Moussa Ismail ‘20
Hi Moussa! Thanks for coming to Hot Bench. We’re happy to have you. Let’s get the ball rolling with a few easy questions. What is the story behind that brown hat you love to wear?
It’s my trademark look. It’s like Mario and Luigi, my twin brother and I both have our signature hats.
You have a twin! There are a surprising number of twins at the law school. What does your twin do?
He’s in med school. He’s also in his second year. He and I keep in touch, and we still mentor people from our flipped incubator program.
What’s a flipped incubator program?
A traditional incubator program brings in companies to help them grow, but for us, our focus was on the people who would go on to build those companies. My brother has this thesis: “Talent is everywhere, but opportunity isn’t,” and we ran with that idea. We worked exclusively with underrepresented minority students in community college and high school. They went on to win at seventeen major league hacking competitions!
Wow! Is the incubator what you did before coming to UVA?
Actually, my background is in echocardiography and vascular technology, I am a registered diagnostic cardiac sonographer. I spent over five years helping physicians diagnose conditions of the heart and blood vessels in adults and children (and no, children aren’t just small adults!) I also built two companies with my brother.
What made you give up that glamorous life for law school?
I got tired of paying the lawyers so much! But really, it was something of a journey. I originally wanted to be an interventional cardiologist, but during my last year in undergrad, I realized that a lot of the problems in healthcare aren’t clinical problems—they’re mostly business and legal problems.
Were you deciding at that point between an MBA and a J.D.?
Well, I knew I wanted to be done with graduate school before thirty, but I wanted to spend at least five years working in healthcare to make sure I really understood the field, so I split my time between the hospital and my companies. About four years in, I realized that many of our business problems were really legal problems masquerading as business problems! It was then that I decided on the J.D.
What kind of impact do you hope to have as a lawyer?
I’d like to shepherd the next generation of great companies, especially those addressing issues in healthcare and the life sciences.
Moussa, at this point, you have tried to work the word “shepherd” into a few of your answers, and so I have to ask, what is it with you and “shepherd”?
I come from a long line of shepherds. My dad was a shepherd as a kid growing up in Ethiopia. He would spend long stretches of time in the wilderness with his flock.
Did you ever want to be a shepherd?
No, I have the worst sense of direction. :(
Let’s do a lightning round!
Favorite place in Charlottesville? The BLSA Office.
Anti-Stress Hobby? Creative writing.
Pet peeve? Dirty bathrooms! We’re all adults, there’s no reason why it should be so dirty.
Favorite word? Why.
Favorite food? Maybe lasagna, but my favorite dessert is definitely tiramisu made with ladyfingers and no rum.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? If I had the option, I would just keep moving. I would be a nomad. It’s in my genes!
What’s one movie that left an impression on you? The Pursuit of Happyness.
If you won the lottery, what would you do with it? Disappear. I would claim the prize anonymously and then quietly invest in things that will change the world.
If you could pick one song to play in the background of your life, what would it be? Nothing! But it would be pink noise if I had to choose.
What is your least favorite sound? A fork scraping a plate.
What’s your spirit animal? A stoat! Stoats breakdance to catch their prey.
Where’s a place you’ve never been, but would like to go? China.
If you could make one rule that everyone had to follow, what would it be? I would make it mandatory for everyone to travel and live somewhere with a culture very different from their own for two years.