Mosaic Stories

    Ola Ayeni

    Speaking with Ola Ayeni, you would never guess that he has only lived in St. Louis since 2013. As an active member of the St. Louis entrepreneurial community, Ola has capitalized on many opportunities that the city has to offer, and he works to gives back to the community with passion and drive. The founder and owner of two businesses – Eateria and Claim Academy – Ola is an immigrant entrepreneur with the ambition to solve problems and the desire to help make a difference in the community.

    Nearly 18 years ago, Ola arrived in the United States from Nigeria. Fascinated by America since he was a kid, he had always wanted the chance to make his way across the Atlantic to capitalize on his entrepreneurial spirit and experience the American dream. “I came from an entrepreneurial family, it’s in my DNA. Even though I became a veterinarian by training, my biggest passion wasn’t to be practicing veterinary medicine, but to be practicing the business aspects,” he explains. “I wanted to go to America to learn bigger things that I wanted to do along these lines.”

    Until about two years ago, Ola lived in the suburbs of Chicago, where he worked for several companies and began raising a family. He reached a point, though, where he thought to himself, “I want to do my own thing.” One particular experience ignited the spark for his first business idea. “I wanted to solve a problem,” he explains. “I noticed that this restaurant near my area where I was living in Chicago had closed. I asked the owner why, and it was not because the food wasn’t good, but because they were not busy during the week.” As a rough statistic, approximately one in four restaurants will close after their first year, not because they do not cook good food, but because they do not know how to effectively promote their business. “For me, as an entrepreneur, you don’t ask for permission to solve a problem. You just go solve it,” Ola says.  That is exactly what he set out to accomplish.

    His company, Eateria, is an all-in-one tool for restaurants, providing assistance with all components of digital marketing to help promote their businesses. While the idea originated in Chicago, Ola applied for an Arch Grant, an award competition that provides startup money to develop businesses in St. Louis. When Ola visited St. Louis for the first time, he fell in love with the city, and met so many great people. “If I win this, I will move here,” he vowed. He indeed won the grant, and moved with his family to St. Louis in August 2013.

    While developing Eateria, he recognized a need for software developers. “We don’t have software developers in St. Louis” he says. “Recruiters make it difficult because they move people from one place to another. It becomes difficult for companies to find talent, and they can’t find developers.” This problem inspired Ola to start another company, Claim Academy, a coding boot camp to train developers. “It was because of need” he explains. “That’s how [Claim] started.”

    The support and overall environment of St. Louis has helped Ola’s businesses thrive. In regards to the benefits of living and working in St. Louis, Ola speaks highly of what the city has to offer, including the affordable living expenses, feasible commutes to work, abundance of great restaurants, and pockets of diverse communities. After arriving here in 2013, he immediately discovered that the city was full of welcoming people who truly want to help you reach success. “People are willing and open to help you right when you get here…they are very open to help you succeed.” 

    The St. Louis Mosaic Project plays an integral role in supporting immigrants and their integration into the St. Louis environment. As a member of the Immigrant Entrepreneurship Advisory Board himself, Ola’s role is to share opportunities and ideas that will attract more immigrant entrepreneurs to town. “[The Mosaic Project] works to shape, build, and foster a greater St. Louis,” he explains. “We need to have this support to help immigrants with their transitions.”

    In speaking of about his own ethnic community in St. Louis, the Nigerian immigrants and Nigerian Americans that he knows are all successful, educated individuals. He explains that they are all good people who truly want to add value to the overall community, and their professional careers are dedicated to improving the community. “That is what we need in St. Louis, more people that can do good things for the betterment of everyone.”

    In the future, Ola wants St. Louis to be seen as the best place to live and work. “We are going in the right direction to be the next best technology hub to foster entrepreneurship,” he explains, “and we need to attract more talent.” Ola’s opportunities that have led to his success convey to the value of coming to St. Louis, a city with the resources and the people to help you achieve your goals. “Here, people are cheering for your success,” he says. “It’s good to be here.”