My Journey From Nigeria to the Startup Institute Boston

Sinmi Araoye is interested in brands and the customer engagement process. She is a writer, an amateur cook and a big believer in service. Currently she attends the Startup Insitute Boston and is learning in the technical marketing track

When I was really young and everyone asked me what I wanted to do with my life, I always said I wanted to open a restaurant called Miss Small’s. It became a nickname. When I was a bit grown-up (I don’t think I am fully grown-up yet), I did take that leap and start a business with my sister. We created and operated an independent fashion label, House 38, in Nigeria.

The experience of running my own business was the most tasking, most terrifying and most frustrating experience of my life. I felt like my life was in the fast lane with no option to slow down until the fuel ran out and the machinery stopped moving.

It was almost inevitable that I was going to try entrepreneurship at least once. I was born into a family of entrepreneurs at least 3 generations deep, on both my mother and father’s side. Growing up, I was really exposed to the process of starting and running a business, mostly from a retail point of view. My  mother always made a conscious effort to involve my sister and I in the business planning decisions.

The funny thing though is that nobody ever thought that business was a viable option. Business is, for many people of my parents’ generation in Nigeria, a side gig or a Plan B. I chose to study writing as an undergraduate. I promised to go to law school to make everyone feel better about my decidedly “unprofessional” choice.

While I was in my final year of study at University of California San Diego, one of my friends dropped out in her third year studying Biology. She chose to start all over again at an art school. I cried so much but her choice to pursuit her passion made a mark on me. About a year later, on the day of my LSAT, I decided I could not do law school.

I have always loved fashion. I estimate that I spent 20% of my allowance when I moved to the US on fashion magazines. I found myself a Master’s program in Manchester, England to study fashion retailing. The more I learnt about fashion, the more I realized fashion is a business, so I decide to complete a second Master’s in management and marketing.

While I was living in England, my sister and I started building a fashion label in Nigeria gradually. Then it got to a tipping point and I decided to move back to Lagos to join full-time.

After the label basically became an unsustainable venture, I became disillusioned. The failure was personal and it hurt. I decided to take time out and complete the year of service in Nigeria. I got the opportunity to teach and I really loved connecting with my students.

While working, I focused on applying for jobs in big multi-national. I really wanted something low risk and plain. I got the chance to interview with a big bank. Luckily, I guess they realized I was not a fit for them. After crying on a flight from London to Lagos, I realized I really won’t fit into a big multi-national company. I get really excited about innovation and startups.

The more I thought about my big failure, the more I realized that I really loved startup process. So, I decided to prepare myself in case lighting strikes again.

I started reading about the practicalities of founding and growing a business. I really was looking for a community that believed in building businesses from the ground up on new ideas. During my search, I found the Startup Institute (then the Boston Startup School) online.

I became obsessed with this place where the focus was on empowering you to work effectively in a startup environment. I was excited and took the big leap of applying for the summer session. As I thought about it more, I realized I really had no reason to wait four months to start my journey. So I asked to be moved to the Spring session.

On my first day, I felt, and I still feel, excited about the many possibilities ahead for me here at the Startup Institute.