My Journey to UC Davis: From Systems Engineer to Caregiver to Entrepreneur

"Would you trade a six-figure salary for saving a life in your family?"

Yekhiel Orokunle with his wife, Sydney Or okunle, and their children.
Yekhiel Orokunle with his wife, Sydney Orokunle, and their children.

Would you trade a six-figure salary for saving a life in your family?

If you would, you’re not alone. Some 39% of caregivers who left their jobs did so to spend time caring for a loved one.  

My Journey to UC Davis  

I loved being a systems engineer because I enjoyed solving unexpected technical issues at work, but what if this unexpected issue was a personal life setback? How would I cope? 

Well, it all started when I lived in San Diego, while my wife, who lived in Stockton at the time, had lost our first baby through a miscarriage. I took time off work to nurse my wife through the tough times.

After a year, she was pregnant with our second baby, and then she started having symptoms of a miscarriage. She called me and expressed her fears. At that moment, I knew that caring for an unborn child mattered more than the work I so much enjoyed. I quit my six-figure job to move to Stockton to be there for my wife and unborn child.

Several months later, we welcomed home a healthy baby boy.

I then applied to the UC Davis Graduate School of Management for two reasons.

First, I wanted to broaden my engineering skills to include sales, marketing, and business development. It would help me propose cross-functional business solutions to ensure design wins in a competitive market. Thus, I was interested in strategic business management roles in technology. 

Second, I wanted pivot to be a product manager. Interestingly, I brought a product to market before finishing my MBA from UC Davis and launched a company. I am responsible for company strategy, product vision and user growth. In short, I make decisions that benefit our users.   

From UC Davis MBA to Entrepreneur  

Once in the UC Davis Sacramento Part-Time MBA program—with a renewed sense of selflessness to family and others—I used the coursework from Forecasting and Managerial Research Methods class to explore an idea. Then I used the knowledge and skills from the New Product Development course to convert this idea into a new product. The Organizational Strategy and Structure course helped to create a sustainable strategy for the new product. Finally, the Business Law course helped me to identify the appropriate business entity to form for this product and how to preserve the intellectual property.    

Smart Rentics, Inc. is a cloud-based data analytics service that helps millennials save up to $2,500 in monthly rent, given that affordability is the number one reason millennials move out of rented apartments. I am prepared to introduce an AI chat bot feature as part of our product roadmap for one of our primary services. It will further differentiate us and add value to millennial renters. 

While I may be taking credit for starting the company, it is far from the truth. The truth is that the collaborative leadership culture at UC Davis made it possible. I received help and direction on strategy from Associate Professor Elizabeth Pontikes, Lecturer Kay Peters' assistance on new product development, Lecturer Huy Tran provided forecasting and managerial research methods, and Lecturer Jane Harrington advised on legal issues. 

UC Davis prides itself on collaborative leadership. For this reason, all the milestones were achieved with my remarkable classmates, who helped and brought unique insights into this project.