Kira Golenko, BS ’12, grew up on the tennis court.
“I sort of fell into tennis because there was a club close to our home, but it quickly became part of my identity and a way for me to connect with other kids,” she says. “The beauty of sports is that your background, race or gender don’t matter—it’s all about enjoying an activity together.”
As she would later discover, however, the corporate world can be a different story. After earning her bachelor’s from the UB School of Management, Golenko moved to Manhattan, where she stood out in the male-dominated finance industry.
“I felt like I always had to be on 110% of the time because I was being judged as a woman, as an immigrant and as the youngest one in the room,” says Golenko, who is from Latvia and now lives in Luxembourg. “I kept thinking, ‘If only there was a venue where I could connect with my colleagues outside the office.’”
While she considered potential solutions—and advanced through analyst roles at several firms—Golenko also noticed a lack of self-care in the fast-paced world of investments and private equity.
“We used to compete in the office over who slept less,” she says. “That was the benchmark for hard work and success, when what really matters is your performance and your value to the organization.”
Eventually, Golenko saw a way to use sports to bring people together and encourage self-care within companies—and founded her own startup, Motko, in 2021.
The company’s mission is to make the business world a healthier, happier, more sustainable and inclusive place. Through its proprietary platform, Motko works with corporate clients to provide employees with research-backed wellness tools, classes and experts, and to build community by connecting employees, hosting fitness challenges and more.
Golenko was so encouraged by the platform’s beta launch that she left her last role—as principal at Actis, a global investor in sustainable infrastructure—to go full time as CEO of Motko last fall.
“I literally had people tell me, ‘Motko has changed how I think about life and my health,’” she says. “Sports are not about becoming an incredible athlete—they’re about enjoying movement, finding community and feeling empowered. As you become better at an activity, you build confidence and that spills over into other aspects of life.”
For Golenko, her favorite activity is still tennis. She competed on the European junior team, the Latvian national team and the UB women’s tennis team, and still plays several times a week and in occasional tournaments. She says her time on the UB team—and in the School of Management—taught her lessons that have been critical to her career thus far.
“At UB, I learned the importance of time management and teamwork,” she says. “Tennis is an individual sport, but at UB, I was part of a team and had to adjust my mentality. Since then, an important strength in my career has been understanding camaraderie and what it means to work toward a common good.”
Written by Matthew Biddle