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Celebrating Ubong Umoh, MSc ’16

Feb 15, 2024

Ubong Umoh

February is Black History Month and we’re celebrating Ivey alumni who have demonstrated Black excellence in their professional and personal life. In their own words, they share who and what helped them to define Black excellence and how that influenced their career and life, as well as ways to empower Black excellence all year round. Read on to learn how playing competitive sports helped Ubong Umoh to push through adversity and his advice for building an inclusive organizational culture.

Get to know Ubong Umoh, MSc ’16

Ubong UmohMy name is Ubong Umoh and I currently work as Director of Founder Services at ventureLAB, a leading global founder community for hardware technology and enterprise software companies in Canada. Our Founder Services department encompasses a team of volunteer mentors as well as a team of 23 STEM and investment advisors, who use their years of industry and research experience to serve ventureLAB founders. In the near future, I hope to utilize my creative ambition and business acumen in the for-profit innovation economy.

I enjoy creating things and I have a wide array of interests: spoken-word poetry, playing drums in a choir band, being a radio host, and playing recreational games. My creative journey has resulted in me being an award-winning published author in five consecutive Creative Communication anthologies. I also previously hosted my own radio show called UBU on a local radio station for seven years, and I started and hosted my own variety show at Western University called "Voice of Reason" for two years.

I enjoy having my hands in multiple innovative projects at once and taking the path less travelled. I find the pursuit of entrepreneurship to be enticing because it fits this longstanding framework for creative paths to success. I respect entrepreneurs because, in many ways, within their own domain, I see them as artists: people who create things from nothing, take risks, and forge an original path to greatness.

How do you define or describe Black excellence?

Black excellence is a recognition of extraordinary achievement by Black people. It is an intentional effort to celebrate or recognize those who have risen above the universal standard of excellence. It is also an effort to celebrate the potential in all Black people to achieve this standard when the opportunity presents itself, or oftentimes to beat the odds when the opportunity does not exist. Black excellence is rooted in a culture of determination, hard work, resilience, and creativity.

What foundational experiences supported your Black excellence?

I was raised in a culture of high expectations that shaped my identity. From a very young age, I was taught through the role modelling of my parents to be proud of my Black heritage as well as to work hard and do my best in whatever I set out to do. My parents immigrated to Canada in the 1980s to pursue a new life. My father, who had an academic position in a university back home, saw it necessary to come to Canada in pursuit of excellence. He acquired the prestigious Canadian Commonwealth Scholarship through which he came to Canada and completed his PhD studies successfully. My mother obtained her degree in Nursing and continues to contribute to the medical community.

Upon coming to Canada, my parents sacrificed a lot to start life over and that instilled in me both a work ethic and a drive to be successful. Although achievement was not limited to academics, there was an emphasis on education given that my father had multiple graduate degrees (BSc, MSc, PhD) and a research career spanning Physics, Physical Oceanography, Computer Science, and Medical Imaging. My parents understood education as a path to a better life. 

In general, I have had support from multiple communities that helped me become who I am. I always believed that I could achieve whatever I set my mind to and I had parents that actively supported me with that. Success was an expectation and I was raised alongside other kids who also had this mentality. While I have friends of all races, many of my lifelong family friends are also Black children of immigrants who hold high expectations for themselves and each other, and have been a community of support.

Simultaneously, sports were a pillar of my life while growing up. In addition to playing competitive club basketball, while in high school, I made it to the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Association for basketball, track, and volleyball. I learned a lot by playing team and individual sports at a high level. I planned routines for myself, committed to practice, learned how to push through adversity, and developed mental fortitude. It instilled in me confidence and resilience in me that helped me later in life. I had a lot of great coaches that cared about me and the rest of the players on and off the court.  

How can business schools/institutions empower Black excellence all year round?

Inclusion matters in any type of group setting. Creating atmospheres that enable everyone involved to be heard and respected makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. This can take different forms.

An important step is to be intentional about the culture the organization would like to foster. This starts at the top of the organization and can dictate how a student’s or employee’s sense of belonging is cultivated. When community members see representation of their identity at all levels of the organization, it supports a sense of belonging for them. Representation can increase the ease with which minoritized individuals can share thoughts and ideas and contribute to the whole. Having more diverse perspectives changes culture inherently, which may be beneficial to all employees. Additionally, organizational leaders can be be more intentional in deciding where and how to invest and nurture talent. Value is added to institutions and teams when they develop potential where it exists. Creating more accessible opportunities will benefit everyone, especially those subject to stereotypes.

A company’s culture can take years to develop and change. It is not going to happen overnight and there will be ups and downs in potential transitions. In many cases, changing a pre-existing culture will be more difficult and time-consuming than building a culture from scratch. What I have seen successful organizations do is hire outside consultants to provide an unbiased view of the state of the organization. This could be simple questionnaires, or full-day working sessions where employees can speak freely. The organization should be transparent with the results and, if this is something the organization values, its members can take steps towards making change.

Change is possible and the enrichment that the business community stands to gain from embracing Black excellence is an upside for everyone.