Seun, left, and Seyi. (Photo: Courtesy Seyi Abolaji)

ALUMNI NEWS

The Lemonade Stand: This Is Not Kid Stuff

When Seyi Abolaji, ’05, returned to Nigeria in 2007, it was supposed to be a two-week vacation. He’d recently left his spot on the Seattle Sounders soccer team, had lined up “a 9-to-5, a real job” back in Chicago and just wanted to spend a little time in his birthplace to see what had changed in the decade since he’d last visited.

Instead, he had an epiphany: “There are so many opportunities here,” he says. “I didn’t think I could make as much impact in the U.S.” A year later, he took a one-way flight to Ota, on the outskirts of Lagos. He first tried his hand in the palm kernel industry, but soon decided to open a fresh-squeezed juice stand instead. He convinced nearby Covenant University to let him operate it on campus. Then one day, he was buying fruit at a market when he saw someone selling lemons. “It crossed my mind — Wow! I hadn’t had lemonade since I’d been in Nigeria.”

The juice stand quickly became a lemonade stand. By 2013, it had exploded into Wilson’s, a national lemonade bottling company. Abolaji and his brother, Seun, run the business, which makes the first certified not-from-concentrate juice in Nigeria. Wilson’s lemonade now distributes to 18 of Nigeria’s 36 states and employs a workforce that’s 80 percent female, from line workers to the factory director. “Things are bad enough to keep a lot of good people away,” says Abolaji about his country’s economic and political instability, but he adds: “We’re impacting lives.” •