‘Love Is Blind’s’ SK Went From Reality Star To Startup Investor Helping African Women in Tech

‘Love Is Blind’s’ SK Went From Reality Star To Startup Investor Helping African Women in Tech

If you’re a fan of Netflix’s Emmy-nominated reality series Love Is Blind, then you’re most likely familiar with Sikiru “SK” Alagbada, the season 3 star who went from champion to villain after he turned down Raven Ross at the alter and was later accused of cheating during their relationship.

But there’s a lot more to the Nigerian native than what was portrayed on Netflix. We did get insight into the MBA program he completed in California, but little was revealed about SK’s post-graduation plans.

In addition to his time on the show, SK, one of the most talked-about cast members of season 3, previously served as the president of the Africa Business Club, and the co-chair of LAUNCH, Berkeley’s in-house accelerator program for promising startups within the university’s ecosystem. He also is a 2023 MBA graduate from the University of California at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, where he focused on technology, entrepreneurship, and venture capital.

Now with graduation behind him and a degree in hand, SK is gearing up for the launch of his private equity company, Search Fund. Through the fund, SK will work to acquire an existing SaaS business, which he will then operate as the CEO.

love is blind investor, startup, tech, African women, Sikiru, SK, Alagbada
Courtesy of Sikiru “SK” Alagbada, Credit: photographer Brittany Hosea-Small

Speaking exclusively with BLACK ENTERPRISE, SK opened up about his journey to break into the tech industry, which included getting into an Ivy League graduate school with a full scholarship. As a native of Nigeria, SK is passionate about the growing tech ecosystem in Africa and emerging markets and shared his plans to invest in African women in tech.

What was your journey like to break into tech?

My journey into tech dates back almost two decades and started in Lagos, Nigeria. I was a teenager on summer break, and my brother’s friend asked me to help out at his cell phone store. I ended up starting my first business later that year, an online application service that helped people submit foreign college applications rather than mailing them. I then attended medical school in Nigeria for one year before leaving in 2007 when my university went on strike due to unpaid professor salaries.

I lived in Poland for two years before moving to the United States in 2009. I attended undergrad at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and a summer internship working on Healthcare.gov as part of the Obamacare project helped me decide on tech as a career choice. Right after Baylor, I moved to Austin to join General Motors as an entry-level data engineer, where I learned the ropes. I then took on a more senior role at JP Morgan in Dallas, Texas, where I lived before moving to the Bay Area in 2021.

How did getting accepted into an Ivy League graduate school with a full scholarship feel?

I am very fortunate to be a recipient of the Consortium Fellowship to attend business school at UC Berkeley. This merit-based scholarship allows people from under-represented groups to attend top business schools in the country without the financial burden that comes with it. I did not get accepted when I first applied, but I re-took the GRE exam and applied again.

I still remember the day I finally got the call and realized I would be moving to California after over 12 years in Texas. Just like several other major life decisions I have made, it was another “stepping out of my comfort zone” moment, and I am glad I took the leap. I have also spent a great deal of my extra-curricular hours coaching others to achieve this same goal. I served as the VP of Careers for the Black Business Students’ Association, and I occasionally review applications and résumés and perform interview prep with prospective students. These are opportunities that are often not available to us, and to whom much is given, much is expected.

Courtesy of Sikiru “SK” Alagbada, Credit: photographer Brittany Hosea-Small

What were your initial plans before obtaining your degree, and how will they change after graduation?

I came into the MBA program after a seven-year data engineering career, looking to acquire non-technical skills that will help me understand the business of technology. For example, I had never taken an accounting, finance, or marketing class before. No matter how great a piece of technology is, someone still needs to sell it; customers need to use it, derive value, and pay for it. These are people skills that most engineers usually do not focus on, and I wanted to be that person who understands both sides—technical and business.

The MBA program at the University of California’s Haas School of Business has helped me achieve that goal and post-graduation, I will be going into a career that allows me to utilize both skill sets as an entrepreneur, an investor, and as a technology leader.

Did your portrayal on Love Is Blind help or hinder your career in tech?

I filmed LIB right before moving to the Bay Area for grad school, and I had to keep the whole thing a secret from everyone, including my classmates, for over a year, so I really enjoyed flying under the radar for more than half of my time here. When the show premiered last October, being on a college campus every day definitely put me in the spotlight. I also get recognized at events or even when randomly walking around San Francisco.

This was a brand new territory for me, and I honestly did not know how to navigate it at the time. Being on a reality show like LIB means people only get to know a highly edited version of you from a narrative that suits the production of an award-winning TV show that comes with a good amount of drama. When people get to know me better and understand my background and personality, the conversation quickly moves away from the ‘SK from LIB’ to ‘SK the data engineer’ who is passionate about investing in Africa, creating opportunities for others, and who still cannot swim to save his own life.

Courtesy of Sikiru “SK” Alagbada, Credit: photographer Brittany Hosea-Small

How do you feel about the tech ecosystem in Africa/emerging markets?

When I left Nigeria in 2007, the tech industry was still very nascent, and things were rapidly evolving. This was a similar time to the US dotcom boom experienced in the 90s. In the last 15 years, however, the African tech ecosystem has grown significantly, producing several unicorns (tech companies valued at over $ 1 billion) like Andela, Chipper Cash, and Flutterwave. Last year, $5.5 billion of venture capital went into Africa, a number that has almost doubled YoY. The case is similar for other emerging markets like LATAM and MENA.

Although the future looks bright for African tech, I do hope the ecosystem does a better job of being more open, supportive, and welcoming of female founders. African women are already structurally (and culturally) disadvantaged, and there needs to be a more intentional effort to provide access to capital and mentorship for them. Despite these challenges, I think we have a unique opportunity to rewrite the rules and not repeat the same mistakes as Silicon Valley. Statistics also show that women-led startups outperform their male-led counterparts, so this is not just a moral choice; it is also a financially sound one that every fund manager should be making. For example, I partner with an organization called We-Tech (@wetechofficial), a non-profit community of 2,000+ African women founders and engineers that help them raise capital to grow their startups and develop technical skills to get placed at top tech companies.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs working to raise money as a startup?

The venture capital market is currently going through a tumultuous period, and new investments are down 53% in Q1 of 2023. This was a much-needed shakeout. Valuations were getting unreasonably high without enough revenue or profitability to support them.

In an industry where Black and female founders often face so many barriers when raising money, this means naturally, we already prioritize key metrics like profitability, customer retention, and recurring revenue, and the rest of the market is playing catch up. Focus on your superpowers as a product and as a founder. This can be our opportunity to shine after all!