We had the good fortune of connecting with Ali Mohammed and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Ali, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
It was November 30, 2022, three days after the release of OpenAI’s ChatGPT. After exploring the AI chatbot for just a few minutes, I realized I had to act quickly.

Following the rise of Generative-AI, my friends inevitably asked questions like, “Will AI take our jobs?” or “Is AI like the Terminator?” Most organizations addressing these queries were nonprofits teaching code-intensive AI development, or consulting firms charging costly rates. However, I anticipated this gap in accessible, affordable AI education, and founded Awaiken to promote AI literacy more effectively.

Initially, I tutored friends and family but later moved to Discord, where I virtually teach classes of 40 students. As my knowledge of Generative AI expanded, I contacted small businesses (starting with my local breakfast restaurants and fast food chains) and other nonprofits to inquire about their operational processes. Within 48 hours, I would respond with things they could automate and the appropriate tools needed for each task. Using a no-code policy, I made AI technology accessible to people from various backgrounds and disciplines.

What should our readers know about your business?
Inspired by historical figures like Mansa Musa and John D. Rockefeller, who used their fortunes for philanthropic purposes under the guidance of their religious beliefs, I found a way to reconcile my faith with my entrepreneurial aspirations. This led to the inception of Awaiken to educate vulnerable communities about AI; BAMadeEasy to teach college students business analysis; and RefugeReach to educate refugee neighborhoods.

As I progressed, my focus expanded beyond just these initiatives. I began to see my entrepreneurial ventures as a platform for impactful change, a means to contribute positively to society while staying true to my values.

This journey hasn’t been easy. There were moments filled with doubt and challenges that seemed insurmountable. Coming from a small school, I often felt disadvantaged compared to peers from larger, more resource-rich schools in Dallas. There were times when the lack of guidance from counselors, funding constraints, and limited opportunities made me consider giving up, making excuses for why I couldn’t succeed.

However, these challenges taught me to be extremely self-reliant and resourceful. I learned to take initiative and reach out proactively for support and resources. One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is the importance of being audacious in outreach. This bold approach led me to secure sponsorships from companies like Wolfram and Desmos. I realized the power of directly contacting CEOs on LinkedIn or through email, which opened doors I never thought possible.

One of my most memorable experiences was initiating conversations with notable figures like Mark Cuban, Paul Graham, and Ryan Kline. I simply emailed them, and to my surprise, they responded. These interactions reinforced a crucial lesson: people are often more willing to help than you might think, and the fear of rejection should never hold you back. The key is to ask, to put yourself out there without fear.

This approach has not only helped me overcome the limitations of my immediate environment but has also been instrumental in shaping my entrepreneurial journey. It’s about reaching beyond your immediate circle, being fearless in your ambitions, and understanding that rejection is just a step towards eventual success. I want the world to know that my story is one of resilience, resourcefulness, and the audacious pursuit of my goals.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Absolutely! There are two places I highly recommend for anyone visiting the Dallas area. First is the Fairview Farmers Brunch Restaurant. This delightful spot was introduced to me by Fairview’s mayor, Henry Lessner. It’s a small business that really captures the local flavor. Their Swedish pancakes are my favorite, and I always suggest it to friends for a unique brunch experience.

The second must-visit place is The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. It offers an in-depth look into a pivotal moment in American history – the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The museum provides not just historical facts, but also a poignant context to that era. It’s a profound experience that stays with you long after the visit.

Both these places, in their own ways, represent the diverse character of the Dallas area – one through its local cuisine and community spirit, and the other through its deep historical significance.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I’m the founder of a nonprofit called RefugeReach, an initiative dedicated to donating books to refugee neighborhoods. This journey began with a simple yet powerful idea: to use my entrepreneurial success to fund educational philanthropy. Inspired by this mission, I rallied my friends Mohammad Alsalih and Anas Al Adawi to bring this vision to life. Together, we transformed an old school closet into our first storage hub, collecting spare textbooks from teachers and expanding our efforts to local colleges and various places of worship, including Mosques, Churches, and Temples.

Our project took a significant leap when we partnered with Amazon booksellers from Raindrop, a Turkish cultural center. This partnership was not just about book collection; it was a fusion of cultures and beliefs coming together for a common educational cause. The impact of this collaboration was profound, supporting both educational institutions and refugee neighborhoods in need.

In this journey, I must extend a heartfelt thanks to my friends Mohammad and Anas, who were instrumental from the start. Their commitment and hard work have been pivotal in making RefugeReach what it is today. Additionally, I would like to express my immense gratitude to Ms. Loredo from my school. Her assistance in organizing book drives was invaluable. Her enthusiasm and support not only facilitated our operations but also inspired us to aim higher and achieve more. It’s through the collective efforts of people like Mohammad, Anas, Ms. Loredo, and the communities we engaged with that RefugeReach has been able to make a meaningful impact.

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/aliakm/

Image Credits
Ali Khader Mohammed

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