Category Archives: MBA

MBA study tour in the Middle East

Guest post by Thomas Potier, Foster MBA student and 2010 study tour participant

Middle_EastWe landed in Dubai after 16 hrs of flight in a top-notch triple 7 with the widest screen entertainment units that I had ever seen. Getting out, I remember feeling the same as I felt when I landed in 2001 in Beijing: disconnected from my reality. I felt quite lost until I heard the familiar voice of Florence (MBA student trip leader): “Girls, there’s a restroom here. I’ll wait for you if you wanna go.” We were in good hands.

Wonders of the time spent in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Muscat flash before my eyes as I write this: So much to remember. The first of these wonders are the bonds I created with the Foster MBA and faculty group. I sometimes knew them—as classmates or teacher—and sometimes didn’t. The relationships I forged in the Middle East will always be somewhat stronger and tighter.

There is also this culture clash:

  • These female master’s students with a veil whom we were asked to talk to in a group with at least one female representative
  • Sam at Sport City in Dubai saying: “We build first and see what to do with it.”
  • Very formal presentations, especially when His Excellency showed up
  • The desert full of buildings and expensive cars….

Middle_East2Finally, there was the fun. The desert tour, snorkeling tour and Sheesha evenings.

Taking the plane back home, I pictured myself having an internship at Masdar City—building the least energy-consuming city, the first carbon-neutral city for one of the highest energy-producing countries.

Marrying antonymic themes is what the Middle East thrives at:

  • Cities with a lot of water inside the harshest deserts
  • Providing a lot of fun with great openness in a very austere society

I hope one day I will have the chance to go back and marvel again.

The Global Business Center at the University of Washington Foster School of Business offers students study tours and other international experiences each year. Study tours expose students and faculty to businesses, cultures and adventures to gain global perspectives and augment academic studies. 2010 was the first year the Global Business Center sent MBA students to the Middle East, specifically United Arab Emirates and Oman. They were accompanied by Foster School Assistant Professor of Finance Thomas Gilbert.

Foster MBA alumnus lands crossword puzzles in LA and NY Times

What does it take to create a crossword puzzle of sufficient challenge and cleverness to be published in the New York Times? A bona fide polymath, well-read and widely-experienced. A serious student of popular culture, equally versed in history, sport, art, science, architecture, medicine, warfare, European languages—a renaissance man.

Jeff ChenFoster MBA alumnus Jeff Chen fits the bill. An entrepreneur, personal wealth manager, writer, rock climber and world traveler, Chen is also an avid puzzle-solver. A friend turned him on to the venerable New York Times daily crossword a couple of years ago. “It was love at first sight,” he says.

Last year he began composing his own. He’s already had four published in the Los Angeles Times and his first puzzle was recently accepted for the New York Times, a gold standard in the crossworld.

Chen says constructing crosswords is as much a test of strategy as vocabulary. He begins with a theme that ties together four or five long answers, and then builds around them. Devising appropriate, accurate, pithy clues is an art in and of itself.

Crossword puzzles are not a lucrative hobby. Each one takes Chen 15 to 20 hours to complete—before revisions. He has created 30-something puzzles and sold only five, each fetching between $85 and $200.

Entrepreneur, wealth manager, globe trotter, writer
It doesn’t threaten to supplant Chen’s day job. After earning his MBA from the University of Washington Foster School in 2002, Chen helped launch Acucela, developer of a novel treatment for degenerative eye disease. Since leaving Acucela last year, he has done private wealth management and is working on a new venture (currently undisclosed) with some friends. He has been an active board member with local non-profits Big Brothers & Big Sisters, Passages Northwest and Treehouse and recently traveled to Bolivia to examine microfinance operations for Global Partnerships.

Chen is also 90,000 words into his first novel, a story set at school in the mountains of Peru where kids learn how to be secret defenders of justice. “My brother and I were talking about how sad it was that there would never be another Harry Potter book,” he says. “So about two years ago I decided to write something that could start a similar kind of series. I’m not a published author, but I thought I’d give it a try.”

Chen still challenges himself daily with the puzzles of both newspapers (each escalates in difficulty from Monday forward), and says he can complete a New York Times Friday puzzle 75 percent of the time.

Match wits with Jeff Chen’s recent 2010 Monday and Tuesday Los Angeles Times puzzles.

Nanocel takes a novel approach to cooling electronics

Dustin Miller and Daniel Rossi show off their productThere are big problems and then there are BIG problems. Cooling electronics, for example. How do you keep large server farms from overheating and how can you extend the battery life of laptops and other portable electronics? “We are currently using over three percent of the nation’s energy on cooling the Internet,” says Dustin Miller, PhD candidate in mechanical engineering and the co-founder, with UW MBA Daniel Rossi, of Nanocel.  The company, which won the $25,000 grand prize at the UW’s Business Plan Competition in May 2009, is introducing affordable fluid-based cooling systems for computer chips.  “Industry calculations say that fluid-based cooling could cut energy use in half,” explained Miller. “That’s a staggering amount.”

Nanocel’s technology uses a combination of microfluidics and novel, moldable plastic materials to cool devices more cheaply than other liquid-based systems and more efficiently than cooling fans. The products use thousands to millions of very thin (between one and 100 micrometers wide) vessels to circulate tiny amounts of liquid in close contact with the computer chips or other device components prone to overheating.  The original process was developed at the University of Washington for food packaging.  “So, for the cost of a coffee cup, you can have a heat sink that used to be made out of copper,” Rossi added.

Rossi’s market research demonstrated that Nanocel wouldn’t have to look far for potential customers and partners. Computer chip manufacturers and designers are obvious candidates, but Nanocel is also talking with companies that make gaming consoles, servers and hardware. “There are tons of shelf-ready products that can’t go to market because they’re too hot,” Rossi says. Fans aren’t powerful enough to cool them down, and liquid technologies are too pricey.

Since the competition, the Nanocel founders have incorporated the company and are gearing up for their first angel funding round in early 2010.

(We’d like to thank Rachel Tompa, Xconomy Seattle, who wrote a longer version of this article. The full story is here.)

Winners of UW Environmental Innovation Challenge

“It’s like a science fair on steroids.” That comment by judge and venture capitalist Loretta Little (of WRF Capital) captured the essence of the University of Washington Environmental Innovation Challenge. 19 student teams from 7 Washington state universities and colleges met in Seattle on April 1 to pitch clean-tech, energy-saving business ideas and prototypes to more than 100 judges, venture capitalists, angel investors, professors and business leaders. Watch video highlights.

EIC_EnvitrumGrand prize = $10,000

A team of University of Washington engineers with a business called EnVitrum won the $10,000 grand prize for their innovative glass recycling and green building technology that converts glass into bricks that are stronger and cheaper than masonry and have a dual purpose of cultivating plants.

Second place + honorable mentions = $12,500

Second place with $5,000 went to Triangle Energy (a University of Washington team consisting of two Foster MBA students, one UW doctoral student in mechanical engineering, one UW doctoral student in biochemistry and one UW chemical engineering undergraduate) who created a mobile bioreactor that converts solid biomass into synthesis gas for energy use. Three honorable mention awards of $2,500 each went to interdisciplinary teams of engineering and business students: NanoWAVE (North Seattle Community College) created an energy-efficient, cost-effective LED lighting alternative for growing plants in nurseries, greenhouses and indoor gardens; iDriveSmart (University of Washington) created software that helps predict and encourage fuel-efficient driving; and Idyll Energy Solutions (Seattle Pacific University) created a solution to the idle, wasted energy of household electronics.

The 2nd annual UW Environmental Innovation Challenge was a collaborative venture between the UW Foster School of Business Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, UW College of Engineering and UW College of the Environment. Learn more or get involved in next year’s Challenge.

NanoString: a big idea turns counting molecules into a thriving business

NanoString founder Amber RatcliffAmber Ratcliffe was close to graduating with her MBA in 2003 and had accepted a job offer at an established Seattle biotech firm when she submitted her plan for NanoString to the UW Business Plan Competition. To her amazement, her plan for the life sciences start-up won the grand prize, the “Best High-Tech Idea” award and $31,000 in start-up capital, leaving Ratcliffe with a big decision to make.  

“I wasn’t going to live my life wondering what might have been,” she said. So she changed course, put the entrepreneurial strategies she’d learned at Foster into practice, and co-founded NanoString Technologies in June 2003. NanoString commercialized an innovative technology invented at the Institute for Systems Biology to use DNA barcodes to detect and count molecules in biological samples. It might sound like science fiction, but the technology is now helping researchers at organizations like the National Cancer Institute gain a better understanding of how to battle cancer.

“Researchers, like entrepreneurs, want to solve the problems that no one else has been able to crack,” said Ratcliffe, who is now the company’s director of marketing.  “Foster gave me the tools to be an entrepreneur and now NanoString is giving scientists the tools to conduct studies that were previously inconceivable. It’s an exciting and rewarding combination.”

Her decision to take a chance on NanoString has been validated: the company has been shipping products internationally since 2008 and has raised over $47 million in venture capital. The next big challenge for NanoString is the competitive clinical diagnostic market. “NanoString’s combination of features are very well suited for this new market,” Ratcliffe said. “We believe this technology has the potential to make a significant contribution to the practice of medicine.”

Hear Amber’s story and check out: www.nanostring.com

The CIE Alumni Network is for working entrepreneurs

“What I need is a group of people who are like me—in the throes of growing their start-ups,” said Tom Seery, the CEO of RealSelf and a 1999 MBA graduate. “I’ll make time for a peer group I can count on for advice, shared experiences and empathy.” And that’s how the CIE Alumni Network, whose goal is to create a cohesive community of University of Washington alumni who share a passion for entrepreneurship and innovation, was born.

Sara Weaver, the owner of Ogborn Investments and a 2001 MBA, is the president of the network (with co-founders and fellow MBA alumni Chris Howard, Ben Lower, and Elizabeth Morgan). “Most of our members were actively involved in CIE during our time at the UW, whether it was through the Business Plan Competition or the entrepreneurship classes,” she said.  “We’re fervent supporters of the program. We want to stay connected to each other and to CIE, and we believe there’s tremendous value in the collective knowledge of our members.”

In addition to staying connected with an entrepreneurial peer group, network members have access to CIE Advisory Board members and other contacts in the larger entrepreneurial community, invitations to hear UW entrepreneurship faculty talk about their latest research, intimate dinners with Seattle’s entrepreneurial icons, the opportunity to mentor student entrepreneurs and of course the ability to give back to what Weaver calls, “the entrepreneurship program that helped us get started.”

To apply for membership in the CIE Alumni Network, email Weaver at saraweaver201@yahoo.com. You must be a UW alumnus who has started a company, is engaged in a start-up or is working in an entrepreneurial role in a larger firm to join the network.  Dues are $50 a year.

More information

A visit with the oracle, Warren Buffett

MBA Students in Omaha SnowEvery year the richest man in the country (or maybe 2nd richest depending on the most recent Forbes article) Warren Buffett invites groups from 5 to 6 business schools to visit him in the unassuming town of Omaha, Nebraska. The premise is simple. 120 business school students from across the country put on their best suits, tackle the Omaha snow (see photo), pepper Mr. Buffett with questions for over 2 hours, and then he takes us to his favorite restaurant in town for steak and root beer floats.

In early February, I was fortunate enough to make the trek. Naturally, people keep asking me what I took away from the trip. I respond with random facts about Berkshire Hathaway’s corporate philanthropy program and Buffett’s friendship with and admiration for former Geico executive, Lloyd Kreeger. And I love to share some of Buffett’s best lines such as, “You can’t make a baby in 1 month by getting 9 women pregnant.” He followed, laughing, “I probably should have told Tiger Woods that.” That’s classic wisdom, both literally and figuratively, and it demonstrates just how sharp and witty this 78-year-old man is.

BuffetwalletWhy does he meet with MBA students?
It is certainly not for us to hear stories we can see him tell on YouTube, nor to make sure I have a photo of me with an awkwardly devilish face stealing his wallet (see photo). No, I think this is Mr. Buffett’s opportunity to share his vision for investments, business, and life with the next generation of business leaders.

Buffett’s vision: Find passion, practice simplicity.
The man has more money than I can comprehend. Buying 120 people lunch is like me buying a gumball, or more likely, sharing a gumball. But he drives a simple car (a 1980s Cadillac), has lived in the same home for his entire life, and doesn’t seem to want more. His investment philosophy is the same. Find an undervalued company with good management, buy low, sell high. He doesn’t need fancy financial products that no one really understands; he just looks for good businesses. Oh, and he loves what he does. You can see how it sustains him, keeping him engaged day in and day out. I think he wanted to show us that. At a time in our lives when we’ve taken ourselves out of the workforce to build our skill set and reflect on our careers, he wanted to show us that money follows passion and simplicity brings happiness.

Meghann Glavin is a University of Washington Foster School of Business full-time MBA student slated to graduate in 2010. 27 Foster MBAs met with Warren Buffett this year.

Uncovering real ppportunity at RealSelf.com

Tom and Krista SeeryWhen Tom Seery graduated from the Foster School with his MBA in 2000, he went to Expedia, a Microsoft spin-out that was growing by leaps and bounds. The entrepreneurial Seery knew that he’d start his own company within a few years, but even he was surprised by the source of his inspiration—he launched RealSelf.com in 2006 based on an observation made by his wife Krista. As she noted, it was far easier to use the web to research consumer opinion on hotels, electronics or restaurants than it was to get real insights into far more costly and potentially risky purchases of discretionary cosmetic procedures like laser skin treatments.

Since launching and receiving the backing by prominent Seattle and Bay Area angels, including Second Avenue Partners and Rich Barton (Zillow, Benchmark Capital), RealSelf has emerged into a category leader, helping millions of consumers get peer opinions and expert medical information on nearly 300 cosmetic procedures, everything from Botox to Invisalign braces to Mommy Makeovers.

Despite the down economy, 2009 was a particularly successful year for the RealSelf team. The community received over 50,000 answers posted by a national network of board certified medical specialists. These doctors “got social” by responding to consumer questions, uploading thousands of images and tweeting out their postings to followers. RealSelf also launched an industry-first “Worth It Index,” ranking cosmetic procedures according to actual patient input on whether a treatment was worth the results.

The company is looking forward to another year of growth , which Seery says will be driven in great part by “helping consumers find good doctors, and creating enhanced tools for consumers to navigate the always-popular before and after photo galleries.” [If you’ve had any cosmetic treatment, whether it be Lasik or Laser resurfacing or Latisse eyelash lengthening, RealSelf would love to hear about your experience!]

The power of three: LaunchPad teams are fearless

“This partnership with CIE is absolutely unique,” said Jim Roberts, the business development officer for UW TechTransfer’s LaunchPad. “We create teams of three:  an entrepreneurship MBA, a UW inventor and a TechTransfer manager. The job for the team is to assess potential applications for very early-stage technologies and develop strategies for taking them to market.  The results have been invaluable.”

The teams of three work very well. It all begins with the UW tech managers identifying research faculty/inventors who have developed technologies that could well move quickly into the marketplace. The descriptions of these projects are sent over to the CIE, which in turn advertises the 2-credit ENTRE 600 internship to second-year MBAs and other graduate students who have taken the entrepreneurship core courses. There are multiple deliverables for the internships, and CIE is very clear about the personality requirement: “fearless in conducting market research, talking with potential customers, making findings/recommendations presentations.”  Students must apply to specific technologies, relating their experience and interest in that specific project.  Not every project gets a student, not every student comes away with a project.

Once the pairings are complete, the real work gets underway. “What we’re seeing is that these teams have become very skilled at communicating the details and are developing trust in each other’s knowledge and experience,” said Connie Bourassa-Shaw, CIE director. “The results have been impressive—more  commercialization licenses and start-up companies. It’s a great practical experience.” The program launched in Fall 2008 with 14 teams and ramped up to 32 teams in Fall 2009.

Team spirit carries EMBA student through recession

Megan Lum, Foster School Executive MBA program student (class of 2010), is blogging for Business Week while pursuing her graduate degree.

In her first post, Lum shares her story of losing a job—and corporate funding for the program—mid-degree. After these set-backs, she decided to stick with the Executive MBA program, in part, because of the collaborative environment at the Foster School of Business.

In her own words…

“I was very lucky to have been put in a study group filled with extremely bright and talented professionals. While UW called us the Purple Team, we dubbed ourselves the Phoenicians. We developed a team charter that we have stuck to so far. The five of us—Rebecca, Aidan, Dave, Eric, and me—have become an extremely effective team.

“My husband and I sat down and considered the options. I could continue with the EMBA program with its premium price. I could transfer to a full-time day or evening program, which would undoubtedly be less costly. In the end, we decided that I would stay with the EMBA program. The EMBA class schedule would undoubtedly be more attractive to a new employer, but most important, I didn’t want to miss the camaraderie and support of my fellow Phoenicians and the rest of my EMBA class.

“I had expected the MBA to fill out my skill set and give me the tools I needed to go where I wanted in my career. What I had underestimated was the broadening of my skills and world view. I had always been so confident that I would be an EHS executive. Now, after just a year of my program, I could see there were many more options before me. I’m no longer convinced that I will finish my career as an EHS executive. There are so many more possibilities.

“In hindsight, it’s rather amazing how much my paradigms have changed in a year, the first of my MBA program.

“I can’t wait to see what I learn in my second year.”

Read Megan Lum’s full blog post on Business Week.