Last year, Kela Ivonye relocated from his home base in Louisville, Kentucky to Silicon Valley for an extended period of time to participate in not just one, but two startup accelerator programs. But even though the two-time founder appreciated the funding, mentorship, and partnerships he gained from these experiences, he was committed to returning to Louisville to build his startup, MailHaven.
“We are really focused because we’re here [in Louisville],” says Ivonye, who returned home after completing the prestigious 500 Startups program at the end of 2017. “We find ourselves not getting jaded — being focused and solving real problems that are affecting people who live in this area, which is a demographic that is representative of a majority of America. Being in Louisville and working on this problem allows us to be well-grounded.”
Ivonye is not a Louisville native — he emigrated from Nigeria to study spatial analysis and urban planning in the undergraduate program at the University of Louisville. He says he had to be an entrepreneur from the start, figuring out ways to put himself through school.
“I came with little or no money. I had been buying and selling items to help put myself through college and was sitting class even though I hadn’t registered,” says Ivonye. “Luckily, instead of just kicking me out when they found out about that, they gave me a scholarship.”
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However, when he identified a real-world application for the spatial analysis theories he was studying, he dropped out of graduate school to start his first company: a food delivery service that used an algorithmic-based formula to get food to customers significantly faster than any other service.
“There was probably one food delivery company in Louisville, and it would take them almost two hours to make a delivery. I saw an opening where I could use my knowledge to cut down on delivery times, thereby creating a better offering for consumers,” says Ivonye. His algorithm divided the city into districts to reduce drivers’ mileage and ensure deliveries were made within 30 minutes; an accompanying app allowed customers to track their food being delivered, similar to Uber Eats.
Though the company was turning a profit, it wasn’t set up to scale, as Ivonye had originally hoped. However, in observing customers’ behavior, he had identified another pain point in delivery — that…
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