Category Archives: Alumni

Announcing Dempsey Hall

Today the Foster School held a naming dedication for its newest facility: Dempsey Hall. The building is named after Neal and Jan Dempsey, who have been incredible supporters of the Foster School. Neal is a 1964 alumnus of the Foster School and has been engaged in myriad ways over the years. He has served on the Foster School Advisory Board for more than two decades and is a past chair. Alongside Mike Garvey and Ed Fritzky, he co-chaired the successful Foster School capital campaign that raised $181 million between 2000 and 2008. He has also given over $10M to the Foster School.

Dean Jiambalvo said at the dedication, “Neal is action oriented and unwavering in principle.” When Neal spoke, he called the next generation to action and encouraged them to give their time, energy, and money to the Foster School. He asked everyone in the crowd to raise their hand if they agreed to give back to the Foster School. Everyone’s hands were in the air. Neal took it a step further and shot of video of everyone with their hands raised–proof they would do what they said. He said it’s been a, “fantastic road to the finish line.” And he looks forward to seeing the next generation of supporters give back.

Dempsey Hall from Foster School of Business.

Reinventing the Fremont Dock

Erik PetersenWhat do a sports bar and fishing boat have in common? If you’re Erik Petersen, quite a bit.

Petersen, an alumnus of the Executive Development Program at the University of Washington Foster School of Business, manages fishing boats for Iquique U.S. by day and is owner of the Fremont Dock by night and weekend. As a fourth-generation member of the commercial fishing industry, it’s in his blood. He grew up on fishing boats and worked on one in Alaska with his father during the summer between high school and college. His ownership of a sports bar is more recent.

In 2011 he became a silent managing partner in the Fremont Dock, and when it became for sale, he bought it. The Fremont Dock reopened in September, and business has been good ever since.

Petersen has been able to apply what he learned in the EDP, not only to his work at Iquique, but also to the Dock. The program emphasized maximizing return on investment capital (ROIC) and he’s applied that concept to both of his jobs by running lean businesses. He is relentlessly focused on maximizing profits and reducing waste and costs by tightly managing inventory and purchasing.

Petersen’s motivation for enrolling in the EDP was to gain more skills and advance his career with a minimal impact on his time. He credits the EDP with “changing his frame of mind.” At the beginning of the program he said he went from learning how to think strategically to thinking strategically in his day-to-day work activities. An example of this is leveraging the network that exists in the program. It didn’t take Petersen long to find connections between his classmates and his businesses.

The Fremont Dock is family owned and operated. Petersen’s wife, Sara, manages it and his brother and parents also work there. His 5-7 year plan is to establish and expand the brand to other waterfront towns and neighborhoods–à la Ballard Dock, Edmonds Dock, etc.

“I’m passionate about never stagnating and constantly improving,” Petersen says.

It’s a mantra he applies to both Iquique U.S. and the Fremont Dock.

Making shabu “chic”

Kien Ha describes himself as a risk-averse entrepreneur. And given that restaurants are notoriously risky start-ups, Ha went with a concept he knows well – shabu-shabu. Shabu-shabu, or Japanese hot pot dining, is a trendsetting phenomenon that has long driven technology transplants  from California to expect its healthy, simple, and affordable food on almost every street corner. Ha’s discovery that Washington is the fourth fastest growing state for Japanese-style restaurants convinced him to launch Shabu Chic at the UW’s 2008 Business Plan Competition.

Open Friday through Sunday in Seattle’s International District, Shabu Chic boasts fans who are true devotees talking and sharing photos of the restaurant and the unique food presentation. Yelp gives Shabu Chic a 4.5, and the restaurant got 200+ Facebook “likes” when it posted the possibility of adding a Kimchi sauce in the fall. “Word of mouth has been great,” Ha says. But once a customer is in the door, he relies on wait staff training and social media to share little morsels of Japanese food history along the way.

Still working part-time as an advisory manager for a Seattle accounting firm, Ha is content taking things a bit more slowly than his tech entrepreneur peers. “Most restaurants fail in the first year because they’re under-capitalized. Having no outside funding from the outset has kept us on task and deliberate in all that we do,” he said. His hope is to break even in year two, make a profit in year three, and go full-time with a second location.

Ha sees tech start-ups and restaurant start-ups in the same light. “Whether it’s a tech or food,” he says, “you have to own everything from end to end.”  By serving Seattle’s unmet shabu-shabu need, Ha is developing a market for something people in Seattle never knew they’d love. An entrepreneur’s dream.

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.

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.

Making a difference

The Nutters, Lee and Darlene (UW BA alumni, 1967), have close ties to the Northwest and the University of Washington. Both graduated from the UW School of Business (now Foster) in 1967, and there are now three more Huskies in their immediate family. Lee also serves as a member of the Foster School Advisory Board.

“We wanted to give something back to this school and the people of this state that afforded us an education and, in doing so, led to the many opportunities we‘ve enjoyed,” Lee explained.

Born in Astoria, Oregon, Lee grew up in small towns in Western Oregon and Washington, where his father worked in the lumber business. He finished the eighth grade in a class of eight in a two-room schoolhouse and graduated from Clallam Bay High School with a class of sixteen. “It was a big change going from those small communities to the University of Washington and Seattle,” Lee said with a smile. He studied accounting and operations at the business school.  Darlene graduated with a degree in marketing.

Two days after graduation, Lee began his forty-year career as an analyst with Rayonier, a global supplier of high performance cellulose fiber and wood products. He retired in 2007, as Chairman, President and CEO. Darlene grew up in Cathlamet, WA, and initially attended WSU to study business, but finished at the University of Washington. Lee said, “She saw the light.”

Although Lee and Darlene married while in Seattle, his career eventually took them and their two children, to the East Coast and ultimately Florida. However, the Northwest and UW still hold a very special place in their hearts and lives and they often return to visit family and friends. The Nutters are also passionate about Husky athletics, managing to attend a few UW basketball and most football games.

Their giving relationship with the University of Washington started modestly and grew over decades. “I found our first check to the UW for $25!” Darlene laughed. More recently, Lee and Darlene have provided significant support to the Foster School of Business for undergraduate scholarships, MBA scholarships and a named team room in PACCAR Hall.

“We paid far less than the cost of our education and its value. The citizens of the state of Washington paid the balance…” Lee continued. “We feel obliged and honored to give back.” He and Darlene hope to inspire other Foster alumni to support scholarships that help future students achieve something that they could not have done otherwise.

“We hear from students who have received scholarships about what it meant to them, what they’re accomplishing and what they hope to achieve,” Darlene described. “It’s very satisfying to know that you have been able to make a difference.”

Impel’s POD device helps drugs jump the blood-brain barrier

Impel NeuroPharmaIt sounds like science fiction: a device that delivers pharmaceutical drugs directly to the brain using something called “nose-to-brain” transport. But this is no sci-fi tale. The Pressurized Olfactory Delivery (POD) device, developed by John Hoekman, UW PhD in pharmaceutics and chief scientific officer of Impel NeuroPharma, has the potential to solve one of the biggest problems facing the neurological drug industry today: getting drug molecules beyond the blood-brain barrier and into the central nervous system.

While conducting research in neurological drug delivery at the UW, Hoekman saw how the nose-to-brain pathway could improve drug delivery save for one small issue: there were no devices capable of reaching the upper nasal cavity to utilize this pathway. He began working with Dr. Rodney Ho in the UW Department of Pharmaceutics to develop a commercial device that would be cost-effective, disposable and user-friendly. “We’ve developed the POD device to be an elegant mechanical solution in a space plagued by biological problems,” says Michael Hite (MBA 2009), CEO of Impel. “Rather than manipulate drug properties chemically to improve absorption by the brain, the POD device simply delivers them to a region in the body where they will naturally be readily absorbed into the brain.”

For many drugs, this ability to move drugs beyond the blood-brain barrier means lowering the dosage, reducing organ exposure and lessening side effects. It can also have significant impact for biologic-based drugs such as peptides and proteins—drugs that hold tremendous promise for treating diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s but that can’t make it to clinical trials due to the lack of a viable delivery mechanism.

Hoekman and Hite took Impel to the 2008 UW Business Plan Competition, where they won the $25,000 Grand Prize as well as a Best Idea Prize for Innovation. They then worked with the UW Center for Commercialization to license their technology, produce a prototype device and select candidates for proof-of-concept trials. “The BPC prize raised our profile and provided credibility with angel investors,” says Hite. “One of the lessons we learned was how to convey not only the technological break-through of the POD device, but also the advantages of our business model to angel investors. As a pharmaceutical technology provider, Impel adds value to products in the $60 billion-plus central nervous system therapeutics market without having to launch its own drug products.”

As one might expect for a life sciences start-up, the last 18 months have been make or break time. In early 2010, the company raised its first outside seed capital from some of the Northwest’s most well-known life science angel investors, including members of the Alliance of Angels, WINGS and Bay Area angel groups. With over $1.1 million in private and public funding raised, the company has been able to conduct proof-of-concept work and scale up the POD device in anticipation of human trials, including a successful demonstration of the device using neuro-oncology tracers in PET imaging studies. Impel’s device will soon see its first in-human trial for the targeted delivery of analgesics to the brain as part of a study being conducted later this year by UW SOM researchers, funded in part by a life science discovery fund commercialization grant. This analgesic program has broad treatment applications, including post-operative and cancer pain.

Hite says that Impel has thrived because he and Hoekman have quickly addressed the concerns of their critics and improved the design of their device.

What advice does he have for other first-time entrepreneurs? “Don’t just begrudgingly accept help, but go out and seek advice, assistance and opinions from successful entrepreneurs. CIE has built a great network of advisors who can provide that invaluable experience.”

The grapeful red: wine groupie follows his dream

In 2010 the gavel dropped and a bottle changed wine racks at a Hong Kong auction. The price?  $233,000, confirming that wine lovers wear different skins than the rest of us. Paul Zitarelli is one of them. His obsession has become his business.

This past October, Full Pull Wines, located in Seattle’s SODO neighborhood, celebrated its second anniversary. Prior to starting the business, Zitarelli (MBA 2009) was a passionate wine blogger. When he rhapsodized about a favorite vintage, readers demanded to know where that bottle could be bought. So he decided to sell it to them and uncorked the company.

Selling Washington wines was not an uphill battle. Already on the grape-dar of oenophiles, their growing reputation was sealed when the venerated Wine Spectator ranked a Columbia Crest 2005 Reserve Cabernet the #1 pick of the year in 2009. As for Zitarelli, he could immerse himself (figuratively speaking) in wine.

“Initially, the business was a lifestyle choice,” he admitted. “The part of wine business I liked had limited opportunity for MBAs. I thought my own business would provide the freedom to write more. That lifestyle choice has instead become my whole life.”

Full Pull Wines continues to grow without any marketing budget, relying on a highly targeted email list that has grown fivefold since launch. Mail recipients receive as many as five messages weekly, describing the week’s offerings. Purchases are shipped or may be picked up at the warehouse, which is what most customers prefer.

Customer Tiffany Stevens noted, “Full Pull brings the winery to you. At the warehouse I sample hard-to-find wines from some smaller wineries, an opportunity you just don’t get in the retail store. And, of course, Paul’s there to talk about what’s new.”

Zitarelli candidly admitted to being somewhat unprepared for events as they are unfolding, having spent more start-up time weighing the cost of failure rather than the contingency of success. That’s understandable. Overriding passion as a wine lover guided the first two years of Full Pull. Now, as he faces issues of expansion and hiring, the left brain that propelled him to an MBA degree is coming into play to take him to the next level.

Video: McKinstry CEO Dean Allen on recession-proof innovation

How do you recession-proof your company? McKinstry CEO Dean Allen talks about how his firm broke down the silo approach in the construction industry and grew to be a full-service mechanical and electrical engineering, design and construction firm.

By integrating services, they operated faster, cheaper and with fewer change orders, improving customer relations and growing through strategic planning and innovation instead of reactive project by project. His now nimble company retrofits buildings and builds new ones that are energy efficient, earning McKinstry sustainability accolades from President Obama.

A few years ago, Obama visited McKinstry and called them a model for the nation, also saying, “They’re retrofitting schools and office buildings to make them energy efficient, creating jobs, saving their customers money, reducing carbon emissions and helping end our dependency on Middle Eastern oil.”

Watch video highlights from a Dean Allen lecture.

Dean Allen was one of UW Foster School of Business Dean Jim Jiambalvo’s guest speakers at the annual Leaders to Legends Breakfast Lecture Series, which include notable leaders in an array of industries from greater Seattle and around the country.