All posts by UW Foster School of Business

Avolio in Australia: a powerful reminder

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

The picture is of an empty and very long table on South bank in Melbourne. The organizers wanted to send the message that a lot of folks would go without a holiday meal if folks didn’t donate to help out. What a powerful symbol…empty table with lots and lots of seats needing to be filled.

A short trip down under reveals what it really means to ‘spit out the dummy’

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

Recently, I traveled to Melbourne Australia for a series of lectures and short workshops on examining the total leadership system in organizations. By total leadership system, we mean examining leadership at all levels, looking down, peer to peer sideways, and where folks are leading up measuring a broad range of leadership styles (e.g., transformational, authentic, authoritarian, ethical, etc.) within and between levels and units in organizations. By examining the total leadership system, we hope to assess all of the key leadership elements that positively contribute to organizational change and transformation.

I found that before leaving the U.S., everyone who I told about the trip smiled and said something like, ‘that’s going to be a lot of fun’ or ‘what a great place to go.’ I told my Australian colleagues that we have serious Australian envy in my country. And when I said that, I didn’t realize that on this trip to Australia that my envy would only deepen as I learned that the Australians just have the best expressions.

Being in Australia also reminded me that one could be lured into a state of lacking self-awareness about cultural differences because Australians speak English and have a lot of common interests and history in line with those of us from the U.S. When I am in other cultures where the language is different, I am more keenly aware of observing and listening to make sure I understand the cultural nuances. In Australia one can get away with that for a while, until you realize that ‘conservative’ means ‘liberal’ in Australia and vice versa.

In one of the last workshops I was doing in Australia, someone said something that got me reflecting and I must admit I laughed out loud. At one point in the workshop, one of the participants said, “That guy just spit the dummy!” You can let those comments go by, and there were several such expressions, but I decided to stop on this one and ask, “What could spitting the dummy possibly be?” I learned that a dummy is what we would call a baby’s pacifier, and when you spit the dummy, all hell breaks loose. Throughout the remainder of the day, I tried to find every possible instance to use the term, spitting the dummy, or even better, you are a dummy spitter.

So, just when you think the folks you are with are familiar, they spit the dummy and all hell breaks loose!

Leadership in Peru

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

Recently on a trip to the Ivey School of Business in London, Ontario, I was asked, “how does one lead when they are not sure where they are going?” Many might say, just watch our U.S. politicians if you want to see how! More seriously, the more dynamic environments become, the more likely leaders are going to need to lead not knowing exactly where they are headed. As I thought about this question I went back to a recent trip I had taken to Peru. Peru is one of those South American economies that is shedding its past – recent past in terms of military dictatorships – and growing at a healthy clip, at least for the more educated class in places like Lima. Peru has a rich history that dates back well before many of the world’s other well-known societies, starting with the Incas which are considered one of the modern ‘older’ civilizations. There are two civilizations that pre-dated the Incas going back at least 5,000 years.

As Peru accumulates wealth, it is now able to invest in discovering its past. It is not an overstatement to say the Inca culture, traditions, food and history are becoming an economic force in Peru. Just see Machu Picchu and you will understand what I mean. This is one of the most amazing cities built by the Incas high atop a mountain that is one of the true wonders of the world. Going to Peru and its many historical Inca sites, taught me a lot about how advanced this society was. For example, the Incas knew which foods to eat that had low cholesterol, they knew how to build structures to withstand earthquakes, and they knew how to do brain surgery. And the answer to that question posed to me in London, Ontario lies in how the Incas built buildings. They built buildings by seamlessly integrating them into the rock upon which they were built. The Incas saw mountains as sacred. Rather than dig a big hole and then build the foundation, they built the building into the existing foundation, which took more time and care, but as we can see, lasted longer. This was the case for all buildings throughout Peru, ranging from temples to residences for Inca workers.

How does the Inca foundations help me answer the Ivey question? One must build an authentic foundation for leadership on which the rest of the structure can be created. We see organizations that have no ‘firm or genuine’ foundation, no core values and therefore no solid basis to lead into an unknown future. Many times we have to go backwards in order to move forwards and answer where we are going, which in this case is into the unknown. And I promise I will avoid writing a pop book “7 glorious Inca Principles of Effective Leadership.”

Emer Dooley TEDx video: entrepreneurship education – an oxymoron?

University of Washington Foster School of Business lecturer and alumna Emer Dooley (MBA 1992, PhD 2000) recently gave a TEDx lecture on entrepreneurship. Her topic? Top five skills we can learn from entrepreneurs who build successful, enduring companies.

“That great business philosopher Confucius said, two thousand years ago, ‘What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. But what I do, I learn.’ And that’s what entrepreneurship education is all about,” says Dooley.

Watch the 17-minute video and catch lecture highlights below.

Top 5 skills  of a successful entrepreneur:

  1. Do something. Try something. Many successful entrepreneurs have been fired or let go from a former employer and have to act quickly to pay bills. So they start a business without having written a formal business plan, but have a sketch on the back of a napkin.
  2. Beg, borrow or convince people to give or loan resources. Entrepreneurs must figure out how to get resources, assistance and seed funding.
  3. Embrace surprise. Juggle the unexpected and shift gears quickly by seizing opportunities.
  4. Minimize the downside of risks. Great entrepreneurs do not take huge risks. They reside in a state of “heads I win, tails I don’t lose too much” in starting a new business.
  5. Be an effectual thinker. Through entrepreneurial education, emerging entrepreneurs learn to realize they are the pilot-in-command. They are running and starting a business and by trying a business idea out, they may fail. But they will learn from mistakes and can continue moving forward.

More entrepreneurship advice, insights from Emer Dooley’s TEDx lecture:

“Entrepreneurial thinking is a way of looking at and thinking about problems, but very much about doing something about problems.

“There’s this myth about entrepreneurship. Who pops into your brain? It’s Gates or Bezos or Richard Branson. But there is no one type of person that’s an entrepreneur. When I think about the characteristics of an entrepreneur, they can be incredibly gregarious. They can be really shy. They can be these big, big picture thinkers or they can be these obsessive control freaks.

“If you’re a loud-mouth like Ted Turner, it’s natural. You’ll start CNN. If you’re a geek and you’re afraid to approach girls directly, what are you going to do? Start Facebook. If the only way to be an entrepreneur was to be born one, Colonel Sanders would never have started Kentucky Fried Chicken when he was in his 60s and on Social Security.

“There’s the strategic approach or the entrepreneurial or affectual approach. An affectual entrepreneur is someone who thinks they can affect their own world. What can I do with the resources I have at hand? Not, what is the end goal and how do I get there?”

After 11 years of teaching entrepreneurship to UW business, engineering and computer science students, Emer Dooley now serves as strategic planner, board member and faculty advisor for the UW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Seattle Metropolitan Chamber expands support for multicultural and small businesses

Guest post by Rita Brogan, CEO of PRR

The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce has expanded its support for small and minority-owned businesses with a new executive position. Since February 2012, small business owner Regina Glenn has served as the Chamber’s vice president of multicultural and small business development.

The new position will integrate the functions of the Urban Enterprise Center (UEC) into the operations of the Chamber. Established in 1993 as an affiliate of the Chamber, the UEC was charged with helping grow minority-owned businesses. Last spring, UEC and Chamber leaders convened a task force to determine how best to serve this mission. Their top recommendation was to create a Chamber executive role that would build on the UEC’s work while taking better advantage of the Chamber’s small-business services. These programs include networking events, professional development workshops, policy advocacy and employee benefits like health insurance and 401(k) plans.

Regina Glenn, Seattle Chamber of Commerce VP of multicultural and small business development

“The Chamber is quite the resource if you know how to use it,” says Glenn. She brings to this position her decades of commitment to advancing diverse businesses. She first moved to Seattle in the late 1970s as Mayor Royer’s director of licensing and consumer affairs. In the early 1990s she began a consulting practice, Pacific Communications Consultants, that specialized in diversity training and contracting outreach to minority-owned businesses. At the same time she published Diversity Business News from 1990-1994.

Glenn’s hands are full. She is busy establishing partnerships with organizations such as the Tabor 500, the Northwest Minority Supplier Development Council, Filipino Chamber of Commerce of the Pacific Northwest, King County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and others.

She is also launching a number of new initiatives that will help multicultural and small businesses take full advantage of the Chamber’s business services such as:

  • An online resource for small businesses with information such as how to access capital.
  • A “how to do business with…” series to help smaller businesses form ongoing relationships with larger corporations.
  • A business growth and development series starting this winter, featuring successful business speakers.
  • A business accelerator program that will match established minority businesses with a major corporation in the region, starting in fall 2013.

“This is not a social service,” says Glenn. “We are about increasing profits for multicultural businesses and integrating them into all aspects of the Chamber’s programs and policy advocacy.”

We will be announcing the Chamber’s new multicultural programs as they come on line. It promises to be a great resource for minority entrepreneurs.

Rita Brogan is the CEO of PRR, a public affairs and communications firm based in Seattle, 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 monthly. Previously, she covered green economy issues with an emphasis on ways that businesses owned by people of color or women can create a competitive advantage. Her current blog topic focus is on innovation.

Is it possible? Accelerating student start-ups

In Seattle, where start-ups are part of the local DNA, there are high-profile organizations that take early-stage companies with traction under their wings. The Alliance of Angels is one of the preeminent angel groups in the world, TechStars set up shop on South Lake Union in 2010, and Google, Facebook and Twitter now have Seattle addresses to attract talent.

But is it possible for a public research university like the University of Washington to create a Y-Combinator or TechStars-like environment for early-stage student-led companies? We’re betting on it.

Two years ago the UW Foster School of Business Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) launched the Herbert Jones Milestones Awards with $80,000. This month, CIE announced $185,000 in follow-up funding available to companies coming out of the UW Business Plan Competition, the UW Environmental Innovation Challenge or entrepreneurship courses. The goal is to turn more student teams into start-up teams—and see them through that challenging first six months.

Here’s how it works

Student teams apply to the Jones Milestones/Foster Accelerator by early July 2012. Their job (in a 3- to 5-page executive summary and a 30-second video) is to convince the committee that they’re 100% serious about starting their companies. They also have to give us a list of 7 to 10 “reasonable but measurable” milestones they can achieve in six months—and each milestone needs to have a date associated with it.

CIE provides desk space in Foster School’s new Business Hall for six months for any team that wants it, mentors for each company and connections. Miles and miles of connections to other entrepreneurs, potential investors, start-up professionals, potential customers, etc. And yes, milestones can be modified along the way—as long as there’s good reason to do so. At the end of the six months, we award up to $25,000 to each company that has made significant progress.

Does this seed funding work?  Here are two of our six success stories to date:

  • Cadence Biomedical, which recently raised $1.1 million in Series A2 funding, makes an easy-to- put-on medical device that enables wheelchair-bound people with physical disabilities to walk again.
  • Stockbox Grocers, which just won a 2012 Echoing Green award (ideas so bold and convictions so strong they could shake the world), promotes healthy communities by improving access to fresh produce and grocery staples in urban food deserts. Their newest store opens in August 2012 in Seattle’s South Park neighborhood.

Standing room only: celebrating “entrepreneurial speed”

Outside the sun set gloriously over Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains.  Inside, even the sky couldn’t distract the entrepreneurs, student teams, judges, press and guests in Seattle’s Pier 66 ballroom from the excitement of the main event—the 15th annual University of Washington Business Plan Competition (BPC) awards.  Having no idea how the finalists had placed for the $68,000 in prizes, the crowd listened with rapt attention to each team’s one-minute pitch.

The diversity of the four finalist start-ups made it difficult for audience members to venture a guess who would take grand prize. Would it be Xylemed or Joey Bra? Bicycle Billboards or Urban Harvest? As each student ended his or her team pitch minute, you could almost hear guests thinking, “Fantastic idea!”

What Zulily CEO Darrell Cavens then shared during his keynote speech was how to get such fantastic ideas to market by leveraging what he calls “Zulily time.” Called “an entrepreneurial speed freak if there ever was one” by Geekwire, Cavens emphasized not only the importance of “going fast” but of using the Internet as a tool to tweak the offering, making it better each day along the way. “Don’t spend five months on your business plan—apologies to the professors in the room! Put that plan together, and try it, innovate on it, adjust it, move forward.”  Now launching 1,400 new styles of kid products a day, Zulily focuses on beating rivals to the punch while delivering exceptional customer service. “It’s what we do every single day,” Cavens explained.

The BPC prize winners are now putting that sentiment into practice.

The $25,000 WRF Capital Grand Prize winner, Urban Harvest, will soon convert one of Microsoft’s Redmond parking garage rooftops into an active garden, allowing them to “grow their own” lettuce and herbs rather than continue to truck their food service salad fixings from the Salinas Valley. The team of two Foster School of Business MBAs, Chris Sheppard (MBA/JD)  and Chris Bajuk (MBA/MS real estate), intend to put many more  commercial rooftops to better use as hydroponic gardens that serve building owners as well as the local community. In addition to delivering the benefits of local agriculture, the Urban Harvest co-founders, both former military, have made hiring fellow veterans a priority.

Xylemed, the winner of the $10,000 Jones Foundation second-place prize, provides cloud-based electronic patient tracking and operations management system for hospitals. Their  goal is to eliminate patient care white boards used in surgery departments and replace them with 60-inch screens that can be updated with current information from any hospital computer. Ben Andersen and Marc Brown led the team of Foster School Technology Management MBAs that designed the system.  Xylemed’s product is already used in several of Seattle’s top hospitals—including Harborview Medical Center and the UW Medical Center—to improve safety and communications while reducing costs and administrative headaches.

After gaining incredible national press coverage with their initial product launch, Joey Bra’s fashion- forward bra with a discreet cell-phone pocket garnered the team one of the BPC’s $5,000 finalist prizes. Marketed initially to female college students who need a place to stow their phone and keys while out on the town, the two Foster School undergraduate co-founders, Kyle Bartlow and Mariah Gentry, are now working quickly to introduce a sports bra version to market.

Finally, Biking Billboards, which brings mobile marketing focused on building strong, personal customer connections, won the second $5,000 finalist prize.  The company, whose founding team includes Foster undergraduates Curtis Howell and Claire Koerner as well as two non-students, is now expanding to Los Angeles. As existing clients T-Mobile and PEMCO can attest, Biking Billboard “brand ambassadors” are able to more authentically engage with micro-targeted consumers on specialized routes.

Foster entrepreneurs bring “Swagga” to Husky nation

It’s official. Onesies are not just for babies anymore. 

Undergraduate students at the University of Washington Foster School of Business have invented—and are pre-selling—the “Swagga Suit,” a purple one-piece jumpsuit with a giant gold “W” across the chest… for grown-ups.

Foster’s entrepreneur student-founder Gillian Pennington (BA 2012) says, “We have gotten a lot of interest from UW alumni and have recently gotten more attention after being tweeted about by Jon Brockman.”

The adult onesie’s creation story: Earlier this year, a group of Foster students, led by Pennington, formed a company called SWAG (Sweet Washington Athletic Gear). They’re goal was to offer a different spin on sports fan apparel. According to the SWAG website: “After sitting in a locked room for a total of 13.5 hours we not only became good friends but we decided to produce jumpsuits… The sequence of events behind this decision is a little blurred but let’s just say things got weird and in the end here we are and here is our awesome product… The Original Swagga Suit!”

Will this bizarre unique fashion innovation sweep the world?

Seattle P-I has certainly noticed. So has Yahoo! Sports, NBC Sports, SB Nation, BuzzFeed and more other incredulous news outlets by the minute. (Doesn’t hurt that former UW basketball star Jon Brockman—now a Milwaukee Buck—was game enough to model the Swagga Suit in full flight).

Move over Snuggie. Huskies are bringing the Swagga!

Alumnus is Pirq-ing up the daily deals market

Maybe James Sun was never the hiring type.

More of a job creator, the 1999 BA graduate of the University of Washington Foster School of Business has been one busy entrepreneur since being the last contestant “fired” on national television by Donald Trump in the season six finale of “The Apprentice.”

Sun’s latest venture is Pirq, a clever twist on the buzzing “daily deal” industry that was pioneered by Groupon.

James Sun (Foster BA 1999) is a serial entrepreneurPirq’s innovation is a smart phone app that identifies instant deals offered by businesses—initially restaurants—near your location or destination. Simply activate the virtual coupon and redeem on the spot for up to 50% off the total bill. Instant gratification.

Sun says it’s a win-win. Customers pay no upfront charge, endure no waiting period, swallow no pre-purchased coupons that never get used. And businesses get the opportunity to offer more targeted deals and the flexibility to avoid being crushed by oversold daily deals.

“Pirq shifts the way we discover and get deals by letting our smart phones help us find instant, relevant savings wherever we are—in a way that benefits both consumers and businesses,” said Sun.

UW alumni exclusive deals

Pirq recently raised $2 million in venture capital funding and is expanding rapidly from its home market of Seattle. Sun, the company’s CEO, has been busy making exclusive partnerships with a variety of organizations. The newest is with the University of Washington Alumni Association, announced in May 2012.

UWAA members have only to enter their member number when downloading the free Pirq app to become eligible for exclusive offers unavailable to the general public. What’s more, Pirq will donate 10 percent of the proceeds from each member transaction to support the UWAA.

“Pirq is an innovative business founded by a UW alum, and it provides our members with relevant benefits they can access through their phones while generating support for the UWAA,” said UWAA executive director Paul Rucker, in an interview with GeekWire. “Members will absolutely enjoy saving money with Pirq and… we’re thrilled to be working with Pirq.”

Life after Trump

Given his adventures since “The Apprentice” wrapped, you’d be hard-pressed to argue that Sun would have been better off as a foot soldier in Trump’s gold-plated, real-estate empire.

After his televised dismissal, Sun leveraged his new-found celebrity to launch and host his own international TV show. “Sun Tzu: War on Business,” a co-production of the BBC, MediaCorp and CCTV, was broadcast in 20 nations across Asia in 2009-10. In each episode, Sun counseled motivated-but-struggling entrepreneurs on lessons from “The Art of War,” the iconic writings of the ancient Chinese general and philosopher Sun Tzu.

Returning to business of his own making, Sun founded GeoPage, a location-based search company that helps people find restaurants, hotels and attractions in their vicinity. GeoPage built the platform upon which Pirq now operates.

Sun also is an active angel investor and strategic advisor to a number of start-ups. He serves on the board of United Way of King County and the King County Scoutreach Program, as well as Seeyourimpact.org, an organization that solicits micro-donations to support children in the developing world.

Columns magazine recently named Sun one of the UW’s “Wondrous 100 Alumni,” and he recently judged the Foster School Business Plan Competition.