Last year, Amazon took one long, highly publicized look across the U.S. and came to a simple but devastating conclusion: For the most part, American cities did not have an adequate number of talented tech workers to support its planned second headquarters.

The company heard what Albuquerque and Indianapolis (and more than 200 cities) had to offer, and passed. All the bags of cash and tax incentives Middle America could offer couldn't make up for a lack of qualified workers.

One Nigerian-born, St. Louis-based entrepreneur wants to change that.

Five years ago, Ola Ayeni was struggling to find enough full-stack developers for Eateria, a digital marketing tool for the restaurant and hospitality industry. Faced with an almost insurmountable problem, Ayeni did what all natural-born entrepreneurs do: He tried to solve it himself.

In October 2014, Ayeni launched Claim Academy. Initially, its mission was to train developers for Ayeni's startup.

Today, Claim Academy is one of the fastest growing, most accomplished coding schools in the country, placing graduates in startups and large multinational companies.

"We are very proud of what we've accomplished," said Ayeni. "When we started the Academy, we were just trying to find and train qualified employees for Eateria. Today we have a 93 percent job-placement rate and graduates who average a $60,000 starting salary. We are really proud of those numbers because they show how Claim Academy is impacting our community."

That impact includes a specific desire to help military veterans and underserved populations. Ayeni also wants to graduate enough qualified developers to make cities across America more competitive in a technology-driven economy--regardless of whether they border an ocean or a cornfield.

"Our future plans include expanding the number of students we graduate and the number of cities we serve," said Ayeni. "I am proud of the impact we've had in St. Louis, but my dream is to one day make the same impact in Denver, Kansas City, Toledo, and the rest of America. We want to make a difference anywhere and everywhere we can."

Though impressive, the power of Ayeni's message isn't in the number of students he's graduated, or their starting salaries.

The power of his message (and his coding school) comes from the belief that changing your destiny begins with you and you alone.

It's a belief that reinvention starts with small decisions.

For Ayeni, it was the decision to find and educate his own work force.

For his students, it's the decision to seek a better life.

For communities, it's the decision to cast aside old and badly outdated workforce-development models and listen to a highly motivated entrepreneur who wants to educate a workforce, improve his community, and solve one of the main problems Amazon identified in its HQ2 beauty pageant.

Can he do it?

Probably.

It's not smart to bet against a man who loves his adopted country so much that he wants to try and fix one of its most pressing problems: a wholly inadequate technology workforce.

And even if he doesn't reach his goal, Ola Ayeni will make an impact on any community or population he serves.

Just like he has in St. Louis.

Published on: Mar 14, 2019