Born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, Temitope Akande overcame terrible poverty in his childhood years to come to the United States as a teenager. Despite all odds, he excelled academically and began attending Oklahoma State University in 2014 where he received his Bachelor of Science in Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering. Akande began working with American Airlines as a contractor for Sheffield Aerospace LLC from 2014-2015, then as a full engineer working directly for the company from 2016 to 2019. His work included many interesting projects, including a billion-dollar cabin reconfiguration of the Boeing 737.
Temitope Akande’s life took a big turn when he was admitted to The Wharton School in 2019 where he is pursuing his Master’s in Business Administration. He is also working towards a Master’s in Public Administration at the Harvard Kennedy School. His goal in attending business school is to help figure out a way to bring capital to entrepreneurs in Nigeria and to help move the country out of poverty.
He currently resides in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Why did you decide to create your own business?
I’m currently a full-time student but I do have a startup I’m working on called Pierge. It connects consumers to beauty services like haircuts and nail styling in the comfort of their homes. Especially in times of COVID, you shouldn’t have to leave your house to get your nails done. Why can’t the barber come to you with their PPE and their sanitizers and cut your hair in your own home?
Another aspect of Pierge is to empower black women, because the braiding marketplace right now is very word-of-mouth. Imagine someone who is really good at braiding but only gets referrals from their customer network. If you come on this platform, the whole city is your personal network and you can actually make it into a real business.
When you graduate from cosmetic school, you have to find a barber shop, pay for a chair, give a revenue split, and a lot of times that doesn’t work in favor of the beauticians. Our goal is to cut out that process and to say, “You can become your own boss as soon as you graduate.” All you have to do is get on our platform, and if you are good, you post a profile, share a picture of what you do, and people are going to sign up and buy your services. This will help create wealth in the black community in a way that really helps. That’s the long-term social impact goal for this project.
I’m the founder of Pierge, and I built the website myself (Yourpierge.com). We’re still working on recruitment and doing a full launch in January. We did a full beta test this summer and it went very well. I think it’s the future of beauty. COVID has made it so that people are willing to learn new habits and change their consumer behavior.
How do you motivate others?
One of the lost arts in this world is listening and empathy. The way to motivate people is to let them know that you hear them. Whenever I’m in a position of leadership, I like to be inclusive and let people know that I hear them. I want to show true empathy and communicate that I see their perspective, even if I disagree with it. I think it works because it creates a buy-in for people into whatever vision you’re pushing. That’s always something I try to do.
Who has been a role model to you and why?
My biggest role model is definitely my mom. I know that sounds cliché, but it is absolutely true. She and my dad got a divorce in 2002. She had to raise me, my sister and elder brother all by herself, and it wasn’t easy for her. We didn’t have a conventional life at all. I barely got to see her, but she made sure we had a life that was above anything we could hope for based on how little money we made. I remember many times she would go hungry just so she could pay for my school fees. She made sure I didn’t go to the terrible public schools. She couldn’t afford private schools, but she figured out a way. Many times, I’d get kicked out of school for not being able to pay tuition but then I’d go back because she’d find a way to raise the money. It was not easy, and she was the prototype of resilience.
She had this bookstore that she started with ten dollars in the late 90s, and she had built a really nice small business. In 2013, the government was trying to construct a highway and her shop, and everybody else’s in that area, was demolished because it was in the way, and then the government abandoned the project and didn’t pay them any compensation. Think about the business you spent your life building, that you relied on for income; she went from that to nothing, but she still rebuilt. It’s still not back to the way it was before, but she is getting it there. I wish I could impress upon you how hard it was. She’s almost 60 now, and she had to start from scratch a few years ago, but she’s done it. She never complains, she never gives up, and she’s my role model.
What has been the hardest obstacle you’ve overcome?
Definitely my circumstances growing up were very difficult. Like I mentioned, growing up in extreme poverty makes everything harder. There’s such a thing as being too poor to dream, and those were the circumstances in which I grew up. It was a really hard life, but I also think it taught me some very important lessons like resilience and never giving up.
I remember when I was taking my SATs my mother had to borrow money to register me for the tests. I remember there was one time when I was younger, I was sick with a liver problem. The drug they had cost only about $5 and we didn’t have the money. We asked the pharmacist to get this drug on loans so that my liver wouldn’t fail. I think about my brother and the way he died. He had leukemia but was misdiagnosed and suffered because of the lack of money and resources in the hospital system in Nigeria. He couldn’t get good medical care because he was sick for four years and we couldn’t afford to take him to the hospital. Poverty winds up being very expensive for those who must live with it.
It’s a driving passion of my life, not just getting out of poverty but taking as many people with me as possible. I think that has been the biggest obstacle I’ve had to overcome: Growing up in this extreme poverty and still being able to make a life for myself. Being able to escape that poverty and come to the United States, where I also had to live in poverty for the first five years of being in this country but being confident that I was working towards something and making it happen. It has been quite a journey, but it’s a journey that I’m really proud of.
What is your biggest accomplishment?
I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, and I came to the US at the age of 16 to start college. I came by myself. I didn’t know anyone, nor had I been here before. It was just me and my suitcase. I hadn’t lived at home since I was 11 years old because when I was younger my parents got divorced and I was sent to a boarding school. I learned to live by myself. I won’t deny that it was extremely difficult. I was very lonely and isolated for the first year or so, but I’ve always been able to pick myself up. It was rough, now that I think about it. My friends were helping to feed me, and I barely had any money, but I knew what I wanted to do and the goal I was working towards. Moving to the US was very rough. I didn’t know the social cues or the food. When I arrived there was a blizzard, and I’d never seen snow before. I had hopes and dreams and I knew that I had a goal to achieve. That’s what kept me going. There were those days when I wanted to quit and go back home. But when you grow up the way I did, you know nobody will come to your rescue, so you have to help yourself. That builds a certain kind of resilience. You know that whatever hardship you’re facing now, you’ve been through worse. Learning that perspective has been a huge accomplishment for me in life.
Outside of work, what defines you as a person?
My love of Nigeria and my hopes to one day make it better. My vision is multifold. I want to use my education to start a system that can provide access to financing for entrepreneurs in Africa and also access to expertise. I like to say I went to Wharton and to Harvard for all those people who couldn’t make it to those schools but who need access to this type of knowledge; for people like my mother, who have a smart business mind but who nobody will take a chance on because they seem too risky. That’s what I really want to do. What that looks like is setting up an investment vehicle focused on Africa and focused on supporting women businesses in Africa, the informal sector. It will not be just giving them money and saying, “Go with it”, but also providing them with expertise. Not just providing them with funds, but also advice like where you locate and expand your business, branding and marketing, how you position yourself in the marketplace and grab enough market share, how you compete internationally, how to export your product if it’s an export material, providing them with the kind of network that I’ve built that they may never get a chance to build, and linking them up with private equity and investment banking.
In my culture, they say it takes a village to raise a child. I was raised by a village, and I think my goal is to go back and give back to that village, to help develop that village and the community that raised me, and to give back to the people. That’s why I have the ambition to run for public office in Nigeria. I realize that one of the things that has had the biggest effect on my life has been my education. Most of the people I grew up with didn’t finish high school. They’re all still in the same neighborhood I grew up in and doing menial jobs with very little prospects. I got lucky that I had a chance to get educated. I just imagine if I can help give that chance to some poor kid somewhere in Nigeria. It would really make a huge difference in their lives, and that’s what I want to do. In the long run I want to run for office. I hope to become president of Nigeria someday so I can actually make some broad-based changes.