Since 2010, we’ve had nearly 300 entrepreneurs apply for the AMCC Entrepreneur Showcase startup competition. We recently reached out to all of them to hear about their successes, failures, and lessons learned. Here’s what they had to say.

 

Abdalhamid Evans
COO, Alchemiya

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

In 2016 Alchemiya was picked up by Amazon – and they found us and asked if they could carry us on Prime! and we are now live on their TV and mobile app versions of Prime. Huge boost to our credibility, especially in mainstream markets. Plus an *exclusive* deal with the BBC to access their huge content archives for everything on Islam and Muslim life and culture, many hardly ever screened. Nice scoop!

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

Made contact with Axiata, one of SE Asia’s leading Mobile operators with 392 million subscribers. Signed NDA and LOI, now negotiating to bundle Alchemiya to 90m mobile subscribers in Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh. Planning to go live mid 2018, after next investment round for apps and more content. Massive game-changer! Stay tuned!

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

We had some internal problems over the past year. We could have sorted them out more quickly and smoothly; these are always real learning opportunities to maintain more effective communications within the team, and to avoid the all-too-easy ‘grey areas’ of responsibility etc. Our newly appointed Team Coach will definitely help to make those errors a thing of the past!

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

Never forget that ‘Aha!’ moment of inspiration that made you start! You will need it as a constant and reliable companion on the (potentially) long and lonely journey across the valley of abandoned start-ups. Protect your sources of inspiration, you will need them. Stay lean, flexible, sincere and full of hope. Never stop learning, and don’t be afraid to pivot!

Amin Aaser
Managing Director, Noor Kids

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

We’ve helped over 100,000 Muslim children across 25 countries develop a love for God through Noor Kids children’s books.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

We developed mutually beneficial relationships with other Muslim-focused companies, such as Noor Vitamins. As a result, we’ve shared learnings, strategies, and resources, to collectively serve the community with greater efficiency.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

I wish I would was more conservative when I estimated the size of the Muslim market in North America. We’ve come to the conclusion that it is smaller than previously thought.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

Collaborate! When we started Noor Kids, I was doing this on my own. We now have a team of fifteen creative, scholarly, and educational experts! This team was created out of a desire to collaborate. Often, we see Muslim entrepreneurs work in a silo — either as a sole founder or in a spirit of intense competition with other Muslim companies. My advice is to build bridges, and collaborate. Together, we are much stronger, capable, and efficient.

Chris Blauvelt
CEO, LaunchGood

LaunchGood won the $10,000 grand prize at the AMCC 2014 Entrepreneur Showcase competition.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Having established a growing, sustainable social enterprise serving and uplifting the Muslim community.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

Recruiting incredible people to work with me, especially my cofounders Amany Killawi and Omar Hamid who took an incredible risk with no pay and no promises. With the right people, you can do anything (with Allah’s support).

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

Trusted myself and believed in our vision more early on. I didn’t worry too much what others thought but enough that it could cast doubts at time.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

People. Surround yourself with the right ones. Get an amazing cofounder or two. Find a selfless mentor who’ll spend hours with you without any expectations other than you work hard. Listen to people who have been successful before.

Drakshan Khan
Founder, Purple Impression

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

In the business of slow fashion it is hard to be ethical, sustainable & transparent at the same time. We started our business with the focus on being just artisan made, however, after knowing the harm textile waste brings to the earth, we decided to pursue sustainable materials. We are proud to say that we are ready to launch our Eco line that ensures fair wage from the farmers to the artisans we work with.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

Having business mentors and a good support network I believe has been pretty impactful for us. There are many times in our business when we didn’t necessarily have the answers and it certainly helped to reach out to mentors who are still our pillars at this time.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

Seeking perfection in everything. We missed a lot of opportunities initially in business because of this. It caused us to delay the important decisions because we felt like “we were not there yet” but we soon learned that perfection is good but done is better.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

Persistence, flexibility and stay true to your values. Being an entrepreneur is a tough road and the only thing that will keep you on track your passion for what you do.

Kelvin Ali
President, Northern World Entertainment Software

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Alhamdullilah, we’ve received a positive consumer response for our various IP’s. Our technology and partner affiliations, as well as the release of transmedia production elements including a digital comic series for our Beyond Badr Product has allowed us to educate and provide dawah in a digital age. This is something we are particularly proud of.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

We’ve diversified our skills and product offerings to facilitate new business opportunities, which has brought us to profitability and we simply never gave up. Perseverance and focus are the two key words that have allowed us to continue on with our vision of making “Just Good Games” while helping others improve their own core business mission.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

We have learned that talent and dedication are valuable traits which are hard to come by in any country. Circumstances in the business and limited resources initially did not allow us to retain some core talent and we opted instead for international collaboration which derailed several elements of the production process. Trust is so vital.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

Believe in yourself, know your abilities and your team has to believe in you. Communication, empathy, and integrity will always win on the hardest of days and there will be several as you try to get others to follow your mission. Live each day with mindful purpose, persevere, pray, and have gratitude to Allah (swt), he is able to do all things.

Khadija Fajry
Founder & CEO, KENZA International Beauty

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I started my business (with 5 products) in 2012 with the goal to show America what real Argan oil, is after being outraged by brands just profiting on our national beauty treasure name while offering garbage.  Now I offer and sell worldwide (Retail and Wholesale) beauty products with organic Argan, Prickly Pear Seed Oils from Morocco and essential oils (Lavender and Lavandin) from France.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

I became an expert in what I was offering and stayed authentic. People were curious to know more about the ingredients in their personal care products. I shared lots of information and what I learned from my travels while visiting small producers in Morocco and France.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

I wish I had listened and invested in a placing a PR announcement about my business when I started to reach a larger audience. At the same time, I am proud and grateful for all the organic (free) media reach I got through my first five years (Telemundo, The Guardian, ELLE Magazine and Organic SPA Magazine).

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

Start small and stay focused on your vision. Take it step by step, listen to the market and adjust as needed (and quickly).

Laila Alawa
Founder & CEO, The Tempest

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

In 2017, we more than doubled our monthly audience to 3 million users a month from over 90 countries, opened our second office in Dubai to build out our GCC/MENA audience, and have continued to create opportunities for our media network in both mainstream media and social impact spaces.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

Diversity has been part of our blueprint since day one, and it’s been instrumental in creating an inclusive workplace, foster unconventional ideas, and recruit strong talent to the company.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

Every mistake and misstep we have made has only served to give us lessons and the ability to strengthen our company as time goes on.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

Ask for help. Reach out to those you admire. Give your time to those who ask for your advice. It will come back and help you in the future.

Leen Sadder
CEO, THIS Toothbrush

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

We won best packaging design at the Dieline awards and were featured in The National.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

Built a design-centered company that cares about the end user and product.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

Expanded internationally.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

If it’s easy, you’re not doing it right. :)

Lena Khan
Writer/Director, Sneaky Sneaky Films

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I feel blessed that, with the support of God and many others, to make a film (The Tiger Hunter) that was in theaters nationwide and had outstanding reviews in The New York Times and others. I’m excited that several of our interns are now working in Hollywood, and I recently sold a TV show and am attached to direct a studio feature.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

I tried to take the time to work as well with other minorities and Muslims who had less experience, so we could all rise together, and also realized that ‘our stories’ aren’t any less valid or mainstream than other stories. That helped diversify my content in a way the industry really wanted.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

I wish I had raised more money for marketing, instead of scrambling at the end when our film got a nationwide distribution deal that we weren’t expecting.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

Find mentors, always do everything with integrity, and hone your craft. Treat the investor’s money as if it were your own.

Mohamed Pazhoor
President & CTO, Divine Connect

Divine Connect won the $10,000 grand prize at the AMCC 2016 Entrepreneur Showcase competition.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

We are most proud of the awards and recognition we have received, the most recent being the Islamic Economy Award 2017. The award validates and embodies our ongoing commitment to improve and enhance the spiritual well-being of Muslims through the effective use of latest technologies.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

The company’s ability to develop a strong relationship with the leaders and key decision makers at the General Presidency of the Haramain enabled us to understand the magnitude of the problem and their needs, and tailor  solutions that will benefit millions of pilgrims visiting the holy mosques.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

Over the last year we could have done many things differently, however every move that we made was strategic and purposeful in order to achieve our overall mission and vision.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

Be realistic about the market need, develop product(s) and solution(s) that address an unsolved problem, build a passionate team, manage your limited resources (time, money and people), be open to change – learn, apply and adapt faster than the market demands.

Mohammed Faris
CEO, The Productive Muslim Company

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Investing $25k in learning and development.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

Developed a strong story narrative for Productive Muslim brand.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

Moved to Infusionsoft email marketing platform earlier.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

Clarify your message so customers will listen.

Mubarakah Ibrahim
CEO, Fit Muslimah

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I have had a lot of moments of accomplishment throughout my career, but the moment I most proud of is being recognized and invited to the White House by President Barack Obama for my contribution to the health and wellness in America. Receiving that phone call was just more validation that I was making a difference in, not just the lives of my clients, but contributing to the wellness of a nation.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

The most biggest thing I did was develop a long term strategic plan for my brand and business.  Thinking about where I want my brand in 5 years, 10 years and 20 years down the road developed further focus rather than focusing on 1 or 2 year terms.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

Earlier when I started my business it was based solely around retreats for Muslim women a few times a year.  When I began to market online and build a following I did not realize how much I could monetize my brand.  I wish I had monetized my brand more and earlier in its development.  Part of the reason I made this mistake was lack of long term strategic planning.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

Dream your biggest dream then reach for the part of the dream you didn’t even imagine. Work everyday to make that dream a reality.  There is no such thing as a 4 hour work day or weekend off when you are an entrepreneur.  If you aren’t thinking about your business in a small corner of your brain when you are not working then you are probably not living your purpose.

Rana Bacaloni
Founder, Eid Creations

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I am mostly proud of being a pioneer in the Muslim party industry and reaching my dream of being able to put a smile on muslim families’ faces during islamic festivities. Eid Creations products are now sold all over the globe as we are in every single continent.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

Being able to put a modern flair to my designs in keeping with the trends so that products are in line of customers’ needs. We often consult with our vendors and listen to our clients and keep improving our products to satisfy them.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

The one regret is to start off with designs without doing a research of the community needs. It is a common mistake that most start ups do by producing what the novice entrepreneur likes rather then what the clients wants.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

To be a successful entrepreneur one has to be a hard worker and be persistent with his or her work because it takes time before one starts seeing results. I also believe that one must have a passion for what he or she is doing as it makes it more bearable to accept the downs and propels the person to move forward.

Shahbaz Mirza
Founder, Ramadan Legacy

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

In 2017, Ramadan Legacy was invited to deliver a workshop in Dubai Mall at the inaugural 9th Hijri Ramadan convention by Emaar.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

We focused on revenue generation. We launched a course with Al Maghrib Institute Instructor, Imam Suleiman Hani, to provide added value to our loyal customers as well as generate funds to sustain the company.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

Focused on branding. When focusing on the performance of the company, KPI’s and revenue generation you sometimes forget about the brand experience and what the consumer thinks.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

Be patient. It takes years for your start-up to come to life, mature and exponentially grow. Don’t be quick to throw away your ideas or if something isn’t working. Be patient, think and the answer will come to you.

Shahzad Younas
Founder & CEO, Muzmatch

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Accepted into the Y Combinator accelerator – backed by YC – who have also backed Dropbox, Airbnb amongst others. Closing our seed round after this programme, raising $1.75M from Silicon Valley and UK/Middle Eastern investors has been a major milestone for us.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

Focusing on the product, and focusing on making it better than anything else out there.  Being fussy over which investment we took – we very easily could have raised > $4M if we wished however we turned many parties away.  Discipline is key here.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

Honestly – I don’t think there is anything differently we could have done – so far we have a plan and are executing on it. So far we have made the right calls. Early on perhaps one could stay being much fussier over bringing on useful investors.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

It’s not easy – you have to really graft and give it your all.  It’s 95% hard work and execution and 5% luck. Never underestimate what you can do yourself. I taught myself how to build apps for both iOS and Android and launched Muzmatch from scratch on both platforms all in six months.

Shaista Kazmi
President, Apna Ghar

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

When I started the company, I only had two employees. We’re now a team of 60 strong and have expanded to two new branches.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

Speaking to the community, talking to local nursing homes and assisted living and personally helping them understand our company’s mission.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

I feel I did not allocate funds properly. I should have spent more on a good marketing director and placed emphasis on TV ads. You live and learn.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

It’s ok to fail. In fact, it’s actually good to take risks and fail because otherwise you will never learn. You will meet good and bad people in this world, those who are passionate and believe in your company and those who are just after a paycheck.

Shereen Sabet
President, Splashgear

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

There are two personal accomplishments that I am most proud of: earning my PhD in Immunology from UCLA, and establishing Splashgear. I had no business, website design, or apparel manufacturing experience whatsoever when I began, and the learning curve was very steep in all aspects of the business; but I am proud of how far Splashgear has come.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

Splashgear cemented its reputation as a premier provider of modest swimwear by creating high-quality swimwear that delivers on its promises. Since its founding, Splashgear has enjoyed very high customer satisfaction with a loyal following, resulting in word-of-mouth referrals and repeat customers, because it offers the best product in its market.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

I wish I hired a professional marketing team early on to help with social media marketing.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

Don’t travel on this journey alone. Try to partner with a trustworthy person or assemble a team of individuals who can help you start and run your company. It is very difficult to be a sole entrepreneur and I would strongly recommend that a new entrepreneur seek out those who can help him/her to establish and maintain a successful company.

Sonia Syed Rehman
Co-Founder, Aquabean

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Using water in the toilet to clean oneself is a challenging topic to discuss. We not only embraced the idea publicly but designed a sleek vessel that promotes single America Muslim identity as opposed to a specific cultural binding.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

We always reached out to individuals in the community to seek guidance. Shahed Amanullah (Founder of Zabihah.com) helped us tremendously during early stages of our startup. LaunchGood provided us the platform to collect funds to donate aquabeans to multiple mosques. We will always be thankful to our mentors.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

We would have followed a different road map to get to our current stage.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

Develop strong support system as you start working on an innovative idea. Taking care of emotional health during this long journey prevents burnout and keeps relationships intact.

Umar Akbar
CEO, Navinata Health

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Increasing our client base 5-fold from 2016 to 2017 (we now have 5 pharma clients).

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

Running a proof-of-concept pilot to build out a detailed case study to support our selling efforts. This allows our impressive results to speak for themselves.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

Our mentors have been extremely helpful. I wish we could have identified them earlier and built these key relationships earlier.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

Don’t give up. 75% of being an entrepreneur is believing in your vision and not getting discouraged by a no. Learn from it but do not get discouraged.

Yvonne Maffei
Founder, My Halal Kitchen

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Writing the first cookbook that explains halal cooking and provides home cooks to make any type of global cuisines halal.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

Doing the inner work on myself first to release any mental blocks and obstacles that kept me thinking small and in a negative space. It’s changed so much about the way I do business and see my own potential, but more so the vision for the potential this business has to go way beyond myself.

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

I wish I had begun to hire people early on to help scale the business- and thus learned HOW to scale early on.

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

Do the work on yourself – to grow up, to mature, to have a healthy mindset and to know who you are. It’s constant work, and it’s not easy but I truly believe it’s what separates the truly successful from those who are beating themselves up about why they aren’t achieving what they set out to do.

Zeyad Ramadan
Founder, Purify Your Gaze

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

We started 2017 with one big question – how can we have MASSIVE IMPACT as an enterprise? ​In addition to the barrier of taboo, we identified the barrier of finances is a real obstacle. Amongst our target market are those without the financial means to receive professional support: students, those living overseas, and those without jobs. How can we as a business whose product delivers healing be as indiscriminate as the disease impacting our customers?  We decided to shift our pricing model to be a sliding scale model whereby anyone regardless of financial means will receive support within our program. ​​This led to the birth of the #HealingTogether initiative that we ran this past summer!  With the support of our tribe on LaunchGood, we successfully ran a crowdfunding campaign this past summer where we raised $25,000 to provide 6-months scholarships in our program to 400 deserving individuals who didn’t have the means.  With our raised funds and within a 4 months period we were able to increase our audience on Facebook which more than doubled from 22,000 to 55,000. We administered ~8,000 online sexual health assessments that educates on the difference between healthy and addictive sexuality, and are on pace to deliver 150 scholarships with 6 months of support within our program before the end of the year.  Through all of this we were also able to get in touch with significant influencers within the Muslim community.

What’s the one thing you did right that resulted in the biggest positive impact to your business? 

We formed a strategic collaboration with the Institute Of Knowledge Chaplaincy, the largest organized network of chaplains present on college campuses within in the United States.  Through this collaboration we will be: 1. Training their college chaplains to better educate their communities on the harms of pornography addiction and talking about sensitive mental health issues. 2. Equipping them resources and tools to identify signs of addiction amongst their students and to compassionately support those who are in crisis situation. 3. Providing an avenue for chaplains to refer students who are in need of Purify Your Gaze services. Through 2018, we aspire to form 10 such collaborations!

What’s the one thing you wish you had done differently? 

We are significantly pleased with the direction we’ve taken this year. There really isn’t anything we would have changed!

What’s the one piece of advice you would give to fellow entrepreneurs?

If you can sit down, and gain great clarity on your personal purpose as an entrepreneur and the big hairy audacious goal that you want to achieve, you will find the opportunities that will help you get there emerge naturally.

Please note: Although we received numerous responses, we were only able to feature a select few in this publication.