Category Archives: Alumni

South Carolina Huskies

Not only are LaJuan Davis and her brothers Dwayne and Ricardo Ellison the next generation of leaders JBE Incorporated, they are also proud graduates of the University of Washington’s Minority Business Executive Program (MBEP) – which is saying something considering that they hadn’t really heard about the UW or this program 18 months ago. Following their graduation from MBEP last June, they each took back lessons they learned and they saw an immediate impact.

LaJuan, the company’s treasurer, took back three key lessons: That for small businesses “sometimes it’s important to sacrifice growth to insure liquidity,” empowering employees to make decisions is key to enabling the executive team to focus on the future, and that while you can’t always measure the impact of marketing expenditures these investments are key to long-term growth.

LaJuan Davis and her brothers Dwayne and Ricardo Ellison, graduates of the University of Washington’s Minority Business Executive Program (MBEP) .Ricardo, one of the company’s Vice Presidents, reflects on how he’s become a better leader because of what he learned at MBEP: “senior executives don’t need to be a part of every decision,” he says. He also noted that rather than focusing most of the company’s top talent on solving today’s problems, they are now “spreading talent around so they can focus on today and the future.”

Dwayne, another Vice President, says the program changed how he views the entire company. He’s become more acutely aware of the power of branding the company in moving the company forward. He’s learned that as a senior leader of the company he needs to “work on the business rather than work in the business,” and through this he’s able to empower others to make decisions.

These three siblings are confident that what they learned at MBEP will have a long-lasting impact on their company, but they’re also proud that, in part because of how they’ve changed their leadership of the business, JBE set a record last year by crossing the $40 million revenue threshold for the first time. They’ve also begun to directly manufacture products in addition to the assembly and supply chain management services they’d previously offered.

LaJuan, Ricardo, and Dwayne had the opportunity to attend MBEP because of their relationship with The Boeing Company. JBEP was founded to provide services to the automotive, paper, and textile industries. They began to court Boeing as a customer in 2008, and when Boeing selected Charleston as the site for final assembly of the 787 Dreamliner, the relationship took off. Last year Boeing invited JBE to be in their mentor-protégé program, which led to the offer to attend MBEP. While JBE was looking at similar programs offered on the east coast, when they learned about the Foster School’s year-around work to grow minority-owned businesses through the BEDC, they decided to accept Boeing’s offer.

To learn more about the 2013 MBEP, please join us at a Sampler and Information Session on Thursday, May 16 from 7:45 to 9:00 a.m.

Achieving the American dream

Exequiel Soltero, owner of Maya's (gentleman in orange shirt), stands with his UW BEDC Student Consulting group.
Exequiel Soltero, owner of Maya’s (front row, third from left), stands with his UW BEDC Student Consulting group and advisors.

Exequiel Soltero arrived in the U.S. from his small hometown on the southwestern border of Mexico determined to pursue the “American Dream” via the traditional culinary delights of his native Mexico.

A positive mindset, entrepreneurial spirit, and desire to provide for his family aided Exequiel to labor through the restaurant industry, beginning as a dishwasher and progressing to a waiter. By 1979 Exequiel had accumulated enough savings to open his own restaurant devoted to Mexican cuisine, Maya’s Family Mexican Restaurant in Seattle’s Rainier Valley neighborhood. Staying true to the restaurant’s name, and Exequiel’s initial motivations for opening a restaurant, each and every one of his siblings—nine sisters and three brothers—spent time working together to build a strong foundation for Maya’s.

Nearly 35 years later, Exequiel’s authentic recipes have lured a solid following, and allowed him to expand well beyond the original 850-square-foot restaurant. Maya’s brand now includes a full-service Mexican restaurant and a growing catering service.

As the trend of mobile food trucks is continuing to grow, Maya’s has launched a fleet of food trucks that will soon be located next to Seattle’s CenturyLink Field during Seahawks and Sounders FC games, as well as on Microsoft’s Redmond campus during weekday lunch hours. With growth, however, comes new challenges and Exequiel realized that success of Maya’s new division-based business hinged on seeking outside guidance.

Exequiel, who has been a long-time friend and partner of the Business & Economic Development Center (BEDC), turned to the BEDC’s to participate in our Student Consulting Program to help him reach his business goals:  “I was motivated to participate with the BEDC Student Consulting Program because I was interested in growing my business, and what better way to grow my business than to get the input from business students, teachers, mentors and advisors.”

The BEDC’s Student Consulting Program improves management and marketing skills of small business in under-served communities with the aid of teams comprised of of business students and faculty of the UW Foster School of Business, Foster alumni, and mentors drawn from the Seattle Rotary Club. Exequiel explained what he was hoping to gain from his participation with the Student Consulting Program:

 “I was hoping to receive a different perspective from my own. I have several ideas and visions for the restaurant and catering department, but I felt I needed to get the opinion from someone who has valuable input that could help change the way I do business.”

Through the Student Consulting Program, Exequiel, along with 14 other business owners, was provided advice from his student consulting team on how to strategically grow all divisions of Maya’s, including specially-tailored marketing strategies and financial/managerial guidance.

Now, as Exequiel’s interaction with his student consulting group concludes and he begins the process of actualizing the plans and goals presented with the continuing support of his BEDC mentors and advisors, he has great hope for his company’s future:

“I feel very positive about the future of my business, especially with all the recommendations the student team had to offer at the presentation [of their findings]. I learned the importance of sending out thank you notes to all catering customers upon completion of their event, [the value of] up-selling, tips to get my food cost and labor back to a respectable percentage, and that having someone managing our social media outlets would dramatically help with sales and customer retention.”

If you are business interested in being a part of the 2013-2014 Student Consulting Program, or if you have any questions about the Program, please contact Wil Tutol at wtutol@uw.edu.

Artie Buerk: the networker’s effect

Artie BuerkCatalyst of ventures and connector of people, Artie Buerk has financed the future of entrepreneurship at the University of Washington.

It began with a gift. An investment, really, in an idea that had yet to be so much as scribbled on a cocktail napkin.

In 1990, Artie Buerk (BA 1958) and his wife Sue (BA 1974) pledged $100,000 to support entrepreneurship at the UW Business School. The problem? There was no entrepreneurship to support. No center, no program, no business plan competition, not even a single class.

A vigorous catalyst of new ventures, Buerk insisted that this deficiency be addressed. Immediately.

“My whole life has revolved around startups and small businesses, the engines of the Northwest economy,” he says. “I felt the UW should have a program to educate future entrepreneurs.”

Buerk found a small cabal of faculty with similar leanings. Most prominent among them was Borje “Bud” Saxberg, then chair of the Department of Management, who had noted the region’s uptick in entrepreneurial activity. “The answer was there,” recalls Saxberg, “waiting for action.”

Artie equaled action. He helped Saxberg’s task force sketch the original Program in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and taught them how to raise the capital to launch it.

That was the seed. From it has grown a veritable dynamo of entrepreneurial education and activity, centered at the Foster School of Business but increasingly reaching across the University of Washington. Now that dynamo has been renamed the Arthur W. Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, in honor of the Buerks’ recent $5.2 million gift to finance its future.

“Artie always says that there’s no shortage of ideas. But we need leaders who can take those ideas and turn them into something valuable,” says Jim Jiambalvo, dean of the Foster School. “With the Buerks’ support of our entrepreneurship center—the Buerk Center—we’ll create more entrepreneurial leaders, and we’ll extend our reach to discover those young people who don’t yet realize they have the entrepreneurial DNA.”

Startup

Buerk realized it early on. His first business was a Seattle Times paper route in his childhood neighborhood north of Matthews Beach.

He studied business at the UW, served as a supply officer on a destroyer in the US Navy, then earned an MBA at the Harvard Business School. Several years with big corporations convinced him that he was meant to build from the ground up.

One of Buerk’s first entrepreneurial challenges came, ironically, back at the UW. In 1968, he was hired to direct its fledgling alumni fund and development office. The bare-bones operation was raising a paltry $40,000 a year. “We were 25 years behind other public universities and 200 years behind the Ivy League Schools,” he says. “To me, it was a real opportunity.”

Buerk studied the field’s best practices, modernized the alumni database and department infrastructure, and increased the donor base exponentially—on his own and with a crackerjack staff. His early hires included Marilynn Dunn, the UW’s influential first vice-president of development, and Robb Weller, the legendary King of the Yell Squad, who could single-handedly light up a crowd of 70,000.

Buerk’s team of strivers got the private support flowing. By 1977, his operation was raising nearly $20 million a year (a legacy that has climbed to an annual $320 million today).

“It was entrepreneurial, something I had a real passion for,” Buerk says. “I’ve never had a job that was more fun.”

Back in business

Buerk’s expertise in raising money became a valuable asset. In the late ‘70s a couple of old friends, Chuck Barbo and Don Daniels, recruited him away to help finance their odd-lot portfolio of small businesses—among them Christmas tree farms, raw land, horse arenas, and a self-storage business.

As president—and an investor—Buerk convinced the founders to focus on the storage businesses, to be renamed Shurgard. And he helped Barbo and Daniels methodically build a nationwide brand, raising $750,000,000 for the expansion through a vast constellation of brokered deals.

Buerk spun off a successful records management company called Intermation and helped take Shurgard public in 1994 before moving on.

His investment had grown exponentially. And now the money was liquid.

So Buerk put it to new work. He founded the Seattle School Fund for Excellence (now the Alliance for Education). And, with a group of partners—“A who’s who of the Foster School’s Advisory Board”—he turned a 401K division of Washington Mutual into Northwestern Trust (acquired by Harris Trust).

In 1997, he co-founded the private equity firm of Buerk Craig Victor, now Montlake Capital. It was the heyday of the Internet boom, when capitol gushed toward anything with a .com suffix. But Buerk was a skeptic. He chose to invest in firms that demonstrated solid fundamentals—proven products/service, realistic projections, genuine leadership. Over the next decade-plus, he opened a new branch of legacy, molding growth companies and mentoring their leaders—from Door to Door Storage to Blue Dog Bakery, from HaloSource to SOG Knives.

People person

Whatever the business, Buerk’s true business has always been people. His vast personal network is legendary, and ever growing.

“Artie knows everyone, and everyone knows Artie,” says venture capitalist Neal Dempsey (BA 1964), a fellow founding champion of entrepreneurship at the UW.

It is, perhaps, because Buerk takes networking more personally than most. He had to. “My father died when I was 11, and it was just my mom and me,” he says. “If I was going to have a family, I knew I was going to have to build it out of friends and relationships.

“And that’s the way I look at it: not just a network, but my extended family.”

It’s a philosophy with a long-term perspective.

“Some people think of networking in terms of what they can get out of it,” says Kris Lindquist (MBA 2011), the director of strategic business development at Amazon.com who met Buerk through Foster’s MBA Mentorship Program. “But Artie gives twice as much as he takes. He pays it forward.”

He’s the consummate connector of people who show intelligence and initiative.

“If you want to know who to talk to in an industry or about a specific topic, Artie will typically know someone off the top of his head,” adds Sara Weaver (BA 1991, MBA 2001), a Buerk Center advisor who once worked at Buerk Craig Victor. “And he is very generous with his contacts and resources. He takes a real interest in helping people grow and succeed.”

“Building and maintaining relationships makes your life a lot more successful and valuable,” adds Buerk. “The greatest thing, to me, is to see the success of someone you’ve helped.”

Bow Down to Washington

Artie BuerkMost of Buerk’s connections seem to triangulate with the UW. He splits allegiances with the Harvard Business School (he’s been a dedicated class secretary for 50 years). “But my blood is purple and gold,” he confirms.

It’s a loyalty forged during busy, happy days as an undergrad. Bussing in to Roosevelt High School from Seattle’s northern frontier left little time for involvement. So Buerk resolved to engage in the life of the UW in every possible way. He studied business in the classroom, but learned to lead all over campus. Managing the Husky football and basketball teams. Training with Naval ROTC. Running the campaigns of the student body president and vice president. Serving as senior class officer, president of the Oval Club and member of Fir Tree.

Buerk was named “Outstanding Senior Man.”

He graduated, but never really left. After his decade as the UW’s first professional fundraiser, Buerk was a trustee of the UW Foundation and chair of the UW Development Fund. He taught personal finance through UW Extension for years. He’s a past president and board chair of the UW Alumni Association. He serves on the advisory boards of the Information School and the Foster School, having chaired the Foster board through the final years of the last capital campaign. He’s also mentored for years at Foster, and is on the board of the UW Angel Fund.

For these many decades of service—multiplied by the thousands he inspired to do the same—the UW honored Buerk with its 2007 Gates Volunteer Service Award.

The recipient claims he has got more than he’s given: “I’ve never had any association with the U that hasn’t been fun and successful,” Buerk says. “It’s hard to replicate that record in any other element of life.”

Center of attention

And few UW touchpoints have been as satisfying or successful as the mature, innovative center that has grown from Buerk’s somewhat speculative investment two decades ago.

To a brand building expert, “Buerk Center” has a nice ring to it. It certainly says something about the institution.

“There’s no one more deserving to have his name atop the center than Artie,” says Neal Dempsey, whose own name graces the building that houses it. “It’s a hugely meaningful gift, and a hugely meaningful name. Artie is the best there is.”

True to form, Buerk wants the center—already in the Entrepreneur top ten—to be the best there is. He applauds the work of director Connie Bourassa-Shaw and her staff to elevate the original vision to an incredible vibrancy of practical activity and education. And he hopes this new infusion of resources from the naming gift fuels the center’s ongoing expansion throughout the UW system.

“The UW brings 45,000 brilliant people to a 640-acre spot to work every day,” Buerk says. “Our job is to turn that brain power into businesses that will be good for their founders, good for the university, and good for the Northwest economy.

“If we can integrate entrepreneurship into the fabric of the University, engage all kinds of students and faculty in the process, get them thinking of great ideas as potential businesses, we will have something that’s very powerful.”

Power is what the Buerks have provided the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship.

“A naming gift is the best endorsement,” says Bourassa-Shaw. “It’s an amazing vote of confidence. It says, I so believe in you that I’m proud to have my name associated with you for decades to come. It says, I’m betting money on your future. It says, I trust the center to do the right thing for students, for the UW, for Seattle. This is Artie’s legacy.”

The latest and greatest of many.

Digital marketing with a global team- a conversation with Justin Calvo, CISB alum and CIBER advisory board member

Justin CalvoJustin Calvo is the Global Director of Digital Marketing at Avanade, a global Microsoft technology integrator. He is a 2002 alumnus of the Foster School and the Certificate of International Business Studies (CISB) program, and is a member of the Global Business Center’s CIBER advisory board.

Tell us about Avanade. How did you get your start?

Avanade is a global Microsoft technology integrator.  Standing on the shoulders of our parent companies, Microsoft and Accenture, Avanade delivers insight, expertise and innovation across all industries to realize business results. After spending two years at a Seattle venture capital fund, the opportunity to work for a young company with incredible vision and backing was an entrepreneur’s dream.  One of the things that attracted me to Avanade was the idea that the company was truly global on the day it opened its doors for business a few years earlier.  Being global has always been an important part of the culture at Avanade.

I’ve had many roles in my 10 years with the company – responsibilities for delivering projects, managing global customers, directing an industry team and currently incubating Avanade’s Digital Marketing business focusing on helping marketers drive business value by improving the customer experience.

What is it like to manage a global team? What are some challenges you’ve faced, and insights you’ve gained?

Managing and being part of a globally connected team is one of my favorite parts of working for Avanade. The opportunity to work across a diversity of customer business problems with dynamic global teams and leading innovations is a large part of what drives me each day.

One critical lesson I learned early on at Avanade was that global means much more than simply working across continents.  It’s about having the scale and depth of insight and expertise to address complex, multi-faceted business situations. This past winter I had the opportunity to travel to Asia to spend time with some of our customers’ marketing leaders.  Perhaps no one inside a business understands how to support global needs like marketers, who increasingly require greater scale and insights to reach dynamic consumers and markets.  Meeting these diverse needs and doing it at the speed of today’s consumer requires a global approach.  The Chinese and German marketplaces are two extreme examples where global skills are necessary to navigate a complex ecosystem country-specific marketing channels as in China’s case, or to ensure ongoing compliance with Germany’s strict consumer privacy laws.

How did your time at the Foster School influence your interests and career?

The Foster School of Business and the CISB program gave me a strong foundation and framework to address business challenges in a global context.  Learning about how the global economy operates was essential to understanding my role in it and planning out my career.  Spending time studying and working abroad reinforced my passion for global interactions.  One of the most rewarding surprises I hadn’t fully considered or appreciated during my time at UW were the connections I built with classmates and teachers.  My classmates have gone on to drive incredible impact in global business.  Staying connected with many of them has allowed me to see the global economy and my career path from various angles.

What is one thing that you would tell students about the world of global business?

In 2000, when Avanade was established as a global business and I was still preparing to join the workforce, most new companies viewed being global as a destination.  This has changed.  Today every business must act globally.  The emerging start-up must consider the scale at which their innovation will address problems and the Fortune 100 enterprise must take stock of whether they have the agility they require to keep pace with the dynamic markets they serve.

As long as companies remain transfixed on growth – global will be a requirement.  Use this time in the Foster School of Business to gain valuable knowledge about the underpinnings of the global economy, and also to consider the tools and connections you will require to address the complex, multifaceted challenges that lead to tomorrow’s global opportunities.

Ken Denman: One step ahead of the innovation curve

The current Edward V. Fritzky Chair in Leadership, Ken Denman (MBA 1986), talks about his passion for leading edge technology, adapting to business cultures abroad and computers that can detect emotions.

Ken DenmanYou’ve led at a string of successful tech companies. How have you navigated your course?

Well, I got my MBA from the Foster School in 1986, and I know I should probably have a more quantitative answer at the ready. But the truth of it is that I followed my passion. I wanted to be in on developing and launching technologies that would impact the way we work, live and play. I thought, “I need proximity to those kinds of businesses, that’s where the opportunity lies.” It’s built in to all the old adages: Why do people rob banks? That’s were money’s kept. Or, Go West young man! Essentially, all of these sayings are about aligning with opportunity.

Can you talk about some of the plans you have as Fritzky Chair?

Absolutely—I want to make the Foster School an even hotter bed of innovation than it already is. I organized a conference that focused on innovation and entrepreneurship. One of the sessions was called “Social 2018” and the presenter was Harvard Business Press author Nilofer Merchant—called “the female James Bond of innovation.” It’s a great example of my vision, which is to change the way we think about opportunity. We all know that the social era has changed the business landscape, and many of the old rules no longer apply. But the impacts are only starting to be realized. Corporate behemoths no longer have the advantage. Smaller, focused teams that are nimble and can conceive of an idea, make a plan and launch it from various points across the world, hold the edge.

The more exposure Foster students and faculty have to the different pieces of the innovation engine, the more prepared the upcoming generation of business leaders will be.

You seem pretty bullish on innovation—is there a downside of being on the cutting edge?

Recently, I’ve been thinking about how the things I’ve been involved in for the past 15-20 years have created jobs, but also contributed to the loss of existing jobs. How do we create enough work in the US? We’re going to be deeply challenged in this regard—the political talk about bringing jobs back isn’t likely to work. The economics aren’t pragmatic, and the kinds of skills needed will be very different.

The need to reorient our economy and educational aspirations is paramount. We need more knowledge workers, yes, but we have to push certain kinds of vocational training. One kind of job is going away, but there are new jobs enabled by that very technology. For example, maybe we need fewer machinists now, but what about the programmers and technicians who enable the machines? We don’t need to push everyone toward college, but the newer paths aren’t as clearly defined.

You’re currently CEO of Machine Perception Technologies. Can you talk about what the company is working on?

MPT is a software-based company working to merge emotion detection and machine learning to take personal technology to a new level. Emotion recognition is a logical progression toward the enhancement of applications like online education, e-commerce, gaming and market research. The ability of a device to discern your mood—are you confused, frustrated, angry?—will improve your experience by adapting to where you are.

Think about the billions of dollars spent on market research. Empirical evidence shows that people don’t tell the truth. Not because they’re trying to “lie,” but because of social biases, internal confusion, difficulty articulating feelings, etc. Think about the ability of cognitive recognition systems to account for this!

The power of this space is that the team we have for machine learning is a bunch of behavioral and cognitive scientists who are intent on getting machines to learn across a wide range of demographics. If you believe in this definition of artificial intelligence, you can say this is no longer science fiction. We’re working on how to extend the necessary processing power into the cloud so it can work on mobile devices.

What do you think is next for you?

The way I’ll get to the next thing is by following this line of inquiry I’ve had about the concept of adjacencies—analyzing “where good ideas come from,” not incidentally, the title of Steven Johnson’s great book on the history of innovation. Great innovations often come from previous innovations applied in non-obvious directions. I’ve been applying this notion to the mobile space and some of the other areas in which I’ve played to see if I can see what’s next. It’s a process.

Right now, this role (Fritzky Chair) is helping me focus, evaluate new ideas, and test my strategy. I’ve got a group of students flying down to my company to deliver the final readout of a field study focused on market entry strategy and competitive analysis. The students are absolutely amazing. I expect I’ll learn as much or more from them as they do from me.

The Edward V. Fritzky Chair in Leadership serves an academic year at Foster in an advisory role. This faculty position was specifically designed to put a distinguished business leader on campus to share their expertise with faculty and students.

Seeing the future with Ken Denman

Ken Denman (MBA 1986) holds the Edward V. Fritzky Chair in Leadership at the Foster School of Business. He spoke in March at the Foster School about his career path and latest venture, Machine Perception Technologies, a software-based company working to merge emotion detection and machine learning to take personal technology to a new level.

Denman has held myriad executive roles which have spanned large corporations, startups, emerging markets ventures and turnarounds. He led iPass’ successful initial public offering, and led the strategy work for monetizing Openwave’s patent portfolio and spinning off the operating units. He is also an engaged angel investor and board member with public and private board experience. Currently he is president and CEO of Machine Perception Technologies (MPT).

Watch video highlights, which also include a demonstration of Facet, MPT’s emotion detection software. The demonstration was led by Dr. Marian Bartlett, lead scientist at MPT.

Ken Denman 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.

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.”

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.