Not only are LaJuan Davis and her brothers Dwayne and Ricardo Ellison the next generation of leaders JBE Incorporated, they are also proud graduates of the University of Washington’s Minority Business Executive Program (MBEP) – which is saying something considering that they hadn’t really heard about the UW or this program 18 months ago. Following their graduation from MBEP last June, they each took back lessons they learned and they saw an immediate impact.
LaJuan, the company’s treasurer, took back three key lessons: That for small businesses “sometimes it’s important to sacrifice growth to insure liquidity,” empowering employees to make decisions is key to enabling the executive team to focus on the future, and that while you can’t always measure the impact of marketing expenditures these investments are key to long-term growth.
Ricardo, one of the company’s Vice Presidents, reflects on how he’s become a better leader because of what he learned at MBEP: “senior executives don’t need to be a part of every decision,” he says. He also noted that rather than focusing most of the company’s top talent on solving today’s problems, they are now “spreading talent around so they can focus on today and the future.”
Dwayne, another Vice President, says the program changed how he views the entire company. He’s become more acutely aware of the power of branding the company in moving the company forward. He’s learned that as a senior leader of the company he needs to “work on the business rather than work in the business,” and through this he’s able to empower others to make decisions.
These three siblings are confident that what they learned at MBEP will have a long-lasting impact on their company, but they’re also proud that, in part because of how they’ve changed their leadership of the business, JBE set a record last year by crossing the $40 million revenue threshold for the first time. They’ve also begun to directly manufacture products in addition to the assembly and supply chain management services they’d previously offered.
LaJuan, Ricardo, and Dwayne had the opportunity to attend MBEP because of their relationship with The Boeing Company. JBEP was founded to provide services to the automotive, paper, and textile industries. They began to court Boeing as a customer in 2008, and when Boeing selected Charleston as the site for final assembly of the 787 Dreamliner, the relationship took off. Last year Boeing invited JBE to be in their mentor-protégé program, which led to the offer to attend MBEP. While JBE was looking at similar programs offered on the east coast, when they learned about the Foster School’s year-around work to grow minority-owned businesses through the BEDC, they decided to accept Boeing’s offer.
On April 4, twenty student teams from colleges and universities throughout the Pacific Northwest pitched their innovations at the UW Environmental Innovation Challenge. Now in its fifth year, the UW EIC challenges students to develop prototypes that solve today’s biggest environmental problems. Teams address today’s energy, urban agriculture, recycling, built environment and water-related problems with novel solutions that have market potential. Each year, five teams are awarded prizes ranging from $2,500 to $10,000. Congratulations to this year’s winners:
$10,000 Grand Prize: PolyDrop (University of Washington)
PolyDrop manufactures additives that transform regular coatings (think paint) into conductive coatings that open up a world of opportunity for carbon fiber composites in transportation industries. The transportation industry is looking to move towards using light-weight carbon fiber materials to reduce fuel consumption and decrease carbon dioxide emissions. However, carbon fiber composites accumulate a static charge that will interfere with a vehicle’s sensitive electronics. PolyDrop solves this problem by providing a means to dissipate static electricity with a viable conductive technology.
The $10,000 Grand Prize was sponsored by the UW Center for Commercialization.
$5,000 Second Place Prize: Pure Blue Techologies (University of Washington)
One barrel of extracted or spilled oil generate an average of seven barrels of contaminated water, or produced water. Produced water must be disinfected to meet EPA regulations, even if it is just going to be disposed. In the U.S. alone, 353 billion gallons of highly contaminated produced water are treated and disposed each year – that’s enough water to fill Lake Washington 4 1/2 times! Pure Blue Technologies has developed a unique water disinfection technology that is safer, smaller, and more cost-effective than existing solutions.
The $5,000 Second Place Prize was sponsored by Puget Sound Energy.
Three $2,500 Honorable Mention Awards
Sunscroll (Western Washington University)
Sunscroll is a solar charged LED light and USB charging station.
EcoMembrane (University of Washington) EcoMembrane is developing a new technology for preventing scaling and fouling of desalination and wastewater treatment membranes using ultrasound.
Upcycle (University of Washington) Upcycle has an enhanced version of a bio-briquette maker that transforms bio-waste into fuel for cook stoves.
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.
Guest post by Matt Wastradowski, Communications & Media Editor, Alumni Relations, UW Alumni Association
Every year, Creating a Company, as the course is dubbed, becomes less a class than a crash course in entrepreneurship. Groups of eager students team up, form a company, apply for a $1,000-$2,000 loan from the Foster School of Business, and spend the next few months hawking their product or service to the wider world.
Past companies have sold goods ranging from Husky apparel to glass jars of cake mix; other companies have launched art galleries and driven students to the mountain passes for a day on the slopes.
At the heart of it all is lecturer John Castle, who has taught the class for the past 12 years – and who will retire at year’s end.
In 2001, Castle had stepped down as CEO from Cantametrix, a music software company he helped found, when a neighbor and former UW professor approached him about inheriting the Creating a Company course. With more than 40 years of business acumen, Castle didn’t lack experience: Before joining the UW, he had served as CEO of Hamilton-Thorn, a medical electronics and diagnostics company; cofounded Seragen, a biotechnology company; and was a partner in Washington Biotechnology Funding, a seed venture capital fund specializing in medical technologies.
Since then, he’s drawn on that extensive experience as would-be CEOS have created and developed dozens of companies. Castle’s only rule in approving companies and dispersing loans is “Do no harm,” meaning that students can’t, say, promote underage drinking by selling shot glasses to fraternities and sororities on campus. (This actually happened.)
When the class ends, students return any profits to the Foster School and can buy their company for $1 to keep it going. Few companies have outlived their academic years, but Castle knows the experience will remain long after grades are posted. “Whether or not they learn how to do it well, they will learn whether or not they want to start their own business.” Castle said. “This is as realistic of an experience of entrepreneurship as we can make it.”
Guest post by Tim Anderson, Foster School and Certificate of International Studies in Business alumnus
After graduating with degrees in business administration and Japanese linguistics as well as completing Certificate of International Studies in Business’s (CISB) Japan track program, I honestly didn’t think I’d end up living in Shanghai, China for the past nine years. However, ending my undergraduate studies on the eve of a burgeoning recession in the U.S., and a full-blown recession in Japan, it seemed like the path I’d set myself up for wasn’t so clear cut anymore.
At first, I was considerably lucky and managed get a nice job working in the marketing department at an international PR firm located downtown by the Pike Place Market. The experience was great and taught me a lot, but as good as it was, it still wasn’t what CISB and the Foster School of Business trained me to do: be a truly international entrepreneur.
About a year into that first real job, I was given an opportunity to help start up a language school in the city of Shanghai. Admittedly I was nervous about taking the offer because although I had spent time in Japan and a couple other parts around Asia as a student, I had no idea what to expect of China. In the end though, my love of Asia proved to be overwhelming so I packed my bags for a new life in a new place with a new language to learn.
The people I’ve met and business challenges I’ve overcome in the past nine years has made my decision to live here well worth it. Since moving here, I’ve found my place amongst the locals as well as the expat community, and have really been able to put my business studies to work. I’m currently managing the marketing operations for an international clothing brand that is trying to break into the China mainland market. The business environment in China is fast-paced and filled with unforeseeable challenges, yet extremely rewarding if know how to play your cards right.
I can’t thank CISB and the Foster School of Business enough for preparing me for the wild journey my life has taken this past decade. I hope many future graduates will be inspired to challenge their comfort zone and follow the path less traveled as I and other alumni have done. In the end, it’s especially gratifying to know I am part of a community of CISB and Foster graduates who are also experiencing what I am experiencing, connected by a common bond.
Guest post by Tom Jensen, co-founder of Enterprise Futures network who helped source mentors for GSEC 2013, and mentor to Grand Prize winning team Jorsey Ashbel Farms.
Last week, 15 people including investors, entrepreneurs, consultants and non-profit executives joined students on 14 teams that competed in the Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition (GSEC) in Seattle – either in person or virtually, to finalize their business plans and presentations for a winning social enterprise. The teams from Africa, Asia and the U.S created business plans to address health and economic development problems in developing countries and competed for prizes.
After mentoring and judging in university competitions for the past 12 years, I know what it takes for a university to make a competition successful. UW’s Foster School’s Global Business Center did a great job making the experience very rewarding for the teams, judges, coaches, student ambassadors, mentors and sponsors. An organization that I am a co-founder in, Enterprise Futures Network (www.enterprisefutures.org) , is the Competition’s Mentorship Partner and has helped source mentors for two years.
GSEC’s mentors are located in Seattle, the San Francisco Bay Area, and from Europe, particularly Denmark. Each mentor donates about eight hours of his or her time over a six week period to help the team prepare before the competition and then several more hours during the week of the competition if possible. While about half of the mentors have mentored for GSEC before, the other half experienced this competition for the first time this year.
One of those new mentors for this year was John Locher, who co-founded internet companies Classmates.com and Redweek.com. He thoroughly enjoyed mentoring his team from Bangladesh with his co-mentor Mike Siemion, a co-founder with John at these companies, and plans to be back next year. John and Mike were joined by Norm Bontje, George Economy, who co-mentored with Linda Long, Merrill Grogel, Greg Free, Michael Gilson, Thomas Jensen, Nils- Michael Langenborg, John Raabo Nielsen, Søren Therkelsen, Rick McPherson, Kim Nelson, Carol Sanford, Craig Bruya, Michael “Luni” Libes and Pete Peterson.
The teams also got coaching on their presentations from other volunteers that UW’s Foster School of Business engaged during the week of the competition (February 25-28th).
UW made our job to provide and train mentors to support the competition very easy. The GSEC team led by Deborah Wolf and Kirsten Aoyama had a great plan and executed it flawlessly. They were responsive to the needs of the mentors and made it possible for mentors to participate in very meaningful ways, including networking with other mentors at a mentor breakfast EFN and UW organized.
UW created the right environment for successful mentoring, including educating the teams and mentors on the benefits of a mentor based program, and by creating clear expectations for both mentees and mentors. UW and EFN shared helpful tips and examples of best practices, maintained regular communications and gave mentors the opportunity to share ideas to improve the process throughout the mentoring period. While all competitions that engage mentors do it somewhat differently, certainly UW’s well organized and straight forward approach makes it easier for mentors to engage compared to institutions that, for example, only facilitate informal mentor-team matching without framing mentoring expectations for participants (e.g., such as inviting mentors and teams to events where they can self-match).
Tips that really helped the teams included encouraging mentors to ask teams for a specific milestones schedule to complete their plans and pitches. This tool served as a roadmap from which the mentees and mentors could work from. From my experience mentoring Jorsey Ashbel Farms (JAF), a scalable chicken production venture in Nigeria that won the grand prize, the framework and expectations that UW created mentoring made the process more efficient, allowing JAF and me to focus on the hard work of validating assumptions and developing a scalable business model.
On a personal level, working with JAF’s co-founders, Mene Blessing and Ayuba Ashbel from the Nigeria was a tremendous pleasure, because of their commitment to the venture, professionalism and sincerity. I look forward to visiting with them in April when they will compete in the finals for the Global Social Venture Competition in Berkeley, California.
I was very impressed that most of the local mentors attended the finals and even the preliminary round to coach their teams. Many non-local mentors worked with their teams remotely until the preliminaries or finals. Greg Free, who mentored Breathsuite, a UW based team that invented a respiratory diagnostic application delivered through mobile phones, viewed the Foster School’s “live stream” of his team in the final round when he could not be there in person. Greg, a non-profit director and sales and software executive, told me that “over the time I spent with them, I dropped lots of suggestions and was left somewhat uneasy about whether they were landing. They got it – in spades – and did an outstanding job of transforming what they started with into a pretty darned good presentation.”
Carol Sanford, an author, consultant and speaker on responsible business, shared her thoughts about mentoring for this competition over the past three years. “I’m getting better at it; knowing how to help my team meet challenges and to ask them to focus on what judges look for”. She loves to help teams pivot their businesses “to improve and to think bigger about what they can do.” Carol’s team, Social Cops, won the competition’s ICT prize sponsored by Microsoft.
I hope that people who attended the events (and read this article!) will be inspired join the fun next year and chose to mentor or coach a team or become a judge. Take my word for it, future mentors will find this experience extremely rewarding and a great opportunity to engage with entrepreneurs changing the world. If you would like to apply to serve as a mentor next year, please apply! http://www.enterprisefutures.net/mentorappl.html.
The Business Economic Development Center’s Business Certificate Program will begin in April at UW Seattle campus. The six-session course teaches business fundamentals through a series of six three-hour classes. BCP will be offered in Spanish (Tuesday evenings from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. starting April 2) and in English Wednesday evenings from 6:00 to 9:00 pm starting April 17.
Who should attend? Any small business owner or manager who is interested in learning or refreshing their knowledge of sales and marketing, finance and accounting, leadership and management, and legal topics. Students come from every industry- from construction companies to restaurants to medical clinics. And to due to the diversity of participants, the classroom is a great place to network with fellow business owners.
The class also offers students to learn from award-winning University of Washington faculty including Mike Eguchi, lecturer of sales and marketing. With over 30 years of sales experience, Eguchi shares proven strategies and tactics in his class session Developing a Sales-Oriented Company. Student Pratish Brady relays how she used what she learned, “I used the guidelines [from class] to write my mission and vision statement for my website emphasizing benefits and value of my product; people are complimenting me on them.” And “ I spoke by phone with a new customer I had sent a sample too. He liked the product, but it was the wrong size. I used the term “how so” and kept him talking so I could understand more clearly what he wanted. Our conversation ended with a new order for a smaller size product and he wants to distribute my product to his customers not only in the US but in Europe. A definite win-win.”
Learn how to make your business win with proven business fundamentals from the Business Certificate Program. Course registration fee is $200. To sign up please visit our website. You can also be a program supporter by sponsoring a student.
Being the founders of the annual Foster Week of Service, the Business and Economic Development Center Leadership Team members were excited to volunteer at the Renton/Skyway Boys and Girls Club for the third year in a row. This year, LT members were challenged with a new task in educating 5th to 8th graders about careers and opportunities in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). However, being primarily business students, the LT members put a fun spin on educating the kids about STEM by tying business into the concept of STEM.
Each LT member was assigned to a team of four to five students. The LT helped guide the teams in researching and creating a short presentation about their company. The focus of this activity was to help the kids think outside of the box and see that there are a great variety of jobs in companies that are not as obviously STEM related. Teams researched companies including Target, McDonalds, Nestle, and Microsoft. The activity helped the students see that having skills in STEM and business could open a lot of doors to fun jobs; from being a pharmacist at Target, a game-designer at Microsoft, a food scientist at Nestle, or a social media manager at McDonalds.
After the learning activity was over, it was time for the kids to be kids and enjoy what they do best: play! LT members had a great time hanging out afterwards to play Dance Central and Fliers Up on the playground. Overall the event was a success and the BEDC LT members are looking forward to returning to the Boys and Girls Club for the next Foster Week of Service. Learn more about the BEDC Leadership Team.
I initially enrolled in the BEDC Student Consulting Program without really understanding what consulting means; my impression was that consulting is the dream job of many of my peers at the Foster School of Business, yet it wasn’t something I particularly cared for.
I expected to walk away from the class with experience in conducting market research and formulating online marketing/public relations strategies, which is related to my dream career after graduation. And I liked the idea of working with a team; the communication skills learned would prepare me for work in any field. The fact that it would look good on my resume didn’t hurt either.
My team’s assignment is to formulate online marketing and social media strategies for our client, Concourse Concessions, who currently operates a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf franchise in the Seattle-Tacoma Airport. A newcomer in the Seattle market, they wish to grow brand recognition through traditional and non-traditional public relations methods as they expand to locations outside of the airport within the next year. It was an exciting task to take on, as the overall business environment and market for coffee in Seattle is very saturated, and would require creative thinking to accomplish the mission.
The first step for our team was to identify the strategy and comparative advantage of the franchise. Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf has only been in operations for about three months, and there was lack of substantial data for us to analyze. Challenged by our advisers and mentors, we were able to take a step back and look at the project from a wider perspective. We learned to think in terms of what is most valuable for the client every step of the way. With the support of our mentor and advisors, we came up with a framework in which every question raised had to be answered in a way that would help the business.
During the research phase of the project we gathered survey data and took a close look at local competitors such as Peet’s Coffee and Tea, Uptown Espresso, Espresso Vivace and Café Vita. We examined how they are utilizing social media and promotion strategies to maximize brand equity. Marketing concepts we’ve seen play out in real life include: how social media is being utilized for Customer Relation Management; how Search Engine Optimization is becoming increasingly intertwined with social media; why it’s essential for all business owners and managers to understand the marketing concept; how to really use a business’ competitive advantage; and how to communicate through interaction with the consumers.
As we come near to the end of the project, I now understand what consulting really comes down to is communication. It is important to practice the art of listening to your client and really hearing their needs, and finding resources and formulating recommendations with your team to create value for them. Through the process of tackling the different obstacles, my team and I have bonded together and grown both professionally and personally.
I look forward to applying the skills I’ve learned to a future career in Public Relations. I now understand what it is like to work with a real client, how to identify their wants and needs, and strategically come up with solutions that would benefit the client and heighten awareness of the brand. The Student Consulting experience is not just a line on my resume, but truly a real-world experience I was fortunate to have as an undergraduate student.
The 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.
- Faculty perspectives, alumni happenings, student experiences, Seattle and Pacific Northwest community connections, and a taste of life around the Foster School.