Sept. 22--Haji Abu came to Minnesota from Kenya on the advice of his cousin, who was living in Minneapolis. Abu attended St. Cloud State University and graduated in 2010 with a degree in mass communication.
"I had a few different options after that," Abu said. "I could have applied for an internship with CNN in Atlanta or I could've gone to work for Voice of America in Washington, D.C. Then someone advised me about finding your place in a circle. Whatever you do in life, find your place in a circle -- whether it's business, your love life, whatever. Find a place where you fit in and start from there."
On a plane home from South Africa, a trip on which he saw extreme poverty and extreme wealth side by side, he had the idea for what would become Orange Oak Advertising.
Abu felt there was opportunity in the huge immigrant population in the U.S. Abu and his business partner, Mike Wambua, joined forces less than two years ago to create an advertising and marketing firm that would work with companies to reach people who aren't fluent in English.
"This is a population that is being thoroughly ignored," Abu said. "Nobody is talking about them. Nobody is giving them an avenue where they can communicate to the mainstream population. So this has a deeper meaning for me. I wanted it to be easier for people than it was for me."
Based on a recent honor from the Greater St. Cloud Development Corp., Orange Oak is accomplishing that goal. Abu's company was selected as this year's recipient of the Innovation Award for emerging businesses because of its efforts in multilingual video production.
"We wanted to help new immigrants integrate with the mainstream population of Minnesota," said Abu, who is founder and CEO and has added a master's degree from Augsburg College. "That included making Somali videos with English subtitles, and English videos with Somali subtitles, or Spanish subtitles or Hmong subtitles."
One of Orange Oak's first and larger projects was working on a series of videos for CentraCare Health. Topics included tips for Somali women about maintaining their health and that of their children through healthy habits, household safety and the use of car seats. One video, detailing how to take a child's temperature, had almost 20,000 downloads from all over the world. With academic contacts, Orange Oak can produce videos in almost any language.
"We tried to do some of that in-house, but it quickly became apparent we needed their expertise," said Deb Paul, a communications and marketing specialist with CentraCare. "It's hard for me to edit video when it's in Spanish or put subtitles in Somali. We know where to turn now when we have a video need."
Orange Oak also made a welcome video for the St. Cloud school district, and worked with school districts from as far away as Fargo, N.D., and Maine.
"Orange Oak really stood out," said Brian Myres, managing vice president at Capital One and a member of the Innovation Awards selection committee with the GSDC. "Connecting the whole immigrant population is a big deal in our organization and their efforts are a win-win when you look at our community priorities."
Abu also has potential projects underway with St. Cloud State University and the city of St. Cloud. He is striving to make inroads with for-profit companies, too.
"I've seen the way some employees who speak another language are being trained, and it's in English," Abu said. "Some of the instructions they're given when they're hired, whether printed or on video, it's in English. How do you expect this workforce to understand? If there were subtitles or some translations, at least they would have a chance."