Imran Nuri with his 50-year-old camera on his "Advice from America" road trip.

Imagine a young entrepreneur. Do you see someone with a flashy car, dressed in tailored clothing and eager to share their latest idea for a great product, app or new technology?

Now imagine a 25-year-old son of Indian immigrants getting out of a Toyota Camry wearing yellow Crocs and carrying a 50-year-old camera that uses black and white film. He approaches you and asks, “What advice would you give your younger self?”

After contemplating and giving your response, you have a long heartfelt discussion about life and its meaning before he snaps one photo of you, hops back into his car in search of his next stop on a three-month journey to learn from other strangers — and ultimately to learn more about himself.

Repeat this scenario more than a thousand times over 15,000 miles and you begin to get a picture of Imran Nuri’s latest entrepreneurial project, a venture rooted in his time as an undergraduate student at Ohio State.

A passion for making a difference

Imran has always had a passion for people, making them feel comfortable and finding a way to tell their story – through a photograph, presentation or written word. Throughout his life he’s helped find solutions to issues he’s cared about and ways to connect with and make a difference in people’s lives.

His generous nature began as a child with his parents encouraging him to put a dollar into a jar each week to donate to a charitable organization. This introduction to philanthropy resonated with him and was the foundation for his interest in one of the most recognizable fundraisers in Columbus — Ohio State’s BuckeyeThon dance marathon, which raises money for Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Imran Nuri and the BuckeyeThon fundraising team
Imran Nuri, second from left, and the 2019 BuckeyeThon team display the dollars raised at the dance marathon.

“BuckeyeThon is why I came to Ohio State,” says Imran (BSBA ’20). “My whole life has been about how I could give back and I saw it as a huge opportunity for me, as a student, to make a difference in the lives of children with cancer.”

Through BuckeyeThon, he learned the operations of a nonprofit, including the fundamentals of fundraising, event planning, soliciting donors and organizing volunteers. By his third year, Imran was president of the annual fundraiser and served as its designated donations officer.

“I was giving anywhere from 10 to 40 hours a week to BuckeyeThon and loved that I was surrounded by people who were passionate,” he says. “It was contagious and it made life exciting.”

This excitement and startup mentality inspired his first solo nonprofit venture as a fourth-year marketing student with a minor in design thinking: The 52 Million Project. Launched in January 2020 and built on the concept of charity his parents introduced him to as a child, The 52 Million Project sought to ask one million individuals to donate one dollar every week to support different nonprofits focusing on fighting poverty.

Imran as the first donor to The 52 Million Project
Imran became the first donor to his nonprofit, The 52 Million Project.

Knowing how valuable networking is for a successful business, Imran joined the Future Founders Fellowship (FFF) to help propel The 52 Million Project forward. The FFF is a nationwide nonprofit dedicated to creating an inclusive community of intentional young entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial-minded leaders.

“We select around 20 highly motivated entrepreneurs for the fellowship for a year of programming, focusing on their businesses, emotional intelligence and leadership, and encouraging vulnerability,” says Tina Hrabak (BA ’09, MA ’14), senior director of startups at Future Founders and a former Fisher staff member. “We're looking for those who give first, leverage community and have a bias toward action. Imran is all of this and more.”

The 52 Million Project began with a bang, but Imran found that its dollar-per-week format was the best and worst thing about the project. It was accessible, but individuals never really felt the impact they were making. Despite this, the venture raised $55,000 from more than 700 donors and ultimately benefitted 80 nonprofits.

Entrepreneurial inspiration

Imran remembers not having to look far to find the source behind his personal drive and determination to succeed as a self-starter. He would watch his father, a banker by day, toil after work and on weekends creating and self-publishing Islamic Sunday school books. What started out as a few thousand dollars in income during the first few years eventually turned into $1 million revenue.

“I watched my dad hustle as he turned a need for these books into a solution,” Imran says. “I saw the financial freedom it provided, but I also know that I didn’t get to know my dad very well.

“I decided to be an entrepreneur early in my life, so that when I do have a family, I’ll be a good partner and father. I see the value of financial independence, but I know it takes a lot of effort to get there. I want the financial freedom and the time to do what I want, but not at the price of a lack of balance in life.”

After The 52 Million Project, Imran explored his artistic roots, painting and dabbling in photography, as well as his interest in storytelling as a business. As he figured out his next step, a question — posed to him years ago by Ty Shepfer, senior lecturer and director of Fisher’s Honors Cohort — rattled around in his head.

“We all think that we’re going to live until we’re 80, but you should plan for your life as if you may only live to 30 or 40,” Shepfer tells his Cohort students. “Do you really want to risk not exploring things when you have a chance?”

Imran takes a break on his trip to enjoy the Snowy Mountains.
One of the many scenic stops Imran enjoyed on his 15,000 mile trip across America.

That advice was the foundation for his next venture: traveling the United States, photographing and asking 1,000 complete strangers for life advice.

“I wanted to experience life in its biggest, rawest form, and I felt in my gut that I had to take my trip when I did,” Imran says. “I wanted to figure out the meaning of life by talking to people I bumped into. I also wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone as much as possible because my most impactful artwork and greatest strides in personal development happen when I do.”

Shepfer shares, “From the time I met Imran, he was a creative student who carved his own path. He always wanted to push the boundaries through his involvements. Imran is driven by impact. He is constantly seeking ways to leave the world in a better place than how he found it.”

(Ad)venture capital

To help fund his new venture, Imran took a job as marketing and brand manager for a medical company in 2021 before eventually leaving to create his own LLC and to focus on the project. He leaned on guidance from his FFF network and utilized his life savings, a loan and donations from Patreon, an app that provides funding from individuals interested in his work, to fund his trip.

“Entrepreneurs have to be action-oriented and fly in the face of doubt to get their ideas out there,” Hrabak says. “Imran definitely exemplifies this and taking the big risk of a three-month trip made him more accepting of betting on himself.”

Imran living out of his car during his three-month journey.
Imran on one of his many stops living out of his car during his three-month journey.

During the summer of 2022, he packed his bags, began driving across the country and lived out of his car for three months. He decided each day where to go and purposefully avoided major highways. His goal was to talk to 20 people in each state and quickly discovered his best subjects were those who were alone; their answers and stories were more authentic and vulnerable.

Imran’s old camera, a Yashica, was an easy conversation starter, and the black and white film added humanity and authenticity to the photos that allowed him to focus on the journey and conversations, rather than the results of the picture. None of the portraits he took were posed, and he shot at waist level, making the individuals appear tall, powerful and confident, conveying that the advice they shared was the absolute truth, he says.

The best advice he received was familiar — to enjoy every single moment, including the good, the bad, and the in-between – because you never know how long you have left. The advice came from a 23-year-old man in West Virginia who was diagnosed with cancer at 19.

Imran with Don Caskey, Stranger #549.
Imran's first tattoo with Don Caskey, Stranger #549.

The most unique experience of the trip? Meeting Don Caskey (Stranger #549), who was diagnosed with terminal cancer and on a similar trek as Imran.

“I wish I wouldn’t have spent so much time working as I missed out on so many things,” Caskey told Imran. “When I look back, I lost everything when I got the diagnosis, but that’s when I also got more than I ever had in my life — that’s when I got human connection at a grand scale that I never had before. One of the most important things to have in life is that human connection.”

Instead of photos, Caskey and every person he crossed paths with on his journey memorialized their conversations with another art form: matching tattoos. Imran was no exception, as evidenced by the tattoo of a roll of medium format film on his arm — Imran’s first tattoo that has inspired him to eventually get a full, patchwork sleeve.

A stranger Imran met on his "Advice from America" journey.
A stranger Imran met on his "Advice from America" journey.
A stranger Imran met on his "Advice from America" journey.
A stranger Imran met on his "Advice from America" journey.
A stranger Imran met on his "Advice from America" journey.
A stranger Imran met on his "Advice from America" journey.

A selection of portraits from Imran's "Advice from America" journey.

Sharing his story

During his trip, Imran remembers seeing photos from the James Webb Space Telescope showing the vastness of the universe and realizing our tiny part in it. The moment provided clarity for him: he wanted to be the best person he could be and help others along the way. He decided to share the advice he’d gathered on his trip and began work on his book, “Advice from America: Life Advice and Photos of 1,000 Strangers from 48 States.”

This journey pushed me radically out of my comfort zone and I’ve became a much better version of myself because of it,” he says. “It’s a cherry on top that I can share the life advice to help others too.”

Since wrapping up his travels, Imran has taken a job as the social content curator for an online startup company that helps people save money on, ironically, car expenses. He is also starting a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the book.

“I read ‘The Business of Art’ and realized every artist has a day job. It provides a certain freedom to have a steady paycheck so I don’t have to compromise my art and don’t feel pressure to sell everything just to make money,” Imran says. “My job helps me pay for living expenses, covers the cost of film and development, and allows me the freedom to create what I want.”

“That balance isn’t a skill many entrepreneurs have,” says Hrabak. “I've worked with a lot of creative entrepreneurs who don't want to deal with the business side of things, but Imran approaches his art with a business mind without sacrificing its meaning and mission,” she says.

“Follow your path”

So, what’s his life-altering advice for others, especially young entrepreneurs?

The irony isn’t lost on Imran as he formulates an answer to a question he’s asked a thousand times of complete strangers.

“Follow your path to being an entrepreneur only if you feel passionate about the work. Don’t just do it to make money,” he says. “Focus on a personal problem or something that you are passionate about and work to solve the problem. Being out on your own is very scary, but it is very rewarding when you find success.”

Follow your path to being an entrepreneur only if you feel passionate about the work. Don’t just do it to make money.

Imran NuriBSBA '20


Life lessons from the road

To see more advice Imran received on his journey,
read Ohio State Alumni Magazine's Life lessons from the road