Making the MN Cup Finals
Maazah is a family affair: CEO Yasameen Sajady (second from right) with her mom and sisters.

Making the MN Cup Finals

The co-founder of Maazah chutney takes us inside Minnesota's biggest startup competition.

The MN Cup competition is a right of passage for homegrown startups in Minnesota.  It’s a great opportunity to network with peers and get feedback on your business from industry experts. If being accepted into an accelerator program is like going back to school, MN Cup is summer camp for your startup (well, a camp with homework). This also comes with the opportunity for non-dilutive prize packages awarded throughout the competition. So we were thrilled to receive the email announcing Maazah made it through to the finalist round this year.

Our journey started this spring—we were one of 90 semifinalist companies chosen from what we’re told was a record number of applicants. Last week, we found out Maazah is one of the 27 startups to advance to the third round where we will compete in late August against two other Food & Ag finalists for a $25,000 prize and a chance to compete in the Grand Prize showcase in September.

Prepping for competition

Each startup was evaluated based a 10-page business plan, a one-minute video and a pitch deck, which I worked on with my mentors. I’ll say this: you get in what you put in. I “did” my deliverables early on in the summer and called it good—that is, until I presented my submission to a mentor for review and the response was an anti-climatic “so what?” I guess I shouldn’t have expected a gold star since my first draft was basically everything we’ve already done. This was a chance to refine and build towards something bigger for Maazah.

This competition takes discipline and focus during the most beautiful months of the year. Communicating the basic fundamentals of your business is a major component of the business plan. How you’ve been able find successes and level up is an important differentiation. The most challenging but fun aspect of this experience was thinking big picture about Maazah. Taking a farmers market brand and scaling it for a national retail partner like Kroger requires all of your attention. Building by doing has been the most rewarding journey for Maazah.

The benefits of reflection

We have been so focused on our day to day execution that we haven’t had a chance to look up. This competition has given me a chance to reflect on where Maazah has been, and where we could go. It has unleashed a new energy and reset our priorities moving forward. Maazah is more than a family-cherished recipe; it is an instrument to bridge cultural and racial gaps within our community. We are Muslim Americans who didn’t see ourselves represented on the grocery store shelves and decided we should do something about it.

We are excited to get to the next round of the competition. Feedback from the first round is provided by the division judges, so we are working through that, and building upon our presentation.

Next steps

Now we pitch the Food & Ag division judges on August 30th. We get 12 minutes to pitch, followed by an 18 minute q&a. The division judges decide which of the three finalists in our division goes on to the Final Award Ceremony on Sept 19 at McNamara Alumni Center to compete for the $50,000 grand prize. We could be the first Food & Ag company to win!

More: Read about MN Cup’s 2021 winners and finalists.