Startup helps children learn Arabic through a cartoon called Adam Wa Mishmish
Hundreds of millions of people speak Arabic around the world, but when Luma Adnani wanted her son to learn the language, she was shocked to find that there was no high quality content that would make learning Arabic fun or interactive.
“In fact, there are almost no high quality Arabic resources of any kind for children in the early years,” said Adnani, who is now an entrepreneur in the DMZ incubator. “An entire generation of Arab children all over the world were growing up forgetting their mother tongue.”
Adnani herself, who lives in Jordan, grew up watching English-language cartoons and reading English-language books. When her son was born, she noticed that she and her husband were speaking predominantly English at home and made a conscious decision to switch to Arabic.
The lack of quality content was making her son hate the language. So, Adnani took matters into her own hands. She enlisted her entire family (herself, a pianist; her husband, a composer and guitarist; her sister, a singer; and her mother, an Arabic language professor) to create high quality educational songs that help children learn Arabic. This concept has now grown into a full-fledged edutainment brand called Adam Wa Mishmish, external link.
What started as a ‘for fun project’, as Adnani puts it, has now turned into a real business. An art director was brought on to create cartoons to accompany the songs and Adam Wa Mishmish was launched on Youtube. The channel has more than 80 episodes, is watched in over 50 countries, has 23 million views and over 100,000 subscribers.
Adam Wa Mishmish, named after Adnani’s son Adam and their family cat, is widely used in schools and language centres.
“We didn't want to stop there,” she said.
So Adnani and the team made the leap into education-technology, creating a platform and curriculum.
“We wanted Arabs anywhere in the world to be able to teach the younger generation Arabic using our method, curriculum and resources.”
Road to the DMZ
It was at this point that Adnani and the Adam Wa Mishmish team needed some guidance. Their journey would connect them to Ryerson.
First, Adnani joined the Launching Economic Achievement Program (LEAP), a partnership with the DMZ, Ryerson International, the Canadian Bureau of International Education and Jordan-based INJAZ, external link. LEAP creates economic opportunities for female entrepreneurs in Jordan and is funded by Global Affairs Canada.
“The LEAP program was particularly interesting for us because it supports women founders,” said Adnani. “When we realized its connection to the DMZ, and Canada, we were more determined to join.”
Adnani has Canadian citizenship and always wanted to move to Canada. She also wanted to be where her target audience, Arabs outside of the Middle East, is.
“We knew that the LEAP program was a bridge to that,” she said.
Adnani met with Abdullah Snobar, executive director of the DMZ, and was encouraged to apply for the incubator program.
“Luma has exactly what we look for in a founder,” said Snobar. “She is an incredibly smart, coachable, and hungry entrepreneur. She wants to do big things – and Adam Wa Mishmish is a great fit for the North American market.”
Snobar says Adam Wa Mishmish has the potential to reach the sizable Arabic populations in Canada and U.S. “For these reasons, we saw huge potential in Luma and the work that she's doing, and we've been bought into her vision,” he said.
Adam Wa Mishmish is now one of the newest startups to join the acclaimed incubator, part of the university's zone learning network that offers practical experience in what it takes to build an initiative or venture from the ground up. Adnani hopes to move to Canada next summer.
“We applied, got in, and the rest is history as they say,” said Adnani.
Growing into a global brand
“The DMZ focuses on markets that have the potential to help good founders to get access to the right resources. There's huge entrepreneurship potential in Jordan,” said Snobar, referring to the partnership with INJAZ and LEAP.
With these resources at their disposal, Adnani and the team at Adam Wa Mishmish have big plans.
They are working on an app, teacher training programs, interactive classes and over 500 resources created by experts in music, art, education and Arabic for the Adam Wa Mishmish platform. They even launched a sold-out book series and have plans for a global concert tour. Adnani says kids want Adam Wa Mishmish toys and merchandise.
And with plans for growth at a global scale, Adnani has high hopes for Adam Wa Mishmish because it ties back to her initial goal of making high quality Arabic content that kids deserve.
“Not only will it enrich the Arabic language [and] the way children in the early years experience it, but it will also bring joy to Arab communities everywhere.”
This feature is part of Ryerson Today’s coverage around Global Entrepreneurship Week, external link.