Is the American Dream Still Alive?


By Farida Hasanali
I remember reading an old proverb that said, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, or NOW.” If the meaning of this proverb eludes you for some reason, it means it’s never too late to start something…anything! Some of us might feel the days of Google, Apple and Microsoft are over. The days of school dropouts becoming billionaires are gone; people just don’t succeed that way anymore. You may be right! But the days of educated men and women, especially our millennials becoming successful business people are far from over.
Amongst just the Houston community, I’ve heard so many stories of young men and women who are shunning corporate America, refusing jobs with great salaries that would put them behind a desk every day and opting to work for start-ups or better yet starting their own companies. What is even more encouraging is kids born in families of generational doctors or lawyers or engineers are opting to start businesses in related fields, like a medical equipment company, or a genetics research firm rather than following exactly in their parent’s footsteps and becoming doctors or lawyers, or engineers themselves.
I want to highlight a couple of young entrepreneurs who whilst studying to become doctors are pursuing the American dream to open their own business and follow their passions. Paul Leonard and Zainul Hasanali met in freshman year at Boston College. Zainul was a Chemistry major and Paul Math. They bonded over Computer Science classes, each bringing a different perspective to the other’s life and continued their friendship over the years. Paul was raised in Chicago, IL and grew up in a family that encouraged hard work, education and continuous intellectual growth. He tutored kids whilst applying for medical school and during that time started an interesting t-shirt company called UnderRepped. The company’s primary concept is to highlight unsung heroes by featuring them on t-shirts. For instance, did you know that a scientist named Rene Laennec invented the stethoscope or that Victoria Woodhull was the first female candidate to stand for United States Presidential elections in 1872? Paul used crowdsourcing to fund his company, and sold it a year later to a larger t-shirt firm. If you are interested in representing some of these unsung heroes and shedding light on their careers invest in a t-shirt at Paul is now not just starting his residency in emergency medicine, but has partnered with Zainul on their latest venture in selling Indian spice mixes.
By the time Zainul Hasanali was a junior at Boston College he knew his path. He knew he wanted to be a doctor but he did not just want to treat the symptoms of a disease, he wanted to find a cure. This passion of his, led him to seek admission at Penn State University in an MD, PhD program where he is in his 5th year and has three more to go. Currently he is working on his PhD thesis to understand the mechanisms by which the Epstein Bar Virus (EBV) causes the upregulation of the CD30 protein expression in latently infected cancer cells. I won’t even pretend I know what that means, I just wanted you to get an idea of how technical his research is.
Regardless of their professional fields, like Paul, Zainul also believes in the American dream, that anyone who truly wants to, anyone who puts in the effort, anyone who has a passion has a chance at being successful.
Zainul’s other passion; one that equals his passion for medicine is cooking. Over the years, he has cooked great Indian food for all his friends and shared his recipes whenever asked. But interestingly most of his friends would come back with “we tried to make it, and it turned out ok, but not like how you made it. What do you do differently?” This led him to start wondering what the missing ingredient was and he came to the conclusion that what was missing was some of the experimental learning, or guidance he had received when he started learning how to cook. He discussed this with Paul one day and they decided to convert this need into a business.
Today, Paul and Zainul have launched a company called Eastern Spice Company. You can find their product at Why would anyone buy their spices over going to a store? Zainul and Paul provide exact measures of spices needed to cook the dish and when you buy their spice, they have a QR code on the lid that takes you to picture guided step by step instructions with advice on little things like how not to change the color of the curry, or what overcooking a certain ingredient might lead to. I hope Paul and Zainul’s story inspires other young entrepreneurs to break the corporate shackles and follow their passions no matter what their professions might be.

Farida Hasanali is a freelance writer for several Indo American community publications. In her day job, Hasanali works as a Knowledge & Program Manager for BP’s Remediation Management Division.