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DCE Magazine

Alumni Spotlight: From International Study to Tech Consulting—A Student's Journey

Spring 2017

In 2006, a year after arriving from his native Istanbul, Turkey, Atahan Isik was still finding his way as a post-certificate graduate student at UCI. Then he had an epiphany that would change his life and send him on a career arc that's still ascending.

And it all started with an Apple iPod touch.

“I stood in line for three hours to get it,” he said. “And when I finally had it in my hand, it completely changed my way of thinking. I knew there was no going back but to accept the fact that the world comes into the palm of your hands with these cool mobile apps. This was the future. I started to think how this piece of device and the app ecosystem will change the way we do things.”

Just like that, Isik, now 34, found his future. An accomplished student studying international business through the International Programs at UCI DCE, Isik was still unsure about his role in the corporate world. He loved technology, was very tech-savvy and wanted to be a consultant, but he hadn't yet found his niche, wasn't sure how he'd use his talents.

“My fellow students and friends kept talking about working for big banks or auditing firms,” he said. “But I was more interested in being part of a growing technology firm on my way to becoming a consultant. So I starting thinking about how these new technologies could be applied to help those companies market themselves, interface with customers, and how it could be used with video games and digital wallets.”

His ideas and passion launched a global career journey that eventually led back to Irvine, where in 2015 he founded Related & Co., an international growth consulting company. He's also a frequent guest speaker at UCI DCE, where he maintains close relationships with the university community — he thinks of it as family.

It's a logical move for Isik, who considers himself, above all, a storyteller and a teacher. His own story is an example of how dreams can be realized by hard work and the support of a strong academic community, even in a new country.

“The impact UCI DCE has had on my life and career is huge,” he said. “I had a plan, but the University gave me the direction and tools I needed to succeed.” It's also where he met his wife, Canan, an international student from Ankara, Turkey. They currently live in Irvine with their 2-year-old daughter, Mayra, close to Isik's office.

But it was a long road home.

While a student at UCI DCE, Isik worked hard and got an internship with Irvine-based Printronix before moving on to K2 Network, a fast-growing producer and publisher of videogames, where he worked for about two years. In 2009 he returned to Istanbul and soon became a business development director at Tmob Tech, an international mobile technology company focused on providing mobile commerce solutions for businesses around the world.

That's when his career really took off. Isik worked on projects in London and Dubai, then in Palo Alto, where he became part of the ultra-competitive Silicon Valley scene as U.S. Country Manager.

“Silicon Valley was go-go-go all the time, all about money and connections,” he said. “I wanted to go somewhere more positive and work with people who were more like me. This was right when Silicon Beach started to establish itself in Southern California, and I recognized the potential. There were so many start-ups and new tech companies coming here, I wanted to be a part of it.”

Isik found the environment vibrant and exciting, sort of a sunnier, nascent version of Silicon Valley. He believes that Silicon Beach — hundreds of tech companies stretching from Santa Monica to Costa Mesa — has vast potential for growth and innovation.

And he sees UCI as the driving force behind this emerging SoCal technology sector, providing cutting-edge education for entrepreneurs and drawing top talent from around the world.

“I believe UCI can become the very hub of Silicon Beach, the same way Stanford is the hub of Silicon Valley,” Isik said. “So many tech companies are coming to Irvine, and my consulting firm helps them to start operations here as well. There is so much opportunity here. I really want to be part of the UCI community fueling this movement.”

The engine behind the movement, Isik said, is The Cove at University Research Park, a dynamic 31,000-square-foot facility that brings start-ups, large corporations and investors together with UCI's top research and development talent. Home to the Applied Innovation group, The Cove is where UCI meets the global economy.

Isik starts his workday early. He wakes up every morning at 6 in order to catch up with different time zones from Dubai to Luxemburg, London to Chicago, before venturing out to his office at Related & Co. His consulting company is a dream realized for Isik, the embodiment of his engaging, outgoing personality, boundless intellect and energy.

“To be honest, I always wanted to be a consultant,” he said. “I wanted to help start-ups and technology firms grow. To do that, I knew I had to digest verticals in different areas of technology like e-commerce, mobile technology, FinTech, video games and IoT. I wanted to create my own company and use that as my resume around the world, to tell my story and show what I can do with clients and projects, using a tailor-made approach to each company's situation.”

His main mission is helping foreign tech companies successfully move into the U.S. market and, in turn, showing U.S. businesses what it takes to succeed overseas. “Helping international companies succeed here is good for the community and good for the economy,” Isik said.

Even in his consulting business, Isik's ties to UCI run deep. Two of his closest advisors at Related & Co. are UCI alumni association member Neil Sahota, an IBM Master Inventor and business development leader with the IBM Watson Group, and UCI DCE instructor and technology/business consultant Richard Steele. Even when he lived abroad, Isik would visit Irvine every summer, re-connecting with the UCI community.

And in spring, Isik will likely be part of a potential new program for international tech entrepreneurs, showing them from example how to integrate into the American business environment and make their own unique talents flourish on a worldwide stage.

“I'm a very lucky guy,” he said. “Not lucky like winning the lottery, just lucky my entire life. And now I want to give back, be a role model. These students have achieved a lot in their own countries, and I want to show them how to achieve their dreams in a new culture, a new country with new rules. Give them the tools and direction to do it from scratch. If they can pull this off, they can succeed and have a wonderful life anywhere in the world.”