Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, Inc., a nonprofit educational organization honoring the achievements of outstanding individuals and encouraging youth to pursue their dreams through higher education, announced that Michele Kang, owner of the Washington Spirit, and founder and CEO of Cognosante, has been selected for membership in this prestigious organization. Ms. Kang joins 12 other exceptional business, civic and cultural leaders from across North America in receiving 2023 honors. For 76 years, the Horatio Alger Award has been annually bestowed upon esteemed individuals who have succeeded despite facing adversities, and who have remained committed to education and charitable efforts in their communities.
Ms. Kang is an American businesswoman, investor and philanthropist. Born and raised in South Korea, Ms. Kang came to the United States as a student to pursue her American dream. She has spent her career building businesses that challenged the status quo and has leveraged her successes to help others achieve their own American dreams. Ms. Kang’s parents, who were both educators, instilled in her a lifelong passion for learning and hard work. She pursued a college degree in business at a time when the world of business was male dominated. Not only was Ms. Kang the only woman admitted to her business college, but she ended her first year as the number one ranked student in the class. Setting her eyes on even greater challenges, Ms. Kang decided to leave Korea to attend the top-rated economics department at the University of Chicago. At the time, the idea of a young, unmarried woman going alone to a foreign country was virtually unprecedented. But through tireless work to overcome language and cultural barriers – and juggling multiple jobs to support herself financially – she earned a bachelor’s degree from Chicago and a master’s degree in public and private management from the Yale School of Management.
Ms. Kang began her career as a management consultant advising companies across a diverse set of industries but always with an emphasis on using emerging technology to lead innovation and growth. She eventually joined Ernst and Young as a Partner and then was hired by Northrop Grumman, the American aerospace and defense technology company, as a senior executive. She headed its Information Technology Health Solutions division for four years. Under Ms. Kang’s leadership, the business grew fourfold while increasing profits every year in that highly competitive industry. She achieved these profits and managed thousands of employees all while fighting her own battle with breast cancer. Thankfully, she has been cancer-free for almost 20 years.
In 2008, moving literally from the corporate boardroom to the empty room above her garage, Ms. Kang founded her own company, Cognosante, to help transform the American healthcare system. In just a few short years – and during the Great Recession – her company grew rapidly and emerged as a trusted provider of innovative technology solutions for key federal and state health agencies. Cognosante is a three-time Great Place to Work certified company, a designation awarded to the company because of the innovative and inclusive culture Ms. Kang has built.
In 2022, Ms. Kang became the first woman of color to own a National Women’s Soccer League team: the 2021 League champions, the Washington Spirit. In addition to building a premier team, she took on this role with a firm commitment to help move the League forward, by ensuring parity in infrastructure, sponsorship and media, as well as diversity among League owners. Ms. Kang has become a leading global advocate to create a level playing field between men and women in soccer, starting with equal pay.
“Ms. Kang is a visionary who has exceeded every personal and professional obstacle faced,” said Terrence J. Giroux, executive director, Horatio Alger Association. “She has used her education and knowledge to build a successful business that has improved the lives of veterans and their families, a cause that is important to both her and the Association. We hold many of the same values and it is an honor to induct Ms. Kang as a Member.”
To build on her transformational work in both IT and women’s sports, Ms. Kang invests in early-stage companies that challenge the conventional wisdom. She established Cognosante Ventures to fuel and mentor digital health companies that will profoundly change the way patients experience healthcare. Ms. Kang also supports women-led sports startups including Just Women’s Sports, the leading media platform dedicated exclusively to women’s sports.
Ms. Kang is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion — and she is focused on expanding opportunity to all by providing meaningful careers to those who are too often excluded from corporate America. Cognosante offers various internship and scholarship programs designed exclusively for HBCU students, first-generation college students and women in STEM. One of Cognosante’s wholly owned subsidiaries hires Americans with disabilities exclusively offering employment with full benefits. Ms. Kang’s commitment to these principles has led to several awards for Cognosante for its outstanding hiring and retention practices.
In gratitude for the U.S. soldiers who helped defend her home country during the Korean War, Ms. Kang stands with American Veterans. She has been a proud supporter of the National Museum of the Marine Corps and The Chosin Few, which is a member organization of Veterans, spouses and lineal descendants of one of the bloodiest battles of the Korean War, the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. She also supports organizations that aim to eradicate homelessness among women Veterans and find employment for wounded Veterans and their caretakers.
“I am honored to have the opportunity to share my experience challenging the status quo with new ideas and making a real difference in our society,” shared Ms. Kang. “I was able to turn my passion for helping veterans and others who face adversities into a fulfilling career, and I look forward to teaching Scholars how they, too, can stay true to their dreams and achieve success.”
Since 1984, the Association has awarded annual need-based scholarships to high school students who have displayed dedication to pursuing higher education despite significant obstacles throughout their lives. The Association also aims to educate young people about the endless opportunities available by the free-enterprise system through commitment, honesty, and diligence. The scholarships are made possible through the Association thanks to the generosity of its Members, who will have collectively provided more than $245 million to 35,000 students by 2023.
“Each year, it is our utmost honor to present outstanding leaders who have displayed extraordinary perseverance in overcoming challenges with the Horatio Alger Award,” said James F. Dicke II, chairman, Horatio Alger Association and 2015 Horatio Alger Award recipient. “Each of these incredible leaders has also shared their success with others, giving generously to important causes and communities in need. The 2023 awardees exemplify the Association’s mission and are proof that the American Dream is within reach for all who seek it.”
Ms. Kang and the Member Class of 2023 will be formally inducted into the Association during the Horatio Alger Award Induction Ceremonies in Washington, D.C. from March 30 through April 1, 2023. The three-day event is an annual ceremony to honor both the achievements of Members and National Scholars, who will have multiple opportunities to meet, interact and exchange stories of perseverance.