The moment Iman Oubou knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur happened on stage in front of hundreds of people.
She was competing in her first beauty pageant in 2012 when a judge asked her, “If you had to choose between being beautiful and being smart, which one would it be?”
“That was my motivation and inspiration behind creating a digital content platform that tells women and young girls that’s not the case,” she says. “You can be both stylish, pretty, and glamorous, and you can also start a business and be business-savvy, smart, and intellectual.”
Oubou, 28, went on to become Miss New York United States in 2015 and launched SWAAY Media in 2016, a media company with a focus on women entrepreneurs.
Born in Morocco, Oubou moved with her family to the United States when she was 15 years old. Her accomplishments are impressive: she speaks five languages, holds a master’s in biomedical engineering, and pursued a career as a cancer research scientist.
Beauty pageants were a side thing; her mom initially suggested pageantry as a way for Oubou to get out of her comfort zone. The experience gave her an “unshakeable confidence” that’s helped her in business when pitching to investors, for instance.
“I’ve always been categorized in two different corners — I had my beauty pageant life and I had my scientist-engineer life,” she says. “And they were two different worlds. When I try to explain to people that those two worlds exist in one person, it’s always been a struggle.”
In addition to running SWAAY, Oubou hosts a podcast called Entrepreneurs En Vogue, in which she interviews millennial women entrepreneurs. Though she’s still in the early stages of building the business and speaking with investors, Oubou’s strategy is to take it day by day.
“We all have these crazy dreams and amazing goals, but it’s not the dreams and the goals that are crazy,” she says. “It’s our timeline, and the expectations we put on ourselves. It takes 10 years to be an overnight success.”