CYstarters Spotlight: Akyn

By Lindsey Murray | ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship

CYstarters Spotlight: A 15-part series highlighting student entrepreneurs pursuing their business ventures as part of the CYstarters 2023 summer cohort. Through this program, students have the unique opportunity to prioritize the development of their own startup or business idea. Each individual receives $6,500 and access to resources such as mentorship, networking opportunities, and educational sessions on entrepreneurship and business startup.

Kaleb Nichols is a go-getter. After a brief interview, it was made perfectly clear what he is passionate about and how he plans to pursue his larger-than-life dreams. His current project is Akyn: an art-based organization that focuses on creating positive, safe spaces and cultural environments for black youth through art and community events. His innate confidence and dedication to this mission will undoubtedly catalyze a cultural change in local communities and beyond.

Nichols (20) was born in Memphis, TN, into a predominantly black community. When he moved to Des Moines, he experienced significant culture shock. He quickly became aware of the lack of events and creative outlets available to black youth. As a young artist himself (a spoken word poet), he deeply desired more opportunities to share his art with peers and wanted to find a way to connect with older generations for support and resources. 

Fast forward to the spring of 2021. Nichols was still figuring out how to fill the void in the artistic community. The feeling was heightened as the world began slowly regaining its footing after lock-down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He worried about his community and what would be left to go back to but didn’t contemplate this overwhelming thought for long. Instead, he approached the problem head-on, and Akyn was the solution.

Nichols has been hosting community events since 2021. His first event, SNKR DRVE 2k21, was inspired by his love for sneakers and his own impressive shoe collection. SNKR DRVE 2k21 raised money to buy brand-new sneakers for underprivileged youth in Des Moines. Thanks to his meticulous planning and organization skills, the event had a DJ, hosted food for event attendees, and free, brand-new shoes for kids to take home. His hope for SNKR DRVE 2k21 was to create a safe space where kids could receive shoes without feeling ashamed and could walk away with a boost of confidence. Due to the success of the event and positive feedback from community members, Nichols has been able to host this event for three years in a row. This past January, SNKR DRVE 2k23 went off without a hitch.

Nichols photographed with day-of event volunteers for the SNKR DRVE 2k23 event held at Hoover High School on January 28, 2023.

In 2022, he began organizing events under the official business name, Akyn. Since then, he has coordinated and hosted several events throughout Ames and Des Moines highlighting local student artists. He loves having the opportunity to reach out to students and local youth about participating in these events. “It’s often the first time they’ve ever done anything like this. The first time someone has reached out and wanted them to be at an event where the majority of the attendees look like them.” Not only do participants have an opportunity to share their work, but they are also exposed to valuable networking connections and resources within the black community.  

Nichols photographed with vendors, performers, and photographers who participated in the Black Ice Art Showcase, presented by Akyn. The event was held at Reliable Street (a local social club) in Ames, Iowa on December 3, 2023.


Nichols applied for the CYstarters program after being involved in the LAS I+E Academy where he was first exposed to the resources available in entrepreneurship and innovation. He felt that involvement in CYstarters was the next best step for his business. Since being selected for the 2023 cohort, he has gained more confidence in his business due to the daily educational sessions provided by business professionals. Over the last 8 weeks, they’ve covered topics ranging from start-up financing to digital marketing. The opportunity to learn from experts in the field of entrepreneurship has been invaluable to Nichols.  His biggest takeaway has been building up a community of peers and mentors that are supporting him on his entrepreneurship journey.

Today, his desire to be his own boss and pursue his passion are the driving forces behind his dedication to Akyn. The flexibility and hands-on work required to successfully start a business have made the path of entrepreneurship very attractive to Nichols. Since day one, his family has taught him, “…that when you’re prepared, it prevents you from having a poor performance. If you’re always ready for the next day before it comes, there’s no need to be nervous about it.” He isn’t afraid of the long and winding road that he faces as an entrepreneur.

Flyer for upcoming Black Art Mecca event, organized and hosted by Nichols and presented by Akyn.

Nichols has big dreams for the future of Akyn. His next move is to find more opportunities for brand exposure and community engagement. The third annual Black Art Mecca, presented by Akyn, is the next event you’ll want to mark on your calendars. It will be held on Saturday, July 15 at Wooly’s in Des Moines, Iowa. “Come celebrate a collection of Iowa’s most promising young black artists, performers, culinary artists, and business owners.” Purchase tickets and find out more details on the event Facebook page. Support Kaleb Nichols by following along on Instagram, and attending local events put on by Akyn.