Emil Ekiyor was born in Lagos, Nigeria and came to the US when he was 15 years old with a suitcase and a one way ticket. Since then he has been a catalyst for change to those around him. He played football at the University of Central Florida where he was a 3 year letter winner. Following that he continued to pursue his passion on the gridiron with a 7 year career in the NFL. 

After that he settled in Indianapolis where he was an administrator for the Public schools, a business owner, and non profit leader. He sits on the board of 3 non profits and is very active in the community. 

As a CEO of Innopower, he and his team use seed stage impact investing to drive innovation and to accelerate economic prosperity in black communities in Indiana and sub-Saharan Africa.

Be sure to check out these great clips from the show: 

  • [8:31] The effects western culture has on Nigerian entrepreneurship
  • [15:54] The misconception of successful vs unsuccessful people in America.
  • [21:30] What kept Emil and his family in Indiana after his career in the NFL.
  • [31:20] The trouble with the grant process.

Get IN. is the show focused on the unfolding stories and most extraordinary innovations happening in the heartland today. Get IN. is brought to you by Powderkeg and Elevate Ventures.

In this conversation you will learn from Emil on:

  • Identifying opportunity and how to capitalize on it
  • How sports build a framework for business success
  • Opportunities for underrepresented founders to achieve entrepreneurial success

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Episode Transcript

Welcome to Get IN, the podcast focused on the exponential growth and innovation in the burgeoning tech hub here in the Midwest. I’m Matt Hunckler, CEO of Powderkeg, and I’ll be one of your hosts for this amazing conversation on the show Today is am Emil Ekiyor, CEO of Inno Power 

Playing in, in the pros, the dollars that come with it, obviously , all of those things. Right. Just, just make you feel like, wow. You know, and part of my goal was to get the rest of my family here. . . My brothers and sisters. So Even though that wasn’t my dream, my dream was business. Right? But opportunity to play pro sports became my dream.Once I realized that, okay, this can happen.

Emil was born in Lagos, Nigeria and came to the US when he was 15 years old with just a suit. And a one-way ticket. Since then, he’s been a catalyst for change to those around him. He played football at the University of Central Florida where he was a three letter winner. Following that, he continued to pursue his passion on the Gridiron with a seven year career in the NFL playing for the Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Oakland Raiders.

He eventually settled in Indianapolis, where he was an administrator for the public schools, a business owner and a nonprofit leader. As a CEO of Inno Power Today, he and his team use seed stage impact investing to drive innovation and to accelerate economic prosperity in black communities in Indiana and sub-Saharan Africa.

Get IN is brought to you by Powderkeg and Elevate Ventures and Powderkeg is the only private member network focused on supporting tech companies and leaders in fast-growing communities beyond Silicon Valley. We love collaborating with Elevate Ventures, which is the most active seed and early stage venture capital firm in the Great Lakes region.

Be sure to follow their profile on Powderkeg to learn more about what’s going on at Elevate their latest investments, as well as some of their potential career opportunities. You can do that at powderkeg.com/elevate. Again, that’s powderkeg.com/elevate. 

I am joined today in studio with co-host Christopher Tof Day, CEO at Elevate Ventures, and Nate Spangle, head of community at Powderkeg. 

Great to have you here, man. You have a very impressive career and I’m excited. About what you’re working on with Ino Power, but I, I figured we could actually start by taking it back a little bit to your early life in, in Lagos. Do you mind talking a little bit about what that was like and what some of your earliest memories were there?

Yes. I tell people there’s, there’s no place like Lagos, Nigeria. There’s like, it’s one of a kind 13 million people. The largest population of black people in the world. In Nigeria. Nigeria has a population of 200 million that they count, give or take, . Growing. In Lagos, right? I tell like true capitalism, right?

I say capitalism are the finest. No. Bad things, no safety nets. Every person goes out to work every day. You pretty much hunt what you eat. So entrepreneurship, it’s the basis of a lot of things there. Being able to start a business, sustain a business, and grow a business it’s pretty much the way of life.

And like, so I, I tell people I was born with entrepreneurship in my dna, right? To survive. You just look at making a bus. I’m starting a business and growing a business and just growing up in that environment. Just informed so much. I didn’t know it back then. Mm-hmm. , but informed so much of my thinking going forward as far as what you want to do in life.

How do you get economic freedom? Not having the mentality of working for somebody. I always had the mentality of having my own. And then I say this as well, right? Sometimes. and the world we live in being black has assailant to it. Mm-hmm. Coming from Nigeria, being black didn’t have a sailing to what you wanted to do.

Everything I ever saw in my life with black presidents, black doctors, black business owners, so there wasn’t a limit to what I saw myself doing in life. So coming to the US just [00:04:00] really took that to a whole nother level. And they told me I was coming to the US I was like, I told my family I was sad in front of my mom and dad.

But I walked outside to all my boys and I was like, yes, . I like, I’m going to the US and I’m sending for you guys in 10 years you come to join me. I love that. How’d that happen? How, how did that, what was the discussion in the family or how did it happen that you decided to come to the US at the time? The government had just changed from civilian rule to military rule.

Mm-hmm. . So my dad just. As far as from landscape of opportunities, right. And, and, and where you want to grow up to be exposed to opportunities. And he just felt like, Hey, look, I have a friend in the US and I just think the timing to go there and pursue opportunities is right. , we didn’t know what was gonna happen in the country with the military rule.

So he said, you know, this is an opportunity to leave before things get too bad. I have seven sisters and two brothers. So obviously sad I was leaving my family, but everything we learned, everything we saw growing up was the land of [00:05:00] opportunities. Right. Just get me there and I’ll make it. I don’t know how, but if I just get there, I can make it.

You mentioned kind of growing up in that entrepreneurial culture and I imagine you brought a lot of the lessons learned when you came here to the us. Was there one particular entrepreneur or mentor early on in Legos? Who taught you some lessons that you brought with you? So my dad was an entrepreneur.

My dad did a lot of import export. He brought in products from, you know, Europe to Nigeria, sold cars, different things, just a, a way to feed our family. Right. So he was deeply into entrepreneurship. Did a lot of import export work. So I saw that every day and I didn’t know I was paying attention.

I didn’t even. Those things stuck with me, but I just saw that happen on a daily basis, the daily grind of making that work the way that also provide, not just for my brothers and sisters, but my cousins, aunts, nieces, everybody. So like I said, while I was there, I didn’t, I didn’t think I was paying [00:06:00] attention, but you know, as I got older, those things just became natural to me.

Right. Seeing opportunities. Thinking out of the bucks of how, as far as opportunities, being able to see things differently than others saw it. It just was just natural for me. But thinking back now, as far as where did that come from? As you get older, you start thinking, how do I know this? Sure.

And seeing that growing up and seeing everybody around me, so if you could think of this in Lagos Wright, the average person in, in Lagos, Nigeria, has about two hours a day of. Mm. Wow. So if you are a market woman and you sell meat or fish, right, whatever, you don’t sell that night. You either eat or give away, right?

Yeah. Or you try to sell everything, but every day you start from zero. Wow. So you, when you talk about entrepreneurship and capitalism, high stakes, that is our finest, right? Yeah. You know, being able to survive knowing that, hey, look, we don’t have a lot of resources. I have to find a. . So seeing that on a daily basis, seeing the daily [00:07:00] grind of people trying to make it and get economic freedom just stuck with me.

Yeah. Yeah. I read somewhere right in, in our vast research that you conducted your first transaction when you were six. Yes. Tell us about that. No, so growing up, obviously young, again, seeing that environment, everyone is doing a transac. , you know, if it’s a market, women selling, if it’s the kid on the street selling drinks, all of those things are happening and you’re saying that and you want to, you want to do your transaction, you want to be able to share that, Hey, I just sold this.

Right? So the same thing, you know at school with my friends and everything else, you know, started doing those kind of things. Finding products that I can bring and sell and just make a living because I saw an opportu. , you know knowing what your friends need mm-hmm. and saying, if I could get my hands on this, I could sell it to them.

I could make this much profit doing it . So that way of thinking started back then where you’ll come to school and you have product that you can share with your friends, you know, they’re needed cuz they’ve already shared that they don’t have it. [00:08:00] So just having that mindset at a young age started that at six and then every year after that, every.

I can, I can remember just different things I did growing up. My brothers did. Just the conversation about entrepreneurship. You know about making it and dreaming about making it mm-hmm. . And we didn’t dream about making it, thinking about getting a job, right. It was like, I want to start this business.

I want to be like this person. And you saw your dad doing work and grinding. You wanted to do better. But also watching TV and seeing entrepreneurs from the US right? And seeing I remember watching Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous , right? That was our favorite show. Watching that weekly, right? And seeing all of this and saying, wow, that you can really go make this happen.

So all of those things at a young age is really informed, just the passion to do this. But how much Western influence was there in Nigeria? So whether it’s what was arts or music or [00:09:00] business, How much of that was it in on occasion you would see the lifestyle of the rich and famous, or were there a lot of things ingrained throughout the culture?

 Ingrained throughout the culture. Right, because the Western way is the way, right. Capitalism, entrepreneurship, free enterprise that is the. . Everyone wants to leave everybody. I tell people this joke when I go to Nigeria. People do a lot of business in China, but nobody dreams about going to Shanghai, , like everybody wants to come to New York, right?

Because of that feeling of freedom and economic freedom and, and, and those transactions and business. So watching TV and, and watching this western shows, watching lifestyle and reaching families. . Yeah. You know, we used to watch that rush to the TV weekly to sit down and watch that. And it’s a dream of making it right, knowing to do this, you have to own your own business.

You have to do things that this other folks have done to make it that big. Are there things that you tell entrepreneurs today related to what you learned [00:10:00] early on, just based on your culture there of dreaming and having a vision and not having limitations to. Where your dreams could go.

When you talk to entrepreneurs today, is there anything that you suggest that they do? Yes. So one thing that did hit me when I came to the States, I remember landing and calling home and saying most of my friends did not feel the same way as I did coming here. So my black friends. I saw didn’t have the passion and I was wondering like they don’t have the same like passion and desire for opportunity, but didn’t understand all the systemic issues, different things that have happened.

Mm-hmm. Because obviously coming from Nigeria I colonization and dealing with that. But that hit me and that really stuck with me. It wasn’t until years later as I got older and understood. So what I tell entrepreneurs today, the only failure is not doing. Hmm. , right. If you have an idea and you, you have a passion for something you want to do, the the failure is not doing.

[00:11:00] Cause when you do it, even if you do fail and not succeed, you learn from it. Absolutely. Yeah. It informs the next move and the next move and the next move. And. in this country. If you don’t feel like you are one deal away or one ideal way or one connection away, then you might as well stay in a thought wall country.

Right? That is the essence of being American, I think is. You are one chance away from making it right. You just gotta keep swinging and having more and more at bats, right? Yeah. So that opportunity, that feeling of opportunity is what we as inno power feel like has been missing in our black communities.

Mm-hmm. is the opportunity of feeling like you are one connection. . I have this great idea. All I have to do is meet this person, or all I have to do is get this much dollars in my pocket to make it happen. So we feel like introducing that feeling of opportunity to everybody unleashes so much potential.

Yeah. And the question is always, how do we do that? [00:12:00] Yeah. Well talk, talk about when you first got to the US you. Probably no idea what your future had in store for you. Did you even watch American football before coming to the us? Never watched it. Watched basketball growing up. Played soccer growing up and never really played organized sports.

Right. ? Yeah. . So I got here and again, the US high school experience is, one of the best things ever. Hmm. Why’s that? Because you get plugged into things. Right. I didn’t have friends but playing sports just plugged me into an environment to make friends to learn those lessons of if you believe in yourself, if you work hard, you can achieve.

Right? That basic principle doesn’t exist everywhere. You know, I came from a place where you could, you could come from poverty and work as hard as you want, and you’ll never make it. Mm-hmm. , but in this country you can actually. , if you work hard and believe in yourself, you can make it. Yeah. Right. And when you feel that way, most people that I meet that have been successful have that feeling daily.

[00:13:00] Right. So coming here and seeing that, wow. You know, the high school experience getting plugged into sports, the whole homecoming, everything that came with was amazing. And I was like, wow, this is like, this is. . So getting plugged into that, playing sports, meeting friends, getting introduced to that mindset of, man, all I have to just put in the work.

Mm-hmm. , so, so you played in the nfl, so let’s, now let’s go back in reverse. So, . Then it goes to say that you obviously moved to the us you went to this high school, you started to play your first organized sports. And so the first time you played football, no doubt you walked on the field and you were a superstar, right?

I was terrible. , . I didn’t even know how to put on my pads, right? ? No. I was so bad my junior year when I first went out. Just thinking back at it now but again I was plugged into an environment. I went to a school. Football was very successful. So after my junior year, again, the mindset [00:14:00] of the work, right?

Putting in the work just started training and I had coaches around me. Then my senior year, I ended up starting midway through my senior year, I had colleges coming to see me. And I remember my coach telling me after my, my junior night, look, you have the. If you work harder, did this off season, you could go to college.

I’m like, I can go to college for free doing this. , . I was like, off, I really love, like, I love this guy . But again, putting in the work that off season and then, you know, getting one scholarship offer from University of Central Florida, I, the guy didn’t even finish the sentence. I took it, I was like, yes,

But you know, when I first started, I. It wasn’t any good. Right? Yeah. I had the physical traits I could run jump, but just didn’t know how to play football. Like little kids that were not as physical as I was just destroying me. Right. Yeah. Cause they knew how to play. But again, it goes back to that and developing that mindset of the work, right.

The grind. And I remember. My football coach saying this to us as a team that hey, hard work doesn’t guarantee [00:15:00] success. Yeah. like it just gives you a chance. Right. And I say that to so many people today cuz people feel like, man, I work harder. I deserve no like, It doesn’t guarantee that you’re gonna be successful, but you have a way better chance of being successful when you put in the work.

It’s the ante, right? Yeah. Like just to play the game. You gotta, you gotta work hard. Yep. Yeah. If you don’t get in the game, you never have a shot at winning. Right. I, what I also think is interesting is sometimes we all will look at people and perceive that, oh my gosh, they’re so successful. They have to feel like they’re on top of the world.

you know, they’ve got it all figured out. And a lot of times when you really talk to those people, even behind closed doors in an intimate setting, human to human, that a lot of times those people don’t even feel like they’ve accomplished or made it yet or connected to the right people. When you really get to that human raw interaction a lot of times those people still feel like they, have you ever come across that in conversation?

Oh, so I think that’s kind of what’s missing today, right? There are, there are a lot of [00:16:00] misconceptions. In our communities and our world as far as how people get successful. On one side there’s a misconception that some people are just born into success, right? Like the system has been created for you to be successful.

On the other side, there’s a misconception that certain people don’t wanna put in the work to be successful. And because we don’t have those conversations to learn about people, and when you do, you start learning that. The, some individual stories and, and lived experiences shape people, right?

And yeah. You may not have been through what I went through. But you still had to work and overcome certain things to achieve what you achieved and when you learned out about people you respect, right? Absolutely. Because you see that people have been through something like they just didn’t wake up and all of this was just presented to them.

And that has been missing from our discourse so much in our society. Right? And we developed this conceptions of ideas, of preconceived ideas about people without [00:17:00] really knowing. and finding out about their journeys. So one of the things Covid did was things like this, podcasts and things like to learn about people’s journeys, right?

Yeah. And to learn about how people achieved what they achieved, and then you respect people more. So that’s part of what I think has been missing in our communities, our societies today. Just learning more about each other, having opportunities for civil discourse. Mm-hmm. . And when we start doing that, you, you start seeing that there’s so much commonalities with people, right.

Absolutely. Yep. So you’re exactly right. Yes. When did you realize, when you were playing football that, hey, I, I might really, I might really have something here. You know, obviously it, it got you into college. Was it before then that you were kind of like, I, I’ve got this, or, More when you kind of started to realize you had some NFL prospects?

I, it was my, like my junior year, I think in college, my sophomore year I had like 11, 12 sacks. Right? Yeah. And my coaches, Hey, look, you know, and I was like, you know what? I [00:18:00] can actually do this. Right? Yeah. How did you feel? I mean, it was, it was, it was energizing, right? I bet. , you, you know, playing in, in the pros, the dollars that come with it, obviously , all of those things.

Right. Just, just make you feel like, wow. You know, and part of my goal was to get the rest of my family here. Yeah. Right. My brothers and sisters. So the opportunity to play pro sports or even get in Even though that wasn’t my dream, my dream was business. Right? When I own a business, I’m a but opportunity to play pro sports became my dream.

Once I realized that, okay, this can happen. Yeah. 12 sex as a sophomore did did power Five schools start coming? Right? Did like other schools start wanting to, to bring you on their team like you’re succeeding at U ucf? Well, you, so that’s an amazing thing about college sports, right? Today those things happened back then.

You know, it was for the love of the game and . So you, if you went to a school, you stayed at the school mm-hmm. . Right. So back then you just, you are a ucf That was [00:19:00] my family. That was the school. I wasn’t going anywhere. Right. Okay. Dante, Carl Pepper and I were teammates in college, you know, so we were building something at ucf.

It was just starting back then, we didn’t even have a campus stadium. We played at the citrus. In Orlando. But all of those relationships that, that were built back then are some of my best friends today. You know, cuz we all went through something together and, and, and just the training and, and brotherhood of football.

And you said, right, your goal was always to get into business, right? But what, what skills did you pick up from your time at UCF in the NFL, in high school football that attribute directly to what you’re doing as an entrepreneur? Football and. We’re really like the, like the best foundation. I was a captain in college, so the leadership skills of of, of sitting down with the coach and the vision for the kind of team we wanted understanding, okay, what’s our vision for the program?

Having the playbook, right? So all of those concepts and say, okay, what’s our, I say that today in meetings I have [00:20:00] is we don’t have a playbook. What’s the playbook? For what we going to do? What’s our. , how do we prepare daily to execute that system? So when we practice in football, we don’t practice skills that you’re not gonna use in the game, right?

And the same thing in business, in life, right? Is what’s our system? What’s our playbook? How are we gonna execute? What’s our organization Now, who’s my defensive coordinator? Who’s my offensive coordinator? Who are my position coaches? How do we hold each other accountable? How are we developing the individual?

right, with the skills they need so they could perform at a high level. How do we measure success, right? Wins and losses. How do we look at stats and data? You know, how many Russian yards and how many stats are we giving up? All of those things are things I used today on a daily basis. I tell athletes that they’re a lot more prepared for the world than they even understand.

Because of all the things we just, I just talked about. Yeah. Yeah. Love that. Matt’s our, Matt’s our resident sports guy. Right, right. So he knows all about Sports . My, he’s [00:21:00] he’s Josh and me. I, I have very, very little professional sports knowledge. I, I can get around on a basketball court, but that’s about it.

he’s a pretty good ball player. Yeah. Thanks man. Thanks. So are you, you got that? You got that outside shot? We’re an old man too. Yeah. . You got it. Make sure to mark your calendars for August 29th through 31st. Rally the world’s largest cross-sector innovation conference, featuring pitch competitions, demo arena, interactive experiences, and a whole lot more.

Join us on August 29th through the 31st in Indianapolis and visit rally innovation.com to secure your tickets today. A after your time in the nfl, why did you pick Indianapolis and how did you decide what you wanted to do? Wow. Great question. So my wife is from Indian. So, you know, I promised okay, when, when football is done, we are going to move here and settle here and kind of grow family here.

Plus I also had been in Indianapolis. I felt like Indy was a place of opportunity, right? Cuz when I was here in [00:22:00] late nineties, early two thousands. You could even get like a great restaurant eating , right? . So I just saw Indy, the custom living was so low. It was great. So I felt like, well, this will be a good place to to, to raise a family.

And there’s so much opportunity here. Yeah. So we decided that once football is over, we’re going to, you know, come, come back here and settle down and raise a family here. I love. , what was your first impression of Indianapolis? Oh, opportunity. You know, I saw that from day one. I said the cost of living was low.

So much at that time. Just meeting people, the conversations about downtown and the future. All of this property downtown was cheap. You could buy stuff and kind of sit down. So there was just all this stuff happening here and it was nowhere close to where it is. And you just saw that, hey, the city was headed towards those kind of things, right?

So we just, we just felt like, hey, this is a good place to settle. Plus from a family structure, right? And [00:23:00] the things to do with your family. Obviously my son playing youth sports and all of those things. Indy had all those things in place. Yeah. So it, it was just perfect for us to, to, to come here and settle here and and raise a family here.

Did St. Elmo’s Shrimp cocktail have anything to do with it at all? I think that was the one place. Right.

I love that. What were your first entrepreneurial ventures? Obviously you grew up in this entrepreneurial. and then you get here and I imagine you had some fun. Oh, I, so once I, while I was playing in the nfl, and once I got done, I always, so import, export was always easy. Mm-hmm. , right. And for me, entrepreneurship was keeping it simple, stupid.

Right. It was, hey, there was, there was an opportunity to take products from here to Nigeria. We had contacts there that would buy the products. So it was exchanging dollars. Right? Yeah. Plus the exchange rate and everything else made it so much more profitable. So we just did a lot of import export. So we shipped [00:24:00] cars, products.

If you were starting an office and you needed office supplies, we’ll take all the, all the all the orders that were supplied there. So we were developing relationships by just those transactions and just keeping those transactions. . So I did that for so long, , I was almost, I just got caught into it and I almost had to smack myself.

Okay, let’s think of something different, right? Yeah. Because you don’t wake up every morning excited about import export, right? . So we started looking at other things and started looking at products from Nigeria, like how can we bring products from there and find markets for those products, not just in the US but in the West as a whole.

So we, we switched our, our mindset too, right? Because we also saw certain things on the ground there. Nigeria doesn’t have a production economy, right? So don’t really produce too much mm-hmm. . So we felt like, wow, by just bringing goods in, that we contributed into the success of the economy there. So we, we quickly transitioned to, okay, how can we find [00:25:00] products from.

and find markets for the products. And that just got us into engaging entrepreneurs. Yeah. Right. So I realized a long time ago, I’ll never invent anything. , , I’ll never make anything. I could barely fix things. So by engaging talent and plugging in with talent and helping create opportunities for those TA for that talent, we could all make money together.

How do you identify talent? Again, so the sports background too, right? I, yeah. That kind of helps that. The one thing as an athlete Sure. Like there’s no sugarcoating, right? Everything in athletics is black and white. Yep. You can either do it or you can’t. Yep. Yep. You see it, feel it. It’s on display.

There’s no, the world is different. When I left playing football and, and started just, we say living in a real life, right? , we saw it like that was just so. . Right. In athletics, it’s all about getting better. Yep. It’s all about dealing with failure cuz you’re not gonna be successful [00:26:00] all the time. It’s all about getting knocked down and pulling yourself back up.

Right. And you, you can get, you can develop talent. , right? If you have the right environment for the development, I can plug you into it. And if you are willing, you can get developed. Now, you may not be a five star, but you know, I think football especially is one of those sports, I think you can make yourself a better football player.

Mm-hmm. , right? Yeah. I mean, what, two years in high school, full scholarship to ucf, a couple years there, and then you’re in the nfl. Like that’s the, that’s the path right there. And that’s the story. But I had something to plug into. There was an infrastructure set here in the US that, hey, look, if you have the talent, you’re willing to work, we’ll plug into high school football.

You go through the work, you go to college football, you go through, I love this analogy, you know and we lived that and saw that, right? So as we re, as I retired from sports and started looking in communities, right? The one thing playing in Oakland, playing here [00:27:00] in Indy, playing in Tampa, , all of these black communities that I walked into was just so similar.

Mm-hmm. , you could take a black community on the east side of Indie and plug it into Oakland and it’s like you never left Indie, or it was just everything looked the same. Yeah. But I also saw just human capital, people that were just talented individuals. Right. But the way they looked at opportunity in their communities was different.

So in Nigeria, . We started seeing so many young people before technology and everything else. So in Nigeria, when I left Nigeria, only about 40% of the homes had landlines. Wow. Right. Today, almost 95% of the people have smartphones. So they, the whole evolution of technology, they didn’t go through beepers and the big phones and all.

Yeah. This went from no landlines to smartphones. Right. Wow. But what technology also did it accelerated the [00:28:00] process of going from poverty to wealth. Hmm. If I create a product that could support the masses, I make it at a price point that’s affordable to the people because of the shared numbers. Right? I can reach more people, so people, young people, especially with solving decade old problems from food scarcity to education, but leveraging technologies to do it, and it was scalable.

So we saw this in the last 10 years, just accelerate. So we plugged into that to say, okay, how do we start identifying talent? How do we start looking for great ideas? And then how do we plug them into a system that develops the idea, then provides some capital to support them. So we saw that in Nigeria first, and then here in the US we said, how come this isn’t happening in our black communities?

The 50 million African-American there huge problems in this. , how come how are we not leveraging technology to solve these problems and doing it from an [00:29:00] entrepreneurial focus? Yeah. What was one of your favorite businesses that you identified and invested some capital into? Tell me that story.

So, in Nigeria there was a time where farmers used to have to get their products get it to the market, transport it, trying to find markets with all of those things. Mm. . One of the companies we saw created an app that allowed farmers to be able to go on the app and say, okay, my products are ready.

Then the transportation came to pick up the products and found markets for the farmers. Right. Something that’s simple supply chain right there. Right. Yeah. Change the game for so many farmers. Right. But the inventor of that product went from just an idea to. because they scaled the product not just in Nigeria, but in Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole.

So it solved a huge problem for food waste. Right. Nigeria’s one of the largest exporters of tomatoes, but one of the largest importers of tomatoes. [00:30:00] Hmm. Because of the waste and the byproduct. Right? So when you don’t have enough energy, you don’t create a byproducts of tomatoes. So one of the Indiana companies does a lot of business Nigeria.

Red gold. Yeah, red, red gold. Yeah. Which is one of the largest tomato sauce and paste companies in the world. So solving that problem and just saying, I’m creating an app, the farmer goes on the app cuz now everyone has smart phones. They let you know when the product’s ready. We’ll be there to pick it up soon as they come to harvest so it doesn’t sit for so long.

The farmer makes more money cuz now he’s not spending the money trying to transport the products in market. , something that very simple. Took this young entrepreneur from having an idea to wealth selling company, making money, love that, things like that. Uber for farmers. I did that. Entrepreneur start investing in other ideas that today in Nigeria that’s taken off so much, right?

Because there’s so many of these [00:31:00] ideas leveraging te. , but that entrepreneur becomes a model for everyone in his community to see. Yep. So those things we see are missing here in the us Right. And so as Inno Power was saying, how do we create opportunities to solve problems in a different way? Mm-hmm. , well, how do we do it with the entrepreneurial focus?

Right. What we’ve seen is a lot of great ideas on how to solve problems. Even here in India, a lot of people start companies and businesses solve this problems that say in their communities, but for so long, right, that the way organizations have been able to get capital or even dollars in this community have been through the grant process, right?

Yeah. And that process does not encourage generating revenue. , it encourages spending money, right? And it’s needed. Cuz we need a safety net, right? Yeah. So as we look at that process and say the hundreds of millions that have been invested in that, if half of that was invested into startups [00:32:00] or business ideas, how many more jobs will we, how much more wealth will we have in certain communities today?

Right? So we see all of these things and we saying, at Inno Power, how do we encourage this? So we knew in the. . We couldn’t just come in and say, let’s wait and get the best talent from this communities. Right? Right. Because the norm is not to create this talent. Right. So we had to be involved and have skin in the game, in the development process.

Hmm. To say, what is the system that encourages this kind of business mindset? How do we get people and here in the US as well, so what’s happened for so long in certain communities? Don’t take a chance cuz you can’t afford to miss. Mm-hmm. , go to safe route, go to college, get a job, work at a company for 30 years, get your retirement.

And that has been the way a lot of black communities and and African Americans have looked at the path to success. Because I can’t [00:33:00] afford to take the entrepreneurial path because I can’t afford to make a mistake. I don’t have a network, I don’t have capital. I’m just going to go to school. I’m gonna get a job, work at this company for so long.

today, we’re trying to change that mindset in these communities to say that, okay, there’s opportunity, opportunity exists. How do you do that for one person? Like if you’re just talking to one person, they say, you know, all my, my parents said, you know, go to college, get a safe, secure job. Try to find a big company that you can stay with for 30 years.

I’m not saying that’s bad but if, if you were to kind of encourage them to do entrepre, . So how do you change that mindset? And that is, that is such a good question, right? Because what you have to also have to show is back to the, what we said about athletics. So many young people in communities grow up every day feeling like I could be the next LeBron James.

Right? Because they see it. Yeah. The infrastructure is set for them to plug into. Mm-hmm. . If I’m a kid in Indianapolis City, I wanna play ba. If I wanna make it to the [00:34:00] NBA A U basketball, little league basketball, middle school basketball. High school, the infrastructure is set places where you go get training.

Yep. All of that is set from a young age, but for, to be an entrepreneur that that hasn’t been defined. So today with all the energy around equity and creating opportunities for more African Americans to start and grow a business it’s. . But what we miss is what is that system? What do I plug into?

Yeah. As we try to encourage the mindsets of, of seeing need made a need. Right. Those are young men here in Indie Taylor Simpson, some you guys probably know Halo app and Taylor. Yeah. So Taylor created this app that he saw the need with check cashing places in black communities and saw that so many people were going in this check cashing places and pretty much getting ripped.

And there was [00:35:00] a time a couple years ago where the state the Obama administration had a law that capped the interest rate for check cashing places, and then the state of Indiana pretty much lifted that cap and people were in opera about that. So what I said was, you know, we shouldn’t p create policy to stop that.

What it does is create business opportunity. So create a check cash in place with, with, with a lower interest rate and more people will come to you. So Taylor created this. and his vision was, if I could get more people to use this and do peer-to-peer landing, you know, this is a marketplace for it. So when he created this in Indy back then it’s funny how time flies and two years later, today, in the end of three years, there’s so much more happening than it was four years ago when he started he was trying to plug into something, right? Trying to get people to listen to his story and, and where do I plug into, how do I get support? How do I get people to understand my idea, right?

So what [00:36:00] happens in this space is if you don’t have the lived experience to understand what Taylor was seeing in the community, he was coming. , there’ll be so many questions around how valid is this idea? Right? Yeah. Well, four years later, there’ve been three or four apps created to do something similar.

And Taylor Assistance moved out of Indie and is in Charlotte now. Mm-hmm. . But that’s an example, right? Of, of someone who saw a need in his community, created a product, a technology solved that problem. But then where do I plug into? . How, how do people who wanna start for-profit enterprises and get plugged into Inno Power plug into your programs?

What are, what are some of the best entry points? So what we, what we try not to do is, is programs. Mm-hmm. , we want to, we want to leverage Elevate, right. And, and what they already have. Right. Because again, what ha what, what we’ve learned from mistakes of the past is the [00:37:00] sustainability of this kind of program.

you really don’t get the right investments to do the work. It’s the hardest work. And we’re talking about generating wealth, right? In community. So those things don’t generate wealth , right? Right. But they’re needed because the people that you want to develop don’t have the dollars to pay for the services.

So what we try to do is be a conduit and to say, okay, elevate has origins, we want to develop. type of entrepreneur normalize this, right? How do we sustain this, right? What does that ecosystem, what do you, what do you plug into? Mm-hmm. . So what we try to do is not look at it, what happened post George Floyd was, there was such a desire for, for something like, and rightfully so, right?

Everybody was energized to do something. We didn’t take time to think through the process, the progress. , we jumped right into activity, right? Training for [00:38:00] black businesses capital. So today, as we look back and say in the last three years what infrastructures have been built? Yeah. And how do we plug into it?

And we see that we haven’t really spent time to build those infrastructures that if I’m a young person in college, if I’m a young high school student, I’m developing the entrepreneurial mindset. It. If I’m in college and I have an idea, I wanna start a business, there’s a place to plug into. So for us, right, we think the biggest opportunity is to create this infrastructure.

So on the back end, you have an influx of talent that you can now invest in and make money together. Yeah. If we don’t build this infrastructures today, 10 years from now, we’ll be sitting there having the same conversations. . The other thing that people don’t do is what kind of business can I start on the east side of Indy?

Mm-hmm. . What does the market research and analysis say? Whose role is it to do that? So the [00:39:00] state and the I E D C will say to me, Emil, we have the ability to do those. We could tell you from 38th and Marita and 38th and German church, what kind of businesses should be created based on earning what the people earning at what’s missing.

So those kind of things, right? And that kind of infrastructure and progression is what we haven’t, what we missed, right? We missed it because there was so much energy around we gotta do something, which we did. But let’s not miss the opportunity to, to really say, you know what, if you’re gonna start a business on this side of town, on Gary, Indiana, here are the kind of businesses that will succeed based on true market research and a.

Those kind of things have never been done in this communities. Right. And those are the things that we have the opportunity to. So it’s not just saying, let’s train entrepreneurs. I, I tell people all the time, it’s like practicing all the time and they’re playing the games, right? , everyone wants to train the entrepreneur.

But where is the entrepreneurial [00:40:00] opportunity? So in black and brown communities today, right? This is the first time in American history that the focus has been on. Right on economic empowerment, right? Economic freedom, entrepreneurship in this communities. So what does the market research, what, what are the opportunities in this communities?

Today there are huge opportunity in the state of Indiana supply diversity and procurement, right? The state does a dispar to report every year that shows, you know, the disparity in contractual opportunities, right? If you are a minority, if you are, if you are a black and brown person in America, I say Indiana is one of those places that there is opportunity, right?

Because today more and more people are seeing that differently. I mean, sitting here with Toin, having this conversation and this, this are conversations we’ve had. If you are a landscaper and you’re doing great business in Indy Indie opportunities to scale your company, to Fort Wayne [00:41:00] and Gary, right?

those opportunities exist. Guess what? You could be doing the Ivy Tech campus in Fort Wayne. Yeah. You know but what do I plug into? Yeah. And that’s kind of where we are today is back to the sports analogy. Like what is that progression that you plug into if you are a young person or. If you are in incorporate and you want to jump and start a business, but I just don’t want, I’m making 200 K.

I just don’t wanna leave that. I hate my job . I want to start a business, but I can’t take a chance. Well, we saying, Hey, there’s an opportunity to come plug into this. I’m so glad it exists, you know? Yeah. But it exists from trying an error. Right. We didn’t know would elevate that. This is something that. In the past, there was not a willingness to even try things like that.

Yeah. I love it. Well, I, I know we’re a little bit over time. Do we have two more minutes for a lightning round? No. Yeah, I’m fine. I, I’ve got three questions for you. First one is this, outside of the amazing [00:42:00] entrepreneurs, what is Indiana known for? Basketball. I love it. Second question, what is a hidden gem in Indiana that you really love?

Longs Donut. Oh my long donut. . Yes, I told you. . Okay, so we do have to dive in on this one, right? So you briefly, you like brushed over the fact that your son right. Is, is Gonna be drafted potentially, right? Mm-hmm. , and we were watching, doing our research. We saw that his favorite thing of Indianapolis was also Long Donuts , right?

So, yeah, we grew up, I, I almost went and got a Baker’s dozen to bring to this podcast right now. I wish I, it’s a funny story, right? My son played Lil League here, obviously, right? So every Saturday, Lil League football, Longs donut, right? The whole team win, lose, draw dozens. Right. So we just kind of, it’s been part of everything and it’s nothing like a fresh, hot donut

So here’s a question then has, has [00:43:00] Long’s Donuts made it to the Alabama Crimson tide? Did they know about longs? So, so last year The national championship. Part of the deal was if we won the whole, we were just going to load up longs for everybody, right? . We end up not winning, so , but the goal was win and before everyone got on the plane to leave Indy, the whole team, staff, everybody, we were just gonna supply lungs and we didn’t win.

It was a long night. We were all sad. So don’t one about maybe the next one, maybe the next game, hopefully. . Last question. Who is someone else that we need to keep on our radar? Someone who’s doing big things officer Kelly Jones. Absolutely. And and being nimble. I think what Kelly did or what she was able to accomplish we just creating a fund people really, really underestimate the power of optics, right?

Her doing that. Set the tone for artists to feel like they can, like this can happen. Yeah. Right. A black females, $20 million [00:44:00] fund. All her energy around entrepreneurs and developing entrepreneurs. So the power behind what she just did, even for us as a state Yeah. Really put a Indiana on the map for people to say, cause that had never happened.

So there were funds created, but no one from Indiana. A person of color had ever created such a fund, and the fact that she did it really was, I think we’ll look back years from now and, and, and look at that as a lightning rod, right? And there’s still people that. Don’t understand that, right?

Because they’re just not from the business mindset and everything else that downplay what you did. But people who know no. Oh yeah. Mm-hmm. , she’s already made some great investments that are already paying off, raising the fun like that. It’s hard for anybody, right? Yeah, absolutely. It’s amazing. It’s awesome.

Future guests at the podcast make that happen for sure. Yeah. So she’ll be on. So Kelly is definitely like right up there. Another person that. definitely need to get on the podcast. It’s Jalen [00:45:00] Smith. Hmm. I don’t know Jalen Well, that, that’d be a sports thing, man. See, so Jalen grew up in Fort Wayne. Went to Bishop Blas.

He ended up going to Notre Dame, playing football at Notre Dame. Was projected to be like a tough five pick. And his last game in college hurt his knee ah against Ohio State. Still got drafted. Got drafted in the late first round, early second round, I think. Went to the cowboy. proves himself.

Right. End up getting a 40 million guaranteed contract. Wow. About four years ago. Two years ago. Got re it was outta the blue last year, got released, but his contract was guaranteed, so he still got his money. Nice. So he ended up going to Green Bay, but now he’s with the Giants. So when Jalen got his contract, he committed $2.5 million.

to support great capital for black entrepreneurs. Oh my God, that’s amazing. So he started this pitch competition, a partner with Sagamore Institute. Yeah. Sagamore is also able to leverage the social impact dollars to [00:46:00] support this. Right. So Jaylin ended up putting this and then getting all the entities to match.

So he has 13 portfolio companies, all tech focused. Trying to really establish more here in Indy. A lot of those companies are not from Indy, so he did a pitch competition in Dallas, and so imagine there’s an N F L player, N F L support pitch competition, and you’re talking about talent and unleashing talent from Dallas.

He did one in Tampa, same thing, all from all over Florida. Jaylen’s really looking and, and talking about trying to really establish things here where there’s the capital to support businesses as, as businesses have formed, but also plugging into the inf the training infrastructure. Mm-hmm. . So that’s what most people are looking for is Yep.

Because there’s no money to make in the development process. Right. So whose role is it to create that infrastructure to develop [00:47:00] the talent? So jailing is, is someone that I think will be great, who’s doing really. Unbeliev. He’s a great rep. Jaylen’s 28 years old. Yeah. If he retires today, he’s gonna have $40 million in his account.

Yeah, right. And his, his Ahuja Barn, barn and bread believes in Indie, but it’s an entrepreneur, all the way as well. Yeah. We’ll make that happen for sure. That’s great. Well, Emil, thank you so much for being on the show today. It was really great to have you on and I love your story and what you’re building with Inno Power.

Thank you so much. I really enjoyed this. You guys, , I think you hit a home run with this. This is gonna be fun listening to looking forward to it. So thank you. Everything I can do to support the show, let me know. This has been Get IN a Powderkeg Production in partnership with Elevate Ventures, and we wanna hear from you.

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