Haworth College of Business News

Crain’s Chicago Recognizes Alum Roa’s Success

John Roa, BBA ’07, was named to Crain’s Chicago Tech 50, which recognizes leaders in venture capital, angel investing, development and design. His company, AKTA, is a leader in user experience design and has realized rapid growth in the three years since its inception – 15 employees, 7-digit revenues, a 6,000 square-foot loft office in Chicago’s River North neighborhood and a list of both start-up and enterprise clients.

“It sounds odd, but the recession helped Chicago’s startup movement. AKTA was founded at the beginning of this movement, so we rode the wave and were fortunate to be one of the companies that thrived,” says Roa.  This environment led to a demand-driven market, which in turn led to significant demand for investment capital, professional services, infrastructure and staff, and for entrepreneurs like Roa.

“Chicago has become one of the most fertile startup ecosystems on the planet,” says Roa.

Roa graduated from WMU just a few short years ago, but his career began years earlier at age 15 when he helped launch a computer-repair business near Detroit.  Following graduation from high school and some coursework at both Wayne State University and Lawrence Tech (Troy, Mich.), Roa immersed himself in the video gaming community, which led to the launch of his successful video game marketing firm in Los Angeles. Balancing his professional career and schoolwork, Roa’s successful exit from his first venture led him to a new opportunity in Chicago and completion of his degree at WMU.

“I came to Chicago after exiting my video game marketing company. I chose Chicago because it was geographically convenient to Michigan where I grew up and had a rapidly growing tech community, and I already had a small network of friends and colleagues from past ventures to give me a start,” says Roa.

Roa credits his extensive international travel for the inspiration for AKTA and says his education at WMU served as a foundation for his entrepreneurial spirit.

“Regardless of the type of company I’ve been involved in, a key part of my role has always been sales and business development. My WMU degree gave me a great formal foundation for the value of sales, negotiation and relationship building. That said, these days I am anything but formal (Dr. Eckert would have a heart attack if he saw me selling) but that education is still very valuable,” says Roa.

And, the daily challenges and opportunities at the forefront of the user experience industry are incredible as are the perks of leading a successful firm.  “There are a lot of lifestyle changes that I have to admit are pretty cool: getting invited to prestigious events, meeting famous business leaders, speaking at international conferences, getting looped into high-profile business deals, receiving offers to buy my company,” Roa says.

Another perk: meeting interesting people who have led interesting lives and share his passion for business ventures. “The most recent has been client Jimmy Chamberlin from The Smashing Pumpkins. His story of transitioning from one of the most renowned musicians in history to being part of an entertainment startup is fascinating, and his supreme understanding and value of culture, people, family and life overall is inspiring. Plus, anyone who can start a story with ‘this one time when we were playing a sold out show at the Garden…’ is just plain cool.”