All posts by UW Foster School of Business

Entrepreneur Rich Barton on consumer-driven start-ups

Expedia founder and serial entrepreneur Rich Barton spoke candidly to University of Washington Foster School of Business entrepreneurial alumni about his philosophy, lessons learned, venture capitalist experience, owning consumer-driven dot coms and social networking.

Rich Barton is executive chairman of Zillow, chairman of Glassdoor, chairman of new venture Travelpost, board member of Realself (started by CEO Tom Seery, Foster MBA 2000) and involved with numerous other start-ups.

Watch a condensed 12-minute version of his guest lecture:

 Click on image above to play video

Women leadership in India via microfinance

Guest post by Cynthia Sánchez (UW English major, graduating in 2011)

I used to believe microfinance pertained only to those in the banking industry. However, I’ve discovered this is not the case. Microfinance can be utilized by many banks, but also individuals seeking to help others. I learned microfinance does more than lend money. It helps people save, build their resources and reduce their vulnerability.

Microfinance repayment gathering in India
Microfinance repayment gathering in India

Meeting with Grameen Bank in Bangalore, India allowed me to witness the difference the bank makes by giving 97% of their loans to women while they also strive to educate the next generation. Our meeting with Grameen Bank began by attending a repayment meeting. We arrived at the gathering location—encountering a few goats along the way—and entered an open space. A group of women sat leg-crossed chanting the sixteen decisions, a set of values, followed by the recitation of a vow. This was the way they commenced meetings. They welcomed us with smiles and requests to sit next to them, tapping the floor beside them to signal open spots. The women wore saris and a few cradled their children. We took our seats barefoot and watched each member sign in. Their glass and golden bangles slid up and down, synchronized to the movement of their arms.

The session was quick. The women were prepared with the money stacked in their hands, like a deck of cards. They all sat attentive waiting to hear their name to pass the payment to the lender. The money circulated, hand in hand, until it reached him. He counted the amount and recorded the amount in the borrower record sheet which contained the borrower’s picture, her name, the names of her children and spouse and dates of all the past payments.

We learned from the women that with the money they borrowed they had paid for their children’s education, started businesses, resolved personal issues and emergencies and also had the opportunity to expand their knowledge of business. Obtaining a loan from Grameen Bank had empowered them to decide what was best for their families and their future. Women who were once considered “uncredit-worthy” are now beginning to move away from poverty in a country where 41% of its population is still “unbanked”—demonstrating the difference a small loan can make.

Cynthia is a University of Washington student participant in the Foster School of Business study tour during fall quarter 2010. The trip, focused on Women Leadership in India, was organized by Foster faculty member Cate Goethals.

Business women in India and America share hope

Guest post by Emily Gerloff (UW business major, graduating in 2011)

“Nearly everything you do is of no importance, but it is important that you do it.” -Mahatma Gandhi

I was told that India is life-changing.  After hearing this on several occasions, I remember thinking to myself: What a strange concept. How can a country be life-changing?

After spending a month on the Half the Sky Exploration Seminar via the UW Foster School of Business, I am still unable to express exactly how India changed my life, but I know with absolute certainty that it did.

Emily (far right) sits with Indian women at a microfinance repayment gathering.
Emily (far right) sits with Indian women at a microfinance repayment gathering.

During the micro-lending meetings I expected to see poor, impoverished women with sob stories capable of making me instantaneously empty my pockets. I was surprised and relieved to find it was nothing like what I had imagined. These women did not have an ounce of desperation in their voices as they told their stories. They are an absolute testament to the power of hope and determination.  They live their lives with an innate sense of duty and purpose I can only compare to an American’s sense of equality and freedom.

Another surprise was how closely the lives of these women parallel my own. The micro-loans they receive are similar to the loans that fund my education.  I come from an underprivileged family (by American standards) and would be unable to attend college if it weren’t for the grants and loans provided to me by the government. Although I am occasionally jealous of my fellow students who will graduate with zero debt, it doesn’t change the fact that I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to better my life. I don’t think I am any less deserving of an education just because I was born into a family that couldn’t pay for one. This is a similar stance these women take regarding the micro-loans they receive. They possess gratitude and a humble belief that they deserve the right to prove their worth.

India changed my life.  I have seen first-hand the power of hope and determination and won’t deny myself the chance to see how far my own hope and determination will take me.

Emily is a University of Washington student participant in the Foster School of Business study tour during fall quarter 2010. The trip, focused on Women Leadership in India, was organized by Foster faculty member Cate Goethals.

Expanding cosmos—women in leadership study tour

Guest post by Melanie Sharpe, Foster MBA 2011 with a global business focus

BananaLeafIn the pre-trip brief just hours before we left for India, our professor Cate Goethals made a preparatory comment I’ll always remember as I weave my way through the world: “Becoming cosmopolitan means expanding and pushing the current boundaries and edges of your world.”

The trip to India expanded my cosmos in that very way. It exposed me to a diverse array of Indian leaders that redefined my perspective of business leadership as a woman—an aspect of business school that is largely overlooked and one I admittedly had not taken the time to consider prior to the transformative trip.

Inspiring women entrepreneurs

We encountered a colorful gamut of inspiring women. From workaholic bankers to avant-garde filmmakers to powerful lawyers and wealthy philanthropists to arguably the most influential female spiritual guru in the world to rural tree harvesters—all incredibly ambitious and driven women who seemed to have something very profound in common: They all seemed to be working to uplift others around them.

Call it social entrepreneurship or call it a compulsion to help better their community or family. Sometimes this innate desire compelled them to work 16-hour days to allow their fatherless children to have a better future. Sometimes that internal murmur told them that funding clean water was the only way to ensure the success of future generations of Indians. Sometimes that calling told them to hold and convey love to thousands of people everyday. In each instance, the evidence of that desire to give was palpable and tremendously inspiring.

TajThe pinnacle of the trip was hearing Rohini Nilekani, wife of the Infosys founder, speak at her clean water non-profit, Arghyam. Her profound statement: “Your generation no longer has the luxury of pessimism” was galvanizing. No longer can we absentmindedly guzzle water from plastic bottles or live in first-world luxury flushing away our waste with fresh water without considering the ramifications to the earth or other members of the world community. Her CEO Sunita Nadhamuni was an example of such awareness. Nadhamuni and her husband had reinvented the American business school dream of Silicon Valley wealth, prominent management positions and a constant search for “more” by transitioning their careers to work that directly helped communities of people have access to clean water.

Globally interconnected economy

The trip to India opened my world to the interconnectedness of the global economy. Imagine Dharavi: Asia’s largest slum, prominently featured in the blockbuster film “Slumdog Millionaire” as an impenetrable, crime-filled, filthy dystopia. The reality? The living conditions were certainly difficult: On average there is 1 toilet per 1,500 people! But the families inside the neat and tidy (albeit tiny) apartments were hardworking, entrepreneurial and contributing to global economic epicenters of recycling and clothes dyeing. In fact, many of the raw materials that we consume in the United States are sourced straight from Dharavi.

I left India transformed. The trip confirmed what I had suspected for my own career path: My own compulsion to serve was an innate calling that could be aligned with both business ideals and women’s leadership. Arriving at this realization completed the goal of the trip. My cosmos is expanded forever.

Melanie is an MBA student participant in the University of Washington Foster School of Business study tour during fall quarter 2010. The trip, focused on Women Leadership in India, was organized by Foster faculty member Cate Goethals.

Jai Elliott wins 2010 UW diversity and community building award

Jai2Jai-Anana Elliott, associate director of diversity and recruitment at the University of Washington Foster School of Business, won the 2010 UW Vice President for Minority Affairs and Vice Provost for Diversity Community Building Award.

Elliott manages the recruitment process for undergraduate business students at the UW Foster School and oversees the school’s diversity programs and undergraduate scholarship process. Elliott received Foster’s 2009 Staff Excellence Award and was a two-time recipient of the Staff of the Year Award. She was also presented the UW Brotman Diversity Award in 2002.

“Jai is constantly retooling and envisioning what the Foster School can do in terms of diversity, recruitment and community building,” said Vikki Day, assistant dean for Foster’s undergraduate programs. “If there is a project she feels is important and contributes to the diversity of Foster, she will figure out a way to make it happen, in spite of staffing and funding constraints. She is truly a leader in thought and action for diversity efforts.”

Diversity accomplishments

Elliott envisioned and implemented Young Executives of Color (YEOC), a community outreach program targeting underrepresented high school students. She initiated and now directs Foster’s participation with the Alliances for Learning and Vision for Underrepresented Americans (ALVA), a Boeing intern program for underrepresented high school seniors entering their freshman year. Most recently, Elliott created a bridge program for incoming UW freshmen which launched in the summer of 2010. Elliott’s efforts do not end with recruitment—she also serves as advisor for the Association of Black Business Students and works closely with the Hispanic Business Students Association as well as other UW organizations, helping students connect to the business school.

The 2010 Diversity Award for Community Building will be presented at the Multicultural Alumni Partnership Bridging the Gap Breakfast on Sat., Oct. 16 in Haggett Hall (Cascade Room) from 8 a.m. – 10 a.m.

The award recognizes a University of Washington student, staff or faculty member whose efforts toward positive change on campus have resulted in multicultural community building. Foster School’s Michael Verchot, director of the Business and Economic Development Center, won the award in 2008.

“Milestone Awards” accelerate student start-ups

YongoPal, Business Plan Competition teamEach year, CIE’s marquee Business Plan Competition—and its $65,000 in prize money—sparks the creation of 90+ student business plans. Now a new gift will encourage more of those student teams to transform into start-up teams.

The Herbert B. Jones Foundation’s Milestone Achievement Awards offer additional seed funding totaling $80,000 a year to the most promising of the competition’s Sweet 16 semi-finalists. “We wanted to accelerate some of these start-ups,” says Michael Bauer, president of the Jones Foundation, a long-time supporter of the competition. “So we came up with this idea of a real financial incentive for the teams to set and reach key milestones in the company’s development.”

It’s a simple proposition. The teams that are determined to move forward with their businesses identify five to seven “realistic but measurable” milestones. These might include negotiating a license, attaining additional financing, prototype development, proof-of-concept data, letters of intent from potential customers, launching a beta model, etc. Reach the milestones within six months of the competition and win an additional pot of seed money—with the expectation that successful new ventures will eventually pay the gift forward to fund future CIE start-ups.

In this first year of a three-year pilot program, the competition’s grand-prize winner and second place team are both working toward $25,000 Milestone Achievement Awards: YongoPal, a service enabling South Korean university students to hone their conversational English with American peers via webcam, and EETech, developing a medical device that enables people in wheelchairs to walk again. Working toward $10,000 awards are Assay Dynamics, developer of a simple, noninvasive diagnostic tool for physicians, Emergent Detection, developer of a handheld measure of fat loss, and WISErg, a converter of food waste to fuel or fertilizer.

The start-up teams also benefit from the expert counsel of the Milestone Achievement Awards program committee, comprised of Geoff Entress of Voyager Capital and Founder’s Co-op, Bill Bromfield of Fenwick and West, Marc Barros of Countour, Alan Portugal of Ivus Energy Innovations, Alan Dishlip of Billing Revolution, Adrian Smith of Ignition Partners, and Emer Dooley of the Alliance of Angels.

“This is a huge deal,” says Brian Glaister, a UW mechanical engineering student and co-founder of EETech, which recently closed its Series A financing to develop its ExoWalk technology. “Access to the committee is invaluable. And financially, the award means another month of runway for us. Any time you get capital without having to sell stock, it’s a good thing.”

Boomzap’s “Awakening” is a casual gaming hit

Christopher Natsuume, BoomZapChristopher Natsuume has skin in the game. Literally. To raise cash for his nascent casual game company, a semi-finalist team in the 2007 Business Plan Competition, he once sacrificed several swatches on the back of his neck to a trial for an experimental cancer treatment.

Today Boomzap generates sufficient revenue to keep Natsuume (MBA 2007)—and his 29 employees—living comfortably without forfeiting so much as an ounce of flesh. It’s the largest casual game developer in Southeast Asia, influential enough to draw top talent and the attention of major game distributors but just small and funky enough to call itself an independent.

After a string of solid downloadable games fueling slow, but steady growth, Boomzap created a blockbuster this past February in Awakening: The Dreamless Castle. “That changed everything,” Natsuume says. “Publishers suddenly wanted to do business with us, our asking price went up, our catalog of existing games spiked.”

A bona fide industry player, Boomzap leaves the distribution and marketing to the big game publishers such as Seattle’s Big Fish Games. And Natsuume’s team focuses on game development—which is important, since success in the industry is ephemeral. Boomzap has already launched the sequel to Awakening, plus a promising new adventure called Pirates Plundarrr for the Nintendo Wii.

But Natsuume’s most innovative contribution may be Boomzap itself, a cohesive but completely virtual operation. With nowhere to call headquarters, Natsuume splits time between Seattle and Yokohama, employing developers in the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Siberia who collaborate via Skype, MSN and Basecamp. He pays well (a “Singapore wage”—best in the region), offers advancement, and builds deep loyalty.

“We make some good products,” Natsuume says. “But what I’m really proud of is that we’ve created this enormous opportunity for people in Southeast Asia that just didn’t exist before.”

Check it out: www.boomzap.com

Giant Campus is virtually everywhere

Pete Findley saw the writing on the wall. Or rather, the pixels on the screen. After spending a decade building Giant Campus from a scrappy start-up into a nationwide network of technology summer camps for kids, the inaugural Business Plan Competition champ floated the company’s first online course in 2005. Findley (BA 1998) envisioned a giant campus for the Internet age, a virtual school majoring in technology, science, engineering, and innovation courses that are all too often unavailable to teens attending thinly populated rural schools, cash-strapped urban districts, or who are home-schooled.

It took a few years for technology to catch up. But today broadband is pervasive, Web-based education delivery is rapidly becoming mainstream, and Giant Campus is virtually everywhere. “We’ve been waiting for this time,” Findley says. “Education has evolved, and we believe that we can transform the way specialized education is delivered, particularly to high school students.”

The company offers an accredited program with an array of online elective courses in computer science, digital arts, and business innovation—plus a core curriculum of language arts, math, science, and social studies. Through Giant Campus Academy, the curriculum is available on a tuition basis to high school students around the world (and is free for students in Washington, thanks to a partnership with the state Board of Education).

By shedding the constraints of camps and classrooms, Giant Campus offers students both accessibility and affordability. And the company is rapidly becoming the essential framework for such education providers such as Kaplan, K12 and Insight, as well as other state public school districts.

“We’re basically the ‘Intel Inside’ for every online school operating today. We provide them the curriculum and, many times, the teachers,” Findley says. “In five years, I expect to see us in a lot of school districts in a lot of state systems.”

Brass Media: philanthropy before you’re wealthy

How’s this for brass? Bryan Sims has committed the majority of his future earnings to philanthropy—and he’s just 27. Ambitiously joining an A-list of multi-billionaires in their highly publicized Giving Pledge, the founder and CEO of brass|MEDIA says it’s all in keeping with his fast company’s philosophy: “Young today, rich tomorrow.”

Brass|MEDIA is dedicated to helping young people—those 15- to 25-year olds known as “millennials”—understand money and learn to handle it responsibly. That effort builds around brass|MAGAZINE, a lifestyle money magazine written by young people for young people, and cleverly distributed to nearly half a million readers in partnership with a nationwide network of credit unions that has everything to gain from a fiscally savvy generation of up-and-comers.

Sims defines himself as a “regular guy doing something worth doing.” After watching his own family struggle through adversity, he founded brass|MEDIA in his Oregon State University dorm room at age 19. He partnered with Brent Sumner, an undergraduate friend at the University of Washington, to enter the UW Business Plan Competition, and the team sailed through to the Final Round. After college, Sims quickly led brass|MEDIA to Inc. magazine’s list of the 500 fastest growing private companies. In 2007 BusinessWeek named him one of its “25 Best Entrepreneurs Under 25.”

Sims may be a bit older now, but he still wants what his own audience wants: to make money, invest wisely, give back. But he’s also a willing role model.

“I’ve always known I was going to make a major contribution to charity when got older,” Sims says of his attention-getting pledge. “But I thought that if I started to tell people about it early on, it might have a compounding effect on long-term philanthropy.”

Check it out: www.brassmedia.com

Let Climate Solutions be part of your business solution

Guest blog post by Rita Brogan, CEO of PRR

RitaBroganWe all know the song, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” Building a business is all about relationships.  The conundrum of many minority-owned businesses is how to build those relationships with people for whom there is no history of social interaction. 

What do you have in common with successful and established business people in the emerging green economy? Plenty. Fundamentally, you share a mission and a commitment to a better and healthier planet. This provides a common cause that can only strengthen with broad and diverse support. Many of the most exciting companies in the local clean energy economy are minority-owned or have key managers from the minority community. And there are opportunities for every type of business.

It’s easier than you think. 

I recently had a chance to chat with Ross Macfarlane who is the senior advisor for business partnerships at the Seattle-based organization Climate Solutions. He observed that, “Global warming is a fundamental issue of our time. The transition from dirty energy to clean energy is happening.  It is now not a question of whether we will make this transition, but whether Northwest businesses can lead in attracting jobs and finding profitable opportunities.” He added, “We are working with businesses, environmentalists, government and public interest groups to lead that transition.”

Climate Solutions offers a range of educational, business support and policy advocacy programs.  They also work with other coalitions to advance the fight against global warming. He offered some interesting tidbits of information:

  • The “Business Leaders for Climate Solutions” network of more than 800 business executives and entrepreneurs is a way for those who share a common mission to lead rather than follow to engage on policy, education and networking.  Membership is free, and the Climate Solutions website posts a calendar of events of interest.
  • Many other great organizations partner closely with Climate Solutions and also provide opportunities.  For example, NW Energy Angels provides opportunities to network with potential  investors and get additional tips about how to get financing. Local businesses should also check out the Clean Energy Committee of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, which is working to boost participation by minority businesses in these opportunities. 
  • Climate Solutions authored a report that highlights many of the most important opportunities in this sector: “Carbon Free Prosperity 2025.” This report identifies some of the  most promising business-development opportunities that will be in the fields of energy-efficient green building design,  smart grid and information technology, advanced biofuels and biomaterials and clean energy.  A statewide effort, the Clean Energy Leadership Council, will be completing a report later this fall that highlights key sectors and outlines an action plan for making this a more robust part of our economy.

In the meantime, Climate Solutions continues to advocate on the policy side for new financing options, revolving loan funds and stimulus-related resources for green businesses.  It wants to hear from businesses what will help create jobs and drive investment in this sector.

The key to success?  Make sure that you are providing as much to your business relationships as they provide to you. Climate Solutions provides an opportunity for you to contribute by helping lead the way to a green economy.

Rita Brogan is the CEO of PRR, a public affairs and communications firm based in Seattle that is nationally recognized for its work in social marketing, public involvement, and community building. PRR is one of Washington’s 50 largest minority-owned businesses. Brogan was a recent recipient of the Foster School’s Business and Economic Development Center Asian/Pacific Islander Business Leadership Award. She writes the BEDC Brogan blog series twice a month, focusing on green economy issues with an emphasis on ways that businesses owned by people of color or women can create a competitive advantage.