2023 Best & Brightest MBA: George Okpamen, University of Michigan (Ross)

George Okpamen

University of Michigan, Ross School of Business

“A multi-hyphenate innovator and investor focused on closing gaps in historically underestimated communities.”

Hometown: Houston, Texas

Fun fact about yourself: I have been playing drums since the second grade and even played at the intermission of my TED Talk in 2016. However, my 15-year-old nephew now holds the title of the best drummer in the family, replacing me as the drummer at my dad’s church in Texas.  

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Houston (Pre-Pharmacy Studies) Texas Southern University (Doctor of Pharmacy)

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Before Ross, I worked at Eli Lilly and Company as their first Startups Strategy Leader, responsible for standing up their mar-tech go-to-market solution.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? This past summer, I interned in New York at Bloomberg Beta, the venture capital arm of Bloomberg. I worked most directly with Roy Bahat and co-wrote a multi-media blog on what goes into making an early-stage financial model.

Where will you be working after graduation? Still deciding

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Elected – President – Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital (EVC)
  • Awarded – Zell Lurie Institute Kinnear Scholar – Zell Lurie Institute (ZLI)
  • Selected – Business+Tech Scholar – Business+Tech Initiative (B+T)
  • Established – Leader – Close The Gap Initiative (CTG)
  • Accepted – Founder – Business+Impact (B+I)
  • Appointed – Deal Flow Leader – Zell Lurie Commercialization Fund (ZLCF)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Establishing the “Close The Gap” initiative was my proudest moment during my business school experience. For one, this initiative is an intentional collaboration with two organizations I spend the most time with: Business+Tech and EVC. Second, this initiative closes tech, entrepreneurship, and venture capital gaps via a multidisciplinary, multigenerational, and multipronged approach that empowers historically overlooked and underestimated communities. Finally, and most specifically, we launched this first-of-its-kind student-led initiative in Austin, Texas, during AfroTech this past November. We then produced the inaugural “Close The Gap” experience engaging over 100 students and staff across the University of Michigan campus in a full day of immersive programming from speakers like Monica Wheat (Managing Director – TechStars), Rachel Brooks (Head of Product – Instagram), Isaiah Andrew (Head of Design – Nike Virtual Studios), Marques Zak (Head of Cultural Platforms – AMEX), and Mandy Bynum (Former CEO – BLCK VC).

In spearheading this mission, I was able to achieve my initial goals of the following:

A) Unifying our school’s entrepreneurial centers and clubs through a transformational vision of closing gaps across tech, entrepreneurship, and VC.

B) Unlocking the untapped potential in our current students, prospective students, and alums through an innovative approach on exposure and experiences.

C) Uncap the access to on-campus and off-campus opportunities through live speakers, live treks, and live connections to tactical resources and relationships.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? My proudest professional moment was leading the end-to-end consumer product launch of a novel drug in the diabetes space in 2019. It was a moment that proved that I was not only a healthcare professional, but also a business professional too. I produced and directed a best-in-class go-to-market campaign, evidenced by record-breaking savings card downloads at launch. Ironically, the end of the launch was also the moment that catalyzed my intentional journey to business school. I realized I wanted to build or lead an enterprise, not just a product or brand. My product launch experience, coupled with my aspiration to scale my impact beyond a single product, propelled me to the journey I’m currently on. Without it, I don’t know if I would be where I am today.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Ross because of the intentional energy of the current students and alums and the emerging opportunity with their entrepreneurship ecosystem. Most of my application process took place during the virtual nature of 2020, but Ross did not let that stop them. They found ways to send me personalized gifts during their annual UpClose Diversity Weekend. After current students found out I was exploring entrepreneurship, they did not just give me contact information; they had recent and past alums reach out to me for the next 2-3 weeks straight. No other school I was strongly considering made me feel like I was already a part of the family before I got there. Finally, the connections to people like Anne Perigo and Mike Johnson from the Zell Lurie Entrepreneurship institute sealed the deal. They shared how I could shape my company concept through resources like the Pinkhert Healthcare Accelerator or learn about funding opportunities as a Zell Lurie Commercialization Fund member. These reasons, coupled with the consistent positivity that I experienced from every other Ross alum I cold-emailed via LinkedIn during the process, solidified my choice. Go Blue!

What was your favorite course as an MBA? VC Finance taught by Professor Emmanuel Yimfor, was my favorite MBA course. Although Professor Yimfor was an accomplished private equity researcher, he never raised a fund or built a company. Instead of pretending and giving us just his theory, he secured four fund managers to provide a real perspective of the concepts and challenges we were learning about in class.

We heard from the likes of Charles Hudson (Precursor Ventures) and Kwame Anku (Blackstar Fund) about the duality of investing in early-stage companies while also running an early-stage company as an up-start fund manager. We also got insight into how two differing strategies to investing could both be successful. For Charles, he believed in a “picking winners” strategy where he invested in founders and connected them to other people as needed. Kwame believed in a “making winners” strategy where he had a more hands-on approach as a partner in business development moving forward. Finally, the class’s final assignment of finding an actual company to invest in, building out the investment criteria, and pitching in front of our classmates based on the concepts we had learned all year was a healthy way of putting our knowledge to the test. Completing this class before my summer internship gave me the confidence to share my thoughts in investment meetings with Roy and the team during investment conversations.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? The only thing I would change was resting before school started. I worked up until orientation and took a 4-day trip out of the country right before school started. I honestly don’t think I got my bearings back until Thanksgiving break. My experience was priceless, and I did a pretty good job documenting it with vivid stories and pictures on my LinkedIn. If I could do another two years – I would!

What did you love most about your business school’s town? My favorite thing is how much of a college town Ann Arbor really is. Being from a big city like Houston, everything was so spread out and in its own silos. In Ann Arbor, 99% of the people are University of Michigan fans, the bars are always showing the games, and the hours are representative of late-night and early-morning options due to the dynamic lives of college students.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? The fact that I had applied the year before to schools and got a chance to visit schools helped me understand how to put my best foot forward once I actually decided to apply to Ross. Having some of the people I applied with already in schools across the nation allowed me to assess and go beyond what the school administration and websites shared. These real and raw conversations about things like housing, scholarships, professors, and overall school environment allowed me to truly select the best school for me.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? This was a tricky question because I admire many people at Ross, especially colleagues in my class. If I had to narrow it down, I would pick someone in my section (3!) – Connor Eulberg. He’s among the smartest, kindest, and toughest people I know. His passion for new experiences and authentic energy toward life is infectious. He also has a habit of getting more splat points than me at our neighborhood Orange Theory. I could blame it on him being a veteran and me being a washed-up former high school athlete – or I can say he’s a bonafide rockstar in the gym. One of my fondest memories is how he organized an intimate birthday dinner for me once I returned from a weekend away. He and my friends had surprised me with a blown-up picture of me holding a microphone at our winter formal – a running joke amongst my entire class of me always finding a mic no matter the occasion. The thoughtfulness of small gatherings like that – coupled with his ability to answer every single cold call in the face of ~80 classmates who the professor’s questions have already stumped – shows Connor’s impressive range as a human. I’m blessed to be in his corner forever as a classmate, section mate, and life-long brother.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? The top two items on my professional bucket list are to (1) build a company that I take from inception to IPO and (2) have a company that I invested in at the early stage get acquired or get IPO.

What made George such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“George Okpamen is one of the Zell Lurie Institute’s all-star students. He was selected to attend our first-ever Silicon Valley trek, where he quickly emerged as a natural leader of the group, asking insightful questions to founders and investors throughout the week. George is deeply passionate about exploring the world of entrepreneurship and venture capital, and approaches complex topics with curiosity. He is Co-President of the Entrepreneur & Venture Capital Club (EVC), and spearheaded efforts for the inaugural EVC Conference taking place this spring. The conference would not be possible without George’s ability to build rapport and trust with key players in the industry and leverage those connections effectively. He has the unique ability to get others to rally around his vision. Additionally, George was chosen from a competitive pool of MBAs to serve on the Zell Lurie Commercialization Fund, a student-led venture fund investing real dollars into real startups. It is rare for students to demonstrate strong potential as an investor as well as an entrepreneur, yet George did just that by participating in programs on both sides of the table. He received multiple student startup grants, participated in our campus-wide business pitch competition, and joined the healthcare startup accelerator. Due to his enthusiasm and depth of knowledge in the entrepreneurship and venture capital space, George is our go-to person for serving on admissions panels for prospective students. He embodies the entrepreneurial spirit and is a remarkable member of the class of 2023.”

Sarika Gupta
Managing Director, Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies
University of Michigan, Ross School of Business


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