Boyede Sobitan compares the Polsky Exchange to a barbershop — a community hub where everybody shares what’s going on in their lives. That vibrant community of entrepreneurs is one of the reasons Sobitan became an Exchange member as he works to grow his business, OjaExpress, an app that lets customers place grocery orders from ethnic markets for home delivery.
The Exchange is a startup hub operated by UChicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, offering co-working and meeting space, a fabrication lab, mentorship opportunities, and programming for entrepreneurs at all stages of building their companies. For a small monthly fee, any Chicagoan can join; about 15 percent of the 4,200 Exchange members are community-based entrepreneurs like Sobitan who don’t have a connection to the University.
A health care consultant and registered nurse, Sobitan was new to startup life when he joined the Exchange in 2017. “I was elated to find something like Polsky on the South Side,” says the Bronzeville resident. “Nothing against other incubators, but you want to be in your community.”
Sobitan took part in the Polsky Small Business Growth Program, housed at the Exchange with funding from JP Morgan Chase; he also attends as many Exchange events as he can and meets often with Exchange mentors like Jeff Davis MBA’12, who coaches startups on marketing and go-to-market strategy. “This is how you connect with people, and this is how you build entrepreneurship on the South Side,” he says.
His next steps include applying to the Polsky Incubator, a dedicated space for startups that are already up and running but need support to grow into sustainable businesses. Sobitan’s vision: Expand OjaExpress to other cities and create “the United Nations of food at your fingertips,” serving immigrant communities as well as foodies interested in exploring new cuisines.