As founder and president of Clutch Delivery LLC, Celestin Abwe ’23 fills his days with meetings, emails, business workshops and onboarding new employees. However, Abwe’s entrepreneurial journey began thousands of miles away, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, when Abwe was just a small child.
“My mom used to make soap… She used to work at the market, and I used to help her out even though I was a knucklehead,” he recalls.
When he and his family moved to Kenya, Abwe’s entrepreneurial ventures began in earnest. He would sell snacks on the road, carry water for people, and complete construction work. He was around 7 years old.
After moving to the U.S. and attending high school in Buffalo, N.Y., Abwe earned a bachelor’s degree in finance at Le Moyne. It was during his freshman year that the idea for his business, Clutch Delivery, was born. As he and his friends were inside Nelligan Hall, watching the swirling snow outside, he wished someone could deliver food from the Dolphin Den to his dorm. He wondered if college students would be interested in making deliveries from on-campus and off-campus restaurants to places on campus. When the pandemic hit in 2020, Abwe used his time to work on refining his business plan and reached out to Mike D’Eredita, Ph.D., director of the Keenan Center for Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Creativity, for input and advice.
Abwe soon learned the value of the Keenan Center’s community. “It’s not a competition,” he says. “It’s not ‘I can’t work with that guy because his business is too close to mine.’ No, we help each other out. We can advance together or arrive at these new heights that you never would have thought would be possible. I’m all about competition--I’m very, very competitive--but it makes more sense to have a community where you can all build together and help each other.”
This year, Clutch Delivery was one of five businesses selected by CenterState CEO to take part in the Syracuse Surge Accelerator program. A one-year, in-person accelerator, Syracuse Surge provides direct resources and support for Black, Indigenous, Persons of Color (BIPOC) entrepreneurs who want to launch and accelerate tech-related or tech-adjacent startups in Syracuse.
Through the program, Abwe has attended workshops from top leaders in the community about everything it takes to run a business, from finance to HR laws. He has begun the process of building an app for his food delivery service; in doing so, he has been hiring and onboarding additional employees. And throughout the process, he has been reflecting on his company’s values, mission and plans for the future. While Clutch is a food delivery service for students, faculty, staff and guests on college campuses, he hopes to one day expand to include delivery services for other products as well, such as groceries and books.
Guided by a strong sense of community and an intuitive sense of people, which he attributes to growing up in a family of 10, Abwe always keeps his eye on the bigger picture. “Entrepreneurship is a very, very lonely journey,” he says. “You have days where you have your ups and downs; you have weeks or months where you don’t have the sales that you want. But it only takes a conversation with a fellow entrepreneur, people who are like-minded, to spark that fire back into you.”