Company Spotlight: Daniel Oppong from OhanaHealth
Daniel Oppong is the Founder of OhanaHealth. He is the voice and heart of Ohana. Since joining the team as an intern in May, I have worked closely with Daniel to discover what an awesome leader he is. I realized that our CEO and company spotlight series would be incomplete without the magic of our own founder!
I have heard Daniel introduce himself a few times, but I had never heard his full journey. To begin, I suggested that he share his story.
My story begins with my parents. They’re from Ghana and immigrated to Canada in the mid-80’s. Fun fact - I was actually born in Canada, so I have dual citizenship! We moved to Texas in 1992, which is where I grew up.
I did my undergrad in Abilene, a tiny west Texas town. I’d originally gone to school on a partial football scholarship, but a couple ACL tears kinda changed my trajectory, so I slightly changed course and graduated with a degree in education.
My first gig was with a non-profit where I led a program for college students, among other things. Once that came to an end, I briefly worked in Sales & independent consulting, and then moved to Washington state to pursuing a Masters in Organizational Leadership at Gonzaga University (Go Zags!).
Once I finished my degree, I was offered an Internship with Jumpstart Foundry, a seed stage healthcare focused venture capital fund, based in Nashville, TN. So at the ripe old age of 27, I accepted the internship for a hefty salary of $10/hr and moved across the country. Mind you I had no experience in healthcare or venture capital, but took the jump anyway. Not sure how I talked Vic & Marcus into hiring me, but it was easily one of the best career decisions I’ve ever made.
Not everyone reading may know about what OhanaHealth accomplishes. I asked Daniel to tell us the basics about Ohana, before moving on to how it came to be, and where it is headed. Who is Ohana’s target customer, and what is the problem it is solving?
In my time at Jumpstart, I noticed a trend that there were quite a few students interested in health / healthcare, but they didn’t want to be doctors or nurses. Instead, they were looking for nonclinical opportunities and seeking the ability to do meaningful work.
At the same time, several of our healthcare startups were in search of top talent, but many of them didn’t have the in-house dedicated resources to be able to source, recruit, etc. That’s where OhanaHealth comes in. We connect students & recent grads with high growth healthcare startups looking to build their team.
From there, I was curious to hear more about how OhanaHealth came to life.
It started as an experiment. Shoutout to Sabrina, the FIRST Ohana hire and Co-Founder. Along with Mady J, they did some market research the summer of 2016 to get things rolling. After Sabrina’s senior year at the University of Michigan, she came onboard full-time to build the Ohana program. She’s a rockstar and her work was invaluable in getting Ohana off the ground.
In 2017, the first year of OhanaHealth, we had around 170 students apply from over 60 universities. Of course we thought this was pretty rad since we didn’t know what to expect from year one. Fast forward to 2018 & 2019, we received on average around 1,000 student applications from over 120 universities around the country. Pretty incredible if you ask me! There’s still plenty to figure out, but it’s obvious that it’s meeting a need for students.
One of the things I love most is engaging the students, especially when I get to see a lightbulb go on within them. I enjoy helping students see how big the world is and empowering them to see that their path doesn’t have to be linear -- in fact, there are actually many different ways to get to where they want to be.
If you know Daniel, you know that he is fantastic at exactly that. I was curious to learn more about his experience with startups. Not only does he run one, but he also does consulting for others, while actively matching students with high growth startup companies. We discussed his favorite aspects of working with startups as well as the challenges.
I like that the work you do at a startup is often a puzzle you’re trying to solve. It’s equally fun and challenging to try to create a unique solution to a real life problem. I often say that entrepreneurship is more than just having a “good idea”... and frankly, a good idea isn’t necessarily a good idea unless it solves a problem. And you KNOW you’re actually solving a problem if someone is willing to pay you for your solution. To me, that is inherently compelling, and probably what I like most about working in a startup.
I am already sold on working at a startup, so to me that all sounds wonderful. My personal favorite aspect of startups is the culture, so I asked Daniel to tell us about the organizational culture at Ohana.
At Ohana, the primary focus is on experiential learning. We try to create experiences that introduce people to themselves. There’s something so valuable about learning by doing. Along with being experiential, we are exploratory, and everything we do is both collaborative and iterative. And probably most of all, it’s a people first environment. I definitely try to create space for the complexity of the human experience, and let people be people.
Daniel is the expert on healthcare recruitment for Nashville startups, so I wanted to learn how that has helped him grow as an entrepreneur, and how it will shape the future of Ohana. Specifically I asked, “How has creating OhanaHealth changed your view of talent recruitment in healthcare? What is the vision for OhanaHealth and what do the next 12 months look like?”
For starters, you can’t build a great company without great people, and it’s my belief that the people are an organization’s most valuable resource. I enjoy connecting people to people and people to opportunities, especially when the person’s values and the organization’s values align.
As far as the next 12 months go, we have a few things in the works and some “experiments” we’re tinkering with to see how we can effectively scale Ohana. To that end, I’d be remiss if I didn’t kick a huge shout out to Mariko, CEO of Huckleberry Branding, & Chris Hooks, a buddy of mine and dev wizard for their meaningful contributions to Ohana’s growth. ALSO shout out to Jocelyn for the amazing brand/design refresh, and Miss Nicole Mintz(y) for crushing it this summer.
Excited to see how Ohana evolves, and am super thankful to the people have invested in Ohana along the way.
Everyone I’ve been introduced to in Daniel’s network also has a fascinating story. I inquired about who and what experiences shaped him into the entrepreneur he is today.
My earliest support came from Marcus and Vic at Jumpstart Foundry. They are both brilliant people, and they took me in when I knew nothing about entrepreneurship or healthcare. I have a huge appreciation for all they have done for me. (Also gotta shout out my PIC & fellow Jumpstart OG, Eller Mallchok).
Beyond that, I’d say my experiences -- both personally and professionally, have largely informed how I view the world... and there are certainly a lot of amazing people that played a meaningful part in my story along the way.
From working together over the past few months, I can confirm that Daniel is a wonderful mentor / boss / role model, so I asked what advice he would give a college student or recent graduate.
Hmmm… a couple things: 1) Pursue experiences that introduce you to yourself; and 2) There’s no such thing as a “right path.”
Students -- hell, people in general -- often think they have failed if their lives look somewhat “untraditional”... if they don’t get ‘this’ certain internship or go to ‘that’ school. People feel such a pressure to align to the socially constructed ideal of “who they should be”... so much so that they often lose themselves in the process.
I’d suggest that there’s no such thing as who you “SHOULD” be… the best thing for yourself, and for the world is to accept who and what you already are, and begin creating a life based on who you want to be and how you want to feel.
It’s taken me a while to realize this for myself, but the more I do, the more I feel alive, present, and free.
I can definitely relate to the feeling of pressure to find certain gigs during summers and after graduation. I also think students feel the need to juggle multiple different projects and opportunities at once, while still in school. I questioned how Daniel is able to manage multiple gigs and still keep Ohana as a priority.
I’m very honest with myself about what I have capacity for and pay a lot of attention to what gives me energy. Whatever I put my energy towards, I want it to give me as much OR MORE than it requires. Side note - I think energy is a more valuable resource than time, because you can get back, but time is a nonrenewable resource…
That said, if something is consistently requiring more energy than it’s returning, it only a matter of time before it comes completely depleting and unsustainable. When I was younger, I used to have a bit of a superhero complex. I felt the need to do everything, and didn’t pay attention to what it “cost” me. I think there’s this glorification of “hustle culture” and a notion that if you’re not dead at the end of every minute of every day, you’re not doing it right. I call bullshit.
Don’t get me wrong, I think meaningful investments of time and energy are undoubtedly a part of creating a life you love, but if you’re mindful about where and how you spend your energy, it will give you a better chance at doing things that actually fuel you instead of running on empty all the time. I think it’s more of an art than a science, and takes a hell of a lot of intentionality and self awareness. Definitely learned this lesson the hard way early in my career. But YAY for evolving! :)
Thankfully for me now, all of the things that I put my energy towards now also GIVE me energy, and they all engage me differently. Sometimes, I’m a player on the team, sometimes I’m leading the charge, sometimes I’m strategizing, sometimes I’m executing. Regardless of what it requires from me externally, as long as it’s giving me energy internally, we gucci.
My final question was simple. I asked, “What makes you the most jazzed about OhanaHealth?”
Hmmm… I think what I want most out of life is this: “To create a life I love and to build things I believe in with people I enjoy.” If at the end of my life I can say I’ve done those things, I will have had a fulfilling and meaningful life. I feel very thankful to have built something that brings people together and creates value in the world, and hope to continue doing just that.
Getting involved with OhanaHealth has been one of my best decisions. I have learned more about the intersection of startups and healthcare than in any other setting. Working with Daniel and his network is beyond a pleasure, and I am excited to see where our collaboration goes.
OhanaHealth Fellow Applications for 2020 open on September 2nd, 2019, and you can apply through the link on our website!