ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The Muslim population of the United States is expected to reach 6 million in 15 years. That's more than double what it is now. Those kind of numbers spell opportunity for a new generation of Muslim entrepreneurs. From Chicago, Monique Parsons reports on the types of products and services that startups are focusing on.
MONIQUE PARSONS, BYLINE: It used to be that American Muslims who wanted a Hilal meal had to be living in a major city and know a good butcher. Want to find an eligible spouse? Get your parents involved. And the market for Hilal cosmetics - good luck.
Times are changing, though, and a wide variety of products is just a smartphone away, matchmaking apps like Salaam Swipe, a Muslim twist on Tinder, vegan Hilal soaps and gourmet Hilal meals delivered fresh to your door.
At a recent convention in Chicago held by the Islamic Society of North America, there were urgent talks about Syrian refugees and civil rights. There were also marketers targeting Muslim consumers. Alongside old standbys like Hilal chicken distributors and Islamic finance firms, startups are grabbing more of the space. Sarah Ahmed of Indiana is handing out blue plastic cups that say share a home with friendly Muslims. She's a cofounder of a company called Umma Spot.
SARAH AHMED: It's basically, like, then - an Airbnb for Muslims.
PARSONS: Umma means community in Arabic, and the startup connects Muslim homeowners to travelers booking short-term stays where it's comfortable to pray, eat Hilal, religiously approved food or wear a hijab. They plan to roll out a mobile app later this year.
AHMED: It was actually a group of us friends just sitting together after a birthday party one day. And then we were like, hey, that would be a good idea. And then we took it and ran with it.
SABIHA ANSARI: The American Muslim market is estimated to be close to about $100 billion.
PARSONS: That's Sabiha Ansari of the American Muslim Consumer Consortium, the industry group supporting Muslim entrepreneurs. She sees a familiar immigrant story here - a tech savvy generation moving far beyond the old neighborhood and the corner stores their parents and grandparents built and relied on.
ANSARI: I definitely do see us following the trend of the Jewish and the Hispanic market.
PARSONS: Her group hosts a shark tank-style contests for startups. Last year's winner was LaunchGood. It does online crowdfunding for projects and business ventures with social missions. Benjamin Jones teaches entrepreneurship in emerging markets at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. He says it's all about scale.
BENJAMIN JONES: This is the classic American story. It's the American dream at work. And when that's function well, it's nice to see the kinds of developments where a community can really raise itself in socioeconomic status and in other ways. And entrepreneurship, of course, is an important part of that process.
PARSONS: At the Chicago conference, hundreds of people are signing up for the Muslim-style Airbnb. Women in bright headscarves crowd around a booth called Soap Ethics, buying beautifully packaged herbal vegan Hilal soap. A line forms at Convey, a booth selling hipster T-shirts and jewelry. Jumana Elammori of South Bend, Ind., looks a little star struck as she hands over her credit card.
JUMANA ELAMMORI: I'm actually buying a T-shirt. I've known about this band for, I think, about a year and a half or maybe just a year. I'm really excited about it. I love it. Like, I always am checking their social media to see what they have new.
PARSONS: The shirts features artsy photos and sayings from Muhammad and the Sufi poet known as Rumi.
ELAMMORI: I got the rose shirt that says seek everything from the source to the reflection. I'm excited to wear it. It's really awesome to see, like, Muslims doing something cool like this.
PARSONS: Chances are good consumers like Elammori will continue to find reasons to pull out their credit cards to buy new goods and services that speak directly to them. For NPR News, I'm Monique Parsons. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In audio of this story, as in a previous Web version of this story, we misidentify Sarah Ahmed as the co-founder of Umma Spot. Rather, CEO Usman Choudhry says she is a team member.]
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