Between his high school courses and his college courses and his auto parts business, Mike Wilson used to squeeze in a little pole vaulting at track meets.
The man’s whole life seems to be a dash.
At 27, he’s the CEO of local up-and-coming digital advertising agency Wavelength Media and has been picked as one of Kansas City’s youngest mentors, helping Bloch School of Business grad students — some of them almost twice his age — pick up some of the tricks to starting enterprises.
Some like to compare the bespectacled Wilson to young billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO.
Flattering but pretty far off the mark, he says.
“He’s worth about $5 billion, and I have about $500 in my bank account,” Wilson jokes.
Wilson also has the trust of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which finds his local-boy-makes-good tale inspiring enough for others.
When Wilson graduated from Shawnee Mission South High School eight years ago, he also had his associate’s degree from Johnson County Community College.
Still, he admits, despite his high school 3.9 grade point average, he was no whiz kid.
He scored a 21 average on the ACT college entrance exams and in the 60th percentile on the GMAT, an international standardized math test used to gain admission to business graduate school.
“On paper, I don’t look that good,” Wilson acknowledges.
So when he applied to 10 grad schools, including Harvard, MIT, the University of Chicago, Washington University and the University of Kansas, all but one turned him down.
UMKC called, impressed that he ran an auto parts business at 16.
That idea had been inspired by the movie “The Fast and the Furious,” big with fellow high school boys who wanted to trick out their rides.
Helped by his dad, a partner in the venture, he bought wheels and tire accessories wholesale to sell them at a markup to Johnson County kids.
“I irritated a lot of people in that business,” Wilson said, flashing a big smile. He competed with other auto parts retailers and made tens of thousands of dollars.
The UMKC Bloch School of Business was impressed.
“What we were looking for is someone who is a risk taker, someone who shows they are willing to try something new in their life, and Mike Wilson demonstrated that,” said Michael Song, director of the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at UMKC.
Song, a business professor who taught Wilson at Bloch, called the young man driven and passionate.
These days, Wilson, who is married and expecting his first child, has a new mantra.
“I work because I love it. Making money is my gateway to freedom.”
Wilson didn’t hesitate when asked to help mentor others trying to launch businesses. In fact, as co-founder of Wavelength Media, he was honored.
Wilson “serves as an inspiration to young students that an entrepreneur can be anyone of any age,” Song said. “Sometimes they have this misconception — I am not an entrepreneur because I am not a Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.”
For Wilson, a highlight of his journey to entrepreneurship came last month when the school received a $32 million donation from its namesake, Henry Bloch, and at the announcement ceremony, Wilson stood next to Bloch.
He’d met the man once before, back when Wilson was a Bloch School student in 2006 and won the Student Entrepreneur of the Year award. The two were introduced, and Wilson recalled “him saying how nice it was to meet me — the next generation of young entrepreneur.”
“That meeting had a very big impact on me. It was one of the first times for me to meet someone who is a true business legend, almost rock star status. I mean we are a couple of generations apart, and still I felt a solid connection,” Wilson said.