Kevin, Dr. Earl, & Ayinde | Founders of HBCU Smart Cities Challenge

March 28, 2024

Q: Hi, we're thrilled to learn more about you and your story today. Let's jump right into it. Can you start by briefly telling us about yourself?

A: Kevin Fomengia (KF) is an experienced tech leader dedicated to empowering overlooked talent. As Co-Founder and Director of Innovation at Pathway Community Foundation, Kevin has worked with over 10 cities, 20 HBCUs, 300+ HBCU students, and 1,000 African software developers to unlock potential and drive solutions to complex challenges.

Dr. Earl Turner (ET) serves as a Cofounder, Chairman of the Board, and Research and Education Advisor for Pathway Community Foundation and the HBCU Smart Cities Challenge. Dr. Turner has significantly contributed to tech sectors, particularly focusing on equity and the needs of historically marginalized students. Beyond his professional pursuits, Dr. Turner's dedication to community and social impact is evident in his founding of a construction company in New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina. Holding a doctorate in Entrepreneurial Leadership in Education from Johns Hopkins University, he exemplifies a strong commitment to academic leadership and innovation in education.

Ayinde Simon (AS) is the co-founder and President of Pathway Community Foundation and the HBCU Smart Cities Challenge. As an impact investor and business development professional with over 15years of experience forecasting trends and helping entrepreneurs bring bold creative visions to life, Ayinde is particularly passionate about investing in the processes and infrastructure needed to catapult under resourced, high-potential leaders to success.

Q: How did you make the decision to pursue a career in tech? What was your biggest motivator?

A: KF: My interest in tech started in college when I built a delivery app for Chipotle orders at the University of Maryland. This was before the UberEats and Doordash of the world. This early experience showed me how technology can enable greater efficiency and improve processes. It sparked a curiosity that led me to a career focused on exploring innovation gaps and systems-level challenges. My biggest motivator is building simple and impactful products that enable overlooked regions to maximize their value.

ET: My decision to pursue a career in tech was driven by the impact technology had on my construction business. The catalyst was a software I developed, which transformed our sales process. Previously, we were averaging $15,000 a month in income, but with the introduction of this software, our earnings skyrocketed to nearly $100,000 a month. This experience was a revelation. It demonstrated to me that technology is not just a tool, but a critical factor in scaling business and enhancing life. It was this realization that sparked my move into education technology. I became motivated by the desire to harness technology not just for business success, but to solve problems in the world's most important industry, Education.

AS: I have always been a lover and early adopter of technology. And as time went on, I saw the writing on the wall that, as Marc Andreesen said, “Software is eating the world.” But I became frustrated with the reality that my community, while often avid users of tech, were largely absent in the spaces where the tech is being created. That left us to be taken advantage of by technology that doesn’t best serve us or have our unique needs and interests at heart. Our communities are often on the frontlines of being impacted rather than making the impact. I wanted to change that.

Q: Can you tell us a little about any challenges you faced and lessons you've learned throughout your journey?

A: KF: One meaningful challenge I embraced was moving to and living in the Mississippi Delta for 2 years. Coming from an urban upbringing, living in a rural Deep South community pushed me outside my comfort zone. I encountered sobering realities like lack of access to quality food, healthcare, and other critical services that many take for granted. This experience taught me important lessons about the connection between structural infrastructure and quality of life. In my career, I've carried these lessons around community infrastructure forward. My goal is to leverage technology to reinforce inclusion, access, opportunity, and quality of life. Serving overlooked communities has taught me that innovation must build upon the strengths and values already present locally.

ET: My journey has been quite a ride, and I've picked up a few key lessons along the way. I started out as a hustler, always on the go, thinking I could just power through to success on pure grit. But I hit a snag. It turns out, there's only so far you can get without really understanding the nuts and bolts of how things like the economy tick. I was so focused on sprinting to the finish line, I missed out on learning some pretty crucial stuff. I've learned it's all about balancing a solid game plan with staying open to whatever God throws your way. It's a cool dance between following your own map and being ready to go off-road when needed. It's not just about charging ahead; it's about being smart and flexible, and that's made all the difference for me.

AS: Tech is not my first career. I had an exciting career in the creative industries as an entrepreneur but when making the pivot, I knew that I would face challenges transitioning into a space that is notoriously insular and typically for people with a traditional tech background. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is to be confident in what you know. Confidence is contagious and my belief not just in my own vision and skills but in the untapped potential of my community and in the value of this work inspires others to open their minds and believe too.

Q: So, we would love to hear a bit more about the work you are doing to inspire others. Tell us about that.

A: KF: I work directly with over 100 HBCU students to strengthen their skills in solving pressing city challenges. I motivate them to take the lead in creating solutions without waiting for permission or invitations. Cities need their energy, ideas and action now. My goal is to build students' confidence that they can drive real impact through technology innovation. I open doors for them to apply their creativity to meaningful problems in their own backyards.

ET: In my journey to inspire others, I like to think of inspiration in terms of what I call 'personal championships.' We often hear about champions in the context of sports, where it's all about beating the competition. But for me, the concept of a 'rival' is more of an internal challenge. It's about asking myself what I aim to achieve in the limited time I have on this planet. Every goal I set and meet, no matter the size, is like winning a championship in my eyes. I'm currently writing a book about this philosophy. In it, I explore the idea that life is a series of both big and small championships. Winning professional, but also personal championships are what I believe truly inspire others.

AS: I love inspiring people to be problem solvers and innovators in their own communities. So often we are told that we have to wait to be chosen, ask for permission, or worse, leave our communities altogether in order to make meaningful change. But I’m a big believer in using what’s in our backyard to change what our front yards looks like. Through our work at the foundation and via the Challenge, we are showing people what it looks like to nurture the brilliance and big ideas that exist right where we live.

Q: How do you balance work-life, while maintaining maximum efficiency within your career and community involvement, business, etc.

A: KF: For me, this work is a lifestyle fueled by passion, so I don't draw stark divisions between "work" and "life." I love what I do, so dedicating myself to it feels natural, not forced. I approach each day like I'm an athlete training for game day - continuously honing my skills through study, reading, writing, and learning. I structure my days to have focused hours for core work, while also carving out time to recharge through activities like walking in nature. I like maintaining a well-oiled machine - each piece plays a role, so I tune them purposefully. My competitive drive keeps me striving to maximize my potential impact without burnout.

ET: Balancing work-life while maintaining maximum efficiency in both my career and community involvement is indeed a challenging but rewarding endeavor. My approach centers around three key strategies: leveraging technology, effective project management, and ruthless prioritization, all bound together by a strong sense of commitment. By combining these strategies, I've found a way to maintain efficiency and balance in all areas of my life. It's a continuous process of learning and adjustment, but it's incredibly fulfilling to see the results of this balanced approach.

AS: Balance is hard when you have a purpose. But I’ve learned that I can’t pursue it well without the things that matter most. So prayer is the center of my day, it guides my decision making and my mental health. My family is also critical. No man is an island. Having a wife that understands the mission and is aligned with me and our shared goals helps me move through the marathon journey with a solid foundation. Lastly, having a solid daily routine is essential. During periods where the balance between work and community involvement and other parts of my life is out of whack, the first thing I know to tweak is my routine.

Confidence is contagious and my belief not just in my own vision and skills but in the untapped potential of my community and in the value of this work inspires others to open their minds and believe too.

Q: Thanks for sharing that. What advice would you give to someone who is looking to start or advance their tech career?

A: KF: Begin by clearly defining your North Star – the guiding purpose that pulls you forward. This vision will anchor you through ups and downs, so outline it honestly and revisit it often. Make adjustments as needed, but stay aligned to your values. The path forward starts from looking within. Connect choices back to your vision to achieve goals with integrity. An advancing career is a process, not an event – let your purpose pull you forward.

ET: Pray a lot! Reach out on LinkedIn and I’ll discuss some tips and industry secrets over a virtual happy hour.

AS: Jump in where you are. You don’t have to be an engineer or a developer to work in tech. Take inventory of your advantages: your skills, your talents, your interests and your passions. If you like people, maybe you manage tech-centered communities. If you like kids, participate or lead after school programs. There are endless ways to enter into the work of technology and advance within it. Using what you have before rushing to assume that you need greater qualifications or more experience is the first step. Even if and when you do need those things, maximizing your innate resources and abilities is still the extra secret sauce that you’ll need to go far.

Q: One last question – how can our readers connect with you, learn more or support you? Website, Instagram: Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, etc.

A: KF: You can find me on LinkedIn (

ET: LinkedIn (  and Instagram @12et312

AY: You can find me on LinkedIn (  and connect with me there. I’m always excited to hear from people interested in the work that I’m doing, so definitely send me a message. I’m also somewhat of an archivist of Black history and culture on Instagram stories so follow me there for inspiring content and of course, info about the Challenge. Instagram @ayinde.simon