Category Archives: MBA

Fitting an Evening MBA into your life

Most Foster Evening MBA students spread completion of degree requirements out over three years, so the demands on their time are not as great as they are for students in other Foster MBA programs. Still, fitting classes, study group meetings, class assignments and other activities into a life full of work, family and friends is a challenge. It helps to get serious about managing your time, set expectations with your employer and other important people in your life, and build a support network with other students. In this video, Evening MBA students Tom Clendenin, Olga Shapiro and Etta Mends tell how they made it work.

Being contrarian and right

Guest post by Sean Murphy, Foster MBA 2014
He attended the Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which was organized by Ken Denman, Edward V. Fritzky Chair in Leadership at the Foster School.

The Day of Innovation and Entrepreneurship promised to be an engaging and informative event that I thought might be a good use of a Friday. What it turned out to be was most likely the best day of my MBA experience. Ken Denman brought in an incredible line-up that focused on topics ranging from funding to team creation to the next big themes in business. The day started with a heavy hitter and just kept getting better. Charles Songhurst, Microsoft’s General Manager of Corporate Strategy, spoke about adjacencies and outlined several observations that could be acted upon. There were some common points such as surrounding oneself with those more intelligent/hardworking/ethical than you and the Gladwellian 10k hour metric, but there were also some great insights new to me. One such point was that diplomacy is virtually unknown in the tech industry. Songhurst recommended that practicing empathy, predicting how others will act/react, and adapting to cultural norms of your target will put you at a significant advantage in the tech space. He also drew several observations about founder-led companies and professional management-led companies, arguing that self-cannibalization requires the confidence and vision of a founder. Songhurst spoke of comparing the earnings of founder-led and non-founder-led tech companies and claimed a 15% difference favoring the founders. He suggested a simple investment strategy would be going long on founders and shorting all others. Very interesting way to kick off the day.

Day of Innovation and EntrepreneurshipA series of panels followed. We heard from Ghia Griarte (Saints Capital), Michelle Goldberg (Ignition Partners), and Andrew Tweed (Thomvest Ventures) about how their VCs assess potential opportunities. A common theme from the panel was the delineation of feature, product, and company and how the market appetite is shifting to smaller, simpler bites. On figuring out what a product or service is or offers, Goldberg said, “Don’t make me think.” Another point repeatedly addressed was the growing demand of the enterprise experience to mimic the consumer experience in UX and hardware. Tweed mentioned using consumer trends to predict what might be happening in the enterprise space soon and investing in back-end mechanics that would enable this shift.

We then switched gears to the non-profit world and heard from Kushal Chakrabarti, Doug Plank, and James Gutierrez about changing the non-profit landscape creating sustainable, long-term success. As expected, they were very passionate about their work and got me seriously considering a non-profit path.

Nilofer Merchant spoke next about the evolution of social media and the importance of co-creation in the future. She emphasized the framework of openness of ideas as one of the key drivers of growth, citing TEDx and Google’s Android as examples.

After a lunch break we returned to a panel of Marc Barros, Zaw Thet, and Donna Wells on assembling nimble and functionally diverse teams. They all emphasized the importance of your network and their reliance on them for the vetting of potential employees. Curiously, it was mentioned that no matter how many interviews you’ve done or people you’ve hired, it’s still difficult to weed out people that end up not meshing. The fit and attitude of hires was especially highlighted when working with a small team, as one bad apple can wreck the atmosphere pretty quickly.

Day of Innovation and EntrepreneurshipKen Denman moderated the next panel which focused on the next big themes and featured Seth Neiman (Crosspoint Venture Partners), Tim Porter (Madrona Ventures), and Jason Stoffer (Maveron). They got pretty philosophical and were dropping gems left and right. They approached VCs as incubators to test strategic theories about the market. Getting the market direction is difficult enough, but timing was a big theme of this talk as well. The key to making money is being contrarian, and being right. The key to identifying these investments is in looking at adjacencies when the future isn’t immediately accessible. What must happen if the things that are in motion today were to take the next step? There are many supporting steps that must first happen, and these can be very lucrative investments. Neiman mentioned investing in supporting infrastructure during the internet ramp up in the last millennium and saw a $100M fund return $13B. Jaw-dropping, even by VC standards.

Ben Casnocha, co-author of The Start-Up of You, brought the day to a close with a riveting personal story and the idea of applying entrepreneurial business thinking to your life. Setting aside time to read and think, increasing your knowledge every day, earmarking funds for meeting with interesting people; these were all suggestions of how to approach your personal development as you would a business. He encouraged students to consider youth and the opinion of our cohort as our value-add in connecting with senior, experienced leaders. It was a great, inspirational capstone to the day.

The amount of knowledge that came out of this event was mind-blowing. I filled more pages in my notebook in eight hours than I do in an entire quarter of class. An amazing array of brilliant, successful, and humble people took the time to share their thoughts and experience with an eager audience and I couldn’t be more pleased to be in attendance. I don’t know how this could be topped next year, but I will certainly be there to find out. And you should too…

Watch videos of all the sessions.

Why Choose Foster Evening MBA?

Seattle area business professionals with a few years of work experience on their resume find the Foster Evening MBA Program a great option for earning a degree while continuing to earn a paycheck. But some choose it because it is among the best MBA programs in the Northwest – period. Other attractive features of the program cited by students are the cohort structure, which encourages each entering class to form deep and lasting relationships, and the ability to network with other working students. Evening MBA students Etta Mends, Olga Shapiro and Tom Clendenin tell why their search for a great part-time MBA program led them to the Foster School.

Focus on career services drives MBA placements, ranking

Interview with Naomi Sanchez, Assistant Dean, MBA Career Services

Q: In the recent U.S. News ranking of MBA Programs, Foster’s placement rate for 2012 graduates three months from graduation was higher than any other school in the top 25. Why did Foster do so well this past year?

Naomi SanchezNaomi Sanchez:  We started with great students. Beyond that, we had a very intentional program this year. We offered boot camps to prepare students for their interviews. We reached out to employers that had not been affiliated with Foster before and they began to recruit with our office. We brought on competencies that are necessary for the competitive work world, including people with background in corporate marketing, HR and finance. So we all have industry backgrounds that enable us to see what employers are looking for, and to make that very, very important match of students and graduates with corporations and companies – both large and small companies. It helps that we have a great mix in the Pacific Northwest of both entrepreneurial opportunities as well as the more traditional Fortune 100 companies. And, of course, we’re right next door to some technology giants, with Microsoft and Amazon in our back yard. Because Foster has such a great relationship with companies like these, we’re able to create networking opportunities that other students would not have.

Q: You’re an advocate for getting students focused on the search for internships and jobs early in the MBA program. Why is that important?

NS:  We face the same challenge that career professionals across the country face today: How fast can we prepare our students for the work world, knowing that our students are here because they are interested in career advancement? Once we focus on that, we have to look at what we do here in MBA Career Services as something that begins even before they enter the classroom. We are looking at touch-points prior to the start of classes in the fall. We’re going to be taking a “fast-start” approach to reaching newly-admitted students prior to September. If you think about it, the profile of the new employee is based on what they did prior to the MBA program and what they are able to talk about in January of their first year. Students literally have only a few months in which to prepare for that first interview, which could determine whether or not they are employed the following year. So we need to get a head start on working with students because of the competitive nature of MBA hiring today. It’s as simple as that.

Q: You’ve developed a system of working with students to help them effectively define their personal brand and market themselves to employers. Can you describe that system? Why has it been so effective?

NS:  What we did this year was a bit different. We made a concerted effort to get close to students. We instituted a peer advising program for second year students, who provide services and counseling to first-year students. For that to be effective, we had to understand what the second-year students were facing in terms of their career issues. We offered five grants to clubs to promote career services within their memberships. We also offered a professional development course that focused on recruiting, case interviewing and behavioral interviewing, business etiquette, business writing – all the essentials for a student being able to be successful in the recruiting process. We implemented a new software system that helps us to track every attendance of a student to any of our events. It allows us to note achievements, changes or challenges a student might have that our coaches can work with. I think that gets us into a different relationship with students, which helps us help them find the opportunities they’re seeking, because they often change over time. So there are a number of different initiatives I think have brought us closer to students.

Q: If I’m a prospective MBA student who is considering applying to Foster, what do I need to know about the career services offered at the school.

NS:  If you’re a prospective student, I think you’re coming in at a time when the leadership of the school has realized the importance of career development, and has put resources in this area, and has built a world-class team of people that cares about every individual student. We provide advising, training for the recruiting process, help with salary negotiations, and outreach to the best companies that hire MBAs today – globally — and we are there to make sure that every student has the optimum opportunity to find a great job. As a result, I have full confidence that every student is capable of finding a great job – not just any job – but a great job.

The paradox of reduce-reuse-recycle

2011 EIC Grand Prize Winner Voltaic shows off their electric vehicle drive train
2011 EIC Grand Prize Winner Voltaic shows off its electric vehicle drive train

Guest post by Daniel Schwartz, Chair, UW Department of Chemical Engineering

When I think Cleantech, my mind goes straight to the triangular logo on my waste container at work: “reduce, reuse, recycle.”  These three words are central to most enduring cleantech innovations, though sometimes in paradoxical ways.  “Reduce” is the most prone to paradox, since reducing one thing generally happens by increasing another. Let’s explore this “reduce” paradox via two well-known examples in that space.

In recent years, Washington has done a good job of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. Today, the average American emits 41% more greenhouse gas than the average Washingtonian (2012 State Energy Strategy report). We reduced our emissions by increasing our reliance on hydropower. Here’s where the “reduce” paradox comes in. Increases in hydropower have led to fewer salmon in our waters. Thinking long term, if we want to grow our economy and further reduce our emissions while avoiding consequences like this, we’ll need major innovations in the cost and performance of solar energy and grid-scale batteries. And we’ll need to make sure those innovations don’t lead to a depleted Earth.

The same “increase-to-reduce” paradox holds in transportation. Hybrid and all-electric cars reduce emissions by increasing efficiency. The 787 Dreamliner reduces its fuel use, in part, by adopting the “more electric-aircraft” approach. Innovations in transportation electrification are largely tied to electrochemical energy storage and conversion (batteries, super-capacitors, and fuel cells) as well as control systems that enable vehicle-scale “grids” to operate reliably on their own and when plugged into a utility’s grid. Transportation electrification is currently going through painful growing pains. Have no doubt, we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg in transportation electrification, but as transportation electrification increases, we need to use foresight to adapt our current electrical infrastructure, or we’ll break it.

My colleagues at the UW Institute for Molecular Engineering and Science are among the leaders charting a sustainable energy pathway that balances technical innovation with the economic and social dimensions of scalable energy. Students, too, are looking at the paradoxes – the potential Achilles heels of cleantech – and finding potential for enduring innovations. I am looking forward to seeing how students at the UW Environmental Innovation Challenge apply their understanding of cleantech and “reduce, reuse, recycle” – paradoxes and all—  to innovations that will improve our world.

The vastness of the Middle East

Guest post by Bruce Avolio, Executive Director of the Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking and Marion B. Ingersoll Professor of Management. Bruce traveled with Technology Management MBA students as part of their International Study Tour to Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

I, like the students from Foster’s TMMBA program and staff, have visited many parts of the world. However, none of the staff or students had been to the Middle East. Of course, when we say Middle East, it’s like saying North America, in that the Middle East is made up of many different types of people, regions, climates and of course cultures. My goal for this trip was to develop our respective global mindsets as a basis for being a global leader—our assumptions, framing, perceptions and knowledge about other cultures. During our time in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, we certainly triggered A LOT of challenges to our respective global mindsets. Indeed, during our first corporate visit at Thompson Reuters, one of the top managers hosting us said, “Next time you hear the words—The Gulf—on CNN or Fox or where ever, I hope you consider how vast and diverse an area that reporter is referencing.” Boy was that ever an insight to retain in our global mindsets!

Zulily and Maveron: Building a successful company

Guest post by Emilia Griswold, Foster MBA 2014

Darrell Cavens, CEO of Zulily
Darrell Cavens, CEO of Zulily

Foster students were recently treated to a discussion of “What Makes a Successful Company” with Darrell Cavens, CEO of Zulily.com, and Dan Levitan, co-founder of venture capital firm Maveron. Maveron led the initial funding for Zulily, and this was a rare opportunity to see a founder and investor speak candidly about their partnership. Cavens and Levitan, along with moderator Emer Dooley of the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship discussed start-ups, venture capital, and building high-performing teams.

The recent $1 billion valuation of Zulily prompted several questions about how a billion dollar company gets started. The answer, from both Cavens and Levitan, was hard work. Zulily was started by Cavens and former Blue Nile CEO Mark Vadon with little more than a spreadsheet and whiteboard. Although they didn’t have much of a business plan, Maveron believed in the team. The people, Levitan pointed out, are what a company is all about. With the Zulily team, Maveron saw leaders with the ability and vision to bring others along for the ride and a staunch dedication to constant improvement. Cavens and Levitan agreed that Zulily never thought of itself as a billion dollar company, but as a company focused on doing and growing. And fast.

By creating a culture with an “iterate and grow” mindset, they could run on Zulily Time: twice as fast as anyone would think is doable. To illustrate Zulily Time, Cavens told the story of getting the first fulfillment center up and running in 10 weeks—instead of the 7-12 months that was originally estimated. That lesson of maintaining focus and going after what everyone thinks is impossible certainly resonates with many students. And Levitan had more advice for those just starting out and lacking Cavens’ pedigree: be comfortable thinking on your feet, surround yourself with entrepreneurial people, and take time in school to figure out who you are, what you’re passionate about, and what you excel at.

Dan Levitan
Dan Levitan, Co-founder of Maveron

Cavens emphasized that part of developing yourself is developing a team that compliments your skills. When he was building the initial Zulily team, he looked for people that would not only add value, but also take risks and thrive in ambiguous situations. Cavens advised taking time to find investors with whom you really click, because they are also part of the team. Funders can add networks and resources as well as validation of your idea. Because Maveron knew Cavens and his capabilities, they were even willing to let Zulily write their own term sheet tied to a specific set of milestones. And unlike many start-ups, Cavens knew that if this idea didn’t work out he wasn’t going to pivot, he would just give the investment back and go do something else.

Ultimately, Levitan noted, it’s great entrepreneurs and their teams that build an amazing company—not venture capital firms. But no one, Zulily in particular, can deny the importance of money and resources to get a company off the ground. Zulily is proof that incredible things can happen when driven founders and the right investors come together.

This event was organized by Foster’s Entrepreneurship & Venture Capital Club.

BEDC grad students provide consulting for Ketchikan Indian community

BEDC Alaska MBA StudentsThe BEDC is again working to support small business growth in Southeast Alaska. A team of four UW Foster MBA students has spent winter quarter working with the Ketchikan Indian Community in an effort to grow local business and tribally-owned enterprises. The students taught entrepreneurship classes over the Martin Luther King Holiday weekend for 30 current and aspiring business owners. Ketchikan, the southernmost city in Alaska, has an economy based on tourism and fishing; and many of the new business ideas will cater to tourists from cruise ships or independent tourists.

Since the entrepreneurship classes, the MBA students have been working with outdoor adventure, culinary training, historic tourism, clothing retailer, and construction companies.

MBA student Jennifer Yanni believes she learned as much or more as her clients did “I had never written a business plan before so this gave me some real-world experience to put on my resume. It also helped me think about how you sell new ideas to an existing market.”

This is the 15th project that the BEDC has completed for a Native American Tribe or Alaska Native Corporation and we’re already looking for our next projects. If you know of a tribe that would like a MBA team please contact Michael Verchot.

How Do You Know When It’s Time to Apply?

Every student has his or her story about how they decided to enroll in the Foster Executive MBA Program. For Martin Fichter (VP, Product and Operations, HTC), a stint filling in as acting CEO made him realize that he still had a lot to learn about running a business. For sales executive Lala Somma (Shopper Marketing Manager, The Coca Cola Company), it was the realization that she needed to expand her knowledge of finance and other functions if she wanted to realize a dream of starting her own business. For Britt East (Ecommerce Director, Zones, Inc.), a scholarship from his employer created an opportunity to fill in gaps in his prior education and learn to speak the language of business fluently.

Like these Executive MBA students, you may have considered enrolling in an MBA program for months or years. Are you ready to put your plan into action?

The Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship awards $170,000 to eight student-led start-ups

Haiti Babi Blanket
Haiti Babi

When Katlin Jackson returned from her second trip to Haiti in January 2012, she was a woman on a mission. After spending time in a Haitian orphanage, she’d discovered that a good number of the children there weren’t orphans at all. Their parents were simply too poor to care for them. Within months, Katlin, along with UW junior Kari Davidson, cofounded Haiti Babi and entered the 2012 Business Plan Competition.

Haiti Babi now employs four Haitian mothers to knit and crochet high-quality, incredibly soft baby blankets and accessories that are sold to moms in the United States. In 12 months, Katlin and Kari have taken an idea, defined a mission (Moms helping Moms), and created a start-up company that is making real headway. They have a well-thought-out brand, fashionable products, and a detailed operations plan. Their Indiegogo campaign brought in double their fund-raising goal, pre-orders for their first blankets surpassed all expectations, and Haiti Babi has been featured in Seattle Magazine, Social Good Moms, and Disney Baby.

Much of Haiti Babi’s success can be attributed to the intelligence, drive, and dedication of its founders, but they’ve also had great help along the way. They were admitted into the Jones Milestones/Foster Accelerator in July 2012.

The JM/FA at the Foster School’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship is a TechStars-like program that provides a milestones-based framework, monthly coaching from Seattle entrepreneurs and investors, and connections that help student teams make the transition to start-up companies.  From July 2012 to February 2013, 10 teams worked to recreate their teams, develop their technologies or get product to market, and raise early-stage funding. On February 13, eight teams were awarded between $10,000 and $25,000 for their efforts.

  • PatientStream, a cloud-based electronic patient-tracking system for hospitals, licensed its technology from the University of Washington and secured a $500,000 investment from the W Fund.  Ben Anderson (TMMBA 2012) is the founder, and brought in Keith Streckenbach as COO and co-founder to drive sales. Anderson quit his day job at UW Medicine/Harborview in October.
  • Haiti Babi provides mothers in Haiti with employment to keep their children out of orphanages. As part of their “Moms helping Moms” mission, Haiti Babi’s mothers knit and crochet high-quality, incredibly soft baby blankets that are sold in the United States. Co-founders Katlin Jackson and Kari Davidson (BFA 2014) raised funding through an Indiegogo campaign, pre-orders for blankets surpassed all expectations, and Haiti Babi has been featured in Seattle Magazine and Disney Baby.
  • LumiSands was awarded a $150,000 National Science Foundation SBIR Phase-I Grant and a $50,000 gift from the Washington Research Foundation for the development and manufacture of its silicon-based alternative to rare-earth phosphors used in LED lighting. Co-founders Ji-Hao Hoo (PhD 2013) and Chang-Ching Tu have negotiated an agreement with the University of Washington, and are still in the technology development phase.
  • JoeyBra, “the first sexy and comfortable fashion bra with a pocket,” closed a successful angel investment round, produced a new, quality sports bra with a waterproof pocket in a full range of sizes, and has been featured by Forbes, MSNBC, and CNN.  Mariah Gentry (BA 2013) and Kyle Bartlow (BA 2013), the co-founders, have contracted with a former Miss America as a spokesmodel and will launch their product nationwide in April 2013.
  • Microryza, a KickStarter-type site for smaller science and research projects,was admitted into Y-Combinator in October and moved to the Bay Area. Cindy Wu (BS 2011) and Denny Luan (BS 2011) have raised more than $170,000 and their site has funded projects from tracking Magellanic penguins to sustaining native bees and student-designed electric racecars.
    Update: March 28, 2013 – Microryza was named one of the top 5 Y-Combinator start-ups to watch by Inc. Magazine.
  • Strideline sold more than 60,000 pairs of their signature city skyline crew socks in 2012. Co- founders Jake Director (BA 2013) and Riley Goodman (BA 2013) have organized a national sales team, are now selling in Nordstrom and Zumiez, and were the subject of a UW TV short feature
  • SuperCritical Technologies has designed and will build compact modular power plants that provide up to 5MW of clean, reliable electricity for heating and/or cooling. Chal Davidson (MBA 2012) is the CEO, with Max Effgen (MBA 2012) as a co-founder. The company raised $200,000 in angel funding to complete the conceptual design and establish supplier relationships, and is currently fundraising to build the prototype.
  • UrbanHarvest is an urban farming company that grows high-value hydroponic lettuces and herbs within feet of where they’ll be consumed. The brainchild of Chris Bajuk (MBA 2011) and Chris Sheppard (MBA/JD 2012), UrbanHarvest is currently negotiating with a large SoDo corporation to build a rooftop greenhouse.

So what’s next? The work certainly doesn’t stop here. As any entrepreneur knows, it takes more than six months to grow a thriving business. And that’s what the JM/FA ultimately provides at the end:  additional runway.  This follow-on funding is a testament to the companies’ hard work so far, and an investment in what we know they can become.

The Jones Milestones/Foster Accelerator is funded by the Herbert B. Jones Foundation and additional private donors who, like us, believe in the ability of student entrepreneurs.