Earning an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering was an important achievement for Kevan Brown, but he never planned to stop there. He sees pursuing an MBA at the Foster School as a way to develop business knowledge and skills and tap into Foster’s extensive alumni network, but also as a way to realize his potential as a leader. Outside the office and the classroom, Kevan has a passion for basketball. He’s using what he’s learning in the Evening MBA Program to pursue that passion through creating a recreational basketball league for working professionals. He’s building a business around something he loves while creating community and encouraging others to follow a healthy lifestyle.
How does an undergraduate drama major end up in an MBA program? An internship with a theatre company introduced Graham Mills to the business side of the nonprofit sector, and piqued his interest in applying ideas and techniques from the private sector to develop more sustainable models for arts organizations. When he considered earning a graduate degree, an MBA was an obvious choice. Since enrolling in Foster’s Evening MBA Program, he has applied “thinking outside the box” not only to his work, but also to planning his future career. The knowledge, skills and network Foster offers has provided him with wide range of opportunities and the confidence to pursue them.
Chinu Randhawa, employed in real estate, had reached a plateau and decided to pursue further education as a way to explore options in her current field or other fields. When she enrolled in the Foster Evening MBA Program, she found an instant network among her classmates – active professionals with diverse career backgrounds. She also benefited from participation in Foster’s MBA Mentor Program. In her second year, she connected with a mentor who had changed careers several times and had applied her talents successfully in several industries. Entering the second half of her program, Chinu says the program delivered on its promise to supply her with “the three C’s”: competence, confidence and connections – a great foundation for the next stage of her career.
An undergraduate degree in marketing helped Allison Waddell launch her career, but she wanted to expand her knowledge base and gain the strategic perspective on business offered by a Foster MBA. Sharing experiences with, and learning alongside, a talented group of classmates at the Foster School keeps her motivated. The Evening MBA Program offers her opportunities to apply what she’s learning in her day job and in field study projects with other companies. Along the way, she has mentored fellow students, served in a leadership role with Foster’s MBA Association and bonded with classmates on a study trip to Brazil. For someone with a passion for people and a drive to lead, the Evening MBA Program offers plenty of room to grow.
There’s a popular quote from Alltop co-founder and entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki: “Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard.” Ask any entrepreneur and they’ll agree. Producing prototypes, navigating legal issues, finding customers, raising money—getting a startup off the ground is a formidable task.
Luckily, startup founders don’t have to go it alone. That’s the idea behind the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship’s Jones + Foster Accelerator, a program created to help student-led startups make the transition from concept to reality. Companies accepted into this six-month program receive mentoring from Seattle entrepreneurs and investors, a framework for defining measurable milestones, guidance in achieving those milestones, and the opportunity to earn up to $25,000 in follow-on funding.
Twenty-two companies have completed the Jones + Foster Accelerator program since it began in 2010. Eighteen of them are still in business today, and many have seen some major successes. Cadence Biomedical, a medical device company whose Kickstart Walking System helps immobilized users regain walking ability, has raised over $1.5 million in funding. Strideline’s athletic socks are sold in over 20 states across the country and worn by the likes of rapper Snoop Dogg, Seahawk Marshawn Lynch, and comedian Joel McHale. PotaVida has received a $140,000 grant from World Vision U.S. to prepare its solar water disinfection system for mass production. And Experiment’s science crowdfunding platform has been profiled by the likes of Forbes and theWall Street Journal, and received $1.2 million in angel funding.
The 2014 Jones + Foster Accelerator cohort consists of eight companies, each ready and willing to do whatever it takes to power up their startups. Since July, these companies have been polishing their pitches, identifying fundraising strategies, developing their products—you name it. Over the next few months, these eight teams will continue to hit their milestones, each one taking them a step closer to making their startup dreams a reality. Stay tuned!
2014 Jones + Foster Accelerator Teams
More than $40 billion in gift cards go unredeemed each year. Most of us have at least one gift card to a place we’d never shop sitting in a drawer at home. Wouldn’t you rather have the cash to spend the way you want? That’s the idea behind CardSwapr, a phone app that allows users to trade their unwanted gift cards for ones they’ll actually use.
Over the last 30 years, 911 calls for fire department emergency medical responses have increased by 400%. And as it turns out, only 60% of these calls are true emergencies. Sending firefighters and emergency vehicles to respond to non-emergency 911 calls is expensive for fire departments, and unnecessary emergency room visits are costly to insurers. FDCARES has developed an innovative response model that lowers costs by redirecting non-emergency calls to new tier of the fire department that has the capacity to stabilize patients in the home or transport them to a non-emergency care facility.
Nitrous oxide (N2O) is the fourth most common greenhouse gas, and has 300 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. This is a major problem for food and beverage retailers who use N2O cartridges to make whipped cream. Korvata has invented an alternative product that emits 50% less greenhouse gas without altering the deliciousness of the end product.
Lasting Smiles is an incredibly smooth lip balm created with organic, fair trade ingredients sourced from small-scale farmers in India, Peru, and Burkina Faso. But Lasting Smiles isn’t just about saving consumers from chapped lips. The startup has formed a strategic partnership with Smile Train, the largest cleft lip and palate nonprofit in the world. Twenty-five cents of every lip balm this startup sells will go directly towards funding surgeries for children with cleft lips and palates.
From Lasting Smiles’ founder, Zoe Mesnik-Greene: “I could not be more grateful to the Jones + Foster Accelerator Program for taking such a strong interest in me and Lasting Smiles. The mentors have provided invaluable resource direction in critical areas such as operations and legal, both of which have been essential as we prepare to launch this November 2014.”
Only 3% of the food consumed in Spokane, WA is produced locally. Yet the demand for a robust local food system to supply restaurants and schools is high. LINC Foods, an employee-owned and operated enterprise based in Spokane, is changing this. The startup purchases fruits and vegetables from small- and medium-sized farms, aggregates and processes the products to customer specifications, and delivers it to local restaurants, schools, and other institutions.
Over 1.6 billion people worldwide live in substandard housing. While many organizations make it their mission to provide adequate housing, geographical and economic limitations often impede these efforts. Mobile Foam provides humanitarian organizations with a kit containing all the materials necessary to build homes in developing nations without the difficulty of procuring and transporting large, expensive building materials. The company’s insulated concrete forms can be used to build high quality, energy efficient, and cost effective homes.
Olykraut combines local produce, original recipes, and “the magic of fermentation” to create delicious fermented vegetable products (think sauerkraut). The company has been producing and selling its products since 2008, and its popularity continues to grow. By producing this healthy food made with ingredients from farms in Western Washington, Olykraut is investing in the health of local people, local farms, and the local economy.
From Sash Sunday, owner of OlyKraut: “Contacts [introduced to us] by one of our mentors have been both inspiring and encouraging. It is really nice to work with the mentors and their sincere desire to see us succeed is apparent. One has even made it down to Olympia for a tour of the facility!”
Uphill Designs produces innovative and sustainable hiking equipment for outdoor enthusiasts. The startup’s trekking poles are made of bamboo—a renewable and low-cost material that is stronger and more flexible than aluminum—and the pole handles are made of post-consumer recycled cork. And in keeping with its commitment to sustainability, a percentage of Uphill Designs’ sales will go to the Pacific Crest Trail Associations and the communities where the company sources its materials.
From Uphill Designs’ co-founder David Bey: “The expertise of our Jones + Foster Accelerator mentors has helped our team find order in the chaos of starting a business. Their wisdom has allowed our team to focus on what’s really important while sidestepping flashy distractions and dangerous pitfalls.”
Tell us about your previous career: Before starting at Foster, I worked my way up through the ranks at T-Mobile, starting in retail and moving to my then position as a risk analyst. The role involved combing through databases to determine who was committing fraud on our network. The role gave me some good experience, but unfortunately did not offer much upside.
What are you currently doing in your role? My current role is a marketing manager supporting base communication at T-Mobile. I ensure that our marketing messages go out correctly, on time and with relevant information. I assist the strategy team on what the best method of communicating with customers is and what can be deemed successful once the campaign has finished.
How did the Evening MBA Program help you transition to your new role? Transitioning to my new role was somewhat of an accident. I went with my fiancé to the Foster alumni poker tournament where she happened to be seated at a table with one of my current co-workers, who was an alumnus of the Evening MBA Program. She introduced us and, after talking with him for a bit, he mentioned his team was looking to hire. I was able to leverage what I had learned in my brief time in the program to move into my current role.
What advice do you have for part-time MBA students interested in making a career transition? Networking and asking your fellow classmates never hurts when looking for a new role. I stumbled upon my role by accident, but would not have been in that position had it not been for my networking abilities and my fiancé introducing us. If you are interested in a new career, find out who works at the company you are looking to move to or ask around to see if anyone has advice. I’ve been asked on several occasions and have referred several people to T-Mobile now that I’m in a role where I can do that. Networking is key!
Once: research associate, Seattle BioMed Now: commercialization associate, Vaccine and Pharmaceutical Technologies team at PATH
Tell us about your previous career: I am a microbiologist by education and training, and prior to starting to my MBA I was a research associate at Seattle BioMed. My work focused on understanding certain key aspects of the human immune system. I wanted to take my career from bench research to strategic product development in life science.
What are you currently doing in your role? I am currently the commercialization associate on the Vaccine and Pharmaceutical Technologies team at PATH. PATH is a global health nonprofit organization whose mission is to bring transformative and innovative health technologies to the developing world. PATH does this through product development, innovation and effective private sector partnerships. In my current role I focus on ensuring that partnering, global access, intellectual property and market development related perspectives are integrated into individual product development plans. I support strategic product development through special analysis, such as market segmentation, economic and stake holder analysis, and develop value propositions and analyze the commercial viability of the technologies we work with.
How did the Evening MBA Program help you transition to your new role? The MBA was the gateway to securing this position and also making the successful transition from research to a commercialization role in the life sciences. In particular, the internship I did with the Center for Commercialization a quarter before I graduated really created a natural path into my current role and laid the foundation for a very successful interview process. The MBA also created many opportunities to network and meet the right people who were able to guide, mentor and recommend me to potential employers in whom I was interested.
What advice do you have for part-time MBA students interested in making a career transition? “Lean in.” While Facebook COO Cheryl Sandberg has used this phrase to create a movement of epic proportions to help women catalyze their careers, it can be borrowed to summarize your strategy to make the most of the MBA program. If you are looking to make a career transition, then it is likely you will have less experience in the new area you are seeking to move into than your peers. It is important to learn to position your past experience as relevant to the new role you are seeking and also make the most of the opportunities the MBA program provides to make up for this gap. Actively engaging with MBA Career Management to help develop your resume and your interview skills, participating in case competitions to expand your exposure and demonstrate your drive, and leveraging Foster’s rich alumni network to seek informational interviews are all highly effective strategies to accomplish this. As an evening student, it may be challenging to simply make it to class and complete the mandatory assignments, and many of you may not have the time to engage in additional activities. In that case, strategize and try to pick at least one channel you want to engage in to maximize your returns.
Once: compliance manager, ZymoGenetics Now: director global operations, Dendreon
Tell us about your previous career: Prior to starting the Evening MBA Program in 2009, I held the role of compliance manager with a local biotechnology organization, ZymoGenetics. In this role I had responsibility for ensuring that our external partners (manufacturing, transportation, storage and shipping) were in compliance with various regulatory requirements. When I started this role it was as an individual contributor, but I transitioned to managing a small team halfway through the MBA program.
What are you currently doing in your role? In my current role, I have responsibility for the European supply chain which includes contract manufacturers, international couriers and raw material providers.
How did the Evening MBA Program help you transition to your new role? Unequivocally, without the Evening MBA Program, I would not have been able to land my current role. The program helped provide leadership, time management and executive skills that not only enabled me to land my current role, but have also allowed me to thrive as a high performer. Additionally, during the recruitment process, the hiring manager mentioned that a strong consideration in my candidacy (compared to other applicants) was the fact that I had completed the Foster MBA Program.
What advice do you have for part-time MBA students interested in making a career transition? The number one recommendation I have for all students in the part-time MBA program (and specifically for those looking to make a career transition) is to participate in the UW Business Plan Competition. This is a great opportunity to develop an idea/plan that potentially could allow for the student to explore another discipline of business outside of their current career role.
Once: provider contracting, Regence BlueShield Now: manager of business development, Cambia Health Solutions
Tell us about your previous career: When I entered the MBA program, I worked for Regence Blue Shield negotiating provider contracts and managing specialty provider networks. I had been in similar roles for Aetna and United Healthcare dating back to 2002.
What are you currently doing in your role? Cambia is the parent company of Regence BlueShield in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Utah. I am in a special division called Direct Health Solutions (DHS). DHS invests and builds companies that change the way people experience the health care system. We invest in healthcare companies only, in particular companies that create a more economically sustainable and person-focused health system. My role within DHS is to work with our invested companies (right now we have 15) to build the value of our portfolio. I help our companies explore business opportunities with the Regence health plans, other blue plan partners, consumers and employers within our four-state footprint. By leveraging my 17 years of healthcare experience, I am able to help our companies create better go-to-market strategies and identify unique partnership opportunities.
How did the Evening MBA Program help you transition to your new role? I have worked in healthcare since 1996 and have seen quite a few evolutions over the years. I wanted to stay in healthcare, but did not want to stay in my current role after I graduated. The two aspects of the Evening MBA Program that most prepared me for my current role were my participation in the UW Business Plan Competition and Lance Young’s entrepreneurial finance class. When my job opportunity came along, I was able to easily keep up with the financial discussions as well as the healthcare context. The Evening MBA Program gave me the skills I needed to feel confident in tackling all the other aspects of the role such as interacting with the C-suite of my company, presenting to large rooms of people, strategic planning and project management.
What advice do you have for part-time MBA students interested in making a career transition? The University of Washington Foster School of Business will prepare you for any type of career, which can make narrowing down your next career move hard. In order to narrow the field, I made a list of what aspects I was going to look for in a company, what aspects were important to me and the kind of culture I wanted to work in. This list not only helped guide my job search, but also enabled me to easily articulate why I wanted the role I was applying for and how I would be a great fit for the company.
Tell us about your previous career: Prior to enrolling in the Foster School of Business, I was employed as a civil engineering project manager at a land development consulting company in Austin, Texas. I was primarily responsible for infrastructure design and the preparation of construction drawings for single family, mixed use and commercial developments. I was also the designated representative for client and jurisdictional agency personnel on all applicable projects.
What are you currently doing in your role? I currently work at Amazon in Seattle and am managing the North American launch of the Pick-Up Point Program, which will enable customers to easily choose alternate delivery locations such as retail establishments and shipping destinations for their Amazon orders. This role encompasses many different tasks, including the development of business relationships with multinational corporations, negotiating multi-million dollar contracts and managing carrier (UPS, FedEx, etc.) performance.
How did the Evening MBA Program help you transition to your new role? First and foremost, I wouldn’t have this job without the Evening MBA Program. Civil engineering taught me how to be an effective project manager, but I lacked many required skills to succeed in a business oriented environment. My business statistics, leadership development, operations and marketing courses at Foster helped me sharpen my analytical and critical thinking skills. Additionally, the opportunity to network with classmates and industry professionals through various mentoring programs proved to be invaluable.
What advice do you have for part-time MBA students interested in making a career transition? Network, venture outside of your comfort zone and make sure you enroll in a variety of elective courses. It is extremely important at this point in your professional career to expose yourself to a variety of ideas and functions of business before choosing your career focus.
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