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Since 2012, the Iranian American Women Foundation (IAWF) has set the stage to empower and inspire Iranian American women of all ages and career paths through its nationally recognized annual Women’s Leadership Conferences. Thanks to the efforts of the community, the IAW Foundation has expanded its philanthropic efforts on a variety of programs to benefit the community it is serving. The newly added IAWF programs include Circle of Visionaries, Circle of Caring, Youth Leadership Conference, and Mentorship program. The goal is to provide a platform for IAWF members to expand on their professional and personal growth. We encourage potential members of IAWF and our local chapter’s community members to join us on this journey.

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As Founder and CEO of Biblionasium, Marjan Ghara is the product owner and also responsible for the day-to-day operations of the company. She has direct industry experience as an early member of two prior Tech Startups and knows what it takes to build a company from the ground up. With a multidisciplinary degree that covers management and technology studies from the University of Pennsylvania, she also has a proven track record in building large scale and successful web properties. Marjan loves the energy and excitement of startups and is a relentless motivator. Marjan is also the mother of two elementary school aged children. One of her favorite books is “The Little Prince”.

Tell us about your own educational background and interest in reading.

I fell in love with reading in the 3rd grade when my teacher introduced me to an adventure series. I realized, I would never feel bored or lonely if I have a good book to read. It was important for me to pass along this passion to my kids. I studied Programming & Systems Analysis at the University of Pennsylvania. I was fascinated with coding, as it felt like puzzle solving. I went on to work for a Tech Startup after college and have been involved with technology ever since. I am thrilled that I have been able to combine my love of reading and my knowledge of technology to create a platform to support children’s reading.

What is the story behind Biblionasium?

When my two children started to read on their own, I found I was spending a great deal of time trying to find the right books that would engage them. They did not necessarily like the books that were top sellers on Amazon or recommended by Scholastic’s top lists. So I turned to their classroom teachers and asked for book recommendations. Those recommendations were personalized for each child, based on [their] interest and reading level; those were by far the books they enjoyed the most.

I set out to connect myself as the parent to the school teacher, and I knew that technology would make it easier. The reading lists would be more useful if they were online, accessible anytime and from anywhere. It was my kids who then weighed in and said that the best book recommendations actually came from their friends! That was the AHA moment for me, when I realized it is best to create a reading community online where we can connect kids to the three constituents that most influence what they read: their friends, teachers and parents in that order!  That is how Biblionasium was born.  The name Biblionasium (Where Kid Flex their Reading Muscles) came from the notion that reading is like a sport; you have to set goals, have discipline, practice and work with a coach when possible - that is how you achieve results. On Biblionasium, we promote reading as a daily exercise!

Can you share some of the impact you're having in schools or in communities? 

Our platform is used in Libraries and Classrooms all over the world as a digital tool to build communities of young readers. We have close to half a million registered users, from over 35 countries, and growing rapidly. Our main source of growth has been Educators themselves who share our platform with other Educators because of the increased levels of interest, reading and sharing they see with their own students.

This digital generation now expects to be engaged online and it is where they spend a great deal of their time. There is great opportunity to use online platforms to engage, excite and encourage children to read. On Biblionasium, kids rate, review and recommend books to their friends. Research has shown that kids are more likely to read and finish a book when a friend recommends it. We foster and support online dialogues and conversations around books between kids. Educators have the ability to set reading challenges and monitor progress. We also have virtual rewards and a Gamification aspect to the application. It is a multi-prong approach that works really well as a digital platform.

What's your secret to success? 

There is no particular secret.  I think for any venture to be successful, you need a vision, a passion and a great deal of grit!  In the beginning I spoke to many people, went to a lot of events and studied the landscape. Along the way, people opened doors, made introductions and I got a lot of good advice. It’s important to surround yourself by people who support what you do and whom you trust. Luck always helps and good luck comes when you persist and stay in the game. It is imperative to listen to your market and continuously improve the product. Don't take your success for granted!

Why do you think there are not more women in Tech?

I think possibly a whole group of women shy away from Technology because they feel intimidated by the idea of programming or they think they are not science or math people. Learning to code is like learning a new language and then using it to solve a problem. Great applications must communicate really well with their users. Women are particularly good at understanding and developing that.  Building great apps require understanding your constituents, listening to the user and solving a problem.  I think women are particularly good at that as well.  Technology is a tool to develop solutions, and women are great problem solvers. I find it encouraging that there are several efforts underway to get girls involved with technology, coding, and design from an early age. It is slow, but moving in the right direction.

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