Same-Day Ethnic Grocery Delivery Provider OjaExpress Connects People with Food, Each Other
Boyede Sobitan is the CEO and co-founder of OjaExpress, the same-day ethnic grocery delivery platform. Sobitan and his co-founder, Fola Dada, are first- and second-generation Nigerian immigrants. Their difficulty in finding the right ingredients to cook traditional meals served as the inspiration for OjaExpress, which connects local ethnic grocery stores with customers who want to cook traditional foods.
The co-founders participated in the 2018 Polsky Small Business Growth Program to better understand the components of a successful tech business. Provided with a team of consultants, Sobitan said he found it valuable “to think about the business in a different way, bounce ideas, work with professors, and work with Polsky resources.”
This led the duo to apply and be part of the 2019 Incubator. “The way I look at incubators,” Sobitan said, “is [that] they’re a huge opportunity for people to work a lot of the kinks out of businesses.” He and Dada used the process to work on legal support, get connections, and learn more about the tech ecosystem. “We just wanted to get better,” said Sobitan.
In the past year, Sobitan and Dada have built out their team, continued to work on the platform’s infrastructure, and participated in two accelerators. In the winter, OjaExpress was part of Food Foundry’s inaugural cohort, a Chicago-based accelerator for food startups. The company also recently finished the Techstars Kansas City Accelerator, which has helped OjaExpress in its latest fundraising efforts.
Though OjaExpress is a technological platform, being community-oriented is “indispensable” to Sobitan: “We are always going to be a community-focused, community-first platform… tech is just going to enable it.” He values interacting with OjaExpress users and hearing their feedback. “Sometimes you think you know what you want to do for users, but then they tell you more and you learn more,” he added. “You evolve with your users.”
The app’s upcoming community feature is the result of user feedback. “People wanted to have their own opportunities to communicate with other people from either similar cultures, or interact with people of different cultures, on how to cook,” Sobitan explained. The users wanted a place to communicate that didn’t have an abundance of ads and algorithms. They wanted it to be natural. He’s hopeful that the community feature will come out by the end of 2020 or at the beginning of 2021.
In the meantime, the platform has a recipe builder to help users cook unfamiliar dishes. It finds a recipe and then shows all the ingredients needed to cook the dish. “Anybody can cook food from any part of the world without having to necessarily be an expert,” noted Sobitan.
A proud South Side business founder, Sobitan also wants to deepen his relationship with the area, especially Hyde Park. Currently, he’s looking into opportunities to connect with international students at the University, and with the University’s Office of International Affairs and Office of Civic Engagement.
“There have been a lot of cries for diversity in tech,” said Sobitan. “We have to be intentional and diverse. Our only thing, our only plan for the future is to get better, to serve our communities better, and just be a better overall platform for economic growth and stability for the small businesses that we serve.”