(EDITOR’S NOTE: The Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC) recently named two individuals as its inaugural Executives-in-Residence (EIR). They will work with the existing KEC team to focus on mentorship and strategic priorities for entrepreneurs. Each EIR will have a specific focus area in which they will create programming and provide business advisory services throughout the 12-month term. In the first two articles in this series, we spotlight Richard Dapaah, one of the two EIRs.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Since he relocated to Knoxville a little more than a year ago, Richard Dapaah has been learning about the startup ecosystem in the region and determining the best ways that he can contribute.
We had heard about him from several individuals before Dapaah emailed to propose that we meet. In that initial meeting, he asked the questions, probing about everything from regional leadership to regional challenges. After Dapaah was named an EIR, we sat down again with me asking the questions.
“I hope to provide coaching on strategy and access to capital,” he told us in that second meeting. “I want to call on all the skills that I have in venture capital, institutional finance and corporate sectors. I want to help develop the resources locally to help entrepreneurs scale their businesses.”
Dapaah brings a diverse background to the region. The New York metro area native and self-taught programmer – remember the Atari 800 – earned his B.S. in Electrical Engineering with a minor in Computer Engineering at Tufts University. In the summers after both his sophomore and junior years and part-time during his entire senior year, Dapaah worked as a software development engineer for HP.
“I had to start early and stay hungry for a top engineering job,” Dapaah explained. “It was clear to me that the business cycle was turning on the heels of the Gulf War and that U.S. companies would be downsizing when I was coming out. It was going to be hyper competitive for the top jobs.”
After graduating, Dapaah accepted an offer to work full-time. He was based in Waltham, MA at HP’s then Patient Monitoring business unit within the company’s Medical Products Group. He worked at HP for the next 10 years, dividing his time between software development – first five years, business development over the next three years, and enterprise consulting his final two years.
Even within the $40+ billion HP, Dapaah was driven by entrepreneurship. He was first to create an entirely new role within HP Medical’s field organization, initially called Technical Consultant, where he was the liaison between the R&D lab, where he used to work, and the hospital clinicians to create customized IT solutions used to analyze vital signs data for research purposes.
“We closed a lot of strategic business by being able to advance the conversation around access to clinical data in the patient monitoring system,” Dapaah said, adding that he then helped replicate the Technical Consultant role by training HP employees throughout the world.
We quickly learned that Dapaah is a lifelong learner, so it came as no surprise when he explained that the decade at HP led him to wanting to learn how to analyze and invest in businesses. That goal, in turn, led to heading back to graduate school to earn a Master’s in Public Administration at Harvard University and subsequently an MBA at the University of Chicago.
Upon completing his MBA in 2003, the quiet-spoken Dapaah worked in a wide range of roles within the investment world. He started on the sell side in New York City working for a couple of years in the Industrials Group within the Investment Banking Division of Goldman Sachs where he says he “acquired the full valuation tool set” by generating analytics and advising clients as part of a team on IPOs (initial public offerings), LBOs (leveraged buyout), both buy side and sell side M&A (mergers & acquisitions), leveraged recapitalizations and some debt financings.
Continuing on the sell side, Dapaah spent one year at Morgan Stanley working for Mary Meeker, a late stage tech investor, leading venture capitalist and former top Wall Street Internet equity research analyst.
“I was there for four quarterly earnings cycles,” he said. “Within the group, I was usually tasked with analyzing extremely large data sets in Excel to develop unique insights or to derive one number on a page in a slide deck Mary was preparing. My investment banking experience helped, but it was my software development background that made it natural for me to organize large models in a way that enabled dynamic changes on the fly. After a year of providing advice to buy side investors, I wanted to become one. So, I refocused on better understanding buy side risk analysis by working at a hedge fund.”
NEXT: More about Dapaah’s career and what he hoped to do as KEC EIR.