Kofi Gyekye, 26
Kofi Gyekye is hard to keep up with. He talks a mile a minute, and his ideas spill out in all directions. But he’s not just an idea machine — as soon as he’s got a good one, he sets about making it a reality.
At 26, only two years out of a B.A. in politics at York University, he’s launched three businesses. Little Room, the digital ad shop he cofounded in 2011, has worked for big brands like Cadillac, HBC and Topshop; last year it won gold at the Media Innovation Awards for a project it worked on with OMD, an interactive tablet ad that lets users look around the interior of an Infiniti JX using the iPad’s built-in gyroscope.
Before he came to Canada, Gyekye was often on the move with his diplomat father, living in Kenya, South Africa, Ethiopia and Italy and picking up six languages along the way (English, French, Italian, Swahili, Amharic and Sotho). “He has packed a lot of living into 26 years of life,” says Joseph Caturay, president of Little Room.
Like a lot of young professionals, Gyekye always dreamed of founding a company. But when he touched down in Toronto in 2007 with no contacts and no relations, he “freaked out,” he says. “So I did everything.” He helped organize Toronto’s annual Manifesto hip hop festival, got involved with non-profits, sought venues to pursue his interest in stage acting and hosted underground parties in garages in Toronto’s hip Ossington neighbourhood.
It was at one such party that he started talking with tech entrepreneur Clint Robinson — a chance meeting that eventually led to Little Room. Robinson wanted to work on tech solutions, but didn’t care for the business and sales end of things. Gyekye, meanwhile, lacked the technical experience to follow through on his ideas, but excelled at attracting new clients. Digital creative Justin Sanders completed their trio.
But what has made Gyekye’s career a success is his penchant for very big thinking and his lack of hesitation when an idea strikes. Frustrated using Salesforce, Gyekye decided one day they should build a better CRM platform.
Robinson’s response: “You have no idea what you’re talking about.” But Gyekye sweet-talked his partner into trying it. Earlier this year their new company, Sascea, rolled out “The Big Picture,” an all-in-one business management platform combining dozens of essential functions—bookkeeping, vendor contacts, CRM, project management—into a tidy, inexpensive cloud app. It won best of show at SXSW’s North of 41 Canadian startups showcase.
Not stopping there, Gyekye and Robinson went on to develop Blossomr, a mobile app that helps non-profits run events and collect donations. Like Blossomr, many of Gyekye’s initiatives have focused on the non-profit sector. He’s worked with the Bolland Foundation and the Remix Project, both charities that provide programs for youth from disadvantaged communities; the Out of the Shadows Exposure Project, a fashion show fundraiser for organizations that get women out of sex work; and HDT, an angel investor that offers no-interest, no-equity loans below $10,000 to social entrepreneurs. At Little Room, Gyekye conceived and spearheaded the Leyaata project, an initiative with CIDA to provide basic health education and neonatal care kits to mothers in rural Northern Ghana. The program claims to have decreased infant mortality in the region by 50%.
“He leads with his heart to develop opportunities that are dear to him,” says Little Room’s Caturay. “This passion resonates with our colleagues and clients, and helps us build a better agency and better life. When my tenure is complete, I can see Kofi running our agency.”
From Afridi to Wong, check out all the profiles in our 30 Under Thirty.