All posts by UW Foster School of Business

A controlled approach to leadership in Dubai and Abu Dhabi

Guest post by Bruce Avolio, Executive Director of the Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking and Marion B. Ingersoll Professor of Management. 

There are several things that one cannot ignore when traveling in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. First, in 42 years since the founding of the United Arab Emirates, these global citizens have built massive cities with the most impressive and innovative architecture on earth. Second, you cannot find a more controlled society on earth that doesn’t appear to have any interest in overthrowing the ruling families. Indeed, what one sees in this part of the world are sheer opulence everywhere, and a largely satisfied group of indigenous citizens. The reason being is that the rulers in this part of the world, rule with an iron fist, but they also rule with tremendous generosity and smarts towards citizens. If you are a so-called Emirate and not living well, call your ruler because you are clearly missing out on all of the bennies, e.g., subsidized housing, utilities, car payments, healthcare, schooling, higher educational scholarships, or a new iPad!

The paradox of reduce-reuse-recycle

2011 EIC Grand Prize Winner Voltaic shows off their electric vehicle drive train
2011 EIC Grand Prize Winner Voltaic shows off its electric vehicle drive train

Guest post by Daniel Schwartz, Chair, UW Department of Chemical Engineering

When I think Cleantech, my mind goes straight to the triangular logo on my waste container at work: “reduce, reuse, recycle.”  These three words are central to most enduring cleantech innovations, though sometimes in paradoxical ways.  “Reduce” is the most prone to paradox, since reducing one thing generally happens by increasing another. Let’s explore this “reduce” paradox via two well-known examples in that space.

In recent years, Washington has done a good job of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. Today, the average American emits 41% more greenhouse gas than the average Washingtonian (2012 State Energy Strategy report). We reduced our emissions by increasing our reliance on hydropower. Here’s where the “reduce” paradox comes in. Increases in hydropower have led to fewer salmon in our waters. Thinking long term, if we want to grow our economy and further reduce our emissions while avoiding consequences like this, we’ll need major innovations in the cost and performance of solar energy and grid-scale batteries. And we’ll need to make sure those innovations don’t lead to a depleted Earth.

The same “increase-to-reduce” paradox holds in transportation. Hybrid and all-electric cars reduce emissions by increasing efficiency. The 787 Dreamliner reduces its fuel use, in part, by adopting the “more electric-aircraft” approach. Innovations in transportation electrification are largely tied to electrochemical energy storage and conversion (batteries, super-capacitors, and fuel cells) as well as control systems that enable vehicle-scale “grids” to operate reliably on their own and when plugged into a utility’s grid. Transportation electrification is currently going through painful growing pains. Have no doubt, we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg in transportation electrification, but as transportation electrification increases, we need to use foresight to adapt our current electrical infrastructure, or we’ll break it.

My colleagues at the UW Institute for Molecular Engineering and Science are among the leaders charting a sustainable energy pathway that balances technical innovation with the economic and social dimensions of scalable energy. Students, too, are looking at the paradoxes – the potential Achilles heels of cleantech – and finding potential for enduring innovations. I am looking forward to seeing how students at the UW Environmental Innovation Challenge apply their understanding of cleantech and “reduce, reuse, recycle” – paradoxes and all—  to innovations that will improve our world.

Kelly Miyahara: Anything is possible

Kelly Miyahara
Foster alumna Kelly Miyahara working on the set of Jeopardy!

Category: Fascinating Fosters for $2000

Answer: Serendipitous member of Jeopardy! Clue Crew and unexpected Ironman triathlete

Question: Who is Kelly Miyahara?

Miyahara (BA 2000) would be the first to admit she was born to do neither—that is, travel the world recording visual clues for the nation’s iconic game show nor compete in the world’s preeminent test of extreme endurance.

Blessed (and cursed) with infinite interests, Miyahara graduated from Foster not quite sure what to do with her degree. Around vagabond spells in Europe, she began building a career at Nordstrom. She had just been promoted to customer service manager of a Los Angeles store in 2004 when the phone rang early one Sunday morning.

It was her mother, a schoolteacher and long-time Jeopardy! devotee, beyond excited to tell her daughter about an open casting call for the show’s Clue Crew.

Why not her?

Miyahara decided on a lark to try out. She composed her crude audition tape on a 1984 camcorder. But, to her eternal surprise, she made the first cut of the nationwide talent search. Then a second. Then a third.

“Looking around at these professional actors I thought, I don’t belong here,” she admits. “But it actually worked to my advantage because the only thing I could be was myself. And it turns out that’s what they were looking for.”

Ever since, Miyahara has traveled the world, recording Jeopardy! “answers” on location—often exotic location—as well as representing the program on tour and delivering “Classroom Jeopardy!” to schools across America.

The past decade has been a whirlwind. She has recorded clues amid the swirl of Times Square and at the gates of an Ancient Cambodian temple, aboard an America’s Cup yacht careening across San Francisco Bay and on a jetting duckie captained by Australia’s legendary Bondi Beach Lifesavers. A USO tour of Japan with host Alex Trebek helped her reconnect with her family heritage. A South African safari found her working among a pride of lions in the wild. And a Jeopardy! fan cruise gave her occasion to stroll among the giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands.

“So many places I would never have had the opportunity to see without Jeopardy!” she says. “I have to pinch myself every day. This is my job! What I do for a living!”

Never say never

The experience has emboldened Miyahara to go after her interests and dreams, no matter how impossible they may seem.

Exhibit A: triathlon. A string of catastrophic knee injuries that began in high school had ended promising soccer and softball careers; doctors had warned her to avoid running for the rest of her days.

But a few years ago some friends were doing a triathlon for charity. Miyahara thought she would swim, bike, then just walk. “I should have known better,” she admits. “I’m competitive, and I just kept pushing.”

She pushed that knee farther and farther, eventually training for a full Ironman—2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run—alongside a growing coterie of teammates who became close friends.

One of the closest was a woman named Marisela Echeverria, with whom Miyahara made a quixotic pact: if either got the chance to go to the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, they would go together. But on a training ride the very day of the 2012 Ironman Kona, Echeverria was hit by a bus and died.

“I decided to find a way to keep that promise,” Miyahara says.

Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer

Her only hope was a program called “Kona Inspired” that awards seven spots for athletes whose stories are more compelling than their qualifying times. The program’s motto was her own: “anything is possible.”

Kelly’s story was Mari. Friends from her Team In Training Ironteam helped produce her entry video which went viral. Its inspiration touched hearts around the globe, helping raise more than $31,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. And Miyahara booked a ticket to Kona, supported by 40 members of “Team Mari.”

When she finally crossed the finish line long after dark on October 13, it hit her that the experience was so much more than a race. “I didn’t realize how much healing was happening until afterward,” she recalls. “That weight that we had all felt since Mari died just lifted. We all had this incredible sense of peace. I think she did, too.”

Next start?

Miyahara plans to continue racing, though at distances more sensible for her compromised joints. She has signed on to be an assistant coach for her local Team In Training and will compete with the Sony Triathlon team, attempting to help her studio win the entertainment industry’s Malibu Triathlon in September.

And she hopes to ride her luck at Jeopardy! as long as it holds.

“I know that I have the best job in the world,” she says. “But I also know that it’s not going to last forever. So I’m trying to prepare myself for what’s next.”

That means creating opportunities out of her interests. And there are many. Miyahara would like to develop positive TV programming, do animation voice-overs, write a children’s book, develop an athletic clothing line for real-sized women, create a line of greeting cards, found a non-profit.

Miyahara may have detoured from management to entertainment, but might she eventually fuse the two? “Let’s see what I can make happen,” she says. “Anything is possible.”

The vastness of the Middle East

Guest post by Bruce Avolio, Executive Director of the Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking and Marion B. Ingersoll Professor of Management. Bruce traveled with Technology Management MBA students as part of their International Study Tour to Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

I, like the students from Foster’s TMMBA program and staff, have visited many parts of the world. However, none of the staff or students had been to the Middle East. Of course, when we say Middle East, it’s like saying North America, in that the Middle East is made up of many different types of people, regions, climates and of course cultures. My goal for this trip was to develop our respective global mindsets as a basis for being a global leader—our assumptions, framing, perceptions and knowledge about other cultures. During our time in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, we certainly triggered A LOT of challenges to our respective global mindsets. Indeed, during our first corporate visit at Thompson Reuters, one of the top managers hosting us said, “Next time you hear the words—The Gulf—on CNN or Fox or where ever, I hope you consider how vast and diverse an area that reporter is referencing.” Boy was that ever an insight to retain in our global mindsets!

In the spotlight: John Castle and Creating a Company

Guest post by Matt Wastradowski, Communications & Media Editor, Alumni Relations, UW Alumni Association

JohnCastleEvery year, Creating a Company, as the course is dubbed, becomes less a class than a crash course in entrepreneurship. Groups of eager students team up, form a company, apply for a $1,000-$2,000 loan from the Foster School of Business, and spend the next few months hawking their product or service to the wider world.

Past companies have sold goods ranging from Husky apparel to glass jars of cake mix; other companies have launched art galleries and driven students to the mountain passes for a day on the slopes.

At the heart of it all is lecturer John Castle, who has taught the class for the past 12 years – and who will retire at year’s end.

In 2001, Castle had stepped down as CEO from Cantametrix, a music software company he helped found, when a neighbor and former UW professor approached him about inheriting the Creating a Company course. With more than 40 years of business acumen, Castle didn’t lack experience: Before joining the UW, he had served as CEO of Hamilton-Thorn, a medical electronics and diagnostics company; cofounded Seragen, a biotechnology company; and was a partner in Washington Biotechnology Funding, a seed venture capital fund specializing in medical technologies.

Since then, he’s drawn on that extensive experience as would-be CEOS have created and developed dozens of companies. Castle’s only rule in approving companies and dispersing loans is “Do no harm,” meaning that students can’t, say, promote underage drinking by selling shot glasses to fraternities and sororities on campus. (This actually happened.)

When the class ends, students return any profits to the Foster School and can buy their company for $1 to keep it going. Few companies have outlived their academic years, but Castle knows the experience will remain long after grades are posted. “Whether or not they learn how to do it well, they will learn whether or not they want to start their own business.” Castle said. “This is as realistic of an experience of entrepreneurship as we can make it.”

Read on for a look back at some of the most memorable products and services offered by students during Castle’s tenure.

Spiraling toward success

Adina Mangubat2Adina Mangubat (UW BS in psychology, 2009), CEO of Spiral Genetics, has “change the world” in her DNA, and the world is taking notice. In the past two years, Mangubat has been interviewed by news outlets like Xconomy and GeekWire, and featured on Forbes’ list of the top 30 under 30 in science and technology. Why all the attention? Spiral Genetics is using sophisticated algorithms, distributed computing, and a cloud-based framework to change the way DNA is analyzed.

In the most basic terms, there are two parts to processing DNA. First, DNA is extracted from blood or tissue and put into a sequencer that chops up and reads the DNA, resulting in millions of raw reads, “essentially text files of As, Cs, Gs, and Ts,” explains Mangubat. Next, these millions of text files are organized, analyzed, and compared to a normal DNA sequence to find unexpected variants. Researchers use these variants to identify gene mutations that are the cause of everything from color blindness to cancer.

Mangubat and her cofounders, CSO Becky Drees (UC Berkeley PhD in Molecular & Cellular Biology, 1995 and UW Certificate in Biotechnology Project Management, 2008) and CTO Jeremy Bruestle, have developed a platform that significantly speeds up the analysis process. Spiral Genetics can analyze in hours what has previously taken biologists days to complete using complicated open source software. “As far as I know,” Mangubat says, “we’re the fastest in the world. We can process raw reads down to a list of annotated DNA variants in three hours for a human genome.” This is especially significant as DNA sequencing gets faster and faster, and biologists are unable to keep up with the resulting mountains of analysis-ready data. Spiral Genetics is also highly accurate and scalable, able to detect genetic variations that most analyses might miss. “We’ve far ahead of the curve in our ability to handle datasets,” states Mangubat.

Another thing that sets Spiral Genetics apart is that its software is designed to analyze DNA for multiple species. As Xconomy recently pointed out, while similar companies are focused specifically on the human genome, SpiralGenetics also analyzes genomes for animals and plants, which could have implications in agricultural research and development.

Mangubat didn’t set out to become a leader in DNA analysis. Just four years ago, she was a senior who simply knew that she liked being an entrepreneur (she had been involved in two startups by that time), so she registered for Professor Alan Leong’s Technology Entrepreneurship class.  There she met Drees, who was interested in starting a genetic analysis company.

Drees and Mangubat joined forces and pitched Spiral Genetics as a consumer-genetics service in the 2009 Business Plan Competition, but soon realized they were late to that party and needed a new model. Mangubat took the pivot in stride. In a moment of inspiration, the team (including Bruestle) decided to bet on the fact that the research community would soon need software that could keep up with the increased speed of DNA sequencing, and Spiral Genetics was reborn.

Three years later, their bet is paying off. In early March, Spiral Genetics announced $3 million in financing from venture firm DFJ, have begun to scale significantly. “We’re in the process of essentially doubling the size of our team,” says Mangubat. The company currently has eight employees, but plans to double in size in the near future, adding more developers and a sales team, as demand increases. “The explosive growth of the market is driving our business,” she explains. “We’re about to get much bigger very quickly, which is exciting.”

As for changing the world, Mangubat is confident. “Long term,” she says, “my goal is to make the process of figuring out what raw sequence data means as easy and as fast as possible, and we are seriously getting there.” In the meantime, Spiral Genetics is already making its mark. “We’re working with groups that are doing pediatric cancer diagnosis – you can’t get much more meaningful than that.”

Driven by a mission, fueled by investment

Drew Tulchin2We’re all familiar with for-profit businesses, focused on the sales of a product or service, and motivated by value creation and financial return. We also know nonprofit organizations, focused on public needs, a social mission, and global impact, and supported by charitable dollars. But there’s an emerging middle ground: social enterprise. A for-profit/nonprofit hybrid, social enterprises use market-based practices and the discipline of business to support efforts that benefit people and the planet.

“There is a space in society for a social safety net,” says Drew Tulchin, founder of Social Enterprise Associates, a management consulting firm that helps organizations raise the capital they need to achieve their social and environmental goals. Traditionally, this space has been the domain of the nonprofit sector, but as need continues to increase, there is not enough philanthropic money to support the growing nonprofit marketplace. Social enterprises avoid this problem by forgoing a donation-only model in favor of market-based efforts to sell products and services that earn income. “It’s a pretty basic economic proposition,” explains Tulchin. “Where can a mission driven entity find more money to do the things it needs to do if donations aren’t enough? The answer is in risk capital.”

Social Enterprise Associates helps entrepreneurs of for-profits and nonprofit entities become game ready to attract investment. Tulchin says that while social impact is attractive to many investors, mission-based organizations may be far more accustomed to appealing for donations and lack the business skills needed to secure capital.  “It’s very important for organizations that are trying to ‘do well by doing good’ to actually do well,” he explains. “Take the discipline of business, of a well-run organization, and do that first. Once those elements are in place, investors are more likely to see a social enterprise as investment-worthy.”

When Tulchin entered the MBA Program at the UW Business School in 1998, he’d never heard the term “social enterprise.” All he knew was that he had a goal—to make the nonprofit model work better—and he believed in using the power of business to achieve it. “I came in trying to solve this puzzle,” he says, “and the University of Washington was a fantastic place to do it.” Tulchin learned from accomplished leaders in Seattle’s growing social entrepreneurship community (including Paul Shoemaker of Social Venture Partners and Gary Mulhair of Pioneer Human Services) that there was opportunity at the intersection of nonprofits and for-profits for mission driven businesses.

After business school and a brief stint with a Bluetooth start-up company, Tulchin focused his career on social enterprise. He joined Prisma Microfinance, where he co-wrote a Global Social Venture Competition award-winning business plan and raised $1.2 million in private equity to launch subsidiaries in Nicaragua and Honduras. He went on to work as a program officer and founder of the Capital Markets Group at the Grameen Foundation, and directed a U.S. microfinance organization in Washington DC before starting his own firm in the early 2000s. Social Enterprise Associates was incorporated in 2007.

Six years later, the company is a leader in social enterprise consulting, working with nonprofits, for-profits, foundations, and government entities throughout the U.S. and around the world. The firm’s recent consulting projects have including working with banks in Afghanistan, providing strategic planning for Native American housing organizations in New Mexico, and helping a mobile grocer bring healthy food to rural communities. Social Enterprise Associates was named a 2011 “Best For the World” Small Business by B Lab, which certifies businesses as “B Corporations” that meet standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

Tulchin is perhaps most proud of having advised numerous social enterprises on raising the money needed to accomplish their missions. Most recently, the firm helped close $250,000 in debt for Sea2Table, a family-owned sustainably-caught fish distributor, and is securing $1 million for Florida-based Solar and Energy Loan Fund, supporting efficient home improvements. “Raising money for social entrepreneurs is fantastic,” says Tulchin. “It’s something I’m fortunate enough to wake up and do every day.”

Enliken: putting an end to surreptitious data

Avniel Dravid2Have you noticed that since you clicked that YouTube link for Nora the Piano Cat, you’ve been seeing significantly more online ads for pet food? Or that after you googled “cheap airline tickets,” every site you’ve visited seems to be advertising them? Or that once you bought 50 Shades of Gray, Amazon started suggesting products like . . . well, you get the idea.

Every day, online advertisers target internet users with ads for specific products and interests based on information they glean from our search data—the websites we visit, the amount of time we spend on a specific page, the links we click on, the content of our inboxes.

For most of us, this “behavioral targeting” feels like an invasion of privacy. According to Avniel Dravid (UW MBA 2007), cofounder of Enliken, a Seattle- and New York-based start-up that aims to give consumers control of their internet search data, it’s also inaccurate. Dravid explains that when you visit a website, that company can take what you’re browsing and sell the information to a third party. “Advertisers then buy that information and use it to advertise to you,” he says. But these advertisers can’t measure the accuracy of the search data they purchase, which is why they think you’re in the market for a blender, when really you just wanted to watch a Blendtec puree that iPhone 4s. As Dravid puts it, “You may think I like Nike shoes, but really I like Reeboks. I’m just looking at Nike shoes. It’s not great data. It’s almost garbage in, garbage out data.”

Enliken addresses this problem by giving consumers a way to inform advertisers of their preferences. As the company’s website states: “We believe a small amount of information shared willingly is worth more than a mountain of data gathered surreptitiously.”

Enliken’s model is fairly straightforward. By installing a free plugin, users can view the search data being collected about them, deciding which data they want to share with advertisers and which they want to keep private. In exchange for sharing that information, consumers will collect reward points, which they can use to pay for digital content from online retailers or publishers.

Enliken is free for consumers. Revenue will come from advertisers. Dravid explains advertisers want their online advertising to be more relevant, and he believes that advertisers will pay to receive quality data about their customers, straight from the source.

In the meantime, Enliken has already released its first product, Enliken Discover, built by Dravid and cofounder Marc Guldimann during a summer spent traveling around Europe. It’s a teaser as to what the company will offer once they’ve built partnerships with consumers, online retailers, and publishers. The two cofounders have also secured $250,000 in angel investments and plan to raise another $250,000, all to keep you safe from advertisers who target you with ads for the latest BMW, just because you bought some turtle wax for your Tercel.

Educated quest

After proving herself on Wall Street, Kate Kingen is out to reform America’s schools

Kate Kingen

It is likely that no young finance prodigy has ever followed up a promising analyst program at a prestigious Wall Street firm such as Deutsche Bank by going to work for the Newark Public Schools.

Until Kate Kingen (BA 2009).

But then, Kingen has never followed a script. The daughter of Seattle restaurateurs (Red Robin, Salty’s) chose to study accounting at the University of Washington Foster School of Business, earning the Most Outstanding Accounting Graduate Award at the top of a long ledger of accolades. But when an internship with Deutsche Bank’s Mergers & Acquisitions group turned into a job offer, she packed her bags for New York City.

Finance phenom

The analyst program is Wall Street’s trial by fire for the elite young members of a testosterone-fueled fraternity of high finance—“mainly male, very aggressive,” asserts Kingen.

Those who survive write their own ticket. Kingen thrived.

She rocketed to the top of her class at Deutsche Bank, and was named lead analyst on a number of marquee deals, most notably the $9.7 billion announced merger of Deutsche Boerse and NYSE and the $8.8 billion sale of Bucyrus to Caterpillar.

When she emerged triumphant from this two-year crucible, a gold-plated career at an investment bank or hedge fund or private equity firm was hers for the taking.

But Kingen had something more in mind. “I really enjoyed the experience and learned a lot,” she says. “But I wanted to apply my finance skills where they could make the most impact.”

Something more

Kingen had been raised to revere education. So when she was invited by the new chief operating and financial officer of the Newark School District—a Morgan Stanley veteran named Photeine Anagnostopoulos—to help implement sweeping reforms in finance, operations and strategy, Kingen jumped at the opportunity.

“If I wanted to be part of the coming change in education,” she says, “there’s no better place to start than Newark.”

After a 360-degree analysis of one of the nation’s poorest-performing districts, their team cleaned up the nearly $1 billion budget and closed under-enrolled schools. Kingen introduced a more equitable funding model that gives principles more autonomy and developed a graduation tracker that now allows parents, teachers, and students to monitor academic progress.

Going to state

With knowledge of their breakthrough work in Newark, the New Jersey Commissioner of Education hired Anagnostopoulos and Kingen to analyze the critical links between funding and performance across the state. They’re currently studying a cross-section of districts in search of the best practices that can be replicated elsewhere in the state.

“Most studies and reform efforts are focused on instruction—as it should be,” Kingen says. “But I believe that connecting finance and resource allocation to performance is going to be the next big step in education reform.”

Systems education

More than just some quixotic idealist tilting at academic dysfunction, Kingen may be onto something big.

The past year’s efforts are revealing a possible new paradigm: an interdisciplinary “systems” approach to education management that marries the wisdom of pedagogy and social science with the insights of data analytics, organizational behavior, accounting and finance. Its potential to improve student performance is transformational.

Once her work in New Jersey is complete, Kingen is planning to go for an MBA. She’d also like to start a company in this new area of expertise. “When you’re in education reform, you’re working against the clock,” she says. “Because every day you don’t make progress is another day lost for a child. So we need to keep pushing to make these changes.”

It will take some serious pushing. But Kingen—experienced, smart, energetic, ambitious, and appropriately impatient—is more than game.

“I’ve learned that management and finance acumen are sorely missing in K-12 education,” she says. “There’s a huge opportunity. It’s exciting to be at leading edge of something so important.”