“I want to tell you a story, and it’s a good one,” Sean Akadiri told me as we sat in a conference room at i2E Inc.’s offices in the University Research Park.
A native of Nigeria by way of England, Akadiri came to Oklahoma more than a dozen years ago to study biology and chemistry at East Central University in Ada.
Sean and I became acquainted at the recent Biotechnology International Organization convention in San Diego. He was among 70 Oklahomans who pitched the state to more than 15,000 people at the BIO show from around the world.
Akadiri, 32, is an emerging Oklahoma entrepreneur who founded a company last year called Agric-Bioformatics LLC. Akadiri proposes to use bioinformatics and genetic testing to help small ranchers improve the performance of their livestock.
Agric-Bioformatics is still developing the software prototype starting first with cattle, before scaling up to other livestock like pigs and sheep. The software will provide genetics, nutrition and health data in an easy-to-understand format for ranchers with herds of fewer than 500 head of cattle.
Akadiri’s journey into entrepreneurship began with a surprise when his plane landed in Oklahoma City before his first semester at ECU.
“When I came here I didn’t know my school was going to be in Ada,” he said. “I thought it was going to be in the city. When I got to Ada I said, ‘Is this where I’m going to stay for the next four years?’”
Akadiri stayed and completed his undergraduate degree. He also married his college sweetheart and then moved on to the University of Oklahoma, where he earned another undergraduate degree in chemical engineering. Then he earned an MBA at Mid-America Christian University.
A two-year tenure at Oklahoma City’s DNA Solutions showed him the potential of genetics in breed selection. He also began thinking about creating his own company.
All of which leads back to Ada and to Sean’s story. He was in his final semester at ECU when he received a letter from the school demanding payment of overdue fees that amounted to more than $5,000.
Akadiri wouldn’t graduate without paying the fees, and he didn’t have the money.
That week, his botany professor, Dr. Rahmona Thompson, sensed something was wrong and asked him what was up. Akadiri told her of his dilemma.
“She said ‘don’t worry; come see me in my office on Monday,” he said. “When I met her, she said, ‘let’s go to the bursar’s office.’ After we got there, she pulled out her credit card and said ‘I would like to pay his school fees for this past semester and for the current semester.’”
“I was so emotional. How do you say thank you? Thank you is not enough. She was like an angel.”
It wasn’t a gift, Dr. Thompson told me.
“It was a loan, and he has since repaid it,” she said. “I’ve helped other students out in the past. The requirement is that they pay it forward. That’s the culture of East Central, to help people out. I’m so delighted he’s doing well.”
Needless to say it was a life-changing experience for Akadiri.
“I felt like coming to Oklahoma was not an accident; there was a purpose,” he said. “I’ve been here now for 14, 15 years and, to me, I’m an Oklahoman. I want to give back to the community.”
Jim Stafford writes about the state’s life sciences industry on behalf of the Oklahoma Bioscience Association.