate to employment in the U.S., Shaikhil was forced to find a different line of work from the one he had known for almost a decade. Not discouraged, he did some research and found that the tire industry was set on a path of tremendous growth. Wanting to gain hands-on experience in the field, he offered his unsolicited services for free to a tire shop, in hopes of learning the trade and beginning to build networks in the country. The shop’s manager took him under his wing, impressed by both his boldness and work ethic. Shaikhil was a dedicated worker and a quick study. After only a month at the shop, he was offered a paid, full-time position.

For the next three years, Shaikhil gained experience at various shops, saving up money in hopes of one day starting his own business. In 2011, he met his partner, Oday Dawood. They pooled together their savings and opened up a wholesale tire dealership on Columbus’ northwest side, Discount Tire Transport (DTT). The cost of opening the warehouse set the pair back significantly, with the EPA licensing for the business totaling over $20,000 alone. Still, where many would have quit, the pair remained determined to succeed.

This resolve manifested itself in a superior work ethic. Shaikhil recalls the around-the-clock hours they worked when they first opened the shop. In the mornings and afternoons, the pair would serve customers, lugging around massive tires and making sure every client left the shop satisfied. At the end of a long day, they would sit down and labor away at mountains of paperwork. Burning the midnight oil became the norm, with endless hours of administrative tasks and late-night strategizing sessions to complete. Day in and day out, the duo regularly put in 16-hour shifts. For a while, sleep remained elusive, with work never seeming to slow down.

However, their efforts soon paid off. Once the pair started making good money in their business, they decided they were in a prime position to open new shops in other Columbus neighborhoods where their tire market would have little competition. To do this, they needed significant financing. While they had saved up a good amount of money, they were still $50,000 dollars shy of being able to open up a new branch in south Columbus. Unfortunately, they were declined financing by traditional lenders. However, help was right around the corner.


Shaikhil had heard about ECDI’s services awhile back and had decided to investigate for himself. After filling out a loan application, Shaikhil was put in contact with Hussam Al Taie, an ECDI Relationship Manager who specializes in assisting immigrant and refugee clients.

“Hussam helped me a lot,” Shaikhil says. “He is a good guy – he even helped us design our logo.”

DTT eventually received a $50,000 loan to expand their business, though the relationship established between the two has lasted beyond the life of the loan. Not only did Al Taie assist Shaikhil with his logo design, he also helped them with social media marketing, and even distributed fliers and advertisements around the office.

“I’m very proud of them,” Hussam says. “It makes me very happy to see them succeed.”

DTT’s new branch was a tremendous success – so much so that the pair came back to ECDI and received an additional $75,000 loan to open up another branch in east Columbus.

“ECDI has been a big supporter of our business,” Shaikhil says. “With their loans, I could expand into additional branches and grow my client base. For that, I am very grateful.”

In the warehouse where they built their business from the ground up, there currently sits over $150,000 of inventory, all in the form of enormous rubber tires. The success of the two additional branches of DTT that ECDI helped fund has resulted in a fourth branch being opened in Hilliard, with a fifth branch in north Columbus in the works. Shaikhil’s inventory is so impressive that he has had regular requests to ship tires as far as Texas. As a result of his hard work, Shaikhil’s business has created jobs for over 15 individuals in Columbus, with signs of additional growth on the horizon.

Shaikhil also has much to celebrate in his personal life, recently becoming an official American citizen.

As he says, “I am proud to be a U.S. Citizen, and enjoy freedom of speech, protection for my family, and all of the opportunities offered to me. This is truly an amazing country.”

— To get in contact with Discount Tire Transport, please call 614-777-7660, or visit their website at For inquiries about financing for your small business, please contact ECDI at 614-559-0115, or check out our website at —