Syracuse University alumni, friends and venture founders Caleb Obiagwu and Anthony Obas headline this week’s Talk Tea, the LaunchPad’s summer series in partnership with The Republic of Tea. The talks feature conversations by thought leaders on topics related to innovation and entrepreneurship. Join us Wednesday, July 22 at 3 p.m. on Zoom for a conversation about NextGen leadership, empowerment, equity, diverse voices, as well as supporting Black businesses and creative Afropreneurship. Zoom link here.
Engineering and Computer Science grad Caleb Obiagwu is a serial entrepreneur who created three award-winning ventures as a student at Syracuse University – SYRE Tech LLC, AttendPro, and most recently, SafeLoot. As Obiagwu actively supported the Black Lives Matter movement across the country this spring, he saw an opportunity to support Black-owned businesses in local communities that had already faced hardships from the pandemic. Some were struggling to sustain and re-open, and had been vandalized or damaged through early protests. He realized many business owners did not have resources to rebuild, and as an entrepreneur, he wanted to do something positive to protect and support them. Together, with friends Brandon Elliott and John-Paul Besong, they created a tech platform to showcase Black-owned businesses, working first with businesses in Albany, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Manhattan, Queens and Syracuse. Over the past few months, the platform has quickly gained momentum and attention from the media. As it evolves, the larger goal is to expand it as a broader platform to create visibility and support for Black-owned businesses as part of a national movement.
As a senior, Obiagwu created the award-winning venture AttendPro, which won the Impact Prize competition sponsored by the LaunchPad. As a junior he built SYRE Tech LLC to revolutionize the way we receive content by developing looking glass, an innovative window technology that serves as a digital display. He created SafeLoot after graduation, before heading off to join a top consulting firm as an intrapreneur. Starting three ventures as a student was a realization of a goal he had set for himself before even coming to Syracuse. Born in Lagos, Nigeria and raised in London, England, Obiagwu grew up in an environment he described as “civilized and refined.” Attending a boarding school from an early age, he was encouraged to follow the status quo, work as a part of the system and value comfort over his ambitions. Despite valuable experiences during those years — attending a Harvard leadership program, the Global Young Leaders Conference and serving as class captain for his high school — he yearned for something more. While he could have attended a prestigious university in England, Obiagwu fell in love with what many call ‘the American dream.’ From nearly 3,500 miles away, he saw America as a land of opportunity, a culture that valued innovation and a home to risk-takers. This vision drove him to convince his parents to enroll him at Syracuse University.
Coming in as an engineering and computer science major, his plan was to get good grades, graduate, get a job and then start a successful company. But as he puts it, “Life happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Sitting in an introductory chemistry class with partner and fellow SU student, Zachariah Reid, the two came face-to-face with a question many young dreamers ask themselves, “Why are we doing this if we’re not passionate about it?” Together, they assembled a team with vision, business savvy, technical and mechanical skills, and knowledge of computer and digital technologies to create SYRE Tech (standing for “something you rarely expect”). From there, Caleb took the concept through business plan competitions, and also developed a second concept for AttendPro, after interning at a large company with a property management and maintenance issues that need ingenuity. He took the prototype to the Impact Prize, where he won a top award. This spring, Obiagwu brought the same approach to creating SafeLoot, assembling a team with strong technical know-how, clarity of vision and work ethic to quickly build execute.
Literally by his side on his Syracuse journey has been his good friend and roommate Anthony Obas, a recent Whitman grad who is an independent artist, brand consultant, and author of the book, “Shifting Your Music Into A Career– A Guide For Independent Artists To Be Full Time Artists.” The self-published book gives self-releasing artists insights and advice on how to turn their part-time music career into a full time career, taking on various case studies from mainstream artists, to personal observations, and research from other music business writers. It simplifies these into basic instructions on how to do music full time, and pursue what artists love to do, which is produce creative works.
Obas has always aspired to make a difference. Growing up in Harlem, New York, he was deeply invested in his community throughout his childhood. Involved in sports teams and other local involvements. His confidence is a by-product of solid relationships, community involvement and a supportive family. Empowered by his environment, he was admittedly, “a very confident kid.” The positivity of his environment was affirming, encouraging him to keep his ambitions and goals limitless. His transition to the all-boys and Catholic, Xavier High School, was a challenge. Searching for ways to combat these feelings, Obas gravitated towards athletics and other leadership positions, becoming a key player on Xavier’s track and football teams and winning multiple awards for his service and advocacy. As a member of these teams, he found a stable social group that was supportive, reminiscent of how he was brought up. With this sense of community, he began to flourish.
Heading into the college admissions process, Anthony wished to put himself in a place where he could find community, pursue his ambitions and expand his network. He chose Syracuse University, a school which would give him the opportunities, teachings and access he needed. Developing skills in television and radio, blogging and event planning, Obas began working with the on-campus radio station, WERW as a freshman. Here he excelled, both in his social media coordinator position, as well as within his own radio show. “WERW gave me the space to be creative. It gave me the creative room to work and explore.”
During his sophomore year, he served as the Director of Operations for a label called Voiceless Music. While simultaneously handling company finances, he popularized a blog on the labels’ website. Producing high-quality content on a regular basis, he learned how to connect with an audience through written word and how to use them as tools to achieve his goals. By hosting events like the Voiceless Music Meetup, This is Upstate, and multiple other events on campus during his student years, Obas created spaces for creatives and entrepreneurs to network with each other and exchange ideas.
His brand has recently gained notoriety throughout upstate New York and New York City, through his exciting events and entertaining #ObasRants. His well-attended events, charming personality and growing social media presence have helped his personal brand continue to grow. As his impact grows, so does he, saying, “I can’t separate my business and my personal because it goes hand in hand.”
While at Syracuse he also became very engaged with Supporting Our Young Leaders (SOYL) Talks, an initiative that originally started in the LaunchPad in the summer of 2016 by Kevin Claiborne, and continued under the leadership of Seth Colton Dollar. SOYL Talks are sponsored by Children of the Summer in collaboration with the Gifford Foundation, and moderated each month by Obas. The free monthly lecture series connects students and entrepreneurs ranging from late middle school to college students with young professionals and local/state/international entrepreneurs. Each month presents speak, followed by audience Q&A and networking. In addition, SOYL Talks also include the ever-growing social media video series SOYL in “60” – following the same format of the traditional “talks” but withing a 60-second video. SOYL Talks events are currently held in the Syracuse area, but are looking to expand.
Obas says his biggest lesson is to always remain positive. “One thing my brand is so strong about is making sure I’m positive all the time,” he says. Post-graduation he is translating his knowledge and momentum into his venture, Guided by Obas, which is an independent consulting agency, looking to “take artists and brands that are good and make them better.” Built on principles of personal and brand growth, Obas predicts this agency will be different, “emphasizing collaboration, and working with others, instead of working for them,” a value he has gravitated towards, his whole life. He launched his book tour earlier this summer in Brooklyn at an event with performances by Meko Sky, Twelve E, and Jesediah, and then again at Syracuse in the LaunchPad where he is an active member. He has also curated live events such as “This is Upstate,” where artists from the upstate New York area competed for bragging rights for their respective home cities. Now, based in the Harlem area, he is producing events in the metropolitan area but remains engaged with the Syracuse community.
One of the LaunchPad’s favorite social media platforms is Obas’ series of rants, appropriately titled, “#Obasrants,” which help him to communicate his vision with the masses. From the development of local artists to not having hot water in his apartment or unrelenting fireworks during a pandemic, Obas finds a way to keep a smile on his face while ranting about what matters to him, and being a positive role model for creative entrepreneurs and young leaders.
Both Obiagwu and Obas are engaged alumni and members of the LaunchPad’s Founders Circle, helping others build mission-driven ventures with meaningful social impact. Their voices have helped shape the LaunchPad’s perspective on diversity, inclusion, equity and social justice, and they is an impressive thought leader on these topics. We hope you can join us for an enjoyable and thought-provoking conversation.
This story based on previous spotlight posts by Jalen Nash ’20 , Blackstone LaunchPad Global Media Fellow, as previously published in LaunchPad news.