Category Archives: MBA

Focus on career services drives MBA placements, ranking

Interview with Naomi Sanchez, Assistant Dean, MBA Career Services

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

Rotary First Harvest: adapting to new bylaws

Guest post by Laura Peirano, 2012-2013 Board Fellow

The Consulting & Business Development Center’s Board Fellows Program places Foster MBA and Evans School MPA students as non-voting board members of local nonprofit organizations. Nonprofit agencies participating in the program reach diverse communities with different passions and interests.

At the annual Net Impact conference in Portland in fall of 2011, I met Benjamin Rasmus who works for the nonprofit Rotary First Harvest (RFH). RFH locates surplus produce, coordinates the harvesting, packaging, and distribution of it in order to solve two problems: leftover crops that go to waste and hungry Americans in need of nutrition. I’m very passionate about nutritious food and the food system in America, so I asked Benjamin if RFH would want to partner with the UW Board Fellows Program. We had a group meeting and decided it was a great fit and I became the Board Fellow.

As a Board Fellow for Rotary First Harvest, I attended RFH’s strategic planning meeting in September along with many RFH Board of Directors meetings from May 2012 to May 2013. As part of the UW Foster School of Business Board Fellows 2012-2013 Nonprofit Board Leadership Seminar, I also attended twelve hours of class sessions during which I learned about nonprofit strategic planning, structural analysis, effective Board governance, and changing Board structures.

In order to get to know the way RFH works first hand, I volunteered at several work parties to help pack produce at Northwest Harvest and volunteered at the local food bank. The Northwest Harvest facility is clean, with an abundance of volunteers wearing hairnets and gloves, working tirelessly while chatting, laughing and getting to know each other. I was impressed by how easy it seemed to package food for 100,000 meals in four hours.

The University Food Bank receives produce from Northwest Harvest and Food Lifeline, so a portion of the fruits and vegetables there go through RFH on the way. When I volunteered at the University Food Bank, I was able to witness the supply chain in action, as well as the people who are benefitting from this nonprofit’s amazing work. After sorting donated produce and organizing it in the food bank store, I helped check out customers and bag their groceries. It was rewarding to see people who would not have access to this food without the Food Bank picking out their food for the week. Rotary First Harvest plays its part by making sure more of the food available comes from wholesome fruits and vegetables.

There are hundreds of nonprofits in Washington State, and only thirty-six of them were selected to participate in the UW Board Fellows Program. Of all of these strong nonprofits, Rotary First Harvest has one of the highest functioning and successful Boards in the program, which made it difficult to find a topic with problems to solve. Since RFH recently updated its bylaws, I decided to focus on the transition from the old bylaws to the new bylaws and on ways that the transition could be more successful. My recommendations include evaluating the level of Board involvement, using metrics to evaluate Board success, and engaging the Advisory Board.

Rotary First Harvest Board of Directors is a successful, strategic and nimble Board that has identified and taken steps to correct the problems that have arisen. The fact that the bylaws are frequently reviewed and updated shows that the Board is continually looking for ways to improve. I presented my findings and recommendations in May 2013 to the Board of Directors. My recommendations suggest ways that the Board can continue to be successful and even exceed expectations. It was a great experience working with the board, learning how a board functions and how their strategic objectives shape the success of the nonprofit.

Foster Idea Lab participants brainstorm sustainable solutions

Looking for a challenge? How about trying to cut total emissions from the global commercial aviation fleet in half—even as it doubles from 20,000 to a projected 40,000 planes—by 2050.

That tall order is the very real pledge of the world’s aviation industry.

And leading the quixotic charge is the Boeing Company, whose Bill Glover provided the keynote for the 2013 Foster Idea Lab, a kind of high-level sustainability brainstorming session hosted by Net Impact at the University of Washington Foster School of Business.

Glover, the vice president of global business development and policy at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, offered a portal into his firm’s efforts to produce more efficient, lower-emitting aircraft through innovative on-board technologies, smarter materials and an all-out push to develop a jet-worthy renewable fuel.

He recounted Boeing’s catalytic effort to drive the first successful biofuel-powered commercial airplane flight, and its legacy in thousands of subsequent test, demonstration and commercial biofueled flights in the past few years.

“Now we need to industrialize it,” Glover said. “Make this work on an industry-wide scale to drive down the carbon footprint of aviation. That’s one of the great opportunities that we have. We’re at the beginning, and we have a long way to go.”

High-level brainstorm

Facing the big challenges of sustainability was the theme of the Idea Lab. Some 40 senior sustainability officers from a wide range of companies huddled with each other and with Foster MBA students to cross-pollinate solutions to the challenges of their organizations to operate more sustainably. Among the organizations participating were Microsoft (the Idea Lab sponsor), Boeing, Starbucks, Amazon, T-Mobile, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and many others.

The event was organized by the Foster School’s chapter of Net Impact, the international MBA organization devoted to inspiring a new generation to use their careers to tackle the world’s toughest social and environmental problems.

National Champs

Foster MBAs won the national Net Impact Case Competition in 2011 and 2013, and reached the finals in 2012. At the Idea Lab, Gabe Jones, Ryan Scott and Chris Walker of the winning team reported on the school’s most recent victory this past February at the University of Colorado.

The case challenged student teams to navigate Newmont Mining’s efforts to begin mining gold in a fictional African nation. The Foster team’s winning solution was centered on the creation of a Trusted Partners Program—a kind of independent escrow account managed by Newmont executives, stakeholders from local and national government, and NGO partners—that would manage profit sharing to benefit both company shareholders and local residents in the areas of environmental, social and educational.

The plan was simple, feasible and implementable. Said Scott: “The question we kept asking ourselves was, what will the board do next week? After we finish our presentation, can the board actually act on this? I think that’s what earned us the win.”

Water, plastics, and dirty data

Foster Net Impact’s faculty advisor Elizabeth Stearns closed the event with a bracing reminder of our rampant overuse of water, plastics and “dirty” data.

The senior lecturer pointed out the tens of gallons of water it takes to produce a cup of coffee or glass of wine, the hundreds of gallons to produce a t-shirt or can of beer, and the thousands to produce a pair of blue jeans or a bar of chocolate.

And she challenged anyone who produces packaging to consider the effect of plastics—300 million tons produced annually, 90 percent of which can be recycled but only 10 percent that is recycled.

Stearns called for a new paradigm. “It’s not enough to recycle,” she said. “We should be focusing on upcycling—the cradle-to-cradle creation of something for the expressed purpose of later being reused, perhaps as something else.”

As for dirty data, Stearns reported that the computing industry and the “cloud” are consuming 623 billion kilowatts of energy and 5.5 billion gallons of water annually, producing 50 million tons of toxic e-waste, and emitting 680 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions—2-3 percent of the world’s total emissions.

“We have to start rethinking our business processes in every industry,” she said. “If we don’t, we won’t have a business.”

But Stearns also pointed out that there are “lots of wonderful solutions out there.” As exemplars, she cited Singapore’s successful gray-water-to-drinking-water company NEWater, the collapsible, upcyclable container used by Japan’s I LOHAS, and the comprehensively sustainable Belgium-based cleaning products company Ecover.

“When you work in sustainability, it’s easy to feel that there isn’t a way out, that the situation is hopeless,” Stearns said. “But the people in the room are already convinced that we have to do things more sustainably. We just have to know that we can do things more sustainably.

Global change marketplace: how the GSEC Trade Show brings the world to UW

trade showOver its nine year history, the Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition (GSEC) at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business has brought awareness of pressing global issues to thousands of people – student competitors; competition mentors, judges and coaches; university partners; student volunteers; friends, family and supporters. So far, the competition has engaged over 2000 students of diverse educational disciplines and levels from around the world in tackling complex global social problems with entrepreneurial spirit and innovative market-based solutions.

At the competition’s culmination, semi-finalist university student teams (30-60 students per year) from around the world travel to Seattle for a week to learn about social enterprise, receive professional guidance and connections, network with each other and compete for prizes.

GSEC’s cross-cultural exchange is highlighted at the Trade Show, where semi-finalist teams each give their “pitch” to sell their business ideas to Trade Show judges, who act as mock investors, as well as students and community members. They often have prototypes, photos, videos and stories to illustrate the challenges they are facing and the inspirational impacts of their solutions. As a result, these issues become real, even for those who have never experienced them firsthand. Judge Loretta Little explains: “I have always felt and try to teach my kids that we’re citizens of the world. You need to put yourself in other people’s shoes. What better way than to meet people from around the world who are willing to come forward and share problems with you and what they think might be solutions to those problems.”

Teams often use prize money and connections made during GSEC to help launch their business, which can create employment and have other positive social impacts back home. Archived and streaming video of competition events, media coverage locally and in the student competitors’ universities and communities, and even the competitors own blogs and social media extends the education still further – allowing even those who cannot take part in the competition to feel inspired by the innovations being proposed to some of the world’s most pressing problems. Trade Show judge David Parker summed up why he volunteers each year: “The new ideas that are emerging every year from young people – it’s just astounding – they’re already creating patents, engaging with partners for manufacturing new devices, they’ve been able to engage with experts in the geographies of high need that they hope to get their solutions to – I just love seeing that passion, energy and creativity and innovation emerge and I continue to be impressed year after year with the applicants, the competitors and their ideas.”

GSEC is open to currently enrolled degree-seeking students in any discipline, at any level of study, and at any higher education institution worldwide who submits a plan that uses business principles to create a sustainable solution to poverty, health and economic growth in the developing world. Applications for the 10th annual competition are due November 12, 2014. Learn more at http://www.foster.washington.edu/gsec/

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.

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.