Lanre Ajakaiye is a bit of a Renaissance man. The Providence native, a child of West African immigrants, is head of membership for the National Fire Protection Association and before that director of marketing operations for AAA Northeast. From 2014-2017, he founded and ran the New England Family Fun Festival. In 2018, when he learned that Providence didn’t have a boys travel team in the Rhode Island Youth Basketball Association, he started one; last year the sixth- and eighth-grade teams won their respective state championships. He works alongside his wife, Hilina, on the R.I.S.E. Women’s Leadership Conference, which she founded.
Oh, and he was elected homecoming king for his graduating class at Classical.
However, it’s not what Ajakaiye has done that put him on our radar – it’s what he’s about to do. He recently acquired 25 Bough Street, a blighted former jewelry factory in Olneyville that he will transform into a multi-purpose anchor development for the neighborhood. When Ajakaiye’s plans are complete, the building will host everything from coworking to after-school programs to quinceañeras.
“We will be the place that connections are made and networks happen,” he says. “We’ll accelerate the success of businesses of the future.”
The plan is to fill several gaps in the community under one roof. Twenty-five Bough Street will include an event venue and coworking space. While Providence has no shortage of either, those that exist are often not diverse and culturally competent enough to truly serve the entire city. That’s where Ajakaiye believes 25 Bough will offer something different and necessary.
The building will also eventually house a fitness center, office space for R.I.S.E. and other start-ups, and an interactive cultural and heritage museum. But perhaps the centerpiece of the development will be the Futures Hub, where youth from fifth grade through high school will be able to take classes in financial literacy, STEAM disciplines, and technologies like augmented and virtual reality.
“The outcome will yield future leaders, entrepreneurs, and innovators who are more ready to be competitive in a global workforce,” Ajakaiye says. “These are my hopes, dreams, and goals for 25 Bough.”
His Reason for Optimism: “I am hopeful and excited that we will emerge from the year of the pandemic wiser, stronger, and more appreciative of some things we may have previously taken for granted. At some point, the prospect of the returns to more freedom in movement – albeit slowly – will more than likely raise spirits and depressed industries. This forthcoming revival makes me excited for 2021.”