Entrepreneur Spotlight: Reuben Cummings

PEORIA -- If there's a poster child for the technology movement for the Peoria area, it may be Reuben Cummings.

An African American who grew up on Peoria's South Side (his mother, Yvette Cummings, still lives on Starr Street) left Greater Peoria to get his education at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After graduation, he stayed in Boston to refine his computer skills before deciding to see the world.

He saw a lot of it, spending eight years in Tanzania where he traveled widely in Africa.

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In 2018, he reconnected with a high school friend and returned to Peoria. "I decided I wanted to expand what I was doing in the area of data analysis and try to help different kinds of companies. I wanted to broaden my horizons," said Cummings.

What did he think of the old hometown after living and working around the world?

"I saw a lot of improvements. The Warehouse District added a new dimension to downtown," he said.

"I wanted to connect with the tech community here," said Cummings, 37, who conducted his own research effort on what was going on in the community, checking out organizations like River City Labs and Startup GP. He joined the Nest, the area's co-working space in the Warehouse District, got to work, and is now a founding board member of the Peoria Innovation Alliance, serving as the head of the nominating committee.

Cummings organized a group called Arusha Coders while living in the third largest city of Tanzania. Arusha has seen its population increase from 55,000 in 1978 to over 400,000 in 2012.

Having brought together computer programmers and others involved in technology while in Africa, Cummings is reapplying that same organizational skill now that he's back in Peoria. The first meeting of the Greater Peoria Data & Analytics Meetup took place at the Nest on May 15th.

"I want to bring back hackathons and use technology to make the city better," he said.

Cummings points to a number of Peoria institutions that helped a kid from a low-income home in Peoria's inner city find success in the technology field.

"I took part in TSTM at the Tri-County Urban League," he said, referring to the group called Tomorrow's Scientists, Technologists and Managers based at Urban League headquarters at 317 S. MacArthur Highway in Peoria where he received after-school computer classes.

I decided I wanted to expand what I was doing in the area of data analysis and try to help different kinds of companies. I wanted to broaden my horizons
— Reuben Cummings

"Every year we took trips to different colleges around the United States--some were the historical black colleges like the Tuskegee Institute," he said.

"I knew I wanted to do something in the engineering field. I attended computer camps at the University of Illinois and at the University of Missouri in Rolla. My mother definitely encouraged my interests," said Cummings.

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"I also knew I wanted to attend the best college that I could after high school," he said, noting that he particularly enjoyed his math and science classes at Manual High School.

"I knew MIT was at the top of the list (for technology classes). My church, the Pentecostal Church of Jesus Christ, raised the funds for me to visit there for a weekend where I met some of the students and got more familiar with the school," he said.

During his senior year at Manual, Cummings paid another visit to MIT. "I applied to a number of colleges. I was halfway through my application to Stanford when I got the acceptance letter from MIT," he said.

But attending a school that attracted the best and brightest technical minds in the country wasn't easy, said Cummings. "Math was my strong suit. I didn't really have to study in high school. At MIT, I had to learn how to study," he said. After failing a chemistry class, Cummings realized he had to put more emphasis on the academics.

"It wasn't enough to attend a lecture. I had to do the reading in advance in order to get more out of what the professor was saying," he said.

Focusing on classwork didn't stop Cummings from joining--and helping to reinvigorate--the MIT entrepreneurs club. In his junior year, he served as the group's president.

Entrepreneurship was also on Cummings' mind when he took classes at MIT's business school.

After graduating from MIT, Cummings stayed in Boston where he worked for Midior Consulting, a product development consulting company.

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After four years, he decided to join Jodie Wu, a fellow MIT alum, in Tanzania at a company called Global Cycle Solutions that Wu started in Arusha. That job brought Cummings experience in sales, accounting and product demonstration as well as utilizing his software skills.

It also allowed Cummings to travel widely in Africa where, after four years, he decided to focus on web technologies and become an independent consultant based out of Arusha.

Today, Cummings is still consulting but doing it in his hometown. With several national clients, he's learning to balance life and work hours.

"I've gotten more regimented. I could work 18 hours a day because I enjoy my work but I'm taking on more normal hours. I need to hire someone to do marketing for me. I realize I can't do everything myself," he said.

One thing Cummings can do by himself is serve as a shining example of the talented tech force that's growing in Peoria.