MBA Challenge for Charity: game on

Music and mountains. Pursuits that quicken pulses around the Pacific Northwest. So, too, at the University of Washington Foster School of Business.

Check out this video of Foster’s MBA house band—Death Spiral—laying down a thumping soundtrack to images of the inaugural MBA team charity climb of Mount Rainier in 2011. Both efforts were conceived and driven by students in Foster’s Full-Time and Evening MBA Programs. And both were components of the school’s year-long campaign in the MBA Challenge for Charity (C4C).



C4C is the annual competition among nine west coast business schools to raise the most money and work the most volunteer hours for local service organizations. The Foster School has won the C4C “Golden Briefcase” seven of the past 11 years, raising over $1 million and volunteering more than 15,000 hours for Special Olympics Washington and the Boys & Girls Clubs of King County.

Last year’s Rainier push landed 11 MBA mountaineers on the summit of Washington’s highest peak. The climbers also raised $7,000 for C4C charities. The MBA band rocked the C4C competition weekend at Stanford University, part of a growing tradition of sonic boom at the Foster School.

Mountains and music are a go for 2012, too.

This year’s Mount Rainier climb is scheduled for August and training has already begun. Organizer Scott Heinz and first-year MBA Jack Hogin hope to guide as many as 24 MBAs up two different routes. And Death Spiral, led by Nick Wilson (bass) and Mike Warady (drums), is back and amped for another epic concert at Stanford in May (not to mention numerous events in the run-up).

The primary C4C fundraiser is Foster School’s annual MBA Challenge For Charity auction, which takes place on February 25 from 5:30-11 p.m. at the Seattle Sheraton. Mardi Gras is the theme. You get the picture—a good time for a good cause.

Sack-religious advice to budding entrepreneurs

“More important than writing a business plan,” states Andy Sack, serial entrepreneur and investor, “entrepreneurs need to get out and meet the people and explore the markets they’ll be serving.” Contradictory advice for students entering a business plan competition?  Not really.

When Andy Sack made that suggestion as part of his “Start-up Checklist for Entrepreneurs” presentation to launch the Resource Nights for the 2012 UW Business Plan Competition, murmurs and nervous laughter broke out in the auditorium. No one expected to hear that. But as Sack reminded his audience, “Ideas are not opportunities.” Thinking of starting a restaurant? Go stand on the street corner that you’d like to rent and ask the people who walk by if they’d come in for dinner.

Sack knows early-stage entrepreneurship. He’s got 17 years of experience as a successful entrepreneur, and partner and co-founder of TechStars, Founder’s Co-op and Lighter Capital. The tech newsletter Geekwire called him “one of the three people to know in Seattle.”

“Andy’s the reality-check guy,” says Connie Bourassa-Shaw, director of the UW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “He’s direct, honest, and no nonsense. If you say that you’re in it for the money, he’ll tell you there are a million easier ways to make a living. And very often, your question to him will result in a question back at you: ‘What do you think?’  He wants to know what you’re thinking.”

After you’ve got your idea, Sack said, go directly to opportunity validation. Can you create value—and make money? Put it all down on one sheet of paper. His other fundamentals for first-time entrepreneurs include:

  • Resolve founder issues in the first 90 days: who does what and who earns how much?
  • Make a list of the top 10 personal reasons why you’re starting this company—followed up by the reasons why you shouldn’t do it.
  • Ask yourself how much time and money you’re willing to invest. Really. Put down the number of months, and the dollar amount.
  • Write an executive summary and share it with five people you respect. If you’re not hearing some negatives, you’re not trying hard enough. You should also be telling your story early and often and listening to what people say.
  • Establish [companynamelegal]@gmail.com and sending all legal correspondence there.

Perhaps most importantly, Sack stressed the value of the team. “More than anything else in entrepreneurship, people matter,” he repeated. “You need to be able to understand, communicate and listen to your employees, partners and investors. They don’t teach that skill set much in school, so get it down now.”

View Andy Sack’s full presentation. Want more tips for how to start a company? See the UW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s Start-Up Resources.