Alumni spotlight: Jonny Imerman

The business of helping others

As a student, Jonny Imerman ’03 M.B.A. was focused on exams, internships and imagining his life after graduation from Wayne State. His focus shifted when he was diagnosed with cancer at age 26.

“I went through chemo at Karmanos while I was going to school,” Imerman said. “There were some dark days.”

Imerman battled cancer for more than two years before receiving a clean bill of health. During that time his career interests began to change from finance to community outreach. While undergoing treatment, Imerman struggled to find others to relate to— he had never met a cancer survivor in their 20s—and he was unsure where to seek support. This uncertainty inspired him to begin working with staff and physicians at Karmanos to link cancer patients with survivors.

“I just started by going door-to-door,” Imerman said. “I quickly realized that my mission was so powerful that it was going to spread.”

Imerman’s program grew quickly and he launched Imerman Angels, a nonprofit one-on-one cancer support group in 2003. Imerman Angels pairs a cancer patient or caregiver with a survivor of the same type of cancer and of a similar age, gender and background. The organization is based in Chicago and serves over 60 countries. They currently work with some 7,000 survivors known as ‘mentor angels’ who connect with cancer patients. Patients request help via the organization’s website and the service is free. Imerman said that matches often happen within days.

“Speed to match is important to us,” he said. “Due to the nature of different cancers, our window is sometimes very short. We are focused on establishing relationships quickly and I attribute that focus to our success.”

Imerman also credits his business school education for helping him grow Imerman Angels. He loved marketing and promotion classes, and those disciplines have helped him expand the reach of his organization.

“I learned that you have to focus on doing good work first, and then you pull the positive energy you’ve created back into your organization,” he said. “Mentoring is the core of what we do, and focusing on that helped us grow. Lessons like that I really trace back to Wayne State.”