2022 MBA To Watch: Irewole Akande, Southern Methodist University (Cox)

“Engineer and Entrepreneur who wants to mobilize hope to make the world a better place.”

Hometown: Abuja, Nigeria

Fun fact about yourself: I am a soccer fanatic. I have played for over 24 years, from grade school to varsity soccer in college and most recently in co-ed soccer leagues. When I am not playing soccer, I am playing FIFA where I dominate all my friends. When I am not playing FIFA, I am watching live games. When I am not watching live games, I am playing fantasy premier league, where everyone dominates me and when I am not doing any of the above, I am reading soccer news. Soccer is one of my favorite things in the world.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Illinois Institute of Technology | BSc. Engineering Management spc. Electrical Engineering

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? WPG Americas | Electronics & IoT Application Engineer

Where did you intern during the summer of 2021? Microsoft | Remote (Seattle)

Where will you be working after graduation?

Microsoft | Program Manager

City Health Tech Inc | Co-founder & CTO

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Leadership/Involvement:

  • VP of Diversity & Engagement, Student Advisory Board
  • Vice President, Black Graduate Student Association
  • Resident Entrepreneur, SMU Incubator

Awards:

  • Future Texas Business Legend Award, Texas Business Hall of Fame (championing top entrepreneurial business students in Texas)
  • Lewis Latimer Honoree, Edison Awards (celebrating modern Black innovators showcasing determination and ingenuity)
  • Alpha Chi National College Honor Society
  • Nancy Underwood Leadership Scholarship
  • Cox MBA Merit Scholarship

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? The business school achievement I am most proud of was receiving the Future Texas Business Legend Award from the Texas Business Hall of Fame. This award was extremely fulfilling for me because it recognized the effort that I have put into building my entrepreneurial venture – City Health Tech. Building a company is often difficult and thankless. There are moments when everything seems overwhelming, especially as an international student in America. To receive the award was a testament to my hard work, sacrifice, and trying to be excellent regardless of failures and downfalls. Receiving the award also means that I join a select network of incredible entrepreneurs in Texas who are reshaping the business landscape in the state. An award like this motivates me to ask the question, if someone needs to build a company that can change the world, “Why not me?”

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? The achievement I am most proud of in my professional career is the growth of my startup, City Health Tech Inc (CHT). We started City Health Tech in 2017, with an idea and a dream that we could use technology to encourage people to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds to prevent the spread of diseases in their communities. For a few years, our team worked tirelessly as we battled nonchalance towards the importance of handwashing in public health. Today, we are a recognized public health tech startup that has raised over $175,000 to promote health literacy and hygienic habits, while collecting informative data through our proprietary and revolutionary IoT health platform, Opal™. By installing Opal™ in restaurants, event centers, schools, office buildings, and food manufacturing facilities, organizations can curate content to encourage healthier habits (starting with handwashing) within their spaces, communicate with their community, and collect key hygiene data that can be leveraged to better prevent the spread of diseases.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose SMU Cox because I wanted to explore and expand my network in Texas. I chose to pursue my entrepreneurial career in Texas for three main reasons: affordability, diversity, and a burgeoning technology startup ecosystem. The public and private sectors in Texas are collaborating to ideate, nurture and scale the next generation of revolutionary ideas. Being at the SMU Cox School of Business has exposed me to the growing community of Texans committed to building a sustainable ecosystem for entrepreneurs in the state. Additionally, Texas affords one of the most diverse selections of top talent in the country, which is especially encouraging as a founder looking to recruit and retain top-level talent in my organization.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? This is an easy one! My favorite MBA professor is Dr. Helmuth Ludwig. I like Helmuth for three reasons: his background and pedigree, his ability to facilitate class discussions, and his penchant for exposing his students to his colleagues who are some of the most impressive leaders in top global companies. Helmuth’s background as an Engineer with an MBA is similar to mine, but what really sold his classes for me is his obvious love of teaching and his unique ability to connect class content with real-life scenarios–so much so that students may have an opportunity to talk directly with the protagonists of some case studies in class. By creating a harmonious environment, he welcomes students to contribute their thoughts and experiences, which makes learning more holistic and engaging.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? My favorite MBA event I attended was the MBA Casino Night organized by the Student Advisory Board. With the pandemic, a lot of MBA traditions were forfeited, but fortunately, we were able to bring this one back. What it reflected about my business school experience was that we really know how to take a pause and enjoy our time together. But more than that, it showed all of us that the best type of money to gamble is fake money.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? The one thing I would do differently during my MBA experience would be to leverage the scholarship options that were available to me. A lot of students underestimate the value they bring to an MBA program and typically view their experience as one where they just receive from the MBA experience. Understanding and internalizing the unique value you bring to a program is key to every individual’s experience and that value should be commensurate with the scholarships you receive.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Growing up in Nigeria and going to undergraduate school in Illinois, I never really heard any myths about SMU Cox. What I can say is true is that SMU Cox does a phenomenal job placing students in great jobs within the Dallas and Texas area and beyond. The school’s reputation and rich history in Dallas is without match.

What surprised you the most about business school? As a relatively non-traditional candidate, I was immensely surprised by how many people wanted careers in Finance, Consulting, and Marketing. While I never considered any of those paths, I was very intrigued by this because I went to an engineering school where career paths seemed more eclectic. Seeing and hearing from so many people wanting to do the same things, it is very easy to get sucked into a rat race that you never planned to run in when recruiting for your post-MBA career. I would advise new MBA students to trust their instincts to ensure they are not overly influenced by others’ paths.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? The one thing I did that gave me an edge was visiting the SMU campus, meeting with current students, and really immersing myself in the SMU Cox and Dallas experience.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? The classmate I most admire would have to be Mauricio Bueno. Mauricio is one of the most incredible people I met in my program. Hailing from Monterrey, Mexico, Mauricio was an extremely successful business manager for a fintech startup in Mexico. However, he chose to pursue an MBA degree to challenge himself and build a life with his lovely wife in the US. Leaving everything you have ever known to pursue a new opportunity is nerve-racking. However, Mauricio faced it with an incredible amount of positivity and joy that just made him a pleasure to be around. Whether it was unlearning things from his career in Mexico to adapt to the American recruiting process or leveraging his unique background and skillset to secure the right opportunity for himself, Mauricio was intentional, patient, and focused.

Outside of his career, Mauricio is immensely talented. He speaks 6 languages fluently, is an incredible piano player (played in a band professionally), is an Ironman runner, and has an eidetic memory. Anyone who encounters Mauricio would be enamored by his demeanor, and whoever is lucky enough to work with him would feel the same way I feel. He is a life-long friend and big brother to me.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? I was influenced to pursue my MBA after an opportunity I had to work at Emerson Electric. As an undergraduate at Illinois Tech, I had met Ed Monser, the former President and COO of Emerson Electric. We connected over soccer and built a very cordial mentor-mentee relationship. After working at a co-op with Emerson-Fisher in Marshalltown, IA, I was invited for an internship with Emerson Corporate in St. Louis. During my time there, Ed pushed for me to work as a part of the 2016 MBA intern cohort with over 20 brilliant MBA candidates. At the conclusion of the internship, I debriefed with Ed, and he lauded me, told me I had everything it took to be in that room, and that I did a great job. After that experience, I decided I would consider doing an MBA. While my reasoning certainly changed, the inspiration was still the same.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? 

1. I would love to teach an Entrepreneurship Class and serve as an Entrepreneur-In-Residence at my undergraduate alma mater – Illinois Tech’s Kaplan Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship.

2. I want to build a diverse community of cross-functional experts that spearhead initiatives to identify, mentor, and invest in the next generation of young African entrepreneurs who are building novel products to tackle societal problems in my home country of Nigeria and on the African continent.

How has the pandemic changed your view of a career? For several years, I went to pitch competitions, pitching that the future of healthcare was disease prevention. By preventing diseases, society can invest in research that can alleviate healthcare challenges around the world. While I believed this, it was still very theoretical to me. With the pandemic, we quickly saw the impact of preventable disease on the global economy (trillions of dollars lost). And while it became real, it was still impersonal as I was holed up in my home for several months. However, I contracted COVID-19 a year later, suffered a devastating experience, and experienced subsequent long COVID symptoms.

Once I got better, I threw myself right back into working on my company – City Health Tech Inc. with a very different mindset—a burning desire to prevent others from experiencing what I had. “Prevention is better than cure,” has a whole new meaning to me. And protecting my community is a vision that now defines me. The future of healthcare is prevention. The future of healthcare is public health. The future of healthcare is technology. Whatever winding path I take, I want to keep building technology to prevent diseases.

What made Wole Akande  such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2022? (

“Wole Akande was a student in several of my Strategy classes over the past year. One thing that has made him an invaluable addition to the class of 2022 is his willingness and ability to contribute his thoughts and experiences to class discussions. While this is an expectation for students in the class for Wole this comes very natural. His insights into class topics and case studies are unique, well-thought out, and interesting. Wole’s active entrepreneurial career as a co-founder and CTO of a public health tech company allows him to bring a fresh and diverse perspective to class discussions.

Most recently, Wole had an opportunity to present his startup company, City Health Tech Inc, in my entrepreneurship class. During his presentation, he entered into a dialogue that helped the students understand the value proposition and product-market fit. He also allowed room for ideas on how to further improve his start up. This was one of the best entrepreneurial presentations I have personally experienced.

Wole has been recognized as a Lewis Latimer Honoree by the Edison Awards celebrating top Black Innovators in the country. And most recently, awarded the Texas Future Business Legend award by the Texas Business Hall of Fame, presented to the best and brightest business student entrepreneurs Texas has to offer. Outside of his professional experience, Wole runs a pro-bono career consulting and mentorship practice for minority and international students looking to launch careers they are proud of.

There is no limit to how far Wole can go personally and professionally with the right support, opportunities, and mentorship. He is also passionate about making a global impact with his career. What makes him stand out is that he is a very good listener, with a growth mindset and always ready to learn. He is very self-aware and hard-working. I think with those personal characteristics, Wole Akande will be able to access and capitalize on all learning opportunities that he will further encounter.”

Helmuth Ludwig
Professor of Practice for Strategy and Entrepreneurship

DON’T MISS: MBAS TO WATCH: CLASS OF 2022

 

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