Zineb Outnouna was born and raised in Morocco. She moved to the United States when she was twenty years old. She bounced from job to job; and was a cashier at a fast-food restaurant, library clerk, a shampoo-girl at a hair salon…until she developed the confidence to start her business Atlas Dreams Languages, a Pittsburgh-based company that provides translation and interpretation services. She currently enjoys a beautiful life with her husband Gary and her 200-pounds English Mastiff Sergeant. She enjoys Early American History, particularly learning about Benjamin Franklin and John Adams.
What were your initial years of growing up like? Tell us about your life before starting your corporate journey/venture/initiative.
My initial years of growing up in Morocco were difficult for me. I grew up in a Muslim Berber traditional home. I felt a clash between my aspirations and the societal cultural practices. In many ways, I felt limited in what I could accomplish; there were too many restrictions that prevented me from living my life on my own terms. My first initial goal in my life was to find a way to immigrate to the United States. My first role model was my father, who also lived his life according to his rules; he went against the grain by letting his youngest daughter, at the young age of 20, move by herself thousands of miles away to pursue her dreams. This way of thinking was certainly uncommon amongst Berber fathers. His love and support were the driving force behind my continual pursuit of excellence. I want to make him proud. I arrived in the United States with a mixture of feelings: happy that I accomplished my goal, sad to leave my family and friends behind, scared about the unknown, excited about the possibilities. It was a feeling (when I think about it) that still gives me chills to this day (27 years later). The ride has not been a smooth one; life in United States was not as easy as it I had imagined it to be; it was not like the movies and TV series I used to watch as a teenager; I thought that everyone lived like the characters in Miami Vice; I pictured that I would arrive at the airport, pick up my red corvette ( everyone in the show had one, I thought they gave them away), work for a few months and buy my mansion on the beach!!!! I soon discovered that it was not the case, nevertheless, the experience has been more positive than negative, and I would do it all over again if I had to. I worked in different fields, but I was not fulfilled until a friend of mine suggested that I make an inventory of my skills and choose a career that is in alignment with what I am good at. I took the task seriously, and after many reflections, I realized that I love languages. I spoke Arabic, Berber, French, and English fluently, and I had a limited proficiency in Spanish and German. When I attended the University of Pittsburgh, I studied Farsi and Urdu. Hence, Atlas Dreams Languages was born. I am a little girl from the Atlas Mountains who has dreams and wants to make an impact in the world using languages as a vehicle.
Tell us something about your initiative/business. What is it about and how is it helpful for people?
As an immigrant myself, I know firsthand the importance of understanding your environment and how crucial it is to achieve success. I was fortunate enough to have learned English prior to my arrival in the United States, but I know that this is not everyone’s experience. I did not, overnight, flee my country because of war, political unrest, prosecutions, or fear for my life; but unfortunately, this is the experience of so many from different parts of the world. Atlas Dreams Languages is a company built by immigrants for immigrants. Our goal is to help overcome language barriers between English and non-English speakers through our translation and interpretation services. We have been fortunate and honored to facilitate communication between thousands of immigrants, refugees and schoolteachers, therapists, social workers, and various businesses. Our daily focus is centered on:
-Helping immigrants and refugees understand and leverage services that are available to them.
-Helping agencies and organizations reach non-English speakers.
-Helping set immigrants and refugees up for success.
-Helping hospitals, schools. Official and non-official government agencies fulfill the legal requirements of providing language access services.
-Helping expand diversity and multiculturalism through understanding.
-Creating jobs for bilinguals and multilinguals.
-Helping to avoid tragic mistakes arising from lack of understanding in both personal and professional settings
-Helping businesses gain more visibility and grow their market share.
-Helping businesses, agencies and organizations save time and money by providing quality and affordable translation and interpretation services.
While the global pandemic of COVID-19 is associated primarily with adversities, it has also brought about a true boom in startups, with successful entrepreneurship in many countries. The pandemic has impacted all of us in one way or another. Would you like to share your experience on a personal and professional level?
COVID-19 was a disastrous event for the business. It was so unexpected. We were not prepared AT ALL for this type of event. The only aspect of the business that survived was the translation. (Translation is written while interpretation is spoken). Our business model for interpretation services was ON-SITE; otherwise known as In-Person interpretation; which means that the interpreter is on location with the party requesting the service. Since everything shut down, there were no appointments to accommodate. In addition to emotional and mental stress that overwhelmed everyone, we were faced with financial stress as well, from which, we are still recovering. The pandemic forced us to go out of our comfort zone. We had to develop a new approach to business. Failure was not an option. We believed in the mission of the company, we believed in the importance of our services, we knew that many families depended on our services for their survival, and now more than ever, we had to show up for them. It was time to turn to technology for a solution. We changed from an on-site model to a remote interpretation model by investing in technology that allows the service providers to connect with their clients using phone and zoom as connection vehicles. Our system is still thriving and offering access to interpreters of over 300 languages 24/7 365 days a year.
What has been the response of the users/consumers towards your venture?
My contributions to the global community have been recognized by the Women and Girls Foundation, who nominated me for their “Celebrating Women! Having A Global Impact Award”, Pittsburgh Magazine/PUMP’s 40 Under 40, CORO’s nomination for the Martin King Leadership Award, and being honored with the “Community Service Award” in the Immigrant Entrepreneur Celebration organized by Global Pittsburgh in 2020.
How has your life changed because of your initiative/venture?
My life has drastically changed thanks to Atlas Dreams Languages; I am more energized and more empowered because I have total creative control of the business; I am not implementing someone’s vision. There is no ceiling to how much income I can generate each year; I can work as hard as I can, but at the same time, I can take time off whenever I need it. This makes for a better work life balance. But the most benefits that came from running this business is the person I have become and continue to become as a result of it. The discipline that it takes to run the business, the patience that is required to reach long-term goals, the skills to deal with adversity, the grit and perseverance necessary in hard times, and the ability to pivot without losing sight have made me a better person. I took these new acquired abilities and extended them to my personal life, which made a better wife, daughter, a friend, and a community member.
Do you have anyone who is the biggest support system in your life? Please let us know.
There is no way in God’s green earth that I would have been able to accomplish 10% of what I have done so far without the support and the encouragement of many people in my life. The first person that comes to mind is my husband, Gary. If I could clone him and give him as a Christmas present to every single woman on the planet, I would! Through the frustrations, the tears, the fear, the uncertainties, he has been the one solid stable rock in my life; his love, attention, kindness, and love have provided me with the strength and the desire to keep going. I also have to mention my Impact Theory University community, and at the top of them, Renee Weal whose wisdom and insight were fundamental to establishing a growth mindset.
Would you like to share with our young budding women entrepreneurs the change you would like to see in the world if given an opportunity? OR Share a motivational message for the audience/women who are reading this.
At the risk of sounding Cliché, I would advise the young budding women entrepreneurs not to seek any changes in the community or the world but be the change they want to see. It is much easier to point out the flaws and the shortcomings in people around us and in the communities we live in, but it is so much harder, and much more impactful, to go on a self-discovery journey, be more aware of own flaws, our thinking, our actions. If each one of us tries to be the best version of ourselves, the community and the world would have no other option but to become a better version of itself as well. Focus on what you can control, what you can become, what you can contribute, the rest is not up to you. Be kinder to yourself, to your family and friends, to your community; everything else will fall in its place.
My favorite quotes:
I never once failed at making a light bulb. I just found out 99 ways not to make one.
– Thomas Edison