In November of 2013, we shared the tale of Azra Khalfan — the Elmhurst, N.Y., woman behind award manufacturer Plaques by Azra, as well as Signs and Lucite Products, a maker of banners, signs and more for businesses — as part of our 1,000 Stories initiative.
In the time since her profile appeared on our site, Khalfan says her entrepreneurial story has gone further than she ever could have hoped, thanks in part to the Tory Burch Foundation (which she learned about through Accion, and which led to her enrollment in Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses class).
“It’s almost like I’ve been discovered,” she says. “I find there’s been a lot more interest in our company; not only in our products, but the whole story behind it. People are appreciating what I do.”
Her involvement with the foundation through its business education program (which is run in collaboration with the Goldman Sach’s course, as well as Babson College and LaGuardia Community College, or LGCC) even led to her inclusion in Burch’s new book, “Tory Burch: In Color.”
Earlier this year, Khalfan was interviewed on the topic of work-life balance for it, along with other powerful women such as former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Arianna Huffington. Her input on the subject appeared alongside theirs in print — a sight Khalfan described as “overwhelming.”
The programs aided her professionally, as well as personally. Khalfan says taking part in the Goldman Sachs class has helped her lead both companies into periods of expansion, and she plans to hire more staff. She also praised the mentors with whom she has been connected through these programs, as well as through the Small Business Development Council at LGCC, for their guidance.
Going forward, she wants to continue working at the helm of both businesses for as long as she possibly can.
Khalfan also hopes to take advantage of the connections she has forged through her work to purse a personal passion: Creating spaces where people of all religions can observe their faiths while traveling. She hopes to collaborate with clients (for instance, hotels) to create such spaces. “It would be something not just for myself, but for everyone,” she says. “Everyone has the right to say a prayer any time they want, if they want, whether they are working in such a place, or visiting or staying, whatever it may be.”
Khalfan’s faith has additionally led to her public speaking debut, which will occur at a luncheon hosted by National Minority Supplier Development Council in Orlando, Fla., this month — today, in fact. There, she will lead the assembly in prayer.
When asked what she wished she had known when she first became an entrepreneur, she touched upon the fears and intimidation she experienced when first assuming control of the businesses, and encouraged present and future female business owners to push past them.
“I always thought [in relation to a business contact], ‘Oh, she’s a CEO. He’s a VP. She’s something,'” she says. “Now, I’m more comfortable sitting down and talking with those people without intimidation. We’re all human beings — we all have challenges, but the bigger picture is that we’re all the same.”
Khalfan continued, “If I had that type of confidence back then, I would have been much further along. I was holding myself back.”