Bunmi Akinyemiju is a busy 31-year-old. The vice president of East Lansing’s high-end Web-development firm, Artemis Solutions Group, CEO of the electronic payment startup, Enliven Software, and director of an “education portal” company in Africa called Splashers Technologies, Bunmi is a young entrepreneur who passionately calls the Lansing area his home.
Born in Lansing, Michigan in 1977 while his Nigerian parents were working on advanced degrees at Michigan State University, he moved back to Africa with his parents when he was five. He returned to MSU at 21.
Programming since the age of 14, Bunmi holds a B.S. in Computer Engineering from Michigan State University. He developed his entrepreneurial and technical skills right from the start, with the first company he started in Africa—Splashers Technologies.
Late last year, he was involved in the acquisition of Fidesic, a Seattle-based electronic invoicing and payment company. He recently led the completion of the first round of start-up financing for the new Michigan-based venture under the company’s new brand, Enliven Software.
Beyond his work with Artemis, Enliven and Splashers, Bunmi also sits on the advisory board for the Michigan State University Children's Initiative (MSUCHI), ran a mentoring program for the Boys and Girls Club of Lansing, and served on the Lansing mayor’s task force for economic development, job creation, and converging technologies.
In today’s global world, collaboration is a critical tool for new ideas and innovation.
Collaboration encourages scientists from one side of the world to partner in real time with scientists on the other end of the world. It allows a manufacturer or a consulting company in Bangalore to sell not just products, but high-end services in the United States. It enables Google—one of the darlings of the tech sector—to have its California employees work alongside thousands of co-workers at Google China on a single product.
This has occurred because today’s communication infrastructure has evolved to a level of sophistication that has impacted every industry. Information and communication technology platforms have evolved and been accelerated by the proliferation of high speed Internet and technological advancements.
These advancements have helped “flatten” the world, making widespread collaboration possible. Today, email, text messaging, video conferencing and instant messaging are standard teamwork tools. Social networking (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.) is fast becoming a new innovative way that high performing teams are creating new value today.
There are examples of successful collaboration in various industries:
* Software: The open source community has leveraged worldwide collaboration to deliver innovative software that competes with software developed and owned by multi-billion dollar entities.
* Medicine: Collaboration enables a specialty brain surgeon in London to perform surgery on a dying child in Zaire, Africa.
* Academia: The most creative research and concepts—neuroscience, cybernetics, biomedical engineering—have come out of interdisciplinary research and collaboration between different fields of study.
Instead of the classic command-and-control model or one-person “hero” model, where teams depend on one individual for success, today’s winning teams are the ones that share information, communicate effectively, are location-independent and leverage the best collaboration tools.
Why? When a team’s composition and/or location is diverse, the richness of the team and its ability to develop innovative solutions is greatly enhanced.
In the same light, teams with multi-disciplinary talents are the most productive in the workplace. Teams with multi-cultural backgrounds have a creative edge. Teams with the best tools, technology and processes for sharing ideas are the most effective. These teams will consistently out perform their counterparts, who may even have a higher level of individual talent.
New business models are being created as a result of mass collaboration. For example, Google recently released a version of Google Maps that uses a new Web business model called “crowd sourcing.” Google invites mass collaboration from disparate users—in this case, allowing anyone on the Internet to correct the geo-location (latitude, longitude) of any address on their map—who gradually contribute to data aggregation or system improvement.
So, they are getting data entry work done for FREE! The same can be said of Wikipedia’s existence, which is another classic example of “crowd sourcing” and mass collaboration.
One of the newest tools that we use for collaboration is Twitter. Based on a remarkably simple idea, Twitter is a service for friends, family and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: “What are you doing?”
This social networking tool allows users to send updates or "tweets" (text-based posts up to 140 characters long) to theTwitter Web site via a multitude of methods (SMS, email, IM, phone, etc). Twitter allows us to carry out a private or group conversation over the Internet and mobile phones simultaneously, with seamless integration between team members using different systems.
Our sales team uses Twitter to maintain a group dialog all day long—a much more efficient solution than email, which might get lost or overlooked. Messages can be delivered via phone, text message, IM, email, orany transport mechanism supported—based on your choice or the person you “follow” on Twitter. (To follow Bunmi on Twitter click here.)
Twitter is just one example of how the flattening of the world can be used to our strategic advantage.
The days of phone communication (which can be disruptive) and email (plagued by information overload) are passing. With Twitter as part of your communication and collaboration platform, you determine how you want tobe reached; you respond at your own pace; you provide updates to people proactively. It’s quite easy—after all, you have to keep it under 140 characters!
In today’s world, you can’t afford to isolate yourself. Collaboration using Twitter, or tools such as Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) is the way that organizations, teams and companies will continue to innovate in the future.
Over the next few years, any team’s success will depend on its ability to embrace change, support an entrepreneurial discipline and willingness to adopt a culture of collaboration. This shift towards innovation through collaboration will have enormous ramifications for managers, customers, partners and employees.
Come along—it’s time to work together.
In a twist of fate, the growth in Michigan’s population that occurred as a result of high paying jobs back in the good ol’ days is the same thing that is hurting us now.
The auto industry’s growth was driven by a few very large companies which have a tradition of being very bureaucratic, political and non-agile. People employed in Michigan over those darling years naturally adopted a big company type of culture—high expectations from the establishment, low sense of individual impact, and a low tolerance for risk and growth.
Contrast this environment with that of today’s typical start-up company, where each employee quickly comes to understand that their contribution can make or break the company.
In the new model, it’s about the employee who is delivering the most value for the least money. Information is now more important than seniority—you get paid for what you know, not how long you have been around or if you went to college.
Michiganders should be ready to adapt to this change. But we will need to make some major changes, and make them quickly.
The world has changed drastically in recent years. We are entering a totally different phase of economic dynamics: the “experience” economy. This new economy is driven by talent, and combines products, servicesand a unique customer experience.
Talent and knowledge are the currency of this new economy. Some people call it the “Starbucks economy” where, as a company, you have to sell more than the features and benefits of your solution. You have to stage an experience!
Staging an experience requires everyone involved coming up with out-of-the-box ideas. Knowledge workers are expected to think, innovate and present new ideas that help their company innovate.
In Michigan, entrepreneurship is not in our fabric anymore. We lost it a long time ago. It will take us at least a decade of rebuilding to regain the throne.
I believe we can do it. I also believe it will be very hard and painful. Hard work and pain are good. We learn more from pain anyway—it’s the best tool for motivation.
As an illustration, picture a child that grew up in an environment where getting two, bare-bones meals a day was a huge accomplishment. When such child is in an environment where there is plenty, he or she is very likely to hold on tight and do everything to not go back to the past.
This may be why a lot of foreigners tend to be very successful when they relocate to a new country. America was built this way. It is because their past is full of pain, inconvenience, sometimes poverty. When they come to a new environment, they have an open mind. They have no expectations; they are completely free of the baggage of entitlement. And this helps them to think and succeed.
This kind of thinking is what most entrepreneurs possess.
In order to rebuild, we must all think like entrepreneurs. To neutralize any biases that we have in this region because of our history, we must embark on a journey that involves parents, mentors and focuses on our youth.
We must show our young people that it’s okay to think big and take risks. From a young age, Michiganders must come to understand that by developing and relying on their individual abilities, they can shape their economic future.
This is what the new economy is about—it is driven by an entrepreneurial way of thinking.
Employees must think in “value-add” terms—it’s not about what the company can do for them, nor is it about the effort they put in from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s truly about the unique experiences and innovations they candeliver to propel the company to new heights.
We have to expect opportunities only when we deliver value to others. If we can be successful at ingraining this thinking, especially at a young age, we will be ready to lead the next wave of economic success globally.
Our future is in the hands of a new breed of Michigan entrepreneurs. They will understand the new economy way of thinking. Their products will target a global audience. They will compete and win globally.They can adapt to change at a pace that the world has yet to experience. They will have a unique ability to spot the diamond in the rough. They will be relentless, and will never take no for an answer. To them, “impossible is nothing.”
From the most fundamental perspective, the biggest challenge that we all face today is realizing, accepting and embracing the concept of change.
The idea of “change” is not foreign to anyone. In fact, it is one of the few inevitable realities in life. The human race and every other surviving organism must naturally evolve to avoid extinction.
Why is it then that we still resist change? Why is it that we sometimes get complacent with the status quo, instead of striving to do more, be more, find a better way?
I propose that the critical battle that we all fight today—as individuals, organizations, companies, countries—is syncing our “clock” of change with that of the times around us.
Today, knowledge and information become stale extremely quickly. Organizations and individuals must be open to change. Their strategies must adapt, evolve and change at the pace determined by their marketplace, competitors, neighbors, environment, etc. Individuals and organizations must keep in sync with the pace of change required by the times we live in.
Imagine you are a business leader in the year 2008, and you believe you are the first to market with a new product. You have no competitors. Then, tomorrow, you suddenly realize a new company in Bangladesh provides the same product, with better quality, at a fraction of the cost.
Most low-performing individuals or organizations have a wave pattern (think sine wave) that is slow, sluggish or inconsistent with that of the life around them; they cannot keep up. Thus, they become irrelevant and forgotten.
In order to survive our fast-paced, knowledge driven world, first and foremost you must embrace change within yourself and your organization, so that you can stay relevant. In fact, you must learn to thrive on change by refabricating the genetics of your organization.
“Be open to change” is one of the famous mantras of management in the past decade.
But being open to change is no longer enough. This is not about accepting, tolerating or adapting to change. Rather, it is living, loving and thriving on change.
The most groundbreaking ideas, companies and organizations come out of abandoning conventional wisdom and making fundamental changes in how things are done.
There have been several studies on what it takes to be successful as an individual and an organization in this global world. My take is that you must adopt the following three principles:
1. Realize the world is flat and your next competition could be on the other side of the world
2. Adopt a culture of discipline and entrepreneurship
3. Surround yourself with a team that gets it—individuals who understand the need to think globally, and who thrive on finding a new and better way
Why is the pace of change today so fast? Some of the key drivers are the world’s “flatteners,” as Thomas L. Friedman describes in his book "The World is Flat:" global competition, outsourcing, the China Boom, knowledge economy and telecommunication.
When these drivers are coupled with the constant advancements in technology, the result is higher productivity, easier access to information and exponential growth in emerging markets. All of these trends are leveling the international playing field. But by adopting the principles outlined earlier, we can stay relevant.
At Artemis Solutions Group, we strive to ride on the coattails of change. Rather than approaching change with resistance and fear,we embrace it. We love it. We find that the best way to adapt to change is by continuously reinventing ourselves. We listen to our instincts and take action.
In order to support our craving for change, we’ve engineered an effective process to develop new ideas and concepts. We hold bi-weekly innovation sessions, where ideas for products, add-on modules, future services, practices and processes are vetted. From there, we advance to there search and development phase, and an initiative champion pushes the concept into production as quickly as possible.
And we seek to help our clients achieve the same. Many of our clients are now used to the concept of meeting frequently—several times per year—just to ask themselves, “What could we be doing better? How could we use technology to leverage our organization’s asset to make us best in class?”
Because we are not afraid of treading new ground, we know we will make mistakes. But we also know that we will learn from them, and those mistakes will make us stronger. Although uncharted territory is unnerving, the truth is that the greater risk lies in mediocrity.
Is your change cycle in sync with the wave of life? What about your business, or our beloved state of Michigan?
If not, there’s no time like to present to ask ourselves what we can do to get up to speed.
From my early days in biology class, I remember the saying from Charles Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”
I think we need to ask ourselves the question, “How has our favorite state of Michigan reacted or adapted to change?”
First, a little background: My attachment to Michigan runs deep in the family lines. I was born in Lansing, so my initial contact with Michigan was not by choice. But my still being here is definitely by choice.
At 31, I have spent exactly half of my life in West Africa (where my parents are from), and half of my life in EastLansing/Lansing. This gives me an interesting perspective on our region’s history, potential and current state. I think that the unique perspective could be beneficial.
I am a passionate Michigander—I live, work and play here and I love it. In the gloom that looms in the economy, I strongly believe exciting opportunities exist. For example, people are taking advantage of the low cost of living, easy access to universities (and brilliant interns), and access to large insurance and health care-related companies. So, even while I identify challenges, I am a true champion of Michigan.
After World War II, Michigan was truly the center of innovation and growth. As people moved here, where the jobs were, our population grew in double digits—at one point doubling in a decade! We set the pace for innovation, job growth, economic development and success. We were the Silicon Valley of the 60s and 70s.
Today, unfortunately, that era is gone—but we must adapt and position ourselves for that next cycle of change. The key question is: How are we faring?
Let’s start with the good news. Michigan has done much inrecent years to reposition itself to recapture the glory of the past. I am extremely impressed at several initiatives going strong at the state level, as well as in several communities.
In the past year or two, the Mid-Michigan area has also stepped up. We’ve seen more activities, innovation and collaborative partnerships here recently than in the past 10 years combined.
The creation of two brand new Angel Investment groups inthe area is a great move. Without an ecosystem of investors, entrepreneurs (a key ingredient in the new talent-driven economy) will move away or decay—as they have done in the past. The Angel Investment groups can help prevent that.
Mid-Michigan’s launch of LEAP Inc., a unique public-private partnership to reposition the economy, is also a great accomplishment. There are very few communities in the country that have been able to pull together 30 of the largest companies and organizations in the community with one vision to drastically improve the economy of the region by supporting new enterprises.
We have also seen the Lansing Chamber of Commerce reinvent itself, investing in its leadership talent pool, innovation and a new value-driven approach to serving local businesses.
The Capital Area IT Council is another illustration ofthe uncommon methods being used to rethink business. This council is a unique collaboration of all technology-related companies in the area, coming together to solve the IT talent acquisition and retention problems faced by the region and, in fact, the country as a whole.
At the state level, Governor Granholm and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation are making bold moves. The launch of the 21st Century Job Fund proves that our leaders understand the state’s needs and are willing to take the necessary risks to invest in our future.
These are just a few of the investments currently underway. Each one is a key ingredient in the adaptation necessary for the region and state to keep up with rapid change.
Michigan is doing the right things, and many efforts are underway to help us reposition and adapt. However, while the necessary efforts are underway, I believe we are responding late—which is why we feel the impactof our slow response so deeply. While the change hit a while ago, only in the last few years have we started reacting with the level of aggressiveness required.
Michigan as a region has seen the writing on the wall fora while, and has tried its best to adapt and reposition itself. But just like a large elephant trying to turn around and change direction, changing our state’s direction is very hard. There are cultural barriers to correct, new attitudes to develop, and new economies that must be seeded.
And the catalyst for this change is talent driven, entrepreneur-focused, and motivated by community and collaboration.
I start my day thinking about strategic ways to leverage my talents, resources and regional assets to deliver value. Each one of us must think that way to remain relevant.
Hungry entrepreneurs— and states—understand that the cheese won’t come to them; they have to go find new cheese every day.
Let's go find that new cheese — or work on making our own.