New Chapter Begins at Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship

Rob Adams named director as Connie Bourassa-Shaw transitions into new role at UW Foster School
Rob Adams to replace Connie Bourassa-Shaw as director of the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship

Incoming director Rob Adams with Connie Bourassa-Shaw, who is transitioning towards retirement by first co-directing the MS in Entrepreneurship program.

Seasoned entrepreneurs understand the challenge of replacing the “heart and soul” of an organization. Whether it’s a co-founder or an integral part of the early-stage team, the goal in finding a replacement is rooted in preserving what your team does best. After all, since 1998 more than a thousand student-created companies have come out of the Center and gone on to raise at least $400 million dollars in funding. So the search for the new director of the Foster School’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship was not taken lightly.

Dozens of talented entrepreneurs, investors, and academics applied to step into Connie Bourassa Shaw’s shoes at the University of Washington. The outgoing director planned to transition into a new role as co-director of the new Master of Science in Entrepreneurship program by the end of June. Fortunately it didn’t take long for a candidate to rise to the top of the list. Rob Adams—a Seattle angel investor, startup mentor, former Cisco acquisitions manager, and entrepreneurship instructor—was hired to the director role on June 1.

“Our priority for this position was to find someone who is well-connected in the Seattle entrepreneurial ecosystem, who loves working with students, and who can continue to expand entrepreneurship across the University of Washington,” said James Jiambalvo, Dean of the Foster School of Business. “Rob is that person.”

“I’m grateful for this chance to build on the exceptional foundation that is the Buerk Center, constructed and nurtured by Connie,” Adams said. “I’ll do my best to continue and expand on that work, as entrepreneurship becomes increasingly important for students’ future successes, regardless of their chosen careers.”

Under Connie’s leadership, the Buerk Center established an accelerator focused on student startups, expanded programs and academics, and created new competitions. Those accomplishments have positioned the UW as the number #7 public university in entrepreneurship nationwide. “I’m the builder,” Bourassa-Shaw told The Daily UW news. “We started those things and built them up to a certain size, but now it’s time to really focus on growth. That’s a different skill set, and it’s one that (Adams) is really good at.”

The outgoing director’s impact is without question. Bourassa-Shaw recently received the David B. Thorud Leadership Award from the university. She was unanimously selected by the committee and is the first person from the Foster School of Business to earn the award. Her nomination letter reads, in part, “(Connie) is the rare boss who challenges those who work with her, for her, and around her in a way that elevates, inspires, and produces creative solutions. Her decades of tireless work at the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship as a fundraiser and change-maker extend far beyond the walls of the Foster School.”

“Connie is a terrific advocate for encouraging, educating and inspiring entrepreneurs,” said Matt McIlwain, managing director at Madrona Venture Group, told Geekwire. “She has been at the center of so many elements of the Seattle-area innovation ecosystem and in particular the outstanding efforts made by the University of Washington to advance entrepreneurship and economic opportunity.”

Most importantly, students know the Buerk Center will remain a pillar for entrepreneurship under Adams’ leadership by empowering and elevating their ideas. Kathy Tuan was his student this year in the “Creating a Company” class and co-founded NASTEA & Co.—makers dirty chai tea—under his mentorship. “We’re students and running a startup is very difficult,” Tuan told The Daily UW news. “(Rob) will be really good at giving other people freedom and the opportunity to explore, work on their own, and be creative.”

Reach Rob Adams after June 1 at robadams@uw.edu. Read more about his appointment HERE.