An Entrepreneur’s Journey Home: From Nigeria, to Oklahoma and Back Again
This month’s Innovation District ‘In-Focus’ story stems from an introduction made by the OKCID linking the Innovators’ Tribune – a Milwaukee, WI-based business & tech publication – to AgBoost, an OKC-based data analytics startup. The story was written by Sean Akadiri, the Founder & CEO of AgBoost. The story is a personal testimony of his experience as an entrepreneur, and it is also his encouragement to others pursuing the entrepreneurial dream – especially those with “the decks stacked against them.”
My Journey Back Home to Nigeria, After 22 Years of Finding Success in America
Ever since I was 4 years old, I have always seen the world differently. Maybe we all do. But other questions came to my mind like, “How did I get here,” and “Why?” Those are the questions I asked myself each day until I realized that who you are, is whoever you choose to be.
For me, growing up in Nigeria was a strange experience. I was raised by my maternal grandma from birth until I was four. When she died, I moved in with my parents, and I was the first child with two siblings. I left for boarding school when I was 11, and I was in boarding school until age 16, and by 19, I found myself attending college in America, the greatest country in the world.
My Journey to Oklahoma was nothing but a dream. I was a kid who was disconnected from my environment for various reasons. I felt in my mind that I didn’t belong there, but rather my calling and purpose was to be somewhere else. I remember in boarding school feeling depressed, confused and isolated. I felt nobody understood me or my thought process. There were always conversations in my mind about why I was here and for what purpose.
I never had a role model growing up, but I read about successful individuals who came from nothing or from difficult backgrounds. People that never fell victim to their environment, and people who dared to dream big. The only thing that kept me alive mentally was to dream of a better world where I could be whoever and whatever I wanted to be with no judgements or limitations.
Life has its way of moving you toward your purpose; you just have to be present. Growing up, I struggled to understand why I had to go through certain things in life, not knowing I needed to go through those things in order to become who I am today. Everyone has a story, whether it is good, bad or ugly, but the most important thing is finding strength in every story. I could not believe 22 years after leaving Nigeria for America that I would find myself on a plane back home.
As a kid, I had dreams to go to the States, make something of myself, and to come back home to inspire the next generation. Now, I find myself living those dreams.
My journey started 22 years ago when I came to Oklahoma to attend college. I had never been to Oklahoma before, and I didn’t know anyone that lived there, but for some reason, I loved the way Oklahoma sounded, so I chose East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma, as the place to go to school.
I remember vividly how nervous and scared I was at 19 coming to America for the first time with only $200 in my pocket, not knowing anyone in Oklahoma, and in my mind, thinking how I was going to fit in and survive as an immigrant. I can remember calling my mom on the phone, worried and scared as hell about how I was going to pay my school fees for the next semester.
I remember my mom crying and telling me that she had exhausted all her funds getting me to the States and partially paying for the first semester’s school fees, and that she now needed to focus on my siblings. That was one of the scariest days of my life. Lots of questions came racing through my mind and hearing my mom cry because she had no means of supporting me broke my heart. And then, as a 19-year-old who was alone in a foreign country, I had to figure out how I was going to survive.
After four years of struggling to make payments, trying to catch up with paying school fees and not having the funds, while also living with the fear of not being able to graduate from school, like everything else in my life, I kept pushing. Eventually, one of my professors, after hearing my story and how I have struggled over years, paid my outstanding balance and my final year semester’s school fees so that I could graduate.
I asked her why she would do something big like that for a stranger with no previous relationship, and she simply said, “I want you to pay it forward.”
At that time, I really didn’t understand how big of a statement that was, but it stuck in my mind. Going back to Nigeria 22 years later, after everything I have been through, made me realize the power of walking with a purpose.
Nine years ago, when I founded a technology company called Agric-Bioformatics, I knew right away that I was going to embark on a life-changing experience, despite having all the decks stacked against me: being an immigrant from Nigeria with no money, no resources and no network. I ventured into the cattle industry, and most people thought I had lost my mind and that there was no possible way that I could pull it off.
I was born to walk this path before I came to America. It was never about building a successful technology company in the cattle Industry; it was bigger than that. It was about hope, strength, purpose and faith. My journey to America was not about my success, but rather, it was about walking in my purpose and understanding the true meaning of life. The ability to use purpose to influence and affect other peoples’ lives is the true essence of my life.
We all go through difficulties, but the lesson to be learned is understanding our why. More than ever, I believe that finding our inner strength and digging deep, even when things on the outside look cloudy, is the first start to defeating our fears and moving toward our goals in life. The ability to remain calm in the midst of chaos is the strength I have used to fight my battles, but chaos is also the scariest place no one wants to be in.
I remember going to the U.S. embassy early in the morning for a student visa interview. In my mind, I knew that day was going to define the rest of my life. After all, there was a chance that I might be denied a visa, but I felt confident knowing and believing that by the end of the day, something special would happen. After waiting for more than eight hours and seeing other people come out of the interview in tears because they were denied or happy to get their visa granted, I was a bit nervous, but I still knew I wasn’t going to be denied.
When I founded AgBoost, I knew that I was getting ready for a life-changing experience, and I knew that I was getting ready to be a part of something bigger than me. Since day one, I have understood my reasons for founding the company. I knew one day AgBoost would represent every kid in Africa and the rest of the world that dares to dream. Going back to Nigeria after 22 years was a life-changing experience, most especially for having the honor and privilege to go back to my elementary school where I was one of the pioneers to speak to the students. I remember telling the kids that I used to be one of them, and that the one thing I did back then that gave me the opportunity to be where I am today was that I dared to dream.
There are paths in life we cannot be afraid to walk, even when we face uncertainty. At the early path of my journey when I started AgBoost, I was fired from a nine-to-five job two months into founding the company. At the time, I had two kids and a pregnant wife, and I no longer had health insurance or a job. I had to figure out how I was going to support my family, while continuing to build the company.
But those difficult times defined who I am as an entrepreneur, and those moments needed to happen for me to grow and become who I was destined to be. Going through the process is what makes us who we truly are and fighting the battle without fear of failure shows how courageous we can be.
As I reflect on my journey, looking back on how far I have come and everything that I have been through to get here, I can say that life will have its way of moving us toward our destiny. The question we just have to ask ourselves is, “Are we fearless enough to walk the path?”
I never thought my dreams were impossible because we all have the power of imagination, and I encourage everyone to continue to dream because dreams come true; it just takes belief.
A version of this story was originally published by the Innovators’ Tribune and can be found on the Tribunes’ website, along with other national insights and stories in the world of innovation.