Entrepreneurial energy

Foster alum and faculty fellow Emer Dooley has a passion for pushing boundaries

Emer Dooley

How does a North Pole marathon winner become one of TechFlash’s top 100 tech women in Seattle? For Emer Dooley—engineer, PhD, entrepreneurship lecturer, angel investor, advisor—it’s easy. Dooley pushed boundaries long before her career began.

Her first broken barrier? Becoming an electrical engineer, a field dominated by men.

“In Ireland when growing up, I wanted to be a science teacher. That’s what girls did. My dad talked me out of it. He persuaded me to do electronic engineering. That changed my life,” says Dooley.

After working as an engineer for seven years, Dooley circled back to her original passion. “I’ve always wanted to teach. I sort of knew I wasn’t really an engineer in my heart.” She earned an MBA (1992) from Foster, worked as marketing manager for Seattle start-up Mosaix, came back to earn her PhD (2000), and taught at UW through 2011.

“I thought that doing an MBA in Seattle would be high-tech nirvana,” says Dooley. “I’m also a huge outdoor person. I like to ski, climb, water ski, run, bike. I just love Seattle. I never applied anywhere else.” At the UW, she launched a high-tech speaker series, software entrepreneurship class and co-taught with various UW computer science professors, including Oren Etzioni, founder of Farecast and Decide.

Her first guest speaker? Venture capitalist Mike Slade, a Microsoft and Apple veteran and entrepreneur. Dooley continued to bring in heavyweight guest speakers year after year.

“It was using the community to change the way that the old classes had been taught,” says Dooley. A memorable speaker was Tom Burt who led the Microsoft defense in the antitrust lawsuit. He shared the reality of being sued. “During discovery, they had so many documents piled up in the corridors that they were cited by the Redmond fire department.”

After 11 years of teaching entrepreneurship to business, engineering and computer science students, Dooley now serves as strategic planner, board member and faculty advisor for the Foster School’s Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. She successfully launched a $3 million fundraising campaign to move the center into a new building and open a new innovation lab.

Dooley also manages a $4.4 million fund at Alliance of Angels and is setting up an angel fund for UW students and a visiting professor to invest in start-ups.

She sees companies bootstrap in ways inconceivable to previous generations of entrepreneurs. “After the big dot com crash, nobody would fund anything. It used to take $30 million to get a company to market. And now with the advances in the tools, people can start companies from nothing. It’s just incredible to me that if you’re really savvy about social media, there’s still opportunity there to run rings around the traditional companies.”

The other pivotal change she’s witnessed in the last 10 years in Seattle is start-up expertise from second-generation entrepreneurs. “It used to be all Microsoft start-ups. Now there’s Expedia, Amazon, Real Networks. That’s really changed the level of talent in the area.”

One of the few women in the angel investing community, Dooley hopes to encourage her kids to push boundaries themselves. She and her husband, also an Ireland native, choose to raise their daughters in Seattle to expand their opportunities.

“I love the abundance of opportunity for women here, and the incredible role models like Bonnie Dunbar that my daughters get to see and meet in the community.”

Speaking of incredible role models… Dooley won the 2010 North Pole Marathon in a blizzard and finished second in the 2011 Antarctic Ice Marathon. “My goal is to run a marathon on every continent.”

Watch Emer Dooley’s TEDx talk: Entrepreneurship education – an oxymoron?