When Khalilah McAfee opened her Quail Valley Family Dental practice in Missouri City last year, she faced an unusual challenge securing patients.

The practice had previously been run by a white dentist for 20 years and an Indian dentist for three years afterward. She had to deal with older white residents of the Quail Valley neighborhood questioning her longevity, as well as wondering if they were comfortable with a black dentist.

McAfee reached out to the community, and while she ended 2015 with a profit margin of negative 3.1 percent, she’s set to close this year with a positive 33.7 percent, and possibly an award.

Quail Valley Family Dental is a finalist for the 2016 Upstart Award, one of the recognitions given at the Greater Houston Black Chamber’s Pinnacle Awards. Saturday’s event marks the 22nd run of the awards ceremony, with Mayor Sylvester Turner to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Courtney Johnson Rose, chairwoman of the Chamber, described the ceremony as a showcase of Houston’s best and brightest African-American entrepreneurs who have not only demonstrated financial success, but have also dedicated time and effort to give back to the community.

The Upstart Award in particular is a unique opportunity for young businesses as it offers the winner a cash prize as well as dedicated mentorship from the Chamber. McAfee’s nomination makes her feel validated in her work as she continues to overcome hurdles.

“It helps you feel that you’re doing the right thing,” McAfee said

For Zawadi Bryant, winning the Upstart Award a few years ago was a godsend.

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