CSE Friday Speaker Series
November 14, 2014
by Otto Nagengast ‘17
A native of Brooklyn, New York, Aifuwa Ehigiator lived in five different apartments with his two brothers and his parents before he was fifteen. Aifuwa says that he “grew up poor, but had a great upbringing.” In middle school, Aifuwa met an investment banker at a career day who revealed that he made between $150,000 and $400,000 a year. Aifuwa said that at that moment he decided he wanted to live that kind of life. In his senior year at the School of the Future in Manhattan, he received a prestigious Posse Scholarship to attend Middlebury. He knew that the trajectory of his life had changed. He jointed-majored in Women and Gender Studies and Economics and played on the rugby team. Twelve days after graduation, Aifuwa started at Bloomberg, the financial media company.
He spent six years at Bloomberg. During that time, he led an exciting life and learned many skills that later helped while launching Our Street. But Aifuwa felt that he had an obligation to use his talents to address the challenges that people faced, particularly back home in Brooklyn. While at Bloomberg, Aifuwa received a crucial piece of advice from someone at Morgan Stanley, the financial services firm. She said that when you’re debating changing paths, there’s a moment when you know that you have to do it. “I felt,” Aifuwa says, “that I was having that moment for weeks and weeks.”
On March 30, 2014, Aifuwa quit Bloomberg and launched Our Street, a real estate crowdfunding startup that invests exclusively in low to moderate-income communities. Drawing upon his own upbringing, Aifuwa knew that housing was becoming increasingly unaffordable for low and middle-income families. He also knew that part of the lack of economic prosperity among lower-income families in inner cities was a lack of opportunities for long-term investments. Combining these two issues with his background in finance and business, Aifuwa hopes to use Our Street to enable low to moderate-income families to invest in real estate in their communities. “Let’s come together to own our communities” reads one Our Street’s posters.
An individual can go onto Our Street’s platform and invest between $100 and a $10,000 to buy a share of a piece of property. Our Street uses 60 percent of their own capital and 40 percent crowdsourced capital to purchase and renovate the property. Our Street then rents the property out at reduced prices, and the revenue from the rents are distributed among investors according to their respective percent shares. Our Street already has $110,000 in commitments from 168 users.
They believe that they will succeed because similar crowdfunding real estate sites focus on luxury property. Our Street is the first to focus exclusively on low to moderate-income communities, where they believe they have a strong connection. Aifuwu and Our Street are still navigating the necessary legal channels before fully launching, but they are getting outside help, including from fellow Middlebury alumnus, Pier LaFarge ’10.5.
“Our social mission is just as important as the profits,” says Aifuwu. Launching Our Street has been “a scary experience but an exciting one.” Aifuwa has returned to the place he came from to address an issue that affected his own life using all that he learned while he was away. He has lived a truly remarkable life thanks, in part, to a weird confluence of events.