Angel Eyes: MBAs view entrepreneurship through an angel investor lens

Entrepreneurs count on angel investors to provide seed-stage start-up funding, but very few entrepreneurship students ever get to set foot in an angel group as a member.

Enter CIE’s new MBA course: Angel Investing. Taught by Rob Wiltbank, the Foster School’s Neal Dempsey Visiting Professor of Entrepreneurship and associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at Willamette University, Angel Investing is a year-long course in which second-year MBAs learn about investing by participating as members in Seattle angel groups and making actual investments.

Wiltbank launched the course at Willamette University three years ago, and the class was recently included in Inc. Magazine’s list of the top 10 entrepreneurship courses in the country. But Wiltbank has long-standing ties to the University of Washington and Seattle. He earned his PhD in strategic management from the UW Foster School in 2005 and is a partner at Montlake Capital.

The class is clearly a departure from other MBA courses. “One of the good things about being in school is that you learn how things should be done. One of the bad things is that you don’t get to do them,” says Mark Partridge, a second-year MBA in the class.  “It’s rare that you get actual experience doing something as extraordinary as angel investing.”

“It’s a great integration program,” says Wiltbank, who has students in Seattle’s Alliance of Angels, Puget Sound Venture Club, Northwest Energy Angels, Seraph, WINGS, and Keiretsu Forum. “Students watch and evaluate pitches, identify potential investment opportunities, and perform extensive due diligence.” Ultimately, the class will make two or three $25,000 to $50,000 investments in promising start-ups.

Sound exciting? Definitely! Sound easy? Definitely not. “There’s a vertical learning curve,” admits Wiltbank. “Much of the content is unfamiliar, and students who excel in this course must be true entrepreneurs—self-motivated, with a willingness to put themselves out there.”

Students spend the year with a group of intelligent, savvy investors. After the course, they will know a great pitch when they see one, and those who become entrepreneurs will know what investors are looking for. “Their ability to pitch is dramatically enhanced,” says Wiltbank, adding that having this experience on their resume will make graduates very desirable to future employers. In an interview, he insists, “it’s the ultimate closer.”

Mark Partridge is just one quarter into the course, but he agrees that the experience he is gaining is an investment in his future. As for whether it will help him close on a future job, he smiles. “I’ll let you know.”

Keep it rolling: adventures in food truck entrepreneurship

Ice cream lovers line up for a taste of Molly Moon’s Ice Cream

You’ve seen the magazine covers (“Seattle’s Best Food Trucks 2012”) and read the headlines (“the mobile revolution has begun!”), but you need only look both ways on a busy Seattle street to see that we’ve got food truck fever.

In 2007 just a handful of sometimes-questionable mobile eateries roamed Seattle’s roads. Five years later, city regulations have changed, opening the door for a flood of high-quality food truck entrepreneurs. Food truck “pods” are popping up all over town – there’s one in South Lake Union, home to Amazon and its throngs of employees, and another recently opened downtown at Second and Pike. The food truck trend might lead you to think that food truck entrepreneurship is easy – roll out a truck, and watch the money roll in.

Not so fast, said Molly Neitzel, owner of Molly Moon’s Ice Cream. Neitzel, along with Josh Henderson of Skillet, Marshall Jett of Veraci Pizza, and Danielle Custer of Monte Cristo, were part of a panel on food truck entrepreneurship that took place during CIE’s annual ENTREWeek in October. Food trucks turned out to be one of the most popular features of the nine events offered during Entreweek 2012. Why so popular? CIE not only hosted foodie entrepreneurs, but their trucks as well. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to forgo the usual campus fare for wood-fired pizza from a clay oven on wheels or salted caramel ice cream from a gourmet ice cream truck?

Neitzel went on to say that after opening two successful ice cream stores in Seattle’s Wallingford and Capitol Hill neighborhoods, she thought it would be fun to add an ice cream truck to the family. It turned out to be a logistical nightmare. “Since the launch of the truck, I’ve opened three more shops,” she said, adding, “I’ll never open a truck again.”

Running a food truck is demanding, and owners face financial and logistical issues that don’t come up in a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Custer, the newest owner on the food truck panel, had opened her gourmet grilled cheese truck, Monte Cristo, just a week earlier. “We’ve had four lunch services,” she said, “and the truck has been in the shop four times.”

It’s clear that food truck ownership is not for the faint of heart. So why are so many jumping on the food truck bandwagon? Perhaps because mobile food entrepreneurs know that a food truck can place them on the road to success. Food entrepreneurs see opportunity in using trucks as PR vehicles:  develop a fan base with mobile food and those fans will follow once you find a permanent home.

Skillet is a great example. Henderson began serving burgers and poutine out of his silver airstream trailer in August 2007. By the time he opened Skillet Diner in 2011, the Skillet brand was hugely popular. Further success followed, and the brand now boasts a second location, Skillet Counter, plus a cookbook, a second food truck for catering, and products like Bacon Jam. Skillet’s success can be attributed in large part to the dedicated following of devotees who got their first taste of Skillet’s food when it was only served street-side.

Like Henderson, Marshall Jett opened his brick-and-mortar pizzeria five years after introducing his mobile Veraci pizza oven to Seattle farmer’s markets. “By the time we built Veraci in Ballard, we had a huge following,” he said. He added that the pizzeria’s opening coincided with the financial crisis in 2008, and remarked, “If we hadn’t established our business the way that we did and developed the momentum  we had with our customers and our product, we probably would’ve gone out of business.”

All this transitioning from mobile to mortar may make food entrepreneurs feel a bit more stable, but it doesn’t mean the food truck trend is going away anytime soon. Even those with restaurants still keep their trucks running. Sure, owning a food truck can be a headache, and it’s probably not the key to riches, but they’re a great way to test a concept, build an audience, and be part of Seattle’s rolling food revolution.

Watch the ENTREweek 2012 Food Truck Panel video
Read another food truck blog post: Apricots, creativity, and food trucks.

 

Sludge, China, and the Freshman Direct Track winning team

The 2012 Holland America Line Global Case Competition involved 48 hours of intense analysis of sludge, soil remediation, and joint ventures in China. The case for the November 17th competition was Phase Separations Solutions (PS2): The China Question, and over 60 Foster School undergraduates teams were asked to recommend a course of action regarding PS2’s opportunities in China.

Teams were asked to tackle difficult questions in the charge and even more challenging ones from the panels of corporate and faculty judges:  Which JV option should they pursue? What challenges are posed by partnering with the government? What about intellectual property theft? What are the bankruptcy laws in China?

Among these teams were sixteen Foster School Freshmen Direct students. They made up their own track in the morning rounds and competed for a $500 prize. The panel of judges for the Freshman Direct Track was impressed by the ease with which these teams presented and the depth of their research and analysis after only a few months at the Foster School.

I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with the winning team of the Freshman Direct Track about their experience. Here is what the winning team members Tim Kim, Barrett Stapleman, Erik Meister, and Ben Hagen had to say:

 What did you learn? Lots of different business terminology; how to prepare, conduct research and how to play the role of a consultant; we learned what a real business presentation looks like, and how to creatively think on our feet.

What did you take away from watching the upperclassmen presentations in the Final Round? Teams need to know everything inside and out – the numbers, the strategy, the facts. The organization of their PowerPoint presentations was impressive, and the team members all presented in a professional tone that was very direct, clear, and to the point.

What was the most challenging part? Time management, researching obscure aspects of the case, and the formulation of the actual presentation – how to include relevant content without overwhelming the slide – were all difficult.

What would you tell other students? Even if you don’t have any background in case competitions, it is a good learning experience to throw yourself into this difficult situation. Just attack it. You will learn skills that will prepare you for the future like time management, presentation skills, and teamwork. Just go out and get involved.

Will you compete again?  Yes!

The Global Business Center would like to give a special thanks to our sponsor of this year’s competition Holland America Line. To learn more about the Holland America Line Global Case Competition, visit the Global Business Center website.

Entrepreneurial Energy

Foster alum and faculty fellow Emer Dooley has a passion for pushing boundaries

Emer Dooley

How does a North Pole marathon winner become one of TechFlash’s top 100 tech women in Seattle? For Emer Dooley—engineer, PhD, entrepreneurship lecturer, angel investor, advisor—it’s easy. Dooley pushed boundaries long before her career began.

Her first broken barrier? Becoming an electrical engineer, a field dominated by men.

“In Ireland when growing up, I wanted to be a science teacher. That’s what girls did. My dad talked me out of it. He persuaded me to do electronic engineering. That changed my life,” says Dooley.

After working as an engineer for seven years, Dooley circled back to her original passion. “I’ve always wanted to teach. I sort of knew I wasn’t really an engineer in my heart.” She earned an MBA (1992) from Foster, worked as marketing manager for Seattle start-up Mosaix, came back to earn her PhD (2000), and taught at UW through 2011.

“I thought that doing an MBA in Seattle would be high-tech nirvana,” says Dooley. “I’m also a huge outdoor person. I like to ski, climb, water ski, run, bike. I just love Seattle. I never applied anywhere else.” At the UW, she launched a high-tech speaker series, software entrepreneurship class and co-taught with various UW computer science professors, including Oren Etzioni, founder of Farecast and Decide.

Her first guest speaker? Venture capitalist Mike Slade, a Microsoft and Apple veteran and entrepreneur. Dooley continued to bring in heavyweight guest speakers year after year.

“It was using the community to change the way that the old classes had been taught,” says Dooley. A memorable speaker was Tom Burt who led the Microsoft defense in the antitrust lawsuit. He shared the reality of being sued. “During discovery, they had so many documents piled up in the corridors that they were cited by the Redmond fire department.”

After 11 years of teaching entrepreneurship to business, engineering and computer science students, Dooley now serves as strategic planner, board member and faculty advisor for the Foster School’s Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. She successfully launched a $3 million fundraising campaign to move the center into a new building and open a new innovation lab.

Dooley also manages a $4.4 million fund at Alliance of Angels and is setting up an angel fund for UW students and a visiting professor to invest in start-ups.

She sees companies bootstrap in ways inconceivable to previous generations of entrepreneurs. “After the big dot com crash, nobody would fund anything. It used to take $30 million to get a company to market. And now with the advances in the tools, people can start companies from nothing. It’s just incredible to me that if you’re really savvy about social media, there’s still opportunity there to run rings around the traditional companies.”

The other pivotal change she’s witnessed in the last 10 years in Seattle is start-up expertise from second-generation entrepreneurs. “It used to be all Microsoft start-ups. Now there’s Expedia, Amazon, Real Networks. That’s really changed the level of talent in the area.”

One of the few women in the angel investing community, Dooley hopes to encourage her kids to push boundaries themselves. She and her husband, also an Ireland native, choose to raise their daughters in Seattle to expand their opportunities.

“I love the abundance of opportunity for women here, and the incredible role models like Bonnie Dunbar that my daughters get to see and meet in the community.”

Speaking of incredible role models… Dooley won the 2010 North Pole Marathon in a blizzard and finished second in the 2011 Antarctic Ice Marathon. “My goal is to run a marathon on every continent.”

Watch Emer Dooley’s TEDx talk: Entrepreneurship education – an oxymoron?