Mosaic Stories

    Arinola Solanke

    It is a successful combination when a business finds its niche, operates with integrity and reciprocity within the community, and is run by an individual who demonstrates passion, perseverance, and a great sense of humor. MyEventsCoordinator—St. Louis’s award-winning party rental business—and its founder Arinola Solanke proudly boast all of these qualities. Established in 2012, MyEventsCoordinator’s original focus was primarily on event planning. That focus eventually shifted as Arinola began to see a greater need for a provider of top-quality, yet affordably priced party rentals. While Arinola is working to expand both her business’s geographic reach and partnerships with corporations and other larger organizations, she remains grounded in her community.

    Originally from Nigeria, Arinola studied at the University of North London and received a Bachelor of Law degree in 1996. After, she remained in the U.K. and began a career in accounting and financial services, including for the City of Westminster. In 2004 she married a long-time St. Louis resident and moved to the area the following year. Arinola continued on her already established career path and began working as an Accounting Administrative Assistant for Abna Engineering, Inc. in 2006. However, it was during her time at this company that she began to consider a different career path. “While I was there,” she says, “I realized I was drawn to help folks out when they have parties and small gatherings.” Her enthusiasm and passion for assisting colleagues with these events prompted many to tell her “You’re very good at this Arinola! You need to think about this.”  

    Entrepreneurship was not the traditional path in Arinola’s family. “In my family, you go to college, you get a job, and you live happily ever after,” she says. Because of this, starting her own business had never presented itself as an option. Her mindset was changed greatly upon her decision to pursue a Master of Business degree at Webster University, which she received in May of 2012. Arinola’s education “opened [her] up to different aspects of business” that she had never experienced before. With “that knowledge that I lacked from experience or having someone close to me run a business, I was able to get a kind of general feel of what you need, the accounting, the marketing, and with that and with my hands-on experience, it started becoming real to me.” With that mindset, Arinola began to take the first steps towards developing her business.

    By 2014, Arinola had decided that it was time to dedicate her full time and energy into MyEventsCoordinator, a journey that would face many challenges. It was during this time that the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson had occurred, and Arinola and her business’s location were in the thick of the unrest that followed. Due to her proximity to the protests, Arinola’s windows were damaged on two separate occasions—an expensive set-back for a fledgling business. During this time of personal and public turmoil, Arinola says she began to question the location of her business and the timing of her opening. While the incident initially left her feeling alone, “the community came together and helped us … the little they could offer, they did.” Even when it was a simple word of encouragement or a check-in by a passing neighbor, Arinola was thankful for her neighbors’ support. Additionally, both the mayor of Dellwood and the police department reached out to Arinola several times and offered counseling on how to better protect her property. Ultimately, it was this support that convinced Arinola she had made the right decision to keep her business in the community. “It was easy to just say, ‘you know what, I’ll find a new location, or get out of here,’ because I am not putting this much in, back then, but … I like it here, I like the support that I’ve gotten from this community, and I’m going to stay here.”

    As Arinola’s business has grown, she has developed it to reflect what she recognized as a vacant niche in the event planning community of St. Louis: minority owned party rental providers that are locally accessible and who understood the needs of specific markets and communities, such as ethnic events.     “I observed that … we have lots of rental company in St. Louis, quite a few of them, especially in the South City area, and we don’t have any minority owned party rentals, and I felt that, you know, there might be room for me here.” So, while MyEventsCoordinator originated as a party planning company, its main focus now is on rental items, and the future is looking ever brighter. Arinola’s clients have included Metro Transit, Washington University, Harris Stowe State University, Maryville University, VUE 17, New Northside Conference Center, the Youth and Family Center, and the Urban League. In 2019, Arinola’s business was certified by the city of St. Louis as both a Local Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) and a Local Women Business Enterprise (WBE).     These certifications will greatly increase the opportunities available to MyEvents Coordinator by opening it up to government contracts, marketing exposure, and a sense of community.

    These expanding opportunities mean more to Arinola than just entrepreneurial success. As the prominence of her clients increases, she sees it as an opportunity to increase the visibility and opportunities available to entrepreneurs that are like herself. “As a minority … sometimes you don’t see a lot of us there, so I’m hoping this will be an open door to, you know, get out there and show that we can be creative, we have what it takes, and they can try us out.”

    Arinola’s experiences have left her with a wealth of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, and especially immigrants and minorities who want to start a business: “I would encourage everyone, if they have a real dream, try as best you can to pursue those dreams, because you never know where it would lead to.” At the same time, Arinola stresses the importance of planning, understanding “the true sense of what you are doing,” and knowing that starting business requires both financially wise choices and proper timing. For Arinola, treating your customers well is also hugely important. “I try to exceed every client’s expectations because I realized quickly that ads cost money, but word-of-mouth grows faster.” Recognizing the integral role her customers play in her business, Arinola strives to create a customer experience that shows her customers just how important they are.

    For immigrant and minority entrepreneurs specifically, Arinola says, “Immigrant challenges are real. Sometimes people don’t take your seriously based on how you sound or how you look— those things are real. However, I think, as real as they are, you can bypass them. I am going to encourage my fellow immigrants, yes, feel what you feel, but make sure you make progress every day towards your goals.”

    “Feel what you feel but just, keep going… don’t let it hold you back. That’s what’s helped me.”